Real, Historical Witches' Houses and Cottages
Where Do Witches Live?
When you think of a witch's home, what sort of images does your mind conjure? Is it something outlandish and surreal like a house made of gingerbread, or is it more like a dimly lit, stone-walled, chilly abode secluded in the countryside? Most "witch" houses were... regular ol' houses according to the times that they were alive, like Alice Kyteler's home, and were easy to get to. But then again, some witch dens are surrounded by lore and wonder, like Mother Shipton's Cave. Let's look at a few of the world's most famous witches and where they called home. We'll talk about:
- Pendle Witches' Ruins (England)
- Kyteler's Inn (Ireland)
- Mother Shipton's Cave (England)
- John Dee's House (England)
- La Voisin's Villeneuve-sur-Gravois District (France)
- 1020 St. Ann Street, New Orleans (America)
Pendle Witches' Ruins
Pendel Hill, Lancashire, England
Can You Visit?
Not the ruins themselves. They were reburied after examination. While you can't get to the ruins, you can take a 45-mile bus, bike, or car tour through the hamlets that were involved in the Pendle witch trials.
About the House
About seven years ago, a set of nearly intact stone ruins were found buried in the English countryside near Pendle. Inside the stone ruins were Victorian-era stove, 19th-century cookware, and a bed frame. Perhaps most notable—and most shocking—was an entombed and intact cat skeleton in the wall. The ruins might just be the destroyed remains Malkin Tower, the home of Elizabeth Demdike, one of the key Pendle witches.
About the Legend
The 1612 Pendle witch trials are some of England's most famous and well-documented trials. Twelve people were accused of using witchcraft to murder ten people. Of those twelve, eleven went to trial (nine women and two men). It appears as though many of the people accused did believe themselves to be witches in the very traditional sense. That is, they were rural healers and herbalists who exchanged their services and expertise for money—and this practice would have been common in rural 16th century England (and in many other rural places as well). Ten of the twelve accused were sentenced to death by hanging. Though the executions happened more than 400 years ago, Pendle continues to benefit from it's history; many tourists come to see the town where this historic debacle took place.
St Kieran's St, Gardens, Kilkenny, Ireland
Can You Visit?
Absolutely! You can stop by for a pint of local brew or some traditional Irish cuisine. Though it's called an "inn," they don't have rooms for you to stay in.
About the House
Kyteler's home stood in the middle of Kilkenny, Ireland. Her home was large and made of stone. In fact, it still stands today and operates as a pub and inn. The inn touts itself as one of the oldest inns in Ireland, claiming to be established in 1324.
Alice Kyteler (c. 1263 – later than 1325) was a wealthy Irish noblewoman. She was born into a wealthy merchant family, and then later in life, she married her fortune to another wealthy merchant, William Outlaw. The circumstances of Outlaw's death have since been lost to the annuls of history; however, it does seem clear that Kyteler's neighbors and stepchildren were quite jealous of her vast fortunes—jealous to the point that they leveled accusations of witchcraft against her. The accusations were successful only in that they caused Kyteler to flee Ireland after she sensed public perception against her shifting and her powerful friends could no longer sway church officials in her favor. She evaporated into the wind and was never heard from again. History Ireland provides an in-depth and engaging investigation of the trial and its aftermath.
Mother Shipton's Cave
Prophecy Lodge, Harrogate Rd, High Bridge, Knaresborough HG5 8DD, UK
Can you visit?
Yes, the park is open from May - November. There are some timing restrictions, so definitely check the park's website before you head over there. The park is a nice woodland walk; unfortunately, the walk is not suitable for wheelchair-bound people.
About the Cave
Mother Shipton's Cave is a small cave located in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, in the northeast region of England. This cave is what's known as a "petrifying well." Petrifying wells are natural phenomena, although they were once believed to be a source of witchcraft. These wells have an abnormally high amount of mineral content in the water, so as water evaporates, anything left near the well will take on a stone-like appearance.
About the Legend
Pinning down hard facts about Mother Shipton (c. 1488–1561), also known as Ursula Southeil, is a herculean task. The first publication of Mother Shipton's prophecies appeared around 1641, which is about 80 years after her presumed death. In folklore, Mother Shipton is known for her appearance and for her prophesying and fortunetelling. She was born hideously deformed according to legend; she was also the daughter of Agatha Southeil, also a suspected witch herself. Although, Agatha was likely branded a witch for becoming pregnant out of wedlock at 16, which caused her to flee to the cave to have her child (Ursula) there.
Dr. John Dee's House
Mortlake High St, London SW14 8HW, UK
Can You Visit?
Yes. You can walk by where the house's location likely was. Its location is denoted by a small plaque. There is no museum to visit.
About the Property
Dr. John Dee's (c. 1507 - 1608) house was located on the north side of Mortlake High Street, near the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Dee expanded the house quite a bit, building additional rooms, a laboratory, an observatory, and a library. Since his passing, the building has lived many lives. It's been a tapestry production warehouse, a girls' school, and an inn. It's suspected that nothing of the original structure remains.
About the Person
John Dee served as a notable advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He was renown for his work with math, astronomy, astrology, and occult philosophy. Dee devoted himself to divination and horoscopes, which landed him in trouble with the law—hence the "witch" label. He exonerated himself each time he was accused of spurious or heretical behavior. He was an avid preserver of knowledge, manuscripts, and books, having one of the largest (if not the largest) library in London.
La Voisin's Villeneuve-sur-Gravois District
Known as Quartier de Bonne-Nouvelle today (Previously Villeneuve-sur-Gravois)
Can You Visit?
You can visit the district, but there doesn't appear to be any museum, monument, or socialist site that you can visit.
About the House
According to "The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV," Catherine Monvoisin (or Montvoisin, née Deshayes, and also known as "La Voisin") resided in Villeneuve-sur-Gravois, a small district of Paris, France.
About the Woman
Monvoisin (c. 1640 – February 22, 1680) was colloquially known as "La Voisin," or "the neighbor." She was a Swiss army knife of insidious trades. She dealt in poison, murder, and black magic rituals. Monvoison forged ahead when her husband's jewelry-making career failed to pan out. She began offering abortions, and making and selling all sort of magical ephemera (like potions, poisons, and aphrodisiacs). A few other prominent women were arrested for poisoning people, tried, and executed. It was on the heels of these executions that the French government came for Monvoisin. They arrested her in March of 1679, found her guilty of witchcraft, and executed her about a year later in 1680. Unlike many accused witches, Monvoison was spared torture, likely because her main clients were Parisian elite. If she started naming names, many of the elite would have to be executed as well.
1020 St. Ann Street, New Orleans
1020 St. Ann Street (formerly 152 Rue St. Ann), New Orleans, Louisiana, America
Can You Visit?
Yes, you can walk by the home. According to some sources, you used to be able to rent the home for a brief stay. That option doesn't seem to be available any longer. If you want information about Marie, you can check out the near-by New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. And if you're looking for a place to stay, the Inn on St. Anne is a brief jaunt from Laveau's home.
Marie Laveau (1801– 1881) allegedly lived at 1020 St. Ann Street in New Orleans' French Quarter. The original home was demolished in 1903, but the new home was built on the original foundation. The location is registered as a historical landmark.
Can you talk about witchcraft without talking about Marie Laveau? Obviously not, because here we are! Laveau was known as the Voodoo queen of New Orleans. Voodoo was typically used in the white magic sense, to put it in a European context. So, Voodoo was used to encourage healing, to protect people, and to divine information. More practically, however, Laveau ran a brothel, connecting wealthy white patrons with Creole sex workers. Laveau also seemed adept at acquiring and leveraging information against her wealthy patrons.
Though Marie Laveau the former passed away more than 135 years ago, she is still a captivating enigma. Records surrounding her life are few and far between, making facts difficult to pin down. It's also historically difficult to differentiate between Marie Laveau and her daughter Marie Laveau II. And on top of all that, there has been a great deal of creative licensing with her personage—take American Horror Story's characterization of her, for example.
Why Are These the Houses That Are Still Around?
Three reasons stand out to me as to why these structures are still standing: the practitioner's social influence, the house's material, and the practitioner's wealth.
The Practitioner's Social Influence
Of the alleged witches mentioned in this article, four of the six traveled in the upper tiers of society. Alice Kyteler was a rich merchant who had strong ties to the upper echelons of society. John Dee was a consultant to the queen of England. La Voison served the King's mistress on several occasions (and the Parisian elite on many others). Marie Laveau traded in secrets and scandals with New Orleans' upper crust. These connections helped these people escape prosecution entirely (such as Kyteler) or made their prison stays abnormally congenial (as with La Voison). When you take care of the upper crust, they tend not to want you spilling their secrets during a trial.
The House's Material
With the exception of Mother Shipton's Cave, all the houses are man-made structures. Practically speaking, stone simply lasts longer. So, if you had the money to build your house out of stone, your house was going to last longer. Many accused witches were poor. Their homes were likely made out of wood. Wood degrades easier than stone. And if you lack the social influence to protect you, why would the people accusing you want to preserve your home?
The Practioner's Wealth
Wealth goes hand-in-hand with social influence in this article. Wealth afforded Kyteler a means to escape into the annuls of history. Wealth allowed John Dee to amass England's largest library at the time (books were not cheap back then). Wealth also undoubtedly played a role in who these alleged practitioners came in contact with and how much sway they had.