Owen Wynne Jones (also known as Glasynys, 1828-1870), was born in Rhostryfan, the same parish as Richard Hughes Williams (1878-1919), and worked in a quarry at the age of ten. In 1855 he began work as a teacher, and in 1860 he was ordained. He was an eisteddfotwr, journalist, folklorist and writer, whose stories were published in a selection edited by Saunders Lewis (1948).
My uncle Tomos from Esgair Adda, peace on his bones, came from one of the old families of Mawddwy, and was a very devout man. He told this story about the foul deeds of two unruly witches.
A familiar spirit followed Bessi constantly, though most of the time it was unseen.* Once, when she was near Esgair Adda, requesting parish support from the warden, my Uncle Tomos’s father, she told him with a torrent of curses that if she did not get what she wanted he would regret it within a few minutes. He replied, quite calmly, ‘Time will tell, Bessi.’ But not three minutes later, the sheep were running pell-mell over the mountain in their terror, breaking their necks by the dozen, and the old man was forced to make peace with that vicious woman.
It was believed that Bessi had sold her soul to the devil. When her time on earth came to an end, something snatched her away, and off she went across the slopes of Cowrach like a leaf before the wind. When they found her, she was in the weir at Mallwyd, dead and cold, and it is said that there was a look of utter horror on her face. And that was the end of Bessi, and all her witchcraft.
But if Bessi was a vicious woman, Sali was a hundred times worse. There was no peace in sleeping or waking while that hideous she-elf was alive. As a young girl, she had been widely admired, but somehow she had grown sluttish and wanton in the company of some rich young popinjay who lived nearby. Her honour was soiled, and from then on it would have been better for her to hang herself than to live as the wretch she became. She turned to that cursed land of enchantment, and there was no deed under the sun so vile that she would not attempt it. She wanted nothing but to torment and harass her neighbours. In one place she would turn the milk so it was impossible to churn, try as one might; in another, she would charm the sheep so a hundred shepherds could not keep them in their pasture; in yet another place, she would give the cattle the evil eye, and make the best of the milch cows infertile for three years, and even the still births of the calves would not be the end of the curse. Many wholesome, healthy young girls she cast down as sickbed wretches, and many mothers she left bereft of those their hearts had loved. It was said that she never slept, but was constantly on the watch for any chance to show her magic. And somehow she knew of every plan that was made to get rid of her. One night two or three men in the pub in Dinas were laying plans to take her to Shrewsbury and lay her under the hand of the law as a madwoman, and she knew the entire plan by morning. She caused six bullocks belonging to the first man to fall from a crag, drove the dogs belonging to the second to worry the sheep in their folds, and put a curse on the third, so that even if he had been offered the world in exchange for his torment, he could not have got free of it for a moment. When he sat down, he felt that it was on prickles and thorns, and so he had to roam like a beast in his frenzy: longing to sit down, yet unable to rest; exhausted by his wanderings, yet unable to sit still even for an instant.
A certain cunning man who lived in the south was asked to put a spell on Sali. It was terrible magic he wrought on her, for her own familiar spirit turned on her and began to torment her with pains, and there was no end to her suffering. She took to running about, crying wildly, ‘The pain! The pain!’ and then she would tear at her flesh in her ferocity. Whenever she had a moment of ease she would either pray or curse, pleading for even greater agonies to fall on the wretch who had seduced her from the paths of virtue. But Sali passed over at last. It was said that her whole body was a mass of cuts and sores, and that not one inch of her flesh was whole. Her house was abandoned for many long years and, ‘so they say,’ is an unquiet place to this day. Rhys y Cwm, ‘so they say,’ took some of her books, but was unable to make any sense of them, and so all of Sali’s witchcraft in Cwm Mawddwy came to end.
That is a taste of the mountain beliefs.