The 31 of October marks the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, more commonly known as Halloween. It takes place on the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints’ Day). While the history of Halloween remains unclear, it is widely believed that many of the traditions associated with the holiday have their origins in pagan harvest festivals such as Samhain, a Celtic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Traditionally it was believed to be a time of year when spirits from the Otherworld could more easily come into our world and the dead could mingle with the living. The festival was later Christianised by the early church which absorbed many of the traditional practices, transforming them to reflect Christian attitudes towards the honouring of the dead.
Today, the celebration of Halloween draws on a wide range of traditions and influences with a particular focus on the supernatural and the macabre. As such, it provides the perfect opportunity to highlight one of the more obscure collections held by the University’s Special Collections Division. The collection MS 268 Papers on demonology contains an array of material focusing on demonology and witchcraft in Great Britain, Ireland and continental Europe.
Among the collection are various notes, press cuttings, correspondence, photographs and postcards concerning customs and practices, art, folk lore and legends, persons, places, and plants with relation to the devil from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. These include The devil at Montmartre, The devil passing into the body of the dead, Michael Scot, the wizard, and The devil according to the tradition and popular beliefs of Sicily.
The collection also contains a manuscript titled The Incubus and Succubus. The volume, complete with sketches and verse, begins with an examination of the counterpart demons Incubus and Succubus before exploring a broad range of topics relating to demonology. These include sections on nightmares, vampires, werewolves, devils, sorcery, and magical transformations. A large portion of the volume is dedicated to the examination of witches and witchcraft, providing historic accounts, such as that of Lady Kyteler of Kilkenny, as well as discussing subjects such as witch finders, tests and torture of witches, charms and spells against witches, and potions, philtres and witches spells.
The final part of the collections consists of cuttings and articles from periodicals dating from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. These include copies of Giambattista Basile, 15 Sep and 15 Oct 1885; a programme for The tempter, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1898; lists of occult literature, 1897; a flyer for The book of black magic and of pacts; The devil’s funeral sermon preached before a congregation of free thinkers (London, 1735); The heart of man: the temple of the Lord or the devil’s workshop, in Armenian, (Calcutta, 1839); The ballad of the wind, the devil and Lincoln Minster by Arnold Frost (Lincoln, 1898); Concerning the devil by Saladin [William Stewart Ross] (London); Notices relative to the idolatry and devil worship of Ceylon by Robert Newstead (London, 1838); Tradicoes populares Portuguezas by Z.Consiglieri Pedroso (Oporto, 1882); and sections from publications on demonology including `Legendes, chansons, contes’, `Xylographische Werke’ (1835), `Le diable a Leipzig (c.1869), `Der Teufel’, `Il diavolo nelle tradizioni e credenze popolari Siciliane’, and `Sagen aus Westpreussen’.