Mother Redcap : A name applied to English ale-wives, wise women and witches. It was also given to Familiar animals. One Mother Redcap was an elderly woman who lived in a village about 14 miles from Cambridge, England, who was known as a witch. She said she was endowed with her witch powers in circumstances reminiscent of the Devil’s Pact legends of medieval centuries. According to an article published in the London Sunday Chronicle on September 9, 1928:
One day a black man called, produced a book and asked her to sign her name in it. The woman signed the book and the mysterious stranger then told her she would be the mistress of five imps who would carry out her orders. Shortly afterwards the woman was seen out accompanied by a rat, a cat, a toad, a ferret, and a mouse. Everybody believed she was a witch, and many people visited her to obtain cures.
Mother Redcap’s neighbors apparently viewed her new status as an asset and not something evil, and she was not persecuted. Her story is odd, however, for she claimed to sign the mysterious book without asking what it was or why. In traditional stories of the Devil’s pact, the person supposedly knows full well the terms of the deal: their soul in exchange for earthly gain, which places a moral burden squarely upon the shoulders of the individual.
Mother Redcap appeared not to suffer and used her alleged supernatural abilities to help others. She died in 1926.
An Essex Old mother redcap lived in a house called Duval’s (Devil House) in Wallasea Island, where no traditional witch’s familiars such as toads, frogs or snakes lived. She would sit in her house peeling potatoes and chanting spells such as “Holly, holly, brolly, brolly, redcap! Bonny, bonny.”
After her death in the 1920s, her house was haunted by the spirit of a familiar and people considered it dangerous to enter. If anyone did and stayed, they were assaulted by a mysterious voice that shouted, “Do it! Do it!” as though to urge them to commit suicide. Cows in the vicinity were stricken with mad cow disease.
The house was bombed into ruins during World War II. In 1953, the ruins were washed away in a tidal wave.
See red; redCAp.
- Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: reader’s Digest Assoc. Ltd., 1977.
- Pennick, Nigel. Secrets of East Anglican Magic. London: Robert Hale, 1995.