They leave these abodes at night to “follow sugar wains because of their love of molasses, or to break into cattle pens.”
Beckwith was told that, as well as Obeah practitioners,
“[m]urderers and butchers and I know not how many other reprobates become Rolling-calves when they die.”
Folklorist MacEdward Leach also noted that butchers were likely to become Calves after death, especially those who “give short weight”.
Beckwith described the Calf as looking like a black and white goat with blazing red eyes. Its back feet are those of a goat whilst the front pair consist of one human foot and one horse’s hoof. It has a collar round its neck with a chain attached which drags along the ground. Writing in the early twentieth century, Frank Cundall quoted an informant who said that Satan gave the Calf the chain to warn people of its approach.
When it came to the other forms that the Rolling Calf may take, Beckwith cited Thomas Banbury. According to Banbury Rollin’ Calves may appear as a:
“cat, dog, hog, goat, horse or bull, but the most dangerous is the brindled cat [see picture below], and… it [the Calf] has the power to grow from the size of a cat or dog to that of a horse or bull.”
Unwary travellers are most likely to encounter Rollin’ Calves at night. MacEdward Leach noted how Calves will try to kill their victims by breathing their “hot breath” on them.
As to the Calf’s name. Martha Beckwith believed that rollin’ meant roaming. However Leach said she had got this wrong. In his view, rollin’ means roaring.
Next time… How to prevent a Rollin’ Calf breathing its hot breath on you. Then back to things arboreal with more on the Tree of Good and Evil.
Sources (in order of first appearances in text)
Title quote from Black Roadways, p. 100.
Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929), pp. 100-101.
MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81, p. 69.
Frank Cundall, “Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica”, Folklore, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Mar. 25, 1904), pp. 87-94, p. 91.
Rev. Thomas Banbury, Jamaica Superstitions; or the Obeah Book: A Complete Treatise of the Absurdities Believed in by the People of the Island (Kingston: Mortimer Co. De Souza, 1894), in Black Roadways, p. 100.
Image credits: Rollin’ Calf illustration by abookofcreatures (© A Book Of Creatures) – https://abookofcreatures.com/2017/05/29/rolling-calf/
Photograph of brindled cat by Simon Noel. Brindled cat posed by Millie.