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Robert Burns and the Hellish Legion

2009

Abstract

Folk tales and beliefs are as important a part of cultural history as novels or organised religion. Robert Burns and the Hellish Legion explores some aspects of life in the world in which Burns lived and wrote, the supernatural beliefs which people held, and how they fitted into their everyday lives. Burns himself did not believe that the cloven-hoofed Devil appeared in Ayrshire, but he understood that other people did think that Satan walked the earth and witches were real, and that these were genuine beliefs which stemmed from the need to understand the inconsistent world. This is the world of ordinary men and women who deserve to have their history recorded, whether they are washing clothes in the burn, harvesting corn or sitting at the fireside, telling the story of a witch pursuing a drunken farmer on a grey horse. Devils, witches and evil – this book examines beliefs in these in Burns’s time. Several of his most famous poems deal with the supernatural. In contrast with the insubstantial but terrifying world of the supernatural the book also looks at the lives of country people and the nature of the material world in which they lived. ‘Tam o’Shanter’ brings all of this together and the book ends with a discussion of the poem.

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