In a 1999 letter from the editor in Ms. Magazine, Maggie Ann Gillespie wrote, "I want to be a witch! Correction - I want to confirm the witch in me." She goes on to write that "when thousands upon thousands of women were labeled witches and terrorized, tortured, and murdered in all manner of barbarous ways, I probably would have been among them - and so would you." Her argument is that many of the simple freedoms we take for granted, from enjoying sex to speaking up, could have us (men and women alike) labelled as witches in the burning times.
That's probably true. As Nigel Cawthorne painstakingly explains in his history volume Witch Hunt: History of a Persecution (Chartwell Books, 2004), people as young as two were murdered in the European hysteria over witchcraft and heresy in numbers it's difficult to pinpoint or even imagine. The book is a veritable catalog of horrors and not for the weak of stomach.
Yet there's also a fanciful side to the book, in the descriptions of the powers attributed to witches. My favorite chapter is Chapter 8, "The Witch of Umbria." The Italian region of Umbria has been rather infamous in the news lately; it's the location of Perugia, where the American Amanda Knox was arrested, convicted and acquitted of the horrendous murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. In the 15th century, Umbria was infamous for another trial, the trial of Matteuchia di Francesco, accused of being a witch.
According to witness testimony of that time, di Francesco was skilled with love charms. Some of her remedies included these.
Charm for getting a lover to pay you attention (at least for a few days)- give him/her an egg, mixed with her herb called Costa cavallina.
To remedy an uncaring lover - Make a wax figure of him/her and wrap it in a thread spun by a virgin. Place it under his/her bed. Reportedly, this worked for an Italian woman who was having an affair with a local priest. If no virgin-spun thread is available, you may wrap some of your hair in cloth and place this under the lover's bed.
To regain the favor of a lover with a wandering eye - Burn some of your hair and feed him/her the ashes.
To recover a cheating spouse - Capture a swallow, and for a few days feed it nothing but sugar. Kill the bird, burn it, and mix the ashes with wine and some water in which you've washed your feet.
To make someone fall in love with you - Capture a pair of swallows. Kill the birds, burn them, and stir the ashes into a drink. Give it to your intended lover.
To separate a pair of lovers if you desire one of them for yourself - bathe facing backwards with your knees bent. Take your bath water and throw it in the path of the couple as they pass. Soon, they will hate one another and separate.
To prevent two people from having sex - Take a holy candle and light it. Carry it to the junction of three roads, where one of the lovers is certain to pass, and there bend the candle. Keep the bent candle in a safe place, and as long as no one disturbs it, the lover who passed by the crossroads will be unable to have sex.
To undo the curse your lover's lover has placed on you - look under your bed/pillow for a witch's charm, then burn it.
Perhaps because the Church feared the witch's power to aid and abet adultery, di Francesco was sentenced harshly. She was paraded through the town of Todi on the back of a donkey with her hands tied and a paper hat (apparently signifying shame in those days) on her head. There she was publicly burned alive. At least the trial of Amanda Knox had a less gruesome ending.
Got witch fiction?
Beltane by Erin O'Riordan
Midsummer Night: Pagan Spirits, Book Two (Volume 2) by Erin O'Riordan
Démons et Merveilles by Edward Reginald Frampton (1872-1923). Public domain in the U.S.