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Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle of the Witch of Berkeley being carried off on horseback by the Devil.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, writing in the 1120s, tells how a woman living in Berkeley, Gloucestershire – “addicted to witchcraft … excessively gluttonous, perfectly lascivious” – had sold her soul to the Devil in return for his assistance in rescuing her from her “wretched circumstances”.[1]

One day in 1065 the woman was warned by her pet jackdaw that her death was imminent.[a]The jackdaw may have been an early form of a witch’s familiarDemonic spirit who attends upon a witch, possessing magical powers that can be used for good or evil. Often taking the form of a small animal such as a cat..[2] Knowing that she could not save her soul, she begged her family to at least protect her body, by sewing it up in a stag’s hide and laying it in a stone coffin fastened with three chains; after standing in a church for three nights, her body could then be safely buried. But each night demons entered and broke one of the chains. Finally the Devil dragged the woman out of the church and set her behind him on “a black horse … with iron hooks projecting over the whole of his [the horse’s] back … her pitiable cries … were heard for nearly the space of four miles”.[2][3]

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Bibliography


Simpson, Jacqueline, and Steve Roud. “Berkeley, the Witch Of.” A Dictionary of English Folklore, Online, Oxford University Press, 2003, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780198607663.001.0001/acref-9780198607663-e-70.
William Of Malmesbury. William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England. From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen. Edited by John Sharpe and John Allen Giles, H. G. Bohn, 1847, https://archive.org/details/williamofmalmesb1847will/page/n3/mode/2up.