Bell, book, and candle

Bell, book, and candle

The phrase "Bell, book, and candle" refers to an archaic method of excommunication for one who had committed a particularly grievous sin. Apparently introduced around the late 9th century, the practice was once used by the Roman Catholic Church. This ceremony involved a bishop, with 12 priests, reciting an oath on the altar::We separate him, together with his accomplices and abettors, from the precious body and blood of the Lord and from the society of all Christians; we exclude him from our Holy Mother, the Church in Heaven, and on earth; we declare him excommunicate and anathema; we judge him damned, with the Devil and his angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire until he shall recover himself from the toils of the devil and return to amendment and to penitence.

After reciting this the priests would respond "So be it!" The bishop would ring a bell to evoke a death toll, close a holy book to symbolize the excommunicant's separation from the church, and snuff out a candle or candles, knocking them to the floor to represent the target's soul being extinguished and removed from the light of God.

Cultural references

*In Christopher Marlowe's play "Doctor Faustus", the lead character is subjected to excommunication using this process: "Bell, book, and candle; candle, book and bell, / Forward and backward, to curse Faustus to hell." (Scene 7, lines 83-84)

*William Shakespeare referenced the practice in "King John": "Bell, book, and candle, shall not drive me back / When gold and silver becks me to come on" (Act 3, Scene 3).

*In "Lord Jim", Richard Brooks's film interpretation of Conrad's book, the character Gentleman Brown says:
*:Ring the bell. Close the book.
*:Quench the candle.
*:What's that? Never heard the final sentence of excommunication?

*The track "Tetragrammaton" from The Mars Volta 2006 album "Amputechture" contains the lines "We summon by candle, by book and, by bell."

*In the early computer game "Zork" (1977-79), the player must gather a bell, a book, and a candle in order to gain access to the lowest regions of Hell. The same set of items for roughly the same purpose is also found in the later games "NetHack" and "Ultima IV".

*In the 1992 computer game Hugo 3: Jungle of Doom, a bell, book, and candle are required to exorcise an evil spirit to enter a cave.

*In the computer game "", one of the first and easiest missions one can play is named "The Bell, The Book and The Candle". In it, the player must retrieve the three stolen artifacts from monster-infested ruins and shrines.

*T. S. Elliot's Jellicle Cats are described as "familiar with candle, with book, and with bell."

*The Broadway play "Bell, Book and Candle" by John Van Druten and the Hollywood film into which it was adapted, starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart, is a romantic comedy involving a coven of witches living in Greenwich Village.

*The Rolling Stones' "Winter" (1973) includes the lyrics, "But I been burnin' my bell, book and candle."

*John Lennon's song "Scared" contains a line "No bell, book and candle will get you out of this".

*In "Charmed", the song "Bell, Book and Candle" by Eddie Reader is played during the funeral procession of Prue Halliwell.

*"Bell, Book, and Candle" is a song written by British musician Boo Hewerdine. It appears on his 2001 CD "A Live One" and, in reference to his efforts to rid himself of thoughts and memories of a previous lover, contains the line "Every night I see your face when I have to pray. I need a bell, book and candle to keep your ghost away". The song has also been recorded by Eddi Reader and appears on her 1998 CD "Angels and Electricity" (Blanco Y Negro 3894-22816-2).

*Used for comic effect in "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, believing that the ceremony can banish evil spirits, attempts to exorcise Aziraphale with it.

*In the board game "Castle of Magic," the bell, book and candle are used as items in the Ritual Spell.


*"Bell, book, and candle." "Encyclopædia Britannica". 2005. []
*Mabillard, Amanda. "Shakespeare FAQs: Bell, book, and candle." 2005. []

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