The Horned Women
A rich woman sat up late one night
carding and preparing wool, while
all the family and servants were asleep. Suddenly a knock
at the door, and a voice called, "Open! open!"
"Who is there?" said
the woman of the house.
"I am the Witch of one Horn," was
The mistress, supposing that one of her neighbours had
required assistance, opened the door, and a woman entered,
her hand a pair of wool-carders, and bearing a horn on
as if growing there. She sat down by the fire in silence,
to card the wool with violent haste. Suddenly she paused,
aloud: "Where are the women? they delay too long."
Then a second knock came to the door, and a voice called
The mistress felt herself obliged to rise and open to
the call, and
immediately a second witch entered, having two horns on
forehead, and in her hand a wheel for spinning wool.
"Give me place," she said; "I am the Witch
of the two Horns," and
she began to spin as quick as lightning.
And so the knocks went on, and the
call was heard, and the witches
entered, until at last twelve women sat round the fire
- the first
with one horn, the last with twelve horns.
And they carded the thread, and turned their spinning-wheels,
wound and wove, all singing together an ancient rhyme,
but no word
did they speak to the mistress of the house. Strange to
frightful to look upon, were these twelve women, with their
and their wheels; and the mistress felt near to death,
and she tried
to rise that she might call for help, but she could not
could she utter a word or a cry, for the spell of the witches
Then one of them called to her
in Irish, and said, "Rise,
make us a cake."
Then the mistress searched for a vessel to bring water
from the well
that she might mix the meal and make the cake, but she
And they said to her, "Take
a sieve and bring water in it."
And she took the sieve and went to
the well - but the water poured
from it, and she could fetch none for the cake, and she
sat down by
the well and wept.
Then a voice came by her and
said, "Take yellow clay
and moss, and
bind them together, and plaster the sieve so that it will
This she did, and the sieve held the
water for the cake - and the
voice said again:
"Return, and when thou comest
to the north angle of the house, cry
aloud three times and say, 'The mountain of the Fenian
women and the
sky over it is all on fire.'"
And she did so.
When the witches inside heard the call, a great and terrible
broke from their lips, and they rushed forth with wild
and shrieks, and fled away to Slievenamon, where was their
abode. But the Spirit of the Well bade the mistress of
the house to
enter and prepare her home against the enchantments of
if they returned again.
And first, to break their spells, she
sprinkled the water in which
she had washed her child's feet, the feet-water, outside
the door on
the threshold - secondly, she took the cake which in her
witches had made of meal mixed with the blood drawn from
sleeping family, and she broke the cake in bits, and placed
a bit in
the mouth of each sleeper, and they were restored - and
she took the
cloth they had woven, and placed it half in and half out
chest with the padlock - and lastly, she secured the door
great crossbeam fastened in the jambs, so that the witches
enter, and having done these things she waited.
Not long were the witches in coming back, and they raged
"Open! open!" they screamed; "open,
"I cannot," said the feet-water; "I
am scattered on the ground, and
my path is down to the Lough."
"Open, open, wood and trees and beam!" they
cried to the door.
"I cannot," said the door, "for
the beam is fixed in the jambs and I
have no power to move."
"Open, open, cake that we have made and mingled with
"I cannot," said the cake, "for
I am broken and bruised, and my
blood is on the lips of the sleeping children."
Then the witches rushed through the
air with great cries, and fled
back to Slievenamon, uttering strange curses on the Spirit
Well, who had wished their ruin - but the woman and the
left in peace, and a mantle dropped by one of the witches
flight was kept hung up by the mistress in memory of that
this mantle was kept by the same family from generation
generation for five hundred years after.