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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Mid Wales

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Myths and Legends
Your Story: Ghosts and Superstitions in Llangattock

In January 1872, a farm labourer returning to one of the farms between Llangattock and Llangynidr along a snow filled lane saw a funeral procession approaching. He moved aside to allow the procession to pass when he saw it was unreal, mourners and bearers were treading on air and their slowly stepping feet were on a level with the hedge. During the following days snow fell heavily completely filling the lanes. When a neighbour died the cortege had to make its way to the graveyard by walking above the hedgerows. The phantom funeral (toili) and the corpse candle (canwyll corff) were remembered by older inhabitants locally some 60 to 70 years ago. Their parents told them stories of these happenings relating to death and which were mainly seen on the Hillside roads. A red light from a candle signalled the death of a man, a white light a woman and a faint light a child. Some 80 years ago an elderly lady who had lived in the area all her life was buried and she made the claim that she had seen every light going to the churchyard before every funeral in her lifetime.

Older generations of local carpenters were said to have known when they would have an order for a coffin because of the mysterious knockings they would hear in their workshops. Cyhyraeth and Tolaeth were sounds – the spirit was never seen only heard. Cyhyraeth was said to moan in the night before a death. Tolaeth – rappings or knockings, sometimes the sound of footsteps or the sound of a horse drawn vehicle.

The origin of many of the Hillside stories may well be attributed to a Congregational Minister from Pontypool, The Revd. Edmund Jones (1720 – 1793). He frequently preached at the Llwmus Chapel built in 1768 and stayed overnight at a nearby farm. He had a vast fund of Tales of the Supernatural and in 1813 a volume of his writings with the wonderful title ‘A Relation of Apparitions of Spirits in the County of Monmouth and the Principality of Wales’ He really believed in the ghost and fairy stories he collected. In his book he says “for when man came to deny the being of spirits the next step is to deny the being of God who is a spirit”.

I have earlier mentioned the Black Dogs which terrorised two stretches of the parish roads. The Cwn Annwn – Dogs of Hell were one animal form that people living in the country until the 19th Century believed the Devil could take. Others were a raven, a black horse, a black pig, sheep or lamb, a black cockerel but never a white sheep. To prevent the Prince of Darkness entering their homes, women used to whitewash their doorsteps. Some seventy years ago when I went to school in the village, women could be seen using slate on the doorsteps and cobbles. Was this a continuation of the old practice as much as having gleaming doorsteps long after the original reason was forgotten? Nowadays you can go through the village a hundred times and not see anyone.

In the battle against the powers of evil there were three trees that played a major role – the Yew, Rowan and elder. The yew and rowan were planted near the house as protection against evil and a sprig of rowan carried in the pocket if you were going on a journey, particularly at night. Both of these trees are prominent in my garden, the yew planted near the house when it was built about one hundred and fifty years ago. What of the Elder? In my younger days before farm buildings and barns became desirable properties for conversion I never visited a local farm that did not have an elder planted near the farmyard, particularly near where the cows were milked or near the dairy to prevent the local witches turning the milk sour. Farmers did not cut down an elder before begging pardon, because it was believed the wood of the cross was elder.

Words: John Short

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