Advent Calendar of Witches, Day 1: Elizabeth Styles

This year I’ve decided to make a little Advent calendar about accused witches I learned about while writing The Witch of Eye. Because their defiant resistance against various forms of oppression is light upon light.

Day 1 on my calendar is for Elizabeth Styles. I wrote about her and the accusations levied against her at length in this article for The Paris Review. Some excerpts…

Advent Calendar Day 1: Elizabeth Styles

From each witch they interrogated the inquisitors needed something old – a Sabbath orgy or blood oath or cat demon or wolf-faced baby or some other verification of the stories they already believed. But they also needed something new, so they could feel with each trial and execution as if they were making progress.

Elizabeth Styles’s addition to the canon: She let a demon disguised as a butterfly suck her blood.

Elizabeth Styles was accused by a 13-year-old girl also named Elizabeth. This other Elizabeth had been having strange fits lasting three hours or more and when the episode had passed she’d have holes in her hands, wrists, face, and neck. There would be thorns in her flesh. For this she blamed Elizabeth.

In addition to the butterfly business, Styles confessed that the devil had appeared to her about ten years since in the form of a handsome man or sometimes a black dog who promised her money, she said, and that she should live gallantly and have “The Pleasure of the World” for twelve years if she would blood sign his paper handing over her soul to him.

When I see the woodcuts of these hand-tied women waiting for their stick of flame, I wonder why they couldn’t just keep it to themselves. Is it really so hard to pretend?

And that’s the reason I like these failed witches so much. It feels hard to me to resist invention because it really is. Like a moth to the flame, so many of us seek after the inventions that disturb the norms, the statutes, or the rules.

You can read the rest of the essay here at The Paris Review.

Published by Kathryn Nuernberger

Kathryn Nuernberger's latest books are THE WITCH OF EYE (Sarabande), an essay collection about witches and witch trials coming out in February 2021, and RUE (BOA, 2020), a collection of poems about plants historically used for birth control and pissed off feelings about patriarchal bullshit. The End of Pink (BOA 2016) won the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Her collection of lyric essays is Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past (The Ohio State University Press, 2017). A recipient of fellowships from the NEA, American Antiquarian Society, Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life, H. J. Andrews Research Forest, She teaches in the creative writing program at University of Minnesota. Recent work appears in 32 Poems, Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, Paris Review, The Southern Review, and Waxwing.

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