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Ghosts, Monsters and Scary Creatures...


“I am rather intrigued by a figure of Parisian folklore, le moine bourru, a hooded monk who was said to roam the city streets at nightfall, mistreating anyone who was out and about (but perhaps especially women) and thus causing general panic and hysteric behaviour. His appearance was associated with the Advent period, the dark weeks before Christmas and so a little later than Hallowe’en. Le moine bourru is often thought of as belonging to popular superstitions of the seventeenth century, partly because in Molière’s play Dom Juan, the eponymous libertine haughtily dismisses the existence of the creature, whereas his valet maintains “there is nothing more real than le moine bourru”. But there is at least one sixteenth-century source (André Thevet), naming the “hooded monk” of Paris alongside other regional ghosts and goblins such as the follet (“little fool”) of Provence and le roi Hugon (“King Hugo”) in Tours. Maybe he is still around!”

CSR Director, Ingrid De Smet


"One Halloween association that comes to mind is not so much about ghosts or monsters, but a scary story nevertheless. Checking out the historic Ostrich Inn at Colnbrook, nowadays a gastro pub near Heathrow Airport (purely for research reasons, of course), I came across one of the more intriguing links between pre-modern hostelries and crime. Here the protagonist is not the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, but a seventeenth-century publican. According to local tradition (and indeed Thomas Deloney's tract Thomas of Reading, written around 1600), innkeeper Jarman and his wife devised a rather ingenious device to appropriate the resources of prosperous patrons. When they spotted a suitable candidate who nobody seemed to know, they showed him to their most comfortable suite. Once the guest had fallen asleep, the bed was tilted by means of a lever, a trap door opened below and the unsuspecting victim fell right into a vat of boiling water. This all went very well until one day somebody came to look for the owner of a lone horse seen wandering aimlessly around the streets ... Not sure what the moral of this story is, but perhaps it's worth thinking twice next time you are offered the 'best room' at a remote country hotel.”

Beat Kümin (History)


“Pierre de Ronsard must rank among the quirkiest of the great Renaissance poets. There are plenty of Renaissance poems about beloved pets, but one can’t imagine many of Ronsard's contemporaries basing an entire poem around their hatred of cats, as he does. ‘Le Chat’ is a fascinating indication of sixteenth-century attitudes towards omens and demonic forces. Above all other animals, Ronsard tells us, the cat has been endowed with a prophetic spirit, acting as a bearer of bad tidings. Ronsard says that ‘there is no man alive who hates cats as much as I do’. He hates their eyes, their faces and their expressions when they look at him. When he sees them he flees, trembling with nerves. He will never allow a cat to enter his room and despises those who cannot manage without having a cat by their side. Ronsard knew all about the tendency of cats to gravitate towards people who can’t stand them. He recounts how a cat curled up next to his head one night while he was asleep. The cat let out a blood-curdling miaow, Ronsard awoke with a jump, feeling ‘tout hors de moi’ and shouted for his servants. Two of them tried to reassure him that the cat was a good omen, but Ronsard knew better. With a tear in the eye, he told them that the cat was a divine portent of a long and excruciating sickness. Halloween is, of course, a modern invention, but Ronsard would have had no trouble grasping why the cat features so strongly in its imagery.”

Alexander Russell, CSR Research Fellow


"To the late medieval mind, the apparition of ghosts was often connected with ideas concerning Purgatory. In 1456, an English sailor made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela where he paid for masses to be said for his dead parents and for himself. On the journey, he made friends with another pilgrim, a Dutch brewer. Returning home, the sailor lodged awhile with the brewer at his home in Weymouth. That night and the next, he saw a spirit clothed all in white enter the room and sit near his bed; ‘the pylgryme was agaste and durst not speke’ and the spirit vanished away. The terrified pilgrim told his host that he would stay no longer in the haunted room, but the brewer was convinced that his guest was guilty of a great sin and persuaded him to visit a priest for confession. The priest heard the pilgrim’s confession and his ghost-story. He suggested that if the spirit appeared again, the pilgrim should challenge it in the name of the Trinity to reveal itself. Sure enough, the next evening, the spirit entered as it had before, and the pilgrim challenged it as instructed by the priest. ‘I am thyne faderes brother’, revealed the apparition. Dead nine years yet still residing in Purgatory, the uncle’s ghost asserted, ‘yef thou haddest let say a masse for me, I had be deliuered of the peyne that I suffer - thou most go ageyne to seynt James’. At this point a devil appeared and dragged the ghost away. So charged, and in spite of having no money for a second journey, the pilgrim made his way once more to Compostela, this time as a beggar living off alms."

Stephen Bates (History)