Interview with Will Parsons of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

WYRD KALENDAR, REVIEW BY JOHN PILGRIM

“Gripping, sometimes terrifying but always surprising: this is the year described in the Wyrd Kalendar. Live it if you dare…” – Sebastian Baczkiewicz, Creator of BBC Radio 4’s “Pilgrim”

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Following the cult success of “Songs from the Black Meadow” in 2016, Chris Lambert is set to bring more delight to all those who enjoy the curious, magical and mythical with the release of the Wyrd Kalendar album which is published by Mega DoDo.

The strange, or more appropriately, wyrd stories of the calendar months which are to be found in the book of the same title provide the starting point for each of the artists on this remarkable release.  A captivatingly diverse musical landscape opens out before us and quickly seduces the listener into an enchanting world of folk, electronica, psychedelia and forgotten horror soundtracks.

The new year is heralded in with Widow’s Weeds (led by Grey Malkin, formerly of The Hare and the Moon) with their occult tinged hymn Song for January. This sets the tone for an unsettling but captivating hour. The imaginative electronica of Keith Seatman leads us on before the talented psych-folk singer Emily Jones brings to life the words of her long dead ancestor in Waiting for Spring. And then, before we know it, Crystal Jacqueline is playing us all for fools as she goes Chasing the Gowk.

A personal favourite of this reviewer is the song for May, as Ghost Box’s Beautify Junkyards provide Portuguese pastoral enchantment in the form of May Day Eve.  Those people who had the good fortune to see Beautify Junkyards on their recent visit to these shores will be happy indeed with this sweet vernal offering.  Soon we feel the warmth of the sun on our backs as Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle, Flibbertigibbet, Firefay and United Bible Studies teams up with David Colohan in the wasp celebration of Deadly Nest.

The second half of the year unfolds with Scarfolk collaborator Concretism treating us to the vivid imagery of A Fair by the Sea and Icarus Peel exploring lost love and yearning in the musical lament The Weeping Will Walk.

The mellow mists of Autumn begin to fold around us as folk rock duo Tir na nOg invite us to raise a seasonal glass mbine and then it is the turn of Wyrdstone to immerse us in the haunting harvest celebration of The Field.

The Soulless Party leave their familiar abode of the Black Meadow to take us for a deliciously unsettling Dark November Drive
 The year concludes with the ever delightful Rowan Amber Mill who sing us out with The Witch’s Lament.
 A final gift comes in the form of the album’s closing titular track by the shape-shifting talents of The Mortlake Bookclub.

This album and the accompanying book illustrated by the hugely talented Andy Paciorek are the fruits of rich imaginations at work. You would be foolish indeed to consider going through the year in any other way!

The album is available to buy from January 1st 2019 from Mega Dodo as a CD and as digital download, with all profits being donated to Cancer Research UK. https://megadodo.bandcamp.com/album/wyrd-kalendar

The Wyrd Kalendar book is available from http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/andypaciorek

Mega Dodo Bandcamp

www.wyrdkalendar.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Arcadia Review and Interview

Arcadia, Directed by Paul Wright – Review by John Pilgrim

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If you could understand. You would take my hand.
And I would spread so far, just like Arcadia.
{Psychic TV}

 

Arcadia, an idyllic image of life in the countryside, a pastoral paradise and the home of Pan, the half-goat, half-man god of Greek mythology who revels in rustic music and the company of wood nymphs.

 

The film Arcadia which, following its cinematic release, is now available in a splendid DVD package from the British Film Institute, is both consonant and dissonant with such associations as it transports the viewer into a strange world of forgotten customs, folk rituals and hidden practices from the last hundred years of British history.  For while many of the bucolic images are indeed delightful, a number of the scenes in this remarkable film surface darker currents and traditions in Albion’s recent past.

 

The publicity for Arcadia proudly promotes the film as offering ‘a visceral sensory journey through the seasons, exploring the beauty, magic and madness of our changing relationship with both the land and each other’.  This is an apt précis and Arcadia’s viscerality is indeed undeniable, with joyful scenes of dancing and naked pastoral celebration contrasting starkly with disturbing footage of fox hunting and other blood sports. Also central to the film’s sensory impact is a powerful score by Adrian Utley (Portishead) and Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) which provides dynamism and coherence to the myriad of images that are skillfully woven together by Paul Wright. Arcadia is by various turns naturalistic, dream-like and the stuff of nightmares.  Snippets of odd dialogue and disturbing images punctuate the film, disrupting the stream of cinematic consciousness, prompting the viewer to reflect on how our environment and peculiar traditions have come to shape our everyday reality in today’s Britain.

 

While focusing primarily on scenes of a pastoral nature – many of which are quite extraordinary – the film progresses on to depict British life in more contemporary urban settings. The contrast is marked and may jar for some, the viewer is implicitly challenged to reflect on whether the less desirable aspects of British rural life continue to the present day, simply manifesting themselves in new guises.

 

There is much in Arcadia that will intrigue those who are fascinated by the folk horror genre and open to exploring neighbouring cultural fields. Arcadia offers the opportunity to re-visit and reflect on Albion’s peculiar traditions. FHR was fortunate to have opportunity to pose a couple of questions to Paul Wright, Director, and to Adam Scovell, film-maker and author of Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, who worked on the archive research.

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FHR: Arcadia unearths a myriad of forgotten customs, delights and horrors from the celluloid history of the British countryside. Which of these made the greatest impression on you? And what do you hope viewers might learn or reflect on, particularly in the social context in which we now find ourselves?

 

PW: Rather than merely showing the chocolate box version of the countryside that is often seen, I was a lot more interested in exploring the more unusual, hidden or forgotten versions of the land. The contrasts of darkness and light, beautiful and horrific, picturesque and the disturbing, along with feeling that different truths were emerging, like ghosts from the past, was integral to the film from the start. On a personal level it was this stranger footage I connected most with.

 

Watching some of the folk customs especially was something of a breakthrough as a lot of the material had this wild, complex energy of being both extremely appealing yet terrifying at the same time. Seeing parallels between some of these rituals and more modern day equivalents was also an exciting part of the process. It was always the idea to leave some space for the audience when viewing the film.

 

The main themes we were interested in exploring were how we connect with the land, how we connect with each other, and what changes there have been between these over the years. It was always the idea that the piece would work as an emotive, sensory experience rather than an intellectual one.

 

Something that became impossible to ignore, and was present one way or another in most of the films in the archive, was the huge inequality in Britain both then and now and how that too has taken on different guises over the years but has, ultimately, remained. It felt right that this became one of the main themes running through the film.

 

AS: The most interesting and exciting footage I watched for the film was definitely a little short M.R. James adaptation made by a local film society in the fifties. I’m not sure how much of it was used in the final film but it was very interesting in itself as it was Whistle And I’ll Come To You and it seemed to foreshadow some of the visual choices of Jonathan Miller’s 1968 version for the BBC.

 

The most horrifying thing taken from the footage was more of an accumulation of watching lots of various different blood sports. There’s so much archive material gleaned from aristocrats’ home movies and obviously one of the chief things they recorded in their day-to-day life was a variety of fox hunting, hare coursing, and various different animal management from the gentry’s farming enterprises. It was a slow, building violence, that started to seep into me every day and solidified for me the frustrating dynamic still virulent today in regards to the countryside being the playground for the rich and their violent habits, even when illegal or endangering species and other wildlife.

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FHR: How did you go about choosing the material?

 

PW: There was a lot of viewing of material, mainly of the BFI archive and later the regional archives. Pretty early on I sketched a rough structure based around the four seasons. Each season had some themes and buzzwords on what may be useful to look out for and hopefully would give the piece some sort of a narrative and progression throughout.

 

From there it was myself and Adam Scovell watching a lot of footage and marking down any moment, image or sound that was interesting or could be useful down the line. This was a pretty painstaking process, there must have been thousands of notes, but ultimately rewarding to be able to explore such rich material and of course having those moments where you knew you had found something that would be great in the film we were trying to make.

 

It was then about myself and Michael Aaglund, the editor, assembling these various highlights and starting to play around with them on the timeline, still using the rough structure of seasons as a starting place but also being open enough to let the footage itself inspire new ideas. It became a pretty organic process at this stage.

 

AS: I simply worked from Paul’s detailed list of words and themes. Sometimes there would be something that just stuck out simply because it was so odd (a small documentary on a pub that started serving garden snails, for example, which certainly wouldn’t have ticked anything specific on Paul’s list of themes), but mostly it was following Paul’s lead and figuring what would work best for his vision of Arcadia.

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www.bfi.org.uk/whats-on/bfi-film-releases/arcadia

Swansongs

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John Pilgrim and Folk Horror Revival proudly present ‘Swansongs’, an evening of haunting music at the Black Swan Inn, York featuring Sharron Krauss, Hawthonn and Sarah Dean.

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Sharron Kraus is a singer of folk songs, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose solo work and collaborations offer a dark and subversive take on traditional music. As well as drawing on the folk traditions of England and Appalachia, her music is influenced by gothic literature, surrealism, myth and magick. Her songs tell intricate tales of rootless souls, dark secrets and earthly joys, the lyrics plucked as sonorously as her acoustic guitar.

She has released six solo albums, the first of which, ‘Beautiful Twisted’, was named by Rolling Stone in their Critics’ Top Albums of 2002. As well as her solo work, Sharron has recorded an album of traditional songs – ‘Leaves From Off The Tree’ – with Meg Baird and Helena Espvall of Espers, written an album of songs to celebrate the seasons of the year – ‘Right Wantonly A-Mumming’ – which was recorded with some of England’s finest traditional folk singers including Jon Boden, Fay Hield and Ian Giles – as well as recording and performing as a duo – Rusalnaia – with Ex Reverie’s Gillian Chadwick, with Tara Burke (Fursaxa) as Tau Emerald and with Irish free-folk collective United Bible Studies.

 

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Hawthonn  are Mugwort-smoking suburban witches. Sinister wailing from abandoned cooling towers. New observatories for atomic occultism. Synth-haloed chanting from the caverns of the blood moon. Gnostic pentagrams and underground spectralism.

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Sarah Dean aka The Incredible String Blonde, has been writing her own music and ‘noodling’ for years on various instruments, but only since 2007 has Sarah finally pulled all the years of performance as a singer and hours of practice together, to go solo and write and perform her own songs. 
It is the Celtic Harp that allows Sarah to create rich textures and atmospheres to the words and meaning of a song, taking listeners to another place with its magical and mesmeric soundscapes.   Peppered amongst her own self-penned songs are some surprising contemporary covers (the bluesy Man In The Long Black Coat, Pink Floyds’ atmospheric Grantchester Meadows, Walking On The Moon by The Police etc) and beautifully arranged traditional folk songs.  20 years of performing have given Sarah a relaxed and easy stage presence and audiences are treated to amusing anecdotes.

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Dating from the 15th century, The Black Swan Inn is a half-timbered pub with rooms is a block from the River Foss, a 10 minute walk from York Castle and a 5-10 minute walk from Jorvik Viking Centre.

Its traditional rooms all include en suite bathrooms and antique, 4-poster beds with rich draperies. Parking and breakfast are complimentary.

They boast a wood panelled restaurant with coffered ceilings and an open fireplace where we serve food daily, and two beer gardens where you can relax with a drink when the sun comes out.

Within this early 15th century merchant’s mansion various ghostly sightings have occurred.

There is a ghost of the gentleman in a bowler hat who appears to be impatiently waiting for someone at the bar – eventually his apparition slowly fades away.

Another ghost can be seen sitting staring into the fire in the bar. It is the ghost of a particularly beautiful young woman thought to be a jilted bride. It is said that should a man stare into her face he will die in ecstasy.

There are several other ghosts who appear regularly. A small boy, known affectionately to the staff as Matthew, is frequently seen in the bar and passageway. He is dressed in Victorian style clothes and is reportedly a pickpocket, which might explain the disappearance of various items kept behind the bar.

A rumoured highwayman, who we know as Jack, appears regularly in the kitchen, dressed in riding boots and a long black cloak. Interestingly, the kitchen was built over the original stable yard. He can also be heard singing along to Irish folk songs in the corner of the bar late at night.

A less frequent ghostly visitor is a large black cat wandering around the pub. This ghost causes confusion among staff and frequent customers alike as it bears a strong resemblance to Salem, the pubs resident feline.

The chair by the fire is reputedly cursed and it is said that should anyone sit in it a curse will fall upon them. We recommend standing.

There have been regular sightings of a pair of legs disappearing up the stairs leading to the landlord’s flat. We believe the landlord may have to be legless himself to dare to sleep there!

In the main bar area there is a clay pipe mounted on the wall. This pipe was found during restoration work. It is said that the workmen threw it out and at that very moment a chill descended upon them. There was a moment of frozen fear until one of them went to retrieve the pipe, after which the chill lifted. The pipe will always remain in the pub for fear of high electricity bills.

The Black Swan Inn – 23 Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PR

Tickets for Swansongs are available now £10 + small booking fee from –
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/swansongs-tickets-44059576379
Event is likely to sell out so please book soon to avoid disappointment.

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An Otherworldly Thank You

 

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poster © Becca Thorne

I would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU to Everyone who made the Folk Horror Revival British Museum weekend truly Otherworldly.

Firstly Immense gratitude goes to Jim Peters whose hard work on this event was incredible and immaculate. Thanks also to the fabulous work by our compere Chris Lambert, the administration work undertaken by all our team, those present at London and those who kept the group running in our absence. Thanks to the British Museum staff, Treadwell’s Books, The Atlantis Bookshop,and The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities for their great support and kindness. To our incredible speakers and guests and to all Revivalists that came along. We hope you enjoyed yourself.

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Photos © Jason D. Brawn

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Photos © Marc Beattie

Thank You Very Much to Shirley Collins, Reece Shearsmith, Iain Sinclair, Gary Lachman, Adam Scovell, Bob Beagrie and his great musical support to Leasungspell, Michael Somerset and the Consumptives, James Riley, Lee Gerrard- Barlow, Sharron Kraus,Gary Parsons, Darren Charles, Eamon Byers, John Pilgrim, Katherine Sherry Beem, Matthelos Peachyoza, Phil Rose, Stuart Silver, Dr John Callow, Rich Blackett, Cobweb Mehers, Peter Lagan, John Chadwick, Dan Hunt, Scott Lyall, Graeme Cunningham, Richard Hing, Carmit Kordov, Andy Sharp, Bob Fischer, Andrew McGuigan, Andri Anna, Becca Thorne, Stephen Canner, Harri Pitkäniemi, Jackie Taylor, Säde Säjké, Grey Malkin, Erin Christina Sorrey Jonas Halsall at Tyrant Design and Print, all the contributors to our books and music mixes and Status Quo, and if I have forgotten anyone a thousand apologies, blame the absinthe

All the support we have been shown and given has been phenomenal and very deeply appreciated.

Thank You
Andy Paciorek

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Photo © Candia McCormack

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Merchandise by Jonas Halsall at Tyrant Design and Print

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http://www.theatlantisbookshop.com/

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https://www.treadwells-london.com/

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http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org/museum-curiosities/

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More images and further information about the event to come over time …

Folk Horror Revival at the British Museum – SOLD OUT

The Folk Horror Revival: Otherworldly event at the British Museum, London on 16th October 2016 – has now Sold Out.

Thank You Very Much to everybody who bought a ticket – Enjoy 🙂

The event will feature –

Gary Lachman

Iain Sinclair

Bob Beagrie  ~ Leagunspell

Michael Somerset & The Consumptives

Eamon Byers

Adam Scovell

Gary Parsons

Yvonne Salmon

Andy Paciorek

James Riley 

 Darren Charles

Lee Gerrard-Butler

+ Very special Guests

Your compere for the day (if the Black Meadow mist allows him to escape) is Chris Lambert.

The event has been brought together by the hard work and  tireless efforts of Jim Peters with help from the FHR administration cabal.
Thanks everyone 🙂

Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (Sixth Reveal)

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The first Folk Horror Revival event will be taking place at the British Museum, London on  October 16th 2016, featuring talks, lectures, short films, poetry readings, museum tours and other wyrd and intriguing happenings.

Cult television programmes and films of the 1960s and 70s are inspiring a new generation of poets, writers, artists and musicians with their atmospheric themes of contemporary individuals interacting with a uniquely British world of ancient mythology and magic, often uncanny and unsettling.

This special event will feature lectures, film screenings, performances and gallery tours of featured objects in the Museum’s collection to explore themes of cultural rituals, earth mysteries, psychogeography and folklore. Come along and prepare to be scared!

Ticket details to be announced very shortly.

We are proud to reveal other additions to the line up – see also

Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (First Reveal)

Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (Second Reveal)

Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (Third Reveal)
Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (Fourth Reveal)

Folk Horror Revival: British Museum Otherworldly (Fifth Reveal)


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Iain Sinclair is a Welsh writer and filmmaker documentarist, poet, flaneur, metropolitan prophet and urban shaman, keeper of lost cultures and futurologist. Much of his work is rooted in London, most recently within the influences of psychogeography.,.
His early books Lud Heat (1975) and Suicide Bridge (1979) were a mixture of essay, fiction and poetry; they were followed by White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings (1987), a novel juxtaposing the tale of a disreputable band of bookdealers on the hunt for a priceless copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and the Jack the Ripper murders.

Sinclair was for some time perhaps best known for the novel Downriver (1991). It envisages the UK under the rule of the Widow, a grotesque version of Margaret Thatcher as viewed by her harshest critics. Radon Daughters formed the third part of a trilogy with White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings and Downriver.
Much of Sinclair’s recent work consists of an ambitious and elaborate literary recuperation of the occultist psychogeography of London.

One of a series of works focused around London is the non-fiction London Orbital; the hard cover edition was published in 2002, along with a documentary film of the same name and subject. It describes a series of trips he took tracing the M25, London’s outer-ring motorway, on foot. Sinclair followed this with Edge of the Orison in 2005, a psychogeographical reconstruction of the poet John Clare’s walk from Dr Matthew Allen’s private lunatic asylum, at Fairmead House, High Beach, in the centre of Epping Forest in Essex, to his home in Helpston, near Peterborough.

At the Folk Horror Revival: Otherworldly event Iain will be engaging in a Q and A discussion with Folk Horror Revivalist John Pilgrim before it being opened up to audience participation 🙂


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Also joining us are Yvonne Salmon and James Riley,  Cambridge University academics and creators of the excellent Alchemical Landscape Symposium

Yvonne Salmon: Affiliated Lecturer; Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group Chair

Yvonne’s research and teaching stretches across the Cambridge University English, Art History, Law and Land Economy departments. She chairs the Cambridge University Counterculture Research Group, convenes the Alchemical Landscape project and was formerly convener of the CRASSH Screen Media Group. Interests include film theory, visual culture, British, American and European cinema, documentary. Recurrent themes include censorship, recording, language and power, counterculture, subcultures, gender and psychogeography. She is also active in film making and documentary production.

 

James Riley is Fellow and College Lecturer in English at Girton College. James is currently working on two book projects: Playback Hex, a study of William Burroughs and tape technology and Road Movies, a psychogeographic study of cult film. He is also co-directing The Alchemical Landscape, a research and public engagement project looking at notions of magic and geography.

Between 2010 and 2013 James developed and directed an editorial project linked to the archives of the film-maker and novelist Peter Whitehead. This international collaborative project yielded a series of publications with Wayne State University Press and Adam Matthew Digital.

James blogs at Residual Noise and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Research Interests

British and American literature; literary and critical theory; Beat writers, especially Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi; literature and technology; recording, noise, cybernetics; counterculture and the 1960s; postmodernism, posthumanism and related writers, particularly J.G. Ballard; experimental cinema; terrorism; Forteana.

Casting asn eye over Britain’s mystical landscape they will bring a mixture of magick and media to the British Museum with the inclusion of Derek Jarman, John Dee and more besides in their fascinating talks.


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In addition to our speakers and performers Lee Gerrard-Barlow is offering his expertise on tours of the galleries that will focus on the occult and esoteric aspects ofthe museum’s collections

Lee has been working therapeutically with trance states ‘Meditational’ and ‘Yoga’ based practices for the last 20 Years. Lee learned the arts of Magnetism (mesmerism) and Fascination with the father of Mesmerism re-birthing – Dr. Marco Paret and studied at the Institute of Clinical Hypnosis in London. He trained as an “N.L.P Master Practitioner” under Dr.Richard Bandler’s “Society of Neuro Linguistic Programming” and studied deeply ‘Hypnosis’ and Hypnotherapy with The “Institute of Clinical Hypnosis” in London He has since Authored many articles on these subjects in various Magazines and in internet Journals.

Aside from these impressive credentials Lee also regularly gives tours of The British Museum focusing on Ancient Egyptian Magical practices by using the collections in the Egyptian Galleries to explain and illustrate. He has very kindly offered to trim his day long comprehensive tour down to a mere hour for those attending the FHR event. There will be one of these amazing tours during the morning session and then again after lunch. I think we can all agree that the inclusion of Lee in the line-up is of major benefit to not only the FHR event but also to The British Museum itself.


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In tribute to Robin Hardy (1929-2016)

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On behalf of all of the administration team here at Folk Horror Revival we would like to wish Robin Hardy’s family and friends our deepest sympathy.
Our very own John Pilgrim interviewed him last year for the Field Studies book, which may possibly be one of his final interviews and found him to be energetic and full of enthusiasm for his future projects.

It is with great sadness then that he has now kept his own appointment with The Wicker Man

R.I.P. Robin, your memory will live on through your fantastic work.

What follows is an abridged version of the Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies interview with Robin.


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In the course of his career Robin Hardy has been a director of television dramas, a maker of commercial and informational films, a writer and a film director. His debut feature was The Wicker Man, a film that has been described as ‘definitive in its solidifying of the Folk Horror sub-genre’ (1). The Wicker Man is now widely regarded as a cult classic, and its themes and concepts continue to inspire Hardy’s own work, including his forthcoming film The Wrath of the Gods.

It was the privilege of Folk Horror Revival to speak with Robin Hardy on 17 August 2015.

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Folk Horror Revival: Your work has been a foundational influence on the establishment of the Folk Horror genre. The Wicker Man is a primary touchstone in this respect. What were the critical influences that informed the making of The Wicker Man?

Robin Hardy: A lot of it has to do with the background that Anthony Shaffer (2) and I shared. We were both partners in the enterprise of a commercial television film company. We were both of a similar age and had fairly similar cultural backgrounds. I’m a Christian; Tony was Jewish. That’s a relatively small difference except that it meant we were both interested in comparative religion. While neither of us was practising our religion, it interested us how the negation of Christianity by the idea of devils and the remains of the pagan world was reflected in books and films and related to mythology more generally.

But the other very big factor in our relationship and which is reflected in the film is that Tony was a games player. He was fascinated by playing mental and sometimes physical games. This is first and foremost reflected in his well-known play Sleuth, which, as you may know, was made into a film starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Considering that the work was really pure theatre this turned out to be a very good film. It was entirely about a game – or two games in fact – so his thinking about the notion of ‘the game’, which The Wicker Man undoubtedly is, was very much his influence on the film.

My contribution was much more in relation to the cultural survival of pagan ritual in our world today. I’m very interested in the notion that we carry so much from our dim early past into the present world without really knowing it. I don’t just mean the names of the days of the week and the months of the year, but all our superstitions and a lot of our rituals like Christmas and Easter come from that period. We share those traditions with Jews and Muslims to an enormous extent. So that in having the fun – and I do emphasise the word ‘fun’ – of recreating a pagan world today redolent of what it might have been like yesterday and making that part of the game we were creating an imagined (and maybe wrongly imagined) sexual liberty of our distant ancestors. We enjoyed creating this world in a modern setting, albeit one in which the paraphernalia of the 20th century was stripped away.

FHR: As a Christian you were clearly exploring these aspects with a sense of playfulness. But at the same time there must have been a frisson that came from bumping up against the orthodox and the traditional. Could you say a little more about that?

RH: Well, of course Howie was the personification of all of that. And I suppose there is the fact that I was raised in the Church of England without being spiritually religious. I always enjoyed the language of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible. I was interested in how those marvelous pieces of literature came to be, for example, through the influence of King James and the ability to write well—would that were still true! This was a slight difficulty because of course the Scots do have Episcopalian churches and a lot their history was spent in getting rid of bishops. Howie is seen celebrating the Eucharist at the beginning of the film; the glass of wine which is taken may have been true for a minority, but we deliberately didn’t cast Howie as a true-blue Presbyterian Scot. So when we found ourselves at the ruined church with the altar it was clear that this was quite different from an Episcopalian church. So the film reflects the way I was brought up rather than the precise details of historical reality in Scotland. Scottish history wasn’t particularly in our minds; rather, a focus on the Celts was more important to us thematically. That emphasis of course came into the music.

FHR: Music and song is an integral aspect of The Wicker Man. Do you intend to continue this musical dimension into the making of your new film, The Wrath of the Gods?

RH: Yes. Of course the musical aspect was also part of The Wicker Tree, a lot of which was Celtic, as it was in The Wicker Man. I researched much of this myself and then handed it over to Tony. A particular source was Cecil Sharp, the founding father of the folk-song revival in England in the early 20th century. Sharp was an eager-beaver Victorian, rather like Lord Summerisle’s grandfather. He was fascinated by folk music. He researched it in Britain and also in the United States, in the Appalachians, where much of the original music survived. Our aim was to capture and communicate the original piquancy of such music. Another point of reference was Robert Burns. That research was very important because Tony and I thought the lyrics of the music could be used as part of the dialogue; for example, the lyrics of ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ tell us an awful lot about what is going on at that particular moment. ‘Corn Rigs’ (3) too. One of the most lovely songs which the barbarians at British Lion cut out is ‘Gently Johnny’, sung beautifully by the late Paul Giovanni.

At the early stages in the making of the film Tony had to go over to New York because he was under contract to Hitchcock to write the screenplay for Frenzy. But fortunately he left his twin Peter behind. Peter and Paul Giovanni were a couple and worked together on the songs and music. They worked on the collection of the songs that I found, and we collaborated together very successfully in incorporating them into appropriate points in the film.

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FHR: To my mind one of the strengths of The Wicker Man is that it draws out the danger of following any system of belief in an uncritical manner, whether this might be orthodox religion or paganism.

RH: In a strange way it is slightly academic. There’s quite a lot of talk in the film about the nature of sacrifice. But of course the Mass is a sacrifice and the Anglican Mass is not very different from the Catholic Mass, although it is characteristically absent in Presbyterianism: This was another reason for having Howie Episcopalian rather than Presbyterian and coming from the mainland it was not very likely that he would have been Catholic. The act in which we demonstrate the body and blood of Christ and see the wafer given and the wine drunk and the ritual burning in the final scenes of the film are both forms of sacrifice. We gave the Christian message quite a good outing in the scene where Howie is confronted by the girl who has been sent to the cliff top. As the showdown starts, Howie roars his Christian belief.

Curiously enough, a few years later when Christopher Lee and I took the film around the United States we met a very bright bunch of students whose topic was the distribution of film. We were quite nervous about this, as we were in the middle of the Bible Belt, where there was a very literal approach to traditional beliefs. We didn’t know what to expect and wondered what sort of reception we were going to get with the film. But the students took the bull by the horns and told us that they would take us to a prayer breakfast. As you probably know, politicians use prayer breakfasts to demonstrate how politically evangelical they are. To our surprise the people attending the prayer breakfast told us that they thought the film was quite wonderful. They saw it as an affirmation and cogent representation of a belief in the resurrection. They actually helped to sell the film on this basis. Quite unexpected but very welcome! The students who knew this part of the country had thought that this would probably be the case, but it certainly surprised us.

Howie’s fate, which is so transparent through the film, is conveyed perfectly by that wonderful performance of Edward Woodward. In my view this was the performance of his life. Christopher [Lee] was always very generous about Edward and his exceptional contribution to the film.

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FHR: On behalf of Folk Horror Revival we wish you all the very best with the making of The Wrath of the Gods. Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiration to us all.

Robin Hardy as interviewed by John Pilgrim. August 2015

Read more and many other wondrous things in Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies. Available from –

http://www.lulu.com/shop/folk-horror-revival/folk-horror-revival-field-studies/paperback/product-22498164.html

100% of book sales profits are dedicated

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