LETTER: Pendle ‘witches’ cottage archaeology has been misunderstood

As a graduate archaeologist and historian specialising in the magical protection of domestic and farm buildings, I am mystified by the fanciful suggestion the recently unearthed cottage in Pendle, in which the ritual deposit of a “mummified” cat was discovered, might be identified with Malkin Tower – the legendary home of Mother Demdike and her extended family.

Friday, 23rd December 2011, 11:50 am

While the article states correctly this animal was probably walled up as an apotropaic (protective) device to ward off witches, the fay and evil spirits, these dried cats were but one of the possible weapons deployed by Lancastrian farmers and householders against malevolent influences.

We already know about plenty of examples of walled-up written charms, stone heads and shoes, for example, (dating from the 17th Century to the 19th) in Pendle properties and further afield in Lancashire. I have recently published many years’ research into such anti-witch artefacts – much of it undertaken alongside the late Dr Ralph Merrifield, the world expert on such matters - in my new book, “The Lure of the Lancashire Witches”.

Nobody has ever before misunderstood the evidence by suggesting any of the properties in which these items were concealed was the actual home of Demdike and her brood.

Why on earth would a witch’s cottage be protected against evil spirits and witches? It is far more likely the Pendle dwelling in question merely belonged to one of the many householders in the area terrified of witches and their maleficia. Lancashire folk (and indeed folk all over Great Britain) continued to protect their property against the invasion of evil spirits long after the demise of the famous witches of 1612.

And those living in the Pendle district would, of course, be particularly paranoid and eager to protect their property.

In 2012, the 400th anniversary year of our local witches, it will be essential to provide historically accurate information to the local and national media.

Bearing this in mind, and with all due respect, it should be made clear Simon Entwistle is not a nationally recognised authority on the Lancashire witches.

I would strongly suggest that if he is asked by the media for a statement in future, he should refer the inquiry to somebody qualified to comment.

I am sure the local library services, Lancashire Museums Service or University of Lancaster would be more than happy to furnish details of genuine experts willing to comment on the various aspects of the Lancashire witch case.

Unfortunately the genuine excitement which should have accompanied this unique find of a “mummified” cat (the first in Lancashire as far as I am aware) has been sullied by inaccurate and ill-informed speculation, fuelled by a complete lack of understanding of what constitutes historical evidence.