Tag Archives: Sarah Bagley

“Rowan trees and red thread put witches to their speed.”


Winter beautyThe Rowan Tree has a wealth of ancient lore and many associations with magic and witches. The tree is thought to lend protection against evil and bad spells. It’s old Celtic name, ‘fid na ndruad,’ means wizard tree. But it has many names. Ask an old Celt which they favor.

Rowan, known as the Mountain Ash in America, and Dogberry Tree in parts of Canada, is a familiar sight in the mountains surrounding the Shenandoah Valley. My mom planted one in her yard, just up the road from us, and it’s doing well (last time I checked). My dear grandmother who lived to be 99 and a half, and really knew her trees and wildflowers, was very fond of the beautiful mountain ash. Grandma would point it out to me in the Alleghenies when she lived in Blue Field, West VA. It’s gorgeous in autumn when covered with bright red berries, and particularly attractive to birds.

Rowan Tree, Mountain, Black Mount, Scottish Highlands

(Rowan Tree at Black Mount in the Scottish Highlands)

Red, the color of the berries, was thought to be the strongest color in battling the dark forces. In Ireland, rowan trees were planted near houses to protect them from the spirits of the dead; in Wales they favored graveyards for their tree plantings. In Scotland, the Rowan Tree is among the most sacred and cutting one down, or using any portion of the tree for any purpose other than spiritually approved rituals was taboo. The wood was seen as the most protective part and fashioned into sticks to stir milk to keep it from curdling, pocket charms (or amulets) to ward off rheumatism and bad mojo, and made into divining rods (for finding precious metals). Because the tree is associated with Saint Bridhig, the Celtic patroness of the arts, healing, smithing, spinning and weaving, spindles and spinning wheels were made of rowan in Scotland and Ireland.

Scotland, Forest, Old, TreeWalking sticks made of rowan were thought to lend protection to the traveler on their journey, and from evil spirits. Rowan trees planted near stone circles in Scotland were thought to be favored by fairies who held their celebrations within the protective tree enclosed circle. Fairies are extremely cautious. But the fae can also get up to mischief, so the rowan would protect you from that as well. One of those multi-use herbs/trees. (Image of old Scottish forest)

Rowan twigs were placed above doorways and barns to protect the inhabitants from evil and misfortune. These twigs might be formed into a cross and tied with a red thread while chanting, “Rowan trees and red thread put witches to their speed.”

Salem Witch Trials movieTo the 17th Century Scots, however, practicing folk medicine was associated with witchcraft, which could include carrying a Rowan charm, a twig tied with a red thread for protection. I don’t know if this (or some equally petty reason) is why my Scot’s ancestor, John Mack’s, parents were executed for witchcraft, but he left Inverness and settled in New England. There, he married Sarah Bagley, whose brother, Orlando Bagley, arrested his neighbor Susannah Martin for being a witch. Poor Susannah was later hung during the infamous Salem witch trials. So there was no getting away from the witch frenzy for John Mack. For more on my family’s involvement in the witch trials check out my post at: https://bethtrissel.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/my-ancestor-orlando-bagley-and-the-salem-witch-trials/

In the witches’ favor, it’s interesting to note that the rowan is also called the witch tree because they used it to increase their powers and spells and for fashioning magic wands, so there appears to be some disagreement here. Did it speed witches on their way, or empower them? *These conflicting beliefs are often the way in herbal lore.

The_Bearwalkers_Daughter_Cover3The tree was also sacred to the Druids (of course) who believed in its protective powers and burnt it on funeral pyres, also in rites of divination and purification. The tree was associated with both death and rebirth. Because Rowan was thought to bring the gift of inspiration, ancient Bards called it the ‘tree of bards.’ I suppose all writers should have rowan. I used Rowan (among other herbs) in NA/Scot’s historical romance novel, The Bearwalker’s Daughter. The elderly Scot’s-Irish woman, Neeley, uses it to protect the home.

Rowan is one of the nine sacred woods burnt in the Druids’ Beltaine fire. And, the tree is associated with dragons who apparently once guarded sacred rowan. Not sure if dragons are still on the job, or have slacked off. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen any dragons in ages. let me know if you have.

I should add that where it wasn’t deemed wrong to use the timber, the strong wood has also traditionally been used for the handles of tools, cart wheels, and planks or beams.

“Rowan tree, red thread, hold the witches all in dread.” ~another old herbal saying

Teen wolfWood from the ash tree, in the form of ash outlining a building or circle, is showing up in a lot of paranormal TV shows with American settings, like Teen Wolf, and The Secret Circle, used to ward off evil, so even if some of these characters are the nicest werewolves or witches you could ever want to meet, they cannot cross a barrier of ash.

For more on Rowan Lore, this is an interesting site: http://www.druidry.org/library/trees/tree-lore-rowan

My Ancestral Ties to the Salem Witch Trials


(Reposted from an earlier post, mysteriously lost from my blog)

In 1760 a plot of land was laid out like this: “Beginning at a beech tree marked, it being the northeast corner, boundary of Samuel Gustin’s land; thence north 11 rods to a beech…” and thus it goes around the perimeter of the property from beech to spruce to the hemlock with stones by it.  Quaint.  And so it was while perusing old Mack family annals (Highland Scots who settled in New England) that we came upon something quite interesting but not nearly as charming–a direct link to the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

According to these records, the first Mack arrival in the New World, John, (born in 1653) emigrated from Inverness and married Sarah Bagley in Boston in 1681. She was the daughter of Orlando (note the name) and Sarah Bagley. Orlando Bagley was a man of considerable influence in the district, a constable, who apprehended his friend and neighbor, Susannah Martin, for a witch.  Good heavens, we have an ancestor at least partly responsible for the death of this unfortunate woman. (I have since learned, that Orlando’s son was also called Orlando, and it is likely he was the one responsible for arresting Susanna, as the older Bagley was deceased by this time.)

Back to the Macks; an early genealogist says the name wasn’t an abbreviation of some other such as MacDonald or McKenzie, but that they were a family of sufficient importance to have a Coat of Arms in Scotland with a Latin motto indicating they were hard workers and hopeful, of good estates and families, of liberal education, and of large experience, and they were strict Puritans. Seems it was a good enough family name to warrant admission into the upstanding Bagleys who were among the earliest Puritan settlers of Amesbury, Massachusetts.

I discovered more about Orlando Bagley and his ill-fated neighbor, Susanna Martin, at these sites:

http://famhist2.blogspot.com/2009/03/murder-in-salem.html

I watched (on Netflix) a History Channel documentary about the Salem Witch trials and combined that with the information I’ve gleaned elsewhere.  A most bizarre period of history.  Adolescent girls and young women insisted specters appeared to them in various forms, as animals or that of the accused themselves, and cruelly abused them.  Pinching and hitting them…the girls then continued these hysterics in court with lethal effect.

Panic spread far and wide with neighbor after neighbor falling under the malignant shadow until “From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months (*some of them dying there) without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided.”
The above quote is from:
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm

Women in that rigidly defined community had no voice or authority, but these girls wielded an almighty power over everyone by simply pointing their fingers.  The power must have gone to their heads, along with the dizzying attention they gloried in.  However, I wonder, had they no conscience?  So many innocent people suffered and died as a result of this craze.  For a people obsessed with the fate of their immortal souls, would this not weigh heavily upon them?  Only one girl ever offered an apology.

Oddly, the individual who bore any real resemblance to a witch, the young slave woman, Tituba, who lit the initial powder keg with strange Voodoo practices from her South American background, was never hung.  She confessed (possibly after a beating) and then joined with the girls in naming suspected witches. Maybe it was payback for her slavery.  I don’t know, but she’s also responsible for taking a lot of people down.

I’ve also read about and seen a documentary suggesting there may have been an outbreak in Salem at that time of ergot poisoning (a mold similar to LSD) on the rye used for bread making.  Symptoms of such poisoning include hallucinations and physical pain which may account for some of the girls symptoms, but why only them?  Wouldn’t more people have been afflicted? Maybe more were and that’s why they tossed all reason to the wind.

As for allowing ‘spectral’ evidence as testimony, this was previously unheard of at witch trials and Salem is unique in that regard.  There were other time-honored methods for ferreting out a witch.  For example, the water test–if you sank you were innocent; if you floated, guilty, of course, and then you were put to death.  Or, strip the supposed witch, shave her entire body, then carefully examine every inch of her for a ‘devil’s’ mark.  I’ll bet a lot of men preferred this method. Woe unto you, if you had any funny shaped moles or birthmarks.

Spectral evidence based on gyrating girls shrieking that you came to them in a way that only they could see and caused excruciating torment while enticing them to make a pact with Satan was a no win scenario for the accused.  Any and all denials were met with increased screams and accusations.  Only if you confessed your sin,did they fall silent.  Then you were free to go; God alone being your judge, which makes no sense to me.  Crucify the innocent, or gain confessions from the so-called damned, thus freeing them.  But those truly concerned for the state of their souls refused to make such a blasphemous admission, preferring death.

To understand the mindset of these Salem Puritans is almost impossible, but I’ll try.  It seems they were terrified of the dark forest.  Though only six miles from the coast, Salem was on the edge of the wilderness.  The dreaded Indians dwelt in the woods, and the settlers feared Satan also brooded over the forest.  Disease and misfortune were attributed to evil entities.  Deeply insecure and preoccupied with horror of the dark forces, they sought its manifestation in everything and everyone.  And you tend to find what you look for.  Particularly when fear of the demonic is mixed in with an extremely judgmental community, resentment toward your neighbor, a means to get even, and young actresses happy to oblige you with a stellar performance.

There’s a vast deal more to be said on the subject and I may continue this post another time.  Meanwhile, if you know anything of my distant ancestor Orlando Bagley (sounds straight out of the Shire) and his part in the trial and execution of Susanna Martin, I’d be glad to know more.  And to her descendants, in behalf of our family, I offer my deepest apology.

*Two more interesting sites about the Salem Witch Trials:
http://www.salemfocus.com/index.htm

http://www.bloodlinesofsalem.org/HISTORY.HTM