Tag Archives: books on witches

Guest Article: “The Last Convicted Witch” by Catherine Cavendish + mini-review of The Malan Witch @cat_cavendish #themalanwitch #witches #horror

Today, one of my favorite gothic and witch lore authors Catherine Cavendish, joins us! For many years Cat’s books have always been a go-to when I just need to be absorbed in a really good story. I’m a fan of the gothic and witch subgenres, so they usually fit the bill. She writes really atmospheric supernatural and ghost stories as well.

The Malan Witch was a fast read for me, broken up between an hour or so each night before bed. Probably not the best idea in retrospect to be reading in the dark, but I’ve made sure my horseshoe is in proper form above my doorframe and salt is sprinkled on my windowsills. The Malan Witch is such a fast read because Cat writes with a pace that propels you through the page, and though uses superb descriptions, also creates a story not bogged down by them. The ending really ignited some scary action and twists and turns, leaving me perplexed, but then easily wrapped it up for me in satisfying fashion. And it also opened the door for a child character to be a fully formed character in a series of books. I sure hope that’s in the works!

Check out her guest article today about a real life famous UK medium – what a story – who for conducting seances was tried with the witchcraft act!!

Then check out the details for her next book about two scary witches, burned in the Tudor times, and how they’re spirits have come back to haunt a grieving widow in the modern times who goes to spend time in the cottage on the site in which it occurred.

The Last Convicted Witch
by Catherine Cavendish, Author of The Malan Witch

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To many, she was just another Scottish housewife, but Helen Duncan was regarded as a notorious charlatan by some and a martyr by others. So who was this unprepossessing lady who had Parliament in a spin right in the middle of World War II?

Helen Duncan was born in Callender, in Scotland on 25th November 1897 and, from an early age, was noted for her apparent ability to connect to the spirit world and, through the act of mediumship, convey their messages. She was also noted for her apparent ability to emit vast quantities of ectoplasm – an ability that later led to much ridicule and condemnation.

She married young – at the age of 20 – and her twelve pregnancies resulted in just six surviving children. Her husband, who was a cabinet maker, had been injured in World War I, so Helen was a much-needed breadwinner. She worked at the local bleach factory during the day and conducted Spiritualist sittings by night, earning a small amount of cash in the process. It is reported that she would often use these funds to help her friends and neighbours – who were in similar dire financial circumstances to herself – by paying their medical bills.

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Helen gained a reputation for her accuracy and, by 1931, she was making her living conducting seances up and down the country. She was a minister to a number of Spiritualist churches. But things began to go badly wrong. She was publicly denounced as a fraud by the Morning Post and the London Psychic Laboratory. Then, in 1934, Helen was prosecuted by the Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court as a ‘fraudulent medium,’ for which she received a £10 fine and a month’s prison sentence.

Undeterred by this unpleasant experience, Helen continued to practice, but chose to transfer herself to Portsmouth during World War II. This was where the Royal Navy was based, and it led directly to trial at the Old Bailey.

During a seance, through her spirit guide Albert, she claimed to pick up the spirit of a sailor who announced that he had just gone down with HMS Barham.

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The only problem here was that the sinking of that ship wasn’t made public until many months later and certainly wasn’t in the public domain at the time of her séance. Whether this was a product of genuine mediumship, or something more sinister (as some alleged), it was certainly enough to bring her to the attention of the authorities. On 19th January 1944, one of her séances was raided by police. She and three members of her audience were arrested.

Eventually, she was prosecuted under section 4 of the archaic Witchcraft Act of 1735, which carried a maximum twelve month prison sentence. At that trial, her supporters rallied round and raised funds to bring witnesses from all over the country – many of them pillars of the community – all prepared to testify to the authenticity of her séances. As to whether she produced ectoplasm, (or cheesecloth, as had been alleged by the prosecution), one witness stated that the substance could not possibly be cloth as, if so, its colour would have changed under the red light of a séance room. Far from it, attested Hannen Swaffer, respected journalist and co-founder of the Psychic News. In Helen Duncan’s case, the manifestations remained uniformly white.

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The trial resulted in daily, sensational newspaper headlines and, it was even proposed (by the defence) to put Helen into a trance and let the jury see for themselves what transpired. This caused a furore among the prosecution lawyers. Supposing, somehow, she managed to pull it off? Or worse, if she didn’t, the whole British legal system would be held up to ridicule. They declined.

Helen was found guilty and, after some debate, her sentence was set to nine months incarceration under the Witchcraft Act, for pretending ‘to exercise or use human conjuration that through the agency of Helen Duncan spirits of deceased persons should appear to be present.’ She was also charged with offences under the Larceny Act for taking money ‘by falsely pretending that she was in a position to bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons.’ She served her sentence in the notorious Holloway women’s prison.

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So, she became the last person in Britain to be jailed under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, but not the last to be convicted under it. That dubious privilege was left to the septuagenarian Sara Rebecca Yorke, who was tried in late 1944, but was bound over and received a fine, in view of her advancing years.

Although she is often called ‘the last witch,’ Helen was never specifically tried as a witch. The Act of 1735 had done away with the barbaric practices of the past that had resulted in such travesties of justice as the Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612 (aped by those in Salem, Massachusetts eighty years later).

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Helen’s infamous trial did, however, provide a catalyst for much needed change. A political campaign was begun, supported by Winston Churchill, who had described the charges against Helen Duncan as, ‘obsolete tomfoolery.’ Churchill himself had long held a serious interest in spiritualism, inherited from his American mother, the charismatic Jennie Jerome (who became Lady Randolph Churchill on her marriage to Winston’s father). Finally, the campaigners succeeded and the Act was repealed in 1951, to be replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, which is still in place today.

As for Helen, she was released from prison in September 1944, but never managed to slip entirely under the police radar. In 1956, they raided a séance when she was in mid-trance. Generally regarded as a spectacularly dangerous thing to do, they manhandled her while in this trance-state and took her away. She was said to exhibit second degree burns and was bleeding from her mouth. As a diabetic, with a heart condition, she was sent back home but was later rushed to hospital.

Helen Duncan died thirty-six days later.

So was she – as some have alleged – a spy? Was she a genuine medium? Or was she a most accomplished clever fake? Opinions were, are, and will always be, divided. Those who believe will believe and those who do not, will never be convinced.

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Read Cat’s latest work now!

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‘Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.’

 An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood – two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

And the crow has returned.

You can order The Malan Witch here:

Amazon

pic 8Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include The Garden of Bewitchment. The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

In addition to The Malan Witch, her novellas include The Darkest Veil, Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife

Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies including Silver Shamrock’s Midnight in the Graveyard, and her story The Oubliette of Élie Loyd will appear in their forthcoming Midnight in the Pentagram, to be published in October this year.

She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish

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Editor’s Note: All photographs were supplied by the author.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Guest Posts, women in horror

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness Propels through Elizabethan Intrigue~Review and Giveaway!

If you didn’t read the best-selling A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness last summer, then you’ve missed out on one of the best adult books of this decade. I suggest you stop reading this for a minute and GO buy it immediately, then continue reading my blog for news of its sequel , Shadow of Night! Don’t forget to enter for a copy of this marvelous book featured below after the review.

Okay, so you’ve already read or quickly purchased A Discovery of Witches? Huzzah!  Because this week (July 10), its sequel Shadow of Night was released with much to-do in the press due to Harkness’ fast and furious fame last year.  Quite honestly, it’s fame this history professor turned author has earned. In a short time she’s made her mark on a literary world teeming with novels for young people (YA) that have full-fledged adults also running to every storefront and online bookstore and chatting up their friends.  

Harkness’ novels work for those of us who are mature adults by bring the same elements to us that YA novels illicit (magic, imagination, paranormal, excitement), but in..for lack of a better phrase…a more grown-up fashion. Her witch, vampire, and daemon characters are all extremely intellectual and thought-provoking and deal with real-life issues, whether it’s their budding romance or their centuries old enemies.  The romance is real-life, lasting marriage material, not just the usual teenage triangles.  The character development is exponentially deeper and more meaningful.  The stakes are even higher.

While A Discovery of Witches brought suspense, action and the dance of budding off-limits romance, Shadow of Night transports Diana (point-of-view character, witch and time walker) and Matthew (her boyfriend, vampire) literally through time to 1590 Elizabethan England on their continued quest to find the lost mysterious manuscript of Ashmole 782. They believe this ancient book holds the secrets to the origin of all their species.

As a reader, I was propelled to a time where alchemy experiments were a secret pleasure as new discoveries were being made by scientists all over 18th century England, while the Church of England regarded it as witchcraft and heresy creating a sense of fear for many. Harkness introduced at the beginning of the book, possibly in a tad slower fashion that some might not have liked depending on their tastes, each major intellectual and creative spirit of the day and weaved their contributions to society into her tale (I most certainly could tell she was a history professor that favored this time period of history as it was very well-done). Having a love for history myself, and an affinity for this time period, I enjoyed learning about each person of history through his fictional friendship with Matthew. I really enjoyed how she also fit Matthew into this circle of men and allowed us to view him as a potential contributor to history. 

The best part of the book for me was when they transported to Matthew’s home during the time when his father was still alive. As in Discovery of Witches when we grew to love his mother’s character, in Shadow of Night we meet his father and other family members.  I found myself having a more emotional attachment to Matthew as we listen along with Diana as she learns of the magnitude of Matthew’s true loss he had during his lifetime and how it haunts him.  Further questions from A Discovery of Witches were answered for me and the story line moved along as if I was on the journey with them. Harkness brings out her best fictional writing in this section as we are so emotionally invested in the book, wanting without ceasing to see through the quest that Diana and Matthew are embarking upon for truth.  Their struggles with each other, as well as family, are blanketed by both of their love for family and friends. I found myself falling in love with their characters even further.

The historical element in Shadow of Night is absolutely amazing, bringing into detail all the advancements in science and medicine of the time, as well as the struggle of alchemists and witches within society. It wasn’t as fast paced as A Discovery of Witches due to the amount of detail and readers should be prepared for the ride to slow down just a little.

The superb writing of Harkness intertwined with her knowledge base and character development, sold me on the book. I am already anxiously awaiting the next book in the All Souls Trilogy and recommend both A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night to anyone who loves history mixed with the supernatural. In fact, anyone who loves great fiction should read this series as it encompasses a little of it all~romance, suspense, supernatural, mystery, and history.

About Shadow of Night~From www.deborahharkness.com

A Discovery of Witches introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Drawn to one another despite longstanding taboos, and in pursuit of Diana’s spellbound powers, the two embark upon a time-walking journey.

Book Two of the All Souls Trilogy, called Shadow of Night, plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies and subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night. The mission is to locate a witch to tutor Diana and to find traces of Ashmole 782, but as the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them they embark on a very different journey, one that takes them into heart of the 1,500 year old vampire’s shadowed history and secrets. For Matthew Clairmont, time travel is no simple matter; nor is Diana’s search for the key to understanding her legacy.

Shadow of Night brings us a rich and splendid tapestry of alchemy, magic, and history, taking us through the loop of time to deliver a deepening love story, a tale of blood, passion, and the knotted strands of the past.

For an interview with author Deborah Harkness, click on my earlier blog HERE.

DRUM ROLL~GIVEAWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FREE HARDBACK of Shadow of Night!!!!!!!

That’s right, Viking/Penguin is graciously giving away on my blog a gorgeous hardback of Shadow of Night , which you know retails for $28.95! Everyone interested in reading this book should enter and get a copy for their home library! You’ll also get a cool Ashmole 782 tattoo and six (6) sweet buttons with awesome period-related art.

All you have to do for one (1) entry is LEAVE A COMMENT below answering the question:

What interests you most about reading the All Souls Trilogy?

For an additional entries:

+1 for following my blog
+1 for following Deborah Harkness of Facebook

All entries will be assigned a number and one (1) will be randomly chosen. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on  07/22/12 and winner chosen on 07/23/12.

Author Deborah Harkness, Bio~From her Website, In her Words

I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and have lived in western Massachusetts, the Chicago area, Northern California, upstate New York, and Southern California. In other words, I’ve lived in three out of five time zones in the US! I’ve also lived in the United Kingdom in the cities of Oxford and London.

For the past twenty-eight years I’ve been a student and scholar of history, and received degrees from Mount Holyoke College, Northwestern University, and the University of California at Davis. During that time I researched the history of magic and science in Europe, especially during the period from 1500 to 1700. The libraries I’ve worked in include Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the All Souls College Library at Oxford, the British Library, London’s Guildhall Library, the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Newberry Library—proving that I know my way around a card catalogue or the computerized equivalent. These experiences have given me a deep and abiding love of libraries and a deep respect for librarians. Currently, I teach European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

My previous books include two works of non-fiction: John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (Yale University Press, 2007).

My career in fiction began in September 2008 when I began to wonder “if there really are vampires, what do they do for a living?” A Discovery of Witches is the unexpected answer to that question. The book debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, and was also a bestseller in the UK, France, and Germany. Thirty-eight foreign editions and translations will be published.

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I was sent a copy of Shadow of Night by Viking/Penguin in return for an honest review, which I provided. Thanks!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

One of My TOP books: A review of “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe

I just finished “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe and it is officially one of my top new favorite books! What an amazing read surrounding the historical time period of the Salem witch trials.

Main character Connie Goodwin, while doing research for her doctoral dissertation and trying to clean-up (at the request of her mother) her grandmother’s ancient-looking, overgrown abandoned house near Salem, discovers much more than she ever bargained for in regards to both historical evidence on the Salem witch trials and her own family history.

This book flips back and forth with effortless ease between characters of the 169os in Salem and nearby towns and Connie in the modern era of 1991. As a reader you’ll never feel lost, only more and more intrigued by the mystery that Connie is uncovering. In fact, the book will drawn you in so far, you’ll feel as if you are in the book too. 

When she finds a key and a little piece of paper in a dust-covered family heirloom Bible with the name Deliverance Dane on it, she starts to unravel a story of a woman you’ll never forget. I guarantee you’ll never think of the Salem witch trials, or the women accused, the same ever again. Connie’s dissertation work depends on finding a Physick (or recipe) book, but it becomes so much more than that to Connie. It is a story of redemption for the character, Deliverance Dane and all her descendants, as many who were accused and killed during the witch trails were unjustly sentenced.

I was always intrigued by the Salem witch trials. Maybe it is just because I am interested in all things history. But I always felt there was more to the story than just that these women were accused of being witches. Evidence, as the book follows, points to the fact that these women were God-fearing women who happened to have the medicinal gift of using various herb concoctions and prayers to promote healing. Since it was before the time of medical doctors, these women took care of the people in their communities.  

I think that Howe did a superb job in educating the reader about the history of this time period through the eyes of the accused. She gives us an historical look at the stereotypical descriptions of witches and why they came about, but also reminds us that they were regular Puritan-garbed women.  I mentioned to Howe that I was curious about how many of these women seemed so religious and used prayer along with their concoctions. It seemed that their gifts of healing were God sent. Many women and their husbands were respected members of their Puritan communities.

Howe replied to me on Facebook, when I mentioned my curiosity about the accused being contradictorily Christian: “I address that question a bit in this talk given at Google last year (careful, it’s about 30 minutes long) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5L36OrxM-c.”  For more video on the book and why and how she wrote it, view here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_OBQ3QSb4g&feature=related.  She has some great interviews on YouTube.

 The author, Katherine Howe, is in fact a descendant of both Elizabeth Proctor(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Proctor), who you might know because her character was fictiously dramatized for The Crucible, and Elizabeth Howe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_How), the latter who did not survive the Salem witch trials.

Not only was the story good and the plot tight, it was great writing overall. Her vocabulary is phenomenal and her voice is so strong and poignant. The characters are firmly formed, detailed, and delightful.  You will leave this book with an emotional attachment to the characters and to the souls of the women who endured the Salem witch trials. She could very well become one of the best known American historical fiction writers ever.  In fact, she recently told me via Facebook that another book is on the way this year, not a direct sequel though, and I can’t wait to read it. However, I did hear that a sequel including Connie will come at some point.

I don’t often read books over again, but this is one I would even though I’ve discovered the mystery already along with main character Connie. It is completely spellbinding and mystical (and no, I’m not even trying to make a play on words with “spell”). Her story and her writing truly do amaze me and I hope to continue to read much more of her in years to come.

If you’d like more information on the author Katherine Howe go online to www.katherinehowe.com and view her awesome website, and for the book http://www.physickbook.com.  Here’s a trailer for the book as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcJxKLw8-M8&NR=1.

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