— VOTF09 Partners in Knitting

General Remarks

  • The  narrator is Elinor Shaw, a condemned witch.
    • This chapter draws heavily upon two pamphlets dated March, 1705, An Account of the Tryals, Examination and Condemnation… (full text is at this link), and The Northamptonshire Witches (full text available at this link), by an alleged witness, one Ralph Davis. For brevity, these sources will be referred to as TEC and NW.
  • The date given is “AD 1705”, 83 years after the previous chapter.
    • The significance of this date is that it is when Elinor was executed.
  • The indicated map location is near Kingsthorpe Road, at the north end of Northampton. (Technically, it should probably be at the Racecourse, further to the west, approximately above the “T”s in “NORTH-AMPTON”.


  • “Inside the heads of owls and weasels there are jewels” – I have found no references to such jewels. There is a folkloric belief about jewels in the heads of toads.
  • ague” – Fever and chills.
  • colic” – Pain in the bowels.
  • “spend” – Archaic slang for orgasm or ejaculate.
  • “ash tree” – Ash trees feature in many mythologies, though the specific lore here seems to be invented.
  • “His seeds grow up, with rounded heads and slender tails” – Probably psychedelic mushrooms, described in a way to highlight their similarity in shape to sperm. (Sperm were first microscopically observed in 1677, so it is possible Elinor could know their shape.)
    • In folklore (and fact!) lightning can hasten mushroom growth.
  • “the Sight” – AKA second sight, supernatural perception.
  • “I have swallowed my own piss” – Reader John Forkan alerts me that some users of psychedelic mushrooms ingest their own urine to increase the effect of the drug. While I have not found specific documentation of this behavior in 18th century England, similar behavior (drinking other people’s urine to get high) can be documented in 18th century Siberia, so it’s a plausible hypothesis for what’s happening here.
  • “Mr Danks, the Minister of All Saints” – Mr Danks appears in both TEC and NW, though his specific church is not mentioned. All Saints Church was rebuilt in 1680 (after the Great Fire), and also features in Jerusalem, particularly the chapter “The Steps of All Saints“.
  • “Book” – When capitalized like this, “Book” generally means “Bible”.
  • “Mary” – Mary Phillips, Elinor’s friend and fellow witch.
  • “North Gate” – Northampton’s north gate was a traditional site for executions, and for the display of executed criminals (or their parts); see chapters two and seven.
  • “March” – Elinor and Mary were executed March 17, 1705.
  • “the last that shall be murdered thus in England” – See closing remarks.
  • “things of colour” – A strangely evocation phrase. While it might refer simply to “things which have colour”, it could also mean “things composed entirely OF colour, which are nothing but the IDEA of a colour”.
  • “higher towns where all the days are one” – That is, a higher-dimensional space that is outside the normal perception of time, an idea that will be thoroughly explored in Jerusalem.
  • tallow” – Fat used for making candles; usually animal fat, not human.
  • “sty-born faces” – A sty is an enclosure for pigs, such as Boy inhabited in chapter one.
  • “Widow Peak, who said she’d heard us talk of killing Mrs. Wise” – This is recounted in TEC, and in more detail below.
  • “each one had a water-painted mansion of homonculi tiny and bright within it” – A poetic way of saying that each droplet contained a small reflection of the house. But also possibly true on a magical level; a homonculus is a tiny human form, created by alchemy from human sperm.
  • “nine Dukes ruling Hell” – While there are many lists of demons, there do not seem to be any which describe demons as “Dukes”, list precisely nine in number, and predate the publication of Voice of the Fire. Indeed, the phrase “Nine Dukes”, with reference to demons, seems to have been popularized by Moore himself, in interviews such as this.
  • “Belial is like a toad of wondrous glass with many eyes ringed on his brow” – This description is based on a personal mystical experience of Moore’s, not any pre-existing one. From a 2009 interview, describing a mystical experience:

    I said, “Is it you, Belial?” and I got this vision of a toad, a gigantic toad, quite beautiful in its way, made entirely out of diamonds, which on its brow had a ring of seven eyes, and it had a very aloof expression on its face

    • Belial is a figure from the Bible, who eventually became considered a demon.
    • Crowley’s Goetia describes him as follows:

      The Sixty-eighth Spirit is Belial. He is a Powerful King, and was created next after LUCIFER. He appeareth in the Form of Two beautiful Angels sitting in a Chariot of Fire. He speaketh with a Comely Voice, and declareth that he fell first from among the worthier sort, that were before Michael, and other Heavenly Angels. His Office is to distribute Presentations and Senatorships, etc., and to cause favour of Friends and of Foes. He giveth excellent Familiars, and governeth  801  Legions of Spirits. Note well that this King Belial must have Offerings, Sacrifices and Gifts presented unto him by the Exorcist, or else he will not give True Answers  unto his Demands. But then he tarrieth not one hour in the Truth, unless he be constrained by Divine Power.

    • Belial also makes a brief appearance in Jerusalem.
  • “Asmoday is more like an exquisite web of pattern” – Again, this description is based on a personal mystical experience of Moore’s, not any pre-existing one (though the association with “mathematic arts” turns out to be common to both). From a 2009 interview:

    I said, “Would it be possible to see what you look like?” and at that point I got this spectacular vision. If you can imagine, imagine if you will, that three hundred and sixty degrees around your head there is a moving lacework made up of spiders, um, luminous, beautifully coloured spiders that are turning themselves inside out, um, in some kind of, through a dimension that we don’t have, they’re turning themselves inside out and becoming a beautiful lacework of lizards; then back to the spiders again, and somehow in all of this there is a fan of beautiful peacock tail feathers. Um, it was exquisite, bit creepy, um, bit hellish… but beautiful in its way, jewelled and beautiful, and I kinda got the impression that, well actually these things don’t look like anything; they’re, they’re just ideas. So, in a sense, what we perceive them as, it’s like, we’re dressing them up from the wardrobe of our mind. Their, their bodies are like suits of clothes that we put on them so that we can see them.

    • After having that vision, Moore painted a picture of Asmodeus.

      painting by Moore
      painting by Moore
    • Asmodeus is a king of demons, first appearing in the Old Testament Book of Tobit.
    • Crowley’s Goetia describes him as follows:

      The Thirty-second Spirit is Asmoday, or Asmodai. He is a Great King, Strong, and Powerful. He appeareth with Three Heads, whereof the first is like a Bull, the second like a Man, and the third like a Ram; he hath also the tail of a Serpent, and from his mouth issue Flames of Fire. His Feet are webbed like those of a Goose. He sitteth upon an Infernal Dragon, and beareth in his hand a Lance with a Banner. He is first and choicest under the power of AMAYMON, he goeth before all other. When the Exorcist hath a mind to call him, let it be abroad, and let him stand on his feet all the time of action, with his Cap or Head-dress off; for if it be on, AMAYMON will deceive him and cause all his actions to be bewrayed. But as soon as the Exorcist seeth Asmoday in the shape aforesaid, he shall call him by his Name, saying: “Art thou Asmoday?” and he will not deny it, and by-and-by he will bow down unto the ground. He given the Ring of Virtues; he teacheth the Arts of Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry, and all  handicrafts absolutely. He giveth true and full answers unto thy demands. He maketh one Invincible. He showeth the place where Treasures lie, and guardeth it. He, amongst the Legions of AMAYMON, governeth  72 Legions of Spirits Inferior.

    • Asmodeus appears in several issues of Promethea, usually in the shape described in the Goetia.

      from Promethea #18
      from Promethea #18
    • Asmoday is a significant character in Jerusalem.
  • “from Cotterstock to Oundle up the road” – Cotterstock is a village and Oundle a market town, both in northeast Northamptonshire. Oundle is “just up the road” from Cotterstock, being a little over a mile away as the crow flies. Both are about 30 miles from Northampton. These locations are attested in NW.
  • “my parents wanted quit of me” – NW: “Parents […] not willing or at least not able to give their Daughter any manner of Education; she was left to shift for her self at the age of 14 years […]”
  • Talbot Hotel
    Talbot Hotel

    – An actual hotel in Oundle, which is reputed to be haunted by Queen Mary.

  • “her head […] tucked beneath her arm” – This phrase has long been associated with another beheaded female royal, Anne Boleyn, eventually becoming a popular song in 1934.
  • “Drumming Well” – This well did exist, as attested to in Baxter’s 1691 book The Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits and various other sources. It no longer exists, but definitely still did at the time of this chapter.
  • “wild laburnum

    – A yellow-flowered tree, introduced to the UK in 1560, so might well be growing “wild” by this time.

    • Or, possibly, this is meant to indicate “wild laburnum,” a colloquial name for calpurnia aurea, a yellow-flowered tree native to South Africa. I’ve found no evidence of it being introduced to England, but the mention of Africa later in the same sentence is suggestive. Regardless, the two plants look quite similar.
  • “savage, blue-arsed men come from the Africas” – People with deep black skin were sometimes described as “blue”. The specific mention of “arsed”, however, makes me think the girls may be confusing men and mandrills (an African primate with colorful buttocks). Alan Moore, made-up as a mandrill-man, delivered a “mandrillifesto” in 2016.
  • “the Black-Faced Man said we should not know the fires of punishment” – Both TEC and NW refer to the Devil appearing in the shape of “a tall black man”. NW also says “they publickly boasted that their Master […] would not suffer them to be Executed.
  • Benefield” – A village three miles to the west of Oundle, mentioned briefly in NW.
  • coracle” – A small round boat.
  • “jetty” – Northamptonshire slang for alley.
  • “or else they’d teach their little ones to taunt me […] Strumpet Nell” – NW:

    […] when she arriv’d to the age of 21 she began to be a very wicked Person talk’d of [in many places], and that as well by Children of four or five Years of Age, as Persons of riper Years, so that by degrees her Name became so famous, or rather infamous, that she could hardly peep out of her Door, but the Children would point at her in a Scoffing manner, saying, There goes a Witch, there’s Nell the Strumpet, &c […]

  • flint” – A hard stone, as used metaphorically in the phrase “flint-hearted”. Also used to strike sparks, for lighting fires.
  • “smaller frills identical in shape” – The time-stop lets Elinor observe the fractal nature of smoke.
  • leathering” – Beating with a leather strap. Possibly a euphemism for having sex with?
  • “an endless house filled with more books than there are in the world” – Possibly a reference to Borges’s “The Library of Babel”, which describes an infinitely large library. On the other hand, given Elinor’s likely lack of experience with how many books are in the world, this might be a vision of John Dee’s library at Mortlake (see chapter eight), or Alan Moore’s own library (see chapter twelve).
  • “gash-necked little boy” – Boy, from chapter one.
  • “ragged man that sits within a skull of blazing iron” – The murder victim from chapter eleven.
  • “February of last year” – NW: “Saturday the 12th of February 1704, at about 12 a Clock at Night”
  •  “cauled” – Covered with a film (here, of ice). The word “caul” can also refer to an amniotic caul, as in Alan Moore’s 1995 performance piece The Birth Caul.
  • “that which is not […] is greater, and has more importance” – Moore has frequently made similar statements, as in this article from 2002: “[…] the inner, immaterial world that is in fact the greater part of our human experience.”
  • “Everything is actual.” – In Cerebus #182, Dave Sim quoted Alan Moore as saying “All stories are true.”
  • “his flesh was everywhere embroidered with tattoo […] branch or antler sprouted from his head” – This figure partakes of aspects of Olun from chapter two and Hob from chapter one.
  • “I could feel the faintest touch of something much like fingers wrapped about my own” – “NW: “taking Ellinor Shaw by the Hand”.
  • “He said, ‘Elinor Shaw, be not afraid of me” – NW: “says he, be not afraid”.
  • “borrow something from us for a year and two months […] I grew afraid, believing he asked me for my Soul”- NW: “if you will pawn your Souls to me for only a Year and two Months”.
  • “how the Idea of me might be of value, or to whom” – Arguably, to Alan Moore, and to you, the reader. See Closing Remarks for more discussion.
  • “he would tell us how to call up Imps and have their […] obedience” – NW: “they had power by the assistance of the Imps, that he would send them to do what Mischief they pleased.”
  • “the piece of parchment […] sign in blood” – NW:

    […] he produced a little piece of Parchment, on which by their Consents (having prick’t their Fingers ends) he wrote the Infernal Covenant in their own Blood, which they signed with their own hands […]

  • “we might let such Imps as we should summon suckle on the juices of our sex” – TEC: “these Imps would always be at their Service […] when they pleased to command them, provided they let ’em Suck their Flesh every Night”
  • “the Black-Faced Man came with us both to bed and had his way with us […] ice-cold yet exciting” – TEC: “the Devil came to Bed to them both, and had Carnal Knowledge of ’em, as if a Man, only with this difference instead of being Warm, his Embraces was very Cold and unpleasant.”
  • “We were outside of time with him. Our bed was every bed where man or woman ever birthed or fucked or died” – Similar ideas are expressed in Moore’s performance piece The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels:

    There is a room where you are being born […] There is a room where you are dying, […] There is a room where you are fucking, […] There is a room where you are old. There is a room where you are drunk. A room where you are crying and a room in which you do the thing that no one knows about. A room of noise. A silent room. A room without you in it. There is only one room.

  • “Rose of Power. There is one set beside each of the body’s gates” – Possibly a reference to an Indian philosophical system.
  • “scarce more than a year” – From February 12, 1704 until their arrest, exact date unknown, but prior to March 7, 1705 (TEC).
  • “kill fifteen children […] eighteen horses” – These figures are from NW. They are alleged to be boasted by Elinor Shaw to Mr. Danks the Minister, on the day before the execution.
  • “three beasts a week” – Counting human victims, 217 ‘beasts’ over a span of roughly 57 weeks approximately equals 3.8 per week, or one every 1.8 days. It is an impressive claim.
  • “as far as Benefield and Southwick” -For Benefield, see above. Southwick is a small village mentioned briefly in NW. It is about 3 miles southeast of Oundle. The total distance described is not much over five miles.
  • “‘Partners in knitting'” – NW: “Mary Phillips, her Partener in Knitting, […]” If there is a meaning besides the literal, it is obscure.
  • “we cast off curse and charm in endless rows, and purled word into wonder.” – “cast off”, “rows”, and “purled” are all knitting terms.
  • “We had four kinds of Imp” – NW: “[…] Imps, some of a Red Coulour others of a Dun and the third of a black Coulour […]” The white imps seem to be derived from TEC, and will be discussed more below. Moore seems to be aligning these imp varieties with the four humours and the four magical elements, though the colors do not match precisely.
    • “intricate and red, and these had knowledge of both Art and diverse other matters.” – In older symbol-systems, red symbolizes the element of Air, and the force of the intellect.
    • “dun, and shaped like decorated eels […] we could hear each other’s thoughts” – Dun is a grayish-brown color. A more classical symbology would use indigo as the color of Water and communication.
    • “black, with shiny skin wherein was All of things reflected” – Black symbolizes Earth, or physical reality.
      • “the days of falling fire to come” – Possibly a reference to the falling firebombs that twentieth century technology would bring to warfare.
    • “white Imps […] had no purpose save for harm.” – The other elements having been used, this must be Fire, or imagination (traditionally yellow). The association of imagination and murder is hardly traditional, but is a well-trod path within the context of Voice of the Fire.
      • “like ferrets, or perhaps like slender cats with tiny hands like those of aged men, and with something of an old man’s face about their features” – Moore would (following Lovecraft) portray a similar creature as a witch’s familiar in Providence.
  • “they must be given work to do at all times lest they should grow bored with mortal company and take their leave” – TEC: “They further confessed that if the said Imps were not constantly imploy’d to do Mischief they had not their Healths, but when they were imploy’d they were very Healthful and Well.” (It is unclear whether “they” refers to the imps or the witches.)
  • “little buttons” – Clitorises.
  • “Billy Boss and Jacky Southwel, Constables” – TEC: “William Boss and John Southwel […] being Constables of the said Town”
  • “very amazed, as if they had not seen such things before” – While this detail is not found in Moore’s primary sources, it is sadly plausible; in many cultures, knowledge of the clitoris has been sadly lacking, especially among men.
  • “they said they were like teats” – Possibly meant to suggest an explanation for the myth that witches had a third nipple, which they would suckle their familiars at.
  • “Shagfoals” – See notes in chapter one.
  • “We sent a pair of them to Bessy Evans […] they prayed together that the creatures might be banished.” – The name appears to be Moore’s invention, but most of the rest of the episode is found in TEC:

    Another Evidence made Oath that Ellin0r Shaw and Mary Phillips being one day at her house they told her she was a Fool to live so Miserable as she did, and therefore if she was willing, they would send some thing that Night which would Relieve her, and being an ignorant Woman she consented ; and accordingly the same Night two little black Things, almost like Moles came into her bed and sucked her lower Parts, repeating the same for two or three Nights after, till she was almost frightened out of her Sences insomuch that she was forced to send for Mr Danks the Minister, to pray by her several nights before the said Imps would leave her

  • “muffins in the oven” – Slang for being pregnant.
  • croup” – An illness, usually in children, featuring a hoarse cough and difficulty breathing.
  • scripts” – Prescriptions; in this sense, magic charms. The shorter form also serves to remind the reader of the connection between language and magic.
  • “Old Mother Wise […] would not sell us buttermilk” – TEC: “she heard the said Prisoners say that they would be Revenged on Mrs. Wise because she would not give them some Buttermilk.”
  • “perhaps the Ireland boy” – See below.
  • “Bob Wise” – This person appears to be Moore’s invention.
  • Plough Day” – An agricultural holiday in early January.
  • “costume of the Witch Man”
    A Plough Witch in 2014

    – A similar set of customs is still observed. The description Moore gives is clearly meant to evoke Hob from chapter one, suggesting that echoes of his shamanic tradition yet remain.

  • “wearing horns because his wife was in the hay with someone else” – To wear horns is, among other things, a traditional symbol of being a cuckold.
  • “all the times I’d walked between the stalls at Oundle Market with their shrieks and jibes still ringing in my burning ears and me too scared and full of rage to answer back” – This is reminiscent of the first chapter of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (a book which has more than a little to say about the practice of witchcraft).
  • “Suck-My-Thumb, or […] Jelerasta” – These names appear to be Moore’s inventions, but are consistent with other names given to witch’s familiars of the period.
  • “Rose of Light” – See note for “Rose of Power”, above.
  • “hedge-pig” – AKA hedgehog, a small spiny mammal.
  • bodkin” – In this context, a hairpin.
  • “Widow Peak came by […] New Year’s Eve […] clock chimed for midnight […] ‘See there, the witch […] shortly after midnight died of it” – TEC:

    The first Evidence against them was one Widdow Peak, who deposed that she with two other Women, undertook to Watch the same Prisoners after they had been Apprehended ; and that about Midnight there appeared in the Room a little white Thing about the Bigness of a Cat, which sat upon Mary Philips’ Lap, at which time she heard her, the said Mary Phillips say, then pointing to Ellinor Shaw, that she was the Witch that Killed Mrs. Wise by Roasting her Effiges in Wax, sticking it full of Pinns, and till it was all wasted, and all this she affirm’d was done the same Night Mrs. Wise Dyed in a sad and languishing Condition. Mrs. Evans deposed that when Mrs. Wise was taken Ill, that she saw Ellinor Shaw look out at the Window (it being opposite to her House) at Which time she heard her say, ‘I have done her Business now I am sure ; this Night Ill send the old Devil a New Year’s Gift (next day being New years Day), and well knowing this Ellinor Shaw to be a reputed Witch, was so much concern’d at her Words that she went then to see how Mrs. Wise did, Where she found her Tormented with such Pains, as exceeding those of a woman in Travel, which Encreased to such a terrible Degree that she Expired about 12 of the clock […]

    • The above seems to state that Mrs. Peak heard Mary Phillips’ unwise statement, not (as Moore states) on the night Mrs. Wise died, but after the arrest.
  • “little Charlie Ireland […] a little prior to Christmas […] worry at the boy’s insides […] utter noises like a dog […] stone jar […] confessed our crime […] killed Charles Ireland” – TEC:

    Mrs. Todd of Southwick deposed that Charles Ireland being a Boy of about 12 years of Age, was taken with Strange Fitts about Christmas last, continuing so by Intervals till Twelf Day last, at which time he Barked like a Dogg, and when he was Recovered and come to himself, he would Distinctly describe Ellinor Shaw and Mary Phillips, affirming them two to be the Authors of his Misfortunes, though he never saw them in his Life ; so that Mrs. Ireland, the Boy’s mother, was advised to Cork up some of his Water in a stone Bottle filled full of Pins and Needles, and to Bury it under the Fire Hearth ; which being done accordingly, the two said Witches could not be quiet till they came to the same House and desired to have the said Bottle taken up, which was not granted, till they had confessed the Matter, and promised never to do so again ; but for all this the Next night but one, the said Boy was so violently Handled, that he Dyed in two Hours time […]

    • “who I think we killed the week before” – This seems incorrect, as the boy survived at least until “Twelf Day”, January 6, about a week after the New Years Eve death of Mrs. Wise.
    • “That night […] Jelerasta killed Charles Ireland” – Again, the continuity doesn’t quite match the source. TEC claims that the boy died “the Next night but one“.
  • “Imps will stray or become snappish if they are not ever in employ” – See note above for “they must be given work to do”.
  • “kill the Gorham child” – TEC says very little about this: “The said Witches were Try’d a third time for Bewitching to Death Elizabeth Gorham of Glapthorpe on the 10th of February last […]”
  • “strike the Widow Broughton lame” – TEC actually claims that they struck the daughter of the widow lame:

    […] they had Kill’d a Horse and two Cows of one Widow Broughton because she deny’d them some Pea-cods last year, for which they had also struck her Daughter with Lameness, which would never be cured as long as either of them Lib’d, and accordingly she had continued so ever since.

  • “strike down John Webb’s carthorse when he said that we were witches” – TEC says there were two horses:

    […] they sent four of their Imps to kill two Horses of one John Webb of the said Town of Glapthorpe, because he openly said they were Witches ; and accordingly the Horses were found dead in a Pond the same day […]

  • “we readily confessed […] all our deeds, both real and otherwise” – TEC: “[…] threatning them with Death if they did not Confess ; after some little Whineing and Hanging about one another’s Necks they both made this Confession […]” There follow the accounts quoted above of the various crimes which Shaw’s narration claims they did not do, and which even TEC says that they later denied during the trial.
  • “Laxon and his wife […] Devil had deserted us […] Angel Tongue […] smock began to rise […] she was a liar.” – NW:

    […] one Day Mr. Laxon and his Wife coming by the Prison, had the Curiosity to look through the Grates, and seeing of Ellinor Shaw, told her, that now the Devil had left her in the Lurch as he had done the rest of his Servants ; upon which the said Ellinor, was observ’d to Mutter strangely to her-self in an unknown Language for about two Minutes, at the end of which Mr. Laxon’s Wifes Cloaths were all turn’d over her Head, Smock and all in a most strange manner, and stood so exposing her Nakedness to the People, notwithstanding all the Endeavours her Husband could use to keep her Cloathes in order, at which the said Ellinor having Laughed Heartily, and told her She had prov’d her Lyer ; her Cloaths began to come to their right order again […]

    • “Angel Tongue” – Recalls John Dee’s Enochian language from chapter eight, not coincidentally titled “Angel Language”.
  • “Keeper of the Prison […] an hour or more” – NW: “The Keeper of the Prison, having one Day Threatned them with Irons, they by their Spells caused him to Dance almost an Hour Naked in the Yard […]”
    • “the Gorgo and the Mormo” – The association of these names goes back to at least third century Rome, where they are associated with (possibly titles of?) Hecate, goddess of witchcraft. In modern culture, the phrase owes much of its currency to H. P. Lovecraft, who used it in “The Horror at Red Hook”.

Closing Remarks

  • Historian Wallace Notestein argues convincingly that the pamphlets which form the basis for this chapter are forgeries, and that the last witches executed in England were in 1628.
    • Several accused witches were executed in Northamptonshire in 1612.
  • Contrary to popular belief, in England, burning at the stake was not a punishment for witchcraft. While some accused witches were burned, this appears to have been for other crimes, such as killing their husbands. The last woman burned at the stake in England was Catherine Murphy (a counterfeiter) in 1789.
  • Given Moore’s emphasis in this chapter of the value of “that which is not” and the “Idea” of the witches, it is entirely possible that he was aware of the fictional nature of the source material – but found it no less important for all that. Many people have believed in the story of Elinor and Mary (as has much published scholarship), and even more have believed in the notion of burning witches. So, within Ideaspace, these are important events.
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