Post by Graveyardbride on Feb 23, 2019 14:55:12 GMT -5
Supernatural England: Legends and Lore of the Northwest
It wasn’t until the close of the 18th century that Londoners became fully aware of the English provinces. Until that time, it had been customary to speak, rather, of town and country, the latter being a sort of backwater of uncouth behavior, outmoded fashions and bizarre superstitions. With rapidly improving communications, however, there followed a dramatic transformation of ideas that had hitherto dominated provincial life and the abandonment of beliefs that had remained relatively unchanged since medieval times. The process, alas, involved the loss of a unique peasant philosophy retaining elements of paganism and strongly influenced by magical ideas. The revolution was sudden and dramatic. Among the educated classes, ghosts and witches were outmoded and at the same time, rural areas became less dependent on magicians and healers, though they didn’t make their final exit until the following century. A new and far less comfortable world had been created Nevertheless the old mystical realm of wish-fulfilment, dating to pre-Reformation times, gradually lost its influence until it all but vanished forever.
Cumbria. The legends that survived were almost invariably dominated by the supernatural and consisted of tales handed down by generations of rural storytellers who were the transmitters of tradition in the pre-literate age. One of the more ancient legends has become famous as “The Radiant Boy of Corby Castle” in present-day Cumbria, formerly the county of Westmoreland. The story was first committed to print in the 19th century by Catherine Ann Crowe in her Night Side of Nature, a work that for the first time, introduced generations of readers to the older mysteries of the British Isles. In it we read of the beautiful golden-haired child, “clad in white,” who appeared to visitors at the Castle. Those who saw the specter would later be informed they would either achieve great honors and power or, alternatively, die tragically. The source of the haunting remains a mystery and the identity of the “Golden Boy” unknown. Nevertheless, there’s a possibility the ghost resulted from the ancient ritual of sacrificing beautiful children in the foundations of buildings for the propitiation of demons or as a form of blood sacrifice to the spirits of the earth. A hint of this melancholy theme is found in Shakespeare’s King John:
There is no sure foundation set on blood,
No certain life set by others’ death.
One finds, in the byways of archaeological research, a number of interesting references to this barbaric practice. While Darrington church near Pontefract was undergoing repairs in the 19th century, a human skeleton was discovered embedded in the foundations of the tower where it had remained undetected for some six hundred years. Many other legends are associated with earlier buildings, for in the north, as elsewhere, strange tales have been woven around relics of prehistoric ages. For example, Little Salkeld in Cumbria has a stone circle known as Long Meg and her Daughters. The stones have long been associated with witchcraft and the black arts for here, the famous wizard Michael Scot interrupted a coven of witches celebrating their Sabbath and transformed them into pillars of stone. It is claimed no one has ever been able to count the number of stones accurately and until this happens, the witches will remain immobilized in their present state.
Cumbria has a reputation for the sort of melancholy curse one would expect in the lonelier parts of Britain. To the south of Kendal is Levens Hall, about which it is said that until a white doe is born in the adjacent park, no heir will succeed to his father’s estate. The curse has proven singularly effective, for it is usually a near relative who inherits the property. Lowther Hall, once the home of the half-mad Lord Lonsdale, who demonstrated his immortality by sitting bolt upright in his coffin during his funeral service, is still haunted by his spirit and despite the strenuous efforts of exorcists to expel him from his old home, he is reportedly more active than at any time in the past. Although Grayrigg Hall no longer exists, its story is well worth telling: During the 17th century, it was occupied by an inveterate foe of the Quakers named Duckett, who rendered the lives of the normally tranquil Friends unendurable by harrying them from pillar to post. One of his victims, a man by the name of Howgill, driven to desperation, placed a curse on the entire Duckett family which proved to be uncannily effective. Duckett soon lost all his money and his children were actually reduced to begging their bread in the streets.
Here, too, one finds, embodied among the older traditions, curious legends of giants such as the monstrous Isir, who lived by the River Eamont and ravaged the entire district to satisfy his craving for human flesh. The devil, too, has left his mark on the folklore of Westmoreland, as visitors to Kirkby Lonsdale can discover for themselves by visiting the famous Devil’s Bridge spanning the River Lune, where Satan’s footprint is clearly imprinted on the masonry. The many boulders that lie scattered throughout the area were dropped by the demonic bridge-builder at the same time. The devil is associated with the building of bridges in other counties in the British Isles and elsewhere. Satan built a bridge near Aberystwythe for which he requested a human soul as payment, but on this occasion, he was fobbed off with a little dog. No doubt it was this ancient association with death and the devil responsible for the superstition that it is unlucky to pass beneath a bridge when transport is passing overhead.
Although witches, usually of the benign type, are known to have existed in Westmoreland until comparatively modern times – where they healed the sick and provided a sort of occult veterinary service for cows – there is little to suggest black magic was considered a problem, even in the darkest days of the witch mania. A solitary reference to the “craft” appears in Ewen’s standard work on the subject, Witchcraft and Demonology. In 1669, Anne Tompson of Winton, a widow, was denounced as a witch by 19 of her neighbors, but apparently the judges weren’t impressed by the evidence because they released the prisoner and sent her home.
Lancashire. Still in the northwest, we turn to Lancashire, that county of supposedly hard-headed and down-to-earth characters, whom, on closer examination, are as romantically-inclined and ghost-conscious as any other community in Britain. Lancastrians have a keen interest in their own folklore, which they admittedly lace with their unique humor, such as occurred when one solemnly assured the investigator that breweries now occupied the sites of every one of Manchester’s traditional holy wells. There is a tale, still told there, relating to the unhappy conflict between the Catholic and Protestant factions in the years following the English Reformation. Sir John Southworth, the rabidly Catholic owner of Samlesbury Hall, upon discovering his daughter Dorothy had fallen in love with a young Protestant gentleman, quashed their romance and banned the suitor from his home. However, the couple continued to meet in secret and finally decided to elope. Their plans, alas, became known to the girl’s two fanatical brothers, who assassinated the young swain one night and buried his body in the grounds, where years later, a skeleton was discovered near one of the garden walls. The girl was sent away to a convent on the Continent where she gradually went insane. Her spirit has been seen standing near the road at Samlesbury, while on the grounds of the hall itself, two phantoms, walking side-by-side, have been observed in the dusk.
Lancashire, a Catholic stronghold, witnessed many cruel priest hunts in the 16th and 17th centuries, hence the large number of secret hiding places and priest holes in its ancient houses. Persecution was by no means one-sided, however, as we shall discover from the curious story of Smithshills Hall near Bolton, said to be haunted by the ghost of George Marsh, a priest burned for heresy by Bloody Queen Mary. In this house, where he stood trial and received his sentence, there is to be seen a bloody footprint on the spot where the martyr stamped the floor. This is affirmation of the old folk belief that the blood of those unjustly done to death can never be eradicated. George Marsh’s apparition is still reported in the house from time-to-time. According to Jack Hallam, that redoubtable inspector of haunted inns, a spectral cross was once observed on the ceiling of the New Inn, Foulridge, not far from Colne. It is not altogether surprising to learn the inn is haunted, in view of the fact the garden wall of the original building was partly constructed from tombstones stolen from a nearby Quaker burial ground. It is one of the fundamental traditions of ghost lore that supernatural repercussions inevitably follow the desecration of graves for any purpose and stealing stones for the construction of a house would be courting trouble.
Many rivers and lakes in Britain are haunted by elemental spirits which, with the advent of Christianity, were re-designated ghosts. A Lancashire example are the Bungerley stepping-stones on the River Ribble haunted by the spectral Peg O’Neill, who demands tribute in the form of a human life every seven years. Even today, it is sometimes said in this locale that once Peg has received her dues, no one else need fear drowning for the coming seven years. A further hint of old-time human sacrifice to water deities is suggested by legends associated with Jenny Greenteeth, the monster who haunts streams and silent pools throughout Lancashire. Many an anxious mother whose child has wandered too close to a pond’s edge has been heard uttering the fearful warning, “Come back or Jenny Greenteeth will get you.” Almost certainly, Jenny Greenteeth originated as a dreaded green-haired, green-toothed water sprite of Celtic mythology with a passion for anyone incautious enough to wander within reach of her claws. As a matter of interest, it should be noted that in other locations in northern England, apart from Lancashire, Jenny Greenteeth is a local name for duckweed. Green hair seems to have been much favored by aquatic spirits, including the marine variety, hence the lines of the poet William Browne referring to:
Ye mermaids fair
That on the shores do
Your sea-green hair.
Lancashire witchcraft is closely connected in popular tradition with Pendle Hill, which became notorious for black devilry during the early years of the 17th century. Here in 1612, two covens of witches, with their leaders bearing the incredible names of Old Chattox and Old Demdike, were brought to book as the result of a general belief among locals that the two crones had murdered some of their neighbors by magic. A number of ghoulish charms were said to have been utilized by the witches, one of whom, James Device, gave evidence that three skulls had been removed from St. Mary’s Churchyard (above) at Newchurch for this purpose. Ten people in all were found guilty and hanged at Lancaster Castle. Eight Samlesbury witches, who were tried at the same assizes for similar offenses, were found not guilty and set free. Tourists who visit the witch country will note how ancient Newchurch in Pendle continues to survey the witch-haunted countryside with the huge eye carved in the church tower. According to a well-established belief, the mysterious eye protects the neighborhood against the malicious glance of witches.
The tradition still survives in some nearby towns that one must carry one’s child to the summit of Pendle Hill before it reaches the age of five years in order to ensure its good health. There are still members of the older generation who recall their parents and grandparents telling them of this custom, which was called “trampling on the witches.”
Lancashire is not only famous for its witches and imps, but also the demon dogs that have for centuries loped along the lanes leading to ancient churchyards. These canine horrors are almost invariably jet black and sometimes headless and their howls is a portent of death. The headless hound of Preston usually materializes before a local tragedy, while old Shriker, the devil dog of Burnley, assumes a similar role when seen in the parish churchyard.
Lancashire also boasts a number of intriguing occult manifestations of a less sinister character. For example, the newly married woman who cares to seat herself in the Bride’s Chair, a rocky formation at Warton, can anticipate the birth of a child in the near future.
To conclude the Lancashire saga on a light-hearted note, we turn to the occult traditions associated with the Winwick Pig, which can be clearly seen carved on the tower of Winwick church. During the construction of this place of worship, a diabolical pig emulated the devil by stealing the building materials and placing them at another site, where the church was ultimately erected. Its cries of “We-ee-wick” are commemorated in the name of this parish. In some folk traditions, the pig is synonymous with Satan, though surely not the whimsical pig of Winwick.
Cheshire. As a county, Cheshire shares a common heritage with neighboring Lancashire, for each has a similar background. Both long resisted the invasion of the Welsh and Scots; however, it is in their passion for the older legends that this affinity is most pronounced. The central shrine of Cheshire magic is undoubtedly Alderley Edge, that sheer cliff ascending from the Cheshire plain, for this was the ancient home of Merlin, the British enchanter who lived during the time of King Arthur. In all probability, Merlin was a Celtic bard demoted in Christian tradition to the rank of sorcerer and declared an off-spring of Satan. Nevertheless, there appears to have been more than one Merlin, which helps in accounting for his presence in so many different places, including Alderley Edge, where he touched what at first sight appeared to be solid rock that immediately sprang open, revealing within it King Arthur and his knights awaiting the call to arise to the defense of England once again. A wishing-well here, which is fed by a natural spring, is believed to have supernatural powers. It bears the inscription:
Drink of this and take thy fill
For the water falls by the wizard’s well.
Wizardry of one kind or another remained a feature of Cheshire life until comparatively recent times, although it was primarily limited to the healing arts. During the 19th century, a Cheshire healer would staunch hemorrhages by quoting from Holy Writ and at Congleton, a teenage girl was in constant demand to charm away the pain from burns and scalds. The most famous of all Cheshire’s magical healers was Bridget Bostock, who practiced her craft at Church Copenhall in the 18th century. Her healing powers were of countrywide renown, for she not only charmed away warts, but remedied a wide variety of minor disorders using a judicious combination of prayer and spittle. Bridget, who was usually known as “the Pythoness” (for the priestesses of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi), was particularly careful never to describe herself as a witch and invariably refused to charge for her services, relying entirely upon voluntary offerings. This was well within the tradition of the white witch, for these women sincerely believed their special powers would decline were they exploited for money.
The cult of the bee, those tiny winged messengers of the gods, was observed in most parts of the county until fairly recently in a number of interesting rituals. It was essential to inform the bees of every change of domestic affairs including births, weddings and funerals, and following a death in the family, it was customary to lift the hive and turn it completely around. If this ceremony was neglected, it was feared there would be another death. At weddings, the hive was bedecked with white ribbons and at funerals, with black. It is not unknown even now for the bees to be informed when their owner changes his/her job. The pleasing philosophy that the hive constituted part of the family is, alas, dying fast, for there is little scope in a world dedicated to materialism for the survival of true feelings of kinship with the tiny creatures of the wild.
The darker superstitions had a long and active influence in this county; how else would it be possible to explain the presence on a wall at Bunbury of a group of stone images each representing, it is believed, a local official who was responsible for sentencing a poacher to transportation (banishment to the colonies) well over a century ago? On his release and return to the British Isles, the poacher seems to have dedicated the remainder of his life to casting the most diabolical curses upon the effigies of his enemies from the safety of his front room. Whether or not the recipients suffered any ill effects from this dynamic form of revenge is not recorded. All the same, it must have crossed their minds occasionally, particularly following some misfortune, that image magic – to give it its proper name – might work.
Among other historical curiosities available for study are the strange sandstone figures at Bidston Hill, not far from Bickenhead, that include a cat-headed moon goddess and what is assumed to be the image of a sun goddess, both dated by scholars to around 1000 AD.
A number of shrines dedicated to ancient magic have survived the seas of change in out-of-the-way areas of Cheshire. One is the “holy” spring in Delamere Forest, where the waters are supposed to cure blindness, deafness and arthritic disorders. Magically-endowed springs played an important part in the pre-Christian religious life of Britain and can be traced to that ill-explored period of our history when every stretch of water was dedicated to a tutelary sprite who granted wishes in return for gifts from worshipers, usually in the form of human sacrifices.
Combermere Abbey,* close to the Shropshire border, is haunted by the specter of a little girl whose presence was once regarded as an omen of forthcoming death in the Cottin family, who occupied the building after the dispersal of the monks in the 16th century. It is a lamentable fact that child hauntings are often the results of murder, or worse, child sacrifice, though it is not easy to associate this form of barbarism with a monastic house.
Cheshire seems to be blessed with more than the average number of supernatural incidents, several being of comparatively recent origin. At Hoylake, what is obviously the ghost of a golfer undergoes some traumatic experience on the famous golf course. One can assume from the fact the ghost is garbed in knickerbockers that the match which resulted in the haunting must have been lost sometime prior to World War I.
Long-dead members of the Royal House of Stewart occasionally revisit their Cheshire subjects: Charles II presented himself at Marple Hall, but Prince Charles, the Young Pretender, appeared in the flesh at Handforth’s Old Parsonage in 1745 and scared a woman to death. The lady is now the resident ghost.
There is a pleasant gregariousness about some of these specters, such as those at Shocklach, where an annual conference of all deceased members of the Brereton family takes place, their spectral coaches creating a great deal of congestion along the lane leading to the parish church.
The old superstition that an evil spirit could be conjured out of a diabolically-possessed person into the body of an animal or bird is the theme of the legend of Utkinton Hall near Tarporley, for here, the local flock of blackbirds is believed to be directly descended from a brood of devils that troubled the district during the Middle Ages.
Without doubt, the most important of Cheshire exorcisms relates to the “Boy of Northwich,” who claimed to be possessed by devils for more than a year, beginning in 1601. Seven clergymen, including a bishop, strove to exorcize him and in addition, recommended private prayer and total abstinence from food “for the comfort of the afflicted.” The boy behaved so wildly (for he was truly insane) that one of his interrogators, overcome by terror, fell into the pigsty during his frenzied endeavors to escape.
The Isle of Man, set in the Irish Sea, preserves a number of Norse and Celtic traditions, giving it an important role in the history of the occult. Sometimes called “Britain’s Magic Island,” Man possesses some of the aspects of a fairy kingdom. Visitors crossing Ballona Bridge are expected to salute the fairies with the deference that is their due and on more than one occasion, an entire contingent of mainlanders has been heard murmuring politely “Good morning, fairy,” as they cross.
The magicians of Man were supposed to possess the power to control the weather and create impenetrable mists, which obscured the route of the invader. The witches, too, were credited with similar supernatural powers over the forces of nature, for they could control the winds and still the storm-tossed waves. A curse from a Manx sea witch meant a rough voyage for the seaman; her blessing, a calm sea and speedy and safe return to port. Old writers occasionally disclosed how this was accomplished. The Isle of Man witches tied up the wind in three knots of thread and as each was untied, the wind blew stronger; untying the third knot brought a howling gale. Not surprisingly, a number of sea witches were executed in the 17th century.
The older superstitious fears persisted until a very late period of Manx history and included general acceptance of the superstition that a witch had the power to change herself into an animal, a belief which is not even now totally extinct.
The white witches of Man were famous healers. Old Tearle of Ballawhane, generally recognized as the most remarkable of the Manx “witch doctors,” was credited with a remarkable expertise in treating the sick with his charms and incantations. However, unless the patient fasted for a period, stipulated by the magician, and maintained a strict silence on the nature of the treatment, he could never hope to be cured.
A wizard’s supernatural powers were usually hereditary, being passed down through generations from father to daughter and mother to son. This was a relationship typical of witchcraft generally and has an interesting correspondence with another supernatural manifestation, for it is a common belief that there exists a powerful psychic link between mother and son and father and daughter. As most students of the occult are aware, a mother is frequently conscious of serious troubles affecting her son, although the two might be living far apart, and this includes premonitions of death. Daughters seem to be aware of a recently deceased father’s presence in the home for a considerable period after the funeral.
While still on the subject of the earthbound dead, we must turn to one of the most haunted sites in Man, Peel Castle (above), a main tourist attraction, which has acquired a firm place in the ghost-hunter’s itinerary by virtue of the presence of a phantom dog, the Moddy Dhu. The characteristics of this unpleasant creature, which has been encountered on several occasions in the passageways of the castle, are often fatal. To see the dog is to die and over the centuries, both the passengers in an automobile and a soldier have died after seeing the specter. The best authenticated incident occurred in the 17th century when a guard on duty, who was, admittedly, somewhat the worse for drink, decided he would track the canine horror to its lair. When he saw the animal, he collapsed from shock and was dead in three days. According to an old tradition, in 1871, while men were repairing the foundations of the castle, they discovered the skeleton of a huge dog.
Despite the islanders’ affection for the fairy kingdom, it is generally conceded the bulk of the elfin population fled the scene following the introduction of railroads in the 19th century. Nevertheless, a number of quaint old legends of Bugganes and Glashans and similar elementals have managed to survive in popular tradition. For example, near Ballabag, close to a roadside, is the Fairy Stone, which magnetizes automobiles, drawing them, despite all efforts of their drivers, toward this particular spot in the road.
Castletown is one of the most important shrines of the English witch cult, for Gerald Gardner, founder of modern witchcraft, lived here at the Witch’s Mill until his death in 1964. It can be justly claimed that, but for Gardner’s book, Witchcraft Today, magic, white and black, might never have been revived in Britain, nor for that matter, would there have been the current mania for exorcists and exorcism. Stories of Gardner and his followers have been passed down to the present generation and locals still have mixed feelings about the “Father of Wicca.” Some who knew him described him as a likeable man and there are those who are proud of Castletown’s witchy history.
Unfortunately, Castletown has a dismal record of witch persecutions, including live burnings. In the witchcraft museum, now closed, there was a memorial to Margaret Quane, who was burned at the stake, along with her child, after attempting to cast a spell to improve the fertility of the crops. A local form of witch punishment was rolling the culprit downhill in a barrel studded with iron spikes. The witch of Peel was submitted to such punishment for having prophesied that the herring fleet would never return to shore.
At Crosby, the visitor will hear the tale of a Buggane, a monster that wrecked the roof of St. Tristan’s Church in order to still the sound of the bells, and at Peel, one could see the apparition of a dapple-grey mare, a rarity in ghost lore.
For the romantically inclined, a trip to Bery Dhones Pool, near Corrany Bridge, is imperative, for here, unmarried girls can look into the waters on Halloween and see the faces of the men they will marry.
Afficionados of the unusual in Manx folklore should pay tribute to the most remarkable phantom in history, the Talking Mongoose of Doarlish Cashen, or Cashens Gap, a lonely spot overlooking the sea. The story begins in 1931, when the occupant of an old farm reported the presence of a small furry animal on the premises that communicated in fluent English. Psychic researchers investigating the case managed to obtain a photograph of the creature, which appeared to be a mongoose. The mongoose made banner headlines in newspapers during the mid-1930s and even attracted the attention of an American showman, who offered $50,000 for the right to exhibit it in the United States. The outcome of the story, however, is truly tragic. The house changed ownership and the new proprietor reported having shot a mysterious little creature on the grounds. Sadly, he failed to preserve the body.
Source: Supernatural England by Eric Maple.
*One of the best ghost photos of all time was taken at Combermere Abbey.