Thursday, May 25, 2006

Do you believe in magic?

click photo to enlarge
Do you believe in magic? Does western society believe in magic? Before you answer no, and say that it's something that died out with the Enlightenment and the rise of science, consider this. Millions of people spend money on expensive, scientific sounding tubes of gunk and smear it on their faces believing that it will make them appear younger. If that doesn't imply a belief in magic what does? Or how about this? Most modern newspapers and magazines carry columns entitled "Your Stars", or something similar, and the astrological advice they carry is, incredibly, widely read and acted upon.

So, what has this got to do with a photograph of the church of St Anne's, Woodplumpton, Lancashire? Well, it includes the grave of a witch! Can you work out which one it is? It's actually the big rock in the lower right of the frame, and it marks the final resting place of Meg Shelton, the "Fylde Hag", who died in the late seventeenth century. She was reputed to be able to change herself into different shapes. A farmer caught her stealing grain after jabbing his pitchfork into the sacks - the one that screamed quickly turned itself back into Meg! She is said to have died when she was crushed against a wall by a barrel. Meg was buried in the churchyard, upside down in a vertical position, so that if she used her magic to dig her way out she'd be digging downwards. And just to make sure she was gone forever they placed this large rock on top of the hole!

I imagine that this poor woman, like the ten Pendle Witches who were hanged at Lancaster Castle in 1612, was the victim of persecution because she was different from her neighbours in some noticeable way. It would be nice to think that belief in magic, and persecution on the grounds of difference, were no longer part of our world. But they endure, often unrecognised for the ancient and outdated concepts that they are.

I took this photograph for the architectural interest of the west end of the church, but post it here for the sociological interest of this ancient grave.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen