Updated: Jan 20
I Put A Spell On You
“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.”
As we come upon the week of Halloween, let’s take a moment and focus on a favorite yet misunderstood individual, the witch.
What we have found in our travels is the folklore and true stories behind witches, spells, and magic.
Witches are traditionally known to practice the art of magic, sometimes called sorcery, divination and figure prominently in cultural history.
Society has represented witches in many forms: Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Glinda the Good Witch of the South, and the cartoon character witch with her green skin and token wart on her nose all represent the benign form.
Hollywood as also depicted witches in much more malevolent forms (The Blair Witch, The Witch). Whatever, the interpretation, witches remain controversial.
Interestingly enough, most witches are depicted as female and in cahoots with the Devil. Between the years 1500 -1660, 80,000 suspected witches were put to death in Europe. Not surprising, 80 percent were women. www.history.com/topics/folklore/history-of-witches
In the U.S. from 1626 to 1730, there have been many people accused of witchcraft, and a total of 35 documented witches were put to death for the crime of witchcraft.
The question everyone asks: are witches real?
If you are trying to find the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus, keep looking.
However, if you want to find a witch who practices Wicca and believes in “harm none” and strives to live in harmony with nature and humanity, he or she might just be your neighbor.
Listed below are two witches from our home states: Tennessee and Nebraska.
Bell Witch, Adams, Tennessee -
Over 200 years ago, John Bell and his family farmed the land near Adams, Tennessee and were tormented by disembodied voices and were victims of vicious attacks by a ghostly devil creature, The Bell Witch.
It was documented that Betsy, John’s daughter, became the main focus of the devil’s attacks. She was scratched, hit, and assaulted in her own home.
Storytelling is used in the South to pass along cautionary tales. The Bell Witch was one such story; based on a true story, it was very effective in keeping children in line.
Parents would warn about The Bell Witch waiting for them under to bed to steal their covers or even scratch them, if they didn’t go to sleep. The Bell Witch would continue to torment the child until he minded his parents.
The trick was simple: go to sleep when you were told to sleep.
One more warning. If your phone rings unexpectedly in the wee hours, tell The Bell Witch the following: “I love you, Bell Witch.”
The Salt Witch of the Nebraska Plains -
A certain Native American Chief was known to be difficult and only his wife had the patience to deal with his outbursts. When his wife died, he went into mourning and secluded himself from his tribe. His tribe began to question his position as Chief, so he left dressed in full war-gear.
Upon his return, he had an unusual story to tell. Brandishing a belt of fresh scalps before the eyes of his warriors, he regained their confidence as a leader. Oddly, he also brought a lump of salt.
His story is as follows:
He told them that after traveling far over the prairie he had thrown himself on the earth to sleep when he was aroused by a wailing sound close by. In the light of a new moon, he saw a hideous old woman brandishing a tomahawk over the head of a younger one, who was kneeling, begging for mercy, and trying to shake off the grip from her throat.
The sight of the women, forty miles from the village, so surprised the chief that he ran toward them. The younger woman made a desperate effort to free herself, but in vain, as it seemed, for the hag wound her left hand in her hair while with the other she raised the ax and was about to strike.
At that moment the chief gained a view of the face of the younger woman-it was that of his dead wife. With a snarl of wrath, he leaped upon the hag and buried his own hatchet in her brain, but before he could catch his wife in his arms the earth had opened and both women disappeared, but a pillar of salt stood where he had seen this thing.
For years it has been maintained that the column was under the custody of the Salt Witch, and when they went there to gather salt they would beat the ground with clubs, believing that each blow fell upon her person and kept her from working other evil. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/ne-saltwitch/
Was his vision meant to bring him closure with his wife’s death? A good deed done by the witch to help the unapproachable Chief reconnect with his tribe and maintain his position of power?
When we were visiting Dornoch, Scotland, we literally stumbled on to the story of Janet Horne. Ms. Horne was the last witch to be executed in Scotland; she was tarred, placed in a barrel and burnt.
Horne was showing signs of senility, and her daughter had a deformity of her hands and feet. The neighbours accused Horne of having used her daughter as a pony to ride to the Devil, where she had her shod by him.
We were able to find “The Witch’s Stone” in Dornoch; a stone marker with the date 1722 engraved on it commemorating the spot where Janet was burned and the last burning of a witch.
As you read each of these stories, it is saddening to witness the treatment of these men and women when the accused was truly innocent. Janet Horne accused because her daughter had a deformity and she couldn’t remember the Lord’s Prayer. The Salt Witch helping her cantankerous husband to change his ways. Now seen as an evil spirit needing to be beaten back.
What is it about witches that scares us? Is it the empowerment of humans and nature? Our innate ability to be one with nature? The unexplained spells?
In the words of Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic, “Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.”
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