What’s Roanoke got to do with it?
North Carolina Witches precede even the Roanoke colony. And we’re mightily obsessed with that at the moment, thanks to American Horror Story: Roanoke. Whilst I was looking into the lost colony of Roanoke, I came across some interesting pieces of information. I’ve always thought American Indian magic was done by Shamans. It never occurred to me they would have rules about witches. I certainly never learnt anything about it in school.
But witches are fascinating. With so many different skills attributed to them and their persecution through the ages, I wanted to take a closer look at the North Carolina Witches in particular.
They believed when misfortune occurred and could not be remedied witches must be present. These witches, male or female, were people who could call on great powers to do harm. And they thought them to be different to their shamans and religious practitioners.
The Senecas were part of The Iroquois who would kill witches if found in their midst. One such trial occurred amongst the Hurons. A woman accused of witchcraft (in 1637) was tortured with fire, before having her head split in two with a hatchet.
But not all Indians treated witchcraft the same way, and those that the Roanoke Colony encountered in the 1580’s didn’t believe in executing witches which were part of the tribe – only those that were outsiders. And it didn’t matter to them whether you were male or female, if you were doing the things they associated with witchcraft -like spreading vile new diseases- you would be sentenced and killed.
Early settlers believed the Indians could raise great storms and apparitions. In a new land, in an unusual environment, it would be easy to attribute the unknown occurrences to the unknown people.
In 1805 the Reverend Brantley York wrote that the belief in witchcraft was widespread in Piedmont North Carolina. – NCpedia
Shape-shifting into animals, entering rooms through keyholes, and casting spells were all believed of North Carolina Witches. Both men and women were once again accused.
North Carolina Witches in Folk tales
But not all witch stories are true, and folk tales keep old stories of witches passing on through the ages. From one hearth fire to the next. But be warned if a witch is near so must be her master, the devil. Such stories are perfect for dark stormy nights, when the power goes out. When there’s nothing better to do than tell tall tales that come with their own assortments of bumps and creeks, so you’ll know when a witch turns up for sure.
The Cat-Witch of North Carolina
A cat, caught napping on the wool of the sheered sheep, was thought to be the reason there seemed to be less stock. They grabbed the cat and managed to chop off one of it’s front paws before it got away. The paw turned into a hand with a gold ring on it and they knew that when they found the person with one hand missing they would have found the cat-witch.
The local land owner heard about it, and when his wife didn’t come down to cook him breakfast, he went up to her room and found her in bed with one hand missing. He knew then he had found the cat-witch.
The Boo Hag
Boo Hags are North Carolina Witches from the coast that slip off their skin at night and go out into the world to cause trouble. They say she can get into your house through the keyhole; unless there is a broom across the door. You can stop her from getting back into her skin by covering it in salt and pepper (I’m assuming on the inside). When she’s in her skin she looks like a normal woman. If you come across one, you’re going to need a Conjure man -skilled in Hoodoo.
The Snow White Deer
When a maiden spurned the advances of a sorcerer he used his dark arts to curse her. Turning her into a snow white deer, she wandered the ruins of her families abandoned home. When the maidens other suitor realized what must have happened he found a good sorcerer to help him. Making a magical arrowhead to return his beloved to her true form.
But! Another warrior had heard of this rare snow white deer and declared he would prove himself by killing the animal with a single silver arrow. Both arrows pierced her heart at the same time – the magical arrow returning her to her true form and the silver arrow ending her life. They buried her near her families abandoned home and soon after, a sweet grape vine sprung, with blood red fruit.
Ways to keep out Witches
North Carolina Witches can be kept out in many ways. A broom across the door, sulphur, a bible under the pillow, or salt. Mustard seeds outside the door so the witch must stop and collect them (I seem to recall a similar way of keeping vampires out using salt). I’m not sure how a broom, sulphur, or salt, are meant to help keep witches out. They use all those things themselves. As for the bible under your pillow? Well, I can’t imagine it will be a comfy nights sleep. But what is it you imagine the witch is coming in for in the first place, that she would get that close to your bed?
Folk stories are often mixed with reality. And history is only as good as the people who recorded it. So take both with a pinch of salt. Just to be on the safe side.