Saint George and the Witch of Windermere

Witches are popular inhabitants of children’s books. However, like most, perhaps all, historical witches, the Witch of Windermere was not a witch at all, but merely an unlucky woman who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Entertainment was scarce in old England, and it was the popularity of witch burnings that kept the cult going for so long. So when the fishermen of Bowness discovered they were catching fewer fish in the great lake, they found a witch to blame for her misfortune, and her wives received the news with eager anticipation.

George, patron saint and minister for the environment, ran into the situation on his way back from Scotland with his man, Jack. He had the misfortune to be seized by the mob and imprisoned in the accused witch’s cell, where he learned of the ordeal he would face the next day. It turned out that in those places it was customary to test a witch by tying her right thumb to the big toe of her left foot and throwing her into Lake Windermere. If she floated, she was judged to have rejected the holy water and that she was a witch, but if she sank, she was judged innocent.

George searched for a way to ensure that the woman would sink, but it was the intervention of Jack and a pair of fire-breathing monsters that emerged from the lake that finally made their escape possible. One of the incendiary megafauna was a Loch Ness Nellie that George was bringing back from Scotland, but the second creature appeared to be native to the loch and was thought to have been the cause of the fish famine. George petitioned the London government and the fishermen received a weekly allowance until fish stocks recovered. George and Jack set out, in accordance with current legislation, to take the two biological torches back to George’s menagerie in Gloucestershire, where they could do no further harm.

They hadn’t gone far, however, when the Windermere Winnie drifted away during the night and the two monster handlers had to break off their journey to organize a search. They tracked the escapee to a remote farm where they learned the creature had been hatched from an egg and then introduced to the lake. And the person who had perpetrated this crime was none other than the accused witch. So she really had been responsible for the fishermen’s plight, the patron saint and environment minister concluded, but not because she was a witch, just a grumpy green.

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