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Restless Spirits and Ringing Bells

Restless Spirits and Ringing Bells - origins

What is the connection between bells, spirits and water?

Mists coming onto beach
  • Fog or mists on the beach
  • From very early times, there has been a link in myths and legends between bells, water and spirits. Many years ago in Celtic, Saxon and Viking times, water was seen as the element that joined the world of the living and the world of the dead. Spirits could make contact through water and the idea of spirits coming out of the sea would not have seemed strange.

    From early times, it was also believed that the spirits of people who died suddenly or violently, or who had not had a proper burial, would not rest and would wander the earth. This included the many sailors who were drowned in stormy seas; their bodies were often never found.

    Why are ringing bells so common in myths?

    Underwater city
  • Underwater city and bell
  • This may have come from their use in real life, to be rung for good or bad times. Bells were used in celebrations such as weddings or to call people to pray. From Celtic times, they were thought to contain magic. The Celtic priests would throw bells into rivers, streams or springs to get rid of bad spirits and make the water pure.

    Throughout history, bells have also been used to signal bad news. Bells were rung at funerals or as a warning of invaders or war. They were even rung in times of plague, to tell people to bring out their dead. So, over the years, the slow ringing of a bell has become a sign of bad luck.

    There are many stories of ghostly bells heard at sea or near to the sea and they are nearly always a sign of bad luck or a warning of a storm or disaster. They are also often linked to the idea of a drowned town or city, like the once busy city of Dunwich.

    Why was the fog thought to be ghostly?

    Abbey in mist
  • Fog around the priory ruin
  • Today we know that the coast is often foggy, because the sea is warmer than the air, especially in the evening and in Autumn when a thick fog often rolls in and covers the seashore. However, places a little bit away from the seashore can be quite clear.

    Back in the time when the story is set, local people did not know much about science and looked for other ways to explain what happened. Even today a thick, swirling mist can seem quite eerie, as you cannot see very far ahead of you.

    Because people cannot see clearly, or do not know what is going on ahead, you find fog in so many supernatural stories. Fog is very damp, which can also link with the idea of spirits that had come out of the water.

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