Sunday, March 13, 2011

More on Maryland witches

My previous post involved witch lore on Maryland's eastern shore.
Looking at Studies in philology by University of North Carolina (1793-1962) I came across some more information on witchcraft in Maryland.

According to this author, to keep out witches, "In many sections, including the highlands of the South, a broom laid across the doorway is sufficient protection,2" the true explanation of its value being that offered in Maryland: the witch cannot enter until she has counted all the straws of which the broom is made."

The main fear relates to sleep paralysis. "Human beings are, of course, often "ridden" by witches, and it is recorded that a girl in one of the mountain districts of the South was 'pressed to death' by a witch who came night after night in the form of a black cat and sat on her chest."

Witches could also enter and leave a house through a keyhole. "A miller in Frederick County, Maryland, who was troubled with nightmare, decided that his nocturnal visitor was a witch and accordingly one night stopped the keyhole of his room." Strangely, not only did the nightmares end, but the next day he "found a beautiful girl cowering in the cupboard." He forced her to become his servant and then eventually married her. However, when the man eventually unstopped the keyhole, she escaped. It is hard to imagine that this actually happened, but may have been inspired by a true story. If he believed that taking this action would prevent future nightmares it is possible that it did. Perhaps shortly thereafter, after getting a good night's sleep, he met a young woman who he later had a nasty break-up with. I don't know, but that is my theory.

There are stories from western Maryland that involve witches killing cattle. The author wrote "Among the white population of the Alleghany Mountains witches kill cattle by shooting them with balls of hair,174 and in western Maryland 'witches' bullets' of pith or hair are often found in the bodies of dead animals." I wonder if this could be produced by cats or other animals eating some of the dead cattle and coughing up hairballs? Either that, or there really are witches out there killing cattle by this strange method.

Killing or harming witches appear to be the same on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. The author notes that "[i]n western Maryland shooting the hag's picture with a bullet made from a silver coin is an effective means of retaliation."

If you are not wealthy enough to have silver, a cheaper method will provide you with some protection. "In western Maryland a witch is rendered powerless if salt is sprinkled under her chair . . . ." Apparently the Devil doesn't like salt.

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