« ForrigeFortsæt »
CHARMS AND SPELLS.
Various minor superstitions held their ground until a very short time ago. It is mentioned in Hutchinson, that an inhabitant of Scale Houses, Renwick, had an exemption from tithes, in consequence, the people said, of the possessor of the land two hundred years before having killed a “crackachrist,”-a strange corruption of cockatrice. He had some deed or record which he would let nobody see, and this negative evidence materially strengthened the tradition.
It is well known that the rowan-tree (the mountain ash), and red thread were considered very effective against witches. Mr. Simpson informs us that country people can still tell of bewitched churns, and of the spell being broken by the wood of the rowan-tree. It used to be a common thing, he believes, to plant this tree near stiles for the purpose of guarding against the power of witches; and holed stones are still to be found hanging in stables for the protection of the horses.
The “pez-strae” charm flourished in Anderson's time, and may possibly be still practised in some places. Any person who suffered disappointment from his or her lover, when the loss became irretrievable, was rubbed over with pease-straw by individuals of the opposite sex.
Whether this charm was believed to be potent in procuring another sweetheart, or was merely intended as a consolation,—a sort of tonic,--does not appear.
Persons possessed of the “evil eye” are still remembered and spoken of, but I cannot hear of any such now living. It was better to make a long circuit than to meet one of these ominous individuals, especially in the morning. Like the witches, they seemed willing to acknowledge their evil power, alleging it to be a misfortune over which they had no control. In the neighbourhood of Penrith an old man of this class is spoken of, who when he met the milk-girls returning from the field or byre,” used to warn them to “ cover their milk," adding that, whatever was the consequence, he “ couldn't help it.”
The letter of a correspondent of the Kendal Mercury gives us some account of a singular belief “which still lingers among a few rural inhabitants, that the dark, or shadowed part of the moon is
capable or incapable of containing water, according as its obliquity is greater or less. 'I think its drawing to rain, Robert.' 'Nay, net it-it ’ll nin rain-ť moon can hod nea watter.' But I have also heard, on one occasion, a like prognostic of rain from just the opposite condition, because •ť moon hods oa't watter.' Whichever may be the original saying, the idea remains the same that under certain oblique form of shadow, this orb of night is converted into a large bowl or reservoir of water.”
Wise men and witches can still subsist on the credulity of dupes in some districts of England, but there is very little of the kind now remaining in these counties. Fortune-telling indeed still thrives, but principally in connexion with affairs of matrimony. Reading the lines on the hands, tossing cups, and cutting cards, are the most ordinary means, but swindlers use other means, and too often with success.
An inhabitant of a certain part of Cumberland is now possessed of a charm for the tooth-ache, to obtain which persons have come many miles. Strict secrecy is necessary for the success of the ell. But to the credit of the operator it must be told, that he dispenses his remedy freely, and without charge, and that many persons believe that it has cured them.
The most general superstition yet lingering amongst us, is the belief in apparitions, in the native dialect commonly called boggles (see page 79). There is no nook of the country inaccessible to boggles, no mind so incredulous that it may not at some moment, or in some way, be converted from its scepticism. We have stories of persons who, on being warned of the danger of passing certain haunted places, snapped their fingers at the spirit, but-after that night were never known to speak disrespectfully of ghosts. Generally, indeed, the enlightened hold the apparition of spirits to be an impossibility. But as this in a great measure depends on the nature and extent of their philosophy, any change, or even one step farther, may carry them over this barrier, into a region where such things are quite possible.
As the word boggle includes all the varieties of the apparition kind that preceded it, so nothing is more uncertain than the manner in which the spirit manifests itself. Any shape, human, or animal, or composite, any unaccountable noise, may be a boggle. There is no exaggeration in the conversation of the servants in the “Haunted House," one of whom declares that the spirit has never yet appeared but in the shape of the sound of a drum. The bedroom of a certain inn of Cumberland was said to have been haunted for many years; and with what? why, with the crackling noise of fire burning in the grate. On inquiring what it could
possibly be that produced the noise, I was informed it was a boggle. In one of Anderson's pleasantest ballads, entitled “ Nichol the Newsmonger," we find the hero thus describing an apparition :
A boggle's been seen wi twae heeds
(Lord help us !) ayont Wully car'us, Wi twae saucer een and a tail;
They du say it's auld Jobby Barras.
Yet probably there was no doubt that old Jobby Barras, when alive, had but one head and no tail.
Animal shapes are amongst those most commonly assumed by boggles. Large dogs, white horses, unaccountable cats, and white rabbits, all add to the boggle family; but are expected to appear where they have no business, to vanish through the dark side of stone walls, or to disappear down craggy, steep paths near which no well-meaning animals should be found. “It is said that a farmer at Hackthorpe Hall was led to the discovery of hidden treasure by an apparition in the form of a calf. He had noticed that this spectre always vanished beneath or near to a large trough, which at that time stood in the farm-yard. He had the trough lifted on edge, and found beneath it a hoard of gold, with which he afterwards purchased two estates in Cumberland. There is a somewhat similar story told of Howgill Castle."*
The potters of the “olden time,” before the apparition of policemen in these counties, were particularly well stored with boggle stories of the animal sort, which they related to each round their camp-fire by night. Haunted “plantins” there were in all parts. In some cases a white horse had been seen twinkling through the trees, in others the plantin had been agitated by a furious storm of wind, while no breath of air was stirring outside. One daring potter had run after a huge dog one night, had run, and run, until it disappeared; but he would take care never again to do so, for this dog was an old man who had committed suicide some four or five miles distant. There is a story of a potter who was returning from Staffordshire, and in some part of Westmorland laid down his
* Rev. J. Simpson at the Kendal Nat. Hist. Society.
cart, and under it settled himself to sleep. During the night he awoke, and heard such a rattling amonst the pots, that he concluded the place was haunted, and not fit for mortal sojourn. He started up, caught his old horse, and travelled about seven miles further, until he thought he had fairly left the boggle behind. He “ loosed out” again, and laid down, when the boggle recommenced. But it was now daylight, so he looked amongst his pots, and there was the secret-a cat he had stolen, had escaped out of the bag in which it was tied. And he had “ clean forgetten it.”
Of the extinct species of apparitions, now included under the name of boggles, the bargheist was perhaps the principal. Originally the spirit that haunted the tomb, or barrow (see page 47), in later times it came to be known by its noise. "To beal like a bargheist,"” Mr. Simpson informs us, “is still applied to crying children, and thou girt bargheist serves as a term of reproach to any one who makes a bellowing noise, and disturbs the neighbourhood. “I was yance,' says a person now living, ‘ya neet, comen doon a lonnen, fra seein our Betty, when a'et yance I saw summet afore me.
Efter a bit I went on, but it nivver stirred. When I gat near't, I fetched it a skelp wi my stick, and it gev a girt beal oot. I knew then it was a bargheist.' The brag of Northumberland and Durham is doubtless the same with the bargheist, the name being a contraction. An old woman said she never saw the brag distinctly, but frequently heard it.*
“It is a curious fact,” says Mr. Simpson, “and well worthy of observation, that most of the places at which any remains of antiquity are found to exist, or any curious or interesting discoveries made, have had the reputation of being haunted. The story of some fearful tragedy enacted on the spot may have been long forgotten; but from generation to generation the place has had an evil reputation. About thirty years since there were found in a place called Skellaw Warle, in the parish of Morland, eleven human skeletons. It is said that some of them had been buried with rings, apparently of gold, around their wrists, and some
* The Borderer's Table Book, by M. A. Richardson.