The Tale starts with a woman hearing a knock at the door late at night. She opens it to reveal a one horned woman hold a pair of wool carders. Carding means “comb and clean (raw wool, hemp fibers, or similar material) with a sharp-toothed instrument in order to disentangle the fibers before spinning.” They would look similar to these based on the time period (hopefully I got the correct ones)
The witch sits down by the fire and begins to card wool as more knocks at the door could be heard. By the end of it, a total of twelve witches sat by the fire. The witches began to mutter charms as they carded and the woman became enchanted and ensnared by them.
I find it interesting that its a total of twelve witches, since the stereotypical number is 13. The witches might be seeking to abduct the Mistress into their coven of horned woman~
Anyways, the story goes on that the witches order the woman to fetch well water with a sieve (basically a strainer), so obviously she can’t get any water because it keeps draining out. That is when the well speaks to her. “Return, and when thou comest to the north angle of the house, cry aloud three times and say, ‘The mountain of the Fenian women and the sky over it is all on fire.”
Why a well? In Irish lore, wells are associated with Saints, fairies, and powerful druids. There is in fact a sort of “semi-cult” of sacred wells within various Celtic practices. Its a sacred object, and the locals honor them dearly. So, its no surprise the spirit of the well would be the “hero” of this story.
I also took a look into the words the well told the woman to speak. “Fenian” is an interesting word. It could be referencing “Fianna”, which are a group of warriors that were called in times of war. Its also used as a slur and insult against Irish Catholics (would make sense for a group of witches right? xD)
“to break their spells, she sprinkled the water in which she had washed her child’s feet (the feet-water) outside the door on the threshold; secondly, she took the cake which the witches had made in her absence, of meal mixed with the blood drawn from the sleeping family. And she broke the cake in bits, and placed a bit in the mouth of each sleeper, and they were restored; and she took the cloth they had woven and placed it half in and half out of the chest with the padlock; and lastly, she secured the door with a great cross-beam fastened in the jambs, so that they could not enter.”
The above is interesting. The well told her to dispose/secure of four things: the water used to wash her child’s feet, the cake the witches made her make, the wool cloth they had made, and then the door of her home.
Why was this done? All these had connection to the witches. In fact when the witches return, they attempt to speak with the “spirits” of these items to get them to open the door, but their attempts are failed as the spirits replied they are unable to do so.
When they leave cursing, one of them drops their mantle (a loose sleeveless cloak or shawl), which the woman keeps on her fireplace most likely to ward away their harm.