Pye What.....Pyewacket!!!
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Who was Pyewacket!!!

I have been trying to find the origin or meaning of my cat's name 'Pyewacket'?

Pyewacket was one of the familiar spirits of a witch detected by the notorious "witch finder general" Matthew Hopkins in March 1644 in his own town of Maningtree, Essex, UK. According to his story, he spied on the witches as they held their meeting close by his house, and heard them mention the name of a local woman. She was arrested and deprived of sleep for four nights, at the end of which she confessed and named her familiars. They were:

  • Holt
  • Jarmara
  • Vinegar Tom
  • Sacke and Sugar
  • Newes
  • Ilemauzer
  • Pyewacket
  • Pecke in the Crowne
  • Griezzel Greedigutt

  • Hopkins says he and nine other witnesses saw the first five of these, which appeared to them in the exact forms described by the witch. Interestingly, only the first of these was a cat; the next two were dogs, and the others were a black rabbit and a polecat. So it's not clear whether Pyewacket was a cat's name or not. Griezzel Greedigutt certainly sounds feline, though.
    As for the meanings, Hopkins says only that they were such that "no mortall could invent," so I assume that the principle is that the names were those invented by the familiar spirits themselves and therefore are meaningful only to them.
    T. S. Eliot's has a similar notion of the naming of cats: in addition to the names that their owners give them, they each give themselves unique names in their own language that express their personalities in a way only dimly understood by homo sapiens. I assume that is why my cat calls himself Ollywolliver even though we named him Edgar and his previous owner called him Bandit. Sadly, we have never been able to train him to bring home milk or butter, even from the local IGA.

    The incident is described (with a frequently reprinted woodcut of the witches and their familiars) in Hopkins's pamphlet "The Discovery of Witches" (1647), which I have in the Scolar Press facsimile reprint titled _Witches and Witch-Hunters_ (E. Ardsley: S.R. Publishers, 1971).

    Hope this clarifies matters somewhat.
    BE Bill Ellis Associate Professor, English and American Studies President, International Society for Contemporary Legend Research Highacres, Penn State University--Hazleton, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 Voicemail: 717-450-3026 FAX: 717-450-3182 Home page:

    ---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 10:16:42 -0400 From: James Serpell Subject: Pyewacket
    Bill Ellis is quite right, of course, about the names of the familiars illustrated on the frontispiece of Matthew Hopkins's "Discoverie of Witches....1647". Pyewacket does not appear in my files because his/her name does not appear in the assize records from 1645, either in Elizabeth Clark's confession, or in the witness depositions of either Hopkins or John Stearne, his confederate. I should have remembered this.

    In the trial records the only names mentioned are 'Holt' (a young white cat), 'Jeremarye' (a sandy-coloured spaniel), Vinegar Tome (in the likeness of a greyhound), and 'Sacke and Sugar' (a black rabbit). In Hopkins's later account of the trial he adds a polecat called 'Newes', and the names of various familiars belonging to divers other women known to Clarke. Here the names 'Ilemauzer', 'Pywacket', 'Peck in the Crown' and 'Griezel Greedigut' appear for the first time. John Stearne, in his account of 1648, only mentions the two dogs, the cat, the rabbit and the polecat/ferret, and only names the spaniel 'Jermarah'. Both these later accounts also add exotic features to the animals that are not mentioned in the trial records. Hopkins describes Jarmara as having no legs, while Stearne says that his legs are no longer than a finger; Hopkins says that Vinegar Tom has a head like and ox, and Stearne says that he has legs like a stag, etc.

    Clearly, we have a case here of evidence being invented after the fact by the the notorious witchfinders as a way of sensationalizing an otherwise fairly mundane description of four or five relatively commonplace pets. James Serpell

    Last updated 1st June 1998