November 12, 2022

Mother Carr, the Witch of Weare: Turn Your Clothes Inside Out

A few weekends ago I went to the library and randomly looked through the histories of some New Hampshire towns, hoping to find interesting stories about witchcraft and ghosts. Many 19th century town histories include those local legends, and I was happy to find several stories I had not read before. 

Some of those stories were about Mother Carr. She lived in Weare, New Hampshire in the early 1800s, and many people suspected her of being a witch. There are several accounts of her allegedly bewitching her neighbors, including this one.

Antique postcard of Weare, NH from Wikipedia

One summer day some of Mother Carr's neighbors went berry-picking in the woods. It was a very successful trip. They returned carrying buckets that overflowed with ripe juicy berries. When Mother Carr saw all the delicious berries she asked if she could have some, but her neighbors refused. She stomped off angrily, telling them they would regret their stinginess. (Cue the ominous music...)

A few weeks later, the same group of neighbors went into the woods to pick berries again. And once again, they filled their buckets with plump, juicy berries. But as they began to make their way back to Weare they became lost. They wandered around for hours, unable to find the path that led home. No matter how hard they tried they couldn't find their way out of the woods, even though they had been there many times before. 

Suddenly, one of the berry-pickers remembered Mother Carr's angry words, and realized she had cursed them. They would never find their way home as long as they were under her spell! Someone suggested that if they turned their clothes inside out the spell would be broken. It sounded foolish, but everyone was afraid of being stuck in the woods overnight, so they turned their coats, shirts, pants and skirts inside out. To their amazement, it worked. Although they were tired and bedraggled, they were able to find their way out of the woods.

Antique postcard of Weare, NH from Wikipedia

That is the end of the story. It might sound alien to a modern reader, but turning your clothes inside out is a very old form of folk magic. However, it was most often used to prevent fairies from leading you astray, not witches. As the 17th century English poet Richard Corbet wrote in his poem "Iter Boreale":

As in a conjurers circle, William found

A menes for our deliverance: Turne your cloakes,

Quoth hee, for Puck is busy in these oakes:

If ever yee at Bosworth will be found,

Then turne your cloakes, for this is Fayry-ground.

Special thanks to Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog for posting this piece of poetry! I am not 100% sure of the metaphysics behind this folklore, but I think turning your clothes inside out is supposed to confuse the fairies, which makes them stop hexing you. 

But why would people in New Hampshire do this when they were lost in the woods? When the English Puritans came to New England they didn't bring much fairy folklore with them, but they did bring a lot of witch lore. Instead of blaming misfortunes on fairies they blamed them on unpopular neighbors (like Mother Carr) they thought were witches. Practices that were once used to protect against fairies were used to protect against witchcraft. 

I found this story in William Little's 1888 book The History of Weare, New Hampshire, 1735 - 1888. These old history books are amazing. You never know what you'll find!

2 comments:

--K. said...

Interesting! I have recently been playing an adventure/role-playing video game that centers heavily on Slavic myths and folklore (Black Book), and the bit about turning clothes inside out has been referenced several times. In the Slavic lore, a trickster forest spirit called the Leshy enjoys making mischief by causing travelers to become lost, and turning your clothing inside out disguises and allows you to pass through the woods unnoticed by him.

Peter Muise said...

Hi K! Thank you for the comment. It's interesting how these practices get associated with different magical beings. No Leshys (sp?) in New Hampshire, just witches, but the exact same practice. Thanks for sharing!