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Spirit Laying


Source: Welsh Folk-lore

It must have been a consolation to those who believed in the power of
wicked Spirits to trouble people, that it was possible to lay these evil
visitors in a pool of water, or to drive them away to the Red Sea, or to
some other distant part of the world. It was generally thought that
Spirits could be laid by a priest; and there were particular forms of
exorcising these troublesome beings. A conjuror, or Dyn Hysbys, was
also credited with this power, and it was thought that the prayer of a
righteous man could overcome these emissaries of evil.

But there was a place for hope in the case of these transported or laid
Spirits. It was granted to some to return from the Red Sea to the place
whence they departed by the length of a grain of wheat or barley corn
yearly. The untold ages that it would take to accomplish a journey of
four thousand miles thus slowly was but a very secondary consideration to
the annihilation of hope. Many were the conditions imposed upon the
vanquished Spirits by their conquerors before they could be permitted to
return to their old haunts, and well might it be said that the conditions
could not possibly be carried out; but still there was a place for hope
in the breast of the doomed by the imposition of any terminable

The most ancient instance of driving out a Spirit that I am acquainted
with is to be found in the Book of Tobit. It seems to be the prototype
of many like tales. The angel Raphael and Tobias were by the river
Tigris, when a fish jumped out of the river, which by the direction of
the angel was seized by the young man, and its heart, and liver, and gall
extracted, and, at the angel's command carefully preserved by Tobias.
When asked what their use might be, the angel informed him that the smoke
of the heart and liver would drive away a devil or Evil Spirit that
troubled anyone. In the 14th verse of the sixth chapter of Tobit we are
told that a devil loved Sara, but that he did no harm to anyone,
excepting to those who came near her. Knowing this, the young man was
afraid to marry the woman; but remembering the words of Raphael, he went
in unto his wife, and took the ashes of the perfumes as ordered, and put
the heart and liver of the fish thereupon, and made a smoke therewith,
the which smell, when the Evil Spirit had smelled, he fled into the
utmost parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him. Such is the story, many
variants of which are found in many countries.

I am grieved to find that Sir John Wynne, who wrote the interesting and
valuable History of the Gwydir Family, which ought to have secured for
him kindly recognition from his countrymen, was by them deposited after
death, for troubling good people, in Rhaiadr y Wenol. The superstition
has found a place in Yorke's Royal Tribes of Wales.

The following quotation is from the History of the Gwydir Family,
Oswestry Edition, p. 7:--

Being shrewd and successful in his dealings, people were led to believe
he oppressed them, and says Yorke in his Royal Tribes of Wales, It is
the superstition of Llanrwst to this day that the Spirit of the old
gentleman lies under the great waterfall, Rhaiadr y Wennol, there to be
punished, purged, spouted upon and purified from the foul deeds done in
his days of nature.

This gentleman, though, is not alone in occupying, until his misdeeds are
expiated, a watery grave. There is hardly a pool in a river, or lake in
which Spirits have not, according to popular opinion, been laid. In our
days though, it is only the aged that speak of such matters.

A Spirit could in part be laid. It is said that Abel Owen's Spirit, of
Henblas, was laid by Gruffydd Jones, Cilhaul, in a bottle, and buried in
a gors near Llanrwst.

This Gruffydd Jones had great trouble at Hafod Ucha between Llanrwst and
Conway, to lay a Spirit. He began in the afternoon, and worked hard the
whole night and the next day to lay the Spirit, but he succeeded in
overcoming a part only of the Spirit. He was nearly dead from exhaustion
and want of food before he could even master a portion of the Spirit.

The preceding is a singular tale, for it teaches that Spirits are
divisible. A portion of this Spirit, repute says, is still at large,
whilst a part is undergoing purification.

The following tale was told me by my friend, the Rev. T. H. Evans, Vicar
of Llanwddyn.

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