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

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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

Urban Wyrd : Spirits of Time and Place

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Now available from Wyrd Harvest Press
Folk Horror Revival – Urban Wyrd: 1. Spirits of Time

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Discover Hauntology, Weird Technology & Transport, Hauntings and much much more in the realms of TV, Film, Literature, Art, Culture , Lore and Life. Travel in time and spaces with Adam Scovell, Stephen Volk, Scarfolk, Julianne Regan, Sebastian Backziewicz, Sara Hannant, The Black Meadow and many other contributors.

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Folk Horror Revival – UrbanWyrd: 2. Spirits of Place

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Urban Wyrd – Spirits of Place. Discover within its winding streets Psychogeography, Genii Loci, Edgelands, Urban Exploration, Weird Places and many other strange matters within film, TV, music, literature, life and culture. Perambulate in the company of such contributors as Will Self, K.A. Laity, Bob Fischer, Iain Sinclair, Diane A. Rodgers, John Coulthart, Karl Bell and many many more.

Available now from –

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100% of profits from FHR / Wyrd Harvest Press books sold in our Lulu store is charitably donated at intervals to different environmental, wildlife and community projects undertaken by the Wildlife Trusts.

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NEW BOOKS: Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd Spirits of Time + Place

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2: Spirits of Place

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Launch offer 35% Discount on each book

(20% added automatically – to gain a further 15% Discount enter code  ONEFIVE  at checkout – Code valid until end of 27th June 2019)

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Contents – (to enlarge when viewing on computer – right click – view image)

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An Interview With Sara Hannant

Folk Horror Revival is pleased to have put a few questions to accomplished photographer Sara Hannant …

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Folk Horror Revival: Hi Sara, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Firstly, could you tell our readers a little about yourself, your inspirations and how you came to become a photographer?

Sara Hannant: Photographs can transport you to other times and places.  That capacity for reverie and storytelling has always fascinated me.  When I first started making pictures, I wanted to tell stories about people or experiences that I felt had previously been misrepresented.  I initiated collaborative portraiture projects so that the people I photographed actively contributed to making the image.  While I was an art student at Dartington College of Arts, I worked with Gypsies and Travellers to portray their daily life, which was very different from how they were shown in the local press.  The exhibition Pictures of Ourselves was shown at Plymouth Arts Centre alongside Gypsies by the Magnum photographer Joseph Koudelka.  Seeing the emotional power of Koudelka’s work prompted me to study documentary photography at Newport College of Art.  After completing the course, I worked as a professional photographer for national papers and magazines, and charities in the UK and abroad, mainly on commissions about social issues.  Through experimental approaches, I continue to investigate how the photographic image can alter the perception and reception of subjects that are misunderstood or overlooked.

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Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers, Staffordshire

FHR: Your book Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the Ritual Year is a thorough and intriguing photo essay of traditional / contemporary English festivals and ceremonies. How did this book arise and were there any rites and rituals that particularly struck a personal chord with you?

SH: Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the Ritual Year started with a chance encounter in 2006 with Deptford Jack in the Green.  This discovery instigated my country-wide search for similar seasonal rites occurring through the wheel of the year.  I became interested in rituals which claim an ancient origin as well as those which are re-imagined or re-invented.  I am particularly fond of the fire festivals which light up the dark midwinter nights such as those at Ottery St Mary, Allendale and Lewes.  I also love the way the summer is welcomed in with performances of the Hal-an-tow in Helston Cornwall.  I aimed to capture the excitement and mystery of seasonal rites while celebrating the enduring social relevance of these popular customs for rural and urban communities.  I am delighted that Merrell published the book and the Horniman Museum showed the exhibition for nearly a year and subsequently toured the show.  It is the first British ethnographic exhibition that the museum has shown and the first to normalise representations of Paganism as part of English society.

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Burning effigies of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, Cliffe Bonfire Society, Lewes, Sussex

FHR: Are there any other festivals or rituals from anywhere around the world you would especially like to capture and perhaps produce a book upon?

SH: Before Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the Ritual Year, I had documented community festivals in Mexico, India and Prague and felt it was time to explore the rich folklore closer to home.  There are many more contemporary British folkloric practices I would like to photograph.  I had thought of extending Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the Ritual Year to produce subsequent books that explore seasonal rites in the rest of the UK and I have made a start on this.

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Baphomet, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

FHR: Another of your books Of Shadows captures One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic contains some very beguiling objects and artefacts; which are your personal favourite pieces from the collection and were there any objects that gave you the creeps or otherwise gave you a particular feeling whilst in their presence?

SH: Yes, the museum is full of enchanted objects some of which appear to have an intense presence, especially at night.  However, all of the artefacts in the museum have a resonance whether it’s because of their original magical use, the intentions bound into their making or the undeniable materiality of magical belief.  There were times when this potency felt palpable, particularly with objects once used in rituals or to represent ritual practice such as Baphomet/Old Horny.  The objects made to harness natural or spirit forces were captivating and often embodied ancient knowledge.  One of my favourite pieces is an example of the knot magic used by local witches when ‘Selling the wind’ to sailors.  The implements of torture used during the Witch Trials gave me the creeps!

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Skull used for Ritual Magic, Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

FHR: The format and style taken in Of Shadows is very effective. It gives the items a presence as if their portraits and biographies are granted rather than simply catalogued. Are there any other museum or gallery collections you would like to similarly present?

SH: Thank you, I felt privileged to engage with the magical objects and their hidden histories.  Several collections fascinate me including those at the Horniman, Petrie and Cuming Museums.  Once objects are removed from their original context, it is a challenge to rekindle some of their original properties.  I enjoy responding to those traces of energy which remain in the material.

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Rapunzel

FHR:  On your website you have some other beautiful and bewitching albums. Numinous is very well named as the images have a certain unearthly, spiritual allure whilst Ladybird, ladybird and Cinderella: Your House is on Fire combine nostalgia with the somewhat sinister and visually seductive encroachment of flames. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind these images?

SH: Both of these projects reveal the process by which one thing, through intention, becomes another.  Numinous is inspired by healing rituals at sacred wells in Cornwall.  The images are deliberately ambiguous and explore magical belief and transformation.  In folklore, a strip of cloth or ‘cloutie’ is torn from a person’s garment, dipped into the well then hung on a nearby tree.  As it falls to the earth and rots, it is believed the illness will disappear. The cloths are said to connect to the divine power or spirits thought to inhabit the sacred place. Unfortunately, some people leave fabrics that will not biodegrade, and the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network consequently removes the offerings.  I have re-animated these discarded cloths using natural forces in keeping with the folk magic, symbolised by the classical elements.

Cinderella: Your House is on Fire and Ladybird, ladybird question the agency of the persecuted heroine in fairy tales.  On rediscovering my childhood copy of Cinderella, I felt compelled to revise the stereotyped images of the female protagonist to tell a different story.  Fire—a symbol of hearth and home, destruction, trial, purging, and purification seemed like the ideal agent for change.  As the pages burn, images and text are revealed or juxtaposed, re-visioning old stereotypes to enable new ideas and narratives.

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Remembering

FHR: Finally, could you tell us any other photographers and artists whose work inspires or speaks to you? Also, what are you currently working on and what projects do you have planned or are considering for the future?

SH: I admire many photographers and artists from a variety of genres.  Research into other disciplines such as history, folklore and magic also inform and inspire my practice.  I am currently working on a book Touching Witchcraft and Sorcery with the folklorist Jeremy Harte.  We have gone into the archives, into the forgotten places, to catch stories of witchcraft in tale and image.  My work is included in two upcoming exhibitions at Gallery Valid Foto in Madrid from May 8-25th Women Photographer’s Now: 12th Julia Margaret Cameron Award and the 12th Pollux Award.  In July, I will be showing a Moon inspired exhibition at Charlton House in London as part of the Moon Festival which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.

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The Fool, Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, Staffordshire

All Photography © Sara Hannant
https://www.sarahannant.com/

https://www.sarahannant.com/book/

Folklore Thursday: The Rye Wolf & The Tit Wife … and Other Tastes of Ergot

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Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) is a fungal parasite of grasses and cereal crops, particularly Rye, which if cooked and ingested, generally as bread, can cause wild symptoms including the sensation of burning of the limbs, gangrene necrosis of the flesh, intense hallucinations, miscarriage in pregnant women, and in the extreme, a horrific painful death.

Ergotism is sometimes known as Holy Fire or Saint Anthony’s Fire, named after the hermitic Desert Father Saint Anthony of Egypt, renowned for the visions of seduction and terror that he endured whilst in the solitude of devotion. The monks of the Order of St Anthony were said to be very skilled in dealing with Ergotism victims.

Convulsive Ergotism due to its profound symptoms and hallucinatory influence, has also been suggested as the possible cause of several outbreaks of Werewolf and Witch Hysteria in Europe, including the instance of Elfdale and Mora in 17th Century Sweden, whereupon a number of people were executed upon the testimony of children. The English Anglian Witch-hunts and also the infamous Witch-trial of Salem in 1692 have also been suggested as possible cases of Ergot infestation. Regarding the latter it was said that the New England founding fathers reputedly preferred bread made from Rye rather than the native Maize (which does not become infected by Ergot).

In Germanic and East European lore, Ergot is associated with the Crone-goddess, Roggenmutter ~ the Rye Mother. (Known also as the Iron Woman, Rugia Boba and the Tit-Wife, there has been comparison drawn to Baba Yaga, the witch of numerous Russian folktales). It is said that
the Rye Mother will lure children to the grain fields and suckle them upon her iron, Ergotamine-tainted nipples, causing them to become wild and insane.

Ergot and the Rye was also associated with wolves and included amongst the many colloquial names for Ergot are Roggenwulf (Rye Wolf), Wulfzahn (Wolf’s tooth) and Roggunhund (Rye Dog). An old Germanic saying states “The werewolf sits amid the grain.” It may be a cruel coincidence that in the harshest weather where the poor may have had no choice but to eat tainted bread (Ergot infestation also causes a considered drop in yield) were also the same conditions which may have forced starving wolves to enter the towns and villages.

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It has suggested that the name of the mythical Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf, translates as ‘Barley Wolf’. He is of course remembered for his battles against woeful otherworldly monsters.

Though apparent accounts of Ergotism date back to 857AD and there is theory that the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians were well aware of the properties of the unassuming smut on grass and folklore had drawn the association between the tainted cereal and the malady, science started to draw the link between fungus and symptoms in the 18th Century, and it wasn’t until the 20th Century that proper research was conducted upon Ergot. Whilst synthesising Ergot alkaloids in 1943, chemist Albert Hoffman accidentally absorbed traces of the active chemical d-lysergic diethylamide into his skin. His cycle ride home from work was far from the usual and upon that day LSD was born into the world.

Though scientific and agricultural practice have sought efficient measures to counter the problems of Ergot, Ergotism outbreaks are not impossible in the modern world. In 1951 in Pont St Esprit in France, 6 people died and 130 were hospitalised (many describing being attacked by wild animals as they were admitted) following the consumption of ergot-tainted bread.

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Text and images © Andy Paciorek

Wyrd Harvest Press: Charity Donation – Winter 2018

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The winter 2018 charity handover from the profits of Wyrd Harvest Press / Folk Horror Revival books has now been made. Congratulations to Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who receive £500.00 for their Save the Meadows Appeal

In thanks to our donation, we have been given the chance to name a newborn lamb in April (yes I have requested a black one) so we will be asking then (Not Now) for name suggestions and we will put a short-list to a poll on the group

Thank you for voting and Thank You especially for buying our books. We will continue to charitably donate the sales profits we receive for our books quarterly to the Wildlife Trusts, and we have more great books coming in 2019, so please continue to stock your bookshelves with our quality books with the extra bonus of helping biodiversity and natural habitats

Even More Photographs from the Whitby Krampus Run 2018.

We took so many photographs at the Whitby Krampus Run on Saturday that we have decided to post some of our favourites to the blog for you to enjoy. The first couple of posts feature Andy Paciorek’s shots from the day and this post features some of my own shots. Many thanks to Elaine and Louse of Decadent Drawing for putting the whole thing together. We had a blast and we hope to see many of you there next year.

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All photographs in this blogpost copyright 2018 by Darren Charles