Thursday, 30 October 2014

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...

Our Special Collections Librarian, Sarah Griffin, introduces you to some of the witches who fly through our collections.

The Wonder book of Fairy Tales by A J Johnson 1903
At Halloween, witches sail on their broomsticks across the night sky and the veil between our world and the underworld becomes thin. Dressing up as a scary witch is the favourite costume choice on 31 October and as we all like to be a bit scared we thought we would uncover some creepy witches lurking in the Special Collections to get us all in the Halloween mood.

World turned upside down 
c 1800 - click on image to enlarge
Saducismus triumphatus, or a full and 
plain evidence concerning witches and apparations
Note: this is a crop from the larger title page - click on image to enlarge
Witches were believed to consort with the devil and they were often attended by their ‘familiar spirits’ who helped them do their magic. Familiars were often cats or toads.

A discourse on witchcraft. As it was acted in the family
of Mr Edward Fairfax of Fuystone
in the County of Yorke in the year 1621

Three very well-known witches can be found in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. At the time that this performance was first shown people firmly believed in witches, so to start the play showing their demoniacal plotting would have been a real curtain raiser.

The plays of William Shakespeare embellished with plates

In all these pictures the witches are old and ugly; a fairly typical depiction. Witches are ugly because it makes them easier to hate and be scared of, although it was also believed that witches had the ability to appear beautiful in order to ensnare the unwary.

Of course not all witches are scary, here’s the fairy godmother from Cinderella, a witch who does good, a white witch. She does look quite typically witchy though with her tall hat, cloak and long nose.

The Wonder book of Fairy Tales by A J Johnson 1903

Have a happy and safe Halloween and keep an eye on the sky for those broomsticks!

All these books and much much more can be found in the Special Collections and are all available for study. Please contact Sarah Griffin for more information.

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