Stories of the Black Annis tell that she would roam the woods bloodthirsty, looking for children. Once captured she would drink their blood, eat their flesh and dry their skins on the branches of a oak tree that was situated outside the cave. It was said that once the skins had dried out, she would make clothes and use it to decorate her cave.
Black Annis crouched in order to pounce on unsuspecting children. These she carried off into her cave, sucked them dry of blood and ate their flesh before draping the flayed skins of her victims out to dry on the oak’s branches. She wore a skirt sewn from the skins of her human prey. As she also preyed on animals, local shepherds blamed any lost sheep on her hunger. Many a generation of Leicester’s young, if either naughty or out after dark, were told, ‘watch out or Annis’ll get you’.
Annis is referred to as being derived from Anu, although Anu was a Celtic Goddess of Fertility.
It may also have derived from the Aniseed. Aniseed was believed to avert the evil eye and, on one hand it is used to protect a magician from evil spirits whilst on the other it is used to call forth the friendly ones! It is conceivable that the aniseed was used to drive away the witch of the cave! Cats, of course, were often thought to be a transformed witch out on the prowl. And oaks – there is much folk-lore and legend connected with them.
More terrifying than the Easter Bunny……or any Green Man, the month of May is her end.
The Black Annis Hunt is held every May Day to chase the summer hare. Black Annis is a Midland winter hag fairy and the hunt symbolizes the end of her winter reign and the start of summer.
Black Annis (also known as Black Agnes or Black Anna) is a bogeyman figure in English folklore. She is imagined as a blue-faced hag or witch with iron claws and a taste for human flesh (especially children). She is said to haunt the countryside of Leicestershire, living in a cave in the Dane Hills with a great oak tree at the entrance.
She is said to venture out at night looking for unsuspecting children and lambs to eat, then tanning their skins by hanging them on a tree before wearing them around her waist. She would reach inside houses to snatch people. Legend has it that she used her iron claws to dig her cave out of the side of a sandstone cliff, making herself a home there which is known as Black Annis’ Bower Close.
Other traditions stated that when she ground her teeth people could hear her, giving them time to bolt their doors and keep away from the window. It is said that cottages in Leicestershire were purposely built with small windows so that Black Annis could only get a single arm inside. When she howled she could be heard five miles away, then the cottagers would fasten skins across the window and place protective herbs above it to keep themselves safe.
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.
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.
The activity of hags is assumed to be prevalent during the bonfire nights of Midsummer and Beltane celebrations. So enjoy the mid forest revelry this season….but watch your back……cackles