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Last week I learned that … I know nothing!

May 27, 2013

While attending school in the the 1950s soon after the our ‘winning’ the 2nd World War, my education lacked the depth and breadth that my grandchildren ‘enjoy’ today.  The little school was a attached to the local village church, where the Church of England and its religious practices and celebration were honoured by the children.  All very valid but it left us all bereft of any social history and culture beyond that of the church and the royal family.  To add a bit of dramatic delight and intrigue we learned about the gallant crusaders and their campaigns against the barbarian Moors somewhere across the English Channel!   Like little patriots and with the power of rote and propaganda we absorbed the joys  of the mighty British Empire and the way in which us Brits had brought civilization and holiness to the world.   

Although we partied on the village green around the Maypole.  We even had regular English country dancing lessons where we learned to reel and to dosy doe; we had no cultural education.  We were pulled up short if were questioned life beyond the church and our glorious new Queen.

Move fast forward; of course I have learned differently about England and its place in the world and fairly certain my grandchildren will be given a more accurate education.

Nonetheless I still know little about life in the United Kingdom before we were ‘invaded’ by the Christians  and the Pagans were ethnically cleansed.  I believe that at first the Pagans were tolerated and that some of their  traditions were embraced by the immigrants and became absorbed to the Christian rituals.  I would think that some natives transferred their allegiance to the new ways for various reasons

Sadly there came a time when the old ways were considered dangerous or disruptive to the country’s well being and banishment of Pagan practices began.

I don’t pretend to be a scholar of Paganism, I have only dipped into a few books and begun my research so this may be a work in progress..

I assume that a witch is a representation of Paganism and those watchful of them, and familiar with the Continental witch hunts and trials, would lookout for gatherings of witches; a big gang would be quite formidable.  However, there were other clues, ‘she was often am old and weather- beaten crone, with a protruding chin, knobbly knees.  She walked with a bent back; leaning heavily on a stick.  With hollowed eyed, without teeth, lips trembling with palsy, she might mutter in the streets’ as described by Katherine Briggs in  Nine Lives’

Such women at odds with their neighbours, in their loneliness would dote upon their pet dog or cat;  it they could afford one.  Instead they would perhaps enjoy the company of a rat or a toad.  

One story is told that in the early 19th century that old woman was thrown in a pit near Monk Soham in Suffolk because she had a cat ,she must be a witch, another bit of evidence against her was that she went to church in a black silk dress, therefore her means must be ill-gotten.

So the stories go on… and my research into English Folklore and my lack of old English culture!

Further reading

Nine Lives by Katherine Briggs

Everyman’s book of English Folk Tales by Sybil Marshall ; illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence 

English Folklore by Christina Hole 


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