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Witch’s Imp

Witch's Imp

More marvellous still is the following tale, which I heard from the daughter of the good folk who were the chief actors in it:

Many years ago there lived on the very edge of Dartmoor a farmer and his family, all were hard-working Christian folk who kept themselves to themselves and did their best to be neighbourly to all around them. Somehow, they managed to incur the vengeful wrath of the local black witch who without a second thought put the evil eye or a curse upon them. By all accounts it must have been a potent charm because within a few hours the farmer began to feel the effects. In the byre he had twelve cracking bullocks that were nearly fit for market but suddenly they all went down with the moraine and began rapidly lose condition. Every potion and lotion was given the unfortunate beasts in the hope of a cure but hour by hour the weight simply melted off them and the farmer realised there was only one outcome.

That night the family were huddled around the peat fire and bemoaning their impending loss when all of a sudden the farmer spotted a little creature sat in on a trivet in the chimney corner. In hushed silence the family stared at the hideous chimera, it was best described as looking something like a cat that was covered in poppy red hair, its face was that of a monkey’s but with huge staring eyes and a ridiculous, lop-sided grin, the creature was dressed in a green tunic and hat. Once the ‘thing’ realised it had been spotted it began leaping and prancing around the kitchen, climbing up this and scurrying down that. In vain the folks chased it madly around the room but every time they thought it was cornered the beast would somehow scuttle away. Eventually the imp (for that’s what it was) tired of the game and darted across the table and simply vanished through the bolted door.

The next day the farmer noticed his sheep careering around the field, at first he thought a fox was after them but upon approaching the field he saw to his dismay that the little imp was riding on their backs. Once it had exhausted all his flock the little fiend sprang over a wall and scampered off onto the moor. On checking his bullocks the farmer saw there was no improvement, if anything the cattle had got worse, to a one they resembled hat racks, each with their bones sticking out at all angles.

That evening the family once again took up their nightly huddle around the fire where nervously they peered into the dark recesses of the fireplace in search of the imp. Not wishing to disappoint them the imp suddenly stuck its grinning face from under the peat basket where it just sat and stared into their eyes. The farmer darted towards the mantle where above the old clock hung his shotgun, as he made a grab for the old gun an invisible force pinned his arms by his side and pushed him backwards. He swung around and dived for the far corner of the hearth where the heavy poker lay, this time he managed to take several swipes at the imp but although he seemed to hit the beast it seemed to come away unscathed. With an effortless leap the imp sprang onto the dresser where it began weaving in and out of the large willow-pattern plates, somehow managing to avoid knocking any of them down. Having exhausted that trick the imp dived onto the floor and scuttled under the table where once agin the farmer began wildly swiping at it with the poker. The farmer was then compelled by some unseen and irresistible force to open the kitchen door through which the imp scurried and immediately hid in some corn sacks that were laid in the porch. Again the farmer began flailing at the pile of sacks in an effort to rid himself off the imp but just when he thought he had succeeded the little devil shot through his legs and hurtled upstairs. Here he went from room to room where it trashed every bed and bolster and began hurling the night pots against the walls, laughing and chuckling all the while. The farmer charged at the imp once more, this time armed with a warming pan which he swiped around like a fly swot. Once more the imp darted through his bandy old legs and shot downstairs where after upturning the milk pail it darted off through the kitchen door.

The next morning the farmer inspected his bullocks, needless to say they were no better and even worse his plough horse had also been taken ill by some mysterious disease. Enough was enough, the farmer admitted defeat and took himself off to consult with the white witch of the village. After explaining his predicament the farmer was told to go home and build a huge fire made from whitethorn and then to take a new bowl made from ash wood into which he must bleed the sickest of the bullocks. Having done this the bowl of blood was then to be put into the centre of the hawthorn fire, if by midnight the bowl had not burnt or cracked the farmer was to break it into pieces thus spilling the blood. Once this was done the fragments of the bowl had to be hidden amongst the embers and ashes of the fire, which, if all had gone according to plan, should break the curse on him.

The farmer returned home and carried his instructions out to the letter, once all had been accomplished he ventured out to the byre to inspect his bullocks who by the time he got there were all chewing and cudding on their hay. Needless to say the imp was never seen again and the cattle made a full recovery along with the plough horse and peace and calm returned to the farm.

It is interesting to note the use of a fire made from hawthorn and a bowl made from ash wood, both have always been said to provide protection against witches and their spells.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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