milk


milk
   The care of cows, milking, and butter-making were surrounded by multiple magical precautions and fears, presumably because they were subject to difficulties which were poorly understood. Various diseases could cause cows to yield bloody milk, or none, and poor-quality milk or poor hygiene in the dairy could make churning futile, but these failures were often blamed upon *witchcraft. To guard against this, protective charms and plants were placed in or beside cattle-sheds, the cows were blessed and *wassailed, and if need be *countercharms would be used. An alternative explanation for bloody milk was that it was a punishment for the wickedness of stealing a *robin's or *swallow's eggs.
   Cattle diseases might also be blamed on witches, as is seen from accounts of Counter-spells involving *hearts and pins or burning one of the dead beasts. Whenever a cow miscarried, the custom in Yorkshire was to dig a deep hole under the threshold of the byre and bury the dead calf there, feet up; this would prevent further trouble for many years, but would eventually have to be repeated (Atkinson, 1891: 62).
   Dairy work also had its problems, for which magical remedies are reported from many districts. As milk sours easily in thundery weather, it was wise to put *thunderstones on the windowsill, and plant *bay, *elder, or *holly nearby. Witches might steal the goodness of the milk by spells, making it impossible to churn it into butter; the standard counter-charm was to plunge a red-hot poker into the churn. The dairy could of course be protected by a *horseshoe or *hagstone, by a *rowan growing nearby; there was also a verbal *charm to be recited while churning:
   Come, butter, come! Come, butter, come! Peter stands at the gate, Waiting for a buttered cake. Come, butter, come!

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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