Myths & magic

A Detection of Damnable Driftes

Sixteenth-century pamphlet describing prominent Chelmsford witchcraft trials against Elizabeth Francis and others


Abracadabra is a magic word that has been in use since at least the second century BCE, when it appears on a Greek amulet as a ba ga da.

Agnes Sampson

Scottish midwife, cunning woman and healer; central figure in the North Berwick witch trials

Agnes Waterhouse, witch

Elderly Essex woman convicted and hanged for witchcraft at Chelmsford in 1566.

Alice Nutter

Alice Nutter was one of the 11 men and women found guilty
of causing harm by witchcraft in the Pendle witch trials of 1612. She was unique among the accused in being a respectable wealthy widow.

Alison Pearson, witch

Scottish woman found guilty of sorcery, witchcraft and invoking the spirits of the Devil in 1588, then strangled and burned

Allison Balfour

The 1594 trial of alleged witch Allison Balfour is one of the most frequently cited Scottish witchcraft cases.

Angels of Mons

Angels who were widely reported as having defended the British Expeditionary Force against overwhelming odds in the first major engagement of the First World War, the Battle of Mons, on Sunday 23 August 1914.

Anne Jefferies

Young Cornish servant girl endowed with the power to heal and prophetise after being visited by fairies

Apotropaic eye

The apotropaic eye is one of a number of signs used to ward off occult forms of evil such as spirits or demons.

Apotropaic magic

Apotropaic magic is a form of magic with the power to avert evil influences; belief in such a form of magic has existed since at least the beginning of written history.

Assipattle and the Stoor worm

Battle between Assipattle and a gigantic sea serpent known as the stoor worm

Barbara Napier, witch

Barbara Napier or sometimes Barbara Naper (c. 1554 – sometime between 1592 to 1600) was an Edinburgh woman accused of witchcraft and conspiracy to murder in the series of trials from 1590 until 1592 that become known as the North Berwick witch trials.

Bealings Bells

Bealings Bells is an early modern poltergeist phenomenon that is reported to have taken place in Bealings House, Suffolk, in 1834.

Beast of Buchan

Big cat or phantom cat

Black cat

The numerous folk beliefs about black cats, and cats in general, are often contradictory. Superstitions surrounding black cats are almost certainly some of the most prevalent even today, along with the number thirteen and walking under a ladder.

Blue men of the Minch

Mythological creatures who look for sailors to drown and stricken boats to sink


An inhabitant of the lochs of the west coast of Scotland, the boobrie is a mythological shapeshifting entity.

Borley Rectory

Borley Rectory was a Victorian house that gained fame as “the most haunted house in England” after being described as such by psychic researcher Harry Price.

British Premonitions Bureau

The British Premonitions Bureau was set up by the psychiatrist John Barker in 1966 in the wake of the Aberfan disaster. Its aim was to collect premonitions from members of the public in the hope of being able to issue warnings about similar tragedies in the future.

Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

The Brown Lady is a ghost said to haunt Raynham Hall in Norfolk, and the subject of perhaps the most famous ghost photograph ever taken.

Bute witches

Six Scottish women accused of witchcraft on Bute during the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1661–62.


The Cailleach is an ancient Celtic hag goddess who in her various guises shaped the land, controlled the forces of nature, and was responsible for the harsh nature of winter.

Cat Sith

The cat sith is a fairy cat of the Highlands of Scotland, black and as large as a dog.


Redirected to Yale (mythical creature).

Church grim

The church grim is a spirit that protects graveyards from witches and the Devil, usually appearing as a black dog.

Concealed shoes

Concealed shoes hidden in the fabric of a building have been discovered in many European countries, as well as in other parts of the world, since at least the early modern period.

Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland is a classic Scottish tower house, built in the 16th century.

Devil’s door

Devil’s doors are blocked-up doors in the north wall of a church, once believed to have been an escape route for the Devil when he left a child as a result of the sacrament of baptism.

Devil’s Knell

Ringing the Devil’s Knell is a custom associated with Dewsbury Minster in West Yorkshire, England.


Ectoplasm is a gelatinous substance that exudes from the body of a spiritualist medium during a seance, which the spirits being communicated with are able to mould into shapes allowing them to communicate with the living.

Edmund Hartley

Edmund Hartley, (died March 1597), the Tyldesley witch, was a cunning man who was alleged to have practised witchcraft at Cleworth Hall in Tyldesley, Lancashire for a year in 1595–96. Hartley was hanged, twice, after a trial at Lancaster Assizes in March 1597. Part of the evidence against him was that under interrogation he was unable to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

Egyptian days

Egyptian days, also known as Dismal days after the Latin dies mali (“evil days”), are days of the year that are considered to be unlucky to carry out any important undertaking such as getting married or travelling.

Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick

Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, (née Balfour; 11 March 1845 – 10 February 1936) was a physics researcher, an activist for the higher education of women, Principal of Newnham College of the University of Cambridge, and a leading figure in the Society for Psychical Research.


An elemental is a type of primitive spiritual entity from the pagan past, perhaps the manifestation of a race memory, usually associated with a single place.

Elizabeth Francis, witch

Elizabeth Francis was an English woman tried three times for witchcraft and hanged in 1579.

Elizabeth Mortlock (witch)

Elizabeth Mortlock was a woman from the small farming village of Pampisford, in Cambridgeshire, convicted of witchcraft in an ecclestiastical court in Ely in 1566.

Elizeus Hall

Elizeus Hall (1502–1565), was a prophet and false messiah who claimed to be a messenger from God. He was born in Manchester, England, in 1502, the son of a carpenter.

Elleine Smithe, witch

Essex woman convicted and hanged for witchcraft in 1579

Elspeth Reoch

Scottish woman who confessed to witchcraft and deceiving islanders by pretending she was mute

Emic and etic

Emic and etic are terms used to describe two different kinds of field research in a wide field of studies, from the view of the insider or the observer respectively.

Epworth Rectory

Epworth Rectory in Epworth, Lincolnshire, also known as the Old Rectory, is the site of supposed paranormal events that occurred in 1716.

Ernest W. Marwick

Scottish writer, folklorist and antiquarian particularly noted for his texts on Orkney folklore and history

Euphame MacCalzean

Wealthy Scottish heiress and member of the gentry convicted of witchcraft. A key figure in the North Berwick witchcraft trials of 1590–1591.

Geillis Duncan, witch

Geillis Duncan, also known as Gillie Duncan, a young Scottish maidservant, was suspected of witchcraft by her employer, David Seton, in November 1590. After being tortured, the initial testimony she gave led to the start of the North Berwick witch trials.

Green children of Woolpit

The green children of Woolpit were a boy and a girl of unusual skin colour who reportedly appeared in the village of Woolpit in Suffolk, England some time in the 12th century, perhaps during the reign of King Stephen.

Greyfriars Bobby

A Skye Terrier who supposedly spent fourteen years guarding the grave of his owner in 19th-century Edinburgh, until his own death on 14 January 1872.


A malignant Yorkshire water spirit said to lurk in stagnant pools, dragging down into the water those children who venture too close.

Inchdrewer Castle

A 16th-century tower house in the parish of Banff, Aberdeenshire, in the northeast of Scotland.


An incubus is a demon in male form that seeks to have sexual intercourse with a sleeping woman.

Isobel Gowdie

Isobel Gowdie was accused of witchcraft in 1662; she was likely executed although that is uncertain. Her detailed testimony provides one of the most comprehensive insights into European witchcraft folklore at the end of the era of witch-hunts.

Jane Wenham

Jane Wenham was the last person to be condemned for witchcraft in an English court, when she was found guilty at Hertford in 1712.

Janet Boyman

A Scottish woman found guilty and executed for witchcraft and associating with fairies

Janet Kennedy, witch

Janet or Jonet Kennedy from Redden or Reydon was a Scottish visionary involved in the North Berwick witch trials of 1590–1591.

Jean Maxwell, sorceress

A Scottish cunning woman convicted of pretending to practise witchcraft

Jennifer Westwood

Jennifer Westwood (5 January 1940 – 12 May 2008) was a British author, broadcaster and folklorist with a particular interest in English Language, Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse.

Jenny Greenteeth

Jenny Greenteeth, or Ginny Greenteeth, is a water spirit said to inhabit pools in Cheshire, Lancashire and Shropshire. If children venture too close, then she reaches out of the water and drags them in to their deaths.

Jessie Saxby

Jessie Margaret Saxby was an author and folklorist from Unst, one of the Shetland Islands of Scotland. She also had political interests and was a suffragette.

Jinney Bingham, Mother Damnable

17th-century woman, also known as Mother Red Cap and the Shrew of Kentish Town, suspected of being a witch, a murderer and poisoner.

John Fian

School teacher convicted of witchcraft in 1590, a central figure in the North Berwick witch trials

John Gregorson Campbell

John Gregorson Campbell (1836 – 22 November 1891) was a Scottish folklorist and Free Church minister at the Tiree and Coll parishes in Argyll, Scotland.

John Kincaid, witch-finder

John Kincaid or Kinkaid was a professional witch-finder or pricker of witches based in Tranent, East Lothian.

Joseph Neil Paton

Damask designer and antiquarian with an extensive collection containing witchcraft paraphernalia that included the skull of Lilias Adie. Father of the artist Joseph Noel Paton


Kelpie, or water kelpie, is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland.

King of the cats

Folk tales about the king of a society of talking cats.

Lady Lovibond

The Lady Lovibond, is perhaps the best-known of the ghost ships that reportedly haunt British waters.

Lilias Adie, witch

Lilias Adie was an elderly Torryburn woman who died after confessing to witchcraft; her face was reconstructed from photos of her skull.

Little Moreton Hall

Little Moreton Hall is a moated half-timbered manor house 4.5 miles (7.2 km) southwest of Congleton in Cheshire, England.

Ly Erg

The Ly Erg is a fairy from Scottish folklore that dresses as a soldier, challenging passersby to fight. But anyone who takes up the challenge will die, win or lose.


Maleficium is an act of sorcery, historically usually performed by a witch, intended to cause harm or injury.

Malkin Tower

Malkin Tower was the home of Elizabeth Southerns, also known as Demdike, and her granddaughter Alizon Device, two of the chief protagonists in the Lancashire witch trials of 1612.

Manchester Mummy

Hannah Beswick (1688 – February 1758), of Birchin Bower, Hollinwood, Oldham, Lancashire, was a wealthy woman who had a pathological fear of premature burial. Following her death in 1758 her body was embalmed and kept above ground, to be periodically checked for signs of life.


The mandrake (Mandragora officinalis) is one of 2500 species of plants belonging to the Solanaceae family. Its psychoactive effects have been known to physicians since ancient times.

Margaret Aitken, the great witch of Balwearie

Margaret Aitken or Atkin (died Fife c. August 1597), known as the great witch of Balwearie, was a pivotal figure in the great Scottish witchcraft panic of 1597.

Margaretha Horn, witch

Woman arrested on suspicion of witchcraft in Rothenburg in 1652, who despite being tortured, vigorously protested her innocence

Matthew Hopkins

Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620 – 12 August 1647) was an English witch-hunter who claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament.


The myrmecoleon, or ant-lion, is usually considered to be a mythical creature of legend, although it has also been identified as a rock hyrax.


Necromancy is a form of magic in which the dead are re-animated and able to communicate with the sorcerer who invoked them, just as they would if they were alive.

Newes from Scotland

Pamphlet describing the North Berwick witch trials in Scotland detailing the confessions given by the accused witches before the King.


The nuckelavee, or nuckalavee, is a horse-like demon from Orcadian mythology that shares some of the characteristics of humans.


Mythical water horse of mainly Shetland folklore where it was also referred to as a shoepultie or shoopiltee in some areas of the islands

Ordsall Hall

Ordsall Hall is a large former manor house in the historic parish of Ordsall, Lancashire, England, now part of the City of Salford, in Greater Manchester.

Osculum infame

Osculum infame, also known as the Kiss of Shame, the Obscene Kiss, is the name commonly given to the ritual of a witch paying homage to the Devil by kissing his genitals, anus or feet.

Overtoun Bridge

Overtoun Bridge, over the Overtoun Burn on the western approach road to Overtoun House, near Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland has attracted international media attention because of the number of dogs that have reportedly leapt from it, often to their deaths after landing on the rocks below.

Padiham witch

Margaret Pearson was a convicted witch who escaped the death penalty because she had caused no harm to anyone.

Paisley witches

The Paisley witches, also known as the Bargarran witches or the Renfrewshire witches, were tried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, central Scotland, in 1697.

Peg o’ Nell

Peg o’ Nell is the malevolent water spirit of the River Ribble in Lancashire.

Peg Powler

Peg Powler is the evil spirit of the River Tees in northeastern England, said to drag children who ventured too close the water’s edge to their deaths.

Pendle witches

The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century.


A phantasmagoria is a ghost show developed by the impresario Paul de Philipsthal, also known as Philidor.

Pittenweem witches

Five Scottish women accused of witchcraft in the small fishing village of Pittenweem in Fife on the east coast of Scotland in 1704


A revenant is the spirit of a dead person returned to visit the living, the common conception of a ghost.

Richard Graham

Richard Graham, sometimes Ritchie Graham or Rychie Grahame, was a sorcerer, necromancer and wizard. Executed on the last day of February 1592 as part of the North Berwick witch trials, he was an associate of Francis Stewart, fifth Earl of Bothwell.

Robert Grierson, witchcraft

Named by several accused of witchcraft during the North Berwick witch trials, Grierson died whilst being tortured during his interrogation.

Samlesbury witches

The Samlesbury witches were three women from the Lancashire village of Samlesbury – Jane Southworth, Jennet Bierley, and Ellen Bierley – accused by a 14-year-old girl, Grace Sowerbutts, of practising witchcraft. Their trial at Lancaster Assizes in England on 19 August 1612 was one in a series of witch trials held there over two days. All three women were acquitted.

Samuel Hibbert-Ware

Samuel Hibbert-Ware FRSE FSA (21 April 1782 – 30 December 1848), born Samuel Hibbert in St Ann’s Square Manchester, was an English geologist and antiquarian.

Sawney Bean

Sawney Bean is a legendary 16th-century Scottish cannibal.


Scrying is a form of divination in which the diviner gazes into a reflective surface, in which visions appear.

Sea Mither

Sea Mither is a mythical being of Orcadian folklore that lives in the sea during summer, when she confines the demonic nuckelavee to the ocean depths. Each spring she battles with her arch-enemy Teran, another spirit of Orcadian legend capable of causing severe winter storms, to gain control of the seas and the weather.

Seely wights

The seely wights were fairy-like creatures at the centre of a shamanistic Scottish cult that existed in the 16th century. Members were able to enter into a trance which allowed them to fly out at night on swallows and join with the seely wights.

Society for Psychical Research

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a registered charity founded in 1882 to conduct scientific investigations into psychic and paranormal phenomena.


An imaginary kind of afterbirth in the form of an “evil-looking little animal” especially attributed to Dutch women.

Sortes Biblicae

A method of divination used by some Christians to foretell the future by interpreting randomly chosen texts from the Bible.

Spell (magical)

A spell is a verbal charm to be spoken or chanted, sometimes a single magic word such as Abracadabra or the Renervate encountered in the fictional Harry Potter series of books.

Spirit photography

Spirit photography was a technique popular in the 19th century to capture the invisible spirits of the deceased.

Stone tape theory

The stone tape theory is the idea that recurrent hauntings are produced by the replaying of recordings stored in the physical environment, analogously to tape recordings.

Stoor worm

Gigantic evil sea serpent of Orcadian folklore

Summis desiderantes affectibus

Summis desiderantes affectibus, (Latin for “Desiring with supreme ardor”), sometimes abbreviated to Summis desiderantes was a papal bull regarding witchcraft issued by Pope Innocent VIII on 5 December 1484.

Sympathetic magic

The Law of sympathy, the basis of all magic according to the anthropologist and folklorist Sir James George Frazer, is founded on the idea that things act on each other because they are linked by invisible and secret bonds.


Taghairm is a Scottish Celtic practice similar to necromancy, in which spirits or demons are conjured up to help achieve some end, or to foretell the future.

The Apparition of Mrs. Veal

The Apparition of Mrs Veal is an account of a ghostly visitation said to have occurred in Canterbury in 1705.

The examination and confession of certaine Wytches at Chensforde

First pamphlet describing witchcraft trials in England; it covers the testimony of witches at Chelmsford Assizes in 1566.

The Hooper

A mysterious cloud of mist that often hovered over the Cowloe Rock, near Sennen Cove in Cornwall, warning of approaching bad weather.

The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster

The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster is the account of a series of English witch trials that took place on 18–19 August 1612, commonly known as the Lancashire witch trials.

Thomas Lyon-Bowes, Master of Glamis (born 1821)

The official record states that Thomas Lyon-Bowes died shortly after his birth, but rumours have circulated that he was born horribly deformed and raised in a secret room in Glamis Castle, the so-called Monster of Glamis.

Tom Tildrum

Redirected to King o’ the cats.


Undines (or ondines) are a category of imaginary elemental beings associated with water, first named in the alchemical writings of Paracelsus. Similar creatures are found in classical literature, particularly Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Walter Traill Dennison

Orcadian folklorist and antiquarian

Wandering Jew

A Jewish cobbler condemned by Jesus to roam the world without rest until the end of time for taunting him on his way to the Crucifixion.

Water bull

The water bull, also known as tarbh uisge in Scottish Gaelic, is a mythological Scottish creature similar to the Manx tarroo ushtey.

Witch of Endor

The Witch of Endor is a female sorcerer who appears in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 28:3–25).

Witch trials in early modern Scotland

The judicial proceedings in Scotland between the early 16th century and the mid-18th century concerned with crimes of witchcraft, part of a series of witch trials in Early Modern Europe.


Methods used to identify witches.

Witch’s broomstick

Although witches in the popular imagination are widely believed to have flown through the air on broomsticks, only a very small number ever confessed to having done so.

Witchcraft Act 1735

The Witchcraft Act 1735 (9 Geo. II c. 5), sometimes referred to as the Witchcraft Act 1736 owing to dating complexities, repealed the earlier statutes concerning witchcraft throughout Great Britain, including Scotland, which had its own legal system.

Witchcraft Acts

Until the passage of Henry VIII’s Act of 1542 witchcraft was dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts rather being seen as a secular felony. It is unknown what triggered the perceived need for such a law, but it undoubtedly suited Henry’s agenda of wresting power from the Catholic Church.

Witchcraft in Orkney

Witchcraft in Orkney possibly has its roots in the settlement of Norsemen on the archipelago from the eighth century onwards. Until the early modern period magical powers were accepted as part of the general lifestyle, but witch-hunts began on the mainland of Scotland in about 1550.

Witches of Belvoir

The Witches of Belvoir were a mother and her two daughters accused of causing the deaths by witchcraft of two young nobles, Henry and Francis Manners.


The wulver is a fairy being, part of the folklore of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. A type of werewolf, it is half man, half wolf.

Yale (mythical creature)

A heraldic beast whose meaning is “proud defence”. Although it has never been identiified with a living or extinct creature, it may be based on descriptions of Indian water buffalos.


A mythological creature with an upper body in the form of an armed knight, fused with the tail of a fish.