Supernatural beliefs have been vital to Scottish cultural development. In the early modern period, the Kirk played an all-important role in parish life, schooling the Scots on how to interpret the invisible world. Theologians and philosophers mused about the nature of God’s providence and the wiles of the Devil. Folk tradition peopled the landscape with fairies and nature spirits. The witch trials displayed the very real consequences of belief systems that would later be reframed as fantastical. This book analyses the Scottish supernatural between about 1500 and 1800. Drawing together an international range of scholars with expertise in history, ethnology and literary studies, it explores the diverse ways in which Scots understood and experienced magical beings and extraordinary events. There are chapters on trance experiences, spirit-guides, angels, preaching on the supernatural, political prophecies, providence, astrology, Second Sight and the Enlightenment’s encounter with the paganism of classical antiquity. The book’s historical material is framed by two literary chapters: one on the ‘elrich’ supernatural in the poetry of the early sixteenth century, and one on the political supernatural in the poetry of the eighteenth century. Overall, the book examines the cultural function of supernatural beliefs, and assesses how these beliefs evolved amid the upheaval of the Reformation, political and religious revolution, the emergence of the Enlightenment and the beginnings of romanticism.
, and remains recognisable today. Angels in the Christian tradition are embodiments of goodness, just as demons are symbols of evil. However, for most of the earlymodern period, this goodness came in guises quite unlike these gentle, yielding angelic figures. Earlymodern angels were noble, but they were not necessarily nice.
Laura Sangha provides a thorough survey of ways of thinking about angels in earlymodern England. In a discussion of the ‘people’s angel’, she suggests that the most common way of understanding angels between 1550 and 1700 was as guardians of
environment in colourful detail. There was no expectation that its fairies should be taken seriously. But the poem may have echoed genuine folkloric stories, and this may have been one reason for its success. There was nothing innately incredible in a world of magical possibilities.
For earlymodern Scots, supernatural forces were real and present. People disagreed about how these forces might manifest themselves, but throughout the period from 1500 to 1800 there were men and women who might perceive the supernatural in a whirlwind, or a dream, or the shimmer of a
For earlymodern Scots, the doctrine of providence – the claim that God actively governed his Creation – expressed basic truths about the universe. God was both creator and maintainer, legislator and executive. He defined the goal or end of human existence, while intervening in the daily lives of his creatures. He oversaw the affairs of princes and armies, and was also responsible for the most mundane of occurrences. As Scottish preachers reminded their congregations, Matthew’s gospel taught that even the most insignificant sparrow ‘shall not fall on the ground
What would it feel like to be visited frequently by a companion from another world? Or even to be taken away to visit another world? In earlymodern Scotland, there is a good deal of evidence for visionaries who experienced relationships with spirits. These visionaries were ordinary people who had extraordinary experiences, and who often gained special powers as a result. Most of the visionaries, though not all, were women. Most of the spirits were fairies or ghosts. The ghosts were usually experienced as male, while the fairy queen was important to several
During the earlymodern period in Scotland, as in Europe and beyond, the concepts and symbolism of astrology were tightly woven into the prevailing world view. Astrology can be defined as any theory, practice or belief that draws inferences from, or parallels between, events and patterns in the sky and events and circumstances on earth. Its use of the sky – the ‘heavens’ in contemporary parlance – meant that it linked the supernatural and natural worlds.
There was scarcely an aspect of contemporary life that astrology did not inform. Its imagery was found in
Drawing on Maggie Kilgour’s dictum that the Gothic activates a dormant past with
the power to harm the present, this article explores the early modern histories
invoked by the Regnum Congo, a sixteenth-century account of
Africa featured in H. P. Lovecraft’s cannibal story ‘The Picture in the House’.
The Regnum Congo taps into Lovecraft’s racism, instantiating,
within and beyond the story, the racial and cultural convergence he dreaded. The
tale’s cannibal resembles the Africans depicted in the Regnum
Congo to a striking degree, even as his reverence for the book colours
his putative status as a puritan. Integrating the book itself into the analysis
enables a reading of the tale’s controversial cataclysmic ending as oneof
several exemplars of Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s ‘Gothic thing-power’, which
disrupts subject/object boundaries. The multifarious histories summoned by
‘Picture’ reflect Lovecraft’s own ambivalence about the past, as well as the
possibilities of attention to Gothic pasts.
It may be supposed not repugnant to Reason or Religion to assert ane invisible polity, or a people to us invisible, having a Commonwealth, Laws & Oeconomy, made known to us but by some obscure hints of a few admitted to their Converse.
(Robert Kirk, c .1689) 1
In earlymodern Scotland, as in the rest of Europe, there was an entrenched belief that humanity’s terrestrial world existed alongside ‘ane invisible polity’. This chapter is about those few exceptional people who developed a relationship with this spiritual other world, whether by receiving
Earlymodern Europeans believed that God endowed certain men and women with the power to reveal the future – or, at least, had done so in the past. Prophecies were frequently political, designed to get people to accept an outcome, or modify behaviour, because God had foreseen it. 1 Three distinct types of prophecy were used politically. All Christians accepted that the prophets of ancient Israel enjoyed contemporary authority. Claims to divine inspiration made by living people carried less weight, and accordingly their political pronouncements proved more
This chapter examines and reassesses some accounts from earlymodern Scotland referring to a constellation of diverse supernatural abilities, primarily relating to premonition and clairvoyance, often described in English as Second Sight, and in Scottish Gaelic as an dà shealladh or taibhsearachd . It is indebted to the scholarship of numerous historians of earlymodern thought, religion and popular belief, in particular the work of Michael Hunter, whose annotated sourcebook The Occult Laboratory offers an essential and accessible introduction to the