The Gallows Pole & The Shining Levels : Review and Interview

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Never judge a book by its cover or so ‘they’ say … whomever ‘they’ are, ‘they’ don’t always get it right. The cover artwork of Benjamin Myer’s 2017 novel ‘The Gallows Pole’ designed by Delaney Williams captivated me at first sight. Instant reaction was that this wasn’t a new book but was one of Penguin books vintage green mystery and crime series and indeed though differing in time setting from the 20th Century noir of the majority of the Penguin books, ‘The Gallows Pole’ would be a more than worthy addition to the series. There is a ‘folk horror’ sensibility also to the artwork and within the novel itself there is an element of this sub-genre. Telling the tale of ‘King’ David Hartley, leader of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a troop of currency forgers living and working on the West Yorkshire Moors in the 18th Century, the sense of place and landscape is integral to the tale and this would in itself lend itself well to the folk horror reader but the visions of David Hartley and his reverence to a stag entity tie a tighter knot – as does the unfolding brutality as an outside agency heads north to the barren heaths to investigate the crimes against the crown.  Myer’s writing itself is visionary and atmospheric, transporting the reader to the time and place of the harsh drama, which itself is inspired by true events. The dark mystique of the cover indeed is highly evocative of the tale that Myers spins with great craft and gravity.

Benjamin Myers’ roots lie in the soil of County Durham, as does those of Folk Horror Revival and also of The Shining Levels, a band that inspired by Myer’s novel have created a beautiful album of music and lyrics also entitled The Gallows pole.
Having had the good fortune to see The Shining Levels perform live at The Old Cinema Launderette in Durham and at the lovely Victorian library in Darlington as part of the Hark music and literature event, I urge anyone who gets chance to see The Shining Levels in concert to do so as their live performance brings a further element of beauty and depth to the stunning creation that is The Gallows Pole.

Folk Horror Revival were honoured to have The Shining Levels answer a few of our queries …

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Folk Horror Revival: How did the collaboration with Ben Myers to produce a concept album inspired by his book The Gallows Pole come about?

The Shining Levels: The idea was first mentioned by Dan as a solution to me (Davey) whining about going through a creative void. It was a real light-bulb moment and the obvious thing was to create the album together which is exactly what we did once we had Ben’s permission and blessing to do so. He’d actually forgotten all about it and was genuinely shocked when I said it was nearly finished and could I get him to do a short piece of spoken word on it. Thankfully he really liked what we’d done and was happy to be associated with it. He was also very flattered that his book had inspired others to create their own work. Then we were then lucky enough to be taken on by our fantastic label Outre who did a great job of releasing a beautiful vinyl for us.

FHR: What is it about The Gallows Pole novel that you find particularly evocative and inspirational?

TSL: There is so much to delve into, the story of these poor people being able to stick it to a government that doesn’t care for them really resonated with us. There are so many defined characters with their own interesting storylines and there are several themes running through the book that really matter to people, like corruption, solidarity, treachery… I could go on. But when you add the thread of the supernatural, King David’s frightening visions of Stag Men and the alchemy of the coin replication it takes it to another level. And I shouldn’t forget to mention the way Ben writes and describes the landscape, it’s like another character,  as a songwriter it’s a gift to turn a landscape into a soundscape.

FHR:  Yourselves and Ben Myers hail from Durham (as incidentally do the founders of the Folk Horror Revival project); what is it about the county and / or city that you think inspires art of such a nature?

TSL: As I mentioned landscape is very important and we are lucky to have such beautiful surroundings here. From rich woodland to beautiful moorland and rolling hills, all mixed together. I’m a regular visitor to it all and I think you can feel its history coming up through your feet. Whether that is strolling the riverbanks in the city or moving further to the outskirts and hills, there are ghosts of our past right there. One day we’ll all be ghosts of it too so creating art out of that inspiration is very satisfying.

Not to forget the people, Durham has unique character and references. The city is very small so there are many cross connections and small degrees of separation. It’s a place with a full spectrum of characters to draw inspiration from.

FHR: Does your band name relate to the book ‘The Shining Levels’ by John Wyatt about his transition to rural life in the Lake District, or indeed the name applied to the lakes and tarns of Cumbria? Is this a book of any significance to you or did you come about the band name for a different reason?

TSL: Ben gave me a copy of that book about 20 years ago and I loved it.  We’d virtually finished the album before we arrived at our name. We were throwing names back and forth over text and email, between me and Dan and then myself and Ben and that one came up. I believe it was one of Ben’s ideas as I’d asked him for his thoughts and we immediately all agreed on that. The imagery it evokes and the fact it has a literary connection. It sounds bright, hopeful and grand to me. Ben gifted it to me twice.

FHR:  You recently performed live at the Hark event at Darlington Library which brought music and literature together as its theme and of course The Gallows Pole revolves around Ben’s novel; Are there any other books that you find of great inspiration or influence? Would you consider doing other albums pertaining to particular books?

TSL: I love the concept of art forms connecting and crossing over. Art inspiring art. I think we’re going to see more cross pollination in the future so it feels natural that we would follow up on the success of The Gallows Pole album with another literary connection which is what we are doing now.

Personally, I buy/receive more books than I have time to read which is ridiculous.  I’m a bit of a geek so my go to choice is generally sci – fi/fantasy fiction though I do read other genres and non – fiction too. I think music could be written to any book you like. That’s why we’re careful to use the term ‘Inspired by’ rather than suggest it’s a soundtrack.

FHR: What plans lie ahead for The Shining Levels?

TSL: In 2020 we plan on playing many more live events and will hopefully both finish and release our next album which we’re hard at work with now. Something different but it will still very definitely sound like us.

(A little birdy has chirped that The Shining Levels may be seen and heard at Folk Horror Revival’s Winter Ghosts event in Whitby in November … touchwood … keep watching this space …)

To listen to and buy a digital download of The Shining Levels – The Gallows Pole visit here – https://theshininglevels1.bandcamp.com/album/the-gallows-pole-ost

To purchase the album on vinyl –
www.piccadillyrecords.com/counter/product.php?pid=129015

or  www.normanrecords.com/records/175729-the-shining-levels-the-gallows-pole

Contact – theshininglevelsband@gmail.com
outredisque.com/the-shining-levels
Twitter
Facebook

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Image © Kevin McGonnell

The Gallows Pole book is published by Bloomsbury and is available here and other on and offline bookshops.

Ben Myers website
Twitter

Contact – Ben Myers : For all literary enquiries please contact Jessica Woollard: jessicawoollard@davidhigham.co.uk

For all publicity enquiries (interviews, review copies, events) please contact Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury Publishing: Philippa.cotton@bloomsbury.com

For all TV/radio/broadcast rights enquiries: clareisrael@davidhigham.co.uk

Also available …
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New Year Horrors 2020 – Order of the Double Denim

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In Honour of Services to Folk Horror Revival and in recognition of some of the FHR group’s special followers …
Arise  Sirs and Dames, Lads and Lasses … You are now recognised as being ODD (Order of the Double Denim … )

Professor Ronald Hutton

Michelle Coverley

The Unthanks

Professor Ravelhofer

Diane Rodgers

Edward Parnell of Ghostland

Al Ridenour of Bone & Sickle

Mackenzie Crook

Burd Ellen

Benjamin Myers of The Gallows Pole

Robert Eggers

Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham of Folklore Thursday

Richard Wells

Sarah Steele of Ebor Jet

Big Hogg

Maria J Perez Cuervo of Hellebore

Hetty and Betty’s – Whitby

The Shining Levels

Will Self

Scarlett Amaris

Melissa Saint-Hillaire

Julianne Regan

Lauri Löytökoski

Storm Chorus

Katherine Blake of Mediaeval Baebes

James Marsh

Paul Wright

Phil Rickman

Teri Windling

Maps of the Lost

Peter Kennedy

Fen and Furrow

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Chapter of The Choir Invisible

In Memoriam ~

Nicky Henson

Albert Finney

Jonathan Miller

Clive Swift

Peter Fonda

Robert Aickman

To see the full list of the ODD so far ~ https://folkhorrorrevival.com/associates/

Ghostland: Review and Interview with Edward Parnell

Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country by Edward Parnell is a beautifully strange and important book. That someone had not previously wrote of a pilgrimage to the wandering grounds of some of Britain’s most significant authors of the supernatural (least not to my knowledge) seems unusual – it would seem a logical step that writers who have previously written about writers who have haunted the minds of others would walk in their footsteps to see what had indeed haunted their own imaginations. This void is filled by Edward Parnell’s Ghostland and how. This book is not merely a meandering biography of souls such as W.G. Sebald, M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Alan Garner and other tellers of strange tales but is also a psychogeographic derive, a nature diary, memoir and journal of grief. For its observations on grieving and of nature (particularly birds) and references to literature there is a comparison to Helen MacDonald’s H for Hawk and indeed this book will likely be of interest to readers of ‘New Nature Writing’ and psychogeography as well as to those who have an interest in the ghostwriters that Parnell went in search of. As an exploration and cathartic endeavour of Parnell’s own grief,  Ghostland possesses a great power. His writing on the matter is subtle and is comparatively hardly mentioned really but its presence runs as an undercurrent throughout the entire book. It lends a new vantage point to his considerations of place and the personal lives of the writers whose storytelling have marked Britain as particularly spectral isles, but the horror and sadness of his own experiences adds a depth and poignancy to this book that is as beautiful as it is terrible in its invocation of memories and sorrow. From a personal note, I read this book at a time when the memories of my own mother’s illness and passing were again strong in my mind and also sadly at a time when several friends were experiencing loss or illness of their own, which of course was also highly present in my mind. So at times this book touched very deeply and sometimes brought pain – but that is grief. And though there is melancholia a’plenty in Ghostland, it is not a misery-sodden place in the slightest but a bittersweet, compelling, intriguing and touching journey and destination. What the late Simon Marsden invoked in his photographic studies of places, Edward Parnell has captured in words. An important, honest and beautiful work.

Folk Horror Revival is pleased to have put a few questions to Edward …

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Folk Horror Revival: In writing Ghostland, did you always intend for it to be a grief journal?

Edward Parnell: At the start of 2017 I was keen to start exploring the ideas for a second novel that were starting to awaken in my head (my previous, The Listeners – a gothic story of family secrets set in rural Norfolk in 1940 – had come out in October 2014). With that in mind I visited Great Livermere, a village in the west Suffolk countryside that harbours a lost history but is most noticeable for the strange, ephemeral, mud-fringed mere that gives a name to the place. Livermere is also where the Victorian-born writer of ghost stories, Montague Rhodes James, spent his childhood; his father was the local rector. I’d long been a fan of James’s supernatural tales and half-fancied featuring the closed-off, stilted Cambridge don as a minor character in the story I was trying to flesh out. (It wouldn’t be the first time M. R. James had taken on such an afterlife – Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1990 novel The Gate of Angels features a version of MRJ in the form of the book’s Dr Matthews.)

On that day I wandered extensively, taking photos of James’s old house and St Peter’s graveyard. When I got home I wrote a piece about the place for my website. Some weeks later a commissioning editor at Harper Collins read it and emailed me to ask if I’d ever thought about writing a book on the subject of James and other writers of the weird and eerie. So I went down to London to meet him. We got on well, both sharing a love of trashy British horror movies from the 1960s and 70s – we discussed, for example, the zombie-biker flick Psychomania at length, a slice of kitsch that in the end didn’t make it onto the pages of Ghostland.

I went back to Norfolk and thought hard about whether I would like to write such a book – a book concerned with ghost stories and films and the places around Britain that fed into them. And I decided that I did. Because I’d grown up obsessed from a young age with the supernatural and horror. Like a lot of children born in the 1970s, my early years had been surrounded by morbid public information films and terrifying, offbeat TV programmes aimed at, but quite probably unsuitable for, our age group; without knowing it, I was part of what the Fortean Times has come to term the ‘haunted generation’.

I realised, however, that I only wanted to write about the subject if I could bring something of myself to the narrative. And when I started to do some proper thinking and research into who and where I’d want to explore, I realised that the locations I was considering were connected to my own family – a story which itself could be said to be somewhat haunted… Many of the writers I ended up delving into seemed also to have a wistful, troubled air about their lives; at any rate, these were the ones that most attracted me.

That’s broadly how Ghostland came about – morphing after that first meeting with my editor into a more personal and poignant exploration of my memories, revisiting barely remembered destinations we’d come to on long-ago family holidays. And, as I began to explore what M. R. James refers to as the ‘sequestered places’ of England, Scotland and Wales, the writing of the book became a way of reclaiming something that had been lost to me. A way of trying to give form to those half-glimpsed figures that otherwise languish in shadow on my father’s old Kodachrome slides.

So, although it’s a book about grief, I’d say really that it’s a book about memories, and how we have to not let those particular ghosts slip away, even when the very act of remembering is sometimes terribly painful. Because there’s something positive and healing in reconnecting with them.

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(M.R. James)

FHR: Of all the ghost story writers you have written about, do you have a particular author or story you especially like? If so what is it about them that particularly grabs you?

EP: I suspect like most readers that I’m prone to fads where I become obsessed with a certain writer, probably for no discernible reason. But I do have a constant love for M. R. James’s stories, mainly for the way they evoke that very particular atmosphere of Victorian and Edwardian academia, as well as for the playfulness and chattiness of the way most of the stories are related to the reader.

Because James wasn’t prolific, his overall body of work remains so strong. There are other writers of the same era – like Algernon Blackwood or E. F. Benson, for instance, who wrote some wonderful stories, but also churned out a number of stories that aren’t particularly memorable. Blackwood’s ‘The Willows’, however, still might just be my favourite weird tale of all.

There are a couple of other writers of supernatural stories who I never tire of re-reading – Robert Aickman and Walter de la Mare. Because their stories are often far more elusive – much less straightforward – than the relatively simple, usually Medieval horrors of M. R. James (though some of his later tales do have much more of a tendency towards the ambiguous). As a writer, I find myself revisiting their work to try to discern the secret of the strange alchemy that makes it so beguiling. I still haven’t fathomed it.

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(Algernon Blackwood)

FHR: Are there any ghost stories that have not already been adapted to film, that you would especially like to see brought to the screen?

EP: I’d love to see an adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s Galway-set masterpiece The House on the Borderland. Though perhaps there’s a reason it’s never been adapted… The first half of the novel with the ‘swine creatures’ and the story of this strange house in the middle of nowhere in the Irish countryside would probably be doable given a decent budget, but the psychedelic second half of the book with its astral journeys would be pretty hard to pull off, I suspect.

As a short one-off adaptation in the mould of the BBC’s 1970s A Ghost Story for Christmas strand then I think a story by a much lesser-known contemporary of M. R. James, Amyas Northcote, would work well – and be refreshing in that its protagonists are both women: Alice and Maggie, two sisters. ‘Brickett Bottom’ is the most well-known of Northcote’s stories (they all come from a solitary 1921 collection, In Ghostly Company). Separated from her more sensible sister, Alice becomes bewitched by the red-brick building and the polite, yet slightly odd, elderly couple she encounters tending its neat garden in a neighbouring wooded gully beneath the Downs. And then Alice is gone from that place – a kind of ominous Brigadoon that only manifests itself every so many years to lone young women traversing the little-used track through the tree-shaded glen. She has been spirited away, leaving her sister and father distraught. It’s an eerie, haunting tale that I could see taking on a wonderful Picnic at Hanging Rock-esque vibe on the screen.

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(William Hope Hodgson)
FHR: Through your own personal experiences, travels and research, have your own personal beliefs about ghosts or hauntings changed or developed in any way?

EP: I imagine that when I was a kid poring over stuff like The Usborne World of the Unknown Books that I definitely believed in ghosts. Though it’s hard to put myself exactly back into the mind of my younger self, at least in terms of what I did and didn’t accept as true in that particular moment. However, I do remember – I was probably around eight or nine – going with a friend down a local lane that he claimed was haunted, and I had this vague vision of a Victorian gentleman on a penny-farthing bicycle that I’m now certain was entirely a product of my overactive imagination; my friend didn’t see it.

As I grew older I became much more sceptical. Today I’d say that I don’t believe in ghosts, but equally that I don’t entirely not believe in them… In that regard my opinion probably isn’t too far removed from the answer to the question that M. R. James gave in the introduction to his Collected Ghost Stories: ‘Do I believe in ghosts? To which I answer that I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.’ Saying that, there are two (perhaps three) odd occurrences that I describe in Ghostland that I don’t have a convincing rational explanation for, though on balance I’d guess that the reasons behind them are probably more mundane than the conclusions it’s tempting to head towards.
FHR: Are there any places you have visited that strike you as having a particularly eerie or strange atmosphere or qualities?

EP: My editor described me at the Ghostland book launch as the least spooky person that he knows, and I don’t think I’m very susceptible to freaking myself out at places that might unnerve some people. I was in my local church choir as a boy, and after Sunday night services we used to mess around in the graveyard, which might have inoculated myself somewhat against the terrors that such places might induce in lots of others. In contrast, I have a couple of friends who claim to pick up odd sensations in certain buildings and places – like echoes of atrocities that might have happened there before – but I’m definitely at the opposite end of the radar.

Obviously though, many of the places that I visited in Ghostland did impress me with their atmosphere – whether that was for the solitude and loneliness of their aspect, the age of the building I was in (and all that associated, pressing history), the sublime sense of the natural world, or perhaps just a certain strange slant of light…
FHR: Are you currently working on or have any other books or projects planned? If so could you tell us something about that?

EP: I’m currently casting around trying to finesse a couple of possible ideas for a next narrative non-fiction book. I don’t think either are quite at the sharing stage yet! I don’t think I’m ever going to be a particularly prolific writer – I’m always amazed and slightly envious at other writers I talk to who as soon as they’ve finished one book have started the next; Ghostland was quite an emotionally exhausting book to write in places, so I’m not going to worry too much if I have a bit of a break before delving into the next project.

I would also like to write another novel – perhaps one where the supernatural is a factor – at some point in the not-too-distant future. We’ll see.

Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country is a work of narrative non-fiction was published in hardback by William Collins on 17 October 2019.

https://edwardparnell.com/

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Charity Donation ~ Winter Solstice 2019

Thank You to everybody who voted in the poll and especially to everyone who bought Folk Horror Revival / Wyrd Harvest Press books. At intervals we donate the sales profits from our books to different environmental projects run by The Wildlife Trusts.
This time the winner and recipient of £750 is The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Red Squirrel Appeal. 🐿
To buy our books ~
http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek
To donate directly to The Wildlife Trusts’ local appeals –
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/support/donate-appeal

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image of squirrel – Douglas English (circa 1909)

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Winter Ghosts ~ 2019 ~

Just to say a huge Thank You to Kt & Cobweb Mehers, Darren Charles, John Chadwick  – The Doorman, The Met Lounge & Ballroom, Esk Audio Ltd, The Ballroom at Hetty & Betty, George CromackSarah Caldwell Steele,  Peter Kennedy, Professor Barbara Ravelhofer (and team),  Al Ridenour and Lauren from LA Krampus Run, Elaine Edmunds and Laurence Mitchell for The Whitby Krampusae and The Threshold Art Exhibition, Chris Lambert,   Bob Fischer, Nigel, Kev Oyston of The Soulless Party, Burd Ellen, Big Hogg, Unearthing Forgotten Horrors, Hombre Verdąd, Scarlett Amaris, Melissa Saint-Hilaire, Gary Parsons,  Mark Goodall,  George Firth and finally our Founder The Art of Andy Paciorek

Big Thanks also to everyone who braved the cold nights, sea fret, Transylvanian vampires, gytrashes, amorous seamen, Padfoot, Bearded Fred and other perils to attend Winter Ghosts.
Hope you enjoyed it.

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Coming Soon … Corpse Roads: Revised Edition

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Wyrd Harvest Press are pleased to announce … A Revised Edition of our seminal poetry and photography anthology Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads will be available soon.

Featuring extra poetry, additional photography, new cover artwork and a much-improved design, this fantastic collection just got even better …

Keep watching the spirit paths and our Folk Horror Revival / Wyrd Harvest Press media for more details.

💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀

douglas lane gibbets hill

New T-shirts ~ Folk Horror Revival – Winter Ghosts 2019

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The official T shirt for the Winter Ghosts symposium 2019 is here !!

It Glows in the Dark!!!!

Print is a dark cream in daylight and is truly fluorescent under UV light. Once charged they glow an eerie green.

T shirts are black, universal, round-neck Ts.

Designed by our very own Cobweb Mehers​ of Eolith Designs

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Printed by Tyrant Design & Print

http://tyrannical.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/wicked.tyrant/

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Sizes currently available:

4 x M
7 x XL
10 x XXL

UK Pricing
£15
P&P – £6

USA Pricing:
$19
P&P – $7.50

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To Purchase – email Kt for more details

at –

shekinah0711@talktalk.net

 

Folklore Thursday: Harvest Spirits ~ Black Earth

In the autumnal glow of Folklore Thursday’s Harvest theme, here are a few Slavic spirits of the grain

POLEVIK

Polevik

(Also known as Polewiki. Polevoy. Polovoi.)

The Polevik is a strange spirit of the grain fields. they are usually masculine though some accounts mention females and children of the species. The Polevik is described as a rugged dwarf with dark earthy skin and grass for hair. They are frequently dressed in white and each of their eyes is a different colour. It is sometimes claimed that their feet are cloven like those of goats.

When in a jovial mood, Polevik may amuse themselves by killing wild birds or by causing travellers to become way-led and confused in surroundings which may normally be familiar to them. In their more aggressive moods, which accounts for most tales about them, they are violent, dangerous creatures.

They do not like idlers, and lazy field-workers may be lucky just to receive a hefty kick from a Polevik, for if they chanced upon someone drunk and asleep in the fields they would strangle the person to death. Like the Rye Wolf and the Poludnitsa, tales of the Polevik may be told to children to stop them playing in the cereal fields and risk damaging valuable crops, but legitimate workers may too feel ill at ease working with a Polevik presence looming. Therefore it was hoped that they would be appeased with an offering of two eggs and a cockerel that could no longer crow, placed in a ditch alongside the field. The Polevik were most active at noon and dusk, so it was desirable not to be in the fields at those times.

It is said in Russia that the Polevik shrink to the size of chaff or stubble when the harvest is nearly complete and will hide in the last few stalks and be taken in to the sheds. As it is also claimed that the Polevik causes disease amongst those who displease him, it is possible that he is symbolic of Ergot fruitbodies. Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) is a fungus that infects cereal crops, especially Rye, sometimes with calamatic effect. Whilst its hard dark purple fruitbodies are quite apparent it can still get get into the food supply as it is not noticable when ground and cooked. If ingested by people or animals it can result in poisoning called Ergotism. Rather than kill the toxicity baking the grain may strengthen the effects.

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Rye Mother

(Also known as Rye Grandmother. Rugia Boba. Zalizna Baba. Rzhana Baba. Zhytnia. Zalizna Zhinka – The Iron Woman.)

The concept of a Corn Mother was prevalent in the faiths of many cultures across the world. She may have often had a dark side relating to her association with the natural cycle of life, death and rebirth, yet in Slavic and also Germanic lore her sinister side is most prevalent.

Manifesting as a sinister old crone, she hunts for children with her iron hook, and once captured she will take them to suckle upon her iron breasts, yet it is not white wholesome milk that the children will drink but black poison that will sicken, madden and perhaps kill them. In this dark aspect she is not the personification of the nourishing grain but perhaps the embodiment of the toxic fungi, Ergot (see also Polevik).

Whilst the causes of Ergotism or Holy Fire were only officially recognised by science in the 16th Century, it can be assumed that peasants whose lives depended on the land would have known the cause and effect of the dark smut growing on their crops, if only by the resulting condition of the consequences of their livestock having eaten infected grain. Superstition may have also developed blindly around Ergotism as when cooked in human bread it is not visibly discernible. Obviously good grain would be used in favour of bad, but in hard times it may be a choice of either starvation or eat infected crops – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Alas in bad weather when yields may be low already, the climatic conditions are also better for Ergot to grow. In the Little Ice Ages (1150-1460 AD and 1560-1850 AD) ergotism outbreaks were prevalent across Europe. In Russia in 1926-27, approximately ten thousand people were reported with Ergot poisoning

Also in harsh times wolves may be more inclined to move closer to human habitation, if coupled with the hallucinatory effects of the Ergot, then it is possible to see how tales of werewolves may have evolved, it is noteworthy that Rye also has a supernatural association with wolves and in some regions the Rye Mother would be accompanied by a wolf. Ergotism outbreaks have been debatably associated with the Witchcraft panics in various countries, though the ‘Burning Times’ never really descended upon the Slav countries, though witches were certainly not unknown there. Ergot may be associated to the Witch-like figure of the Rye Mother by a number of factors. The word Baba means both the last sheaf of crop and witch. Her hard dark poisonous nipples may be indicative of Ergot fruitbodies and ergotism can be transferred to a child if the mother’s milk is infected. Also the decrepit Rye Mother may be seen as a failure of fertility, both in the crop and in people, as Ergotism can also cause infertility and can cause abortions of foetuses, indeed it was used deliberately in folk and traditional medicine for this purpose.

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Poludnica

(Also known as Polednica. Pryzpotudica. Psezpolnica. Polednice. Poludnitsa. Pudnitsa. Pscipolnitsa. Potundiowka.)

Known across the Slavic countries and neighbouring territories from Siberia to Moravia, the Poludnica is the Midday Spirit or Lady Midday that brought terror to the people. Because of her strong affinity to the fields and the assertation that in some regions she manifests as an ugly old hag, there may be association between the Poludnica and the Rye Mother; however she is also reported to assume the form of an adolescent girl with a whip whose lash will lead to a short life. More frequently she will appear as a tall, beautiful woman dressed in a white cloak or gown brandishing a scythe, sickle or shears. Her beauty however may only be skin deep as there is a cruel streak to her nature, yet ironically her presence is in some regions deemed healthy to the vitality of the crops.

The Poludnica deems that noon time is sacred to her to wander the fields and should she venture upon a man whom is not taking rest at midday, she will pull their hair and tickle or twist their necks, if they do not desist working there and then and return home she may continue tickling them until they die or strike them down with madness. For this reason she is considered the embodiment of sunstroke.

Yet in some regions there are other bizarre and sinister tales told of the Poludnica. If the weather were stormy she would sometimes suddenly appear in the peasants cottages; the uncomfortable inhabitants would have to sit out the storm on their very best behaviour lest they offend their strange, uninvited guest.

She may also appear in a sudden gust of wind or dust storm and kill anyone in her path, or approach people and ask them questions or riddles and if their answer is not to her liking she would inflict them with illness, misfortune or insanity.

At other times she would either lure children to become lost in the grain fields or kidnap ones who have been left unattended at harvesting time. She would sometimes also kidnap women in childbirth and keep them captive for a year, or assault women and children who were not at home at noon. In parts of Poland she was said to hunt down the children and women with a pack of seven large black dogs. She was often utilised in the words of parents to stop their children wandering in lonely places or strong sunshine, to keep them away from valuable crops and if they were generally being naughty – “Behave or the Poludnitsa will get you!”

from Black Earth: A Field Guide to the Slavic Otherworld by Andrew L. Paciorek

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Available to purchase from – https://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek

Reece Dinsdale In Conversation

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Join acclaimed actor Reece Dinsdale for an intimate evening of nattering…

Sunday 3rd November, 8:00pm – 10:30pm

at The Waiting Room
9 Station Road, Eaglescliffe,
Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 0BU
01642 780465

2018 saw the reissue on DVD and Blu-ray of Threads… surely one of the most hard-hitting and frightening TV dramas ever made? Barry Hines’ BAFTA-winning depiction of a Britain struggling to exist in the wake of a cataclysmic nuclear war is shockingly and stunningly realised, with actor Reece Dinsdale gaining deserved plaudits in the role of terrified young father-to-be, Jimmy Kemp.

It was a breakthrough role for Reece, although he’d already enjoyed an acclaimed stage career, and had made an early film appearance alongside Michael Palin and Maggie Smith (and a wayward pig) in Alan Bennett’s A Private Function. Full-on TV fame followed, with 1985 seeing the debut of hugely popular ITV sitcom Home To Roost, in which Reece played the rebellious son of a divorced (and reluctant) father, forging a formidable sitcom double-act with the great John Thaw.

Deliciously eclectic film and TV success continued; he played Guildenstern opposite Timothy Spall’s Rosencrantz in Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen adaptation of Hamlet, and won Best Actor at the Geneva Film Festival for his lead role in ID, playing an undercover police officer dragged into the murky world of football hooliganism. Further TV credits include Spooks, Life on Mars and Silent Witness, and two years in Coronation Street as the ill-fated Joe McIntyre. In recent years, Reece has earned acclaim for his portrayal of Richard III at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and has also moved behind the camera, directing episodes of BBC1’s drama anthology Moving On. He has also appeared in folk horror favourites Robin Hood and The Storyteller.

In the latest of our regular ‘live chat shows’, Reece will be interviewed onstage by writer, BBC broadcaster, Haunted Generation archivist and self-avowed film and telly geek Bob Fischer.

Tickets available from – https://www.seetickets.com/event/chinwag-reece-dinsdale-in-conversation/the-waiting-room/1413021

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FOLKLORE ON SCREEN: Conference reflection

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Friday 13th 2019 came with the Hunter’s Moon and Scooby Doo and the gang were celebrating 50 years of ghost-busting and so too began the 2 day Folklore On Screen Convention organised by David Clarke, Diane Rodgers and Andrew Robinson of the Centre For Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University.

Folk Horror Revival were honoured to have a presence there in form of myself founder Andy Paciorek talking about British Dystopia in relation to our side project the Urban Wyrd. Therefore it would be biased for me to pen a review as such but instead I present this as a reflection on what was a fantastic weekend.

The event kicked off with Mikel Koven’s talk Return of The Living Slave: Jordan Peele’s Get Out as a Zombie Film, which gave a very interesting consideration on the subject matter with relation to both traditional magical beliefs and also modern culture.
Get Out Topples The LEGO Batman Movie at the Box Office - IGN

Image: Get Out

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Image ; Mikel Koven by Centre for Contemporary Legend

From there we entered into the Monster Mash the first featured panel of the weekend with Matthew Cheeseman’s Dracula’s Fangs talk leading us from the vampire’s dentiture into Derby’s utterly bizarre House of Holes – an adult entertainment crazy golf club and bar. Housed in a haunted building that in a previous incarnation many moons earlier was one of the first theatres to present the stage play adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. From the images of the ‘murder hole’ the surreal, quirkily disturbing  featuring a host of punctured inflatable sex dolls, it would seem the spirit of the vampiric count maybe got a shock sinking his fangs into the necks of these ‘voluptuous’ maidens.
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Photo: Matthew Cheeseman by Diane A. Rodgers

Sneak peek inside adults-only crazy golf course opening in ...

House of Holes. Derby – photo via https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

Craig Ian Mann then followed this with Pack Mentality: A Cultural Approach to the Werewolf Film in the 1970s, which as well as reminding me of some films I haven’t seen since I was a child and introducing me to a few unfamiliar ones, brought a smile to my face in seeing the fantastic poster  Werewolves on Wheels (1971) displayed in the presentation. It is not a film that was really in the Oscars running of that year but I do think it deserves more than its 4.3 IMDB rating … well maybe… With its dark age of Aquarius subtext and the presence of a satanic cult, Werewolves on Wheels deserves to be more widely known among the folk horror community too, if only as a peculiar guilty pleasure.

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Image: Werewolves on Wheels

Rebecca Bannon then brought us Ghost of the Past Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Liminality which discussed the haunting of the titular character and director Tim Burton’s aesthetic approach in bringing what was a rather corporeal down and dirty tale of cannibalism to the screen as an opulently Gothic ghostly musical.

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Image: Sweeney Todd

Then followed the parallel panels of the day. As it was unfortunately not possible to see all talks and difficult to choose which to watch, I will give the running list here but can only pass comment on those I saw; but from the engaged and enthusiastic conversations which surrounded the breaks in the event, it would appear that all the talks went down well and touched aspects of different people’s psyches.

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From the birth of a modern mass panic that arose from a strange piece of  to the cursed tales of Crying Boy paintings (which although being rather kitsch in style and with a grisly reputation of misfortune surrounding them I’d rather quite like one) to finding out about a dark artist previously unfamiliar to me but one whose work has intrigued me since and is something I brought away from the conference in my mind and perhaps under my skin.

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Image by Bragolin

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Photo by Centre For Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Image by Peter Booth

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Photo: Momo from Stella Gaynor’s talk

Then the talks ended for the day but not the entertainment as the night treated us to excellent music sets by Hawthonn, Phil Tyler and Sharron Kraus

And also a specially brewed beer for the weekend!!

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Photo by Diane A. Rodgers

The next morning brought the Haunted Generation of which I was delighted to be a part. Talking about nuclear war and the end of the world should perhaps not be so enjoyable but sharing the panel with the founding father of Hookland David Southwell and Fortean Times The Haunted Generation’s Bob Fischer was an absolute pleasure and the talks they both gave were fantastic.
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Photo: Bob Fischer by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: David Southwell by Diane A. Rodgers

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Photo: Andy Paciorek by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: The Haunted (Re)Generations by Adam Spellicy
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Then followed the Parallel Panels, which again it would’ve been nice to bi-locate like Padre Pio to see all, but between the two lecture halls were discussions on topics ranging from Cat People to the Wickerman to Invisible Women to the Children of the Stones. Devils, Witches, Fairies, Foundlings, Holy Fools and UFOs all put in an appearance in some fantastic talks.

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Photo: Tom Clark – The Devil Made me do it by Centre for Folklore, Myth & Magic

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Photo: Evelyn Koch by Diane A Rodgers
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Photo: Andrew Robinson by Diane A. Rodgers

The convention was rounded off with Helen Wheatley’s Haunted Landscapes: Trauma and Grief in the Contemporary Television Ghost Story which featured some of the beautiful cinematography and aesthetics that accompany modern telly’s tales of haunted places and haunted minds.

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Photo: Helen Wheatley by Diane A. Rodgers

A great weekend filled with intriguing talks, evocative music and some very interesting and fun conversations.

A big Thank You and Congratulations to Centre for Contemporary Legend for hosting a great event and hopefully more to come.

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Photo: Diane A. Rodgers by Paul Dorrington