Book Review: Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships by Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham


Dee Dee Chainey and Willow Winsham, the luminaries behind the hugely successful Folklore Thursday hashtag phenomenon on Twitter, prove their own individual talents and deserved presence in the folklore world with this enchanting book which presents a collection of strange aquatic tales gathered across the ages and across the globe; varying from Mami Wata to the Mary Celeste, from The Lost city of Ys to the subterranean rivers of London. Within its rolling pages the reader encounters both familiar figures such as Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid (one of the more frankly disturbing tales to have ever have been given the Disney treatment) and lesser-known entities such as the Funayūrei – the revenants of drowned Japanese mariners who unless placated will cause harm to living souls.

Kelpies (water horses) and Selkies (Seal folk) of Scotland, nymphs, sirens, ghosts, gods and goddesses galore such as Poseidon, Sedna, Hit (the Octopus Goddess of the Caroline Islands) and Arnaquagsaq (the sea mother of Greenland) and more all appear within. Superstitions abound in the sailors’ world and this book casts a net to land numerous omens heeded when setting sail. In our voyage through calm and storm, over ocean, sea, river and lake there is a wealth to be found of subjects that have intrigued Forteans for many decades such as that zone of mysterious maritime vanishings The Bermuda Triangle (which also intrigued crooner Barry Manilow enough to record a song about it) and Ignis Faatus – the fool’s fire (also known as Will o’ the Wisps, Jack o Lanterns and by many other appellations) the lights that flicker above swamplands and marshes, and in legend are said to have led many a nocturnal traveller to their own sodden grave. Cryptids such as Nessie, Ogopogo and The Bear Lake Monster also raise their heads above the surface.

It must be noted that this book is not an in-depth analysis of any particular tales or cases and should be seen as more of a port from which readers may seek to explore further or dive in deeper to other tomes. It is however a lovely little book.

As a gift book, although there are a few adult themes which are subtly addressed, I would have no qualms about giving this work to both children and adults as a present. As a child, brought up on the Usborne Mysteries, Arthur C Clarke and varied mythology books I’d have loved it. It can be dipped into here and there or read cover to cover. It is also very charming in its presentation. It has a gilt effect cover which rather than seeming gaudy, looks quaintly magical and is illustrated throughout in a block print style by the artist Joe McClaren. I look forward to their forthcoming sylvan lore book, and hopefully more titles in a series that could prove to be a contemporary equivalent of Andrew Lang’s coloured fairy book collection.

Treasury of Folklore. Seas & Rivers: Sirens, Selkies and Ghost Ships
Dee Dee Chainey & Willow Winsham
Batsford 2021 Hb. Illus. 192 pgs.

Review by Andy Paciorek

Green, Unpleasant, Land by Richard Freeman: Book Review

Think of ‘British Horror’ and what comes to mind? In this circle perhaps your mind turns to witchcraft shenanigans of centuries past or ritual cult activity in sleepy places in more recent times. Perhaps in the wider society of horror the refined hauntings of the likes of The Innocents or MR James scholarly tales may spring to thought. Or perhaps the gothic kitsch of Hammer movies.

Within this book of 18 British tales of terror, Richard Freeman casts his net wider into scenarios and locations that have a, perhaps less obvious to casual thought but recognisably apparent when there in the moment, very British feel – the walk home from the Youth Club, a spoiled little girl’s birthday party, a country churchyard, walking the dog down near the nature reserve, a fishing excursion to a Welsh lake, the streets of London and much more besides.

Being an established Cryptozoologist and Fortean, the natural and supernatural worlds provide great inspiration for Freeman’s short stories and we see creatures from familiar and comparitively unfamiliar folklore and legend, both ancient and modern, brought to life. This could be a risky venture as fairies, dragons and unicorns for example are so well entrenched in many minds as being associated with sword and sorcery, mawkish fairy tales and flowery new age representation, but Freeman does exceptionally well in granting these otherworldly creatures a more authentically believable and gritty presence in a world we are familiar with on a day to day basis.

There is an element of the ‘kitchen-sink’ as well as the supernatural in some of the tales which does indeed give the works a British flavour. Freeman’s fairies are a tribute to Arthur Machen’s treatment of the subject, which is made clear within the tale. His unicorn is not a saccharine sweet entity but a creature of flesh and blood. There are nods to science as well as superstition within this book’s narratives. Freeman also notes his fondness for the earth-bound adventures of the third doctor, Jon Pertwee in the long-running BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who, which I think does come through in the atmosphere of some of these tales.
Creatures of British myth and of contemporary anomalous encounters such as the Lambton Wyrm of County Durham and the large hominid of Cannock Chase make their physical presence manifest and believably threatening through Freeman’s skilled and brave treatment. Some of the tales I could see working well in a TV anthology in the manner of Nigel Kneale’s Beasts. They set a scene, tell a simple tale, sometimes with twists that would satisfactorily make for effective episodes of a cryptozoological – folkloric themed Tales of the Unexpected type show.

Another point of approval I have with Green, Unpleasant Land is that each tale is accompanied by an illustration by Shaun Histed-Todd. I’m biased on this matter being a book artist, but I do really think that horror short story anthologies are given a further dimension and appeal by the inclusion of illustration.

Product details

  • Paperback : 222 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1905723857
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1905723850
  • Dimensions : 15.6 x 1.19 x 23.4 cm
  • Publisher : Fortean Fiction (9 Jan. 2012)
  • Language: : English



For more information on CFZ press click – HERE

Book available from HERE + other bookstores

Book review 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

Mysteries of Portsmouth : Review

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

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

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

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

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

Also available from Amazon and other booksellers

Read an Interview with the author here

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

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

It Glows in the Dark!!!!

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

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

Designed by our very own Cobweb Mehers​ of Eolith Designs

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Printed by Tyrant Design & Print

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

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Sizes currently available:

4 x M
7 x XL
10 x XXL

UK Pricing
£15
P&P – £6

USA Pricing:
$19
P&P – $7.50

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To Purchase – email Kt for more details

at –

shekinah0711@talktalk.net

 

Folklore Thursday: Harvest Spirits ~ Black Earth

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

POLEVIK

Polevik

(Also known as Polewiki. Polevoy. Polovoi.)

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

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

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

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

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Rye Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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Poludnica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Ghosts Announcement Number 2

Apologies for the delay in publishing this, our second Winter Ghosts announcement, but we have been very busy bringing together a lineup that will hopefully whet the appetite of Revivalists everywhere. Anyway, without further ado here are our latest additions to the lineup.

The Soulless Party

 

 

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

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

Sarah Steele graduated from Durham with a Degree in Geology in1992. She has since qualified as a professional gemmologist and was awarded Fellowship of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 2013, and subsequently Diamond Fellowship in 2015. Sarah is also a member of the International Accredited Gemologists Association and is a regularly asked to speak and deliver workshops at gem conferences around the world. She is also a freelance writer for Gems and Jewellery Magazine. Sarah’s particular expertise lies in the identification of natural thermoset and thermoplastic materials used in C19th jewellery, and she is considered the world’s leading authority on the Jet Group of gemstones. Her research collaborations are challenging our previous perceptions of the material jet. Sarah will return to Durham university in October to continue her postgraduate research on the subject. We are very pleased to have Sarah with us in December to give us a rather fascinating talk on her key topic of interest, Whitby Jet. Sarah is the only scientist currently working in the field of Jet research, and as such it is a prilevege for us at Folk Horror Revival to have her on board to present especially for us a talk about her research and the cultural and historic importance of this most beautiful and tactile gem.

Home

Barbara Ravelhofer

Barbara Ravelhofer is Professor in English Literature at Durham University and a Research Associate of the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge. After a degree in English and German Literature from the University of Munich she continued for her Ph.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s College. She has also held Visiting Fellowships at the Universities of Bologna, Princeton, and Harvard.

barbara ravelhofer

Professor Ravelhofer is co-director of the Records of Early English Drama North-East, which is sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The key aim of the organisation is to find, catalogue and edit all records pertaining to music, spectacle, ceremony, dance and theatre in England’s North-East from about the ninth century to 1642. The project is directed by Prof. Ravelhofer in collaboration with Prof. John McKinnell and the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS) Durham, the Cathedral and Durham’s World Heritage Site. Prof. Ravelhofer will be speaking to us about the history and folklore behind this wonderful tradition, and whilst the good professor herself is a big enough coup she will also be accompanied by an actual Mari Lwyd who will be loose in the auditorium.

For further details about the Records of Early English Drama North-East please see the project website.

Peter Kennedy

Dark Arts Circus - me in top hat and O

Peter Kennedy is a writer born in a North-East fishing village, who as a child was told a story about how the plague moved up country in the 17th century. In it, the fishermen decided that the best way to stave off the pestilence would be to throw fishing nets over the archway leading to the headland.  This legend was the inspiration for Peter to write his story Behind the Net Curtain, which would become the opening chapter of his debut novel Fishermen’s Tales. Inspired by that story Peter went off on a quest for more northern folklore that celebrated its maritime heritage. He trawled the seas, combed the beaches and crafted a collection of dark fables, from sea coal and rumour, and driftwood and bullshit.

The stories compiled in Fishermen’s Tales are part of an older oral tradition that were shared around campfires and passed down through generations. In reference to the book Peter says he is “trying to reclaim and romanticise the working class heritage that I came from. I read at a poetry club one night and one of the other performers said ‘this guy’s brought his own mythology’. I thought, ‘yeah, he gets it!” Over time the novel became a project that included musical accompaniment and theatrical performance, which is what Peter will be bringing to Winter Ghosts this December.

CrossInverted

That’s it for this announcement, they join Burd Ellen, Al Ridenour, Elaine Edmunds, Laurence Mitchell and George Cromack on this year’s lineup. We still have one or two acts to announce and our programme of short films to come, but we’ll leave those for another time. Tickets are available now, priced at the princely sum of £13 sterling for the full day or just £7 for the evening session, these are available from Eventbrite at the link below.

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

 

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

Even More Photographs from the Whitby Krampus Run 2018.

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

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All photographs in this blogpost copyright 2018 by Darren Charles