Nanny the Witch: 1820s

That bewitching person over at Haunted Ohio suggested to Mrs Daffodil that a Walpurgisnacht post might be amusing and instructive.

A CUMBERLAND WITCH

By Mrs. J. Allsopp

I have been asked by some friends interested in occult subjects to record some information which came to me in my youth, as likely to prove interesting to others. The facts narrated were told to me by my grandmother, who had personally known the author of the proceedings.

About a hundred years ago near the small town of Brampton, in Cumberland, lived a woman who went by the name of Nanny. She was supposed by the country-folk to be a witch, and to have the power to ill-wish and overlook. The people stood in great awe of her and treated her with a fearful respect. Some envied her powers, others conciliated her as much as possible. She was the usual referendum when things were lost, and could always tell where they were. It chanced that my grandfather, who kept a large dairy farm, had for some time been annoyed by the loss of his butter firkins. This became more and more frequent, and as he could not catch the thief, he decided to seek Nanny’s aid in the matter. A neighbour offered to accompany him, as he was rather nervous. As they approached her dwelling she came out and called to my grandfather before he had the chance to speak, “Don’t come any farther, the man who has your firkins is with you.” And it turned out to be true. The man had the firkins.

She was of a rather peculiar appearance, and a less terrible person than she would have been subjected to ridicule. It happened one day that she was going past a farm where the maidens were washing in the open air. As she passed they laughed at her. She stopped, came back and said: “Ye may laugh and dance till I choose ye to stop.” And they began to laugh and dance, and nothing would make them cease. At last in desperation their master went to the old woman and prayed her on bended knees to forgive the girls. This she did, but they had danced twenty-four hours.

It is said that she once entered a house and all the doors both upstairs and down flew violently open. She is supposed to have uttered many prophecies. Her most famous one is that regarding an important local family. This was that when the church bell should toll without hands in L__ church and the hare litter on the hearth-stone great misfortune would happen to them. This did actually come to pass. The church, fallen into ruins almost, gave free ingress to the cattle, and a cow got in and caught her horns in the bell rope, causing the bell to ring. At N__, their ancestral home, a hare got into a disused room and littered on the hearth. Strange as it may seem, a long period of misfortune ensued.

I have said that her power was envied by some. A girl who had watched her very closely for some time, greatly desired to be as clever as she was. She met her one day and plucked up courage to tell her so. “All right, lass,” said the old dame, “come to my cottage to-night at midnight and see thou tell no one, and thou shalt be as clever as I am.” Greatly elated, the girl determined to do as she was bidden, and at midnight sought the lonely cottage of Nanny. She entered shrinkingly, but Nanny assured her there was nothing to fear. Then she asked her if she really meant what she had said that afternoon. Nanny was assured that she did. “Well then,” said Nanny, “put thy hand on thy head and the other under thy foot and say ‘All’s the Devil’s,’ and thou must really mean it.” There was a terrific burst of thunder, and the girl fled in terror from the cottage. This story about the girl had a very weird effect on me. When I retired that night, it seemed that some one stood by the bed and urged me to repeat Nanny’s words. It became a terrible strife of wills and lasted all night. I insisted on saying “All’s the Lord’s.” It passed with the day, but in the morning the bed was saturated with perspiration, and for many years after I dared not sleep alone. How can these things be accounted for?

Many are the tales still current in the country-side about Nanny. The day she died there was the most awful thunderstorm ever known in those parts. The lightning ran along the ground and the thunder was terrific. She is buried in the tiny churchyard of the old Saxon church of Denton, near Carlisle.

The Occult Review December 1921: p. 341-3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:   Nanny seems to have followed the traditional “cunning-woman” career path of “overlooking” (with the Evil Eye), telling the future, finding lost or stolen objects, and dealing out retribution to those who crossed her. The young ladies were fortunate that they weren’t forced to dance until their feet were worn off, as in the old tale.

When “The Queen of Scottish Witches,” Isobel Gowdie, confessed her witchery in 1662, she declared that she “did put the on of my handis to the crowne of my head and the uther to the sole of my foot, and then renuncet all betuixt my two handis, ower to the Divell.” This hands-on method of dedicating oneself to His Satanic Majesty’s service is found in a number of witch testimonials.

Mrs Daffodil fails to understand why a simple job interview or visit to a hiring fair was not sufficient, but H.S.M. does seem to have a flair for the dramatic: fiery whiz-bang entrances, sulphurous exits, pacts signed in blood, etc. etc. It has often been said that “the Devil walks as a gentleman,” but no gentleman would be caught dead outside of a fancy-dress ball in those red tights.

There are quite a few fascinating posts about witches and witchcraft on the Haunted Ohio site.  Bagging a Witch in Ohio gives a look at New World beliefs, while The Witch Wreath at the Museum tells of sinister feather crowns found in the pillows of the dying, and The Poear Dear and the Wicked Woman: A Suffolk Witch Story. shares the vernacular story of a “spite” accidentally laid on a wife instead of the husband for whom it was meant.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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