Devils—Afraid of Bells
It was an old superstition that evil spirits were afraid of bells
and fled from the sound of them. This seems to arise from the
belief that hosts of devils lurked in the atmosphere waiting to
seize souls or to create storms.
In The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, archbishop of
Genoa (printed by Caxton about 1483), it states
‘‘. . . the evil spirits that be in the region of the air doubt
much when they hear the bells ringing; thus the bells are rung
when it thunders, or when great tempest and outrages of
weather happen; to the end that the fiends and wicked spirits
should be abashed and flee, and cease of the moving of tempests.’’
The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of Druandus (1459), a
popular work dealing with the origin and meaning of ecclesiastical
services, states that the church rings the bells on the approach
of a storm, so that the devils, hearing the trumpets of
the Eternal King, might flee in fear and cease from raising the
Bells were baptized and blessed to consecrate them. In 1521
it was stated that ‘‘suffragans used to baptise bells under pretence
of driving away devils and tempests.’’ Many old bells in
Britain were inscribed with the sign of the cross and the statement,
‘‘By my lively voice I drive away all harm.’’
As early as ancient Roman times, bronze bells were used to
repel demons. The geographer Strabo (64 or 63 B.C.E.–23 C.E.)
recorded that Roman herdsmen attached bells to the necks of
their flocks to keep away evil spirits and wild beasts. The
Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.E.–17 C.E.) stated that people used to
beat bronze vessels during an eclipse and at the death of a
friend to scare away demons