The Fables of Witchcraft by Antony Smith
For centuries our ancestors were troubled by ghosts, witches, elves and fairies and sought ingenious ways to protect themselves. Many of the plants in the Priest House garden were believed to keep away witches and evil spirits. The same plants would have been used in medicine and healing skills were passed down by word of mouth. This gave rise to shaman, sorcerers and wise women, who often faced accusations of witchcraft and linking plants to ritual, mysticism and magic.
It was widely believed that a witch or their animal familiar could enter a house through doorways, windows or the hearth. Witches bottles, full of nails and scraps of iron, were commonly buried in doorways to stop them entering. An unknown former resident of The Priest House was taking no chances when they used a yard-long slab of iron (always a magical metal) as the front doorstep.
Chimneys were thought to be particularly vulnerable and there were various ways to protect them. ‘Spiritual middens’, voids filled with family items such as shoes, were common. Further protection came from ritual, or ‘apotropaic’, symbols drawn or carved around the hearth. An unusually large number of these ritual marks can be found in The Priest House.
Curiously these anti-witch marks are the most common form of witchcraft found in England, where the more hysterical European forms of magic and Satanism, described in the Malleus Maleficarum, was seldom in evidence. The ‘Malleus’ fanned the flames of the so-called ‘witch craze’ and the persecution of witches became more brutal, as witchcraft was increasingly seen as a real and dangerous phenomenon; although comparatively few people were charged with witchcraft in England.
The Fables of Witchcraft looks at the ritual marks in the Priest House and around the village of West Hoathly, the use of plants in folk magic and medicine; and the ‘witch craze’ in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
About the Speaker
Antony Smith is the Custodian of the Priest House, in West Hoathly.
The talk is on Thursday 27th June at 7:30pm.
The talk will take place at East Grinstead Museum.
Tickets are £6.
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