A Rat,  A Little Ice Age, and Medieval Superstitions

National Paranormal Day 2021

Today is National Paranormal Day – a day which has been observed since 2013 –  however, where the observance of this day in the world calendar came from, and why, seems to be as elusive as the subject matter!

Paranormal means anything which is regarded as out of the normal scope of understanding, and this can be anything really, which cannot yet be explained.  Of course, the original residents of Dundonald Castle would have been no stranger to the unexplained, given that they didn’t have the deeper understanding that science has allowed us now, in order be able to explain seemingly unearthly occurrences…

For example, around the year 1300 there was a Little Ice Age which began when temperatures dipped abruptly due to a series of volcanic eruptions which occurred in the tropics between 1250 and 1300.  This caused huge clouds of sulphate particles to ascend into the upper atmosphere, causing the earth’s surface to cool by reflecting the normal heat from the sun’s solar energy back into space, rather than to earth. This would have seemed most alarming to the people of the time, when we imagine that this weakened the extent of warmer currents of air which normally arrive here via the Atlantic ocean circulation, we know now as the Gulf Stream.  It’s difficult to imagine what the people of the 1300s would have thought of this, and possibly wondered if they had angered God, or had been cursed for some reason, given that they would have suddenly found themselves coping with bitter winters and cool wet summers, leading to crop failure, culminating in famine which followed. 

At a time when sneezing was thought to be the devil trying to enter the body, and hence the phrase “Bless You” has been used ever since. This is thought to have come from the time that the plague arrived c 1350 – with the tragic loss of life of over 20 million people across Europe.  This disease was named The Black Death because it caused black boils to form over the body, and of course, the people didn’t know why it was happening. It’s easy to see why this would have been regarded as paranormal at the time, and also why diabolic-prevention methods were to follow in its devastating wake.

It seems that 14th and 15th century people lived in a certain state of fear of the wrath of God, or Satan, since the zealous nature of early Christian preachings led to mere mortals being unable to live up to its proper rites and many observances.  Furthermore, early European churches routinely incorporated charms, prayers and rituals into aspects of its divinity in an attempt to provide an array of barriers against magic, or maleficium, which was blamed for the hardships that befell the population during this period. The word superstition comes from the word superstitio which literally means ‘an excess of religion observed beyond proper measure’. 

Ordinary people followed suit by developing other-worldly ways as an attempt to do the right thing, and to protect themselves from the occurrence of bad luck with the development of superstitious practices, which may seem bizarre to us now. For example, If any salt was spilled, then a pinch of it must be thrown over the left shoulder to ward off evil spirits. If we consider that salt has the power to stop things growing in soil, it’s fair to assume that medieval people also thought that it could also stop evil in its tracks!   But to the cynics amongst us, we might wonder that this certain death trap to dark forces was probably just a way to encourage the prevention of wasted salt – which we know was a somewhat precious commodity in the medieval kitchen and apothecary!  Could it be then that superstitions, such as this, arose in an attempt to encourage better working habits? 

As our contribution to National Paranormal Day 2021, sit back, relax and enjoy this short film from our YouTube channel where we will take you on a light-hearted journey up the spiral staircase, to visit upon the unexplained from the upper hall. Here we find the remains of the carved stone ribs which had once transcended upwards to become the structural supports for what was likely to have been an impressive barrel-vaulted ceiling thought to have adorned the personal space used by King Robert II.  The second half of the short film leads down to what is generally thought to have been the dungeon, and where this film ends with the — not to be missed –  Tale of the Paranormal Rat!

Please note that we advise an age limit of 15+ for this video due to the nature of the content:

Sweet Dreams! 


Bailey, Michael, D., July 2009. A Late Medieval Crisis of Superstition?. Speculum Vol 84 No 3 pp 633-661. The University of Chicago Press Journals: The Medieval Academy of America





Cover Image: Screenshot from DC Education YouTube Video with rat Image by sibya from Pixabay