Evil in Wales

Edmund Jones. The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales. Edited, with an introduction, by John Harvey. University of Wales Press, 2003
A number of the books of evidences of the supernatural were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, aimed at combat ‘Sadducees’ and atheists. This book is a late example of this genre

Edmund Jones (1702-93), was a Welsh Nonconformist minister, and this work, originally published as A Relation of Apparitions and Spirits in the Principality of Wales in 1780 assembled sets of supernatural memorates from around Wales to such a purpose. The tales generally relate of events supposed to have happened in Jones’s own lifetime or at least those of his informants, and include a number of first hand stories, including his own wondrous experiences.

Some of these tales relate to what today would be called poltergeist outbreaks, some belong to the fairy tradition, others relate to local beliefs such as corpse candles or the terrible noises which presage deaths. There are motifs which suggest the continuation of pre-Christian traditions; apparitions which demand that the living throw the apparition’s money or belongings into a nearby river, as once treasures were sent as sacrifices to the divinities of the water.

There are also stories which today would fall into the UFO domain, strange lights and strange, unearthly beings, tales of people being taken by ‘them’ to remote locations and returned, or perhaps especially Messrs Willams and Hanbury’s encounter with a strange light or object “a white thing in the form of a pyramid . . . broad at the bottom and narrowing towards the top” about 10 yards tall and 10 yards broad at the bottom. Similar descriptions appear in modern UFO literature.

Most accounts are suffixed with attacks on the dreaded Deists, Sadducees, atheists, infidels and the like, and at times one almost expects to see references to Pelicanists!.

John Harvey, who specialises in the study of religious folk art, sees in the apparitions culturally influenced imaginative imagery, derived from both folk art and folk narrative, but leaves neutral whether these are simply the creatures of the imagination, or whether they represent a perception or articulation in familiar terms the truly other. The value of this book is of source of supernatural lore and wondrous experiences from a culture which is increasingly remote from our own.

In his conclusion Harvey also draws attention to the Welsh revival of 1904/5, Kevin McClure’s treatment of which can be found on our website.

This collection reminds us that we cannot take such narratives out of their cultural milieu, modern day interpretations in terms of technical intelligences may appear as quaint to future generations as Jones’ religious speculations do to us.  -- Peter Rogerson

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