Witches, Familiars and Nursery Rhymes!
Animals like the Cat, Frog, Pig, Raven, Goat, Wolf, Goose, Crow, Bat and Mouse were believed to be the forms adopted by a Witches Familiar (an evil spirit, in animal form, who was used by the witch to perform evil deeds and cast malevolent spells). People were obsessed with witches during the 16th and 17th centuries when there was limited understanding of the cause of devastating events, such as storms, drought and disease. The disasters were believed to be brought about by supernatural forces which resulted in scapegoats (witches) being blamed. A book called the 'Malleus Maleficarum' was published in 1486 as guide used for the torture and persecution of witches - a best selling book of those times, only being out-sold by the Bible! Witchcraft was outlawed in England in 1563 and a Witchcraft Act was passed in 1604. The witchcraft hysteria grew and eventually led to the Parliamentary appointment of Matthew Hopkins as Witchfinder General in 1644. His task was to seek out witches (he was vigorous in his work as he was said to have been paid twenty shillings for each witch he condemned!) During his interrogations he was guided by books like the 'Malleus Maleficarum' which stated that an animal Familiar “always works with the witch in everything”. Many Nursery Rhymes originated in the 16th and 17th centuries and the children of these era's would have been familiar (sorry about the pun!) with stories of witches and witchcraft. Just look at the image of Mother Goose portrayed a witch with her familiar (the goose)! Is it therefore just a coincidence that so many of the Nursery rhymes of the periods featured the Cat, Frog, Pig, Goose, Raven, Goat, Wolf, Bat and Mouse?
The Categories of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes
John Carnan published the first book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes in 1780, although the first known collection of Nursery Rhymes was 'Tommy Thumb's Song book' published in 1744 - Mother Goose Origins. Prior to this date the content of children's poems were passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. There are many theories about the history and origins regarding Mother Goose nursery rhymes but the lyrics and words of the actual poems remain constant. The Mother Goose nursery rhymes content tends to fall into four distinct categories:
The first category of Mother Goose nursery rhymes includes lullabies such as Rock a bye baby
The second type of Mother Goose nursery rhymes was for infant amusement and education where many of the counting and alphabet rhymes originate
The third section of Mother Goose nursery rhymes would include riddles for example As I was going to St. Ives
The fourth, lesser known, category of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes contains the Secret History of the Nursery Rhyme - reflecting the actual historical events and culture of the day and also used to spread subversive messages!
This site contains a massive database of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes which include lyrics, history, origins and pictures to accompany every tale as originally featured by publishers such as John Carnan. For further information about the first publications of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes in England, France and America please click the link to yet another of the nursery rhymes featuring Mother Goose
Cackle, Cackle, Mother Goose
Another Coincidence? In Fairy Tales the voice of a Witch is often described as a Cackle!