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Friday, 3 December 2010

Witchcraft in Wales

Wales has a historical reputation for being a land of magic, myth and folklore. It is steeped in Arthurian legend, and it is well known that the building blocks of Stonehenge originated here.
It is little wonder then that Wales does not share the same history as most of Europe when it comes to the persecution of witchcraft. However, that does not mean there is no trace of it at all.

One of the first cases on record was that of Tangwlyst ferch Glyn. The Bishop of St David made the mistake of crossing her when he accused her of “living in sin”. Tangwlyst promptly responded by making a poppet doll of him, in order to curse him. The Bishop was swiftly overcome by a sudden illness. The case against Tangwlyst fell apart due to lack of proof. She was fortunate that this took place before the 1563 statute making witchcraft a capital offence was passed, otherwise she may not have been so lucky.

One of the first, and most well known witch trials in Welsh history is that of Gwen ferch Ellis. She was a weaver, who was also very well known as a healer. People would travel quite a distance to come and seek her help. She was best known for healing animals, but also healed people and assisted them in other minor ways, such as casting spells to retrieve lost items. Had she continued in this practice she may have been spared, however things went very wrong for her when she met Jane Conway.

Jane Conway was known to have a grudge against Thomas Mostyn, a justice of the peace and a very powerful man. When one of Gwen's spells was found written backwards in the cellar of his home, it was seen as an attempted curse against him. Gwen was initially thrown in Flint Jail, she was then put through a formal investigation at Diserth Church at Llansanffraid Glan Conwy. Eventually there was a trial at Denbighshire Court of Sessions, Gwen was found guilty of murder and causing serious harm by the use of witchcraft. She was later hanged.

Although the the majority of formal witch trials took place in the 16th and 17th century, this did not prevent vigilante actions continuing to a much later date. There are stories of people being accosted as witches right up the 19th century. These accounts often include women being cut, as it was a popular belief that once you drew blood from a witch they could no longer cast a spell against you. There were however some very serious cases.

In Monmouthshire in the early 1800's an elderly woman was set upon by a constable, a farmer and two farm hands. They accused her of bewitching some livestock, and proceeded to cut her arm to prevent her causing further harm. As a crowd gathered around, they stripped her to the waist and cut off her hair. They decided to 'duck' the woman. 'Ducking' is a practice where by an accused witch would be thrown into water, if they floated, they were using magic to save themselves and were guilty. If they sank, they were innocent, but almost always died due to drowning. Luckily by this time the woman’s daughter had arrived and managed to dissuade them. When the men stood trial the judge said they were lucky not to be facing murder charges.

Today Wales proudly holds onto it's magical heritage and has many sites and attractions based on it's associations with myth, history and folklore.

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