The ethnographic evidence for popular beliefs from the eighteenth century onwards suggests that certain types of ghost were appearing for longer and longer periods. These were not the purposeful ghosts that interacted with humans, but the hordes of silent memorial ghosts who walked the roads, roamed the fields or lingered by pools, sometimes haunting the spot where a person committed suicide, perhaps commemorating a sad event or merely a repetitive action.
The lifespan of such ghosts, for which there was no obvious allotted occupancy on earth, depended on the collective memory and the stability of the oral transmission of local histories in communities from one generation to the next. A ghost needed to be located in time to make sense of it. This could be achieved by matching a haunting with a real event such as a murder or a suicide.
This could be a recent incident fresh in the collective or individual memory, or it could be associated with a dim and distant tragic event. Legends could be appropriated to give a ghost a back-story. Sometimes the location of a haunting provided the dating evidence. A ghost in a castle could be confidently located in medieval or early modern times. Ghosts, as troubled spirits, also became explicable if they could be situated in a turbulent period of history such as the dissolution of the monasteries. Ghostly nuns and monks are common in folklore sources.
To give but two examples, near Tong, Shropshire, in the s, a nun haunted the former sight of a nunnery dissolved during the Reformation. Samuel Bamford — recalled how, in his childhood, School Lane in Middleton, Lancashire, was haunted by two men, one Royalist and the other a Roundhead, who killed each other there during the Civil War. The ubiquity of ghostly nuns, monks, Roundheads and Cavaliers is due considerably to the fact that they are easily recognisable by their habits and headgear.
So clothes identify the period and the period provides the reason for the haunting. But this is an extremely difficult thing to gauge. Numerous local legends of valiant battles against the Danes sprang up around the country, with some enduring right through into the twentieth century, perhaps given renewed life by the national celebration of King Alfred in , to mark the 1,th anniversary of his death. But significant insights into popular beliefs in ghosts only become available from the late seventeenth century, and by this time the chronological parameters of popular history had shifted to more recent events.
The Civil War had become the most prominent episode in English legendary history, smothering and replacing earlier traditions of Old English battles and monumental destruction. In the West Country, for example, the Monmouth rebellion of and the infamous Bloody Assizes held by Judge Jeffreys became a strong legendary influence. The Reformation was obviously held up as a key moment in English historical progress, though some pedagogic texts recognised the brutality of the Dissolution. Similarly, the Civil War and the execution of Charles I was used to defend the righteousness of monarchy and the iniquity of political rebellion.
This ghost supposedly scared the ferrymen of the lakes around the time of the Reformation, until a monk vanquished it. A search on the internet reveals numerous sightings in diverse places such as London, Derby, the Isle of Wight, and an old Roman road near Weymouth. Some readers will be familiar with the well-known case of a troop of soldiers seen by a plumber working in a York cellar in However, such sightings are a modern phenomenon, with nearly all of them dating to the last 50 years.
Clothes truly maketh the ghost. The Rev. There is a biblical precedent. The Hammersmith ghost scare was said to have caused the demise of one woman, and in the newspapers reported that an aristocratic young woman had died after a convulsive fit brought on by having seen two ghosts in her bedchamber. In January an inquest on the body of a year-old servant named Elizabeth Bishop, at Misterton, Somerset, concluded that she had died of excessive fright or syncope.
This severely frightened her and in the ensuing weeks she said she had also seen the ghost of a cousin who had been dead some 20 years. In a state of considerable distress she returned home to her parents in Misterton, and shortly after she fell into a terrible fit and died. She told the coroner: It is the ghost of a lady in silk, and has been troublesome to some former lodgers. Two or three lodgers have been killed in the same house, and no doubt frightened from the same cause.
I have never seen the ghost myself. A verdict of accidental death was given. Wherever humans have been so ghosts have followed: from ships in the middle of the ocean to the crowded streets of London, from the dark depths of the earth to moonlit hilltops, from the humblest cottages to royal palaces. But rarely did ghosts roam or linger aimlessly; there was usually a reason as to where as well as why they appeared. The spirits of the dead most obviously returned to those places where someone had died or where corpses lay buried or hidden.
But there were other locations where ghosts lingered that did not have explicit associations with death, such as bridges, roads and pools. The concept of liminality, which pertains to the state of being on the border or threshold of two defined states of existence, has been most enthusiastically employed by anthropologists to describe the symbolic and physical transitional stages in which initiates find themselves when undergoing rites of passage.
But the concept also serves to describe, in various historic and prehistoric contexts, the relationship between life, death, the afterlife, and natural and man-made features in the landscape. Natural features such as rivers likewise served as liminal places where the two worlds met, and where people gathered to either reinforce the separation between them or to try to permeate it briefly for religious or magical purposes.
In Scandinavia, for instance, there was a long association between the living dead and property boundaries. Once dead the outlaw returned to haunt the spot where in life he or she had transgressed secular and religious norms, and could be encountered groaning, trying to move the stone to its rightful place, or pointing out to the living where it should lie.
The demonic ghost that, in , tormented and abused a man of Spreyton Spraiton , Devon, only appeared to him as soon as he crossed into the parish. As well as being sensitive to the significance and meaning of liminality, we should also be aware of how changes in the environment over time influenced the landscape of haunting. One wonders, for example, how parliamentary enclosure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries affected ghost traditions in Midland communities, and likewise how drainage of wetlands influenced hauntings in Somerset and the Fens.
One indication of the impact of the latter development on ghost legends is evident from a conversation between a Norfolk woman and the Rev. John Gunn, rector of Irstead, Norfolk. It looked exactly like a candle in a lantern. Whether the dwellers of castles or cottages, manors or hovels, the vast majority of people died inside their homes. It was where people mourned the dead and were surrounded by memories of their presence. For sceptics the house was obviously the centre of hauntings because it was where people slept and dreamed of the dead, or where people lay drunk, drugged or hallucinating in their sickbeds.
The theory of ghosts as residual electromagnetic impulses left behind by the strong emotions of the deceased, emphasises the dampness and enclosed environment of buildings required to retain this residual memory. As we shall see later in this chapter, and in others, numerous houses over the century attracted a reputation for being haunted because they were empty or derelict. The former situation represents a different category of internal haunted space to the latter.
The haunting was not concerned with the intimacy between the dead and the bereaved or subsequent residents inside the property, it was about what abandonment of a social space meant to the community outside. If people failed to occupy a human environment then external forces would move in; perhaps a mysterious gang of criminals, but maybe also supernatural visitants such as witches, boggarts and ghosts. The ghost might be limited to the room in which a person was murdered or committed suicide. The haunting could even be restricted to a single piece of furniture, as was heard during an unusual libel case tried at the Norwich Assizes in the summer of The Lingleys apparently did not know of its reputation before renting it, and it was a neighbour who informed them that a ghost haunted the closet.
She claimed in the letter that they rifled through her private belongings, mocking her and insinuating she had stolen some of her linen. It was a place for dreaming, having sex, exchanging intimate confidences and expressing solitary anguish. Undressed in the darkness, this was where people felt most exposed psychologically.
That said, bedroom hauntings were sometimes passive even comforting affairs, such as the sight of ghosts standing still at the foot of the bed, or the stroke of an invisible hand. But bedrooms were also the scenes of some of the most violent and frightening experiences. The astrologer and occultist John Heydon —c. In , for example, a Wiltshire folklorist was told by one man that his bedclothes were once pulled off by two ghostly maidens. According to numerous legends, those murdered inside houses sometimes left a permanent bloody reminder of their tragic end.
The ghost was in effect a stain. Such a sensation caused crowds of people from around the area to flock to the site. Even when the flagstone was replaced the stain reappeared. It remained an indelible stain and subsequent tenants had to place furniture in front to hide it.
Murderers spent their final hours in the their cells, some no doubt wracked by guilt and haunted by the ghosts of their victims. The corpses of the executed were often buried in the precincts. No wonder, then, that when the Quaker founder George Fox was flung into Launceston Castle gaol in he soon discovered that his fellow inmates believed that ghosts haunted the condemned cell. Shorter knew Lorimer had recently been murdered in the prison by fellow inmates but he had not reported it. It evidently played on his mind as he spent his last hours of life. Only a small minority of people still go to church regularly and therefore rarely find themselves passing through burial grounds.
In modern urban society most dead are buried in large municipal cemeteries set apart from the lives of the living or are incinerated in crematoriums. This development, which has been described as a dechristianisation of burial, was a result of increasing public health concerns about the spread of disease and noxious vapours emanating from overcrowded urban churchyards. As church records from the medieval and early modern periods demonstrate, churchyards were important recreational places as well 50 T HE HAUNT ED as sacred spaces, used not only for commemoration but also for playing ball games, dancing and fighting, much to the chagrin of the clergy.
From this perspective ghosts did not hover round graveyards just because their bodies lay there; they were on a mission or wished to express an opinion on the activities of the living. This is clear from the numerous examples of churchyard hauntings reported in the nineteenth-century press. Ghosts were commonly thought to appear to show disapproval when their graves were somehow disturbed.
In the summer of , for example, Mr Penhey, the proprietor off an oil and colour shop in Kingston, Surrey, decided to extend his cellar. Unfortunately it turned out that the excavated area was formerly part of the old parish churchyard. The workmen turned up numerous skulls and bones and it was not long before strange disturbances occurred.
One night, just around closing time, Mrs H. His wife had requested that a pair of black silk stockings, a lace cap and several other personal articles were placed in her coffin. They consented, and Drake got to work but found the wood had rotted. Since these proceedings Mrs Stone had been in a state of terror that the ghost of the dead woman would haunt the scene.
Such was her dread that each night she placed all the chairs and tables against the back door of the premises. Sometimes they were thought to haunt the spots where they killed themselves. Doors opened mysteriously and people felt an invisible presence. This profane form of burial was probably quite widespread in early modern England, though evidence is scarce as there was no requirement to record burials outside the churchyard or in unconsecrated ground. However, numerous cases were reported in eighteenth-century newspapers and periodicals, suggesting the continuation of a long-standing tradition.
The isolation of the locations, the mental torment that led people to commit self-murder and so damn their souls, and the knowledge of how their corpses were ritually desecrated, must have easily played on the imaginations of those travelling the roads at night. The association of crossroads with death meant they became general focal points for ghost legends.
But in some cases ghosts can be seen as virtual roadside memorials of real events that had long since disappeared from personal remembrance. Likewise when, in , a new signpost was being put at a junction on the Bridgwater to Stogursey high road, Somerset, the bones of a tall man were found six inches below the surface. In the local folklore a ghost of a tall old man dressed in a ragged uniform was said to roam the spot.
The crossroads acted as a further hobble, the four possible routes confusing the poor benighted souls. As tormented spirits they were a potentially common source of haunting. Although their ghosts more often haunted people rather than places, they were seen in gaols, and particularly from the eighteenth century onwards, those that were gibbeted lingered at the scene of their final ghoulish ignominy.
Legend also had it that the ghost of a murderer who killed a man at the crossroads between Castle Cary and Wincanton in , haunted the place where he was gibbeted. Gibbeting had been practised in the early modern period but it was by no means a common form of capital punishment. The body or just the face of the criminal was covered with pitch and suspended from the gibbet, which was usually erected either where the crime had taken place or on a prominent spot nearby.
The corpse would eventually be picked and pulled to pieces by scavenging birds. Some birds took to nesting in the cavities that opened up. By the nineteenth century gibbets were a significant part of the English landscape. In the s nearly gibbets stood on Hounslow Heath alone. Because some gibbets and their macabre fruits were left hanging for many years, they even found themselves being recorded on maps.
Workmen at Jarrow probably demolished the last one in The corpses of the criminals, denied a Christian burial, made them prime candidates for ghosthood. This is why gibbets were often sited on parish boundaries that traversed common land in order to prevent such troubled spirits from wandering far. In Great Expectations Charles Dickens evoked well the sense of the supernatural that accrued such spots.
When the young Pip sees Magwitch picking his way through the marshes after their first encounter, the latter is limping towards an old gibbet, its chains, which once held the body of a pirate, clanking in the wind. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so; and as I saw the cattle lifting their heads to gaze after him, I wondered whether they thought so too.
Sometimes, though, the bodies of victims were not found and so did not receive a Christian burial. Rather like purgatorial delay, it was up to the ghosts of those so grievously sinned against to return and ensure that justice was done before they could rest peacefully until the Day of Judgement. It was commonly thought therefore, that ghosts hovered over the hidden bodies. Francis Grose wondered why the ghosts of those murdered did not go straight to the nearest justice of the peace, rather than hang about their burial place frightening passers-by.
A rumour soon spread that he had been murdered, and it was reported that numerous people had seen his ghost at midnight wandering near a deep pool of water. It was duly discovered, although the fact that money and valuables were found on the corpse suggested his death was accidental. Somewhat surprisingly, though, prior to the twentieth century there is not a great deal of evidence regarding the presence of ghosts at such sites. The popular literature of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries certainly contained frequent reports of apparitions of armies fighting in the sky both in England and abroad.
However, these were usually prophetic visions disseminated for political propaganda purposes rather than representations of the apparitions of the dead involved in recent battles. The villagers of nearby Kineton heard the sound of drums, trumpets, and the noise of battle. So fearful were the people of Kineton that women were reported to have had miscarriages. In , for instance, a commercial traveller driving across Marston Moor saw three men dressed rather like Royalist soldiers walking along the road before vanishing.
One soldier swore they had carried him to safety. Daniel Defoe considered this one of the most absurd but widespread popular beliefs regarding ghosts. In December considerable excitement was caused in the village of Hawkchurch, Somerset, by the ghostly flitting of a candle behind the windows of an abandoned cottage. An elderly pauper had owned it, and it was rumoured that he had hidden a large sum of money in the walls. After his death the cottage was searched but no treasure was found. In the early twentieth century a ghost guarded gold treasure buried in a tumulus near Minchinhampton.
As we shall see in the next chapter, the seventeenth-century eccentric politician Goodwin Wharton went on numerous treasure hunts in and around the capital. The belief was encouraged by popular literature. In a pamphlet recorded the amazing discovery of a chest full of money in an old building in Rosemary Lane, London, thanks to the directions provided by a female ghost.
It was purportedly written by one Patrick Reardon, a former sailor who made a small living selling coffee to labourers at the West India Docks in London. On 22 July , an apparition of a woman appeared to him around midnight and told him to dig under his house. She appeared again with the same message three days later. Reardon finally decided to act, and with the help of an acquaintance began to dig at a spot pointed out by the apparition. Their work was interrupted by the appearance of a black serpent.
Despite overcoming this obstacle all they found was a pair of shoes and an old key. Further excavations were halted by the landlord of the property where they were digging, and they were arrested and incarcerated at Shadwell police station for 24 hours. Ball and Savage were caught entering a vacant property next to the Crown and Sceptre Tavern in Greenwich. Much to his consternation the stairs had evidently been removed, and to complete a disastrous night they were arrested. Other sightings were interpreted as the spirits of those who had drowned themselves.
In the s a Suffolk folklorist reported that for generations it was thought that an old woman named Mother Wakely drowned herself in a local pond, and that her spirit sometimes appeared to those who passed by the spot and tried to drag them in. With the tradition of White Ladies and their liking for pools, particularly ones described as deep, we move to an interpretation of water sources as liminal places, portals between the worlds of the living and the spirits. A similar symbolic meaning could help explain why ghosts were also sometimes found on or under bridges.
In a tailor named John Bowman, of Greenhill, deposed to a magistrate that on returning home from Sheffield market shortly before Ascension Day: One John Brumhead overtooke him, and they past along until they came against the cutlers bridge. And when they came at the said bridge they had some discourse concerneing an apparition that had beene seene there, as it was reported, in the shape and corporall forme of a man that they called Earle George.
And as they were speakeinge of itt, of a sudden there visibly appeared unto them a man lyke unto a prince, with a greene doublet and ruff … whereupon this examinate was sorelye affrighted and fell into a swound or trannce. Horses had a tell-tale objection to passing over one of them. A legend from Bagbury, Shropshire, told of how the ghost of an unpleasant old man, which tormented the village in the guise of a bull, asked a parson to lay him under Bagbury Bridge, but he was cast into the Red Sea instead.
Other bridge hauntings did not, however, and this observation, as with White Lady traditions, seems to be significant. It is possible, of course, that by the time some legends were recorded, historical explanations may have been lost from the communal memory.
But as the example of Owler Bridge indicates, the bridge acted not only as a practical, physical crossing point but also as a spirit access point. Casting a ghost under a bridge either banished it to the spirit realm or trapped it between the two worlds. Regarding those ghosts with no personal history, then perhaps, as with the White Lady tradition, they have their origins in fairy hauntings rather than human events.
Occasionally ghosts travelled beyond land to haunt sailors at sea. In February word spread through Sunderland that a mariner on board the Myrtle had been visited by the ghost of his sister while out at sea. Her body lay in a Sunderland churchyard and it was reported that her ghost would visit her brother again in port at midnight a few days later. A murder on board the British vessel the Pontiac, which was taking a cargo of Guano from the port of Callao, on the 13 October , was linked to the sighting of a ghost on board. A Greek sailor named Moyatos stabbed to death a fellow seaman, Robert Campbell, and gravely injured another named George Williams.
Moyatos claimed that God had revealed to him that the two men had been bribed by the captain of another ship to throw him overboard. The conversation was actually a joke between the two men about what they would do to a ghost that the steersman and a cabin boy had said they had seen two nights before. Neither had any idea, of course, that the disaster was to befall them. Moyatos was brought to trial in Scotland and declared insane. But while knockers usually kept themselves to themselves as long as humans respected their presence, ghosts served to help their mining colleagues.
During the early twentieth century some Durham miners continued to believe strongly that the spirits of those killed in the mines, and also the ghosts of children, appeared to forewarn miners of an imminent collapse. The ghosts of those killed in such accidents were also thought to linger on the spot as a reminder of their fate. The seriousness with which mining communities interpreted such apparitions is evident from an incident at Shirland Colliery, near Alfreton, Derbyshire in October A few days after a miner was accidentally killed down the mine, a colleague working down the pit claimed he saw the ghost of the man.
The news spread quickly among his fellow workers who downed tools and demanded to be taken up, evidently fearing a collapse. In all, men and boys refused to work until the mine was considered safe. But folklorists rarely ventured into the massively expanding urban areas of industrial England, and the countryside was assumed to be the natural home for spirits. So, did ghosts wander the backstreets of slums and the dark corners of the rookeries just as they paced the isolated byways, bridges and pools of the countryside? Not quite, but nineteenth-century urban England still teemed with ghosts and turning to other sources reveals a vibrant belief in haunted houses and churchyards.
In the s the perceptive critic of human credulity Charles Mackay complained that there were many houses in London blighted by a ghostly reputation. We know of half a dozen such. While haunted houses were as common in town and country, it would appear that in the nineteenth-century urban landscape, churchyards became a more frequent focus for hauntings than they were in rural areas.
This is understandable considering that there were fewer liminal features in the urban environment to attract legends. Another reason was the fear raised by body-snatchers or Resurrectionists, which was at its peak in the s. This created a general concern and interest in nocturnal churchyard activity and consequently a heightened awareness of potential ghosts. Several intrepid men climbed the railings to investigate the shadowy figure seen moving among the gravestones.
In August rumours circulated in the vicinity of Shadwell Church, London, that a ghost was haunting the cemetery. As usual, crowds soon gathered nightly in the hope of seeing it. One man who was unaware of this, but who did not believe there was a ghost, was a local drover named Henry Loomer. His father was buried in the churchyard and, fearing that body-snatchers were about, Loomer and a fellow drover named Garret Berry climbed over the churchyard railings, the gate being locked to prevent ghost hunters, and searched around the tombs.
They found two young men in hiding and a punch-up ensued until the police arrested them. The two men, John Beasley and Henry Ridley, who turned out to be tea-urn makers from St Lukes and Hoxton, were subsequently tried for being in the churchyard for an unlawful purpose.
They claimed they were only there looking for the ghost and were discharged. In the late eighteenth century James Lackington reported the haunting of a London hospital. The ghost was confined to the lower part of the building where a continual tapping on the windows was heard. The nurses concluded that it was the work of the spirit of one of the dead bodies kept close by in the dead-house.
So fearful were the nurses that they refused to go from ward to ward if it required entering the haunted part of the building. The vicar and parish officials tried to get the crowds to disperse but were ignored. It later transpired in court that, a few days before, a dead body had been pulled out of the river 62 T HE HAUNT ED and taken to the dead-house adjoining the church until an inquest could be arranged. Hearing of this, some boys in the neighbourhood began to spread the rumour that a ghost was haunting the churchyard, causing large numbers of people in the district to flock to the church after work in expectations of seeing it.
Ghost tours and walks have recently become a popular leisure activity. Although they were convivial and social institutions, in the early modern period and the eighteenth century they often had reputations for being hubs of criminal activity. Drink and violence led to murders, and then as now, people sometimes chose such a public place to commit suicide.
The seventeenth-century astrologer William Lilly recalled in his autobiography how when in service, before he became an astrologer, he found on the body of his dead mistress a small scarlet bag containing several protective magical sigils. One of them had belonged to her former husband. He had once lodged at a Sussex inn, and spent the night in a chamber where only a few months before a grazier had cut his throat.
He sank into depression and evident mental illness, so to try and put an end his torment his wife went to consult Dr Simon Forman, a famed astrologer-physician of Lambeth. He provided her husband with a charm that apparently relieved him of his haunting as long as he wore it, which he did until his death. Consider, for example, the haunting of the Tiger public house, Wirksworth, Derbyshire, in June Staff and guests were disturbed nightly by strange noises and the periodic ringing of all the bells at once.
The wiring was rearranged and muffles put on the bells to try and stop the noise. This proved successful for nearly a week until they began to ring again more violently. The rumour spread around the district that a policeman and a couple of boys had seen a ghostly figure in black, and consequently hundreds gathered nightly in expectation of catching a glimpse. These hauntings were a strategy for pulling in more local punters. It was in the twentieth-century that the marketing men and women began to see the tourist potential of sleeping, eating and drinking with ghosts. The idea of whole communities being ghost-infested is an obvious product of modern tourism.
It is a reversal of the historic position where communities desired to be rid of their spirits. Villages, towns and cities now boast of the number of ghosts they have. Prestbury has been suggested as a contender for the most haunted village in the Cotswolds, if not England. A gazetteer of ghosts, written in described it as the most haunted village in the county, but it shot to national and even international prominence when the edition of the Guinness Book of Records awarded it the title of most haunted village in the country. Ghost hunting as a collective recreational activity is nothing new.
Haunted houses and churchyards attracted large crowds in the past. What the tourist industry has done is to reformulate and package the experience by creating a synergy between visitor, place and ghost. The visitor is now a customer, the place has a brand identity, and the ghost is a desirable lodger rather than an unwelcome guest. The landscape is still full of ghosts but you are better off looking for them on the tourist trail than on a trek through the countryside. Graveyards and haunted spots in the countryside were to be avoided.
Encounters were startling at best and fatal at worse. It can be safely said that most people had no desire to ever find themselves in the presence of a ghost. To prevent such a meeting it fell to certain members of the community to step forward and confront the spirits of the dead in order to banish them from the world of the living. Yet it is human nature to be fascinated with the macabre, the ghoulish and the supernatural — as long as the experience is vicarious and on our own terms, and so people gained a voyeuristic thrill in glimpsing or hearing the haunting of others.
Some had a more positive and earnest perception of ghosts, however, and saw them as a means of accessing the secrets of nature, providing a glimpse of divine wisdom. Due to their celestial position ghosts had knowledge of the past, present and future. Their existence was defined by the past, their presence was witnessed by the living, and most wondrous of all, their experience of the afterlife gave them intimations of the future of life.
No wonder, then, that there has always been a minority who have sought their company. NEC ROMANC Y Ancient Greek and Roman tragedies, plays and poems furnished early modern demonologists with numerous examples of magicians and witches raising ghosts to seek their aid and to foretell the future — necromancy, in other words.
Horace gave us the brutal necromantic witches Canidia and Sagana. Several Greek papyri discovered in more recent times demonstrate that there were specific rituals for calling up the dead, yet it is noteworthy that there is little historical evidence of necromancy actually being practised in the classical period. The account of how the woman of Endor supposedly raised the spirit of the prophet Samuel, as told in I Samuel 28, was enigmatic enough in its description to provoke endless debate — it was still the cause of tetchy argument in the mid nineteenth century, as evident from an exchange of letters in The Times.
To set the scene, the Philistines had gathered for war against Israel and at the sight of their vast army Saul feared the outcome of battle. He hoped that God or his prophets would send him a message, but as no such communications were forthcoming he decided to turn to the diviners he had recently banished from the land. Here is what follows when Saul consulted the woman of Endor, as recounted in the King James version: Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me?
And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? For some theologians, from the beginning of the Christian Church through to the modern era, this passage was the ultimate proof that through divine intervention the spirits of the dead could return to communicate with the living.
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Others were less willing to interpret I Samuel 28 quite so literally, suggesting that either God had allowed a demon in the shape of Samuel to appear, or that a demon had deceived Saul into thinking he had received the prophecy from Samuel. We know as much from an attack on critics by one of the most influential early church fathers, Origen of Alexandria — They took it for granted, asserted the sceptics, that readers would know that she was a fraud.
By the fourteenth century the demonic impersonation of Samuel had become the orthodox theological interpretation. The preoccupation was consequently less with the figures of Saul and Samuel and increasingly with the woman of Endor as heretical necromancer, while in the iconography of the event the Devil entered the picture for the first time. The more contentious issue was whether the woman of Endor was also duped or was working with the Devil. The latter interpretation was adopted by the Puritan clergy and used as a key defence for the existence of diabolic witches.
The clergyman Thomas Cooper c. It expanded upon the Elizabethan Act against witchcraft and conjuration, including the prosecution of all those who consult covenant with entertaine employ feede or rewarde any evill and wicked Spirit to or for any intent or pupose; or take any dead man woman or child out of his her or theire grave or any other place where the dead body resteth, or the skin, bone or any other parte of any dead person, to be imployed or used in any manner of Witchecrafte, Sorcerie, Charme or Inchantment.
The Fourth Book was primarily concerned with the conjuration of good and evil angels, but at the end it devoted a few pages to the souls of the dead. This was not a manual of practical magic but a learned disquisition on the science and religion of Neoplatonic thought. Citing the writings of the ancients, such as Homer and Lucan, he posited that it was possible for necromancers to attract these souls back to their host bodies by enhancing the spiritual harmony that existed between body and soul.
Agrippa distinguished between two types of necromancy. There was necyomancy, which concerned the raising of the bodies of the dead, and required sacrificial blood; and sciomancy, in which the operator desired to call and communicate only with the spirits of the dead. However, he also posited a scientific as well as a religious rationale for raising the dead. Sometimes, he said, the soul continued to reside in a retracted state in the body even though the body may seem dead. Those conjurers tried under the Act for entertaining spirits usually swore they were communicating only with benign spirits, fairies or angels.
One of the few possibly authentic cases was that of the notorious Edward Kelley, the assistant to the famous Elizabethan occult philosopher and scientist John Dee — Dee was troubled by accusations of being a conjurer and magician in his own lifetime and accrued the reputation of a necromancer in subsequent centuries. This turned out to be a poor man interred that same day. The politician Goodwin Wharton — was another larger than life necromancer, who recorded his communications in his autobiography.
To be more precise, it was his partner, a cunning-woman named Mary Parish, who acted as the medium between himself and several spirits of the dead, the most helpful of which was that of George Whitmore. Mary told Wharton that she had read in her book of magic that to conjure ghosts and keep them as spirit guides it was necessary to seek the agreement of someone before they died.
She sought out Whitmore, a gentleman highway robber, who obligingly agreed to the compact and his ghost duly appeared to her shortly after his execution. He helped Parish and Wharton locate hidden treasures in such diverse places in and around the capital as Highgate Woods, Stoke Newington and Tyburn Road, though they never actually managed to find them. He complained that because Wharton was only around 30 years of age — much younger than Parish who was in her early fifties — he would have to hang around on earthly business for perhaps another half a century.
For being assured by Mary that George was present, Wharton set forth his arguments to the empty air. He then had to leave the room while George gave his reply to Mary. Wharton was satisfied with the results. I should not forget to mention that they also sought the help of the Queen of the Fairies and various angels. But before discussing the exorcism of ghosts it is necessary to consider strategies employed to prevent ghosts from appearing in the first place. This usually involved treating the corpses of potential ghosts, such as those of suicides and murderers, in ways that physically and symbolically hindered their passage between the worlds of the living and the dead.
This could be achieved by dismembering the corpse, pinning or staking it to the ground, or weighing it down under water — all practices that had been employed back in the prehistoric period and in later Pagan and Christian times. While in early modern Europe such solutions were most associated with the physical hampering of vampires and the walking dead, in other words reanimated corpses,21 such eschatological treatments also served to prevent the return of the spirits of the dead. A range of other prophylactic rituals were also enacted on the continent. In another case a fire was lit on a road over which a funeral procession had passed to ward off the potential ghost.
There were several suicide panics in seventeenth-century Bavaria, with corpses being dug up to deter troublesome ghosts and avoid divine wrath. In one instance a court ordered that the corpse of a female suicide, which had been buried in a pasture, be exhumed and cremated after locals complained that the milkmaids were fearful of her ghost and refused to work in the field.
The legal and religious rationale for the practice was couched purely in the secular terms of a social and moral deterrent. To this end the stake was sometimes left exposed on the surface as a long-term reminder.
Another prophylactic burial practice found in England and elsewhere was the interment of suspect corpses face down in graves. Archaeologists have discovered numerous such prone burials dating to the Roman period. At a Cirencester cemetery, 10 per cent of the interments were of this type, and 14 such burials were excavated at a London burial ground; two of the skeletons also had large stone blocks placed on their backs.
A few have been found in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, where they also tend to be in the deepest graves, but there is little archaeological evidence that the tradition continued into the second millennium in England. Another folklorist remembered as a child listening to a group of Somerset sextons discussing their business.
One of them, who was also a village carpenter and coffin-maker, said he secretly turned over the corpses of infamous locals before nailing down their coffin lids. The corpse was partially covered with earth and then one of the assistants smashed the head to pieces with a large mallet. Only then was the grave filled. Winnifrede; and after this, he makes choice of a Place in the Field, near the Thicket of Bushes, whence the Noise came. He had there also, a great Vessel, full of Holy Water, and the Holy Stole as they call it about his Neck; upon which hung the beginning of the Gospel of St.
With these Arms in time past, they defended themselves against Evil Spirits. The Anglican clergy were therefore prevented from providing what had been an important service aiding the laity in their regular struggle against the torments of malignant spirits. How could they help? In his Daemonologie King James provided some authoritative guidance on cleansing haunted houses: 74 T HE HAUNT ED By two meanes may onely the remeid [remedy] of such things be procured: The one is ardent prayer to God, both of these persons that are troubled with them, and of that Church whereof they are.
The other is the purging of themselves by amendment of life from such sinnes, as have procured that extraordinarie plague. The Welsh Independent minister Edmund Jones related how in some clergymen from Bangor tried to deal with a house plagued by a stone-throwing spirit.
Jones said: they did their best with a good design, but they were also beaten and obliged to go away. Reading prayers was too weak a means to drive an enraged evil Spirit away. There was a necessity of some persons of a strong faith, who had the Spirit and gift of prayer in some great measure. Popular literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also reinforced the continued role of the clergy in dealing with troublesome spirits. A pamphlet of reported how a parish minister was called in to deal with a malicious spirit that ripped clothes and fabrics at the house of a gentlewoman in London Wall.
Cases of clerical intervention were usually concerned with domestic poltergeist activity, which up until the nineteenth century was generally interpreted as either manifestations of witchcraft or of satanic interference rather than the spirits of the dead. Ghosts could either be avoided by staying clear of haunted locations or disappeared from their own volition once their task had been completed. In northern England, where the Catholic faith persisted most strongly following the Reformation, the tentative efforts of the Protestant clergy in combating spirits were popularly contrasted with the efficacious exorcisms of the old Church.
He remembered one of his elderly female parishioners requesting him to deal with some spirits that tormented her house. He wrote: She told me what spirits they were, and in some instances whose spirits, and what their objects and efforts were. They wur a vast mair powerful conjurers than you Church-priests. In , for instance, it was recorded that a Roman Catholic priest had laid the ghost of Hannah Corbridge, of Laneshaw Bridge, near Colne.
She was murdered in January , and her spirit had roamed the area where her body was dumped. Instead, in contrast with the historical record, the folklore archives are full of stories about the ghost-laying activities of Protestant clergymen. If the legends are to be believed, they were ghost-busting on a regular basis. The most powerful conjuring parsons could take on a ghost single-handedly, but they often performed in groups of nine or twelve. In the mid nineteenth century the villagers of Cumnor, Oxfordshire, believed, for example, that the ghost of Lady Dudley — , who had died in suspicious circumstances, was laid by nine Oxford parsons.
Numerous such local legends were recorded in Oxfordshire in the late nineteenth century. It was said, for instance, that the restless spirit of a woman who had committed suicide by drowning herself in a pond at Stanton Harcourt Manor, was finally laid to rest in the pond by some parsons who ensured that it never subsequently dried up.
Around 40 years before, some clergymen apparently laid several ghosts in a well at Woodperry House. A spirit that haunted a large barn in Walford, Berkshire, was banished to a fish pond by twelve clergymen who stood in a circle and read a psalm, and further tempted the spirit with two live cockerels, which it tore to pieces with relish. A similar legend was known in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, 76 T HE HAUNT ED where the ghost of a woman, who vowed to torment a thief, was laid to rest by twelve clergymen who prayed backwards and proffered a dove instead of cockerels.
Others were set the impossible task of spinning ropes of sand. The earliest reference I have found to it in popular tradition is in a deposition taken in from an Essex alehouse servant named Susan Lay, who complained of being haunted by the ghost of her mistress. In one passage several of the characters discuss how a cunning-man could deal with the troublesome spirit by capturing it within a magical circle drawn on the ground.
It is nevertheless considered an indisputable fact, that there are an infinite number laid there. A Wiltshire folklorist, writing in , recorded a local legend of how a ghost begged a parson not to lay it in the Red Sea, while in Somerset the ghost of a wicked old man of West Harptree was first laid for a period of seven years by the local vicar, but when the allotted time expired he turned up again to annoy the locals.
This time the vicar cast it into the Red Sea. Some evidently attracted reputations in their own lifetimes but it is likely new legends were generated long after their deaths. Stories of his exploits still circulated at the end of the nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, tales were still being told of the ghost-laying exploits of the Rev.
Thomas Flavel, vicar of Mullion, Cornwall, who died in In particular, the failure of ministers to lay ghosts, which represents around 17 per cent of a corpus of several hundred legends, with a further 21 per cent having an ambiguous resolution, are interpreted as representing an erosion of church authority at the national and parochial level. As in Denmark, the power and influence of the established church in England was eroding during the nineteenth century.
The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts
However, one does not get a similar sense of this being reflected in the English ghost-laying legends from southern and western England. In contrast with the Danish material, the clergy are nearly always successful, though it may be significant that the effort was often portrayed as a collective clerical action.
The forces of secularism and declining church attendance were a particularly urban phenomenon, and so the legends, perhaps, reflect the continued rural perception of the Anglican clergy as a protective, unifying parochial force. In early modern and modern England there were various lay folk who also professed to have special knowledge or powers to exorcise spirits, and who, unfettered by the professional constraints of Canon Law, made use of tried and tested Catholic exorcisms and rituals. However, as with clerical exorcism, cases of cunning-folk or other individuals offering to expel the spirits of the dead, as distinct from exorcising the possessed or relieving those persecuted by witches, are rare.
For the early modern period we have to turn to the unreliable source of popular literature for detailed accounts of lay ghost-laying. In a report of the ghost of a murdered young man near Stamford that tormented 78 T HE HAUNT ED the household of his brother, who had organised his murder, the astrologer called in to lay the ghost is presented as unprofessionally unprepared. Rumours soon spread that the ghost was guarding a hidden stash of money and Thomas began digging about the place. It took a man-to-spirit conversation with a local minister to resolve the haunting.
Knowledge of the SEEKING G H OSTS 79 haunting spread around the neighbourhood and came to the attention of the cunning-man who, accompanied by a two or three acquaintances and several bottles of wine, undertook to stay the night at the haunted house. As part of his spiritual protection he placed two crossed swords at the entrance to the room in which they kept their watch. It apparently worked, for at midnight the ghost was seen to pass by the room and look through the entrance but did not enter.
The master of the house consequently expressed his intent to invite some divines to quieten the ghost. Their magic was either insufficient or they did not have the spiritual or moral authority to command the spirits of the dead. The negative portrayal is understandable considering the authoritarian denunciations of magical practitioners at the time and the prohibition of spirit conjuration.
The paucity of nineteenth-century legends regarding lay exorcists, compared with the profusion of clergymen, suggests that the weakness presented in the biased early modern literature was also engrained in oral tradition. Ghost-laying was evidently one area of supernatural interventionism where the Anglican clergy had a decided edge over cunning-folk in popular perception.
The spirits concerned responded to and interacted with the interventions of the living. Such hauntings were about public spectacle, and treated by some as dramatic entertainment. But poltergeist activity also drew those seeking answers to profound theological and philosophical questions. If the manifestations could be found to be free of trickery then it was firm proof of the reality of the spirit world. Then came the question of what types of spirit were responsible: devils, witches or ghosts? It was from the mid seventeenth century onwards, when Neoplatonism was beginning to crumble, that poltergeist activity assumed considerable importance as a battleground for competing philosophical discourses.
The most influential focus of debate was the case of the Tedworth Drummer. Most curious of all, a drum that had been confiscated from a vagrant drummer and petty conjurer named William Dury, who had been arrested for possessing fake documentation, began to emanate beats and even banged out whole tattoos. Dury was an obvious suspect for causing the disruption, but for some of the time Dury was locked up in Gloucester gaol on an unrelated charge.
It was a mystery. Could Dury have been exacting revenge by using magical powers? Was it the Devil making mischief? But at the time, word of mouth effectively spread news of the occurrences and before long Mompesson was being inundated with visitors from the clergy, gentry and aristocracy. They were both sceptical, as were other members of court such as Lord Sandwich. However, the reason for him saying as much may have been more due to the inconvenience caused to him by the legions of sightseers.
He therefore took no pains to confute the report that he had found out the cheat; although he, and I, and all the family, knew the account which was published to be punctually true. A century on from the events at Tedworth, the Cock Lane sensation demonstrates both continuity in terms of the characteristics of the manifestation and the debates that surrounded it, but it also reflected intellectual and cultural changes as well. By now witchcraft had dropped out of the educated discourse regarding such phenomena, and there is little evidence that it was considered relevant to the case by the urban artisans in the surrounding streets.
Unlike the Tedworth Drummer, the Cock Lane manifestation had a clear back-story as a ghost haunting, but those seeking confirmation of the spirit world did not rule out the machinations of the Devil. The story has been much told and so there is no need to go over the details in great length. She died in Clerkenwell the following year of what was thought to be smallpox.
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Reports of the events in Cock Lane spread quickly both by word of mouth through the streets of London and also via the newspapers. Those with Methodist leanings were notable by their presence. The ghost replied with one knock. Now to the crucial issue. Two knocks. One knock was heard. Stephen Aldrich, who organised a formal investigating committee to determine the cause of the Cock Lane manifestation. It included the Rev. John Douglas, a future bishop of Salisbury.
Thus learned spiritual, medical and philosophical imperatives were combined. Local public opinion, however, was evidently far more ready to believe in Scratching Fanny. When Parsons appeared in the pillory three times as part of his two-year prison sentence he was not subjected to the usual abuse and refuse flung at the pilloried.
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