Sunday 29 October 2023

Mother Shipton - The Nostradamus of Knaresborough

In Halloween season, or so it is said, witches take to their broomsticks and fly... Covens meet and dance around fires naked as nature intended on the great pagan feast of Samhain.

Well, who am I to say they don't? But truth to tell, an awful lot of people - usually women - suffered extremes of torture and agonizing deaths thanks to superstition, ignorance and, maybe even worse, old scores to settle. Many were simply wise women who knew which herbs to recommend to cure a wide variety of ills. Goodness knows what would have happened to any pharmacists who had been around in those days!

A handful of these wise women were not so ill-treated and, in Britain, one in particular developed a reputation that persists to this day. Some people have called her England's answer to Nostradamus because of her apparently uncanny knack of predicting events hundreds of years into he future.

So who was she?

In 1488, some say in a cave near the Petrifying Well, a young girl gave birth to an illegitimate daughter: one who would be called Ursula Sontheil but whom history would remember as Mother Shipton.

Mother Shipton developed a reputation for her prophecies. These involved not just the local people around and about Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, where she lived, but also the great and good of her time.

One of the most famous of these was the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who had never actually visited that city. Mother Shipton predicted he never would. In an attempt to dissuade her from repeating these assertions, the somewhat rattled Wolsey sent three lords to Knaresborough to see her. They told her in no uncertain terms that one of Wolsey's first acts on reaching York would be to see her burn for witchcraft. She laughed in their faces. After all, why should she be scared? He would never get there in order to carry out his threat.

The Archbishop was furious and made haste to travel up from London and prove her wrong. But, just ten miles south of the city, he was arrested for treason and Mother Shipton's prophecy was fulfilled.

Many of her other predictions are legendary - and, shall we say - subject to a certain amount of embellishment and creative interpretation. Did she really predict the advent of ships, submarines, motor transport and airplanes?

In water, iron then shall float
as easy as a wooden boat...

Through towering hills proud men shall ride,
no horse or ass move by his side.
Beneath the water, men shall walk,
shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk.
And in the air men shall be seen,
In white and black and even green.

Or telecommunications?

Around the world men's thoughts will fly,
quick as the twinkling of an eye

Indeed, if all the interpretations are to be believed, she predicted the French Revolution, the rise of Nazism, Benjamin Disraeli and just about every disaster – man-made or otherwise - since the year of her birth. 

Whether true or not, you can today visit the famous Petrifying Well and the cave where she was reputedly born. The Petrifying Well is said to be unique and, if you take along a teddy bear, leave it there and return five months later, it will have turned to stone. Although, if you can't wait that long you can always buy one in the shop ( 'here's one I prepared earlier'!)

She may have got some things wrong though - including the date of the end of the world which she allegedly gave as 'eighteen hundred and eighty one', (however, it is entirely possible that the inclusion of any such date was added by someone else, after her death. One of a number of examples of the embellishment I mentioned earlier.)

As 1881 passed and the world carried on, some versions then amended the date, while others dropped it, although I do have a recollection of it being in the little book of her prophecies given to me when I was about eight or nine. That would have been in the early Sixties and I vaguely remember something about 'nineteen hundred and ninety-one', but my memory could be faulty on this.

Mother Shipton was said to have married a man called Toby Shipton at the age of 24 and she lived on to be 72, just as she had predicted. Her prophecies and legend live on. Was she really able to see hundreds of years into the future? Or was she just an eccentric, old, poetic witch, mentally a little flaky, but excellent with herbal cures and potions?

We will probably never know...unless we live to see the fulfilment of her prediction of the future after the apocalyptic end of the world:

.. the land that rises from the sea will be dry and clean and soft and free
of mankind’s dirt and therefore be,
the source of man’s new dynasty.

And those that live will ever fear
the dragon’s tail for many year
but time erases memory
You think it strange? But it will be!

Mother Shipton's story inspired one of mine - and you can find it in my collection, The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings. It's called The Lost Prophecy of Ursula Sontheil. Perfect for this witching season...

Available from: 

C. Wraith Walker and Weird House Press

Friday 20 October 2023

The Orkney Witch

Featured in my new fiction collection, The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings, The Malan Witch concerns a haunting by two of the most evil witches you could ever wish to encounter. They were burned at the stake for heresy during a time when witch-hunts were in full swing, thanks in no small part to the activities and beliefs of the then King, James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of England in 1603. His book, Daemonologie, gave carte blanche to self-styled witch-finders everywhere, but it was Scotland that took witch-hunting to a new level, giving it the dubious distinction of having executed more witches than any other country in Europe.

Thousands of people – mostly women – were accused, tried and convicted of witchcraft in Scotland. Many then faced the horror of being burned alive at the stake. Some were granted the mercy of strangling, before their lifeless bodies were set to the flame.

One infamous case occurred in a remote location. Situated off the north coast of Scotland, across the wild and unpredictable Pentland Firth, lie the green and peaceful islands of Orkney. The countryside is an artist’s dream, the pace of life tranquil. Yet appearances can be deceptive. It may be idyllic now, but Orkney has known a turbulent history. In the late 16th century, they were ruled over by the notoriously ruthless and cruel Orkney Earl – Patrick Stewart. Hated and feared by most of the populace, it was hardly surprising that someone should attempt to kill him.

The plot to poison the Earl was allegedly instigated, by his brother, John, Master of Orkney. But it was his servant – Thomas Paplay – who was arrested and imprisoned. The torture he endured in the attempt to extract a confession out of him was barbaric in the extreme. For 11 days and nights, he was kept in “the caschilaws” – an iron structure that was gradually heated until it burned the skin. Then the torturers stripped him naked and flayed his skin with ropes. Hardly surprising that he ‘confessed’. In doing so, he named a woman called Alison Balfour as an accomplice – a “known notorious witch”.

Alison was arrested, but pleaded her innocence so, once again, the torturers were enlisted. Earl Patrick had no love for his brothers, who threatened his power, and wanted them implicated, so that he could rid himself of them once and for all. In fact this botched poisoning had rendered him an opportunity to settle old scores with a number of people who had annoyed him over the years.

The man to wring a confession out of Alison was chosen - Earl Patrick Stewart’s close friend, the parson of Orphir – Henry Colville.

Colville concentrated his attention on a piece of wax in Alison’s possession which had been given to her by Patrick Bellenden, the Laird of Stenness. Alison insisted Bellenden had given her the wax so that she could create a charm known as an “implaister”, the object of which was to rid Lady Bellenden of a troublesome stomach complaint. Colville would have none of it. There must be a much more sinister purpose behind the wax. Normal interrogation failed to provide the desired confession, so she, like Paplay before her, was put into the “caschilaws” and tortured. Two days later, with no confession, the torturers decided on another means to their diabolical end. They brought in her husband (whose age is variously given as 81 or 91) and two children.

In front of Alison’s eyes, they crushed her husband in the “lang irons”. 700lbs of weight were piled on him, but still she wouldn’t confess.

They started on her son. His legs were placed in the notorious “boots”. Wedges were driven into them, crushing the feet and legs. 57 mallet strokes were delivered, but still Alison held firm.

Finally, her seven year old daughter was brought in. They crushed her fingers in the “piniwinkies” – a thumbscrew. This proved too much for Alison and she broke down and confessed to witchcraft.

She was sentenced to be burned in Kirkwall on December 15th 1594, but at the scaffold she retracted her confession, stating that she had only made it to stop the torture of her husband and children.

There was no pity shown. She was strangled and then burned at the stake.

In 1596, John Stewart was tried in Edinburgh for “Consulting with witches, for [the] destruction of [the] Earl of Orkney”. He was acquitted.

The evidence that had seen Alison Balfour executed was thrown out of court as it was deemed to have been obtained under torture – illegal in Scotland. Sadly, that was two years too late for the tragic Alison Balfour.

Maybe she wrought her revenge from beyond the grave though, for the evil Earl did not die peacefully of old age. In 1615, Patrick Stewart was executed for treason.

Let us hope that helps Alison Balfour rest in peace.

As for the characters in the stories contained within the pages of The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings… Let’s just say you will need to make your own minds up. Oh, and do make sure you read the story entitled The Crow Witch first. It may help you on your journey…

As the nights draw in and the temperature plummets, beware the witch's curse. And stay out of the shadows, for far more lurks there than you could ever imagine...

Two witches, burned for their evil centuries earlier, now hellbent on revenge. A woman who seems to step out of an old Hollywood movie, and a castle with a murderous past. A seer whose lost and deadly prediction was hidden away for a future generation. A mysterious portrait that is far more deadly than mere paint and canvas. An old woman only the foolish would ridicule, for she knows the secrets of the land and how to harness its power.

All these and more abound, and you would do well to remember…

When the seeds of revenge are sown, beware the harvest.

The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings

Available here:


Weird HousePress

You can connect with me here:








Cyrus Wraith Walker and Weird House Press



Friday 13 October 2023

The Real Witches of North Berwick


In my fiction collection – The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings – my story, The Malan Witch – takes place in a remote corner of England and features some of the most evil long-dead witches you could ever (not) wish to meet. But in reality, most accused of witchcraft were actually ‘wise women’, condemned because of fear, ignorance or because they had managed to upset one of their neighbours – and it went on the length and breadth of the British Isles.

When tourists come to Edinburgh Castle, they often admire the pretty flowers at the well. They don’t generally notice the detail of the design on the wall, but if you take a close look: 

See it now? Witches - and they are certainly not happy and sparkly. During the 17th and 18th centuries, more than 3800 so-called witches were killed in Scotland – by strangling, drowning, hanging or burned alive at the stake. This makes that country the biggest persecutor of witches in Europe.

The first major witch trial took place in 1590 and was presided over by the King of Scotland himself – James VI, later to become James I of England. He believed witches were out to kill him. He based this reasoning on an incident that took place a couple of years earlier when his new bride – Anne of Denmark – was on her way from her home country to Scotland, following her proxy marriage to the king. Fierce storms blew up from nowhere, forcing her ship to put into a safe harbour in Norway. James did the gallant thing and set out to bring her back. The treacherous journey saw them buffeted by three consecutive storms, which nearly wrecked the ship. If it had, it is almost certain the king and his new bride would have drowned.

At that time, James learned of a coven of witches operating at the Auld Kirk Green in North Berwick, East Lothian. He believed they had vowed to assassinate him and, in order to do so, had conjured the storms. The king was assisted and encouraged in his beliefs by his wife. She, her family and many members of the Danish nobility attributed the near death of a relative to witchcraft, while, in Denmark itself, witch-hunts were rife. Now James was convinced he too was a victim. He set out on a holy crusade to rid the land of witches by any means - including barbarous torture.

Suspicion and fear became rife in North Berwick as the inhabitants speculated on who was and who wasn’t a witch. One man - David Seaton - reported his maid, Geillis Duncan. The poor woman had been rash enough to help sick people get well. She was arrested but refused to confess. In jail, torturers discovered a witch’s mark – a mole or similar blemish which, when poked with a sharp implement, didn’t bleed.

Terrified out of her wits, Geillis accused a long list of others in the neighbourhood, totalling more than 70 men and women.

One of the accused – Agnes Sampson – was shackled to the wall of her cell. A witch’s, or ‘scold’s’, bridle was secured to her head. This contained four sharp prongs which pierced her cheeks and tongue. Perhaps not surprisingly, the woman confessed to being a witch and implicated others. A lot of others. She said that around 200 witches had met with the devil at the coven on Auld Kirk Green and summoned the violent storms to kill the king.

For her co-operation, Agnes was granted the mercy of being strangled before being burnt as a witch.

James decided to make a further example of accused schoolmaster, James Fian, who had initially confessed, following hideous torture, including the infamous, bone-crushing boot, accompanied by having his fingernails pierced by needles and then torn out by pincers. Bloodied and maimed, he later retracted his confession, but James was having none of it. The schoolmaster was burned to death on the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle in January 1591.

In all, the trials of the North Berwick witches lasted two years, resulting in multiple executions – the exact number of which is unknown. We can probably assume that the overwhelming majority of those brought to trial would have been condemned to die.

James’s experiences led him to believe he was now an expert on witchcraft, He wrote his treatise, Daemonologie, which was published in 1597. The Scottish witch-hunts had begun in earnest.

Of course, as far as the witches and other less savoury characters contained with the pages of The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings are concerned, they failed to be deterred. As you will see. Oh, and do be sure to read the first story – The Crow Witch – before you embark further on your journey to the other side. The dark side…

As the nights draw in and the temperature plummets, beware the witch's curse. And stay out of the shadows, for far more lurks there than you could ever imagine...

Two witches, burned for their evil centuries earlier, now hellbent on revenge. A woman who seems to step out of an old Hollywood movie, and a castle with a murderous past. A seer whose lost and deadly prediction was hidden away for a future generation. A mysterious portrait that is far more deadly than mere paint and canvas. An old woman only the foolish would ridicule, for she knows the secrets of the land and how to harness its power.

All these and more abound, and you would do well to remember…

When the seeds of revenge are sown, beware the harvest.

The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings is a feast for fans of dark tales and adult-aimed fairy tales. “ – Daniel Robichaud, Considering Stories

“Each story brought its own level of terror” – Erica Robyn Reads

“This collection is perfect for an evening as you await the witching hour or a banging on your door. Full of tricks but in itself a treat of good supernatural horror. Highly recommended for the season of the witch!” - Runalongwomble

The Crow Witch and Other Conjurings

Available here:


Weird House Press



Cyrus Wraith Walker and Weird House Press



Friday 6 October 2023

Dark Avenging Angel - My Writing Catharsis


I am delighted to announce that Dark Avenging Angel is now out in paperback! 

Thanks to the lovely people at Crossroad Press, I can, for the first time, hold this short novel in my hand and flip the actual pages. Result!

Dark Avenging Angel has had a bit of a history actually. In terms of publication,  it started off at Samhain Press, and then migrated to Crossroad Press a few years ago, but always as an e-book so, when David Dodd suggested a print version I leaped at it. Almost literally as it happened as, while I was reading the email, my chair decided to perform one of its periodic rapid-descents-with-no-warning. Half in and had out of it I let out a whoop of equal parts delight and shock. I'll let you work out which reaction related to which event.

The story behind Dark Avenging Angel is complicated. In common with (I guess) most people of my age, I have had my fair share of ups and downs and emotional rollercoasters. But growing up in the Sixties and early Seventies, going into therapy of any kind was pretty much unheard of unless you were incredibly rich with lots of time on your hands. Any trauma that came along was supposed to make you stronger. You were supposed to simply 'get on with it' and 'pull yourself together'. And maybe the 'stiff upper lip' British tradition played a part as well. It simply wasn't British to complain about your lot and, of course, there was a stigma about anything relating to mental health. This was still the era of the 'loony bin' as mental health institutions of any kind were commonly referred to colloquially.

The term 'psychological abuse' was one I had never even heard of until I watched an episode of 'Oprah' back in 1988 and suddenly realized for the first time (yes, honestly) that what I had suffered all through my childhood actually had a name.

Dear reader, I was 34 years old when I watched that programme.

The baggage was heavy. What happens to you in childhood never goes away. Sometimes the damage is so deep it affects everything you do and, in my case, a crippling lack of self-confidence always held me back.

Now I had a name for what I had been through - at the hands of my father - I sought ways of resolving it. I realized I had never come to terms with it but even then (remember this was 1988), it still wasn't within my financial means to seek professional help which I would have had to finance entirely myself and which I would have had to find some way of squaring with an employer who would have seen it as a sign I maybe wasn't up to the job. Mental health issues were still not on the agenda even if Oprah was talking about them.

I had to find my own way. And that's when Dark Avenging Angel was born. Back then, it was nothing like the story you read today. That early version is long consigned to the garbage but the sheer act of drafting a story, giving my problems over to a character I created, and letting her deal with them in a way I would dearly have loved to, caused a major transformation in me. I found I was able to put things into context far more. I couldn't erase the past but I could at least go some way to consigning it to the past and move on with my life. I also found I was able to stop blaming myself and put the responsibility firmly in the hands of the adult who had abused the child. I wasn't the worthless, useless, stupid kid he told me I was.

Years later, I returned to this story. More emotional baggage had added itself to my unholy collection by that time so I simply expanded the story. Jane and her dark avenging angel had a lot more work to do. The story I ended up with would never have seen the light of day without significant changes, of course. Dark Avenging Angel is a work of fiction. Only the emotions are real.

Not all of us feel comfortable talking to others about our emotions and our psychological problems. For some of us, me included, I feel that the underlying problems that dogged me for much of my life emanate from so far in the past that I have found my own alternatives and they work for me. 

If you feel you can relate to this, why not create your own dark avenging angel? Give all that baggage over to a character you create. Let them deal with it - along with a little demonic help of course. Or maybe your entity will be more godlike? Alien? Another animal species? I call it 'writing it out'. It's not a cure, but it is a coping mechanism and one that, for me, started with Dark Avenging Angel 

Of course, life moves on and with it come more emotional upheavals and difficult mental challenges. When the next biggie came along - cancer - I knew what to do. And In Darkness, Shadows Breathe saw Nessa taking on the challenge. But that, as they say, is another story...

Don't hurt Jane - you may live to regret it

Bullied by her abusive father, Jane always felt different. Then the lonely child found a friend in a mysterious dark lady who offers her protection—a lady she calls her “angel”. But that protection carries a terrible price, one to be paid with the souls of those Jane chooses to suffer a hideous and eternal fate.

When Jane refuses to name another victim, the angel reveals her most terrifying side. Payment must be made in full—one way or the other.

 "Dark Avenging Angel is a fantastic read. This novel will consume you and your free time. It is a standout story that reminds me why I love horror literature." – Horror Underground

Cavendish breaks the mould and unleashes a hellacious, creepy tale with spirits, the tormented and an overall thread of redemption.”-

 "I discovered Cat Cavendish's books not too long ago and she very quickly became one of my to-be-hoarded authors.  Angel is a perfect example of her writing." - Cat After Dark
"Dark Avenging Angel wasn't quite the novel I expected - it's something deeper, more well-rounded, and more emotionally relevant because of it." - Beauty in Ruins

"A riveting story, Dark Avenging Angel plants unforgettable roots in the reader's mind." The Haunted Reading Room

You can find Dark Avenging Angel here: