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Brenda Mann Hammack

Witch Bottle

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n. stone or glass vessel packed with little bones, iron needles,
bent pins, fingernail clippings, miscellaneous herbs and oddments,
seasoned with brimstone, drizzled with urine, buried
beneath hearth or threshold to ward off curses;
a common amulet of the early modern period.

Some said daemons would not be tamed, but Annie Whittle were never swayed by conventional
opinion. She’d yet to heed a caution tale, knew unhappy endings to be readily thwartable by pinch
of fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace, rubbed generously to armpit.

Cunning were a consummate charm for flouting fate avowed by clergy. Why even the wolf boy
with his over-bright gaze could rarely distract at the daylight gate. Annie had a special sense
for pulling away that new-formed teat though the familiar

with his too sharp fangs were ever howlful when she’d hastened villageward. She’d play the wet-nurse
even if it meant her belly wouldn’t burgeon in the usual way. She’d already a half-starved daughter,
a worse-than-useless hank of husband. Now her mam had passed

to shade, it were Annie’s turn to trade. And, so, she’d accost peddler and tailor, huswife and maid
till they gave her what she wanted to stuff witch bottles to bury in hearth and doorway. Patrons
paid her in farthing or grain. One could never pray enough

in Pendle Forest for those toothy fair folk would not keep from henhouse, barn, or grave.
You could never be too saved no matter the deuteronomies you paid cassocky priests to say
at funerals. “Over my dead body,” Annie’s mam inveighed,

but that beldame could not keep the wanton from doing what she wanted. And, now,
if Annie led a loping figure to bedside where her husband, stupored, lay, who would dare
to wonder aloud why pins and needles unstraightened

where that cunning woman came? No paths led out of fairytale. Red-frocked females never
had been safe when kings demanded sons to haul their names through history, but Annie
feared no blade while hunters stalked beyond the daylight gate.

County of Lancashire, 1539

Annie Whittle’s Recipe for Taming Fancie

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Far beyond the path of needles, past her grandmother’s latch in the wood, the pup that weren’t a wolf
or boy yet leeched beneath breast Annie’s daughter once shook.

Both sucklings had been peevish though the daemon worked the newly formed nipple with taloned hooks,
the hunger of hostile orphanhood. Having once been weaned

by wormwood, cooked, before he’d died, the infant suckled as if to root heart from chest if he only could
without losing this mother to another world he’d never enter.

How Annie’d wanted. How she’d hungered for an appetite to match her own. How she’d found herself
beneath the heaving husband, twice her age, her braids unworked.

Her mother’d warned. Seed-bearing fruit were easily bruised in Pendle as in other woods. When Annie’s
baby daughter took to dreaming and would not rouse,

Annie who were not, yet, cunning did not look among cairn stones. She did not grieve for a girl too listless
to burp when so many clamored to be dandled in arm-nook.

When the spirits panted under earth, Annie could not unhear, could not unlook. So, when that wen-
sized bundle hurled, furless, at ankles, she’d snuck it to heart-

side without hesitation. She’d fattened imp until it warmed as no man could. The whimpering fixed to rib-
flesh, sharp as keening, and Annie’d baptized the familiar

“Fancie” for to name were to concede to bargain. That imp grew from hand-sized tuft to antlered youth
and loped from wood to cottage to wood again. He would not keep

to path or species, would not mind mother-may-I rules anymore than Annie, as a red-cheeked girl,
had shied from tree line as her mother bid. When shadow

chuckled, Annie boldly opened basket to share gingerbread and sweetmeat with one who wanted
more than her sickly grandmam ever did.

In Which the Cards Revealed the Nine of Swords
and Knave of Wands,

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As if any sassy lass might cleave to adder-fast flesh, as if the cloven-foot lad could be clasped
anymore than wind-skirl or river current. Annie near choked at Lizzie’s faith in fairy stories.

Once Tamlane passed from lizard to lion to lightning-jag, he were bound to settle, to spouse.
Except those who slipped skin to blur had never given Janets of the world reason to shed doubt.

Annie could have stood her friend’s reversion to giggly girlhood whenever Fancie turned bright-
wards, could have discounted whole courts of Elfhame descending on dust-ramps when shadow

stilled to sigh. Fancie were little more than boy, then, when ears twitched, eye-cores welled,
green penumbrae. Some said fairies could not lie. Were it rancor, whim that led infants to bite

when mothers slumbered after nights of colic? Fancie resented inattention of any kind.
But he’d not have hovered at Lizzie’s doorway if not for curse that scattered words, seed

in all directions, pell-mell flight of rook, crow, and peregrine. Lizzie were behind birdstorm.
Her fairy tales ever full of rivals condemned to spit fauna. Of princes saved by false brides.

The tragedy of tear drop. How Fancie relished salt-taste, iron sweet as blood tang.
No matter how villagers advised, fair folk would not be swayed by trust in superstition,

and ballad of Tamlane did not describe habilitation or ever-afterwards. That Fancie
were scarcely human before he’d died. No memory could prescribe accountability.

Promiscuous spirits might imbibe on tarts between meal times, but mother’s blood
were sacrament. Annie needed no card to know how tongue could be made to writhe

by pin twist. But her cry were kestrel when tarot knight reversed himself, his birch
branch turned maypole, then, jousting stick before curving: needle-bright scythe.

Old Chattox’s Rules for Wooing
and Keeping Your Own Damned

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Do not keep to footpath once the daylight goes. Follow shadow-shift past kirk-yard
into moss-lit grove where every bough’s an altar. Haunt your neighbors’ homes.
You’ll know daemon from vermin by the shiver-green glow of eye-holes.


Do not try to tempt with soul in lieu of food. Fairy kind want flesh to settle fitful form.
They’re fond of pilfered egg. Clotted cream will keep them calm. A thimble sip of blood
from just beneath one arm is mother’s milk to shiftlings, and won’t do you any harm.


Do not swaddle them with hugs, much less fit their paws with mittens. They will not
abide a leash, though they’ll pilfer scraps to ribbon antlered crowns. How they’ll wallow
if allowed in pillow down, but wreak vengeance if befrocked in christening gown.


Do not acquaint with bosom friends for loyalty is foreign to those who flit from hedge
to hive, from water’s edge to warren. From ass to ass and bust to bust, their fluency’s
au courant. In war and love, they’re always fair, though just as all death warrants.


Do not badger when your wishes go awry. You can’t expect old children to surmise
true intentions, to parse subtlety. What blights will not be confined to those who hurt
you. For all your charms, you’ll never be wise until blind: crow-light on a scaffold.


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