An ancient charm to counter witchcraft as told by Joseph Ford of Castleton. The charm was undertaken at the Old Bleach Mill in the Esk Valley. The owner believed that a witch had cast a spell upon his cattle.
The heart must be taken out of one of the cursed beasts and brought into the house. It was then pierced with nine new pins and the same number of new nails and new needles. These were all embedded in the heart which was then to be over a slow fire made of elder, rowan or ash wood. Great care had to be taken to ensure that the doors were all securely bolted and barred and the windows covered up with thick bed quilts to ensure that no light could be seen from the outside. Extra care had to be taken that no one witnessed the mysterious proceedings.
The heart, hanging from a hook over the fire would then be left to slowly shrivel and contract until the dead hour of night drew near. The lighting and tending of the fire had to be gauged so that the burnt and blackened heart would be shrivelled up and ready to burst into flames and fall to ashes just as the clock struck the midnight hour. At this crucial moment the leader of the weird proceedings had to begin the the final act by reading aloud two verses of a particular psalm from the scriptures. That was the deed done, if undertaken correctly, the curse would be lifted and the cattle would return to health.
Ford also tells us that if you are passing the house of a reputed witch, To shield yourself from her evil spells you should hold your thumb in the palm of your right hand.
Source – Some Reminiscences and Folk Lore of Danby Parish & District. 1953
Map Image – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland