Tales of American Witches: The Witch and the Baker's Dozen
American Witches in Folklore
The belief in witches dates back thousands of years and can be found worldwide. Here in the United States, many of us forget about our beginnings, and often we don't realize just how steeped in folklore our country really is—folklore that was brought from other countries, but also folklore that originates here and is unique to this country alone. The indigenous peoples' legends mixed and melted with the immigrants from Europe and Africa. Some of my favorite stories of witches come from the United States—witches along the shorelines of New England, witches high up in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, witches living amongst us.
In this series of articles, I will present to you my favorite and most intriguing tales of American witches in the hopes that it will inspire you and light a spark in your imagination. Some will be called witches, some shamans, and others midwives, grannies, and healers, but all are an integral part of American history and folklore and thus should be appreciated.
The Tale of the Baker's Dozen Witch Retold by Nicole Canfield
The story of the Baker's Dozen was originally handwritten in James Kirke Paulding's The Book of St. Nicholas written in the year 1836. And it went something like this...
Back in the Colonial Times in what is now known as the United States, a part of Manhattan (NY City) was known as New Amsterdam. In this early Dutch American settlement was a baker known as Boss Boomptie or Little Baker Boomptie. This was a man who took pride in his work, but who was also trying to provide for his family in hard times. Boss Boomptie baked bread, cookies, and all manner of baked goods and sold to the public. But Boss Boomptie wasn't necessarily a generous, kind man and someone thought he needed to be taught an important lesson.
One New Years' Night, when Boss Boomptie had been tying one on with his family and friends, there was a knock on the door of his bakery. His shop was closed for the holidays, but he went to answer it as he knew he could always use the business. Standing at the door was a haggard old woman of which Boomptie thought must've been a witch. She was hunched over, had a crooked nose, and leaned on a cane. She asked for a batch of a dozen of Boomptie's Saint Nicholas cookies. He gave her twelve, and she asked him again for a dozen. Boomptie said to her, "this is a dozen. There are twelve cookies here." The witch shook her head and informed Boomptie that a dozen cookies meant thirteen...that the other bakeries gave their customers an extra cookie to the dozen. Boomptie was appalled at the woman's brazen remarks and sent her on her way, claiming he had to feed his family too and how dare she ask for an extra cookie.
As one might expect, the baker's luck began to change the following day. People stole his cookies out of his shop, and Boomptie couldn't find the assailants. His bread would never rise or rose so much that it literally floated out of his chimney and above the town. He began to suspect he had been cursed by the hag.
The old woman appeared again at his door and asked for a dozen cookies. Boomptie cursed the woman for treating him in such a way and sent her on her way again. Well, his luck only grew worse and worse. None of his baked goods turned out right and his customers started to believe his shop was cursed. They stayed away and the baker lost business. At this point, he had no other option but to pray. He prayed to Saint Nicholas, the saint of merchants, and asked for Saint Nicholas to lift the witch's evil curse on his bakery.
He decided to try to bake another batch of Saint Nicholas cookies, and when he did...they came out of the oven perfectly. He sat them in the window of his shop, and when he looked up, there stood Saint Nicholas himself. Saint Nicholas reminded the baker to share with those in need, just as God would share with us when we are in need. The baker knew in his heart turning away the old woman was wrong.
Then came another knock on the door that night. It was the same old woman as before. She asked Boomptie for a dozen cookies. He happily gave her thirteen cookies and the woman said that the curse had been lifted. From then on, the baker always included an extra cookie with his dozen. This was the tale of the first Baker's Dozen.
Saint Nicholas reminded the baker to share with those in need, just as God would share with us in need.— Nicole Canfield
A Witch or Saint Nicholas Himself? You be the judge...
It is interesting to note how Saint Nicholas knows exactly what happened between the baker and the old woman...how the baker had turned the woman away when she requested an extra cookie. While they say Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus today) knows if you've been bad or good, we can almost wonder whether the witch was in cahoots with Saint Nicholas. Or perhaps was the witch a shapeshifted form of Saint Nicholas himself?
Witches appear in many tales from the past, often they have a negative or antagonistic presence; however, they almost always represent a turn of events that teaches the protagonist or main character an important lesson. In the story of the baker's dozen, the baker needed to learn how to be generous and give to those in need. He had a greedy spirit, one that Saint Nicholas recognized and sought to guide him to be a better person. If it wasn't for the witch's request and "curse", the baker might not have ever learned the valuable lesson he did.
Read the 1st in the Tales of American Witches' Series:
- Tales of American Witches: The Screecham Sisters (a....
Learn about some of the infamous American witches from history and folklore. The Screecham Sisters were witches who helped pirates.
© 2017 Nicole Canfield