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New Witch for Wookey HoleNew Witch for Wookey Hole

When Wookey Hole Caves advertised for a witch they were inundated with 3,000 applications for the £50,000 job. In scenes reminiscent of a Witches’ Sabbat, some 300 finalists with broomsticks and pointed hats queued for hours to take part in what one newspaper called the Hex Factor.

New Witch for Wookey Hole

Witchcraft Job Draws 3,000 Applicants

Posted 29 July 2009

An eerie human shaped figure in the rock scares nervous visitors to the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. According to the local legend she was a witch turned to stone by a Glastonbury monk. Today she has some flesh and blood competition. Film goers will remember the chilling underground scenes from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, some of which were filmed at Wookey Hole. But it is not Harry Potter who has returned to haunt the caves, but a former estate agent from Shepton Mallet.

New broom sweeps up at Wookey auditions

When Wookey Hole Caves advertised for a witch they were inundated with 3,124 applications for the £50,000 job. In scenes reminiscent of a Witches’ Sabbat, some 300 finalists with broomsticks and pointed hats queued for hours to take part in what one newspaper called the Hex Factor. With 60 seconds to impress the panel of three judges on Tuesday the 28th, hopefuls went through their routines of stereotypical witch antics. Applicants included a London banker and a tatooist, and one couple even travelled from as far away as Italy in order to take part.

Dressed in a black satin dress with stripy stockings, Carla Calamity (aka Carole Bohanan) attributed her success in beating the other finalists to what she called her ‘witchy charisma’. Singing a song about the legendary Witch of Wookey Hole she beat all the others to win what Telegraph TV called ‘Witch Idol’.

‘Oh, I just feel like wafting around, floating around here on my new broomstick’ she told reporters afterwards.

The post arose after the previous incumbent, Jane Brenner, retired. Brenner, who had been Wookey's witch for the past six years, said ‘We didn’t want anyone who would scare the children’.

From Herne the Hunter to the Cybermen

The result of erosion caused by the River Axe, the limestone caves have often proved the backdrop for atmospheric film and TV sets. Tom Baker as Doctor Who fled the infamous silver monsters in Revenge of the Cybermen down one of the tunnels during filming in the mid-1970s. The Witch’s Cavern was also used as the location for Herne’s cavern in Richard Carpenter’s popular TV series Robin of Sherwood in the 1980s.

Legend of the witch

But Wookey’s spooky reputation goes further back in time. According to the legend, the caves were home to a notorious witch. Local villagers appealed to the Abbot of Glastonbury who sent a Father Bernard to deal with the problem. Using either the rite of exorcism, or Holy Water – accounts vary – the monk reputedly turned the witch into stone.

The story was first recorded in 1748, but it was not until 1912 that cave explorer HE Balch found evidence of human habitation in the caves. Goats had once been kept at the entrance – a milking jug was found nearby. Later archaeological investigations have found evidence of human habitation going back 70,000 years.

Older versions of the legend tell of a ‘lerned wight’ of ‘Glaston’ who was called upon to rid the area of the malevolent witch. She afflicted the crops and herds, and especially directed her spells against young men and women. ‘Wicked as the Witch of Wookey’ became a local saying and although the witch was turned to stone she left her curse behind so that the womenfolk were greatly deprived of male company.

What are reputed to be the witch’s skeleton – not withstanding that she was supposedly petrified – and crystal ball are on view in the museum.

‘Must be able to cackle’

Working for circus proprietor Gerry Cottle’s Wookey Hole Ltd the new witch will be expected to teach witchcraft and magic to visitors. The job advert, which appeared in local newspapers and job centres, stipulated such skills as ‘must be able to cackle’ and ‘must not be allergic to cats’.

The first to audition was Sharon Shaw. Calling herself a ‘hedgewitch’ she had arrived dressed in brown sacking with a rabbit skull and a piece of antler hanging from her belt. Another turned up with a real raven called Bran. One of the judges, John Turner, said that ‘one candidate is carrying around a bottle of her own urine. She drank half of it before we could stop her.’

The company said that it had received 23 letters of complaint from church and religious groups. Locals had already been up I arms against Cottle earlier this year when he ignored planning consent regulations and turned an historic Victorian bowling green near the caves into a crazy golf course.

As yet there have been no adverts for the role of ghost – Wookey Hole is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a drowned potholer – but unsuccessful candidates still have a chance at landing the £30,000 a year job as a zombie for the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs.

When asked what sort of witch she wanted to be, Bohanan replied, ‘I want to be a glamorous witch. Bling Witch, that’s me.’


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