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14 November, 2007

The Demon Husband

I first published the following story on another of my blogs, as a Halloween post for one of my regular memes. I thought I'd publish it here, too, as a number of you may not have visited the other blog and read the story. It's a chilling tale from the Gower Peninsula, which lies just a few miles west of my home. Emanating from the isolated, and now abandoned hamlet of Llanelen, it's a terrifying account of a household haunted by a demon husband.

The first written records of this story emerged in letters written in 1691, just a few years after the events occurred. Most people think of ghosts as assuming the form of a deceased person. However, this particular apparition manifested as a living person. A local landowner and parliamentarian, Lieutenant Colonel Bowen, owned most of the landed property in and around the hamlet of Llanelen. Bowen, however, was something of a reprobate, and had been exiled to Ireland by his wife and family, as a result of his dissipated life of wine, women and song. Whilst he was away, a terrifying phenomenon invaded his Llanelen household.

The archaeological remains of Llanelen lie near the shore of the Burry Estuary, not far from where the estuary meets up with the Atlantic Ocean. It's an area of salt marshes, woodland, and steep hills. Depending on the season, it can look lush and green, or stark and eerie. Many dark tales of hauntings have emanated from this area, as well as encounters with small entities known as the 'verry volk' - or fairy folk.

The haunting at the Bowen home began with typical poltergeist phenomena - numerous loud crashes and bangs, which reverberated around the house. One night, Bowen himself materialised in his wife's bedroom, demanding to get into bed with her. Mrs. Bowen knew the entity was not her husband, due to its sudden, unearthly manifestation. So she refused - which infuriated the apparition. Fortunately, it made no effort to disobey her wishes. As she prayed, the intruder vanished. But from that night onwards, the whole household was tormented by its ungodly presence.

Shrieks, groans and "the noise of a whirlwind" permeated the residence. Mrs Bowen was horrified to see the outline of something otherwise invisible, occupying her bed. She said the sight was accompanied by a revolting odour "of a carcase some-while dead". She also described how her bedroom filled with "a thick smoak smelling like sulphur". The invisible entity took great delight in pinching and slapping Mrs. Bowen and her household staff, leaving them battered and bruised. Whilst these events occurred, Lt. Col. Bowen's eerie doppelganger manifested on many occasions, taunting everyone in the house.

Despite his indiscretions, Mrs. Bowen pleaded for her husband to return, terrified by the haunting. Lt. Col. Bowen returned for a while, but the haunting continued, with the Lt. Col. apparently witnessing his own spectral doppelganger. The Bowen family had enough of their uninvited guest, and fled to Ireland, abandoning their house forever.

Ironically, the unpleasant entity may have done the Bowen household a great favour. Not long afterwards, a terrible tragedy struck Llanelen. One wild and stormy night, a ship found itself in dire trouble in a nearby bay. It is a notoriously treacherous stretch of coastline even in this day and age. When the ailing ship reached the point where the ocean met the estuary, the vicious storm and powerful currents overwhelmed it. Most of its crew perished, but seven men were swept ashore, clinging to debris from their destroyed vessel. They washed up at Llanelen, where kindly villagers took them in and cared for them. The men all appeared to be suffering from a nasty bout of flu. Everyone assumed their time in the icy, raging ocean had brought it on. But their ailment proved far more sinister - bubonic plague. Just three weeks after the stricken sailors washed ashore, they, along with the whole population of Llanelen, lay dead.

So was the demon husband really a demonic entity? Or was he a well-meaning spirit who decided to terrorize the Bowen family into leaving Llanelen, in order to save their lives? I only wish I had the answer ...

Many thanks to Chris Elphick, whose research I have drawn on for this article.


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