Walking the dogs yesterday by a small pond, I noticed how green the pond surface was, choked with small leaves of pond weed. A memory of something my grandmother used to say came into my head “careful or Jinny Greenteeth will get you”. Jinny Greenteeth used to haunt her waterbutt in the garden, and the old canal that ran by her house. Jinny Greenteeth was the pond weed that turned the water surface green. I hadn’t thought about Jinny Greenteeth for years, in fact I couldn’t remember anyone but my grandmother ever mentioning her. I wondered where the name came from, was it something my grandmother had dreamt up to warn me or did other people think of Jinny Greenteeth.
As always, google was the first place to turn, and I wasn’t disappointed. Apparently Jinny, or Ginny or Jenny is well known in folklore.
Found: North of England, in cold or murky waters
How to recognise it: A green-skinned, frog-eyed, needle-toothed hag. Difficult to spot, however – she is usually hidden beneath the surface by murk or duckweed
What NOT to do: Do not frolic carelessly on the brink of wells, marshes, murky ponds, weed-choked pools, etc. Jenny Greenteeth will pull you into the water and eat you. Again, she considers children something of a delicacy.
if you go walking by any pool, pond or river at night, be on the lookout for Jenny Greenteeth. She is most dangerous for those who are not careful by open water, as she lives beneath the surface on the muddy bottom and feeds upon the unwary. Her lithe form darts back and forth like a fish and with pale green skin and long dark green hair she is no beauty.
Jenny Greenteeth can be found all over the British Isles in many different forms. In Lancashire she is Jinny Greenteeth, in Cheshire and Shropshire she was known as Wicked Jenny, Ginny Greenteeth and Peg o’ Nell, while in Durham she was Peg Powler1. Hebden in Yorkshire has Thor’s Well (or Thrushkeld), where Jenny haunts waiting to drag small children in if they go too near the edge and in Cornwall she has a close relative in the bucca-boo, a water spirit that haunted moors and ponds.
There does seem to be a link between witches or evil spirits of some form living in secluded pools and waterways across Europe. Clearly Jinny Greenteeth is a part of this tradition.
It is not surprising, therefore, that as well as Jenny Greenteeth lurking in the depths of the pond, the spirits of some past inhabitants are said to haunt the Park. Generations of gardeners have told stories of ghosts seen walking in the grounds, and one young lad was very indignant when his cap was snatched from his head near Synagogue Well and found abandoned in the grounds the next day.
(Frodsham history, Cheshire, 2007)
The Witches Pool near Flint Mountain also springs to mind as an example. I am not totally convinced by the claim in some accounts that this derives from Celtic beliefs concerning water gods and goddesses. These deities are also linked in some accounts to the beliefs associated to the numerous holy wells in England and Wales. I understand there is a vigorous debate over the survival of beliefs unchanged from pre Christian times or whether these have been revived in the medieval period. I should return to this in the future.
Jinny has been immortalised in song, fiction and even become a character in the Monsters in my pocket series. So she wasn’t invented by my grandmother, but is part of a strong folk tradition in this part of the world. I shall remember to treat the ponds and waterways with more respect and make sure not to frolic too close to the edge as I walk the dogs in future; Jinny isn’t a character to treat lightly.