Tuesday 3 May 2022




I'm still having loads of fun digging up Cornish myths and legends for a series of books I'm working on. I've found wonderful old stories of charmers and conjurers and their "cures" for all sorts of ills including snake bites.

Adders or Vipers are the only venomous snake in the UK and as they are plentiful in Cornwall, have always been a part of their ancient lore. 

It's said that in the old times the people of Lands End couldn't live in the low lands because they were covered with thickets and swarming with adders. Even at a much later period they felt they couldn't walk safely amongst the furze in the summer without a malpreve. A malpreve is usually about the size of a pigeon's egg - a ball of coralline limestone - the section of the coral was thought to be entangled young snakes. So if you intend to go wandering along the cliffs of Cornwall, scout out the beaches for your own malpreve first, won't you. 😆

One old story goes: One day a tin miner left his pot of milk, uncovered, outside his house and an adder slithered into it. The tinner covered the pot with grass to keep the snake from escaping. In minutes he saw "the ugly things crawling and leaping from all quarters towards the pot" He ran away as the adders formed a heap around the pot as big as a hay bale. At night, when the snakes were still, a group of men gathered around the mass of adders. They cut the dried furze and piled it up like sheaves, in a circle. Then they ignited it. So the snakes perished in the fire, thousands and thousands of them, and the moors were clear for a long period.

But the adders were often held in reverence in the west country. Another story says that about midsummer-eve, they would meet in great groups and joining their heads, begin a general hiss, which they continued until a kind of bubble was formed which hardened and gave the finder great prosperity. 

An Adder Stone

It's said that no kind of snake will ever come near an "ashen-tree".  Long ago a young child was in the habit of sharing his bread and milk with his pet, a poisonous adder. The viper came every day and the child loved him - they were friends. But when the mother found out she bound an "ashen-twig" to the child to protect him. The snake no longer came and the boy grieved for his lost friend for the rest of his life.

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