3079 – Cursing stick: Ill-wishing stick
- Physical description:
- Slightly blackened, hardwood, tight-grained knot, holed.
- Museum classification:
- Cunning Folk
- 22.5 x 3.2 cm
The donor informed the Museum that this stick was unexpectedly included with the purchase of her current home, a remote, 15th-century farmhouse in West Dorset.
The previous owner, Alice Dilke of West Dorset, had a daughter who told the donor about the stick's use as a 'cow bewitcher'. It was said that cows that would not give milk had a teat passed through the hole of the stick to charm them. It was later revealed that this story had been posited as an attempt to explain the unknown origins of the stick and its apparent magical reputation.
The stick had been in the family some time and came originally from the New Forest in Hampshire. Only later, did Alice Dilke's son suggest that the stick had in fact been used for cursing - a notion supported by the son's visit to the British Museum in 2012 where he saw a very similar object - a 'cursing bone' (with holed stick), which belonged to a reputed witch in Glen Shira at Inveraray in Argyll in the 19th century.
Although this stick is missing the bone found in the Glen Shira example, it bears close resemblance to it and given the oral tradition surrounding it, it is quite possible that this item was once used for cursing or sympathetic magic.
The Glen Shira example consisted of a hollow bone, surrounded by an oval shaped knot of wood (bog oak). According to local tradition '[w]hen the 'witch' wanted to 'ill will' one of her neighbours, she went out with her bone between sunset and cock-crow and made for the neighbour's croft. She did not go to the dwelling-house, however, but to the hen house and seized the hen that sat next to the rooster (his favourite), thrawed its neck, and poured its blood through the cursing bone, uttering her curses the while.' (See F. Marian McNeil, The Silver Bough, 1956, pp. 153-154).
- Wood, tree knot or root, possibly yew