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wraiths


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This can be a synonym for ghost, but generally means the spectral double of someone still alive. Usually, it appears at or near the time of the person's death, as a sign for close friends or relatives; sometimes it is a more long-term warning; occasionally it means the person is in danger or distress. To see one's own wraith (also called a ‘fetch’) is a sure sign of death. The apparition of a destined husband summoned by some love divinations is also a wraith. The belief is old, and still strongly held; a Manchester woman in 1981 said:Some years ago, it was at the end of the First World War. My husband was quite young, and he was away with his older sister,—on holiday or something. And the young man his sister was engaged to appeared before them in the bedroom, as plainly as anything, in his uniform. He said it was just as if he was almost there! And he'd been killed just at that time in the War! (Bennett, 1987: 55)

Some years ago, it was at the end of the First World War. My husband was quite young, and he was away with his older sister,—on holiday or something. And the young man his sister was engaged to appeared before them in the bedroom, as plainly as anything, in his uniform. He said it was just as if he was almost there! And he'd been killed just at that time in the War! (Bennett, 1987: 55)

There was a widespread idea that once a year, usually on St Mark's Eve but sometimes at All Souls or Midsummer Night, anyone who watched in the church porch from midnight till one o'clock would see those fated to die that year entering the church, usually in the order of their deaths. An account of 1634, from Burton in Lincolnshire, describes a procession of figures in winding-sheets led by the curate, and sounds of a burial service.

However, keeping this watch was disapproved of, and could bring its own punishment. It was said of a certain Jonny Joneson, sexton of Middleton (near Manchester) around 1800, that he kept watch on All Souls' Eve, counting the wraiths and gloating to think how many burial fees he would earn, until one appeared which he recognized as himself. He fell ill, and was dead within a year (Samuel Bamford, Autobiography (1848–9), i. 160–2). Similarly at Dorstone (Herefordshire) on All Souls' Eve a man saw wraiths gathering in the church, where the Devil, dressed as a monk, called out the names of those fated to die; he heard his own name, and died shortly after (Leather, 1912: 107). For further examples, see St Mark's Eve.

Opie and Tatem, 1989: 80–1;Bennett, 1987: 55–64;S. P. Menefee, in The Seer, ed. Hilda Ellis Davidson (1989), 80–99.Some Victorian accounts of wraiths are in Briggs, 1970–1: B. ii. 489–93, 505–6 518–19, 525–6, 549, 576, 595.


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