Shipton, Mother (1488—1558) - Witchcraft Hall of Fame

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Shipton, Mother (1488—1558)
Witchcraft Hall of Fame

Mother Shipton was a renowned English witch and prophetess. Details of her life are hazy, and alternative birth and death dates are suggested (1448 and 1518 respectively). Her maiden name is usually given as Ursula Southeil or Sonthiel.

One legend suggests she was born in a cave near the River Nidd in Yorkshire. The cave is now a memorial for Mother Shipton. Her mother was reputed to be a witch. Some said her father was the devil. Shipton was apparently orphaned at birth, her mother dying during childbirth. Her mother could allegedly heal, hex, foretell the future, and raise storms. Her daughter, raised by a local woman, seems to have inherited the powers.

Mother Shipton’s reputation as a witch began in childhood. She could allegedly move things without touching them. Strange phenomenon occurred: women found themselves dancing in circles, unable to stop because when they tried an imp in the form of a monkey pinched them.

She had a reputation as being “ugly” and is sometimes described as “deformed” although few details are offered. She allegedly cast spells over those who mocked her appearance. Her familiar was a black dog who accompanied her everywhere.

She married Toby Shipton, a carpenter, in 1512. It was rumored that she had bewitched him with a love potion because of her lack of looks. By the time of her marriage, she was already famous for her prophecies. They lived in the village of Skipton in North Yorkshire.

Although she was feared, she was also very much in demand because of the accuracy of her prophecies. People traveled from great distances to consult with her and request her advice.

According to legend, Mother Shipton was summoned to court for taking revenge on prying neighbors. She had bewitched them at a breakfast party; the guests fell into fits of hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. They ran out of the house pursued by what were described as goblins. Mother Shipton allegedly threatened the court that she’d do worse if prosecuted. She allegedly then said, “Up draxi, call Stygician Helleuei.” A dragon appeared and she soared off on its back.

The most famous legend regarding Mother Shipton is that she predicted Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, would never reach York. The cardinal had sent three lords incognito to check up on Mother Shipton. She knew them for who they were immediately and told them to deliver a message to Wolsey: he would see but never arrive in York. Their response was that when Wolsey reached York, he’d see Mother Shipton burned as a witch. Shipton tossed her handkerchief into the fire, saying that if it burned so would she. Allegedly the handkerchief did not burn.

Her prophecy regarding Wolsey proved accurate. He arrived at Cawood, eight miles from York, close enough to view York from the top of the castle tower. While there, he received a message saying that the king wished to see him immediately. Wolsey turned back towards London but became sick and died in Leicester.

Mother Shipton gave her prophesies in rhyme. She predicted the automobile (“Carriages without horses shall go”) and e-mail and the Internet (“Around the world thoughts shall fly, in the twinkling of an eye”) and the California Gold Rush (“Gold shall be found and found, In a land that is not known”). Not all her prophesies were accurate, however—she predicted the world would end in 1881.

In 1684, Richard Head wrote a book detailing her life and prophesies.