Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the Widdershins Blog Tour
I'm excited to be able to share this fascinating and informative guest post
Helen Steadman, the author of Widdershins
What kind of people were accused of witchcraft during the 17th century?
Many people who were tried as witches were often simply cunning women who provided plant-based medicine, midwifery and healthcare services for those who were unable (or unwilling) to pay for a physician. Likewise prone to suspicion were barber surgeons who also provided plant-based medicines and carried out blood-letting, bone-setting and amputations.
Other people who often fell under suspicion included the green women who gathered plants to provide the ingredients for cunning women and barber surgeons to prepare simples (herbal remedies made from a single plant) as well as more complex medicinal compounds. For instance, a green woman might pick elder berries and sell them to the cunning woman.
The cunning woman would then boil the elder berries with honey or sugar, along with warming spices, such as ginger or cinnamon, to create a curative linctus.
The resulting elder-berry linctus would then be sold to villagers to prevent or cure coughs, colds, flu and lung diseases. A close look at the freshly picked sprigs of elder berries will show that the sprigs resemble the inner lung, which may be why elder is associated with the lung.
Beyond this, suspicion also fell on neighbours when times were hard. It seems it was easier to accuse a neighbour of witchcraft than to accept that sometimes bad luck was behind horses going lame, babies being miscarried or crops failing. It must have also been a convenient solution to anyone you didn’t like the look of, who posed any kind of threat (whether real or imagined), or who might have posed a burden on the community – for example, the old, the poor, the disabled.
But it wasn’t just those administering folk medicine who risked accusation of witchcraft. Men of the cloth were also not safe. In the south of England, John Lowes, the vicar of Brandeston was swum; because he floated, he was then further tested and interrogated after being kept awake for several nights, before finally confessing to witchcraft.
Interestingly, it seems that the Rev. Lowes conducted his own burial service shortly before his execution. It’s interesting, not just because it’s strange to conduct your own funeral, but because most witches found guilty of witchcraft were put to death ‘without benefit of clergy’, which imperilled their eternal souls. So perhaps this was Lowes' attempt to ensure that he at least had a Christian funeral.
Wallace Notestein (2010)  A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718. New Haven, CT: Yale University.
Dilston Physic Garden runs excellent courses in botanical medicine. For more information, click here
About the Author
Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen. When she’s not studying or writing, Helen critiques, edits and proofreads other writers’ work, and she is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.
1st July 2017
'Did all women have something of the witch about them?’
Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.
From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.
Inspired by true events, Widdershins tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.
Huge thanks to the author and also to Natalie at Impress Books for the kind invitation to be
part of this blog tour. You can follow the Tour on Twitter #Widdershins
You can read my review Widdershins by clicking here