Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wtich* (for Witch*)

Which witch is which? Which is our Witch Topic #2 today, but first let me say that I was struck by the similarity in spelling between the notorious Salem witch trials of 1692 and the far lesser-known ones in Samlesbury, England. "Samle" looks like it could be a typo, or even an acronym, for Salem. But in fact, it derives from the Old English sceamol, which means ledge; bury comes from burh, defined as fortification. A little over 400 years ago, and exactly eighty years before Salem, the good folks of Samlesbury were trying to fortify themselves against a scourge of witches, which I imagine some thought they saw under every bed, and sailing off every ledge. The Samlesbury witch trials began on August 19, 1612, and were one of a series of trials held over the course of two days. Eleven defendants (ten in Lancaster and one in York) were convicted and put to death. The three accused "witches" of Samlesbury (accused, that is, of child murder and cannibalism) were ultimately acquitted after the judge declared the main prosecution witness to be "the perjuring tool of a Catholic priest." Though historians have since deemed these trials "anti-Catholic propaganda" (and, I should think, anti-female propaganda as well), in the seventeenth century, and in the "wild and lawless" county of Lancashire, flying femme fatales and "popish plotters" were reportedly running equally rampant. We found five cases of Wtich* (for witch*) in OhioLINK today, and 38 in WorldCat.

("The Ride Through the Murky Air," The Lancashire Witches: A Romance of Pendle Forest, by William Harrison Ainsworth, 1848, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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