Weird Norfolk: How to spot the devil in Swanton Morley
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Whistle and he'll come to you: at a church in Norfolk, it's said that Satan can be summoned by a strange ritual. Weird Norfolk find out what it takes to see the Devil in Swanton Morley.
Gazing out across rolling countryside, the imposing tower of All Saints at Swanton Morley is a majestic monument to the faithful - but according to folklore, it is also a hide-out for the Dark Lord himself, who can be summoned with a whistle.
In 1950, amateur archaeologist and folklorist Leslie Valentine Grinsell spoke to a villager, Charles Lewton-Braine, who informed him of a story passed down through generations: he told him that legend had it that if you wanted to see the Devil, you should run around the church at midnight and then whistle through the keyhole, at which point Satan would appear.
A variation involves whistling through the grille that looks into a crypt under the chancel again, after circling the church at the witching hour.
Another resident, Ted Peachment, confirmed the story, recalling that as a boy he would run around the church before looking into the grille to see Lucifer (interestingly, his story ended at this point without any information about whether the ritual had worked).
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There are many folklore tales that involve summoning the Devil, or a ghost, or a witch by moving around a sacred object - the practice is known as circumambulation and there are examples of these legends from around the county: at St Nicholas' Church in Great Yarmouth, it is said that the face of a princess appears if you circle the church three times and shout "Bloody Queen Mary" while at East Somerton it is said that if you walk round the tree that grows through the middle of St Mary's church ruins, the witch buried there centuries ago will appear, IF you call her name.
In most folklore stories, to raise a spirit or the Devil, one must walk widdershins - counter-clockwise - around a building which in magical terms involves walking against the light, contrary to God and in some tales, reading prayers backwards was also another guaranteed way of raising Lucifer.
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The Scottish are particularly fond of circumambulation, with the practice continuing up until 150 years ago, with rituals including circling the fields with torches at Halloween to ensure fertility, albeit clockwise, towards the sun rather than away from it.
Whistling or making whistling noises at night, is often linked to bad luck or evil spirits: the famous Lantern Man of the Fens is drawn to people who whistle and will then try to lure the unfortunate whistler to their death.
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