The Sacrifices of the Windy Pits

In the 1950’s, spelunkers in North Yorkshire, England, took it upon themselves to investigate a set of narrow crevasses cut into the landscape, known as the Windy Pits. They uncovered the remains of some 22 individuals, which according to carbon dating, met their fates there some time during, or just prior to the first century. The manner of their deaths and disposal is most odd, and has the anthropologists postulating all manner of unsubstantiated religious rites. I would like to put forward another hypothesis, if I may. You may choose to believe it…or not.

Image by Tumblr user @jukraft

North Yorkshire is a land rich in clay soil, limestone, and peat, and therefore great agricultural potential. As such, has been in continuous habitation since the Mesolithic, when German ancestors wandered across what was then a land bridge running between the isles and the Western European mainland. It had healthy and thriving Celtic tribes during the Iron Age, and into the first century, when Rome eventually took over, in order to halt a civil war between a Queen and her estranged husband…but that’s another story. At the time our tale begins, the moors of North Yorkshire were a kind of no-man’s land twixt two tribes locked in a sort of rivalry. While there is no evidence to suggest that there was ever anything but skirmishes and fort-building between the two tribes, their lack of peace figures largely into my ideas.

Little is known of the small Parisi tribe, which hugged the eastern coast and surrounded a harbor, but there’s ample evidence to suggest that the tribe may have had links to the mainland, and may have moved into the area more recently than their nearest neighbors, the Brigantes. One of the largest and most powerful tribes in the north–their name being the word for “bright” or “of high station”–Brigantes settlements were organized, fortifications and villages had walls and deep traditions. When the Romans arrived, the Brigantes held their own against the incursion, halting it in its tracks for almost 50 years. Indeed they even allied with Rome for a time. For the Brigantes, having access to the harbor controlled by the Parisi might have been of benefit, but during the Roman push, it could also have been that the Brigantes were not interested in losing their eastern buffer against invasion from that side. For these reasons, it appears as if the peat bogs and cracked rocks of the moors became a kind of neutral ground, a difficult to traverse region of good faith between Parisi and Brigantes. The habitations that would have existed nearest to the Windy Pits were still quite far away, such that transporting people to and from it would have taken effort.

You may be asking yourself, gentle reader, how it is that 22 dead bodies ended up there, and you’d be right to wonder that. But come, let’s talk about these bodies and their grave.


The Windy Pits are narrow, awkward spaces plunging into the earth, the deepest of which–Slip Gill–is some 75 feet. They contain ledges and shelves, sheer drops and tunnel-like extensions. Air, trapped within and warmed by the earth blows out like breath. When the spelunkers sank into them 80 years ago, it was to find surfaces littered with tangles of bones–the remains of corpses dropped into the narrow openings, one atop the other. As said before, these bodies date from a narrow window of time (carbon dating is not more accurate, but the implication is that they could have died around the same time, or spanned about 100 years), and are not of any specific type. Men, women, and children are among their number, with various ultimate causes of death, though all appear to have suffered fatal injuries at the hands of another. Signs of stabbing, axe cuts, and peri-mortem mutilations or hobbling–indications the victims were disabled by forced breaks to the legs caused by heavy blunt force trauma–pale in comparison to what was found in more recent examination of the skulls. Telltale scraping marks around the craniums and along long bones indicate that many of the corpses were either scalped or defleshed in some way.

Anthropologists and archaologists have given their thoughts–that it was some sort of religious ritual akin to the bodies discovered in the peat bogs. They suggest that the skinning or defleshing of the victims was done because many groups apparently believed that a soul was not fully sent to the other side until the body was completely decomposed and the bones cleaned. They’ve implied that these rituals were considered somehow necessary to sustain reality or harvests or whatever, and that the whole event was some sort of spectacle–even going so far as to suggest that the victims were chosen beforehand and willing, or…that they were drugged. The lack of defensive wounds on the bodies seems to indicate that they were not fighting back, and had to somehow have been incapacitated. But if they were incapacitated, why then were they hobbled? Unlike Bog Bodies, no clothing, ropes, or weapons were found. A few small fragments pottery and tools were uncovered, but they were not enough to constitute a burial site. In fact, all sources agree that this is a highly unconventional and rare form of “deposition” or body disposal. Both the Brigantes and Parisi appear to have been in that area for many centuries. If this was such an ingrained tradition in their culture, why do the bodies only date from that narrow window of time and not hundreds of years in parallel to the period of habitation? How do historians know these traditions existed if no written records do? The Parisi tribe has merely the scantest of mentions by Ptolomy, and almost no interest from Roman historians, save Tacitus, and are so unknown as to have barely any mention in any text I can find. No one even knows where they came from or how they got their name. The Brigantes had much more contact with Romans and not a single such ritual was discussed by the Roman chroniclers. Thusly, I can see no reason why these assumptions are made, beyond trying to account for the evidence, missing some rather critical data, i.e. a resident cryptid.

For those of you who have read my published diaries, this situation might seem rather familiar to you. Warring tribes faced with the threat of betrayal and alliance with invaders…threats of civil war…the Roman traditions of “borrowing” the children of their enemies and educating and indoctrinating them into imperial ways, only to hand them back, creating spies and future saboteurs in the ranks. I put forth that, as was done with me in Teutoburg, the locals turned to someone who might have been able to help. Their ancestors came from the same regions of Germanic tribes, and perhaps they knew how to appeal to my species, befriend them, and tried to do this by feeding my cousin the bodies of their sacrifices. The Windy Pits are perhaps innavigable to Iron Age humans, but such a narrow chimney is easy to traverse for me and mine.

Perhaps that cousin of mine had been there for some time. Indeed, it’s possible that the moors were actually its territory, and that this was known by the locals. It’s even possible to imagine that this is the reason the land was such a buffer between these two tribes, and indeed the stalemate was bolstered by this impediment. These things are as reasonable as any other such idea I can see being put forth. Indeed, there are tales dating back as far as I can find of caves and fissures and mines in the area being inhabited by fairies, trolls, and so forth. Farther west is Janet’s Foss–a cave beneath a lovely waterfall in which a fairy named Janet or Jannet dwells. In the same region is “Jeanie” another “vengeful fairy” who gets rid of those who disturb her in her forest home. There is even a story of a giant’s treasure, a hoarde hidden beneath rocks. Those of you who’ve talked with me at all, know that I have some interest in the discovery of hoardes–or caches of wealth–containing coins and bits of gold and jewelry, and shiny baubs, all from disparate time periods, buried in the ground and left.

To me, with my knowledge of what I am, this seems most likely to be the lasting folklore impact of a cousin, who, if they no longer be there, have created a mythos so strong it still echoes today. A myth no one saw, in the murders of 22 people still unsolved.

2 responses to “The Sacrifices of the Windy Pits

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