Bells—It was once common practice to ring church bells for all Christian souls on Halloween. King Henry VIII (who ruled from 1509 to 1547) once directed that “the Vigil and ringing of bells all the night long upon Allhallow Day at night” was to be abolished; and Queen Elizabeth (whose monarchy went from 1558 to 1603) likewise ruled “that the superfluous ringing of bells, and the superstitious ringing of bells on Allhallowntide and at All Souls’ Day, with the two nights before and after, be prohibited.”
A 1517 Churchwardens’ account of the parish of Heybridge, near Malden, in Essex, notes payments for repair of the bells “agenste Hallowmasse”; but a history of the parish of Hemingborough notes that a gentleman named Mr. Salvin was fined 40s for ringing the bells on the evening of All Hallow-Day in 1564.
The custom was revived during Mary’s reign, especially since the ringing of bells was thought (like SOULING or lighting a FIRE) to benefit souls in PURGATORY. Church bells were also rung on MIDSUMMER’S EVE, WALPURGISNACHT and at other times when evil spirits were thought to be abroad or powerful.
In Brittany, it was once the custom for a bellman to go about just before midnight ON ALL SOULS’ DAY, warning of the coming of ghosts.
A Welsh belief was that on Halloween, as long as consecrated bells rang, WITCHES were hindered from causing harm.
Bells were also rung to celebrate GUY FAWKES DAY; in fact, in some British towns and villages November 5th came to be known as “Ringing-day” (the night of the 4th was sometimes called “Ringing-night”). In Middlesex in 1683, half-an-acre of land was given to the purpose of providing the local parish bell-ringers with a leg of pork on November 5th; the land, which was known as “Pork Acre,” was rented out by the parish officers, and the proceeds given to the bell-ringers.
Some areas considered the November 5th ringing of the bells to be the start of the winter season bell-ringing.
The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved