October 25, 2008

Hellish Nell

Filed under: books — Bricoleur @ 7:16 pm

When Hellish Nell claimed to have channeled spirits of the dead (who gave away wartime secrets), she was charged under Witchcraft Act of 1735 (and was in 1944 the last person so convicted) for being the agency through which spirits of deceased persons communicated with living persons.

The book “The Strange Case of Hellish Nell: the story of Helen Duncan and the witch trial of World War II” by Nina Shandler traces the story from start to finish, including why the Public Prosecutor tried her as a witch and not a spy, Churchill’s demand to know what was behind the obsolete tom foolery of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 being used in a modern court of justice, through the appeal to the Supreme Court where the Lord Chief Justice delivered the punch line (9 months in prison was in no way excessive).

You can’t make stuff like this up! This book is a fascinating read – one that gives pause and brings to mind why old laws of “no possible use” should be taken off the books least they be used in unreasonable ways by minions of the state.


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