Weird Norfolk: The Magdalen woman who fought the Devil when he came for her soul
- Credit: iWitness24/Rosemary Howard
When the Devil came to collect a soul promised to him when its owner was a girl, he hadn’t bargained for a fight: but Norfolk’s Mrs Tash wasn’t prepared to go quietly. There are several accounts of the strong-willed Mrs Tash, including from Fen authority Arthur Randall and folklore expert Enid Porter.
In The Folklore of East Anglia by Porter, written in 1974, the curious tale of Mrs Tash is told – a woman who wasn’t ready when the Devil came calling. She lived in the village of Magdalen, close to Wiggenhall St Mary (which itself has a haunted pipe organ) and gave her soul to Lucifer as a young woman. How or why she made a bargain with the Lord of the Underword is unknown and Ms Porter remarks that despite her deal, she had not “been looked upon as a witch”.
The story continues: “A century ago, when she was lying old and ill in bed, the Devil came to claim her.
“One evening, when two neighbours came to visit her, they found the bed empty and no sign of the old women anywhere in the house.
“On the bedroom windowsill, however, were scratches as though something had been hauled across it, and on the ground below were some marks which seemed to indicate that a body and been dragged along for several yards.
“At daybreak next morning, a party of men followed the marks for half a mile to the side of a dyke and there, at the bottom of a pit, they found Mrs Tash lying still alive but stark naked.
‘So old Harry came after her last night,’ said one of the men, ‘and nearly got her, too, by the look of it. You see, he’ll be back again tonight to fetch her away.’”
Hastily covered, the old woman was taken back to her house and put to bed. Neighbours stayed with her as she rested quietly all day – but as night fell, she began to become restless and by the middle of the night, she was agitated. Shouting and flailing her arms, the neighbours were shocked to see a large black bird throw itself at Mrs Tash’s windowpane and they ran terrified from the room, calling for her son to come quickly. When he ran into his mother’s room, her son found that she had died and, on her chest, there was the mark of a three-toed foot or talon etched into her skin.
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Weird Norfolk’s research has revealed that a Mary Tash died on April 21 1873 – a century before the book was published – and was buried at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen. Aged 81, her husband was Henry Tash and her son Timothy and on the 1861 census her occupation was given as ‘farmer’s wife’.
The Devil is often depicted in 19th and 20th century occultist illustrations as a black bird which has the power to transform into the figure of a man while in Europe, many cultures believed that crows made a annual descent to hell to visit Satan. Catholic teachings read that Saint Benedict was praying when he was visited by the Devil disguised as a blackbird but the Saint was not fooled and sent him on his way with the sign of the cross.
Deals with the Devil were a pact between a person and Satan or a lesser demon in which souls were exchanged for diabolical favours such as youth, knowledge, wealth, fame or power. Others made the pact just to recognise the Devil as their master and expected nothing in return despite realising their deal ensured eternal damnation. Quite what, if anything, Mrs Tash gained from her bargain with the Dark One and whether she was the Mrs Tash who is recorded in the village is unknown – other than to the Devil, obviously.