Auld Betty of Halifax

A short tale from “Notes on the Folklore of the Northern Counties of England”, concerning a shape shifting witch from Halifax. Most Yorkshire witches seem to turn into hares, this one is a cat…

An old man, convinced he had been cursed by Auld Betty the witch, set out on the dangerous task of catching her. She could change her shape, and was often seen in the shape of a black cat.

Sure she would return to do him harm again, he set a cake baking before the fire and waited, armed and ready with a three-pronged fork. As if out of no-where, a large black cat sat in front of the fire, washing it’s face, though he hadn’t seen or heard it come in.

“Cake burns”, cried the cat.

“Turn it then”, replied the man.

“Cake burns”, cried the cat again.

“Turn it then”, replied the man.

“Cake burns”, the cat repeated, and the man made the same answer again.

The man had been told not to mention any whole name while watching the cat, or to shout, but to instead let the cat become transfixed by the burning cake in the hope it changed shape tostop the cake burning itself. It was late, however, the man was tired, and he lost his temper, swearing at the cat.

Instantly, the cat sprung up the chimney, with the man scrambling after it, trying to pierce it with the three-pronged fork. Although scratched by the cat, he managed this, though the injured cat got away.

The next day auld Betty was ill in her bed, staying there for several days, but the man who had been witched was relieved of all his symptoms.