Tag Archives: witch stories

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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Historical Witchfinding 101 featuring Matthew Hopkins: Article by Catherine Cavendish of The Pendle Curse

Catherine Cavendish, an author friend of mine who writes great gothic ghost tales from the UK, just released her latest novel with Samhain Horror, called The Pendle Curse, on Feb. 3, 2015. A mix of history, the paranormal, and subdued creepiness, her novels put a modern twist on the classic atmospheric telling of tales. This current novel delves into a past that includes a harrowing tale of witches.

Of course, as most readers know, I love to read anything to do with witches as well, so I’ve been highly anticipating this novel! My review will come soon, but in the meantime, take a moment to learn about the most infamous witch finder of all time, Matthew Hopkins.

Have  you heard of England’s Matthew Hopkins? The Infamous Witchfinder General

by Catherine Cavendish, author of The Pendle Curse

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A photo of Matthew Hopkins / Photo supplied by C. Cavendish

My new novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches. Their trial created a template for others to follow, and one who was no doubt inspired by it was none other than the most infamous witch hunter of them all. The self-styled, ‘Witchfinder General’, Matthew Hopkins.

Hopkins was born in 1620 and little is known about his early life. His most famous career lasted just a couple of years – between 1644 until his retirement in 1647, but in fourteen months of that time, he managed to be responsible for the deaths of some 300 women, mainly in the eastern counties of England. All were convicted of witchcraft, on his authority. The total number of executions for witchcraft between the 15th and 18th centuries amounts to less than 500. Matthew Hopkins and his colleague, John Stearne, certainly contributed more than their fair share.

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Since the Lancashire witch trials of 1612 that convicted the Pendle witches, the law had been changed. It was now necessary to provide material proof that accused person had practiced witchcraft. It was the role of Hopkins and Stearne to provide evidence that the accused had entered into a pact with the devil. A confession was vital – from the human, as the devil would hardly confess.

Hopkins travelled freely throughout eastern England, although Essex was his centre of operations. His career as witchfinder began when he heard a group of women talking about meeting the devil in Manningtree in March 1644. Twenty three women were tried at Chelmsford in 1645. Four died in prison and nineteen were convicted and hanged. Hopkins was well paid for his work and this may well have spurred him on to be even more zealous. He and Stearne travelled with a team and wherever they turned up, the local community found themselves handing over significant amounts of money. In Ipswich, this was so great, that a special local tax had to be created to fund it!

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Hopkins’s methods were dubious to say the least. He would employ torture, including sleep deprivation. He would ‘cut’ the arm of a witch with a blunt knife and if, as was likely, she did not bleed, she was pronounced a witch. He was also a great fan of the ‘swimming’ test, or ducking. As witches were believed to have renounced their baptism, water would reject them. So, they were tied to a chair and thrown in the river. Those who floated were guilty. Those who drowned were innocent.

Hopkins also favoured the practice of ‘pricking’. Basically this involved searching the accused’s body for any unusual blemishes or moles. A knife or needle was used to test the mark. If it bled, on being pricked, the woman was innocent. If it failed to bleed, she was guilty. It has long been alleged that many of these ‘prickers’ had a retractable point, so that the hapless prisoner would be confirmed as a witch when the mark failed to bleed. What better way for a ‘witchfinder’ to enhance his reputation than by identifying so many ‘witches’?

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Hopkins and his merry band spread fear all over the countryside, but their reign was short-lived. John Gaule, vicar of Great Staughton in Cambridgeshire, preached a number of sermons denouncing him. His opposition began when he visited a woman who was being held in gaol on charges of witchcraft, until such time as Hopkins could attend to investigate her guilt or innocence. Gaule heard of a letter Hopkins had sent, where he had enquired as to whether he would be given a ‘good welcome’ in that area. A good, financially rewarding welcome no doubt. At around the same time, justices of the assizes in Norfolk questioned Hopkins and Stearne about their methods of torture (which was outlawed in England) and the extortionate fees.

The writing was clearly all over the wall. Their reign of terror was over. By the time the next court session sat, both Hopkins and Stearne had conveniently retired and the infamous Witchfinder General had put away his witch ‘pricker’ for the last time. But that was, sadly, not the end of his story.

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Hopkins published a book, called The Discovery of Witches, in 1647, where he outlined his witch-hunting methods. This ensured his legacy lived on – and expanded far beyond the shores of his native England. Witch-hunting in New England began, according to his methods, and, in 1692, some of Hopkins’s methods were once again employed at Salem, Massachusetts.

Now, here’s the cover and blurb for The Pendle Curse~

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Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning~

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

You can buy The Pendle Curse here~

Samhain Publishing

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Catherine Cavendish, Biography~

Catherine CavendishCatherine Cavendish – Cat to her friends – lives with her husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she’s definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it’s a long story!).

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She is the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits In The ShadowsThe Pendle Curse is her latest novel for Samhain; her first  – Saving Grace Devine – was published in 2014.

Her daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories and a novella. As she says, “It’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community.” Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask!

You can connect with Cat here~

Catherine Cavendish (website)

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