Witch's Talisman (Oaksey)
The disc contains a number square and non-standard English words – it is believed that that may incorporate names of angels, demons or elementals. This one was reported to have been used by a witch. It is uncertain what the main purpose of this talisman would have been.
A talisman can be defined as an object believed to have magic powers or can bring good luck. They come in all shapes and sizes, this one found in a cottage in Oaksey (which is near the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire boundary).
Most talismans are not worn (though there is evidence that people did wear talismans around their necks), but they are often carried around in pockets or purses. Usually they are kept near the person or object that they are supposed to protect.
Wiltshire has had its fair share of witchcraft, there have been multiple women across the county that have been accused and found guilty of being a witch. Interestingly, Oaksey village pub (which is now a Wheatsheaf pub) was rumoured to have witch crosses as decorations to ward off demons...
Bellarmine jugs were named after the Italian cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), who wrote anti-Protestant literature to counter the Protestant Reformation. In 1930 he was canonised as a saint. There is no clear connection between the saint and the jugs, though there are two theories. The first was that naming the jugs after Bellarmine was conceived by Dutch and English protestants in order to ridicule him. The second theory was due to Bellarmine’s anti-alcohol stance.
This bottle and its contents are believed to be used as a counter-spell against witchcraft, there are many other examples of this which are known better as ‘witches bottles’. These bottles were found focused around entrances, such as fireplaces, doors, beneath the floor or in walls. The idea of this is so that witchcraft could not enter the house.
As for the contents of the bottles, 95% of all the witches bottles found have contained iron pins or nails – as iron was thought to have magical properties. 25% of the bottles have contained human hair and roughly 25% of those found with contents have even tested positive for the presence of urine!
Find more about them on our Wessex Museums partnership exhibition - Wicked Wessex.
The story of Anne Bodenham accused witch – Part of ‘An Antidote Against Athiesm’ by Henry More (1653)
‘An Antidode Against Athiesm’ is a book written in 1653 by Henry More, a theologian and philosopher. One specific segment of the book which can be found in the museum refers to Anne Bodenham, a woman from Fisherton Anger (now a part of Salisbury) - who was convicted of witchcraft and was executed by hanging in at the age of 80 in 1653. She was a former student of Dr Lambe of London, who was a supposed user of black magic.
Bodenham was believed to have: drawn magic circles, saw visions of people in glass, possessed charms and incantations, kept a book of magic, attempted to raise spirits from the dead and transport people 40 miles per hour into the air.
The cause of Bodenham’s arrest was due to a maid servant of a family in Wiltshire. This maid was also arrested as she was accused of poisoning the mother-in-law of the family. She claimed (in an attempt to deflect the blame from her) that Bodenham had directed her to sign a book of the Devil’s using her own blood and offered to transport her to London in 2 hours (a trip that should have taken several days).
She was tried at Salisbury assizes court and found guilty. The cleric that recorded her trial claimed that once arriving at her place of execution, she had attempted to escape by climbing up a ladder. However, this was in vain and she was hanged on the 19th March 1653.
"Beware the monk"
An old WANHS (Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society) bulletin from 1969 - noting a demand from visitors to the Museum wanting to see a specific skeleton. The demand seems to have come from a news article detailing 'The Ghost of Bradenstoke", or the ghost of the "black monk" - a seven-foot monk in dark clothing, who became involved with one of Jane Seymour's aunts.
The team at the Museum conducted research into the story and found that it may have been based of a grizzly discovery in the late 20s - where during the demoltion of the Abbey buildings, four skeletons were found buried without order in a walled space.
The black monk name may have come from a large painting of the Virgin Mary in dark constume, which was found preserved in another part of the Abbey. The painting went on display in the Museum for several months - but was too large to remain there!
Thank you to the Aldbourne Archive for locating this story and supplying the image of the Aldbourne copy of the bullentin.
‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (1968, Folio Society)
The ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (translated as ‘The Hammer of Witches’) was a book originally written in 1486 by Heinrich Kraemer (under the name - Henrich Institoris) and Johann Sprenger. This book was considered a key manual for witch-hunting.
As for its contents, it claims that women were more prone to witchcraft than men, Kraemer insists that this is due to key characteristics for women being inferior to that of men. This, he suggests, would give women the motive to use magic in order to increase their power. The Malleus Maleficarum particularly mentions the presence of witches as midwives, having a chapter referring to them killing children or sacrificing them to the devil.
Over a 250-year period, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 9,000,000 people were killed worldwide by the Inquisitor’s Court. Nearly all of those accused were women, though there were instances of men being tried for witchcraft. In Europe, 20% of those tried for witchcraft were men. Anyone who didn’t fit the idea of the pious Christian could easily be branded as a witch and quite often, the accusation was enough to be tried and convicted with little to no evidence.
This copy of the book was published by the Folio Society in 1968 and was donated to the museum by Mrs Wheatley of Bratton on the same year. She had inherited the copyrights of the late Mr Pennethorne Hughes, who wrote the introduction and was the editor of the book. Little is known about Pennethorne
Hughes – he is believed to have resided at South View Cottage in Keevile, Trowbridge, was a member of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society and he published a book titled ‘Witchcraft’ in 1952.
Article and research by volunteer Bethany Hocking