Black Annis

By Judi Singleton

I have been looking up crones and Black Annis kept coming up. For every book that refers to Anu or Danu mentions Black Annis. She is mentioned often in folk lore, mythology and witchcraft. Also in historical tombs especially the ones on Leicester.

The third aspect of the goddess, in the time of winter. She is the Hag, or Crone, the Death figure and war bringer. This particular version of her, clawed out the caves for herself with her long sharp fingernails. In the Celtic Pantheon there are many different goddesses of war and death, including the Morrigan.

The area around the Dane Hills in Leicestershire, (now built upon) was said to be haunted by a creature known as Black Annis, possibly the remnants of some pagan goddess in darker times.

She was an ancient Goddess of the pre-Celtic peoples of Ireland. She controlled the seasons and the weather; and was the goddess of earth and sky, moon and sun.
In some stories she is despicted as a black cat who devours children
Forgotten Folk-Tales of the English Counties reproduces a tale about Black Annis the hag. It was told by an evacuee from Leicester in December 1941. Her description seems to show that the tradition of Black Annis was still alive just over thirty years ago :

Black Annis lived in the Danehills.
She was ever so tall and had a blue face and long white teeth and she ate people. She only went out when it was dark.
My mum says, when she ground her teeth people could hear her in time to bolt their doors and keep well away from the window. That's why we don't have a lot of big windows in Leicestershire cottages, she can't only get an arm inside.
My mum says that's why we have the fire and chimney in a corner.
The fire used to be on the earth floor once and people slept all round it until Black Annis grabbed the babies out of the window. There wasn't any glass at the time.
When Black Annis howled you could hear her five miles away and then even the poor folk in the huts fastened skins across the window and put witch-herbs above it to keep her away safe.

A full account of the various traditions about Black Annis is given by C. J. Billson in County Folk-Lore (vol. I). It has been suggested that she is Milton's 'blew meager hag'.
Black Annis is a blue-skinned, nocturnal man-eating hag who guards a stone bridge; snatching ewes and babies from windows. Her grinding teeth are heard miles away. She reaches the local castle by underground tunnel in the flash of a frog’s tongue. [frogs are called loscann in gaelic] and can be killed by churchbells & bleeding. Her ancient temple, Black Annis’s Bower, is at a cave in the Danehills of Leicester. Her ancient iron age hill cemetery called a Hollow Hill or Barrow is by The Three Queens Inn at Sewestern Lane, east of Croxton Kerrial (pron Crow-ston): the boundary between Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. Dignitaries hunt hares Hare Pie Scramble on Easter Monday at her cave. Her gatekeeper dog is Dormarth: Death’s Door.
She may be an aspect of Anu although Anu was despicted more favorably Celtic Goddess of Fertility

Anu, pronounced an-oo, (aka Anann, Dana, Dana-Ana) is the Irish Goddess of plenty and is the maiden aspect of the Morrigu. She is the Mother-Earth Goddess and the flowering fertility Goddess. Ireland - Mother Earth; Goddess of plenty, another aspect of the Morrigu; Great Goddess; greatest of all goddesses. The flowering fertility goddess, sometimes she formed a trinity with Badb and Macha. Her priestesses comforted and taught the dying. Fires were lit for her at Midsummer. Two hills in Kerry are called the Paps of Anu. Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess in Ireland. Guardian of cattle and health. Goddess of fertility, prosperity, and comfort. Anu is associated with the Celts as the mother Goddess of the ancestors, reaching so far back into time there is very little record of her... externally at least. She is identified with the Goddess Danu and the Children of Danu (Tuatha De Danaan) and the four great cities Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias. In the beginning it was Anu who watered the first Oak tree Bile from the heavens and granted life to the earth, from the tree fell two acorns which Anu nurtured as her own and in turn they became the God Dagda and the Goddess Brighid. Anu has been known to appear in the form of a swan, representing the purity of the female and gracefulness in motherhood.

Anu is considered to be the ancestor of all the Gods, the Tuatha dé Danann, who found themselves obliged to reside in the Otherworld when Miled brought the Celts to the British Isles. She still looks down on us from the night's sky where she appears as Llys Don, better known as the constellation of Casseopeia. Anu was especially popular in Munster, though her most lasting memorial is a mountain in County Kerry called the Dá Chích Anann or "Breast of Anu". The Dane Hills in Leicestershire are also named after her and this area, perhaps a major centre for her cult, is where her memory lives on as Black Annis. This hideous old crone's habit of eating young children was, no doubt, invented by incoming Christians to blacken the name of the Celtic Goddess. In Christendom, the lady usually took on the guise of St. Anne, however, in order to smooth the path of conversion. This saint's popularity in Brittany probably stems from the previous worship of the Celtic Goddess there. Anu was also the patroness of springs and fountains, hence the numerous St. Anne's Wells throughout Britain today.
Symbols: Emeralds, Blood, Moonstones
Black Annis seems like a tale told about women in the era of calling all women witches and despicting women who held the blood or crones as dangerous.
About the author Judi Singleton owns Mother Earth Publishing http://www.motherearthpublishing.com. 

(**) To be precise, I couldn't find out!
(***)Bells were believed to have the power to defeat evil spirits. Christina Hole 'Encyclopaedia of Superstitions' Helicon 1995
(1)C.J.Billson 'Folklore of Leicestershire and Rutland' Llanerch Enterprises. Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed SA48 8PJ and 'Vestiges of Paganism in Leicestershire' Heart of Albion Press - see (4)
(1A)'First Flights' Leicestershire Record Office.
(2)Katharine Briggs: 'Dictionary of British Folktales and Legends: Narratives'
(2a)Katherine Briggs 'A Dictionary Of Fairies' Penguin
(3)'Readers Digest of Mythology'
(4)Bob Trubshaw. 'Standing Stones and Mark Stones of Leicestershire and Rutland' Author and a well-known source on Leicestershire Earth Mysteries and Folk-lore: Heart of Albion Press, 2 Cross Hill Close, Wymeswold, Loughborough LE12 6UJ send S.A.E. for book list.
(5)Arthur Mee's 'Leicestershire and Rutland' Hodder & Stoughton 1937
(6)Brian J. Bailey: 'Portrait of Leicestershire'
(7)Susan Green 'Selected Legends of Leicestershire' Heart of Albion Press see [4)
(10)C.Hole:'Dictionary of Folk Customs' Paladin 1986
(11)J.A.MacCulloch 'The Religion of the Ancient Celts' Constable 1992
(12)Lewis Spence: 'Mysteries of Britain' Aquarian 1979
(13)David Bell: 'Leicestershire Ghosts and Legends'
(14)D.A.Mackenzie: 'Scottish Wonder Tales from Myth and Legend' Dover 1997 and John Matthews:'Celtic Fairy Tales'
(15)M.Fitzgerald 'Ancient Monuments of Wales' Abercastle Publications
(16)Daragh Smyth: 'Guide to Irish Mythology' Irish Academic Press 1996
(17)A.Wynne Hatfield :'Pleasure of Herbs' Thorsons 1972
(18)S.Cunnigham: 'Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs' Llewellyn 1985
Hel: B.Branston 'Lost Gods of England' H.R.Ellis Davidson: 'Gods and Myths of Northern Europe' and Larousse's 'Encyclopaedia of Mythology'

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