Nantlle Valley History

Nebo & Nasareth


Martha of Mynydd Llanllyfni

The following account is based on incidents which took place on Mynydd Llanllyfni in about 1740, only a few years after the Witchcraft Acts were abolished in 1736. There had been no convictions under this act for 24 years as by then no reasoning, right-minded magistrate would entertain such accusations which were invariably lacking in hard evidence. However, the repeal caused uproar in less enlightened circles. Some Scottish Presbyterians described it as "an infraction of the Word of God", and John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, was outraged, as he equated giving up the recognition of witchcraft with giving up the Bible. Unlike other parts of Britain, Europe and North America, we in Wales are fortunate in having had no witch-hunts or their gruesome consequences.

Mynydd LlanllyfniThe beliefs described were still widely held by ordinary folk and have their roots in Celtic antiquity. By the 18th century they were seen as evidence of the ignorance of the common people.

Image: Mynydd Llanllyfni.

The tale which follows appeared in Drych yr Amseroedd, (a Methodist history) 1820 by Rev. Robert Jones, Rhoslan. Another account is to be found in Nant Nantlle 1871 by Rev. W Ambrose, drawing heavily and imperfectly on the above mentioned book and incorporating some elaborations possibly from oral tradition or of his own invention. These appear below bracketed and in Italics.

"Scarcely do I judge it worthy to write or read about the shameless stupidity exemplified by an eloquent, pseudo-religious woman and also of her husband in the conspiracy.

"They lived in a house on Mynydd Llanllyfni. They made it known to various people that they had gained knowledge of certain beings called 'The Invisible Ones'. The story they told about them was thus: that they were a numerous nation, great in wealth and mingled with us in fairs and markets and no one could perceive them but those who devote themselves to go to their fellowship. The fiends had succeeded in causing some to believe that they had travelled, with their horses and carriages, over the snow without anyone seeing any traces. The crafty woman who was mentioned earlier had got a certain number to believe that a great nobleman lived with his daughter in a splendid mansion near to her house on the mountain, and that their names were Mr and Miss Ingram.

"She gathered together quite a few gullible folk, many of whom had come from afar to hold a kind of night meeting, without candles or fire or any other light except that which came from the embers, as the Invisible Ones could not bear the light. Sometimes the old nobleman would come to preach to them himself; at other times, the daughter would come, dressed in white. (One farmer from Anglesey was so captivated by the new faith and the hope of marrying Miss Ingram that he brought all that he owned to Mynydd Llanllyfni to seek intercession.) Some time elapsed before the deceit was revealed: it befell that a certain man (Gutto-wir-gast), more wily than others of that brotherhood listened intently and realised quite plainly, that it was the mistress of the house who had come to deceive them; sometimes in man's clothing, sometimes in woman's clothing. (Gutto had noticed that she had burnt her foot and kicked her, causing her to cry out). The man shouted "Listen people, without a doubt we are being tricked! I myself swear that this woman is M________ !" (Martha).

With this, uproar swept through the house and the poor creature was forced to flee for his life.

This devilish deception was discredited, those under its sway were dispersed, and the woman and her husband proceeded no further as their foolishness was obvious to all. (She regretted and confessed her errors and ended her days as a member of the Methodist Church in Llanllyfni.)"

Although the old law against witchcraft has been abolished, it is still possible for those who claim supernatural powers (for the purposes of fraud) to be prosecuted. There is no evidence available from this period of anyone called Martha being prosecuted.

The Methodist cause began in Llanllyfni in 1766, that is to say about 25 years later. If Martha had joined them, Rev. Robert Jones Rhoslan would have delighted in the fact, but he does not mention it. Perhaps by mixing this story with that of the activities of Mary of the White Mantle (Meironnydd) and also Joanna Southcott (Lancashire) some 40 years later (which all appear on the same page in Drych yr Amseroedd) or with Gwen y Canu at Buarthau, Rev. Ambrose (a Baptist) tried to create an agreeable end to the story.

The name Ingram is significant in that it is so rare in Wales. At this time, the Ingram family, of Romany stock, were well known throughout the land. (Considering the prejudice against the Gypsies, it is surprising that the Rev. Robert Jones, Rhoslan, did not berate them for encouraging superstition!) The Romanies maintained their harmonious attitude to the environment in an age when so many Gajos (those who are not Romanies) tended to separate the material world from the world of the spirit, especially in conventional religion. By the way, the Gypsies preserved much of our musical inheritance. Secular music and all dancing were works of the Devil, according to many Nonconformists! Over the centuries, the gypsies would, by custom, camp on Cors y Llyn, Lon Las and Cerrig Mawr in the summer.

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