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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Urban Wyrd : Spirits of Time and Place

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

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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

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/

Review – Jon Towlson’s Candyman

“Candyman suggests that oral storytelling and, by extension, urban legends are valuable forms of historical memory, and that the process of historical amnesia will be apocalyptic” – Kirsten Moana Thompson, 2007

 

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In 1992 director Bernard Rose released his movie Candyman, loosely based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden, it would go on to become a popular shocker, but there was much more to Candyman than a mere horror film. The film has several different narrative threads running through it, that deal with issues of race, gender and class.

The key protagonist in the story is Helen Lyle, played by Virginia Madsen, a graduate student undertaking research on the topic of urban legends, she visits the Cabrini-Green housing projects to investigate rumours of a hook handed killer known as the Candyman, who was alleged to have been lynched in the late 19th century after fathering a child with a white land owners daughter. With the help of resident Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) and a young boy called Jake, Helen was able to uncover the apartment where the Candyman killings are alleged to have taken place. Helen is later attacked by a drug dealer who is using the Candyman persona to spread fear among the residents.

Helen is eventually visited by the real Candyman, played by Tony Todd, who places her in a trance. Upon waking she finds herself  in Anne-Marie’s apartment, covered in blood, and is duly arrested for the abduction and possible murder of Anne-Marie’s baby son, Anthony. Helen must go out of her way to clear her name, stop the Candyman and attempt to save baby Anthony. I won’t go into any further details for those who may not have seen the film, but it is highly recommended if you want a little more from your horror movies than just blood, guts and gore.

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Devil’s Advocates is a new and ongoing series of monographs from Auteur publishing, concerned with the exploration of the classics of horror cinema, other entries in the series that may be of interest to revivalists include Witchfinder General, Black Sunday and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Contributors to the series are drawn from the spheres of education, academia, journalism and literature, but what they each share is a proclivity towards the horror movie.

Candyman is written by Jon Towlson, film critic and author of several classic books on horror cinema including both “Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present” and “The Turn to Gruesomeness in American Horror Films”. Candyman is his first entry in the Devil’s Advocates series and I would like to think more will surely follow.

There is a great deal of information to unpack and evaluate from Candyman, one of the few films of its era to subvert the genre, and to ask more important socio-political questions about race, gender and class than most of its contemporaries. Towlson manages to handle this in a most assured fashion. His book is insightful, thoroughly researched and written in a readable and yet academic style. The section looking at the Candyman and the Return of the Repressed really gets to the crux of the film’s ideas but it also draws our attention to the different meanings that can be read into the film’s narratives, thus allowing the reader a chance to formulate their own opinions on the issues at play. One thing that is drawn out from all of this is the affinity between the Candyman and Helen, Towlson makes clear that this is at the heart of the film. He calls it a sympathetic indentification between the two. Both are framed as slave and victim, and both are exploited by the capitalist structures of white patriarchy.

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The section of the book dealing with urban legends is also of particular interest to revivalists, especially those with an interest in the Urban Wyrd. Towlson digs into those urban legends that were the inspiration for the Candyman character and how both Bernard Rose and Clive Barker were responsible for bringing those urban legends to the table in the creation and development of the film and the character of the Candyman. This returns us to the quote at the top of this review from Kirsten Moana Thompson about the validity of oral storytelling and urban legends as valuable forms of historical memory. Bernard Rose uses those myths or urban legends to engage us with those deeper problems of race, gender and class that pepper the film’s narrative.

The book also looks at how Bernard Rose took Barker’s short story and developed it for cinema, and how it was received by the mainstream media and horror fans alike. There is also a chapter dedicated to the sequels and some of the other films to have dealt with urban legends in the wake of Candyman’s success. I feel it also worth noting that there is a fascinating and informative interview that Towlson conducted with Bernard Rose in 2016 included as an added  bonus.

Candyman by Jon Towlson is available to purchase from Amazon priced at £9.99

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Candyman-Devils-Advocates-Jon-Towlson/dp/191132554X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547639724&sr=8-1&keywords=candyman+jon+towlson