Witchcraft Still Practiced in Cornwall in 1970s Dec 29, 2014 20:56:57 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Dec 29, 2014 20:56:57 GMT -5
Witchcraft Practiced in Cornwall Until 1970s
A secret coven of Cornish witches first formed in the 1640s has been digging pits lined with animal skins, bird carcasses and feathers as recently as the 1970s as part of a fertility ritual, it was revealed today. Archaeologist Jacqui Wood has discovered dozens of shallow rectangular holes (above) near the hamlet of Saveock near Truro since 2003. Locals believe two spinsters from the village, who died in the 1980s, were members of a coven of local witches who may have links to the pits and passed on their secrets.
The freshest hole contains animal bones wrapped in a synthetic twine only used in Cornwall since the 1970s, which means the witch or witches who dug it are very likely alive, she says. Dr. Wood's theory is that generations of local women have slaughtered and skinned animals and birds to help them become pregnant.
The earliest witch pit dates to the 1640s and is lined with a slaughtered swan turned inside-out, claws from other birds and a small pile of stones. In ancient folklore the swan is a symbol of fertility and new life. Others were lined with the skins of animals like cats and dogs, and many have large numbers of birds eggs buried as the chicks were about to hatch. Remarkably the pits often contain a pile of pebbles only found at Swanpool beach near Falmouth, which is 15 miles away from Saveock. Dr. Wood believes the pits may be an offering to St. Brigid of Kildare in Ireland, the patron saint of newborn babies, dug by women who were struggling to become pregnant.
Other theories involve witches who wanted to marry and have children. “It is a faith system dating back at least 350 years and I believe it is linked to witchcraft. It is all still a secret, probably passed down from mother to daughter,” she siad. “We know that one pit must have been dug in the 1970s. It contained orange baler twine invented in the 1960s and we know this was not used in Cornwall until the 1970s. Carbon dating of another pit shows that it was dug after the 1950s. There is an unbroken line from the 1640s to today. I think the people doing it now must still be alive. What's amazing is that these people must believe it works otherwise they would not still be doing it. And it is still being kept a secret after all these years. My own theory is that maybe if you got married and did not get pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St Bride of a feather pit. If you finally got pregnant you had to go back to the pit and take out the contents and burn them and set the spirit of the swan free. If you never got pregnant then the pit remained untouched.”
The 40-or-so pits have been found by Dr. Wood and her students in areas where there were reeds. The first one was found by accident in 2003 during the excavation of a neolithic platform.
At first they believed the hole was a failed attempt to plant a tree but then more digging found several more all roughly measuring 16-inches-long by 13-inches wide and 6-inches deep. Dr. Wood believes because the land used is often wet it has helped people dig the holes quickly and hide the reeds allowed them to hide the pits easily. “'Every pit is very different but also remarkably similar. It is always involving fur and feather and often birds’ eggs where the chicks were ready to be born. There is also a small pile of stones, taken from by the sea 15 miles away,” she said. Some have contained bones and the heads of goats or pigs. One had a scrap of newspaper containing the word Mussolini, who rose to power in the 1920s and was executed in 1945.
The people who dug the pits would also have known they were breaking the law. The killing of swans has been illegal since the 11th century and witchcraft laws weren’t scrapped until 1951.
“We finally got a radio carbon date for one of the pits which was around 1640s,” Webb added. “That was the time of the Civil War and a dangerous thing to be doing when Cromwell’s army came to Cornwall as any sort of pagan worship was classed as witchcraft and punishable by death.”
Paganism and Witchcraft Dominated Cornwall
For centuries, paganism and witchcraft was part of everyday life in Cornwall and peaked in the 19th century. The majority of communities had their own white witch who was seen as a form of public servant. These witches, also known as pellars, would protect families, get rid of curses and also cure illnesses. Commonly they would also bury offerings on behalf of people, like the pits found in Saveock.
The most famous of these witches was Tamsin Blight (above), who lived from 1798 to 1856 in West Cornwall, and was known to have extraordinary powers to heal sick humans and animals. It was said she once went to a graveyard and raised the spirit of a recently deceased woman for a male relative who wanted to know about his inheritance. The folk tale known as the “The Ghost of Stythians” indicates she used a charmed ring and chanted incantations for some time before people heard a great crashing noise, screams of pain and felt a gust of wind before the woman's spirit rose from the grave and was questioned.
One of Cornwall's main tourist attractions is the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, which artefacts associated with witchcraft. Its website sets out various spells and rituals that were used in the county and explained in stories and poems. One called the “the hand of a suicide” explains how some believed the sick could be cured if they put their hands on the body of a man who had killed himself. Others believed that touching the body of a person who was recently hanged had the same effect. Another ritual commonly used would involve someone who was ill walking over burning wood from a fire to cure terminal illnesses.
One tradition involved the burning of ivy leaves or rushes to find out the future. A couple who wanted to know if they would marry would throw rushes on the fire. If the rushes burned together they would have a happy marriage, but if they split, so would their relationship. Others buried two ivy leaves in ashes and used the number of cracks that appeared in the woman's leaf to predict how many children they would have. The partner whose leaf burned the longest would live the longest.
Source: Martin Robinson, The Daily Mail, December 29, 2014.