|"O, it's de dad-blame' witches..."|
The witch can be a man but is more frequently a woman. She is normally an old hag but can change form, becoming any living creature - a frog, an insect, a black cat. Her purpose is not so much murder as torment; she brings about poor health, misfortune, and mischief. One means to this end is riding. When she wishes to ride someone, a witch enters the house of her sleeping victim, slips a bit into his mouth and the nightmare begins. You know you've been ridden when you wake up fatigued and depressed, often with bit marks at the corner of the mouth and lashes on the back from her whip.
Because the witch plaits the victim's hair into stirrups, one way to prevent a riding is to tie your hair with thread. As she must shed her skin before riding, sharp objects left in her path will thwart her by catching on her empty skin, preventing her from re-entering it. There is a close connection between witches and horses; therefore hanging horseshoes over windows and doors and throughout the house keeps away the unwelcome visitor. Some believe that the witch is forced to travel all the roads that the horseshoe had traveled before she could enter the house. Daylight and safety will arrive before she's finished the route.
Witches also have a counting instinct which forces them to count all that they see. So a witch-riding can be avoided by leaving items in her path - a sieve, she will be forced to count all the holes; a broom, she will count all the straws. Some people scatter mustard seeds or sand throughout the house. The witch is caught before she has time to count each grain.