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A Haunted History: The Prosecution of Witchcraft


"I have walked a great while over the snow,

And I am not tall nor strong.

My clothes are wet, and my teeth are set,

And the way was hard and long.I have wandered over the fruitful earth,

But I never came here before.

Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!

The cutting wind is a cruel foe.

I dare not stand in the blast.

My hands are stone, and my voice a groan,

And the worst of death is past.

I am but a little maiden still,

My little white feet are sore.

Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!

Her voice was the voice that women have,

Who plead for their heart’s desire.

She came—she came—and the quivering flame

Sunk and died in the fire.

It never was lit again on my hearth

Since I hurried across the floor,

To lift her over the threshold, and let her in at the door."

— Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, The Witch

This piece was written in the latter half of the nineteenth century, following in the Edgar Allen Poe and "Penny Dreadful" styles of flash macabre literature. British novelist Mary Elizabeth Coleridge describes the tale of a witch and her hardship in roaming the land as she seeks shelter—and perhaps, social acceptance. The last and third stanza is told in the perspective of the wary homeowner, who alludes to the negative consequence he'd experienced after allowing the witch into his abode.

Witchcraft has often been regarded with mixed reactions of awe and suspicion. The belief that witches brought bad luck and illnesses spanned centuries; to this day, some countries still have laws in place banning any practice of witchcraft—whether practiced religiously or secularly. Although these issues have since been mitigated in most areas of the inclusive world, this was not the case just a few short decades back.

On June 1st, 1653, the rulers of England officially commissioned the strict prohibition of any witchcraft-related activities. However, the month of June redeems itself in our history; earlier this week, magical communities across the pond (or swamp) celebrated the anniversary of England's repeal of such laws. On June 22nd, 1951—a whopping four hundred years later—all acts inciting magical practice as crimes were lifted.

Did You Know:

- The ruling in 1653 was not the first law Parliament set against the occult; the Witchcraft Act of 1563 stated, "use, practise, or exercise any Witchcraft, Enchantment, Charm, or Sorcery, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or destroyed," condemning the perpetrator to death without trial.

- Contrary to popular belief, no witches were actually burned at the stake in the trials at Colonial Salem, Massachusetts. These twenty women—who likely did not practice witchcraft at all—were hanged, with the exception of Giles Corey, who was pressed to death by heavy stones.

- Rumors of Salem witch burnings probably stem from the European witch trials; between the 15th and 18th centuries, execution by fire was quite commonplace. Other countries known for their witch hunts are Italy, France, Germany, and Scandinavia.

- Because the Salem trials occurred in 1692, these Massachusetts witch hunts were not "American" at all; therefore, the accused were prosecuted under British rule. Today in the America, there are some states that still hold laws against the occult—namely Tarot and fortune telling.

As a solitary witch, practicing Pagan or Wiccan, you should be aware of your religious rights as an American citizen, parent, employee, and member of the US military from state to state.

Have a great day, and stay tuned for our next Haunted History lesson!

xo,

The Attic Witch


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