Throughout the history of humanity the ringing of bells has played a variety of magical, ritual, and symbolic roles. The sound of bells is widely believed to drive away evil spirits. Such belief is evident in the common habit of wearing small bells on hats or clothing, in putting them around the necks of domestic animals, and at the entrance of shops. During the Middle Ages, church bells were rung especially to frighten witches and evil spirits. The sound of church bells could make witches fall to the ground when they were flying in the night sky. Also, the sound of bells of any kind could keep villages safe from storms and other natural calamities.
Bells are also sometimes used by religious Satanists. Thus in The Satanic Bible, for instance, Anton LaVey lists bells among the “Devices Used in a Satanic Ritual.” This ritual bell, which signals the beginning and end of ceremonies, “should be loud and penetrating, rather than soft and tinkling.” LaVey asserts that a bell should be used to both “purify” and “pollute”: “The priest rings the bell nine times, turning counter clockwise and directing the tolling toward the four cardinal points of the compass. This is done once at the beginning of the ritual to clear and purify the air of all external sounds, and once again at the end of the ritual to intensify the working and act as a pollutionary indicating finality” (137).
For Further Reading: Chevalier, Jean, and Alain Gheerbrant: The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. London: Penguin, 1996. LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon, 1969.
- James Lewis