A towering church of the “one God” takes centre place in the sleepy, Norfolk village of Loddon. Boats glide down the river and the locals go about their day. Yet once, the village was home to a witch called Mother Chergrave, a dispenser of charms and talismans to 19th century villagers.
Despite the baleful glare of the church, Mother Chergrave was in league with Satan himself. Not under his thrall, but an equal. Mother Chergrave and Satan’s relationship was one of value exchange. It was rational. It was objective. They were useful to each other. And when Mother Chergrave disappeared from the village for a year or two, nobody knew where she’d gone. But it was no doubt on Satan’s business.
If you wanted a charm or spell from Mother Chergrave, your payment would be one year of your life, which she gave to the dead. It was cheap at the price because she delivered what you needed, with the help of Old Nick himself, of course.
Her other helpers were her imps, which she kept in a wooden box. These familiar spirits were the size of rats, but looked like human beings with the wings of bats.
If a young girl wanted to know whom she would marry, Old Mother Chergrave could provide the answer. So long as the young girl would pay the price. One year of her life, handed over to the dead.
The charm to divine a future husband was a verse, a poetic metre that could see beyond the veil. Here’s how the verse began:
“To gain a husband, name known or unknown. Make your choice on a graveyard stone.”
The young girl had to go to Loddon Church, the foreboding monument to the one God. Then she had to pick roses from the graveyard and form crosses out from them. If she received the answer as to whom her husband would be, she forsook a full 12 full months from her life, and not a day shorter.
How many in the fair and quaint village of Loddon gave up one year of their lives for Mother Chergrave’s aid?
How many saw her bat-winged familiars fly around in the night air? How many regretted that they’d sacrificed the last year of their lives for some wish or another? How many lay on their deathbeds knowing that they could have had another year?
Satan merely laughed and looked on from the top of the tower of the looming church of the one God, and muttered:
“These humans are such fools. They know not the power they have within. They could be supermen, but idle their precious time away with trivialities. Mother Chergrave was one of mine. One of the Devil’s Party. She did as she willed. And cared not for the people of Loddon. All are damned by their mundanities.”
With that Satan left Loddon Church. For Old Mother Chergrave had died. Her many years of spellcasting and witchery were done. Thus Satan had no more business in Loddon. But before he left he cursed the village and all its denizens. For they would not bury Mother Chergrave in the village. They had her body sent to the nearby city of Norwich to be interred there.
“Fearful fools,” growled Satan as he lay his curse. “They were happy to use Mother Chergrave’s sorceries and witchcraft for their petty wants and needs. But were they grateful? No.”
The worst of it was, Mother Chergrave had taken in a girl who she’d found on one of her mysterious travels. She’d given the girl a home. And the girl was supposed to give her allegiance to Satan when Old Mother Chergrave died. Instead she hurled the box of imps onto the fire and went off with a man who had taken a fancy to her. Some say the girl’s suitor was Satan.
But Satan knew better. Nobody of the Devil’s Party would have thrown the imps on the fire, screaming in agony as they fried to a cinder in the flames. And Satan would not be a suitor to one who had done so.
As ever, Satan despaired at how humans were so callous and dishonourable, happy to sell anybody down the river for their petty diversions.
With that he left Loddon for good. Although some say he visits a house in the nearby countryside. A house known as the “Devil’s House” not far from the haunted crossroads near to the village of Hardley.
The full story of Mother Chergrave and her work can be found in a book called Bogie Tales of East Anglia by Margaret Helen James (1859-1938), who interestingly was the sister of horror writer M.R. James. Long out of print, a new edition of the book has been compiled by Francis Young, which is well worth a read.