Added October 2023

Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Alice drew back from the crackling fire. The jabberings of the insane old crone faded away to a whisper. An incantation? She knew now what she must do. Outside, in the forest, the cries of the search parties grew ever more insistent...

Pendle Hill, Lancashire, 1612. Having trod many varied and dangerous paths, some too maddening and too strange to recall, Alice's long odyssey has led her here. It is a time of great distrust and superstition. Fear of witchcraft burns like fever through the arteries of the land. The merest insinuation of witchery can lead to imprisonment or death.

Painstaking research into arcane lore and forbidden rites has revealed to Alice a way out of her predicament. In a chest, buried deep within a forgotten cave, she unearthed an ancient spellchart containing a homing spell that can return her to her own time.

Live at the Witch Trials

The spell is made up of a combination of twelve possible ingredients:

Note: these unpleasant sounding spell ingredients are apparently historical names for various common herbs and plants, all referenced in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Can you match each ingredient name to its modern-day equivalent?

Some ingredients may need to be added more than once; some maybe not at all; and order is crucial. In her unhinged mutterings, the old crone revealed to Alice that the first ingredient in the spell is adder's fork and the final ingredient is baboon's blood. Any correctly cast spell with these two ingredients first and last will work.

Unfortunately for Alice, her investigations into the occult have not gone unnoticed. Suspicious locals have reported her activities to the authorities. They, in turn, have summoned the dreaded Witchfinder General, Robert McBobert – a distant forefather and startling doppelganger of her old acquaintance Bob – to apprehend her. With the assistance of the local militia, McBobert's net is closing in rapidly and Alice has a matter of minutes to complete the spell that will send her home. Can you help Alice work out which ingredients are required for the homing spell, or will she instead be condemned by McBobert to burn at the stake in the most gruesome manner?

To cast the spell, Alice must toss each ingredient into her cauldron in the correct order, making sure to chant the appropriate magic words as each ingredient is added. There are five possible incantations, one for each of the five elements: water, fire, earth, air and spirit. However, for the spell to work, Alice must first have conjured up the aura corresponding to that element. This aura is needed to power the spell. After summoning, she can maintain one aura in each hand. Each time she utters an incantation on an ingredient, one of her two aurae will dissipate and another will be created by the innate power of the spell.

Note: it is possible for her to hold two manifestations of the same aura, one in each hand.

There are five crystals of elemental power used by witches to initiate their spells; and five of the spell ingredients have a particularly strong affiliation with a particular element:

Element Gemstone Key ingredient
Water Lapis Lazuli Eye of newt
Fire Carnelian Scale of dragon
Earth Malachite Blind-worm's sting
Air Amethyst Owlet's wing
Spirit Topaz Tooth of wolf

Alice has acquired two crystals over the course of her adventures: lapis lazuli and amethyst, meaning she can summon the aurae of water and air to start the spell. The summoning process drains the energy of the crystals, so she must use the power generated by the spell to sustain the required aurae thereafter.

The old crone revealed that the first ingredient in the spell was adder's fork. To use an ingredient, Alice first finds the pentacle corresponding to it in the spellchart. For adder's fork, this is the central pentacle. Its five spokes indicate what happens when each of the five elemental aurae is cast on the ingredient at the heart of the pentacle. The ingredient at the end of each spoke will be the next one needed for the spell when that aura is cast on the central ingredient. At the start of the spell, Alice holds the aurae of water and air in her hands; this means that she can utter a water incantation or an air incantation when she tosses the adder's fork into the cauldron. If she chooses water, the next ingredient in the spell will be gall of goat; if she chooses air, the next ingredient will be tiger's chaudron. Once she has added an ingredient to the cauldron and chosen which aura to cast upon it, she moves on to repeat the same process with the next ingredient indicated by the spellchart.

You are probably wondering how her aurae are replenished once the crystals have been drained of their power. This depends on the spell ingredient that is added to the cauldron. Six of the ingredients' pentacles are drawn within black circles. These ingredients have no strong affiliation with any one of the five elements and so are in balance. Casting an aura here has the effect of replenishing the depleted aura that was used for the incantation. This means that Alice will move onto the next ingredient maintaining the same two aurae she had previously. For example, if Alice starts by casting an aura of water over adder's fork, then she moves on the the pentacle associated with gall of goat. The aura of water gets regenerated by this process, so she arrives at gall of goat with the same two aurae she started with: water and air.

The pentacles for the five special ingredients are drawn within a circle of elemental colour. Casting an aura on one of these ingredients replenishes the cast aura, dissipates the uncast aura (the one being sustained by her other hand) and summons a new aura, of the ingredient's elemental affiliation, to take its place. For example, after arriving at scale of dragon with aurae of earth and spirit, Alice can utter an earth incantation to move on to owlet's wing with aurae of earth and fire; or a spirit incantation to move on to blind-worm's sting with aurae of spirit and fire. Similarly, after arriving at eye of newt with aurae of water and air, Alice has two choices: an air incantation to move to toe of frog with aurae of water and air; or a water incantation to move to wool of bat with two aurae of water (one in each hand).

Alice must find a way to incorporate baboon's blood into her potion if she wants to activate the spell and return home. Can you help her escape from McBobert's nefarious clutches?

* * *

Did you successfully help Alice escape? If so, then very well done! Unfortunately for Alice, her harrowing story doesn't end there...

McBobert approaches the dilapidated old hovel, sword in one hand, crucifix in the other. Daemonic chanting emanates from within. He throws open the door. The room is dominated by a bubbling cauldron, the air around it crackling with incomprehensible energies. In the eye of the maelstrom stands the witch, wearing a mask of cold concentration. In disgust and horror, he raises his sword to strike down the foul creature before it can finish its evil bewitchment. The creature turns, its face contorting and rupturing into a vile mockery of a human smile. Muttering maledictions in some unholy tongue, it tosses something unspeakable into the cauldron and abruptly vanishes in a puff of sulphurous smoke. McBobert's blade slices clean through the empty cowl as it falls to the floor.

As his men continue to search in vain for the enchantress, McBobert kneels before the embers of the fire in lawful prayer, exorcising the evils of this ungodly place. Suddenly, in the ashes, he spots the charred remains of the spellchart and the two glowing gemstones. He blows away the ash from the spellchart. Yes, it's still just about legible. He grimaces in determination. There may yet be a chance to enact God's justice...

In his lifelong pursuit of righteousness, McBobert has learnt a thing or two about witchcraft himself. In particular, he knows that one can use light magic to dispel the dark magic practiced by witches. Light magic spells are cast in almost exactly the same way as dark magic ones. The only difference occurs when using one of the five elementally affiliated ingredients: eye of newt (water), scale of dragon (fire), blind-worm's sting (earth), owlet's wing (air) and tooth of wolf (spirit). When casting with one of these ingredients, light magic consumes the cast aura, preserves the uncast aura and summons a new aura, of the ingredient's elemental affiliation, to take its place. For example, after arriving at scale of dragon with aurae of earth and spirit, McBobert can utter an earth incantation to move on to owlet's wing with aurae of spirit and fire; or a spirit incantation to move on to blind worm's sting with aurae of earth and fire. Notice that the aurae generated by the two elemental incantations are the opposite of what they would be in a dark magic spell.

Once again, the spell begins on adder's fork, ends on baboon's blood, and McBobert's starting aurae are water and air. Can you help McBobert dispel Alice's homing spell and recall her back from the future to be tried and executed at the Lancaster assizes?