How To Be A Skandilizatrix

Bored? Want to piss off members of your local community – but with style? Take a leaf out of Elena Dalok’s book.

A golden Dalek from BBC TV show Doctor Who.

Artist’s impression of Elena Dalok. (Pic from wikimedia)

Elena Dalok lived in St Mary Abchurch in the City of London and was had up before an ecclesiastical court in 1493 for practice of sorcery and being a slanderer. We don’t know much about her, but we do know that she bragged about her magical powers and she considered pretty scandalous by locals and the church authorities – hence why she appeared before the court. Follow Elena’s seven-step plan and you too can earn her coveted title of “skandilizatrix”:

  1. Firstly, be a severe critic (“anathematizer”) and always transgress from this world’s norms.
  2. Next, say that because you have heaven in this world, you don’t care about the next world which will come from heaven (if that’s even a thing).
  3. Let it be known that everyone you curse dies. (Perhaps prep the ground by “cursing” every member of the community who looks a bit peaky so that you can claim responsibility when the inevitable happens.) You can even claim to have the power to release the chains of hell which hold the dead.
  4. Always act as a diabolical individual and never live in a Godly manner (let your imagination run wild on this one).
  5. Never confess to your priest so that he knows nothing of your spiritual life (or lack thereof).
  6. Acquire a book that contains the secrets of the future. Or at least let on that you have and make up some reason why people can’t see it.
  7. Slightly tricky last one, but learn how to command the rains. When you say rain, it rains. Guaranteed to piss off people who cross you, especially if they’re keen outdoors enthusiasts.
Album cover of "Cloudbusting" by Kate Bush showing the singer and a large trumpet-like machine on a hillside.

Uh, yeah, that’ll do. (Pic from discogs.com)

The context:

The above steps are translated (loosely and colloquially) from the record of Elena’s appearance before the London church courts as found in William Hale’s A Series of Precedents and Proceedings in Criminal Cases Extending from the year 1475 to 1640, Extracted from the Act-Books of Ecclesiastical Courts in the Diocese of London… (London, 1847), pages 36-37. Mr Hale’s editors really didn’t have the knack for a snappy title, did they? This case comes from the corpus I compiled for my MA dissertation into medieval magic trials and popular religion. See my blog post here for an introduction to that project.

Elena was accused of nine “scandalous” points which were unusually recorded by the court scribe as a list, each sentence starting on a new line and beginning “Item…”. This layout is striking as reports of this style were usually straight forward paragraphed narratives or brief notes, and “Item” is more akin to the style of list you find in medieval inventories. I like to imagine that Elena’s hacked off the scribe, or person speaking about her, so much that they’re angrily listing in a very precise manner exactly what she’s done!

I don’t know what happened to Elena. The outcome of her hearing is not included, and I can’t find her elsewhere in the historical record. But do not fear for I doubt she came to a sticky end. 1493 is well before the era of bloodthirsty witch trials in England, and the majority of people I came across who went before the church courts for magic-related cases were allowed to renounce their ways and repent or promise not to reoffend. Forms of penance in England were much less severe than on the Continent too – watch this space for a future post on the subject.

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