two devil sisters never actually walked the earth, but the practice of
witchcraft most certainly did – and indeed does – exist. Thankfully, in most
cases we are talking about good or so-called white magic. Indeed, in centuries
past, most (if not all) witches executed in various torturous ways were guilty
of nothing more than being ‘wise women’ who knew a thing or two about how herbs
and natural remedies worked. Then one day they upset one of their neighbours
and, before you could light a candle, they would find themselves being poked and
prodded for the infamous ‘witch marks’. Anything would suffice – a small mole,
a wart, a tiny patch of eczema. Most of us have something the witch hunter would
proclaim was a mark of the devil.
The site is in a
tiny hamlet called Saveock near Truro where two unmarried women lived,
practising their craft and passing on its secrets. They were believed to be
part of that secret coven until they died in the 1980s. The most recent of the
small pits used synthetic orange baler twine only used in Cornwall since the
1970s, while the earliest witch pit dates back to the 1640s and is lined with a
slaughtered swan (the bird symbolizing fertility), which had been turned inside
out. Claws belonging to other bird
species and a small pile of stones were also found in it. The killing of swans
has been illegal since the 11th century.
Other pits are
lined with the skins of cats and dogs along with bird’s eggs containing
Dr Wood believes
the pits were dug by young women desirous of becoming pregnant and could be an
offering to St Brigid of Kildare in Ireland – the patron saint of newborn
All in all, carbon
dating has revealed that the site has been in continuous use since the 1640s, and there are over forty pits – each one unique, but all roughly the same size,
measuring 42cm long x 35cm wide and 17cm deep. Dr Wood believes it is highly
probable that members of the coven are still active today.
That this coven
has managed to continue to exist despite contravening laws of the land and the
prevailing prejudices of the times bears testament to the determination of a
dedicated group of women who, no doubt, passed on their secrets from mother to
daughter – with not one weak link.
Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.’
An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more
perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday
home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing
her beloved husband.