Witches - Black and White

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At the turn of the last century [the turn of the 19th century is referred to], a visitor to Moorcroft collected and published local tales of witchcraft told to her by Granny England of Penallt and a Mrs Pryce of Trellech. Some were of evil witches working black magic but others were about help given by witches and wizards to those in trouble. Oddly enough, one wizard appears to have practised this “white” magic with the help of the Devil! See what you make of it as you read these strange tales.

Jenkyns wore a long dark beard and a long coat with tails. He stooped and walked with a stick. He was a great comfort to Mrs Pryce because if she ever had a pain of any sort – “rheumatics, toothache or what ye like to mention” – she had only to ask him to charm it away. He would ask, “Do you believe?” and she’d answer, “Oh, yes, I believe” – and the pain was gone.

How did he do it? Mrs Pryce thought he had the help of the Devil for she recalled her brother seeing a big book on Jenkyns’ table. When Jenkyns was out of the room, he sneaked a look at it only to hear Jenkyns shouting from the other side of the house, “Don’t you touch that book or it’ll be the worse for you!” Her brother said, “You must have the Old Man himself about here to have such goings on.” At once there was a great noise in the room above as if an enormous ball was rolling about on the floor. Jenkyns said, “If you don’t look out you’ll have him a bit nearer.” “With that,” said Mrs Pryce, “he takes a candle and blows into it, puts it on the table and draws a circle round it. The light got all dim and blue, and the room all cloudy and misty. Presently, we saw a little old man sitting in the chair next to Jenkyns – rocking himself to and fro and squeaking “Jenky, Jenky” over and over again. Now he hadn’t come through the door, because that was locked, and he hadn’t come through the window because it was shut and barred – and yet there he was sitting in the chair calling “Jenky, Jenky.” Then Jenkyns blew into the candle again and the blue light went away and the candle burned clear and, lo and behold, the little old man had vanished. I believe to this day that it was the Old Gentleman himself that we saw.”

Thus, apparently did Jenkyns establish his reputation!

He seemed keen always to mete out punishment when he thought it due. A young man on his way to Monmouth races saw cattle eating his crops. He took off his jacket, threw it onto the gate and drove them off. When he came back to the gate, the jacket had gone. When he got home from the races his wife told him to ask Jenkyns to find the jacket. Jenkyns said that the woman who stole it wouldn’t rest until she had put it back on the gate, adding, “so what’ll I do to punish her?” The young man was not interested in punishment but Jenkyns persisted. “How would it be if I put a buttonhole on her cheek, just under her eye?” And this he did, “So that everyone should know what sort of a woman she was.” Mrs Pryce had known the woman and seen the mark.

Jenkyns was once asked by a farmer of Penyvan to recover stolen cider. He told the farmer, “The cider’s drinked. I can’t get it back for you. But you come to the green at six tomorrow evening and I’ll make them dance.” Anne Griffiths told Mrs Pryce that she saw them – two men and two women, “dancing and jumping about all the time, fit to drop.” They danced for two hours for punishment until Jenkyns took the spell off. There were hundreds of folk watching them!

Granny England recalled how Jenkyns punished the landlady of the Cock and Feather at Grosmont for over-charging. For bread, cheese and beer he had to pay tenpence, but when the landlady came near to the chair he had occupied, she began calling out her demand again. “Six and four’s ten, Here’s off again” and running round the table. After an hour and a half(!) her son came home from work and when he learned what had happened he chased after Jenkyns to tell him what was wrong. “Serve her right!” said Jenkyns. “Now, you go home and under the candlestick on your mantelpiece you’ll find a bit of paper. Don’t look at it or it will be the worse for you! Throw it on the fire and I hope this will be a lesson to your mother.” And when the lad threw the paper on the fire his mother dropped into a chair, totally exhausted. Whether her prices came down is not recorded.

Jenkyns knew how to “settle witches”, according to Mrs Pryce. A witch used to turn herself into a hare andstand on a gatepost and call out “Pee-wow, pee-wow!” and frighten passers-by. Jenkyns told some men who had seen this that they would be rid of her if they found her third heelmark in the ground and stuck a knife into it. the same witch had put a charm on a women whose husband had heard of Jenkyns’ cure and when next they saw her they did as he said. In went the knife and the witch began screeching with pain, demanding “Who told you to do that!” and then saying things most awful – and off she went, limping as if the knife had gone through her foot.

Mrs Pryce reckoned it was a pity that Jenkyns had not been around when a man going down Buckle Pitch saw an old woman “galloping down on an old hurdle; she flew past him and he tried to catch hold of the hurdle but he couldn’t touch it nohow. She was followed by another old had, leaping and galloping on a ladder and behind her another, as I’m alive, trundling on a common grindstone. They came right past on to a public beyond the pitch” (the Boat Inn?) “and there they stopped. Them as wasn’t too frightened tried to shoot them, but no, nothing could touch them, nor the hurdle, grindstone nor ladder neither. Presently, they called “Pee-wow, pee-wow” and was off so as no-one could stop them.” Granny England (or Mrs Briton, as she is known in these stories) seems to have hinted that neither she nor Mrs Pryce were themselves witches (as some thought them to be) when she commented on this tale: “Well now I’ll expect you’ll be practising on one of them old grindstones, won’t you – to see if you can do as well as them witches!”

But Jenkyns’ powers were in little doubt. Granny England remembered him coming up from Monmouth one market day and seeing four horses struggling and straining to drag a great piece of timber up “the station pitch – they were pulling and the men pushing and all to no good. Jenkyns looked at them for some time and then he up and shouts, “Unhitch that fore horse”, so they did because no-one dared disobey anything that Jenkyns told him to do. “Now, hitch him on behind” and … Jenkyns took the whip and cracked it and shouted, “Now me lads, all together” and, would you believe it, them horses as couldn’t move a step before, galloped up the hill, like a top spinning, and the leader dancing behind.”

Finally a story from mrs Briton about a local witch whose black art was successful. A young man wanted to marry her daughter, but her witch mother hated him and wanted him out of the way. One day, he went up to see his sweetheart and there was her mother brewing something in a saucepan on the fire. She asked Tom to fill the kettle at the well. The daughter cried, “Don’t go, Tom, don’t go!” – but Tom went. At the well he felt something pulling and pushing him until his head was under water and he was drowning. He kicked and struggle free and looked around – but no-one was there. Three times this happened before he got the kettle filled. Back in the cottage, the mother was still over the saucepan, muttering to herself, but when she saw him that she thought drowned, she looked at him with such hate that a horrid laugh came from the saucepan, the lid flew up the chimney, the kitchen filled with smoke and a most awful smell. Then Tom knew that she’d been brewing spells to kill him and he took to his heels up the road followed by her curses. And he never went after the girl again.

[These stories were taken, by courtesy of Mrs Freda Parker, from her copy of Wizardry on the Welsh Border by A B Wherry, first published in Folklore in March, 1904.]

[from: Penallt - A Village Miscellany]