History is littered with all manner of curious tales and strange accounts that sit within the forgotten cracks. There is a treasure trove of weirdness that has been lost to the mists of time, but which is out there if one looks for it. One such case sits among the dusty old pages of a historical book, and it represents an early account of something very weird going on. And so here we have a tale of a supernatural entity that could be a poltergeist, ghost, or even the Devil himself.
One very early and curious report of a paranormal incident involving some sort of poltergeist or spirit was most famously recorded and related by the Scottish mathematician, engineer and demonologist George Sinclair. In addition to his work with mathematics and duties as a professorship, Sinclair was well-known for his interests in the occult, witchcraft, and demonology, making his full body of work an eclectic mix of everything from dry scientific treatises on things such as hydrostatics and pneumatics, to designs for a perpetual motion machine, to arcane tomes on witches, demons, and evil spirits. It is among the latter that we can find a book called Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, which was written in 1685 as a sort of exploration of demonic activity and attempt to refute atheism. Within the pages of the book one can find a curious case study on what is called the Devil of Glenluce, and it is a pretty wild tale, indeed.
The setting for this account is the small, rural village of Glenluce, in the parish of Old Luce in Wigtownshire, Scotland, and in 1654, here lived a weaver by the name of Gilbert Campbell and his family. They had a humble, peaceful life in the rustic village until a beggar by the name of Alexander Agnew knocked on their door one evening looking for alms. The Campbells were not particularly wealthy themselves, and so Agnew was turned away empty-handed, something which seems to have thrown him into a rage, and as he walked off he threatened harm towards the family that had shunned him. It is not known whether this incident had anything to do with what happened next, but it would mark the beginning of a rather strange ordeal in the Campbell household.
Shortly after the beggar incident, odd things began happening around their humble home. Campbell would find his weaving equipment often moved or even broken, parts of the equipment found in strange places or going missing entirely, his threads often found cut as if by scissors, but his family denied that they had been anywhere near his workshop. Campbell immediately presumed that the beggar was behind if all, but there could never be any sign of a break-in and no evidence that anyone had been there. At around this time there was often heard a whistling sound that sounded “as children use to make, with their small slender Glass Whistles,” its origin never clear and always evading efforts to find where it was coming from. This went on for several months, and at this point it was more of an annoyance than anything truly ominous, yet it would soon enter a new stage of intensity.
According to the account, rocks began pelting the house at all hours, and clothes would be found cut or shredded. More menacing still was that the family often found their clothes cut in this manner as they were wearing them. As all of this was going on the family would often have their bedsheets forcefully pulled from their beds as they slept and the drawers of their furniture would fly open of their own accord. By this time Campbell was beginning to suspect that he was under attack by the Devil himself, conjured up by the beggar out of spite. Sinclair would write about the strange happenings (complete with strange spelling and capitalization):
About the middle of November, the Foul Fiend came on with new and extraordinary Assaults, by throwing of Stones in at the Doors, and Windows, and down the Chimney-head, which were of great quantity, and thrown with force, yet by Gods Providence, there was not one Person in the Family that was hurt. This did necessitate Gilbert Campbel, to reveale that to the Minister of the Parish, [John Scott.] and to some other Neighbours and Friends, which hitherto he had suffered secretly. Notwithstanding of this, his trouble was enlarged; for not long after, he found often-times his Warp and Threeds cut, as with a pair of Sizzers, and not only so, but their Apparel were cut after the same manner, even while they were wearing them, their Coats, Bonnets, Hose, Shoes, but could not discern how, or by what mean. Only it pleased God to preserve their persons, that the least harm was not done. Yet, in the night time, they had not liberty to sleep, something coming and pulling their bedcloaths, and Linnings off them, and leaving their Bodies naked. Next, their Chests and Trunks were opened, and all things in them strawed here and there. Likewise the parts of their Working-Instruments, which had escaped were carried away, and hid in holes and bores of the house, where hardly they could be found again.
When clergy and neighbors heard of this, they suggested that they move away, but Campbell resolved to stay. He was then told that he should send his children away for a time, as it was speculated that the Devil was after only one of them, but again he refused, even as the phenomena grew more violent. Objects and even furniture would be thrown across the room with great force, family members would be poked, prodded, pushed, and even attacked with needles, and most frightening of all on at least two occasions fires broke out for no discernible reason at all. The Church organized a prayer to try and expel the evil, but this seems to have only encouraged the unseen entity, and according to Sinclair this provoked it into actually speaking to them. He writes in his book:
Upon Monday the I2th of February, the rest of the Family began to hear a Voice speak to them, but could not well know from whence it came. Yet, from Evening to Midnight, much vain Discourse was kept up with the Devil, and many idle and impertinent Questions proposed without that due Fear of God that should have been upon their Spirits, under so rare and extraordinary a Trial. The Minister hearing of this, went to the House upon the Tuesday, being accompanied with some Gentlemen, who, after Prayer was ended, heard a Voice speaking out of the Ground, from under a Bed, in the proper Country Dialect, saying, “Would you know the Witches of Glenluce, I will call them”, and so related four or five Persons Names, that went under an evil report. The said Gilbert informed the Company that one of them was dead long ago. The Devil answered, “It is true, she is dead long ago, yet her Spirit is living with us in the World”. The Minister reply’d, saying: “The Lord rebuke thee, Satan and put thee to silence we are not to receive any Information from thee, whatever Fame any Persons go under; thou art but seeking to seduce this Family, for Satan’s kingdom is not divided against itself”. Then the Devil and the minister had a most unseemly wrangle, both battering each other with texts of Scripture; and the holy man’s visit did no good, for all their annoyances returned.
It is interesting that these occurrences are referred to as “annoyances,” because it seems as if after this attempted exorcism the entity became even more terrifying than ever. Physical attacks, more fires, roaring and snarling through the night, it seems as if the demon’s rage could not be contained, and Sinclair writes of all this:
About which time the Devil began with new Assaults, and taking the ready Meat that was in the House, did sometimes hide it, in holes by the Doorposts, and at other times did hide it under the Beds, and sometimes among the Bed cloaths, and under the Linnens, and at last did carry it quite away, till nothing was left there save Bread and Water to live by. After this he exercised his Malice and Cruelty against all the Persons of the Family, in wearying them in the Night time, with stirring and moving through the House, so that they had no rest for noise, which continued all the month of August after this manner. After which time the Devil grew yet worse, and began with terrible Roarings and terrifying Voices, so that no Person could sleep In the House In the Night-time, and sometimes did vex them with casting of Stones, striking them with Staves on their Beds, In the Night time, and upon the (?) of September about Midnight, he cryed out with a loud voice: I shall burn the House: and, about 3 or 4 nights after, he set one of the Beds on Fire, which was soon extinguished without any prejudice, except the Bed Itself, and so he continued to haunt them.
It soon became apparent that whatever this thing was it wanted Campbell’s son, Tom. The boy would claim that he had heard the Devil speak to him and order him to leave the home or it would burn down in a fire. The startled family sent him to live with the minister for some time, after which the phenomena ceased, yet when he returned it was followed by more threats aimed at those present, who could hear the fiend’s voice and of which Sinclair says:
The Devil with many threatnings boasted and terrified the Lad Tom, who had come back that day with the Minister, that if he did not depart out of the house, he would set all on fire. The Minister answered, and said, the Lord will preserve the house, and the Lad too, seeing he is one of the Family, and hath Gods Warrant to tarry in it. The Fiend answered, he shall not get liberty to tarry; he was once put out already, and shal not abide here, though I should pursue him to the end of the world.
Interestingly, when the minister asked the entity who he was, it allegedly answered not that it was the Devil, but rather that it was “an evil Spirit, come from the bottomless Pit of Hell,” and that Satan was his father. The account goes on for some length, and even Sinclair admits that it is the abridged version, saying “To write every particular would fill a large Volume,” but it all ends rather vaguely and somewhat anticlimactically, with very little of the meticulous detail given to the rest of the account. Indeed, in comparison to the rest of the harrowing details given to every facet so far, the conclusion of all of this feels almost tacked on as an after though, and leaves us wondering. What happened to the Campbell family and was the demon ever cast out? Well, Sinclair merely writes:
The Goodman (Campbell) lived several years after this, in the same house: and it seems, that by some conjuration or other, the Devil suffered himself to be put away, and gave the Weaver a peaceable habitation. This Weaver has been a very Odd man, that endured so long these marvellous disturbances.
The end. An interesting footnote to it all is that the beggar with whom this all started, Agnew, is said to be the first person in Scottish history to publicly deny the existence of God, and for this blasphemy he was hanged in 1656. There has been a lot of speculation and debate since on just what exactly happened here. If any of this really happened than what was it? Was this a haunting, a demonic presence, a poltergeist, or what? Did it originate with some kind of curse by Agnew or was it something else? Of course, It is all such a wild and bizarre account that we are left to wonder just how true any of it is. It is known that Agnew was a real person, as were the Campbells, but the rest is murky.
One of the problems is that the entire tale was relayed to Sinclair by Campbell’s son Thomas years later, and his memory of what had happened decades earlier when he was a boy might have been warped and twisted. It could have also been exaggerated or even completely fabricated for all we know, hard to tell since there doesn’t seem to be any other corroborating witnesses. Of course, Sinclair also could have taken plenty of liberties, which is not hard to imagine since he admittedly included the account in his book to disprove atheism, and he was an ardent believer in such demonic phenomena, although he always insisted that it was a real and true account. Considering that this story is so lost to history it is likely we will never know for sure what the real story behind the Devil of Glenluce is, and it is either one of the most bizarre hauntings there is, or at the very least a damn good yarn.