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A Witch in Wood

A witch prepares for take-off astride her broom, with an imp-like familiar riding behind her. This is a misericord inside Great Malvern Priory, and seems to be part of a group displaying monsters and mythological creatures.

The idea of witches riding brooms, or besoms, had become firmly established in Europe by the end of the 1400s but was not yet taken seriously, it was still thought of as a fanciful embellishment to the aura surrounding the witch. Things seem to have changed towards the end of the 1500s as flying besoms, familiar spirits and the physical manifestation of the Devil were now taken as fact by the majority of people.

A "familiar" used to just mean a person or animal well-known to someone, so this could mean anything from a relative to a pet. The idea of the "genius locii" or "spirit of the place" - previously thought of as a benign concept - seems to have become mixed in at some point and as militant protestantism took hold the familiar became an entirely satanic being.

I chart the history of magic and witchcraft in the Midlands, as well as tell the stories of some of its characters, in my book The Magic Of Mercia - available at

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