Satan And Bell Ringing
Category: STORIES OF SATAN, GHOSTS, ETC.
Durand, according to Bourne, in his Antiquities of the Common People,
ed. 1725, p. 17, was of opinion that Devils were much afraid of bells,
and fled away at the sound of them. Formerly, in all parts of Wales, the
passing bell was tolled for the dying. This is a very ancient custom
being alluded to by the Venerable Bede--
When the bell begins to toll,
Lord, have mercy on the soul.
A small hand bell was also rung by the parish clerk as he preceded the
funeral procession, and the church bell was tolled before, at, and after
the burial. I do not know whether this was done because the people,
entertaining Durand's opinion, wished to save the souls and bodies of
their departed friends from Satan. Reference is often made to small
handbells in parish terriers, and they are enumerated in those documents
with other church property. Thus, in Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd terrier,
1729, among the articles mentioned as belonging to the church is a small
A little bell to be rung before the corps.
In Rhuddlan terrier, 1791, we find:--
One small bell, and another small corps bell.
I may say that there is hardly a terrier belonging to a Church in North
Wales which does not mention this portable handbell. Although the modern
reason given for their use at funerals was, that all impediments might be
removed from the roads before the funeral procession arrived, still it is
probable that the custom at one time meant something more than this. The
custom does not at present exist.
Giraldus Cambrensis thus alludes to these handbells:--
I must not omit that the portable bells . . . were held in great
reverence by the people and clergy both in Ireland, Scotland, and
Wales; insomuch that they had greater regard for oaths sworn on these
than on the gospels.--Bohn's Edition, p. 146.
As it was thought that the Passing Bell was originally intended to drive
away the Evil Spirit hovering about in readiness to seize the soul of the
deceased, so it might have been thought that the tolling of these
handbells at funerals kept the Great Enemy away from the body about to be
consigned to consecrated ground. But from a couple of lines quoted by
Bourne, p. 14, from Spelman, in which all the ancient offices of bells
seem to be included, it does not appear that this opinion was then
current. The lines are:--
Laudo Deum verum, Plebem voco, congrego Clerum,
Defunctos ploro, pestem fugo, Festa decoro.
I praise the true God, call the people, convene the Clergy,
Lament the dead, dispel pestilence, grace Festivals.
There is nothing in these lines corroborative of Durand's opinion, but as
I do not know the age of the lines I cannot controvert his opinion, but
if it was believed that the tolling of a bell could drive away
pestilence, well can it be understood that its sound could be credited
with being inimical to Evil Spirits, and that it sent them away to other
places to seek for rest.
It certainly was an opinion, according to Croker, entertained in Ireland
and elsewhere, that the dwarfs or fairies, were driven away from places
by the ringing of the bells of churches, and Croker in his Fairy Legends
of Ireland, vol. ii., p. 106, states that Thiele collected traditions
according to which the Troldes leave the country on the ringing of bells,
and remain away. Thus these mythic beings are confounded with Satan;
indeed Croker remarks (vol. i., p. 46) The notion of fairies, dwarfs,
brownies, etc., being excluded from salvation, and of their having formed
part of the crew that fell with Satan, seems to be pretty general all
over Europe. He instances Ireland, Denmark, and Spain.
Bells certainly were objects of great superstition. In Dyer's English
Folk-Lore, p. 264, it is stated that--Wynkin de Worde tells us that
bells are rung during thunder storms, to the end that fiends and wicked
Spirits should be abashed and flee and cease the moving of the tempest.
Croker also remarks in vol. ii., p. 140, of the above-named work:--The
belief in fairies and Spirits prevailed over all Europe long before the
introduction of Christianity. The teachers of the new faith endeavoured
to abolish the deeply-rooted heathenish ideas and customs of the people,
by representing them as sinful and connected with the Devil. In this
way the Devil inherited many attributes that once belonged to the
Fairies, and these beings were spoken of as Evil Spirits, Fiends, or
I now come to another kind of Welsh Folk-Lore associated with fairies,
Evil Spirits, or some mysterious power, that is the removal of churches
from one site to another. The agency employed varies, but the work of
the day disappeared in the night, and the materials were found, it is
said, the next morning, on the spot where the church was to be erected.
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