Contesting the Supernatural in the Early Modern British Isles

The John Rylands Library has been exploring the Supernatural in collaboration with Dr Sasha Handley, Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Manchester.

As part of The University of Manchester Library’s Digitisation Strategy, the Heritage Imaging Team have digitised and published online a wide range of material which provides a unique insight into supernatural belief and practices in the early modern period.

The Methodist Collection provides one of the most famous accounts of supernatural activity in Britain. Epworth Rectory, home of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, and their children, reportedly experienced poltergeist activity for a brief time from 1716-1717. John Wesley himself was inquisitive about the events, so much so, that he took it upon himself to speak to all those in the house at the time of the disturbance.

The accounts from his family and servants tell of a disturbing and violent series of events that included eerie groaning noises, doors flying open and mysterious knocking on walls and doors. John Wesley’s handwritten account of these events was subsequently reproduced in various Methodist publications, including ‘The Arminian Magazine’.

Also included for digitisation were primary sources from the library’s Printed collection, including beautifully illustrated astrological figures from the 16th century ; accounts of miraculous healing by Valentine Greatrakes, a 17th century healer and complete texts containing magical remedies and herbal healing.

The material will be used in teaching as a set of primary source materials to support undergraduate teaching but will also be of interest to the general public and researchers.

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