Witches on your doorstep

Thu, 18 Apr 2019

In the fourth in our series of articles about Manx folklore and calendar customs, this article about one of the most important points in the Manx year, Oie Voaldyn, was recently published in the Manx Independent:

Witches on your doorstep

May is approaching – it’s time to protect your dew and set fire to a bush!

The Isle of Man is full of strange and exciting traditions, but perhaps none more so than those around the start of May, for good reason…

The most dangerous time of the year, when you’re most vulnerable to evil in one form another, is not 31 October; it is the exact opposite side of the year, at Oie Voaldyn.

Reports exist of this being the time when would-be witches could be found stood outside your front door waving their arms and drawing the luck out of your household. Not good!

An alternative way to take the luck from your neighbours is to steal the dew off their land early before sunrise on 1 May. With the dew will come their luck, which is great for you (though less so for them!)

Such ‘buitcheragh’ often appears in Manx court cases of the past. A case in Kirk Michael from 1794 has a farmer, John Corjeage, out lying in wait and then confronting a woman on his land that morning. She threatened him with buitcheragh unless he let her go, but he held onto her, confident in the crosh cuirn in his pocket.

This was a cross of two twigs of the rowan tree, tied together by wool, which is not to have touched metal at all.

These crosh cuirns would be put over the doorway of your home, hung on your cattle, or worn about you – on everything you wanted to protect from harm.

Another good way to protect yourself would be by lighting fires.

In 1837 newspaper reports tell us that the Isle of Man at Oie Voaldyn (30 April) was ‘a scene of universal conflagration’ from all of the fires that were alight on the Island.

This burning away of evil continues today thanks to ‘Burn the Buitch.’

Those who are keeping up this tradition of burning a gorse bush (or part of one) at Oie Voaldyn explain that it is not actually about a buitch/witch, but instead about evil more generally. The popping of the gorse buds is the burning away of these bad spirits, leaving your home with good luck for the year ahead.

This Manx tradition stretches back centuries and practicing something of them today is a good way to feel more connected, to our past, to the passing year, and to our lives here in our Island… and if it wards off bad spirits as well, then that’s good too!

You can find out about the Manx traditions of Oie Voaldyn through the resources freely available on the Culture Vannin website. An easy way to take part in the festivities would be through the Oie Voaldyn festival in Peel on 5 May.

The article will soon be available to be enjoyed on the Isle of Man Newspapers' website.
More about St. Patrick can be found amongst our Manx Year pages, here: Boaldyn.