Even by the standards of this blog, the English demonologist Richard Bovet is a neglected soul. His 1684 book Pandaemonium, or the Devil’s Cloister passionately argued for the existence of demons and witches at a time when the rest of Europe was beginning to come to its senses. Not much is known about Bovet; there were two people in 17th century England with the name, a father and son, and either men might have been the author we’re discussing today. At any rate, both Bovets were fiercely anti-Catholic, and one of them sought to combine his anti-Catholicism with supernatural quackery.
The result, Pandaemonium, sold poorly in its day and is about well-remembered now as the sonnets I posted on Tumblr as a teenager. To my knowledge, Bovet’s book hasn’t been reprinted since 1951, when an edition was posthumously published by the great Montague Summers. Summers declared that it was “without question one of the most extraordinary works in the immense library of occult research.” I’d say that it IS pretty extraordinary, but probably not in the way that the author intended.
The first half of the book is a credulous discourse on the existence of the supernatural, including sections about how Catholics and the Pope are in league with the Devil. The second part, which is much more amusing, is a collection of accounts about ghosts, witches, and other ghastly things. In traveling around England and gathering stories, Bovet picked up some of the most delightfully strange tales I’d ever heard. (I first encountered the Demon of Spreyton, in fact, in his book.) To honor Bovet, I’d like to retell five of my favorite relations from Pandaemonium, in no definitive order. The original text, for those interested, can also be perused here.
1. The Possession of the Merideth Children
I’ve long believed that children are a nuisance. They’re dirty, annoying, and as an entire genre of horror movies has shown us, have a habit of becoming supernaturally possessed. In the incident of the Merideth family from Bristol, their son and three daughters were showcases for that third issue. At the start of their “possession,” the kids complained about headaches, then their limbs, mouths, and eyes were distorted into “unimaginable alterations.”
The children soon became unbelievably strong. They would fall into fits of laughing and crying for an hour at a time, and would crawl around the floor like cats. One neighbor even told Bovet that the kids “would hang about the walls and ceiling of the room, like flies or spiders.” Other antics included foaming at the mouth, pretending to drop dead, and in the case of one child, throwing up pins. These strange fits would last all day; it was only when the Merideths fell asleep that they would stop.
After months of this behavior, the Merideth children all of a sudden recovered. Some doctors attributed the cause to a “natural distemper,” but Bovet, ever the careful observer, recognized witchcraft when he saw it.
2. How a Falconer Summoned a Demon
From Bovet’s friend “Dr. B.” comes a warning of the dangers of unsavory books. In the county of present-day Dorset, Dr. B kept a house with a huntsman and falconer. The huntsman was a fellow who liked to drink, while the falconer was a more temperate person. The two men shared a bed at night, but the falconer preferred to read over talking with his drunken bedfellow.
One night, while the huntsman was asleep, the falconer was busy reading a book he’d borrowed from a chaplain. The book “happened to be of the wrong sort”- perhaps a euphemism for a grimoire or demonological text- and the mere act of reading it summoned a monster to the falconer’s bedside. When the terrified falconer tried to nudge his bedfellow awake, the drowsy hunter only mumbled, “Good Devil, do not mistake, for that is the falconer,” before going back to sleep.
The drunkard having failed him, the falconer shouted for help from the house’s other lodgers. Fortunately, a deus ex machina arrived in the form of the chaplain, who came to the rescue and banished the demon away. Illuminating the tale’s lesson, Bovet remarks that “Some people, by perusing unlawful studies, have put themselves in the power of evil spirits. And though some may look on this relation but as a jest, upon inquiry it will be found a real truth.”
3. The Fair of the Fairies
Near the town of Taunton, Bovet had heard that there was a fair held by fairies in the summertime. Many locals had reportedly seen it, but kept their distance, because the fair always harmed any human brave enough to approach it. During one such fairy fair, around the 1630s, a man whose curiosity got the better of him would pay for it dearly.
While riding home in the area, to the parish of Combe St Nicholas, the man saw on the side of a hill what appeared to be a fair. There were drinking booths, people in country dress, and all sorts of peddlers, just like a normal fair. Since he knew of no fairs in the area, the man wondered if these people were fairies. He started to ride toward the crowd, but as he got closer, the fairgoers disappeared. The man could feel their presence, yet couldn’t see them at all.
After riding past where the crowd was, the man looked back and saw that the fair had reappeared. Before he could try again, the man’s body was seized with pain. He quickly headed home, and when he got back, became lame all on one side. The poor fellow never recovered from his paralysis; he lived another twenty years, serving as a warning to anyone else who dared to attend the fair of the fairies.
4. The Rat Hole Prophecies
Toads, black cats, and bats are often associated with witches and other magical ne’er-do-wells. To this trinity of evil, Bovet added the rat, an animal he claimed was cherished by witches. In the following tale about the long-tailed vermin, Bovet discovered what might be the only record of mûsomancy, my neologism for a prophecy delivered by rats.
At a house in the county of Devon (now Devonshire), Bovet was treated to a meal by a Mrs. Wood. In the top of the parlor, Mrs. Wood pointed out to her guest a giant hole, which she supposed was the result of hungry rats. Mrs. Wood’s husband had died a few weeks earlier, just as the hole was created, and it was her belief that the hole predicted her husband’s death. When another hole appeared in the room, Mrs. Wood concluded that she, too, would die.
The rat-constructed holes were right; Mrs. Wood, in perfect health, dropped dead a short time later. A year later, the rats were still enjoying the Woods’ house, and decided to leave another prophecy in their hosts’ parlor. On this occasion, the hole was for Roger Wood, the family’s oldest heir. One morning, back home from hunting, Roger promptly died after complaining about a headache.
5. An Encounter with an Invisible Ghost
As a collector of supernatural stories, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bovet allegedly had a spooky encounter himself. In 1667, somewhere in the West Country of England, Bovet had stayed at a nobleman’s house. The house was once a nunnery, and according to the servants and some other visitors, the place was brimming with ghosts and unexplained noises.
On one night during his stay, Bovet testified that a group of five spectral women, each with a white veil covering her face, marched into his room. One of the ladies struck Bovet on the hand, and when he brought it to the attention of his bedfellow, the man freaked out and told Bovet that a monster, “assuming a shape betwixt that of a lion and a bear,” had tried to get onto their bed. The next night, Bovet’s companion refused to sleep in the room, leaving Bovet the place (and bed) to himself.
At around 1 AM, Bovet was ready to sleep. As he tucked himself in, doubtlessly thinking about bear-lions, Bovet heard something come into his room. The being was invisible, but so obnoxiously loud that it gave away its movements. After passing Bovet’s bed, it opened some curtains and entered a locked closet. Behind the door, the intruder grabbed a chair, repeatedly groaned, and seemed to be flipping through a book. “…so it continued in that posture,” Bovet wrote, “sometimes groaning, sometimes dragging the chair, and clattering the book, till it was near day.” As it happened, the author miraculously survived this ordeal; Bovet slept several more times in the room, but never experienced anything strange again, allowing him to write his great masterpiece.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. The book has a habit of conjuring demons upon being read, and the morbid and bizarre stories therein star such characters as a playwright who stages real deaths for his work, a corpse that leads a revolution in a banana republic, and a sleazy photographer who claims to take pictures of ghosts. If your tastes lean toward the absurd, do give the book a read and leave a review, death-threat, or prophetic message on its Amazon page.