Sunday, 21 August 2016

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 22 - The Hounds of Tindalos


This week Mr Jim Moon invites you to take a place by the fireside in the Great Library of Dreams to delve into the dread world of the Cthulhu Mythos. And we'll learn an important lesson about messing about with mystic drugs and the mathematics of the fourth dimension... For in the angles of Time lurk some exceeding foul things... 


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - The Hounds of Tindalos

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS



   FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #3 - The Croglin Vampire

This week we are delving in the audio archives of my weekly podcast. A few years ago I did a little series of shows chatting about favourite monsters from childhood, and I got onto the subject of vampires, and in particular the legend of the Vampire of Croglin Grange... 


This week, Mr Jim Moon dusts off the great tome marked 'Favourite Childhood Monsters' and explores the world of the vampire. We examine the legend of the Croglin Vampire in depth, and along the way discuss the diverse nature of the undead, the difference between fictional blood-suckers such as Count Dracula and the actual vampires of folklore, and somewhat bizarrely, the wrappers of 1970s sweets...

Download the episode here -  Favourite Monsters: Vampires
Listen online  HERE


This week, Mr Jim Moon embarks on a perilous journey to hunt down the infamous Croglin Vampire. During the course of our investigations into this notorious case of British vampirism, along the way we'll meet such luminaries as occult scholar Montague Summers, the legendary Man In Black himself Valentine Dyall, and Sir Francis Varney, hero of epic Penny Dreadful Varney the Vampire! The truth is indeed out there... and it has fangs!

Download the episode here -  The Hunt for the Croglin Vampire
Listen online HERE 

The Croglin imagery mentioned in the shows can be found HERE

You can also hear a wonderful mix of ambient sounds and the extract I read from Varney the Vampire by Melmoth the Wanderer





Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


HYPNOGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

MICROGORIA 32 - Stranger Things II


Warning!  We are unlocking the curiosity door! 

In a second show on the marvellous Stranger Things, Mr Jim Moon is joined by Odile Thomas to embark on a SPOILER-FILLED discussion of the Duffer Brothers series that's taking the world by storm! 


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 32 - Stranger Things II

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


MICROGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Friday, 12 August 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Riddle of the Churchyard Yew Part II


Well do I know thee by thy trusty yew,
Cheerless, unsocial plant! that loves to dwell
‘Midst skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms:
Where light-heel’d ghosts, and visionary shades,
Beneath the wan cold moon (as fame reports)
Embodied, thick, perform their mystic rounds:
No other merriment, dull tree! is thine.

from The Grave, A Poem by Robert Blair 

Last week we began digging into an oft-debated mystery: why are graveyards planted with yew trees. And after debunking several commonly trotted out theories, we traced the association of the yew tree with death and funerals back to ancient times. As a writer in The Gentleman's Magazine (1781) surmises neatly for us - 
We read in the Antiquities of Greece and Rome that the branches of the cypress and yew were the usual signals to denote a house in mourning. Now, sir, as Death was a deity among the antients (the daughter of Sleep and Night), and was by them represented in the same manner, with the addition only of a long robe embroidered with stars, I think we may fairly conclude that the custom of planting the yew in churchyards took its rise from Pagan superstition, and that it is as old as the conquest of Britain by Julius Caesar.
And certainly we do have very good evidence of the yew and cypress being used in funeral customs in the United Kingdom during the Roman occupation. For example, in a very revered work by the pioneering polymath Sir Thomas Browne, entitled  Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or, a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, published in 1658, he notes that - 
 The funerall pyre consisted of sweet fuell, cypresse, firre, larix, yewe, and trees perpetuall verdant. 
And here we are perhaps getting closer to the heart of our riddle, for in Classical times, and often in the ancient pagan world too, cremation was more common than burials. Now yew wood burns at a very high temperature, and to cremate a  human body one does need a very hot fire to burn the bones. Furthermore, yews are highly aromatic, and so building a funeral pyre using timbers from resinous trees such as the ones listed by Browne has another very practical use - namely masking the smell of charred flesh. Now one of the reasons why cremation was so popular is the fact that fire was seen as cleansing, and there are of course many traditions which feature flames as a symbol of  spiritual purification. And once again on a practical level, cremating a body did effectively neutralise the threat of infection from decomposing corpses. 

 However on the subject of the yew in particular, Browne goes on to wonder -
Whether the planting of yewe in churchyards holds its original from ancient funerall rites, or as an embleme of resurrection from its perpetual verdure, may also admit conjecture.
Now this opens up another aspect of the yew tree - its evergreen nature. Now trees and plants that do not shed their leaves in winter have long had association with eternal life and rebirth. However one does wonder why it seems to be the darker and woodier yews and cypresses that have gained funereal associations. One hypothesis is that the link with death specifically came from the yew's poisonous nature. The tree was widely to believed to so toxic that is was dangerous even to sleep in its shade. And in fact there is some truth in this old piece of English folklore - for, if the weather is hot enough the yew tree's deadly toxins such as taxin, taxiphyllin, and ephedrine, can evaporate from the sap. And hence it is, theoretically at least, possible to become poisoned if one is sitting close by the trunk on a hot day.



But also I suspect there are also some underlying practical considerations that made the yew more associated with funerals and burials than other evergreens such as holly or ivy. Our ancestors may have been many centuries away from the discovery of bacteria, but they knew well enough there was a hazard of infection from the recently dead. Now to this day we associate the smell of coniferous trees with cleanliness, to the point it has entered our language - "pine fresh".  And I suspect this is why we find yew, cypress and other of the more resinous evergreen plants and trees being part of funeral decorations in many cultures - for their fresh scents were thought to clear the air of noxious vapours and unclean forces. And certainly it is a tradition that has crossed both the centuries and different cultures. The Oxford Book of English Folklore (2000) notes that up until the 19th century, it was a popular custom to lay boughs and wreaths of yew upon a coffin before burial, with several regional variants. For example in 18th century Somerset, the Reverend John Collinson records -
Our forebears were particularly careful in preserving this funeral tree whose branches it was usual for mourners to carry in solemn procession to the grave, and afterwards deposit therein under the bodies of their dear friends
from A History of Somersetshire Vol. 1 (1791)

Another interesting variation is found in Ireland, where boughs of yew trees are used in Palm Sunday parades. Indeed in some regions this special day in the run up to Easter is even known as Domhnach an Iúir, which means "Yew Sunday". Now some have theorised that yew branches were chosen for their supposed resemblance to palm leaves, however looking at the two trees it is hard to imagine any that are perhaps more dissimilar! Therefore I'm rather more inclined to suspect the yew was chosen for its funereal associations - for after all, Palm Sunday is the beginning of a series of events that will lead to the Crucifixion of Jesus. And it is especially fitting considering that the Yew tree also has folkloric connections to rebirth and eternal life as well as death.

As we remarked in the first part of this little investigation, yew trees are extraordinarily long lived, and they possess remarkable powers of regeneration. Indeed yew branches can actually reach down to the ground and burrow under the soil to throw up new stems, creating new trunks around themselves. And hence while the yew tree had a fearsome reputation thanks to its toxic nature, with the 17th botanist Nicholas Culpeper ominous proclaiming "the most active vegetable poison known in the whole world, for in a very small dose it instantly induces death without any previous disorder", our forebears were equally well aware of its resilience, longevity and its powers of regeneration. Truly it was a tree of both life and death.



Recent research into the age of yew trees certainly suggest that our ancient forebears were probably well aware of the tree's astonishing life-span. It is currently reckoned that one of the oldest living things in Europe is an ancient yew tree growing in St Cynog’s churchyard at Defynnog in Powys, and is believed to be more than five thousand years old! And this venerable tree is not alone: for example, the yew growing in the churchyard of Fortingall in Perthshire, Scotland is reckoned to be in the region of three thousand years old, while the yew where King John alleged signed the Magna Carter, which stands in the now ruined priory of Ankerwycke in Berkshire has witnessed at least 2,000 years.  And modern tests have established that there are many more ancient trees still growing throughout the British Isles.

However this does rather raise a large question - for such ancient trees almost certainly predate the churches whose graveyards they stand in. All of which makes one wonder if there is perhaps more to the theory that the churches were constructed on ancient places of pagan worship. Now while we rightly pointed out last week, we actually know very little about the beliefs and practises of the Druids, however we do know considerably more about the culture of later pagan inhabitants of ancient Britain. After the Roman Empire collapsed, a new wave of colonists arrived but this time from Northern Europe. And rather than being the barbarous Vikings, beloved of historical cliches, a great many Norse, Scandinavian and Germanic folks came and peacefully settled in old England.

Now their religion revered a pantheon of gods and goddess, lead by the All-Father, most commonly known as Odin. Now in Norse mythology there were said to be nine worlds which were supported by the branches of an immense cosmic tree, Yggdrasil. And Odin had gained his wisdom, and not to mention his considerable powers of magic, by hanging himself on this world tree in a ritual of death and rebirth. Now for decades, scholars have referred to Yggdrasil as an ash-tree, however recent research, most notably by Fred Hageneder, has revealed that this is probably a mistranslation. For in the oldest sagas, and from where we gain much of our knowledge of Norse culture, Yggdrasil is referred to as vetgrønster vida which means "most evergreen tree", and as barraskr meaning "needle-ash". Hageneder therefore has claimed that Yggdrasil was actually a yew tree not an ash, and scholars have found that while there is no archaeological evidence for the ash being important in Norse rituals, there are many example of the yew tree being revered in their culture.

Now considering that Christianity co-existed with Norse and Germanic paganism for several centuries, with the Catholic Church only becoming properly established in the British Isles around the 6th century, and it taking another couple of centuries to completely convert the country, it is therefore very possible that some already ancient yew trees may have had some religious importance to the pagan locals, and hence churches were built nearby them. Clearly with modern research proving the incredible age of some of our churchyard yews, and the recent revelations of the nature of Yggdrasil, it perhaps time to have a closer look at the role of the Yew in ancient British paganism and how t relates to the history of Christianity in these isles.

Certainly the close links to both the Classical world and the Northern European pagan traditions we have uncovered certainly suggest that the yew tree has long been revered as a tree of life and death, and the seemingly ancient tradition of planting yews in graveyards is merely one of the more recent additions to the lore of this magical tree.




Thursday, 11 August 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #2 - The Fairy Coffins of Edinburgh


Now then, last year I did some investigation into a very curious case. In the early 19th century, a strange discovery was made just outside Edinburgh - a little tomb containing a cache of miniature coffins. Over the years these little caskets and weird occupants have been the source of much speculation, and here's what I could uncover...




Saturday, 6 August 2016

MICROGORIA 31 - Stranger Things




In an unscheduled broadcast, Mr Jim Moon takes a look at the new series that taking the geek world by storm - Stranger Things. In this show we have an in-depth but spoiler-free discussion of this marvellous tale set in the 1980s that masterfully blends SF and horror, created by the Duffer Brothers and available now from Netflix. 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 31 - Stranger Things

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


MICROGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.

Friday, 5 August 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Riddle of the Churchyard Yew I

       
 Come away, come away, death,
   And in sad cypress let me be laid.
   Fly away, fly away breath,
   I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
   My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
   O, prepare it!
   My part of death, no one so true
   Did share it.

from Twelfth Night (Act 2, Scene 4) 

A traditional feature in many churchyards in the United Kingdom is the presence of an ancient yew tree or two. And as attested by the quote from Shakespeare above, the yew tree (Taxus baccata) has long been cultivated in our graveyards, and borne an association with death and all things funereal. To summon up another literary example, the graveyard at St. Oswald's Church in Grasmere boasts eight yew trees planted by William Wordsworth himself. However the reason quite why this particular tree has been a favourite to plant in cemeteries for many centuries has been the subject of much debate over the years. 

One of the first often proffered reasons is pure practical: in his epic work Observations on the Statutes (1766), the lawyer and antiquary Daines Barrington, has this to say on the planting of yews in churchyards - 
Trees in a churchyard were often planted to skreen the church from the wind; that, low as churches were built at this time, the thick foliage of the yew answered this purpose better than any other tree. I have been informed, accordingly, that the yew-trees in the churchyard of Gyffin, near Conway, having been lately felled, the roof of the church hath suffered excessively 
And indeed, there is a statute by King Edward I that does mention the planting of trees for this very purpose. However  in his article Yew Trees in Churchyards, which can be found in the volume Antiquities and Curiosities of the Church (1897) edited by William Andrews, the Victorian scholar TN Brushfield M.D. notes that the statute in question does not make a specific reference to yew trees, and moreover is actually concerned with the cutting down of trees in churchyards rather than a policy of deliberately planting them. Furthermore Dr Brushfield goes on to sagely remark that -
If even intended to act as a shelter from windstorms, a number would have been planted either on the side of prevailing winds, or a belt of them would have surrounded the edifice. 
So then, we can dispense with the screen idea, and move swiftly on to the next oft-cited theory for having yews in churchyards. This next notion posits that yew trees were planted in churchyards so that the local parish would always have wood for bows and arrows. However in the same essay, Dr Brushfield neatly skewers this theory too, noting that - 
The remarkable fact that the English yew did not yield the best bows, may be noted here. Stringent regulations were laid down in several statutes, to require merchants to import bow staves from foreign parts simultaneously with other merchandise. In the time of Elizabeth, the price of “each bow of the best foreign yew” was 6s. 8d., while that of an English one was 2s. Spanish bows were then considered by far the best, but history shows that they were required to be used by English archers to make them fully effective as weapons of war.
In addition to these very pertinent historical facts that argue against the bow theory, later connoisseurs of yew lore have noted that the usual single tree planted in a churchyard would not yield enough wood to be terribly useful for making weaponry anyway. Now one of the fascinating things about yew trees is their exceedingly long lifespans, and many of the oldest have been quietly growing by churches and in cemeteries. For these trees have avoiding being felled for timber or being cut down when land has changed owners. Indeed it is widely accepted that many of these churchyard trees are a thousand years old or more. And therefore as many churchyards yews are reckoned to be old enough to have been around when the long bow was a standard weapon of war, it is very telling that they show little if any sign of ever being harvested for this purpose. And in support of this, no parish records have ever come to light that detail either the harvest or sale of yew tree timber. 

However this does demonstrate that the tradition of planting yews in our burying grounds is undoubtedly ancient. Now the third commonly cited explanation takes us into more sinister territory, for the yew is a tree with a dark reputation. And rightly so, for the leaves, sap, and even the wood of the yew tree are very toxic, and so it has been theorised that yews were planted in graveyards to discourage cattle or sheep from wandering in and grazing around the graves. However once again, the actual number of yew trees usually found in cemeteries rather argues against this theory. For a typical old churchyard will only be home to one or maybe two ancient yew trees, hardly enough to an effective botanical barrier for even a small churchyard, and are often located far from the edges of the graveyard. Another problem with this idea is the fact that exactly how toxic the foliage of yew trees are to livestock is somewhat unclear, with mixed reports coming in down the years, and even accounts of yew leaves being used to bulk out winter fodder for cattle with no ill effects. However perhaps most damningly, there is the fact that many churchyards have ancient walls surrounding them to do that very job in the first place.

Another perhaps more appealing theory moves away the allegedly practical reasons for yews in churchyards, and looks to more esoteric ideas. According to this different line of thinking, we are looking at the problem the wrong way - the real question is not why we plant yews in graveyards but why do graveyards appear around yew trees. For this particular theory states that yew trees were an important part of worship in British paganism and hence when the Christian missionaries came, they built their churches at the sites of the old temples, and hence ancient churchyards come with an ancient yew.

"The Druid's Grove- Norbury Park Ancient Yew Trees" by Thomas Allom

Now we do know that this kind of site conversion did take place. In fact at the dawn of the 7th century, we have a letter from Pope Gregory I written to the Abbot Mellitus, in which the Pope has these instructions for St. Augustine -
Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.
And indeed there are many attested examples in Northern Europe where churches have been built on former pagan sites. However all the same, many scholars have taken exception with this explanation - partly because they claim there is a lack of botanical and archaeological evidence to back it up, but mostly because we know very little of the beliefs of the pre-Christian Britons. And hence the idea they venerated the yew tree is pure supposition. According to the Oxford Book of English Folklore (2000) by J Simpson and S Roud a more likely scenario is that -
the custom of planting yews in churchyards seems to have come with Christianity to Ireland and wales, in imitation of Mediterranean cemeteries with cypress and laurel
However once again, as soon as one finds a promising theory, it is not long before problems with it surface. In this case we ironically have the same lack of direct evidence that undermines the paganism theory. But a more obvious problem is that it mistakenly supposes that the planting of cypresses in European burying grounds is an exclusively Christian custom. For long before the rise the Christianity the cypress and the yew was associated with death and funerals: in the Classical world its branches were woven in wreathes to venerate Pluto the god of the Underworld, while in ancient Greece it was associated with Hecate, another Underworld deity. Now interestingly, long before Pope Gregory, the Roman empire had pioneered the practise of site conversion; for it was standard Roman practise to erect new temples at the native places of worship, usually finding an equivalent in the Classical pantheon to the local deity they were supplanting. So then given that Classical culture was spread far into the north of Europe thanks to the Romans, it would seem a more likely bet that the tradition came with them several centuries before the missionaries set out.

However why were these trees so closely associated with death and funeral rites in so many cultures? Next time, we shall explore the sinister associations of the yew tree and hopefully get closer to the heart of the riddle of yew trees in churchyards...