Welcome to ‘In the Chimehours’: An exploration of English folklore, folk tradition & magic, and my journey as an English Witch returning to her roots.
I’ll be working in collaboration with the boys at Miles Cross (Matt Baldwin-Ives and Ian Thurlby), who have been kind enough to provide all the images for this project, and have lent a greatly needed hand with the ‘back of house’ goings on. I’m so excited & honoured to be able to show off their work.
I want to completely step away from Crooked & Hidden Ways, and concentrate solely on this project, but the site will remain running (and I’ll be posting links there) for a while. To give everyone a chance to follow me over here, before completely taking the blog down. I want to thank all my readers, and friends, who have be following along these past few years, I am indeed very grateful for your support and feedback.
The number one question on everyone’s lips during the lead-up to launching this blog was “What are the Chime hours?”
So with that question… Here we go…
“I wor born in the chimehours and can see what other folks can’t see, leastways, so they tell me”
‘Chime Hours’ or ‘Chime Children’ are not much talked of these days, as the chiming of church bells have become less and less frequent. Not often will you hear the term ‘Chime Child’ uttered, apart from by those who follow the older ways and superstitions of the British Isles, especially those who were born within the chime hours themselves. Three, six, nine, and midnight are the most commonly accepted times of the chime hours. These were the hours that, in monastic tradition, prayers were required, and were marked by the tolling of the church bells. However, in Somerset and East Anglia those hours are held to be eight in the evening, midnight, and four in the morning. There’s still some argument as to whether a Chime Child was born exactly on the toll of the church bells, or within that hour, depending on where you were born. Still in other locales those hours are specifically limited to those who were born between midnight and dawn, Friday to Saturday. According to those, Sunday bore no Chime Children.
I was born on a Saturday, not long after the church bells were rung. A stones’ throw from the hospital where I lay wet and sticky from the womb, mewling naked upon my mother’s breast, the second round of tolls peeled through the night, marking quarter past the chime hour.
Those who were born within the chime hours are said to be gifted with ‘the eyes to see’. They had the eyes to see things which were usually hidden from ordinary people, such as ghosts, spirits and demons. The British folklorist T. F. Thiselton Dyer in The Ghost World (1893) states;
“Thus it is said in Lancashire that children born during twilight are supposed to have this peculiarity, and to know who of their acquaintance will next die. Some say that this property belongs also to those who happen to be born exactly at twelve o’clock at night, or, as the peasantry say in Somersetshire, ‘a child born in chime-hours will have the power to see spirits’.”
Still other abilities are attributed to Chime Children. They are said to be skilled at herbal medicine, magic and healing, seership, and the power to control animals (both wild and tamed). A chime hour birth also made one privy to certain songs and carols; song and carols that would usually only be sung at certain times, by certain people. A chime hour birth could cancel out the bad luck that the mere utterance of these traditional songs, at the wrong time of the year, could bring. In some stories closer to the sea, Chime Children had an affinity with the waves, and these children were often the ones taught to sing the sailors or fishermen home. It is said that they can even control the sea and the weather, if born close enough to water.
Another belief was that Chime Children were the only ones able to see and hear the Ratchets, the spectral hounds of the Otherworld (the Cŵn Annwn led by Gwynn ap Nudd, or the hounds of Herne the Hunter) which formed part of the Wild Hunt, and live to tell the tale. To catch sight or sound of those hounds was usually the harbinger of death, excepting those of a chime hour birth.
Chime Children are blessed with ‘the second sight’, and in times of old were watched closely as they grew, to see how their gift would manifest. In parts of Ireland and Scotland, particularly the Highlands, this was accepted as normal, and it was believed that these gifts and abilities were God-given. Song and prayers were taught to the seer, in order to aid them to ‘see true’. As with any gift of this kind, many of those who were born within the chime hours considered it a curse, and would gladly be rid of it. The burdens of a Chime Child are many, especially when they have no one around to guide them in using their gifts.
“Es aw looked out my asey-casey,
On a moonlight night,
Aw sah th’ dead carrying the live.
Wasn’t that a wunderful sight?”
Text – Sarah-Jayne Farrer
Images © Matt Baldwin-Ives (www.milescross.co.uk)