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Fey and fearful: the superstitions of the witching hour.

Compline was the hour for nightly prayer, marking the end of the day for monks of the Middle Ages. Normally involving meditation on death, it initiated the hours of dark and silence—a perilous time. As monks, priests and bishops drifted to sleep, their authoritative prayers faded and spiritual protections weakened.

And so, on their knees in darkened bedrooms, people intoned an ancient hymn, begging for divine protection: “From evil dreams defend our sight, / From fears and terrors of the night; / Tread underfoot our deadly foe/ That we no sinful thought may know.” Continuing the bedtime litany, they recited yet more fearful prayers, urging themselves to “be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour.” Hardly

  • Words:
    Alex Anderson
  • Photography:
    Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

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  • Words:
    Alex Anderson
  • Photography:
    Corbis/VCG/Getty Images
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