Witches, magic, and the supernatural have a long and fascinating history in London, stretching back centuries. Amidst tales of power, persecution, and folklore, London’s historic streets whisper stories of witchcraft and the occult. In this guide, we shall embark on a unique walking tour to unearth tales of witches, delve into ancient pagan practices, and explore London’s mystical past.
- The Tower of London: Begin with Anne Boleyn
Begin your magical journey at the formidable Tower of London, which holds the tragic tale of Anne Boleyn. Accused of witchcraft by her political enemies due to her inability to bear a son and her mysterious sixth finger, she met her fate at the executioner’s block in 1536. Her ghost, holding her severed head, is said to still haunt the tower’s corridors.
- Aldwych and Temple: Pagan Roots
Venture towards Aldwych and Temple, where ancient pagan temples once stood. This area was historically associated with the Druids, and there were often rituals and ceremonies that predated Christianity. The name ‘Aldwych’ even translates to ‘old village’ in Old English, hinting at its ancient origins.
- The Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark
A site of historical importance, this pauper’s graveyard was the final resting place for many women, some of whom were rumored to be witches. The tales tell of “outcast dead,” and to this day, visitors leave offerings and tributes at the gates, entwined with ribbons and messages.
- Lambeth: The Witches’ Markets
During the medieval period, London’s Lambeth area was renowned for its ‘witches’ markets’. It was here that one could purchase amulets, herbs, and potions. The markets thrived, much to the church’s chagrin, leading to various crackdowns over the years.
- The Clink Prison Museum
In the heart of Southwark lies the remains of The Clink – one of England’s oldest and most notorious prisons. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many women accused of witchcraft found themselves incarcerated here under abysmal conditions, waiting for trials that were often rigged against them.
- Queenhithe Dock: The Water Lore
Near the Queenhithe Dock, tales of water spirits and rituals abound. In pagan times, the Thames was believed to be sacred, and various offerings were made to appease the gods and spirits. Over time, those who practiced these rituals, especially wise women and herbalists, were branded as witches.
- The Viaduct Tavern: Gin and Spirits
A short stroll away is the last surviving Victorian gin palace in London – The Viaduct Tavern. Beyond its gin-soaked history, it’s said to be haunted, with tales of poltergeist activity, particularly in the cellars which are believed to be old holding cells for nearby Newgate Prison.
- St. Bartholomew-the-Great: Sacred and Profane
This church, one of London’s oldest, holds a mix of pagan and Christian symbolism. Look out for the carved figure of a sheela-na-gig, an ancient fertility symbol, a direct link to pre-Christian pagan practices.
- Newgate Prison Site
Before its demolition in 1902, Newgate Prison was a place of dread. Many accused witches met their cruel fate here. Its walls witnessed numerous trials, where hysteria often trumped evidence.
- The Museum of London: Artefacts of Witchcraft
Conclude your tour at this museum, which houses a range of artefacts connected to London’s witch trials and the broader history of superstition in the city.
Tips for Enhancing Your Witches Walking Tour:
Read Up: Before embarking on your tour, read about the history of witchcraft in London. Authors like Ronald Hutton and Malcolm Gaskill offer comprehensive insights.
Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided witch tour. Expert guides can provide deeper insights and anecdotes that bring the tales alive.
Stay Respectful: Sites like Cross Bones Graveyard are sacred to many. Always be respectful, avoid loud noises, and refrain from littering.
Witchy Wardrobe: To make your journey more immersive, why not dress the part? A cloak, hat, or even a simple pendant can set the mood.
London’s tapestry is woven with stories of power, magic, and the mystical. A walk through its witchy past isn’t just a stroll through lanes but a journey back in time, challenging our perceptions and beliefs about witchcraft and its practitioners. Whether you believe in magic or not, this walk will surely cast a spell on you, binding you to London’s rich and tumultuous past.