15 November 2021- The Devil in British Folklore contd

By | January 9, 2022

In the session we continued the topic of the Devil in British Folklore in the context of the other world creatures we have been looking at.

We had previously grouped the topic, for convenience, loosely into 3 categories

  • Legends and tales linked to unusual landscape features, very similar to features attributed to giants.
  • Attacks on Christianity
  • The devil looking for human souls, making deals and pacts and collecting his dues for them.

This session we completed looking at the second category of attacks on Christianity including church buildings and then started the search for human souls.

1/.  Attacks on Christianity

There were attacks on church buildings particularly the towers and church bells.   Most of these were unsuccessful.

a/. We looked at examples of the throwing of stones/boulders.

  • The devil stone in Staple Fitzpaine Somerset where a huge boulder was thrown by the devil to try to destroy the church, the stone was left behind and shows the Devil’s claw marks. It was said there was treasure underneath it.
  • Kirby Lonsdale where the Devils’s Punchbowl is said to mark the spot where the Devil destroyed a church using a boulder,
  • Rudston, Bridlington, Yorkshire where there is a prehistoric 25 feet high standing stone in the church yard which was ‘thrown’ by the Devil.
  • Evesham, Worcestershire, the Devil twice tried to destroy the Abbey. The Bishop Egwyn, was watching and prayed.
  • Canterbury, the Devil tried to carry the entire town to hell. Canterbury was rich and sinful in medieval times
  • Mayfield, Sussex – The Devil was sent packing by St Dunstan. St Dunstan was working as a blacksmith when the Devil visited him disguised as a beautiful woman, he spotted the cloven hooves when her dress rode up and he grabbed the Devil’s nose with hot tongs.
  • Auchtermuchty Fife – the Devil tried to carry off people from the church as they were so pious. He came in the form of a Calvinist Minister but was betrayed by his hooves and was thwarted by an old man.

We discussed why there were these stories.  They show the power of Christianity, the one true faith.  Early Christianity pitted against the Devil, the Devil is relatively easily outwitted.  The Devil may be big and scary but put your faith in the Church and you will win through.  The Devil cannot compete against the church.  The power of the sign of the cross and prayer

b/.  We looked at some examples which went against the usual tales

  • Oxfordshire – The Devil helped two brothers to build churches at King’s Sutton, Adderbury and Bloxham. This featured a hardworking and honest mason Devil, who got no pay back .
  • Warwickshire – the Devil helped at man in a legal battle against a dishonest landlord. The Landlord said, ‘let the devil take me if this is a lie’ and the devil did.
  • Berkeley, Gloucestershire – a witch was taken by the devil when she died despite the efforts of the church to prevent it and her repenting, and her body being wrapped in chains. Do not get complacent, there are dire consequences of sin.  If you put yourself in the path of the devil even the best of the church cannot save you.

In these tales we learnt about the nature of the Devil, he is powerful, resourceful, endlessly scheming against the church, will take you to hell if you let him, relatively easily outwitted by the god fearing and the alert.

2/  The Devil Goes in Search of Human Souls

This is a powerful and scary Devil

  • Widdecombe, Devon. Widdecombe Jack pledged his soul to the Devil and was taken from out of the church.  This a may have been ball lightning and been a tale which evolved from a  real event.
  • Shepton Mallet, Somerset – an old woman was taken by the Devil. She had been working on Sundays.  She went to the priest to ask for help.
  • Aldbury, Herefordshire. Sir Guy de Gravada pledged himself to the Devil in exchange for the secrets of alchemy.

Next Session will look at Faust

Last Updated on January 9, 2022