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The Daylight Gate: A Chilling Account of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials

Updated on June 10, 2015

Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson: Based on the true Pendle Hill Witchcraft Trials

This novel is based on real events which took place in the North of England - where I'm from - in 1612. The fact that these witchcraft trials really happened makes this book even more chilling.

When it's time to be spooked, forget horror movies with cheesy special effects, read about genuine people and the horrors of their lives ...and their deaths. These trials really took place and it was in comparatively recent history.

(If it's Halloween, there's nothing spookier than this book. Treat yourself to a glass of mulled wine and some garlic bread (to keep evil spirits and vampires away) and read this novelised version of the Pendle Hill Witch Trials.)

Every year in England to this day, hundreds of people go to Pendle Hill on Halloween because of its notorious witches. In her book, Jeanette Winterson takes the real characters who were involved in the event and brings them to life.

And a curiously horrifying life it is. The author pulls no punches.

In the seventeenth century, witchcraft was seen as a genuine threat. And yet every village, especially in the north, had its 'wise woman' or 'herbalist' who could cure ailments or give advice about failing love affairs, dressing up their profession with potions, charms and enchantments.

But witchcraft was taken seriously and was strictly against the law.

If it was deemed that a witch had caused harm by her craft, then she (or occasionally he) could be put to death.

Not all suspected witches were old and ugly. You could be suspected of being a witch if you retained your youth as beauty as you aged, as happened with one of the (real) characters in this book. Your pet would be seen as your 'familiar'.

These days we see witches as mythological figures of fun - something to dress up as or to decorate with. But in seventeenth century England, they were a fact. They were largely poor women (Alice in this book being an exception) who were elderly, crippled or had birth defects of some kind.

The way they were treated was the true horror.

Without doubt, some of the women and girls had indeed committed what we would see as crimes today. Maybe they were guilty of receiving money and goods 'by false deception'. Perhaps they had been guilty of theft or other petty crimes.

In extreme cases,one or two might even have been guilty of murder, possibly by poison.

But the fact remains that innocent women and girls were accused of being witches, practising unnatural arts and therefore put to death.


Find out more about this curious phenomenon. It's interesting to think about the superstitions that were held by people in times gone by.

Ancient people worshipped their own gods which were often from nature, the sun, the moon, various animals.

Later these beliefs became more formalised. But the phenomenon of the witch carries on from the idea of 'evil spirits' and creatures or deities that could blight crops and even kill humans with their curses and spells.

Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618 (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict)
Witchcraft in England, 1558-1618 (Syracuse Studies on Peace and Conflict)

Here's even more detail.The trials were very well documented at the time so there's plenty of contemporary material to work with.However, sixteenth and seventeenth century writings can be hard for us to follow in this day and age but in this book, the author 'translates' it into a modern language we can understand, plus adds a lot more incredible information.


Pendle Hill

What is Pendle Hill like now? Does it still exist?


Pendle Hill as it is today

The weather in England at the end October can never be guessed. Sometimes October is dry and sunny at other times, especially in the north, it can be cold and snowy.

When I was reading the book, I imagined the snow on the ground such as you see here.

A chilling venue for a chilling story indeed.

© 2013 Jackie Jackson

What are your views about witches?

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    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @junecampbell: And who probably did far more good than harm. There were sometimes coincidences as there always are in life. One woman was hanged because she had an argument with a travelling peddler who died that very night. But I imagine it was a heart attack rather than a curse!

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Nancy Hardin: It's certainly fascinating and, being by such a prestigious author, incredibly well-written. But isn't it unbelievable to us today? One of the women who was hanged was eighty years old. Another had a birth defect (so she must be a witch). Another looked young for her age, which was probably thanks to good genes but she 'must' have sold her soul to the devil...

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 

      4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I like witchstories. They make for fanciful, imaginative books and movies. On the other hand, the real live witch trials were horrible and yet another way that society found to persecute women (and a few men) who thought outside the box.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I think it was a horrible thing that was done to witches all over the world. Witches weren't evil people in most cases, just folks who tried to help others, and who used nature and plants as their tools. One of the ways a witch was determined here in America, was when they tied a witch to a chair and dunked her underwater. If she survived, she was obviously a witch. If she died, oh well.......guess we made a mistake. She/He couldn't win in either case. I will have to read this book.


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