Bell Witch

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Bell Witch

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Bell Witch was, in fact, not a Witch at all. It had many of the attributes of a poltergeist but was more of a mischievous spirit. It is very rare that a poltergeist will actually harm anyone, so it seems that the Bell Witch could not really be called a poltergeist, for it not only harmed many but eventually killed a man.

John Bell was a farmer who lived in Robertson County, Tennessee, in the early 1800s. His problems began in 1817, exactly thirty years before the generally accepted birth of spiritualism, with the Fox family in Hydesville, New York. Yet Bell's manifestations resembled those of the Fox family in many particulars. They started with knockings on walls, scraping noises, and rocks falling on the roof, gnawing noises on bedposts and scratchings on floor and ceiling. It seemed like typical poltergeist phenomena, especially since much of it seemed to center around Betsy, one of Bell's nine children. Betsy was twelve years old and going through puberty, as is typical with those who are the focus of poltergeist activity. For a long time the Bells tried to ignore the sounds, but they eventually confided in a neighbor and friend, James Johnson.

Johnson tried an exorcism and for a time the disturbances stopped. But they soon resumed, worse than ever. As the focus, Betsy had her hair pulled viciously and her face slapped hard enough to leave hand imprints on her cheeks. All of the children would cry out in fright and Betsy would scream in pain.

On Johnson's advice, Bell called in a number of neighbors to observe and advise. They became so intrigued, however, that they got into a conversation with the spirit—who now spoke to them—and if anything, added to the confusion by asking it to rap the walls and respond to similar comments. Asked by one of the neighbors who it was, the spirit replied that it was "a spirit from everywhere. . . any place at any time. I've been created millions of years." When further prodded, it went on to say it was the "witch" of Kate Batts, another neighbor with whom Bell had a very bad relationship. From this, the spirit became known as "Kate" and was generally regarded as a witch.

Sticks and stones were thrown at the Bell children as they went to and from school. Rocks rained down on the roof of the farmhouse. What sounded like heavy chains were heard being dragged across floors. Several members of the family received blows to the face, as though punched hard. Betsy began having fainting fits and frequent shortness of breath.

Meanwhile, the "Bell Witch" would mimic the voices of the two local Baptist ministers, repeating sermons they had delivered. But quickly these Christian words changed to vile obscenities, cursing Jack Bell, and vowing to torment him for the rest of his life. The spirit managed to break up Betsy's close friendship with her boyfriend, ending thoughts of an engagement between the two. It eventually drove Bell to take to his bed, his body shaking and his face twitching uncontrollably.

Finally, in the fall of 1820, three years after the psychic attacks had started, Bell received a terrific blow to the head when he tried to rise from his bed and go outside. He collapsed, with tears running down his cheeks. He soon dropped into an apparent coma and died the next day. In Bell's medicine chest was found a vial of dark colored liquid that had not been prescribed by his doctor. When it was given to a cat, the animal convulsed and died.

After Bell's death, the attacks gradually decreased. They returned briefly as promised, seven years later, then ceased altogether.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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