Now, Words about Witches:
Once, long ago, but, of all places, in Giro INDIANA, a woman was trying desperately to get her damned butter churn to cooperate.
"Fie!" the woman intoned. "Some damn witch has got her foot on my churn. I know what I'll do!"
She then went to the fireplace and retrieved a hot iron. Going back to her churn, she opened the lid and, dropping the red hot iron inside, closed the churn tightly.
A piercing scream erupted from within. The wise old woman smiled.
The next day, she went to visit the next door neighbor with a basket of eggs. When she knocked, she was surprised to see Mrs. Jones come hobbling to the door with her foot bandaged.
"Why, Mrs. Jones," said the surprised woman. "What has happened to your foot?"
"Oh dearies," said the hurting old woman. "I've burned it most terribly!"
(The astute reader will draw what conclusions he or she may.)
The Well Witcher
Another legendary act of witchery involved a curious old woman. An integral detail here is that her daughter was supposedly cursed, having seen her brother-in-law kill her sister. What, however, this has to do with the following tale, I cannot say.
At any rate, a black man from the Caribbean, who lived close by, allowed one of his cows to wander into their yard, so incensing the old witch and her disturbed daughter that she placed a hex on his well—throwing in a cursed penny, so that the water would go sour.
Unfazed however, because being well versed in such things due to his upbringing in the voodoo of his island homeland, the old man heated a penny and tossed THAT into the well. Soon, his water was back to normal, and the old witch next door (both in the literal and figurative sense) found her villainous plans thwarted. There is no mention as to how her undoubtedly traumatized daughter reacted.
The Spectral Cat
The idea of getting clawed by a vicious cat would be terrifying to most folks—the owner of a grist mill in Southern Indiana had a peculiar problem, though. His cat was not simply some wildcat come in from the woods, to startle and terrify his employees. Such an animal, of course, could be chased away or killed. HIS cat, the animal that was making it increasingly hard to hold onto his workers, was said to be a spectral feline, a supernatural horror that had taken the mere form of a cat, all the better to terrorize the unsuspecting.
Deciding that he would see to the situation personally—that is, wait up all night for the thing to appear, he went to the mill, rifle in hand and knife secured in the waistband of his pants.
Securing himself in a hidden vantage point, and propping himself against a tree, he waited, gun in hand, until sleep's soothing balm began to steal over him. Feeling himself nodding off, he was startled to wakefulness by weird, piercing cries, and as his sleepy eyes adjusted to the dark of the night, he looked on in wonder as a black shape with burning eyes began to take form.
It was undoubtedly a dark, sleek, spectral cat. But, a cat unlike anything he had ever seen before. The fur was black, the teeth long and sharp and white, the paws huge and deadly. But the eyes! The eyes glowed with a ferocity and fire unlike any he had ever seen before. He felt the hair on the back of his arms stand on end.
He raised his gun in trembling arms, fired. He missed! The animal suddenly charged forward in the dark, and was on him. He wrestled with it in the dirt, flinging his gun. The razor-sharp teeth were at his throat!
It was just then that he reached down for his knife. Using the last bit of his strength, he threw the thing away from him, and, falling upon it in desperation, managed to slice off one of its enormous paws.
The spectral cat let out an unearthly howl of pain and rage. And then, seeming to dissolve into smoke, it slowly just...disappeared. Looking down, the mill owner could see the severed paw in the dirt at his feet, still spilling blood. But, after dissolving into a thick black smoke, it, too, also vanished.
Coming home exhausted from his ordeal, he was met at the door by his daughter. At first, the child's hysterical words confused the tired, bedraggled man. Eventually, however, forcing her to slow down, he finally understood what she was trying to tell him.
"Oh, Papa!" she cried. "It's terrible! Mother's hand got cut off last night. The doctor has been by to sew up the wound!"
(Again, the reader or listener is expected to draw one, and only one, conclusion from the tale's twist ending.)
When a poor old man named Jabe became afflicted by a devilish brain disease, it was said by concerned relatives that, in point of fact, poor Jabe was not just writhing in the throes of terminal dementia, but was being slowly tortured or hag ridden—that is, that he was the prey of an invisible witch, sitting on his chest, tormenting him.
A local wise woman, well versed in such arcane lore, and reputedly able to see with the "second sight," recommended the following "treatment" for this particular supernatural malady.
Firstly, soot from Jabe's chimney was carefully gathered. Then, an image of the witch (but how did they know what she looked like?) was formed of brown paper. Then, and most interestingly like those scenes in old werewolf movies, a bullet of solid silver was fashioned. (But, as to who did this and where he procured the silver, none can say.)
The soot from the chimney, we take it, was used to draw the likeness of the witch. The portrait, such as it probably was, was taken to an old tree, and the best shot available fired the silver bullet into it.
Racing back to the sick room, where the mad, tragic Jabe was tied to the posts of his bed, the participants at the "witch killing" were overjoyed to see a smile spread across the now peaceful features of the long-suffering man.
"It is wonderful," one of them said. "The witch is dead!"
Then, noting his lack of movement, one man creeped forward. He bent low over the chest. Then, he called out sharply for a mirror.
He held it beneath the nose of the inert man. He then looked back at the assembled throng. He shook his head sadly.
"Yes," he agreed. "The witch is, indeed, dead. But, so is JABE."
Those Wascaly Witches
Diviners, fortune tellers and others who use the Devil's stock-in-trade for fun and profit, and to help stoke the infernal tar pits of sizzle and sulfur, are, in point of fact, actually a breed apart from the common, everyday, ride 'em broomstick, hook-nosed, cackling crone. The art of "dowsing", or carrying a sort of branch in the shape of a wishbone around until it points south, presumably at an underground source of water, is an example of helpful, "good witching." (We're certain the practice can, likewise, be extrapolated to find anything; and there are no doubt sincere souls who feel they've dowsed buried treasure, oil wells, cancer, incipient schizophrenia, etc.)
One helpful example of a piece of "good witching" came in the form of a fire letter, which had to be read as one walked back and forth in front of a dwelling, all the while reciting:
"Be welcome, fiery guest, but do not spread further; this I count thee as a penance in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
"I command thee, fire, by the power of God, which does all and creates all, thou wilt stand still and not go farther, as certain as Jesus stood on the banks of the Jordan and was baptized by John the Saint.
"This I count thee, fire, as a penance, in the name of the Holy Trinity.
"I command thee, fire, by the Power of God, thou wilt ally these flames as certain as Maria retained her virginity alone among all women, as she kept herself so chaste, so pure, so, therefore, fire cease thy fury.
"This I count thee, fire, as a penance, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity."
"I command thee fire, thou wilt smother thy heat, in the name of the dear blood of Jesus Christ, which he has shed for us, for our sins and crimes.
"This I count thee, fire, as penance, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
"Jesus Nazarenus, a King of the Jews, help us out of these dangers of fire, and save this country and limits from all plague and pestilence." *
As you can well see, these are some very un-witchlike sentiments.
Of course, witches were "not suffered to live," in the Old Testament, by Mosaic dispensation as it were. To that end, the "Witch Hunters" of the Medieval period burned, boiled in oil, put in the rack, the boots, the thumbscrews, any and all accused of such vile, reprehensible, and Satanic affiliation. Also, pricked these accused women were, by sharp needles, their legs broken and twisted, their arms bent back behind them by the "Strappado." European "torture museums" today still display the rusted relics of man's inhumanity to man; all due to delusion. Witches, you see, poisoned wells, or killed cattle; abducted infants, turned their fat into tallow, danced with the Devil at his ghastly revels on Walpurgisnacht.
Some believe it today; still others, the "Mad Mob," are ever-ready to be whipped into potent fury over an "extraordinary popular delusion" (to quote the author Mackay), and are also equally eager to burn whatever heretic, outsider or "witch" they decide, in their madness, is a threat to them and their so-invigorating way of life. They have the torches, the pitchforks, and the burning place all ready, and they're prepared to tie someone, anyone to the stake. Whom shall it be this time? Will it be me?
*Note: The above "Fire Letter" is quoted from Hoosier Folk Legends by Ronald A. Baker. No relation to present author.