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Mari Berllan Bitter (1817-1898)

Mari Berllan Bitter was born in 1817 to John and Mary Davies of Berllan Pitter, Pennant and christened Mary Davies. Berllan Pitter was situated across the river Arth from Dinerth Castle. Her father was a gardener at Mynachdy. The 1841 Census lists - Berllan Bitter - John Davies, age 50, gardener; Mary Davies, age 50; Mary Davies, age 20. The 1851 census lists - Berllan Bitter - Mary Davies, age 63; Mary Davies, age 29; David Davies, age 24.

Her father died in 1851 but they were not left destitute and they employed a 9 year old servant girl in 1861. Her mother died in 1866 when Mari was 54.

Mari continued to live at Berllan Pitter after her parents died growing more eccentric and gaining a reputation for witchcraft.

She was very short of stature, about four feet, with one shoulder lower than the other and she had dark and piercing eyes. A shawl covered her head and she would walk with the aid of a stick.

Mari would visit farms and if the farmers' wife would not give her food some disaster would befall the household. Animals would be struck with illnesses or the milk wouldn't churn. Mari cursed a young girl for stealing apples from her orchard and the poor girl was forced to walk backwards.

Dic Roderick was a miller at Aberarth and one day he crossed swords with her. He refused to mill a couple of bags of barley late one Saturday and she promptly put a curse on the mill wheel causing it to turn backwards.

Her own family did not escape her curses, her cousin John Pwll Glas was too drunk to bring her the barley he promised and he did not want to take his horse Bess down the treacherous path to Mari's house. He left the barley at the top of Allt Craig Arth. Mari was so angry at having to climb the steep hill to collect her grain that she put a curse on Bess. The next day, Bess could not stand on his four legs. John apologized to Mari and the curse was lifted.

When Mari was away from home, she would place a protective spell over her cottage. One day, horses belonging to John Herbert, Esgairarth would not pass the house because of this spell.

When three men were harvesting near her cottage one of her hens died and she immediately cursed all three, consequently, all three farmers lost cattle.

Another story tells of her visit to Ynys Hir and when refused butter, she cursed the farmers' wife, saying 'you'll never churn butter again!' Mari had to be called back and the butter churned when she knocked on the butter churn.

Mr Daniel Herbert of Pontrhydfendigaid recalls a visit to Mari when he was a child when she explained how she would lay a curse. She would place a ball of wool in a bowl of water, insert a pin into the ball and recite a chapter of the Bible. It is also said that she could transform herself into a hare.

She had an affinity with animals and could make fallen horses rise to their feet when she whispered 'come on little horse' in their ears.

Even though Mari believed in magic, she was a member of the Chapel at Pennant. However, she would not partake in the communion and left the communion bread on the floor near her pew. It was thought that Mari couldn't eat the bread because she was the devil's daughter. In spite of this, she would insist that she was a child of God.

There was one Pennant resident that was immune to her curses and that was Tim Evans, a poet that was nicknamed 'Lluestwr', maybe he had hidden powers!

Mari died of 'senile decay' at the home of her cousin Mary Anne Davies, Clifton Terrace, Aberarth on the 4th of November 1898. Her coffin was placed on a cart and pulled to Llanbadarn Trefeglwys Church by Bess, the horse she cursed.

The author Eirlys Gruffydd in her book 'Gwrachod Cymru'(Welsh Witches) recalls a visit to the ruins of Berllan Bitter. The area made her feel very uneasy and only one photograph from numerous attempts could be developed.

In the 1980s Theatr Felinfach wrote and performed a pantomime based on Mari's life. So many things went awry during the rehearsals that they went up to Berllan Bitter and buried a copy of the script at the cottage. The pantomime continued without a hitch.

The ruins of Berllan Bitter can still be seen. It had two rooms with a fireplace in each room. The only windows were at the front because the house was built against a stone outcrop. Wild garlic and strawberries still grow outside the cottage.

Bibliography:

Gruffydd, E; Gwrachod Cymru, Gwag Gwynedd, 1980, p. 76-78, 122-6
Gruffydd, E; Gwrachod Cymru : Ddoe a heddiw, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1980, p. 38, 39
Website - www.aberarth.internet-today.co.uk