By Romany Reagan
Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a one-sided narrative. Given these practices were handed down generation to generation through oral histories as a form of intangible heritage, only the Church’s ‘official’ version of these practices has traditionally survived as our record. Luckily for researchers, instructions for creating witch bottles were written down and tangible items such a old shoes and written curses were tucked into walls kept safe from destruction in their hidden places. Stepping away from the ‘official’ texts to these scraps and personal finds can help us learn from another perspective about these practices, offering a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.
The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.
Continue reading Witch Bottles & Hidden Curses: Objects of Protection; Objects of Vengeance
By Romany Reagan
The forests are stripped of their leaves, the earth lies frozen, the rivers are frozen with the cold. And fog and rain, together with the excess of endless nights, have robbed the earth of its joy.
–Matthäus Merian, 1622
The time period now commonly agreed—by historians and climate scientists alike—to be the ‘Little Ice Age’ lasted from between 1300 and 1850 A.D. The cooling was only slight (ranging from 2-5°C, depending on the region), but it was enough to slam Europe, and much of the Northern Hemisphere, into a climate event that saw unprecedented storms, unseasonal frosts, and ruined crops. “This decrease was large enough to leave Iceland completely surrounded by ice and to freeze the Thames in England and the canals in Holland routinely—both otherwise unheard-of events.” (Oster 218)
While there was a general cooling over the course of this 500-year period, there were two cold snaps in the 16th and 17th centuries that further strained hardship to the breaking point. Here I have gathered the research of economists, meteorologists, and historians to tell the story of the Little Ice Age and how people offered up their neighbours for slaughter in the hopes of a summer that would never come.
Continue reading Ice & Fire: How a Folk Demonology in the ‘Little Ice Age’ Led to the Witch Hunts of the 16th & 17th Centuries