The Village Wise Woman

  • 25 Jun 2019
  • Folklore
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Until the coming of the motor-car there were many villages in Worcestershire hidden away among wooded hills where life went on seemingly unchanged, as it had done for centuries. They were insignificant, out-of-the-world little places, inhabited by quaint old-fashioned folk, whose manners and customs were traditional and superstitious. One such person, Old Mother Miller, a wise woman and quack, only one degree removed from a witch, stands out by far as one of the strangest and most influential. She was renowned throughout the countryside of south Worcestershire for her herbal concoctions, which were said to be infallible cures for all ailments. Partly because of her shrewdness, foresight, and ready wit, she had maintained a growing reputation for well-nigh 40 years, and now old age had brought her to her senith of her fame.

Mother Miller enjoyed her beneficience as much as her reputation. She considered herself everybody's equal and would never acknowledge a superior. A great theme of hers was that obnoxious institution the hospital.                                                                                                           

 'Thur be money a poor ody as 'as gone through the 'ospital to the warde ayont, as 'ud a bin cured be the application 'uv a few  simple remedies as l cud make meself'. 

She is well worth a description, a thin wiry figure of medium height, always erect, with a shrivelled, much wrinkled skin brown skin; a sharpe-featured face, dignified by self-restraint, and by a halo of smooth grey hair; eyes fearless and keenly penetrating; lips thin and firm, with an expression of hardness or bitterness. There was something in her swift, mental alertness that baffles description. Her garments were strange patterns of ancient days. She walked with a brisk energy most unusual to those who have passed their three score years and ten.

Her unfairing memory was remarkable, and her brain was a store-house filled with wise-old adages and forgotten recipes. She knew the name and the medicinal value of every wild herb. Many an anxious mother came to her for advice concerning her family, and was seldom disappointed. She doled out her wisdom and her remedies free of charge, disdaining to profit by her knowledge, though she loved to do it in an atmosphere of mystery. She concocted her strange smelling mixtures in an iron pot over a wood fire, muttering incantations the while in a droning voice that awed her neighbours. Sometimes she broke into intelligible verse:

'I brews these yarbs, they be designe. A gen'rul mesun fer monkind. Of  ev'ry country, cl;ime or place  Wide as the circle of our race. In ev'ry case, an state , an stage. Wotever mollady do rage  Fer male an ' female, young an 'owl, Nar con its valya 'awf be towd. Let names of a disarders be  Like the limbs lined on a tree. Work on the rewt an' that subdue. An a the limbs 'ull bow to you.                                                                                                                                                                                            

This is what won her the awesome respect of the villagers; but they were not afraid of her, as they would be of a witch, rather they loved her for her good fellowship and neighbourliness. She put on and took off her mystery as a garment, and when it was laid aside she was an ordinary person, ready to gossip and joke with anyone.    

The Consultation 

Such conversation as the following would often be heard when a neighbour called on Mother Miller:

Good evenin, ma-am, an 'ows yourth ealth an temper? 'Aw pretty fair, 'ows yourn, Mrs. Thompson?'  'Oh, l be jest lingerin along middlin, l aint felt meself for a good bit, l've ad them tizzeky-wizzekies l me inside, and summat awever, wot caunt be cured mun be endured' - 'Aw, why don't ya get some o' them cowltsfoot leaves, an bile em in a quart o'watter down to a pint. Put some 'oney in to make it taste like, an' a slice o'lemon. It don't make no odds wot dose ya takes.'   (and with sudden startling energy she says swiftly) 'Now take yer bitters be the way,  Two, three, or fower times a day, Yer appitite, if it be good, Ya may appease be owlsome food.' Thank yer mother. l'ull try yer remedy, an if that 'ont cure, nowt 'ulll. I've lat Polly to look arter the baby, an 'er be that carless an fergetful as never was. l dunnow wot be come over 'er o' late, er be that moped like an summat.'  'Aw 'er be a but melancholy, l shudden wunner, yun't 'er?  'That 'er be.'  'Well Mrs. Thompson. l 'ull tell ya. Get 'er a bit o' borage an make it into a drink fer 'er, an it 'ull pearten 'er up wunnerful. Maybe 'er be oinin'. Be thur a young chap?.' 'Not that l knows on mother.    

'Thats be as it be, but yer 'on't find no borage grawin, this time o' year. I 'ull get yer a bit'. (she searches among her bundles of dried herbs hanging against the walls and from the smoke blackened ceiling. Finding some she begand to recite tonelessly; 'Fer male an 'female, young an'owd, Nar con its valya awf be towd'. 'Thank ya, l be much obliged to ya mother, an l 'ull wish ya a very good evening'. And as she goes off she hears the old woman saying; 

 'Me Medson's true an' this be truth, Mon's air an 'watter, fire an 'earth;  'An 'death be cowd, an 'life be 'eat, Them temper well an 'earth's complete'.