Picture this:

It’s 1645 and you’re a lonely, anti-social 85 year old woman and you live alone apart from a cat called Agnes who you’ve had since it was a kitten (and that was 15 years ago).  Did I mention you also only have one leg.  You lost the other to a raging goat who got funny with you.  Or something.

Your house (if it can even be called that – it’s a one room shack surrounded by a tiny piece of land that you use to plant potatoes in) is freezing cold all year round, dirty, no hot water or heating, only a small fireplace (but you can’t afford wood for it so it’s rendered useless).  Your pantry is all but empty and you weigh about as much as a paper bag, having had very little to eat for the last 60 years of your life.

You have never been married (you were always “that crazy cat lady down Home Bargains shopping for cheap Sheba”) and have no children or any other family.  Still though, you’ve no history of mental illness (apart from the crazy cat thing) and you’ve never hurt a fly in your life, never been in trouble with the law and never been a “lady of the night”.

So you’re totally befuzzled when you’re dragged out of bed at 11.30pm (waaaayyyyy after Emmerdale and then bed-time) and marched (or rather, hopped) down to the local gaol to meet some bloke called Matthew Hopkins (who seems like a bit of a mental Bible basher to you) who says he’s something called the “Witchfinder General” and he’s here in Manningtree, Essex to root out evil.  And he’s so serious about that he even rented a pub in the village called the “Thorn Inn”.

Matthew Hopkins – The Witchfinder General

So with raised eyebrows and a face that screams “alright weirdo” you tell him good luck with that and can I go back to bed now please cos my garden’s chocca-block with weeds and it’s gonna take me at least 45 minutes to sort out in the morning so I really should be getting back to sleep now.  He shakes his head, his eyes full of hate and tells you that he knows what you’ve done.  In fact, not only is he legally trained, well respected and well-read, he just “knows” these things.

You try to explain it was only the one night on LSD and no-one else was involved but he just laughs and calls in some of your neighbours.  He asks them if they recognise you.  Of course they do, you think, they’ve lived next door to me for 20 years.  You didn’t really speak to them other than to offer your condolences for all their crops which died suddenly when yours were perfectly fine.  In fact, you even offered them a potato to try and make them feel better.  So you’re totally amazed when they say “Yes that’s her!!  The witch!!  She put an evil spell on our family so that all our crops died and little Jimmy (who for a matter of fact was not little at all but a huge heffalump of a fat little git) had NOTHING to eat for a FORTNIGHT! (Well the pounds he lost might help his poor failing heart to not go into cardiac arrest due to the immense layers of fat clogging up his arteries) and my poor husband had awful backache for a week! We knew she had it in for us, that evil, conniving, jealous old bitch!  Get her Mr General, get her!”.

So with a smile, Matthew Hopkins leads you to a room to be “interrogated”.  Of course, nowadays we all know that his “interrogation” was flat out torture, but since torture was illegal at that time, he had to make it so that it didn’t SEEM like torture, even though it was.

Trembling with fear cos you dunno what you’ve apparently done, and proclaiming that you don’t know no magic spells and you can’t even drive a horse and cart let alone a broom, you are stripped naked and sat cross legged (of a fashion – hard to do when you’ve only got one leg) on a stool in the middle of the cold, stone, “interrogation” room.  Matthew raises an eyebrow (dirty old perv) and leaves the room, telling the guard that you are not to move from that exact position until he says it’s okay to.

18 hours later and crippled with cramps (God knows how bad it would’ve been if you’d had BOTH your legs) and freezing cold, Matthew returns.  By this time you’re so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open.  Matthew sees you falling asleep and tells the guard to hoist you up onto your – er – foot and walk you backwards and forwards quickly across the room to wake you up.  This is exhausting and you sob as you plead with Matthew that you’re awake.

Next, he tells you that you’re going to be searched for a “witches mark”.  He tells you that he knows that your Devil-sent demons feed off you and that somewhere on your body there is a “teat” which will prove it. So he prods and probes for at least 6 seconds (dirty old perv) until he shouts “Aha!  Found it!”.  You try to tell him that that mark on your arse shaped like the Isle of Man was when you got too confident with the oven and burned yourself but he declares that that’s the first sign, right before he sticks a pin in your arm (which felt a bit like that acupuncture session you had on your arthritic wrist that time) and declares “She doth not bleed!!  Spawn of the Devil!!” and that next you will be “swum”.

Well you have no idea what that is and you’re sure he said “swum” and not “swung” so that’s a load off your mind at least.  You’re dressed in a big white nightie and taken to the local river.  Well you know you’d got your 50 metres badge when you were young so if he wanted to do laps you’re sure you could somehow manage it.  But you’re really confused when he gets a length of string and ties it round your big toe and the ties your big toe to your thumb.  Weird.

You don’t have much time to think after that though because the guards have grabbed you and chucked you into the freezing cold river headfirst.  As you sail through the air you can hear Hopkins shouting “if she floats, she’s a witch, if she drowns she’s innocent!”.  Fab.

Needless to say, this big ol’ nightie and the air pocket created by having your thumb and big toe tied together, you float right to the top straight away.  So you’re dragged back out of the water, not even given a towel to dry off and marched BACK to the gaol, where again, you’re sat cross-one-legged on a stool in the nuddy where Hopkins tells the guards to wait and watch you cos your “familiar will come”.  You heard them at the river muttering something about a cat – you hope they don’t mean poor Agnes.

4 days later and the torment is unbearable.  Needless to say, Agnes didn’t come (the bitch) and you’re in so much pain, you’re losing your mind.  So you call for the Witchfinder General.  You’re going to confess and end all this crap, stand trial, maybe pay a few quid in a fine and then go home, open up that brandy you got yourself for Xmas and watch Strict-Thee-Cometh-A-Dancing, like nothing ever happened.

So Matthew Hopkins arrives and asks for your confession.  You tell him yes, you put a spell on your neighbours, AND you put weed-killer on all their potatoes and you were even a bit nasty to Little Jimmy, telling him “belly’s gonna get ya!” that time in the market.  And yes, you DID fly over the town hall on your broomstick that night.  It was good.  Can you please go home now.

Sadly, that perhaps wasn’t the best course of action.  You see, Matthew Hopkins got a quid for every witch he found and sent to trial and he badly wanted your quid.  So off to trial you go.

Aside from being nearly lynched before you even got the courtroom by a mob of angry villagers, the jury weren’t exactly the most considerate of people either.  They weren’t even sat down 10 minutes before they’d declared you guilty and sentenced “death by hanging”.  So much for not being “swung”.

This was just one story from the time of the Essex Witch Trials.  Elizabeth Clarke, was Hopkins’ favourite type of villager to pick on.  Old, no family, defenseless.  She could never have stood the torture and would have admitted anything fairly quickly.  Which meant fast, easy money for him.  And he made a lot of money with it.  It was estimated that he put 200 people to death for witchcraft in as little as 18 months.  Since the civil war was still going on at this time, the townsfolk were already paranoid and hell-bent on looking for people to blame, so Hopkins had an easy time.  In fact, his entire career history only lasted between 1645 and 1647 where it’s said he died of consumption.

So what can you do to protect yourself from evil witches (P.S I very much doubt any of the below will work on the mother-in-law but feel free to give it a go anyway)?

In order to ward off evil place a well-worn shoe (well-worn means it will have a strong attachment to you) up the chimney.  If you haven’t got a chimney, get one.  The logic is that the witch trying to find you, will instead find your shoe and think it’s you and attack it instead.  Yeah right.

If you think that idea is a little bit silly, you could always try a better approach.  A spell.  Although you may be inadvertently accused of being a witch just for using a spell to protect you against witches.  There’s no winning really.  Anyway, the spell – you need to make a pretendy witches bladder.  So get a bottle with a good solid stopper and fill it with your wee (cos it has a strong attachment to you), some bent nails (meant to stab the “bladder” and cause the witch pain) and some hair from your head.  Mix it all together, put the stopper in and then wait for the witch to get a nasty bout of cystitis.  That’ll teach her.