Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The White Witch of Helston






Her name was Tamsin (or Thomasine) Blight, although she was known to most folk as Tammy Blee, and she was born in the Cornish town of Redruth in 1798. In the 58 years of her life, she developed a fearsome reputation for her alleged magical prowess. 

 She could cure you of whatever ailed you, but equally, woe betide you if you upset her, for she could curse as well as cure. She was known as a ‘Pellar’ – the name given to a man or woman well versed in the methods of traditional Cornish folk-magic.


Tammy Blee became popular with people who believed themselves to be cursed. She could remove spells not just from humans but also from their cattle or horses. Moving from Redruth to Helston also in Cornwall, her reputation spread far and wide. Especially during spring – when her powers were believed to be at their strongest - people would travel great distances, and even from across the sea in the Scilly Isles, to consult her. Queues would form outside her small house. She would sell small bags of ‘witch powder’, earth from graves, bones and teeth – all said to possess special powers. She would also supply written charms which were folded in a special way and sewn into little bags. These little bags would be worn around the neck and were credited with preventing or curing people of fits, and many other unexplained maladies caused – or so it was believed – by witchcraft.



The written charms consisted of various designs but a typical one was this:



S  A  T  O  R
A  R  E  P  O
T  E  N  E  T
O  P  E  R  A
R  O  T  A  S



It can quickly be seen that this can be read the same backwards, as well as forwards, vertically and horizontally.



Other written charms consisted of a word, accompanied by a drawing of some fantastic, mythical creature.



Blight’s husband – James (Jemmy) Thomas – was also known as a ‘conjuror’ of magic, and he too would see clients who turned up at their door. They married in 1835, at the height of Tammy Blee’s fame, but the marriage wasn’t to last. At some time during the 1850s, her husband was reported to the local magistrates in St Ives after he propositioned a man with a view to sleeping with him. Jemmy was forced to flee Cornwall and Tammy Blee publicly distanced herself from him after that.



The White Witch of Helston was well versed in the use of hallucinogens to induce trances, of a shamanic nature, in which she predicted the future and communicated with spirits. She was also called upon to identify malevolent witches. Like many so-called ‘cunning’ women of her time she was knowledgeable about herbs, and able to prepare and provide effective cures for a wide range of ailments in both humans and animals, so many of her clients were farmers.



Another significant group of customers were young women who consulted her about their marriage prospects. Would they marry? Who would they marry? When would they marry? No doubt, they also consulted her over how to get the object of their affections to return their ardour.


Tammy Blee was even purported to have raised the spirit of an old woman from the dead. In the Cornish folk tale, “The Ghost of Stythians”, a male relative of the deceased enlists the services of Tamsin Blight as he is anxious to know where the old woman hid the money she was supposed to have left him. The story tells of the witch creating a charmed ring of protection around him in the graveyard of St. Stythian's Church, before summoning the spirits of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water . Then she staged an impressive display of groans, moans, shrieks, crashing of stones and rending of wood before the ghostly apparition appeared, to be questioned. The story goes onto reveal that the figure in the shroud was in fact Jemmy Thomas. In fact it took a fierce storm to rip off the roof of the man's house and reveal the hiding place of the old woman's valuables.


During her life, Tammy Blee had a loyal following. Her customers returned year after year, for more charms or to get their existing ones ‘recharged’ with the witch’s energy. It was generally agreed that no one – not even the ‘White Witch of Exeter’ – had powers to match those of Tamsin Blight. 

When she died on 6th October 1858, she was sorely missed.

2 comments:

  1. Quite a story and quite a woman by the sounds of it too. Great post Cat!

    ReplyDelete