A fascination with the occult and a belief in the supernatural might jar with the perfect certainty of our modern way of living and while we may still complain of ‘gremlins’ in the system and ‘bugs’ - the apocryphal ‘ghost in the machine’ - humans have always had a tendency to lean on age-old myth.
Indeed, our fascination (and in some cases obsession) with the other-worldly, is not so distant as it might seem.
In August of 1970, a Leeds woman reported she had been contacted by a deceased witch by the name of Mary Panel, whom it was reported was a good witch, dealing mainly in medicines but who was put to death all the same.
Records revealed Mary Panel was condemned at York in the 17th century for “bewitching” the Master of Ledston Hall. near Castleford.
Another infamous case hails from 1803, or thereabouts, and involves the so-called ‘Yorkshire Witch’, Mary Bateman, who dwelt in Leeds at the time.
It was alleged that Mary (born in 1768) poisoned three people who lived in St Peter’s Square in Quarry Hill, Leeds. She was convicted of these crimes and sentenced to hang at Armley Gaol.
The hangman was William “Mutton” Curry, the Yorkshire hangman who had himself been twice convicted of sheep stealing and was reprieved on condition he serve as hangman, which he did.
After her death in 1809, her body was publicly dissected, an event which drew crowds numbering in the thousand.
Her skeleton was on view at the Thackray Medical Museum until about a year ago and in 2001 was visited by Tracy Whitaker from Harrogate, who came face to face with the skeleton of her great great great great great grandmother.