|As dusk falls, beware of what might be lurking in the shadows. Image (c) Janet Cameron|
Hallowe'en is when weird creatures are said to be on the prowl. So be warned and don't wander alone in the dark. You never know what's watching you...
The eve of All Saints Day, October 31 is a time when paranormal activity is at its height and people believe the dead come back to life. Ghosts, zombies, vampires and werewolves are claimed to stalk our streets and lanes and haunt our forests and fields. But the most scary of all Hallowe'en horrors must be the witch, that mysterious old hag of antiquity who is always plotting mischief.
All the following stories are from Eastbourne in Sussex and its surrounding llages.
Old Hag Syndrome
The belief in Old Hag Syndrome relates to the superstition that a witch would appear while a person was sleeping and land on their chest. It would try to crush the breath from their body. One man, Martin, from Eastbourne in Sussex, reported waking up, startled by a female voice calling his name. In the glow of a nearby street-light, he saw a shapeless mist, shimmering like tarmac on a hot day. The voice said, "Martin, I want you."
Martin struggled into a sitting position, but the witch-like apparition gripped his wrists and pinned him down. He couldn't speak or scream and thinks he lost consciousness. When he woke up, he told his flatmates about his experience. He was convinced it was not a dream.
The Phantom Black Witch at the Bakery
In Eastbourne, Ye Olde Bakery dates back to 1790, with a female ghost who was claimed to be a witch. This weird old creature always dressed in black and terrified the local children. The proprietor of the bakery says she is harmless, but many people, especially those with psychic abilities who have visited the bakery, report a spooky atmosphere. They say they would never stay on the premises overnight, and especially not at Hallowe'en. She gets mad if the proprietors make any changes, and starts banging doors and acting up.
The "Woman" who Turned into a Cat
Two young men were driving home in their separate cars after a night out when they started to race each other. The driver in front saw a cat in the road. He couldn't stop and skidded to a halt. He thought he'd run it over. Sorry and sickened, he jumped out of his car to look for the cat, but there was no sign anywhere, not in the adjacent fields or the hedgerows. His friend approached him, trembling with fear. "Did you hit her?" he asked.
"I think I may have hit a cat," he said, bewildered.
His friend insisted there was no cat there, but a woman. The first young man was horrified to think he might have run over her.
As nothing ensued from subsequent enquiries made by the two young men, no one knows for certain what happened. But some people believe that it was, in fact, a witch, as witches are known to be able to turn themselves into animals, like cats or hares, in the flick of a broomstick.
Poor Nan Tuck - the Witch who Wasn't!
A woman from Buxted named Nan Tuck was harried by the local people for being a witch. She went mad through fear of what might happen to her. Eventually, the poor woman (who was probably innocent) could stand it no more, and hanged herself in a local wood.
Bewitching Farm Animals to Death, a Heinous Crime
Several witches in Sussex were jailed for bewitching farm animals to death, out of spite. They practised other kinds of bewitching and could immobilise farm carts, and make the hay tip off. They could cast spells to make carters drive straight into quagmires. One man threw a stone at a hare, and it shrieked like a demented woman, limping away. Later, a local limping woman was apprehended for being a witch.
The Ditchling Witch
This old harridan had special powers. She could stop passing carts at her cottage and work her mischief to acquire them for herself. One carter got fed up of her, and cut the spokes of the wheels of his cart to upstage her, making the cart useless. The furious witch rushed out and, to his amazement, she had deep cuts on her fingers that matched the cuts on the cartwheels. Bleeding badly and frightened, she decided to abandon her witchy tricks.
So watch out, all you who wander outdoors this Hallowe'en - you never know what's lurking in the shadows.
Please be assured the above stories are from Sussex folklore and are recounted here only for interest and fun. They are not intended to discredit or refer in any way to any religion or belief. The word "witch" is used historically and does not allude to the followers of Wicca.
Local knowledge through interviewing Eastbourne people.
Adapted from Paranormal Eastbourne, Janet Cameron, Amberley Publishing, (2010)
A Treasury of Sussex Folklore, Tony Wales, S.B. Publicatio