Historian Explores our Relationship with the Devil in Halloween Talks

Darren Oldridge standing outside the Commandery
Professor Darren Oldridge at the Commandery

Professor of Early Modern History, Darren Oldridge, is delivering a talk on ideas about the Devil in the age of the English Civil War. The talk takes place at The Commandery, in Worcester, at 2pm on Saturday, October 29. He follows this with a lecture on Halloween night itself, Monday, October 31, at The Hive, on why the Devil can seem an exciting and attractive character.

“Halloween is a time of year when we enjoy spooky or supernatural experiences and, as the evenings draw in, it seems a good time to address these themes in a historical way,” he said. “It is interesting to see how people in the 17th century interpreted spooky experiences or supposed encounters with the Devil, and how this was shaped by their religious beliefs.”

Professor Oldridge specialises in 16th and 17th Century religious history, with a particular interest in witchcraft and the Devil, the supernatural, and the religious context of the English Civil Wars.

In his first talk, Professor Oldridge explores the many ways in which the idea of the Devil influenced people in the 1600s. These included the belief that demons could enter people’s minds and affect their thoughts and feelings. According to texts published in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Devil supposedly made a pact with Oliver Cromwell before the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Entitled ‘Talk of the Devil: Oliver Cromwell, Evil Spirits, and the English Civil War’, this is the first of a series of talks based on early printed books that participants will be able to hold and read – including a pamphlet describing Cromwell’s alleged assignation with the Devil.

The second lecture, which has now sold out, poses the question in its title, ‘Why do we like the Devil?’, that has long fascinated Professor Oldridge. “The Devil and evil spirits have inspired many enjoyable tales, even though they have always been characterised as harmful and malevolent,” he said. “It seems that people sometimes like terrible characters and enjoy scary and wicked things. Halloween seems to prove this. No character in history has been more dreadful than the Devil, yet he seems to have a strange allure. I’ll try to explain why this is in the talk, drawing on images and tales from the long history of the prince of darkness.”

Professor Oldridge follows up these talks with a Gunpowder Plot themed presentation at The Commandery on Saturday, November 5, with further opportunities to hold and read books printed in the period, including a very early account of the Gunpowder Plot itself. The failed attempt by Catholic conspirators to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I in 1605 continues to be marked today, and Professor Oldridge explains its larger effects on English history.

“The plot hugely increased the fear of Catholicism in England”, said Professor Oldridge. “This fear and hostility towards Catholicism was perhaps the most powerful force in seventeenth-century politics and religion. It contributed enormously to the overthrow of two monarchs, Charles I and his son James II.”

To find out more about the first talk and buy tickets visit the Museums Worcester website: https://www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk/events/talk-of-the-devil/.

For tickets to the Gunpowder Plot talk visit https://www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk/events/gunpowder-treason-plot/.