Black Annis - The Hag

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Black Annis
The Hag

Also known as Black Agnes, Black Anna, Cat Anna, Gentle Annie.

Black Annis, Hag of the Dane Hills near Leicester, England, most frequently manifests as a blue-faced crone with long claws and yellow fangs but also as a cat demon.

Black Annis lives in a cave now known as Black Annis’ Bower that she personally clawed out from the rocks. Some believe her cave marks an Iron Age shrine and that Black Annis, now a dread bogie-woman, was once a venerated goddess. Once upon a time, Black Annis liked to sit and observe her territory from within a giant oak near her cave, vestige of the vast forest that once covered this region. The oak was felled, however, and so she’s now apparently moved permanently into the cave.

Some perceive that hidden behind Black Annis’ mask is either of the ancient Celtic goddesses Anu or Danaan, although others perceive her as a distinct, independent spirit. See FAIRIES: Naturespirit Fairies: Sidhe.

Black Annis allegedly eats children who stray into the Dane Hills after dark, or at least so their mothers have traditionally warned them. She skins then eats her victims, scattering the bones around the hills and hanging the skins from trees to dry. Allegedly, when she is hungry, Black Annis snatches lambs from pastures and climbs through windows to seize babies from inside houses—perhaps she is just blamed for missing children and livestock. Sometimes Black Annis is called Gentle Annie, although this is generally perceived as an attempt at appeasement and supplication.

Also known as Cat Anna, Black Annis has powerful associations with cats, sometimes manifesting as a huge black forest cat. Until the eighteenth century a mock rabbit hunt was held annually, although “mock cat hunt” might be more accurate: a dead cat soaked in aniseed was dragged from Black Annis’ Bower, her cave home, through Leicester’s streets to the town mayor’s door. Among aniseed’s traditional magical uses are propitiation of spirits and protection against malevolent magic. Exactly what connection exists between Cat Anna and aniseed if any beyond the similarities of their names is now unknown.

Grendel, the monster in Beowulf, has a mother who is even fiercer and more powerful than he. She is identified as a ketta or cat spirit. Some perceive a resemblance between her and Cat Anna.

See ANIMALS: Cats; FAIRIES: Fairy Cats.