AGENT: Rebecca Watson
In the frontier town of Springfield in 1651, peculiar things begin to happen. Precious food spoils, livestock ails and property vanishes. People suffer fits and are plagued by strange visions and dreams. Children sicken and die. As tensions rise, rumours spread of witches and heretics, and the community becomes tangled in a web of spite, distrust and denunciation. The finger of suspicion falls on a young couple struggling to make a home and feed their children: Hugh Parsons the irascible brickmaker and his troubled wife, Mary. It will be their downfall.
The Ruin of All Witches tells the dark, real-life folktale of witch-hunting in a remote Massachusetts plantation. These were the turbulent beginnings of colonial America, when English settlers' dreams of love and liberty, of founding a 'city on a hill', gave way to paranoia and terror, enmity and rage. Drawing on uniquely rich, previously neglected source material, Malcolm Gaskill brings to life a New World existence steeped in the divine and the diabolic, in curses and enchantments, and precariously balanced between life and death.
Through the gripping micro-history of a family tragedy, we glimpse an entire society caught in agonized transition between supernatural obsessions and the age of enlightenment. We see, in short, the birth of the modern world.
AGENT: Rebecca Watson
he 1735 Witchcraft Act, charging that spirits of the dead had been raised by conjuration, was used for the last time in Portsmouth in 1944. The accused was Helen Duncan, a plump Scotswoman, convicted as a fraud yet believed by hundreds to possess the power to speak to the dead. This is her extraordinary story, and of religion and superstition in Britain in the first half of the 20th century.Helen Duncan was born in Callander in 1898 and developed mysterious powers during the World War I when she correctly predicted the guise of the soldier she would marry. Having refined these powers she became increasingly celebrated following her own near death from pneumonia when she was informed of her vocation by a shadowy white figure. She went on to produce spirit forms from ectoplasm that, she said, flowed through her. She was accompanied by a spirit guide named Albert and a young girl spirit named Peggy. Or was she? The psychic community was divided in two fiercely opposing camps - followers and sceptics. The government of the day got involved (Churchill was said to be more than a little interested) when, during World War II Helen appeared able to tell relatives of the deaths of their loved ones even before offical announcements had been made. And so in 1944, absurdly, anachronistically, she was charged with witchcraft, prosecuted and jailed for the duration of the war. Her life is an amazing glimpse into the spritiual and psychological mood of the times, a story of bathos and absurdity, of credulity and cruelty, and of England's last witch.