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the Roman church was a convenient excuse™? In an age of vigorous anti-
popery, Catholicism was likely enough to be the object of strong emotion
in itself; yet to invert Kiely™s ¬rst remark, ˜things of the past™ are exactly
what does generate Gothic energy. Generally speaking, Gothic has less
intrinsic connection with subject matter than with a manner of approach;
any element of superseded belief can be gothicised, but this has a particularly
powerful effect in cases where the belief is still held by some, and looks set for
revival. This chapter has aimed both to identify anti-Catholic elements in
the Gothic novel, and to assess how the genre both drew on and repudiated
the more tolerant sensibility displayed in the sacrilege narrative. For an age
when anti-popery and Catholic toleration were both matters of the highest
political interest, this goes some way to explain why the Gothic novel grew
popular when it did, and why it borrowed what it did from oral tradition.
The sacrilege narrative, after all, is above all an expression of rights.
More generally, religious themes in the Gothic novel should not invari-
ably be read as a metaphor for something assumed to be more relevant
to today™s undergraduates: family romances, class struggles, the oppression
of women or the disjunctions of incipient modernity. If one does this,
one is likely to pass over the intuitions of injustice which ¬nd expres-
sion in the sacrilege narrative, and over-simplify the mixture of sympathy
and repulsion which characterises the treatment of Catholic medievalism
and Continental popery in so many Gothic novels.116 This is not simply
an argument against present-day teleological readings, though teleology is
certainly a problem at a time when topics relating to Christianity are so
frequently elided, or misread, because of our contemporary sensitivities,
blindnesses and terrors. Secularism has had the effect of diminishing the
kind of general knowledge which the authors discussed in this chapter
could all take for granted, and has in some ways coarsened our response to
a genre for which a knowledge of England™s religious history is so neces-
sary “ but, as so often, ignorance may act as an imaginative stimulus. The
54 Oral Culture and Catholicism
less recognisable the speci¬cities of Christianity become, the more they can
be taken as standing for something other than themselves; and secularism
in its more polemical modes, associating Christianity and all organised
religion with oppressiveness, has also given this generation a new way of
reading the Gothic novel, and new opportunities to frighten itself. Since
nothing now is uncannier than Christianity within the con¬nes of literary-
critical orthodoxy, it has become a Gothic enterprise in itself to disinter
and anatomise religious elements within the Gothic novel.117
2

Anti-popery and the supernatural 1




Thirty-¬ve years before this chapter was completed, Keith Thomas™s Reli-
gion and the Decline of Magic (1971) rede¬ned early modern folklore studies.
Since he wrote, a greater respect for the texts of non-elite culture has become
standard; and more recently, Ronald Hutton has asked for historians to pay
more attention to the deposits of folkloric evidence patiently collected by
specialist and local societies.2 Though a number of mantraps lie hidden in
the fairy woods of folkloric scholarship, this challenge ought to be taken
up by literary critics too.3 This chapter considers anonymous, collectively
written texts which had a prophylactic or magical meaning, and stories or
descriptions concerning local landmarks and natural phenomena, both of
which have traditionally been seen as the province of the folklorist; but
since they are also formal generic constructions, they repay literary atten-
tion. They are, too, often Catholic texts “ or were once. But this chapter
is concerned less with individual scraps of folklore than with early modern
Englishmen™s attitudes towards folklore as a whole, and with setting out
how Protestants de¬ned it as popish.
This emphasis on English Protestants re¬‚ects the fact that more material
on this topic survives from their pens than from those of post-Reformation
English Catholics. It should certainly not be thought that the latter would
not have noticed the interplay between religion and folklore, or that they
would necessarily have approved of it; across Europe at this date, both
Reformers and Counter-Reformers presented themselves as disliking super-
stition and aiming to purify popular culture. Catholics, it is true, were in
some ways more willing to accommodate themselves to the mindset of the
uneducated “ surely often for pragmatic reasons, though Catholic theology
lent itself well to the exploitation of sacred objects in a way that, to the
hostile Protestant observer, would have borne comparison with the super-
stitious practices being eliminated.4 Given that England presented differ-
ent problems from most of continental Europe for Catholic missionaries,

55
56 Oral Culture and Catholicism
one might expect them to have maximised on whatever remnants of
Catholic devotion remained within popular culture, and indeed this is
sometimes the case “ particularly, as argued below, in relation to holy
wells.5 But where folkloric material is commented on at all, it seems to
have engendered distrust from Catholics as well as Protestants, even in
instances which would have reinforced popular Catholic piety. Conclud-
ing his account of the pious legends surrounding St Patrick™s Purgatory, a
site in County Donegal, Edmund Campion re¬‚ects: ˜Touching the credit
of those matters, I see no cause but a Christian man assuring himself that
there is both hel and heaven, may . . . be persuaded that it might please
God . . . to reveale by miracles the vision of joyes & paines eternal, but
that altogether in such sort, & so ordinarily, & to such persons, & by such
means as the common fame & some records therof doe utter, I neither
believe, nor wish [them] to be regarded.™6 This is remarkably similar in
tone to the Protestant William Camden™s account of the same site: ˜some
persons devoutly credulous, af¬rme, that Patrick the Irishmens Apostle, or
else some Abbat of the same name, obtained . . . that the punishments &
torments which the Godlesse are to suffer after this life, might here bee
presented to the eye™.7 One writer believes in purgatory, one does not, but
both distrust devout credulity.
Whether they were Protestant or Catholic, educated individuals con-
sciously held themselves at a distance from the rest of the population on
the topic of folklore. England “ certainly at the beginning of the period of
this study, perhaps at the end “ would have had fully oral communities,
fully literate ones and everything in between; but literates were educated
into various kinds of dissociation from illiterates, which fostered the arti-
¬cially sharp distinctions of polemic, and were fostered by them in turn.
Consequently, there could occur a polemical isolation of the educated from
the rest; literates™ suspicion of illiterates is one of the great underexamined
prejudices of the early modern period.8 Differences between literate and
illiterate ways of thinking were often used to de¬ne superstition, even down
to matters of style and genre rather than content: for instance, George Sin-
clair™s account of the witch Agnes Sympson attacks her for using mnemonic
devices, ˜Nonsensical Rhyms, for the instructing of ignorant people™, and
for ˜teaching them to pray . . . in Meeter, in set Forms to be used Morning
and Evening, and at other times, when occasion offered™.9 These slights
went largely unanswered, since the challenge would have made little sense
to those primarily being accused. Certainly the victims of superstition tend
not to be the intended addressees of diatribes against superstition; more
Anti-popery and the supernatural 57
usually, one literate Protestant is writing to others, sorrowing over the plight
of the illiterate papist.10

c ath olicism , a n ti- pope ry a n d t h e spe ll
Polemicists™ assertions could have been supported by a number of factors
at work in the late medieval English church. The fact that snatches of
Catholic prayer and Catholic liturgy were a well-established element of
popular religion, medicine and magic at that date made it possible to con-
demn the Latin Mass as nothing but occult gibberish.11 As Eamon Duffy
has pointed out, charms and invocations were widespread: not only among
the unlettered, but in devotional collections ˜whose overall sophistication
and orthodoxy cannot be doubted™.12 The emphasis of Catholicism on the
miraculous could lead “ as the church was well aware “ to an equation of
priest and magus wherever a ¬rm de¬nition of Christian orthodoxy was not
operative.13 Inspired in some instances by clerical initiatives to christianise
pagan sites, folk beliefs across Europe before the Reformation could syn-
thesise Christian devotion with non-Christian practice “ as Christianity
has so often done.14 If these factors were not especially endorsed by the
medieval church, they were at least containable within it, or tolerated and
exploited as a stage on the way to greater orthodoxy.
The Reformation, and the Catholic church™s own internal reforms,
caused the Catholic clerisy to become warier of superstition, more con-
cerned with de¬ning it and more anxious to dissuade the laity from it.15
But Protestants went further, often seeing no distinction between Catholic
sacramental theology and pagan superstition: to take one example among
thousands, in Polimanteia (1595) William Covell argues that the consecra-
tions of salt, water and oil are charms that derive from the Chaldaeans and
ultimately from Satan (ff. I4b“K1a). Thus, it was hardly surprising that, in
England, the outlawing of Catholic practices should have led to such an
intimate, long-lasting polemical association of popery with supernatural
folklore. An entire body of belief, one already vulnerable to ecclesiastical
attack, was annexed for anti-Catholic purposes within and outside imagi-
native literature. Because popery was linked with non-Christian mythology
and ritual by the reformers, and the two were persecuted side by side, their
post-Reformation association went beyond the polemical. Real life imitated
controversial commonplaces as, forcibly yoked together, popery and pagan-
ism were driven out into the wilderness of polemical exclusion. One can
imagine a syncretism of the disallowed, which would have been achieved
58 Oral Culture and Catholicism
all the more easily because of the complex, often uneasy relationship that
already prevailed between Catholicism and superstition.16
This post-Reformation linkage of Catholic and non-Christian mythol-
ogy and ritual has often been observed, and explained in varying ways. It
contributes to the model of survivalism, the idea that aspects of an essen-
tially pre-Reformation religious culture lingered long after England became
Protestant; and to notions of resistance, which point to the fact that, under
successive Protestant governments, many aspects of Catholic ritual were
practised covertly in opposition to the current ecclesiastical regime.17 There
is something apologetic about the admission which usually accompanies
this argument: how, lacking a regular clerisy and the other normative checks
of of¬cial religion, it was only natural for lay initiatives to interbreed with
superstition. But traditional rituals for which the reformed religion offered
no substitute, and which came to be practised independently of parish con-
trol, can also be de¬ned as a sign of conscious nonconformity, whether or
not they adhered to pre-Reformation standards of orthodoxy. In an impor-
tant article, Ronald Hutton has argued that there took place a ˜privatisation™
of services no longer supplied by the of¬cial church, such as Candlemas,
or prayers for the dead on All Souls™ Day.18
One did not, of course, need to be a Catholic to mutter a spell.19 Among
the meaner sort, both Catholics and Protestants, spells might not have
been seen as incompatible with Christianity, while spells with recognisably
Catholic matter might have been employed across the board, out of a
feeling that the old religion was more supernaturally ef¬cacious than the
new. Certainly, if polemic can be taken as evidence, even orthodox Catholic
prayers might have been used quite straightforwardly by the purveyors of
spells. In an early seventeenth-century manuscript tract inveighing against
white witches and wise women, by the Sussex physician Edward Poeton, a
dialogue takes place between the educated Dr Dreadnought and Gregory
Groshead, a papist who “ like others in this study “ is made to talk in broad
Mummerset. Groshead explains that he sees no harm in white witches:
˜theyle tawke o god as well as tha best ome all: An I ha hurd um ze good
prayers meny a time and oft.™ Dreadnought asks what these prayers are, and
Groshead replies: ˜Tiz Our Vather. &c. an I beleeve in god. &c. Hayle Mary
vull a grace &c. An zum wother zuch leek good prayers . . .™ The threefold
connection between spells, rote prayer and popery could not be clearer,
extending even to implicit condemnation of two texts which Catholics and
Protestants would have had in common, the Lord™s Prayer and the Creed;
to Groshead™s revelations, Dreadnought responds: ˜Alas poore man I much
pitty your absurd ignorance . . .™20 In contrast, the testimony of John
Anti-popery and the supernatural 59
Rudgely, preserved at the English College in Rome, suggests that the sign
of the Cross could be recognised as a sign of orthodox Catholic intention
in both a devotional and a demonifugal context: having learnt it from his
godfather, he used to make it both when he went to bed, and if he met
women on the road who looked like witches or enchantresses.21 So far from
being the fruits of priestcraft, such shifts might have ¬lled a devotional
vacuum caused by the frequent lack of priests.
The Chinese whispers of orality could, though, have changed or distorted
orthodox Catholic texts in a way which laid them open to reformist mock-
ery, particularly where the original had been in Latin.22 What purports to
be a phonetic rendition of the way that Catholic lay people pronounce the
Credo is preserved within John White™s controversial pamphlet The Way to
the True Church (1st edn 1608):
Creezum Zuum patrum onitentem creatorum eius anicum Dominum nostrum
qui cum sops, virigini Mariae: crixus ¬xus, Ponchi Pilati audubitiers, morti by
sonday . . . Creezum sprituum santum, ecli Cath´ li, remissurum, peccaturum,
o
communiorum obliuiorum, bitam and turnam again. (f. **7b)

In this almost Joycean gibberish, each linguistic distortion, however minute,
speaks of what popery and orality were believed to have done to the Gospel;
and it is no accident that the text chosen should be the Credo. Though
White™s intention is obviously humorous, he is also forging a serious polem-
ical connection between misunderstanding and dangerous linguistic muta-
bility. Yet however ridiculous the oral distortion of Catholic texts might
have seemed to the reformers, orthodox intentions may have clung around
them for a long time; it was, after all, possible to be an exemplary medieval
Christian without understanding one word of the Latin Mass.
Deliberate travesties of Catholic religious and liturgical language are
another kind of inaccurate oral rendition. As a feature of anti-Catholic
mockery from the ¬rst years of the English Reformation, they could imply
Protestant orthodoxy; but they also had occult potential. Where Catholic
language was borrowed for non-Christian or anti-Christian ritual, the rea-
sons why would have altered when Protestantism became the of¬cial version
of Christianity in England. An occult liturgical travesty, such as the Black
Mass was imagined to be, would always have represented a perversion of
language originally intended as sacred. But before the Reformation, the
force of any perversion would have depended on the sanctity of the origi-
nal and even reinforced it; thereafter, anti-popery would have encouraged
a belief that Catholic religious language was spiritually void, and there-
fore wide open to occult in¬‚uence.23 How often this kind of self-conscious
60 Oral Culture and Catholicism
perversion actually took place, though, is very hard to tell. Witch-trials
demonstrate just how easy it was to confuse prayers and spells, and though
witch-hunters would have attributed this to satanic cunning, it arises from
a genuine generic overlap between the two.24
It has been commented that ˜the distinction between a charm and a
prayer was subtle™, and certainly, many spells invoke the ef¬cacy of the
Christian God.25 What makes them less orthodox to the educated observer “
if, perhaps, no less pious “ is the range of invocations they commonly
employ. In the parody of the Credo quoted above, corruption of language
is held to mean that the suppliants “ whether they are conscious of this
or not “ are praying to something inde¬nite. But even where God or the
saints feature among those summoned, a spell positively suggests a range of
auditors wider, at the very least, than in a traditional Christian invocation.
Sometimes evil spirits are told to get themselves gone in God™s name;
sometimes the second-person singular is less directive, as in the following
charm ˜to helpe drinke that was forspoken or bewitched™, quoted at the
trial of the Lancashire witches in 1613, and actually called a ˜prayer™ by the
examinee, Anne Whittle.
Three Biters hast thou bitten,
The Hart, ill Eye, ill Tonge:
Three bitter shall be thy Boote,
Father, Sonne, and Holy Ghost
a Gods name.
Five Pater-Nosters, ¬ve Avies [i.e. Ave Marias],
and a Creede,
In worship of ¬ve wounds
of our Lord.26
In effect, the drink-spell quoted above is a lay exorcism. In so far as it
resembles the processes of sancti¬cation that the medieval church had devel-
oped, it would have been subject to reformist disapproval, while Catholic
clerics would have disapproved of it because of how the notion and lan-
guage had been garbled by laymen.27 As so often with exorcisms, some
confusion is forgivable: is it the drink that is being addressed, or God,
or His heavenly agents, or some demonic power? The effect of multiple
addressees would have been complicated, and to some extent legitimised,
by recollections of past heavenly hierarchies: Catholic prayers, after all,
were attended to not merely by the Trinity, but by saints and angels. One
cannot, perhaps, recover the mindset of the unsophisticated user: a spoken
spell might not have been directed at any supernatural ear in particular, but
simply have been seen as ef¬cacious in itself, with the catalogue of names
Anti-popery and the supernatural 61
performing a function analogous to the combination of ingredients in a
recipe.28 But those unsophisticated enough to use spells, yet suf¬ciently
analytical to recognise the problem of the addressee when it was pointed
out, would have relied on de¬nitions of orthodoxy framed by their supe-
riors, and especially vulnerable where those orthodoxies con¬‚icted. John
Aubrey sums up the dilemma in his neatly framed anecdote of a woman
who made use of a spell to cure an ague, by the advice of the mathematician
John Napier. ˜A Minister came to her, and severely repremanded her . . .
and commanded her to burn it. She did so, and her Distemper returned
severely; insomuch, that she was importunate with the Doctor to use the
same again: She used it, and had ease. But the Parson . . . thundred Hell
and Damnation, and frighted her so, that she burnt it again. Whereupon
she fell extremely Ill, and would have had it a Third time; but the Doctor
refused, saying, That she had contemned and slighted the power and good-
ness of the Blessed Spirits (or Angels) and so she died.™29
One can guess that “ here as elsewhere “ it was the puritans who helped
to articulate the question of exactly where devotions were going. Just as
puritans disapproved of the practice of bowing to the altar on the grounds
that an altar was not a worthy object of worship, they would have been
alert to signs that texts mimicking prayer were not being directed solely to
God.30 Non-puritans were often critical of this literal-mindedness, and anti-
puritanism may even have helped the cause of the spell, in saving it from
unanimous disapproval among the educated. Spells certainly veer from the
path of puritan-de¬ned rectitude; yet many other English Protestants took
the pragmatic view that some folkloric texts were more pernicious than
others, and most were harmless. This difference of opinion resonates with
another contemporary controversy: that surrounding the Book of Sports,
the document instituted by James I which endorsed traditional religious
pastimes in English parishes.31 Both debates pit elite tolerance of popular
culture against elite repudiation of it, and take place between writers who
differ radically on the question of what is and is not tolerable. Thus, what
we know of reactions to the Book of Sports may give some clue as to how
folkloric texts like the spell would have been regarded “ though admittedly
in less extreme form.
Wherever the Book of Sports was endorsed, one may assume a de facto
acceptance of many Catholic “ or non-Christian “ elements within popular
religious behaviour: an acceptance that did not necessarily imply outright
approval, but a feeling that such elements were not especially signi¬cant
or threatening. Despite the Book of Sports™ royal sponsorship, and what
Leah Marcus has called the ˜wave of antiquarian nostalgia™ surrounding its
62 Oral Culture and Catholicism
republication by Charles I in 1633, this was an equilibrium that depended
on not being publicly articulated.32 But much of the coterie verse written
by the High Church poets of the 1620s and 1630s is what the Book of Sports
could never have been: an exposition of the paradox, which translates into
a mischievous anti-puritanism combined with a self-consciously daring
tolerance of non-Christian elements in popular worship. Robert Herrick
mocks pagan and papistical activity, but he also writes spells; a correct
reading of his poems depends on an initiate audience who will appreciate
the brinkmanship, but not be humourless enough to question the author™s
own conformity.33



t he a n t iqua rian an d th e spe l l :
recording po pi sh fo l klore
Spells, of course, were not the only way that Catholic matter could be
transmitted in metrical form amongst the uneducated. The famous Lyke-
Wake Dirge, which Aubrey records as being sung at Yorkshire funerals in
the 1620s, sets forth an unreconstructed Catholic doctrine of the afterlife.
The song would never have been part of the of¬cial order of service at a
funeral, and so cannot be said to be a liturgical survival; but it conserves
the Catholic doctrine of purgatory for which, notoriously, the reformed
church had no emotional substitute.

This ean night this ean night;
every night and awle:
Fire and Fleet and Candle-light
And Christ receive thy Sawle . . .
From Brig of Dread that thou mayst pass,
every night etc:
To Purgatory ¬re thou com™st at last
and Christ etc:
If ever thou gave either Milke or drinke,
every night etc:
The ¬re shall never make thee shrink
and Christ etc.
But if milk nor drink thou never gave nean,
every night and awle:
The Fire shall burn thee to the bare bane
and Christ receive thy Sawle.34
Anti-popery and the supernatural 63
The way in which Aubrey preserves this material, contextualising what
he ¬nds by quotations from The Iliad, Plautus and Ovid™s Tristia, is as
suggestive as what he preserves. More generally, discussions of English cus-
tom owe a good deal to notions of classical paganism gleaned from Virgil
and Theocritus: both imaginative writers, cited in a manner which hardly
acknowledges how poetic convention might problematise the historical evi-
dence they appear to preserve “ and leading one, in turn, to suspect that
the educated observer of folk ritual might have classicised what he saw by
unconscious selection.35 Aubrey™s accounts are unusually non-judgmental,
as so often with him “ which may be due, in part, to the fact that so
many of his collections survive in note form only.36 But as a general rule,
this con¬‚ation of English custom and classical literary motif could only
have aided the common controversial identi¬cation of similarities between
Catholicism, paganism and ¬ctionality. Juxtapositions like Aubrey™s, which
occurred naturally to the classically educated mind, could become con-
demnatory evidence in themselves. To the polemicist, popery and pagan-
ism were natural partners, united against the reformed gospel like ¬ctions
against fact; since truth was unitary, and error many-headed, Catholicism
and its personnel could easily be received into the pagan pantheon.
In the preface to Antiquitates Vulgares (1st edn 1725),37 Henry Bourne
asserts that popular customs ought to be judged by the sole criterion of
whether or not they are sinful in practice, while adopting an almost all-
inclusive de¬nition of whether a custom is sinful.38 Some, originally good,
have lost their ˜true Meaning and Design™ through the accretions of ˜Folly
and Superstition™; others are a ˜Scandal to Religion™, though super¬cially
harmless. In conclusion, he comments bluntly that ˜the ignorant Part of
the World™ are almost all superstitious: ˜the Opinions they hold . . . being
generally either the Produce of Heathenism; or the Inventions of indolent
Monks, who having nothing else to do, were the Forgers of many silly and
wicked Opinions, to keep the World in Awe and Ignorance™ (pp. x“xi).
Bourne™s collection in itself can be seen as a form of opposition to the
folkloric text: a stratagem which was not new. Aubrey™s Remains of Gentil-
isme and Judaisme, compiled in the latter half of the seventeenth century, is
often called the ¬rst collection of English folkloric material: in fact, it is only
the ¬rst designated collection of folkloric material.39 Aubrey™s approach was
innovative because it was unprecedentedly detailed and systematic: in the
earlier part of the period covered by this book, a more usual antiquarian

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