The Infamous Alizon Device

The Infamous Alizon Device

Akili Williams, Contributor

Image from historicmysteries.com

On August 19th, 1612, history was forever changed. On that day, a series of witch trials took place in Lancaster, England. They were dubbed “The Pendle Witch Trials”, the most famous witch trials in history. Nowadays, Pendle has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, and numerous British landmarks were inspired by these events. But what few people know is that the most gruesome witch trial that ever took place was caused by the actions of one teenage girl.

A girl named Alizon Device.

No one ever really talks about Alizon. No one talks about the Pendle witches much at all, in fact. They’ll talk about the circumstances surrounding their deaths. They’ll talk about the infamous witch trials, but no one is interested in who the Pendle Witches were. Who were they before they were murderers or liars or schemers? That’s what I intend to tell you.

The trouble is I’m not sure. Turns out being executed in one of the biggest witch trials in history doesn’t mean people care about who you are. But, luckily for us, the trial was recorded in detail by the court’s clerk, Thomas Potts. And, with the help of judges Sir James Altham and Sir Edward Bromley, his account was edited and then published under the title, “The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster”. The Wonderfull Discoverie is the most thorough retelling of a witch trial in history, and it’s how, while we don’t know Alizon directly, we can piece together who she was based on her words and actions.

And shine some light on the Infamous Alizon Device, the girl who doomed her entire family.

~*~

Alizon was a very odd young girl. Everyone in Pendle knew that for sure. She didn’t look particularly strange, not from a first glance, but once you knew her you could tell she…wasn’t quite right.  She was very unassuming—short, quiet, with mousey brown hair and eyes that rarely left her feet. But despite her appearance the townspeople found her presence very discomforting. Her eyes were as wide as dinnerplates, and when she deigned to meet your gaze you were paralyzed by her glassy stare. She never seemed…quite there. It was disturbing. Not to mention the, well, unmentionable things her family was involved with!

Yes, Alizon Device was a very odd girl, and people preferred to keep their distance.

Alizon didn’t mind, however. She knew that everyone looked at her strangely, even her own family, but she tried not to let it bother her too much. No, it was best that she focused her thoughts on other things, like Him.

He was magnificent. She hung onto his every word. He was her everything. Her soulmate. Her lord. No one loved Him like she did.

Her family worshipped Him as well, of course, but they were different. They didn’t truly love Him, they only loved what He could give them! They needed the powers He blessed them with the make ends meet. Alizon’s father and grandfather both died, there was little work available for women, and her brother’s income couldn’t support them all. But Alizon was sure, if they had nothing to gain from it, they’d abandon their worship in an instant. Abandon Him!

Alizon was different. She was a true believer. When she called out for the powers given to her in His name, she felt it in her veins. Her bones. In every breath she took. He was with her always. Every time she opened her eyes, he was there, right at the edge of her vision. Ever so close but always out of her reach. Her lord and savior.

The devil.

Oh yes. He was always with her. A large black dog, hiding in plain sight. A grim. A hellhound. An unholy sign of something more. A sign that only she could see.

His eyes were gaping, pitch black holes, the souls of the damned swimming in their pools. Teeth as sharp as knives stuck out of his snout at all angles, warping His face into an eternal snarl. He was quite large, almost as tall as Alizon and twice as long, and at the end of His body were two forked tails. Her Lord had come to her in the form of one of his sacred beasts. Alizon had never seen anything like it. The only member of her family who had been blessed in a similar way was her mother, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Device was a fearsome witch. She wasn’t the leader of the Device household but she carried herself as if she were. Every breath she took, every word she spoke was done with an air of smug superiority, and she ruled over her children with an iron fist. Her hellhound was just another thing that she used to control them.

Many witches had familiars. Magic creatures that made their magic more powerful and could carry out their will. Elizabeth’s familiar was—for reasons Alizon could not fathom—named Ball. Ball was quite large, and the Device children preferred to stay away from him if they could. He was quite ferocious, almost feral, and the only person he seemed to listen to was Elizabeth.

But, despite the dog’s inherent malevolence, Elizabeth’s blessing paled in comparison to Alizon’s. He was visiting her personally. Exclusively. She was better than all of them! Alizon couldn’t understand why she was being forsaken!

She had nothing. Nothing! She had no friends. No one else understood her allegiance to Him. They didn’t understand what He had done for all of them. Oh, people came to her when they need a cure for boils or a prediction of the future, but they were terrified of her.

And in her family, it was the opposite problem. They had not respect for her. Her brother, James, was “The man of the house” which gave him free reign to act however he wished. And her mother—oh, she was quite the harpy. She was always screaming some order or another. Poor Alizon was always on her feet, stuck with chore after chore after chore! And then there was her grandmother.

Madame Demdike.

She held the entire world in the palm of her hands.

It was awful.

Elizabeth Demdike was a horrid woman. She was feared around the town for her cunning and magical prowess. She could break bones with a flicked of her hand, curse bloodlines with a whisper, and kill with just a twitch of her unseeing, unfeeling eyes.

Even though her grandmother boasted on how she had hoodwinked everyone in town, Alizon suspected that Demdike had a special connection to Him, as well.

Not as special as Alizon’s, obviously.

Madame Demdike had everyone under her thumb, including Alizon. Especially Alizon. But that was about to change. Everything was about to change. You see, she had been too passive. She saw how He favored her and she had gotten too comfortable.  But not anymore.

No. She was done waiting. He didn’t love her because she wasn’t making Him lover her. But she would.

She just needed a pin. Just one pin.

It was expensive, yes, but it wasn’t a luxury. She needed it. Because silver pins could be used for very powerful magic.

Including love magic.

And, okay, maybe bewitching the one who gave her her powers in the first place seemed, quite frankly, ridiculous, but you just don’t get it! It wasn’t about the spell. It was about proving herself. She needed to show Him that she was willing to do anything for Him, that she would fight for Him.

Alizon never really fought for anything before. Never felt the urge to change the life that she was living. She had a decent path set up for her. She was learning the family trade, slowly gaining abilities that others would never come close to attaining. A witch’s life is the life of a criminal—an outcast, but it was also a powerful life. And yes, it was lonely, but Alizon wanted power. She wanted what her Grandmother had.

She wanted to make people tense just from walking into the room, to quell people with just one sightless glance. She wanted people to bend over backwards to appease her because they all knew that she could curse them with total impunity. She wanted to be the one in control of the family. The one in control of Pendle.  And she would be, when the two women who held power over her were dead. Alizon never wanted to fight for the power she craved. Instead, she preferred to wait patiently.

But then He came to her, and she became tired of waiting. No one else in her family was so important to the Dark Lord. No one else was accompanied by Him everywhere. All day and all night the Devil was by her side. That was clearly a sign that Alizon was meant for greater things. She thought that He was going to give it to her, but it turned out that she would have to take it.

So, on March 21st, 1612, Alizon Device made the decision that indirectly caused the death of herself and all her loved ones.

FsImage from medium.com

~*~

John Law was a simple man—just a peddler from Halifax, a nearby merchant town. There wasn’t much prestige in his work, and, quite frankly, her was far too old to be on his feet all day like her was. But it was honest work.

He was heading home, his body aching, trying his best to stick to the dirt path cutting through the forest. He was struggling to climb up a meager hill when he ran into the Device girl. He had seen young Alizon around town plenty of times. Her grandmother was quite famous, after all. What surprised him, though, was the look in her eyes as she walked towards him. The grim determination contrasting her wide smile. He quickly tore his eyes from her and kept on walking.

He’d never admit it, but he was quite frightened of her. She was a witch, after all, and regardless of how common witches were nowadays, it was only natural to be frightened of someone who signed their soul away to the devil!

“Good evening, good sir!” she cried, following swiftly behind him. “If it isn’t too much trouble, I have a favor to ask.”

John frowned, and began walking faster, as fast as his weak legs could take him. He didn’t know much about witches, but he knew not to get involved with one. It was one thing purchase elixirs or boil creams—once the transaction is complete, the interaction was over. But one favor could a woman of the night ask of him? Did she want him to participate in some—some—dark ritual?

“Mr. Law?”

John grunted in acknowledgement.

“I’m in desperate need of a metal pin.”

John stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes widening in indignation and his eyebrows disappearing into his cap. His frown warped into a scowl and his face began to flush. His suspicions were correct! She did want to involve him in a dark ritual! Pins were used for love spells! Who was she planning on enchanting? Did she intend to make him some accomplice? And pins were quite expensive, besides! Where did she get off, asking him to just give her one!

“No.” he said, turning back to her in anger and looking her dead in the eyes.

She gaped at him, her cheeks slowly flushing red from indignation. “And why not!” she spat.

“My workday is over. I don’t want to unload my parcel for such a small purchase!”

“You must! It is of upmost importance. I doubt you’re so needed at home, either.”

John shook his head. Getting quite irritated now. This petulant child was a member of the Demdike clan? “You don’t even plan to pay! Why should I go out of my way? I do not know you!”

“After all my family has done for this town—”

“You mean all your Grandmother has done.” He was no longer scared. He was annoyed. Devil worshipper or not, this girl had no right to speak to him this way. He turned back, stomping away as fast as his frail body would let him. “Begone, girl. If you are in such need of a pin, you would pay for it.”

And then the world went dark.

 

~*~

 

Alizon glared as Mr. Law walked away. How dare he? This was so much more important than him. Than anyone! He had no right to refuse her, let alone so rudely! That pin was more important than his entire life! She’d kill him for that pin if that were what it took! She would! She would! How else was she going to make Him love her? How else would she prove that she loved Him? How—

“There is another way.”

It couldn’t be. Alizon turned towards the voice, her body shaking.

It was Him.

He wasn’t in his true form, but Alizon didn’t think he’d be, when she imagined seeing him for the first time. No, instead he was in his dog form, on all fours, looking up at her with big, black eyes.

“There is another way to prove your love to me.”

She shank to her knees, “How?” she gasped.

“Prove your anger. Prove how much you wanted this. Curse him.”

Curse him? Was that all it would take? Surely not…but she wouldn’t disobey Him. She needed to earn his favor. His love. Alizon was never very proficient with spells. She had a much easier time preforming rituals or creating potions. This would have to come from herself and herself alone.

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “My Lord,” she whispered, breathy and laced with uneasiness. “I call on you, and the gifts you have blessed me with.” She focused on Law, glaring at him with as much intensity as she could muster. “I call on my fellow mortal servants, my brothers and sisters in worship. I call on the moon, and all the dark creatures it brings forth. I channel hellfire, brimstone, and every damned soul in Tartarus.

“With the power I have been given, I curse this man. May his bones break. May his spirit ache. May his skin blister and bleed. May his suffering lack speed. I beg you to torture him like the worst of sinners. So, mote it be.” She finished, her breath heavy. It was a standard incantation; her mother had taught it to her. It wasn’t made to kill, but she knew that it would cause Mr. Law a great deal of pain.

He continued to walk, however, and for a second, she was afraid that the spell hadn’t worked. Magic could be quite finicky at the best of times, and spells weren’t exactly her strong suit. But then, just as he began walking down the hill, he stumbled and fell. Alizon felt elated as she watched him tumble, her stomach full of butterflies. She had done it! Her grin was so large it split her face in half. For the first time in a long while, Alizon felt like everything would be okay. Like she was finally going to get what she deserved.

Until he started screaming.

It was the most awful thing Alizon had ever heard. Her face became sheet white, her blood curdled, and her ears began to ring. She ran over to the hillside, staring at him in horror. She had never actually seen the affects of the spell, and at that moment she was grateful for it. He looked frightful, although his body was partly covered by his large pack.

His limbs had been twisted at unnatural angles, twitching rapidly, and his eyes were bulging as if they were about to explode. The grass underneath him was stained by his dark, viscous blood, and his mouth was opened in an everlasting scream.

Her stomach heavy with bile, Alizon rushed down to help him. She didn’t want this to happen. She never wanted to be this kind of person. She just—she just wanted to be like Madame! She just wanted what she had–!

“And that is what you have been given.”

She froze, stumbling forward in her haste, and spun around, but she saw nothing—not even Him.

“This is the power you wanted.”

“I never wanted this!” She cried, looking around in a panic.

“Yes, you did,” He whispered, His voice sounding so close it felt like he spoke directly into her ear. “You wanted what your Grandmother has. This is what she has.”

“No! I never wanted this. I…I just—” She covered her ears, her fingernails digging into her skin. She wouldn’t listen to anymore of this. She couldn’t.

But He wasn’t done. “YES, YOU DID. How did you think your family has so much influence? They hurtpeople. They always have—”

“No—”

“Just because you’re too naïve to see it—”

Stop!

“Doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. It doesn’t mean it isn’t what you truly want.”

Screaming in frustration, Alizon tore her hands away from her head and stumbled over to Mr. Law. She needed to fix this. To help him.  Clouds swirled overhead and the sky darkened. Lifting his shaking body into her arms, she knew that she had made a terrible mistake. She knew that she had caused everlasting harm.

Image from britannica.com

~*~

On March 30th, 1612, Alizon’s worst fear was confirmed. Her entire family was summoned before the justice of peace, Roger Nowell. Nowell was a terrifying man. Obsessed with status and gaining favor, he was often quick and ruthless in charging people with crimes. In questioning his suspects, he was even more so. Which is why when the Demdike family was brought in for questioning Madame Demdike only had one thing to say—

“Don’t do anything to jeopardize the business.” Quick and cold, with her eyebrow quirked in that way that was somehow both threatening and completely uninterested. They all nodded, sweat dripping from their brows, and little Jennet took Madame’s hands in her own, leading her solemnly to the courthouse. She likely wouldn’t be questioned—she was only nine years old, far too young to testify, but she accompanied them anyway, to act as Madame’s guide. They had done her a great service by taking her in in, as she was not their kin. She was the daughter of her father’s mistress, a dark stain on his legacy. They didn’t want her, but they took her in anyway, and raised her to be a fine witches’ assistant.

Everyone’s testimony was as barebones as possible. They all confessed to witchcraft—they were witches, after all—but none confessed to causing any harm. Harming someone through witchcraft resulted in the death penalty, but witchcraft—while still illegal—carried a much lighter sentence.

When it was her turn, Alizon followed Nowell into the interrogation room, prepared to do the same. She was horrified with herself after what happened with poor old Mr. Law, but she—she didn’t want to die.

But the room was not what she had expected. It’s not like she expected comfort or anything, but it looked absolutely depraved. It was dark and the only light was a single candle, it’s flames constantly flickering, occasionally shining light on the metal tools hanging on the walls. Chains, hammers, spears—what was he planning on doing to her? The candle rested on a wooden table in the center of the room with exactly two chairs next to it, directly across from one another.

As he led her into the room, Nowell pulled one of the chairs back with a sharp motion and gestured to it. “Sit.” He said, not once looking back at her.

She did as she was told.

The chair was distinctly uncomfortable. The legs were uneven, and no matter how much she shifted, she couldn’t get it to stay still. The wood was cracked and uneven, its tiny imperfections poking at her, even through her dress. The back was tilted slightly, forcing her to lean back at an uncomfortable angle…it was clearly designed to make someone miserable.

Internally, Alizon scoffed. A chair? Really? He couldn’t possibly think that being slightly uncomfortable would push her to confess, did he? Honestly, this entire room was quite ridiculous. No light, sharp weapons, he was clearly trying to intimidate her into confessing! Breathing in deep, Alizon vowed not to let that happen.

But then he opened his eyes.

They were a piercing grey—so piercing that they almost looked white. As he looked at her, it felt like hot rods were stabbing at her soul in a desperate effort to yank it out of her mouth. He didn’t say anything for a long time, preferring instead to stare intently at her, his hands steepled underneath his chin. The candlelight flickered on and off haphazardly, illuminating his face in the most menacing of ways.

At that moment, Roger Nowell looked more like the devil than He ever did.

“Ms. Device,” he said, his voice soft and yet harsher than a barbed whip, tearing through the silence of the room. “I trust you understand why you are here.”

Okay. She could do this. “Yes. My family and I are the resident witches in Pendle Hill.”

“Indeed.” He raised an eyebrow. “And you are just okay with flouting the law so blatantly?”

Alizon raised her chin defiantly. “It’s not as if we’re hurting anyone! As a matter of fact, my family has done a whole lot of good for this town! Well, more than you, anyway.” She added quite snidely, if not stupidly.

Nowell only grinned in response. It wasn’t a happy grin per say, but it was a satisfied grin. Satisfied and cold. “Yes, I can imagine,” he set his hands down unto the table with such force that Alizon almost jumped out of her skin. “After all, if one was gifted with life altering powers, why waste them?”

He turned towards her at this, his grin turning amused. “And, of course, it couldn’t hurt that your, um, family business was quite profitable, I’m sure.”

How dare he! Flushing in indignation, Alizon opened her mouth, fully prepared to defend the honor of herself and her family, but before she could, Nowell spoke again. “But no matter how…sweet you and your lot are, one has to wonder where these so-called gifts come from. Who could give a mere mortal the ability to cure terminal illnesses, speak to ghost or look into the future? If you could tell me, Alice dear, who, exactly, gave you your…’magic’?”

She pursed her lips. She knew what he wanted her to say—what he wanted her to feel. And although she had to confess to witchcraft, she refused to be ashamed of Her Lord. Yes, He had led her astray as of late, but he had also done so much for her!

As she spat out Her Lord’s name, his grin became almost feral. “Yes.” He whispered. “You served the Dark Lord, didn’t you?” He went back to the table and slammed his hands down in unbridled fury. “You bought debauchery and devil worship into our province! Into our homes! You have tricked the sick and elderly into corrupting their souls with false promises of health and healing!

“You spit in the face of our kingdom! Our entire empire, by rejecting our religion! By rejecting our values—by rejecting who we are! You pledged yourself to a Lord who would only revel in the destruction of this great land, and then you have the audacity to claim that you have helped people!” He said, ending in a ground shaking scream before jerking his chair back violently and slamming himself down on it, burying his head in his hands.

Alizon stayed completely silent through it all. He was wrong. Her Lord was good! Her Lord was true! This entire debacle was entirely her fault, not His, because she believed that He owed her something. Owed her love. Owed her power. It wasn’t His fault that she was foolish.

“So forgive me,” the grin was ever so slowly coming back. “If I find it hard to believe that you have never caused anyone harm.”

“I don’t care what you believe.” Alizon glared. “That’s the truth. I’m not going to admit to something I never did to sate your ego.”

“You cannot be so naïve as to think that this is only about my ego. You did just confess to devil worship did you not?”

“Yes, but it is ego, ego and prejudice, that makes you insist that because I am a witch, I must have caused harm. My family and I may have broken the law, but we’re not murderers!”

Nowell’s eyes narrowed in a distinctly calculating way and his grin seemed to expand even more, as impossible as that seemed, until it practically took up his entire face. He hummed condescendingly, leaning back in his chair. “Well, Alizon Device…it seems I’ve misjudged you. Either you’re a spectacular liar or very ignorant, even for your age.”

Nowell sighed deeply, carding his fingers through his thinning hair, as if Alizon’s continued presence was exhausting him. Slowly, that god-forsaken grin came back. “Look, Alizon. I’ll give you one last chance. Confess to any and every instance that you used witchcraft to harm another human being, and I’ll put in a good word for you.” His eyes danced, as if he had said something hilarious. “You’ll be executed, of course, but I’ll make sure your holding cell is quite comfortable.”

Alizon remained silent.

His face fell. “Very well, then. Since you, apparently, have nothing to confess, would you care to tell me why your brother accused you of bewitching a local child?”

~*~

Alizon was in shock. Terrible, terrible shock. She couldn’t move—she could hardly see right in front of her! Everything seemed clouded with some sort of haze. She shifted uncomfortably; the chains wrapped around her wrist making every movement a challenge. Alizon let herself sag against the wall, both so utterly exhausted that she could barely keep her eyes open and so, so awake. Her back was aching from keeping herself up, but she couldn’t bear to let herself rest on the cold, damp ground. Just the slightest touch was like being stabbed with a thousand icicles.

She couldn’t understand how she had been so foolish. She had placed her trust in all the wrong people. She went to Him in a desperate attempt to gain the respect that was denied to her by her family, and now she was even more powerless than before, shackled to the wall like beast. And then her own brother threw her to the wolves! He sentenced her to death! Did he not care? Did he loathe her so much, he would happily send her to die?

Alizon shivered with tears. She had no energy left to shake. The tears only made the chill settle deeper into her bones.

Alizon had never felt more alone than in that moment.

~*~

“Illustration of the Pendle Witch Trials” from historynaked.com

 

The light outside was almost blinding. She couldn’t see where was going but they wouldn’t let her stop moving. The guards dragged the chains binding her arms forward, leaving her to tumble behind them, her legs aching all the way. Every time she tried to rest, they’d bark at her and force her to keep walking.

What had she done? She wasn’t stupid, she knew that everyone tried today would be found guilty and executed. And for what? For her petty delusions of grandeur? For her lust for power? She was utterly pathetic. And now her entire family was going to die.

Warm tears ran down her cheeks, her throat burning like it never had before.

All the prisoners were escorted out to the courtroom, lined up in a neat row. Still shackled to one another, they were pushed to the back of the room, forced to watch as each and every one of them were sentenced to death as they waited for their turn to die.

While before, she felt too cold, she now felt boiling. All the eyes in the room were turned to them, their gazes burning her like hot coals. She looked down, her eyes filling with tears, and refused to meet anyone’s gaze. This was utterly humiliating. What was the point of showing them off like this right before they died? What was the point of making fools of them all? She couldn’t handle this. The guilt was eating away at her, driving her completely insane. How could everything have turned out this way?

Alizon stayed silent during it all, her eyes glued to her feet through all the introductions and opening statements, and she dug her fingers into her arms to distract herself  from her guilt. She tried gallantly to stay standing through it all. She both dreaded and wished for her trial, wanting desperately to be returned to her cell and for all of this madness to end! Nothing could possibly be worse than this! She thought.

Unfortunately, she was quite wrong, because just then, Elizabeth Device (the younger) was put on trial.

Alizon’s mother.

It’s not that they were particularly close, Elizabeth was never the most pleasant woman, but…she was family. Alizon never wanted her to die! She couldn’t help but stare at the husk of the woman she had known so closely. She wondered what her mother thought about her now. She wondered if anyone had told her about what Alizon had done. About how she had started all of this.

It was a sickening feeling, sentencing your own mother to death, but the idea of her knowing that made Alizon feel like choking on her own vomit. She raised her eyes from her feet so that she could gaze at her mother. Alizon stretched her neck as far as it could go, desperately trying to catch her mother’s