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Revenants, Spectres and Séances: The Supernatural in Folklore and Literature

Level 1 (CQFW Level 4), 10 Credits.

Available Dates:

This course is currently not being offered in the academic year 2015 - 2016.

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The supernatural can be both frightening and attractive. Ghosts, vampires, poltergeists and séances may seem irrational, but they can reveal surprisingly complex systems of thought in our own as well as earlier societies. By examining supernatural beliefs, this module will set them within their own time frame and show how attitudes to the spectral world have changed.

Syllabus content

I. Shakespeare’s ghosts. This session will introduce different types of supernatural beings through the familiar plays of Shakespeare. The plays provide an opportunity to examine attitudes to ghosts in the sixteenth century and through art based on Shakespeare plays and modern productions an opportunity to examine how attitudes to the supernatural have changed over time.

2. Medieval Revenants. Nowhere is the tradition of ghosts more varied than in the literature and traditions of medieval Europe.  Through sources such as chronicles, romances and works of religious piety, we can survey the nature and range of supernatural belief during this period and examine texts from different areas.

3. Angels. This group of supernatural beings appears in a number of religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. They have parallels in other culture and continue to function in contemporary popular culture and spirituality.

4. Ghost from the Underworld. This session will consider a range of encounters with underworld spectres including the Mayan Xibalba, Dante’s Inferno, Gilgamesh, and The motif of the Double Invitation from Don Giovanni.

5. Conjuring spirits. This session looks at the role of magician, prophets and other supernatural practitioners in mediating contact with the supernatural world.

6. Spirit foxes and other ghosts. The spectral world of Japan is very rich and this session will include the work of western writers such as Lafcadio Hearn who have provided a channel for this material.

7. The English ghosts of M.R. James will consider the work of this influential writer and scholar.

8. The Enlightened Vampire this session will look at the emergence of the ‘vampire’ in the 17th-century and 18th century and its relation to the elegant vampires of contemporary couture.

9. Transcendent Powers, prophecy, second sight, and séances. This session will examine the supernatural from the ‘pschyical’ research and consider some of the writers of ‘alternate’ history fiction such Susanna Clarke.

10. An opportunity to examine an discuss some of the material in Cardiff University’s special collections

Who is this course for?

Anyone with an interest in the topic. No previous knowledge of the subject is assumed.

Learning and Teaching

Learning and teaching are undertaken by means of small group work. This is a 10-credit course, so there will be two-hour meetings once a week (20 contact hours in all) which will include group discussion, exercises, source analysis and presentation of material on PowerPoint and DVD. The aim is ensure that the classes are enjoyable and stimulating for all. This will encourage the development of knowledge and understanding of the topics and ideas discussed in the course.

Coursework and Assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

You will not have a formal examination but you will be asked to produce some written work (1500 words). This may include a set of short responses to questions (such as a questionnaire or quiz), a course journal, an oral presentation, or a more extended essay.

Reading suggestions

Selections from literary works, TV and film will be provided during the course on Learning Central and in Senghennydd Library.

Selected primary sources

Key secondary sources

Recommended secondary texts

The resources listed below provide background and context for the topics that will be considered in the course.

Library and Computing Facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University library and computing facilities. You can find out more about these facilities on our website under Student Information, or by ringing the Centre on

(029) 2087 0000.

Accessibility of Courses

Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and Dyslexia screening. Please contact the Centre on (029) 2087 0000 for an information leaflet.

Further Information

A range of further information can be found on our web site or in Choices.  This includes the times and dates of courses and an explanation of accreditation and credit levels.