Monday, October 17, 2022

Something About the Witch House

And a familiar unknown.

Peter Muise had some comments on his New England Folklore blog this month about H. P. Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House, a horror story from 1932 about Walter Gilman and a rather irregularly-shaped room.

Gilman is convinced there is a connection between advanced mathematics and the old New England witch stories, and his research leads him to rent a room in a squalid boarding house that was built in 1600s known as the Witch House. Gilman's room was once the abode of Keziah Mason, who was arrested for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Under questioning, Mason told Judge John Hathorne that certain lines and angles could be used to move "through the walls of space to other spaces beyond," and then later disappeared from her locked jail cell. Strange geometric curves and angles were found drawn on the cell's walls with "some red, sticky fluid." Centuries later, Keziah Mason is said to haunt the Witch House where she once lived, appearing there at night with Brown Jenkin, a human-faced rat that serves as her familiar spirit.

Muise notes Lovecraft's use of New England history and how the author incorporates several of these local references into Witch House, including Judge Hathorne, Cotton Mather, and Charles Upham. Muise also reminds us of familiar spirits, those supernatural and often animal- or humanoid-shaped entities dedicated to accompanying witches.

Where else have we heard about familiars? I mentioned Pywacket a few months ago.

Bellairs introduced us to the Windrow familiar, the hunched, cloak-covered, tentacle-dragging thing hanging around the Windrow family's New York estate in The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost (1985). Elsewhere, Gert Bigger had a small black dog (The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring; 1976) and Mattheus Mergal hung out in Duston Heights with his annoying crow (The Hand of the Necromancer; 1996). And for all their flitty flights of fancy, Snorodg's flimsies seem like familiars, too (The Pedant and the Shuffly; 1968).

Muise continues, Bridget Bishop was accused of having a familiar that looked like a monkey with rooster feet and a human face, and Sarah Osborne's familiar was supposedly a small humanoid covered in hair.

At any rate, what kind of familiar would you want?

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