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Marion Gibson on The Witches of St. Osyth

Marion Gibson on the Witches of St. Osyth Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Presenting a dynamic witch trial history interview with historian and accomplished author Dr. Marion Gibson. We discuss her new book release “The Witches of St. Osyth” available next Thursday, December 22, 2022. It uncovers the story of a witch trial in Elizabethan England in St.Osyth. Get the preview scoop this week and read it next week! We continue the conversation with a hearty inquiry of our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?Links:List of books authored by Dr. Marion GibsonOrder book, Witches of St. Osyth by Dr. Marion GibsonThe Discoverie of Witchcraft, Reginald ScotPlease sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutLeo Igwe, AfAWAdvocacy Against Witch Hunts, South AfricaEnd Witch Hunt ProjectsSupport the showJoin us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpSupport the show

Show Notes

Presenting a dynamic witch trial history interview with historian and accomplished author Dr. Marion Gibson. We discuss her new book release “The Witches of St. Osyth” available next Thursday, December 22, 2022. It uncovers the story of a witch trial in Elizabethan England in St. Osyth. Get the preview scoop this week and read it next week! We continue the conversation with a hearty inquiry of our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?


List of books authored by Dr. Marion Gibson

Order book, Witches of St. Osyth by Dr. Marion Gibson

The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Reginald Scot

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Leo Igwe, AfAW

Advocacy Against Witch Hunts, South Africa

End Witch Hunt Projects

Support the show

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Support the show


Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to an exciting episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson. 
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack.
Josh Hutchinson: In this episode, we have the privilege of speaking with Marion Gibson about her new book, The Witches of St. Osyth.
Sarah Jack: I'm excited about this one, because it's another close look at a community that went through witch hunts. 
Josh Hutchinson: Yes, we talk about the community of St. Osyth. We talk about the approximately 20 people who were accused there.
Sarah Jack: This community was going through a lot of change, and [00:01:00] they also believed in magic. 
Josh Hutchinson: They did. We know about these witch trials from a pamphlet written by a mysterious W. W. but based on the accounts of one Brian Darcy, who was the chief prosecutor and interrogator. He was the powerful person in the area. He became the sheriff later. He produced the pamphlet possibly out of his own self-interest to promote himself as the tough on crime figure of the day.
Sarah Jack: Yes, he was very proud of his severe actions towards anyone that could be an enemy of God, these witches. 
Josh Hutchinson: So we talk about him. We also talk about the victims, the accused, and we talk about their [00:02:00] accusers. 
Sarah Jack: We learn about the good and the bad magic that they had in their culture. 
Josh Hutchinson: And we talk about their familiar spirits, these animal-like creatures that could be summoned and kept almost like pets in baskets of wool and used at the witch's discretion to go out and afflict people.
Sarah Jack: And as always, you'll hear us talk about why we should care about these individuals and these stories, and hear us discuss what we can learn from what they went through and why it matters now.
Josh Hutchinson: We learn about not treating people as the Other, not labeling and treating people like they're outsiders within their own community. We learn about how we can be good to people today [00:03:00] and avoid these types of behaviors that lead to witch-hunts of various types.
We learn about these people from the late 16th century, and the thing that we learn is that they're just like us. They have the same emotions, the same motivations, the same fears, and those fears led them astray into a terrible tragedy. And so we discuss how we can avoid making those same errors. 
Sarah Jack: Josh, I hear you've got some interesting history for us today. 
Josh Hutchinson: During our research, we encountered a book with a fantastic title. We read excerpts from a book by one Reginald Scot written in 1584. He was a skeptic about witch trials and[00:04:00] some of this in response to Brian Darcy's pamphlet and the trials of the Witches at St. Osyth. 
But his book is titled The Discoverie of Witchcraft, Wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected, the knaverie of conjurors, the impietie of inchantors, the follie of soothsaiers, the impudent falsehood of cousenors, the infidelitie of atheists, the prestilent practises of Pythonists, the curiositie of figurecasters, the vanitie of dreamers, the beggarlie art of Alcumystrie, the abomination of idolatrie, the horrible art of poisoning, the vertue and power of naturall magicke, and all the conveiances of legierdemaine and juggling are deciphered: and many other things opened, which have long lien hidden, howbeit verie [00:05:00] necessarie to be known.
That is some wordy title. It's the whole table of contents in a title, and though this was a common practice at the time, this is one of my favorite titles that I've come across from this period of writing. I love the way he lists all the different types of magical practices at the time with their various names and descriptions. I love his pestilent practices of Pythonists. Great alliteration. Great job naming this book, Reginald. 
Sarah Jack: It's so fantastic, and it leaves you with more to research just after listening to the title. 
Josh Hutchinson: Yeah. What do these things mean? What are Pythonists? What are figurecasters? What is [00:06:00] cousening? You could find out if you read Marion Gibson's book, Witchcraft and Society in England and America, 1550 to 1750.
Sarah Jack: Thank you for that great history, Josh. 
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome.
Sarah Jack: And now it is my pleasure to introduce Marion Gibson, author of Witchcraft in Society in England and America, 1550 to 1750, Witchcraft Myths in American Culture, Early Modern Witches: Witchcraft Cases in Contemporary Writing, and many more books, and next, The Witches of St. Osyth.
Josh Hutchinson: When was witchcraft outlawed in England? 
Marion Gibson: That is a good question. And it had clearly been going on a long time before it was outlawed, so I, it's important to say that it's quite a long tradition of people practicing magic there. The first law against it was 1542, so we're looking at the reign of Henry VIII. He's thinking about people [00:07:00] practicing magic, potentially round the peripheries of his court.
You might remember that his queen, Ann Boleyn, was accused of witchcraft as part of her fall from grace and eventual execution. So he's thinking about those kind of things, and a law is brought in, but it doesn't seem to be applied very widely, and it just disappears. So in the 1560s, specifically 1563, his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I brings in an act against witchcraft and the practice of witchcraft, and then it remains illegal until the 1730s.
There's another act in 1604, King James VI of Scotland, I of England, has a witchcraft act, too. I guess for practical purposes, if you wanted to talk about the period where witch trials really start, you'd probably say the 1563 Act is the one to look at.
Sarah Jack: And as the laws progressed, what were the differences between those laws?
Marion Gibson: So the [00:08:00] 1563 one, which is the important one, I think, was an act which did condemn people to death, if they were found to be guilty of witchcraft, but only if they had killed someone. So if it was thought to be a really serious crime, if they were essentially a murderer, they would be executed. They'd be executed by hanging, rather than burning, as was true in some other jurisdictions. 
But you could also be imprisoned, if you were found guilty of a lesser offense under that 1563 act. You might be imprisoned for a year, which was a bit more merciful. I mean, the prisons weren't great. You were quite likely to die of jail fever, or, at the very least, have an absolutely horrible time in an Elizabeth in prison and be kept in vile conditions and so on. But it was at least a better punishment than being hanged. 
And four times a year, you would be taken outta the prison, and you would be carted around the local market towns and put in the stocks, and you'd have to do penance, essentially, for your crime. And people would come and jeer and throw [00:09:00] stuff at you. You'd get to go out four times a year, but it will be a horrible experience. We do know people survived it. We also know some convicted witches who were sent to prison and died there. So that was the first round of punishments that they devised under that 1563 act.
In 1604, things get worse. So the the third, if you like, witchcraft act of that series prescribed death for more or less anything. So the imprisonment option is much less favored, and James is thinking a lot more about witchcraft as a religious crime, as a crime, which is to do with devil worship and crimes against the state, as well as against neighbors, and so on.
And you also could be executed if you were thought to have fed a familiar spirit or covenanted with the devil, so certain kinds of, if you like, thought crime or crimes of imagination, which were short of actually killing your neighbors. So things get worse under the 1604 act. 
Those are really the two [00:10:00] main ones. And then, in 1736, witchcraft is decriminalized. So you can still be, you can still be taken to court for saying that you are a witch, but you'll be judged as somebody who's a fraud or a charlatan. Somebody who's doing it because they want to make money. So you are actually stealing money from people by saying, aha, I can tell your fortune. From that point of view, that is, again, a better outcome. You will not be executed, you'll be essentially convicted of a kind of fraud. And by the 1730s, things have got a great deal better for people who might previously have been accused of witchcraft and executed, therefore.
Sarah Jack: Thank you so much. 
Josh Hutchinson: So why did they change the law in 1604? 
Marion Gibson: There are a number of explanations that people have come up with. Unfortunately, nobody wrote down exactly why they wanted to do it. It would be lovely, wouldn't it, if it was a nice rationale? There isn't, but one of the things that might have had impact on that is King James's own brush with witchcraft.
He's king of Scotland before he's [00:11:00] king of England and Scotland, and when he's only king of Scotland in the 1590s, he feels that he has been bewitched himself. So he thinks that when he's about to marry his Queen, Princess Anna of Denmark, that somebody who's trying to interfere with that marriage and that they're trying to stop her coming over the sea from Denmark, and that they're trying to stop the marriage being consummated and him producing heirs, therefore, and that they're trying to depose him and replace him with one of his courtiers, his cousins, the Earl of Bothwell.
So his personal experience seems to be quite important in his desire to tighten the laws against witchcraft. There might also be other factors. I The king doesn't bring in laws by himself. He has to work with his parliament. He has to work with counselors. It may be that there's a feeling that, generally, the problem of witchcraft is getting worse, but it does seem to be, at least partly to do with that transition from Elizabeth's reign [00:12:00] to James's reign and his sense that witches have it in for him personally, which is what he thinks.
Sarah Jack: And what were the differences between the Scotish and the English witchcraft acts? 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, again, so there are two acts in 1563. The kingdoms are then separate. So the English one is the one I pretty much described to you. The Scotish one is always a lot broader. There's always more of a sense that you can be executed for more or less anything.
And the way that the crime is investigated and witches are questioned, and so on, is very variable in Scotland. It doesn't have quite the same centralized administration system that the English state has at the time. So in Scotland you might be questioned by the church, you might be questioned by your local magistrate, you might be questioned by some Lord, if you like, who has power over the particular geographical area that you live in.
It's a lot more formless, and the outcomes are really quite horrendous. So Scotland ends up prosecuting a lot more people. It ends up executing a lot [00:13:00] more people, and some of them are burned to death. Some of them are hanged, some of them are burned. There's a lot more fluidity in how they understand the crime and what they think they should do about it.
But that law yeah, runs along in parallel until the 1604 act. At which point, I guess James thinks right, let's tidy things up here.
Josh Hutchinson: At the time of those first three acts in England, did pretty much everyone believe in witchcraft? 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, I think I would probably say that, in as far as we can tell. Again, people don't tend to write this stuff down, which is such a great pity, but it does seem quite likely. 
You can imagine the sort of world they lived in. They lived in this world that was absolutely heaving with the idea of angels and demons and elves and fairies and strange, supernatural manifestations of creatures and omens and signs and all the rest of it. It seems quite logical, then, as part of that, people would generally have [00:14:00] believed that their neighbors could be witches and could harm them.
It's not really clear always exactly how they conceived that that might work. Some of the things they might have thought the people were doing included making a pact with the devil or having a chat with a talking animal that had come to them, who may or may not be the devil, or they might have thought it was some kind of inherent power that their neighbors had.
 A lot of the people who were accused were thought also to be able to do good magic. So it was quite common for somebody to be accused if they were a cunning person or a folk magician. You can never quite tell what the accusers thought was going on, but once people have been accused, they get sucked into the legal system, and certain kinds of definitions which the magistrates know about tend to come into play. But yeah, I think it's probably fair enough to say that everybody that we know about seems to have believed in witchcraft. 
Sarah Jack: And so when did the skepticism start to emerge?
Marion Gibson: It is there [00:15:00] from the early days in various ways. People seldom go as far as saying that there are no witches. So in the 1580s, there's a chap called Reginald Scot, who's a magistrate in Kent, a county in the south of England, and he starts saying he's not sure that witches should be punished in the way that they're being punished. And he gets very worried about the idea of witches as devil worshipers. He's really quite unconvinced by that.
And he, at least one of the things that he does in researching for his book is speak to somebody who's actually in court being accused of witchcraft. And she says to me, "of course I'm not a witch. What are you talking about? I've been accused by my minister. And he's accused me because he's ill, but he's ill because he's ill, not because I made him ill." And it's that kind of conversation that seems to make Scot think that, at least the idea of witchcraft, as it is conventionally defined, is not one that he wants to believe in, that he thinks is [00:16:00] defensible.
He never goes as far as saying there are no witches, though. He's a religious man, it appears, in the same way that all the people in his community are. Presumably he believes in the devil. He has concerns about exactly how the devil might manifest. He's very interest in the idea of spirits and what a spirit means, and how that interact with people in the real world. He has all these kind of philosophical concerns, but even he seems to believe that there are such things as witches, just not the people who are right in front of him. He feels quite compassionately, I think, that they should be kindly treated and released.
But those sorts of ideas are bubbling away in the background. By the time you get to the 18th century, the idea is strengthened and strengthened, and more and more people have explored different bits of it. They're not thinking quite the old binary ways that they were, you're either on God's side or the devil's side.
And that makes it a lot easier for people to say, " yes, maybe I believe in witches, but not this kind, or not that kind, or I don't believe that they covenant with the devil. I don't believe that they operate in the way that you say they [00:17:00] do. So therefore, why don't we change the law to make it a lot more difficult to prosecute people?"
So by the time you get to 1730s, there are certainly still people they believe in witches, there are some who don't believe in witches, and there are some who probably dunno what they think.
Josh Hutchinson: We read a number of the accounts in Witchcraft and Society, and another question that came to us was, why were the male examiners so obsessed with the sexuality of the accused witches?
Marion Gibson: They were, weren't they? It's a good observation. Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that's going on is to do with the position of women in European society in the time more generally, which of course transfers over to American society, as well, but it's particularly influenced in medieval and early modern Europe by clergy who are sometimes celibate, as part of their commitment to religion. Sometimes they're Catholic clergy, so they don't have wives, they don't have daughters, they don't spend a lot of time thinking about the worlds that women live [00:18:00] in. And they regard women as a sinful creatures, tempting creatures. Bodies are dangerous. Their souls are more open to demonic corruption than men's are.
And that does seem to transfer over into Protestant conceptions of what witches are. So even where societies are a little more open to the idea that women might be religious, you know, they might be literate, they might be engaged in religion, in good ways, there still seems to be always that suspicion that well, look at Eve, the first woman, terribly sinful, open to temptation. Look what happened to her. I think it goes on. And so I think that they're obsessed with female sexuality, because they're told from the earliest times when they're doing Bible readings as children, that women are sinful, because Eve was sinful. They don't know a great deal about the world of women. Women's bodies are mysterious to them.
And it seems that they have a sense that women are this secondary kind of creature and maybe a way that the devil finds [00:19:00] his way into the world. And these are not unfamiliar ideas now, either, are they? We still very often come across this sense that women are a, a secondary creature. Women are not as important. Women's rights are not as important. So I think you can see the kind of context that we're dealing with here. Yes, they're obsessed with female sexuality and it's because they're suspicious of women. 
Sarah Jack: When you said, "look at Eve," that's so interesting. 
Marion Gibson: It's one of the things they keep coming back to, isn't it? Women are, their bodies are tempting, but their voices are tempting, too. And that goes back to Eve eating the apple, turning to Adam and saying, "aha, the apple, why don't you have some?" So there's always this sense that women are, some clergy refer to them as the devil's gateway. So there's this sense that they've let Satan in, and now they're going to come around to your house. You good Christian gentleman, are they going to corrupt you as well? So it's about temptation. It's about the permeability that women were thought to have to temptation. 
Sarah Jack: We're really excited to talk [00:20:00] about your book that's coming out. Can you tell us why you wrote it? 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, so this is The Witches of St. Osyth, and I've been wanting to write this book for 25 years, which even now seems to be a very long time.
Many years ago, I was given a photocopy of the news pamphlet about this trial, which happened in 1582 in the eastern English County of Essex. And I was given this photocopy, and I could not put it down. I started reading the stories of these witches, and I just got particularly fascinated by the female witches and what they were saying.
I hadn't read before that kind of account where a woman was talking about her ordinary life. She was talking about baking and making soap, and she was talking about minding children and going to the mill with stuff to grind and coming back with sacks of flour and brewing and all of those kind of things. And at the same time, the women were [00:21:00] confessing quite often to having demonic familiars in the shape of cats and dogs and so on. And I was utterly confused about what was going on but completely enchanted, because I wanted to know about these women's lives, and I wanted to know why I thought they were telling these stories about their lives.
So I began to look at the questioning process and what happened to these people and it just went off from there really. So I wrote the book because of those questions I had all those years ago. And in 2018-19, I had the opportunity to go to St. Osyth itself and to go to the local record repository in Chelmsford, in, in Essex, and actually start to dig out the records of their lives, which remain. So the book has come outta that. 
Sarah Jack: Excellent. I love how the questions that pop up lead us on these discoveries. So that's so exciting. 
Marion Gibson: Yes. I've had this continual itch wanting to scratch, wanting to answer those questions, and I do feel the book answers them. I've been [00:22:00] really pleased with the outcome. Doesn't tell us everything about those people, but it tells us an awful lot more than what we knew about their individual lives, about their communities, about the kind of landscape that they lived in, about why they might have told those stories about themselves.
Josh Hutchinson: We like those kinds of books that focus on the people, so you get an idea of what these humans were like at that time, and usually it turns out they're pretty much like us. 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, that's my feeling. Yeah. This isn't some sort of strange, archaic community of people who are not at all like us. They're not like us in some ways, they're probably more religious generally. They have a much greater sense, as we've said already, that they're surrounded by a spiritual world and that the devil is lurking in that world, as well as all sorts of other spirits. But beyond that, they do seem awfully like us. 
And some of the stories are just heart-rending. They come out of family tragedies, they've lost children,[00:23:00] their remaining children are dreaming dreams of their lost brothers and sisters, and these kind of ghost dreams get mistaken for stories about demonic familiars, and so on. I felt really close to them by the time I was done, whilst having that sort of a slight scholarly skepticism. 
You can't know, but you can try and guess, and I really felt that we ought to try and guess, we ought to try and ask those questions and give those people back an identity, which was other than that of witch. Who were they before? They were a wife. They were a husband. They were a daughter. They were a spinner, that they spun wool in their village. They dyed cloth. They had other identities. Could we reconstruct some of those?
Josh Hutchinson: And where is St. Osyth located?
Marion Gibson: So it's in Essex, on the southeast coast of England. And if think about where London is, it's just a little bit east of that, basically. So the river Thames goes out into the North Sea, and there are various other rivers [00:24:00] flowing out in eastern England. And on one of those estuaries, St. Osyth sits. It's a flat landscape. It's wild. It's haunted by marsh birds. And there's a big fishing industry. They're a big oyster industry. It's wild marshland, and it's bitterly cold a lot of the time. You go there in winter, and that east wind nearly cuts you in half. It's a very chilly place, but in summer it's very dry because, again, it's got that sort of easterly wind. It's got a connection with the continent both in its weather systems and in its culture. So it's quite close to the European continent.
Sarah Jack: You talked a little bit about the daily lives of the women. Is there anything else about the community that you'd like to share that was happening during those trials? 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, I think there were some other things going on that were important. These people were living their lives, but they were living them within this wider historical context.
And one of the things about religious change, so just talked about how they're close to European continent. Essex was a place where ideas came and went and [00:25:00] flowed through, really. Ships came over from Belgium, the Netherlands, Holland, carrying with them pamphlets about religion, particularly Protestant religion. So Essex becomes quite a Protestant place. There's quite a bit of religious conflict there. And also carrying the other kinds of religious ideas, I think demonological ideas. So ideas about the study of witches and demons came over there, too. And I think that's quite important. It's quite a connected place. So there's that. 
And there's also the fact that in that it's tiny little village, it's practically nothing there. It was a little bit busier in Elizabethan times. There's hardly anything there now. But one of the things that is there is a massive former Abbey, which is known as the Priory in modern times and was this massive, wealthy religious foundation. But of course in Henry VIII's reign. Along comes Henry and thinks, " I quite like the revenues of the church. Thank you very much. Please let me close it down and take it over and give it to one of my noblemen." Which he does. So he [00:26:00] throws out the abbot and the monks, as he does across all of his lands, the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
So there's been a massive religious change in the 1530s to 40s. Previously, they had this institution up the road, which was wealthy and charitable, and was plugged into their lives in every way that you could imagine. As tenants, the villages could go up to the abbey, in order to get charity and food and so on.
Many of them would've worked for the abbey, and then it's all gone. So there's been this massive disruption, and the new family who is put in, the noble family that the king and his commissioners give the monastery to, they're called the Darcys. And although they also have all those connections with the local community, they're really facing out of the community rather than towards it, as the church was. They're looking towards London, they're looking towards various kinds of courtly advancement, and it's one of the Darcy families, a minor branch. But one of the Darcy men, who is involved in questioning the witches, he seems really [00:27:00] important in claiming a starring role in this witch trial. And so that religious context is important, but also the new family who comes in and their establishment of power in the village. That seems to be really important too. 
Josh Hutchinson: Is there anything else we need to know about Brian Darcy? 
Marion Gibson: Yes it is he. Yes. I don't like Brian Darcy, perhaps won't surprise you to know. I'm sure he was also a man like us, and it's important to remember that he's not some kind of appalling villain. And he gets into the situation that he gets into, presumably because he has religious beliefs, because he feels a certain way about his position in his family, and so on. But I find him bullying and negative and abusive towards the people who he is supposed to be caring for. And he does some awful things when he's questioning the suspected witches. 
He's a local magistrate. It's his duty to do it. So if somebody brings a [00:28:00] witchcraft suspect to him, yeah, he has to do something about it. From that point of view, that's not his fault. But he goes above and beyond. So he starts lying to them. He starts saying to them, "if you confess, I, of course, I'll treat you very nicely, and you won't be accused of anything, and you'll be fine." And I guess they go along with it, because yeah, he's the big powerful man, isn't he? Why wouldn't they? Of course they confess. And he starts putting pressure on them. He has artifacts brought from their houses to question them about. 
He brings in their children, really young children, children who are eight, children who are six. And he questions them about their parents. And of course they come up with all this fantastical stuff from dreams and imaginations and folk beliefs and wherever else they're getting this stuff from. 
And I think there's a very, very high probability that what Brian does when he publishes the newspaper account of all of these is he redates everything. So he makes it look like he questioned mum and dad first and the kids afterwards. But when you look at the [00:29:00] confessions, and you look at the way that they're arranged in the pamphlet, and you look at the dates, you can see that what the children are saying is them being put to mom and dad as something that somebody said already. I think Brian and the people who were helping him with this investigation have had a think about this and thought, "under English law, this kind of thing isn't really permitted. We'll just have to make it look like we questioned the parents and then the kids came in and just confirmed all the stuff that had been said."
I don't like him. I think he's a really pernicious influence in the village, and he's really wealthy. He doesn't need to do this, in so many different ways. He has a really nice life, as far as one can tell. He has wife and children of his own. He's got these massive estates. He's raking it in. Why does he need to pick on these poor individuals in this village and try to get them to confess to being witches? And I guess he thinks it's his time. He's gonna make a big splash. He can be important in local [00:30:00] justice. He can find the enemies of God in his community. No doubt, he sincerely believes at least some of this. I don't think he's making it up, but he does a terrible thing. Yeah. That's Brian Darcy. 
Sarah Jack: When I started reading his severe attitude towards the enemy, it made me wince. I was like, "oh man, this is really not gonna be enjoyable to read," because he just starts right out saying how what they have coming isn't even awful enough. 
Marion Gibson: He does. There's a preface to the newspaper account, the pamphlet about the witches, which I think is written by somebody else. And I think, and I've identified for the first time in the book that I know who this person is, which is just so exciting. And this is a guy who's working with Brian Darcy. So I think you're right. I think they share that position. And what this person says, and Brian signs off on, is, "yeah, hanging isn't enough. We should be burning them." And you just really wonder, don't you, how somebody does come to that [00:31:00] position about the other human beings in their society? Obviously burning was quite a common punishment for people like heretics, and he would've known that across the European continent.
A lot of people were burned for religious crimes, and he conceived witchcraft to be a religious crime, a crime against God. But nevertheless, this was a horrendous thing to say. And Reginald Scot, the guy I was talking about earlier, slaps him down specifically for that in his book. He says, " if it was up to Brian Darcy, there'd be hardly anybody left in the villages," because he's got these crazy ideas.
So he gets criticized even in his own time for being harsh, which is quite surprising, isn't it? Looking back, you get this sense that these were difficult times and a lot of horrible things happened, but Reginald Scot thinks that Brian Darcy has gone above and beyond and has done something even more horrible than he needed to do.
Josh Hutchinson: Really looking forward to reading the book when it comes out and seeing how this all plays out and who that [00:32:00] person you identified was. That's exciting. 
Marion Gibson: I think it felt by the time I'd done it that it was writing itself, like books do sometimes, and I think it's such an important story. I think it's really important that people have a look at it, because it does have messages for now. It is about people turning on each other. It's about the vulnerable being picked on by the incredibly wealthy and already successful. It's about scapegoating, it's about minorities, it's about people being singled out for no good reason that we can see.
So I think it's quite an important story from that point of view. And I did love writing it. It was really hard, and the pandemic happened in the middle of it as well, which made everything far worse. So there was quite a long period where I didn't write anything. And of course I couldn't go to archives either because they all closed down so I couldn't get in.
It was a difficult book to write, but it felt like it had to be written. And I really enjoyed doing the research, and I really enjoyed writing about these people and just trying to give them something back. [00:33:00] I really felt quite powerfully, more so than with any of my other books actually, that there was something here that I needed to do. So I do hope people enjoy it. Yes.
Sarah Jack: We would love to hear more about who the witches of St. Osyth were. 
Marion Gibson: Yes. So there's a group of people from five different villages, and Osyth is at the heart of it? And it seems to start there because of the Darcy family and because of Brian Darcy, specifically. The first person he questions there is a woman called Ursley Kempe, which Ursley seems to be a version of Ursula. So I think that's what she's called. And she's basically a single mother. We don't quite know what her history is, but we are told that she has this illegitimate child, a boy called Thomas, who he's eight. And she's questioned, and he's questioned, and they come up with this story. 
When Brian Darcy starts bullying Ursley, she bursts into tears and submits to him, essentially. And she starts confessing all this stuff about how she has animal familiars and so on and so forth. And it all takes [00:34:00] off from there. And then, unfortunately, she names other people, so she starts turning on other villagers and saying, "this person is a Witch, that person is a Witch." So she accuses quite a lot of other women from her village, and then it spreads out.
So accusations start coming in from other villages and Brian goes on this journey off to the east. So he rides down the coast, and he rides out onto those flat marshlands towards the North Sea, and he visits other villages as well. And there he finds other people to question. So we've got Cysley and Henry Selles, who are a married couple living in the village of Little Clacton. And they have at least four children, and they've also lost some children in their family history, as well. Some of their children have died young, so they have this sort of haunted family life. And Brian starts prying away at this and finds out things from their children, which he then asked Henry and Cysley about.
And I managed to find things like their marriage [00:35:00] record. I found out about that family history, which nobody knew before. So they had this really interesting, complicated history that I've told in the book. And then he goes a bit further. He goes to a village called Thorpe, where he questions some more people, who also confess things.
It's interesting by then people are starting to resist a little bit, though. So there's a woman called Elizabeth Eustis and another one called Margaret Gravel, and they flat out refused to tell him anything, which I really do respect. They were in a very vulnerable position, but they just said to him, "no, I'm not a witch. I'm not telling you anymore." So that was interesting. 
And then he goes a bit north, he goes to a village called Little Oakley. And then finally he goes to a coastal village called Walton. But in Little Oakley, he finds a woman who is the woman where I end the book, and she's really fascinating. Her name is Annis Herd.
So women in Essex at this time are often called Annis, which seems to be somewhere between Anne and Agnes. Seems to be quite a specific local name. So Annis Herd is really interesting. She, too, has [00:36:00] this interesting sexual history. She's clearly had a number of lovers by the time Brian comes to her village and she's suspected as being a light woman, which is a thing that she must not be in her time and place. And she's got at least two illegitimate children, one of whom, a little girl, is questioned by Brian. So I found out more about her, and I found out more about her family, and I found she had some land holdings, a small one. She was very poor, and I found out who her mother and father were, and I managed to trace some of her connections in the community.
And she gets accused by her local vicor, a guy called Richard Harrison. And I found out a bit more stuff about Richard and his family, as well, and what happened to him, not only at the time ,of the trial, but also what happens to him afterwards. He gets himself into some sticky trouble himself later on, which, being who I am, I was quite pleased to see, although I thought that was, I do try and be objective, but I was quite pleased to see Richard get a little of what was coming back to him, [00:37:00] if I'm perfectly honest and Annis goes on, Annis has a history that goes on through the trial and afterwards, and I found out a little more about that. And I thought she was a particularly fascinating character, because you always assume that these people are disempowered and are put upon to the extent that they would confess anything and are really not able to resist.
And what they found with Annis was that she did resist, she had her own life. And there were records of that life going back into the 1570s and then going on, and I really got this strong sense of her as an individual, which I hope comes across in the book. She's a survivor. She's somebody who fights back, and I thought she was a fascinating person to write about.
So there's a group of, by the time you had done, you've maybe got 20, 25 individuals who flit across the pages of the book. Some of them I know more about than others. Some of you know there are more records surviving of them than others, but they're basically ordinary villagers caught up in this astounding hurricane of [00:38:00] accusations that's come down on them.
And what I try and do is tell each story individually so that readers can get to know them, too, as well as we're ever going to, at any rate. 
Josh Hutchinson: Those 20 to 25, those were the accused?
Marion Gibson: Yes. It's not always clear what happens to them. So even though accusations are made against, some of them are not tried. I think there's quite good evidence that at least two of them ran away and were never heard from again or were heard from later in other guys' maps, with other names. I think one of them does come back into the record later on, although it's hard to tell. But there's just this sort of storm of accusation flying about, and some people are named and not tried, and some people are tried but not convicted, and some people are tried and supposedly acquitted and supposed to be freed from jail, but are not freed from jail. It's very messy.
But yeah, you could say you were dealing with a group of about 20 individuals, say, but there's also a big group of accusers. And I must say I found those just as [00:39:00] fascinating. One of the things that when I read the initial account really prompted me to ask those questions about the stories was the sense of, I didn't understand why the witches were confessing, but I didn't understand why the accusers were accusing either. How could they think this stuff about their lives? And they, too, told me about their children and their domestic processes and what their husband was up to and all this kind of thing. So there's an even broader group of individuals who are accusers, and I've really tried to hunt them down as well. I've tried to find out what I thought their motivation might have been, what their circumstances were like, and so on. 
Sarah Jack: In these cases, did some of the accusers become the accused? 
Marion Gibson: Yes. So yes they did. One of the problems with Brian's technique of questioning is that once he's got somebody in front of him, he asks the individual to name others, and sometimes the people they name are the accusers, either of them or of somebody else. So people get drawn in. And there's two sisters in [00:40:00] particular, Alice Hunt and Marjorie Barnes. And you can see them struggling between these identities. They have made accusations, or at least Alice has, but then they get accused and they're really not sure what to do.
So there's this sense that it could have been anybody, really. All somebody had to do was say your name, and you moved very quickly from the position of somebody who was stood on the sidelines saying, "oh yeah, I'm sure she is a witch. Yes, I'm sure she did be witch my cow," to somebody who's saying, "no, I'm not a witch. I didn't bewitch your horse or your child." So there, there is this sense of identity is being shifting. Yes. 
Josh Hutchinson: Was St. Osyth typical of English witch trials?
Marion Gibson: It's a bit bigger than a lot of the the trials seem to be. But there's always a question about exactly how much we know and exactly how much survives. One of the things I do want to do is hunt down a couple of the others now. Now I've done it with this one, especially in Essex, are there other ones that I can do? And yes, I think there are. I do think [00:41:00] there are other cases I could write about. Five years time, maybe I'll be able to say a bit more about how typical it is.
I think it's a slightly bigger hunt than normal. It's slightly more driven by one individual than most of them seem to be. But those are the ones that tend to get into print, cuz that one individual tends to get quite excited and produce a lot of paperwork, and somebody then thinks, "oh, we could publish this." Makes the money out of it. So in a sense, it's typical of those sorts of trials, the ones that get publicized. It's very difficult to tell, though. The picture is very muddied. There's very good record survival in the Southeast, so near London essentially, the paperwork gets drawn in and kept, but in some of the outlying areas in the North and the West, it's all gone from this period. You can't find anything much in the West and most of the West of England before the 1670s. So we can't really say whether this one is typical of what was going on there, because we just don't know. 
Sarah Jack: Yeah. I found it very interesting how the pamphlets [00:42:00] become the story.
Marion Gibson: I love them. Yes. They were where I started my academic career, really, reading these stories. So the St. Osyth one and then branching out to read loads of others. And I loved them. I loved the way that they framed the stories. That was one of the things that really interested me. So it wasn't just that the stories themselves are fascinating, I was really interested in the publication of them, who was writing the prefaces? What for? Was it done for money? Was it kind of hack journalism? Was it, " we need something to publish. Quick, find us a story, go around the courts, ask some questions, pick up some documents, see what we can get up by next Tuesday." Was it that kind of thing? And I think in some cases, yes, maybe it was.
Or was it a single powerful individual saying, " I'm religiously deeply committed, and I want to say something about the devil's work in my community. And I've put together this group of witchcraft accusations. Here's the paperwork. Would you like to publish this, Mr. Publisher?" And it felt really interesting. It felt like there was a really interesting [00:43:00] interface between the legal authorities and, if you like, the popular press, the journalists, the paparazzi of their time. They were getting their stories from these really quite elite people and publishing them to a wider audience.
And sometimes you can see that the pamphlets are really influential in later witch trials. They did the right thing from their own points of view in getting those stories out, because then accusations spread to other communities, and other people started reading the pamphlets. "Oh, that happened in Essex. And here I am in this village in Northamptonshire 40 years on. I think it's happening here too." So I found that really fascinating. The way that stories about witchcraft were monetized, were publicized, and spread. 
Josh Hutchinson: And why do you believe Brian Darcy wanted to publish this pamphlet?
Marion Gibson: Yeah, I think he wants power, really. I think it must be quite difficult for him being a member of this junior branch of the family. He's incredibly wealthy and powerful, but he's not as [00:44:00] incredibly wealthy and powerful as his relatives. And I guess that maybe stings a bit. It's hard to say, but that's what you feel from his account.
And he also wants, I think, to assume more of a role in the judiciary in his county. I think he's keen on running for office, and he ends up being sheriff of the county, which is the top legal official. That probably translates really well into the American context, doesn't it?
Nobody knows what it means in England anymore, but yeah, for you guys, that probably makes sense. So he really wants to have more sway in local justice, I think. And he gets that. Annoyingly, he gets what he wanted outta publishing it. 
Sarah Jack: So do you think some of these villagers and the community members saw that coming, that their interactions with him on this were going to be impacted by his authority? That it was growing? 
Marion Gibson: Yes, I think so. I [00:45:00] think they saw him as somebody to be afraid of and to be wary of and to count out to and answer the questions of and submit to, generally. I think he was very much that kind of figure for some of these people. I would be pretty sure he was, if not their landlord, and he may have been their landlord, at least somebody who owned a lot of property in their community, was seen riding through on his horse and generally looking magnificent, who certainly had the power to do things like fine them or take them to court in various ways. And his family, the Darcy family, are lords of the manor in all of the communities where he questions someone, which I think is really important and haven't really been thought about before. So yeah they do see him coming. He's the big man. They do what the big man says. 
Josh Hutchinson: Back to the accused and their accusers, what was going on in their lives that we should know about?
Marion Gibson: They were people under quite a lot of strain, I think. So [00:46:00] economically, St. Osyth wasn't doing as well as it had been. Yeah. We talked about the religious changes, and that was a massive disruption. All of the kind of trading arrangements, every kind of tax collection, every kind of relationship to do with deeds and property and ownership changed hands from the church to the secular lords, the Darcys, who came in. And that has its own knock-on effects, doesn't it? If you break stuff up, if you disrupt stuff, as we learned recently, it does not end well.
And your economy can suffer, and your society can suffer, and people can be set against each other. And I think they're that kind of society. I think we're struggling with that. And economically, they're not as well-off as they were. The wool industry, which a lot of them are involved in, and the Abbey was involved in, isn't prospering quite as much as it was. Trade with the European continent has suffered.
So the wool trade is really [00:47:00] strong, going across to Belgium and Holland, coming back to Britain, and that's got a bit disrupted. They're in somewhat of a difficult situation, really. And if you go to St. Osyth now, there's almost nothing happening there. It's the sort of place where there used to be successful industry but now there isn't. It was never on a very large scale, but it did support that community, and I guess made them feel like they had a strong local identity, and there was money coming in and stuff like that. 
It feels like it's a community where people are getting poorer and are struggling with who they are, really. They're no longer built around the abbey in that community like they used to be. What's their relationship with the Darcys? What's their relationship with each other? What about people coming in from the European continent? What about the religious turmoil of the period? I think you probably felt really vulnerable and, obviously, one of the things people do in that situation is lash out at other people, and it feels like the witch hunt might have had something to do with that.
We've covered the religion. [00:48:00] We've talked about the economy a bit. We've talked a bit about gender and the way that women were under pressure in that society. We've talked about how the Darcys are really important and are basically wandering around kicking people. If you look at all those things together, that's what makes the witch hunt happen. It's not one thing, it's circumstances coming together in this toxic mess, and out of that comes this witch hunt. So I guess, that's how I'd summarize it, really. They're all in a very bad situation in different ways, and out of that comes scapegoating, and the community is further torn apart, when it would've been so much better if they had come together.
Sarah Jack: So they're having a lot of desperation. They're feeling things slip away. Would've there been more behaviors that you know, they're trying to good magic to try to resolve some of the misfortune? Were things like that happening, and [00:49:00] would've that been viewed as negative or positive? 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, that's a really good question. Yes, there are people practicing what they would've thought of as good magic in these communities. And the first woman to be questioned, Ursley Kempe, seems to have worked as a healer, a midwife or nurse, somebody who minds people's children for money, essentially, and to have wanted to improve her position in that way and have more patients, if you like, more clients going to her. 
So one of the things we learn about her is some of the spells that she does to cure people's rheumatism. She uses herbs, and she uses ale, and she uses things like pig's dung, which is probably not a good thing to be putting in any kind of medicine. But for her, that's a powerful, magical ingredient. Yes, I think that one of the things they were trying to do was find magical answers to their difficulties. Yes. Whether that went beyond medicine, I don't know. But I do get this sense that they felt [00:50:00] they lived in this kind of haunted landscape and that there were spirits all around them, which could be used for good as well as for evil.
 I think it's probably true that a number of the women, in particular, I think there's quite good evidence from very small things that they say that a number of them were these kind of magical practitioners, that they stood out in their community a little bit more than others, because they were the people that you went to get an ointment, if somebody was sick, or they were the people that you went to get a spell said for you if you thought somebody cursed you, that kind of thing. So yes, I think that's quite an important context, too. 
Josh Hutchinson: What sort of bad magic were they accused of? 
Marion Gibson: They're thought to have these animal familiars in the form of things like cats and toads and so on, the classic witch's familiar. And through them, they're thought to project this harm onto their neighbors. They would make an arrangement with this demonic cat, which had come to them and said, "I [00:51:00] am Satan, please work with me." And they send them to the neighbors. They've quarreled with the lady down the street, and she's refused to give them something that they've asked for as a gift or as a loan or some work that they wanted. She's gone elsewhere. She's employed someone else. And they send the demonic cat or toad or whatever to her house, and it costs a magical spell of its own. It's like a, it's a transmitter really. That creature is an agent of the witch's power, and the witch is an agent of the devil's power, supposedly. So it goes into the house, and it projects this magic. 
In some cases in, not the Saint Osyth ones, but in other cases the witches seem to think that the creatures bite or scratch their victim. But it honestly, in St. Osyth's case, it seems enough that the creature has been there, that somebody's seen it and has caught in it being cursed. So they're sending these creatures around the local community, and they're doing some really quite serious things. They're accused of killing people, children and adults. They're [00:52:00] accused of things like causing back pain. 
They're accused of causing certain kinds of other harm, like financial harm. So they are thought to have disrupted people's brewing and baking activities, making their daily lives much harder. They're accused of things like killing horses who are pulling a plow. They're accused of killing livestock. They're disrupting all sorts of activities across the community.
So really the worst thing that they can do is kill someone, but they can also do a whole range of other different kinds of harm as well. So people are really genuinely afraid. And the volume of accusations is fascinating. It really does feel like these are villages where spells are thought to be flying around like signals going through the air from transmitters, if you like, like the air is charged with this magical energy, and a lot of it is really negative.
Yeah. You are very lucky, if you're not walking down towards the mill one day, and a curse lights on you, and then heaven knows what could happen. So it feels very much like it's a [00:53:00] community of people throwing spells at each of the good and bad.
Sarah Jack: I found it interesting how much the spirits are given an identity, a name, they're having conversation, the women are negotiating or deciding. You had said the information that came from the small things the women said, and there really is a lot of information in what they said about their experience. 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, the animals do feel like fully rounded characters, don't they? And they often do in these kind of accounts. There really are accounts of cats called Satan in some of the others. This one, they tend to give them nice, familiar pet names, don't they? Jack and Tiffin and things like that. And you get the sense that maybe we're dealing with pets here in some cases.
I can't really imagine people keeping pet toads, although perhaps if you were a lonely, older person and this creature was a companion for you in your garden, maybe you would, I can see myself doing that. I like wild creatures. Maybe I would get this sense that I'd [00:54:00] adopted one, as it were.
But I think sometimes it's maybe just ordinary cats and dogs, and they do seem to have these intense relationships with them. It's one of the things that puzzles historians. What is going on here? Do people genuinely think their pet cat curled up in the corner is a spirit? And then, going beyond that, do they think it's a demonic spirit, or is somebody putting that idea in their head when they're questioned? Why do they think this? 
And nobody's really got to the bottom of it, because nobody explained it, and maybe they couldn't have explained it. It's a very nebulous sort of idea, isn't it? Animals have strong personality. Some people attribute magical or totemic energies to them. That does make sense, but actually thinking that your dog is the devil is a big step beyond that. And it's never been entirely clear to me, or I think anyone else really, what's going on here. 
 They have these familiar spirits, and they also seem to share them. Some of the women talk about ways in which they had a sort of shared group of [00:55:00] familiar spirits, who they could dispatch. You know, Ursley Kempe says that she and her neighbor, Alice Newman, they had these four spirits in common, if you like. So something bad had happened to Alice, Ursley said, at any rate, Alice could just send the spirit to go and smite Father So-and-so who had upset her. What they're sharing pets as a pet-sitting arrangement? What's going on here? 
Or are they just imaginary? Are they imaginary animals? Lots of children have imaginary animals. Is this something that carried on in the minds of early modern people, under great strain and in circumstances of poverty and loneliness and so on? Did that inform what they said about the familiar spirits?
And it is still something that puzzles me. I talked about the way the book had given me some answers, and I was really pleased with that. But my goodness, there are still a lot of questions, aren't there? What is it that people are talking about when they tell the stories? What really happened?
Did the people who were accused and confess really think that they had these powers and [00:56:00] that they were witches or that maybe they had magical powers where they could heal people and somehow this had all gone horribly wrong? Is that what they thought? Or? Is it all fantasy on behalf of their accusers?
And I think it come down on the side of thinking that the people in the village have strong magical beliefs. I don't think Brian Darcy could have generated all this stuff by himself. And I'm not sure he would've wanted to. He did genuinely want to know what the devil was up to in his community, I think. But at the same time, the balance between those two viewpoints is really difficult. 
Sarah Jack: It makes me wonder, too, what was going on in his home? What were his children and his wife and his servants? What were they saying? Did they have pets? Was he comparing to what he wouldn't wanna share with anyone that's inside his walls? 
Marion Gibson: It's a great question. I would like to know that. I know where he did the interrogations and know the house. It still stands, which is really great. I've thought [00:57:00] about what was going on in that house and found it difficult to imagine. There is a few surviving accounts of stuff that was going on, but it's basically at the level of people paying rent, it's documents about who was living there and who was working as his secretary and so on. There's really hardly anything left, and it's quite businesslike what remains. 
But it was a moated house. So it had a moat around it. It was built as a defensive structure. And I think that makes me think interestingly about Brian's mindset. If you live in a massive, moated house, maybe you do have a kind of defensive mindset. Maybe you do feel set apart from the community, and there's a sense of threats surrounding your walls, maybe. But his family, yes, I would love to know more about them. He has sons, he has daughters. He sends his sons to Cambridge University and to the inns of court. So they train as lawyers.
One of his sons, the one who will succeed him, ultimately, is married off to the daughter of another important local family. He's [00:58:00] struggling in his local community with religiosity. We don't quite know if he's Catholic or Protestant. I think he's probably Protestant-leaning, but many of his connections are strongly Catholic, still. And that's a difficult thing to be in Elizabethan England. That means you've lost some of your rights. It means people are going to come around and ask you questions about your beliefs, basically. So I think he's under strain from that point of view.
But they're wealthy people, so he wants his children to marry to the big Catholic families, and his big relatives the Darcys are Catholics. Maybe there's a sense of he's struggling with that identity of his locality and of Englishness and his religious identity and so on.
And I wonder how he felt about his sons. Was he proud of what they had done, or was he continually carping at them to do more? What about his two daughters? He leaves them an awful lot of money when he dies. He's very helpful to those two young women. How did he find [00:59:00] an identity for them in a society where he had so often persecuted other women, and he knew what their position was, which was essentially, not good. How did he feel about those girls? They went on to be highly successful, and one of them later on came to be involved in another witch trial, which is something I'm going to be looking at over the next couple of years, as well, because I want to know more about her and her husband and what happens to her. It feels like his family situation must matter, doesn't it? But it's also very difficult to see. He doesn't leave the kind of records that I'd have wanted him to.
Josh Hutchinson: What do you want people to take away from reading your book? 
Marion Gibson: I want them to have an increased sense of the individuality of these people and, like you said earlier, to think of them as people like us. I think it's quite easy for historians sometimes to treat people as units of data. There were all these witch trials, it was absolutely terrible, this [01:00:00] many number of hundred people were executed. I want to give the sense that yes, each of these people was an individual. Each of them had a story, beyond the moment when they were accused of witchcraft and they were tried and they were executed or whatever happened to them.
So I want them to feel increased sense of respect for those people and engagement with them, which I think is one of the things that history has to do. It has to make us see people as individuals, and it has to, I think, draw on empathy and feeling to do that. I don't like a dry history of just statistics. I prefer something that gives me a sense of these people's lives. 
And I think it ought make them think also about persecution. The projects I'm going on to now, next, are both about persecutions, too, and I think it ought to make us think about why we persecute each other. Why do we hate each other so much? Why is there so much anger in the world? 
And I think we live in angry times now. And looking back to the times of the Reformation, when there was this, broad [01:01:00] division between Catholics and Protestants, and we were colonizing the world from Europe and oppressing indigenous peoples everywhere. That was an angry and harsh time, and we seem to live in quite an angry and harsh time too, in different ways. 
So I hope people will reflect on that scapegoating and come away from the book. You can't expect that people will suddenly become kinder to each other across the world, or it would be nice if they did, but I do want people to have that sense of empathy, if they can do that when they finish the book.
Sarah Jack: What can we apply from those stories to our modern story? 
Marion Gibson: I think there's a couple of things. One of them's about gender. We talked about this a little bit already. I think we still struggle with the idea of powerful women, and I still think we struggle with the idea of female sexuality and women as empowered creatures in their own right. And I think we need to pay a lot more attention to the history of witch trials, because they are the history of oppressing women, making choices [01:02:00] for them, persecuting them. And I think that's all really important in contemporary times. 
And then there's that sense of of oppressing the poor, if you like, as well. Picking on people who are seen as outsiders or minorities or people who are too vulnerable to defend themselves. And I'd like people to think a bit more about that because this seems to be part of that long history of doing that. And perhaps if we can understand a bit more about why we did it in the past, we can understand a bit more about why we do it now.
Again, it seems a very noble hope, doesn't it? It would be lovely if that were to happen, but I, that's my 2 cents contribution to trying to make the world better. 
Sarah Jack: We're very passionate about using these conversations to remind people and to call out against tolerating that kind of oppression. So we really appreciate your thoughts on that. 
Marion Gibson: That's great. I think you are right. Yes. We do have to try and understand the history of this, don't we, so that we can see what's going [01:03:00] on now?
Josh Hutchinson: We feel like we still have a lot of the same witch-hunt mentality and that we do need to find ways that we can stop ourselves from doing that.
Marion Gibson: I think you're absolutely right. The next book of work, there are two things, actually. One of the books is called Witchcraft: A History in Thirteen Trials, and it does try and do exactly that. So it looks across 700 years of history right up to the present and says, "look, witches are still on trial. We are still holding witch trials. Can we not do that?" So that's one of the projects. 
And the other one is about Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General in English history. So I'm looking at his activities in the 1640s, and he's sort of Brian Darcy figure in many ways, but he kicks off a witch-hunt, in which at least 200 people are caught up. And there's no proper history of that, really. There's a very good account of origins of that hunt, and various people have written accounts of sections of it. But I'd like to try and [01:04:00] write a history of the whole thing, if I can do. That's the next thing I'm up to. And they basically are both what you said. They are arguments for greater empathy. They are arguments for trying to understand the history of persecution. 
Sarah Jack: I just had a question. I was thinking about the magical atmosphere of St. Osyth and the magic in the air, as you were saying. Was there as much fear there? I can't help but compare it to the American colonies and some of the Salem Witch Trials, and there you feel like you could cut the fear that was in the air with a knife, not necessarily the magic. 
Marion Gibson: Yeah, I think there's a lot of overlap. Yes. I do think the Witchcraft History in Thirteen Trials has a couple of American cases in it. There's one in Virginia in the 1620s, and then there's a Salem one, which you kind of have to, don't you, in a history of witch trials? And I think there's more sense of fear of the Other in those communities, because they are settlers who've come to [01:05:00] live on the eastern edge of this enormous, unknown continent full of people who they don't understand, in many cases don't want to understand. So I think there's more of a sense of the Other being out there in the woods and the devil owning that continent as people like Cotton Mather said and so on.
I think it's stronger there, if you like, but it is essentially the same impulse. It is the same fearfulness, even though it expresses itself in different ways, in different contexts. I think in Essex they were afraid, too. They were maybe afraid of different things. They were afraid of poverty, they were afraid of malarial insects coming in of the marshes they were afraid of religious change, and so on. I think it is the same. 
We are very fearful creatures, aren't we, people? We've lived through a period of immense fear recently, and I do think it leaves its mark, and I do think it encourages us to try and turn on each other in ways that are really unhelpful. Hopefully, it will result in something better, if we can only understand why we are [01:06:00] doing that and try not to do it.
Josh Hutchinson: Now here's Sarah with another important update on real-life witch-hunts happening today.
Sarah Jack: Being accused of harmful witchcraft in a violent and threatening manner is abuse. This is abuse just like the other abuses our modern world recognizes and stands against. We broadly recognize and fight abuses against women and children, but this specific abuse is not being robustly addressed. This intentional harm must also be addressed in a way that uplifts and rescues the abuse victims. 
There is a perpetuating aftermath of horror for communities where alleged witch targeting is normalized. These vulnerable women, children, and sometimes men are tortured to death in horrendous and violent confrontations or left abandoned without their intended lives. Because of witchcraft allegations, they lose the grasp they had on their future and safety. They're left uprooted and stranded, living in danger.[01:07:00] Without authentic expectation and supportive counsel, local officials will not have a protocol that supports the recovery and protection of such victims in a collective and effective way. 
Josh and I have recently spoken with an advocate in South Africa and an advocate in Nigeria, Damon Leff and Leo Igwe. Please see the show notes for links to their organizations and go and read about the situation. Although these African countries have unique witch attack and witch prejudice contexts, both of these advocates are offering solutions. They both have answers on some things that can be changed. To begin immediate intervention and support, they suggest informed interventions to trigger change. 
Stay tuned to our podcast for two very important upcoming episodes that share these situations. You will hear an important message and conversation with Damon Leff, and, in another episode, an important message and conversation with Leo Igwe. These conversations are clarifying and informative. You must listen.
Government and [01:08:00] non-government agencies are engaging in conversations to address this human rights violation. They acknowledge the crimes, and they search out what interventions they can insert to intervene. They request input, sort recommendations, extend alliances, and compose and publish reports. But what action is coming out of all this collaboration? Why is this widespread, vicious practice difficult to address immediately? Why is it so difficult to get going on change? Don't we know what to do with abuse? Other robust campaigns for gender violence and child protection are active and global. Why is addressing witch hunt abuse different within the global human rights violation perspective?
In Nigeria, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches is telling them what they need to begin immediate intervention. Likewise, several NGOs have made recommendations and asked for support in South Africa. Why aren't funded and powerful agencies supporting the work through the advocates already in the trenches?
[01:09:00] There is an immediate change that must take place in the mindset of the, in the mindset of the UN and powerful government teams that show a resemblance of concern but hold back on supporting the essential action. It is the same change that must take place in the mindset of all individuals. What is your mindset on witch-hunting abuses? Witches should not be hunted. It should not be tolerated. We know that assaults are abuse. We know that these victims are helpless. We must concede that enough is not being done that can be done. Denial at all levels of society is delaying action for protecting the vulnerable, targeted by witch accusations. 
The world has accused and executed innocent humans for centuries, and we are still allowing it. There are communities that are waiting to be made safe. These are behaviors that have no place in a world that seeks to protect the vulnerable.
When we ask for this, when any advocate asks for this, ears should be listening, minds should be realizing, and bodies should be moving to take [01:10:00] swift action. While we watch and wait, let's support the victims across the world where innocent people are being targeted by superstitious fear. Support them by acknowledging and sharing their stories. Amplify the message of local advocates on the ground in these regions. What are they saying? What assistance are they specifically calling for? Please use all your social power and communication channels to be an intervener and stand with them. The world must stop hunting witches.
Please follow our End Witch Hunts movement on Twitter @_endwitchhunts and visit our website at 
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you for that wonderfully informative segment, Sarah. 
Sarah Jack: You're welcome, Josh.
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Sufferer: The Witch Trial Podcast. Remember to pick up the book, The Witches of St. Osyth. It's releasing Thursday, December 22nd. You can get a discount currently on the Kindle version. It's going [01:11:00] for $29.99. That's $10 off the regular price.
Sarah Jack: Please join us again next week.
Josh Hutchinson: Like, subscribe, or follow wherever you get your podcasts. 
Sarah Jack: Always visit us at
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell your friends, family, neighbors, everybody you encounter about Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. 
Sarah Jack: Join us and support our efforts to end witch hunts. Visit to learn more. 
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow.
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