Book Review: Trees of the Goddess by Elen Sentier

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Trees of the Goddess by Elen Sentier

Image taken from Moon Books website

Image taken from Moon Books website

Trees of the Goddess is a great little book, in only 101 pages Elen Sentier manages to introduce the main concepts of Ogham, the Celtic tree alphabet, and its application within the British Shamanic Tradition.

The book provides a primer for tree magic, and provides an explanation of the cycles of the sun and moon before covering the Ogham alphabet and ending with a series of deceptively straight forward sounding exercises and rituals.

As someone only vaguely aware of Ogham and aware of it only in the context of archaeological inscriptions, it was truly absorbing to find out more about the deeper more esoteric side of this alphabet.   The book sets out the 13 months of the year, alongside the Ogham symbol and the corresponding British tree.  A wealth of practical information such as etymology, history, identifying features of each tree,  medicinal uses and folk-lore  is complemented by thoughtful reflections on the deeper concepts at play within this tradition.

The influence of Robert Graves ‘The White Goddess’ is evident and where the author deviates from traditional she clearly indicates it and explains her reasoning. The author seems well aware of the academic debate about the origins and usage of Ogham and while acknowledging this debate, keeps wisely to her own path.

The writing style is fluid and engaging with occasional joyful bursts of very earthy wisdom.  All together I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For a very small book, clearly designed as an introduction to the subject, I felt that it packed in a lot of useful information. I can imagine dipping into this book again and again.  It certainly made me want to dig deeper into this area of study.

Elen Sentier.  Image from Moon Books website.

Elen Sentier. Image from Moon Books website.

Elen Sentier grew up on Dartmoor and the edge of Exmoor.  She grew up steeped in the British Native Tradition and now writes eloquently on the British Shamanic Tradition – both fiction and no fiction.  Trees of the Goddess is part of the ‘Shaman Pathways’ series published by Moon Books.

Trees of the Goddess by Elen Sentier is published by Moon Books and is available on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shaman-Pathways-Trees-Goddess-Working-ebook/dp/B00KSNCS2W%3FSubscriptionId%3DAKIAIOJGEB6643FVTU7Q%26tag%3Dwwwobookscom-21%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB00KSNCS2W

 

 

 

Review: Thinking with Anne Armstrong: Witchcraft in the North East During the 17th Century by Prof James Sharpe

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A Full House

XIR109478 The Witches' Sabbath (oil on canvas) by Goya y Lucientes, Francisco Jose de (1746-1828) oil on canvas Museo Lazaro Galdiano, Madrid, Spain Giraudon Spanish, out of copyright

The Witches’ Sabbath (oil on canvas) by Goya.

Newcastle University hosts a number public lectures as part of their Insights Series. I was fortunate enough to attend last nights lecture by James Sharpe, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of York, and author of a number of influential works on historical witchcraft (listed at the end of this post).  Whether it was simply down to the continued fascination historical witchcraft still holds on the popular imagination, or the exuberantly tabloid headline from the local newspaper a few days before, the lecture hall was packed to the rafters.

The talk was a lively and fascinating look at how witchcraft expressed itself in the North East of England, and whether in this region witchcraft was distinct from the rest of England. Professor Sharpe covered a lot of ground, in what is a very complex subject, in only an hour.  The talk highlighted some of the advances in the study of historical witchcraft in the past thirty years, some of which cast into doubt some of the received wisdom regarding the witch craze. Here are some of the elements of the lecture that I found particularly interesting.

The influence of Scotland in North East England

Burning a witch at the stake.  16th Century European Woodcut

Burning a witch at the stake. 16th Century European Woodcut

One of the determining features Professor Sharpe identified in possibly distinguishing North East witchcraft and witch hunts from the rest of England,  may have been the region’s proximity to Scotland.  In Scotland, Prof Sharpe noted that there had been an aggressive Reformation which when coupled with a de-centralised judicial system (where the local laird or lawyer could be responsible for prosecuting accused witches, possibly for financial gain) may have created an atmosphere in which witch hunts thrived.  Historical records suggest 2000 witches were executed in Scotland (preferred method: burning), as compared to 500 recorded executions in England (preferred method: hanging) – basically you were 12 times more likely to be executed as a witch in Scotland than in England.  I have to say, I was surprised by the comparatively low figures for executions for England (and even Scotland) – Professor Sharpe quoted figures of 40,000 executions across Europe during this period (80% of which were women). There may be many people particularly in the Pagan community who may strongly disagree with these numbers; but it is worth considering that however many were actually executed, the fact that anybody was persecuted or executed for witchcraft is in itself a tragedy.

One possible example of the influence of Scotland on the North East of England can be found in a rather chilling footnote in relation to a case tried by the Ecclesiastical Courts in Berwick in 1599. A man was accused of fornication, his wife was accused of witchcraft, he was let off,  she was burned at the stake over the border in Scotland.  But perhaps Berwick, with its constantly shifting border was a special case.

The Newcastle Witch Trials

Nevertheless, Newcastle has the dubious honour of being the scene to one of the largest witch hunts in England in the seventeenth century (only Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne in Essex and East Anglia could boast a higher head count).  Perhaps this was indeed down to the proximity with Scotland.  And, lets face it, the authorities in Newcastle called a Scottish Witch Pricker to examine the accused witches – so there must have been links.  Professor Sharpe took the time to explain the famous image below which shows the Newcastle Witches being hanged.

witchesbeinghung

The Newcastle Witches being executed by hanging. On the left is the bell-ringer who called for people to make their accusations while on the right, the witch pricker is being paid.

Anne Armstrong and the Witches Sabbat

Clearly the lecture was leading up to the eponymous heroine Anne Armstrong. In 1673 Anne Armstrong gave a startling account of a witches Sabbat to Northumbrian Magistrates, the account is utterly unique in English witch trials.

Anne Armstrong accused Anne Baites of Morpeth of bewitching her and of attending Satanic meetings at what is now the Wellington Pub in Riding Mill.  Anne also accused three other women of supping with ‘theire protector which they called their god in the Riding house.’  Anne’s account contains classic continental elements of dancing with the devil (in this case unusually called ‘protector’), shape-shifting, and an attempt to incriminate large numbers of others (both named and by description) as being present at the Sabbat. Interestingly the deposition also contains one of the earliest uses of the word Covey/Coven (a term only in use for about 10 years in Scotland/England at that time).

V0025811ETR Witchcraft: witches and devils dancing in a circle. Woodcut,

Early woodcut of a witches Sabbat

As quoted in the Evening Chronicle[1] Professor Sharpe said of Anne’s account:

“One of the big things that witches were meant to be doing outside of the UK at this time was having meetings where they got together in large numbers, they would fly there, have sex with the devil and eat the bodies of babies.

“It was a Satanic gathering.

“But this part of witchcraft is absent from England at the time, apart from in the case of Anne Armstrong.”

Frustratingly the historical record is fairly scant as to who Anne was, although it does appear that she lived in Birchen Nook near Stocksfield in Northumberland and was a servant girl at Burytree House.  Professor Sharpe considers that the evidence suggests she was quite young – probably a teenager – which fits the profile for a lot of accusers.  Her vivid account of a Witches Sabbat provides tantalising glimpse into the mind of a young girl who tried to start a witch hunt and it generates so many questions.  Was she local or did she come from Scotland? (Armstrong is a name found on both sides of the English/Scottish border).  How did a young servant girl in the North of England come up with this very continental account of a Sabbat? Was the reference to the Devil as ‘protector’ a sly dig at Cromwell The Lord Protector(!) We will probably never know – as Professor Sharpe commented – the historical record for this period of North East history is very patchy indeed.  One thing is for certain though, what ever other regional/national similarities or dissimilarities, this account of a Witches Sabbat is unique to the North East.

The difference between English and European Witch Hunts

One of the issues that came up in the lecture was: why wasn’t the continental model adopted in England and why didn’t the English witch hunts reach the staggering proportions of those elsewhere?   The view proposed was that England had certain differentiating features:  it was, officially at least, a protestant country and this may have made the parodying the Catholic Mass in a Continental Style Witches Sabbat less likely (a by-product of this would be fewer opportunities for the accused to counter-accuse and cause trials to mushroom as they did in Europe).

In relation to Scotland, England’s reformation had been gentler; and unlike Scotland, England had a centralised judicial system peopled by trained judges. In addition to this serious charges of witchcraft were tried in secular not ecclesiastical courts.  All of these factors combined to create a climate where, despite the belief in witchcraft being almost universal, there was less willingness for those in control to let witch hunts get out of hand.  In fact, Anne Armstrong’s colourful accusations did not result in the accused being executed.

Altogether, this was a fascinating lecture providing much food for thought.  On a parting note, one of the most poignant elements of the evening was seeing the burial list from St Andrew’s church in Newcastle; the list that named those executed for witchcraft in 1650 and who were buried in the Churchyard not a stones throw from where we were sitting.  England may not have had the large-scale witch hunts seen on the continent, or in Scotland, but that should not diminish the individual and communal tragedy that each of those names represented.

St Andrews BW

St Andrews Church, Newcastle. Last resting place for many of the Newcastle Witches. Image by Lenora.

The lecture was recorded and should be available soon on the Newcastle University Website or via itunes:

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/events/public-lectures/archive.php

Books and Articles about Historical Witchcraft by Professor James Sharpe

Instruments of Darkness; Witchcraft in England 1550 – 1750 (1996)
The Bewitching of Anne Gunter: a horrible and true Story of Football, Witchcraft Murder, and the King of England (1999)
Witchcraft in early modern England (2001: second edition in preparation)
In Search of the English Sabbat: Popular Conceptions of Witches’ Meetings in Early Modern England

Other sources

http://www.ncl.ac.uk/events/public-lectures/item.php?james-sharpe

http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/sex-devil-dark-sorcery—8581831 [1]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riding_Mill

 

 

Boulton and Park: a tale of Victorian cross-dressing

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Picking up Boulton and Park

Fanny-and-Stella_N_MckennaAs some of you may know, I have been a little pressed for time this year what with one thing and another, so for a well-earned break I recently took myself off to my local bookshop and decided to see if anything took my fancy. Needless to say I did not come away empty-handed (although empty was probably a good way to describe my bank account afterwards). It was on this foray that purely by chance I picked up ‘Fanny and Stella’ by biographer Neil McKenna. Mainly, I have to admit, because the cover image had more than a passing resemblance to Emily and Florence of Little Britain fame.

‘Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England’ is a rippingly good read, by turns high camp, archly knowing, tragic, joyful, and utterly gripping from start to finish. McKenna has such a lively style of writing, getting into the mindset of all of his ‘characters’ often to great comic effect, yet not omitting the sometimes eye-watering details of their lives.  ‘Fanny and Stella’ reveals and revels in a vibrant Victorian sub-culture of cross-dressing ‘He-she ladies’, their amorous beaus and the ‘moral majority’ that was by turns horrified and fascinated by them.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams as unconvincing transvestites Emily Howard and Florence Rose from Little Britain

Matt Lucas and David Walliams as unconvincing transvestites Emily Howard and Florence Rose from Little Britain

So, for your delectation, here is a brief jaunt through the lives of the glorious and irrepressible Fanny and Stella.

A Decidedly Theatrical Nature

Ernest Boulton was often mistaken for a woman in mens clothes.

Ernest Boulton was often mistaken for a woman in mens clothes.

From an early age both Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park exhibited a decidedly theatrical bent. Ernest was born in 1848 in Tottenham, son of a stockbroker, and grew into a beautiful boy, so beautiful that he was often mistaken for a girl. In fact he soon found that dressing up as a girl suited his style admirably. His doting mother considered it quaint and playful when he impersonated maids and even loaned him dresses, kept a photo album and joined in when his theatrical friends began calling him Stella. Little did she know that her blue-eyed boy was out on the ‘pad’ nightly, finding pleasure (and extra income) in the arms of rugged chaps from all classes of Society. Stunningly beautiful, Stella lived up to her name and became something of star of the cross dressing demi-monde. Willful, mercurial and petulant Stella was definitely high maintenance – nevertheless she eventually captured the heart of a peer of the realm, Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton and was able to restyle herself, Lady Clinton.

Fanny, standing, Lord Pelham Clinton, sitting and Stella kneeling.

Fanny, standing, Lord Pelham Clinton, sitting and Stella kneeling.

The imperious Fanny Park

The imperious Fanny Park

Frederick Park was born in the same year as Stella, son of a respectable Judge. Never a match for Stella’s extraordinary good looks, she made up for it with style and attitude. Fanny, as she became known, was imperious and haughty with something of the air of a duchess about her – and was fond of littering her speech with French phrases.

By the 1860’s Fanny and Stella had found in each other devoted sisters. Together they formed a theatrical duo. Stella would invariably play the beautiful ingénue, often bringing the audience to tears with her lovely singing voice, while Fanny would excel as the imperious, often comic, matron. Together they flirted, flounced and trolled their way around the West End of London with a band of equally flamboyant confederates such as The Comical Countess and Carlotta Gibbings.

Wild cross dressing balls were organised in particular, by Carlotta, who later turned out to be a very good friend to Fanny and Stella when things turned sour.  In fact one of London’s most famous male prostitutes of the day, Jack Saul, in his Sins of the City of the Plain (an early work of homosexual pornography) provides a vignette of Lord and Lady Clinton en amoureux at one such ball held at Haxell’s Hotel.

Fanny, right, and Stella, left, in theatrical mode.

Fanny, right, and Stella, left, in theatrical mode.

A night at the opera

All might have carried on quite spiffingly for the flamboyant duo and their trail of lovers.  After all, London’s theatre land was full of eccentric, outre people out for a good time: the respectable classes rubbed shoulders (and other things) with ‘gay’ ladies (high-end female prostitutes), male prostitutes, men in drag and ladies dressed as gents. Unfortunately for Fanny and Stella, their very overt behaviour seems to have touched a nerve with Victorian Society (usually fairly good at living with double standards where sexuality was concerned).

As Neil McKenna so succinctly put it

“As sodomites, especially as effeminate sodomites, disguised as women, and prostituting themselves, Fanny and Stella and everything they stood for touched some of society’s deepest and darkest fears of dirt, degeneration, syphilis, excrement, poverty, violence and empheminisation.” [1]

On 28 April 1870, after a particularly drunken and lascivious appearance at the Strand Theatre, Fanny and Stella, accompanied by Hugh Mundell (one of their beau’s) were nicked by the police and hauled off to face charges.

 

Fanny and Stella arrested at the Strand Theatre

Fanny and Stella arrested at the Strand Theatre

The arrest caused a sensation, equal parts horror and fascination.  The public was morally outraged and strangely titillated.  The unfortunate pair was dragged off to jail and subjected to a humiliating examination carried out without their consent, to ascertain if they had committed sodomy (which was at that time a crime).  The following day, at Bow Street Magistrate they were brought before the judge still in their female finery.  Huge crowds gathered outside the court and the newspapers eagerly reported on every salacious detail.

But Fanny and Stella were not hung out to dry.  Their good friend Carlotta Giddings moved quickly to try to protect them, she had shared lodgings with them and set to work removing evidence from their rooms, she also visited them in jail and brought mens clothing for them so they would appear less more conventional at their next appearance (much to the disappointment of the public who had come to gawp).

The Trial

After several terrible months in prison Fanny and Stella were released on bail and it was in May the following year that the trial was commenced.  They were charged alongside a number of others, some of whom had legged it well before the trial.  Lord Arthur Pelham Clinton, with whom Stella had lived as man and wife,  may be seen as a tragic fatality of the trial. He was said to have died of Scarlet Fever on the day he received his subpoena, but he may have committed suicide to escape the stigma of a trial for sodomy.  McKenna reports that at the time many people thought his death had been faked and he was in fact living abroad, one can only hope.

The Trial, Stella centre, Fanny, right.

The Trial, Stella centre, Fanny, right.

Many witnesses were brought to trial to testify to the louche and raucous behaviour of Fanny and Stella, to demonstrate that these individuals habitually dressed as women and entertained men. The prosecution even pandered to the sensational element of the trial by bringing in Fanny and Stells’s extensive wardrobe of female dress (which oddly enough also included a false beard!)

Police raid Fanny and Stella's wardrobe.

Police raid Fanny and Stella’s wardrobe.

However, with a strong defending council in the form of Mr George Lewis, the prosecution was in the end ripped to shreds.  Not only that, but an alarming level of police corruption was revealed as well as  what could have amounted to an establishment sponsored conspiracy to make an example of Fanny and Stella as a threat to the morals of the nation (and as a warning to the others perhaps?)

One of the key pieces of evidence against the pair came from Dr Paul, with his specialism in identifying the signs of sodomy.  He had examined the behinds of the Boulton and Parks on the night of their arrest, and found unequivocal evidence of dastardly doings. For the trial further medical experts were brought in to back up these claims.  However, by the time the veritable coach party of eminent physicians got to poke and prod at the fundaments of the unfortunate duo, several months had passed thereby giving ample time for any physical evidence to become less obvious. This left the charge of sodomy very hard to prove.

Although sodomy was definitely illegal, simply dressing up as a woman and parading around the West End flirting with men was not actually a crime – however much the ‘moral majority’ might have wished it to be. After all, although Fanny and Stella dressed as women, they often made it very clear that they were in fact men so they could hardly be seen to by trying to trick unsuspecting men into committing the crime of sodomy against their will. Unlike Emily Howard’s constant refrain of ‘I’m a Lady’ in Little Britain, Stella actually wrote to one of her suitors, Hugh Mundell, explicitly stating that she was a man dressed as a woman (this did not put off this keen individual, he still fancied the pants of Stella, such was her charm).

This left the prosecution with the unenviable task of trying to make the nebulous charge of conspiracy to incite sodomy stick, as McKenna noted:

“Not to put too fine a point on it, the case against the four young men was all at sea…..Instead of being tried for the crimes they had committed, these four young men were on trial for crimes they had yet to commit, for crimes they might have thought about, or talked about, or imagined for a moment in their mind’s eye – or not, as the case may be.” [2]

As McKenna points out, this kind of unlimited thought policing was enough send a nervous shiver down the spine of a number of those present at the trial – ‘moral majority’ included.

The Verdict

With the prosecution in tatters, the tide turned in favour of Fanny and Stella (especially after a sterlingly sentimental performance by Stella’s devoted mother as a witness for the defence) and in the end the jury took only 53 minutes to acquit them of all charges.  They were free.

The Final Act

Despite their victory in the courts, both Fanny and Stella left England and headed, separately, to New York.  Continuing in the theatrical professions they found some measure of success but never achieved the stardom they had craved.

Sadly, both died young and probably as the result of syphilis. Fanny died at only 33 years of age, but she did find some kind of happiness across the pond. Stella carried on a trooper until long after her beauty had faded, and died in 1904 at the age of 56.

As part of the sometimes painfully slow road to toleration and acceptance of alternative lifestyles that many people in the west now take for granted (although a significant number still rail at), theirs is a tragi-comic operetta of a tale well worth recounting. Fanny and Stella chose to live their lives the way they (and a significant number of others at the time) wanted to, rather than acquiesce and live the narrow life prescribed for them by Society. They faced opprobrium and censure with great spirit and remained true to their own natures helping to pave the way for those that came after them and for that they should be applauded.  As Fanny in haughty duchess mode might have said – vive la difference!

Sisters:  Fanny and Stella

Sisters: Fanny and Stella

Sources & Notes

McKenna, Neil, 2013, Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England, Faber & Faber Notes: 1 [280] 2 [289]
Wikipedia, Boulton and Park, accessed 29/12/14
A Gender Variance Who’s Who, http://zagria.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/ernest-boulton-1849-and-frederick.html, accessed 29/12/14
Off the Pedestal, http://www.indiana.edu/~liblilly/offthepedestal/otp10.html, accessed 29/12/14
Penny Dreadful account of Boulton and Park, http://www.bbk.ac.uk/deviance/sexuality/anonymous/18-8-1%20boulton%20park.htm, accessed 29/12/14

Kagyu Samye Ling: A little piece of Tibet in Scotland

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Wat Po Thailand, image by Lenora

Wat Po Thailand

A number of years ago (more that I care to remember) Miss Jessel and I had the good fortune to go traveling around the world for a year.  Our peregrinations took us from the familiarity of the Classical world as expressed in the temples and architecture of Greece, Turkey and Israel, to what was for us at that time the less explored and more ‘exotic’ world of Asia.

I recall being captivated by the fantastical temples of Thailand, India and Nepal.  The shapes, colours and fantastical beasts and carvings. These structures made a lasting impression on me in a way that the safe and over-familiar iconography and structures of European Christianity did not.

One of my regrets was that at the time my budget would not extend to a trek from Nepal to Tibet, little did I know that many years later I would find a small piece of Tibet transported much closer to home.

Sukhothai Historic Park, Thailand, image by Lenora

Sukhothai Historic Park, Thailand

On a damp day in late September I happened to be over the border in Scotland.  Suddenly I found myself walking along a driveway lined, somewhat incongruously, with small Buddhist shrines.  Intrigued by this development I continued walking and soon found myself in the heart of a Buddhist Community in the middle of the Scottish Borders.  It was quite bizarre and utterly enchanting – in a Brigadoon-esque kind of way!

The road to Samye Ling.  Image by Lenora.

The road to Samye Ling.

Nestled in the Esk Valley, in the ruggedly beautiful border country between Scotland and England sits the Tibetan Buddhist monastery – Kagyu Samye Ling.  It was the first Buddhist Centre established in the West – way back in 1967 a time when many in the West were seeking alternative spiritual systems – and it currently  has a thriving community of around 60 people .

The garden shrine

Samye Ling garden shrine viewed from the driveway.

There are a number of aspects to the Centre – the beautiful gardens not least of its attractions, but the most striking part has to be the Temple itself.  It is approached down a long enclosed corridor that terminates in a large stained glass window.  Stepping out of the enclosed corridor into the daylight the visitor finds themselves in a vast courtyard facing the impressive temple building. On the day I visited its jewel like colours and intricate workmanship provided a stark contrast to the grey Northern skies.

The slightly dreamlike corridor that leads to the temple.  Image by Lenora.

The slightly dreamlike corridor that leads to the temple.

Stained glass window at the end of the corridor.  Image by Lenora.

Stained glass window at the end of the corridor.

 

Samye Ling Buddhist Temple.  Image by Lenora.

On leaving the corridor you are met with the imposing Samye Ling Buddhist Temple – a blend of the modern and the ancient.

Dragon details

Detail from the temple doors.

More details from the temple doors.

More details from the temple doors.

P1020699

And again…

Perhaps the most moving moment of my visit was when I was standing alone in the silence of the temple, awed by the beauty of the astonishingly ornate and gilded interior.  From the silence rose a curious thrumming and fluttering noise, as I looked about me I located the source of the disturbance: a Robin had flown in through an open window and was joyfully oblivious of the fact that he was hopping about behind the rope barrier separating off the most sacred area of the temple (had he not read the polite notice ‘please do not cross the rope barrier’?)  His total disregard for human protocols seemed a perfect sly dig from Nature – a gentle reminder that however ingeniously humans can express their sense of the spiritual in art, literature or words, Nature  will always, effortlessly, do it better!

Anyway, here are a few more of my photographs from extrordinary Kagyu Samye Ling…Enjoy

Buddha of the lake

Scottish garden

A typical Scottish garden…?

Goddess in the pond20140927_135952Garden_shrineStatue in pond

Votive offerings

Votive offerings tied to the branches of a tree

East meets West:  Tibetan prayer flags and Celtic clooties/rag offerings.

East meets West: Tibetan prayer flags and Celtic clooties/rag offerings.

Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Centre welcomes visitors – Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike – and runs a number of courses on meditation, Yoga and other subjects.  You can find out more on their website http://www.samyeling.org/

All images copyright Lenora.

 

 

 

A little something for Halloween, or ‘Sleep Tight – Don’t let the bed bugs bite”

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The Upper Berth₁

From Punch Magazine 1891

From Punch Magazine 1891

There is nothing more enjoyable during the long cold winter evenings then sitting down and scaring yourself witless reading a good ghost story. It was during one of these rare moments (granted it wasn’t evening, cold or winter but I was by myself!) that I began to re-read one of my favourite ghost stories, ‘The Upper Berth’ by the American writer, F. Marion Crawford. Apparently I am not alone in my feeling that this is one of the creepiest stories ever written. Rumour has it that the master of the ghost story, M.R. James also found the story pretty darn scary. In brief, the story is recounted to a group of friends by the main character, Brisbane who tells them what happened to him whilst travelling to England aboard the Kamtschatka and his grisly experience of the ‘dead thing’ in cabin 105. Below is a brief extract.

“Have you a room-mate?”

“Yes; a deuce of a fellow, who bolts out in the middle of the night, and leaves the door open.”

Again the doctor glanced curiously at me. Then he lit the cigar and looked grave.

“Did he come back?” he asked presently.

“Yes. I was asleep, but I waked up, and heard him moving. Then I felt cold and went to sleep again. This morning I found the porthole open.”

“Look here,” said the doctor quietly, “I don’t care much for this ship. I don’t care a rap for her reputation. I tell you what I will do. I have a good-sized place up here. I will share it with you, though I don’t know you from Adam.”

I was very much surprised at the proposition. I could not imagine why he should take such a sudden interest in my welfare. However, his manner as he spoke of the ship was peculiar.

“You are very good, doctor,” I said. “But, really, I believe even now the cabin could be aired or cleaned out, or something. Why do you not care for the ship?”

“We are not superstitious in our profession, sir,” replied the doctor, “but the sea makes people so. I don’t want to prejudice you, and I don’t want to frighten you, but if you will take my advice you will move in here. I would as soon see you overboard,” he added earnestly, “as know that you or any other man was to sleep in 105.”

“Good gracious! Why?” I asked.

“Just because on the last three trips the people who have slept there actually have gone overboard,” he answered gravely.

The intelligence was startling and exceedingly unpleasant, I confess. I looked hard at the doctor to see whether he was making game of me, but he looked perfectly serious. I thanked him warmly for his offer, but told him I intended to be the exception to the rule by which everyone who slept in that particular state-room went overboard. He did not say much, but looked as grave as ever and hinted that, before we got across, I should probably reconsider his proposal. In the course of time we went to breakfast, at which only an inconsiderable number of passengers assembled. I noticed that one or two of the officers who breakfasted with us looked grave. After breakfast I went into my state-room in order to get a book. The curtains of the upper berth were still closely drawn. Not a word was to be heard. My room-mate was probably still asleep.

the upper birth

As I was reading, I started to think about all the ghost stories both fiction and real life testimonies where the haunting takes place in a bedroom. Often the occupant lies shaking with fear as footsteps and voices are heard in the room; bed coverings are removed by unseen hands; objects are moved; beds are rattled and oppressive figures are felt standing over the bed, at the foot of the bed or scarier still in the bed.

This again led my thoughts on a new trajectory. With all these haunted bedrooms, has anyone ever changed the furniture, and if they have, has the haunting ceased? Are the hauntings rooted to the place or linked to the furnishings? There are numerous stories about haunted possessions such as mirrors, dolls, teddy bears and paintings, so why not a bedroom suite!

A portal to hell?

Image from wikimedia

Image from wikimedia

It is not surprising that bunk beds are considered sinister. It is strangely unnerving to be lying in bed and not be able to see the other person. You can hear noises and see movement but in general, whether or not you are in the lower or upper bunk the other occupant can feel like a disembodied presence. One of the most famous cases of a haunting is believed by the family to have been caused by a cursed bunk bed.

In the spring of 1986, Allen Tallman along with his pregnant wife, Debbie and their two children, Kenny and Mary Ann moved into a house in Larrabee Street, Horicon, Wisconsin. Initially all was peaceful but in 1987 inexplicable incidences started to occur. Doors would close on their own; footsteps were heard; a radio dial moved on its own; chairs rocked and a basement window was removed and placed on the floor. The children repeatedly became sick and the family started to suffer from terrible nightmares. Kenny and Mary Ann also testified to seeing a strange hag-like figure in the bedroom. Kenny’s description of the figure appeared in a newspaper,

I saw an old lady standing in the door of my room. A little old lady, really ugly, with long black hair and a glow about her like fire.”₂

On the TV show ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Allen Tallman related how he finally had enough of the situation and challenged the presence to a fight. Shortly after this, he was returning home from work in the early hours of the morning when he saw what he describes as something glowing “…inside the garage, an orange red. There were flames coming out of the overhead door. There were two eyes in the windows.” Terrified he ran into the kitchen where he was attacked. His words had obviously angered the spirit who he heard whisper to him once when he was sleeping on the floor of his daughters’ room “you’re dead”₃. Pastor Wayne Dobratz was brought in to investigate and concluded that the presence was not only evil but demonic. Finally the family had had enough and left their house never to return.

The house on Larrabee Street. [image from newsfromthespiritworld.com]

The house on Larrabee Street. [image from newsfromthespiritworld.com]

The family strongly believe that the source of the haunting was that of a second hand bunk bed which they had bought in February 1986. The bunk bed was moved into the girls’ room in the May of that year and it was in that room that the children and relatives saw the figure of the old woman (it would be interesting to know if the basement window was removed whilst the bunk bed was being stored there!). The bunk bed was eventually disposed of and buried in a landfill site. What is fascinating is that despite the local legend which surrounds the house no subsequent owner has ever reported anything sinister or supernatural and the family themselves have never experienced any other supernatural incidents. This does support the Tallman’s view that it was the bunk bed and not the house that was cursed.

The curse of the cot

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor – the cradle on the left is said to rock by itself

There is a well-known superstition that parents should never place their baby in a cot or use a mattress or blanket which is second hand. Many people strongly believe that these objects can be either haunted or cursed with the spirit of a new born who has died threatening the life of a living child. One woman describes how shortly before she gave birth she was given an old white wicker crib. The first night it was in the house she was awoken by the sound of a baby crying. She finally realised that the sound was coming from the crib. Believing the crib to be haunted by the soul of a dead child, she placed it in the attic and bought a new basinet. This did not stop the haunting cries which continued to be heard even during the day. The sound was so loud that “My mother and even the neighbors heard the shrill cries coming from my house and thought I had given birth prematurely.”₄ In the end she sold the crib and never found out what happened to it.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why I found it so hard to find the stories I was looking for.  People who have bought beds with an ‘unusual’ history normally want to sell them on quickly and decide to omit certain details that could make potential buyers think twice. The exceptions seem to be people who become fascinated by their strange beds and keep them in spite of their history or people who have lived with the objects all their lives and have become used to them.

The haunted four poster

 

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor,

Haunted chamber in Chambercombe Manor, complete with fourposter bed and haunted cradle (it is said to rock by itself)

I came across one such story submitted by an Australian teacher to a website on ghosts and mysteries (website link is shown below). In his post he describes how his neighbours at that time bought an antique four poster bed. Strange things began to happen. At first it was just that the cat would not sleep on it, then they noticed a cold damp patch at the end of the bed, later they both began to sense a presence sitting on the bed. They sold it on to a second hand dealer. The author continues that twenty years later he happened to read about a couple who had bought the exact same bed and had experiences similar to that of his old neighbours

“However, they found it fascinating rather than scary. They kept the bed and slowly the haunting progressed. Finally, they were able to make out the form of a woman sitting on the end of the bed, and hear her sobbing. Fascinated, they began the task of tracing the provenance/history of the bed. Back they went through several owners. And yes, all had similar experiences. They included my neighbours from the 1970’s and most, like them, had sold on the bed without telling anyone of the haunting. Further back they researched, through more people. Finally they found a gruesome story involving the bed. A young woman had been attacked, viciously stabbed, and bled to death on the end of the bed…The last couple felt sympathy rather than fear for the young woman’s ghost and decided not to try and get rid of it.”₅

The Great Bed of Ware

 

The Great Bed at V&A Museum ©V&A Images

The Great Bed at V&A Museum ©V&A Images

Lastly I wanted to write about a very special bed whose history has been well documented and has been a source of wonder for me ever since I saw it on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The beautifully carved oak bed is thought to have been made in the late 16th century by Jonas Fosbrooke, a German craftsman for an inn in Ware, possibly as a publicity stunt. The enormous bed is over three meters wide and weighs about 641kg and is believed to be able to easily accommodate four couples. It is first referred to in 1596 by a German prince staying at the White Hart Inn.  During its long history the bed moved around between five inns in Ware, The White Hart, The George, The Crown, The Bull and the Saracen’s Head. In 1870 the bed was bought by Henry Teale and taken to Rye House, Hoddesdon, as a visitor attraction for his pleasure garden.

Although large beds were not uncommon in public houses where space was at a premium and men often slept in the same bed to save money, the Ware bed had to have been unusual considering how famous it became. Its fame was such that it was even mentioned by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night when his character Sir Toby Belch describes a sheet of paper as “big enough for the Bed of Ware”. It was also referenced in Ben Jonson’s 1609 play ‘The Silent Woman’ and in George Farquhar’s 1706 play ‘The Recruiting Officer’. There is also a story which appeared in the London Chronicle in July 1765₆ about how in 1689 the bed became the subject of a bet when 26 butchers and their wives agreed to spend the night in it! Not sure how they would have physically managed that but it would have sure given a different meaning to the expression ‘sleep tight’.

The bed is reputedly haunted by the ghost of its maker. It appears from all accounts to be either a snobbish or prudish spirit, depending on which story you wish to believe. One version is that the ghost takes offence to any person of a rank lower than royalty sleeping in the bed and the other that he dislikes couples having sex in the bed. Whenever such a ‘despicable’ act would occur he was reported to take direct action to put a halt to their amorous activities by pinching the couple until they stopped (he must have been furious with the butchers and their wives!).

Ware Drama Society in the Great Bed of Ware, 1964 [Image from ourhertfordandware.org.uk]

Ware Drama Society in the Great Bed of Ware, 1964 [www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk]

Last thoughts before I say goodnight!

Night time when we are surrounded by darkness and silence is when we feel at our most vulnerable. It is the time when people are alone with their thoughts. Fears, sadness and anxieties built up through the day come to the surface and prey on unguarded minds. It is also the time of the witching hour when it is believed that the veil between the unseen and seen world is at its thinnest and people are most susceptible to demonic and unnatural forces.

If you then start reckoning into the mix the number of deaths, both natural or through murder or suicide that take place in beds; the countless cases of invalids lying in bed, often alone for hours, maybe thinking unpleasant or depressive thoughts and scenes of jealousy and anger as wives and husbands have discovered their adulterous spouses, it is not then unexpected that so many ghost stories take place in bedrooms. What is strange is how few stories both fictional and ‘real’ seem to exist about haunted beds as opposed to haunted bedrooms. It could be that unlike more portable items such as mirrors, rocking chairs and paintings in many cases it is just more convenient to sell bulky antique beds with the house or it could be as I previously said that people just prefer to remain quiet when selling dubious bedroom suites.

Despite how fascinating this topic is, I would just give a word of warning, if you are out looking for a bed, maybe play it safe and head to Ikea!

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James McBryde’s 1904 illustration for Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad from M R James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Some ghost stories for Halloween…

You can find the F Marion Crawford’s terrifying tale ‘The Upper Birth’ in full, along with several other spine chilling tales, in the Portmanteau of Terror section of this blog.  Enjoy….

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Notes:

  1. The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
  2. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost), http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  3. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost), http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  4. Real Haunted Beds; http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/haunted/Curesbedtroubles.php
  5. The haunted bed, http://www.ghost-mysteries.com/viewstory.php?id=6023
  6. History Extra: The Great Bed of Ware, http://www.historyextra.com/bedofware

Bibliography:

  1. The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
  2. News from the Spirit World, Haunting Tales: Ghost of Larrabee St. (Tallman’s Ghost); http://newsfromthespiritworld.com/2013/01/24/haunting-tales-ghost-of-larrabee-st-tallmans-ghost/
  3. Real Haunted Beds; http://www.hauntedamericatours.com/haunted/Curesbedtroubles.php
  4. The haunted bed; http://www.ghost-mysteries.com/viewstory.php?id=6023
  5. History Extra: The Great Bed of Ware; http://www.historyextra.com/bedofware
  6. The Great Bed of Ware; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bed_of_Ware
  7. Ware, Hertfordshire; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ware,_Hertfordshire
  8. Local Legends; http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=48421
  9. 10 objects believed to be haunted; http://www.mandatory.com/2012/09/21/10-objects-believed-to-be-haunted/

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom by Luna Ballantyne – 50 Shades meets the Newcastle Witches

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Freedom by Luna Ballantyne

10687939_826441087408888_7700292095574105890_oThis is just a quick shout out for my good friend Luna Ballantyne (aka Ingrid Hall) who is launching the first in her new series of erotic time-slip novels this weekend.

As Zara sets out on her ‘Freedom’ night – to celebrate her divorce from staid ex-husband Pete – she finds herself tangled up in the web of the mysterious ‘Max’ aka the Bastard of Bilbao. Pulled from the flames of a burning pub by a mysterious stranger Zara is whisked away on a raunchy week-long sexual odyssey of self-discovery. Zara soon finds that there is more to her rescuer than meets the eye. Raunchy sex, time-travel and a twisted love that stretches back into the dark days of the Newcastle witch trials – Zara’s life will never be the same again as she looks beneath the mask of the time-traveling highwayman.

The first in a series of erotic fiction, Freedom introduces the character of Giraldo de Logrono otherwise known as the Bastard of Bilbao a swashbuckling adventurer, sexual mercenary and time-traveling highwayman.   As the series unfolds, so does Luna’s unique take on the Newcastle witch-trials: as it is only by traveling through time seducing strangers that the highwayman can break the curse laid on him by the beautiful witch Elizabetha, and hope to rescue her from her fate at the hands of the evil witch-pricker!  Serious history it’s not, but it’s fun, fast paced and sexy!

Join the launch party on Twitter – October 19

If you want to join the fun this weekend, Luna will be having an over 18s only launch party on Twitter, complete with adult games and the chance to win some suitably naughty prizes.

Join Luna Ballantyne on Twitter for her Launch Party this weekend: October 19 between 4-6pm GMT. Use hashtag  #thehighwayman to join in the games.

You can also find Luna Ballantyne on Facebook

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Floats the Dark Shadow…Gilles de Rais collides with Belle Epoque Paris

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Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

BookMark-329x500I couldn’t resist reviewing this delicious little indie-published mystery thriller from the very artistic pen of Yves Fey.

Floats the Dark Shadow is sub-titled ‘A Mystery of Paris’ and that seems apt as Fey has captured the romance and the contradictions of that famous city so well. The novel is set during the supreme decadence of the Belle Époque, the late 1890’s, when Paris having survived the turmoil and bloodshed of the Commune era, stood on the cusp of the modern age.

Theodora Faraday is a young American artist and feminist, living in Montmartre.  She spends her days  framing Montmartre in oils and pastels as she wanders the Bohemian streets accompanied by the Revenants – a group of poetic-types in search of inner darkness.  But be under no illusions, this is not a fluffy romance novel, this is a very dark story of murder and deceit… a serial killer is kidnapping and torturing children, reincarnating an ancient evil that stalks the gas lit streets of Paris.  Theodora soon finds that her friends are implicated in the killings and she must work with Michel Devaux of the Sûreté to investigate the crime and bring the killer – or killers – to justice what ever the personal cost.

Le_Petit_Journal_-_Bazar_de_la_Charité

Le Petit Journal – Incendie du Bazar de la Charité . Via Wikimedia

The first thing that stands out in this work is that Yves Fey knows Paris.  Her streets are real – the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere are conjured skillfully.  She seems to capture the interleving of the beauty and sophistication of the city with its underlying menace.  All of  its blood-soaked history and its dirty little secrets mean that violence is never far from the surface in this glittering Fin de siècle metropolis.  From the obvious  horror of the murders of innocent children, to the political violence of the Anarchists that provides the introduction of Inspector Devaux to the plot, and the gender violence inherent in the tragedy of the Bazar de la Charité (where men fleeing the flames beat down women and children in order to escape – 126 died in total and hundreds were horribly injured).  In short – this Paris is not sentimental – it is a world where the weak are not safe and everyone has an agenda.

"Gilles de Laval, Lord of Rais, performs sorcery on his victims", an 1862 illustration by Jean Antoine Valentin Foulquier via Wikimedia

“Gilles de Laval, Lord of Rais, performs sorcery on his victims”, an 1862 illustration by Jean Antoine Valentin Foulquier via Wikimedia

Fire runs as a theme through this novel, the Killer believes that they are the re-incarnation of Gilles de Rais, right-hand man of Jeanne D’Arc; a man who following her death at the stake, became Frances most notorious child killer and occultist.  He is said to have killed between 80 -200 victims and was hanged for his crimes and then burned in 1440.

By the end of the novel – fire has touched everyone.

Throughout the novel Fey succeeds in hiding the killer from the reader, the dark shadow of suspicion fell on several of the characters, but I was still surprised when the killer was unmasked.  Like all good crime stories the clues are there if you can spot them…

This novel is also a romance of sorts and this element is important  – especially because it does not play out  conventionally.   Theodora is smitten with Averill Charron, her cousin, and one of the Revenants. Averill with his fallen-angel good looks and his sexual ambiguity seems to be the ultimate in Absinthe-drinking nihilistic doomed poet types.  Neverthless,  I actually found that the chemistry and sexual tension between Theodora and Devaux, was far more interesting than her mooning around over the slightly wet Averill!

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Albert Maignan’s “Green Muse” (1895) via Wikimedia

Where the novel falls down is that the author almost tries to pack too much punch into it.  Perhaps showing off her knowledge of the dark side of the nineteenth century a little too precociously for one novel.  There are some almost set-piece scenes:  there is a trip to the catacombs, the Grand Guignol theatre, and an asylum where a public display of the newly invented vibrator is being given by the one of the characters (in itself a truly disturbing scene).  All of these are wonderfully written and observed but I quickly found myself totting up who and what was in Paris in the 1890’s and laying bets on whether they would turn up –  Oscar Wilde was mentioned and Occultists Moina and MacGregor Mather and the very esoteric WB Yeats all feature with various degrees of prominence and there was even room for an Anatomical Venus in the plot!

Despite this plethora of hammer horror scenes and famous names from history,  at times some of the more prominent characters seemed a little under-written.  I would have loved more involvement from the Criminal Mastermind Blaise Dancier, and his interactions with the detective Devaux.  However, I suspect Fey will be exploring this relationship further in future novels.

Despite, or even, because of its flaws, I still found myself utterly captivated by this novel.  Floats the Dark Shadow succeeds in evoking a dark and menacing yet enticing vision of Belle Époque Paris.  Fey has created a cast of memorable characters with plausible back-stories who I hope will be further developed in future stories.

You can find out more about the ridiculously talented Yves Fey at yvesfey.com and Floats the Dark Shadow is available at:

 

 

Waxworks – sex and death and political reportage!

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Blink

House of Wax starring Vincent Price, directed by Andre de Toth 1953

House of Wax starring Vincent Price, directed by Andre de Toth 1953

There has always been something slightly eerie about wax works. Something a little uncanny about these facsimiles of life. Even the apparently innocuous models of celebrities and soap stars have a certain air of the bizarre and the disturbing about them. Perhaps it is a sense that those sightless eyes might just blink when you turn away; or that when the lights go down the effigies might just yawn, and shake out their stiff limbs and begin to wander about the museum. It is something that writers and film makers have long exploited – wax works lend themselves so readily to horror and to human fears, evoking sex, death, torture and obsession. But this is nothing new….

The Face of death

The Romans – inveterate snobs – made a public display in their homes of wax effigies of long departed ancestors. Other cultures also commemorated the dead using effigies, sometimes using clay instead of wax. In short the link between wax images and death has a very long history.

In popular culture waxworks have a long been used to depict the famous dead, gruesome deformities and notorious criminals as well as to disseminate current events to a largely illiterate populous. They were a popular feature of travelling shows and have been recorded at St Bartholomew’s’ fair as early as 1647. The popular taste for celebrity, sensationalism and death also has a long pedigree.

 

The rise of the Anatomical Venus

Anatomical figure by Anna Morandi Manzolini. Courtesy Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Universita di Bologna.

Anatomical figure by Anna Morandi Manzolini. Collection of Museo di Palazzo Poggi, Universita di Bologna.

In the eighteenth century waxworks took on a more respectable function, yet in doing so became even more firmly associated with sex and death. Medical schools, particularly in Italy, excelled in producing waxworks to illustrate the human body, its functions and ailments. Waxworks filled the gap in anatomy classes at a time when the supply and storage of fresh corpses could be a problem.

However, whereas male models were usually posed upright and were seldom painted, female models took on a supine and morbidly eroticised appearance – often sumptuously laid out on cushion replete with flowing hair and jewellery, and posed in attitudes of death that could be mistaken for sexual ecstasy.

The eighteenth century often managed to successfully combine the ideals of scientific and medical enquiry with prurient titillation and sensationalism (Dr Graham and his Temple of Health being a prime example of this) and these beautiful yet macabre female waxworks appealed to this appetite. The Italian made anatomical ‘Venus’ soon became the eighteenth century ‘must have’ executive toy. Not just for the medical man about town, but for the discreet private collector as well.

 

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Italian Anatomical Venus by Clemente Susini, note the relaxed pose, luxuriant hair and jewelry. Image copyright Sticky Pearls via Tumblr

 

Italian Anatomical Venus by   Image copyright sticky pearls via Tumblr

Italian Anatomical Venus by Clemente Susini, with all her inner workings exposed. Image copyright Sticky Pearls via Tumblr

Even the prim and proper Madame Tussaud’s could not quite get away from the Venus tradition. In the nineteenth century the anatomical Venus had somewhat fallen out of fashion developed a low rent ‘pornographic’ image. The illustrious Madame T, once she had established herself in England, wanted to use waxworks for informative middle class family entertainment; clearly titillating images of sexy corpses would not fit the emerging ideals of Victorianism that Madame T so effectively marketed.

Perhaps this is why the otherwise unsettling ‘Sleeping Beauty’ waxwork which is one of the oldest waxworks on display at Madame Tussaud’s, and is purported to be either the lovely Madame Amaranthe or Louis XV saucy mistress Madame du Barry, has a clockwork heart ticking away under her satin bodice. A gentle reminder to the viewer that despite her disturbing vulnerability and air of deathliness, Sleeping Beauty is not part of the sordid old eighteenth century with its predilection for necrophiliac voyeurism!

Nevertheless perhaps a waxwork with a beating heart creates its own particular brand of horror….

 

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Sleeping Beauty. Image copyright Blastmilk via Flickr

Three Dimensional Newspapers

Salon de Cire, Curtius Tableau of the French Royal family at dinner.  Public domain.

Salon de Cire, Curtius Tableau of the French Royal family at dinner. Public domain.

In the time before photographs, and before the world became an interconnected web of constant communication, wax works held their own as a popular medium for spreading current affairs – and gossip.

In late eighteenth century France Philippe Curtius ran a successful ‘cabinet of curiosities’ which included waxworks and other oddities. The show ran under the auspices of the Prince de Conti initially at his Palace in Paris. The show included celebrities including the royal family at dinner – viewers could hob-nob with royalty and note the latest court fashions whilst in the Caverne des Grand Voleurs they could experience the thrill of coming face to face with notorious criminals such as the eighteenth century poisoner Antoine-Francois Desrues (perhaps this was a precursor to the chamber of horrors made famous by Madame Tussaud, where curious onlookers could examine the faces and forms of heinous criminals and their victims without risking their own personal safety!)

 

Pamela Pilbeam, in her biography of Madame Tussaud’s, points out that one of the benefits of running a waxwork show in France was that it was not subject to the same censorship or regulation that the Opera and theatres were subject too.

Once the revolution came, this was to change. Although the waxworks became a useful tool in providing the population of Paris with updates on the political situation (and Curtius managed to shed his Royalist sympathies remarkably swiftly). However, the speed of the changes and the escalating violence of the revolution soon made this occupation a hazardous one. Madame Tussaud, who worked with and trained under Curtius, recollected (in her slightly embellished memoirs) modelling the freshly guillotined heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, and later the revolutionaries themselves…one particularly grisly incident was the modelling of the rotting corpse of Marat in his bath (he was murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday), thus unintentionally blending horror with political reportage!

Severed heads of prominent revolutionaries including Robespierre himself. (Image by Rodama1789)

Severed heads of prominent revolutionaries including Robespierre himself.

The enduring appeal of waxworks

There is really simply too much to write about waxworks in one single post – the notorious chamber of horrors and noted female wax modellers deserve posts of their own.

For now, it is enough to say that although from the twentieth century onwards the medical and educational need for wax models has been superseded by plastination and other forms of technology; and we have a plethora of multi-media images of royals, celebrities and politicians to chose from; there is still a thrill in coming face to face with a waxwork. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Henry VIII or enjoying the frisson of controlled fear in a chamber of horrors – and wondering, just wondering, what will happen if you blink…

Sources

http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/ecstatic-raptures-and-immaculate_19.html

Pilbeam, Pamela, Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks, Hambledon and London, 2003

 

 

The Faeries of Blackheath Wood

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The Victorian ideal of a fairy scantily clad nymphet, still a popular image for the fae today.  Lily 1888.

The Victorian ideal of a fairy as scantily clad nymphet, still a popular image for the fae today. Luis Ricardo Falero 1888.

Just a short post this week…having managed to put my back out doing DIY I don’t know if I want to stand up, lie down or pace around because doing anything is just toooooo painful :0(  Anyway, enough of this moaning – on with the post.

In a desperate attempt to take my mind of my back I re-watched a fabulous short film about faeries on You Tube.  I recall first coming across this particularly dark tale of the little folk on the excellent Angry Scholar Blog (but I can’t find the link to the actual post itself).

I grew up reading a musty collection of Edwardian children’s books handed down from my grandparents, my parents and then to me.  Hence I grew up thinking that fairies were all rather elegant ‘gels’ who fluttered around flower petals in rather chic if not risqué 1920’s flapper dresses.  As soon as I began reading folk-tales about the wee folk and their less pleasant habits I soon adjusted my view of faeries…nevertheless the harmless flower fairy image has persisted well into the twenty-first century.

The famous Cottingly Faries hoax of the 1920's.

The famous Cottingly fairies hoax of the 1920’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For anyone still clinging to this twee Tinkerbell view of faeries,  Ciaran Foy’s dark little masterpiece The Faeries of Blackheath Woods may make you think twice about following those dainty little flappers into the deep dark woods…

ENJOY….

 

 

 

With her head tucked underneath her arm…..

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A (very) brief history of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, this is possibly the most famous image of Anne, and most likely closest likeness, however no contemporary images of Anne survive (this image dates from the late 16th century). Image: National Portrait Gallery.

I have always been a bit of a sucker when it comes to royal ghosts – the bloodier and more headless the better – and they don’t come more headless than Anne Boleyn.  Strong willed, intelligent and beguiling, Anne Boleyn supplanted the popular Queen Katherine of Aragon and stole the heart of Henry VIII.  She successfully held the amorous Henry at bay until he divorced his wife and broke with Rome – talk about a tease.  Once queen she presided and flirted with a dazzling and talented young court, encouraged religious reform and was not afraid to go head to head with the King. Nevertheless she could also be ruthless – she passionately hated the Lady Mary, Katherine’s loyal daughter, to the point where Lady Mary became convinced that Anne was trying to poison her. She also made some very dangerous political enemies such as the equally ruthless Cromwell.

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, locket ring taken from the dead finger of the Elizabeth I in 1603.

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I; locket ring worn by Elizabeth I until her death in 1603

In short, it would seem that the seeds of tragedy were planted early on in Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII.  She was never a popular queen, and being an English commoner rather than a foreign princess she could not call on powerful alliances abroad to protect her when the kings love turned sour and the vultures began to circle.  Eventually, having failed to produce a male heir, and successfully alienating a lot of powerful men around her, including the King her only protector, Anne was accused of adultery with several men of her inner circle, and incest with her brother George (and just for good measure witchcraft was also added to the litany of charges).  Following the execution of many of those closest to her, on 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn herself was executed by a French swordsman on Tower Green.  The fickle Henry was canoodling with Jane Seymour as Anne’s head fell.

Although we might all think we are familiar with Anne Boleyn, thanks to the most recognisable image of her (reproduced here), no contemporary images of Anne survive.  All we have are ghosts of her memory – initially created in the reign of her daughter Elizabeth I who, privately at least, did wish to keep the memory of her mother alive. It is a powerful reminder of how someone so famous, briefly so powerful and who held the most famous King of England in her thrall, so much so that he reshaped the English church in order to win her, was almost expunged from history after her fall.  Only the whim of fate, which placed her daughter Elizabeth I on the throne, ensured that this most enticing of Tudor queen’s was not lost to history for ever.   Sic transit gloria mundi indeed…

The Hauntings of Anne

Having just read Alison Weir’s fascinating account of the fall of Anne Boleyn, ‘The Lady in the Tower’, I was delighted to find a section in the appendices relating to the legends of hauntings related to Anne Boleyn.  Weir brought the historian’s rigour to these colourful tales and cross-referencing the tales against Anne’s known movements, and attested connections with a place during her life, Weir was able(sadly) to debunk quite a few of these sightings.  Well… at least to provide evidence that the spectre in question was not Anne Boleyn!  From my point of view, the fact that we don’t really know what Anne looked like, does make identification of her spectre problematic!  Nevertheless, here are a few tales of this royal revenants peregrinations…I will leave it to the reader to decide on their veracity…

Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall.  Image by Lenora

Blickling Hall. Image by Lenora

Blickling Hall in Norfolk is one of my favourite stately homes. On a lush summers day it seems the quintessentially English ancestral pile with its dusty rose brick walls, mullioned windows and topiary garden….but on a dark night in May this rural idyll is rudely shattered by the unquiet souls of the dead.

Although the current hall was rebuilt in the early seventeenth century – well after Anne’s death – legend has it that Anne and her siblings were born at Blickling.  The earlier hall had belonged to the Boleyn family in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  George and Mary were born there, and it seems likely Anne was too.

One local tale that was well established by the eighteenth century, according to Alison Weir, concerns Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s feckless father.  Happy to benefit from Anne’s rise, Thomas nevertheless stood by and did nothing as his children Anne and George went to their bloody deaths on the scaffold.  It is said that his tormented spirit is seen driving pell mell up the drive way of Blickling Hall in a carriage driven by a headless coachman and a team of headless horses, pursued by blue devils, and sometimes the headless corpse of George Boleyn.  By 1850 Weir notes that this version had elaborated to say that the luckless Thomas was cursed for a thousand years to ride out on the anniversary of Anne’s death, crossing every bridge between Wroxham and Blickling, his gory head in his lap.  (There is a slight flaw in this embellishment – Thomas died in bed, with his head fully attached).

As with many stories passed down in folk memory they are often elaborated and embellished with the telling, and by the nineteenth century versions of this tale had Anne as the occupant of the carriage – dressed in pure white but glowing red, and with her blood drenched head resting on her lap.  Some versions have Thomas, her father as the coachman.  The carriage drives right into the hall and disappears, or else stops to allow the gory Anne to descend and begin a nocturnal perambulation of the gloomy chambers of the Hall.

The lake at Blicking - does Anne's ghost search in vain by its shores...? Image by Lenora

The lake at Blickling – does Anne’s ghost search in vain by its shores…? Image by Lenora

Sightings of Anne (and/or Thomas) and the carriage have been frequent and reported by witnesses of varying degrees of credibility.  In 1979 an apparition supposed to be Anne was sighted in the library, in 1985 a former administrator of Blickling Hall was awoken by female footsteps in the night only to find no one there.  Another sighting occured during world war II when a Butler accosted a mysterious lady by the lake.  She was dressed in Grey and had a white lace collar and mob-cap.  When asked what she was looking for she replied with the poignant words “That for which I search has long since gone.”   It has been pointed out that the costume described sounds more seventeenth century than sixteenth, and that lace was extremely rare in the 1530’s, nevertheless adherents point out that Anne was beheaded in a very similar costume with a white-collar and coif.

Blickling Hall can even boast a lost chamber – no English country pile should be without one – associated with Anne Boleyn.  It is said that there is a room at Blickling that had such an evil atmosphere it was walled up and its whereabouts lost – it was called ‘Old Bullen’s study’.  Just as an aside, personally I don’t think some one as elegant and sophisticated as Anne would be as crass as to leave an evil atmosphere behind her, (intense perhaps – but surely not evil) perhaps Old Bullen could in fact be greedy, gutless Thomas!

Tower of London

tower-of-london

The Tower of London from the Thames. Image from ‘London Attractions’ Tourist site.

Unsurprisingly there are many tales of Anne connected with the Tower of London – after all she was imprisoned here from April until her execution on 19 May 1536 and it was here that she watched as her brother and the men closest to her were brutally executed.

My favourite tales from the tower relate to the service that Anne has provided to countless soldiers, the first noted as being in 1864.  A guardsman on duty one night saw the white-clad figure of woman emerging from the Queen’s House.  Approaching to offer a challenge he got a clear look at the figure and was horrified to discover the lady was sans head!  The soldier was found to have fainted and accused of being drunk on duty and court marshaled.  One would not expect a hard-bitten military court to consider the appearance of a headless Tudor Queen as a mitigating factor in such dereliction of duty, however when two witnesses were produced the case was quietly dropped.  Needless to say, the ‘Anne Boleyn defense’ was used more than once by soldiers down the years to explain abandoning their posts!

Other sightings include ‘bluish figure’ floating across the ground to the Queen’s House and in 1967 the case of one John Hawden who observed a strange glow coming from the windows of the White Tower,  lighting a mysterious figure moving between the rooms.  When he asked a fellow warden about the phenomenon he was told that it was probably the ghost of Anne Boleyn and that many wardens had witnessed it (although few spoke of it).

Hever Castle

Hever Castle, Anne's family seat in Kent.  Image by Puffin.

Hever Castle, Anne’s family seat in Kent. Image by The Giant Puffin via wikimedia.

Hever Castle was the Boleyn family seat in Kent and therefore has strong connections with Anne Boleyn.  The most famous story relating to Hever takes place on Christmas Eve (always a perfect time for ghost stories) and relates to a bridge over the River Eden, close by the Castle.  Anne is said to be seen crossing the bridge heading for home.  In other instances her shimmering wraith-like form is seen lurking about the lawns.  The Splatter blog (see sources) describes a chilling encounter with Anne on the bridge over the Eden.

In 1979 a member of the Society for Psychical Research set about capturing an image of Anne on the bridge.  Staking out the bridge on the appointed day, he was not to be disappointed.  On the stroke of midnight Anne duly appeared in the form of a white light.  Delighted, he took his picture.  Elation soon turned to fear though, when the white light came hurtling directly at him and passed right thorough him.  As he turned he saw it disappear over the bridge towards Hever.  The following day when he developed his film he found that the entire roll was exposed and not one image had been captured….

 

Hampton Court and other places

Hampton Court - does Anne's restless spirit roam these corridors?  Image by Lenora

Hampton Court – does Anne’s restless spirit roam these corridors? Image by Lenora

Oddly enough there are not many sightings of Anne at Hampton Court – perhaps even her ghost finds it too painful to revisit the site of her greatest triumphs and her eventual fall.  However in the late 19th Century she was sighted walking the corridors dressed in blue and looking rather sad.

Anne’s restless spirit is associated with more locations that can be covered in this post.  Some other places she has been sighted at include Windsor Castle, Rochford Hall in Essex and Bollin Hall, Cheshire.  One memorable sighting is recounted by Alison Weir and is based on an interview Nora Lofts conducted with the old sexton of Salle Church in Norfolk.  This story links Anne with Witchcraft.  Anne is said to walk at Salle Church on the anniversary of her death. Wanting to find the truth of the legend the old sexton sat vigil determined to catch the royal revenant.  However, all he saw was a hare run a course about the church before disappearing……the hare being a symbol, particularly in East Anglia, of witchcraft.  (NB. Why is it always an old Sexton in these stories…?)

 

 Anne’s lasting memory

Some sightings of Anne’s ghost or imprint seem well attested by credible witnesses at sites with a verified connection with Anne’s life.  Others have grown around received wisdom and when checked against the historical ‘facts’ cannot possibly relate to Anne (this is not to say that they are not bona-fide sightings – just not necessarily sightings of Anne).  Whatever the truth of these tales, their continued popularity demonstrates how much Anne, with her glittering life and her cataclysmic fall from grace, has entered into the subconsciousness of a nation (and beyond).  People WANT to see Anne Boleyn and to claim that connection with her enduring ‘glamour’ and her tragic end.  Even now, vigils are held on the anniversary of her execution at Blickling Hall and other locations associated with Anne.  This woman who might have vanished from history with out a trace as the discarded wife of a fickle King – still has the power to fascinate and captivate us.

Image by Lenora

Anne – among us still? Image by Lenora

In her own words

So much has been written about Anne Boleyn, I would like to end by letting her speak for herself. The following poem has been attributed to Anne in the days before her execution…

O Death, O Death, rock me asleepe,
Bring me to quiet rest;
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell;

Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

My pains, my pains, who can express?
Alas, they are so strong!
My dolours will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Alone, alone in prison strong
I wail my destiny:
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Must taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Thy sound my death abroad will tell,
For I must die,
There is no remedy.

Farewell, farewell, my pleasures past!
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torment so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell,
Ring out my doleful knoll,
For thou my death dost tell:
Lord, pity thou my soul!
Death doth draw nigh,
Sound dolefully:
For now I die,
I die, I die.

Sources

There are a lot of great books and websites out there devoted to Anne, her history and her ghost, here are a few that I found particularly useful in preparing this post:

http://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/anne-boleyns-ghost/

http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/

http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyn-portraits-which-is-the-true-face-of-anne-boleyn/

Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower, Random House, 2009

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