Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Merrifield’

The Satanic Rites of Glossop Tories

May 29, 2021

Ho ho! We suspected as much! People as evil as Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVile have to be in league with the forces of darkness. Now there’s the proof that at least one local Conservative club has had truck with the Evil One. ‘Cause archaeologists dug up the occult image they were using, as well as the remains of candlewax, chicken bones and other paraphernalia from their diabolical ceremonies.

A friend of mine helps run a psychic research society. Unlike the ghost hunters you see on TV, who every week seem to encounter real, unquiet spirits and run around screaming that they’re possessed, his organisation is very serious about investigating the paranormal scientifically. Quite a few of them have backgrounds in the medicine and the sciences. There is a very sizable academic literature on parapsychology and the proper investigation of paranormal events, including the proper scientific protocols to rule out misperception, fraud and false results. The paranormal is now regarded by very many people as something as a joke, but it was taken very seriously at one time. The founders of the British Society for Psychical Research included some of the most prominent politicians, academics and scientists of the 19th century.

As they’re unable to meet in person due to lockdown restriction, my friend’s been arranging a series of Zoom talks about the paranormal. He asked me if I’d like to give one. I agreed, and chose the archaeology of magic as the talk’s topic. There’s been a revival of interest in the history of magic and witchcraft by historians since the 1960s. This was pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s by French historians, who wanted to investigate the ‘mentalites’ – the mental worldview – of previous ages. Interest in witchcraft and the witch craze of the 16th and 17th is immense, because of the parallels between them and the persecution of minorities by the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century – Nazism, Fascism and Stalinist Communism – as well as parallels to the Cold War and ‘reds under the bed’. They’re also investigated because of what they say about these centuries attitudes towards women. Feminists are thus particularly interested, including activists who believe that the witches weren’t servants of Satan, but female adherents of an ancient mother goddess cult. Historians are also interested in witchcraft because it marks the transition from the enchanted world of the Middle Ages, when the universe was occupied by angels, demons, fairies and magicians, to secular modernity and the rationalism of the 18th century. And finally there’s the modern occult revival, which began in the 19th century, which has been particularly investigated by Dr Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.

Archaeologists have been rather late to the party. I think this is partly because archaeologist tended to identify anything with a vaguely supernatural use as ‘ritual’, rather than religious. There was an attitude that archaeologists could not reconstruct the religious ideas of past societies from their material remains, although in the case of temples and shrines, that’s clearly not the case. But it can be difficult without textual information. Also, many archaeologists didn’t want the sensationalism that came with the words ‘magic’ and ‘supernatural’. The first major book on the subject was Ralph Merrifield’s The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. The kinds of items and remains investigated by archaeologists as magic include human and animal remains buried under houses, possibly as foundation sacrifices, charms and amulets, curse tablets, witch posts – carved posts in houses to stop witches or the walking dead entering – witch dolls and bottles, as well as items of clothing like shoes also left behind walls in houses. One of the books I’ve been using is The Materiality of Magic, edited by Ceri Houlbrook and Natalie Armitage (Oxbow: 2015). This is a collection of papers on archaeology and magic that came out of an interdisciplinary course run by the University of Manchester.

One of these papers, by A.J.N.W. Prag, ‘The Little Mannie with his Daddy’s Horns’, recounts how Manchester museum acquired a devil figure – so they thought – in the 1970s. The museum was running an exhibition of Celtic heads, and the cleaner at the local Tory club in Hollingworth had discovered one when she was cleaning the cellar. The museum experts came down, examined it, and found the remains left from the last time it was used. Which was apparently in 1916 to benefit the troops at the front. The museum quickly arranged to purchase it from her, partly because they were afraid that Satanists, especially American, would get wind of it. However, after they acquired it, their staff suffered a series of accidents. People who hadn’t had a car accident in their life suddenly scratched both sides of their vehicles, one worker cut his head open and then managed to lock the keys in the car of the colleague who took him to hospital. Eventually it got to the point where no-one really wanted to touch, until one of the women took to soothing it physically. But there was a further surprise when they were about to put it on display. A visiting expert on Africa told them that it wasn’t actually Celtic, but African. Specifically, it was a nomoli figure from the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This raises the question how such an exotic item found its way to a Tory club near Glossop. The paper speculates that it may have been brought to Manchester by one of the Jesuits involved in the exorcism of the possessed nuns at the 17th century French convent, which formed the basis for the Aldous Huxley book, The Devils of Loudoun, and the Ken Russell movie, The Devils, with Oliver Reed. It’s possible that the image, brought to the convent by a missionary clergyman, may have been at the heart of the accusations of witchcraft.

The idea of the local Tories practising their Satanic rites sounds like something from Last of the Summer Wine. Back in the 1980s there was an episode in which Sid and his wife at the local cafe were catering for a Masonic-style secret society, the Bullocks. As Foggy and Clegg are talking about it downstairs with Sid and Ivy, Compo comes down from their upstairs room where they’re holding their secret ceremony. He calls them a load of pansies, or something similar. When asked, they’re all there stamping their feet like hooves and holding their fingers in front of their heads like horns, chanting ‘Who’s a pretty bullock then, moo, moo? Who’s a pretty bullock then, you, you.’ Later Clegg and Compo embarrass Foggy by stealing their banner and running across one of the hills with it, so it proclaims to all and sundry, ‘Bullocks’.

Is this the kind of thing that’s going on in Tory clubs up and down England, we wonder? I find the whole thing peculiar and funny, and it inspired me to make this painting of Thatcher as the Satanic figure, Baphomet. If you can’t quite make out the text, it’s supposed to read ‘The Satanic Rites of Thatcher’. Hope you enjoy it and don’t have nightmares.