Bells have been associated with mystical occurrences and the spirit world since ancient times. Goddess images were frequently cast in the shape of bells. Ancient Jews wore bells tied to their clothing to ward off evil.

The ringing of bells or death knells for the deceased is an old custom. Some authorities believe that the ringing of bells at times of death originated in the practice of seeking to frighten away the evil spirits that lurk beside a corpse, waiting the opportunity to seize the newly released soul. In ancient times bells were rung only when important people died, but with the advent of Christianity it became the custom to ring death during burial services for all church members.

In medieval times, church bells were rung during epidemics with the hopes of clearing the air of disease. It was generally believed that church bells had special magical or spiritual powers, especially because of their position, suspended between heaven and Earth, guarding the passageway between the material and non-material worlds, frightening away demons. The sacred bell of the Buddhists, the ghanta, serves that spiritual expression in a similar manner, driving away the negative entities and encouraging the positive spirits to manifest. The very sound of a bell is a symbol of creative power.

People along the west coast of Africa used to tie a bell to the foot of an ill child to ward off evil, and food was placed nearby to lure those spirits away. In contemporary times, bells above the door of a shop alert the shopkeeper that customers have entered. That practical function is predated by the use of bells over doors to keep evil spirits from entering into a home or shop.

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