Someone dear to me surprised me this week by sending me a book in the post, quite out of the blue – Don Lewis’s 1975 work Religious Superstition Through The Ages

It has this wonderful passage:

There was a time when the whole world was thought to be overrun with apparitions, boggles, bloody-bones, bug-bears, black dogs, brownies, barquests, break-necks, boggy-boes, demons, dobbys, fairies, fantasms, fetches, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, hags, hobgoblins, hobhoulards, hobthrusts, ignesfatui, jemmy-burties, kelpies, mumpokers, night-bats, Robin-goodfellows, scrags, spirits, spectres, spellycoats, scarecrows, vampires, witches, warlocks, wizards; and there was not a single community but had its particular evil spirit. All churchyards were haunted; every old house or ruin had its spectre; all the lanes had their guardian apparitions; every village common had its circle of fairies; and there was hardly a person who had not seen a spirit…

There’s a great book called The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris: it’s a collection of magic spells designed to evoke and resurrect words that have dropped out of our common usage, words that named creatures and plants, that were once ubiquitous but have now been forgotten in a world of concrete and graphene… goldfinch, adder and heather…

It’s a gorgeous piece of work, and this passage reminded me of it. All those spirits in Lewis’s litany, forgotten to us today… whither now the mumpoker?

(Apparently the mumpoker is a boogeyman found on the Isle of Wight – the mum comes not from the family member but from the fact that he keeps mum… he creeps silently, you see. I shall shrink from considering the derivation of poker…)

Maybe our communities still have their particular evil spirits, but I get the impression that these days they aren’t so particular and are certainly not so baroque. I don’t want a monoculture of lowest common denominator horrors – a chain store Hell to go with our chain store High Street – so tonight I’m going to open the window of my attic and look past No-Deal Brexits and Tory Party Leadership Battles for jemmy-burties and hobthrusts…