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Witches and Pigs: Susan Cooper of Whittlesford


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This is a bit of a long post as I append an article from 1905 Folklore about the reputed witch "Mrs Smith" who can easily be shown to be identical with the reputed witch Susan Cooper c1796-1878 of Whittlesford near Cambridge. (See Enid Porter's book on Cambrdidgeshire Folkore, http://books.google.com.au/books?id=rU4VAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA175&lpg=PA175&dq=Suasn+Cooper+Whittlesford+Jabez+few&source=bl&ots=1EvTCTgK_A&sig=j1n0lEv4bb_kAa1anrJuXyktZzM&hl=en&ei=QxXpSuKjEc7IkAXrvYyZDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false)

I believe the article to be extraordinarily important.


This account is unusual being derived from Susan Cooper's neighbours, neither incredulous nor I think altogether hostile.


Susan Cooper alias "Mrs Smith" is credited with a horse whisperers powers, but especially with power over pigs. I don't think the connection between female witches and pigs has received enough attention....among the witches of East Anglia at least power over pigs is one of the msot reliable attributes of witches, right up there with small animal familiars. East Anglia was also "horse whisperer" country, and some horse whisperers, also called horse witches, used a magical toad bone, as witches are recorded as doing....In article for Folklore about the "Toadmen" , (male horse witches who used the toad-bone) the toad-bone was said to give power over "horses pigs and women".....


The horse whisperers and Toadmen were exclusively male but looking at the article on "Mrs Smith" below you will see that once the fog of superstitious gossip is discounted consistent reports of her power over pigs is what is left...a "pig whisperer" in fact. As I say reports of (at least) East Anglian witches consistently referto their special interest in pigs though I think "Mrs Smith"/Susan Cooper may be the best documented case.


A Cambridgeshire Witch.


{Communicated through Miss Beatrix Wherry.)


Mrs. Smith was born about 1810 and died about 1880. My

father was then clergyman of the parish (in Cambridgeshire), and

I have heard him say there were such crowds of people at her

funeral that they pushed each other right into the grave, all

expecting that she would burst her coffin. He was obliged to

stop and speak to them, " and a fine lecture he gave them," a

woman told me when lately I revisited my old home, "and

serve 'em right too, for their wonderful ignorance, believing in

such things."


On the occasion of the same visit I asked another old

acquaintance, Mrs D , if she could tell me anything about

Mrs. Smith. "Oh yes," she said, "she used to live near us

and would often come to see mother. Sometimes we would

lay a knife or a pair of scissors just inside the door, and then

she would say, ' I can't come in, my sole is coming off my

shoe,' and she couldn't come in until we had taken the knife

away, because a witch can't pass over steel. Other times we

would hide a knife under the cushion on the arm-chair and

ask her to sit down, but she would pick up the cushion and

say, ' Why, you have got a knife hidden there ! ' "


I then asked if it was true that she had power over animals.

" Oh yes ! " was the reply, " my mother saw a waggon opposite

the public-house down the road there, and the horses couldn't

move it. The man was cursing, and thrashing 'em something

cruel, and the horses was pulling, but they couldn't move

the cart nohow. At last he got so wild, he caught hold of

a pitchfork and drove it into the horse's knee, but even then [!]

it couldn't go on. Well, Mrs. Smith she came down the road.

' Don't treat the poor horses like that,' she says, and directly

she spoke off went the horses as if nothing was the matter.

Then there was a woman here as had a pig as was taken

wonderful bad, a-whirling round in the field and frothing at the

mouth. Well, the woman she sent for a man to kill it, and

he came a-sharpening his knife, when all of a sudden the pig

it stopped rushing round, and just ran after the man as was

going to kill it ? and Mrs. Smith she come by just at the

minute." " And did they kill the pig ? " I asked. " No, in

course," she said, "it was quite well after that."


" Mrs. Smith seems to have been very kind to animals,"

I remarked. " Well you see, Miss," she said, " if a pig was

hurt, it hurt her too: if they cut a pig on the nose, the mark

came on her face. There was another woman as wanted to

kill a pig as was took bad, so Mrs. Smith she took some meal

and she says to the woman, ' I owe you this,' she says ; and

if the woman had answered she would not have been able

to kill that pig. The children they used to have all sorts of

jokes with her; sometimes they would stick pins into her

footmark and she would turn round and ask them what they

were a-doing of."


"I have been told she had imps," I said, "did you ever

see any?" "No," said Mrs. D , "I didn't, but other

people have." I asked her to tell me something about them.

"After Mrs. Smith died mother laid her out. There was a

chest of drawers in the room and such a squeaking and a

hollering going on inside it like a lot of rats, but when mother

looked in there was nothing inside it. Before she died she

said to mother, ' When I am dead don't you make a peep-show

of me, Sarah,' but mother she did, and I went and so did

lots of others. My sister Mary she saw an imp once; she was

on her way to the mill and something jumped out on her, a

black thing ; it wasn't exactly a dog nor a rat, it looked more

like a frog ; the thing jumped on her and Mary she screeched

something awful and ran for dear life. Mother heard she

had been bitten by a mad dog, so she sent a message down

she had better go to the doctor. But Mary said, no, it wasn't

a dog as had jumped on her, it had the look of a frog. Mrs.

Smith came to see mother. ' Is it true,' she says, ' as your

darter's been bitten by a dog ? ' ' No,' says mother, ' it was

a frog that jumped on her.' 'Ah,' says Mrs. Smith, 'it would

have been a pity if she had killed it.' You see. Miss, if she

had killed it, that would have hurt herT


" Did anybody else see the imps ? " I asked.


" Yes, there was a man saw Mrs. and Mr. Smith, a-feeding the

imps out of a box ; that was when her husband was aHve.


There was my cousin, Jim D ; everybody knows he drank,

but not so bad as some, not by a long way. He was coming

home one night, and do what he would he could not reach

home. He could walk straight in any other direction, but

directly he tried to walk home something seemed to stop him,

a-pulling of him back. He climbed hedges, he tried every

way, and a fine state of mind he was in lest the police should

catch him roaming about, and think he was up to mischief.

All at once he thought he saw a woman on a horse, and when

he come close, he saw it was the old girl on a hurdle ! That's

how she used to go about at night. Another man he saw

her a-flying over hedges and ditches on her hurdle."


"There was my brother's little girl Florry as was very ill.

They lived over at T . There was a witch there. Miss.

Well, they put the child's illness down to her. So my brother

he got a bottle and filled it with water and put in some of the

child's hair and a lot of other things as I can't remember, then

they corked it up and put it on the fire to boil. Then when

the bottle burst that would hurt the witch ? that is, if you did

not speak to her ; and she came and she did her best to make

them speak. There was a woman here as Mrs. Smith had a

spite against. She did not leave her house for years and

years, but directly Mrs. Smith died she was all right again,

and so we always says as she was bewitched. Then there was

a little niece of mine staying here with her mother. She was

on her mother's lap sitting near the fire, and she looks up

the chimney and starts screaming awful, and nothing would

pacify her. They took her out of the house cause they couldn't

bear the noise, but directly she was brought back she would

look up the chimney and start screaming again, so we thinks

she must have seen something up the chimney, and it was Mrs.

Smith's doing."


"What was she like to talk to?" I asked.


"Oh, she was always very nice to us. My mother, she told

her plain, that if she tried any of her tricks on our animals,

she would just mark them so that it would come out on her

so that everyone should see. If you gave her anything or lent

her anything, then she had got a hold over you."


Mrs. D had many more anecdotes about pigs which Mrs.

Smith had made ill. The complaint always took the form of

whirling round and round. Many people had seen them in

that state, and as soon as Mrs. Smith spoke to them they

recovered immediately. But in subsequent visits Mrs. D

refused to return to the subject, as she said it made her feel

nervous at night. Another woman in the village afterwards

told me nearly the same stories, and with reference to the

marks coming out on the witch's hands, she declared she had

seen them covered with cuts. She had herself, so she said,

been an eye-witness of the scene, when a man she knew put

a bottle on the fire and "said some words" over it, and

directly the water began to simmer, old Mrs. Smith rushed to

the door and made such a noise that they were obliged to

speak to her.


Hermione L. F. Jennings.

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This is written in much the same way (interview-style with "old timers") as is The Crooked Scythe by George Ewart Evans. TCS also mentions the toadmen and the power over horses (animals), the importance of ploughing, and the toad-bone right. In his book the tale goes to impale it on a whitethorn; however, other accounts say to use a blackthorn. I also think one sees more of this type of "charming" in Europe than in the Americas. At least, that is where most of the tales seem to come from, as you said, the East Anglican area. I also, personally, think the TB rite is a rite of solitary "initiation" or joing with a specific "stream" (or realizing that stream within the Self) and that then enables one to walk in the two worlds and effect things in this world (animals). But I think it also has more meaning than literally "controlling" animals. Very interesting read, thank you.



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