05 February, 2012

Oxford The Pitt Rivers Collection

So I'm now being gawped at by a London Blogger. Hmph as if it wasn't bad enough being in a glass case surrounded by other articles and labelled 'sympathetic magic'.Oh yes, me, Elizabeth Lawrence in the Oxford University Pitt Rivers collection of anthropology confined in a little silvered bottle. So how come I ended up here and not burned at the stake? Well forget burning- if you were a witch when I was, 4, maybe 5 hundred years ago- time means little to me now - they didn't burn you they just said you didn't exist. Unless of course you were a threat to the state and breaching the King's peace, like old chatterbox up in Lancashire did. Then the authorities really came down on you, and you were hanged. I was just a threat to my neighbours. And I was good at it too. You can achieve such a lot with gossip and what you can't achieve with gossip you can achieve with sickness. Rarely you can poison. But it's all poison really. And when you have lived as long as I have you get to know a lot about poison. When I was handed over in this bottle to Margaret Murray, who sometimes cast spells for a laugh, the old woman who handed me over stated: "They do say there is a witch in it, and if you let 'un out there'll be a peck o' trouble." Yes and there would be too! All I've been able to do in here is brood and plot and my revenge will be vile.

I began my career of destruction (and incidentally the accumulation of property and chattels) when I was fifteen. The squire had a daughter, old squire Blackthorne was hard up so he needed to make a good marriage. Except the daughter was an ugly b****, and with a nasty temper, but what she certainly was was a virgin - well looking like that what else could she be? I let it drop to some of the right people that she had known several of the village peasants and one was particularly persistent. Course nobody would have cared if it was the other way round but the man she was about to marry who had land and money, and was in the next village too, certainly did care. He called off the wedding on the basis of the rumours I'd spread. When the squire died the girl all hope of marriage gone, went into a convent. I just happened to have a few sheep then and started to graze them on the land they vacated. And everybody forgot the old squire and his daughter and just assumed the land was mine. Victory one. But there's no end to the havoc you can cause in an English village with a quiet insinuation. When a good wife becomes pregnant, as they often do, a quiet word to imply it's not her husband's can wreck many a marriage. Yes indeed some of my wrecking was done just for fun. Did I live up to the stereotype of a witch knowing herbal lore and helping people? Sometimes I helped them on their way to meet their maker! Only peasants of course but still if the King knew about it is still murder. Not that they weren't well on their way anyway when I did them in but a helping hand never came without its profit. It's a myth that peasant's have nothing worth stealing. Some of the people had gold, others had some fine cloth. I'd never take anything that they boasted about. Other people might then wonder why it was missing. But something they never talked about - like a guilty secret - such as some silver or the like I could easily purloin if the owner was hastened away. I sold the articles well away from Sussex and used the money for more land and stock. Always useful. My career continued - reputations ruined, peasants murdered and robbed, and if someone died and all their relatives were gone nobody really stopped me taking their land, they just forgot it. I hardly ever resorted to spells but fear and intimidation were my stock in trade. But one day it all changed. A woman from a family of tinkers moved into the village. We'd never had a tinker before so people were able to get their pots and pans repaired. She also brought some bottles with her. Often the tinker is itinerant and goes round different places but sometimes they settle and this one did. I knew from the start she could see right through me. She probably had done the same as I had and things became too hot for her for some reason. So one day I was on my rounds making my insinuations and gossiping as usual when she confronted me in the high street near the ale house. She told me I'd spoken a pack of lies and I'd get my comeuppance one day. I let forth a string of invective as I wasn't prepared to have my business taken away - or more likely usurped - by this newcomer. Oh yes she was out for my trade all right.
The next day she says to me 'Lizzie, don't take it too hard what I said yesterday, why don't we have some ale together and be friends'. She poured the ale and I didn't look closely while she was doing it. It was dark in the tinker's cottage too. Then she brought out some of her wares including the glass bottle that's being gawped at right now. Well the ale was drugged and she cast a shrinking spell on me. I was helpless and couldn't resist as she picked me up and popped me into the bottle. She then told me that my lies and scandals would no longer do any harm and sealed me up. And here I remain. Lets hope nobody drops the bottle.

I've just been to the Pitt Rivers Museum where there was allegedly a witch in a bottle. I am always amazed by the sheer credulity of peasants of old. How could they possibly believe things like that?

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