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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 1, February 1945

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. I, No. 1, February, 1945

“WITCHES IN THE COOPER COUNTRY
Wheaton P. Webb

THE SCHENEVUS is a narrow valley that winds through Otsego County’s gentle hills and disappears into the wide plain of the Susquehanna at Colliers. It was during a six-year period, 1937 to 1942, while I was living in the valley at Worcester, that I stumbled on a body of witch lore which had survived the skeptical temper of our own time. You can seldom improve a tale which has been repeated for generations, and I had the privilege of writing down verbatim the witch tales of the old storytellers.

Our people have always lived close to the land — sturdy, freedom- loving, thrifty farmers, who in their youth spent three months learning to read in a McGuffey reader and to cipher by the rule of three, thereafter knowing enough not to spoil their eyes on books. They would have liked that pithy proverb of an older America:

                    I deem sodding
                    An honest Godding,
                    Bone and muscle
                    In mundane tussle.

Yet our people, from the time of the first English, Palatine, and Irish settlers, have lived “for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,” and have kept an ear cocked for three rappings on a fast-shut door, and an eye peeled for those dark spirits that shape our ends, roughhew them how we will.

It ought to be said that our witches are partial to descendants from the old “Schoharie Dutch” families; but you take a good, active witch, and she won’t let her racial preference spoil her arts on any stray rump-fed runyon or other luckless wight. It would pay you to know a trick or two with sympathetic magic before you visit our valley.
...

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