Imitating a Witch for Profit

Enid Porter, Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore

Wicked Witch of the East as pictured in The Tin Woodman of Oz by L. Frank Baum


W.H. Barrett can recall the fear of witchcraft which prevailed in the Fens between Littleport and Ely and in Brandon Creek until the early years of the 20th century, many were the tales and anecdotes he heard repeated about witches. Obviously some of the old women who did not mind acquiring a reputation for practising witchcraft added to their incomes by preying on the superstitions of their neighbours. One old woman of Brandon Creek in the 19th century, of whom W.H. Barrett had heard, was in the habit of placing little mounds of silt on people’s doorsteps during the night; everyone knew that the silt most probably came from newly dug graves in churchyards away from the peat areas of the Fens. The next morning the woman would arrive at the house, panting and puffing as though she had run a long distance, and swearing that she had seen the Devil putting the silt down. She promised, however, that she would avert his evil power if she were given money with which to placate him, and the householder was only too pleased to hand over a few pence to ward off disaster.

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