Mar 292013

One of my favorite resource books on Witchcraft is George Lyman Kittredge’s Witchcraft in Old and New England, which provides a wealth of information so vast and encompassing that, for being written in the late ’20s, is all the more remarkable (I get the impression of Mr. Kittredge collecting great piles of notecards, and somehow keeping them organized enough to compile into a volume, in an era before computers). Unusually, Mr. Kittredge steers clear of the Burning Times accounts which so often constitute studies of medieval Witchery, focusing on the folkloric aspects of Witchcraft in (as he says) both the Old World and the New, with chapters such as “Image Magic and the Like,” “Wind and Weather,” “The Witch in the Dairy,” “Metamorphosis,” and “The Seer.” Perhaps my most favorite story is one that he retells from Robert of Brunne, in the 14th century, which seems to end with a Witch-Story moral impressively unique: There was once a Witch who possessed a bag, which she enchanted to suck the milk out of other people’s cows. Eventually, however, the “goodmen of the town” grew wise to the Witch’s trick, and summoned her before the local bishop. Incredulous, the bishop “bade the witch work the marvel if she could.” The aged beldame recited her charm, and the assembled watched in amazement as the bag grew animated, then lay still at the Witch’s command. The bishop, hardly able to believe his eyes, imitated the Witch; but the bag did not come to life, instead laying inert on the ground. The bishop asked the Witch how this possibly could be so; she replied.

“Because you do not believe. If you would have faith in the words [of the charm] as I have, then the bag would go and suck cows. You may say what you like, but your words are wasted unless you have faith.” A Witch-Story from (as Robert of Brunne tells us) 1303, but incredibly reminiscent of Yoda from Star Wars: Trust in the Force, Luke.

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