Luke: Hello, everyone. Welcome to LukeLore, a quick deep dive into a folklore topic where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. We are back once more to explore the witches of the world with the incredible Mariam Drager. Hello, Mariam.
Mariam: Hi. This is Lady Mariam Draeger. Nice to see you again, Luke. How's it going?
Luke: Somewhat hectic. I do feel that spooky season is my high gear season.
Mariam: Oh yeah. I feel it. Same here. Same here. It’s a mix between joy, that suddenly all the content being created around me is basically how I live the rest of my year. But at the same time, tension and stress, because I think you and I [00:01:00] not only work the most, but also in terms of our free time and festival and convention season, it's probably the most intense time of the year as well.
Luke: Oh yeah. And as fun as it is, work is still work. I am very, very happy that I have three different kinds of pumpkin spice syrup now working at my day job, ready for lattes.
Mariam: I'm sorry. Did you want me to be jealous and hate you a little bit? Is that, is that what you're going for?
Luke: Oh, let’s make it worse - I'll tell you what specific ones they are. There's a cinnamon roll pumpkin spice latte. There's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) scone one and there's a cheesecake one.
Mariam: Ooh! Oh God. It's so good. Okay, so, I'm gonna have to fly to the UK and murder you for your syrups.
Luke: Or you could drive to T K Maxx and get your own, you know, whatever.
Mariam: It's crazy. I was in the UK a few weeks ago, and they do T K Maxx right. I mean it's the Halloween season, all these shelves with [00:02:00] beautiful stuff. I need new mugs and place mats and you know, I try to buy something new for Halloween every year to add to the collection, you know, so there's a story being built of sorts.
But yeah, it's awesome. Here in Germany, the TK Maxxes don't have as much, and funnily enough, things go on sale before Halloween because they think, “Well, if they haven't bought it yet, then they don't want it at all”, so you can actually get Halloween stuff on sale a week or two before Halloween. It's like, “Okay. Does that make sense? Not sure, but I'll take it.”
Luke: This is a follow-on to the episode, “Which Witch is Which”, With Mariam Draeger of the Grimm Exchange, if you wanna head back there as a refresher. This show should still work fine as a standalone though.
We have a few stories to share today, but let's start with the Witch Villages of England.
Witchcraft has a storied and complex history in the British Isles. Sadly, more the bad than good, but it's a history that has persisted. The modern revival reclamation of pagan origins, such as in modern wicca, isn't the [00:03:00] full story of modern witchcraft. In the rural areas of the UK, signs of traditional practices were being found all the way through into the middle of the 20th century.
This takes us to the witch villages. Something that can be found scattered around the UK, but there is a specific cluster of them found in and around the south midlands of England. At the borders of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, we found such places as Brails, Lower Compton, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) - places where witches remain feared, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) also more of local healers in the form of wise women and cunning men who could offer folk cures both in the form of traditional herb craft cures and more spiritual interventions, making a living, selling warding charms to protect households from evil eye, something that remained a real concern in some places (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as a sort of disease and disaster could ruin a poorer family with no tangible wealth to fall back upon in hard times.
There are solid signs of traditional witchcraft being performed through to the 1950s and sixties, which [00:04:00] is interesting in that it's a little ahead of the modern pagan revivals, (UNINTELLIGIBLE SENTENCE) leading us to dig down into stories of the witch villages, this have a line of traditions that have followed a direct source.
We know about this witchcraft. This evidence of these traditions has quite literally been stumbled across. A doctor Nimo Smith had been fishing near a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Oxfordshire one June day in 1954, and on his way home he spotted something curious hanging from a tree. It was a doll, sticks for limbs. It was wearing a pretty dress and hat.
It would've been a pleasant enough handcrafted figure, about three inches in height, but for one disturbing detail: it was hung from the neck by twine and connected deliberately to a dead branch of a willow tree. This wasn't of much note to the doctor. He paid it no mind and carried on. Only it came to mind again later, roughly three months or so, when he was talking to his friend Audrey Beecham, a lecturer in social economic history at Nottingham’s University College.[00:05:00]
Audrey had always had a fascination surrounding witchcraft and black magic. So the doctor (UNINTELLIGIBLE) turned into an adventure to hunt down the odd doll and try to work out what it was. It had mostly been destroyed by weather and hidden behind a sturdy inner skeleton of twine wrapped in newspaper that had given the body form, but little else was left, that it was so difficult to reach, which likely helped keep it hanging around until autumn without being destroyed by bored kids, suggested that it wasn't children who put up there.
In 1956 Audrey Beecham wrote up the case for the journal Folk Lore, positing that while now (UNINTELLIGBLE SENTENCE) in a lesser capacity list, always liked in the little curse word that spoke to, “continuity of all practices and beliefs.” What exactly the hanging doll was for, never got answered.
While Audrey questioned locals, no one had any answers, asking the parish priest to ask around incase it was her status as an outsider that led to everyone keeping quiet. That turned up no solid details either. Her instinct was that this strange little doll was of ill intent, and that it was hung by the neck from a dead tree branch does lead to having little in the way of happy vibes.
Effigy magic is a global phenomenon, and not exactly rare in England or the wider (UNINTELLIGBLE SENTENCE) north areas a grow that the fine news that all wicked dolls isn't unheard of, and their intent can be a little more explicit. One such doll was found in the brickwork of a house in Hereford, not a part of the witch villages where the other doll was found, but this particular case came with a key part of the black magic preserved within. This doll, thought to be from around 1870, had a curse script attached.
So, time again to read something creepy out on the podcast. It shouldn't be too bad without the rest of the effigy and the intent, but listeners be warned: here's a curse that was actually used on someone: “I act this spell upon you from my whole heart, wishing you never to rest nor eat, nor sleep the rest (UNINTELLIGBLE) part of your life. I hope your flesh will waste away. And I hope you will never spend another penny I ought to have. Wishing this from my whole heart.” This one sounded pretty personal.
It's almost disappointing that it's the more sensational, dark traditions that stand out and get passed on. Although the good side of witchcraft lived on in home remedies. The thing of note, however, was that the old ways managed to hang on in there, all the way through to modern times. I do think I prefer crystals and tarot to the (UNINTELLIGBLE) effigies though.
Mariam: There's something about dolls specifically used for spells or curses that adds another layer to the unease, because you're effectively embodying whatever this magic is in a physical object.
It's manifesting in a physical object and these dolls, whether it's one that was acquired one way, or maybe built by someone, it took time and effort to put this in place and attach whatever spell or curse to this thing. It kind of brings the idea of these energies at play into the real world and whether you believe in it or not.
You know, if you're walking around somewhere and you see dolls in whatever form hanging from somewhere, and then you find a curse attached to it, even a non-believer, if they were walking alone and then saw this out of the blue, would have to admit that it's not something that you stay relaxed around. It's something at the very least you're curious about. If not, you know, nervous about it. It's weird. It's definitely, it's a weird image.
Luke: Yeah. You can not believe in magic, but you can't deny the malice.
Mariam: Definitely. And the thing is as well, these dolls, they also symbolize beings. They can symbolize us or maybe they symbolize another creature that's called upon, depending on the doll.
And you mentioned the one story and said how personal it sounded, but I don't think someone curses someone for non-personal reasons, it’s always personal and it's the of those emotions and that act that makes you realize how affected the person who casts the spell or the curse really is. They're kind of externalizing whatever it is they're feeling or they're thinking. There is definitely a lot to it.
Luke: Curses. The effigy dolls. Terrifying? Well, it was fascinating to me that while we had the pagan revival starting in the 1970s, and you've got these witch villages that were just happily trucking along, doing their own thing all the way up to the decade before them.
Mariam: There's different facets to it. I always find it fascinating whenever I see a story, a video, an article about a mysterious doll, I have to read it. I have to watch it. I am fascinated by it. I remember, actually, this one instance where one of my best friends and my partner and I, we were driving to a wedding and the GPS took us down this country road that was away from the motorway and it was just this street that was winding and went through a field. Fields everywhere. And then at some point - and there are no cars, no houses, no people - in the middle of the field, by the side of the road, there was this tree, and it had many branches. It was fairly tall, but it was also very wide, very tall, very wide, and there were dozens of dolls hanging from the branches of this tree.
There were small dolls, little dolls, bought dolls, made dolls. One was a child- size mannequin. It was covered in dolls hanging from its branches, and there was nothing around us. And when we passed by it the first time, it was broad daylight. And we thought it was terrifying. We could get a really good look.
There was also a tricycle hanging in the tree. We have no idea to this day why it's there. It's probably still there. And then on the way back when we drove back, it was night-time and we slowed down, and if you can imagine just being surrounded by fields in the middle of Germany and just this tiny winding road and no one around, and this tree in the dark being lit by the headlights of your car, covered in dolls. It was terrifying. It was terrifying during the day. It was even creepier at night. Oh, it was so bad.
Luke: Dare you to camp under it.
Mariam: I mean, I dare you to join me. Although this is Germany, chances are there's some permit that we need to acquire in order to set up a tent there. But, which in German bureaucracy…
Luke: If you want to be murdered by the creepy dolls, that is this form…
Mariam: Form 6, 6, 6 A.
Luke: You'll require it in triplicate and we will need your identification papers, please.
Mariam: Yes, we only accept passports. We don't accept normal ID, thank you very much.
Luke: Also, the thing that terrified me most as a child wasn't [00:12:00] a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) doll. It was a cheerful, very colourful, Spanish …(UNINTELLIGIBLE) pinata donkey, but not for actually beating, it was just a souvenir. And then I was sleeping at my grandparents, in the dark, for whatever reason it irrationally terrified me as a child.
Mariam: Do you remember what you imagined was wrong with it or were you just scared? Was it just fear?
Luke: I was just paralysed with terror, trying to stare it down in the dark. I trusted it not one jot.
Mariam: Okay. Notes for Christmas presents for Luke. Send me a link of what it looked like after the podcast so I can visualize tiny Luke and this scary doll. I wanna…
Luke: It wasn't scary, it was really cheerful, I just didn't trust it all, especially in the dark.
Mariam: I mean, again, send me that link, I wanna see what it looked like and I guess, I mean…
Luke: I think it might be at my mother's. I might be able to actually get a picture of the offending article.
Mariam: Okay. Yes, please. That would be amazing. I don't know if you have a blog to your podcast, maybe this would be worth an upload so people can see it. Maybe on your social media, maybe you should just tweet a picture of it.
Luke: Sneaky plug: we do have the “LukeLore: a UK Folk Lore” podcast group on Facebook that we're building up.
Mariam: That's where you have to post it. So, you guys, if you wanna see the doll that terrorized Luke as a child, join the Facebook group, and he will be uploading it there with this episode,
Luke: Theories as to why I was scared by it. Just, you know, spitball: is it because it was very happy and sunny and that just was instant revulsion from me on that (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We'll see.
Mariam: I mean, who smiles that much? It can't be trusted. It can't be real. It's already…
Luke: The only thing that smiles that much is dolphins and sharks, and you should trust me, but[00:14:00]
Mariam: You know, it's funny, speaking of dolls and being uncanny, I held a presentation a few months ago in a company that does animation as a service provider, and my presentation was on the uncanny. It was an interesting client to have cuz usually when I work in heart, I want things to be creepy. But with this animation studio and team, it was about teaching them what makes things creepy so you can avoid it, you know, cuz you don't wanna have some sort of infographic or whatever, whether it's 2D or 3D and people look at it and just walk away and it's weird.
And a lot of people, nobody on this team, cuz obviously they're not horror fans, not obviously, but in this case, they weren't horror fans. None of them had heard of the term ‘uncanny valley’ before. So when I did the introduction before I got into the science and the theories and what it means and how to avoid it, the first thing I did was, you know, show two pictures. One definitely triggered [00:15:00] uncanny valley vibes, and the other one was a friendly version.
And I would say, “Okay, I'm gonna show you two pictures of things and I want you to just say what makes you comfortable and what makes you uncomfortable.” And I put in weird stuff like, you know, a tangerine with a smiley face drawn onto it versus a tangerine with real human teeth in it so it looked like a mouth. And then, you know, eventually I got to the doll part and there was a Raggedy Ann doll, which, okay, if you know the curses behind the Blumhouse films, what's the name of the doll? Oh my God, why can't I…
Mariam: Annabelle. You know, it actually wasn’t a Raggedy Ann, but let's take that, let's take that information out of it. So, there was a Raggedy Ann doll that looked super friendly and was very cartoonish, and then, you know, a creepy doll. And I looked for one that was really creepy, and some people felt so uncomfortable when that slide [00:16:00] came that they had to look away and they waited for me to change it. And I was like, “Oh wait, everyone needs to show of hands. Which one is the creepy one?” And everyone's like, “Oh my God, just make it go away.” And I was like, “OK…”
Luke: So, this thing you screamed at is the creepy one Mariam, just in case you need the social cue there.
Mariam: Well I don't know, they were on the same slide. I can't interpret their body language, but no, they hated it. And yeah, it made me realize how much of an impact it can have on some people. I mean, some people are specifically afraid of creepy dolls. It's its own category, if you will. So there's weight to it.
Luke: It’s interesting you were brought in as a horror expert, because you weren't trying to be scarier. You were explaining what was scary to avoid it, and it's a great example of the experience being the same, but the intention for why you were brought in being very different.
Mariam: 100%. I mean, that's the thing. [00:17:00] Depending on what you wanna do, what you wanna present, what you want to sell, you don't want to turn people off. You want the product to seem likable, charismatic, relatable. And understanding what makes things weird and scary, if you want to intentionally do it, that's great, but you also need to know how it works in order to avoid it. And especially when it comes to animation, and specifically 3D animation, that is a trap that a lot of people still fall in.
Luke: Oh yeah, the best example, the best, worst example, is the Polar Express. Cause they so nearly managed it, but the eyes were dead and it freaked everyone out.
Mariam: Absolutely. That is one infamous example.
The other infamous film example is the Tintin movie, as I love the Tintin comics, and when they made a film out of it, they basically had the exact same proportions as the comic book characters. But they were modelled in 3D and had [00:18:00] realistic textures, and there was something about that mix. It wasn't exaggerated enough, so it just seemed really, really weird.
That's one of the ways to avoid it. If you exaggerate it and it doesn't look as human anymore, and they didn't exaggerate enough and it just got weird. I mean, I still enjoyed the film, but yeah, it was uncomfortable for a lot of people to watch.
Luke: Yeah, the uncanny valley is the point where it's too close or not close enough.
Luke: And that's when it bottoms out.
Mariam: Funnily enough, you know, discovered by a robotics engineer from Japan, I think in the seventies or something. The name escapes me. I'll have to look it up. But yeah, he was trying to make robots and he realized in developing these robots that, you know, in robotics, people were trying to make them as human as possible.
That was the goal for robots for the longest time, and eventually he hit a point where it got so human that people started saying, “It's weird, I don't like it.” And he didn't [00:19:00] understand why, and that's how he came up with that concept. you just, you know, perfectly said it's close to human but not quite. And then suddenly the likability just dips that valley and people don't like it. And so, yeah, he did some studies around it and experimented and he realized it can't look too human for people to like it. It either has to look exactly like a human, you know, like you could mistake it for a human, and we're not even quite there yet now, but we're getting fairly close, or it looks nothing like a human. It just looks like a cartoonish creature. But you can't get close and not quite get there and it's, yeah, it's an interesting phenomenon.
Luke: Yeah, I think I've dabbled with it on the show before, it’ll be the mimics episode, cuz I am always up for raving about how much I don't like mimics and then trying to explain why
Mariam: As a concept or actual mimics?
Luke: Folklore mimics and horror mimics are one of the things that really get under my skin, because of what they're up to. So, on the predator [00:20:00] and prey episode recently I did the Not-Deer, and they're just like, they seem normal until they don’t, and you realize you're somewhere you shouldn't be.
Mariam: Yeah. I personally am triggered by stories where the mimic works on an auditory and vocal level, so a thing looking like another person is not something that affects me because I find it hard to believe that that's possible. But the idea of an evil creature, even though you know these creatures don't exist either, but still, the idea of a creature perfectly imitating the sound of a person makes it scarier to me for some reason. I don't know why. Because I don't know if it seems more realistic that it's doable, but I've seen short films where, you know, you have a little girl and her mom is calling her from downstairs, and then the mom enters the room and tells her to be quiet [00:21:00] or, you know, and you realize the voice is someone completely different.
Or in the film Annihilation, where that beast comes and it imitates the screams of the woman before she died, but at first they think they hear her and they try to save her, and it's so weird. It's so creepy to see this thing, and it opens its mouth to growl and, and it's like a growl combined with the screams of a woman, and it's like, Oh my God, that's just, ugh. It goes under your skin like…
Luke: It's so effective. Even if you find Annihilation a bit too slow and abstract in general, that one scene is just straight up terror.
Mariam: Makes it worth it. Yeah, absolutely. Ooh, oh, chills. Oh, I should have given a spoiler alert, but, but yeah, it's not the ending.
Luke: I do have a TV screenplay lying around, somewhere that uses a mimic. It's a riff on the big bad wolf, and it starts mimicking people. But it's bad at it at first and it gets progressively better at it as it goes on as an escalation of threats. [00:22:00]
Mariam: Have fun with that. Well, it's funny to me that you hate it, but you're also kind of obsessed with it and you'll write a screenplay about it. I don't know which one is it? Do you, are you fascinated by them, or do you despise them, or both?
Luke: Oh yeah, this is a fascination. This is trying to catch the moon on a pool of water but ending up drowned. This is that level of desperate, bad, and wrong fascination. Moth to an open flame kind of thing going on.
Mariam: Nice. All right, well, good to know. Halloween costume 2022: Mimic. I'll just come up as a six foot one and a half version of you, and I'll try to speak the way you do. It'll come across as extremely offensive and I will fail, but I will do it with pride.
Luke: Yeah but if you're doing it just all slightly wrong, it's gonna plunge (UNINTELLIGIBLE) uncanny valley and be effective.
Mariam: Yeah, that's true. That's true. That's true. Maybe if I get contact lenses and you know, I don't know. [00:23:00] I need to ask Hannah, for some pictures, photos of you with your clothing and see if I could buy them online or something.
So anyway. Okay, well, we're drifting. We’re supposed to be talking about witches, now we're talking about the uncanny valley and mimics. This is already a very juicy episode. I'm loving it.
Luke: Right. Do you wanna take your mystery segments on then?
Mariam: Yes, with pleasure. Although pleasure is relative because I am about to bring the mood down with some tragedy. I hope you're ready for it.
Luke: I actually was, that's why the good witch segments is next.
Mariam: Okay, That's good. It's good. It'll be more palatable. It'll give us something to help us digest everything.
So, I want to take this part of witches because I feel like it's worth several episodes and probably once a year we're gonna come together and do another witch episode. And I wanted to take it in a different [00:24:00] geographical area again from last time.
And I thought back to a video that I saw a few years ago that went viral, of an alleged witch in Kuwait. And you can find this clip, it's police officers in a small car. They're filming and there's this woman with a cane and a white outfit and long black hair, by the side of the dirt road that they're on. And when they notice her, they drive away, but she actually comes after them and chases them and there's pure terror in the guy's voice, the police officer who was filming this and the person driving, and it's really creepy to look at.
Now, I will say that the video seems to be legit and the person filming truly does believe that he saw a witch.
However, you know, logic would [00:25:00] probably come into play and argue, well, whether this was actually a witch or maybe an old lady, you know, for a midnight stroll. I don't know. It might be more likely than this being an actual witch video, despite it being very creepy. And if you want, you should go watch it.
But it kind of went, sent me down this rabbit hole regarding witches in the Middle East and in Arab countries, and specifically, I started looking at Saudi Arabian witch horror, because this incident happened between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, if I'm not mistaken. So that is what I'm going to be talking about today, and it's not a well-rehearsed script the way you prepared, but come with me on this journey of many bits of information and lots of little anecdotes regarding, witches in Saudi Arabia.
So, witchcraft in Saudi Arabia is often associated with djinns [00:26:00] and afarits around the Middle East. The djinn, we are aware of variations of a djinn. They are invisible creatures with power, and are often very old and tend to be malicious. And the (COULDN’T FIND CORRECT SPELLINGS ONLINE) afarits – or ifrits, depending on what dialect of Arabic you're speaking and definitely pronounced differently than how I'm doing it, despite my Middle Eastern roots, is a powerful type of demon in Islamic mythology. And it's quite interesting, because when it comes to witchcraft and djinns and these ifrits or demons, they've been around since the Quran. So even the Quran speaks of magic as illicit and harmful and generally associates it with evil or trickery.
The [00:27:00] belief in djinn and their occult power is rooted in the Quran and the fabric of early Islamic cosmography. The book also mentions exorcisms, and the idea that certain powers are tied to certain objects, locations, sigils. So when it comes to sorcery, witchcraft, magic, dark magic, it's been around for basically as long as Islam itself has been around, which is quite interesting.
And it is in fact, noted or has been for hundreds, if not thousands of years, that witches and sorcerers were usually the only people who could summon, for example, a djinn. And when a djinn was summoned, the person practicing the magic, the witches, would, according to legend, be able to use them, [00:28:00] by sending them to victims to wreak havoc or to possess someone that they wanted to take over.
These summonings were done by invocation, and by aid of talismans, or by satisfying the djinn, you know, doing something that was favourable to them and thus embarking in a contractual situation with the djinn. Some witches were also sooth-sayers and used other worldly beings to predict the future by looking into the present in the past.
And the idea in this particular department of the relationship between witches and djinns is that, when they worked with these other worldly beings, these creatures have been around a lot longer than humans have, they live a lot longer or exist a lot longer than a human life would, you know, be in duration.
And so generally they would [00:29:00] just know more about the world and about life, and so it would assist with knowledge that a normal human being might not necessarily have. One method of taming, for example, a djinn, is noted to be inserting a needle into their skin or their clothes because, according to the legends, or some legends, djinns are afraid of iron and so they'd be unable to move with their own power, and the witch/sorcerer depending on, you know, who they were, would be able to take control over this creature.
So there was also a gentleman called, again, butchering this name, Abu al-Fadl Muhammad al Tabasi. And he died in 1089, which is weird because I couldn't find his birth year.
But he died in 1089, [00:30:00] and he wrote an entire book on magic and specifically on calling evil creatures - devils and djinns. And he distinguished in his definition between ‘licit’ and ‘illicit’ magic, and he said that licit magic was based on purity, and you would use that to call on angels and prophets, whilst illicit magic was calling on evil beings. Apparently, legend so has it, that he once proved that the summoning techniques worked, by summoning a djinn in front of an audience, that appeared as a menacing shadow on the wall in the room where this thing happened, you know? So the legend goes.
So, there are lots of different folklore tales. They're really hard to find. [00:31:00] A lot of it is not well documented, or it hasn't been translated yet. You know, with a lot of folklore tales, it's often word of mouth, stories that are passed on from generation to generation. And in the Middle East, and there are reasons - I won't get to the reasons - but a lot of these witch stories have not yet been documented in a way that they're easy to google. But I've listed a few as summaries that you can find in various publications that are out there, cuz even Cambridge University released something on magic in the Middle East as well. So, there is work out there, but it's not as easy to come by as European or North American folklore.
So one is the old tale of Pearl, the daughter of Coral, which resembles the story of Rapunzel, and the symbolic power of the protagonist’s long hair is matched by her “sturdiness and [00:32:00] power of mind”, and basically like a pearl that's hidden in a safe place, the isolation makes her stronger and she succeeds when inevitably battling an evil witch that has been imprisoning her.
So, we have a witch here, but she has been the one capturing and holding back this innocent girl, if you will.
There's another collection of stories, called the Collection of Folk Tales from Southern South Arabia, (in particular the Gihan region), and there are a few things listed there.
So, there's one tale about the belief in, (COULDN’T FIND CORRECT SPELLING) Meshaweds – and a Meshawed is a witch doctor - in the Meshawed’s ability to treat an infertility problem. A man was given magic pills by an Indian healer and in order to treat this infertility problem, and instead of giving the pills to his [00:33:00] wife, the husband took the pills and later delivered an egg, which hatched as a beautiful girl.
So, in this case, the witch doctor in Saudi Arabia is actually Indian. Which is quite interesting because it kind of brings that foreign, ‘I don't know you and your practices’ factor to the table, which is not necessarily the most common version, but it seems to be something that you do find in Saudi Arabia.
Another tale is about how a talking bird, or a female lark, helps a human by raising a girl and helping her to find her children after they've grown up, because their grandmother had ordered them to be thrown into a river shortly after they were born, by an old woman. And this old woman who has the kids is depicted as a witch.
So again, we're kind of swimming around hag territory, if you will. And then there's another [00:34:00] story I found where a witch secretly substitutes her own daughter for a bride as a wedding. And the actual bride is thrown under a bridge, and reed grows out of her belly button or her naval. And the witch's daughter is then wed to this gentleman.
So the reason why I think a lot of these stories are not fully documented and they're odd and hard to find in very few publications is because, and this kind of is a call-back to episode one as well, but the fight against witchcraft in the Middle East is to this day a real problem, because people still hunt down individuals they believe are witches and, looking specifically at Saudi Arabia, there is actually even an anti- [00:35:00] witch unit. And they even started an initiative named after a school course in the Harry Potter books as a joke, you know, Defence against Dark Arts or something along the lines, that's the name of this initiative, ironically, and it includes a five-day training program before they enter the task force. And this training program consists of both theoretical and practical parts. And in Saudi Arabia, when you are accused of witchcraft and they find you guilty, you are executed.
They actually have, by law the death penalty for someone who is, in their eyes, a proven which. So, the witch hunt is still going on today, and it's happening in Saudi Arabia. And that's what makes it scary because, in order [00:36:00] to know the folklore, chances are you need to be from the area and the moment you go online and start sharing these stories, even if it's on Reddit, which I don't even know if you have access to that in Saudi Arabia, that'll immediately put you on the task force’s list.
And you are in danger and your family is in danger. And with witchcraft as well, they are legitimately afraid that there's someone who is going to throw a djinn at you or make you possessed or curse you. And as soon as they find anything that looks like it could be a sigil, or someone just shouts and points at your direction, you might get executed.
And that is, sadly, where we are today when it comes to witches in Saudi Arabia. It's a very interesting history, a lot of parallels to what we know from Western witch legends and mythology, and, at least in the old [00:37:00] scriptures, there is mention of good witchcraft, and it seems to be infused in more religious capacity, but the sad truth is that you can't talk about witchcraft or sorcery without it being about you summoning a demon or a djinn, and that just gets you in trouble.
And that is my segment on witchcraft in Saudi Arabia. What do you think?
Luke: It's really interesting to hear, to go a bit more global. I’m very Eurocentric because that's where a lot of my research has been, it’s been my own native folklore, which is where I spend a lot of time kicking rocks or it's, especially stories of djinn. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) huge for fascination with them, probably because the propagation of these stories just isn't quite there. You have some ideas. We have some records, but [00:38:00] because it's taken seriously, it's less likely to be discussed with enthusiasm. When you say the native stories aren't really being recorded and shared.
Mariam: It's definitely a very vast field where there's so much diversity in so many different versions. I mean, you need to keep in mind, I don't know how much you, or maybe your listeners, know about the Middle East, or generally Asia, but you have a lot of countries that don't only have national folklore, but regional.
You can really break these things down and it could be that a djinn in this village means something completely different than a djinn two villages over.
I feel like I know a lot about folklore. There are a lot of terms that I've at least heard when it comes to European folklore and especially US folklore. And yet every now and [00:39:00] again I stumble across a really niche little story and it's really cool, and I've never heard of it before. And this is after decades of society and media being fascinated with folklore in the west.
Now you go to the east and there are typical characters that we tend to know that usually come from countries where films have gone international. I think a lot of people are acquainted with, for example, Japanese ghosts and demons and you know, at least we've seen pictures, or we've heard names, but there's a lot more going on east of Europe and it's the amount of stories out there that have not been told. It really is fascinating and sadly, there's no quick solution to get a hold of this. It would take a lot of deep research and then maybe connections in that geographical direction. [00:40:00]
Luke: Yeah, and you really do need to be talking with and working with people who have these stories, rather than going, “Mine now”, running away and then trying to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You do need to engage with the local folklore, and if the conditions aren't right, we're just going to, sadly, have to hope that it endures, and everything settles down at some point.
Mariam: Yeah, yeah. Obviously, there's a bigger issue in the room and if you think about it when it comes to witches, every time witches are prosecuted, it's always about a bigger issue, right? It's always about someone who doesn't belong, but at the same time, someone we need. A lot of these witches -regardless of where the story is coming - they're the ones who help with healing when maybe the local medicine has failed. They're the ones you go to when you want to have the future predicted because maybe logic has failed you. You know, they're the ones where you go for, [00:41:00] I don't know, an abortion because no one's allowed to know that you're pregnant.
You know, it's, it's always the witches that are supposed to help us out when we need them, but at the same time, we can't admit that we've gone to them, so they stay the outcasts and they're still prosecuted and followed and hunted, and it's the same thing. It's almost like, and I think that's why in modern society, the witch as a character, and again in the last episode we spoke about witches, I did say that there are people out there who consider themselves practicing witches, and there has to be respect for that as well, you know, that is part of their belief system and their lifestyle, and it means very different things. But generally, I think even in pop culture, the witch has become such a celebrated figure, being witchy a celebrated character trait because a lot of us [00:42:00] feel the otherness in one way or another, and because the witch is so symbolic for someone who's not part of the mainstream movement, but is still valuable as an individual, it's something we like to glorify and celebrate.
For most people in our society, it's not about worshiping or using demons anymore. It's about confidence and accepting your weirdness and your uniqueness. It's become a completely different symbol in our society.
Luke: I feel that makes incredible segue into the next segment, so shall I jump into my good witch story?
Mariam: Please do.
Luke: Ooh, this is a good ‘un. Mother Shipton. Even among historical stories of witches – a field far too full of the persecution of women – there have been well-respected individuals.
One such witch is Mother Shipton, still wildly known as England's greatest clairvoyant. [00:43:00] Born 1488 as Ursula Southeil in North Yorkshire, her life began with controversy. So the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mother Agatha was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the father Agatha refused to name, was none other than the devil himself. This is where the story sadly converges with typical persecution of outcast women accused of being witches.
Agatha gave birth at only 15 years old, and was taken to court to try and force her to reveal who the father was. Agatha refused to name the man involved. Then with no friends or family to support her, ended up raising baby Ursula in a cave on our own. After a couple of years of this, the Abbot of Beverly was said to have taken pity on them and intervened.
Although this doesn't sound like the happy ending the Abbot of the church intended it to be. Ursula was separated from her mother and given to a local family to raise. Agatha was sent away to a nunnery, where she died, never having seen her daughter again.
Ursula grew up local to where she was born in Knaresborough, and fate had not been kind.
She spent her [00:44:00] life looking like the worst ideas of a witch, a large and crooked nose, a hunched back, bulging eyes, and a twisted (UNINTELLIGIBLE) giving her a strange gait. This led to being an outcast anyway, having been taken from her mother and ‘rescued’ to be raised in a good Christian household. She was constantly bullied growing up, and eventually decided to live alone, returning to the cave she’d been born in.
Legend then goes this was an opportunity. Agatha would study the plant life of the royal forest of Knaresborough. Having self-taught her craft, she lived the life of a hedge witch, both unfairly reviled in public, only to be turned to for remedies and potions in private.
Life wasn't always unkind to Ursula. When she was 24, she met a carpenter from York, named Tobias Shipton, and the two were together for a little time. Sadly, this lasted only a few years, never having any children. I'm not sure if they were officially married, but Ursula took the name Shipton.
She became ‘Mother Shipton’ later in life as an honorific, growing old and [00:45:00] gaining respect. Her time married was time away from her cave. She lived an almost normal life with Tobias. This may have been back in York, as there was royal correspondence from Henry the Eighth about a witch of York that could be a reference to Mother Shipton.
She never quite got peace, either, with this attempt at normality. Due to her strange looks and her business of bottling cures, everyone assumed she must have bewitched Tobias, and there are strange stories surrounding the help she did offer those who come to her in need. One time, a neighbour who had been robbed came straight to Mother Shipton for help. Clearly realizing that law and order is going to take time, but a witch on your side is going to get things done fast. She had left the door open, and a thief had taken the opportunity to sneak in and steal some new clothes she was proud of. Shame a good witch was on the case. Mother Shipton took the victim to the local market cross - the place where the local market was allowed to set up business. And there they waited. Before too long, a strange performance unfolded. The woman who had stolen the clothes could not resist [00:46:00] putting the new smock on over the top of her clothes and waving the petticoat around, being compelled to march over to the market.
Once there, she'd began to dance her way over to Mother Shipton, singing, (UNINTELLIGIBLE SENTENCE) “I stole my neighbour’s stocking, cunt. They are my feet. Here I shot” The danced stopped as she reached the witch. The stolen good were taken off her and handed over. Then the thief curtsied to Mother Shipton and left.
This town life was not to last, however. Pretty much as soon as Tobias died, the rumours began of how it must have been the witch who killed him, so Mother Shipton returned to her cave, and from that point there remained for the rest of her life.
Only while people revel in cruelty, they also desire power.
Mother Shipton went on to live a somewhat famous life. Now, she became known for being an effective healer, and for telling fortunes. People from around the country would seek her out. She likely could have left the cave after a certain point, but instead chose not to. Solitude in a forest suited her.
The prophecies are supposed to have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) assortedly predicted the [00:47:00] Great Fire of London, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the fate of several prominent rulers, the invention of iron ships, and possibly even the internet, well long after her death.
And predictions have had multiple printings and are typically taken as quite credible. Although a prediction that the world would end in 1991 was, frankly not as severe as it may have sounded on paper.
Dying at the age of 73 in 1561, Mother Shipton’s cave remains a tourist spot to this day. The park that is a royal heritage site and remains a well-preserved beauty spot open for exploring. The good witch’s cave she was born and lived in, along with a petrifying well nearby, are a part of the popular Sir Henry Slinged, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Any thoughts on Mother Shipton?
Mariam: I mean, I would like to ask you a question. Do you believe in someone with precognitive abilities, the skill to [00:48:00] see things? Do you believe that that's possible?
Luke: I don't. But I do believe someone incredibly smart (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sound really impressive and just completely wiring an audience and putting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rates up.
Mariam: So, I don't know what I believe in because I don't know if I have enough experience in the one or the other direction to feel belief.
But I like looking for explanations when it comes to these things. And there are two explanations, it's just, let's just assume that there are people out there with that skill. Okay. The one explanation is what you just said: they're really smart and whether they are aware of it or not, they can piece together information and come to conclusions that, you know, pan out.
That said, what if that wasn't the case? What if some people actually could, how would you explain that? And I like to think or imagine [00:49:00] that, you know, considering time and space are relative, right? We have memories, but where and how they exist is relative. And so, maybe it's possible for someone with their brain to pick up on a memory that's already been made in the future and interpret it with their brain in the now.
And that would be my theory if it was possible, because I have heard stories that are so out there that you go, I mean, if that actually happened, if that actually happened, there's no way they could have known. And there's so much our brain is capable of. I mean, to be fair, that's also how I explain ghosts, right?
There's an energy that's given off at a time with an emotion and it just lingers in the network of the universe and our brain. Some people, they pick [00:50:00] up on it and our brain doesn't know what to do with it, it malfunctions. It doesn't know how to interpret it, and so it makes us believe that someone is walking down the staircase and crying when really no one's there but that's what our brain is picking up. That's the residue, and that's how it's interpreting it. So, if our brain was capable of that, like in a world where ghosts exist, it would be the same brain function. Being able to see things that you can't see, basically accessing memories that will have already been made in at a different time.
Which also means that if no one, by this theory, and maybe we can test this and keep this in the back of our minds, if no one is around to know it happened, either no one experienced it or news never got out during the lifetime of that person, then it wouldn't be possible because they're not accessing a memory, whether it's theirs or another person’s. So, it would exclude the knowledge of things without anyone finding out when it does occur. Do you know what I mean? Does that make [00:51:00] sense?
Luke: Yeah. And we're dabbling now in quantum entanglement and ideas of time as its own dimension and not just something that we experience as a straight line.
Luke: Also, Mother Shipton would absolutely be on the good mushrooms.
Mariam: Yeah, she sounded like a hoot. But then again, with the way she started life, if you survive that upbringing and that family history and stuff, you, you either grow up bitter or with a sense of humour, or with both. And she definitely was, at the very least between the two. But she sounded wacky. It would be nice to sit down with her for an hour and just pick her brain.
Luke: But all she went through, I really like that she got the honorific ‘mother’, even without children of her own. I think that says so much about her and the woman behind it that that is what everyone would call her.
Mariam: Yeah, I was thinking about that when you started talking about her as well. The [00:52:00] fact that the term ‘Mother’ is a role that you grow into. You're not motherly when you're a child or a teenager. You know? You need to get to a certain age and provide comfort for people. They need to feel like there's love and that you're protecting them.
Being called Mother is a very endearing and affectionate term, and it really says a lot about what the people thought of her. You can't just say, “Oh, just call me Mother” and expect people to take it on. You know? That's, that's something people call you.
You promised a feel good, good witch story. That was that. So, yeah, that's nice.
Luke: Right. We've been recording for over an hour, and I think we should put a pin in for fairy-tales for now, and we shall return to them at some point.
Mariam: Yes. There's a lot you and I are probably gonna chat about, but even this session, we've taken your audience for a ride. It's been crazy.
Luke: Well, yeah. We've been all over the place. [00:53:00]
Mariam: In the best of ways.
Luke: So, this is our second fray into the world of witches, and I doubt it will be our last. We didn't even get through all the material this time. We've gotta put some towards the next one now. As complicated a position as witches occupy in folklore, there's a lot of stories that have to be told and a lot of discussion to be had about how these stories work in a modern context.
Quite randomly, as I was scripting, or more accurately as I was procrastinating away from scripting, I spotted a petition to pardon the women executed as witches in Scotland. Erm, signed it when I saw it. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) behind the movement. It's a proposition for a Bill to be debated to pardon 2,500 people, mostly women, who were executed in Scotland (UNINTELLIGIBLE) witches’ persecution.
By the time this episode goes out, it'll be (UNINTELLIGBLE) three days left on it. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if you go and stalk me up on Twitter, you should find the link.
Mariam: Oh, I will definitely look for it, cuz in my research I also stumbled across, you know, information on the last woman ever [00:54:00] executed as a witch in the UK. And she was only pardoned not too long ago. And so yeah, the UK is working on just fixing the reputation. These poor people, mostly women, but not just, who were killed for dumb, ridiculous, horrible reasons. So I will find that petition link and I will sign it.
Luke: Nice. We'll keep people up to date on social media as to where that goes as well. Before my usual outro, do you have anything you want to share?
Mariam: Keep it witching, keep a bitchin’, and good job on the podcast, Luke. It's been a pleasure as always.
Luke: Thank you.
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