The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
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27-05-2013, 11:40 PM (This post was last modified: 27-05-2013 11:47 PM by ghostexorcist.)
The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
Sometime back I posted an article I had written debunking the myth that Bigfoot braids horse manes. Apart from showing the so-called “braids” were actually matting formed from natural processes; I explained that various supernatural creatures have been used as explanations for the phenomenon throughout the centuries. The fact that this legend was present in Europe greatly intrigued me. After some cursory research, I believe I have discovered the origins of the folklore, as well as traced its evolution and spread to the US (in broad terms at least).

As I explain in the linked article, the knots are sometimes known as “elf locks” or “witches’ knots.” This has ties to Europe-wide folklore known as the “Wild Hunt.” The belief was that the spirits of famous historical kings, the recently deceased, and/or elves would commandeer horses from the stables of humans and ride them in the skies at night to hunt for trolls or beautiful maidens. I believe the Wild Hunt legend first developed around the 10th-century. The leader of the hunt varies from source to source. Some variations have it being led by the Germanic god Woden (Odin), while others have it led by the goddess Diana, who is said to lead an all-female version. A 13th-century Bishop from Paris wrote that her followers would plait the manes of horses with wax. I recently stumbled upon a 10th-century source known as the Canon Episcopi which presents Diana and her company as “evil women” in league with the devil. Therefore, Diana was quickly associated with witches by church leaders. This explains why the knots became known as witches’ knots.

The Canon Episcopi possibly has one of the earliest allusions to the so-called “Witches’ Sabbath.” This is basically a gathering of witches on the Sabbath (Jews were considered evil by the church). Church leaders originally viewed stories of women flying though the sky at night to be illusions; but, staring after 1400, the church changed its position. People started to be condemned for allegedly taking part in such nigh flights. Borrowing heavily from the Wild Hunt, popular legend stated that these women flew on horses, but these were later changed to other animals like goats and wolves. Take Hans Baldung’s early 16th-century engraving “Witches’ Sabbath,” for example:

[Image: Hans_Baldung_-_Witches_Sabbath_-_WGA01221.jpg]

Later folklore stated that witches would transform people into these animals and ride them. This eventually gave way to even later folklore that forewent the transformation and stated that the witches would just ride people at night as they slept. This phenomenon has been dubbed “witch riding.” Waking up with knots in your hair (a.k.a. bed head) was said to be sure sign of this. Witch riding is mentioned in Salem witch trial documents from the 17th-century, so it most likely came to the US around this time via European settlers. It’s important to note that witch riding is common in Cajun and African American folkore. Therefore, the legend may have spread to the US in several waves to the north and south. Additionally, the folklore may have spread from different countries. For instance, the puritans of New England had ties to Britain, while the Cajuns had French roots. The braiding folklore was so popular that Shakespeare even mentioned it in "Romeo and Juliet" (1597):

—This is that very Mab,
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And brakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.

Stories of horse hair braiding Duendes elves from South America indicate that it was most likely spread there by Spanish settlers.

I hope to gather enough material on this to write up a paper at some point and publish it in a western folklore journal. I haven’t researched anything for a while since I’m currently focusing on my biological anthropology studies.
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28-05-2013, 01:13 AM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
This is only sort of related to the article. But I have a very interesting ancestor that was involved in the witchhunts.

Her name was Margaret Mattson. Aka "The Witch of Ridley Creek"

The judge of the trial was William Penn and he dismissed the case. Finding her guilty of the reputation of a witch but not actually being one. Smile


Was very interesting to find this in my family history book. Smile

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28-05-2013, 01:21 AM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(28-05-2013 01:13 AM)Hobbitgirl Wrote:  This is only sort of related to the article. But I have a very interesting ancestor that was involved in the witchhunts.

Her name was Margaret Mattson. Aka "The Witch of Ridley Creek"

The judge of the trial was William Penn and he dismissed the case. Finding her guilty of the reputation of a witch but not actually being one. Smile


Was very interesting to find this in my family history book. Smile

Your family history sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than mine.
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28-05-2013, 01:24 AM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(28-05-2013 01:21 AM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  
(28-05-2013 01:13 AM)Hobbitgirl Wrote:  This is only sort of related to the article. But I have a very interesting ancestor that was involved in the witchhunts.

Her name was Margaret Mattson. Aka "The Witch of Ridley Creek"

The judge of the trial was William Penn and he dismissed the case. Finding her guilty of the reputation of a witch but not actually being one. Smile


Was very interesting to find this in my family history book. Smile

Your family history sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than mine.

Not much outside of that sadly. But I'm thankful that my great uncle did so much family research so I could know about it. Smile

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28-05-2013, 05:30 PM (This post was last modified: 28-05-2013 05:47 PM by Gaest.)
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(27-05-2013 11:40 PM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  As I explain in the linked article, the knots are sometimes known as “elf locks” or “witches’ knots.” This has ties to Europe-wide folklore known as the “Wild Hunt.” The belief was that the spirits of famous historical kings, the recently deceased, and/or elves would commandeer horses from the stables of humans and ride them in the skies at night to hunt for trolls or beautiful maidens. I believe the Wild Hunt legend first developed around the 10th-century. The leader of the hunt varies from source to source. Some variations have it being led by the Germanic god Woden (Odin), while others have it led by the goddess Diana, who is said to lead an all-female version. A 13th-century Bishop from Paris wrote that her followers would plait the manes of horses with wax. I recently stumbled upon a 10th-century source known as the Canon Episcopi which presents Diana and her company as “evil women” in league with the devil. Therefore, Diana was quickly associated with witches by church leaders. This explains why the knots became known as witches’ knots.

The Canon Episcopi possibly has one of the earliest allusions to the so-called “Witches’ Sabbath.” This is basically a gathering of witches on the Sabbath (Jews were considered evil by the church). Church leaders originally viewed stories of women flying though the sky at night to be illusions; but, staring after 1400, the church changed its position. People started to be condemned for allegedly taking part in such nigh flights. Borrowing heavily from the Wild Hunt, popular legend stated that these women flew on horses, but these were later changed to other animals like goats and wolves. Take Hans Baldung’s early 16th-century engraving “Witches’ Sabbath,” for example:

Interesting topic!
I have a few questions though:
What literature have you used in your research of the Wild Hunt - especially; is the "10th-century" suggestion only based on the Canon episcopi or are there other sources?

When you talk about the Canon episcopi´s allusion to the Witches´ Sabbath; are you thinking of the passage where Regino concludes that stories of witches travelling with Diana and Herodias, riding various animals, are lies.
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28-05-2013, 08:00 PM (This post was last modified: 28-05-2013 08:15 PM by ghostexorcist.)
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(28-05-2013 05:30 PM)Gaest Wrote:  Interesting topic!
I have a few questions though:
What literature have you used in your research of the Wild Hunt - especially; is the "10th-century" suggestion only based on the Canon episcopi or are there other sources?

When you talk about the Canon episcopi´s allusion to the Witches´ Sabbath; are you thinking of the passage where Regino concludes that stories of witches travelling with Diana and Herodias, riding various animals, are lies.

Thanks for the interest. The Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft (2012) states that the Canon episcopi is the "most famous expression of this belief [the Wild Hunt]" and that it greatly influenced the stories of "Night Flights" and the "Witches' Sabbath." I actually came to the same conclusions through my own research before finding this reference.
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28-05-2013, 08:25 PM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
That's pretty cool. Reminds me of a book of ghost stories I had as a kid, I think just called Scary Stories. One of the short stories in it was about a guy who was turned into a horse and ridden by a witch every night. Interesting to hear exactly where it came from! Smile

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― نجيب محفوظ, Sugar Street
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28-05-2013, 08:35 PM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(28-05-2013 08:25 PM)evenheathen Wrote:  That's pretty cool. Reminds me of a book of ghost stories I had as a kid, I think just called Scary Stories. One of the short stories in it was about a guy who was turned into a horse and ridden by a witch every night. Interesting to hear exactly where it came from! Smile

I've been reading about this stuff off and on over the years, so it is neat for me to learn where it all comes from as well.
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29-05-2013, 05:46 PM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
(28-05-2013 08:00 PM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  
(28-05-2013 05:30 PM)Gaest Wrote:  Interesting topic!
I have a few questions though:
What literature have you used in your research of the Wild Hunt - especially; is the "10th-century" suggestion only based on the Canon episcopi or are there other sources?

When you talk about the Canon episcopi´s allusion to the Witches´ Sabbath; are you thinking of the passage where Regino concludes that stories of witches travelling with Diana and Herodias, riding various animals, are lies.

Thanks for the interest. The Historical Dictionary of Witchcraft (2012) states that the Canon episcopi is the "most famous expression of this belief [the Wild Hunt]" and that it greatly influenced the stories of "Night Flights" and the "Witches' Sabbath." I actually came to the same conclusions through my own research before finding this reference.

Thanks for the reply. The reason I asked was that I wondered if Regino mentions the devil worshipping/orgy part of the later Witches´ Sabbaths, or only the travelling part?
We have Pope Gregory IX´s Vox in Rama from 1232 as a later example of the concept of devil worshipping and orgy - in this case it is directed against heretics, but it shows that the concept was present, and associated with pactum cum diabolo in some form.
Also, I´m wondering if the presence and role of the Jewish magician in the story of "Saint Theophilus the Penitent" helped to coin the term "Witches´ Sabbath"... I know there was a general slant against Jews, but this story seems to connect the Faustian bargain with Jews and (?) magicians, and it was well known in the middle ages.
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29-05-2013, 06:03 PM
RE: The spread of witchcraft folklore to and in America
No doubt you have heard of that lovely treatsie on the prosecution of witches written in 1486 by a Catholic clergyman, the Malleus Maleficarum?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malleus_Maleficarum

It asserts that three elements are necessary for witchcraft: the evil-intentioned witch, the help of the Devil, and the Permission of God.

That last one is just insult to injury.

*In 1490, only 3 years after it was published, the Catholic Church condemned Malleus as false however it was continuously published until 1669, so I would presume that some of those copies made it to North America.

“I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless."
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“I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's." - Mark Twain in Eruption
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