Black Annis, also known as Black Agnes, is a bogeyman figure in English folklore. She is imagined as a blue-faced crone or witch with iron claws and a taste for humans (especially children). She is said to haunt the countryside of Leicestershire, living in a cave in the Dane Hills, with an oak tree at its entrance.
She supposedly goes out onto the glens at night looking for unsuspecting children and lambs to eat, then tanning their skins by hanging them on a tree, before wearing them around her waist. She would reach inside houses to snatch people. Legend has it that she used her iron claws to dig into the side of a sandstone cliff, making herself a home there which is known as Black Annis's Bower. The legend led to parents warning their children that Black Annis would catch them if they did not behave.
It is thought that the earliest written reference to Black Annis was from the eighteenth century, from which a title deed referred to a parcel of land as "Black Anny's Bower Close".
The Black Annis figure has several possible origins. Some have claimed, as Lethbridge did, that the origin can be found in Celtic mythology, based on Danu (or Anu), or it may derive from Germanic mythology (see Hel). Donald A. McKenzie in his 1917 book Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe suggested the origin of the legend may go back to the mother-goddess of ancient Europe, which he contends was thought of as a devourer of children. and he identified Black Annis as being similar to the Indic Kali, Gaelic Muilearteach and Cailleach Bheare, the Greek Demeter, the Mesopotamian Labartu, the Egyptian Isis-Hathor and Neith. It has been suggested that the legend may derive from a popular memory of sacrifice to an ancient goddess. It is thought that offerings of children may have been made to the goddess that inspired the legend in the archaeological Hunting Period, the oak tree at the cave's entrance also a common site of local meetings. Annis was also represented in cat form and the legend led to a local ritual in early spring, when a dead cat would be dragged before a pack of hounds in front of her bower, to celebrate the end of winter.
Ronald Hutton however disagrees with such theories, in his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, suggests that the Black Annis of Leicestershire legend was based on a real person, Agnes Scott, a late medieval anchoress (or by some accounts a Dominican nun who cared for a local leper colony), born in Little Antrum, who lived a life of prayer in the cave in the Dane Hills, and was buried in the church yard in Swithland. Hutton suggests that the memory of Scott was distorted into the image of Black Annis, either to frighten local children, or due to the anti-anchorite sentiment that arose from the Protestant Reformation. In Victorian times, the story of Agnes Scott, or Annis, became confused with the similarly named goddess Anu. Thomas Charles Lethbridge made this connection and went on to claim that Annis was the personification of the Great Goddess in crone form, leading to interest from Wiccan groups. Her legend resembles the Black Lady of Bradley Woods.
In popular culture
In his run on Doom Patrol, Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison made a monstrous figure with the same name one of the superpowered "alters" of his character Crazy Jane, who suffers from multiple personality disorder. This version of Black Annis is a blue-skinned, red-eyed, psychopath with sharp iron claws growing out of her knuckles.
Black Annis made a brief appearance in the short story "London Falling", which was published in the comic book 2000AD. The character also appeared briefly in the Dark Horse Comics series Hellboy: The Wild Hunt. The battle between her and Hellboy is recounted in a single panel in the fourth issue.
"Black Annis" is also the name of a song by Antje Duvekot; it appears on her 2002 debut album, Peppermints, with a live performance version appearing as a hidden track at the end of the song "Soma" on her 2008 album Snapshots (the Irish-American band Solas covered the song on their 2002 album The Edge of Silence). A different song of the same name, by Spiral Dance, is about Black Annis being misunderstood as an evil witch.
A boogeyman creature, quite similar to Black Annis, is mentioned in the stealth-action game "Thief: Deadly Shadows". Some of the minor characters spread rumors about a bent cannibal hag, snatching children and flaying them.
Black Annis is mentioned briefly in Michael Scott's novel The Alchemyst and its sequel, The Magician. She is said to be a vile and dark creature, and even thinking about her can cause madness.
Black Annis is mentioned as one of the Wych-kin in Chris Wooding's The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, and is initially suggested to be Stitch-Face's mother.
Black Annis is mentioned in Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant short story The Slightly Ignominious End to The Legend Of Black Annis and features more extensively in the short novel Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven set in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe.
J.K. Rowling wrote the newsletters for the Harry Potter Fan Club in 1998 and 1999, depicting excerpts from issues of the in-universe wizarding newspaper The Daily Prophet. In one such issue, there is a letter to the editor written by a Annis Black complaining about the newspaper's portrayal of Hags as flesh-eating monsters. Annis Black then goes on to offer her babysitting services in her cave in Deadmarsh.
- Briggs, Katharine Mary (1976) An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Pantheon Books, ISBN 978-0-394-73467-5, p.24
- Alexander, Marc (2002) A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, BCA, p.23
- MacKenzie, Donald A. (1917) Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe, Kessinger, pp. 111–122
- Black Annis – leicester legend or Widespread Myths
- Turner, Patricia & Coulter, Charles Russell (2001) Dictionary of Ancient Deities, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-514504-5, p.102
- Spence, Lewis (1972) The Minor Traditions of British Mythology, Ayer, ISBN 978-0-405-08989-3, p.29
- Hutton, Ronald (2001) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-285449-0, pp. 274–275
- BBC – h2g2 – Black Annis – Legend of Leicester
She also appears in John Coyne's "Hobgoblin" (1981) under that name, ascribed to Irish mythology.