Interview with Will Parsons of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

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Pilgrimage is experiencing is a revival.  Many of the currents which animate this resurgence also pulse through the veins of the Folk Horror Revival. A re-imagining of our experience of the landscape. An uncovering of forgotten paths. An openness to explore strange edges and the fascinations of writers such as Ronald Hutton and Robert Macfarlane. FHR’s John Pilgrim was the natural person to enquire about these shared currents and the work of the British Pilgrimage Trust more generally.  His interview with Will Parsons of the BPT took place in 2019 and takes the reader along some curious paths.

 

FHR: Please can you explain the background to the formation of the British Pilgrimage Trust?

 

The British Pilgrimage Trust was formed in 2014, initially as a Charitable Trust, and since 2017 as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1176035).

 

There are many reason why the BPT came into being. As I see it, the lack of accessible pilgrimage in Britain was getting silly, which annoyed the Universe.

 

In personal terms, a more immediate reason for founding it (with Guy Hayward and Merlin Sheldrake) was what happened when Guy and I went for a walk to the source of a song.

 

I met Guy the year before at Rupert Sheldrake’s house (the scientist behind the ‘Morphic Resonance’ theory, and the BPT’s first patron). Guy had seen my wandering minstrel work and wanted to go for a walk. I offered the plan of walking a Romany Gypsy song back to the place it originated.

 

The song was called The Hartlake Bridge Tragedy, and it was written in 1852 about 37 hop-pickers who all died when a bridge collapsed over the River Medway. In one family, three generations were lost. Upkeep of the bridge had been the responsibility of the Medway Navigation Trust, local businessmen like the Mayor and his pals. But the hop-pickers were poor Irish and Gypsy itinerant labourers, not the sort of people who could expect too much justice in Victorian England. Sure enough, at the Inquest the Navigation Trust was absolved of all blame.

 

A subscription was taken up, which raised enough for a small concrete memorial, ambitiously said to resemble an oast (a building in which hops are dried). All 37 are buried there.

 

But the most moving survival of this tragedy is a song, written by family members. Its melody lilts jollily, while its lyrics hang heavy with coded social protest. It is a strange classic. The song reached me via the song collector Sam Lee, who learns Romany folksong from its living lineage holders. It was never really any good for busking, but you know how it is with songs – once in, you can’t unlearn them. So I suggested to Guy that we take this song home, by walking it from my house to the bridge where it happened.

 

Guy agreed, and we prepared. He was not ready. He didn’t know that boots can keep out water, or sleeping bags zip up. He came straight from 23 unbroken years of school – education-old but world-young. I have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo from this walk, and you can see his eyes go from screeny to hawkish.

 

We walked, and the journey was strong. We met the right strangers, some who taught us songs, including the bedtime lullabies that an 80 year old ex-Methodist minister sung to his Dementia suffering wife. We met an ex-Eastenders star who would not sing, and Kent’s oldest Yew trees at Ulcombe. Guy had boots that didn’t quite fit his feet, so he had blisters within the first half hour, but I knew the right leaves and we kept walking. We slept in the woods, filtered water from streams and cooked on fires. It worked.

 

At this point, nobody I knew was talking about pilgrimage. I had spent ten years as a wandering minstrel, a ‘close-but-definitely-not’ pilgrim, and as such I had never made a journey with such a specific destination, or so clear an intention. My multi-month walks had always been ‘West’, ‘to Cornwall’ or ‘to Wales’. But now I knew exactly which bridge I was going to, and what to do when I got there. I had always believed such a model of journey-making was inferior, a contrived version of wayfaring with insufficient liberty – but I soon found myself wrong. It turns out that the limitations on the journey enabled a tightening of the field, to allow co-incidence to flourish. It really worked. Having an intention and set destination was like tightening the strings on a fiddle – suddenly everything hummed with new intensity and harmonic potential, and we could sing along.

 

The best example came at the journey’s end. Not at the bridge itself, where things got a bit strange, but before that, at the grave of the dead hop-pickers in Hadlow village church. We arrived here after five days walking, to find two other people stood graveside. This is rare in a Kentish churchyard. So we asked – gently – why they were there at that time. They told us that they were related to three of the hop-pickers who had died.  We were amazed. Did they come often? Never before. So we asked if we might sing the song? They answered: what song? They’d never heard of it. So stood over the bodies of the hop-pickers, beside their living descendants, we sung the song. And it was the most incredibly resonant connection to realise that we were not returning the song to a river, but to its bloodline.

 

I can still feel the shocking wholeness of this moment, the comforting echo of its extreme unlikeliness. The song had become (had always been) a gift from the dead to their living descendants, given through generations. For me, this moment first triggered my understanding of the framework of pilgrimage, as a journey on foot with an intention and a holy destination.

 

After the graveyard, we walked to the bridge, where we met old Mother Medway, in the form of a fearsome rambling shell-suited lady with a muzzled Jack Russell cross. The dog was eating other dogs’ poo, and its muzzle was smeared foully, but the lady, who kept disappearing into bushes then reappearing in different places, repeatedly asked Guy to ‘touch the dog – go on, touch him, just once’. Guy did not. I’m still not sure if he passed the test or not.

 

We nearly came a cropper soon after, when I was inappropriately trying to film us singing on my phone and mini tripod. We began to discuss keeping our pilgrim staffs, rather than flinging them into the river (as a gift). We had intended to, but now fancied holding onto them. But as soon as we said this, Guy banged his head against the bridge, although he was stood still and looking right at it, and my tripod leg pinged off, sheared clean away. The sun went in, and up rose a confused awareness of imminent threat. Translating this, we realised we could not retract the promised gift, so we gave our hazel bodies, with a whoosh and plop, to be claimed by River Medway.

 

This was the first time I had ever made a pilgrimage that ‘worked’. And in the greater journey of life, the timing was good for me. Wandering minstrelsy had dried up (everyone had children). And this new (ancient) pilgrimage format of setting an intention and destination seemed to lead me straight back into that parallel Britain, the good old land beyond the tarmac and supermarkets.

 

So the BPT was formed, in an attempt to renew Britain’s pilgrimage tradition. We vowed to remain a spiritual organisation, as well as a tech start-up, and a social movement. We would remain independent of affiliations, belonging only to ourselves, but welcoming faiths and non-faiths equally. It seemed like the fruitful middle ground, in fact the whole plateau of pilgrimage in Britain, had been left abandoned. It was an opportunity just waiting to happen, with potentially huge benefits. What else could there possibly be to do?

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FHR: What do you hope to achieve through the formation of the Trust and what are your hopes for the future?

 

To me, the BPT was a way to give my dreams respectability and efficacy. This started off as ‘The British Pilgrimage Revival Trust’, until original Trustee Merlin Sheldrake advised we cut Revival out: “People need to know that pilgrimage never went away!”.

 

What is great about a charitable trust is how easily they can be set up. You simply need a constitution (downloaded off google and adapted) with aims that benefit the public. Then you need three trustees and a witness, some signatures and a tenner in an envelope, and you legally exist as an unincorporated Charitable Trust. We got a friend to make us a logo for £20, and we built an ultra-simple website. Help started to come.

 

I hoped that this organisational form would let us present pilgrimage with clarity and authority in its simplified universal form (an intentional journey on foot to a holy place).  It seemed to me that the main reason pilgrimage was not already happening in Britain was its confused religious affiliation. Was it Catholic? Christian? Pagan? Humanist? Could Muslims and Hindus and Atheists do it? Who was making up the rules? Who was is in charge? It seemed no-one was. So we decided to be.

 

The vision was to offer an inclusive and unifying centre space for British pilgrimage. I hoped for many more people to travel on foot, connecting the holy places of our landscape – the hilltops, ancient trees, stone circles and river sources, as well as the chapels, churches and cathedrals (of all faiths). Britain’s holy places I see as a single unified pilgrimage landscape, to which we all share access (and responsibility). The BPT’s aim was to help more people walk slowly among these beautiful, powerful and spiritually brilliant places in Britain.

 

Of course, pilgrimage is a universal human tradition, used throughout history, and no more ‘belongs’ to a single faith (or non-faith) than ‘music’ does. It’s a common inheritance, probably used by people of every imaginable belief (and many more. And in modern Britain, success seemed unlikely if we tried to promote pilgrimage under the flag of a single faith, which it seemed would inspire as much opposition as unity.  So I found a canny acronym called OTA – Open to All (with the optional tagline: Bring Your Own Beliefs). This seemed to enshrine the universalist approach to pilgrimage that reflected Britain’s modern diversity of beliefs. OTA would enable everyone, whatever their faith or non-faith, to feel they owned this pilgrimage tradition. But we were also keen not to reduce the activity to mere non-spiritual ‘hiking’, to cut out spirituality for fear of excluding non-believers. I think this OTA solution works well.

 

Another key ambition for the Trust was to solve the problem of low cost pilgrim accommodation. The problem is simple: there isn’t any. While a wandering minstrel, I had either slept in strangers’ houses (with permission) or the woods (without). But that could not scale up. So there were two possible solutions: pilgrims sleeping in churches, which is currently a scheme afoot, and about which I’ve said a lot elsewhere – and Pilgrim Acres, wild-camping shrines to host pilgrims in new-planted ‘sacred groves’ with borehole-dug ‘holy wells’. I still cherish this dream, of a wild green pilgrimage infrastructure to be forever Pilgrims’ England. This network of Coldharbours would be grown from bare fields, a re-greening and OTA monastic movement of sacred woodland hospitallers. This scheme has not yet come into reality. But we shall see. Can you help?

 

One of the BPT’s main ‘actual’ projects is our flagship route, called the Old Way, a path found on Britain’s oldest road map. I walked this twice last year (it takes 3 weeks) and I am trying to get it waymarked and a guidebook written, with re-opened ancient holy wells at its start and end (Southampton and Canterbury). Other BPT projects include a database of all Britain’s pilgrimage routes, and micro-pilgrimages to every British cathedral.

 

In truth, the BPT’s ambitions are large. Probably endless. But it’s not pilgrimage if you don’t have a decent holy place to aim for.

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FHR: You have an intriguing and impressive range of Trustees. The interest of Folk Horror Revivalists is likely to be piqued by the involvement of Ronald Hutton who brings his expertise on ancient and medieval paganism and witchcraft; Robert Macfarlane who many Revivalists will know from his writings on landscape and his essay on the Eeriness of the English Countryside in particular and Philip Carr-Gomm, Leader of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. It is most refreshing to see the inclusion of such figures as part of a broad church approach to pilgrimage. Can you say a little about your thinking for their inclusion and the scope for opening up a broader alliance of perspectives?

 

Pilgrimage is to my mind a kind of universal yoga that spans human cultures and traditions. It is the quest, the fool’s journey, the labyrinth at large. And this dynamism is particularly suited to Western folk, the restless people, seekers of holy grail, people of Odyssey. Our heroes do not sit still and go inward, but roam outward, over the hills and far away.

 

But pilgrimage, Britain’s popular expression of this itinerant impulse, was banned in 1538 as part of the Protestant Reformation. The shrines were dismantled, the shelters demolished, and the whole premise made criminal. Much was rejected violently in a short time. This was a traumatic and harsh change, and had left a lingering toxicity and sad disenchantment about the practice, which has lasted almost 500 years.

 

So with the intent to refresh the tradition, the BPT claimed the open middle ground, as a space from which to host the revival of British pilgrimage with radically inclusive (but deeply traditional) accessibility. It simply doesn’t make sense to limit the practice into small cultural groups. When everyone in Britain was Christian, in the Middle Ages, pilgrimage was obviously a Christian practice. But now Britain is plural and diverse, so must pilgrimage be. Or it will simply continue to not happen. This is obviously not the case in Spain, where the Camino remains a Catholic church project. But this is Britain, and we had Henry VIII, so ours is a different story. I believe that OTA is how the best of all worlds can be included and expressed of the pilgrimage tradition going forward.

 

Within its journey form limits, pilgrimage enjoys free-form rituality. Almost anything can happen. Your church is the world as it unfolds around you. The guides are not dressed differently. They may not even be human. They may not even exist outside your own mind. Buy you’ll meet them, as the path you follow reveals the encounters you need. What you make of these is up to you. Pilgrimage is a creative act. You take a pill or a holiday, but you make a pilgrimage.

 

In an OTA format, people of very different beliefs can walk side by side toward a shared destination, having different spiritual experiences in perfect harmony. British pilgrimage can offer an open forum for shared spiritual practice without the reductionist bridges typically required. It doesn’t have to be either/or about religion, or require spirituality to be boiled out for popular consumption. Pilgrimage even works for hardcore followers of materialist atheism (if you believe they really exist).

 

Having a space for spirituality to enjoy both diversity and community is incredibly rare. And I believe it’s extremely important, perhaps our greatest hope for proper change in this world. I do not mean religious fundamentalism, but more like a basic accord, a common truth, a universal wink, that changes our whole minds. A return to innocence via experience. A freedom from fear. I believe spirituality will be the source of this great revolution, the one we’ve always been waiting for. It has always been about spirituality. Why else do we strive for truth, freedom, justice, love? These are spiritual pursuits.

 

I should add, this is not what we discuss at Trustee meetings.

 

Having a wide range of expert friends to guide us, like Rob McFarlane, Jill Purse, Satish Kumar, and Ronald Hutton, is essential for allowing us to keep pilgrimage hosted in this wide open middle space, in the gap between religious and not religious, in the spaces between place. This is where the BPT aims to send pilgrims, on foot, with their best hopes forward. What expert would not have something to add to this?

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FHR: You have previously spent time as a ‘wandering minstrel’. Music, singing, landscape and pilgrimage are clearly intertwined for you. How can these different aspects be brought together in fruitful ways -do you have any personal examples which are particularly meaningful to you?

 

I think that song is a sacred human mystery ritual as powerful and important as pilgrimage. Song can amplify pilgrimage by functioning as a destination, or as a gift to offer at holy places to unify and ‘tune’ your journey. The song you sing is the tune you get!

 

Songs are great for churches, where many people don’t know what to do. The right song always works. It’s an instant ritual that weighs nothing and never runs out.

 

I also use SONG as an acronym to describe the four layers of spiritual connection: Self, Other, Nature and God. The methodology to follow this is SING – Slowness, Intention, Needs, Gifts. I think I’m on some kind of spectrum with this stuff, but I find it helps.

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FHR: We live in troubled times. How can pilgrimage help us in the modern world?

 

Pilgrimage is the most ecologically sincere act we can make, in terms of reducing your carbon footprint. I am waiting to meet an eco-statistician who can work out how much less CO2 Britain would release if everyone in Britain made a two week pilgrimage each year.

 

But of course it is ecological, is it fundamental and basic. Pilgrimage is a dive deep into the simple animal reality of life on earth. It is a way to reconnect on many levels (see SONG above). It allows access to truth through the most immediate and powerful form – personal experience, unmediated, raw and true. It is the holy day we need.

 

Pilgrimage offers health for the physical body, by curing the disease of being sedentary lives. It gets the blood flowing, the bones and muscles in communication, and the mind active. It also helps us to relax, and to face our emotional issues. It forces us to meet people outside our normal community groups, which is good for both the pilgrim and the community.

 

Pilgrimage also offers economic benefits, for both pilgrim and host communities. It’s a cheap way to get therapy and exercise and a holiday, which in return drip-feeds the rural economy. It’s tourism without cars.

 

Another of the gifts of pilgrimage is that once the trappings of status are removed, the car, house and bank balance, what remains is something more essential. It’s you, on your path, journeying toward your hopes. This is not a loss of self – it’s more like a revealing! In the context of pilgrimage, disconnected from friends and family, work colleagues and children, the expectations to behave in certain set ways are entirely gone. Apart from walking, how you fill your mind and time is yours to decide. Who you are, really, has the space to become who you are, actually. This helps people be more interesting, happy, and beautiful.

 

Pilgrimage is a cultural practice that aims to normalise taking 3 weeks ‘off’, to walk through beautiful countryside with only the possessions you carry, meeting strangers and making friends, among the weather and the landscape, with your blood flowing and muscles moving as they were made to do. If we can make this a reality in Britain, we’ll simply have better lives.

 

Pilgrimage is not made irrelevant by the modern world. The more crazy, digital, sedentary and fearful our modern world becomes, the more relevant and timely is pilgrimage as a clarion of health and sanity.

 

 

FHR: I was particularly interested to hear about your discovery of the old pilgrimage route from Southampton to Canterbury. This comes at a time when the work of Shirley Collins with her deep connection to the South Downs landscape is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. Some Revivalists will also be familiar with Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion which charts a series of explorations of myths and forgotten histories across the South Downs of Hampshire and Sussex. With Rupert Sheldrake as one of your Trustees I am tempted to see these connections as a form of morphic resonance! Can you tell us a bit about this route and any reflections you might have on associated connections and synchronicities.

 

It may be morphic resonance – or it might be because all these people are based in London and the South East, for whom Sussex is the local fay space.

 

The Old Way route I found on the Gough Map, Britain’s oldest road map. The truth is, I only found this by following Daily Mail clickbait. But that’s how everyday synchronicity works.

 

Pilgrimage, as a connective activity, naturally encourages co-incidence and syn-chrony.  This is the whole point. It forms connections. The pilgrim becomes the connective ligament between places, communities and landscapes, and the journey becomes s connective metaphor for the pilgrims whole existence. If you are a follower of faith, the journey will bring you closer to your God. This is how pilgrimage functions. It forms connections, slowly, thoroughly, and on foot.

 

The Old Way route is Europe’s pilgrimage route to Canterbury. It was erased from history by Henry VIII, but thankfully this wonderful Gough Map survived to show its path. It connects Southampton with Cantebury, and it has been plotted to follow the best possible path. The BPT mantra for route-planning is ‘Maximum Holy, Minimum Road’. Old Way is launching in 2020. I’m currently writing the guidebook. I think it ‘may’ become one of the world’s best-loved caminos. Watch this space.

 

 

FHR: In addition to more established notions of ‘folk horror’ FHR also explores psychogeography, hauntology, folklore, cultural rituals and costume, earth mysteries, archaic history, hauntings, Southern Gothic, ‘landscapism/visionary naturalism & geography’, backwoods, murder ballads, carnivalia, dark psychedelia, wyrd Forteana and other strange edges. Are there any experiences which you have had during your various pilgrimages which speak to the theme of the haunted landscape?

 

Dark and light are strange bedfellows. Through pilgrimage, I have slept in long barrows and haunted houses, have drunk from holy wells and river sources, have sung in caves, chapels and hollow trees, to cows, snails, nightingales, refugees, madmen and Princes. I have been given food, shelter, symbols, songs, maps, lessons, animals, quests, and (once) a diamond. I have followed rivers from source to sea, and sung to their every tributary. I’ve made pilgrimage to battle sites, river confluences, hilltops, graves, pubs, hedges, trees, cathedrals, people, and an invisible palace (once). I’ve met prostitutes, mercenaries, psychics and oil tycoons. Once, I met a giant, and surrendered it my life. There have been several ghosts, and possibly one angel.

 

But the strangest thing that has ever happened, and the oddest encounter I have ever experienced as a wandering minstrel or a pilgrim, is me. Being me is the strangest challenge of my life. But it’s also pretty much the only thing I have any choice over.  I think we all know this.

 

FHR: Do you have some final reflections for Folk Horror Revivalists?

 

I’d like to leave this interview with a core message. You are already a pilgrim. And there is a journey that you already know you need to make.  So name the place that may offer your hoped-for wholeness, the completeness you lack. This is your destination, and a holy place.  Then tell yourself what answer or blessing you seek. This is your intention, and you should hold it closely. Then walk. Carry your intention to your destination, and when the two meet, connection will be made.

 

That’s pilgrimage, in a nut-shell. And now the tradition is as much yours as mine.

 

See you on the path. Walk well.

 

 

FHR Footnote: In March 2020 Will Parsons announced that he was standing down from his role at the British Pilgrimage Trust in order to follow other paths. One of these is the path from his home in Canterbury to Anglesey (and back), his aim being to connect these two great centres of British spirituality. His journey can be followed at @willwalking. Folk Horror Revival wishes Will all the best in his future travels.

Mysteries of Portsmouth : Review

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Local history books have always been a great source of folklore and Fortean material and it is always a pleasure to delve into one which concentrates on the weirder aspects of certain locales. A fine addition to the canon is Mysteries of Portsmouth by Matt Wingett.

Covering the area of Portsmouth, an island city on the south coast of England, we are of course treated to sea monsters and maritime tales but there is a wealth of other oddities that have come to haunt the lore of Pompey (as the city is affectionately known) so within its splendidly illustrated pages, Wingett treats us to UFOS, Egyptian curses, spiritualists & fortune-tellers, witches and many ghosts as well as other diverse oddities.

There is a much data covered verbatim from old newspapers which is culturally interesting to see how strange phenomenon was covered by local press in bygone times and the book will be of interest to local historians and other people from the area as well as visitors, folklorists, Forteans and other curiosity-seekers from further afield.

A thoroughly interesting, well researched and nicely presented addition to the British folklore shelves.

Available now from here – https://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk/product/mysteries-of-portsmouth-by-matt-wingett

Also available from Amazon and other booksellers

Read an Interview with the author here

Interview with Jackie Morris

 

Jackie Morris is a British writer and illustrator whose work is informed by a deep love of the natural world. Her books have been published in fourteen languages and The Lost Words, which she illustrated was voted the most beautiful book of 2016 by UK booksellers. She lives in Pembrokeshire by the sea and is fascinated by bears and myths of transformation.  Folk Horror Revival’s John Pilgrim was pleased to catch up with Jackie last year to make the following enquiries about her world.

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FHR: Let me firstly provide a bit of context for those Folk Horror Revivalists who may not be familiar with The Lost Worlds by quoting from the cover jacket of the book.

 

“All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.”

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FHR: The Lost Words has enchanted many people in the deepest sense of the word. Can you share some stories about the effect which it has had on people. How has their understanding and experience of the natural world changed?

 

JM: Since the launch of The Lost Words at Foyles in 2017 it has taken on a life of its own. Robert and I are both astonished and heart-glad at the way it has been taken into people’s hearts and homes. There have been so many tales sent to us, of how people have shared it with loved ones living with dementia, of how it has helped people to cope with depression, of how it links generations in families, how teachers respond to it, and children also.

 

It has an amazing wild life. I love how people send us pictures of the book outside in the world, tucked up with children, the work that children have done with the book as catalyst.

 

 

FHR: The introduction to The Lost Words warns us that the rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from children’s minds. It’s been inspiring to see the efforts that have been made to make the book freely available to children through schools and libraries. Can you tell us some more about this?

 

JM: It began with a tweet from a lady in Scotland who saw how the book could connect children to nature again.  She made it her mission to crowdfund to place a book in every school in Scotland.  Her success snowballed into several other campaigns, and I think the Explorer’s Notes, which are a wonderful guide to using the book in schools, also helped with this. Now almost half of the UK schools, hospices over the whole of the UK, care homes in Wales and other institutions have been gifted the book by what has grown to be a great community of crowdfunders. Their energy and enthusiasm for the book and for working beyond its pages to reconnect the lives of children and adults to the more than human world around us all is wonderful.

FHR:  The notion of wild imagination and wild play is one that strikes a chord – are there signs of hope in rekindling wildness which you’ve become aware of?

 

JM: The young people who are rising up against the ignorance, arrogance and greed of older generations gives me hope. The new wave of politically minded and erudite youngsters put our politicians and their self-serving party politics to shame.

 

 

FHR: What role does myth and folklore play in your artistic practice and experience of the natural world?

 

In the same way that some people see themselves as set apart from the natural world, when they are in fact only the tiniest part of the wonderful biosphere, so are storytellers the new myth makers. As a species we are hardwired to learn through the power of story.

I write, I illustrate, to try and make sense of the crazy world we live in, and my hope is that in so doing I help other people to do the same. And there are some powerful minds working in the field at the moment. Richard Powers’ Overstory is a case in point, teaching people to see, really see, and seek out the trees that every day are taken for granted.

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FHR: Having been being fascinated by peregrines as a boy while on holiday in Pembrokeshire I loved your book Queen of the Sky.   For those who aren’t familiar with this book, could you say a little about the themes which you explore here?

 

JM: Queen of the Sky is a book about how a friend of mine found and rescued a wild peregrine falcon and released her back into the wild. It’s a story of great patience. A love story in a way, but one where something is loved so much that the person who loves it sets it free, to be as it should be. It’s a story about respect. And if H is for Hawk is a tale of how a woman was saved by a hawk, this is a tale of how a hawk is saved by a woman.

 

FHR: What landscapes particularly inspire you?

JM: Terrestrial. Including the ocean, above and below.

 

FHR: I read that you have been learning to work with wood engravings. How has this been for you?

 

JM: I’ve moved away from wood engravings. My eyesight is perhaps not good enough for the fine detail. But also my language is liquid and sumi ink has taken over as my medium of choice. But as with everything it takes a lifetime to master. But I am learning.

FHR:  In his book Being a Beast Charles Foster relays his experiences of seeking to live as animals such as badgers and foxes. I’m not sure whether you would want to go as far as eating worms as Foster has done, but I sense that through your art you are seeking to bring us closer to animals as fellow spirits?

 

JM: I’ve not read it yet. I wanted to be a bear when I was young, but would happily become an otter. And most of my work is about shapeshifting.

FHR: To what extent do you think it is important to acknowledge that despite its beauty nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’?  Are there dangers in projecting human characteristics on to animals?

 

JM: I’m not a fan of ego-centric anthropomorphism if that’s what you mean. Is nature ‘red in tooth and claw’? That implies some morality? It’s not always kind. But we know so little about the world around us. It has so much to teach us. We just need to listen.

 

 

FHR: Which fellow artists and writers do you admire?

 

JM: So many. I love Robin Hobb’s books. Robert Macfarlane is an exceptional writer, and I need to explore Richard Powers more. John Irving has long been a favourite of mine.  Katherine Arden, James Mayhew, Brian Wildsmith, Chagall, Tunnicliffe, Alan Garner, Shaun Tan, Frieda Kahlo, Tom Bullough. Nicola Bailey, oh, so many. Picasso.  Look at me with my gender imbalance of people who spring to mind! (Though Robin Hobb is a woman, who writes under a gender-neutral name, because many men don’t read books by women.)

 

 

FHR: What are you working on at the moment and what projects would you like to take forward in the future?

 

JM: I’m working with the finest group of musicians to make a cd/lp and show built around The Lost Words. I’m working on a book that was written almost a century ago, writing a forward to re-introduce it to the world and painting images to decorate/illustrate it [now published as The House Without Windows]. I’m working on a book called The Keeper of Lost Dreams that I hope will be a catalyst for dreaming and a solace for troubled souls in our curious and turbulent times. And I am beginning to work on a new book with Robert, but that’s under wraps at the moment until we understand more of what it is that we are making [Ed: this has now been published as The Lost Spells; other recent publications include Mrs Noah’s Garden, with James Mayhew, published by Otter-Barry Books and The Secret of the Tattered Shoes with Ehsan Abdollahi, a wonderful Iranian illustrator, published by Tiny Owl.]

 

I’m also trying to take time to open my eyes to the wonderful wild world around me, wide as wide can be, and understand what is important, what time is, and how to live.

 

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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Winter Ghosts Musical Lineup

With our Winter Ghosts event just days away we have decided that it feels appropriate to collate all the information about our musical acts for you. A little taster of what you can expect from the evening session and another chance for me to gush about the wealth of astonishing musical talent we have cajoled into performing for us in what promises to be a quite brilliant and intimate setting. Anyway, without further ado here we go.

The Soulless Party

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Our Master of Ceremonies Chris Lambert will be covering double duties this weekend and I can assure you he and his partner in crime Kev Oyston, who makes up the other half of The Soulless Party have a real treat in store for Revivalists this Saturday.

Formed in 2013 Chris and Kev have worked tirelessly to bring the mysteries and secrets of the Black Meadow into the public eye. As everyone knows The Black Meadow is located just a few miles from Whitby on the outskirts of the village of Sleights. A strange place where, it is said, that if the mist rises a village will appear. This a place populated by tales of horse-men, meadow hags, land spheres, rag and bone men, maidens of mist, strange rituals and unexplained phenomena. It is no coincidence that this is where the MOD chose to put one of their bases – RAF Fylingdales whose strange Golf Ball Radomes dominated the landscape until the early 1990’s. The Soulless Party will launch their new collection of findings at Whitby Ghosts as they share a haunting mix of music, song, stories, images and interviews. This will be a hauntological experience in which folk horror meets urban legend through the medium of electronica tinged memory and dream.

Find out more about Black Meadow and The Soulless Party by visiting:

http://www.blackmeadowtales.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.thesoullessparty.bandcamp.com

 

Big Hogg

Next up we have Scottish progressive rockers Big Hogg,  a 6 piece Canterbury influenced group mixing threads of acid folk , Dr John , Kevin Ayers and 60s and 70s west coast psych. They released their eponymous debut album on Neon Tetra in 2015 and built up a glowing live reputation following shows at the Barrowlands , Rockaway Beach ,Wickerman and Eden festivals. In 2017 they signed with London label BEM who released their critically acclaimed “Gargoyles” album in May of that year. Record Collector magazine described it as ” An epic fantasia through Glasgow’s grimy underbelly with tumbling brass and suspended jazz chords” , while prog magazine describes them as ” masters of weaving an aural tapestry of influences together to create some suitably brilliant and uplifting music in the true spirit of the Canterbury pioneers” The band are currently recording their third album.

Of added interest to Revivalists is the fact that one of our favourite artists, the supremely talented Julia Jeffrey supplied typically outstanding artwork for both albums. On top of that band leader and guitarist Justin Lumsden is also responsible for the rather excellent Duke ’72 who made their vinyl debut earlier this year with “The Mid Shire’s Herald” as well as working alongside Gillian Chadwick on Ex Reverie’s rather excellent 2019 release “Isobel Gowdie”. We can’t wait to unleash them on Whitby.

https://bighogg.bandcamp.com/

 

Burd Ellen

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Finally, our headline act is the sensational Burd Ellen, the new solo project from Debbie Armour (Alasdair Roberts, Green Ribbons, Alex Rex) featuring Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Barrett’s Dottled Beauty) and Lucy Duncan (Luki). The group uses traditional song to explore and evoke dark landscapes and deep stories. Innovative instrumentation, drone and sound-wash support detailed vocal work to create a unique sonic atmosphere.

Burd Ellen self-released their debut album SILVER CAME in Feb 2019, on limited edition CD. A record exploring women’s narratives in British folk song, SILVER CAME investigates ideas of persistence, defiance, devotion and transformation. The album was recorded by Jer Reid (Painted X-Ray, Claquer, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra) over two days in the rehearsal space of Glasgow Theatre Arts Collective.

I was lucky enough to catch them performing live in Newcastle earlier this year and was blown away by their unique sound.  Debbie Armour has an astonishing voice, and is backed so beautifully by Gayle and Lucy. If you’re still considering whether to attend or not they are planning a special seasonal setlist just for Winter Ghosts, you may not get another chance to see this one again.

“sonically adventurous … with an emotional range and a raw inventiveness which is all too rare in contemporary folk circles.” – Alex Neilson
“A masterclass in shimmering, ethereal folk music… Cannot recommend highly enough” – Kyle Lonsdale, Earth Recordings

burdellen.com – burdellen.bandcamp.com
Sweet Lemany music video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSRB5Vsvx2A 

So that’s prett much it, other than to say that after our bands finish I (Darren Charles) shall be spinning some tunes for your terpsichorian pleasure before we finish the evening with our short films. I’ll be covering all musical bases from folk, acid rock and prog, to goth, metal and electronica and everything in between. I will be hoping to get you all up on the dance floor for some Folk Horror inspired tunes.

Tickets will remain available until 6pm on Friday evening when they will be removed from sale, however we will have some availability to pay on the door for the same price of £13 for all day and £7 for the evening session.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442

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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

Article shared from here

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

Folk Horror Revival – Winter Ghosts 2019 – First Announcement!

This December, Folk Horror Revival, will be returning to Whitby for our second Winter Ghosts event. The all day happening takes place at the Metropole ballroom, on December 14th 2019. The event will run from 1pm until after midnight and features some truly outstanding talks, stories, music, films and much, much more besides. The lineup itself has been handpicked by our team, and features some truly incredible talent that we simply can’t wait for you to see.

It is with much excitement that we would like to announce Al Ridenour as our first guest.

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Explore the authentic folklore, history and contemporary practices associated with the Krampus with Al Ridenour, author of The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas and
preeminent English-language expert on the subject. Ridenour’s lively presentation,
illustrated with slides, archival video (and a drop-in by a LIVE KRAMPUS) reveals how
this often-misunderstood figure is connected to centuries-old witchcraft beliefs and an
older darker understanding of the Christmas season as a time offering access to the spirit
world. Now in its second printing, The Krampus was described by LA Times’ books critic
Elizabeth as “gleefully erudite,” and a book that “deserves to become a classic.”
Ridenour is also a producer of Krampus events in Los Angeles, an artist and mask-maker,
and host of the folk-horror podcast, Bone and Sickle.

Home

https://www.boneandsickle.com/

Joining Al for more Krampus related fun and frolics will be Whitby’s very own Elaine Edmunds and Laurence Mitchell of Decadent Drawing, organisers of the annual Whitby Krampus run that takes place each December, and raises much needed funds for The Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary.

https://www.decadentdrawing.com/

 

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We don’t want to say too much at this stage, but we can promise Al, Elaine and Laurence have something a little special planned for Winter Ghosts, and we can’t wait for you all to see it.

Our first musical addition to the lineup is the sensational Burd Ellen, the new solo project from Debbie Armour (Alasdair Roberts, Green Ribbons, Alex Rex) featuring Gayle Brogan (Pefkin, Barrett’s Dottled Beauty) and Lucy Duncan (Luki). The group uses traditional song to explore and evoke dark landscapes and deep stories. Innovative instrumentation, drone and sound-wash support detailed vocal work to create a unique sonic atmosphere.
Image result for burd ellen

Burd Ellen self-released their debut album SILVER CAME in Feb 2019, on limited edition CD. A record exploring women’s narratives in British folk song, SILVER CAME investigates ideas of persistence, defiance, devotion and transformation. The album was recorded by Jer Reid (Painted X-Ray, Claquer, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra) over two days in the rehearsal space of Glasgow Theatre Arts Collective.

Burd_Ellen_groupshot_by_Maiken_Kildegaard_final.jpg

“sonically adventurous … with an emotional range and a raw inventiveness which is all too rare in contemporary folk circles.” – Alex Neilson
“A masterclass in shimmering, ethereal folk music… Cannot recommend highly enough” – Kyle Lonsdale, Earth Recordings

burdellen.com – burdellen.bandcamp.com
Sweet Lemany music video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSRB5Vsvx2A

Our final guest for this first announcement is George Cromack, a writer, sessional tutor and lecturer whose core subject areas are creative fiction, specifically Scriptwriting for film & T.V, and Film Studies. For almost ten years George taught on a number of programmes at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus – including modules on their Creative Writing Degree. It was during this time he developed his interest in what has become widely known as the Folk Horror genre, the subject of his film based PhD thesis, delivering a paper on some of its narrative conventions at the Fiend in the Furrows Conference in Belfast.  A keen advocate of adult and community education, George also teaches evening classes in Film Studies & Creative Writing for the local Scarborough branch of the WEA and introduces the occasional film screening at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Recently one of his fictional short stories was included in Terrors Tales for a Winter’s Eve, a small collection of ghostly tales from local writers.

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George’s talk ‘Home for the Holidays’ will take inspiration from adaptations of popular children’s stories in film and television such as The Children of Green Knowe, Moondial and the Amazing Mr Blunden examining their use of the ‘time slip’ narrative, notions of ‘ancestral mystery’ and speculating on their appeal.

Right that’s it for now, we’ve much more still to come, so please keep checking back for further announcements. Tickets are available from the link below priced at £13 for the full day and £7 for the evening. So what are you waiting for, grab your tickets now while stocks last.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442.ant

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An Interview with David Bramwell, on his upcoming Cult of Water show.

David Bramwell is a name familiar to many Revivalists, his Singalong-A-Wicker Man show has become almost legendary in our little corner of the internet. David is an incredibly busy and talented man. He has produced programmes for BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, he gives talks and performs one man shows on a variety of fascinating topics from tricksters to ghost villages. He also co-hosts the Odditorium, a rather splendid podcast based around the book of the same name, one of several that he has co-written with Jo Tinsley (formerly Keeling). We could go on, David’s achievements are many and varied, but they are always interesting and always done with an incredible sense of joy. His latest one man show The Cult of Water opens at the Soho Theatre in London on the 28th January, and I was lucky enough to catch up with David for a chat about this new show and a few other interesting titbits Revivalists may enjoy.

 

 

FHR: Hi David, can you tell us a little bit about your new show, The Cult of Water? Would it be fair to describe it as a psychogeographical journey around the waterways of the Yorkshire of your youth, or is that perhaps a little too simplistic a reading of it?

 

David: That’s a pretty good summary. I grew up in Doncaster. It’s a personal journey up the river Don – told through story, music and and archive film – in search of the supernatural secrets of our inland waterways and to uncover a mystery concerning the drowned village at Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire. It’s also a journey back through time to the source of the Don and an age of water worship; the Don originally took its name from the water goddess, Danu.

Along the way I learn about hydromancy from magician Alan Moore, encounter Jarvis Cocker on his own adventures sailing down the Don on an inflatable inner tube, and come face to face with ‘the spirit of dark and lonely water’ from the old public information film of the 70s.

I also uncover the story of artist Mark Golding who, with the help of LSD, unearthed a sacred spring in Hastings – believed to have been frequented by Aleister Crowley – and whose waters saved his son from a terminal lung disease.

At the heart of The Cult of Water is an exploration of the symbolism around water, its association with feminine power and the profound ways in which the elements affect our psyche.

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-cult-of-water/

 

 

FHR: I believe you’re being joined in the show by folklorist Chris Roberts who is going to discuss the lost rivers of London? This sounds like a fascinating talk in its own right. What can you tell our readers about Chris and his work?

 

David: Chris is a South London based tour guide, author and expert on many aspects of London folklore and history. Most of his walks are river focused, whether Thames or other, and all of them are rich with legends of the city. He’s written a book (Cross River Traffic) on the history of London’ Bridges and articles on the lost gods of the river as well as delivering talks on the folktales associated with London’s water from feral swine in the Fleet to sacred wells to Saxon goddesses and the ongoing religious rites on the Thames from the Jewish, Pagan, Christian and Hindu traditions.  He was folklore consultant for Stella Duffy’s theatrical piece Taniwha Thames in which a New Zealand river spirit follows a ship back to London and takes up residency under Waterloo Bridge.

 

In 2007 Chris founded the magazine One Eyed Grey, which took many of London’s old myths and legends – such as the legendary shape shifting sorceress of the sewers and hidden rivers Queen Rat – and re-imagined them in a modern context. It culminated for the two of us in a collaboration for Radio 4, a programme called London Nights, in which Chris did the heavy lifting in actually writing the stories while I read them out in my best Martin Jarvis. These stories featured a ghost boat on the Thames and a mermaid at Brockwell Park Lido. Brockwell lido is sort of Chris’s unofficial office, all year round. He’s a water baby. And made of hardier stuff than me.

 

FHR: Can I ask what inspired you to write this show now? Is this something that has been on your mind for some time or was it triggered by recent events in your life?

 

David: I’ve wrestled all my life with thalassophobia – the fear of large bodies of water – and wanted to confront this fear. In the last ten years I went down a rabbit hole researching water cults, sacred springs and wells. I wanted to pay my respect to water. I also became interested in the idea of following a river back to its source. I knew if I was going to make this journey as a pilgrimage it’d have to be along the river Don where I grew up, to search for its lost water goddess and to trace its biological and metaphorical death and resurrection over the millennia. When I discovered that Sheffield adopted Vulcan – the Roman god of fire and forge – as its mascot in the 1800s, the story began to catalyse as a mythic battle of the sexes: goddess of water vs god of fire. During the industrial revolution Danu was the equivalent of a princess locked in a tower and being force-fed MacDonalds for 200 years.

I also wanted to draw on my experiences of being haunted by the image of the drowned church of Ladybower Reservoir poking through the waters during the drought and ladybird plague of 1976. This led to a deeper exploration of the symbolism of stone and water, lines and circles, male and female, the line and circle and finally binary code. I figured if I tell this story and make amends for Vulcan then thalassophobia might loosen its grip. (It has).

In terms of how I wanted to tell the story, Alan Moore’s live spoken performances with music – Snakes and Ladders, The Birth Caul and Highbury Working – were a big influence. When he agreed to provide his voice for some of the Cult of Water I was over the moon. The central premise of his novel Jerusalem seems to be that in staying put anywhere (in his case Northampton) and digging deep enough, all the meaning and myths are there, as long as you know how and where to look. It’s the same with Alan Garner remaining in Alderely Edge for sixty-odd years and mining a different kind of landscape for stories. If Moore could rewrite Northampton as Jerusalem I figured it was time to try my hand at doing that with my old home town of Doncaster.

FHR: I believe the show is directed by Daisy Campbell, the daughter of theatre legend Ken Campbell. Have you known each other for some time, or did you specifically come together with this project in mind?

David: My first solo show, The Haunted Moustache, which delved into magic, spiritualism and the occult, was created with Ken Campbell’s help. I got to know Daisy because of Ken. She’s been a friend for many years. We’re currently collaborating on a podcast series, making her dad’s vast archive of recorded one-man shows available for the first time. Being a seeker, Daisy was the obvious choice for directing this show.

 

FHR: I believe you have worked on a number of broadcasts for both BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 including a programme about the legendary Ivor Cutler. Can you tell us about any amusing encounters you may have had with him?

 

David: In the mid-90s I sent some scribblings to the poet Ian MacMillan who, at the time, had a slot on the Mark and Lard show on BBC Radio One. Ian seemed to like my poems so I sent a bunch to my hero Ivor Cutler. Cutler was less than enthusiastic and suggested I do something useful with my life instead, such as ‘becoming a teacher or a botanist’. He was right of course, my poetry was awful. But it’s hard getting a rejection letter from your hero.

20 years on I’d started presenting programmes for Radio 4 and got a call from a producer saying that she was considering me as presenter for an Archive Hour on Ivor Cutler and offered me a minute on the phone to ‘sell myself’. I thought for a moment then remembered the rejection letter from Ivor. ‘Do you still have it?’ she asked. ‘I dug it out, read it to her and got the job. So thanks inadvertently to Ivor, I got to make a documentary about him, meet his friends and family and even perform live on one of his harmoniums. If Ivor had still been alive to hear the programme I’m sure I’d have received another rejection letter.

FHR: Many of us know you from your rather wonderful and always well received Singalong-A-Wickerman show. What have been the strangest things to have happened during the various performances of this show? Do you think you were able to invoke something of the ritual spirit that infused the original film?

 

David: Things got strange when, ten years ago, the director Robin Hardy started showing up at our gigs, sometimes with wife and family in tow. I never imagined I’d be leading the director of the Wicker Man in the actions to the Maypole Dance. It was delight to have Robin’s support for the show but it was always a bit odd him being there; we do at times, gently take the piss out of some of the clunky dialogue in the film. The relationship culminated in us us doing the show with Robin in the Elengowan Hotel in Dumfries and Galloway, which is where all the original bar scenes were shot.

Over the years we’ve also had several individuals overcome with the desire to re-enact the naked scenes from Willow’s Song on stage with us. It’s always men. And someone in Belfast once threatened to shoot me for blasphemy. My blood turned cold when he whispered into my ear: ‘I’ve killed before and I’’d kill again.’ I believed him.

 

 

FHR: Beyond adapting The Wicker Man as a sing-a-long. Can I ask you about how the ideas of Folk Horror have influenced your work in general? Are there specific artists, film makers and writers whose work has particularly been influential to you or do you draw more inspiration from the countryside around you?

David: Folk Horror has been, and continues to be, a huge inspiration. Like many of a certain age I really was scarred for life by the spirit of dark and lonely water and haunted by TV programmes like Children of the Stones. I love the unsettled atmosphere of Garner’s work and films like The Shout, Penda’s Fen. And of course The Wicker Man, despite having watched it now over 100 times. More recently the work of Peter Strickland and films like November show the genre is evolving.

There’s a line by Alan Moore that I’ve used in The Cult of Water and also in a track by my band Oddfellow’s Casino: we have wandered too far from some ancient totem. Something central to us that we have misplaced and must find our way back to, following a hair of meaning.’  For me, Folk Horror re-connects us to an age of magic, when everything was imbued with meaning. For me at least, the dark heart of Folk Horror beats strongly in The Cult of Water.

 

 

Thank you to David for speaking to us at FHR, and if you want to buy tickets for The Cult of Water they are available now from the Soho Theatre priced from £10. Just head along to the link below.

 

https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-cult-of-water/

You can also check out David’s own website for more information on David and any future events or shows.

http://www.drbramwell.com/