Offering Pits at Saveok Water Archaeology Site:
Saveok Mill, Greenbottom, Cornwall, England
Within the last 10 years, one of the world’s best archaeological examples of Ritual Witchcraft has been exposed in Cornwall, England. This site, Saveok Water Archaeology, has several site features suggesting ritual offerings, purification pools, and spellcraft dating as early as the mesolithic upwards to offering pits from the 1500’s to early 1900’s. Some of the practices on the site took place during conservative religious periods that outlawed the practice of Witchcraft, killing of swans, or Pagan faith and ritual. This didn’t seem to affect the religious patrons to this site as offerings and practice appears very abundant on these grounds. Prior to these finds, some of the only remains of witchcraft in England were witch bottles. Located on the small local farm of Saveok Mill called “Saveok Water Archaeological Site”, resident Jacqui Wood discovered very curious archaeological features in her backyard when clearing the ground for a metal-work furnace on her land as one of her experimental archaeology projects. One of the phases of the site, discovered in 2003, in areas EF and Area L appears to have had ritualistic use by means of offering pits (upward of 35) primarily swan-feather lined with imported pebbles or additional elements in them that date from the late 1500’s to the 1640’s onward. Use of such offering pits during a period of turmoil in England when Cromwellian Puritans destroyed much of pre-Christian Pagan England along the countryside would not only have been extremely dangerous to practice, but simply unheard of for the time period as the practice of witchcraft often led to a death sentence. These offering pits are believed to be evidence of Cornwall Witchcraft practice throughout the ages. While lineage or written evidence for the site is lacking, the remains are vast and tie into much of the lore, practices, and belief systems utilized by Paganism in the area – standing as the most common-sense theory at this point in the investigations. These practices may or may not have been done by the former 17th century residents who built the dwellings that currently exist on the site. But some of the offering pits were certainly dug during their occupation. Ethnographic discussions with locals suggests that some of the land’s residents, the Burnett’s, were reputedly witches. Since anti-witchcraft laws were in place since 1541, their participation in these activities would have definitely remained hidden, for at this time the King James version of the Bible at the time declared into law that “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live“. [Exodus 22:17] The death penalty for the practice of Witchcraft officially ended in 1735 and by that time, evidence of this ritual site was covered over, and later residents of the site would have not been aware of what lie beneath.
The presumed ritualistic “offering pits” are generally 40 cm sq. x 17 cm depth earthen dug pits that were primarily carefully lined with the intact pelts of a swan and other bird remains such as claws and beaks from different species. Some of the pits had other animal elements including pigs, dogs, and cats. One was lined with the skin of a black cat and contained 22 eggs – all with chicks close to hatching, as well as cat claws, teeth, and whiskers. Another had a dog skin, dog teeth, and a baked pig jaw. Another pit had a mysterious 7 inch iron disk with a swan skin on one side and animal fur on the other. Based on ritualistic comparisons from Celtic Paganism, Witchcraft, Santeria, and Voodoo – such offering pits are common practice for fertility spells, sacrifice, and magical intentions. The abundant use of swan feathers, suggest fertility in this case, and based on local folklore could have been offering pits to the Goddess Brigid (now the Catholic St. Brigid) as per interviews with local witches and folklorists determined due to Brigid’s association with swans and fertility magic. According to local folklore and beliefs – the swan feathers associated with fertility were possibly offered her to promote conception. If conception took place – then 9 months later the person would return to empty the pit. This is the current explanation for some of the empty pits that were found. Some of the pits also contained leaf parcels of imported stones that have been traced to Swanpool Beach which is approximately 15 miles away from the site – a area famous for its population of swans. Not only were these practices at this time dangerous because of Cromwell, but the act of killing a swan would have been risky throughout English history as swans belong directly to the Crown. In addition within these feather pits were found over 57 unhatched eggs ranging in size from bantams to ducks that were flanked by the bodies of two magpies. Magpies are birds very tied to Cornish folklore and also seen as taboo to be utilized in such a way. These organic remains had incredible preservation on this site due to the Spring’s water-logged ground and mineral content. Radiocarbon dates of some of the swan feather fits date to 1640. The cat pit dates to the 18th century and the dog pit dates to the 1950’s. The combination of the holy well/spring, remains of the cauldron, ritual offerings to the well, swan feather lined offering pits, and other ritualistic evidence strongly suggested that this site was a ritual place for Cornish Witches. If this is the case, then Saveok Mill serves as one of the world’s best examples of sites of this kind since much of Witchcraft practice through the ages prior existed only in witches bottles and remains found in Salem, Massachussetts in the New World. Much of this fabled history, ressurrected by modern day Witches or continued by family tradition witches in the local area, has been buried in secrecy and buried underneath intentional cloaks of mystery. Until the modern era of the practice, written records of this religious movement and/or practice was next to non-existent.