Divided into 3 sections – Hauntings, Experiments with Time and Ghosts of Futures Past; within this new work Merlin Coverley, embarks on a mission to seek out the roots and growth of the cultural phenomenon that is known as Hauntology. It is a walk that takes the author and reader down many diverse paths, foremost among them being Memory Lane.
Though it does explore the concept of hauntings and references numerous supernatural films and TV shows, this is not a book about ghosts in the traditional sense but a study of the concept of the cultural mode known as Hauntology. The word Hauntology was conceived in 1993 by the French political philosopher Jacques Derrida in his book Spectres of Marx as a portmanteau of Haunt and Ontology and relates to his concept that Marxism continues to “haunt western society from beyond the grave”. However, Hauntology has expanded far beyond its original meaning to encompass a certain aesthetic in music, media and art and beyond that a feeling. Hauntology is a nebulous creature, difficult to define but always recognised when encountered, at least on an emotional level. The wider concept of Hauntology as an art and thoughtform owes a lot to the writings of cultural historian Mark Fisher and here Coverley joins the dots between the Derradaian and Fisherian views.
Coverley notes the cultural importance of the 1970s as a fixed point in hauntological time. Notably lying within the formative years of Generation X (or what Bob Fischer has accurately described as The Haunted Generation, which is evident in the work of Scarfolk and Scarred For Life for example) the 1970s were abundant with weird TV, strange discordant library music and were politically hard times (a ghost of which resurfaced, I think in flashbacks of Thatcher and Foot, when May and Corbyn were the UK Prime Minister and opposition leader). But Coverley turns the clock back to the 1840s when Marx released the Communist Manifesto and Charles Dickens penned ghost stories. Centring on Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Coverley makes interesting comment on the ghosts and their repetition of the past not only within the story but within the cultural repeating of the tale by readers and viewers each Christmas. (This set me thinking of how Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman animation has now perhaps become a Christmas ghost – each year destined to be reborn and melted – an analogue ghost now haunting a digital house). The nature of haunting as a recurring point in time or a moment trapped in its environment lends itself to one of the Fortean themes to arise in the book, the theories of Charles Babbage, Eleanor Sidgwick, Edmund Gurney and most prominently in these pages of T.C. Lethbridge and the televisual drama The Stone Tape written by the recurringly hauntological explorer Nigel Kneale and first broadcast on Christmas Day 1972.
Other Fortean points of interest touched upon within the book’s meanderings include Pepper’s Ghost, J.W. Dunne’s philosophy of time, spiritualism and Alfred Watkins and John Michell’s ley-line explorations. Numerous other authors are encountered as we wind our way through the pages including W.G. Sebald, M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner and J.G. Ballard. As with Nigel Kneale, Coverley is most interested in their use of time – how seeming anomalies of time and events can cause a person or place to be haunted.
Memory and nostalgia are key to Hauntology, but as we delve deeper it is clear that the nostalgia of hauntology is not a simple fond reverie of bygone times but in using the 1970s as a strong reference point is something akin to mild trauma, yet with a strange streak of thrill. The ghost stories of Christmas, weird TV plays, folk horror films and public information film continue to haun us. But a pertinent point is that these aspects of attention are not simply daydreams of times past but a re- living of a history that has never left us. A past that has just been buried like the fiends of horror films waiting for a sequel. It is the memories of Tomorrow’s World predicting the future that is now our present – a world not of personal jet packs and happiness machines but a present where the grim ghosts of 1970s austerity, division and unrest not only did not go away, did not stay in the past , but are risen and with us again, haunting our past, present and future. This is of course reflected in artistic expression, Hauntology as a concept may have appeared in the 1990s but it is strangely a notable aspect of our current zeitgeist. We can see its past roots in a lot of contemporary writing, film and music that dwells on the outer edge of the mainstream, but it is not simply retro, it has its originality but is haunted by the past. A catharsis of demons still needing exorcised perhaps.
Coverley’s book is thought-provoking and although rather academic is engaging, but it is theoretically focussed and therefore is perhaps not the best starting point for anyone fresh to hauntology but for anyone already immersed and seeking to dig deeper into the subject it is a great addition to the haunted bookshelf.
Hauntology by Merlin Coverley
Available now from Oldcastle and other book shops/ online stores
review by Andy Paciorek
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.
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.
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
Reviewed by Andy Paciorek
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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For nearly five years the A Year In The Country project has been diligently producing field reports from the more haunted and folk horror inclined borderlands and wyrder areas of popular culture. Transmitting via their regularly updated webpage and issuing audio relics in the medium of themed compilation CD/ downloads featuring such artists as The Rowan Amber Mill, Sproatly Smith and United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country (AYITC) has amassed a valuable archive of all that is uncanny, unusual or unsettling in modern culture, whether it is film, TV, literature or music. Be it Bagpuss or Beyond The Black Rainbow, Shirley Collins or Sapphire And Steel, AYITC has documented these idiosyncratic yet highly significant moments in modern media.
These writings (or transmissions) are reproduced, revised and expanded upon here, in the first AYITC publication ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ (for the musical side of the project please do visit AYITC’s splendid Bandcamp page). Divided into 52 distinct chapters (one for each week of the year), the book is described as;
‘an exploration of the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams and where they meet and intertwine with the parallel worlds of hauntology; it connects layered and, at times, semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts, journeying from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions’.
Indeed, AYITC embrace a wide range of avenues to bring together not only a sense of how far reaching and varied the origins, mainstays and current players of genres such as folk horror or hauntology can be, but crucially also how they intertwine and cross pollinate. There are chapters therefore on 70’s acid folk and its impact and influence on today’s folk artists, on ‘Folk Horror Roots’ (including an entire chapter on ‘cultural behemoth’ The Wicker Man) but also on ‘Folk Horror Descendants’ such as Kill List, on apocalyptic popular culture through the decades (taking in the horrific The War Game as well as Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and on dystopian literature and cinema such as No Blade Of Grass, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day Of The Triffids. Television series that have become a part of the folk horror conversation also feature prominently, such as The Owl Service, The Changes, Penda’s Fen and the influential Robin Redbreast (arguably a forerunner for The Wicker Man). Each chapter expertly charts its chosen subject’s impact upon the public consciousness as well as indicating that these artefacts are now part of a greater cultural cobweb that may well have threads and components that are radically different in genre or style but that equally have a strong commonality in their sense of unease and their haunted content; of similar ghosts in the machine (or spooks in the television and bookshelves). Further investigations delve into folklore, TV public information films and the landscape itself as a medium through which a certain mood, an uncanny, can be evoked.
Speaking to author Stephen Prince, we discussed this sense of cross pollination, over genres overlapping and finding common themes and ground;
SP: I think, to a certain degree, the way in which it isn’t easily definable how the different and loosely gathered areas of culture that are discussed in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ appear to connect, influence one another, have become part of a lineage etc is an aspect of what is appealing about them and that gathering; it is part of what creates a certain mystique around it. Possibly in an age where every area of culture, no matter how niche, can be investigated and explained by for example a brief online search, it is the sense of a hidden history and stories, of an at least partly unexplained aspect to such work that is one of the things which may draw people to it. Along which lines, some of the older culture, although at times inherently containing a left-of-centredness, was initially produced and intended as quite mainstream entertainment. However, over time it has gained an otherlyness and also become points of interconnected reference and inspiration for future hauntological/ otherly pastoral work or again a loose “tradition” or set of themes:
“…they have come to be touchstones or lodestones that seem to invoke a hidden, layered history of the land but which also encompass and intertwine with a wider, hauntological, parallel, alternative version of Britain…” (Wandering Through Spectral Fields, P. 38)
In Chapter 4 of the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book (Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings) I discuss some possible shared ground for such work, including a yearning for lost utopias; whether Arcadian dreams within more folk/pastoral orientated work or the lost progressive futures of hauntology. Connected to which you may know of this article but in Robert Macfarlane’s “The Eeriness of the English Countryside”, that he wrote for The Guardian in 2015, he suggests a possible more overtly politically orientated or at least rooted explanation for this curious confluence of culture:
“What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane
There’s not really an overarching and definitive name for this “broad spectrum” of work but in that article he describes such “eerie counter-culture” as being an occulture; which seems appropriate and connects to the earlier mentioned sense of the hidden within such possibly disparate seeming work as some of the roots of the word occult are from the older French word occulte meaning “secret, not divulged” and the Latin occultus which means “hidden, concealed, secret”. I’m wary of seeming overly serious (!) about such things; to a certain degree you could see such cultural exploring as in part a form of grown-up make-believe and world creation, a form of escapist fun. At the same time and connected to the above comments by Robert Macfarlane, that escapist aspect may also at times have roots in more serious areas in that such intertwined work and the worlds it creates could be seen to also create a bulwark from what some may see as the more potentially overwhelming, rapacious or secularly monotheistic aspects of modern life, culture and dominant belief systems.
Philosopher Jacque Derrida, who again as you may know introduced the idea of hauntology, suggested that in a certain stage of society (what has been described, possibly erroneously/precipitously, as “the end of history”) the present will start to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that can be thought of as rustic, bizarre or “old-timey” or towards the “ghost” of the past. Much of the culture that I discuss in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ whether older or more contemporary, folkloric and/or hauntological, could be seen as having an “old-timey” or nostalgic aspect. At the same time often rather than purely providing the potentially more comforting, familiar and recreation of the past aspects of nostalgia, it also has reimagined, unsettled or eerie aspects:
“A re-imagining and misremembering (that creates) forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past…” (P. 27-28; from a section in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ that brings together some of the recurring themes of hauntology and which could also be applied to work which explores the flipside/undercurrents of folkloric culture).
The flipside of folk/pastoral culture and hauntology seem to interconnect to create those familiar but also reimagined, unsettling, eerie and spectral aspects; creating a cultural harvest that on paper and technically you would not expect to, as you also say, cross pollinate but which has proved curiously and intriguingly fertile and hardy.
FHR: Can you say more about your motivation for producing ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ and the possibility that this may just be a first volume of many?
SP: In terms of why I produced ‘Wandering Through Spectral Field’s as a book separate from the AYITC website; at heart and in part it’s not all that much more complicated than it was a book that I wanted to read, that I found myself looking for over the years. Previous to and since its publication/I finished writing it there have been a number of books released which have explored some similar areas but they have generally more tended to focus on one particular area of related culture; semi-consciously I wanted to bring all these different aspects together as, well, they seem to fit, interconnect and influence one another. Online and print orientated publishing both have their pros and cons, their strengths and weaknesses and I’m not didactically more inclined towards one or the other but the more possibly curated, edited etc aspect of a book can bring a particular theme or set of themes into focus – or again as you say, on reading a collection of writing in book form it is hopefully possible to “see how they become part of a larger cultural tradition”. In terms of ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ possibly becoming part of a series of books; we shall see (!).
The AYITC webpage continues to be updated with new thoughts and recollections, new features and films, books, television and music that seem to exist either in a more liminal space outside of the mainstream or that instead occupies the mainstream in a more liminal and unusual manner. Seek it out if you are not already a regular visitor. And for those who favour a little Quatermass with their Wicker Man, a touch of Belbury Poly with their Incredible String Band or a taste of Children of the Stones with an offering of Chocky, this volume is highly recommended.
With thanks to Stephen Prince for his time and answers. ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ is available from ayearinthecountry.co.uk as well as Amazon.
For Folk Horror Revivalists who wish to further explore off the beaten track into the wyrder corners of literature, TV, film and music, you are invited to explore the rich, tangled undergrowth of ‘A Year In The Country’. A blog, website and music label, for the last few years AYITC has been quietly but ceaselessly documenting the edgelands of popular culture whilst adding their own unique contribution via such album releases as ‘The Quietened Village’ and ‘The Restless Field’ (featuring folk horror friendly artists such Sproatly Smith, Polypores and Keith Seatman); music which AYITC feels ‘draws from the above strands of inspiration – the patterns beneath the plough and pylons’.
Alongside their musical excursions, AYITC are keen curators of the unsettling and the bucolic. The scripts and writings of Nigel Kneale, the music of The Owl Service, hauntological favourites from TV past such as ‘The Changes’ or ‘Children of the Stones’, contemporary explorations such as Rob Young’s acid folk tome ‘Electric Eden’; just some of the otherworldly characters, programmes and emissions from which AYINC draws its inspiration and focus for its regular features and postings. The site’s curator describes his vision as;
’A set of year-long explorations of the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams, the further reaches of folk music and culture, work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology. The main website features writing about such work and themes, posts that are intended as a trail of cultural breadcrumbs, starting points for their readers’ own wanderings and pathways through related fields’.
A highly recommended excursion for all curious and avid Revivalists there is much to be found in AYITC’s darkened hedgerows and industrial borderlands. Find them here and wander freely;
article by Grey Malkin
Yearning for the old language of my blood, bone, skin.
Searching for my stone, my soil
stained with grief
splintered with joy.
Echoes, wistful, reverberate a desire in me.
Layers of my past, senses, corrupt my present
force me toward a hard and piercing future.
But mollify too with soft promises.
I mourn the tanned, weathered experiences, pieces of myself.
I strain to hold them tight around me like protection against wind.
I seek out rivers, streams and ponds
forge through elemental forests
rejoice in the leaves’ breath harsh and tender
brush against walls, stone, foundations dense with histories
push along through familiar unfamiliar streets.
Forced to make choices, take paths one way only.
The present infiltrates, shoves and urges me forward
cuts into viscous layers of the past.
Here I am: child, girl, woman.
I am the storyteller.
I demand the past bind itself to me and keep with me in the present.
I am the story
I will not disappear.
Words and Picture (C) Carmit Kordov
Please visit Carmit Kordov Words and Pictures (https://www.facebook.com/carmitkordovwordsandpictures/ ) for more poetry, photography, writing and cultural content that veers towards Magic Realism.
This poem appeared in Corpse Roads (https://folkhorrorrevival.com/folk-horror-revival-corpse-roads/), a Wyrd Harvest Press book (https://folkhorrorrevival.com/wyrd-harvest-press/).
This week’s Unearthing Forgotten Horrors features new music from Joseph Curwen, alongside classics from Power of Zeus, Bulbous Creation, Forest, Fabio Frizzi, Tudor Lodge and David Hess to name just a few. It all kicks off Monday evening at 7pm UK time on (A1Radio – Online, Anytime)
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Unearthing Forgotten Horrors’ is an hour-long delve into the darker recesses of the musical underworld. A chance to immerse yourself in obscure horror soundtracks, dark drones, weird electronica, freaky folk, crazed kosmiche and some of the most abhorrent and twisted psychedelia ever committed to vinyl, CD or cassette.
(episodes from) The Field Bazaar
In the early 1970’s, so the story goes a group of young up and coming Portuguese script writers recruited from adverts in trade magazines and on university noticeboards were locked in a room together with a projector, an endless supply of coffee and cigarettes and a pile of books. The books were mainly short story collections of the weird and esoteric fiction variety whilst the projector showed episodes of American sci-fi/supernatural TV show The Twilight Zone in continuous rotation.
This inexperienced collective were charged with producing the first six episodes of what was hoped to be Portugal’s response to a current trend for surreal storytelling and macabre tales. Given the work that Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio and Italians Jess Franco and Dario Argento were currently involved with it is easy to see why television executives thought there was an opening in the market for Portugal’s take on the genre. The dream was to create a weekly TV show much like The Twilight Zone but with European art house sensibilities that showed leanings towards the current trend for the more grisly macabre work of those three directors.
This claustrophobic setting and the darkly intense atmosphere of the continuously flickering projector led this band of writers to emerge almost two days later with the now fabled ‘O Campo Bazar’.
Full of hope for this exciting project, filming began with alarming speed – but with scripts still being finished on set and the technical equipment in the hands of an equally inexperienced and amateurish crew the project seemed to be dying before it had even been fully born. The resulting pilot episode was critically panned and although it is cited to be Alfred Molina’s screen debut he now strongly refutes the fact claiming no involvement whatsoever in the doomed project
Critics were relentless in their damning of everything to do with this project from the sets and stories to the acting and directing. There was however one factor that caused such embarrassment that it is often cited as the last nail in the not very convincing coffin.
To affiliate this fledgling series to an already established genre and gain credibility, Vince Price had been employed to provide the voiceover introduction. It transpired that a staggeringly significant percentage of the overall budget had been spent on securing Price’s services – money that everyone agreed should have been spent on the program itself. What made this so embarrassing however was the fact that Vince Price’s pronunciation and overall delivery of the Portuguese introduction was so cringingly bad as to sound like a mocking stereotype. With no money left to find another actor of Price’s stature to rerecord the part, and with newspapers and radio programs daily mocking this particular aspect of the show, the station programmers decided to cut their losses and pull the plug.
‘O Campo Bazar’ would have disappeared without a trace – as was the TV Company’s wishes – had it not been for the release of the` (episodios de) O Campo Bazar’ e.p. Indeed there are no known surviving prints of the six episodes – of which only four ever saw the light of day – but the existence of this e.p. has ensured that the legacy of this doomed project is not forgotten. ` (episodios de) O Campo Bazar’ was a promotional gimmick marketed as `a sampler of instrumental works created especially for the programme’ and has since become an ultra-rare curio hiding out with the national collection of Hen’s Teeth.
Cover of the 1973 release `O Campo Bazar’
The original press release states that `the stunning full colour sleeve features O Campo Bazar in horrifically realistic costumes’. This is the only reference ever given to the performers who were – and still are – a mystery. Released in Portugal in 1973 on the Gravacoes Freeworld label this collection of sinister synth led soundscapes is long overdue a rerelease.
Several years later the cult status and mythos of the group/artist brought about the release of `The Bane Tree’– again on the Gravacoes Freeworld label. This vinyl version of `The Bane Tree’ is the only UK release for `O Campo Bazar’ there has been the. The artist(s) name had been translated into English – The Field Bazaar – and the` (episodes from)’, which was a clear indication of its TV series roots, had also been translated and kept. The name itself – `The Field Bazaar’ – comes from a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and was seemingly chosen to represent the writers own take on `The Twilight Zone’…..a mysterious place where the weird and wonderful coexist with the horrifying and the macabre.
The Bane Tree has the feel of being demos and unused tracks from the original recordings although the music is more acoustic and pastoral sounding with greater use having been made of sound effects. The performers remained unknown.
Front cover of the UK release `The Bane Tree’
Back cover. Note the full name translation for the title whereas credits list the group as just `the Field Bazaar’
Recently artwork for a previously unreleased and assumed lost (episodes from) The Field Bazaar album `A Tale of Witches, Woodland and half-remember melodies…’ was discovered in a box of old picture frames at a church jumble sale in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. In 2012 a ¼ inch tape also surfaced at a bankruptcy sale for a small recording studio in Bloomsbury which had been known for soundtrack and sound effect recordings. This acetate contained what is now believed to be tracks from the recording sessions for this lost album. So far a tweaked and updated `The Musgrave Ritual’ is the only track to have materialized from this lost album. The title again references Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and includes a reading of the ancient ritual from the Sherlock Holmes story of the same name.
Artwork for the recently discovered `lost’ album
Also found alongside what is assumed to be the final approved artwork for the lost `A tale of Witches, Woodland and half-remembered melodies….’ was a scribbled early sketch for the album cover – possibly drawn up by one of the unknown, almost mythical members of the band/collective/composer who made up (episodes from) The Field Bazaar. A more recognizable sketch of the final composition shows the removal of the witch’s young companion for the image –possibly considered too sinister in its implications – and also the crucifix from the front of the building.
The Long Crendon sketches – Note the inclusion of the child and crucifix in the first sketch which has been omitted in the second more familiar image.
Unfortunately there are no signatures or notes on the reverse of either piece to hint at who the artist may have been or even who was operating in the studio under The Field Bazaar moniker at the time.
Several tracks recorded by (episodes from) The Field Bazaar have been rereleased in recent years thanks to the work of a small group of geekish fans who hunt down the original studio versions, strip them down, clean them up and remix them to form even the briefest of tunes into a coherent track. Their curation and conservation of the (episodes from) The Field Bazaar’s music is not only helping to save a forgotten gem but also to bring it to a wider audience.
This playlist was initially created by Jim Peters for his personal listening pleasure but has now become an ever-growing collection of tracks suggested by members of the Folk Horror Revival group. It is now curated by Jim and is becoming more diverse, educating and entertaining with every recommendation from the group.
Folk Horror is a beast without definition – it is a personal understanding and reaction by the participant to a multitude of different creations that all appear touched with tinges of the supernatural, the folkloric and the shadowy side of our past and landscape.
The music of Folk Horror is a very difficult `genre’ to quantify being as it is itself a non-genre. The music that is considered Folk Horror has become so due to its subject matter, its atmospheres, instrumentation and inspiration – inviting individual tracks from Acid Folk, Hauntology, Traditional Folk Music, Soundtracks, Psychedelic, Ambient, Drone, Murder Ballads, Classical and Electronica to join the Folk Horror fold.
This playlist was initially created by Jim Peters for his personal listening pleasure but has now become an ever-growing collection of tracks suggested by members of the Folk Horror Revival group. It is now curated by Jim and is becoming more diverse, educating and entertaining with every recommendation from the group.
The quest continues to create the ultimate Folk Horror playlist…..come join us – from the forest, from the furrows, from the field….