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Witches Punished


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

A neighbour, who does not wish to have his name recorded, states that he
can vouch for the incidents in the following tale. A farmer who lost
much stock by death, and suspected it was the work of an old hag who
lived in his neighbourhood, consulted a conjuror about the matter, and he
was told that his suspicions were correct, that his losses were brought
about by this old woman, and, added the conjuror, if you wish it, I can
wreak vengeance on the wretch for what she has done to your cattle. The
injured farmer was not averse to punishing the woman, but he did not wish
her punishment to be over severe, and this he told the conjuror, but said
he, I should like her to be deprived of the power to injure anyone in
future. This was accomplished, my informant told me, for the
witch-woman took to her bed, and became unable to move about from that
very day to the end of her life. My informant stated that he had himself
visited this old woman on her sick bed, and that she did not look ill,
but was disinclined to get up, and the cause of it all was a matter of
general gossip in the neighbourhood, that she had been cursed for her
evil doings.

Another tale I have heard is that a conjuror obliged a witch to jump from
a certain rock into the river that ran at its foot, and thus put an end
to her life.

Rough punishment was often inflicted upon these simple old women by silly

The tales already given are sufficiently typical of the faith of the
credulous regarding witches, and their ability to work out their evil
desires on their victims. I will now proceed briefly to relate other
matters connected with witchcraft as believed in, in all parts of Wales.

How to break, or protect people from, a Witch's Spell.

There were various ways of counteracting the evils brought upon people by

1. The intervention of a priest or minister of religion made curses of
none effect.

The following tale was told me by my friend the Rector of Rhydycroesau.
When Mr. Jones was curate of Llanyblodwel a parishioner sent to ask the
parson to come to see her. He went, but he could not make out what he
had been sent for, as the woman was, to all appearance, in her usual
health. Perceiving a strong-looking woman before him he said, I presume
I have missed the house, a sick person wished to see me. The answer
was, You are quite right, Sir, I sent for you, I am not well; I am
troubled. In the course of conversation Mr. Jones ascertained that the
woman had sent for him to counteract the evil machinations of her enemy.
I am witched, she said, and a parson can break the spell. The
clergyman argued with her, but all to no purpose. She affirmed that she
was witched, and that a clergyman could withdraw the curse. Finding that
the woman was obdurate he read a chapter and offered up a prayer, and
wishing the woman good day with a hearty God bless you, he departed.
Upon a subsequent visit he found the woman quite well, and he was
informed by her, to his astonishment, that he had broken the spell.

2. Forcing the supposed witch to say over the cursed animals, Rhad Duw
ar y da (God's blessing be on the cattle), or some such expressions,
freed them from spells.

An instance of this kind is related on page 242, under the heading, A
Horse Witched.

3. Reading the Bible over, or to, the bewitched freed them from evil.

This was an antidote that could be exercised by anyone who could procure
a Bible. In an essay written in Welsh, relating to the parishes of
Garthbeibio, Llangadfan, and Llanerfyl, in 1863, I find the following:--

Gwr arall, ffarmwr mawr, a chanddo fuwch yn sal ar y Sabbath, ar ol
rhoddi physic iddi, tybiwyd ei bod yn marw, rhedodd yntau i'r ty i nol
y Bibl, a darllenodd bennod iddi; which rendered into English, is:--

Another man, a large farmer, having a cow sick on the Sabbath day, after
giving her physic, supposing she was dying, ran into the house to fetch
the Bible, and read a chapter to her.

4. A Bible kept in a house was a protection from all evil.

This was a talisman, formerly only within the reach of the opulent.
Quoting again from the essay above referred to, I find these words:--

Byddai ambell Bibl mewn ty mawr yn cael ei gadw mewn cist neu goffr a
chlo arno, tuag at gadw y ty rhag niwaid. That is:--

A Bible was occasionally kept in the bettermost farms in a chest which
was locked, to protect the house from harm.

5. A ring made of the mountain ash acted as a talisman.

Rings made of this wood were generally placed under the doorposts to
frustrate the evil designs of witches, and the inmates dwelt securely
when thus protected. This tree was supposed to be a famous charm against

Mrs. Susan Williams, Garth, a farm on the confines of Efenechtyd parish,
Denbighshire, told the writer that E. Edwards, Llwynybrain, Gwyddelwern,
was famous for breaking spells, and consequently his aid was often
required. Susan stated that they could not churn at Foel Fawn, Derwen.
They sent for Edwards, who came, and offered up a kind of prayer, and
then placed a ring made of the bark or of the wood of the mountain ash
(she could not recollect which) underneath the churn, or the lid of the
churn, and thus the spell was broken.

6. A horse-shoe found on a road or field, and nailed either on or above
the door of a house or stable, was considered a protection from spells.

I have seen horse-shoes hanging by a string above a door, and likewise
nailed with the open part upwards, on the door lintel, but quite as often
I have observed that the open part is downwards; but however hung, on
enquiry, the object is the same, viz., to secure luck and prevent evil.

7. Drawing blood from a witch or conjuror by anyone incapacitated these
evil doers from working out their designs upon the person who spilt their

I was told of a tailor's apprentice, who on the termination of his time,
having heard, and believing, that his master was a conjuror, when saying
good-bye doubled up his fingers and struck the old man on the nose,
making his blood spurt in all directions. There, master, said he,
there is no ill will between us, but you can now do me no harm, for I
have drawn your blood, and you cannot witch me.

8. Drawing blood from a bewitched animal breaks the spell.

In the days of my youth, at Llanidloes, a couple of valuable horses were
said to be bewitched, and they were bled to break the spell. If blood
could not be got from horses and cattle, it was considered to be a
positive proof that they were bewitched, and unless the spell could be
broken, nothing, it was said, could save them from death.

9. It was generally thought that if a witch said the word God to a
child or person, whom she had bewitched, it would undo her work.

My friend Mr. Edward Hamer, in his Parochial Account of Llanidloes,
published in The Montgomeryshire Collections, vol. x., p. 242, records
an instance of this belief. His words are:--

About fifty years ago the narrator was walking up Long Bridge
Street, when he saw a large crowd in one of the yards leading from
the street to a factory. Upon making his way to the centre of this
crowd, he saw an old woman in a 'fit,' real or feigned, he could not
say, but he believed the latter, and over her stood an angry,
middle-aged man, gesticulating violently, and threatening the old
dame, that he would hang her from an adjacent beam if she would not
pronounce the word 'God' to a child which was held in its mother's
arms before her. It was in vain that the old woman protested her
innocence; in vain that she said that by complying with his request
she would stand before them a confessed witch; in vain that she fell
into one fit after another, and prayed to be allowed to depart; not a
sympathising face could she for some time see in the crowd, until the
wife of a manufacturer, who lived close by, appeared on the scene,
who also pleaded in vain on her behalf. Terrified beyond all
measure, and scarcely knowing what she did, the old woman mumbled
something to the child. It smiled. The angry parents were satisfied
the spell was broken, the crowd dispersed, and the old woman was
allowed to depart quietly.

10. The earth from a churchyard sprinkled over any place preserved it
from spells.

Mr. Roberts, Plas Einion, Llanfair D. Clwyd, a very aged farmer, told me
that when a certain main or cock fighting had been arranged, his father's
servant man, suspecting unfair play, and believing that his master's
birds had been bewitched, went to the churchyard and carried therefrom a
quantity of consecrated earth, with which he slyly sprinkled the cock
pit, and thus he averted the evil, and broke the spell, and all the birds
fought, and won, according to their deserts.

11. Anything taken into a church belonging to a farm supposed to be
cursed broke the spell or curse laid upon the place from which that thing
was taken.

About twenty years ago, when the writer was curate of Llanwnog,
Montgomeryshire, a Mrs. Hughes, a farmer's wife, who was a firm believer
in omens, charms, and spells, told me that she knew nothing would come of
the spell against so and so, and when asked to explain the matter, she
said that she had seen straw taken from that farm to kindle the fire in
the church, and thus, she said, the spell was broken.

12. A pin thrust into Witch's Butter would cause the witch to undo her

Witch's Butter is the name given to a kind of fungus that grows on
decayed wood. The fungus resembles little lumps of butter, and hence its
name. Should anyone think himself witched, all that he has got to do is
to procure witch's butter, and then thrust a pin into it. It was
thought that this pin penetrated the wicked witch, and every pin thrust
into the fungus went into her body, and thus she was forced to appear,
and undo her mischief, and be herself relieved from bodily pain by
relieving others.

13. A conjuror's charm could master a witch's spell.

It was thought that when a person was under a witch's spell he could get
relief and punish the witch by procuring a charm from a conjuror. This
charm was a bit of paper, often covered with illegible writing, but
whatever was on it made no great difference, for the persons who procured
the charms were usually illiterate. The process was as follows:--The
party cursed took the charm, and thrust a pin through it, and having
waited awhile to see whether the witch would appear or not, proceeded to
thrust another pin through the paper, and if the witch were tardy in
appearing, pin after pin was thrust into the paper, and every pin, it was
thought, went into the body of the spiteful hag, and brought her
ultimately to the house where her curse was being broken, in shocking
pain, and when there it was believed she would say--

Duw gatto bobpeth ag a feddwch chwi.

God preserve everything which you possess.

14. Certain plants were supposed to possess the power of destroying

The Rev. D. James, Rector of Garthbeibio, was asked by Evan Williams, the
Voel, a parishioner, whether he feared witches, and when answered in the
negative, his interrogator appeared surprised; however, awhile
afterwards, Williams went to the Rectory, and told the rector that he
knew why he did not fear witches, and proceeded to tell him that he had
seen a plant in the front of the rectory that protected the house from
charms. This was what he called, Meipen Fair. In some parts of
England the snapdragon is supposed to possess a like virtue, and also the
elder tree.

Mr. Davies, schoolmaster, Llangedwyn, informed the writer that at one
time hyssop was hung on the inside of the house door to protect the
inmates from charms.

15. The seventh daughter could destroy charms. The seventh son was
thought to possess supernatural power, and so also was the seventh
daughter, but her influence seems to have been exerted against

16. The sign of the cross on the door made the inmates invulnerable, and
when made with the finger on the breast it was a protection from evil.

The sign of the cross made on the person was once common in Wales, and
the advice given by the aged when a person was in any difficulty was
ymgroesa, cross yourself. The custom of crossing the door on leaving
the house lingered long in many places, and, I think, it is not
altogether given up in our days.

17. Invoking the aid of the Holy Trinity. This was resorted to, as seen
in the charm given on page 270, when animals were witched.

The way to find out whether a Hag is a Witch or not.

It was generally supposed that a witch could not pray, and one way of
testing her guilty connection with the evil one was to ascertain whether
she could repeat the Lord's Prayer correctly. If she failed to do so,
she was pronounced to be a witch. This test, as everyone knows, must
have been a fallacious one, for there are good living illiterate people
who are incapable of saying their Pader; but such was the test, and
failure meant death.

Some fifty years ago, when the writer was a lad in school, he noticed a
crowd in Short Bridge Street, Llanidloes, around an aged decrepit woman,
apparently a stranger from the hill country, and on inquiring what was
going on, he was told that the woman was a suspected witch, and that they
were putting her to the test. I believe she was forced to go on her
knees, and use the name of God, and say the Lord's Prayer. However, the
poor frightened thing got successfully through the ordeal, and I saw her
walk away from her judges.

Another manner for discovering a witch was to weigh her against the
Church Bible; if the Bible went up, she was set at liberty, if, on the
other hand, she were lighter than the Bible, she was a witch, and
forfeited her life.

Swimming a witch was another method, and this was the one generally
resorted to. The suspected person was taken to a river or pool of water,
her feet and hands were tied, and she was thrown in; if she sank she was
innocent, if she floated she was a witch, and never reached the bank

Such as the preceding were some of the ridiculous trials to which poor,
badly clad, aged, toothless, and wrinkled women were put by their
superstitious neighbours to ascertain whether these miserable women were
in league with the devil.

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