Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Witches in 17th Century Cornwall

Archaeologist Jacqui Wood holds the remnant of a 17th century cauldron

Researching historical witchcraft is a huge challenge as most of the written evidence come from confessions gleaned from intimidation and, in the case of Continental European and Scottish witch trials, torture.

It's rare that we find concrete and nonbiased evidence of how witchcraft was actually practised. But archeologist Jacqui Wood offers us a rare window into this lost world. In her own front yard in Saveock, Cornwall, she has discovered evidence of more than forty magical rituals.

Discussing her find with Archaeology Magazine, Wood describes ritual pits, dating from the 17th century, lined with swan feathers and filled with 55 eggs, seven of which contained chicks that had been close to hatching. Remains of magpies--a numinous bird traditionally associated with luck--had been placed on either side of the eggs.

Amazingly these ritual pits date from 1640s, around the time of the worst witch persecutions in English history, when Matthew Hopkins of East Anglia was making his name as Witchfinder General. In Cornwall itself, during the 1650s, more than 25 people were sent to Launceston Gaol on witchcraft charges.

What, then, was the magical significance of these feather and egg pits? Wood speculates that they might have contained offerings to St. Bridget, or Bride, patron of babies and midwives, who has her roots in the Irish Goddess Brighid.

"My theory," states Wood, "is that maybe if you got married and didn't become pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St. Bride in a feather pit."

Wood has also discovered the remnants of of a spring-fed pool lined with white quartz and filled with offerings of heather branches, fingernail clippings, human hair, and part of a cauldron.

Wood believes these quartz-lined pools are 6,000 years old. Since the quartz would have glowed in the moonlight, the pools would have been a natural place to enact ritual and make offerings. This practise stopped in the late 17th century when the crown paid people to fill in the pools along with other holy wells in the region.

Read the full article here.

1 comment:

Kim Murphy said...

Great blog, Mary. I also enjoyed the article. I never get weary reading about witches.