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Friday, 9 January 2015

Dark Stories: The Witch of Wookey Hole

Wookey Hole is a village in Somerset, England. The name Wookey is thought to come from the Old English wocig (an animal trap). Wookey Hole Caves are a famous tourist attraction located in the village of Wookey. The caves were formed by the action of the River Axe on the limestone that makes up the hills.
The Witch of Wookey Hole is a stalagmite in the first chamber of the caves and the central character in an old English legend. Because of the witch connection most of the caves are named after her. There is her kitchen, and her parlour, there is Hell's Ladder and The Lake of Gloom.

The Story

One version of the story of The Witch of Wookey Hole tells of the "black witch who lived in thefirst chamber of the caves who was killed by that most famous Monarch, Arthur, King of the Britons”. However, it is likely that that story was made up in the eighteenth century in an effort to attract tourists. The real legend is much older and runs as follows: 
During the Dark Ages in the village of Wookey lived a beautiful young woman, her name is not known. What is known, however, is that she was devoted to her lover. This man, it turned out, was not as devoted to her, and late one night, when he failed to return from the local alehouse, she went out looking for him. To her horror she discovered him in a somewhat compromising position with one of the local wenches. Tearful and wailing, she fled from the scene, and ran out of the village towards the caves which were claimed to lead to the caverns of Hell.
Once inside the caves, her sorrow turned quickly to anger, and, crying out, she called on the devil to curse the man who had betrayed her. That night, a diabolic vision appeared to her. The vision claimed that it was a demon from hell and that Lucifer himself had heard her calling and was offering her the chance to gain the power to curse her wayward lover. The price, of course, was her soul. The woman accepted and was given the power of black magic. The next day the man woke up to discover that he was afflicted with a pox. 
Though the New Witch took great pleasure in the man's suffering, it did not sate her appetite for revenge. A chagrined and disappointed woman, having been jilted herself she frequently spoilt budding relationships by using her merciless arts to ruin girls' lives and keep them from the joys denied to herself. One day upon seeing a couple approaching her cave, she cursed their relationship to fail. A few short days later the man and woman were arguing and only hours after that, the man took holy orders, forsaking the love of women forever. Angered by the fact that the man became a good minister, much given to charitable works, the Witch vowed never to interfere in the relationships of others again.
The years passed and the Witch became increasingly bitter. She lived alone, with her dog and horrid familiars (her goat and its kid) deep in the dark caverns of Wookey Hole. The local people believed she was a witch and everything that went wrong in the village was blamed on her. She caused their crops to fail, storms, drinking habits to change and their milk to turn sour, and even caused them to suffer terrible plagues of disease. In desperation the villagers called for Father Bernard, the man whom the witch had caused to become a monk. His superior, The Abbot of Glastonbury, appointed him to exorcise the Witch.
Father Bernard had particular skill in exorcising necromancers and wizards. Father Bernard approached the entrance to the caves flanked by villagers, but as they drew closer, one by one they halted in their approach, too frightened to continue. The priest, however, believing his God to be with him, continued into the dark caverns and was swallowed up by the interior darkness of the hill. Then the witch’s voice, malignant and threatening, addressed him; "Rash beyond all reason, why comest thou to look on me ?" Father Bernard urged the witch to repent and put away the powers of evil. The witch fled deeper into the cave down a narrow passageway called Hell’s Ladder. The brave monk followed her and they met again in the shadowy depths of an inner cavern. 
Father Bernard raised his hand and began speaking, his sonorous Latin phrases rang with a hollow echo through the cavern. Quickly, Father Bernard took a handful of water from the river, blessed it and threw it over the witch. The Witch of Wookey convulsively stiffened. Her evil figure subtly changed, appearing to solidify and straighten. She had turned instantly to stone and her frozen figure remains in this cavern - known as The Witch’s Kitchen - to this day.

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