The Boggart is a grotesque household spirit or fairy from the North of England. It could also live outside, typically around farms. Like most fairies, it could be benign, but it also had the ability to be cruel and could eat people. Its appearance was quite varied and has been described as relatively human-like in form, though usually uncouth, ugly and often with bestial features. One was described as ‘a squat hairy man, strong as a six year old horse, and with arms almost as long as tacklepoles’. The Boggart of Longar Hede from Yorkshire was said to be a fearsome creature the size of a calf, with long shaggy hair and eyes like saucers. It trailed a long chain after itself, which made a noise like the baying of hounds. The Boggart of Hackensall Hall in Lancashire had the appearance of a huge horse. Other Boggarts could take the form of various animals, or even more fearful creatures. The Boggarts of Lancashire had a leader called Owd Hob, who was described with horns, cloven hooves and a tail.
Boggarts who lived in people’s homes could be mischievous and make things disappear, cause milk to sour and dogs to go lame. The Boggarts who lived outdoors, in marshes or holes in the ground, were blamed for much darker deeds, such as the abduction of children. In certain areas, such as Northumberland, it was believed that helpful household sprites or fairies, such as Brownies, could turn into malevolent Boggarts if offended or ill-treated.
A Boggart could also be offended if a person attempted to give them a name. A Lancashire Boggart was recorded with the name ‘Nut-Nan’, who could be heard screaming amongst hazel bushes in Moston, near Manchester. Malevolent Boggarts were known to crawl into people’s beds at night and put a clammy hand on their faces. Sometimes, they would pull on the person’s ears and strip the bedsheets from them. If the offensive person attempted to move house in order to escape them, the Boggart might follow and continue to haunt them. In England, it is an old Pagan custom to place salt around your house and hang iron horseshoes on your front door or over your fireplace to ward off fairies or bad spirits.
‘Heavy the beam above the door;
hang a horseshoe on it
against ill-luck, lest it should suddenly
crash and crush your guests.’
Hávamál, 136, Wōden
Missing horses and disappearing people were sometimes blamed on Boggarts. The people of Northern England believed Boggarts might have eaten the missing person. In 1861, a report was made about a Boggart in Lancashire, known as The Grizlehurst Boggart. The elderly wife of a farmer reported hearing banging in their farmhouse at night, followed by loud laughter. When the farmer’s wife looked outside she saw three candles casting a blue light and a creature with red burning eyes leaping about. The following morning, the couple found many marks of cloven hooves outside their house. The couple claimed that the Boggart had unhitched their own horse and overturned their cart on numerous occasions. The couple buried the Boggart at a nearby bend in the road, under an ash tree, along with a cockerel, with a stake driven through it. Despite being buried, the Boggart was still able to create trouble. The old man was reported saying “Never name it”. A Boggart is said to haunt Cave Ha, a limestone cavern at Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. There are many other tales about Boggarts all across Northern England, and there are several places named after them.
Extract from The Supernatural World of the Anglo-Saxons: Gods, Folklore and the Pagan Roots of Christmas and Halloween