- This term refers to a frightening sensation of being held immobile in bed, often by a heavy weight pressing on one's stomach or chest. It is now recognized medically under the name 'sleep paralysis'; it can be accompanied by the sense of an alien presence, and by visual hallucinations. In folklore, it was thought of as a magical attack, though whether by demonic incubus, ghost, harmful fairy, or witch varied according to place and period. Where the term 'hag-riding' was used it usually implied that a witch was to blame, and in 19th-century Dorset and Somerset several people were prosecuted for physically attacking elderly women who, they alleged, had 'hagged' or 'hag-ridden' them, in order to break their power by drawing blood (Davies, 1997: 37-9).The commonest counter-charm was a *holed stone above the bed; however, one Somerset man in 1862 slept with a nail-studded board tied to his chest, so that if the hag who had plagued him came again, 'she won't sit there long!' (Davies, 1997: 47). A Hampshire woman used to hang a scythe over her children's bed (N&Q 10s:7 (1907), 157).When horses were found sweating and exhausted in the morning, it was thought that witches or fairies had ridden them all night, and tangled their manes; this too was called hag-riding, and could be prevented by hanging a holed stone over their stalls, round their necks, or at the stable door. Hooks and shears were effective too (Herrick, Hesperides (1648), no. 892).
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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Bibliography — ■ Abrahams, Roger D., Jump Rope Rhymes: A Dictionary (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969). ■ and Rankin, Lois, Counting Out Rhymes: A Dictionary (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980). ■ Ackerman, Robert, J. G. Frazer: His Life… … A Dictionary of English folklore
nightmares — In folklore, a mare or nightmare is not a distressing dream, but a supernatural being who crushes a sleeper s body by sitting on it (see *hag riding); the word is sometimes mistakenly associated with mare = female horse . Around Durham, it was … A Dictionary of English folklore
witchcraft — No topic in folklore has caused more argument than witchcraft. However, the work of historians over the past 30 years has disentangled various levels of meaning within the word itself, and analysed the social context for accusations. The… … A Dictionary of English folklore
counterspells — Some traditional measures against *witchcraft were general defences, e.g. *horseshoes, *hagstones, various plants hung at the door, the sign of the *cross, a bent *coin laid in the churn, etc. But if a particular witch s curse had already… … A Dictionary of English folklore
hagstone — A widespread name for a *holed stone, when used to prevent *hag riding; the word is first recorded by Francis Grose (A Provincial Glossary, 1787) … A Dictionary of English folklore
holed stones — One of the most widespread magic devices to protect both man and beast was a pebble with a natural hole in it, also called hagstone , witch stone , or (in the north east) adder stones . They were believed to repel witchcraft, and consequently… … A Dictionary of English folklore
horses — In folk tradition, horses were regarded as very vulnerable to supernatural attack; in particular, their night sweats and exhaustion were interpreted as due to hag riding by witches or fairies, from whom they must be protected by holed stones.… … A Dictionary of English folklore
vervain — Pieces of vervain root, or a sachet of its dried leaves, were hung round the neck to cure scrofula, prevent *nightmares, and make one immune to snakebite; it was also said to staunch blood, because it grew at the foot of Christ s cross. One… … A Dictionary of English folklore