BALLAD OF PENDLE HILL

Prelude

Auld Pendle Hill standest alone
Twyx fortress Clitheroe
& Burnley vale, heart of a tale
The World shall come to know.

She broods deep in the misty North,
So sheer & solemn piled,
Midst hoar & spacious moorland wastes
& woodlands thick & wild.

Wide-scattered all about her rim
Lie villages & farms;
Whose folk, in gales, huddle round tales
Of curses, spells & charms;

Who often muse & mediate
Upon the chimes of life,
As witches do, when slicing thro’
A rabbit with a knife.

This was a world of faerie lore
All in the elfin grots,
Where spirits roam from home-to-home.
Banging their copper pots.

For this is where the Boggart dwells
To feed on living souls,
To pounce & prey on those who stray
Too close to hidden holes.

For Pendle Hill, All Hallows Eve,
Becomes a pagan ground
Of sable-braided torch parade,
Upon that heathen mound.

Friends, if you ever pause to view
That Pennine climbing high;
On Halloween, count to thirteen
& then ye’ll hear a cry

Of women wailing through the night
On broomsticks round the hill,
When ye shall swear up from her lair
Old Demdike cackles still.

Canto 1

Auld Pendle is a pagan place,
A little wild world where
Superstitious whisp’ring witches
Ride on the whistling air.

Of these fell crones I’ll tell my tale;
Five hundred years ago,
Pendle forest was loveliest
Twyx Colne & Clitheroe.

Let us espy a painted eye
Perch’d high upon a church;
Protection from all ‘things’ that come
From Hell with sordid lurch.

It stands in Newchurch, whose bells ring
For our Blessed Lady,
Whose spire commands the local lands,
Focusing His glory.

Outside the doors awaits Demdike,
Squatting ‘neath matted hair;
The sermon ends, she calls all, “Friends,”
Yet not one penny spare.

She scatters curses under breath.
Forg’d in faerie power,
Then scampers back along the track
Towards black Malkin Tower.

She catches breath by Faugh’s quarry,
Hewn from the sloping furze,
When in the wistful morning mist
An incident occurs.

A boy behind a rock steps out,
Clad in a sable coat,
As they did meet she sees his feet
Are cloven, as a goat.

“Give me yer soul,” the Devil spat,
Demdike stood listening
“& for six years ye’ll have no fears,
Nor want for anything.”

The young witch thought a while or two,
Then consented after;
Her daemon sneers, then disappears
In a cloud of laughter.

Six years of love & happiness
Demdike did gaily know;
When by a stream her happy dream
Burst by the deep below.

“I have come to collect thy soul,”
The Devil gently said,
With honest sigh & teary eye,
On heather Demdike led.

She let the Beast suckle her vein
Until the day grew dark,
That serpent tongue lapp’d deep & long
& left a bloody mark.

“I am the Devil,” said the Beast,
“& all my powers thine,
For as they live aid shall I give
To all those that are mine.

Lass, if ye wish to summon me,
Just say my name three times,
Go ‘Tibb! Tibb! Tibb!’ & rub yer rib
& chant yer witchy rhymes.

Then I’ll appear, I’ll help ye lass,
Honoring yer wishes…”
Then with a dash of sulphur flash
The Devil vanishes.

Demdike has soon gone raving mad,
A husband leaves his bride,
The world unjust, a new mistrust
Spreads over Pendle-side.

“That Demdike is a witch,” men say,
“She’s evil!” rile their wives;
Where once was calm, from farm-to-farm
Folk fearful of their lives.

Now old horse-shoes & smooth-hole stones
Fasten’d each nervous door;
Now suns & moons & other runes
Are painted roof & floor;

Now sage is burnt at every hearth
To exercise the ghosts
That round ‘em range, flauntingly strange,
Unholy haunting hosts.

“Devil! Devil! I thee defy!”
Wide whispered, height & vale;
& prayers said before each bed
Are long as dragon’s tail.

As witchery finds natural
Kinship in a coven,
Watch old Chattox, decrepit fox,
Stoking Demdike’s oven.

“As ye have yer familiar
Today I met my own,
He hissed to me, ‘call me Fancy,’
& chilled me to the bone.

He look’d just like a Christian man,
But Devil must he be,
I never saws no darker force
In any human’s ee!”

Now trotted in a spotted dog,
It growl’d, sat black teeth bare,
Hissing, “I’ll be yer ain Fancy!”
& fix’d her with a stare.

“He’ll need to suck a bit o blood,”
Said Demdike, “Like my Tibb!”
“I’ll take my own,” the dog did groan,
“From just beneath a rib!”

So Chattox lifted up her shirt,
Reveals her wrinkling flab;
The Devil sinks its teeth & drinks
Her blood into a scab.

Canto 2

Auld Pendle is a misty place
Beneath her whale back sheer,
Where dissipation saturates
At all times of the year.

Where mist sets thick & elf lights trick
The mind at every turn,
When in winds wild sometimes a child
Will never home return.

Beginneth hath the twilight time
All thro’ that cursed vale,
Full fifteen years of haunted fears
Where moonlit banshees wail;

Of murderesses murdering
With human images,
As day-by-day crumbles the clay
Their pins shall turn to dust.

The first to die was Dick Baldwin,
Crude were his abuses;
A rogue indeed, whose innate greed,
Lizzie’s wage refuses.

Demdike shall fight her daughter’s cause,
Knocking at Dick’s riches,
“Get off my lands,” the man commands,
“Ye foul whores & witches!

Or I’ll burn one, the other hang!”
The women fumed away;
Later that night, by candlelight
Out came those pots of clay.

After his seven nights of pain
Poor Baldwin had a stroke,
“The strangest things,” swept mutterings
All thro’ the Pendle folk.

Now Henry Milton of Roughlee
Holds back just one penny
Watching Demdike in hunger scrike,
Tho’ that man had many.

Milton would die within a week;
Pale, torrential sweater,
“Dead by disease,” doctor agrees –
Demdike… she knew better.

Time swings unto our crucial year,
Sixteen hundred & twelve,
Where thick & crude the Wiccan brood
Into the darkness delve.

Now Demdike has turn’d eighty three,
Her daughter forty less,
Whose offspring three form family
Midst Malkin Tower’s mess.

The eldest was call’d Alizon,
She called her devil ‘Ball;’
Tongue full of lies, uneven eyes
& barely four foot tall.

Next was the wee & wiry James,
A dumb, precocious boy,
Whose sister’s chest in dark incest
His dev’lish lusts enjoy,

Then last, & least, little Jennet,
A very vicious thing
Less human child, more wolfen wild,
Or crow with broken wing.

Demdike she had her crony friends,
Chattox even older;
Famously frail from Lothersdale
To the river Calder.

Ye half-blind hag, withered & spent,
Disfigured & deranged,
What nonsense slips thy chatt’ring lips,
Reality estranged.

Two daughters has this crooning mare,
With faces hard as stone,
Dour-faced Bessie, buck-toothed Annie,
Them both just skin & bone.

Now Alizon has reach’d Trawden
To sell Rosemary pins,
& marks her pitch, this cackling witch,
This carnal-house of sins

A pedlar by the name of Law
Gives her pins perusal;
But turns ‘em down, a witch did frown
At such pert refusal.

The pedlar shrugg’d & walk’d away,
A black dog did appear,
An evil thing, who’s whispering
In Alizon’s right ear.

“What would,” it growl’d, “ye have me do
To take away thy shame?”
“Hell’s denizen”, hiss’d Alizon,
“Perhaps him ye would lame!”

All in a flash of sulphur fire
The pedlar hit the floor,
When with a bark that dog so dark
Went racing oer the moor.

“What have I done!” gasp’d Alizon,
Her skin begins to crawl,
Regretful guilt, deep to the hilt,
Plunges into her soul.

While Law did twitch this sorry witch
Ran to Malkin Tower,
Where Demdike hails those happy tales
Of her daughter’s power,

Laughing as if a hound of Hell
Was howling at her core,
Her gravel throat’s blood-curl cut short
By thudding at the door.

Before them stands young Abraham,
The pedlar’s fuming son;
With shout & stare, out by the hair
He drags poor Alizon.

Canto 3

Auld Pendle is a savage place,
Sabden to Barley Fold,
Of rushing rills & rolling hills
& damp, north-facing mould.

Below its slopes the scene is set,
This story must be sung,
Of devil-swollen Wiccan fall
& how they all were hung.

By Roger Nowell, lord of Read,
Quite noble & astute,
Who hears wyrd wailings fill the jail
& goes to see its root.

He finds a filthy, foul-mouth’d lass
From Pendle’s nether edge;
For right or wrong her vengey tongue
Thro’ all her friends did dredge.

She told him Demdike was a witch
Who Richard Baldwin slew,
& as he’d see, her family
Was each a Wiccan too.

So Nowell sent his riders out
With orders to return,
At point of pike, that damn’d Demdike,
Chattox & Anne Redfearn.

Each lass was brought to him at Fence,
Above the Burnley vale,
Where news flew fast, gossip aghast,
Spreading the deadly tale.

Both Chattox & Demdike confess
Wrong-doings lewd & long,
Incriminating each with hate,
A hate that twists the tongue.

“I need to find more witnesses,”
Did Nowell nodding say,
“First, lock these hell-breeds in a cell
& feed them once a day!”

That cell was dark & stagnant dank,
Rats scuttling in the gloom,
A place to wait & ruminate
Upon one’s coming doom.

Beyond those slimy walls the air
Was cool & crisp & clear;
Upon the hoof, searching for proof
Thro’ Pendle men did steer.

A muckle tale of fresh-spoilt ale,
Of cattle dying strange,
Was ably told, both young & old
Desire the times to change;

For talk is growing darker still
Of murders vile & foul;
With eerie chill, from Pendle Hill
There rose a grisly howl.

The noble Alice Nutter felt
That frightful, demon-cry,
A wealthy lass, whose better class
Beam’d from her clever eye.

Alas, she had grown curious
Of witchcraft & its lore;
Of birds & bells & words & spells
& circles on the floor.

So, sixteen epic centuries
Since Jesus’ final hour,
A coven stands all holding hands,
In black Malkin’s tower.

By candlelight a lady stood,
Some prophet in the sands,
“Sisters”, she said, “we daemon-wed
Do what the Beast commands!

There is no pagan remedy
To aid our captive friends,”
Alice imparts, “with darker arts
We Wiccan make amends!”

She sacrificed a stolen sheep
& drank its boiling blood,
Then smear’d crimson deftly upon
Bare breasts, as witches should.

From arcane tongue a ghastly song
Did thunder to the deep,
To touch the ear of something queer,
To rouse it from its sleep.

Across the coven’s cavern floor,
Crones chalk white pentacles,
Twyx ancient runes & crescent moons
Crawl slimy tentacles.

“O Devil, Devil of the depths,”
Sang they, “be bound to me;
From mortal chains, from awful pains,
Our friends we would set free!”

“First barrel up some gunpowder,’
The Daemon heard their plight,
“Then build a bale beside the jail
& set the lot alight!”

With searing flash of sulphur dash
The Daemon disappear’d;
Howls deafening… breaking the ring
John Bulcock stroked his beard.

“I think the powder can be found,”
Said he; “then we must haste,”
Said Alice Nutter as she cut
A vein of bloody taste.

“We are one blood in sisterhood
As one we live or die,
Now all depends on saving friends
Come sisters, let us fly!”

Suckling her blood each left there fleet,
Some broomstick thro’ the air;
Some morph into a bird, a shrew,
Some to a leaping hare.

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