origins of Witching Hour

What is Witching Hour

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Table of Contents

What is the Witching Hour?

The term ‘witching hour’ was first recorded in 1793 and refers to the time,

  1. What is Witching Hour?
    • A time when witches, ghosts, warlocks and evil spirits are most active.  A time in space when the line between the living and dead is at its closest.
  2. When is Witching hour? all depends who you believe
    • 11.30 – 11:59 when you do good work
    • 12:00 – 12:30 when you do bad work
    • At midnight
    • At 3am (which is also known as the devils hour for Christians)
    • Between 3am – 4am – widespread frenzy and panic
    • Sunset to Sunrise for some Victorians
    • if you have kids it could even be the period before bed time

whether it is just before midnight or 3 am one ponders the question, what about the time zone you are in. Perhaps Witching hour rolls around the globe as day turns to night. It may have also not been so remote to think Time Zones where not at the forefront of thought when old Folklores were being written.

Where did the word Witching Hour come from?

Pope John Paul II coined the term ‘Witching Hour’ in 1560.

Witching Hour by William Shakespeare,1601

Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet Scene II

“Tis now the very witching time of night when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.”

As well as Keats the poet “Tis the witching hour of the night”.

Mary Robinson a poet actress author refers to the Witching hour in 1793

The poem “Fragment” was written 27 Feb 1793 published in the Oracle. It was supposedly about the moments before Louis XVI was sent to the guillotine 21/jan 1793. At Square du Temple. A major part of the French Revolution this took place at Revolution Square Place de la Révolution.

The first stanza contains the reference to the Witching Hour.

“Now MIDNIGHT spreads her sable vest
With Starry Rays light tissued o’er;
Now from the Desart’s thistled breast
The chilling Dews begin to soar;
The OWL shrieks from the tott’ring Tow’r,
Dread watch-bird of the witching hour!
Spectres, from their charnel cells
Cleave the air with hideous yells!
Not a Glow-worm ventures forth,
To gild his little speck of Earth!
In wild despair Creation seems to wait,
While HORROR stalks abroad to deal the shafts of FATE!

(Spenserians. cath. vt. edu)

Mary Shelley the author of Frankenstein references Witching Hour in 1816

“Night waned upon this talk and even the witching hour had gone by before we retired to rest.”

Whilst this was in the Georgian Era Victorians would have had a copy of this book or know of the character in this gothic horror story with a touch of early science fiction.

A Scientific, rational view of what might be ‘Witching Hour’

The evolution of modern thinking has gone some way to changing the way our ancestors understood the world around them. Religion and Folklore from old have now been joined by Google, Twitter, and Facebook, and the odd scientific lecture. so one interesting twist to the 3 am Witching Hour phenomena.  At around this time, the average person goes through a deep sleep phase (REM – Rapid Eye Movement). The body cycles into this deep sleep, the heart rate lowers and body temperatures drop slightly. In the unfortunate circumstance that you wake up, right in the middle of this phase, you will not be in the best of places emotionally, feeling odd or weird even or heaven forbidden even scared, add perhaps some candlelight into the mix here. You get the picture. Weird, Superstition or is it just our own biochemistry? comment below.

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