by Mary Robinson, Special Collections and Archives
As Hallowe’en approaches I decided to have a look at what spooky themed items are found among our ghostly treasures in Special Collections. Witchcraft and the Black Art, is a 1925 publication from the occult author J.W. Wickwar. With some of the bewitching chapters entitled ‘Witchcraft: A Primitive Cult’, ‘Practical Witchcraft’ and ‘Witch-hunting Cameos’, you will certainly get your Hallowe’en spells and potions right. And not forgetting other beastly Hallowe’en creatures, Wickwar gives us the provenance of ‘Werewolves and Vampires’ with the term ‘vampire’ being of Slavonic origin meaning ‘a bloodsucking ghost’.
Bats have been known to drop by the Russell library, however we have yet to encounter any bloodsucking ghosts. Nevertheless, among our cob webbed bookshelves you will come across a 1933 Irish language edition of Bram Stoker’s 1847-1912) infamous and fearsome bloodsucker, Dracula. Although not the first vampire fiction, Stoker’s creation is probably the most well-known and has fueled many literary, film, TV and stage adaptations. Stoker continued to write horror fictions including The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm before his death in 1912.
Irish Wonders by D.R. McNally takes in the haunting wonders of the Emerald Isle.Ghosts, giants, pookas, demons, leprechawns (sic), banshees, fairies, witches, widows, old maids and other marvels, all make an appearance. When did widows and old maids become fearsome creatures you ask, according to McNally and Irish folklore they are up there with banshees and demons. The banshee is an ‘awe-inspiring creation…of the Irish imagination’. This ghostly spirit wails at night-time, heralding the death of a family member. According to McNally, this wailing is a demonic cry if the banshee dislikes the family, or a ‘low soft chant’ if they are loved. He also differentiates between the ‘hateful Banshee’ and the ‘friendly Banshee’. The former being ‘a horrible hag, with angry distorted features’ and the latter ‘a young and beautiful female spirit’.
Also in the Irish language and found among our foreboding collections, is Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) iconic horror tale An Dr Jekyll agus Mr Hyde (1929). A suitable Gothic tale for the costume attired readers this weekend. This edition was translated by Feardorcha Ó Conaill who was a known fluent Irish speaker and lecturer in Celtic languages and literature. His Irish translating work includes Persian and Arabic writings, yet he is most famously known for editing the works of Peadar Ó Laoghaire.
Another renowned horror and mystery writer, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) sets our spines tingling with Essays and Stories (1914). Among the pages is one of his most famous writings, The Raven, a supernatural, suspense narrative of a talking raven eerily observing a man’s descent into madness over a lost love.
On the Illusions of the Demons and on Spells and Poisons is a third edition and seminal work of physician and demonologist Johann Weyer’s (1515-1588). Printed in Basel in 1566, this book was an important work on demonology, outlining the hierarchical structure of Hell, including Satan and demonic spirits. If ever there was an expert on demonology and the occult, Weyer was it. A known witch sympathiser, he was among the first to protest against the prosecution of witches in the 16th century and argued that witchcraft was a mental illness as opposed to a supernatural phenomenon.
Finally, deep within our extensive and peculiar pamphlet collection are some very frightening items, one with the scarily lengthy title of The case of the Hertfordshire witchcraft consider’d. Being an examination of a book, entitl’d, A full and impartial account of the discovery of sorcery & witchcraft practis’d by Jane Wenham of Walkern, upon the bodies of Anne Thorne, Anne Street (1712).
Another is Lovat’s Ghost or the Courtier’s Warning-Piece (1747). An anonymous ballad based on the wandering headless ghost of Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat (1667-1747). The ballad is a gruesome account of Lovat rising from the dead; ‘Lovat’s grimly ghost arose/ All bloody, from the dead/ Dress’d in a shroud bespread with gore/ And shorter by the head.’ Fraser had an eventful life which included kidnapping and forcefully marrying his first wife, changing allegiance more than once and being beheaded for his part in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. In the ballad, he calls himself a ‘traiterous rebel’, recounting his experience rebelling against the crown; ‘tho’ as a traitorous rebel,I / justly receiv’d my doom/ Yet know that many bad as me/ Survive to fill my room.’