Witches and woman accused of being witches rarely if ever get a fair shake in life, in the media, in the movies or in memorials. On the other hand, so-called or self-designated witch hunters get movies, get acclaim, and even get elected. A woman in England aims to change that with her planned traveling museum dedicated to revealing the history of witchcraft in the East Anglia area (the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire) and especially the stories of some of the estimated 300 women whose deaths were attributed to Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General.
“When you hear the word witchcraft people automatically think of spooky Hollywood characters or scary fairytale villains, but there are a huge amount of every day practices that have their root in witchcraft and paganism. It’s such a misunderstood topic and I think that people will be fascinated to learn more about how many beliefs and traditions live on in East Anglia and the impact they’ve had on the region.”
As she tells The Daily Gazette, Amy Terry’s interest in witchcraft began after moving to Colchester, Essex county, five years ago. Near Colchester is the village of Mistley, the home of Matthew Hopkins. What most people know of Hopkins may come from the cult horror movie, “Witchfinder General,” which starred Vincent Price as Hopkins. Renamed “Matthew Hopkins: Conqueror Worm” in the U.S. (so it could be linked to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Conqueror Worm), the fictionalized movie was based on Ronald Bassett's novel and as such was even more fictionalized and beefed up for a horror audience and avoided the stories of the women. Nonetheless, the real horrors Matthew Hopkins performed in just three years (1644-1647) while calling himself Witchfinder General (an unofficial title) were truly gruesome.
“We also want to open people's eyes to the realities of every day magic and remove the 'spooky' stereotypes that people think they know. There is a long and rich culture of Wicca, Paganism, Druidry and other magical belief in East Anglia dating back millennia, and a thriving and varied contemporary witchcraft scene.”
Amy Terry wants to change the victims of Hopkins and other men who killed them from mere numbers to real stories with real names. The tortures and witch tests committed by these men were horrific (including the very real swimming test – those who floated were considered witches) and inspired the Salem witch trials in the American colonies, but will not be glamorized. Instead, Terry will detail the history of the women before their deaths and their impact on the local culture – a story that today is limited to a plaque near the gates of Colchester’s Castle Park remembering the first 33 victims of the 1600s witch hunts.
To that end, Terry has set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for an initial touring museum on the history of witchcraft in East Anglia, which will help fund a museum in a permanent location.
History and religion are tightly intertwined, and the history written by men often neglects the severe impact this had had on women. Perhaps the East Anglian Museum of Witchcraft can help change that.
One more note: if you think Witchfinder General would make a great name for a heavy metal band, you’re too late.