Old Mother Nightshade
The Fable of the Shape-Shifting Woman in the Woods
So the fable goes, the areas in the Lincolnshire fens were once so isolated everyone knew each other as well as family. All except for an old fen woman who was the continuous subject of gossips and rumors. She lived on the very edge of the fens, away from all but the wild animals and deep dark woods.
People passing across the fens late in the evening could hear strange howling coming from her cottage. Thus, she was labelled a witch, to be avoided by all and given the name ‘Old Mother Nightshade’.
Everyone was afraid of her except a foolish boy by the name of John Culpepper. He was madly in love with a lady far beyond his reach, named Rose Taylor, who enjoyed the attention, but it was all a ruse. Soon, his love unrequited, turned his heart sour and he sought after the witch’s help in revenge.
He was welcomed by the old woman and, having shared his woes, presented with a box of sweetmeats to give to Rose and told to return by the night of full moon to give a report.
He did all that was asked, returning to the cottage on the brightly moon lit night. As soon as the door closed behind him, he was bound to a chair and told to close his eyes. He dared to take a peek and as he did so, the old woman revealed her true self, a fearsome giant grey wolf.
There were reports of blood curdling cries across the fens that night. So, at first light, the men folk went to see what had happened but could find only bones and wolf paw prints.
John Culpepper and the old woman were never seen again.