Edmund Robinson was a little boy with a big imagination. When he should have been spinning wool or fetching the cattle home, he was instead playing with a friend. Rather than get in trouble with his parents, he made up a hum-dinger of a story for an excuse. A mixture of local gossip and folk material, his testimony against witches reads like a heroic fairy-tale.
Upon All-Saints day last past, he being with one Henry Parker…desired the said Parker to give him leave to gather some Bulloes [wild plums], which he did; in gathering whereof he saw two greyhounds, viz. a black and a brown; one came running over the next field towards him…And the said greyhounds came and fawned on him, they having about their neck either of them a collar, to either of which collars was tied a string, which collars as this informer affirmeth, did shine like gold, and he thinking that some either of Mr. Nutters or Mr. Robinsons family should have followed them, but seeing nobody to follow them, he took the said greyhounds thinking to hunt with them, and presently a hare did rise, very near before him, at the sight whereof he cried ‘Loo, loo, loo’, but the dogs would not run, whereupon he being very angry took them, and with the strings that were at their collars tied either of them to a little bush at the next hedge, and with a rod that he had in his hand he beat them, and instead of the black greyhound one Dickinson’s wife stood up, a Neighbour whom this informant knoweth. And instead of the brown one a little boy, whom this informant knoweth not (Purkiss 164).
When Edmund tries to run away, the woman holds him, puts her hand in her pocket, and pulls out “a piece of silver much like to a fair shilling” (Purkiss 164). She offers him this if he will hold his tongue. However, he tells her he won’t take anything from a witch.
Next she produces a magic, jingling bridle.
She puts this on the boy-demon’s head, and he becomes a white horse. Seizing Edmund, she mounts the horse and carries him to a new house ‘called Houtons’ [Hoarstones]. What Edmund remembers in detail about the witch-feast is the witches pulling on ropes to obtain food: ‘flesh smoking, butter in lumps, and milk as it were sli[di]ng from the said ropes’. This Land of Cockaigne spectacle of piles of high protein and high fat food signify Edmund’s preoccupation with his belly, understandable enough in a boy from a poor artisan family in a poor area. Yet this is also an old folk-fantasy: Edmund was also influenced by stories of fairy food in describing ‘a young woman whom this informer knoweth not gave him flesh and bread upon a trencher, and drink in a glass, after the first taste, he refused, and would have no more, and said it was nought’ (Purkiss 164).
In refusing the food, Edmund shows the cunning of the folktale hero. Eating the food of supernatural beings, and of faeries in particular, was thought to have put one under their control. His story of an incandescent woman who flies up a chimney also seems to be gleaned from folktales about ghosts. Witches transforming back and forth from hares is one of the most common pieces of witch folklore in Scotland and England.
Edmund cast himself as “the saviour of his family, which both relected and assuaged his guilt. Ironically, he did end up helping his family’s fortunes, but not quite in the manner of his telling. Edmund’s father exploited his son’s stories:
The boy, his father, and some others besides did make a practice to go from church to church that the boy might reveal and discover witches, pretending that there was a great number at the pretended meeting, whose faces he could know, and by that means they got a good living, that in a short space the Father bought a cow or two, when he had none before (Purkiss 166).