Sunday, October 20, 2013

Witch Legends & Encounters


In keeping with the Halloween spirit, I have found a few legendary witch posts from the past years. Though this is only a small sample, I hope you'll enjoy reading:

Bell Witch Story: Missing Grave Marker Returns After 40 Years

11/5/08 - The latest chapter of Middle Tennessee's famed Bell Witch story could be titled "The Tale of the Homesick Headstone."

It begins in 1860, when the 22-year-old great-granddaughter of John Bell died and was buried in the family cemetery, her rest undisturbed until the headstone disappeared about a century later.

It ends earlier this month, when the missing marker turned up in Nashville, upside down and broken in two.

"The stone was found in Madison," said Tim Henson, a local historian and curator of the Adams Museum in the Robertson County town. "It was used as a stepping stone in someone's yard for at least 41 years."

Now the marker is in its rightful place. Getting it there had its spooky moments, which seems fitting for a member of the family at the center of one of the South's most celebrated ghost stories.

Story begins in 1817

In 1817, an angry spirit took up residence on the Bell farm in Adams, about an hour's drive northwest of Nashville. Some people identified her as Kate Batts, an eccentric woman who believed John Bell had cheated her in a land deal.

She tormented the family, slapping, pinching and pulling the children's hair. She sang hymns, preached and plagued their father, who fell into recurring bouts of illness until he died in December 1820, a terrible smell on his lips and a mysterious bottle of black liquid nearby.

The tale has been the subject of books and movies, including An American Haunting (2006). And townspeople and tourists say Kate still haunts today, throwing salad spoons and blue balls in the air.

The supernatural Bell mystique may extend to the headstone of Mary Allen Bell Coke, if the story its finder tells is any indication.

The marker had made its way to a trash bin in Madison, where a homeowner found it years ago and added it to the lawn.

"A contractor from Springfield, working on that house, brought it home," Henson said. The contractor, Janie Hudgens, was intrigued and went online to research the dead woman. That led to funeral director and Bell descendant Bob Bell in Springfield, who called Henson.

Hudgens said that after she and husband Sparky found the stone, she made it her mission to find out where it came from.

"I'm from Alabama, and we respect the dead there," Hudgens said.

"When we found the headstone, that bothered me. For three nights straight, I was on the computer till 3 or 4 in the morning looking for where the tombstone belonged."

The night before they were to give Henson the marker, they were in bed with the room dark when the screen came to life, static crossing its screen. Not long after she turned it off, "it came on again, and it was on the page about the Bell family."

Then there was the wind, which she said "blew the deadbolt-locked door open."

As she told Henson, "I think this stone wants to get home."

Henson recently took it to the cemetery and placed it on the grave, but that was just for a brief visit. It'll remain in storage until it can be safely and securely displayed.

"We just want to place it back in the Bell cemetery that it belongs in," he said. "We know within a foot or two where it's supposed to go. We want to put it back so that it can't be taken away again."

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting

The Bell Witch : The Full Account

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The Witches of Canewdon St. Nicholas Church



Click for video

Haunted Earth visits Canewdon Church, famous for it`s alleged connection with witches and witchcraft.

Here Chris investigates local history as well as connecting with the spiritual presences of this grave yard.


Historical Background

Canewdon is a village in the Rochford District of Essex in England.

The origin of the name is unclear. It is believed by some to come from Canute the Great. The village is on a hill, and locally is claimed to be the site of an ancient camp used by Canute, during a battle during his invasion of Essex in 1013.

The 14th century church of St. Nicholas, with its 15th century tower and porch, stands on a hill 128 feet above the marshes. The oldest part of the church is the outside wall of the north aisle which contains many Roman bricks, presumably from an earlier building.

There is much superstition around the village, believed to be a centre of witchcraft. Legend has it that while the church tower stands, there will always remain six witches in Canewdon. Local folklore also has it that if you walk around the church seven times (anticlockwise) on Halloween you will see a witch, and thirteen times you will disappear. Both these stories can make the village a popular destination on Halloween, to the extent that the police have been known to seal off the village to non-residents.

Whilst the church of St Nicholas stands full on Beacon Hill, Canewdon, it is said that there will be as many witches in silk as in cotton.

A lot of the folklore probably came from George Pickingill who, living in the village during the late 19th century, still apparently practised pagan rituals in the church grounds. The idea that something magical can happen from running about the church is probably an exaggeration of what scared locals saw the witch master and his nymphs doing 'walking the circle' as it is known in paganism.

Most of the village was built in the mid-Sixties, much to the old locals' dismay, and until recently there has been an "us and them" situation.

There are many ghost stories within the village, most again central to the church. The most famous ghost is the grey lady who reportedly floats down from the church's west gate towards the river Crouch. These stories often attract ghost-hunters and young curious people who can prove a nuisance to the village.


The image was captured at Canewdon St. Nicholas Church. Famous for its tales of witches and witchcraft. The police normally seal off the church at Halloween due to so many people trying to access the graveyard. The image was taken with no external lighting... there have been tales of a fire elemental at the graveyard.

The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation

The Word: Welsh Witchcraft, The Grail of Immortality And The Sacred Keys

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Grace Sherwood: The Witch of Pungo


6/3/09 - More than 300 years ago, a series of strange events struck old Princess Anne County, Va. farmers.

Cotton plants withered. Cows' milk dried up. Husbands' eyes wandered from their wives.

Who was to blame? According to the local women, Grace Sherwood.

The farmer's wife knew a little too much about herbs, was a little too pretty and wore clothing that was a little too tight, according to local historians. So they accused her of witchcraft.

A judge ordered Sherwood to be tried by ducking. So on July 10, 1706, with her thumbs tied to her big toes, Sherwood was ducked in the Lynnhaven River.

The street leading to her ducking spot now carries her legend as Witchduck Road.

"It's named after Grace Sherwood's ducking," said local historian Deni Norred, who co- wrote "Ghosts, Witches and Weird Tales of Virginia Beach." "She was the first person tried by water in Virginia for witchcraft."

Sherwood escaped her bonds and swam to safety, which the court considered proof of her devilish dealings. The day's wisdom dictated that an innocent woman would have sunk, Norred said.

Sherwood served several years in jail before returning to her three sons. She lived to be nearly 80 and died at her farm in Pungo around 1740.

Witchduck Road isn't the only landmark named after Sherwood or her trial. There's also Witch Duck Bay, Witch Duck Point, Witch Point Trail and Sherwood Lane.

Three years ago, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine exonerated Sherwood. A bronze statue at Sentara Bayside Hospital, located on the corner of Independence Boulevard and North Witchduck Road, honors her legend.

But according to local stories, that legend isn't quite over. Some say Sherwood returns to visit her ducking spot every July and can be seen as a spot of light dancing on Witch Duck Bay.

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Grace Sherwood's Story

Early court records tell the tale of Grace Sherwood, who was tried in 1706 as Virginia Beach's first witch. Unfortunately, there are no existing images of Grace. Her story is perhaps the most fascinating of the folklore in the history of Tidewater. Witchcraft was a very serious and real thing to the colonists. The cult was believed to be a threat to the Christian Church, and everyone during the early 1700's was on the lookout for witches, who could be recognized by so-called unusual or mysterious behaviors.

Grace lived her entire life in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach (named for Indian chief Machiopungo), and married James Sherwood with whom she had three sons. She was said to be strikingly attractive, string-willed, and a non-conformist by nature. These traits were resented by her neighbors, who began spreading rumors about her witch-like behavior. She was accused of blighting gardens, causing livestock to die, and influencing the weather.

After eight years of constant slander and bickering by her neighbors, Grace was formally charged with suspicions of witchcraft. A jury of women were ordered to search her body for suspicious or unusual markings, thought to be brands of the devil himself, and naturally the jury found, "marks not like theirs or like those of any other women." However, neither the local court nor the Attorney General in Williamsburg, would pass judgment on declaring her a witch. It was finally decided that Grace, "by her own consent, be tried in the water by Ducking, (dunking)." Water was considered to be the purest element and the theory was that it would reject anything of an evil nature. Based on this theory, the accused was tied up and thrown into the water. If the person drowned, he was declared innocent of witchcraft; if he could stay afloat until he could free himself, he was declared a witch.

On July 10, 1706, Grace was marched from the jail (which located near the present day site of Old Donation Church) down the dirt road (now Witch Duck Road) to the Lynnhaven River. This portion of the river has since been named Witch Duck Bay in memory of the occasion. This being a big event, hoards of people from all over the colony flocked to the scene as news of the Ducking had spread throughout the Commonwealth.

Grace Sherwood was tied crossbound with the thumb of her right hand to the big toe of her left foot, and the thumb of her left hand to the big toe of her right foot, and thrown into the water. As predicted by her accusers, Grace managed to stay afloat until she could free herself and swim to shore. She was jailed and awaiting trial for witchcraft for nearly eight years, when the charges against her were dropped due to the softening of her accusers hearts, and she was set free. She moved back to her Pungo home and lived there until her death at the age of 80.

Many stories have been told and retold over the years about this most remarkable woman. One of the many tall tales that have been handed down from generation to generation has to do with the day of her ducking. When they led Grace Sherwood through the crowd that had turned out to see her put into the water she told them, "All right, all of you po' white trash, you've worn out your shoes traipsin' here to see me ducked, but before you'll get back home again you are goin' to get the duckin' of your life." When they put Grace into the water the sky was as bright blue as a bird's wing, but immediately afterward it grew pitch black, the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed all across the heavens. The terrified people started for home, only to be washed off the roads and into the ditches by a regular cloudburst.

Witchcraft Myths in American Culture

Mysteries and Legends of Virginia: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained (Myths and Mysteries Series)

The Witch of Pungo and other historical stories of the early colonies

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Was Moll Dyer Real or a Legend?

1/19/10 - The story of Moll Dyer, a witch who was driven from her home south of Leonardtown more than 300 years ago, is well known and often repeated in St. Mary's County.

But was she ever real? There are no records of her existence. However, there is a road and stream named after her south of Leonardtown and lands there bore her name since the 1890s.

A large rock, said to be the last resting place of Moll Dyer where she left imprints of her knees and hand on the stone, was moved in 1972 to the front of the circuit courthouse in Leonardtown. The area of Moll Dyer Road was purported to be haunted.

Tradition has it that Moll Dyer was an outcast in the small community between Leonardtown and Redgate. Though she lived in a hut, she survived via the generosity of others through the alms house, located where Leonardtown Middle School is now.

The winter of 1697 was extraordinarily harsh. On March 27 the Council of Maryland proceedings in Annapolis commented on the bad weather: "It hath pleased God that this winter hath been the longest that hath been known in the memory of man, for it began about the middle of November, and little sign of any spring yet. It was very uncertain weather, several frosts and snows, one of which was the greatest hath been known."

Witchcraft was often blamed for such calamitous times. In St. Mary's that year, the legend goes, Moll Dyer fit the description of a witch — a strange old hag.

Witches weren't common, but it was still widely believed they did exist then.

In June 1654, the crew of the ship Charity on route to Maryland from England testified about the hanging of passenger Mary Lee for suspicion of practicing witchcraft, according to the Proceedings of the Council of Maryland.

On Oct. 4, 1659, Edward Prescott was acquitted for "one Elizabeth Richardson hanged in his ship" for witchcraft, according to the proceedings of the Provincial Court. Plaintiff John Washington of Virginia couldn't attend court that day and because there was no testimony, Prescott was released. He blamed John Greene, captain of the ship, for the execution.

In 1674, John Cowman of St. Mary's County was arraigned, convicted and condemned for witchcraft, conjuration or enchantment upon the body of Eliza Goodall, according to an 1885 edition of the Baltimore Times. Cowman was pardoned by Charles Calvert.

On Oct. 9, 1685, Rebecca Fowler of Calvert County was hanged for practicing witchcraft. She was the only person executed in Maryland for witchcraft, according to the 1938 book "Crime and Punishment in Early Maryland."

One story about Moll Dyer says there was careful consultation as Dyer's neighbors decided to force her away after their crops were ruined and their livestock died. Another account says the decision was fueled by binge drinking at the alms house. Both stories say countrymen bore down on Dyer's hut with torches on a cold February night in 1697. Her house set ablaze, Dyer sought refuge in the surrounding woods and the men did not pursue her.

"Nothing was heard of her for several days, until a boy hunting for his cattle in the woods espied her kneeling on a stone with one hand resting thereon and the other raised as if in prayer, or to curse her tormentors, wrote Joseph Morgan of Leonardtown in the 1890s.

"Her life had gone out in the dark, cold night, and she still rested in her suppliant position, frozen stiff with the Winter's cold. The story runs that she offered a prayer to be avenged on her persecutors and that a curse be put on them and their lands," he wrote.

The Beacon newspaper of Sept. 12, 1901, reported the experience of a young man returning to Leonardtown on horseback in the dead of night. "At Moll Dyer's run he stopped to water his horse. He says he noticed that another traveler was at the run and thinking he knew who it was, asked it to move. No attention was paid to the request and it was repeated somewhat more harshly. Surprised at the fright manifested by his horse, he turned and noted that the horseman he thought he knew was riding a headless animal, and while gazing at this unusual appearance he distinctly saw the spectral horse part in the middle and the horseman disappear between the two disjointed ends."

Moll Dyer's Run was cited in a deed from 1857. There were five houses around the run, according to a May 1854 survey of the area, on the east side of Clay Hill Road, which is today's Route 5. The road that later became Moll Dyer Road was already there.

By 1895, 60 acres of land near Clay Hill Road was called Moll Dyer's Hill, just north of Redgate.

In 1968, Philip Love, an editor for The Evening Star, began searching for Moll Dyer's rock. He and his wife found what was supposed to be that rock in the woods of Stephen Foxwell's farm, a farm that is today home of Lil' Margaret's Bluegrass Festival.

But Love was not the first to claim finding the infamous rock. "In a clearing up on Clover Lot, Mr. John T. Yates found in a gully, not far from the run, the legendary ‘Moll Dyer's stone.' The knee prints on the stone are still visible," according to the Beacon of April 13, 1911. According to land records, Clover Lot was then part of Foxwell's farm and is today located at 42660 Moll Dyer Road, home of William and Alice Holly. Next door is Elizabeth Holly, who moved to the first house on the left in 1968.

On Oct. 14, 1972, the local National Guard, which was housed in today's Leonardtown library, hauled the 875-pound rock up from the Clover Lot to the old county jail, owned by the St. Mary's County Historical Society, in front of the circuit courthouse where it rests today.

Elizabeth Holly said she was at work the day they moved the rock, which tore up her driveway in the process. She heard the story of Moll Dyer when she and her husband moved in and was aware of the rock's story, but said recently of the witch, "She ain't bothered us."

NOTE: The Moll Dyer mystery will most likely never be solved. I have heard of the apparitions that haunt the rock and courthouse, but is it Moll Dyer. Witchcraft is a Maryland legacy...so much of our history and legends are the result of people who practiced or were accused of practicing the 'craft'. Though I'm a transplanted Marylander, I was raised just across the Mason-Dixon line in Pennsylvania and accustomed to the craft for healing through my ancestors and others who kept the tradition intact...Lon

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WITCHCRAFT IN MARYLAND

Witchcraft trials and executions were facts of life in colonial Maryland.

From Southern Maryland to the Eastern Shore and as far north as Anne Arundel County, historians have documented at least 12 cases of persons prosecuted or persecuted in the 1600s and early 1700s because of accusations that they practiced witchcraft.

There wasn't the same sort of hysteria in Maryland that there was in Massachusetts, where 19 men and women were executed and many imprisoned for witchcraft in 1692.

But Maryland and neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia all had witchcraft trials, according to Hagerstown-based historian John Nelson.

Two of the earliest witchcraft cases in the Maryland State Archives involve executions aboard ships bound for Maryland from England.

Two men who recently had arrived on the Charity of London told colonial officials in St. Mary's City in 1654 that the ship's crew had hanged an old woman named Mary Lee after she was accused of sorcery.

Her supposed crime: summoning a relentless storm that some on board blamed on "the malevolence of witches."

The second shipboard execution involved George Washington's great-grandfather, John Washington of Westmoreland County, Va. He accused ship owner Edward Prescott in 1659 of hanging Elizabeth Richardson as a witch.

Prescott acknowledged the hanging at his trial but was acquitted after he said the ship's captain, John Green, was the one responsible. The trial was in Patuxent, in either Anne Arundel or Charles counties.

Maryland's only recorded execution for witchcraft on land occurred Oct. 9, 1685, in Calvert County. Rebecca Fowler was hanged after a jury found her guilty of "certain evil and diabolical arts called witchcrafts, enchantments, charms [and] sorceries."

Hannah Edwards, also of Calvert County, was acquitted in 1686 of similar charges.

St. Mary's County is rich in witchcraft history, with three cases in the historical record and a folk tale that is perhaps Maryland's best-known bit of witch lore.

There is no historical record of Moll Dyer, but her legend is as enduring as the 875-pound boulder in front of the Old Jail Museum in Leonardtown that supposedly bears her hand print.

The reported witch is said to have been driven from her home on the coldest night of the year by townsfolk who burned her cabin. Dyer died of exposure and was found with her hand frozen to the rock, the story goes.

Maryland's last recorded witchcraft trial was held in Annapolis in 1712. A jury acquitted Virtue Violl of Talbot County of using witchcraft to harm the health of an invalid neighbor.




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