"A Highland Witch"

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This article was published in the 1 August, 1891 edition of the Tuapeka Times of New Zealand;

A Highland Witch.

  The belief in witches and witchcraft seems now to have died away in the Highlands. In tbe very remote districts occasionally we hear of isolated cases of people being bewitched, or of old women who possess the power of casting evil spells over those who displease them, but they are very rare. It may not, however, be uninteresting to mention a circumstance which came under my own observation in Loch Broom in the year 1858. We were living in a small farmhouse in the autumn of that year on the loch side, and an old woman who lived in a broken-down ruined cottage near us had the unenviable reputation of being a witch. She was one of tbe most hideous old hags I ever beheld, and though apparently harmless, was most vindictive. She conceived a violent dislike to the cook, with whom she quarrelled, and vowed she would revenge herself on her for some fancied insult. One day we were met by faces of great consternation, and told that the old woman had bewitched the cows and they would give no milk. There was no possibility of procuring milk elsewhere, and as the difficulties of feeding a number of small children under these circumstances were so great, it was considered best to appease the witch. Some conciliatory measures were adopted, and the old woman promised to repair the damage she had done. The cows were accordingly brought into the byre from the hillside, and the hag, with a large black bottle containing some mysterious fluid she had prepared, a bag of simples, and her stool, was shut in with them. I well remember being allowed to peep in at the window, to see her sitting on her stool behind the cows, rocking herself backwards and forwards, and crooning some wierd song; but it was only a glimpse, for every one was enjoined to keep far away and leave her in peace. At the end of about half an hour she appeared, assuring us that the spell was removed, and that the cows would soon be all right, which they undoubtedly were, for in the course of an hour or two they gave readily, and abundantly the supply of milk needed. The servants and neighbors believed devoutly that some supernatural agency was invoked, and that the old hag was the medium. But there was a sceptical piper who always avowed his firm belief that the want of milk on that particular morning was due to a much more simple cause, and that had the cows been watched while feeding on the hillside, a more substantial fairy, in the form of the old woman's daughter, might have been seen milking them. His theory was the only doubt I ever heard cast, however, on what was considered then and since one of the most remarkable instances of witchcraft.

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