I feel somewhat ashamed that it’s taken me until the age of thirty-two to read into Black Annis. My attention in the sphere of folklore has, for the most part of the past fifteen years, been elsewhere, predominately Scandinavia. Little did I know that one of the most fearsome folkloric creatures was actually extremely close to home, just a few hours away in fact, in Leicestershire.
Now, when I say ‘most fearsome,’ I really do mean it. Black Annis is, quite frankly, fucking terrifying. Which, of course, makes me extremely happy. The more nightmare-inducing a folkloric creature is, the better. In my opinion, she puts many of the more known Scandinavian creatures to shame with her petrifying appearance and terrible ways.
Standing at 7ft tall, she has a blue tinted face, clothes made from the tanned skins of children she’d killed and a belt of skulls. Her hands end in iron claws and, while she has bad eyesight, her sense of smell more than makes up for it.
As is said in the excellent YouTube video about Black Annis by Tales From The Hanged Man, Black Annis is a ‘proactive beastie.’ She doesn’t sit around waiting for her prey to come to her. No. She actively hunts to feed her hunger. In a story re-told by the fantastic Duke of Avalon, he tells of how when Black Annis caught the odour of three children collecting firewood in her forest. Though she couldn’t see them clearly, she knew exactly where they were. She ‘lifted up her dark skirts to her knees and started to run’ towards them. When I heard that part of the story, I had to pause the video. I felt genuinely unnerved. What a petrifying image that is though, right? A 7ft howling hag with iron ore talons powering through the forest after you, ready to take you down and use your skin as a skirt.
I’ve read from multiple sources, that cottages in the region would be built with small windows so Black Annis couldn’t reach her long arms through and snatch children as they slept. When mothers would hear the howl of Black Annia coming from the Dane Hills, they would gather their children inside. Fathers would bolt the door and the windows would be covered and protective herbs hung about them.
Above Annis’s cave – which she apparently dug herself – in the Dane Hills, there was a great old oak tree, and it was from the branches of this oak she would hang the skins of children to dry. She would also climb into the uppermost branches and wait there, until an unsuspecting victim walked under. Local folk learned to stay clear of her home.
There’s so much written about the legend of Black Annis that I was quite surprised I didn’t find tons of art made in homage to her. The art I did manage to find however was really quite special. I hope you enjoy it!