The Daughters of Witching Hill is a fictionalized telling based on true events which occurred in the early 1600’s in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England. The story revolves around a poor group of women, one step above beggars, who had the gift to perform cunning craft (healing), as well as bewitching magic. Their magic was rooted in the old religion—a conflation of Roman Catholicism and pagan folk lore, which was the popular belief in the area prior to the English Reformation. For years, Bess Southerns was sought after as a cunning woman to heal both people and livestock. She would use a mixture of Latin prayers and power given to her by her familiar, Tibb. The Magistrate was unable to convict her for witchcraft, since no one forged a formal complaint about her. Instead, she was revered.
During the time of the staunchly pious King James, a strong fear of witches washed over the land. Nobles looking to get on the King’s good-side sought to make names for themselves as witch hunters. When Alizon, Bess’s granddaughter, accidentally bewitches a man so that he has a stroke, she is arrested, setting off a full-scale investigation, pitting neighbors and family-members against each other.
One thing that I liked about this novel is that Sharratt made no attempt to cover up the magical acts of these women, rather she glorified it, made it beautiful. Whether you believed in Bess’s powers of healing or not, none could deny the effect she had on people. Even if the healing came about through the power of positive thinking, it still happened. Sharratt also did not gloss over those people who performed dark magic with their abilities. When a woman is attacked by her landlord, a couple of the women fashion clay figures of the man and then destroy them—bringing about the man’s death.
Like the Crucible, this story ends with accusations flying, most falsely. While we may not hang people for witchcraft anymore, there are powerful lessons to be learned about the power of gossip and lies, about vilifying things we don’t understand.
Overall I give The Daughters of Witching Hill…
Plot – 3 ½ bookmarks
Character Development – 4 bookmarks
Moral Lessons – 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Vanessa Redgrave (Bess), Mia Wasikowska (Alizon), Emily DeRavin (Nancy Holden), Helen Miren (Alice Nutter)