Supernatural folklore and the popular imagination: re-reading object and locality in mid-nineteenth-century Norfolk

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In early 1844 the Devil was seen dancing on the walls of Norwich Castle. Earlier that year, two men had started prophesying to the residents of west Norfolk that the world would end on 21 March. Fearful rumours carried their prediction eastwards to Norwich. Ballads and sermons from the time recount how a sense of fatalism swept Norfolk that spring, with farmers neglecting their ploughing and others abandoning their work. The Devil's supposed appearance only seemed to confirm the prediction. A later ballad, mocking the fact that the world had not ended, indicated that some still fervently awaited the delayed event. Such was the power of the religious-supernatural imagination in mid-nineteenth-century Norfolk. As late as 1910, Charles Kent noted how Norfolk folk were ‘devoted Bible readers, and at the same time firm believers in witchcraft’, adding that ‘Faith is the talisman which enables us to overcome, and even a misplaced faith is, I suppose, better than no faith at all.’ Exploring this assertion, this essay briefly considers how unorthodox supernatural beliefs acted as a form of popular agency in mid-nineteenth-century Norfolk. The popular imagination assembled what the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss referred to as bricolage, a ‘creative, associational … mode of thought’ which concocted together a mixture of supernatural resources and beliefs stemming from orthodox religion, village folklore and popular superstition.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArt, Faith and Place in East Anglia
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Prehistory to the Present
EditorsT. Heslop, E. Mellings, M. Thofner
Place of PublicationWoodbridge
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781782040620
ISBN (Print)9781843837442
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


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