The Woman in Green: A Chinese Ghost Tale from Mao to Ming, 1981-1381

An appropriate end, or beginning, for a ghost that will live many, many more lives. 1981 The film begins on a darkened set, billowing with fog, echoing with a woman’s cry to the heavens. Her figure comes into view and she zigs and zags across the screen, her diaphanous white robe glittering with silver fringe.[…]

The Devil Does His Mischief: The Huguenot World of Demonology during the Scientific Age

Huguenots were not only believers in science, but also remained firmly committed to their belief in God and his providence.[1] At the request of the famed scientist Robert Boyle, the French divine, Pierre du Moulin, translated an account of a demon that had plagued a Huguenot family in Burgundy, France in 1612. Moulin’s 1658 translation[…]

Persecuting the Powerless: Why Most Accused Witches Were Women

Witch trials most often targeted a persecuted minority: women. Introduction “Witch hunt” – it’s a refrain used to deride everything from impeachment inquiries and sexual assault investigations to allegations of corruption. When powerful men cry witch, they’re generally not talking about green-faced women wearing pointy hats. They are, presumably, referring to the Salem witch trials,[…]

10 Surprising Facts about Books of Beasts from the European Middle Ages

Art history students offer a bite-sized introduction to the bestiary of the European Middle Ages. Introduction The medieval book of beasts, a kind of encyclopedia of animals known as the bestiary, was full of fascinating creatures both real and fantastic. While the bestiary often linked animals to Christian beliefs, teaching readers moral and religious lessons,[…]

The Bad Side of the Medieval Bestiary

Medieval books of beasts reflect the attitudes of the people who made them—including antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny, and indifference to animal cruelty. Introduction The splendidly illustrated bestiaries displayed in the exhibition Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World and described in the accompanying catalogue tell us much about medieval fascination with all of Creation: beasts, birds, fish, reptiles,[…]

An Introduction to the Bestiary, Book of Beasts in the Medieval World

Two curators this unique medieval book and its long influence. Introduction The bestiary—the medieval book of beasts—was among the most popular illuminated texts in northern Europe during the Middle Ages (about 500–1500). Medieval Christians understood every element of the world as a manifestation of God, and bestiaries largely focused on each animal’s religious meaning. The[…]

Magic, Medicine, Miracles: How Medieval Reading Abbey Helped to Invent Halloween

The rituals now associated with Halloween have a complex relationship to this medieval Hallowmass. I had the privilege of giving a public lecture for the Friends of Reading Abbey, in the presence of the Mayor of Reading, Councillor Debs Edwards. The event took place in St James’ Church, sited amongst the ruins of the medieval abbey. The lecture[…]

Ghosts in the Middle Ages

The souls most likely to return to haunt the living were those whose burial rituals were not performed correctly or who had unfinished business which required closure. Introduction The medieval Church’s vision informed the people’s religious imagination during the Middle Ages (c. 476-1500 CE) and the world was therefore interpreted – even by heterodox Christians –[…]

Ghosts in Ancient China

Ghost stories were the earliest form of literature in ancient China. By Emily MarkHistorian Introduction Ghost stories were the earliest form of literature in ancient China. They were almost certainly part of a very old oral tradition before  writing  developed during the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BCE) and they continue to be popular in China today. Ghosts were taken very[…]

A History of Halloween

Countries around the world today celebrate Halloween in one form or another. Introduction Halloween is among the oldest traditions in the world as it touches on an essential element of the human condition: the relationship between the living and the dead. Every recorded civilization has created some form of ritual observance focused on what happens[…]