Black cats or toads are well known as ‘familiars’ possessed by witches but there are also a range of other creatures and spirits with Yorkshire and witch connections. Rats, fowie ( a hideous looking person), dogs and imps are familiar familiars dating from the 15th century or even earlier. Imps are associated with the Devil from whom it is believed witches got their familiars, even today some young children are often called little imps after this mischievous devil or sprite.
Familiars were believed to be fed with the witch’s own blood by suckling them from a secret place. If a suspected witch had an unusual mark or protuberance it was denounced as a witch’s nipple and was a sign the owner was truly a witch. In 1604 it was declared a felony to ‘consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed, or reward any evil or wicked spirit’.
Yorkshire Witch Trials
- In West Bowling Bradford in 1649 Mary Sikes was tried as a witch. A witness ‘searched her body and found upon her side a red humppe about the bigness of a nutt, and when they wrung it with their fingers moisture came out like lee. And they found upon her left side near her arm a little lumpe like a wart and being pulled out it strecht for half an inch the like they never saw on any other woman’.
- In 1664 Alice Hudson of Burton Agnes was tried and found guilty of receiving payment of 10 shillings from the Devil. As punishment she was burnt to death at York.
- Edward Fairfax from Fewston caused terror around Knaresborough accusing 6 women of bewitching children and causing them to have fits. Fairfax’s children claimed the women met at Timble Gill and feasted with the devil. However after the trial the Judge and jury acquitted five of the accused.
- Scarborough had many women searched for marks or spots in the 1650’s. It wouldn’t take a genius to find something on everyone. Strangely there are few reports of male witches suffering these sorts of trial.
- Pocklington woman, Isablela Billington, crucified her mother then sacrificed a calf and cock to Satan. She was tried in York and hanged then burnt in 1648