Black Monks and the Genii Cucullati
Is Britain not the land of the Ghosts of White Ladies and Black Monks? For many years the alleged ghosts of Black Monks have appeared to scared motorists and spooked tourists in our countryside. The monks have been seen in grey, white or black, when more than one is seen they tend to be in a spectral procession.
Battle Abbey at Hastings is famous for several monks that have appeared walking on round the walls and a nearby chapel. In Hendon, a suburb of London a ghostly monk haunts St Mary’s Churchyard and in Pontefract, there was a poltergeist case allegedly caused by a Black Monk!
An Ancient Origin?
Interestingly there is a concentration of monk sightings in the Cotswolds, an area spanning across Gloucestershire to Oxfordshire. The extremely haunted village of Prestbury claims to have a Black Abbot, appearing in the churchyard many times. Another monk appears in Winchcombe on the aptly named “The Monk’s Walk” where one witness saw on his way home a monk walking towards him. All across the area countless stories can be found claiming sightings of monks in processions of three but is there a possible explanation or origin to these stories?
We have to question why should religious institutions leave such an indelible mark on our countryside especially so many years after their passing? With many people living and dying in the area, why are the monks haunting the countryside and not villagers, squires, or lords?
I began to discover a possible answer when visiting the Housesteads Museum on Hadrian’s Wall. As I entered the visitor centre I was struck by a Romano-British relief showing three monk-type characters, the sign said they were called the Genii Cucullati. I wanted to know who were the mysterious monk-like characters on the relief and how were they related to the Romano-British?
Throughout the past two centuries, excavations in Romano-Celtic settlements on both Britain and the European Continent have turned up a number of representations of a hooded deity interpreted to be cult objects of the genius cucullatus. Providing a case for the origin and identity of the cult has been a challenge for archaeologists because, as with many topics in the study of Celtic culture, the only information available is encoded in the relief carvings and votive objects depicting the deities.
The Genii Cucullati were “Hooded Spirits” and their images appear in two key locations in Britain, the Cotswolds, and Northumbria – a direct correlation with the concentration of Black Monk sightings. Also, in Britain the Cucullati are depicted in triple form, probably revealing a Celtic influence. Celtic Scholar Miranda Green wrote “The cult of the Genii Cucullati appears to have embraced profound and sophisticated belief systems” and that “such traditions did not wholly die after the coming of Christianity.” She believed that these hooded figures left an impression of supernatural power in our countryside.
Is it possible that the Genii are in fact the spectres that are seen today appearing in a form that we would understand today? With a concentration of black monk sightings in the Cotswolds, is possible that Romano-British people began their cult based on these sightings?
With black monks, we are either dealing with archaic spirits that form our haunted countryside or they could be an inbuilt folk memory that is replayed after the “trigger effect” that starts the paranormal experience.
I’ve begun to think and research that we could have inbuilt ancient memories that could be triggered. Many ghosts are archetypal images, white ladies, black monks, or black dogs and all have their origins in our early religions. Briefly, and this will be again discussed in another article, the white lady is synonymous with Earth Mother goddess image, the black monks are the Genii Cucallati and the Black Dogs possibly relates to Epona, a goddess who kept a dog which could reflect death or healing. It’s these images and their grounding in our pre-history that could be the reason why these are the most popular ghostly images.
Art By L.Jeffrey