Our Ferguson collection is a rich source of supernatural and occult material, and we have had many wonderful articles, exhibitions and digitised material already published that you can enjoy. Think ghosts, think witches, think more ghosts!
However, in honour of Halloween, I have chosen to highlight a few more items from our collection this October. My choices are based around four main themes; witches, mysteries, ghosts and magic. You will be delighted, and alarmed…
The wonderful discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, daughters of Ioan Flower … executed at Lincolne, March 11. 1618. (Sp Coll Ferguson Ag-d.5)
This pamphlet would have been circulated in the 17th century, and illustrates to us some of the practices attributed to witches through the examination of a case relating to two sisters and their mother. Margaret Flower, the eldest daughter, is said to have confessed to having ‘two familiar spirits sucking on her, the one white, the other black spotted; the white sucked under her left breast, and the blacke spotted within the inward parts of her secrets’ – leaf G1r. Her sister Philippa (Phillip) meanwhile is accused of being ‘lewdly transported with the love of one Th: Simpson , who presumed to say that shee had bewitched him’ – leaf C3v. Despite the apparent knowledge of their ‘evil’ within the community, the sisters held positions as servants of the Earl of Rutland. It is said that in revenge for her dismissal from this role, Margaret Flower stole a right hand glove belonging to Lord Rosse, Rutland’s heir, and gave it to her mother Joane, who is described as ‘a monstrous malicious woman… her demeanour strange and exoticke … a notorious Witch’ – leaf C3r. Joane stroked her cat, Rutterkin, with the glove, dipped it in boiling water, pricked it, and buried it. It was claimed that these practices caused Lord Rosse’s death, as well as other family illnesses and tragedies. The woodcut on the title page shows a contemporary perception of the three ‘witches’ with their familiars – demons that take the form of small animals, whose function is to advise and assist witches – ‘the Divell … offered them his service … hee would attend you in such prety formes of dog, cat or rat, that they should neither be terrified, nor anybody else suspicious of the matter’ – leaf D1r. The three women were apprehended about Christmas time of 1617, Joane ‘fell downe and dyed as shee was carryed to Lincolne Goale’ – leaf D2v. Her two daughters, along with other witnesses, lived to be the subject of ‘examinations’, which are said to have taken place between January and March of 1618. These examinations apparently lead to confessions of their guilt, and ‘the judges … came downe to Lincolne about the first weeke of March, being Sr. Henry Hobert, Lord chiefe Justice of the common Pleas, and Sr. Ed: Bromley’ – leaf G1v. There is nothing to suggest much of a trial, but it is asserted that the judges found the women to be abhorrently evil. Margaret and Philippa Flower were executed on the 11th of March 1618. They were just two of tens of thousands of people across Europe and North America who were horribly executed during the 15th-18th centuries for this supposed crime.
Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery
by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, with illustrations by ‘Phiz’ – 1851 (Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.59)
Le Fanu (1814 -1873) was an Irish writer of predominately Gothic fiction. This collection features four short stories; the Watcher, The Murdered Cousin, Schalken the Painter and The Evil Guest.
The second story, a mystery or thriller, falls particularly neatly in to the genre of Victorian sensation fiction as it presents the tale in the first person ‘This story … is written, as nearly as possible, in the very words in which it was related by its “heroine,” the late Countess D’ – p. 61. The general motivation for this style was so that the reader might identify personally with the protagonist (known as Margaret in the story), heightening the sensations felt whilst reading, and also to appeal to the popularity of ‘true crime’ accounts. A reader’s sympathies are further ensured with the opening sentence ‘My mother died when I was an infant’ – p.61, making way for the vulnerable, orphaned heroine that all Gothic fiction readers will recognise. These tropes then give way to the true horror of the story, as a brief background is given retelling the tale of a mysterious murder committed within a room locked from the inside, for which the protagonist’s uncle, Sir Arthur Tyrell, is suspected ‘they found the body … lifeless, and hanging halfway out, the head downwards, and near the floor’ – p.64. Upon the death of her father, Margaret finds herself in the care of this uncle, and with an inheritance that will be passed to him in the eventuality of her death. This foreshadowing of danger is further suggested with the overbearing presence of her new home, the decaying Carrickleigh ‘[the] solemn aspect of the old building, the ruinous and deserted appearance of the whole place, and the associations which connected it with a dark page in the history of my family’ p. 72. But it is not until Margaret refuses to marry her abhorrent cousin Edward, that she begins to fear for her life. She is threatened and isolated by her uncle, who intercepts a letter sent to her friend in desperation ‘You dared to write that foul and infamous libel; but it shall be your last … I have defeated your first attempt … if ever you make another, chains, darkness, and the keeper’s whip shall be your portion’ – p. 93. Margaret begins to witness ominous goings on ‘I magnified suspicions into certainties, and dreaded night after night that I should be murdered in my bed’ p. 91. At last, the evil men expose themselves with an attempt to murder Margaret. Through some mistake however, it is Edward’s sister, Emily, that is killed ‘two dull blows, given in rapid succession; a quivering sigh, and the long-drawn, heavy breathing of the sleeper was for ever suspended’ p. 100. Margaret escapes, but is forever haunted by the murder ‘I then uttered the wish … that she had been spared, and that, in her stead, I were mouldering in the grave, forgotten, and at rest’ – p. 106. This story is all the more chilling for its mixture of the Gothic and true crime genres, cleverly bringing together circumstances which not many readers could claim themselves impervious to.
A True Narrative of the Sufferings and Relief of a Young Girle Strangely Molested by Evil Spirits and their Instruments – 1698 (Sp Coll Ferguson Al-b.77)
This pamphlet follows the case of the twelve year old Christian Shaw from Erskine, Renfrewshire. It is claimed that after witnessing her mother’s maid, Katherine Campbel, stealing, Christian was cursed by Katherine ‘her body was often so bent and rigid, as she stood like a bow on her feet and neck at once’ – p. xi. Christian began to have violent fits, and was believed to have been possessed by many evil spirits, ‘when Katherine Campbel touched the Girle, she was immediately upon her touch seiz’d with more grievous Fits, and cast into more intolerable Torments’ – p xxv. Amongst other occurrences, Christian is said to have been flung over the top of a bed, have substances such as hay and dung fall out of her mouth, cry that those she accused were cutting her and to imagine she saw animals in her bed. Katherine Campbel and Agnes Nasmith, along with other men and women, were condemned and executed for bewitching Christian.
by Mrs J. H. Riddell – 1885 (Sp Coll Ferguson Al-d.61)
Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906), who published under her husband’s initials, was a popular fiction writer of the Victorian period. Although this collection of stories does not contain all of her supernatural fiction, it is the only volume dedicated entirely to the genre. The book contains six tales; Walnut-Tree House, The Open Door, Nut Bush Farm, The Old House in Vauxhall Walk, Sandy the Tinker and Old Mrs. Jones.
Riddell’s writing tends to belong to a gentle form of ghost story, which could perhaps be described as parallel to ‘cosy crime’. Rather than malevolent ghosts for example, we see spirits intent on rectifying some injustice. The reader is usually assured of their safety with a framing device that gives the illusion of a shared experience, as well as this there are references to the protagonist’s life after the event, reassuring the reader that there is a future for them. Further evidence of these stories being comfortable reads, are the advertisements found on the back and inside covers of the book. The adverts are domestic in theme, and illustrate the ease in which the reader can be delivered back into familiarity. The second of these short stories ‘The Open Door’ is a good example of this, as much more time is given to establishing a familiar protagonist, Theophilus, and his rational thought, than it is to portraying fearful goings on. Theophilus is a clerk, who hears of the opportunity to earn two shillings if he can close a perpetually open door at Ludlow Hall, a phenomenon attributed to the hall being haunted. An agreement is made with the owner, Mr Carrison, for Theophilus to spend two weeks at the house. At this point, he is much more concerned with making money, and indeed the first hint we have toward the Gothic genre isn’t until we reach Ludlow Hall about half way through the story ‘the place looked to me so dark that I could scarcely distinguish the objects by which I was surrounded … I found I was in an immense hall, lighted from the roof, a magnificent old oak staircase conducted to the upper rooms’ – p. 76. These hints toward the supernatural are not long lived however, even when Theophilus discovers the mysterious door, ‘This, then, was the room — this with the open door. For a second I stood appalled; I think I was fairly frightened. That did not last long, however.’ – p 77. Upon meeting the original owner of the hall, Lord Ludlow, we discover a little of the story surrounding the door, yet the potential for a thrill is again somewhat diminished by the comfortable surroundings in which that story is relayed, ‘The theory people have set up about the open door is this: as in that room my uncle was murdered, they say the door will never remain shut till the murderer is discovered’ – p. 86. As Theophilus finds the house slightly changed or tampered with each morning, he is comforted and resolved to believe it is human interference causing the mysteries at the hall. It is not until the very end of the story that a reader will get a true taste of the supernatural ‘I saw, as in a momentary flash, that the door I had beheld locked stood wide — that there stood beside the table an awful figure, with uplifted hand — and then I saw no more’ p. 101. The tale ends well, with the great mystery solved and a happier future for (almost) all involved. Recommended for the low to moderate thrill seeker!
The book of black magic and of pacts : including the rites and mysteries of the goëtic theurgy by A. E. Waite – 1898 (Sp Coll Ferguson Add. q28)
Arthur Edward Waite (1857 – 1942) was a mystic and wrote extensively on occult and esoteric matters. He was also the co-creator of the Rider-Waite tarot deck, which is still one of the most popular decks in use today.
This book is an attempt to document and amalgamate various famous grimoires (a book of magic spells and invocations), to explain the history behind them and to discuss their theology. Waite does warn however that it would be ‘unsafe to affirm that all persons making use of the ceremonies in the Rituals would fail to obtain results … some of the processes are practical, and to this extent they are dangerous’ – p. vii. The first section of the book contains an analytical and critical account of the main magical rituals known to Waite, whilst the second section forms a complete grimoire of black magic. In this way the book offers a dual interest, as for one group of readers it gives basic understanding and explanation of a wide spectrum black magic and its rituals, and to another it provides academic commentary on existing texts. In chapter VIII of Part II, Miscellaneous and Minor Processes, we can see rituals on various topics such as ‘Works of Hatred and Destruction’. Here, a reader could gain an overview of the processes under this topic, with advice such as: ‘The days and hours of Mars are suitable for overthrowing enemies, while the hours of Saturn and Mars, and also the days on which the Moon is in conjunction with those planets, are excellent for experiments of hatred, enmity, quarrel and discord’ p. 262. It is related for example, that one way in which a person might inflict suffering on their enemy would be to prepare a waxen image (an effigy in wax representing a person whom it is desired to injure), fumigate this image with the proper perfumes, recite the given words over and over, and finally leave the image in a place with a bad odour for one night. Whether approaching this text for academic or practical interest, it is sure to intrigue. To visit applied magic from another angle, see our digital exhibition Conjuring Curiosities.
These items represent just a small portion of the fascinating material we hold, so make your way up to Special Collections to uncover more of our mysteries for yourself (fancy dress optional).
Categories: Special Collections