‘Horrifying, haunting, and worst of all, real.’- The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown, A Review

by R G Wood

I have been meaning to read Beth Underdown’s debut novel, The Witch Finder’s Sister, since I saw her in conversation with Katherine Clements at the Bronte Parsonage Museum for Emily Bronte’s bicentenary in 2018. I was working there on the book stall, and in typical ‘me’ fashion, when all the books wouldn’t fit in the the small cardboard box I had to transport them to the venue, I solved the issue by buying the excess. The Witch Finder’s Sister was among them. Now, don’t think that I only bought it for logistical purposes, I rather think that was just a convenient excuse. So, the book sat on my shelf for a while, giving me the side eye until finally I picked it up.

The novel is written in a diary style, something which I personally enjoy, from the point of view of Alice Hopkins, Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins’ fictional sister. She has been locked up and is passing the time by documenting what happened in the events leading to her incarceration. Gripping to say the least.

Underdown’s writing style is a perfect mixture of easy to read, but beautifully written, it is true enough to the period that it is immersive, yet you can easily glide through it. The way that the events develop is eerie, as it begins with hints as to Matthew’s intentions, but by the time that Alice realises the full scale of his intent, it is too late. Things have been set in motion that cannot be undone.

All throughout the novel we are wondering why and how Alice Hopkins came to be locked up. The payoff happens fairly late in the story, and as suddenly for her as it would for those accused. (I shall say no more.)

In the front and back of the book Underdown has included a list of names of all the women accused and killed in the real witch trials, many of whom are included as characters within the novel. This really brings home the fact that this did happen, and when the details of Hopkins’ witch finding methods are described, it makes for an even more chilling read.

I think that Beth Underdown has done real justice to those accused with this book. It is handled sensitively, but truthfully. It doesn’t glamourize the accused or demean them. It is, as the witch trials were, horrifying, haunting, and worst of all, real.

Tips For Successful Spell-casting

The first thing that you will want to do when preparing to cast a spell is to ground yourself. Get yourself comfy at your altar space, sit there quietly for a few minutes and do some visualisation. Imagine light within you, from your head/heart/ pelvis stretching through you, through the floor and connecting to the world like roots, bringing yourself literally down to earth, becoming one with the universe.

Then you will want to meditate for a while, you don’t want to carry baggage from the day into the ritual, you want to get into that space between worlds and relax, get into the zone, feel the vibes. Meditate until you feel ready, it might take a couple of minutes or a good half an hour. This is an important step to get you into the mindset for spellcraft, you need to be able to focus all your energy on the spell.

You might like to cast a circle. To do this, you can use a wand, wood or crystal, an athame, or you can just use your finger. Point in a circle around your ritual space and imagine a protective light coming from your finger/ tool in a full circle encompassing the ritual space. This protects you from unwanted energies to take worry out of your mind, you don’t worry something is going to come and get you, you are creating a safe space for the ritual to take place. You might like to say a few words and invite in certain things like the elements, your ancestors, the mother, deities, spirit guides, animal archetypes, angels, even fictional deities if they will aid your work. This will depend on what spell you want to do, and is very personal. Ask them to be present and aid your spiritual work. Remember to release the circle afterwards by going the opposite way around the circle and imagine the light reentering, and thank whoever was there.

Another tip is to think about correspondences. if you are doing a spell from a book they will have probably told you what correspondences to use. However, don’t be too rigid, you don’t need every single specific correspondence that they list, I truly believe that you have everything in your house necessary to do any spell, correspondences are to help you, their energies aid you but they are also a tool to get you into the right mindset, so if you are told that you need 5 things and you only have two, that is fine. You can also swap things out. For example, if you need cedarwood because it is an earthy scent but you only have another earthy scent, and you feel that it will work in the spell, use that. Don’t spend a fortune on unnecessary things.

So, correspondences include: scents, incenses oils crystals, candles, colours, time of day, time of year moon phase etc. This is personal, so have fun and experiment, there is no rule book despite what people say.

I write my own spells. If you are using a pre-written spell, make sure that it resonates with you. When you write yourself you put much more thought into each word, I could read an entire page and not take a word of it in, but if I write a paragraph I know what it says, you have to pay attention.

As you’re performing the spell you will want to visualise the outcome, this is a massive part of the magic. Do this for as long as possible, until you feel like you have come to a natural end, seen everything that you want to have seen, you’ve done enough. See everything that you want from the spell, and really feel it. Read the spell as many times as you like. When you visualise, don’t just think ‘it would be nice if I had more money,’ think about how you will get it, how it will make you feel and feel it as if it is happening, and ask the universe to make it so.

Sit quietly after you have performed your spell then thank everyone for witnessing it. Open your eyes if they were closed during visualisation, snuff out the candles, release the circle and enter back into the mundane realm. It may be useful to you to have specific steps in a specific order that you follow every time. Food is a very grounding thing and is good to bring you back from the mystical realm back to the real world, so have something to eat and drink for when you want to come back around.

Something often neglected is spell aftercare. Some spells are ongoing so obviously they will have to be continually redone or topped up in some way. However, if you have asked for money you cant just ask and sit back and expect it to happen, you need to put in the work and meet the universe half way. Don’t be a spoiled child, you need to deserve it. Put the effort in, ultimately it comes from you. Look for new jobs and because you have done the spell you may get an interview, or you wont but you will get one the next week, but give the universe a helping hand.

My final tip is to write things down! We often think that we will remember when a spell works or makes us feel great, or that thing we did that resonated with us, but in reality, we are human, and we forget. Writing things down is a great way of keeping track and is wonderful to look back on and see how far you have come.

I hope that you found this helpful, stay wild, and I will speak to you in my next post XO

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-R G Wood