The stereotype of the witch as an elderly woman with a black cat, a steeple hat and a habit of flying around on a broomstick was gradually formed in the closing decades of the seventeenth century in a period in which belief in witches, or at least the prosecution of them, was in decline. By then the characteristic black hat was no longer part of contemporary fashion, being worn only by the old-fashioned, elderly, poor woman who fitted the image of the marginalised witch. Beliefs in witches, no less than the assumptions made about their modes of dress and transport, were continuously evolving and could differ markedly in different areas of Britain. In England the antecedents of the black cat lay in the assumption that the witch would have an animal familiar, whether a cat, ferret, toad or bumble bee. In Scotland such ideas were absent, and the identification of teats on the witch’s body where such animals had sucked was replaced by searches for the witch’s mark made when she had been nipped by the devil. It was here alone that the full prosecution of a witch required confession of a pact with the devil. Legal requirements encouraged the spread of elite demonological ideas in Scotland, but the law was not always such an effective stimulus for the diffusion of witch beliefs. Most strikingly, Wales witnessed very little prosecution of witches in comparison to England, despite the fact that after the Acts of Union both areas shared the same legal system.
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