IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 325: 'Something wicked this way comes'?: Memories of Magicians and Witches

Monday 2 July 2018, 16.30-18.00

Moderator/Chair:Daisy Black, Department of English Language, TESOL & Applied Linguistics, Swansea University
Paper 325-a'Darke corners and garden allyes': London's Forgotten Magical Underworld
(Language: English)
Tabitha Stanmore, Department of History, University of Bristol
Index terms: Daily Life, Local History, Mentalities, Social History
Paper 325-bThe Use of Myths, Legends, and Oral Traditions in the Witchcraft Trials of Italy: A Case Study
(Language: English)
Debora Moretti, Department of History, University of Bristol
Index terms: Local History, Mentalities, Social History

Paper -a:
This paper focuses on my research into service magicians, or cunning folk, in London. Though rarely afforded much attention in modern studies, magic was rife across medieval England and in demand among people of every social stratum. As magic was technically illicit, magicians had an incentive to stay in more hidden places, where they might be conveniently forgotten by church and secular authorities. Using mapped data of cunning folk’s dwellings across London, I will explore what these can tell us about medieval societal perspectives on magic. By exposing some aspects of this underworld, I aim to show that magic is worth remembering in our study of medieval history.

Paper -b:
A close study of the conception and perception of the figure of the witch and witchcraft beliefs in the popular culture of two very different regions of Italy – Piedmont in the north and Tuscany in the centre – has shown how the reinterpretation of ancient myths and legends have played an essential role in the creation of regional mythologies of the sabbat and regional witches figures. A careful analysis of the witchcraft trial documents allow us to see how accusers and accused reinterpreted myths, legends, and folktales in order to explore the ways in which they perceived abstract concepts like the mythology of the sabbat and the ways in which they perceived the idea of what a real witch should be and how she should behave.

This paper wants to discuss a case study from Tuscany: the case of Battista di Silvestro, an elderly woman who in 1596 was tried by the Siena Inquisition. Battista, accused of practicing maleficia, when forced to describe her experience of the sabbat by the inquisitor, proceeds to collect all her folk knowledge and memory of what a witch should do and how the sabbat should be, creating a fascinating story based on the legend of the Walnut Tree of Benevento, a well-known and well-spread tradition attested up and down Italy from the 15th century, making Benevento – province capital of the region Campania – the official land of the witches’ meetings under its famous walnut tree. This early modern tradition of the Benevento Walnut Tree as a gathering place for the witches’ sabbat derives from the combination and reinterpretation of three more ancient, fascinating mythical kernels.