jump to navigation
  • Witches and Brambles May 9, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    bleeding finger This is a summary borrowed from Owen Davies’ excellent Witchcraft, Magic and Culture.

    In December 1924, Alfred John Matthews, aged forty-three, a small-holder of Clyst St Lawrence, Devon, appeared at the Cullhompton petty sessions for scratching and drawing blood from Ellen Garnsworthy, a middle-aged, married woman of the same village. Matthews had a sow which would not fatten, and suspected it had been ill-wished by Garnsworthy, who lived only two doors away from him. On 21 November, Garnsworthy was on her way to fetch water from the village pump, but as she passed Matthews’s door he took the opportunity to scratch her with a pin, saying ‘perhaps that will teach you to leave other people’s things alone’.

    The Matthews case is interesting for many reasons not least because poor old Matthews seems to have been under the impression that the court would deal with Ellen: presumably the faggots were being piled up outside in his imagination. Instead, he was put away for a month and was taken into custody shouting that they should search Garnsworth’s house! Now consider this record from Scotland in the nineteenth century.

    On Saturday last Donald Ross, fisherman, Hilton of Cadboll, in the parish of Fearn, was tried summarily before Sheriff Taylor, for assaulting a young girl belonging to the same village, under the following circumstances: – It appears that the panel had given or supposed that he had given, reason to the young woman to believe that she held a high place in his affections, but on ceasing to manifest any tender feelings towards her, he became unwell.  He at once attributed his illness to witchcraft on the part of his dulcinea [as you do, Beach], and resolved to prevent any further injury to his health by performing an act which he considered an effective charm against any evil wishes, viz., to cut the lady’s forehead with a sharp instrument. He accordingly went to where the girl was, and, after struggling with her and throwing her down, succeeded in inflicting a scratch on her cheek, which bled pretty freely. She then escaped out of his arms in a state of great alarm, with her clothes torn and her person bruised.

    Donald got off with twenty shillings, frankly a disgrace. Now back to the seventeenth century. This is an account from Somerset in the verdant south. Do you see a pattern emerging?

    My daughter Brodrepp I thanke God, came hither well on Satterday, after the three weeks or more greate torments shee had indured, one whiles in her throate, another tyme at her harte, some tymes in her belly, & at other tymes in her  backe, such strange paines as if shee was thrust with nayles or needles & at two of the clock every morning the torment enforced her to ryse, and found noe ease in any place, on Sunday last was sennight about two of the clocke, she had a violent fit and some tyme dead & about 4 of the clocke shee was assaulted more violently, Her eyes stretcht & swollen out her teeth clench, her lipps onper her chin gathered upp like a button, and her hands & armes turned backward, & legs and armes soe stiff & distorted that they could not been bowed. For an hower shee remayned as dead, and lookt most gastly, but in this fit she softly groaned only once , Alice Knight have made mee guiddy upon they sent for Alice Knight thoe very unwillingy yet came to the house but when she came neare the house she fell a trembling, assoone as she came in she prest to see my daughter and the childe, but instead of that, they after much adoe drewe some bloud from her arme by a bramble & then made her kneele & pray that neyther the divell nor any of his instruments might doe her any more hurte.

    For those who can’t be bothered with the archaic English. Brodrepp falls ill and while in a semi-coma mentions the name of a local woman who supposedly had bewitched her. Poor old Alice Knight is dragged out, in the middle of the night, and cut with some brambles and then forced to pray. What might you ask did the local magistrate do? Was Brodrepp’s father put away for a month or fined a shiny sovereign. Well, actually, Brodrepp’s father was the local magistrate (Robert Hunt), so that tells you all you need to know about the difference between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In any case, back to the common theme, the bleeding. There was a well established belief that bleeding a witch caused a spell to be broken. Where does it come from? And when does it first appear in our records? Drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com We’ve been able to find no twentieth or twenty-first century study. For shame.


    15 May 2013:  Chris from HauntedOhioBooks writes: When you say “We’ve been able to find no twentieth or twenty-first century study.” Do you mean a study of witchcraft and blood? Or do you mean 20th/21st century cases of people hitting “witches” to break a spell? If the latter, NEIGHBORS Charge an Indiana Woman With Witchcraft. Jasper, Ind., June 14. Catherine Ferry, aged 67, an intelligent woman, came here yesterday afternoon badly bruised. She alleged that her neighbors charge her with witchcraft, and that she is held responsible whenever a death occurs in the neighborhood, whether of man or beast. Yesterday a horse owned by a neighbor, became unmanageable. He charged the animal with being bewitched, and assaulted Mrs. Ferry with a black-snake whip, knocking her down and beating and kicking her. The authorities are investigating. Akron [OH] Daily Democrat 14 June 1901: p. 1 WITCHES AFTER HIM Henry Schaeffer, 70, who resides at 408 Lindsay Street, imagines that his neighbors, the family of Mr. Robert Newell, are witches, and that they have him under their spell. He got out yesterday with a big butcher knife and alarmed the people in that vicinity by starting after the evil spirits. Officer Matthews had a good tussle with him, but finally got him into the patrol wagon. He will be watched. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 13 October 1900: p. 15  HAMILTON COUNTY ‘WITCH’S’ WHISKEY SPOILED HER VOICE, WOMAN TELLS COURT She Then Drew Blood From Face to Banish Evil Spirits Which Had Been Called The Husband Is To Blame Scenes of Witchcraft Days Are Enacted in Pottsville Court by Mrs. Short Pottsville, Pa., Nov. 19.  It might have been Salem, Mass., and the time two centuries ago from the character of the testimony in the celebrated “witchcraft” case from Turkey Run, on trial before Judge Koch. Mrs. Katie Short, aged, wrinkled and bent, wearing a hood over her shoulders is alleged to be a “German witch in league with the Evil One,” Mrs. Michaelana Zamowski alleges that Mrs. Short, “from her incantations and sorceries and alliances with the devil,” cast a spell over her so that for a year she lost her voice and was ill otherwise. Mrs. Zamowski was told that if she attacked the allege witch and made her blood flow, the spell would be broken. Accordingly she attacked Mrs. Short as she was walking the streets three months ago and scratched her on the face, and the result was a suit by Mrs. Short for assault and battery. As the testimony showed that Mrs. Zamowski was ordered by her husband to assault Mrs. Short, court ordered the acquittal of the woman, as under the law in Pennsylvania a woman is supposed to be coerced when ordered to commit an unlawful act by her husband, and the latter is responsible for her deeds. The husband was convicted. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 19 November 1914: p. 4 If the former, not really a clue, although this article has some bits about eating blood/witchcraft in the Old Testament: EATING THE BLOOD: SAUL AND THE WITCH OF ENDOR.  Authors: Reis, Pamela Tamarkin Source: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Mar1997, Issue 73, p3. 21p.  Does the association of witchcraft/blood come from Leviticus 19: 26? “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.”  I don’t know if, in the original, the two verses are actually linked contextually or are simply sequential.  And I’m not sure how that could be twisted to mean “drawing blood above the mouth (so the witch doesn’t eat blood) will break the spell.” Or perhaps the drawing of blood is merely meant to symbolically weaken the witch by taking some vital fluid. April, on the other hand, has this to offer: As we all know, and have for eons known, bleeding is not only a sound medical practice, it is also the bodies own way of cleansing a wound. Of course too much bleeding can cause general weakness and apathy bringing about an inability, or at least a disinclination, to protect or standup for one’s self — the self having been drained out as it were. Since magic, spell casting, binding, weaving and other eclectic sorts of witch — not to mean the leaving-out of wizardry — craft are all dependent, in large measure, on sympathetic forces, and since it has been proven time and again that if the sympathy is removed so too is the magic and/or what not, the logical answer then is just that, removal of sympathetic forces. This fact was first discerned, in relation to witches, during episodes of dunking, pressing, burning-at-the-staking and other suchlike, often lethal, ways of finding witchery out. The people, if you will, of the times realized shortly that killing a witch certainly removed her (or him) from the population, but did not always remove, and at times even added to, the curses and/or, shall we say, spells.  It became evident, over time, that if sympathy were removed more gently the results were more acceptable to all involved. Lashing enough to cause a bit of, but not too much, bleeding became the du jour method of solving the curse, spell, etcetera sorts of issues up until and including, this author is told, the better portion of the 18th century.  As we entered the more modern era — with its microscopes and understanding of extremely small wriggly things — it became obvious just how little blood was really needed to diagnose a problem.  And as has so often been the historical case of medicine being bound up with alchemy and alchemy owing it truest heart to witchcraft, less and less blood has been needed to break a spell or the like, as might be the case.  Of course, as is clear from your examples, more blood than is necessary is at times let, in which cases the bleeder, rather than the bled, receives such punishment, in our moderning days, as is deemed commensurate with the crime at hand.  Today, wee amounts of bloodletting are deemed, in the standard “western view,” as being no crime at all.  The term “western view” being set off here due to its less messy sense of justice than, say, the “east by southeasterly view” of things and so on.  As to the when of the historical recording of your last question, alas, I confess to being impuissant on this point. Thanks April and Chris

    31 May 2013: KR writes here: re scratching witches with thorns. This folklore might have a lot to do with scratching a witch with a “witch-thorn” and the practice is likely due to jumble of old half-recalled lore. On this link, scroll down to “Folklore and Myth” for some folklore connecting thorns with witches and fairies.  The thorn is still a favorite as a “walking-stick” due to its mythic associations, bringing thorns and magic from ancient times into present. Interesting how certain folklore just keeps going on and on through vast ages of time, starting in times when literacy was rare amongst the general population.  I forgot also to mention the association with the thorn-crown of Christ, which might cause people to think that a “holy thorn” from the plant which gave that crown, might counteract the “unholiness” believed to be associated with a witch’s spirits or powers. As the thorn brought forth the blood of Christ, it became holy by that blood: thus, by bringing forth the witch’s blood, it might eliminate her unholiness, or at least the power behind it… This is just a logical guess of mine, not associated with a written source I know about, although there might be such: never do I assume that my ideas have not been thought before.  As to how these things stay in the folk-lore: I write once more on this subject with a little true tale from only six years ago. I was having a path cleared through a small wood and laid with gravel. When the workmen started to cut a scraggly thorn bush, I blurted “Oh, try not to cut down thorn bushes, it’s said to be bad luck.”  Now, I hadn’t really thought before speaking which is unusual for me: I think BEFORE I speak. Undoubtedly I had got this lore from something or other I had read, probably in an old herb-book: it wasn’t, (at least, I don’t think it was) passed on to me by family. It popped into my head and into my speech almost simultaneously. I wasn’t particularly embarrassed by it, but I remember thinking, “Now what made me say THAT?” The workmen, no doubt, thought I was a nut-case or else a witch, but I would be willing to bet they still pass the “lore” along. If you could only have seen the looks on their faces, you would know it made an impression. I hope their luck didn’t change for worse thereafter, the impression thereby reinforced, and their tales all the scarier. As for me, I can only hope witch-burning does not come back into fashion: I don’t think I am one, but they might…’ Southern Man writes in, meanwhile: ‘it is interesting but in lots of sources it is written that it is not enough to draw a witch’s blood but that the cut has to be above the mouth. Is this a symbolic mutilation or shaming?’ Thanks KR and SM!

    22 Dec 2013: Jill sends in this report from 1871: At Wincanton, in Somersetshire, the magistrates have had before them a charge arising out of the belief witchcraft which still prevails in that county. Ann Green accused a labourer named William assaulting her. It appeared that the defendant had long laboured under the delusion that he was ‘overlooked’ by the complainant, and order to break the spell he stabbed her twice. The sleeves of the garments which were worn by the complainant in court, saturated with blood. Tho prisoner gravely informed the bench that he did it to destroy Mrs. Green’s power over him, but that he had not yet found any relief. The prisoner’s mother said she had not been able to rest for a fortnight past, as he was constantly saying that Mrs. Green was ‘overlooking’ him, and that it would kill him. He was ordered to find sureties, to be imprisoned for three weeks. Essex Newsman – Saturday 01 July 1871, 4. Thanks Jill!

    25 Jan 2014: Jill again: ‘On the farm of K–, in the parish of P- , Aberdeenshire, lived the grandfather of the present tenant. For a considerableti me after he entered on the farm his cattle did not thrive. He could account for this in no way, and at last he came to the conclusion that witch influence was at work. One morning he set out on horseback to consult ‘Sawtie,’ a noted man of wisdom in Buchan in those days. He was cordially received, and told his errand. ‘Oh, aye,’ said Sawtie ‘an I can lat ye see the man’s face it’s deein ye a the ill, an y’ill nivver get yir nowt t’ thrive til ye draw bleed o’ him abeen the breath.’ In somewhat vigorous words the farmer said he would soon do that, mounted his horse, and rode home as fast as possible. On reaching home and getting rid of his horse he went into the kitchen to fetch a knife to carry out his instruction-to ‘draw bleed abeen the breath.’ The girl of the kitchen happened to be baking oatmeal cakes, and he seized hold of the ” gullie ” with which she was cutting each cake into quarters and turning them on the ‘girdle.’ With this he went straight to a neighbouring farmer, who was ploughing in a field not far off. He seized him, at the same time using a few strong words about his being a witch, and adding that he would soon take away his power of doing mischief to his cattle. Being a strong man, he threw him on the ground, held him down, and with the ‘gullie’ inflicted on his forehead, just over the eyebrows, two cuts in the form of a cross. The cattle throve daily afterwards.-Told by a man, aged 77, living in the parish of Pitsligo. Gregor, Walter ‘Stories of Fairies from Scotland’ The Folk-Lore Journal 1 (1883), 55-58 at 58′ Thanks Jill!

    15 Jan 2015: Neil writes ‘Do you want to add this to your “when was the last time someone assaulted someone else for bewitching them” contest? Case adjourned to 27 April so perhaps we should await the outcome. You need to bear in mind this is Glastonbury so as the GPs and Psychiatrists used to write “NFG” (Normal For Glastonbury)’ Thanks Neil and just in case the link disappears: 11 Dec 2014 Cent Somer Gazette A GLASTONBURY woman accused of harassment claimed the victim had been using witchcraft and putting curses on her at the time. Hilary Joy Osborne, aged 45, of Selwood Road, appeared before District Judge David Taylor, sitting at Yeovil. She pleaded not guilty that between November 19, 2013 and September 15, 2014 at Glastonbury she pursued a course of conduct amounting to the harassment of Lynda Brown in that on 17 separate occasions she verbally abused her and caused her great distress. Christine Hart, prosecuting, said that the complainant was a Pagan and spiritualist and Osborne believed that she had put curses on her and used witchcraft against her. A review of the matter was carried out and the case was adjourned for a trial to take place on April 27. Until her next court appearance Osborne was given conditional bail on the understanding she does not contact the complainant directly or indirectly.’

    30 Oct 2015: Jill kindly writes in with this brief description from When Gossips Meet by S. A. Capp. This is a screen capture from google books. No reference unfortunately.

    when gossips meet

    29 Sep 2017: Jill again with a great one from Nottinghamshire.

    30 Nov 2017: Jill again with one from Dorset.