Custom demised: Lating the witches at Pendle, Lancashire

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Lancashire Folklore, 1882 by John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson., it was formerly believed that witches assembled on this night to do “their deeds without a name,” at their general rendezvous in the forest of Pendle, a ruined and desolate farmhouse, denominated the Malkin Tower, from the awful purposes to which it was devoted. It is said in Hone’s Year Book 1838 that:

“This superstition led to a ceremony called lating, or perhaps leeting the witches. It was believed that, if a lighted candle were carried about the fells or hills from eleven till twelve o’clock at night, and burned all that time steadily, it had so far triumphed over the evil power of the witches, who, as they passed to the Malkin Tower, would employ their utmost efforts to extinguish the light, and the person whom it represented might safely defy their malice during the season; but if by accident the light went out, it was an omen of evil to the luckless wight for whom the experiment was made. It was also deemed inauspicious to cross the threshold of that person until after the return from leeting, and not then unless the candle had preserved its light.”

Pendle of course is famous for its witch trials but what is unclear is whether this was a custom or before that. It would appear that if there was a large scale belief of witches in the area why would you want to go across the moors on this night anyway. One wonders whether this was some sort of initiation or dare based custom. When this custom died out is unclear but I am sure that people are still wary of the witches in this area.

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