Not to keep you awake or anything but… demonic dogs of England

But, suddenly, I became convinced that I was being watched by another set of eyes – but, unlike all those other eyes around me, this pair was covert, lurking, absconding. A great fear – unlike any other – welled up inside me, some pressure of ante-diluvian panic and I started to run through the woodlands. And, as I ran, I also started to stumble. And the faster I tried to run, the greater and more frequent those stumbles became. Indeed, after a time, my running became nothing more than one constant stumble. I could feel all of the eyes of the experienced nighttime practitioners also looking upon me, part worried for me but also in part scornful as my body continually did its utmost to return to the earth. Were they questioning my foolish behaviour or were they just spectating, waiting to see this great, hidden carnivore pounce upon me? Whilst they made no move for me, they parted company with their branches and brambles at the prospect of the panting beast. In my head I could hear my father’s discussion of the identification of the wicked in St. Paul’s address to the Romans[1]. At that point in my imaginings – and I shall for the time being, call them just imaginings – I was still unaware of what might be following me. But, suddenly, I was conscious of the sound of a heavy animal’s thunderous paws running through shallow water. That in itself was rather strange as I did not know of any pools in that area. Do not forget, even as a small child, I knew those woodlands well! The paths through them were my streets, the trunks of the trees my crown posts[2]. The river was quite far away and the ground still felt parched dry beneath my feet; the leaves were still brittle and breaking beneath them. Such inconsistencies, I guess, are the matter of dreams; the saplings growing in that febrile, fertile soil of fear, seedlings of a crop that will never be harvested properly because the time for such a reaping never arrives. I had to run faster back toward home. I broke from the woods as soon as the density of trees would allow me to do so. I broke out onto the open floodplain – now it might have made sense to hear splashing paws but nothing in the sound of them changed in the slightest. Suddenly, the cloud removed itself (albeit rather briefly) from the early budding moon so that there was a burst of relatively bright semi-illumination across the floodplain. If I were to turn now, then I would see it – I was certain of that. However, I did not know whether I really wanted to see this being. True, it might prove to me that I was running for no reason and that whatever animal was following me was totally harmless and could be turned away simply by facing it and gesturing. On the other hand, my mind was still overbrimming with fear and the creative forgemastery of my imaginings. However, my father had always taught me to have no fear that is grounded in irrationality and so, gradually, the former logic got the better of me.


Therefore I turned. And what met my eyes was worse than I had imagined: it was something hideous, the likes of which I had not only never seen but I had quite simply never imagined either. Then I had a fear that was no longer rooted in the irrational! It was a large dog that was following me but it was truly unlike any other canine for its frame was massive and, although its coat was dark and shaggy (the precise colour still being obscured by the poor light and – thankfully – still a little too great distance). There was also something colloidal about it – disgusting, filthy. I felt as though I would be unable to touch it even if it were clearly dead at my feet. That was an in-built revulsion from the unclean and that beast was so obviously unclean and a carrier of poor humours from some place else – perhaps even from the Pit itself[3]. It moved in unfamiliar fashion too, not like any natural thing. Its ability to bound forward meant that it was moving forward towards me with some alacrity but each and every time its paws landed it sent up spouts of water on either side of it.


[1] See Romans 2.

[2] Crown posts: architectural elements within the frame of a timber-framed building.

[3] The Pit: Hell.

Mary Spencer & Collock-Calling in Burnley

In many cases Northern dialect words cannot be evidenced before the nineteenth century. Not so, collock. It appears in Holyoke’s Latin Dictionary of 1640 and in Ray’s ‘Collection of North Country Words’ (1691) where it is described as a ‘great piggin’. Piggin was first noted in 1554 and was a diminutive form denoting any kitchen utensil which was small and made of wood. Therefore the ‘great’ counteracts this.

Mary Spencer of Burnley, supposedly aged twenty in 1633, in her confession utterly denied any knowledge of witchcraft, “and prays God to forgive Nicholas Cunliffe, who having borne malice to her and her parents these five or six years has lately wrongfully abused them.”

Spencer said she attended Brierley’s sermons at Burnley and used this to evidence herself as a ‘good Christian’ and not a witch in contact with forces of evil as she had been accused of being.

However, she never denied her record on collock-calling, claiming that it was the most natural thing in the world. Some of those investigating the case in modern times seem to have managed to confuse Mary with her mother who went by the same name and was also accused of witchcraft. Unhelpfully, Richard Brome’s play, the Late Lancashire Witches, may have been the original source for much of this error.




The Round Man’s Heart – Josiah Collyer, the Grindletonian: The Round World, the Heart, the Cross, the Angles and the Square

cmopimage Reason cannot fill

But in the angles it is empty still.

The square of Truth this will it testify

And the Cross will this World truly fye!

Then may Man’s Heart enjoy the globe that will

Within the Soul and empty angles fill

For it satisfies the hungry Soul of Man

As nothing in this round World can[1].”

[1] This is part of a paraphrased version of the poem, ‘The Round World, the Heart, the Cross, the Angles and the Square’, which appears at the front of Collyer’s collation of Brierley’s sermons at Lambeth Palace Archives and which seems to have been given no academic attention. The poem is marked as Collyer’s own work as would appear to be the symbol above it. The symbol is superficially similar but actually far from identical to either that which appears alongside Webster’s last resting place. The variant at the end of Sloane 2538 (the Brierley-Tennant Theologia) is far more simplistically geometric and plays on the six pointed Star of David symbol and has been ignored for the purposes of this book. Nevertheless, all three exhibit a fascination for sacred geometry.