witch ladder

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Sabine Baring-Gould (1834—1924) Church of England clergyman, author, and folksong collector


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In 1886, during repairs to an old house in Wellington (Somerset), a blocked-off roof space was found to contain broom-sticks and a length of rope interwoven with goose and rook feathers. The workmen who found it called it ‘a witches’ ladder’, but other local informants thought it was used in cursing, and would have been hidden in the victim's house. Sabine Baring-Gould describes this procedure in his novel Curgenven (1893), but the details are probably his invention. Other informants, in the early 20th century, said the object must have been a ‘wishing rope’, or that the maker would have hung it outside, either ‘to draw the milk from her neighbours’ cowsheds’ or to summon some-one magically (Tongue, 1965: 67–8).

Abraham Colles, Folk-Lore Journal 5 (1887), 1–3, and correspondence, 81–4, 257–9, 354–6.

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