"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Adventures of a Welsh Ghostbuster

Elias Owen

Welsh oral history boasts a series of anecdotes describing the paranormal adventures of one Reverend Griffiths, an early 19th century Nonconformist minister in Denbighshire. Griffiths made his mark in history as a highly successful free-lance exorcist. As Wales apparently has more ghosts, demons, and bogies than the Florida Everglades has mosquitoes, our hero was one very busy man.

Griffiths was a real person, but it is anyone's guess how he acquired the reputation as a supernatural exterminator. Happily, cleric Elias Owen recorded the tales of Griffiths' exploits in his 1896 book "Welsh Folklore." However legendary they may be, these stories certainly throw the movie "Ghostbusters" in the shade.

The reverend's specialty was banishing poltergeists. Owen recorded how a farm in Bryneglwys found itself pestered by a ghost who regularly caused havoc in the dairy and kitchens. It would snatch up the pots and pans and dash them into pieces. When the servants were making cheese, it threw "filthy matter" into the milk, thus spoiling the curds. The owner of the farm offered the princely sum of £5 to anyone who could free him from this spectral nuisance. A local priest took up the challenge by holding an exorcism, but it did not go well. The ghost merely had itself a good laugh and mockingly waved a woman's bonnet in the man's face. Then Reverend Griffiths was called in.

Griffiths lured the poltergeist into the barn. Once inside, he drew a protective circle around himself. The offended ghost turned itself into a lion, growling and waving its claws, but it was unable to enter the circle. Griffiths scornfully told the spirit that he would ignore it until it transformed itself into something friendlier. The ghost obligingly took on the shape of a mastiff.

Not good enough, said Griffiths. After a bit of dickering, he persuaded his adversary to become a housefly. Then, Griffiths swiftly trapped the fly in a tobacco box and triumphantly carried it off. He said afterwards that "this Ghost was the most formidable one that he had ever conquered."

You must admit, he certainly earned that fiver.

At another Bryneglwys farm, the servants had made the mistake of rudely rejecting a traveling beggar's pleas for food. "You shall repent your conduct to me!" he warned them.

Indeed they did. No sooner had the man left that vengeful spirits began viciously pinching the ungenerous servants. This went on for days, until the girls "were tired of their lives." Naturally, Rev. Griffiths was brought in. He dealt with this poltergeist in much the same way as the previous case. This time, he tricked the ghost into turning itself into a spider. The creature was scooped up in the tobacco box, and all was well.

One of Griffiths' most famous success stories took place at the Rectory of the village of Graianrhyd. He was summoned there to deal with a particularly terrifying poltergeist. "No peace was to be got because of it; every night it was at its work." At first, it looked like the reverend had finally met his match. The ghost defied all his efforts to trap it, instead appearing to him every night in various terrible guises. However, after a great deal of prayer, he succeeded in cajoling the spirit into transforming itself into a fly. (One would think the poltergeist community would have become wise to this gag by then, but never mind.) Into the tobacco box it went.

Such a menacing spook obviously needed special handling. Griffiths carried the angrily buzzing ghost to the River Alyn, near the Llandegla Mills. He carefully placed the box under the water, beneath a large stone. He advised the villagers that the evil spirit would stay trapped there until the top of a small tree growing alongside the river's bridge reached the height of the parapet. As recently as the end of the 19th century, the tree was still kept carefully trimmed, but in recent years the practice was abandoned, so presumably this ghost got the last laugh.

Griffiths seems to have been a magnet for spirits of all varieties. One night, while passing through the village of Llanrhaeadr, he saw an apparition that he identified as one David Salisbury. Salisbury had been the black sheep of a prominent local family. After his death sometime around 1820, the "weight of sin troubling the unhappy soul" led Salisbury to give "considerable trouble to the living." He could be seen "mounted upon a white horse, galloping over hedges and ditches," while uttering "terrible groans." (It is said that at one time there was a ballad, "Ysbryd Dafydd Salbri," which gave the full history of David Salisbury and his alarming afterlife, but unfortunately this song has so far eluded folklorists.)

Sadly, Owen does not record any further biographical details about the reverend, not even his first name or the date of his death. My main unanswered question about this remarkable man is: What did he do with what must have been his unrivaled collection of tobacco boxes full of cranky ghosts? Did he keep them as trophies? Sell them to the highest bidder? Pass them out as business cards? Give them away as Christmas gifts?


  1. I wonder if the ghosts became mortal again when transformed into something biological? In any case, it's an interesting way to make a living - if the reverend was paid for his work.

  2. Did the spider ghosts eat the fly ghosts? What happens when some schlub opens the boxes?


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