October and witches continue with Tony Robinson’s When the British were Terrified of Witches. This is a documentary about the witch trials that took place in Britain and Scotland.
In Gods and Monsters, Tony Robinson explores “When the British were Terrified of Witches.” Tony explores the history of witchcraft and witch trials in Britain. He explores how the beliefs were brought into the British Isles and how they transformed British Society. How did they tell that people were witches? Who made people witches? Why was there a belief in witches?
Tony dives deeper into the beliefs in witches and witchcraft. Today, we have stereotypical beliefs of witches: they had warts, they had toads, and they had caldrons. Witches were something that you joked about. They were found in fairy tales. Not so in early Europe. Back when the Stewarts and Tudors ruled, there were no such stereotypes. Everyone feared witches. Witches were a fact of life. More than 40,000 supposed witches were killed. Alongside a team of historians, Tony learns more about Witches and the beliefs that the people had.
Witch trials were well documented in the English records. Tony kicks off with the story of Agnes Sampson. Agnes was a midwife; however, she was potentially the inspiration for the witches in Macbeth. She was accused of trying to kill King James. King James was coming home from Denmark to Scotland when his ships encountered a serious storm. This storm threatened to sink his ship. King James accused her of trying to murder him.
Sampson was swept up in one of Scotland’s biggest witch hunts. Agnes gathered with over 200 witches. In these gatherings, they were accused of plotting to kill King James and his wife Queen Anne. Those who accused her thought she had made a pact with the devil. The devil gave these women supernatural powers. They had the power to destroy. They were feared by the locals. Witches were not born with their terrible powers. They were tempted by the devil.
How did this transformation take place? The devil appeared to these women while they were going about their business. He traveled through the land in the form of smoke and then transformed himself into a person. He was described as an attractive man. The women said that he would sweet-talk them. The devil told the women he could give them power and money. The women would give themselves to the Devil. Then they would become witches.
Witches were impossible to spot. They looked like ordinary women. Domestic implements were at the heart of the witches' arsenal. They also used shocking ingredients. Tony discovers the origin of the flying broomstick. Agnes was not alone in practicing black magic. She worked together with other witches. Tony learns about the Witches’ Sabbaths. Inversion, everything good would be made foul. A stew could be made into something that could kill. Religious festivals would be turned on their head. They would burn crosses and Bibles during the Sabbaths. Social and religious norms were turned on their head.
Witches were a threat and women were targeted because they were weak. It was a terrifying prospect to everyone. Tony explores why magic was fact rather than fiction. He moves to explore why the belief moved from fantasy to reality. Tony finds a dead chicken, the chicken was perfectly healthy in the morning. He reacts like any other ordinary man would have reacted: someone in the village as a witch. Continue to watch this documentary to find out more about witches.
This is a good episode for researcher purposes for a lecture or independent study students. Tony is a delight when narrating this story. His curiosity is infectious.
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