Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 6/Witchcraft Superstitions


Still keeps its hold on the minds of many of our peasants. They never doubt its reality, although their conceptions of its effects, and the powers of those who are supposed to practise the art, have undergone much modification since the time when witchcraft was made a capital crime. At present reputed witches are supposed to employ themselves much more in doing mischief than in "raising storms and causing great devastations both by sea and land." Witch feasts are now unknown; nor do "the old crones" now fly through the air on broomsticks; but they are supposed to be able to cause bad luck to those who offend them; to produce fatal diseases in those they desire to punish more severely; and to plague the farmers by afflicting their cattle, and rendering their produce almost unprofitable. Sickles, triple pieces of iron, and horse shoes, may still be found on the beams and behind the doors of stables and shippons; which are supposed to possess the power of destroying, or preventing, the effects of witchcraft; and self-holed stones, termed "lucky-stones," are still suspended over the backs of cows in order that they may be protected from every diabolical influence.

When cream is "bynged," and will produce no butter by any amount of churning, it is said to be bewitched, and a piece of red hot-iron is frequently put into the churn, in order that "the witch may be burnt out," and that butter may be produced. To prevent cream from being bynged, dairy-maids are taught to sing when churning—

"Come, butter, come;
Peter stands at t' yate,
Waiting for a butter cake;
Come, butter, come."

When we see a fire on the top of a hill, we are sometimes assured that the flame is a witch-fire, and that the witches may be seen, from a distance, dancing round it at midnight. It is firmly believed that no witch, nor even any very ill-disposed person, can step over anything in the shape of a cross. Hence persons are advised to lay a broom across the doorway when any suspected person is coming in. If their suspicions are well-grounded, the witch will make some excuse and pass along the road. The power of a witch is supposed to be destroyed by sprinkling salt into the fire nine mornings in succession. The person who sprinkles the salt must be the one affected by the supposed witchcraft, and as the salt drops down must repeat, "Salt! salt! I put thee into the fire, and may the person who has bewitched me neither eat, drink, nor sleep, until the spell is broken." During 1871 a young man, resident near Manchester, suspected his own mother of having bewitched him, and the above spell was repeated in the presence of the magistrates before whom he was summoned, in consequence of his inhuman conduct to his mother. There is also a female resident near Burnley, who refuses to live with her husband, because she suspects him of having bewitched her on many occasions.