The Pendle Witches: The Confession of Margaret Johnson


The most famous Pendle Witch Trial is the one of 1612 which resulted in the hanging of 10 people at Lancaster Gaol. In 1633 however, a second Pendle Witch Trial took place. One of the most notable of the accused was Margaret Johnson, who having convinced herself of her own guilt, handed herself in to the authorities: Her subsequent declaration contains all the classic ingredients of a wicthcraft confession.

The witches of 1633, although found guilty in Lancashire, were able to appeal to the crown, and four women, including Margaret Johnson, were sent to London for further investigation. After being examined by doctors it was concluded that they were innocent inspite of Margaret’s voluntary confession. There were therefore no hangings, but it believed these unfortunate souls continued to languish in Lancaster Gaol for many years afterward.

Margaret describes selling her soul to a devil called ‘Mamilian’
[Margaret Johnson confessed] That betwixt seven and eight years since, she being in her own house in Marsden (near Nelson) in great passion of anger and discontent, and withall pressed with some want there appeared unto her a spirit or devil in the proportion or similitude of a man, apparelled in a suit of black, tied about with silk points, who oflered that if she would give him her soul he would supply all her wants, and bring to her whatsoever she did need; and at her appointment would in revenge either kill or hurt whom or what she desired, were it man or beast.

And saith, that after a solicitation or two, she contracted and covenanted with the said devil for her soul. And that the said devil or spirit bade her call him by the name of Mamilian, and when she would have him do anything for her, call in ‘Mamilian’, and he would be ready to do her will. And saith, that in all her talk and confidence she calleth her said devil, ‘Mamil, my God.’ She further saith that the said Mamilian, her devil (by her consent) did abuse and defile [her].

Margaret describes a great meeting of witches at Halloween
And saith that she was not at the great meeting at Hoare-stones, at the Forest of Pendle, upon All Saints Day (Halloween), but saith she was at a second meeting the Sunday next after All Saints Day, at the place aforesaid, where there was at the time between thirty and forty witches, who did all ride to the said meeting, and the end of the meeting was to consult for the killing and hurting of men and beasts. And that besides their private familiars or spints, there was one great or grand devil or spirit, more eminent than the rest. And if any desire to have a great and more wonderful devil, whereby they may have more power to hurt, they may have one such. And saith that such witches as have sharp bones given them by the devil to prick them, have no paps or dugs whereon the devil may suck, but the devil receiveth blood from the place pricked with the bone; and they are more grand witches than any that have marks. She also saith that if a witch had but one mark, she hath but one spirit; if two, then two spirits; if three, yet but two spirits. And saith that their spirits usually have keeping of their bodies. And being desired to name such as she knew to be witches, she named [her co-accused]. And if they would torment a man, they bid their spirit go and torment him in any particular place. And that Good Friday is one constant day for a yearly general meeting of witches, and that on Good Friday last they had a meeting near Pendle water-side.
Margaret describes how witches travel by magic
She also saith that men witches usually have women spirits, and women witches men spirits. And their devil or spirit gives them notice of their meeting, and tells them the place where it must be. And saith, if they desire to be in any place upon a sudden their devil or spirit will, upon a rod, dog, or anything else, presently convey them thither, yea, into any room of a man’s house, But she saith, it is not the substance of their bodies, but their spirit [that] assumeth such form and shape as go into such rooms.
Margaret describes how Mamilian abandoned her
She also saith that the devil (after he begins to suck) will make a pap or dug in a short time, and the matter which he sucks is blood. And saith that their devil can cause foul weather and storms, and so did at their meetings. She also saith that when her devil did come to suck her pap, he usually came to her in the likeness of a cat, sometimes of one colour and sometimes of another. And that since this trouble befel her, her spirit hath leff her, and she never saw him since.
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