Thursday, 30 October 2014

HYPNOGORIA 004 - The Origins of Halloween


In an epic length show, Mr Jim Moon traverses the centuries in search of the origins of Halloween. Along the way we'll investigate the festival of All Hallows, the pagan rites of the Celts at Samhain, uncover the truth about trick or treating, the genesis of the jack o'lantern, and discover all manner of folk charms and rituals for Halloween night!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 004 - The Origins of Halloween

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Friday, 24 October 2014

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Hallowed Be Thy Charms


All Hallows Eve is now better known as Hallowe'en night, and is widely held to the spookiest night of the year, a time for ghosts and goblins and witchery! As many of you will know, it is commonly said that we celebrate all things eerie and frightening at this time as our ancestors believed that on this night the veil between worlds was thin, allowing spectres, faeries and witches to draw near to us. Hence we ward away their incursions by making jack o'lanterns and bonfires to frighten them away.

Now how historically accurate all of that actually is is something we are investigating in my next podcast - Hypnogoria 004 - The Origins of Hallowe'en, but looking through my tomes of ancient customs and folios of folklore, it is definitely true that out forebears considered Hallowe'en night to be one of the times of the year that were very appropriate for carrying out all manner of charms, rites and spells.

Some of these folk customs and bits of hedge magic were, in different regions and different times, performed on other days our ancestors deemed to be magically significant. For example, we most associate the ancient tradition of wassailing with Christmas and New Year, but in the Western Isles of Scotland on All Hallow's Eve, fishermen would gather on the beach for a round of sea wassailing. They would sing traditional songs to the waves, culminating in a toast with a brimming cup of ale to the god of the seas to ensure fruitful catches and safe voyages over the coming year.


And despite Halloween's reputation as the eeriest night of the year, a good many of the folk charms carried out in ages past were surprisingly in the cause of romance! In Scotland it was said you were to scatter hemp seeds over your left shoulder on Halloween night and intone the following rhyme "Hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true love, come after me". Then if you looked over your left shoulder, there would appear an image of your destined true love. In other parts of the British Isles it was said a similar prophetic vision of your lover to be could be invoked by eating an apple by candle-light in front of a mirror in Halloween night.

And many areas held that a similar charm could be performed with apples. In this variant, those seeking to discover their soul mate would peel and an apple and throw the peel over their left shoulder. And the shape the peel landed it was supposed to form the initials of your true love.


A somewhat squishier alternative for some amorous divination on Halloween comes from Shropshire. There is was said that if you catch a snail on Halloween and place it on a box or in the ashes of your hearth on Halloween night, in the morning you'll find the initials of your true love spelled out in the snail's slimy trail!

Similarly there are a good number of spells that could employed on Halloween night to discover who was secretly in love with you. For example, in Derbyshire young ladies would inscribe on chestnuts the names of boys who they suspected holding a torch for them. The chestnuts were then placed upon the hearth, sometimes among the embers of the fire, on All Hallows Eve and it was said which ever chestnut popped out of the fire nearest the young lady revealed the name of her secret lover.

But there were more serious charms you practice upon a Halloween night too. In Herefordshire, there was a more morbid form of divination - each member of the family would pick an ivy leaf and label it as their own. The ivy leaves were then left in a bowl of water over Halloween night. In the morning any member of the family who was fated to die in the coming year would find their leaf marked with a coffin shape. In other regions, egg whites were dropped into water to serve a similar purpose, and again if the whites formed into the shape of a coffin you would not live to see the next Halloween...

However the most spooky of all Halloween customs, and the one closest to its modern day incarnation as a time for ghosts and ghouls and phantoms, is the practice of church porching. This custom was very common in the British Isles, and as All Hallows was the day in the medieval Christian calendar when prayers were said for the dead, All Hallows Eve was a very most appropriate date for this eerie custom. But that said, some areas favoured other nights - St Mark's Day, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, so we cannot consider this tradition to be in any way exclusive to Halloween. 

However whichever night it was practised upon, the folk rite was much the same. It consisted of an overnight vigil - folks would gather in the church porch, or in some areas at the lych gate, usually before before midnight and quietly observe. For it was said that upon this night, an eerie procession of spirits could be seen entering the nighted church. However this was no solemn parade of the dead, for this eerie train of spectres was composed of those who would to die in the coming year. It was said the shades of those who were going to die appeared dressed in winding sheets and shrouds, and a ghostly service would be held in the church. Afterwards the spectres would file out and go their separate ways in the churchyard, and the scrape of coffin lids and the rattle of grave soil be heard as they vanished!

Happy Halloween!



Wednesday, 22 October 2014

MICROGORIA 05 - Fun To Know About Ghosts


Mr Jim Moon once more finds a childhood favourite lurking on the shelves in the Great Library of Dreams - a tome by one Sean Richards who turned out to be none other than legendary editor and anthologist  Peter Haining. Flipping through this vintage paperback from Armada, we indeed find much fun in knowing all about ghosts!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Microgoria 05: Fun To Know About Ghosts

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WITLESS FOR THE DEFENCE Case 16: The People Vs Bayformers



Welcome to Witless For The Defence resided over by Judge Chris Johnson, Jim (Hang’em) Moon SSC BSC and Elton McManus QVC. It in this two part epic Mr Mark Berryman defending.....
1) Transformers 1986
2) Michael Bay's Transformers
3) Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen
4) Transformers Dark Of The Moon
5) Michael Bay's Work
6) The Transformers Mythos

CASE 16 Part 1 - Direct Download
CASE 16 Part 2 - Direct Download


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Monday, 20 October 2014

SFFAUDIO - The Keep



Mr Jim Moon joins the SFFaudio Podcast to discuss F Paul Wilson's classic novel of Nazis, vampires and Lovecraftian lore, The Keep 

SFFaudio Podcast - The Keep (direct download) 

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Sunday, 19 October 2014

THE PERFECT HOUSE


Mr Jim Moon take a look at the microbudget anthology horror The Perfect House




Friday, 17 October 2014

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Rampages of Robin Redcap


Up and down the borders of England and Scotland, legend tells of a particularly nasty species of faerie, sometimes called powries or dunters but most infamously, the Redcaps. Short, wizened and extremely vicious, sporting sharp teeth and eagle like talons, these twisted little horrors wore iron boots and were armed with heavy pikes, and were said to infest castles and keeps in the borderlands, lying in wait to ambush travelers. Their preferred gambit was to roll or hurl boulders at their passing victims and then drink the blood fresh from the mangled corpses. And their name comes from their custom of dipping their hats in the spilled blood. Furthermore it was said that should that blood ever dry completely, the Redcap would die.

Despite their iron footwear, Redcaps were terrible fast - few of the victims could outrun them. However they could not abide the sound of holy words, and so on hearing the recitation of passages from the Bible, the Redcaps would flee at great speed, leaving behind one of their teeth.

The most famous of these bloodthirsty sprites was Robin Redcap. In the 1300s, Hermitage Castle in Roxburghshire was home to Sir William de Soulis, a cruel and evil man who according legend practiced the black arts and gained a familiar spirit, a Redcap named Robin whose bloodthirstiness encouraged de Soulis to greater evils. Hermitage Castle was so filled with murder, torture and rape that it was said the very weight of such great sins were pushing the castle into the very earth, as if the stones were trying to hide from the sight of God.

Eventually the locals could stand no more and rose up against their cruel tyrant. However Robin Redcap had conferred upon de Soulis a curious power - thanks to the goblin, and at the price of his soul, de Soulis could not be harmed by "lance and arrow, sword and knife" nor would ropes bind him. However siding with the locals, the King of Scotland's army took arms against de Soulis and despite his magickal invulnerabilities, de Soulis was still captured - from despite Robin's powers preventing the King's men from binding him, they instead rolled him up in a sheet lead. The King decreed he was to be put to death, so de Soulis was taken to a circle of standing stones, Ninestane Rigg, just outside Hermitage Castle.  A huge cauldron was set inside the ring of ancient stones and a great fire was lit beneath it. And thus when the flames grew hot enough  "They plunged him into the cauldron red/And melted him, body, lead, bones and all."

When his master perished Robin Redcap disappeared, however it is said the devilish goblin had amassed a treasure hoard which lies hidden to this day in Hermitage Castle, and the terrible sprite has been seen several times over the years, presumably still watching over his hoard...


Illustration - a mummified Robin made by Mr Jacob Petersson

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Do Cross the Streams!



It has always been a great consolation to know that despite their considerable supernatural talents, the powers of darkness often have a weakness, an Achilles heel us poor mortals can use to repel the forces of evil and thwart the machinations of the denizens of the night. For example, we know vampires cannot abide garlic, werewolves are adverse to silver, and salt is good against all manner of evil beings. 

However there is one such weakness that is shared by a great many of the powers of darkness; indeed it is said to be good against vampires, witches, demons, malign faeries and all manner of ghosts and spectres. For folklore from down the ages, and indeed across the world, tends to agree that should you encounter beings from the night side of creation, your best bet is flee and cross running water.

But despite it being so remarkably efficacious, this method of escaping the clutches of the dark powers is also perhaps one of the most mysterious and the most puzzling. While most of such aversions and protections we may rationalize as being down to the biological allergy inbuilt into some monsters or by being symbols or channels for powers opposing them (for example the cross repelling vampires), the whole crossing running water is highly baffling, at least to the modern mind, and raises all manner of curious questions such as would a garden hose work to create a witch-proof barrier? Can you really kill a vampire with in your shower as seen in Dracula AD 1972


Well, despite the marvelous monster-thwarting potential seemingly offered by bathroom fittings, garden equipment and water pistols, I regret to inform you all that probably only running water found in a naturally occurring geographical feature, such as a river, stream or sea will work.  

Now many theories have been advanced to explain why the water features of a landscape provide such excellent protection against the forces of evil. Some have speculated it is because water is so essential to all living creatures, it is a symbol of life itself and hence repels things such as vampires and ghosts which rightly belong in the realms of the dead. Others postulate a link with water's reflective powers - mirrors were believed to have the power to trap souls and hence running water had similar properties and furthermore could perhaps wash away a restless spirit. 

For example, in the case of vampires, it is theorized that the flowing water would separate the evil entity reanimating the corpse. Furthermore in the excellent Vampires, Burial and Death, Paul Barber speculates that the superstition of vampires being unable to cross running waters may have arisen from corpses being disinterred from shallow graves by flooding and washing up miles away downstream leaving confused folk assuming that the dead must have been walking and only thwarted when blundering into a waterway.

However as entertaining as these theories are, the widespread belief in crossing running water providing a protection from evil beings is more likely rooted in a very different world view. In pre-modern times, communities were far more isolated, government was far more local, and travel was difficult and dangerous. Hence it was very common for people never to venture very far out of their local area, for in many eras to do so would mean literally leaving civilization and entering a wilderness where you were at the mercy of the weather, wild beasts and outlaws. Therefore the boundaries of a town or village were very important in the minds of the populace, and to cross these boundaries meant going from one realm to another. 

Now all communities need a water supply and hence were very much defined by the water features of the local landscape, with their boundaries often being marked by rivers and streams and coastlines. Faeries, witches, vampires and the like were seen to be forces of Outside, part of the threats that waited beyond the same safe, civilized area of your village or town. And folklorists have found that commonly local legends occur in these borderlands, what are technically termed liminal areas. It is the on the roads and lanes just out of town, the places just over the parish boundaries or county lines that the monsters dwell, where the ghosts haunt and the witches gather. 


And hence in earlier eras when the world you lived in was small, local and strictly defined and your life and livelihood tied to a very specific area,  it was assumed that naturally the denizens of the supernatural world were similar bound by place. Therefore crossing a stream  or river would see you crossing from one realm to another, hopefully passing out of the sphere of influence where the monsters held sway and back into the small circle of light and life of that was home. 

A word of caution however - depending on the local legend and lore crossing running water by a bridge did not always confer the same protection. For example in Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter, our Highland hero makes good his escape by crossing a bridge, however in other tales the bridge is where the monster waits - most famously in the form of the troll in the Norwegian legend we now know as the Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. For a bridge was a point where the worlds meet and overlapped, a liminal area within a liminal area  if you will. And therefore rather providing protection, a bridge could be a point where the horrors could get you! 



Thursday, 16 October 2014

HYPNOGORIA 003 - Horror Double Bills 3


In the third and final part of our series of double features in horror, Mr Jim Moon examines the history of the late night horror double bill on TV, discussing the likes of Shock Theater, horror hosts, Creature Features and the legendary BBC 2 horror double bills

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 003 - Horror Double Bills Part 3

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Friday, 10 October 2014

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Headless Horsemen


As Halloween approaches many of us will be planning a revisit to a certain old classic that has long been associated with the spooky celebrations at the end of October - Washing Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This well-loved tale has been adapted many times over the years, and the story of Ichabod Crane's encounters with a sinister rider, in one form or another, has become a staple of many people's Halloween festivities.

Now in modern pop culture, spectres who carry their own severed heads are, after the classic sheeted spook, the most common image we associate with ghosts. And over the years many have assumed that the headless ghost owes its popularity to Irving's famous tale. However decapitated phantoms were very common in folklore and legend well before The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - for example Henry VIII's wife Anne Boleyn, who was executed by beheading, is reputed to haunt several places, strolling through the night with her head tucked underneath her arm. Indeed many areas across the world have a local legend featuring a headless ghost - sometimes they are historical personages, like the afore-mentioned Anne Boleyn, who were executed by beheading, but others lost their heads in war, by accident or in bloody murders, and these latter spirits are often alleged to be searching for their missing bonces!

But more specifically, headless horsemen are common too, and indeed there is an abundance of tales featuring cranially challenged riders which could have inspired Mr Irving. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow first appeared as a tale in a larger work The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. which detailed a tour of Europe conducted by Irving. And while on his travels, Irving particularly enjoyed various eerie tales, for example in the section Old Christmas he recounts hearing spooky tales told by a Yule fireside, and he records he was particularly impressed by a collection of German ghost stories.

Scholars believe this was probably one of the collections of folk tales and strange tales by Karl Musäus (1735-1787), namely Volksmärchen der Deutschen - as sections of this volume had been translated into English in 1791 and published under the title Popular Tales of the Germans. And indeed there are several tales of headless spectres, indeed including confrontations on lonely bridges and shattered pumpkins, which seem to have provided the model for Irving's tale.

Incidentally a tale from Musäus was translated into French and appeared in Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès' Fantasmagoriana (1812), the volume that was read by Byron, Shelley, Polidori and Mary Shelley while on holiday at Lake Geneva. The party enjoyed reading these stories so much that they decided to try to craft tales of terror of their own, resulting in the creation of the vampire Lord Ruthven, the forerunner of Dracula, and most famously Doctor Frankenstein and his monster. Hence if it was a tale from Musäus that inspired Mr Irving, then the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow may claim to be a close relative of the famous Gothic monsters.

However Musäus might not have been been the sole inspiration, for Tam O'Shanter by Robert Burns is a similarly horrific but humourous tale, and also which features a fellow pursued by ghosts and witches who is only saved by crossing a bridge... but more on the powers of crossing running water another day! Furthermore we know that Irving was much influenced by Sir Walter Scott who made much use of local lore and legend in his own works, and the folklore of the United kingdom is full of headless spooks and spectral riders.

Probably the most gruesome of these legendary headless riders is the Irish Dullahan, which means literally 'Dark Man'. Also known as as Gae Ceann (meaning 'without a head'), this being was a malevolent faerie that rode at night on a gigantic coal black horse carrying his own rotted head and brandishing a whip. This whip was made from a human spine used by the Dullahan to whip out the eyes of those who saw it riding. Sometimes the Dullahan was seen pulling a wagon decked out like a hearse with funeral regalia and sporting lanterns made from skulls, wheel spokes fashioned from bones and drapes of flayed human skin. The Dark Man was said to throw basins of blood over those it encountered who were soon to die, and would often relentlessly pursue unwary travelers. It was said that no gate or door could stop the dark rider, with any obstacle or barrier magically opening to allow him to reach his prey. However like many folkloric horrors, the Dullahan had a weakness - in this case a mortal fear of gold, and it was claimed that even a single golden coin could drive off the dread spectre!







Monday, 6 October 2014

WITLESS SPECIAL - Transformers: The Audio Logs


BONUS EPISODE!!!!

In the latest episode of WITLESS FOR THE DEFENCE - Case 16 - Michael Bay's Transformers films are in the dock. And Mr Jim Moon somewhat foolishly decided to watch all four... in a single day. The following audio logs have been recovered from the wreckage...

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Transformers: The Audio Logs

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

MICROGORIA 04 - All About Monsters


Time travelling once more on the black batwings of nostalgia, Mr Jim Moon enthusiastically rambles about World of the Unknown: All About Monsters published by Usborne back in 1978. Swearing, over-excitement and a feast of monsterdom results!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Microgoria 04: All About Monsters

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Friday, 3 October 2014

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Witch Bottles


While either renovating, demolishing or excavating old dwellings, builders where often to puzzled to find curious objects buried or embedded in the fabric of the house. Common odd finds included old shoes, dead cats and animals skulls, concealed in chimneys, bricked up over windows or buried under doorsteps. However most puzzling were the sealed jars and bottles which when opened were found to contain rusted needles and nails and a foul smelling fluid. 

So then why did the good folks of ages past include these bizarre items in the construction of their homes? Well the answer can be found in the ancient tome Saducismus Triumphatus, or Evidence concerning Witches and Apparitions written by Joseph Glanvil in 1681. In this noted volume, the creation of one of these curious bottles is detailed - a man's wife was suffering from a mysterious ailment, and witchcraft was the suspected cause. An old man advised the troubled husband to take some of his wife's urine and seal it up in a bottle along with nails and pins to counter the evil magic. Initially the wise old fellow recommended heating the bottle on the fire. However when the bottle exploded, he advised instead burying the bottle and when this was done, his wife recovered. Furthermore later on it was discovered that a man of the town had died mysteriously and his wife confessed that her husband had been a wizard and had been responsible for the original troublesome spell. 

Many such bottles have been discovered in houses built from 1600 onward, and witch bottles have been discovered all across the United Kingdom, and even in the United States. The bottles themselves are often a bartman or bellarine, a piece of Rhenish stoneware from Germany popular the 16th and 17th centuries. And while the pins, needles and nails (and sometimes other sharp objects such as thorns or shards of glass) are common ingredients, sometimes salt, red thread, feathers and all manner of other items that local folklore deemed good against evil forces were included. Sometimes the liquid was replaced with wine or sea water, but nearly all included some highly personal ingredients, such as hair, nail clippings or blood - experts have even found one that included bellybutton fluff! 

The witch bottle works on the principle of sympathetic magic. We have all heard how a witch would take a personal item or hair or nail clippings and use them to fashion a poppet or effigy in their victim's image - the traditional voodoo doll - and whatever affected the doll, would magically be transferred to the victim. And these counter charms exploit on the same magical principle - by concealing such an object that contained your personal essence at the thresholds of your house (such as doors, windows and chimneys), any spell targeting you would be absorbed by the bottle. Furthermore the sharp objects and other counter charms would entangle the incoming bad magic and/or send the spell back to the sender in the most painful manner!

Scholars believed that the concealed shoes, one of the most common odd finds in old houses - is a product of the same magical thinking - any spell directed at you would be drawn harmlessly into the old shoe which through years of wear had soaked up enough of your personal essence to act as a decoy. 

So then should wish to keep your home safe from evil influences, you now known exactly what to do - and given that large numbers of shoes and witch bottles found over the centuries, obviously they are very effective! I recommend making and concealing some kind of witch repelling item today! If nothing else, it is a great chance to baffle an archaeologist or builder in the far future! 





FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY : The Devil's Blackberries!


Once again autumn is here, and in the old medieval calendar the start of the new season was marked by one of the four quarter days - Michaelmas. Also known the Feast of All Angels and the Feast of the Archangels, Michaelmas falls upon the 29th of September, close to the Autumn equinox. In Christian legend, this was the date that the Heavenly Host triumphed against Lucifer and the rebel angels, with St. Michael defeating the Devil and casting him out of Heaven (as envisioned above by Albrecht Dürer).

However according old legends found in the British Isles, when the Devil was flung from Heaven, the Dark Lord fell to earth and landed, somewhat painfully in a blackberry bush. His Satanic Majesty was obviously not best pleased, and spat and trampled upon the errant bushes. As an old Irish proverb sums it up - “On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries”! However Old Nick was so enraged he also laid an everlasting curse upon them, and hence it was said that after Michaelmas Day, any blackberries on the bushes now belonged to the Devil Himself and it was most unwise to pick them. 

As colourful and fantastic this old tale is, there is a certain wisdom buried within it.  For by the end of September any remaining blackberries may well have felt the touch of a first frost, or be spoilt by worms and larvae that feed upon them. However for those who would heed the legend's warning, this legend predates the re-organisation of the calendar in England, when thanks to the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750 we adopted the corrected Gregorian calendar. Famously this saw the English "losing" eleven days, something that didn't sit right with many folks. And therefore several festivals and notable dates were still celebrated under the old system - hence on October 10th, some parts of England celebrated what was now called Old Michaelmas. And so if you go with the adjusted date of the Old Michaelmas, you can get a week and half extra of Devil-free blackberry picking!