The Season of the Witch

Frank E Earp

As I sit at my laptop to write this article it is mid October and fast approaching Halloween, the time we all know there will be witches abroad. So, what do you do if you should meet a witch? By all accounts the best way to keep yourself safe is to give a witch all she asks of you. If you are not prepared to do this, then a simple way to avoid her casting a spell on you is to spit in her face. But only if you think she is looking at you in a funny way, spitting is not polite in our modern society. Perhaps it is best then that you should carry about your person some form of protection. You might wish to wear some kind of charm or magical symbol to ward-off the ‘evil eye’. The best of these is a shiny object like a mirror. This will reflect the spell back at the witch. If you have no charm, then simply put a handful of salt in your pocket, or an iron nail, (witches hate iron). Carrying a small file of mercury mixed with a little salt also works, but remember mercury is extremely poisonous. It’s perhaps best to put your protection in both your pockets as you never know which side of you the witch will come from. What happens then if your protection fails? How do you remove a witches spell? You must seek her out and scratch her hard enough to draw blood! If you do this the witch will instantly release you from her spell.

Don’t ask me how these things work, I’m just a story teller. Work they do, for all of these are tried and trusted methods use by generations of Nottinghamshire folk. Here are some Nottinghamshire folk-stories which tell of encounters with witches. The first of these tells of the consequences of refusing a witch:

Refusing A Witch: In the village where ‘Old Sarah’ lived, every one believed that she was a witch. Weather she was or not I can not say, but Sarah did not mind being called a witch for her neighbours also believed that you should give a witch everything that she asked for. This made life very easy for the old women as you can imagine. Old Sarah never went hungry or thirsty for she could always ask for a crust of bread or a cup of water. There was one farm in the village where the farmers wife had a fine dairy and she would always give Sarah a cup of buttermilk whenever she called. One day the farmer’s son married a girl from Nottingham and brought her home to live at the farm. She soon settled to her new life on the farm and began to learn the art of making butter and cheese in the dairy. But her husband and in-laws had forgotten to tell her about Old Sarah the witch. In the dairy one morning, the farmer’s wife set the girl to churning the butter whilst she went to collect the eggs. It was at this time that Old Sarah called-by for her cup of buttermilk. “We have none to spare today my dear.” said the girl when the old women asked for her usual cup of buttermilk. Sarah went on her way disappointed that she had not quenched her thirst. The farmers wife returned and asked the girl how the butter was coming along. “Very slowly.” said the girl. “It doesn’t seem to want to come”. The morning passed into the afternoon and the girl continued to churn the butter. “I wonder why Old Sarah has not been by for her buttermilk?” said the farmers wife. “There was an old women who asked me for milk this morning.” replied the girl. “But I told her we had none to spare”. “How is the butter coming?” said the farmers wife. “It is still not coming mother.” the girl replied. “Then churn all you like you foolish girl. Old Sarah will not let it come, for you have refused a witch her due.” Had Old Sarah cast her spell, or was the girl no-good at making butter?

The Ugly Cat: There was once a Weaver who lived with his wife and children in a village near Newark. Now the Weaver was a skilled artisan and was very successful. He and his wife were much respected by their neighbours. However, there was one old women, a witch, who was jealous of the Weaver’s success and hated his wife because of it. One day the Weaver’s wife fell ill and was taken to her bed. Had the witch cast a spell on her? By evening she had gotten worst and the Weaver decided that he must go to Newark to seek the advice of a doctor. Before he left he instructed his eldest daughter to sit with her mother and watch over her. Almost as soon as he had gone, the girl heard a scratching at the bedroom door. Thinking that it was her younger sister, she called out “Return to your bed Mary. Things are well”. But no reply came and the scratching became louder. The girl pulled open the door and there, in front of her was a great ugly cat. Quick as a flash the cat rushed past the girl nearly knocking her over. Jumping onto the bed where the Weaver’s wife lay, it scratched the women on her face with its sharp claws. Sick as she was, the woman managed to knock the cat from her bed and onto the floor. It let-out a terrible cry and ran from the room. When the Weaver returned home he was shocked to hear the story of how his wife had been attacked by the cat. Convinced that this was no ordinary feline, he was determined to keep watch less the cat returned. The next evening the Weaver saw the cat enter the house through a broken downstairs window. Try as he might he could not catch the animal and it left the house through the same window. Now the Weaver had a plan. When the cat evening when the cat jumped through the broken window he was waiting. As it landed on the table he trust his scissors at its head, stabbing it in the left cheek. With a thud the cat fell to the floor. Thinking it dead the Weaver picked up the lifeless body and threw it out of the front door. When he went to tell his wife, he was surprised to find her much better. Next morning, the body of the cat was gone and the Weavers wife was well enough to get out of bed. From that day forward the witch carried an ugly scar on her left cheek and no-one in the village, including the Weaver and his family, ever felt themselves to be cursed again.

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Churning The Butter

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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