Witchcraft Legends

Frau Trude

Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a small girl who was strong willed and impudent, and whenever her parents said anything to her, she disobeyed them. How could anything go well with her?

One day she said to her parents: "I have heard so much about Frau Trude. Someday I want to go to her place. People say such amazing things are seen there, and such strange things happen there, that I have become very curious.

Her parents strictly forbade her, saying: "Frau Trude is a wicked woman who commits godless acts. If you go there, you will no longer be our child.

But the girl paid no attention to her parents and went to Frau Trude's place anyway.

When she arrived there, Frau Trude asked: "Why are you so pale?"

"Oh," she answered, trembling all over, "I saw something that frightened me."

"What did you see?"

"I saw a black man on your steps."

"That was a charcoal burner."

"Then I saw a green man."

"That was a huntsman."

"Then I saw a blood-red man."

"That was a butcher."

"Oh, Frau Trude, it frightened me when I looked through your window and could not see you, but instead saw the devil with a head of fire."

"Aha!" she said. "So you saw the witch properly outfitted. I have been waiting for you and wanting you for a long time. Light the way for me now!"

With that she turned to girl into a block of wood and threw it into the fire. When it was thoroughly aglow she sat down next to it, and warmed herself by it, saying: "It gives such a bright light!"

Two Eyes Too Many

Germany, Carl and Theodor Colshorn

In Hiddestorf, not too long ago, there lived a widow who every Sunday was miraculously able to cook the most delicious meals. By the time that the servant girls had gone to church in the morning, she had not yet made a fire, had not cleaned the vegetables, and had not even fetched any meat. But by the time church was finished, the best meal was on the table.

Because that was not possible with ordinary powers, one Sunday a servant hid himself behind a large barrel in the kitchen in order to spy on the woman.

Just about the time the sermon was beginning there was a commotion in the chimney, and the devil came down and began to caress the woman. Afterward he started to fill the pots for her, but he suddenly stood still and said, "Woman, there are two eyes too many in here!" She denied it. "There are two eyes too many in here!" he said again, but when the woman began to make fun of him, he filled the pots and disappeared up the chimney.

At noon when everyone was seated at the table, the servant said, "I don't want to eat, because I know that it came from the devil!"

He had scarcely spoken when the Black One came in through the window, grabbed the woman by her braid, wrung her neck, and flew out the window with her.

The Witch of Treva

England, Robert Hunt

Once on a time, long ago, there lived at Treva, a hamlet in Zennor, a wonderful old lady deeply skilled in necromancy. Her charms, spells, and dark incantations made her the terror of the neighborhood. However, this old lady failed to impress her husband with any belief in her supernatural powers, nor did he fail to proclaim his unbelief aloud.

One day this skeptic came home to dinner, and found, being exceedingly hungry, to his bitter disappointment, that not only was there no dinner to eat, but that there was no meat in the house. His rage was great, but all he could get from his wife was, "I couldn't get meat out of the stones, could I?" It was in vain to give the reins to passion, the old woman told him, and he must know "that hard words buttered no parsnips."

Well, at length he resolved to put his wife's powers to the proof, and he quietly but determinedly told her that he would be the death of her if she did not get him some dinner; but if in half an hour she gave him some good cooked meat, he would believe all she had boasted of her power, and be submissive to her forever.

St. Ives, the nearest market town, was five miles off; but nothing doubting, the witch put on her bonnet and cloak, and started. Her husband watched her from their cottage door, down the hill; and at the bottom of the hill, he saw his wife quietly place herself on the ground and disappear. In her place a fine hare ran on at its full speed.

He was not a little startled, but he waited, and within the half hour in walked his wife with "good flesh and taties all ready for aiting." There was no longer any doubt, and the poor husband lived in fear of the witch of Treva to the day of her death.

This event took place after a few years, and it is said the room was full of evil spirits, and that the old woman's shrieks were awful to hear. Howbeit, peace in the shape of pale-faced death came to her at last, and then a black cloud rested over the house when all the heavens were clear and blue.

She was borne to the grave by six aged men, carried, as is the custom, underhand. When they were about half way between the house and the church, a hare started from the roadside and leaped over the coffin. The terrified bearers let the corpse fall to the ground, and ran away. Another lot of men took up the coffin and proceeded.

They had not gone far when puss was suddenly seen seated on the coffin, and again the coffin was abandoned. After long consultation, and being persuaded by the parson to carry the old woman very quickly into the churchyard, while he walked before, six others made the attempt, and as the parson never ceased to repeat the Lord's Prayer, all went on quietly.

Arrived at the church stile, they rested the corpse, the parson paused to commence the ordinary burial service, and there stood the hare, which, as soon as the clergyman began "I am the resurrection and the life," uttered a diabolical howl, changed into a black, unshapen creature, and disappeared.

The Girl Who Transformed Herself into a Hare

Germany, A. Haas

In Trent there formerly lived a girl who had inherited a witch's thong from her grandmother. Whenever she tied the thong around herself she would turn into a hare. In this form she often heckled a forester who lived in the vicinity. Whenever he would shoot at her, his bullets just glanced off her pelt. When he came to realize that there was something uncanny going on here, he loaded his flintlock with a coffin nail that he had somehow acquired.

The next time he saw the hare, he shot it as it was running away. In an instant the hare disappeared, and the girl stood before him in its place. With tears she asked him for help, for she had a serious wound on her foot. In order to gain his sympathy, she confessed her evil power to the forester, promising never again to make use of it.

For a time she kept her promise, but no sooner had her foot healed than she fell back into her old vices. Now her fiancé‚ worked as a herdsman at a nearby estate, and she frequently made use of her thong in order to visit him often and undisturbed. Her fiancé‚ knew nothing of her powers, and one day when she appeared before him as a hare — for she had not yet had time to assume her human form — he struck her with a water carrier. As a result she started to bleed profusely, and with tears she confessed to her fiancé‚ what her situation was.

He broke off his relationship with her. She remained lame for the rest of her life. It is said that the witch's thong was later buried in the grandmother's grave.

A Witch Is Recognized

Germany, J. W. Wolf

A journeyman cooper found work with an old female master in Binsachsen. Once when he was going out for the evening, the woman asked him if he was not afraid to come home by himself. "No," he said. His way home led him across a meadow, where a large cat approached him and ran along beside him. He took no further notice of it.

The next evening he went out again, and his landlady once again asked him if he was not afraid. He told her about the cat, but said that he had no fear of such a dumb animal. This time when he came to the meadow the cat was there again, but now it ran toward him and was about to jump on him. He hit it with a pair of pincers, breaking its left front leg, and it fled screaming.

The next morning the master did not get out of bed. The journeyman pulled back her covers and saw that her left arm was broken. Thus it was disclosed that the woman was a witch.

Ridden by a Witch

Germany, August Ey

A miner was always making fun of people who claimed that witches ride to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. He often said, "If such an old creature ever crosses my path, I will throw her down. What chance would such an old skeleton of a hag made up of nothing but skin and bones have against the likes of me?"

"Now, now," an old neighbor woman who lived nearby would say. "It wouldn't be all that easy to throw down such a rider. You should be careful what you say!"

"Tomfoolery! Tomfoolery!" he said. "I'd make her forget about riding." To that the old woman said nothing.

Walpurgis Night arrived. There was shooting everywhere, as though the enemy were attacking. They were shooting off firecrackers, flintlocks, rifles, and pistols. On that evening everyone was firing his shooting iron, and the louder the noise, the better everyone liked it.

About nine o'clock the miner learned that something had gone wrong in the shaft, and he was called upon to report for duty. He got as far as Bremen Hill when he was approached by a swarm of old hags flying through the air. There was such commotion and uproar as though all the devils were on the loose.

One of the hags came down, turned the miner over, whether he wanted to or not, and mounted him. Then away they went through the air, following the others to the Brocken. He could barely breathe, and the old hag was so heavy that she nearly broke his bones.

She finally climbed off him, and he fell to the ground half dead. The other witches then surrounded him and danced around him, and the devil himself was there with them. Finally they picked him up and asked him if he could remain silent, or if he would like to be boiled in oil. Now no one wants to be boiled in oil, so he said that he would never say anything about the witches. Then the devil said to him that he would be a child of death if he ever uttered a single word. And then the witches did unspeakable things up there on the mountain.

As midnight approached, they all gathered together, and one of the witches again took our miner and mounted him, and they swarmed through the air until they reached Bremen Hill near Claustal. They released him at the same spot where the witch had captured him. He lay there for a few hours recovering his strength; then he slowly crept homeward. When he arrived home, his wife was already up and was preparing to go into the woods for a load of wood.

"Wife," he said, "stay here. I have had a bad night. Go into the kitchen and put a little wood into the stove. I have been sweating, and I need to change my clothes." She did what he said. He then told the stove what had happened. His wife overheard it all, but said nothing.

A half hour later the old neighbor woman came by and said that it was a good thing he had spoken to the stove and not to a person, or he would see how things would go with him.

And thus they knew that she was a witch. The wife reported her, and the wicked witch was burned to death, just as she deserved.

The Blacksmith's Wife of Yarrowfoot

Scotland, George Douglas

Some years back, the blacksmith of Yarrowfoot had for apprentices two brothers, both steady lads, and, when bound to him, fine healthy fellows.

After a few months, however, the younger of the two began to grow pale and lean, lose his appetite, and show other marks of declining health. His brother, much concerned, often questioned him as to what ailed him, but to no purpose.

At last, however, the poor lad burst into an agony of tears, and confessed that he was quite worn out, and should soon be brought to the grave through the ill-usage of his mistress, who was in truth a witch, though none suspected it. "Every night," he sobbed out, "she comes to my bedside, puts a magic bridle on me, and changes me into a horse. Then, seated on my back, she urges me on for many a mile to the wild moors, where she and I know not what other vile creatures hold their hideous feasts. There she keeps me all night, and at early morning I carry her home. She takes off my bridle, and there I am, but so weary I can ill stand. And thus I pass my nights while you are soundly sleeping."

The elder brother at once declared he would take his chance of a night among the witches, so he put the younger one in his own place next to the wall, and lay awake himself till the usual time of the witch-woman's arrival. She came, bridle in hand, and flinging it over the elder brother's head, up sprang a fine hunting horse. The lady leaped on his back, and started for the trysting-place, which on this occasion, as it chanced, was the cellar of a neighboring laird.

While she and the rest of the vile crew were regaling themselves with claret and sack, the hunter, who was left in a spare stall of the stable, rubbed and rubbed his head against the wall till he loosened the bridle, and finally got it off, on which he recovered his human form. Holding the bridle firmly in his hand, he concealed himself at the back of the stall till his mistress came within reach, when in an instant he flung the magic bridle over her head, and, behold, a fine gray mare!

He mounted her and dashed off, riding through hedge and ditch, till, looking down, he perceived she had lost a shoe from one of her forefeet. He took her to the first smithy that was open, had the shoe replaced, and a new one put on the other forefoot, and then rode her up and down a plowed field till she was nearly worn out. At last he took her home, and pulled the bridle off just in time for her to creep into bed before her husband awoke, and got up for his day's work.

The honest blacksmith arose, little thinking what had been going on all night; but his wife complained of being very ill, almost dying, and begged him to send for a doctor. He accordingly aroused his apprentices; the elder one went out, and soon returned with one whom he had chanced to meet already abroad.

The doctor wished to feel his patient's pulse, but she resolutely hid her hands, and refused to show them. The village Esculapius was perplexed; but the husband, impatient at her obstinacy, pulled off the bedclothes, and found, to his horror, that horseshoes were tightly nailed to both hands! On further examination, her sides appeared galled with kicks, the same that the apprentice had given her during his ride up and down the plowed field.

The brothers now came forward, and related all that had passed. On the following day the witch was tried by the magistrates of Selkirk, and condemned to be burned to death on a stone at the Bullsheugh, a sentence which was promptly carried into effect. It is added that the younger apprentice was at last restored to health by eating butter made from the milk of cows fed in kirkyards, a sovereign remedy for consumption brought on through being witch-ridden.

The Witches' Excursion

Ireland, Patrick Kennedy

Shemus Rua (Red James) awakened from his sleep one night by noises in his kitchen. Stealing to the door, he saw half-a-dozen old women sitting round the fire, jesting and laughing, his old housekeeper, Madge, quite frisky and gay, helping her sister crones to cheering glasses of punch.

He began to admire the impudence and imprudence of Madge, displayed in the invitation and the riot, but recollected on the instant her officiousness in urging him to take a comfortable posset, which she had brought to his bedside just before he fell asleep. Had he drunk it, he would have been just now deaf to the witches' glee. He heard and saw them drink his health in such a mocking style as nearly to tempt him to charge them, besom in hand, but he restrained himself.

The jug being emptied, one of them cried out, "Is it time to be gone?" and at the same moment, putting on a red cap, she added — Hie over to England.

Making use of a twig which she held in her hand as a steed, she gracefully soared up the chimney, and was rapidly followed by the rest. But when it came to the housekeeper, Shemus interposed. "By your leave, ma'am," said he, snatching twig and cap. "Ah, you desateful ould crocodile! If I find you here on my return, there'll be wigs on the green — Hie over to England."

The words were not out of his mouth when he was soaring above the ridge pole, and swiftly plowing the air. He was careful to speak no word (being somewhat conversant with witch-lore), as the result would be a tumble, and the immediate return of the expedition.

In a very short time they had crossed the Wicklow hills, the Irish Sea, and the Welsh mountains, and were charging, at whirlwind speed, the hall door of a castle. Shemus, only for the company in which he found himself, would have cried out for pardon, expecting to be mummy against the hard oak door in a moment; but, all bewildered, he found himself passing through the keyhole, along a passage, down a flight of steps, and through a cellar-door key-hole before he could form any clear idea of his situation.

Waking to the full consciousness of his position, he found himself sitting on a stallion, plenty of lights glimmering round, and he and his companions, with full tumblers of frothing wine in hand, hob-nobbing and drinking healths as jovially and recklessly as if the liquor was honestly come be, and they were sitting in Shemus's own kitchen. The red birredh has assimilated Shemus's nature for the time being to that of his unholy companions.

The heady liquors soon got into their brains, and a period of unconsciousness succeeded the ecstasy, the headache, the turning round of the barrels, and the "scattered sight" of poor Shemus. He woke up under the impression of being roughly seized, and shaken, and dragged upstairs, and subjected to a disagreeable examination by the lord of the castle, in his state parlor. There was much derision among the whole company, gentle and simple, on hearing Shemus's explanation, and, as the thing occurred in the dark ages, the unlucky Leinster man was sentenced to be hung as soon as the gallows could be prepared for the occasion.

The poor Hibernian was in the cart proceeding on his last journey, with a label on his back, and another on his breast, announcing him as the remorseless villain who for the last month had been draining the casks in my lord's vault every night.

He was surprised to hear himself addressed by his name, and in his native tongue, by an old woman in the crows. "Ach, Shemus, alanna! is it going to die you are in a strange place without your cappen d'yarrag? These words infused hope and courage into the poor victim's heart. He turned to the lord and humbly asked leave to die in his red cap, which he supposed had dropped from his head in the vault. A servant was sent for the head-piece, and Shemus felt lively hope warming his heart while placing it on his head.

On the platform he was graciously allowed to address the spectators, which he proceeded to do so in the usual formula composed for the benefit of flying stationers — "Good people all, a warning take by me;" but when he had finished the line, "My parents reared me tenderly," he unexpectedly added — "By yarrow and rue," etc., and the disappointed spectators saw him shoot up obliquely though the air in the style of a sky-rocket that had missed its aim.

It is said that the lord gook the circumstance much to heart, and never afterwards hung a man for twenty-four hours after his offense.

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