The Witch of Caerleon: Or, "Mother Marsh's" Conversion

 •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 10
MOTHER MARSH had gained considerable notoriety as a fortune-teller in the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire. Indeed, her fame as a diviner, restorer of lost property, revealer of secrets, foretelling the future, breaking the spells of witches, and as an expert in the mystic art generally, was known fat beyond the limits of the county.
Her visitors were not confined to young and thoughtless girls, curious to know the color of the hair and eyes of their future husband, or the simple young men who dream of the future instead of manfully setting themselves to prepare for the stern realities of the battle of life, and who prefer to have a fortune with than in a bride. But people of maturer years and riper experience consulted her, which shows that the superstitious vein of the Welsh character was slow to die out or to give way to the light and intelligence of the nineteenth century.
About the time of which I write, Pontypool was much agitated by ghost and fairy tales, and color was given to these stories by the report that a house on the Albion Road was haunted, and that ghosts held nightly carnival therein, and from thence went forth to form their circles, and wave their magic wands for weal or woe in various parts of the valley, with the result that for some years no one would occupy the house, and few cared to go beyond the Old Furnace on the Crumlin Road at a late hour of the night.
It was also said that in the vicinity of Pontypool Road a ghost was frequently seen leaping the river and running across the fields from the Old Barn, where now stand the Phoenix Galvanizing Works. The author of this latter story was old “Davie” Kenvyn, who came rushing into the Lower Mill Iron Works one night pale as death and quite exhausted, declaring that he had seen the ghost. “Davie’s” story created great consternation amongst the men, and so terrified were the women and children that they were afraid to go to the works with supper.
One day I took “Davie” into the lathe-room and there induced him to describe to me what he saw. He said: “I was walking up from Pontyvelin, and had crossed the railway over the stile and got nearly opposite the thatched cottages when I heard a rustling sound in the grass, and I felt a cold shiver run down my back and it crept to my toes. Then just in front of me, not far from the path, a strange creature, unlike anything I had ever seen before, walked along. At first it seemed like a large black retriever dog without a head, but as it drew nearer it became larger and larger, and seemed to change in color and shape, and as it passed by it uttered a strange unearthly screech, and vanished out of sight. I then ran, and did not stop until I got into the mill.”
“What do you think it was, Davie?” I asked.
“Think it was! What else could it be?” said he in astonishment, “but Pwka’r, Trwyn” (a hobgoblin of some renown in the valley).
A district susceptible to these apparitions and omens was highly favorable for “Mother Marsh” to cut the cards, read the lines, repeat her incantations, and boil her cauldrons. Therefore she had a lucrative practice, and was considered an important personage in the neighborhood.
It was a cold, wet Sunday afternoon when I met a band of workers for an open-air meeting at a familiar spot. The streets were deserted, and the doors of the houses shut, and the whole surroundings presented a very disheartening appearance. The singing of a hymn induced a few to open their doors and look out, but none cared to brave the weather and venture outside. A second hymn was sung, prayer offered, and a couple of short addresses given. By this time other doors were opened, and many could be seen looking through the windows. One speaker discoursed upon THE GREAT WHITE THRONE, and emphasized the fact that it was appointed unto men once to die, and after this the Judgment, when the dead, small and great, must stand before God, and be judged out of those things that are written in the books, according to their works, and they that have done good through being washed in the precious blood of Christ, and quickened by the Holy Spirit, shall live and reign with Him. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:88But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)).
Just then my attention was drawn to a window where behind a thick curtain I saw the hard, inflexible face of a woman apparently about sixty years of age. Her features were rather long; her hair dark brown streaked with grey, untidily kept. She was evidently taking pains to escape observation. However, the singing of another hymn closed what seemed to be one of the most dreary and unpromising meetings I ever conducted, and as we wended our way homeward to prepare for the evening meeting in the Mission Hall, I felt like the prophet when he said, “Who hath believed our report and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” “But he that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” Therefore “in the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand, for thou knowest not whether shall prosper either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good” (Ecc. 11:4-6).
Christian workers will do well then not to grow weary in well doing, for God often works when we think not, and in a way we least expect, as we shall see in the following story.
Early in the ensuing week a man employed in the annealing-room of the Pontymoile Tinplate Works came and asked me to go and see his wife, who was very ill and not expected to live. I went to Pontypool as requested, and found the woman as described. She was a stranger to me. The house was nicely furnished, and apparently every necessary (which is very unusual in these cases) for comfort was there, but it was painfully evident she was not long for this world.
I asked her why she sent for me, to which she replied,
and am not prepared for the journey.” I told her of Jesus, Who is the way, the truth, and the life, through Whom alone we can be saved, and through Whose blood and merits alone we can come into the presence of God. The mention of “the presence of God” made her shudder, and she moaningly said, “I’m a lost soul—and never shall be saved.” I knelt down and prayed for her, after which I sought to comfort her with the assurance that Christ came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, for He came to seek and to save that which was lost. She then stretched out her long, gaunt hand from under the bedclothes, and taking hold upon my arm, drew me nearer to her and said, “But not me. There has been a spell on me for seven years. The old vixen said she would curse me on earth, and curse me in heaven—and I know she has done it, for I have not had any peace since that day.”
“Who has cursed you?” I asked.
“Oh, the Witch of Caerleon,” she said, “and had it not been for ‘Mother Marsh’ I should have been dead long ago, for I have many times heard the Death Watch under my bed, and I have seen the Cotontyll Corph (lighted candle) passing through my room. But last night when I sent for her and offered to pay her well if she would loose me from the spell, she was so funny, and would not cut the cards, nor cross my hands, but sat on the chair and cried, and said something about an open-air meeting and the Great White Throne, and then she did what she has never done before—she stooped down and kissed me, and would not take any money, but advised my husband to go to Pontymoile and ask you to come and see me.”
she asked plaintively.
“My dear woman,” I said, “don’t believe in witches, wizards, nor spells.”
“You don’t?” she said, reproachfully; “I thought the same at one time, but I’ve proved to my sorrow that the Witch of Caerleon has power to curse anyone that offends her.”
“Nonsense! nonsense!” I said. “A witch’s curse is only a silly, wicked woman’s words.”
A look of terror came into her face, and I saw that the superstitious fear was so deeply rooted in her breast, that to speak lightly of witchcraft increased her mental distress and anguish, so I said,
in the world. They are of the devil, and belief it them brings a snare, fear, and torment: but truss and confidence in God brings happiness, joy, and peace. The evil, suffering, and pain that are in the world,” I said, “are not of God. God permits these things, it is true, but He permits them that out of them He may bring much good. But the author of it all is the devil, whose reign in the hearts and lives of men and women has been one uniform course of temptation to evil, and infliction of misery. But the Bible tells us that the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:88He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)).
“He destroyed the works of the devil,” I went on to say, “by bearing in his own body the consequences of man’s sins, so that God could be just and the justifier of everyone that believeth in Jesus.
“Shall I read a few Scriptures?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, please do,” she said: “anything to get rid of this curse.”
I then read Heb. 2:7-147Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:7‑14): “We see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor that He by the grace of God should taste death for every one. For as much then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same, that through death Ile might destroy him that had the power of death. that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
she said.
It was now very late, and having committed her into the hands of God, “being confident that He who had begun a good work would finish it,” I left with a promise to call the next evening and see her again.
The friends in the house settled down for the night, hoping that she might sleep; alas I sleep was far from her: and as her husband sat by the bedside through the night watches he heard her repeating:
and the devil works through the Witch of Caerlson.”
The morning light brought no relief, but increased restlessness, anguish of mind, and feebleness of body. Soon after nine o’clock she begged her husband to send again for “Mother Marsh,” saying she was sure “Mother Marsh” could if she would break the spell.
The poor heartbroken husband willingly complied with his wife’s request, went himself again in quest of the fortune-teller, who now refused to go, saying she could do nothing for her if she went.
That evening as I sat by the bedside the poor woman said, “It’s the work of the devil, and ‘Mother Marsh’ won’t come and help me.”
I said, “‘Mother Marsh’ cannot help you, and by seeking her help you commit the same sin as Saul the king did, when he was in trouble and his heart greatly trembled at the presence of the Philistines. Instead of recognizing that the Philistines were permitted to make war with him on account of his sin, and humbling himself before God and seeking forgiveness, he attributed this trouble to other causes, and disguising himself went and consulted THE WITCH OF ENDOR, with the result that God departed from him and became his enemy.”
“Then what shall I do? Is there no hope? Is there no mercy for me?” she imploringly asked.
I said, “Yes, there is hope and mercy for you, but it is only found in God, through Jesus Christ, and if you seek Him He will be found of you: if you call upon Him He will hear, for the Scripture saith, ‘Seek ye the Lord while He may be found: call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, for He will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon’” (Isa. 4:6, 7).
Then with a deep moan she said, “Lord, help me, a poor sinner! Lord save me!” and sank back upon the bed motionless. There was silence for some time, then I sang softly—
“O Thou who see’st and know’st my grief
Thyself unseen, unknown
Pity my helpless unbelief,
And take away the stone.
Regard me with a gracious eye,
The long-sought blessing give:
And bid me, at the point to die,
Behold Thy face and live.
Now, Jesus, now, the Father’s love
Shed in my heart abroad:
The middle wall of sin remove,
And let me into God.”
She then gently raised her hand and said:
“Now, Lord! Show pity!” Her hand dropped and she fell into a heavy sleep. After a while she partly aroused and said, “Show pity, Lord!” and then breathed heavily again.
A Christian woman in the room whispered to me, “She is trying to repeat Dr. Watts’s hymn.” I then sang—
“Show pity, Lord O Lord, forgive:
Let a repenting rebel live:
Are not Thy mercies large and free?
May not a sinner trust in Thee?
Behold I fall before Thy face:
My only refuge is Thy grace:
No outward form can make me clean,
The leprosy lies deep within.
A broken heart, my God, my King,
Is all the sacrifice I bring:
The God of Grace will ne’er despise
A broken heart for sacrifice.”
I then knelt in prayer with the friends that were in the room, and besought the Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake, to save her soul, and enable her to testify to His saving grace ere she died, and then left, not expecting to see her again alive.
The following day I received an urgent summons to the bedside of this dying woman: but, oh, what a marked difference! God had indeed revealed Himself to her, and had given her a consciousness that, through the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross, she, a guilty sinner, was saved. The sad, sad look of despair that so deeply lined her face had now disappeared, and a bright smile of hope, confidence, and joy gleamed therefrom. She was pillowed up in bed, and struggling hard for breath. As she stretched out her wasted hand to receive mine she said:
“Thank — God — I’m—saved—through—the—blood.—I’m—going—home—to—God.”
There were several sympathetic neighbors and friends in the room, while I knelt by the bedside and sang—
“My God, the spring of all my joys,
The life of my delights;
The glory of my brightest days,
The comfort of my nights.
The opening heavens upon me shine
With beams of sacred bliss:
Jesus proclaims that He is mine,
And whispers I am His.”
The dying woman tried hard to join in the singing, and the husband gave emphasis to the words as he gently wiped away the perspiration, which glistened like beads on her forehead, and while amidst an awful impressive stillness, broken only by subdued sobs, as I sang,
“Soon shall I leave this world of clay,
At that transporting word:
Run up with joy the shining way,
To meet and see the Lord,”
she passed away to where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.
The body was laid to rest in a quiet, secluded spot under the shadow of a tree in Trevethin churchyard, there to await the hour that is coming, “in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life: and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:2020For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. (John 5:20)).
In keeping with the Welsh custom the relatives and friends attended the Mission Hall, Pontymoile, the following Sunday evening. This reverend, pathetic, and commendable custom still prevails everywhere in Wales, and by this means many hitherto indifferent to the claims of God or the need of their own souls, have been brought under the sound of the Gospel, and as “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” have been saved.
On this occasion I preached from Job 16:2222When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return. (Job 16:22): “When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return.”
I endeavored to show—
I. The inevitable journey—for all must die—for “there is no man that hath power over the spirit, to retain the spirit: neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war.”
II. Its nearness. At the most only a few years. “Therefore be ye also ready.” “Prepare to meet thy God.”
III. The solemn fact, “Shall not return.”
While pressing home the application, and asking the all-important question, w here will you spend eternity? God was pleased to work mightily on the people by His Holy Spirit, and many sought and found the Saviour. Amongst the enquirers was “Mother Marsh,” the fortune-teller. I was greatly impressed by the remarkable change in her personal appearance. She had thrown aside the garb of the fortune-teller, and had discarded the old cloak and the long peaked print bonnet, and the tanned complexion of the Bohemian face had become quite white, with a slight color on her cheeks, and instead of her hair being disheveled as before, it was now neatly brushed and fastened up in plaits behind, while she wore a dress of good material, and round her body was wrapped a beautiful Paisley shawl, which together with a neat, well-arranged bonnet, made her a remarkably good-looking woman.
She was under terrible conviction of sin, and bewailed the fact that she had sinned against light and knowledge, and while others were made glad with the joy of God’s salvation “Mother Marsh” went away from the meeting very unhappy, for she was still “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” According to promise I called the next evening at her house: the door was locked and the blinds drawn. Rap-tap softly, with my stick, quickly called forth the enquiry from within in a clear voice, “Who is there?” and never do I remember before nor since my name causing the bolts of a door to fly back so quickly, nor a more hearty invitation to “Come in.”
I found her very ill at ease: the arrow of conviction had pierced her soul deeply, and God had put a hook into the jaw of this leviathan. She thanked me for the interest taken in her spiritual welfare, and poured into my ear a sad, sad tale of wickedness, sin, deception, and fraud, and her remarks were repeatedly punctuated with
She was the daughter of Christian parents, and was brought up amidst godly influences, but she became infatuated with a worthless man, and to the great grief and lifelong sorrow of her parents, contracted an unfortunate marriage, and after some years of unhappiness was deserted and left with two children, absolutely penniless, without any means of support.
Fortune-telling was suggested to her through reading a book of her husband’s, and though at first she revolted against such wicked, fraudulent means of obtaining a livelihood, yet having alienated herself from God she eventually succumbed to that which was so repugnant to her feelings. Like Ahab the King she sold herself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, until her conscience became seared as with a hot iron. And the knowledge of the Bible acquired in her youth was prostituted to sorcery and every means used to deceive the unwary and to fleece the simple-minded of their money, She pitilessly carried on her nefarious traffic until, to use her own words, “God stopped me, by setting the Great White Throne before me at the open-air meeting outside my door one wet Sunday afternoon.”
I felt it was a desperate case, and suggested that we should go to God in prayer. We knelt and continued in prayer for some time, resting upon the promise that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It was a hard struggle, but simple faith in the plain declaration of God’s truth, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:55But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)), enabled her to sing—
“My God, I have found the thrice blessed ground
Where joy and where peace and true comfort abound.
‘Tis found in the blood of Him who once stood
My refuge and safety, my surety with God.
He bore on the tree the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free.”
When she got up from her knees she went to a drawer in the table, and took from there a packet of begrimed cards, a couple of books, and several packets of chemicals, and threw them into the fire. As she did so she said, “There go, and tempt me no more.” The burning chemicals sent forth a lurid light, and gave a weird appearance to all that was in the room. In the midst of this extraordinary scene we again knelt and gave thanks to God for this fresh trophy of grace, and that the Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and that “Mother Marsh” not only “confessed with her mouth and believed in her heart,” but showed her deeds like some who used curious arts, but under the preaching of Paul, “brought their books together and burnt them” (Acts 19:18, 1918And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. 19Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:18‑19)).
“Mother Marsh” lived for some time in this neighborhood, an honorable, conscientious, and God-fearing life, and through evil and good report held on her way, seeking to restore the years that the cankerworm had eaten (Joel 2:2525And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25)), by doing what she could to bring others to the Savior.
She afterwards went to some friends in America, and ultimately died resting upon the finished work of Christ.
Oh the riches of the boundless grace of God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, that He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus.
Dear readers, my earnest prayer is “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height: and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:16-1916That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:16‑19)).
“No longer in darkness I’m walking,
For the light is now shining on me,
And now unto others I’m telling
How He saved a poor sinner like me.
And when life’s journey is over,
And I the dear Saviour shall see,
I’ll praise Him for ever and ever,
For saving a sinner like me.”
We are glad to be permitted to give this true and remarkable story of the wonderful grace of God, written by our friend Mr. T. M. Wintle, and taken from his most excellent Gospel book, “Strange Tales from Welsh Life,” recently published by Messrs. Morgan and Scott, price sixpence. We refer specially to this volume on page 160 of this number.