Bells in magic & Spiritualism
What Are Bells?
Bells are hollow devices, usually shaped in the form of a cup and made from metal that make a ringing sound when struck. Bells can be made from alternative materials however such as pottery and glass.
The word Bell is said to originate from Old English bellan meaning “to roar”.
The earliest records of bells were bells made of pottery, dating from the 3rd millennium BC and their origins were traced to Neolithic China. Later on, there is evidence of metal being used to produce bells.
Some History On the Use & Importance of bells
Bells have been used for thousands of years for mundane purposes as well as religious, ceremonial and magickal purposes.
The use of bells in Abrahamic religion dates as far back as the book of Exodus in the Bible, said to have been written between the 9th and 5th century BC. In this book it was written that small gold bells were worn as ornaments on the hem of the robe of the high priest in Jerusalem.
Their importance did not wane and in 1216, Pope Innocent III, sent a letter to the Maronite Church in Lebanon. In this letter he stated that bells were necessary “to distinguish the hours, and summon the people to church”. In fact the association of the bell with the times of day points to where we get the word for clock which is said to originate from the Medieval Latin word clocca meaning bell.
Aside from summoning the faithful to Church, Church bells throughout the ages have also been used to communicate messages and warnings, such as warning of invasions and fires, signaling the beginning of town meetings and events. Bells were also used to communicate information on the deaths of community members through a practice known as the death knell.
According to an article titled “Church Bells And Death Knells”, a death knell was sounded as soon as the minister or sexton became informed that a parishioner had passed; a practice that apparently has its roots in medieval England where bells were rung immediately after death to scare away evil spirits who may lure the newly deceased soul away from its path to heaven. According to the article, the code for the death knell for a woman was to ring the bell 2 x 3 times and for a male 3x3 times, followed by one stroke for each year of the newly deceased’s life (Although I believe different areas had different patterns to distinguish male and female deaths, some even using different patterns to distinguish the death of children). Even after the bell had been replaced with the telephone and newspapers, the practice of tolling church bells for a funeral has remained a standard practice. In Scotland, up until the 19th century it was still customary to ring a dead bell “a form of hand bell” at the death of an individual as well as at their funeral.
Bells were also important forms of communication for the Romans to signal the hour of bathing, and many cultures placed them around the necks of sheep and cattle so they could be located if they strayed. Up until this very day, we can see
the remaining usage of bells in the form of doorbells and service bells in hotel lobbies to alert the staff to the presence of a patron.
Bells in Folklore, Religion, Spirituality & Magic
Aside from being a means of communication, bells have been known to bring good luck. For ships to have bells aboard is regarded as excellent assurance of safe passage and there are tales of ships in trouble that remarkably reach their shores safely due to their precious cargo. Likewise, safe travel by land is also said to be aided by the addition of bells and as such bells were often taken on expeditions. On the other hand, ships travelling with bells destined to be destroyed were said to be bound for shipwreck.
The use of bells in ritual and magickal practice is also well known. According to a journal article titled, Resounding Community: The History and Meaning Of Medieval Church Bells, many bells from the medieval times have been found with inscriptions such as one from the 13th century, donated by Pope Gregory IX to the Franciscan church at Assisi. its inscription read:
“Sabbatha pango, funerea plango, fulgura frango.Excito lentos, domo cruentos, dissipo ventos.
I determine the Sabbath, I lament funerals, I break lightning. I rouse the lazy, I tame the cruel, I disperse the winds.”
According to this article, it is thought that the bells have a voice, and that their resonance mimics that of a “battle cry”, rather than a mere summoning of the faithful. In this instance, the bell is not only a means to summon the faithful, but also an instrument designed to defend the church.
In fact, Bells have long been known to dispel evil spirits and the devil himself. The washing and wiping of the bell with a napkin in the consecration ceremony serves as a type of exorcism, christening the bell for such a purpose.
It is not only the Abrahamic religions that value the power of the bell.
Bells are also used in religious ceremonies by the Japanese Shinto and Buddhist culture, as well as the Jain and Hindu. In fact, so revered is the bell that in certain Asian traditions, when a bell is retired and well used, it is melted down and turned into other magical tools such as cups and plates.
The Use Of Bells In Witchcraft
Bells have a long history of use in Magick and witchcraft. They are a multipurpose tool used in everything from cleansing and healing spells to protection spells, spirit summoning and exorcising: and fertility spells. They are also used in ritual where it is said that the clear, high pitch of a small bell, can cause vibrations that can add to the power raised and create a resonance amongst the individuals present.
Some Wiccan associate the bell with the element of Air, whereas some associate it with the element of water, either way, the bell is widely associated with the goddess.
So now that we know a little bit about the bell, how can we use it in our own practice?
How to use Bells in Your Everyday Witchcraft Practice
Using Bells To Start A Spell and to Emphasise Spellwork
Bells can be rung at the start of a ritual or spell to indicate its beginning.
Bells can also be rung periodically throughout your spell to emphasize focal points of ritual prayers and to seal the spell work which has been performed.
Using Bells To Call Forth Spirits/ Deities/Elemental Spirits
A bell may be rung to call forth the God or Goddess.
Fairies, being particularly drawn to shiny things and things that move, are drawn to bells and chimes. Bells can be rung or placed on a Fairy altar to invite Fairies into your space.
Bells For Nightmares
To rid oneself of nightmares or bad dreams, keep a bell, preferably one made from silver on your nightstand and ring it when you have a bad dream. The bell will rid you of your nightmare and cleanse the space.
Using Bells To Cleanse Your Space
The best bells for the purpose of cleansing are silver, iron and brass.
For space cleansing, ring your bell whenever you feel that cleansing is needed.
Ringing a bell can raise the vibrations within your space, removing negativity and staleness, and filling the area with sweetness and light.
Hang bells, such as a string of bells, witches’ bells, or even windchimes in a breezy spot so that they ring consistently to help cleanse your space.
If you feel as though your space needs extra clearing, you can also walk around your space ringing your bells to help clear any negative vibrations.
Using Bells To Cleanse Your Tools
You can use a Bell rather than smoke cleansing or other forms of cleansing to purify your magical tools prior to working with them. To do this, lay your tools down and ring the bell above them. The vibrations of the bells sound are said to scatter any stale energetic blocks. This way of cleansing is particularly useful if you live in an apartment or space where you cannot use smoke cleansing or do not have access to or the time to cleanse your items in the moonlight/sunlight.
Using Bells To Charge Magickal Ingredients
A bell is also a fantastic tool to use when charging your Magickal items. To charge them, lay them down as you would to cleanse them, and ring your bell over them.
Using Bells For Protection
Bells have been used for centuries to protect against evil. From the ringing of the bells when a person is deceased to ward off the evil spirits and aid them on their uninterrupted way to heaven, to the hanging of bells on doors such as the witches’ bells to inform of a presence close by.
The ringing of the bells is supposed to cause bad spirits to flee, which is also why they are a primary tool used in exorcisms.
Bells also are representative of fertility and the act of reproduction. This is also, according to Judika Illes in the book “The Element Encyclopedia Of 5000 Spells”, a way that the bell protects against evil as “creative acts of life counteract forces of destruction”.
As well as the use of the bells in protection spells, the grease off large church bells has also been used in banishment and hexing spells (it is scraped off and used as a component in Goofer Dust- a powder used by Hoodoo practitioners involving a combination of dirt from a graveyard, gunpowder, and grease from Church Bells"
When You Should Pay Attention To Your Bells
If a bell that is normally silent starts to chime, you should pay close attention. Bells are powerful protective tools and can alert you to presences within your space. They are also tools of communication, so before you assume the worst, try to decipher what your bells are trying to tell you- it may simply be someone popping in to say hello!
It is easy to see how the humble bell has become so entwined within the human experience. This short blog post is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the history and use of bells. If you have anything to add or would like to refute anything we have said please leave us a comment. If you are interested in learning more, check out our references below.
“Bell.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bell. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023.
Goodson, C., & Arnold, J. H. (2012). RESOUNDING COMMUNITY: THE HISTORY AND MEANING OF MEDIEVAL CHURCH BELLS. Viator, 43(1), 99-130. https://www.academia.edu/1431766/with_John_Arnold_Resounding_Community_The_History_andMeaning_of_Medieval_Church_Bells_Viator_43_1_January_2012_99_130
Costello, M. (n.d.). Church Bells And Death Knells. Falmouth Museums On The Green. Retrieved October 30, 2023, from https://museumsonthegreen.org/wp-content/uploads/Church-Bells-and-Death-Knells.pdf
Buckland, R. (2022). Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft (1st ed., pp. 47-48). Llewellyn Publications.
California Bell Legends: A Survey. (1945). California Folklore Quarterly, 4(1), 18–28. https://doi.org/10.2307/1495453
Illes, J. (2004). The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells (pp. 199, 383, 879, 1019, 79). Harper Element.
Robbins, S., & Greenaway, L. (2011). Wiccapedia- A Modern Day White Witch's Guide (p. 15). Sterling Ethos.
Goofer Dust. (2023, October 4). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goofer_dust
Chamberlain, L. (2020). Wicca For Beginners (pp. 93-94, 127). Sterling Ethos.
Whitehurst, T. (2020). Magical Housekeeping (1st ed., pp. 38, 115). Llewellyn Publications.
Bell. (2023, October 12). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell
Harper, D. (n.d.). Etymology of clock. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved November 1, 2023, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/clock
Book of Exodus. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 1 Nov. 2023, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095804691.