CHARACTER ORIGINS IN THE
ENGLISH FOLK PLAY
STEPHEN DURBORAW MALIN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
II 262 08III 2 3859
3 1262 08552 3859
The writer wishes to acknowledge his appreciation to
the Department of Speech of the University of Florida for
the series of assistantships which made his graduate study
possible, to the Memphis State University for the grants
which allowed two summers to be devoted to research, and
to the members of his committee, T. Walter Herbert, Donald
E. Williams and Richard L. Green, who gave their time and
consideration to this study. A special debt must be noted
in the case of the writer's committee chairman, L. L.
Zimmerman, who, for more than ten years, has furnished
challenge, aid and example, whether in the classroom,
theatre, or in personal matters. Appreciation is also due
the memory of C. K. Thomas, former committee member, whose
wisdom and warmth are a continuing legacy. Finally, to
his wife, Joanne, who typed the manuscript, checked foot-
notes and read proof while caring for home, child and
husband, the writer wishes to express his most affectionate
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................. ii
I. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . 1
II. THE WITCH CULT: ITS SURVIVAL
AND NATURE . . . . . ... 15
III. THE STOCK CHARACTERS AND THE
CULT GOD ............. 36
IV. THE PLAYS: INTERNAL EVIDENCE . . . 85
V. CORRELATIVE TRADITIONS . . . .. 118
VI. CONCLUSIONS .............. 158
BIBLIOGRAPHY .................... 173
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............... 182
The medieval English folk play has been studied by some
of the most highly respected theatre historians of the twentieth
century, including such figures as Sir E. K. Chambers, Francis
Cornford and Theodore Gaster.1 These scholars, and others,
have formulated their studies on the hypothesis, first articu-
lated by Gilbert Murray,2 that primitive theatrical performance
lay inherent in primitive rite, that it eventually emerged
from this rite, whether in Greece, the Near East, or England,
and that the early ritualistic element can be observed in the
later theatrical product.
Consequently, in their analyses of the English folk plays,
the aforementioned scholars have isolated and analyzed basic
folk motifs. For example, such men as Chambers, Sharp,
Kennedy, and Gaster have established that a fertility invoca-
tion, one centering upon death and rebirth, invariably lies
1E. K. Chambers, The Medieval Stage (Oxford, 1903);
E. K. Chambers, The English Folk Play (Oxford, 1933); Francis
Cornford, The Origins of Attic Comedy (New York, 1961);
Theodore Gaster, Thespis: Ritual, Myth and Drama in the
Ancient Near East (New York, 1961).
2Gilbert Murray, "Excursus on the Ritual Forms Preserved
in Greek Tragedy," in Jane Harrison, Thomis (Cambridge, 1912).
at the heart of the English folk dramas.3 While this ritual
act has been isolated, described and defined, the matter of
who performs it has been dealt with somewhat less coherently.
Indeed, the specific matter of character function and charac-
ter origins in the English folk play has been given little
detailed attention. This is especially true of the folk
plays' five stock characters, the Black Man, the Man-Woman,
the Hobby Horse, the Doctor, and the Fool. While other
characters make their appearance at one point or another in
the English folk dramas, these five stock characters appear
with unfaltering regularity. In spite of that, their func-
tion has remained largely unexamined. It would seem that if
the plays themselves are worth attention, their most con-
sistent characters may also warrant study.
The limited scrutiny previously afforded these stock
characters may have resulted from the fact that they seem to
possess no consistent dramatic function in the folk plays.
The Black Man, who derives his name from the fact that his
face and sometimes all exposed parts of his body are
blackened, not only fails to have a predictable part in the
plays, but he even lacks a consistent name. The only uni-
form pattern that can be ascertained in him is his bizarre
3Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 80-227; Cecil J. Sharp,
The S\:ord Dances of Norrh r.-. 2.-land (London, 1951), III, 10,
1-; Cocil J. Sharp and Horbert C. MacIlwaine, The Morris
Book (London, 1912), I, 10-17; Cecil J. Sharp and George
Butterworth, The Morris Book (London, 1913), V, 8-13; Douglas
Kennedy, England's Dances (London, 1950), pp. 36-39; Gaster,
Thespis, pp. 84-85.
appearance and his ubiquity; indeed, the unpredictability or
instability of the role sometimes goes so far as to allow it
to merge with another of the stock characters. For instance,
at Winton the Black Man gives his darkened face to the Man-
Woman, and the two characters become one.
As this may indicate, the Man-Woman character is similar-
ly unpredictable. Possessed of a variety of feminine names
and garbed as a woman, the role nonetheless was always played
by a man whose voice and gestures could not fail to inform
the audience of his dual sexuality. Beyond this androgenic
factor, however, little about the role is consistent, and
like the Black Man, the Man-Woman's role or contribution has
the appearance of being defined separately by the village in
which the play was performed. Consequently, the Man-Woman
figure was sometimes called "the Queen," and on those occa-
sions the figure comported itself with dignity and reserve.5
Elsewhere she became the nonsensical "Moll" of the Morris
dance or "Bessie" of the sword dance. On these occasions
she participated fully in the fooling and funmaking of the
ceremony.6 On another occasion, as at Rovosby, it was this
character who became the love-object of rival suitors.7 In
4Cecil J. Sharp and Herbert Macllwaine, The Morris Book
(London, 1924), III, 74.
5Ibid., I, 29.
6Ibid., III, 89.
7joseph Quincy Adams, Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas
(Boston, 1924), pp. 363-64.
short, like the Black Man, the only regularly predictable
thing about the Man-Woman was its persistent presence in the
Another character who seems to lack functional consistency
in the folk dramas is the Hobby Horse. Although his presence
could almost always be relied on, both his looks and actions
changed considerably in the various plays. On some occasions
he took a prominent part in the physical action of the play,
while on others he was clearly subordinated. In some in-
stances his costumed appearance was such that it had the
physical characteristics of an actual horse, while at other
times he was only a character straddling a horse-headed staff,
or unadorned staff or broom. The only certain thing about
his appearance was that the suggestion of a horse was clearly
made. Once this was accomplished, there seems to have been
great latitude as to the degree and nature of his participa-
tion in the folk play ceremonies.
The remaining two stock characters were assigned some-
what more consistent functions. The Doctor always appeared
after the duel and death, to brag comically about his cura-
tive powers and, ordinarily, to revive the fallen victim.
The Fool, frequently accoutred with a club or other phallus-
like appendage, was often used to introduce the other
characters of the drama, and usually led the dancing. In
addition there were frequent occasions in which he was the
Although somo functional consistency is apparent in the
latter two characters, a review of the extant plays also re-
veals that they underwent confusing variations. The Doctor,
for example, who affords the most predictability as a result
of his efforts to revive the dead, was not permitted to
succeed in all of the plays. At Escrick, for instance, he
attempts the resurrection, fails, and is replaced, alternately,
by the Man-Woman and the Fool--both of whom are successful in
ministering to the victim. The latter circumstance also in-
dicates an apparent functional contradiction in the character
of the Fool, for he does not always act the sacrificial vic-
tim, but is sometimes cast in the equally vital role of one
responsible for the revival of another victim.9
The possibility of assigning some consistent function to
the various stock characters is confounded still more by
their tendency to coalesce. All of the stock characters had
the unsettling capacity to merge with one another more or
less indistinguishable. As a consequence, there were occa-
sions on which the Fool had the sooted face of the Black Man,
or the bisexuality of the Man-Woman. That type of doubling
occurred in almost any combination, and in some instances,
triple character mergers occurred. At both Padstow and
Winster, for example, the attributes of the Black Man, the
Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 10, 84. See also pp. 62-63,
90 for added instances.
Man-Woman and the Hobby Horse were shared by a single
At first glance it would appear that the only quality
shared by the stock characters was the certainty of their
appearance. The degree of their participation--and often
its nature as well--seems to have been left to the discre-
tion of the individual village producing the play. It can
be said, of course, that the stock characters wero intro-
duced in the plays in order to display some crucial
characteristic, either visual, as with the Black Man and
Man-Woman, or behavioral, as with the Doctor. It should be
noted, however, that these characteristics cannot be said
to have been the exclusive property of a particular figure.
The only consistency discernible is that the traits them-
selves persist, unaccountably, throughout the English folk
play corpus. It is the search for the origins of these
characteristics, then, to which the present study is
The scholarly attention accorded the stock characters
of the English folk play has not been characterized by either
urgency or conviction. None of the authorities on the folk
play provide a consistent, logical explanation of the
presence and repeated appearance of the stock folk play
characters. Further, attempts to combine scholarly conclu-
sions do not produce consistent, or even very coherent,
10Ibid., III, 74; Kennedy, England's Dances, pp. 86-87.
solutions to the problem. For example, while Chambers reports
at some length on what is done in the folk phenomena,11 he
seems to consider the repeated appearance of the stock
characters an unnecessary, and even arbitrary, intrusion.
Having got these grotesques, traditional
accompaniments of the play, to dispose of
somehow, what do the playwrights do with them?
The simplest and most primitive method is just
to bring them in, to show them 1 the specta-
tors when the fighting is over.
Beyond this dismissal, Chambers sees the "grotesques" used in
only two other ways: to introduce or conclude the plays, and
to be given minor parts in the drama itself.13 Thus, in
Chambers' view, the stock characters' import is minimal;
moreover, he throws little light upon the reason for their
tenacious presence in the plays.
Tiddy's study of the English folk play is similarly
inconclusive with respect to these characters. It not only
fails to provide a systematic basis for examining the stock
characters, but it yields only fragmentary insights into
their persistence. For instance, Tiddy tontativoly specu-
lates that the darkened face of the Black Man may be a
"disguise," and that the Doctor is some sort of primitive
medicine man. He does not, however, explore the relation-
ships these characters may have to each other, or to
11Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 116-227.
12Ibid., I, 216.
13Ibid., I, 216-218.
characters such as the Hobby Horse, the Fool, or the Man-
In a more recent study, one oriented to the folk dance
but concerned with the same characters, Douglas Kennedy
agrees with Tiddy that the black face is a "disguise,'"15 and
he asserts that the "Hobby Horse is an old pagan character."l6
As in the case of other scholarly works on the subject, how-
ever, the Kennedy study fails to define or consider speci-
fically what "pagan" might mean; further, no attempt is made
to relate the folk characters to one another systematically.
In short, investigations conducted to date have given no
concern to the possibility of a coherent pattern of relation-
ships in the frequent appearance of the unusual and ubiquitous
folk play "grotesques."
Yet if the "rite-play" is to be understood, it would
seem important to attempt to account for, and relate, the
traditionally unvarying participants--the makers of the
rite. It will consequently be the purpose of this study to
identify rite and rite-maker as closely as possible, rather
than to treat them in isolation, as has been the tendency
in the past.
There is no dearth of procedural precedent for the task.
Gilbert Murray found the roots of Greek tragedy in a fertility
14R. J. E. Tiddy, The Mummers' Play (Oxford, 1923),
15Kennedy, England's Dances, pp. 43-44.
16Ibid., p. 87.
cult rite; Cornford augmented and extended that thesis to
account for comedy, and Caster discovered its applicability
to the drama of the Near East. There seems no reason, then,
that a thesis so widely accepted and so frequently useful
cannot be put to work in discovering something of the origin
and necessity of the English folk play's stock characters.
For the purposes of this study, it should be noted that
the word "play" will be used in a somewhat expanded sense to
include activities of folk dance as well as drama. Tho com-
pulsion underlying this procedure is that divisions of these
phenomena tend to be somewhat arbitrary, so that it is often
difficult to assign either name to a performance without a
real slight to the activity ignored. For example, at
Revosby, Lincolnshire, the participants in the folk play-
dance were known as "The Plow-Boys or Morris Dancers." In
the course of their performance, both Morris dance and sword
dance were repeated, yet the structure of the whole is suf-
ficiently dramatic for Chambers to discuss it in his "Mum-
mors' Play" chapter, while Adams entitles it "The Revesby
Sword Play."17 The fundamental congruence of the folk ac-
tivities can also be attested by usage: the actors of what
must surely be regarded as a mummers' play by the antholo-
gist were, at Staffordshire, called "guisers." But the
same group became, when performing the same activity on the
17Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 207; Adams, Pro-
Shakospearean Dramas, p. 357.
Shropshire border, "Morris Dancers," which fact Chambers
advances as "a further proof of the essential identity of
the Morris or sword dance with the ureors'7 play.1118
The folk dance authority, Cecil Sharp, agrees, citing in
both play and dance the insistent presence of the stock
characters and observing that,
There is reason to believe that the M~r-ing
play and the Sword dances are no more than
survivals of different aspects of tho scmo
primitive rite; and the fact that both aro
often called by the country people 'Morris
dances' is, perhaps, evidence that the tradi-
tion of this common origin still lingers in
the minds of the country peoplo.19
Consequently, while differences assuredly do occur in the
folk theatre customs mentioned, they are variations which
do not seem to alter a common basic ritual pattern. It
should therefore be possible to ex-aino the folk play, in
the broad sense of that term, and the antecedent fertility
cult to discover whether similar practices were in fact
shared by both.
The fertility cult rites which may have boon the genesis
of the folk play appear to have been identified nearly half
a century ago by the Oxford anthropologist, Margaret Murray,
in her study, The Witch Cult in Western Europe.20 Murray's
evidence that the witches were merely continuing to practice
18Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 227.
19Sharp and Macllwaino, Morris Book, I, 13.
20The work was originally issued in 1922,
pro-Christian fertility cult rites had sufficient weight
to cause historians and anthropologists alike to pursue
seriously the subject of a witch centered fertility cult.21
Assuming, as these historians and anthropologists do, that
the fertility oriented religion of the witches was Chris-
tianity's predecessor and rival in England, it follows
logically that this is the fertility cult wherein the
ritual origins of the English folk play may lie. If so,
the neglected folk characters with which this study is con-
cerned may also find their ancestry among the witches.
While there is strong conjectural support for the view
that the English folk play made an early appearance, its
emergence cannot be confirmed until the fifteenth century.22
From this time until the eighteenth century, however, the
plays continued to be performed widely.23
To test the validity of this study's hypothesis, then,
fourteenth through seventeenth century records of the witch
cult will be explored for evidence of a possible relationship
between the cult and the folk plays, the assumption being
21Introduction to Margaret Murray, The Witch Cult in
Western Europe (Oxford, 1962), p. 4.
22C. M. Gayley, Reprcsontativo English Cncir-'-es (NTw
York, 1926), I, xlii; M. C. Bradbrook, 'i.h Riso of the
Common Player (Cambridge, 1962), p. 20; Charlos Road Laslzor-
ville, Dramatic Aspects of Modieval Folk Festivals in
England," Studies in Philology, XVII (1920), p. 43; Chambers,
Medieval Stage, I, 90-91.
23After this they were acted loss often and in a do-
creasing number of places, although the tradition has
continued unbroken into the twentieth century.
that if the witch cult, when officially suppressed, found
expression through the folk plays, it would have shaped that
dramatic event in the image of its most important goals and
Before pursuing this examination, however, an additional
factor must be considered. Many authorities believe that the
folk plays actually existed centuries before their presence
was recorded, inasmuch as folk art normally antedates the
time of its formal recording. In a consideration of the
English folk play and its characters, it would scarcely seem
wise to ignore the probability that this type of play had an
earlier genesis than that established by extant documents.
Assuming the folk play did exist prior to the fifteenth cen-
tury, along with known witch cult practices, some thought
must be given to its possible nature, and to whether this
unrecorded drama and the early witch cult had as their
prime ingredient that same concern with fertility found in
the recorded dramatic and cult practices of the fifteenth
In the case of the folk play, inforential evidence is
of course all that is possible. Nevertheless, two points
are worth making. First, in the 600 year recorded history
of the English folk play (fifteenth through twentieth cen-
turies), both the fertility oriented action of death and
revival and the regular participation of the stock charac-
ters remain unvarying features. In view of a six century
record of consistency, it would seem improbable that there
was any fundamental change in the fertility orientation of
any unrecorded portion of the folk plays' existence.
Assuming that, as in the case of other arts, the folk
play did exist prior to the time actual records of its
existence wore kept, there is a second reason for believing
that its action and character was the same as that of the
later, recorded events. This is simply that the action and
character of the recorded events would, in all probability,
have been copies of any existing prototypes. Indeed, this
tendency to pattern events on the basis of memory, or to
transcribe on the basis of memory, has long boon recognized
in the development of folk art.24 Consequently, if folk art
was customarily recorded from memory, the English folk play
can be presumed to have acquired its fertility focus from
previously established patterns. As a result, these plays
would have centered upon fertility in whatever period they
may have existed.
The early existence and continuing tradition of the
witch cult is much easier to establish inasmuch as it can
be documented from oarlior records. If the folk play can
be credited with a sufficiently early origin in England
and a consistent focus on fertility, its basic content would
24Until the work of Tiddy and Sharp in the twentieth
century, productions of the English folk plays remained
largely dependent upon precisely this kind of recollected
oral tradition inasmuch as the great bulk of folk dramas
had not been previously recorded.
appear to be moro than a coincidental parallel to the basic
ingredients of the witch cult. Indeed, there is the possi-
bility that the cult served as the founding impulse behind
the plays. Thus, the first consideration of this study
will be to establish the nature and tenure of the witch
cult in England. If these appear to comprise an unbroken
tradition of attempts to secure or control fertility, it
will be possible not only to study the witch cult for sub-
stantiation of existing views concerning the cult origin
of folk motifs, but for signs of the elusive and oddly
assorted stock characters of the chronologically corre-
spondent English folk play. If these signs exist, it will
then be feasible to turn to the texts and traditions of
the folk plays and dances to find corroborative evidence
that the witch cult and the folk play did indeed share a
heritage which, among other things, gave birth to the in-
sistently repeated stock characters found in the folk
dramas of England.
THE WITCH CULT: ITS SURVIVAL AND NATURE
Since scholars agree that the origins of the English
folk play are to be found in fertility religion; and since
the cnly fertility religion identified as indigenous to
England was the witch cult, an examination of this cult is
indicated. In attempting to determine whether there is a
discernible correspondence between the witch cult and the
English folk play, two matters must be considered. First,
the witch cult's fertility orientation must be demonstrated,
Second, an attempt must be made to ascertain whether the
witch cult was sufficiently alive at the time the folk play
emerged to have influenced that drama significantly.
A continuing record of the witch cult in England does
not begin until Christianity was established permanently in
the nation, an event that dates to the arrival of Augustine's
mission in 597. Previously, England had boon afforded a
limited introduction to Christianity during the Roman occu-
pation, but relapse to the pagan worship, unhampered by any
Christian mission, had been general for five generations by
the time Augustine arrived.1 Records of the centuries
1William L. Langner, An Encyclopedia of World History
(Cambridge, 1948), p. 166.
immediately following the establishment of Augustine's
mission reveal a concerted attempt to secure conversions,
"sometimes at physical risk."2 A clue to the strength and
appeal of the cult structure at this time is afforded by
the fact that the Augustinian missionary effort was fre-
quently frustrated by lapses to the older faith. The
heathen Mercians, for example, overthrew the Roman church
in Northumbria in 633, and the area was not even nominally
reclaimed by Christianity for a generation. Similarly,
although the king of the East Saxons embraced Christianity
in 604, his successor lapsed, and the church had no official
acceptance in the realm until 654,4 This capacity to blunt
or frustrate the early missionary efforts provides initial
testimony to the witch cult's strength, a strength sufficient
to have enabled the cult to exert an influence upon any folk
drama which may have emerged at this time.
Subsequent records make it plain that the competitive
strength and popular appeal of the cult did not wane quickly.
For instance, in the Liber Poenitentialis, drawn up in 690,
Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, noted offenses to
Christianity such as the apparently popular practice of
"sacrificing to devils," and he also condemned "celebrating
2J. A. MoCulloch, Medieval Faith and Fable (Boston,
1932), p. 15.
3Langner, World History, p. 166.
4Murray, Witch Cult, p. 20.
feasts in the abominable places of the heathen and offering
food there. . also consuming it."5 Elsewhere in the tract
he was moved to specify,
If anyone at the kalends of January goes about
as a stag or bull; that is, making himself into
a wild animal and dressing in the skin of a herd
animal, and putting on the heads of beasts, those
who in such wise transform themselves into the
appearance of a wild animal, penance for three
years, because this is devilish.
In the first century of its existence, the Augustinian mission
was clearly faced with an entrenched and well developed rival
In the following century, Ecgberht, the first Archbishop
of York, like his colleague at Canterbury, found it necessary
to condemn offerings to devils. In his Confessionale et
Poenitentiale the archbishop formally prohibited
witchcraft, auguries according to the methods
of the heathen. .. vows paid, loosed or con-
firmed at wells, stones or treoos. the
gathering of herbs with any incantations except
Likewise, eighth century Northumbrian records provide a
similar index to the persistence of the cult practices and
the strength of their influence. While Northumbria had been
officially reclaimed for Christianity by the eighth century,
the attraction of existing cult practices was apparently
strong, and the priests of that area were forced to proclaim
a law designed to keep both the nobility and the commoner
5Ibid., p. 21. 6bid,
7Ibid., p. 22.
active in support of the new faith. Specifically, the law
If anyone then be found that shall henceforth
practice any heathenship, either by sacrifice
or by 'fyrt', or in any way love witchcraft, or
worship idols, if he be a king's thane, let him
pay X half-marks; half to Christ, half to the
king. We are all to love and worship one God,
and strictly hold one Chr stianity, and totally
renounce all heathenship.
Evidence such as this would appear to testify to the fact
that in the first two centuries after Augustine's arrival
the religious practices of the witch cult continued active.
Further proof of the cult's span of existence and con-
tinuity can be derived from surviving ninth century documenta-
tion, In fact, the pagan cult remained so dominant in the
ninth century that--according to Asser, biographer and
friend to King Alfred--that monarch "became king almost
against his will, for he did not think that he could with-
stand the numbers and fierceness of the pagans."9 In
addition to the "numbers" identified with the cult worship,
the strength of their pagan beliefs reduced the church to
the practice of securing conversions through the aid of
warfare and famine. Moreover, ninth century churchmen saw
Christianity compromised by its own practitioners For
9Johannes Menevensis Asserius, De rebus gestis Aelfredi
Magni (London, 1866), p. 59.
10Ibid., pp. 6-63, 68-70.
instance, records cited by Pearson refer to monks and nuns
dancing and masquerading as "wolves, foxes and boars" in the
manner deplored by Theodore two centuries earlier.1 Even
by the end of the century, the situation does not seem to
have altered significantly. In fact, the laws of Edward and
Guthrum specified that,
If witches or diviners, . be found anywhere
within the land, let them be driven from the
country and the people cleansed, or let them
totally erish within the country, unless they
In the first three centuries after Augustine's mission,
then, Christianity was by its own testimony confronted with
a formidable rival religion, one sufficiently entrenched
and pervasive to have influenced any emerging folk plays.
This religion featured, among other things, sacrificial
offerings, ceremonial feasting, mimetic imitation of a
variety of animals, reverence for trees, stones and wells,
magical incantations and the practice of divination. In
addition to suggesting a religious tradition with sufficient
scope and popularity to have affected any emerging dramatic
tradition, this record reveals other factors pertinent to a
study of fertility-centered folk plays.
11Karl Pearson, The Chances of Death (London, 1897),
12Harry E. Wedeck, A Treasury of Witchcraft (Now York,
1966), p. 256, erroneously dates this as eighth century, but
it was circa 900; see Murray, Witch Cult, p. 22, and Peter
Hunter Blair, An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England
(Cambridge, 1962), pp. 78-80.
It seems clear, for example, that even at this early
time the witch cult was a fertility religion. Its common
practice of "dressing in the skin of a herd animal and put-
ting on the heads of beasts"13 is plainly reminiscent of
fertility rites practiced since the era of cave paintings.
Similar nature-centered fertility beliefs are implied in the
practitioners' tendency to ascribe supernatural powers to
stones and trees. Moreover, a preoccupation with fertility
can also be inferred from the witches' "gathering of herbs
with. . incantations,14 inasmuch as herbal medicine had
been practiced from ancient times. A similar concern with
healing may be seen in the veneration of wells, since they,
together with other common reflecting surfaces, were be-
lieved to possess magical properties in curing illness.15
In fact, Northumbrian priests, cognizant of these pagan
beliefs, forbade "vows paid, loosed or confirmed at wells."16
In view of the practices which the churchmen sought to pro-
hibit and their significance as fertility rites or symbols,
it seems possible to conclude that, in the three centuries
immediately following the arrival of Augustine's mission to
13Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, cited in Murray,
Witch Cult, p. 21.
14Ibid., p. 22.
15Paul Christian, The History and Practice of Magic
(New York, 1963), I, 274; II, 348; Alwyn Rees and Brinley
Rees, Celtic Heritage (New York, 1961), p. 161.
16Murray, Witch Cult, p. 22.
England, the witch cult was alive, openly followed, and
directed toward the magical control of fertility. In addi-
tion, the kind of fertility control attempted seems to have
been broadly aimed to include not only the generation of
life, but also its preservation and enhancement.
Since the hypothesis upon which this study is predicated
makes it necessary to establish that cult worship was viable
until the fifteenth century when the English folk plays'
existence can be documented, additional periods must be
examined, In this regard, it can be noted that two royal
decrees make it apparent that the cult did survive into the
tenth century. In 940, for example, King Athelstan revealed
something of the powers commonly ascribed to cult practi-
tioners when, "respecting witchcrafts," he decreed that,
if anyone should be thereby killed and he could
not deny it, that he be liable in his life. But
if he will deny it, and at the threefold ordeal
shall be guilty; that he be cxx days in prison.17
Less than twenty years later King Edgar found it necessary
to issue an equally prohibitive ecclesiastical canon per-
taining to witchcraft, one which stated,
We enjoin that every priest zealously promote
Christianity and totally extinguish every
heathenism; and forbid woll-worshippings, and
necromancies, and divinations, and enchantments,
and man worshippings, and the vain practices
which are carried on with various spells, and
with frithsplots frushwood areas and with
elders, and also with various other troos, and
with stones, and with many various delusions,
with which men do much of what they should
not. And we enjoin that every Christian man
zealously accustom his children to Christianity,
and teach them the Paternoster and the Creed.
And we enjoin that on feast days hoathen songs
and devil's games be abstained from.1l
King Edgar evidently did not expect that his priests could
"totally extinguish every heathenism," or he would scarcely
have abjured "that on feast days heathen songs and devil's
games be abstained from." Plainly, the old customs were not
easily uprooted, and Edgar, tacitly admitting this, aimed
rather at eliminating the most embarrassing violations of
official Christianity, public heathenism on Christian
During King Ethelred's rule, which bridged the tenth
and eleventh centuries, the need for this type of legislation
arose once more, and Ethelred found it necessary to urge his
subjects to "zealously venerate right Christianity and
totally despise every heathenism. The matter of
heathenismm" was defined by Ethelred's successor, King Cnut,
in the following law which he, in turn, was compelled to
We earnestly forbid every heathenism; heathenism
is, that men worship idols; that is, that they
worship heathen gods, and the sun or the moon,
fire or rivers, water wells or stones,28r forest
trees of any kind; or love witchcraft.
18Benjamin Thorpe, Monumenta Ecclesiastica (London,
1840), II, 249.
19Ibid., I, 311.
20Ibid., I, 379.
The continuation of the Pagan fertility religion's influence
in the late eleventh century becomes most apparent when one
considers the fact that William II chose for his personal
chaplain one Ranulf Flambard, who was not only the son of a
witch, but who also was an avowed initiate of the cult.
Moreover, much to the discomfiture of the church, Flambard
held that influential post for the whole of William's thir-
teen year reign.21
An examination of the twelfth century fails to reveal
any decline in the witch cult's traditional activities. In
non-clerical writing, the rather loose verse of Sumner's
Last Will and Testament reflected the common belief that
witches could control weather: "Witches for gold will sell
a man a wind, / Which in the corner of a napkin wrapped, /
Shall blow him safe unto what coast he will,"22 Such a
disclosure is in keeping with the fertility orientation of
the witch cult, for, in addition to sailing, attempts to
manipulate weather conditions have obvious bearing upon both
crops and herds.
Of the twelfth century English clerics who were concerned
with the problems of cult beliefs and attitudes, John of
Salisbury was particularly specific in his charges. In the
manner of church figures before him, he condemned "those who
21Hugh Ross Williamson, The Arrow and the Sword (London,
1947), p. 104.
22Wedeck, Treasury, p. 154.
practice the evil arts of magic and divination. . for all
these operations or rather sorceries arise from the pesti-
lential familiarity of demons and men."'23 The cleric of
Salisbury was also concerned about the great number of
people who believed these "magi" able to
disturb the elements, deprive things of their
appearances, foretell the future, upset the
minds of men, send sleep and sometimes kill
men with the force of their incantations.
Likewise, it was John of Salisbury who reproved the practice
of necromancy and asserted that the visions achieved thereby
were products of satanic inspiration and control.25 His
description of a cult meeting also reveals how complete the
witches' controls over life processes were thought to be. In
it he spoke of a
nocturnal gathering at which feasting and all
kinds of riotous exercises take place. Those
who attend are punished or rewarded according
to their deserts. The same people also believe
that children are sacrificed.. cut up into
small pieces and greedily devoured, Subse-
quently they are vomited up and the presiding
deity takes pity on them and returns them
the cradles from which they were snatched.
Evidence such as this indicates that, during the tenth,
eleventh and twelfth centuries, witch cult traditions
23Polycraticus, cited in Wedeck, Treasury, p. 257.
24Henry Charles Lea, Materials Toward a History of
Witchcraft (New York, 1957), I, 127-28.
25Ibid. I, 128, 172-73.
26Julio Carlos Baroja, The World of the Witches (London
and Chicago, 1964), p. 62.
continued to flourish. Sacrificial offerings and ceremonial
feasts were still held. Christian condemnation again fell
upon heathenismm" and "witchcraft," while veneration of
trees, stones and wells was once more castigated together
with divination, incantations and devilss games." Through
the agency of those and other ritual objects the witches
were credited with a kind of power that could--among other
things--regulate weather conditions. The appeal of this to
an agricultural community would be hard to overestimate, and,
like the cult's curative endeavors through herbal medicine
and wells, its attempts to control weather imply a concern
with those forces capable of destroying, creating or sus-
taining life. In the popular mind, of course, the cultists'
presumed capacity to restore the dead assumed even greater
significance. In short, the fertility orientation of the
witch cult appears to have embraced practices which dealt
with creating, sustaining and even regenerating life. It
is also plain that the witch cult remained vigorous enough
in these later centuries to have boon a potential influence
on any emerging folk play activities.
In the following period, from 1200 to 1500, the witch
cult activity also seems to have been active and influential
enough to have affected any existent drama. In the thir-
teenth century, for example, Aquinas mourned that "witchcraft
is so enduring that it admits of no remedy by human
operation."27 That prediction may, indeed, have been well
founded since during the period the pagan maypoles remained
a common topographical feature of the English countryside.
In fact, those fertility symbols were so prominent as to be
the first landmark travellers looked for when approaching a
village.28 Moreover, the thirteenth century monarchs John
and Henry III--whose successive rules spanned three-quarters
of the century--found pagan celebrations and customs openly
practiced and apparently ineradicable.29
For evidence that the witch cult had not lost strength
or altered its emphasis in this later period, one needs only
examine accounts of the church's struggle with its adversary.
Converts were no longer an openly recognized problem since
the country was officially Christian, but the fact that all
was not yet theologically united is made evident by the fre-
quent recurrence of what the church called "lapses" or
"reversions" to the older faith. The seriousness of this
problem is indicated by the fact that on one occasion,
during Easter week, a Lanercost priest conducted "rites of
Priapus" in which he compelled young girls to engage in
dances while he himself carried a pole topped with a large
representation of a human phallus. He also danced, sang
27Sententiae, cited in Wedeck, Treasury, p. 10.
28A. R. Wright and T. E. Lones, British Calendar Customs:
England: Fixed Festivals, January-May (London, 1938), p. 218.
Chambers, Medieval Stage, I. 116-18, 180-81.
29Baskerville, "Dramatic Aspects," pp. 40-45,
and "incited the spectators to wantonness by mimic actions
and shameless speech."30 Astonishingly, although this
priest was summoned before the bishop to account for his
actions, he was allowed to retain his benefice.31 Such
behavior was evidently neither so infrequent nor unusual as
to furnish grounds for relieving him of his more orthodox
responsibilities. Some twenty-one years later an even more
highly placed church official was charged with a similar
reversion to cult activities. Specifically, in 1300, the
Bishop of Coventry was accused before the pope of paying
homage to the devil (the usual Christian name for the cult
god) by offering a Black Mass and saluting the devil with a
posterior kiss.32 This lapse, unlike the Lanercost cleric's,
was considered serious enough to prompt a bull from Pope
There are indications, then, that during the thirteenth
and early fourteenth centuries Christianity still had an
active and formidable adversary in the witch cult. These
indications are given added support by virtue of the fact
that efforts to deal with the problem were initiated at the
30Chronicle of Lanercost, cited in Baskerville, "Drama-
tic Aspects," p. 40. The document was printed in 1282.
31Murray, Witch Cult, p. 23.
32Ibid.; Robert Graves, The White Goddess (New York,
1961), pp. 440-41. Both Murray and Graves give the date as
1303, but Elliott Rose, A Razor for a Goat (Toronto, 1962),
p. 64, cites evidence confirming the earlier year.
33Lea, Materials, I, 220.
highest ecclesiastical level. In 1258, for example, Pope
Alexander IV issued the first papal bull against the witch
cult. Addressed to the Franciscan inquisitors, the bull not
only commissioned them to judge cases of witchcraft affecting
"the unity or faith of the church," but it also declared
witchcraft to be a sect and a heresy. Significantly, that
bull was re-issued in 1288 by Pope Nicholas IV, and it formed
the authority by which the Bishop of Coventry was brought
before Boniface in 1303.3
Later in the fourteenth century, Pope John XXII's
repeated actions against witchcraft served as proof of its
enduring popularity. Moreover, the specific cases with
which he became involved reveal much about tho nature of
the cult and its central emphases. For example, on February
27, 1318, he ordered inquiry made into the activities of
several defendants, accusing them of
necromancy, geomancy, and other magic arts
arising from the pestiferous association of
men and demons. Using mirrors and images,
they have frequently invoked spirits in
circles, so that through them they may kill
men with the violence of their charms; they
have confined spirits in mirrors and rings to
inquire into the past and future; they have
employed divinations and sorceries, sometimes
wickedly using Dianae /uccubi7. They have
not feared to assert that with a single word
they can shorten or prolong life and cure
disease. Abandoning their Creator and
34Homer W. Smith, Man and His Gods (Boston, 1952),
p. 279; Murray, Witch Cult, p. 23.
35Lea, Materials, I. 220.
relying on the help of demons, whom they serve
and to whom they pay divine honors, they adore
them with cult and reverence.o3
On August 22, 1320, Pope John XXII also found it necessary to
extend to certain inquisitors
the power to act against those who sacrifice to
demons, or adore them, or pay homage to them, or
give them writings, or enter into pact with them,
or operate with images to bind them, or invoke
demons to perpetrate maleficium, or baptize
figurines; also against sorcerers and malefici
who use consecrated hosts and other sacrements
in their sorceries.37
Finally, in 1326 or 1327, his firmest statement appeared. In
it, he grieved that,
many Christians in name. . sacrifice to demons,
adore them, make images, enclose demons in rings,
mirrors, vials or other things, seek responses
from them, and ask aid to fulfill their depraved
desires, offering foul service for. the foulest
of things. This pestiferous disease, now in-
creasing throughout the world, infects more
gravely the Christian flock. By this edict, to
be perpetually valid. . we forbid all baptized
Christians, . under threat of anathema ever to
teach or learn these perverse dogmas, or, what
is more execrable, ever to use them in any way.
We proclaim excommunication ipso facto for thosp
who disobey, and, . the penalties of heresy.3
In view of decrees like this, it is perhaps not surprising
that two cases were prosecuted for attempts on John's life
by means of cultists' wax figurines.39 More important is
the fact that these charges constitute a taoit admission by
the highest Christian authority that the church was still
36Ibid. 37Ibid., I, 221.
38Ibid. 391bid., I, 222-23.
confronted with a formidable rival, one that continued to
offer men an ancient pagan opportunity to "fulfill their. ..
desires" by ritual means. If earlier testimony established
the cult's fertility efforts as directed toward the creation,
suspension and even the re-creation of life, it is equally
plain that the witches were also thought able to reverse the
process and destroy or reverse fertility. Through the sym-
pathetic magic of wax figurines, for example, they attempted
the destruction of life, yet at the same time, via necro-
mancy, they were thought to circumvent death. In short, the
entire life cycle--birth, life, death and rebirth--seems to
have been within the province of cultist fertility activity.
Evidence which would corroborate this was supplied by
John XXII's successor, Pope Benedict XII, in 1336, when he
authorized procedures against a case of necromancy, and
lodged charges of practicing negative magic against an Eng-
lish sorcerer, William Altafox.40 Evidence that these
processes continued to be widely practiced and accepted is
seen in a document of Pope Gregory XI who, in 1374, regretted
that "many people, including clerics, invoke demons. ..* ."41
In view of this type of papal action, it is understand-
able that the fourteenth century saw the first witchcraft
trial held within the British Isles, that of Dame Alice
Kyteler (1324). The charges filed against Dame Alice and her
co-defondants were plainly reminiscent of the prohibitions,
40Ibid., I, 222. 1Ibid., I, 223.
practices and beliefs recorded in the centuries following the
arrival of the Augustinians. Specifically, Dame Alice was
charged with having forsaken Christianity to worship
"demons," having made sacrificial offerings to them, and
having sought auguries from them. Ceremonial food was dis-
covered in her house, and her coven was said to have made
ritualistic use of animal disguises. Dame Alice was further
accused of using invocations and magical ingredients to make
powders and ointments which could cause love or hate, sick-
ness or death, Moreover, she was charged with using these
to cause the death of her first three husbands, as well as
the illness of her current spouse.
These charges reveal a pattern very similar to that
found in the previous seven centuries. The means by which
cultists are believed to wield their power are identical:
worship of demons through sacrificial offerings, invocations,
ceremonial food and animal miming. The end sought is like-
wise indistinguishable from the earlier ritual purpose: the
acquisition of fertility control. Dame Alice's trial, along
with other trials of the period,43 and the decrees of four-
teenth century church authorities make it apparent that
during this century the witch cult continued to retain its
42Charles Williams, Witchcraft (New York, 1960), pp.
95-97; Murray, Witch Cult, 1pp ,54.
43Charges of attempting ritual murder of Edward II
through witchcraft were lodged against John of Nottingham
and others in 1325; see Williams, Witchcraft, pp. 97-100.
vitality, appeal and fertility focus in a degree which would
have made it capable of serving as a functional blueprint
for the emerging folk play characters.
There was apparent proliferation of the cult practices
in the fifteenth century also, as trial documents and papal
decrees of that period supply additional evidence of the
survival of the cult. Henry V, for example, publicly charged
that his stepmother, Joan of Navarre, with the aid of a re-
lapse priest, had made attempts on his life through sorcery
and nocromancy. Some twenty years later (1441), the
Duchess of Gloucester, wife to the Regent of England, was
charged with having gained the love of her husband by magi-
cal means. The Duchess admitted having had images made of
offspring she desired so that her barrenness would be cured.
She was assisted in this endeavor by Margery Jourdemayn,
known as the Witch of Eye, and by several relapsed priests,
including Roger Bolinbroke and Canon Thomas Southwell. The
prosecution asserted, however, that her objectives were more
sinister, claiming that the wax figures were made in the
image of the king, and that their purpose was his death.45
Since one of the positions in the case involved a lifo-
engendering process and the other the destruction of life,
it would appear that members of the old religion were still
engaged in matters of fertility control.
I4bid., pp. 102-03.
45Ibid., pp. 103-08. Necromancy was also involved.
A similar impression of the witch cult is formed when
fifteenth century papal decrees are examined. In the first
half of the century, for example, Pope Alexander V, Martin
V, and Eugenius IV all complained of "sorcerers, diviners,
invokers of demons, Land7 enchanters."46 In fact, Eugenius
later publicly deplored the fact that
many Christians sacrifice to demons, adore them,
seek and accept responses from them, pay homage
to them, give written compacts through which by
a single word, touch or sign they can perform or
take away whatever maleficia they choose, cure
diseases, regulate the weather, provoke tempests
S. and theZ7 make images by which they
constrain demons. 7
Similarly, in 1451, Nicholas V moved against "diviners"; in
1457, Calixtus III condemned those who practiced invocations,
incantations and superstitious conjurations, and. . magic
and wicked arts, 48 and in 1459, Pius II authorized investi-
gation of "students of magic who seek to predict the future
and by incantations cause disease and perpetrate nefarious
things." The best known Christian proof of the strength
and tenure of these cult practices, however, is the 1484
bull of Innocent VIII which states,
It has come to our oars that numbers of both
sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with
demons, Incubi and Succubi; and that by their
sorceries, and by their incantations, charms,
and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish,
and cause to perish the births of women, the
increase of animals, the corn of the ground,
46Lea, Materials, I, 224. 47Ibid.
48Ibid., I, 225. 491bid.
the grapes of the vineyard and the fruit of the
trees, as well as men, women, flocks, herds, and
other various kinds of animals, vines and apple
trees, grass, corn, and other fruits of the
earth; making and procuring that men and women,
flocks and herds and other animals shall suffer
and be tormented both from within and without,
so that men beget not, nor women conceive; and
they impede the conjugal action of men and
This variety of documents plainly attests to the fact that
the witch cult, with its fertility practices, continued well
into the fifteenth century. Moreover, examination reveals
that the character of these activities is essentially the
same as that noted by England's first archbishops centuries
before. Such things as sacrificial offerings, ceremonial
food, and animal miming are still being condemned there in
the fifteenth century. Similarly, the tree veneration of
former periods is seen to continue in the Maypole custom;
belief that power can be derived from well-worshipping and
mirrors persists; divination is once more condemned; and the
tendency to attribute incantatory powers to the witches is
still common. By means of these incantations, either di-
rectly or through the intervention of spirits, the witch is
still believed to have the ability to encourage or prevent
human birth, cause illness, manipulate the matters of love
and death, or control the weather and thus regulate the
productivity of animals and crops.
In conclusion, the documentation cited seems to
50Murray, Witch Cult, p. 24.
establish two things. First, it confirms the unbroken
continuity of the witch cult tradition in England from
the seventh century to the time of the proliferation of
the witch trials in the sixteenth century. It would ap-
pear, then, that the witch cult was much alive at the time
of the emergence of the fertility-centered English folk
play. Consequently, it could have given rise to those
plays. Second, the evidence makes plain that, in the
period examined, the witches' religion consistently cen-
tered upon efforts to control fertility in animals, crops
and men. As a result, whether the folk play emerged in
the tenth or the fifteenth century, the only extant fer-
tility religion was, by the repeated testimony of its
Christian adversary, alive and dominated by the fertility
objectives which scholars associate with the English folk
dramas. It therefore soems appropriate to examine the
witch cult, as it existed in England, for an indication
of a relationship between it and the stock characters of
THE STOCK CHARACTERS AND THE CULT GOD
The evidence cited in the foregoing chapter suggests
two things. First, paganism survived long enough in England
to have been a possible source for the folk plays or their
characters, even assuming the plays did not materialize
before the fifteenth century. Second, a key factor in the
cult's popular acceptance was the fertility engendering
potential customarily ascribed to it.
With the survival and nature of the cult established,
it is possible to turn to the central problem of this study.
Since scholars have agreed the folk play had its roots in
fertility ritual, and since the witch cult was the only
fertility-centered religion active in England, an examina-
tion of the cult should produce some indication of the
source of the repetitive folk play stock characters, the
Black Man, the Man-Woman, the Hobby Horse, the Doctor, and
In examining the witch cult for evidence of those
character sources, it would seem logical to consider, first
of all, the central figure of the witches' religion--the
cult god, commonly identified in Christian records as the
devil. A considerable amount of evidence is extant about
this deity, inasmuch as he manifested himself through a
variety of local high priest figures. These community
priests were viewed as incarnations of the god himself, and,
as a result, witch cult initiates, wherever they were loca-
ted, had a chance to observe the god in his immediate,
human manifestation as well as in a variety of disguises,
In consequence, when testimony from the trials speaks of
the devil feasting or dancing or riding, it is probable
that reference was being made to one of these human sub-
stitute god-figures, accepted by local cult members as the
That the devil was the god of the cult and that he
exacted the belief, loyalty and veneration naturally due a
god-figure is plainly suggested by evidence of the time.
For example, in 1575, Danaeus noted that
The Diuell comaundeth them that they shall
acknowledge him for their god, cal vpo him,
pray to him, and trust in him. Then doe they
all repeated the othe which they haue geuen
vnto him; in acknowledging him to be their
A similar attitude was reflected in the witchcraft charges
lodged against Marion Grant in 1596, charges which stated,
"The Deuill quhome thow calls thy god. . causit the wor-
ship him on the kneis as thy lord."2 More significant,
perhaps, is that cult members themselves testified to the
1Murray, Witch Cult, p. 28.
fact that the god, or devil, was the hiorarchal figure in
the cult. Isobel Gowdie, for instance, reported that, "He
maid vs believe that their was no God besyd him. We get all
this power from the Divell, and when we seik it from him, ve
call him owr Lord."3 Similarly, in 1664, Alice Huson said
that when the devil "appeared. . I fell down and did wor-
ship him upon my knees,"4 and another accused witch, "Ellen
the wife of Nicholas Greenleife. . confessed, that when
she prayed she prayed to the Devil and not to God, "5 while
Rebecca West, from East Anglia, "confessed that her mother
prayed constantly. .o to the devil.6 In terms of this
veneration and allegiance, it is also interesting to note
that Robert Griersoun, who apparently kept the North Berwick
cult records, stated in 1590, "that he was clarke to all
those that were in subjection to the Divels service, bear-
ing the name of witches; that always hee did take their
oathes for their true service to the Divell."7
Documents of the period thus make it apparent that the
god of the witch cult was known to his initiates as the
devil. Aside from that title, however, the local cult god
3Ibid., p. 29.
4Matthew Hale, Collection of Modern Relations (London,
1693), p. 58,
5John Stearne, Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft
(London, 1648), p. 28.
6Ibid., p. 38,
7Murray, Witch Cult, p. 187.
figures had another and most provocative identification,
one which suggests the first link between witch cult and
folk play. It may be recalled that one of the ubiquitous
and inexplicable characters of the folk play was the Black
Man, a character whose face--and sometimes his body as
well--were blackened with soot or some other substance.
Indeed, the blackening process was so strongly associated
with the English folk activities that the name of one of
the most popular folk dances, the Morris dance, was thought
to have derived from the word Morisco, "Moorish," because
of the darkened faces common to both.8 The relationship
between this blackened folk figure and the witch cult is
readily suggested, inasmuch as the custom of blackening the
face or body is one inseparably associated with the god of
the witches. Cult initiates repeatedly refer to their god
as the "Man in Black," the "Black-Faced Man," or simply,
the "Black Man." Trial testimony, confessions, and other
documents record the usage so often that the term can le-
gitimately be viewed as synonymous with the cult god. In
the evidence cited by Murray, for instance, the black man
is mentioned over 100 times, while Tindall admits his
8Sharp and MacIlwaine, Morris Book, I, 9-11; Chambers,
Medieval Stage, I, 198-99.
9Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 50-70, 88-106, 126-47,
omnipresence in a chapter entitled "The Man in Black."10
The following evidence is typical of that which identified
the cult god or the devil as the black man.
Charges against Jonet Ker, in 1661, stated that she
"mett with the devill at the bough in the liknes of a
greavous black man," while, in 1662, Isobel Gowdie de-
scribed the devil as a "meikle black roch man," and her
contemporary, Marie Lamont, said that "the devil was in the
likeness of a meikle black man."11 Eye witness accounts
of cult meetings, where the god presided, testify to his
blackened appearance on ritual occasions as well. For
example, in 1679, Anaple Thomson attended "a meeting with
the devill. . where the devil Lwas7 in the lyknes of ane
black man," while in 1673, a Northumberland cult meeting
was called by "the devill, in the forme of a little black
man and black cloaths."12 Similarly, Barbara Napier de-
scribed a 1590 cult gathering where
the Devill start vp in the pulpett, lyke ane
mekill blak man, haifand ano blak buik in his
hand, callit on ewerie ane of thame, desyring
thame all to be guid serwandis to him and he
should be ane guid master to thame.13
10Gillian Tindall, A Handbook on Witches (New York,
1966), p. 52. Other references to the black man are found in
Christina Hole, Witchcraft in England (New York, 1947), pp.
24, 30, 43, 53, 59, 96-97; Jules Michelot, Satanism and Witch-
craft (New York, 1962), p. 104; Williams, Witchcraft, pp. 41,
90; 155, 205, 281-84; Lea, Materials, I, 231, 239, 256.
11Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 37, 38.
12Ibid., pp. 39, 134.
13Ibid., p. 55.
The Devil's appearance as a Black Man was so usual, in fact,
that the association of blackness was sometimes brought to
his name. Isobel Gowdie's cult god, for example, was named
John, but, as she revealed in 1662, "Som tymis, among owr
felwis, we wold be calling him 'Blak Johne' or the lyk.n14
Indeed, the devil sometimes used such a name himself, as
when Joan Wallis of Keiston "asked what his eho dovil's7
name was, and he said his name was Blackeman.'15
Evidence cited thus far indicates that, in the fertility
cult of the witches, the god, the devil and the black man
were one and the same. If the fertility-centered cult did
give rise to the fertility-centered folk plays, it would be
perfectly natural that the god of the former, in his most
easily recognizable form, should be incorporated into the
latter as a regular, indeed necessary, feature.
The possibility that the cult god served as a source
for the folk play's Black Man is further enhanced by the
fact that both the god and the play's character possessed a
shape-shifting capacity. In this regard, it has already
been seen that the person enacting the role of cult god had
at least three identities (god, black man and devil), and
that he commonly manifested himself to his devotees in a
variety of different forms or combinations. Wedeck notes
14Ibid., p. 199.
15John Davenport, Witches of Huntingdon (London, 1646),
that the neo-Platonic philosophers "had a name for him:
Pentamorph--he of the five shapes," adding that by Renais-
sance times "these were not all identifiable."16 These
five shapes were probably the ones most indicative of the
devil's nature since he was reputedly able to adopt any
form he wished. Indeed, Murray has discovered more than
twenty different forms which the devil was supposedly able
to assume.17 This shape-shifting capacity of the devil may
furnish another link to the Black Man of the folk play.
As has been suggested, both the nature and function of
the folk play's Black Man were erratic. For one thing, even
his identity was not consistently his own; he sometimes re-
tained it, while on occasion it was amalgamated with that
of another stock character. At Sleights, for example, he
merged with the Man-Woman figure;18 at Helston, his attri-
butes combined with those of the Hobby Horse;19 on the Isle
of Man, his character conjoined with that of the Doctor,20
while at Brailes it was the Fool and the Black Man who
coalesced.21 Hence, in the folk plays, the physical
16Wedeck, Treasury, p. 121.
17Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 290-91; see also Thomas
Davidson, Rowan Tree and Red Thread (London, 1949), pp.
64-70, 167-68; Hole, Witchcraft, pp. 5-58.
18Sharp, Sword Dances, II, 15.
19Sharp and Butterworth, Morris Book, V, 98,
20Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 85.
21Sharp and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 28.
characteristics of the Black Man--like those of the devil
figure--were frequently subject to change. In addition to
this kind of variation, the size and dramatic import of the
Black Man's role was equally unpredictable. As a conse-
quence, the only unvarying aspect of the character was his
regular appearance in the folk plays. The question of why
he should appear so consistently, but with such an apparent
lack, or variety, of function can be answered if his sur-
prising blackness was something which he derived from the
god's manifestation as black man in the witch cult. More-
over, since the Black Man of the folk play, like his
counterpart in the witch cult, was able to alter his shape
or cause it to merge with the characteristics of other
figures, there is added reason to believe the Black Man
of the folk play had his origins in the black man of the
A second puzzling character in the English folk play
is the figure traditionally called the Hobby Horse. This
character was represented in four distinct ways, all of
which are clearly associated with the horse. For example,
the actor playing the role of the Hobby Horse in the 1:orris
dances often had a costume piece about his waist which was
a more or less complete replica or disguise of an actual
horse, while the actor's own body represented the rider.22
22John Matthew Gutch, The Robin Hood Garlands and
Ballads (London, 1850), I, 349, reproduces a rendering of
such a Hobby Horse, which Chambers, Medieval Stage, I,
In other instances, the device was simpler yet, consisting
of an unadorned staff, broom or broomstick which the actor
straddled and rode like a horse. In several places, the
folk plays make unmistakable the connection between the
staff or broom and the horse. At Winster, for example, the
Hobby Horse character employed "a real horse's head stuffed
with straw, attached to a broomstick," and, like the un-
adorned staffs, it was "ridden like a nursery hobby horse."23
Similar devices exhibited themselves in such places as
Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Cornwall, Wales,
The third manifestation of the horse in folk play usage
is, in a sense, simplest of all, It consisted of a charac-
ter getting astride a human "horse." At Kempsford, Glou-
cestershire, for example, stage directions specify, "Enter
Doctor on a man's back."25 At Longborough, "John Finny
brings in one of the mummers and pretends he is a horse,"26
Later in the same play the Doctor rode in on the black-faced
Beelzebub and asked for his "horse" to be rubbed down.27
195-96, takes to be from the fifteenth century. See also
Gutch, Robin Hood, I, 348, 351-54.
23Sharp and Maclwaine, Morris Book, III, 74-75.
24Kennedy, England's Dances, p. 97.
25Tiddy, Mummers' Play, p. 251.
26Ibid., p. 166.
27Ibid., p. 167.
Similarly, at Amploforth, the Doctor entered "riding on the
back of another man" and subsequently requested "some oats
for my horse."28 As a final case in point, in the Great
Wolfington folk drama, the "Doctor rides in on one of the
In terms of the Hobby Horse characters already described,
there is no doubt that these human "horses" were intended to
represent, or serve as a reminder of, the animal. The final
appearance of the horse phenomenon in the English folk play
is also difficult to mistake. In this instance, an actual
horse was used, being ridden by one of another of the stock
characters. Before the performance at Helston, for example,
a procession of the participants traditionally occurred,
"headed by two horsemen. . one of whom was a Black Man."30
A similar procession at Castleton was led by a king and a
Man-Woman queen on horseback, while the procession at
Sleights was headed by three horsemen.31
The evidence, however, suggests more than the use of an
actual horse in the folk drama* In the instances cited, the
custom of using an actual horse in the plays also reveals a
tendency to associate the qualities of the horse with those
28Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 73, 74.
29Tiddy, Mummers' Play, p. 229. Other instances are
recorded in Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 218; Chambers,
English Folk Play, p. 57.
30Sharp and Butterworth, Morris Book, V, 98.
31Ibid., V, 104; Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 125.
of the Black Man and the Man-Woman. Like the Black Man,
then, the horse character could be static and retain its
traits, or, in performances such as those at Ampleforth,
Great Wolford, Longborough, Padstow, and Castleton, it
could combine its traits or features with those of other
stock figures.32 Quito obviously, the Hobby Horse had a
capacity for shape-shifting similar to that of the othor
stock folk play characters--a capacity noted earlier in
the god of the witches.
It has been shown that four manifestations of the
Hobby Horse figure occurred in the English folk play--the
Hobby Horse disguise, the broom Hobby Horse, the human sub-
stitute, and the actual horse. Each of those manifestations
or customs is discernible within the traditions of the witch
cult. More particularly, they are directly associated, as
were the characteristics of the Black Man, with the charac-
teristics, qualities and rituals of the cult god.
In considering the relationship between the folk play's
Hobby Horse and the witch cult god, the first thing to be
noted is that, in England, the devil chose to identify him-
self not with the goat, as elsewhere, but with the horse.
Since the horse had been sacred in Britain since prehistoric
32Tiddy, Mummers Play, p. 229; Chambers, English Folk
Play, pp. 57-58; Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 74; Kennedy,
England's Dances, pp. 86-87; Sharp and Butterworth, Morris
Book, V, 103. The most frequent merger of the Hobby Horse
is with the Doctor.
times,33 possibly because that animal was universally
associated with death and the belief in a resurrection,3
it replaced the goat as the animal most nearly central to
the rites and the cult god.3 Consequently, the horse
disguise was one employed consistently by that cult figure.
For example, Helen Guthrie, reporting on a cult meeting in
Forfar, asserted that "the divell wes there present .
in the shape of ane great horse.36 Similarly, the devil
manifested himself to Elizabeth Stile of Windsor "like an
Horse," and to Margaret Nin-Gilbert he "appeared in the
likeness of a great black horse."37 The god-figure's use
of the horse disguise also formed part of the charges filed
against Margerat Clarke in 1597, charges which asserted,
"the Devill thy master, quhome thow seruis, and quha
tochis the all this vytchcraft and sorcerie, apperit to
the, in the licknes of ane horss. ."3 In consequence
of such testimony, it seems plain that the horse disguise
33Williamson, Arrow, pp. 113-14; Lewis Spence, Minor
Traditions of British Mythology (London, 1948), p. 134;
Graves, White Goddess, pp. 425-26; Rose, Razor, p. 48.
34James Frazer, The New Goldon Bough (New York, 1959),
350f the god manifesting himself as a goat, Murray
states flatly, "This form of disguise. . does not occur
in Great Britain." Murray, Witch Cult, p. 68.
36Murray, Witch Cult, p. 69.
371bid., pp. 47, 208.
38Ibid., p. 207.
which regularly appeared in the folk play tradition had a
vitally significant analogue in the witch cult.
In addition to the parallel found in the use of the
horse disguise, a second folk play Hobby Horse custom--
that of substituting a human for the horse--is also found
in the witch cult.. This folk play device affords a dis-
tinct parallel to those instances in cult practice in which
the god, or some other member of the coven, rode humans as
if they were horses. In 1661, for example, a trial at For-
far charged that Isabell Shirie "was the devill's horse, and
that the divill did allwayes ryde upon hir, and that shoe
was shoad lyke ane mare, or ane horse."39 Proceedings in
1673 against Ann Armstrong of Northumbria also testify to
the use of a human horse in witch cult activities. The ac-
cused "gave information against several persons who ridd
her to several places where they had conversations with the
divell"; subsequently, "the said Anne Forster come with a
bridle and bridled her and ridd upon her." The testimony
went on to make clear the symbolic transformation involved
in the act, noting, "when she light of her back, pulld the
bridle of this informer's head, now in the likenesse of a
horse; but, when the bridle was taken of, she stood up in
her own shape." At the close of the meeting, "when they
had done, LThey7 bridled this informer and the rest of the
39Ibid., p. 103.
horses, and rid home."40 On another occasion,
this informant was ridden upon by an inchanted
bridle by Michale Aynsley and Margaret his wife.
Which inchanted bridle, when they tooke it from
her head, she stood upoin her owner proper person.41
Such testimony invites the conclusion that the witch cult
traditionally employed certain of its members as human
"horses" during the ritual ceremony. That act corresponds
directly to the folk drama practice of having a human sub-
stitute for the Hobby Horse,
Not only do two of the folk play Hobby Horse manifesta-
tions, the horse disguise and the horse substitute, appear
to be corollaries of basic witch cult practices, but the
same seems true in the case of the folk play's use of an
actual horse. The connection is suggested by the fact that
the cult god often appeared to his followers mounted upon a
horse, a practice which Murray summarizes as follows:
There are a very great number of cases when he
the devil7 appeared riding on a horse. These
cases are so numerous as to suggest that the
horse was part of the ritual, especially as the
riding Devil usually occurred in Zlaces where
an animal disguise was not used.
Testimony from witnesses corroborates the fact that the
incarnate deity was indeed often mounted on horseback. To
the Yorkshire witch, Alico Huson, the god "appeared like a
41Ibid., pp. 103-04.
42Ibid., p. 69.
Black Man upon a Black Horse."43 In 1597, Andro Man
reported that the devil and others, going to a cult ga-
thering, were "rydand on quhyt haikneyes," while to Margaret
Nin-Gilbert "the devil appeared. . riding on a black
horse."44 Similarly, in 1673, Ann Armstrong insisted the
devil arrived for their meeting as a "long black man ride-
ing on a bay galloway."45
Records such as these testify to the god's habit of
appearing on horseback before his initiates. Since the
mounted Black Man of the plays bears a remarkable corre-
spondence to the mounted black man who appeared before the
faithful of the witch cult, there would appear to be a
third instance in which folk play and fertility cult
While documents of the period make it clear that the
cult god did ride an actual horse in some ceremonies, it is
possible that he was not mounted upon an animal in all in-
stances. Indeed, there wore circumstances which make it
necessary to qualify the assertion that the devil was al-
ways mounted upon horseback when so reported. For example,
Andro Man, testifying about a cult meeting in 1598, not
only asserted that the deity was mounted, but that he also
"rydis all the tyme that he is in thair cumpanie, and hes
43Hale, Collection, p. 58.
44Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 34, 208.
45Ibid., p. 34.
carnall deall with thame." Tho statement itself seems
unlikely, and it is made more doubtful in view of the fact
that at a typical gathering this cult god was required to
conduct the meeting, perform sacrificial rites, join in
the feasting, and load the dancing as well as have sexual
intercourse47--formidable requirements for a horseback
rider. Clearly, some other interpretation of the state-
ment that the devil "rydis all the tyme that he is in thair
cumpanio" seems necessary,
The most logical explanation, one patently supported
by evidence, is that the broomstick, an object still popu-
larly associated with witches, may have been employed. If
so, the fourth and final manifestation of the horse in the
folk play tradition, that of the broomstick Hobby Horse
character, would also appear to have a parallel in the
ritual activities of the fertility religion.
The possibility of equating the horse with the broom-
stick in witch cult usage is suggested by testimony of
initiates themselves. In 1662, for instance, one such
initiate, Isobel Gowdio, revealed,
I had a little horse. . wild strawes and
corno-strawes wilbo horses to ws, an ve put
thaim betwist our foot. . Quhan we wold
ryd, we tak windle-strawos or bean stakes
4Ibid., p. 242.
47Ibid., pp. 124-85; Hole, Witchcraft, pp. 20-33,
85-97. These sources establish the customary presence at
cult meetings of such elements as dancing, feasting, sacri-
fice, instruction, sexual congress and other activities.
and put them betwixt owr foot. . All the
coven did. . read on an hors4 quhich ve void
mak of a straw or been stalk.
Similarly, Christen Michell and Bessie Thom were accused of
participating in a cult meeting "vnder the conduct of Sathan"
where everyone dansit a devilische danse, rydand on treis,
be a lang space." The riding of these "bean-stakes" hobby
horses seems also to have had ritual significance. Through
the offices of their hobby horses, the witches believed
themselves able, among other things, to control weather or
destroy their enemies' lands.50 As Gardner put it,
In early trials, witnesses speak of seeing the
accused riding on poles or brooms across the
fields. . and this was often accepted as the
evidence that they were practising fertility
magic, which became a penal offense.51
Significant as this may be, the cult hobby horse rites con-
tain another, more sexual association with fertility.
Specifically, it inheres in the fact that one of the
witches' staffs, preserved in the Castletown Museum in
Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 105-06. "Windle-strawes"
were long shafts of a wild species of grass, dried, and
when bound together, usable as a broom.
49Ibid., p. 110. "Treis," or "trees," would be here
understood in the medieval and Elizabethan sense of "a
length of wood."
50Lea, Materials, I, 267-68, 274; see also Montague
Summers, The Geography of Witchcraft (New York, 1927), p. 89.
51Gerald B. Gardner, Witchcraft Today (New York, 1955),
p. 35. Gardner also mentions a fertility charm practiced
today by English cultists claiming descent from witch for-
bears. The rite is directed toward encouraging crops and
"is performed by riding on a pole, or broom, as a hobby
England, is described as "a pole for riding, the head being
carved in the shape of a phallus."52 On the basis of such
evidence, it is possible to assert that the witch cult made
a significant ritualistic use of the same kind of broomstick
Hobby Horse as was commonly employed in the folk play.
Thus, it becomes apparent that all four manifestations
of the horse--the animal itself, the horse disguise, the
broomstick hobby horse and the human substitute--appeared in
and were ritually exploited both by the English folk play
and by the fertility cult which may have been responsible
for the play's origins. An examination of the hobby horse
phenomenon in the witch cult would not be complete, however,
without considering whether the cult's hobby horse, like
that of the folk play, possessed the shape-shifting charac-
teristic typical of the cult god.
Such a trait can be discerned when the customs surround-
ing the witches' use of the staff hobby horse are considered.
Not only were these staffs or brooms straddled and ridden
like horses, but they were also often anointed with a
specially concocted ointment, this being smeared on the
rider's face and body as well*53 One ingredient for this
53Scholars agree that through this magical material the
witches supposed themselves able to fly through the air, for
ointment recipes invariably include drugs capable of absorp-
tion into the system through either pores or breaks in the
skin, and, once absorbed, providing the user with the illu-
sion of flight. The phenomenon could have constituted a
ointment--soot--is of particular importance since it
physically associated the witch with two crucial aspects
of her deity, his black appearance and his magically
endowed animal, the horse.
This kind of coalescence appears at least as far back
as the earliest witch trial in the British Isles, that of
Dame Alice Kyteler. In 1324, she and her associates were
accused of sacrificing nine roosters to the local cult god,
whom they called "Robin" and who was described in the
charges as "aethiopis," Negro. As Gardner points out,
"It would be very unusual to find a Negro with an English
name in Ireland at that time, so I presume that Robin
mixed soot with his protective ointment.,54 This pre-
sumption is strengthened by records of a discovery made
by local authorities who,
in rifloing the closet of the ladie LDame Alice7
S. found a pype of oyntment, wherewith she
greased a staff, upon the which she ambled and
galloped through thick and thin, where and in
what manner she listed.55
More than two and a half centuries later the components of
most convincing demonstration of the hobby horse god's
power. See Lea, Materials, II, 489, 505, 546; Kurt Selig-
mann, The History of- Maic (New York, 1948), po 245; Murray,
Witch Cult, pp. 100-05, 164, 279-80; Gardner, Witchcraft
Today, pp. 53-54, 97-98, 111; Williams, Witchcraft, p. 159;
Sayed Idries Shah, Oriental Magic (New York, 1957), p. 31;
Rose, Razor, pp. 142-45; Baroja, World, pp. 107-08, 239, 254.
54Gardner, Witchcraft Today, p. 98; see also Hole,
Witchcraft, p. 28,
55Murray, Witch Cult, p. 104.
the witches' ointment had become well enough known to be
included in Reginald Scot's sixteenth century treatise,
Discoverie of Witchcraft. In it, he lists "soote" among
The hobby horse of the witch cult would thus appear to
be closely linked with the blackening process, and both
seem intrinsic parts of an effort to identify the partici-
pating cult member as nearly as possible with divine
attributes. The fact that the cult god's manifestations
as horse and black man tend to merge or coalesce once more
reflects the shape-shifting capacities that traditionally
The significance and function of the hobby horse in
cult ritual and practice furnishes additional evidence of
clear parallels between the witch cult and the folk play.
In both traditions, horse disguises were employed, the
staff or broom was straddled and ridden, actual horses
appeared, and humans enacted the role of the horse to trans-
port their fellows. Additionally, the association of the
black man with the hobby horse is apparent in both cult
and play traditions. The witches' staffs and bodies were
anointed with a blackening ointment so that figure and
vehicle tended to meld in the context of color association
56Reginald Scot, Discoverie of Witchcraft (London,
1584), pp. 41, 184. Later authorities concur in the import
and universality of soot or some other blackening ingredient
as a component of the witches' ointments. See Lea,
Materials, II, 499; Rose, Razor, p. 143; Murray, Witch Cult,
pp. 100, 279; Baroja, World, p. 239.
long attached to the cult deity. Correspondingly, as at
Longborough, Padstow and Helston, attributes of tho plays'
Black Man character merged with those of the Hobby Horse.
Not only do the most dramatically prominent features
of the folk play's Black Man and Hobby Horse have analogues
in the witch cult god, but a third folk play stock charac-
ter, the Man-Woman, may have origins in that deity as well.
Unlike the character's professional Elizabethan counter-
parts, however, no effort was made to disguise the sexual
duality of the Man-Woman. Indeed, quite the reverse was
true and it was made plainly apparent to all that both the
male and female traits were present. For instance, the
actor's normal speaking voice was traditionally maintained,
while, at places like Ilmington, stage directions speci-
fied that the Man-Woman character, Molly, should fall down,
"showing her breeches under her petticoat.'57 The andro-
gynous characteristics of the folk play's Man-Woman
character were perhaps most plainly demonstrated, however,
at Abbots-Bromley. There, the Man-Woman (Maid Marion), was
of course a man dressed as a woman. Before the performance,
that figure took prominent part in a processional which
wound through the entire village. For the whole of this
procession, Maid Marion carried on display two wooden
replicas of the male and female genital organs.58 The
57Tiddy, Munmmers' Play, p. 228.
58Kennedy, England's Dances, pp. 89-90.
bisexuality of the Man-Woman figure is revealed in a
different, but equally explicit, fashion in the Cropwell
Plough Monday play. This folk drama clearly demonstrates
that the Man-Woman character possessed not only the phy-
sical endowments, but also the physical ability, to be
sexually operative in either a masculine or feminine capa-
city. Normally, any masculine sexual advances in the folk
plays were addressed to the Man-Woman character, since this
was the only "female" available. In the Cropwell drama,
however, the Man-Woman (Dame Jane) had a scene with the
Fool in which "Dame Jane tries to father a child on Tom
Unquestionably, then, the Man-Woman character in the
folk plays was openly and consistently presented as double-
sexed.. This being the case, it is easy to find a counter-
part to the folk character in the cult god of the witches.
Since the central figure in the cult was a fertility god,
it might be expected that sex rites featuring his participa-
tion would be a common part of the ritual.60 Significantly,
however, the devil exploited his shape-shifting prowess
within these sex rites so that he became, by turn, man or
woman as the sexual need arose. Indeed, in a fashion that
recalls the folk play's Man-Woman character, he sometimes
59Charbors, Medieval Stage, I, 209-10.
60Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 173-85; see also R. E. L.
Masters, Eros and Evil: The Sexual Psychopathology of
Witchcraft (New York, 1966).
presided at cult meetings while wearing women's clothing.61
This parallel with the folk play is strengthened by virtue
of the fact that no secret was made of the devil's androgyny.
Indeed, inquisitors and demonologists continually brought up
the question in their treatises on witchcraft. For example,
in his sixteenth century Pneumalogie, Sebastian Michaelis
spoke of the cult god's practice of assuming any human form
in order to have intercourse with either men or women.
Some idea of the commonness of this attitude may be gained
from the fact that even Aquinas concurred in it, as did Jean
Bodin in his treatise on witchcraft in 1581.63 Even the
Renaissance physician, Dr. Johann Weyer, known for his dis-
senting views on much that was credited to witches, gave
currency to the debate upon the devil's androgynous capa-
cities.64 As Masters put it, "The whole of witchcraft is
permeated with bisexual phantasies" in which the devil or
may assume either male or female forms; sex
changes of humans are often noted; there are
sex-reversing drugs; and devils are frequently
represented as hermaphrodites, with both male
and female sex characteristics or organs or
with female bodies, save for the penis*
61Masters, Eros, p. 26.
62Lea, Materials, II, 576.
63Ibid., II, 562; see also ibid., II, 550, 553; Baroja,
World, p. 91.
64Lea, Materials, II, 513.
65Masters, Eros, p. 24.
Consequently, it is not surprising that records indicate
there were times when the cult god plainly manifested him-
self to his followers as a woman. In 1662, for instance,
Marjorie Ritchie "willingly and friely declared that the
divill appeared to her thrie several tymes in the similitud
of a womane" In Ayrshire fifty years earlier, Patrick
Lowrie and Jonet Hunter "att Hallowevin assemblit thame
selffis vpon Lowdon hill, quhair thair appeirit to thame
ane devillische Spreit, in liknes of ane woman."67 The
cult god appeared similarly to Alison Peirson in 1588, to
Ann Chattox in 1613, to Joan Willimott in 1618, to William
Barton about 1655, and to Jean Weir in 1670.68
The control exercised by the cult deity over his own
sexual nature was, of course, in accord with his symbolic
role in that pagan fertility religion.69 In view of that
66Murray, Witch Cult, p. 46.
67Ibid., p. 45.
68Ibid., pp. 44-47.
69Hermaphroditic deities seem universal, appearing
among the ancient Greeks, Babylonians, Minoans, Etruscans
and others, and surviving in the twentieth century among
the African Zulu, Cuna Indian, Haitian Voodoo culte des
mortes, and in the Tierra del Fuego. See Robert Briffault,
The Mothers: The Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (New
York, 1963), pp. 275-76, 372, 382; Christian, History and
Practice of Magic, II, 457; Clyde Keeler, Secrets of the
Cuna Earth Mother (New York, 1960), pp. 51-58, 228-29;
Charles Godfrey Leland, Etruscan Magic and Occult Remedies
(New York, 1963), p. 139; W. B. Seabrook, The Magic Island
(Now York, 1929), p. 84, photograph and caption opposite
p. 310. Probably the best single source is Marie Dolcourt,
Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in
Classical Antiquity (London, 1961). Graves, White Goddess,
role or function, his androgyny would seem to have afforded
the kind of precedent which a drama patterned on cult be-
liefs and practices would not have been apt to ignore.
That being the case, there would be a cult-centered raison
d'stre for the folk play's bisexual Man-Woman character,
and its appearance would be purposive, rather than one to
be dismissed as chance deviation of the rustic libido.
In considering the Man-Woman character, two other
possible relationships to the witch cult god become ap-
parent. First, the Man-Woman actor, when cast in the role
of the Queen, as in the plays at Brailes and Winster, be-
came one of the rare serious characters in the folk play
tradition. In the latter village,
The King and Queen took themselves very
seriously and were so taken by the dancers,
the extra characters and the spectators.
They behaved with the utmost propriety,
quietly and with dignity,70
It is difficult to explain why the Man-Woman should have
comported herself with this kind of reserve and have been
accorded such respect unless the character represented origi-
nally one aspect of the witch cult god. In that case, the
elevated station and the dignity and esteem given the
character would have been entirely appropriate.
p. 519, notes that even the basic Christian tenet of the
virgin birth can be viewed as androgynous. In Britain, the
ancient Celts dressed boys as girls and the reverse at win-
ter calends, and man-woman reversals are still common in
Scotland at new year; see Rees, Celtic Heritage, pp. 89-90;
Tindall, Handbook, p. 57.
70Sharp and Maclwaine, Morris Book, I, 29; III, 73-74.
In addition to the relationship to the cult deity which
the sometimes dignified composure of the character suggests,
a further counterpart to tho god's nature can be found in
the Man-Woman. This inheres in the frequency with which the
folk character changed appearance and merged with other folk
characters. At Brackley, for instance, the Man-Woman and
the Fool were joined in one character; at Winster, the Black
Man merged with the bisexual figure, while at Castleton, the
Man-Woman and the Hobby Horse combined.71 At such places as
Harby and Askham Richard, the Man-Woman and the Doctor not
only merged, but the resultant character was able to effect
the resurrection of a "slain" combatant.72 In Northumbria,
on the other hand, the Man-Woman figure was itself the
sacrificial victim.73 Finally, at Longborough, a character
who was called, and functioned as, "the Doctor's horse,"
also had a blackened face, and in addition, was dressed in
a woman's skirts. That, of course, clearly represents a
conjunction of the Black Man, Hobby Horse and Man-Woman
In short, there is little that the witch cult god is
credited with that the Man-Woman did not, in som. fashion,
duplicate within the framework of the folk play. Not only
71Ibid., III, 74, 89; Sharp and Butterworth, Morris
Book, V, 103.
72Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 84, 90.
73Kennedy, England's Dances, p. 75.
74Tiddy, Mummers' Play, p. 180.
was she indistinguishable merged with the Hobby Horse and the
Black Man, but she had sacrificial status and could herself
resurrect the dead. In addition, she altered her shape in a
variety of ways, and was inevitably the object or perpetrator
of any sexual advances that were made. Lastly, the figure
had plainly apparent bisexual characteristics. Assuming the
folk play's natal debt to the English fertility religion, and
the possible impulse to retain the cult god's powers and
characteristics in the emerging drama, it would stand to
reason that the dramatic form would contain elements designed
to present the most important attributes of the god to folk
audiences. The androgynous Man-Woman character of the plays
seems unmistakably to have served that function.
The evidence cited thus far indicates that three of the
folk plays' most puzzling and tenacious stock characters,
the Black Man, the Hobby Horse and the Man-Woman, appear to
have a ritual ancestor within the traditions of the witch
cult and its central deity. The same also may be true of
another character, the Doctor, In the folk plays, it will
be remembered, the Doctor is the stock character to whom a
recognizable ritual act was most consistently assigned. At
the death of one or more characters, he was called in to
bring the slain back to life, an effort in which he was
usually successful. If cult ancestry is to be assigned the
Doctor, then, it would seem needful to discover within cult
ranks a figure capable of effecting control over physical
debility and even death.
A search for that figure again uncovers the devil, the
god of the cult, who possessed the virtues in question. As
has been indicated, the devil's ability to manifest himself
as black man, horse.and man-woman seemsto have had a dis-
tinctive ceremonial meaning to the believer. The cult god's
power was not, however, limited to a ritualistic one. In-
deed, accounts of the faithful would indicate they also
accepted as fact the god's ability to control the affairs
of man in physical or practical ways, as was partly suggested
in discussing the cult's reputation for fertility control.
Regarding this matter of fertility control, Christian
records are again heavily prejudicial. The cult and its
god are again and again condemned for causing disease and
destroying fertility, whether in animals, men or crops. The
possibility of this sort of negative control quite naturally,
of course, suggests that a converse, positive power may also
have been attributed to the god. That potential is indica-
ted in the witches' reputation as midwives, where their
ministrations seem to have been both beneficial and wide-
spread,75 while records of the god's diagnostic and curative
powers are similarly plentiful.
75Hole, Witchcraft, p. 43; Murray, Witch Cult, pp.
That the devil nurtured his image as physician, and
that the witches learned their healing arts from him, seems
clear from the evidence. For instance, in 1649, Manie
Haliburton of Dirlton admitted that when her daughter was
ill, "came the Devill, in licknes of a man, to hir house,
calling himself a phisition."76 The same year, in East
Lothian, Sandie Hunter was having only moderate success in
his attempts to work cures until, as the charges read, the
came to him in the form of a Mediciner, and said,
Sandie, you have too long followed my trade and
never acknowledged me for your Master. You must
now take on with me, and be my servant, and I
will make you more perfect in your Calling, ..
After this, he grew very famous throw the Countrey,
for his Charming and cureing of diseases in Men
Similarly, in 1588, Alison Peirson "wes conuict of the vsing
of Sorcerie and Witchcraft. . of the Dewill. . quha sche
affermit wes ane grit scoller and doctor of medicine'7 8
Likewise, Jonet Rendall was accused of gaining her medical
prowess by praying to Walliman, the cult deity she revered.
In its specifics, the charge noted,
ye hailled the hors be praying to your Walliman
. thair is nather man nor beast sick that. .
ye ar not able to cur it be praying to your
76Murray, Witch Cult, p. 36.
77Ibid., pp. 195-96.
78Ibid., p. 35.
79Ibid., pp. 30-31.
In 1590, after puzzling over a case an exercising her
skills to no avail, the midwife Agnes Sampson was accused of
having called upon the devil's diagnostic powers. In se-
curing her conviction, it was argued that
sche was send for to haill the aul Lady Edmestoune,
quhene sche lay seik, bofoir the said Agnos de-
partit, sche tault to the gontilwomone, that sche
should tell thame that nycht quhidder the Lady
wald haill or nocht. . Sche passit to the
gairdin to dovyise vpon hir prayer, on quhat
tyme sche chargeit the Dewill. . to cum and
speik to hir. . the devil arrived and sche
demandit, Quhidder the lady wald leif or nocht.
He said, 'Hir days war gane.S80
Margaret Clarke, another well-known midwife, was also pur-
ported to have held active consultation with her devil, and,
significantly, on one of these occasions it was charged that
he appeared "in licknes of ane horses. . with quhome thow
was thane consultant, and quhais directiounis than thow was
taikand."81 Alexander Hamilton's devil was said to have
given him a hobby horse or staff to facilitate medical con-
sultations. In the words of that account,
haifing ano battoun of fir in his hand the devill
than gave the said Alexr command to tak that bat-
toun quhan ovir he had ado with him and thairwt
to strek thruse upone the ground and to nhairge
him to ruse up. . Hamilton coming to the said
Thomas Homes house and seeing him visseit with
the said seiknes. . promoist to cure him. .
with his said battoun /familton7 raisit Sathan
his master quha. .. thair instructit him
quhat moanis he should cure the said Thomas.
80Ibid., p. 206. 81Ibid., p. 207
82Ibid., p. 207-08.
Apparently a fair number of the witch remedies were credited
with success, as was indicated by Jamos Mason, one of their
adversaries. In his 1612 Anatomie of Sorcerie, Mason admit-
ted that witches could often cure diseases which confounded
the recognized physicians of the day. He ascribed the
witches' success to the devil's superior experience in such
matters, and went on to state,
I am persuaded that this kind of wickedness, .
was never more practised amongst us, especially
for rocouery of health. For many, I might say
most men now a daios, if God doe not restore them
to health when and how they think good, they will
league God's ordinarie means by physicke and will
goe to sorcerers.03
Such evidence makes clear that the witches were generally
credited with curative powers, and that their instructor in
these matters was once again the cult god, acting as
In addition to the medical ability witches were said to
possess, they were commonly thought to have, through their
god, life-restorative powers. Such an attitude may be found,
for example, in the ecclesiastical writings of Burchard, an
eleventh century bishop, who condemned even then the belief
that witches could
without arms slay men, baptized and redeemed with
Christ's blood, and eat their cooked flesh and
replace their hearts with straw or wood or other
things and then revive them and give them further
83Lea, Materials, III, 1311.
841bid., I, 185.
More than a century later, John of Salisbury reflected much
the same conviction, deploring the fact that people still
credited the doity of the witches with resurrective powers.
His complaint noted that
People also believe that children are sacrificed
being cut up into small pieces and greedily
devoured. Subsequently, they are vomited up and
the presiding deity takes pity on them and re-
turns them to the cradle from which they were
The belief in the cult god's control over life and death
went so far as to embrace the notion that he was able to
sacrifice himself, commonly by fire, and then revive himself
in time to dismiss the meeting that had been climaxed by
his own death.86 That the central cult figure should ob-
tain credit for such direct power over death is of course
entirely consistent with his role as fertility god. As such
he could give life, enhance it, diminish or remove it, and
Significantly, this belief in the devil's resurrective
powers persisted as late as the seventeenth century. For
example, in 1653, Sir Robert Filmer published an Advertise-
ment to the Jurymen of England Touching Witches, in which
he noted the devil's ability to predict the future and
85Polycraticus, cited in Baroja, World, p. 62.
86Lea, Materials, II, 559; Murray, Witch Cult, pp.
159-60; Baroja, World, pp. 207-08.
revive the dead. The belief lingered, and in London in
1669, the question was still lively enough to provoke a
tract by John Wagstaffe which set forth a firm denial of the
alleged Satanic talent.88 The following year Wagstaffe's
tract was put into a second edition, only to be countered
four years later by Richard Boulton's A Compleat History of
Magick, Sorcery and Witchcraft which took a positive posi-
tion in regard to the devil's capacity to restore the dead
The witch god's role of healer, combined with his
purported control over death and resurrection, would seem
to provide a functional link to the fourth folk play charac-
ter--the Doctor. In addition, a further similarity between
the cult god and the character of the Doctor should be noted.
Not only did the Doctor appear as healer and conqueror of
death in a manner reminiscent of the witch deity, but like
the other stock characters, he shared the cult god's ability
to transform or combine himself with other personages. The
Doctor merged, in one village or another, with each of the
other four stock characters.90 In fact, at Longborough, he
went through a multiple merging process, one in which the
87Lea, Materials, III, 1315.
88Ibid.; Baroja, World, pp. 207-08.
89Lea, Materials, III, 1314-15, 1321.
90Tiddy, Mumers' Play, pp. 180, 229; Chambers, English
Folk Play, pp. 57-58, 8, 212-13; Sharp, Sword Dances, III,
74; Sharp and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 213.
black-faced Doctor was dressed in woman's skirts and rode a
Hobby Horse.91 Having thus exhibited the shape-shifting
quality of the fertility cult god, along with his restora-
tive powers and control over death, the Doctor would appear
to be as much a folk play counterpart of that god as the
Black Man, Hobby Horse or Man-Woman.
So far it has been possible to demonstrate that the
dramatically definitive attributes of four of the folk plays'
stock characters correspond to major characteristics of the
witch cult god. These parallels suggest that the fifth and
last stock character, the Fool, may also have had his ori-
gins in the functional characteristics and powers of that
deity. Such a relationship has already suggested itself in
the merger of the Fool with the other stock characters--the
Black Man, the Doctor, or the Man-Woman.92 Sharp's descrip-
tion of the Fool's coalescence with the Man-Woman at Brackley
serves as a case in point.
He was always known as the Fool, although from
the dress. he might have been the Moll. .
the man-woman who under various designations.* *
invariably accompanies the sword dancers. In the
Brackloy Fool, these two characters appear to be
91Tiddy, Mummers' Play, p. 180; Chambers, English Folk
Play, pp. 57-58.
92Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 197, 209-10, 213; Sharp
and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 28; III, 89.
93Sharp and Maollwaine, Morris Book, III, 89.
Since the Fool did share the shape-shifting capacity
common both to the other stock characters and to the cult
god, a logical question is whether or not he possessed ad-
ditional attributes of the witch god. To consider that
possibility, it is first necessary to indicate the Fool's
customary activities within the folk play corpus. In this
respect, two of the Fool's characteristics are significant.
First, in both the Morris dance and the sword play, regard-
less of how limited or extensive his dramatic contribution
may have been, the Fool was traditionally the leader of the
dancingo4 Indeed, his contribution in this capacity was
so marked it led Sharp to the conclusion that the Fool is
the "semi-divine leader" of that activity.95
In addition to his function as dance leader, the Fool
made a second prominent contribution to the folk play
tradition. This derives from the fact that, far more than
any other figure, it was the Fool who was the sacrificial
victim in the sword plays. For example, at Revesby, Escrick,
Handsworth, Askham Richard, Haxby, Grenoside, Bassingham,
Sleights, and in Northumbria, he is known to have served
that function. In each place, of course, he was
94Ibid., I, 12-13; Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 69-70;
Kennedy, England's Dances, p. 93.
95Sharp and MacIlwaino, Morris Book, I, 12.
96Adams, Pre-Shakespearean Dramas, pp. 360-61; Kennedy,
England's Dances, pp. 63-643 75; Sharp, Sword Dances, II,
26; III, 10, 317 46, 84, 90; Chambers, English Folk Play,
resurrected, usually by the Doctor. Any attempt to trace
the ancestry of the Fool to the witch cult must therefore
take into account those two signal functions--ho led the
dancing, and he was also prominent as the sacrificial
It seems apparent that his role as sacrificial character
is immediately traceable to the cult god. In the previous
evidence pertaining to the fertility nature of the cult,
the god's sacrificial role, together with his startling ca-
pacity for resurrection, was most apparent. Indeed, as
mentioned above, the devil was sometimes thought to go so
far as to sacrifice and resurrect himself.97 Whether the
god's death occurred in tho spring, as did the folk play
ceremony, is uncertain, but the custom of sacrificing the
god is itself well enough documented to furnish a clear
parallel to the sacrifice of the Fool in the English folk
play tradition. Within both institutions, an apparently
obligatory death was inflicted upon ceremonial figures--
the god and the Fool, Likewise, within both cult and play,
those figures were regularly revived after that death.
In tracing the Fool's ancestry to the witch cult, one
other characteristic of the devil figure should be examined.
This is his place as ritual leader in the cult meetings. In
those meetings the individual serving in the capacity of the
97Loa, Materials, II, 559; III, 1314-15, 1321; Baroja,
World, pp. 207-08; Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 159-60.
deity not only had such predictable responsibilities as
offerings, baptisms, instruction and the like, but he was
also in charge of what might be called the festive aspect
of the services* In the witch cult this ordinarily took
the form of sharing food and drink, and joining in singing
and dancing In many instances, it should be noted, the
latter activities were indulged in by themselves. Whatever
the combination of these festive activities, however, the
devil's role was conspicuous. For example, in 1662, Marie
Lament asserted that "the devill came to Kettrein Scott's
house, in the midst of the night. He gave them wyn to drink,
and wheat bread to eat, and they warr all very mirrie."98
Similarly, Elizabeth Stile of Somerset testified that at a
1664 cult meeting "they had Wine, Cakes and Roastmeat (all
brought by the Man in black) which they did eat and drink.
They danced and were merry,"99 On another occasion, Forfar
witches "made great merriment," and Jonet Howat said of that
gathering, "At this meeting there wer about twenty persons
present with the divill, and the daunced together and eat
together, having bieff, bread and ale." The Howat testimony
was duplicated by Helen Guthrie, who claimed that ale was
drunk, and also "aqua vitaeo and thus made themselves
mirrie; and the divill made much of them all.100 Similarly,
98Murray, Witch Cult, p. 141.
99Ibid., p. 140.
100Ibid., pp. 138, 141,
in 1588, Alison Peirson described cult meetings featuring
"pypeing and mirrynes and gude scheir cheef7."101
Testimony of this sort indicates that, on occasion,
cult meetings lent themselves to an atmosphere of gaiety
and funmaking. The devil's contribution to those pro-
ceedings was not only that of host, but, as numerous
documents suggest, he also served as leader of the singing
and dancing. For example, in 1575, Danaeus unsympatheti-
cally reported that the witches, "Then fal. . to dancing,
wherein he L/he devil7 leadeth the daunce. . they hoppe
and daunce merely about him, singing most filthy songs made
in his prayse."102 Charges against Margaret Og, in 1597,
also took note of the devil's prominent role in the dancing,
stating, "ye danced all together, about a great stone, under
the conduct of Satan, your master, a long space."03 In
1597, Kethrein Mitchell was also accused of "dancing with
the Devil,04 while John Douglas of Trenent confessed to
"having merry meetings with Satan, enlivened with music and
dancing."105 Likewise, in 1597, Beatrice Robbie had gone
"under the conduct of the Devil they master. . to Craig-
leauche, and there dancing altogether about a great stone,
a long space, and the Devil your master playing before
you."106 As this would indicate, the cult god was not
101ibid,, p. 140. 1021bid., p. 137.
1031bid., p. 131. 104Ibid.
105Ibid-, p. 136 1061bid., p. 131.
always content with leading the dance, and sometimes combined
this function with that of playing upon a musical instrument
or singing. Indeed, as Murray concluded, "the devil himself
was the usual performer.'107 For example, cult members from
Somerset revealed that "the Man in black sometimes plays on
a Pipe or Cittern, and the company dance."108 Frequent men-
tion was made of this type of performance. Jonet Lucan and
others, for instance, were "under the conduct of they master,
the Devil, dancing in ane ring, and he playing melodiously
upon ane instrument."109 At a meeting in the Pentland Hills,
the devil "went before us in the likeness of a rough tanny
Dog, playing on a pair of Pipes."110 Finally, at Innerkip,
Marie Lament revealed that "the devil was in the likeness of
a meikle black man, and sung to them and they dancit."111
Testimony of this kind clearly tends to support the conclu-
sion that the cult god was a primary agent in the festive
aspects of the cult meetings, and that he often led the
music and dancing himself.
It would seem that these activities also provide a
107Ibid., pp. 135-36.
108Joseph Glanvil, Sadducismus Triumphatus (London,
1681), p. 141.
109Murray, Witch Cult, p. 136.
1lllbido, pp. 38, 138.
precedent which any emerging dramatic tradition based on
cult worship could hardly ignore. The god, to be presented
fully, would need to have both his sober and his most at-
tractive and socially congenial aspects emphasized. In
echoing or providing a reminder of this more convivial side
of the devil's nature, the English folk play seems to have
employed the character of the Fool. This character, like
the devil, not only led the dancing and merrymaking, but
was at the same time the sacrificial victim. In addition,
the Fool exhibited the shape-shifting capacity which marked
the cult deity.
In terms of the Fool's other attributes, they also tend
to link the character with the god of the witches. One of
these involves the elevated station and deference sometimes
afforded him, factors which were in marked contrast to his
seemingly humble social position. Some index of the high
and unusual estate sometimes held by the Fool can be found
in the play at Escrick. In that instance, when the King and
Queen entered they traditionally bowed to the Fool. More-
over, the Fool afterward announced, "Although my old clothes
are ragged and torn, / I once was beloved by a Queen. /
Some calls me a King, some calls me a clown. . "112
Other instances of the Fool's elevated station are to be
found in folk plays throughout both Cheshire and Lancashire.
In these areas, the traditionally black-faced Fool was often
112Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 23-24.
called "King Coffee."ll3 Although the latter part of the
name undoubtedly referred to the Fool's complexion, no
dramatic incident afforded any reason for tho royal title.
A final example of the Fool's status can be found in the
drama at Ampleforth, where this stock character was not
only the father of the King, but also vied for the hand of
Although facts such as those furnish an indication of
the high station sometimes assigned the Fool, the plays
offer no reason for such a position, nor do the Fool's
royal attachments grow from any dramatic necessity. At
Escrick, for instance, after the Fool announced, "Some calls
me a King," the matter of royalty was dropped completely.
No more references were made to his lineage, and no drama-
tic circumstances hinged upon it anywhere in the play. If
the creators of the folk drama had no orthodox dramaturgical
motivation in the matter, it is possible that the Fool's
unexpected and dramatically unmotivated status served as a
means of confirming his relationship to the cult god, a god
to whom the deference of royalty would be an entirely
appropriate and understandable gesture.
Another correspondence between the Fool and the central
figure of the witch cult occurs as a result of, and emphasis
upon, the phallus or phallic object. At such places as
113Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 197,
114Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 53, 56.
Brailes, Abington, Winster, Brackley, Askham Richard and
Bledington, the Fool's appearance was characterized by an
inflated bladder115--whose phallic configuration is attested
by folk scholar witnesses,6 In addition, at such villages
as Askham Richard, Bledington and Abington, this phallic
bladder was fastened to a stick, and it was customary, be-
fore the performance, for the Fool to dash about amongst
both performers and spectators, buffeting all who came within
reach,117 An incident in the Rovesby sword play tends to
confirm the phallic consciousness associated with the Fool.
There, just before wooing the Man-Woman, Cicely, the Fool
says, "A fool I heard thou say, / But more the other way, /
For here I have a tool / Will make a maid to play. .. "118
It is entirely possible that the folk play's emphasis
upon the Fool's phallic characteristics may comprise a fur-
ther reminder or symbolic reflection of the witch cult's
central figure. Certainly, on regular ritual occasions, the
115Chambers, English Folk Play, pp. 86, 90, 127, 152;
Sharp and MacIlwaine, Morris Book, I, 28; III, 74, 89, 113;
Sharp and Butterworth, Morris Book, V, 47; Chambers,
Medieval Stage, I, 196, 208-09; Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 77.
116Kennedy, England's Dances, pp. 71, 74; Chambers,
Medieval Stage, I, 197,
117Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 77; Sharp and MacIlwaine,
Morris Book, I, -28; III,74, 113; Sharp and Butterworth,
Morris Book, V, 47.
118Adams, Pre-Shakespearean Dramas, p. 361. In regard
to this sequence, Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 208, assorts,
"There is nothing particularly interesting about this part
of the play, obviously written to 'work in' the man-7 woman
cult deity was supposed to have had sexual congress with all
present In consequence of the god's need to fulfill this
multiple sexual obligation, he was widely thought of, and
conventionally pictured as, ithyphallic in his masculine
manifestation. While it is unclear whether his repeated
sexual intercourse was illusory, performed by means of a
substitute, or rendered by himself through the agency of an
artificial phallus, the association of the phallic organ
with the god was a very common one. 19 Murray, for example,
reproduces a drawing from a 1639 pamphlet which shows the
cult deity as simultaneously hermaphroditic and ithy-
phallic.120 Indeed, in a fashion recalling Dionysus, the
witch god was sometimes credited with possessing the di-
phallus and triphallus, and, furthermore, was thought able
to effect sexual engagement of these organs simultaneously,121
Such characteristics were, of course, appropriate to a god
who was believed to be generatively omnipotent. That being
the case, it is possible to see in the prominence accorded
the phallic bladder of the Fool an attitude reflecting the
sexual potency and attributes of the cult god who is posited
in this study as the source of this folk play character.
119Masters, Eros, pp. 17-23; Murray, Witch Cult, pp.
176-83; Rose, Razor, p. 51.
120Margaret Murray, The God of the Witches (London,
1956), frontispiece, unpaged.
121Masters, Eros, p. 17.
It is also appropriate to note that the Fool's sexual
capacities were not exclusively masculine, for it will be
recalled that in such places as Brackley and Bellerby the
Fool was also a Man-Woman figure,122 and in the Plough
Monday play at Cropwell, it was Tom Fool upon whom "Dame
Jane tries to father a child."123 On at least two counts
the sexual characteristics and capacities of the Fool seem
reminiscent of the generative nature of the cult god. The
two figures (god and Fool) were sexually active in both
male and female roles, and both were accorded phallic
emphasis in their respective ceremonies.
The folk play's Fool and the cult god seem to reflect
each other in still another, final, characteristic. This
was their mutually recurrent habit of associating themselves
with animals. Like the phallic bladder, elements of animal
disguise formed a pervasive usage in the English folk play,
and, excepting the Hobby Horse, the stock character who most
consistently wore animal insignia of some kind was the Fool.
Unlike the Hobby Horse, however, the Fool was by no means
limited to an identification with any single animal. For
example, at Brailes, "the Fool blacked his face and wore a
calf's skin slung over his shoulders";124 at Grenoside,
122Chambers, Enlish Folk Play, p. 125; Sharp and
Macllwaine, Morris Book, III, 89.
123Chambers, Medieval Stare, I, 209-10.
124Sharp and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 28.
however, he donned a rabbit skin cap "with the head of the
animal set in front,"125 and, at Thenford, he employed
either a "fox or hare-skin cap."126 At Bollerby, the Fool
was arrayed in lamb's wool, and in Berkshire his garment
was, or resembled, sheepskin.127 At Escrick, the Fool
had foxtails dangling down his back, while at Sleights the
entire foxskin was used.128 In various other areas, such
animals as deer, goats and oxen were also associated with
As a result of one animal association, that involving
a cow or bullock's tail which was commonly attached either
to the Fool's person or to the phallic bladder, the Fool
often took the name of "Captain Cauf's Tail,"130 The name
"Captain Cauf's Tail" was, in company with the tail itself,
pervasive, being found in such areas as Norfolk, Cambridge-
shire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire,
Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland.11 Facts such as
125Kennody, England's Dances, pp. 63-64.
126Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 85.
127Ibido, pp. 84, 125.
128Sharp, Sword Dances, II, 15; III, 19.
129Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 214.
130Sharp and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 28; Sharp and
Butterworth, Morris Book, V, 47.
131Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 90,
these clearly testify to the Fool's characteristic identi-
fication with a variety of animals, although, as the name
"Captain Cauf's Tail" would suggest, the calf, cow or bull
Like the Fool, the witch cult god adopted a number of
animal appearances, one (the horse) having been discussed
previously. It is uncertain as to the degree of physical
authenticity the cult figure sought in attempting these
animal forms, but it seems likely that, as with the horse,
both mimetic and costume elements were exploited, sometimes
singly, sometimes in combination. One extant description,
that of Agnes Sampson in 1590, indicates use of rather ex-
tensive costume components to achieve what seems to have
been a combination of animal and bird. The account roads
His ers. o was cauld like yce; his body was
hard like yrn as they thocht that handled him;
his face was terrible, his nose lyk the bek of
an egle, gret burning eyn; his hands and legis
wer horry, with clawis vpon his hands and foit
lyk the griffon.132
The animal form which the cult deity chose most often
to identify himself with, as did tho Fool in the folk plays,
seems to have been the calf, bull or cow.133 In 1597, for
example, Agnes Wobster was accused of attending a cult
meeting where "Satan apperit to the in the likenos of a
132Murray, Witch Cult, p. 62.
133Ibid., pp. 65-66.
calff.,,134 In 1662, when referring to the cult's devil
figure, Isobel Gowdie admitted that "somtym he vold be lyk a
S. bull."135 Other animals, while less common, were
still reported. Isobel Gowdie not only referred to the calf
disguise used by the cult god, but also affirmed his appear-
ance as a "deir, a rae, or a dowg"; moreover, to Joan Water-
house, he was "in the lykenes of a great dogge.1 36 Jonet
Blak testified that the cult figure appeared to her as a
"dog with a sowis head, "137 and elsewhere, the devil chose
such animal forms as the sheep, lamb, cat, and even fowl.138
Consequently it seems evident that the cult god shared with
the Fool of the folk play the habit of associating himself
with one or another of a variety of animals. Furthermore,
the most frequent of these associations, that involving a
cow, bull or calf, was mutual to both, while on occasions,
other forms such as the lamb, sheep and deer were also
exploited by the two figures in their respective ceremonies.
A wide range of correspondences can now be seen to
exist between the Fool of the folk play and the witch cult
134Ibid., p. 65.
135Ibid., p. 66.
136Ibid., pp. 65-66; see also Hole, Witchcraft, pp.
55-58, 6 =7, 94-96.
137Murray, Witch Cult, p. 67.
138Ibid., pp. 65-70, 182, 226-27; Masters, Eros, pp.
god. Both regularly appeared as black-faced sacrificial
figures who died and were revived; both functioned as cere-
monial dance leaders; both resurrected the dead; both
exhibited shape-shifting abilities; both called attention
to their phallic attributes; and both were functionally
hermaphroditic. Also significant is the fact that each
figure commanded the respect and deference of his most
highly placed consorts. Finally, each associated himself
with a variety of animals, often the same ones. While none
of these facts, by itself, could be looked upon as a dis-
tinctive proof of relationship, there is a high correspon-
dence between the activities or traits which typify the
Fool and the basic ritual phenomena attaching to the cult
In conclusion, it appears that the most marked attri-
butes of the five stock characters in the English folk
play correspond in a variety of ways to ritually important
aspects of the witch cult god. It becomes possible, there-
fore, to explain the insistent appearance of the five stock
characters in the fertility-oriented plays by virtue of the
fact that each represented an inseparable aspect of the
fertility god. Or, as stated earlier, assuming the natal
debt of the folk play to the English fertility religion,
and the possible impulse to retain the cult god's powers
and characteristics in that emerging drama, it would stand
to reason that the dramatic form would contain elements
designed to present the most important attributes of the
god to the folk audiences The five stock characters--
Black Man, Man-Woman, Hobby Horse, Doctor and rool--
unmistakably appear to serve that function.
THE PLAYS: INTERNAL EVIDENCE
The evidence cited previously demonstrates that the
distinctive qualities or activities of the folk plays' stock
characters duplicate commonly identified attributes of the
witch cult god. In view of this, it is appropriate to
examine textual evidence of the play scripts to determine
whether the parallel between folk theatre and witch cult
asserts itself there. With regard to the use of the word
"textual," however, one qualification should be noted. In
folk material, oral traditions frequently serve as primary
evidence, written scripts being derivative. While the bulk
of the ensuing chapter will focus upon the plays as they
have been recorded, some portion of it will involve material
from the oral traditions which have been preserved by folk
In turning to the scripts themselves, the first textual
evidence of a correspondence to the traditions of the witch
cult can be discerned in the plays' tendency to employ given
names which were identical to those assigned to members of
the cult. The importance of names in the witch cult is a
matter of record, inasmuch as, upon admission, initiates of
the fertility religion were given baptismal names sanctioned
by the cult.1 This practice seems to have encouraged the
witches' repetitious use of certain given names, a fact es-
tablished in Murray's tabulation of names from English trial
documents and records of the timoo Murray's compilation,
extending from the fourteenth into the eighteenth century,
lists the names of 685 different individuals,2 but despite
this number, and despite the passage of four centuries, only
about seventy different given names were employed,3 a fact
which plainly indicates the cult's practice of retaining the
same first names. Some of these names were apparently so
popular that it was normal for them to be employed repeti-
tiously in local covens containing no more than thirteen
members. In Somerset, for example, a coven included two
members named John, two named Richard, two named Thomas, and
two named Margaret. A Queensferry coven listed pairings of
Catherine, Helen, Janet and Margaret, together with three
members named Marion. At St. Albans, three of the women
were named Mary, and no less than five men shared the name
John. An Alloa coven listed two men named James, two women
named Kathren, three called Jonet, and three others named
1Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 82-85.
21bid., pp. 255-70.
3A tabulating problem exists inasmuch as related names,
such as Thomas and Thomasine, could be regarded as a single
name. Even under the most limited system of tabulation,
however, the Murray count would only be adjusted by ten.
Margret. Finally, as at Quoensferry, all but two of an
Essex coven shared their names with another member.4 Even
within these repetitious circumstances, certain of the witch
names achieved noticeable popularity, as the quintuple ap-
pearance of the name John in the St. Albans coven might
suggest. Indeed, in Murray's catalogue, the name John oc-
curs more than three times oftener than any other male name.
Assuming, as this study does, that the witch cult
provided the generative impulse underlying the folk plays,
the probability exists that a custom as well established as
the repetitious use of names in the cult would have been
perpetuated by the fertility religion's dramatic heir. To
check on that relationship between cult and play, it is ne-
cessary to compile a list of the names used in the folk
dramas. In constructing such a list, however, two problems
should be mentioned. First, the folk theatre sometimes in-
dulged in obviously invented names, appelations such as
"Captain Thunderbolt," "Giant Blunderbore," and "Cleverlegs."
In cataloguing the names of characters in the folk plays,
invented names such as these will not be taken into account.
Second, since the folk plays continued to be acted even into
the twentieth century, historically famous names like Napo-
leon, St. George, and Oliver Cromwell crept into the dramas.
In the present list, names of that type have also been
4Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 250-54.
omitted. Consideration is limited to conventional given
names and their derivatives.
In making a tabulation of this kind it is logical to
examine, first, the mummers' plays, inasmuch as the sword
plays and Morris dances are drastically more limited in
their use of different character names. The mummers' plays
employ a total of thirty-nine male characters who bear con-
ventional names. Of the total, only four--Phillip, Peter,
Nod and Penty--are not witch names, and each of these ap-
pears only once.5 Thus, thirty-five of thirty-nine male
characters are assigned witch names. It is worth noting
that by far the most common male witch name on Murray's
list is "John"; it appears more than three times oftener
than any other male name included. Similarly, in twenty-
three of the thirty-nine instances where a masculine role
is assigned a conventional name, that name is "John," or
its derivative, "Jack." Thus, the name most frequently
employed in the mummers' play is the one most commonly
assigned to male members of the witch cult.
5Tiddy, Mummers' Play, pp. 148, 160, 187, 233. Murray's
list appears in Witch Cult, pp. 255-70. For this and sub-
sequent tallies, the mummers' play source remains Tiddy.
6The names of the male characters and one instance of
their appearance follow; the source is Tiddy, Mummers' Play:
Tom, p. 146; John, p. 148; William, p. 148; Penty, p. 148;
Henry, p. 149; Phillip, p. 160; Alex, p. 178; Peter, p. 187;
Dick, p. 233; Ned, p. 233; Arthur, p. 236; Robin, p. 236.
Use of nicknames is often folk practice in characters and
dance titles: this is to be expected. Murray's list, drawn
from trial records, naturally employs the more formal names.
Thus, while Tom, Alex or Dick are not found in Murray's list,
the formal equivalents--Thomas, Alexander, Richard--are
present; the same holds true for other nickname usage.
While the female figures in the plays, moro properly
the Man-Woman characters, are given conventional names less
often, in each of the seven instances where they are so
named, a traditional witch cult name is chosen.7 When both
male and female characters are considered, of the forty-six
characters in the mummers' plays who are given conventional
names, forty-two are called by names used in the witch cult
If these folk play characters were given names cognate
with those used by the witch cult, it might be expected that
this custom would be honored elsewhere in the folk tradition,
specifically, in the sword play and Morris dance. Although
the majority of characters in the sword plays and Morris
dances were simply named by function or position--"Fool,"
"King," or "Beggar," for instance--the Man-Woman figure is
usually given a conventional and highly repetitive name. In
the sword plays, this is most often Bessy, with such variants
as Betty, Besem Betty, Dirty Bet (when the black face is
added), Doll, Dame Jane, Madgy, and Madgy-Peg.8 All of
these are witch names, and all of them, like the characters
John and Jack in the mummers' play, appear again and again.
Indeed, in only a single instance is the Man-Woman of the
7The names of the female characters and one instance of
their appearance follow: Dolly, p. 157; Sally, p. 188;
Molly, p. 222; Mary Ann, p. 236; Jano, p. 238.
8Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 125; Sharp, Sword
D nces, III, 77, 86, 103; Chambers, Medieval Stago, I,
192-9; Sharp and Macl- ... no, Morris Book, III, 89.
sword play assigned a name not used in the witch cult tra-
dition.9 Similarly, when conventionally named, the Fool of
the sword play is regularly called Tom or Tommie. In this
case, the usage is so pervasive that the character is often
referred to as the Tom, the sobriquet having become synony-
mous with the word "fool."10
The same repetitious use of names occurs in conjunction
with the Man-Woman character of the Morris dance. In this
activity, the bisexual figure has but four names, Moll,
Molly, Maid Marion and Bet, the last being employed but
seldom.11 Once again, all these are witch names.
Aside from character designation, the Morris dance
provides another opportunity to check the pervasiveness of
the witch names in the folk tradition. This involves the
titles traditionally affixed to the individual Morris dance
configurations.12 Sharp lists twenty-seven such individually
titled dance figures in the Morris tradition.13 As might be
9Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 194; Briget is the name
of the Man-Woman in the non-witch usage; it is found at the
village of Wharfdale.
10Ibid., I, 192-94; Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 125.
llSharp and MacIlwaine, Morris Book, III, 89; Chambers,
Medieval Stage, I, 179; Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 152.
12These formations are susceptible to a much wider
variety of execution than are those of the sword dance, where
the custom of named dances consequently occurs much less often.
13Sharp and Macllwaine, Morris Book, I, 83; II, 11, 50,
54, 58, 61; III, 66, 91, 94, 95; Cecil J. Sharp, The Morris
Book (London, 1911), IV, 7; Sharp and Butterworth, Morris
Book, V, 37, g4, 79, 80, 111.
anticipated, some of the titles simply reflect the nature
of the dance, as does the "Fool's Jog" at Bampton, while
other titles suggest costume motifs, like the "Greensleeves
Dance" at Wyresdale.14 Sixteen of the twenty-seven dances,
however, are identified by some use of a person's name. Of
these sixteen names, fifteen are witch names.15
The correspondence of folk theatre names to those used
by the witch cult cannot be interpreted as categorical proof
of a link between the two activities, but it does provide a
further indication that such a relationship may exist. Since
the argument may be put forth that the names are common ones,
and that the cult's adoption of them was merely coincidental
with their popularity, it should be noted that many other
names common to England, names like Harold, Edgar, Charles,
Alfred, Malcolm, Edward, Roderick, Clarence, Bruce, Edwin,
and Geoffrey, do not apear in Murray's list. The case
appears similar for women. Murray's list does not contain
such usual feminine names as Edith, Carolyn, Elaine, Gertrude,
Cynthia, Eloise, Dianne, Audrey, Sylvia, Jennifer and
14Sharp and MacIlwaine, Morris Book, III, 66; Sharp and
Butterworth, Morris Book, V, 111.
15The names employed wore: "Constant Billy," "Rodney"
(the non-witch name), "Bobbing Joe," "Highland Mary," "Jockio
to the Fair," "Old Black Joe," "William and Nancy," "Dearest
Dickey," "Bobby and Joan," "Molly Oxford," "Sweet Jenny
Jones." The title "Constant Billy" appears in four different
villages, Headington, Bampton, Sherborne and Adderbury, and
has been counted as four different usages of a witch name.
See Sharp and MacIlwaino, Morris Book, I, 83; II, 11, 50, 54;
III, 41, 49, 91; Sharp, Morris Book, IV, 7; Sharp and
Buttorworth, Morris Book, V, 37, 54.
Evelyn.16 In addition, the correlation between cult names
and character names appears somewhat higher than random
coincidence would suggest. Of the sixty-two name usages
recorded (sixteen in the Morris dance, and forty-six in the
mummers' play), fifty-seven are witch names. Since this
represents over ninety percent of the total, the probability
of the duplication being coincidental seems remote, The
possibility of coincidence is further reduced when the high-
ly repetitious witch names of the Man-Woman in the sword
plays and Morris dances are added to the tally.
The correspondence of given names in the folk play and
witch cult suggests the possibility that other names in the
folk drama may also reflect a cult ancestry. Evidence
pointing to such a heritage can be found in the mummers'
play custom of naming the Fool "Beelzebub." Not only was
the name Beelzebub a popular synonym for the word "devil,"
but it was also used by witches to refer to the god and to
conjure him with.17 It is interesting to note, therefore,
that the name was given to the mummers' play Fool in a va-
riety of locations. It appeared at Longborough, Gloucester-
shire, at Weston-sub-Edge (in the same county), at Newport,
16That witch names were not adopted on the basis of
general popularity seems evident from the fact that while
such names as Edward, Alfred, Charles, Edgar, Stephen and
Harold were all king's names and hence widely adopted among
the population, none appeared as a witch name.
17Lea, Materials, III, 1107; Murray, Witch Cult, pp.
28, 143, 184.
at Eccleshall, in the Plough Monday play at Cropwell, at
Newbold and at Luttorworth.18 As might be expected, there
were the usual folk variations in its usage. At Sapperton,
Gloucestershire, the character becomes Belsey Bob, at Oving-
dean, Sussex, Bellzie Bub; at Icomb, Gloucestershire, Bells
Abub, and at Malvern, Bellsey Bob once more.19 The names
Hub Bub and Lord Grubb, in use at Cornwall and Chiswick,
are probable further corruptions. Nevertheless, in village
after village Beelzobub remains the Fool; indeed, in one
place his name is unmistakably rendered, Beelzebub the
The appropriateness of naming the Fool Beelzebub has
already been suggested in Chapter III. The Fool's sacrifi-
cial status, his frequent black face, his shape-shifting
ability and his phallic identification all correspond di-
rectly to attributes of the central cult figure, Beelzebub.
In addition to these cult-oriented capacities, one of
the Fool's acts or gestures demands particular attention
inasmuch as it makes the cult name Beelzebub even more ap-
propriate for him. In play after play, the Fool makes a
peculiar backward entrance, accompanied by his usual opening
18Tiddy, Mummers' Play, pp. 167, 180; Chambers, Medieval
Stage, I, 214.
19Tiddy, Mummers' Play, pp. 173, 177, 203, 232.
20Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 65; (Mrs.) Chaworth
Musters, A Cavalier Stronghold (London, 1890), p. 388;
Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 214; Sharp, Sword Dances, III,
78. Other variants of the name include Old Billy Beelzebub,
Bolcibub, Belzeebug, Bollsie Bob, Baal Zebub.
line, "In comes I, Old Hind-before," or "In comes I hind
before," or something similar.21 The witch custom of award-
ing their local coven leader--the devil--a posterior kiss,
as the Bishop of Coventry was accused of doing in 1300,22
has been shown by Murray to have its origin in the fact that
the devil sometimes wore not one but two masks, the first
conventionally placed, the second upon his buttocks.23 It
is consequently possible that Beelzebub's "hind before"
entrance was a reminder of this peculiarity, one not so
obvious as to arouse Christian suspicions, but plain enough
to have been recognized by any cult initiates to whom the
plays originally may have been directed.
In a custom provocatively similar to that of naming the
Fool Beelzebub, the mummers' play linked the figure of the
Black Man to the cult by a verbal tradition as suggestive as
the visual convention involving his blackened appearance.
In terms of this association between the folk play's Black
Man and the witch cult, there is evidence that, in many lo-
calities, it was regularly the practice to incorporate the
word "devil" into the name given a black-visaged character.
The result was a series of names such as Devil Dout, Little
Devil Dout, Little Devil Don't, and others. The framers of
21Chambers, English Folk Play, pp. 14, 19, 227. The
custom extended to the sword play as well: see Sharp,
Sword Dances, III, 78.
22Rose, Razor, p. 64; Graves, White Goddess, p. 441.
23Murray, Witch Cult, pp. 10, 62, 68-69, 129, 247; see
also Lea, Materials, II, 517; Masters, Eros, p. 23.
the English folk play did not, however, let matters rest
there. They took the name Devil Dout and added to it the
most popular of male witch names, John, or its colloquial
equivalent, Jack. Accordingly, names like Jack Devil Dout,
Little Jack Devil Dout, and Little Jack Dout appeared.24
Chambers points out that at Leigh, Little Devil Dout refers
to himself simply as "Jack," an instance which would repro-
sent a popular shortening of the Black Man's "Devil" name.
That process resulted in names like Black Jack, Fat Jack,
Happy Jack, Little Jack, and even John Jack or Johnny Jack.
All cases considered, it would appear that, through the
label given to the play's Black Man, folk performers were
not only perpetuating the name of the devil, but also
stressing the most popular of witch names, John, a name
that both the Black Man Devil Dout of the plays and the
black man devil figure of the cult often assumed. The per-
sistence of the name John for the plays' Devil Dout charac-
ter was clearly reflected in Salisbury where the black-faced
Johnny Jack gave his name to the rest of the mummers, so that
the entire troupe was known locally as John Jacks.25 In
considering the implications of the custom of calling the
black-faced Devil Dout character "Black Jack, 126 it will be
24Tiddy, Mummers' Play, p. 73; Chambers, Medieval Stage,
I, 214-15; Chambers, English Folk Play, pp. 14 67, 180.
25Chambers, Medieval Stage, I, 215; Chambers, English
Folk Play, p. 65. Othor names included Jim Jack, Saucy Jack,
Little Man Jack, Humpty Jack and Jump-backed Jack.
26Chambers, English Folk Play, p. 65.
helpful to recall Isobel Gowdie's statement that, in her
coven, "Som tymis, among owr felwis, we wold be calling him
'Blak Johne' or the lyk,'27
The extent of the parallel between the folk plays' use
of witch cult names and customs is further established when
one of the folk play festivals, that of Plough Monday, is
examined. The traditional first day for spring ploughing
in England was called Plough Monday. Before the ploughing
could begin, however, the folk play stock characters and
other participants in a subsequent sword play, Morris dance,
or mummers' play had to drag a plough through the entire
village, making sure to cross each resident's property in
what is generally conceded to have been an invocation of
fertility.28 Similarly, the witch cult tradition contains
records of a ploughing ceremony in which "the divell held
the plewgh. . and all we of the Coeven went still wp
and down with the plewghe, prayeing to the Divell for the
fruit of that land."29
When other aspects of the Plough Monday folk play
ceremonies are examined, additional similarities between
the folk theatre and the witch cult are discovered. In the
Plough Monday play at Northants, for instance, the faces of
27Murray, Witch Cult, p. 199.
28Sharp, Sword Dances, III, 14; Musters, Stronghold,
p. 387; John Brand, Observations on the Popular Antiquities
of Great Britain (London, 1903), I, 278; Chambers, Medieval
Stage, I, 108, 207-09.
29Murray, Witch Cult, p. 171.