Black Annis: What’s For Supper?

Listen here, children.

And remember what happens to children who don’t behave.

The same thing that happened to the lambs.

Only worse.

She ate the baby lambs, ate ’em alive.

But human babys,

Oh, she does far, far worse things to.

So listen, children, and behave.

*

Black Annis, sometimes known as Black Angie, would have enjoyed tea parties with Baba Yaga; B.Y. would show off her glowing skulls, her hut that walked around on chicken legs (it’s bigger on the inside), and her flying cauldron.

Black Annis would show of her latest hatue cature creations, all made from the flesh of children she had skinned alive.

So, listen, children, and behave.

*

Baba Yaga’s tales tend to be narrative driven, where the lost child in the woods has a prominent story arc; this doesn’t seem to be the case with Black Annis. What we have are descriptions, more than stories.

She is blue skinned, with sharp metal claws for hands, and the tanned pelts of skinned children hanging around her waist.

With her metallic fingers she had dug out a hollow, known to the locals of Leicestershire, England as Black Annis’ Bower. Guarded by an oak tree, the earth/nature aspects of Black Annis have led some scholars to speculate that she might be the remnant of a Pagan Goddess, with other conjectures running from the Hindu Kali to the Greek Demeter.

There are many, many more speculative Ur-Black Annis’s, especially among the Celtic goddesses.

All that aside, sometimes, Black Annis was a cat.

Yes, a cat.

*

This led to a very strange ritual, one that died out in the late 1700’s. On Easter Monday, a dead (sacrificial?) cat, drenched in aniseed (yes, Anni’s Seed), would be dragged from Annis’ Bower to the Mayor of Leicester’s home, followed by a pack of hounds.

This custom marked the end of winter, another indication that Black Annis may have had older, Pagan origins.

Or, she might have been a Nun.

*

Agnes Scott was an anchorite, which is to say she had no interest in the secular world, but spent her time in prayer, meditation and isolation. She lived in seclusion in a cave in the nearby Dane hills, and one can imagine how an elderly woman dressed in black, dwelling in a cave, might excite the imaginations of young and old alike.

Plus, she was Catholic, which didn’t help her cause in Protestant Leicester.

Agnes died in 1455; the local church maintains a plaque and a veiled statue of her.

Could this be the origin of Black Annis?

This was Robert Grave’s theory, but drink of his poetic cup at your own peril.

My Black Annis wouldn’t be caught dead in a church.

*

There are some other interesting Black Agnes’s; one, the Lady Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, was a fierce Scotswoman who managed to keep her castle safe from an English siege that lasted five months, at the end of which – after much taunting from the clever Lady – the British gave up. There are still ballads being sung about that Black Agnes.

But there’s another Black Agnes with a more sinister reputation:

Actual, there are a couple of them…

But I’ll focus on this one, who guards Green Mount cemetery in Montpelier, Vermont.

*

Green Mount cemetery has its own mythos outside of the statue of Black Agnes that watches the grounds; at least one other specter haunts the area, the ghost of a girl looking for her mother, or so the story goes.

But that’s not why high school and college kids come to this site; they come to sit in Black Agnes’ lap.

black agnes
The Black Agnes From Mount Green, titled Thanatos (the Greek God of Death). Image from T.M. Gray’s More New England Graveside Tales.

What does a lap ride from Black Agnes get you?

Maybe three strokes of bad luck.

Perhaps an insurmountable amount of bad luck.

Or, quite likely, you’ll be dead within seven days.

That, or if the person you bring along is easily spooked, you might just get lucky.

Depending on how you play it, you could get very lucky.

Thanks, Black Agnes.

*

So what’s the takeaway? Is there a moral to this story?

Just remember this:

Black Annis is blue skinned, with sharp metal claws for hands, and the tanned pelts of skinned children hanging around her waist…

So listen, children, and behave.

Because, somewhere, out there in the woods,

Black Annis is waiting, hungry.

And between you, me, and Baba Yaga, the lambs were only just an appetizer…

*

Top image by Britta Hawkins; Britta is an internationally published photographer whose work focuses primarily on skewed faerie tales, folk art, and portraits. Find her work at Brittabeast.com

 

 

 

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