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We have no word sufficiently comprehensive to include all that is understood by the term witchcraft, unless we may be allowed to make use of the borrowed diablerie, which somewhat loosely expresses the groundwork of the whole belief. Evil spirits, the successors or representatives of the Devs, it was believed, for a considerable time personally infested the earth; then followed the magicians, to whom, on certain conditions, evil powers were delegated ; lastly came the witches, whose astounding confessions in connexion with the author of sin must ever be a source of amazement. And now, though the last witch was burned many years ago, we again find Satan meddling on the earth in various paltry ways, whilst seeking whom he may devour. Satanic malice is clearly the basis of it all.
The highest point of the Pennine hills was once the abode of evil spirits, and for this reason was called Fiends' Fell. Christian missionary who chanced to come the way, boldly ascended the mountain, exorcised the fiends, and erected a cross on the summit; and thus it received its present name, Cross Fell. There is an air of credibility about this tradition. The helm wind would doubtless at one time assist in giving an ill-name to the part of the Pennine on which it prevails, as even in modern times a story has gained currency, that a man with a horse and cart was carried off in one of these storms, and was never found. Opportunities such as that afforded by the haunted fell, were eagerly seized by
FIENDS AND DRAGONS.
the Christian missionaries to give an impulse to conversion ; and it is probable the inhabitants of the district of Crosby Garret, Crosby-on-Eden, and Crosby Ravensworth received Christianity in consequence of the exorcism of Fiends' Fell.
It appears that the belief in dragons once formed part of the superstitions of this district. The neighbouring county of Northumberland furnishes us with corroborative evidence. Three springs near Longwitton Hall, now resorted to as holy wells, were in ancient times, guarded by a tremendous dragon. He had the power of rendering himself invisible, but was at length attacked by Guy, Earl of Warwick, who commanded him from his den. As often as the monster was wounded, he dipped his tail in the water, and was restored, to prevent which the Earl got between him and the wells, and slew him.*
Pendragon Castle in Mallerstang (Westmorland), has been named from the mound on which it stands, the dragon's hill, so called from some tradition of the kind above quoted. In later times, this story was probably forgotten, and to account for the name, tradition handed over the castle to Uther Pendragon, one of the fabulous heroes of Welsh history, and one of the supposed fathers of King Arthur. It is said he built the castle, and attempted to turn the Eden from its course, so as to surround his dwelling with the river; but in this he failed, and hence arose the popular rhyme:
Let Uther Pendragon do what he can,
The “wondrous Michael Scott,” or, as he is better known at this side of the Border, Mitchel Scott, has been appropriated by Cumbrian tradition, and has found his way over the two counties. The achievements related of him are striking proofs of the close connexion between wizards and the evil spirit. Tradition divides the credit of the erection of Carrock Fell pikes between the Devil and Mitchel Scott; and the heap of stones in Ullswater is equally attributed to a misfortune that happened to the apron of the latter.
* Hodgson's Hist. of Northumberland.
Orton bridge, which is the work of one night, was erected by the wizard. According to his namesake Sir Walter, he was Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie, who flourished during the thirteenth century. But Cumbrian tradition avers that he was a monk, and was buried at Holme Cultram, where some of his books were preserved until they mouldered away.
Modern wizards, commonly called wise men, are of a somewhat more softened character than Mitchel Scot. In the last century, Westmorland had its wise men, one of whom, named Dr. Lickbarrow, flourished about a hundred years ago. According to a well-written account of this worthy that appeared in the Kendal Mercury (1856), he resided at the farmhouse called Murthwaite, in Longsleddale, and was the proprietor of the dwelling and estate. He was a clever disciple of Æsculapius, a poet, and an undoubted professor of the Black Art.
Though more than suspected of having dealings with the evil one, he still seems to have paid some attention to the observances of religion, and one fine Sunday morning he attended the little chapel, among his neighbours. The morning was remarkably beautiful and calm ; scarcely a breath of air stirred a leaf or blade of grass. The congregation had assembled, and the minister was about the middle of the service, when, all at once, all present were startled by the commencement of such a hurricane as none there had ever heard. Slates were blown from the roof of the chapel. The doctor, meanwhile, looked like one who felt that mischief was abroad, and comprehended the quarter from whence it sprung. At length he hastily quitted his place, and took the road home. When just below Beech Hill bridge, he met with the Prince of Darkness, who for the time present professed to be his servant, and humbly asked for work. The doctor desired him to make thumb-symes' of the river sand. He requested straw. The doctor answered, • Never a bit !' and pursued his homeward route. On entering his farm-yard he was met by the servant lad, who said to him, “Maister, I believe ť d-l's abroad to-day, for our taam buck hes knocked me doon twice i' ť faald, an hed like tel hae putten intel't midden.' He hurried onwards into his parlour, to the window of
WISE MEN OF WESTMORLAND.
which his book of books was chained, and there found his man busily engaged in reading." The unfortunate wight had just taken a peep through curiosity, and felt compelled, in spite of himself, to read on. The doctor flung him out of the room, and sat down to the book himself, when the wind was allayed, and things returned to their usual course.
Many traditional stories common to men of his day, are related of the doctor. He was applied to for the recovery of stolen goods ; but his fame is probably founded on his success in the art of quack doctoring. As he lay on his death-bed, two pigeons, a white one and a black one, were observed fighting on the roof of his house. He took a deep interest in the progress of the combat, and when at length informed that the black bird had killed its antagonist, he ejaculated, “ Its all over with me, then !” and soon after expired.
Another of the wise men of Westmorland, who flourished during the last century, gained for himself the reputation of being a learned man and a good man, and one who never used his powers for evil.* His book, inscribed “Dr. Fairer's book of Black Art," is still in existence. It treats of the motions of the heavenly bodies, and shows some knowledge of astronomy. His speculations about the man in the moon are, however, not of a very advanced kind. “In this lesser luminary,” he says,
" there is visible to all the inhabitants around this earthly globe, the likeness of a man with a great tree on his shoulder; it is said he did steal it, and being accused, he denied, and wished if he stole it, he might leap with it into the moon.” However, “it is not the real natural substance of the man and thorn, but the appearing likeness set in the moon by the handiwork of the Lord Almighty for a public warning to all people round this earthly globe, to refrain from doing wrong in anything by word or by deed.” Until very lately it was believed there was great danger in opening this book.
Astrology, on which Dr. Fairer seems to have had some claim, long flourished in these counties. Hutchinson gives us interesting details concerning a student of this science, one Abraham
* Rev. J. Simpson, at the Kendal Nat. Hist. Society.
Fletcher of East Cumberland, who died in 1793. His schooling consisted of three weeks at one penny per week, yet he became a great mathematician, botanist, herb doctor, and astrologer. In the margin of a book of astronomical calculations belonging to him, he had made an entry of the places of the planets at his birth, to which one George Bell of Cockermouth added : “ This gives in time seventy-eight years and fifty-five days. Near this period is a bad direction ; it brings Saturnine griefs, especially such as proceed from cold, dry and phlegmatic causes; and if Saturn be Anretta, it threateneth death.” Abraham Fletcher outlived the term of this prediction—which was made several years before his death-by sixteen days.
Wizards and astrologers have alike disappeared from this part of England, but witches are still remembered by persons living. And it is remarkable that, down to the latest period of their existence, they were known exclusively for the infliction of wanton torments on men and animals. I am informed by a native of Westmorland, who belongs to the neighbourhood of Appleby, that in former times, witches were only too numerous in that part of the country. His grandmother told him that her horse was one night “ witched” on to the top of a thorn tree-a remarkable one-in the middle of a field, and that to recover the animal, they were obliged to cut down the tree. The horse survived the witching a very short time. In such a case there seems to have been but one certain means of discovering the guilty party. When the animal died, if the heart was burned, the witch would be compelled to come and present herself at the window of the house, in which the spell was being operated, where her face could be distinctly seen and recognised.
My informant himself knew a witch, and remembers oftentimes at night seeing her house a blaze of fire, illumining the darkness around. He was once at the hunting of a hare that took refuge in
leath,” the doors of which were closed. On entering, there stood the old witch, the hare of course having disappeared. He expressed some surprise at the metamorphosis, but his companions, who were used to this kind of thing, said it was not the first time they had hunted that old witch.