Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a highly biased account. Given that these practices were handed down generation to generation as a form of intangible heritage, the found objects we can reference to learn about these practices offer a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.
ICE & FIRE: HOW A FOLK DEMONOLOGY IN THE ‘LITTLE ICE AGE’ LED TO THE WITCH HUNTS OF THE 16TH & 17TH CENTURIES
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.
Ahhh, the cosy childhood memory of Mother Goose, what could be more innocent? But where did Mother Goose come from and what darker societal secrets is she hiding?
Everyone can identify with the desire to protect our homes. Today, might use alarm systems or family dogs to keep our domestic spaces safe from human predators, but our ancestors’ fears weren’t only for these terrestrial threats—they felt that their homes could come under attack from unseen forces as well.