Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy : Book Review

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When I read fiction, my mind’s eye tends to play out the unfolding narrative as a film. In the case of Lucie McKnight Hardy’s novel ‘Water Shall Refuse Them’ the setting and style adapted itself on the cinema screen behind my eyelids in the manner of a 1970s Play For Today or similar. That is far from a criticism – BBC plays such as Nuts in May, Brimstone and Treacle, Our Day Out, Blue Remembered Hills, Red Shift, Abigail’s Party and Penda’s Fen are high water-marks of British telly.

Anyway like Ronnie Corbett, I digress. Hardy’s debut novel concerns itself with a married couple, their teenage daughter and their mentally impaired infant son taking a holiday at a rural Welsh cottage in the bid to try and deal with the aftermath and trauma of a family tragedy. They discover that the locals are not exactly the most welcoming or friendliest bunch and instead find solidarity with a teenage boy and his mother, who also being incomers to the village are not held on the best terms by the parochial families either. Indeed the mother Janet is regarded as a witch by the villagers; an accusation she does little to dispel.

Her son Mally develops a close and strangely bonded relationship with Nif, the 16 year old daughter of the troubled family vacationing in the Welsh valley and protagonist of the book. Nif is an individualist who is governed by her own rituals and way of seeing. In discussion about the book on a Twitter post, the author Dr Miranda Corcoran drew a comparison between Hardy’s debut and Shirley Jackson’s classic novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. For me these are big footsteps for it to walk in as We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favourite novels. I can see the parallels between the works and furthermore without giving too much of the plot away, I think comparisons could also be drawn with that other fine example of Dark Americana /American Wyrd – Thomas Tryon’s The Other. Water Shall Refuse Them does however have a very British personality.

One of the points of comparison between Hardy’s and Jackson’s novels is the presence of an unconventional and troubled young woman as narrator and therein lies a personal feeling and also intriguing topic of thought in that whilst I like Jackson’s protagonist Merricat Blackwood, I just don’t like Nif. Yes she is an intriguing well-written character but I don’t warm to her at all. But do I need to like the main personality to read the book and enjoy it? Or any book? I think personally the answer is sometimes. For instance, I gave up on reading Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game quite soon into it as I disliked the protagonist and her husband so much. In the realm of film really disliking the central family in Hereditary and the child in The Babbadook are part (not the whole) of the reason I don’t like those films much at all. But then again I did not like the principal characters in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Blair Witch Project, Eyes Wide Shut or Misery (book and film) yet I appreciate those works overall more. Does it matter if you don’t like the characters who you will spend much time with? They don’t have to be likeable for a work to be a success – Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is a prime example of that.

As Water Shall Refuse Them progresses I like Nif less and less. I don’t know if that is a matter of concern with Hardy, whether it is of any importance to her whether the reader likes her main character as a person. And it could just be me – other readers may feel sympathy or empathy towards Nif, but she leaves me cold from the offset. It could be the case that that she is meant to. As the story develops, without saying too much, Nif (and in some instances Mally, whom I never warmed to either) do some rather unpleasant things; so it is perhaps an intention of Hardy for the reader to question how they feel about chief characters instead of just easily slipping into a comfortable synch with them.

In regard to Nif’s actions, as someone who has immersed themselves in ‘horror’ fiction since a child it is possible to become numbed or desensitized to all manner of fiendish happenings, but there are scenes in the novel that did leave me feeling disturbed. This is a credit to Hardy’s writing as these scenes are generally quite underplayed, there is no great crescendo of gore but subtlety delivered, small yet in their way powerfully resonant occurrences that get under the skin. These traits do foreshadow the great reveal, which is not the most unexpected (though I do tend whilst reading fiction or watching films automatically ponder how I would end the narrative were I the writer of it , so do quite frequently see the ‘twist’ coming and wonder if my mind were wired differently would more fiction catch me off-guard) but the resolution of the end happenings does however throw in another swerve ball.

It is not my place nor intention to issue ‘trigger warnings’, but it must be noted that some scenes may especially upset some readers and perhaps provoke them to ask whether they were necessary or at least whether they needed to have occurred several times. That is not a question for me to answer but perhaps for the author to address and certainly for individual readers to make their own judgement upon.

So these points have caused me to mull over the book and would have even if I were not writing a review of it, so it did get under my skin and that is a credit to it. Did I like it? That I need to think over more – I didn’t dislike it, of that I’m sure. I would read it again and I don’t say that of all novels. But it is one that I will need to contemplate more as to my deeper, long-lasting impression of it. Is it a good book either way? Yes I think it is; it is a intriguing debut that makes me curious to investigate Hardy’s future works, so that’s a job well done there. It is a book that reminds me somewhat of some of Benjamin Myer’s novels – scenarios which are simple but effective and hold some moments of strong, sometimes brutal or harrowing but not overworked significance. aving grief, loss and trauma at its heart it also is reminiscent of Will McClean’s The Apparition Phase (recently reviewed on this website Here ).
The themes unearthed in Water Shall Refuse them are pertinent to the bucolic uncanny and it is a worthy addition to the folk horror fiction shelf, though because of events described within may indeed be contentious with some readers.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy is available to purchase from HERE and other book stores.

To discover more about the writing of Lucie McKnight Hardy visit HERE

Review by Andy Paciorek

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The Psychic Audio Group

The Psychic Audio Group are a collective of paranormal investigators and music technologists based in Leeds who generate audio based around hauntings, drawing inspiration from Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ they reconfigured their equipment to generate noise, producing some remarkable psychic feedback when installed at certain haunted locations. Here we review their three recordings thus far released.

Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 1

The first release of the Psychic Audio Group, features 11 tracks of suitably wyrd phonics, mixing ambient drones with glitchy off kilter electronics, field recordings and found sounds. I really enjoyed this one, there’s a level of dread filled intensity about the recording that verges on audial assault, and the whole thing has a sinister blackened noise vibe to it. Links to Nigel Kneale’s ‘The Stone Tape’ and EVP just add to the creepiness of the project. I guarantee this will go down a storm with Revivalists everywhere. This is highly recommended for fans of John Carpenter, Haxan Cloak, Burial Hex, Demdike Stare and the Nate Young (Wolf Eyes) and Steven Kenney (Werewolves) project Demons.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

Also worth mentioning is the accompanying video, featuring the same sequences of audio as used in the album, but coupled with visuals from the recording sessions.

Sea of Ink

Sea of Ink is a stand alone track recorded during the sessions for their second album. What we get is more of the same glitchy electronic drones and sinister sounding atmospherics as the debut album. A work of creepy excellence.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/track/sea-of-ink

The Collected Recordings of the Psychic Audio Group, Volume 2: Eycheil

The third release and second full length album from the Psychic Audio Group is an absolute doozy from start to finish. Recorded entirely on location at the Theatre Eycheil in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, with each track concieved in relation to the atmosphere of the site, and boy what an atmosphere it must have as this is off the scale for creepiness.

The album features 7 tracks of more of the same, but once again it excels at what it does. Darkly atmospheric electronic noise that recalls some of the most sinister music ever placed on vinyl. Nighmarish and disquieting, the whole thing has a deeply malefic aura about it. If someone were to ever remake John Hough’s 1973 supernatual tour de force ‘The Legend of Hell House’ these guys should record the soundtrack.

https://psychicaudiogroup.bandcamp.com/album/the-collected-recordings-of-the-psychic-audio-group-volume-2-eycheil

Vanishing Faces

Duo Joanne and Andrew Walker have been busy over the last twelve months with three separate releases to tempt Revivalists.

Foretold E.P.

First up was the Foretold E.P. which was released in April . I was lucky enough to receive a physical copy of the limited edition CD, one of only 78 copies released. The album is beautifully packaged, featuring some lovely artwork from Joanna herself. As you can see from the photograph below it is obviously designed to fit perfectly with the stories of the songs, which is something I really love about it. Alongside the fantastic cover art we are treated to some really nice little extras, stickers, a badge and a tarot card, the Ace of Wands in my case. This is a great card to receive in this instance as it represents creativity, passion and enthusiasm, all things that are abundant in this release.

This, their debut release is also sonically very good, and features 5 tracks of glitchy electronic folk infused with their love of traditional British folklore and the esoteric. The mix of traditional and modern instrumentation works really well and one can’t help but hear the influence of the likes of Current 93 rising to the fore every now and again, however it must be noted that they do possess enough of their own sound to keep it from turning into a pastiche. Overall, Foretold is an excellent debut release and one the duo can be very proud of.

Two Songs for the Summer Solstice

This was a two track single released to coincide with the Summer Solstice, on 20th June. Both tracks were heavily inspired by previous solstice celebrations that took place at Stonehenge and Avebury, and were a reaction to the current situation with regards to the Covid-19 lockdown, and the fact those sites were not accessible during the 2020 solstice.

‘To the Day’ represents the duo’s fond remembrance of past solstices, whilst Midsummer’s Dream entwines their own song with the fairy’s poem from the beginning of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Both tracks take the listener down a tangled acid folk drenched pathway that winds its way through the British countryside. This is a perfect midsummer release.

Wolf Moon E.P.

Released at the death of 2020, Wolf Man is a three track E.P. that the duo began composing under the wolf moon, the first full moon of 2020.

Opener, ‘Wolf Moon’ is a spoken word track that again mixes traditional instrumentation and modern technology, perfectly capturing the mood of the piece. This is followed up by ‘Cold Moon’ an instrumental with its feets firmly planted in ambient electronics. Beautiful and atmospheric, the track is perfect for laid back listening sessions. The final track is a remix of ‘Wolf Moon’ by Grey, it’s a fascinating amalagamation of drum and bass and ambient electronica that works really well. The band themselves have labelled the track ‘dub folk horror’ and who am I to argue?

All of their work can be heard and bought from their bandcamp page at:

https://vanishingfaces.bandcamp.com/

In the bleak Midwinter: Films for Winter Nights

Want to avoid Mrs Brown’s Boys, The Queen’s Speech and whatever else TV throws at us this Christmastide? Of course there’s the great Ghost Stories for Christmas drama series and re-watching childhood favourites such as The Box of Delights but here we take the snow shovel and dig up some other possible additions for your alternative winter watching on the cold dark nights …

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Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer) – 1952

The White Reindeer (1952)

Original title – Valkoinen Peura. Directed by Erik Blomberg, this Finn classic concerns itself with a newlywed woman Pirita (played by Mirjami Kuosmanen) who visits a local Sami Shaman for help in spicing up her love-life. The spell cast indeed turns the woman not only into a seductress – but into a true femme-fatale as she now has a vampiric hunger. The White Reindeer’s star has shone brighter again in the advent of the folk horror revival yet this beautiful dark tale deserves to be seen more widely still.

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The Curse of the Cat People – 1944

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

Directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch, The Curse of the Cat People is a sequel to 1942’s Cat People, though it can be watched in isolation as the film differs quite differently from its predecessor (which is certainly well worth a watch also). Less of a ‘horror’ than its antecedent, Curse centres on Amy (Ann Carter) the 6 year old daughter of Ollie Reed (Kent Smith). Amy is a dreamy child who finds herself different and therefore somewhat alienated by her peers. In her solitude she finds an ‘imaginary friend’ who just happens to be the late first wife of her strict and rather arrogant father. In addition to Irena (Simone Simon) – the ghost or daydream first wife and cat person (although cats do not feature in this film), Amy also befriends an old woman – a reclusive former actress with dementia, much to the envy and upset of the woman’s own daughter.

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Morozko -1964

Морозко (Father Frost / Jack Frost) (1964)

Directed by Aleksandr Rou, Morozko or Father Frost is based on Russian folk and fairy tales and follows the trope of a young girl, Nastenka (Natalya Sedykh) who on the cusp of coming of age is ill-treated by a mean and jealous stepmother. Meeting a potential suitor Ivan (Eduard Izotov) doesn’t exactly bode well when a spell turns Ivan’s head into that of a bear. (Looking like a surreal, mangy version of Bungle from British kid’s show Rainbow is one of the reasons this children’s film ends up on a darker film list as it is potential nightmare fuel for some). Folkloric figures such as Morozko – a Russian winter spirit who has traits of both Father Christmas and Jack Frost and witchy favourite Baba Yaga also serve to make this film a weird watch.

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Wind Chill – 2007

Wind Chill (2007)

Directed by Gregory Jacobs. When a university student accepts a car share lift at the start of the Christmas holidays she soon realises that the driver is not exactly whom he claims to be, yet as they are driven off the road in a remote area in sub-zero conditions there is more still to worry about as both the present and the past threaten to claim their lives.

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Kwaidan – 1965

Kwaidan (1965)

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and based upon Japanese ghost stories and folk-tales collected and translated by the folklorist Lafcadio Hearn is a classic of Japanese cinema. Though the whole portmanteau film is a visual delight, it is the Yuki-Onna tale that most concerns us here today. In this segment two men are caught out in a winter blizzard and seek refuge in a fisherman’s hut. During the night, their shelter is violated by a beautiful yet deadly woman of the snow. One man loses his life but their supernatural assailant takes pity on the other due to his youth and good looks. She warns him never to speak of what happened that night, but his life remains haunted by the strange encounter.

Blogging By Cinema-light: The Fearless Vampire Killers
The Fearless Vampire Killers – 1967

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Also known as Dance of the Vampires and Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck is directed and co-written by and stars Roman Polanski. Polanski is understandably and justifiably a difficult figure due to the crimes he has committed in his off screen life. Whether to divorce art from artist or to bypass the work of contentious or criminal figures is a personal choice, but within the realm of film it is a case that the output is a communal effort of many members of crew and cast. And together they have produced a strange addition to the many Vampire films out there. Set in the dead of winter, this comedy -horror film has the look and feel of Slavic fairy-tale cinema and has a great soundtrack by Krystof Komeda. It is notable also for starring Sharon Tate – the former wife of Polanski and tragic victim of the Manson Family Murders.

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Troll Hunter – 2010

Troll Hunter / Trolljegeren (2010)

Directed by André Øvredal, the Norwegian found-footage / mockumentary telling the tale of a young film crew investigating a man (Otto Jespersen) whose occupation is that of a Troll Hunter sounds like it could be a disaster but it is actually well worth giving a chance to. It is a fun atmospheric jaunt into an aspect of horror folklore that is generally less widely explored in cinema than other monsters. And in the final segment you can almost feel the cold.

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Ravenous – 1999

Ravenous (1999)

Directed by Antonia Bird and set in the Sierra Nevada in the 19th Century, we witness both the hard conditions of weather and war that may set a person on a desperate path but also we see the unfolding of a supernatural curse. Seeking inspiration from such tragic real historical events such as the Donner Party migration and the folklore of first nations people, Ravenous shows us what happens when people become afflicted with the curse of Wendigo-possession.

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November – 2017

November (2017)

Though November may technically be regarded as autumn, this Estonian film is cold and dark enough to make our winter watch-list. Directed by Rainer Sarnet, November tells the tale of a 19th Century Estonian village that is beset by spirits of pestilence. In a bid to survive the harsh conditions, villagers turn to theft involving nefarious and esoteric means but it becomes an obsession outweighing their needs and no good can come of that. November boasts some especially stunning cinematography.

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The Lodge – 2019

The Lodge (2019)

Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala and produced by the revived Hammer studios, The Lodge in keeping with Hammer’s revival has no resembelance to their campy gothic output of the 1950s, 60s and 70s but is instead as dark and chilling as its intense wintery setting. Following the suicide of their mother, a pair of children accompany their father and his new lover, Grace, to a remote lodge for a Christmas holiday. Whilst their father is called back to the city by work commitments, the children, who resent Grace, discover that she was the sole survivor of a death cult. As strange events occur within the isolated chalet, their survial, mortality and existence come into grievous question.

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Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka – 1961

Evenings on A Farm Near Dikanka / Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки (1961)

Based on the story ‘ The Night Before Christmas’ by Nikolai Gogol ; Evenings is directed by Aleksandr Rou and shares the same visual and atmospheric strangeness of his later more well known film Morozko. Amid the seasonal revelry in a snowy Ukrainian village a blacksmith Vakula, (Yuri Tavrov) seeks the aid of the devil to transport him to St. Petersburg in Russia so that he may obtain a pair of slippers belonging to the Empress, in a bid to woo a local maiden Oksana (Lyudmyla Myznikova).

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Black Robe – 1991

Black Robe (1991)

Directed by Bruce Beresford and though not a horror film as such the aesthetic, setting and grim events portrayed in this Canadian film should likely appeal to many fans of folk horror. In it we journey with a Jesuit priest Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau) and his mostly Algonquin travel party across the wilderness of New France in winter as he intends to establish a new Christian mission in a far-off village. In addition to the terrain and hard weather, prophetic dreams, old faith and hostile strangers mar their way.

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Winter’s Bone-2010

Winter’s Bone (2010)

Again not a horror film, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone will nonetheless appeal to some fans of the Backwoods and Midwestern Gothic sub-genres. A 17 year old girl. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is struggling in impoverished circumstances to look after her troubled mother and her brother and sister in the absence of their father imprisoned for the production of meth amphetamine. Survival is paramount to Ree who strives to teach her siblings how to live off the land but more troubles still fall upon the family due to the missing patriarch’s involvement in the meth trade.

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Let The Right One In – 2008

Let The Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in (2008)

Adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Tomas Alfredson’s movie is a beautiful piece of cinema. When a strange young gir Eli ( Lina Leandersson) moves into a Stockholm apartment complex in the early 1980s, she strikes up a friendship with a 12 year old boy Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who is something of an outsider himself and a target of school bullies. However there is a lot more to Eli than meets the eye as we discover in this atmospheric slow-burning tale.

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter – 2015

The Blackcoat’s Daughter / February (2015)

Directed by Osgood Perkins, The Blackcoat’s Daughter centres around a Catholic girls’ boarding school in upstate New York. Whilst most of the pupils have headed home for the winter vacation, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton) find themselves left behind and despite their difference in school age and personality types, they find their lives fatefully entwined and to that of a young woman called Joan (Emma Roberts) who escapes from an insane asylum some years after the girls’ stories unfold.

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning – 2004

Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004)

The third of the Ginger Snaps franchise (this time directed by Grant Harvey) differs from the coming of age contemporary-times werewolf tale of the first two of the film series by taking the story back further to the early 19th Century but again starring Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins as sisters Ginger and Brigitte. This tale of lycanthropy follows an ill-fated winter trading excursion to the Hudson Bay, whereupon the girls find their way to an abandoned camp and then to a fort, where they find shelter but only the start of their troubles.

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Black Christmas -1974

Black Christmas (1974)

Directed by Bob Clark and also known in the USA as Silent Night – Evil Night has less connection to folk horror than others mentioned here but arguably could fall under our remit as urban wyrd (but who really cares about labels unless they are attached to Christmas presents?) Included because not only is Black Christmas one of the best Christmas slasher horror films, it is quite possibly one of the best Christmas films and Slasher films too. Simple and straightforward yet eerie and rather tense in its execution it tells the story of college girls in a shared accommodation that during the festive season are gifted first with dirty phone-calls and then with a more deadly Christmas presence.

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The Shining – 1980

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, needs little introduction – both a classic of winter horror and urban wyrd, this story of Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) a caretaker and aspiring author succumbing to cabin fever and / or possession whilst holed up in a remote Colorado Rockies hotel over the heavy winter with his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and psychically gifted (or cursed) young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) has a habit of getting under the skin. In it we bear brutal witness to how Jack’s own buried alcohol-induced violence resurfaces towards his family but how also how violence is embedded into the very foundations and sinuous recurring history of the building itself.

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Морозко – 1964

Selection chosen by Andy Paciorek

Spirits of the Season: Portraits of the Winter Otherworld by Dr Bob Curran & Andy Paciorek

Ho ho horror …
As the nights draw in and the turn of the year looms we may seek the comfort of a cosy fireside and a warming drink and think of the approach of Father Christmas … but hark … what is that noise outside, could it be Santa Claus? … or could it be something entirely different … something stranger … more sinister hiding in those cold winter shadows?
In this book Dr Bob Curran introduces us to a whole host of beguiling entities from different countries and different cultures that tread the freezing landscapes in the long nights of winter. Richly illustrated throughout by Andy Paciorek, Spirits of the Season is an ideal companion through the dark and magical days.

6×9 in, 15×23 cm
Hardcover Image wrap + paperback both available
No of Pages: 222.
Illustrated

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Available now from
~ https://www.blurb.co.uk/user/andypaciorek

and available to order from Amazon and other bookstores

FREE Talk: ‘On Witches and Wolves: The Historic and Folkloric Roots of Folk Horror’ by Andy Paciorek

FREE to Watch ~
Folk Horror Revival’s creator Andy Paciorek’s lecture – ‘On Witches and Wolves: The Historic and Folkloric Roots of Folk Horror’
As presented by Zoom to the audience at the Denmark 2020 Folk Horror Festival.

Video supplied by Nightmare Culture

If the video fails to load above, it can be watched on Facebook at ~

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=397397441671090

*NOTE* – to miss technical issues and minutes of silence fast forward to 9 minutes 20

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infrared photo of Andy Paciorek by Jamie Emerson

The English Heretic Collection by Andy Sharp: Book Review

It was through the music and spoken word of Andy Sharp’s English Heretic project that the writer John Alec Baker came to my attention. In his books The Peregrine (1967) and ‘The Hill of Dreams’ (1969) Baker treats us to nature writing that goes beyond the mere observation of the natural wild and into the realm of feeling and art in his lyrical visionary-bucolic prose. It was with great intrigue and little surprise in venturing into the pages of Sharp’s own book ‘The English Heretic Collection’ (Repeater Books. 2020) to find that his writing too is cloaked in many colours. Described as “a visionary field report based on fifteen years of deep-vein travel to England’s strangest landscapes – with a host of tragic players” the Collection is as much about people as it is about place. Like J.A. Baker, Sharp does not content himself with mere surface but digs deep into his own psyche and cerebral-emotive reaction to place and observation; but with his wider scope of subject matter, he digs further still – into the underbelly of people and deep down into the underworld of place and mind. For this is what this book is – a katabasis – a descent into the Underworld – whether it be the Asphodel Fields that classical Thanatologists pondered upon, or Вирій that lies beneath the tainted earth of the atomgrad of Pripyat or the very soil beneath our feet.

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In his journeys both physical and psychical Sharp encounters numerous wraiths and shades – as diverse as Kenneth Grant, Fulcanelli, Robert Graves, Winston Churchill, CG Jung and HP Lovecraft yet there is one psychopomp whom even when not fully present can be felt persistently gazing over the voyage from the saturnine shadows. That watcher is the author and explorer of dystopia and experimentation- James Graham Ballard. And if JG Ballard is the spirit guide then his 1970 book ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ and its 1973 deeper investigation into a theme therein, ‘Crash’ are the travel guides. Yet whereas the many A to Z roadmap children of Breydenbach & Reuwich’s ‘Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam’ prepare us for the journey, ‘Crash’ is an atlas of the aftermath.

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The literary terrain covered in ‘The English Heritage Collection’ lies between Graves’ ‘White Goddess’ and Ballard’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ – the physical land explored takes us from Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness  (the accursed abode of figures such as the occultist Aleister Crowley, rock guitarist Jimmy Page and the sausage scammer Dennis Lorrain) to Orford Ness, the military atomic experimentation base in the shingled spit of the Suffolk coast. From Rendelsham Forest where the legend of UFO encounter or possibly psychological warfare testing persists within its roots and branches to the shrunken heads and other archaeological and anthropological hordes of the Pitts River Museum in Oxford. The train of thought takes us further from English shores also calling at stations such as Hiroshima, Chernobyl and the war-scarred jungles of Vietnam. Stops are also made at celluloid stations taking in films such as the folk horror classics 1968’s  ‘Witchfinder General‘ and 1971’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw’ – the latter drawing an interesting parallel with the strange and tragic Mary Bell murders of 1968.
‘The English Heretic Collection’ is as much of a mind trip as it is a gazetteer of the obscure and through the magical endeavours of Sharp has hints of a grimoire also. Covering as much ground as it does in its stream of consciousness the book is like a Ronnie Corbett monologue on acid – that is not a complaint. Sharp’s word-play is entertaining, part magical – part mischief. I enjoy his puns – the name English Heretic itself with its mission of dedicating black plaques to places obscure and people intriguing and other witty examples such as ‘Wish You were Heretic’ and ‘The Underworld Service’. And that is what the book is like – an Underworld Service transporting us the readers to strange destinations. Its meanderings wind and weave and remind me of intoxicated conversations with like-minded friends in pubs at the times before the pandemic and hopefully again after. And that’s another good thing. Sharp is very well-read and very well-educated holding an MSc in Neuroscience, so at times the book may dip into academic territory, but the diversity and spellbinding nature of the subject matter and Sharp’s wit and poetic word-craft ensure that ‘The English Heritage Collection’ is an entertaining rather than dry read. It is also very worthwhile checking out English Heretic’s musical output to add a further dimension to Sharp’s vision.

‘The English Heritage Collection’ is released on October 13th 2020
from Repeater books – repeaterbooks.com/

Also available to pre-order now from – http://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Heretic-Collection-Histories-Geography/dp/1913462099/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Andy+Sharp&qid=1601912808&sr=8-1

There is an accompanying musical playlist available to stream for free at – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0InCF6J0wknKkLLjAUeXgN

http://englishheretic.blogspot.com/

https://tse3.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.3v3zOCe-kTVvRp7b2S1UwgHaHf&pid=Api

Reviewed by Andy Paciorek




May’s Folk Horror Revival Sketch Challenge Winners.

Facebook Group member Brian Gomien devised a cunning plan to get FHR members sketching. He set up the Folk Horror Revival Sketch Challenge, a weekly competition for members to show off their artistic skills. We were so thrilled to see the competition take off that we asked Brian if he would continue to curate the competition in conjunction with the group. Thankfully he said yes and it seems to grow in popularity week on week.

Anyway, what we’ve decided to do is put together a blog post once a month highlighting the amazing work of each week’s competition winner. Folk Horror Revival was always intended to promote the work of the amazingly creative people in the group so this feels like a natural thing for us to be doing. So without further ado, here are the first batch of sketch challenge winners.

Jesseca Trainham

Week 1. Black Philip

 

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Week 2. John Barleycorn

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Two time winner Jesseca Trainham graduated in 2001 with a BA in Studio Art from SUNY Potsdam. In 2005 she began selling Norse Myth and Viking-inspired woodworking on eBay, later moving to Etsy under the seller name Lady Buckthorn. She has produced illustrations for author Robin Artisson, as well as heathen poet and scholar Eirik Westcoat, among others. Jesseca resides in rural central NY, where she is currently taking a sabbatical to reinvent her style.

https://www.etsy.com/people/ladybuckthorn

 

Naama Mimis

Week 3. Cabinet of Curiosities

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Naama Mimis is a concept art and digital illustration student from Israel, with a love of all things vintage and retro. Naama has been fascinated with folk horror since the age of five.

https://www.instagram.com/naamamimis/?hl=en

 

Andrew Foley

Week 4. A Wyrd Celebration

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Week 5. A Plague Year

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Andrew Foley was born in St Andrews in Scotland in the 1970’s. Raised in an ex-mining village, Blantyre, in South Lanarkshire, Andrew went on to study illustration and design at the Glasgow School of Art graduating in 1992. He has worked in the arts ever since, as a freelance illustrator but also in the field of community arts, education and in collaboration with his wife, artist Fiona Foley, working in the medium of stained glass. Andrew now lives in the Southern Uplands of Scotland in a small ex-mining village, where from his home studio, he continues to explore a number of creative avenues, whilst raising his three children alongside Fiona.

http://www.leafywonder.com/biography.html

 

Thank you to all of the talented artists, firstly for taking part and most importantly for allowing us to reproduce their incredible artwork. I would also like to thank Brian for bringing the whole thing together and making it such a roaring success. It gives me great pleasure to see such strong competition among Revivalists and I very much look forward to seeing future entries. That’s pretty much it for now, other than to ask the question, which is your favourite?

Interview with Will Parsons of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

british pilgrim photo 3 

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?

British Pilgrim Photo 5b

 

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.

british pilgrim photo

 

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?

British Piligrm photo 6

 

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.

Beltingham Yew

 

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.

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.