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Welsh Leaf Mould, Pies and Cunning Magic January 10, 2014

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

buried pie

A nineteenth-century letter detailing some very unusual goings on at Hawarden on the Welsh borders.

On Sunday the 17 inst., it was discovered that some earth had recently been dug up under the east window of the church. At first it was supposed that some still-born infant had been deposited there [!!!]; but on procuring a spade, and turning up all the loose soil, nothing of the kind was found. It was observed at the same time, that a small quantity of earth had been dug up in a another place near to this; but as it appeared not to be more than might have been dug up by a spade at once, no further notice was then taken of it.

So far it doesn’t seem that unusual. Beach thinks of his nearest Anglican church and they have to worry about heroin needles between the graves, but anyway, back to the story:

On the Tuesday evening this mysterious digging was cleared up in the following manner: Mr Hughes a small farmer, of Hope, has this year rented some land which formerly belonged to a neighbour of his, of the name of Jones. Hughes, by way of taking possession of the land, turned a cow into the field, which was shortly taken ill, and was never able to stand after. A horse of his was also taken ill about the same time. The family now began to think either that their cattle were bewitched, or, that this misfortune had befallen them in consequence of Jones having wished them ill luck! Under this impression Mrs Hughes went to Jones, and charged him with having bewitched her cow. This charge he denied; and to convince her of his innocency, it was agreed that they should to the ‘Wise Man’ which they did, when the ‘wise man’ told her that Jones had done no such thing.

The wise man is the witch or cunning man of the locality.

 After this she got it into her head that the ‘wise man’ had enchanted her while she was with him, and this notion drove her raving mad! She believed that she was possessed of an evil spirit, and desired some person to be called in to read and pray for her that the evil spirit might leave her. For several nights the house was crowded with religious persons, trying their powers of exorcism, but all to no good purpose; she got worse rather than better [classic reaction]. At last they called in the power of the ‘wise man,’ [the same one] who came, and advised them to make use of the following plan to lay the evil spirit: ‘Get,’ says he, ‘a quantity of earth out of a churchyard, and mix it with a portion of the blood of all the live animals about the house, and bake it into a pie, and at midnight take it and bury it in some churchyard without the parish.’ This was the advice given and the ceremony was performed as soon as possible. St John’s is just out of the parish of Hope, and so it was agreed that the pie should be deposited there. It was Tuesday evening when I first heard of this affair, and early on Wednesday morning I went into the churchyard to examine the place which had not been examined on the Sunday, and, to my utter astonishment, I found the pie in a tea-cup, put down very carefully, having a few broken pots underneath to rest upon; a piece of slate over the top of it, and earth over that. I have been much blamed by many in the neighbourhood for disturbing it, and they say something is sure to be seen about there.

It’s unusual to get this level of detail in a nineteenth-century spell. Any others: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

10 Jan 2013: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes: Do you suppose the blood of animals pie ingredient was a sanitized version of a foundation animal sacrifice? Here is a bit of folklore about grave-soil followed by an impossible spelled-out spell.

It is thought unlucky on the Borders  to tread on the graves of unbaptised children, or “unchristened ground,’ as they term it. The WIlkie MS. Informs us of the special risk that is run. He who steps on the grave of a stillborn or unbaptised child, or of one who has been overlaid by its nurse, subjects himself  to the fatal disease of the grave-merels or grave-scab. This complaint comes on with trembling of the limbs and hard breathing, and at last the skin burns as if touched with hot iron. The following old verses elucidate this superstition:

Love to the babie that ne’er saw the sun,

All alane and alane, oh!

His bodie shall lie in the kirk ‘neath the rain,

All alane and alane, oh!

His grave must be dug at the foot o’ the wall,

All alane and alane, oh!

And the foot that treadeth his body upon,

Shall have scab that will eat to the bane, oh!

And it ne’er will be cured by doctor on earth.

Tho’ every one should tent him, oh!

He shall tremble and die like the elf-shot eye, [!!]

An return from whence he came, oh!

Powerless, however, as the faculty may be, there is a remedy for the grave-merels, though not of easy attainment. It lies in the wearing a sark, thus prepared. The lint must be grown in a field which shall be manured from a farmyard heap that has not been disturbed for forty years. It must be spun by old Habbitrot, that queen of spinsters, of whom more hereafter; it must be bleached by an honest bleacher, in an honest miller’s milldam, and sewed by an honest tailor. On donning this mysterious vestment, the sufferer will at once regain his health and strength.

It is curious to observe what a different feeling, with regard to stillborn children, may be met with in the South. We read in Choice Notes (p. 172) that one of the Commissioners of Devonport, after complaining of the charge made upon the parish for the interment of such children, said: “When I was a young man it was thought lucky to have a stillborn child put into any open grave, as it was considered a sure passport to heaven for the next person buried there.”

(pages 4 -5 of Folklore of the Northern Counties of England, William Henderson)