Tag Archives: Witchcraft

A Remedy for Witchcraft and Demonic Possession in Seventeenth-Century Ireland

By Andrew Sneddon

There were only a handful of witch trials in early modern Ireland, and only one witch-lynching, of an old woman by her neighbours in Antrim town, Co. Antrim in 1698. The ‘witch’ was accused of using witchcraft to demonically possess a young girl of Presbyterian gentry stock.

Sneddon Witch Warboys
An early eighteenth-century depiction of a witch conjuring up demons to do her evil work. From: Richard Boulton, A Compleat History of Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft … (London, 2 vols, 1715-1722), vol. 1, frontispiece.

This case is detailed in Ireland’s only published witchcraft pamphlet by Daniel Higgs, The Wonderful and True Relation of the Bewitching of a Young Girle in Ireland, What Ways she was Tormented, and a Receipt of the Ointment that she was Cured with (Edinburgh [?], 1699). Higgs was a gentleman of considerable means who spoke Latin and French and was familiar with the contents of both English witchcraft pamphlets and learned, demonological works.

Higgs’ pamphlet is particularly important because he included (pp. 15-16), ‘for the good of others’ afflicted by witchcraft, a full description of the ‘receipt’ of the ointment he had used to cure the possessed girl with:

Take of dogs grease well dissolved and cleansed, four Ounces; Of bears Grease eight Ounce; Of Capons Grease, four and twenty Ounces; three trunks of the Misletoe of the Hazle while green, cut in pieces & pound it small[l], till it become moist; bruise together the wood, leaves and Berries, mix all in a vial, after you have exposed it to the sun for nine weeks; You shall extract a green Balsom, wherewith if you anoint the Bodies of the Bewitched, especially the parts most effected and the joynts, they will certainly be cured.

Higgs discovered his remedy in an obscure medical text by Bartholomew Carrichter, Practica Aus Den Furnemesten Secretis (Strassburg, 1579). Carrichter was physician to Emperor Maximillian II and a follower of early sixteenth-century Swiss physician, alchemist and astrologer, Philippus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus). This did not mean that Higgs did not take full credit for the girl’s miraculous recovery.

He had, after all, rediscovered the ointment by researching, in his view, long forgotten books. Furthermore, he had manufactured and applied the remedy himself after apothecaries in Dublin refused to do it for him (for reasons unknown), and local physicians had been powerless to help the girl. Higgs suspected that in some cases physicians had refused to offer assistance because they did not believe in witchcraft. Disbelief in witchcraft shocked Higgs because he equated it with atheism.

Before Higgs had used Carrichter’s ointment, he had administered to the girl an ‘ex fuga Daemonum’ in the form of a drink concocted of ‘southeren wood, Mugwort, Vervene &c’ (Higgs, 16). This folkloric cure was similar to those used domestically in seventeenth-century Scotland to expel demons and counter witchcraft. Although we cannot be sure, Higgs was probably of Scots descent, he or his parents having come to Ulster in the later seventeenth century along with thousands of other Scottish Presbyterians. The Scottish ‘ex fuga Daemonum’, however, did not relieve the girl’s symptoms, prompting Higgs to search for a book-based remedy, which he duly found.

Higgs, in common with many educated men in early modern Europe, condemned the popular magic of cunning-folk as vulgar and “low-browed”, especially their anti-witch measures. Although he did not go as far as some who suggested that if the magic of cunning-folk had any efficacy at all, it was demonic in origin.

Ironically, HIggs did not regard the drink he gave the girl, nor the ointment he applied to her body, as magical, despite the fact that the ingredients of both held precisely that cultural connotation. He saw both remedies as alternative medicine, which the established medical profession had ignored to the peril of their patients and which he had finally brought to public attention.

Sneddon bookEditors’ note

Extra, extra! Read all about it!

Andrew discusses this case further in his brand-new book,  Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2015).  You can take a look at the very tempting table of contents on the publisher’s page. Congratulations, Andrew!


History Carnival #139

We are very pleased to be hosting History Carnival #139 at the Recipes Project this month! We have a wealth of interesting posts to show you this month.

Education and the teaching of history has been a hot topic recently. Sean Creighton at History Matters reflected on how Black History Month has evolved and what constitutes the study of British Black History today. Our own Recipes Project blog devoted the month of September to the teaching of recipes, which ranged from early modern to Canadian history. In a related vein, Richard Blakemore offers his thoughts and criticisms on The History Manifesto, Cambridge University Press’s first open access book.

West End London Air Raid Shelter. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
WWII; England; “West End London Air Raid Shelter” in Aldwych tube station. Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

Bridget Lockyer at the FWSA Blog presented the results of a workshop on teaching women’s history in the UK’s new curriculum that was run with students and teachers at three schools in York.

Women in history also featured in several fascinating posts this month. The writers at All Things Georgian brought to our attention the 1737 book, “The Whole Duty of a Woman”, and its recipes for just about every day of the year. Maritime historian Joan Druett has provided us with a glimpse at Mrs. Alexander’s maiden voyage on the James Craig in 1874, including giving birth!

Kathryn Robinson, also at History Matters, looks at the legacy of the London Tube during the Blitz in the Second World War.

Medical historians have been producing some excellent posts recently. At the Notches blog Katherine Harvey has been looking at medieval views on masturbation and the idea that prolonged celibacy could be a risk to a man’s health! Yikes. Lesley Hulonce has written a fascinating post on the earliest institutions for disabled children in Victorian and Edwardian Britain and the assumptions society placed on its inhabitants in terms of their education and livelihoods.

Leather doctor's bag with contents, English, 1890-1930. Wellcome Images.
Leather doctor’s bag with contents, English, 1890-1930. Wellcome Images.

Åsa Jansson tackled the thorny and ever popular topic of retrospective diagnosis with her reflections on the recent conference, Gloom Goes Global: Towards a Transcultural History of Melancholy since 1850” held at the Univeristät Heidelberg this past October. Ed Darrell has been looking at the use of DDT to fight malaria. Jacqueline Antonovich at Nursing Clio, wrote of her experience in the archives and surprising insights that can be gained from material culture. Suzie Grogan has written a really interesting guest post for The Quack Doctor on home remedies for shell-shock after the First World War.

Alun Withey put the beard and masculinity in its historical context as beards have becoming increasingly popular over the past few years.

Joanne Major at All Things Georgian tackled a grim mystery from the 18th century – that of Oliver Cromwell’s missing head.

October provided a number of posts on one of my favourite topics – historical food! The Sloane Letters blog returned after a brief hiatus with a post determining once and for all that Hans Sloane did not invent milk chocolate (alas).  Liz Adams at the Rubenstein Library tested an 1899 recipe for a dairy free ice-cream made from nut butter. While she concluded it may not be ice cream by modern standards, it was delicious! Over at Not Just Dormice, Lisa Lodwick explored the enduring use of coriander and its immense popularity in ancient Rome.

Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r. Source: British Library.
Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r. Source: British Library.

As a medievalist I would be remiss if I didn’t include some more posts from that quarter of the internet. Jonathan Jarrett tells us how to start a saint’s cult. Julian Harrison at the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog, meanwhile, tells us how to be a hedgehog. And Erik Kwakkel gives us the skinny on bad parchment in medieval books.

Finally, what better post to end October’s Carnival on than Donna Seger’s post on the image of the dancing witch!

We hope you have enjoyed the posts in this month’s History Carnival! The next History Carnival will be hosted at the Imperial and Global Forum on December 1st.

Introduction: “Russian Recipes” at the July Recipes Project

By Clare Griffin

Dear Readers of the Recipes Project Blog,

Earlier this year I was asked to put together a series of posts on Russian Recipes. But how to introduce the posts to help non-Russianists grasp them? Through all the organising and writing of this ‘special edition’ of the Recipes Project, this has remained the hardest thing to pin down. What, fundamentally, were the central aspects of early modern Russia, and how to do them justice in one introduction?

My solution is the following brief travel guide for the curious visitor to Russia c. 1690. Hopefully this will provide a useful introduction as you peruse our featured posts on “Russian Recipes” this month.

L0004274 Map of Russia lent by Dr. Schuster.
Russia in the Early Modern Period
(Wellcome Images)


Although having its roots in the early Medieval princedom of Kiev, by the early modern period Russia meant a tsardom centred on the more northerly Moscow, hence its other early modern name, Muscovy, although there was a large and growing empire far to the east of that city. Travellers arriving after 1703 would be more likely to head to the new capital of St Petersburg, modestly named after the reforming Tsar Peter the Great.

The Russian Empire, 1745
(Wiki Images)


Staying within the bounds of local law is key to any successful journey, and early modern visitors to Muscovy had to bear some important points in mind. Movement across the borders and within the country was strictly controlled, and documentation was necessary to avoid arrest. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had to take care not to have roots or herbs on your person, as those could be cause for accusations of witchcraft.  Although there were many foreigners in Muscovy, interaction between them was not always encouraged; if you were a foreign visitor, Russian servants would not stay in your house overnight, as you were considered to be a heretic, and excessive contact with you was thought to be dangerous.

The Population:
The Russian population was distinguished in several ways. In terms of dress, Muscovites wore traditional clothes; as a visitor, you would have stood out!

Russian Noblemen
(Wiki Images)

Russians rarely knew foreign languages, although this was changing throughout the early modern period, as increasing numbers of “boyars” – as Russian nobles are called – kept collections of foreign books alongside other exotic foreign objects such as clocks.

Russia was not as culturally homogenous as you might think. Several courtly families came from outside the Moscow lands, including from Kazan’ and from the Georgian royal family. Outside of the court, the atmosphere was even more mixed, as the empire encompassed various races, nations, languages and religions, who were mostly left to their own devices, provided they paid their taxes on time.

There was also a thriving foreign community in Moscow, with merchant strongholds in Kholmogory and Archangel, the most important port. These communities dated back to the 1550s, when English merchants accidently found the northern coast of Russia while searching for China. Although the English were dominant for some decades, the Dutch and the Germans also had a significant presence in Moscow, where they had their own churches and community activities. Some people even put on amateur performances of Western European plays in their own homes.

There were many wonderful sights in early modern Russia.

Ushakov's Archangel Michael and the Devil
Ushakov’s Archangel Michael and the Devil, 1676
(Wiki Images)

Early modern Russia was a very religious society, and churches played a large role in Russian life.  Services could go on for several hours. Churches and monasteries were also used in religio-political ceremonies, such as when the Tsar paraded through the streets of Moscow. Icons were similarly important. If you were an early modern visitor to Russia, you might be lucky enough to see the work of the great seventeenth-century Russian icon painter, Semyon Ushakov.

If you ventured outside of Moscow, you could have visited many wonderful sights in the early modern Russian Empire. To the East and South, you could have travelled to the towns of Kazan’ and Astrakhan, both former khanates but a part of the empire since the sixteenth century. You might even have gone on to distant Siberia!  Although partly used to exile prisoners, Siberia was also valued for its wildlife.  Siberian furs fetched high prices in Western Europe.

We hope you enjoy your visit to early modern Russia!

Posts in the series: 

What to Feed the Servants in Sixteenth-Century Russiaby Carolyn Pouncey

A Medieval Russian Hangover Cure, by Darra Goldstein

How to Heal a Foreigner in Early Modern Russia, by Clare Griffin

A Modern Culinary Manuscript from Russia’s Ural Mountains, by Aleksandra Ippolitova

Love Magic in 18th century Russia: a Search for Passion in Russian History, by Elena Smilianskaia