Last Tuesday Jason Semmens again brought the past alive by his illuminating talk on Cornish witchcraft in the 19th century. Given that the majority of all documentation available mentions Tamsin Blight, or Tammy Blee as she was referred to, it was no surprise when most of the talk focused upon her. Her baptismal records are held by the Cornish Studies Library, and it was very evocative to see her entry within in a splendid old tome of a Register, in beautiful copperplate writing: Aug 4th 1793 Thomasine Williams at Gwennap.
Interestingly most accounts of her life state that Tamsin Blight was not only born in Redruth, but claim her birth year to be 1798, a five year discrepancy. The 1798 usage is understandable as on her death certificate her age is given as 58 years by her son. Maybe this reveals a vanity side to Tamsin by ‘losing’ five years from her age, especially as she later married a man 21 years younger than her! I’m not going to go into further details regarding Tammy Blee as there will soon be an excellent book published by Jason Semmens which describes her life in vivid detail with even more evidence of her work as a conjuror in 19th century Cornwall. I look forward with anticipation to receiving my copy hot off the press! 🙂
Other intriguing facts touched upon were the strange correlation between the incidence of witches to conjurors: Witches were 70% female/30% male whereas Conjurors were 70% male/30% female.
Then we learnt that the term ‘Pellar’ (used exclusively in Cornwall) was a relatively late appellation (1849) utiliseded mostly by the 19th century folklorists, Robert Hunt in ‘Romances of the West of England’ and William Bottrell in his ‘Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall. In the romance, ‘The Old Man of Cury’ appears the character of Lutey who mets a mermaid and in exchange for a kindness, she bestows upon him the powers of counteracting witchcraft and sorcery (the ability to Repel, hence Pellar). Thereafter these Pellar abilities are then transferred through the family line of Lutey.
All fine and good until it is revealed that there are no incidences of Lutey as a family name anywhere on the Lizard penisular, the only incidence presenting in Ludgvan near Penzance. It would be interesting indeed to research just how many of the colourful characters in these local folkloric tales actually existed or not. 🙂
I had myself used this term of Pellar to describe my work some 15 years ago, thinking it was a Cornish name for the sort of work that I performed for my community. Then I realised its origins, and as a result since then I no longer do so. However, it now appears to be a term that has been adopted by some occultists within Cornwall and even some further afield, as a way of describing their magical heritage/lineage and practices.
The hour passed far too quickly (always the sign of a good talk!) and before we knew it, it was question time where Jason dealt with a host of avid queries from the audience. We were all left wanting more and I sincerely hope that the Cornish Studies Library invite him back for a further talk. I particularly would like to hear Part Three: Witchcraft from 20th century onwards. It would be intriguing to know what Jason Semmens would make of the modern witchcraft movement in relation to the historical past of Cornwall. After all, in a few decades time this also will be part of local history! 🙂