The supernatural has always played an important role in the background of the city of Winchester. There are tales of spectral monks at Winchester Cathedral and phantom horses in the Cathedral close, as well as stories of the Eclipse Inn, where Dame Alice Lisle, condemned by ‘The Hanging Judge’ Jefferies, still walks. But perhaps it should come as no surprise, once one becomes aware of the city’s wealth of history, to hear that ghosts are said to haunt almost every inch of Winchester within the old city walls. Perhaps the strangest ghostly account of Winchester concerns the statue at the heart of the city known as The Buttercross.
Most people know Anne Rice best from her famous series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, in particular Interview with the Vampire (possibly because of the awful nineties film starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt). Lesser known, but in my view at least as great an achievement, is her witch saga The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, which begins with Witching Hour. The first novel of the series introduces us to Michael Curry, a man with psychic gifts, who falls in love with the witch Rowan Mayfair and is drawn into the exotic and dangerous world of her family, who have been gifted (or cursed) with demon-inspired powers for centuries. It is important to emphasise this history because Witching Hour is simply majestic in the sweep of time and space that it covers – from 17th century Scotland to the present day and from the Old World to the New. Basically the idea behind the saga of the Mayfair Witches is that their powers did not develop naturally but were the gift of the insidious and enigmatic figure known as Lasher, whose precise origin is never entirely explained – he may be a spirit, demon, fallen angel or demi-god. How the witches got their powers and how Michael and Rowan fit into the whole thing is a LONG story (about 1200 pages long in this book alone!).