Witches of Cornwall
Over the centuries, many in the British Isles have appealed to witches in times of need–to cure a toothache, concoct a love potion, or curse a neighbor. Witchcraft, the rituals of a number of pagan belief systems, was thought to offer control of the world through rites and incantations. Common as it has been over the past several centuries, the practice is secretive and there are few written records. It tends to be passed down through families and never revealed to outsiders. But archaeologist Jacqui Wood has unearthed evidence of more than 40 witchy rituals beneath her own front yard, bringing to light an unknown branch of witchcraft possibly still practiced today.
Wood’s home is in the hamlet of Saveock Water in Cornwall, a county tucked in the far southwest corner of the country. For thousands of years people have raised crops and livestock in its fertile valleys, and its coastline of dramatic cliffs, secluded coves, and pounding surf was once a haunt for smugglers. Cornwall is a place time forgot; steeped in folklore, myth, and legend; and purported to be inhabited by pixies, fairies, and elves. So it should come as no surprise that it has also been home to the dark arts.
When I visit Saveock Water it is raining, which adds to its unearthly atmosphere. Wood, a warm lady with sparkling hazel eyes, greets me in her cozy white-washed barn while rain hammers on the roof. She moved to Saveock Water 15 years ago because it was an ideal location for her work in experimental archaeology, replicating ancient techniques, including those used in farming or metallurgy. Since then she has carried out her experiments, such as growing ancient crop varieties, unaware of what lay under her fields. In the late 1990s, Wood decided to do some metalwork research by re-creating an ancient kind of furnace. “I dug down into the ground to construct a shelter close to the furnace and I discovered a clay floor,” she says.
I found this story interested on many levels. One the one hand, the idea of myself living in Saveock someday is appealing. It seems quite a nice area of the UK and I would love someday to have a quiet cottage in a place like that. On the other hand, the whole archaeological process here is rather interesting. These “wells” or “holes” being actual ritual places and the process by which they have been determined to be so is fascinating. I also would love to and have thought about in the past, volunteering for a dig or two myself.
The last piece of the puzzle is that they carbon dated the sites and they spanned from pre-history to the 1950’s. Quite interesting in a “Wicker Man” sense!