Amazon link for the book is here.
In “Daughters of the Witching Hill”, Mary Sharratt takes us to Pendle Forest in eastern Lancashire and the historical events that lead up to the 1612 Pendle witch trials. Once an uncommon occurrence, witch trials became increasingly common in England after James I published a book about witch hunting, causing ambitious country politicians to find witches under every rock and tree in order to brown-nose the king and thereby further their own careers. Sharratt introduces her readers to Bess Southerns, the poor, unacknowledged bastard of a noble family, who struggles to find odd jobs to support her growing family. Shunned and often facing starvation, Bess begins to use the Catholic healing prayers of her childhood with her knowledge of herbs to tend the ill of Pendle Forest. Guided by her familiar spirit “Tibb”, Bess uses her skills of healing and foresight only for good, putting food on her table and providing security for her family during hard times. Bess then passes on her knowledge to her daughter, granddaughter, and a close friend in the hopes that the skills will help them survive as they have helped her. But not all Bess’s pupils use the powers for good, and tides turn against Bess and her family as the hysteria following unexplained deaths and misfortunes leads to their arrest for witchcraft.
This book sheds a whole new light on the concepts of witchcraft and witch hunting in 17th century England. History and lore have always associated witches with devil worshipping and the dark arts, but Sharratt demonstrates how the mystical aspects of blessings, prayers, and divine intercession of the Catholic faith were still being employed by many in secret in the post-Reformation era. These old Catholic prayers and “spells” were misconstrued as witchcraft, either by ignorance, malice, or both, by the staunchly Protestant upper and middle classes during a time when illnesses were frequently sudden, fatal, and without explanation. I found this a fascinating way of looking at the witchcraft trials, more as punishment aimed at individuals practicing an outlawed religion as opposed to a genuine fear of someone with evil intentions. If you want to experience the witch trials from a unique point of view, not just from the perspective of the accused, but in the context of the religious and social practices of the time, then this is not a book to miss.