Witches finally lay old Joan to rest

THE BODY of a Cornish witch who died in Bodmin Jail 185 years ago and which has been on public display for the past 40 years is soon to be laid to rest - possibly on Hallowe'en - in a secret ritual involving a group of present-day witches.

Until recently Joan Wytte's skeleton hung unceremoniously in front of a coffin in the Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle, north Cornwall. But when Graham King took over as curator two years ago he decided that Wytte, known as the Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin Town on account of her size and vicious assaults, should be given a belated burial.

"I think she was persecuted enough during her life and it's wrong to continue that persecution through her death," said Mr King, 43, who is also a witch. "If you could see children looking round the museum, gawping at this skeleton, pointing and saying, `Yuk. It's a witch', it doesn't seem right."

A number of poltergeist phenomena prompted Mr King to call in Cassandra Latham, Britain's first full-time professional witch, who lives near Land's End. Ms Latham says she contacted Wytte at a Hallowe'en ritual last year.

"We wanted to find out what she wanted," Mr King said. "All sorts of stuff came across. We decided would take her out of the display and bury her somewhere in the woods." The exact place of burial will not be made public for fear of attracting cranks who might try to dig her up. However, Mr King has a "magical spot" in mind and is seeking the local landlord's permission. "It's an absolutely beautiful place," he said, although it was not easy to ask someone: "Can I bury a witch in your back garden?"

The funeral ritual would be "very simple and respectful", Mr King said. "We are going to take out the metal that's tying her bones together very gently and carefully. We'll place the bones in a wicker basket lined with wool which we have had made for the purpose ... We have some simple grave goods, too: a small bottle of brandy, a clay pipe, a bit of tobacco, and maybe some magic herbs to help her on her way."

Since April, Mr King has kept Wytte's body wrapped in blankets beside his bed, and he claims to have had "many a fond chat" with her. Once she has been laid to rest, however, he will make no further efforts to contact her - unless of course, "she wants to come to us".