Toil and Trouble: Four Real Life Witches

Though ghosts, vampires, and zombies may also be synonymous with Halloween, no supernatural entity has had quite the effect on society as the witch. While it’s pretty simple to prove you’re not a member of the undead, those accused of witchcraft had no true way to prove they were not a witch – leading to witchcraft becoming a de facto accusation for those who did not fit in with contemporary society. For some, the high burden of proof was to their advantage, they used it to further themselves in society – for many, however, accusations of witchcraft did not end in their favor. Today we look at four real life witches, and where you can go to take a walk in their shoes.

Marie Laveau

We touched on Marie Laveau briefly in our post about the top cemeteries to visit – here we’ll discuss a bit more about the woman herself. Born a free woman of color in New Orleans in 1801, Marie Laveau used her status as a voodoo queen to advance herself and her family both fiscally and socially. Little is known definitively about Marie Laveau, however, what evidence we have supports that her and her daughter blended voodoo and Catholicism skillfully, and were highly regarded among the New Orleans elite and commonfolk alike. Fans of Marie Laveau still make pilgrimages to her family tomb at New Orleans no. 1, both to pay respects and in the hope that Marie Laveau will grant them a wish.

Mother Shipton

Ursala Sontheil, commonly known as Mother Shipton, is perhaps England’s most famous witch. Mother Shipton was born to an unwed teenage mother in Norfolk, England, in 1488. Reportedly grossly deformed, Mother Shipton fit the archetypal image of the gnarled, grotesque witch. Mother Shipton was a contemporary of Nostradamus, and much like him, was heralded for her prophecies, always published in rhyme. Today, you can visit the cave where Mother Shipton was reportedly born in Yorkshire — the park includes the Cave and the Petrifying Well, and is England’s earliest known tourist attraction.

The Bell Witch

The Bell Witch may be best known these days for the movie it inspired, however, in 1817 the Bell Witch seemed very real to the Bell family in the Tennessee frontier. As legend goes, the Bell Witch began tormenting the Bell family after John Bell shot her familiar in his fields when it startled him (supposedly, the familiar had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit). Following the familiar’s death, residents of the county recount stories of an entity tormenting the Bell family in the form of disembodied voices and physical assaults. Many claim the Bell Witch killed John Bell, and a disembodied voice was heard laughing throughout his funeral. Though reports of the Bell Witch largely died with John Bell, today, you can visit the Bell Witch Cave in Tennessee, and some still report hearing disembodied voices.

 The Pendle Witches

The Pendle Witches are a group of ten people accused of murdering sixteen victims using witchcraft over a twenty year period. Many of those involved had long been regarded as witches, and made their living off begging and healing. Though it may have provided for the accused, posing as a witch proved to be a risky endeavor — shifting political and religious climates and family feuding led to their execution in 1612. One of the accused had been begging, and was turned down by a peddler, who immediately fell ill — though this event may have triggered the investigations, in total nine supposed witches would be executed for crimes that purportedly spanned two decades. Today, you can visit the Pendle Witch Trail in Lancashire, England, and visit Lancaster Castle, where the witches were held before their trial