Cornish Charming & Premonitions by Michael Tangye with photos by Terry Harry

Man’s dependency upon electronic equipment, his constant efforts to reach new scientific heights linked with a brain increasingly bombarded with the noise, data, and stresses of the twentieth century has led to the almost complete destruction of certain primitive, yet finer, senses.

It is well known that races and tribes who have remained for centuries completely isolated from “progress” and outside influences retain such senses which modern society has for long lost. Telepathy. E.S.P. or extra sensory perception. and other gifts which have yet to be explained by scientists of today, appear to evolve from a close contact with nature, absence of stress and, in some cases appears to be inherited.

Celtic races of which we, the Cornish, are one. are noted as having a high incidence of such gifts. Their environment, usually remote isolated areas, and their races until recent years being infiltrated little by outside influences, has assured in certain individuals the continuation of these finer senses into the twentieth century.

During the eighteen hundreds, villages and towns in Cornwall abounded with individuals noted for such powers as we have already discussed. Many also possessed the powers of psychic healing, which was manifested as “charming”, and of premonition. “White witches”, possessed of genuine qualities, constantly rectified the wrongs perpetuated by “black witches” who used subtle psychological methods on the more susceptible of the populace with their “ill wishing- causing much distress and harm. We still refer today to a thin pale person or scrawny animal as “looking wisht” or in fact “ill-wished”.

Charming, or the ability to cure certain complaints by the reciting of a charm. prayers and by touch, was widespread. Charms were never disclosed and could only eventually be passed to a member of the opposite sex to ensure potency and continuation. Here again there were many charlatans, but many “charmers” were genuine, with sufferers travelling many miles to some remote cottage to be healed. Today they would be called faith healers.

Some years ago I chatted with an elderly lady, a person of high intelligence whose family had farmed in a remote Cornish village for centuries. Her mother, a housewife, had been much respected as the village “mid-wife” and “doctor” but above all as the local “charmer”. especially of blood. This latter was normally done by direct contact with the patient, or even animal, but on one occasion at least it was done indirectly.

One day, when my informer’s mother lay unwell in bed, a local farmer arrived at the cottage leading a horse which had badly lacerated its hind leg. As it was impossible to control the bleeding from a severed artery, he had brought the horse to be charmed. As the lady was too ill to leave her bed she asked her daughter, then a little girl, to give her a handkerchief from the chest-of-drawers, and, in doing so, to lift it carefully by the corner so as not to touch its surface. This was then held by the mother for a few seconds whilst she silently voiced the charm, finally with her finger making the sign of the cross on the material. It was then passed to her daughter who was told to carry it care-fully to the horse and to gently touch the wound. The ani-mal did not flinch as the little girl placed the flimsy handkerchief to the large wound from which blood flowed freely. One touch however and the bleeding immediately ceased! The old lady told me that following such a cure her mother always became very pale and weak as if much energy had left her body.

This is one of the finer gifts which most of us have lost. A more common manifestation is the gift of premonition, or a pre-warning of events, usually by dreams. The files of the West Briton gives us many examples of this as reported to them by those with firsthand knowledge of such occurrences.

In 1877 John Lean, working underground at Wheal Jewell in Gwennap, walked cautiously in a dark and deserted level of the mine. He suddenly heard a voice say, “You are in the winze!” He stopped instantly, and peer-ing down, found himself poised on the edge of a ten fathom drop!

1881. A father at Levant, St. Just in Penwith, had dreamed on two occasions that his miner son “was brought home on boards” – dead. He warned him constantly to be careful but to no avail. His son fell four fathoms into the mine and was killed instantly. His body was conveyed “on boards” to his father’s cottage.

In 1883 Israel Quick of St. Ives, sailed from Falmouth bound for Brazil. He had been at sea for a month when his young son awoke suddenly one night from his sleep. “Mother!” he tearfully cried, “I dreamt that father is killed!” Sometime afterwards the family were informed that Israel had been killed by a falling mast – at the time the dream occurred!

In 1870, a Mrs. Lawry, a widow, of Sambell’s Court, Redruth, dreamt about her son William, an engineer on board the steamship Queen of the Isle, which traded between ports in Scotland. In her vivid dream she saw him naked, and in great distress. She was so worried that she wrote a letter to him in Scotland. The reply confirmed that on the night of her dream the vessel had been wrecked, and her son saved from drowning.

In 1840 Mr. Edmund Norway of Wadebridge was in command of a merchant vessel the Orient, on a voyage from Manilla to Cadiz, when he also had a vivid dream: “I saw two men attack my brother and murder him. One caught the head of the bridle of his horse, and snapped a pistol twice, but I heard no report; he then struck him a blow and he fell off the horse. They then struck him several blows and dragged him across the road and left him.”

He was later called on deck at 4.00am. and told his story to the second officer, Mr. Henry Wren who said, “Don’t think anything about it. You Westcountrymen are so superstitious.” Edmund was later to learn that his brother, Nevill Norway, was murdered, in the manner which he had dreamt, by two brothers called Lightfoot, as he rode on horseback from Bodmin to his home at Wadebridge – on the night of his dream. Both were executed at Bodmin Gaol on April 13th, 1840.

In 1865 the Rev. S.B. Drury, 26 years old, curate of Phillack and Gwithian, related a dream to Charles Hockin, brother of the rector who later often quoted it to others: “I dreamt I was to be buried, and I followed my coffin into church, and thence to the tomb. I took no part in the service, and when we came to the tomb I looked into it and saw it was very nice. I then asked the undertaker who was to be buried, and he answered, ‘You.’ I then said I am not to buried. I am not dead.’ The undertaker then said, ‘I must be paid for the coffin.'” The story was related to Charles Hockin on a Wednesday. On the Sunday, the curate left Gwithian for a walk, accompanied by his Newfoundland dog. When he failed to return that night, no alarm was raised as he some-times slept at Copperhouse, Hayle. On the Wednesday morning, a Gwinear miner, retrieving his seaweed at low water on the rocky shore of Godrevy, saw a body in a pool with a gold chain about its neck, at the foot of the low cliff in which there was a steep path. There was a wound above his right eye, and it was assumed that the young curate, being short-sighted, was knocked unconscious, and drowned. His dream had been fulfilled.

Two years ago, I recorded a premonition experienced by a Four Lanes man who commenced his working life at Cook’s Kitchen, South Crofty mine as a boy miner in 1928, at the age of fourteen years. He worked with a pair of men doing hand-drilling, and all the tasks of mining;

One night 1 had a vivid dream and woke up in my bed soaked with sweat. I was afraid to tell my mother as I didn’t want to worry her. I had dreamt I was crushed by a rock fall in the mine. 1 didn’t really want to go to work as I felt sure that the dream would come true – but I did go.

I went down to the 245-fathom level with Buller Mills, and when we got to the area where we were to work I immediately saw it as I had in my dream. I told him what would happen if he started barring the rock in the roof of the level. He didn’t believe me, so I turned and started to walk out of the level. He called me back, and to reassure me, said he would build a platform to make it safer. He did this, and I had his big carbide lamp and my hat lamp so that he could see what he was doing. He had only put his bar in a crevice – when down it came! A huge section of rock crushed the platform, pinned me on the ground by my legs and knocked me unconscious. It took two men, and Buller, to get it off me; they reckoned it weighed nine hundredweight! I was then taken, still unconscious to the Miners Hospital at Redruth.

No doubt there are those, who because they have not experienced such premonitions, are unable to accept the credibility of such accounts, dismissing them with a degree of ridicule. The writer is one Celt who has experienced for many years such premonitions by dreams. Claims, on occasions, that, “I dreamt that last night,” were often met with polite disbelief. I then got into the habit of informing working colleagues and others that “such and such” would happen. Certain examples spring to mind. My interest in archaeology had frequently involved field work on Carn Brea, the vast Iron Age hill fort near Redruth.

I had often searched paths and eroded areas there for even earlier Neolithic flint arrowheads without success. One night I awoke suddenly from a dream where I was picking up such artefacts on Cam Brea. It was such a vivid occurrence, and following the usual pattern of a sudden awakening, that after work the next day, before returning home, I walked to the top of the Carn. Walking directly to a boulder I stopped, looked down, and at my feet were two flint arrowheads lying on an eroded surface!

On another occasion, under similar circumstances, I dreamt that a patient undergoing a simple five-minute operation at the operating theatre where I was employed as a technician, suddenly began to haemorrhage severely, requiring a blood transfusion. A quick check on the operating list the following morning indicated no such operation as that which I had dreamt. However, during the morning operating session one such case was added to the list. Very confidently I prepared the necessary transfusion equipment and checked that blood was available. This was of course immediately queried by the anaesthetist who laughed when I told him of my dream, and that it would be required. Amidst much humour and leg pulling the surgeon commenced the simple operation. The humour was quickly replaced by urgency as the patient haemorrhaged! The transfusion was given by the highly puzzled anaesthetist! Coincidence you might say, or a lot of nonsense – a wise man would believe.