|'Imps' from Malleus Malificarum|
Matthew Hopkins is a vicious yet mysterious figure in English history. No record exists of his birth or death though he is said to have expired from tuberculosis around 1647 in the eerily named village of Mistley in Essex.
Rampantly declaring hundreds of women (as well as a handful of men and children) as witches in the tumultuous years building up to the English Civil War Hopkins granted himself the ominous title of Witchfinder General. And he made it his mission to live up to his own job description. Over 300 women were hanged on Hopkins' dubious findings, and magistrates up and down the East of England paid him a handsome fee to do so.
Hopkins wasn't the only Witchfinder of the time - witchcraft had first been outlawed in 1563 and then established as a far more serious crime in 1604 when a Witchcraft Statute was raised. But Hopkins' dubious methods of skin pricking and ducking, stooling and sleep deprivation - none of which came under the illegal practice of torture - gained him a reputation more feared than the fabricated crimes of those he accused.
I truly believe in the innocence of Hopkins' victims. They were often widowed and elderly, perhaps cantankerous and opinionated. Healers and midwives too, would of course have been at risk.
And so I got to thinking, what if one of Hopkins' 'witches' was more than he anticipated? What if the (unsubstantiated) perverse means of sexual gratification practised by this son of a Puritan evoked a darker power than he really believed in....
One long quill to save a life. One signature in ink.
One young wife possessed, accused. One ducking stool to sink.
Bright shillings from the sheriff’s purse weigh heavy in my pouch.
I juggle, jingle, fondle them, my methods for to vouch.
She favours me with pleasures sweet but calls them tortures, sick.
I twist the pen in my fine hand; which signature to pick?
The one to tie her thumb to toe and toe to thumb again?
Or single pricking, clever knife to hide her lying pain?
She mewls, a cat – the evidence, her breast is wrought in sin.
I dip my pen, stroke at the page and scratch her name within.
Goody Blithe forgets herself, reveals her nipples three.
“One for master, one for Pan and lastly one for thee.”
Her voice is of a nether world. It spits fire from dark hell.
Black eyes glow a burning red, “I’ll have this tale to tell.”
From moles and warts a seeping slime erupts and bursts and drips.
“Curse on you, priest of false God.” Her words spill from torn lips.
Wet walls hum with spectral mist, their faces I remember
from hangings at the crossroads tree from May to last December.
Their innocence I did not doubt, no ugly beauty fooled me.
There is no witch in Charles’s fair land but simple neighbours feuding.
Booty stashed and power raised Blithe saw straight through my ruse.
A demon, raiser of the dead she announced my abuse.
Her harridans swept swiftly forth, tore at my black-cloth’d chest.
Froze their breath inside my lungs and laid me down to rest.
Your chronicles bare not my words. No sullied, deviant ink
recorded how she stole this man to Hell, his soul to drink.
But now, my reputation rot, my name a curse ephemeral
I rise once more to seek you out, signed, your... Witchfinder General.