Tuesday, 30 June 2015

COVER ART-ROCITIES #17


Nothing says 'ghost!' quite like a fox, a noose, the dagger from Cluedo, a toy knight...  Or at last that's what Pan's art director thought until his P45 arrived...

Sunday, 28 June 2015

HYPNOGORIA 14 - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part II


Mr Jim Moon pays tribute to the great Sir Christopher Lee with the first part of what will be a lengthy retrospective of his life and works. In the first part of this epic journey through a career that spanned seven decades, we learn of Lee's early life, military career and his early forays into acting. We discuss his involvement with the birth of Hammer horror and friendship with Peter Cushing, looking at his roles in Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy and The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. We look at his non horror works such as Hound of the Baskervilles and Terror of the Tongs, learn of his close relationship with Boris Karloff and the movie they starred in together Corridors of Blood, and round off with another black and white chiller City of the Dead AKA Horror Hotel which was effectively the birth of Amicus. 

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part II

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

Friday, 26 June 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - The Toad Stone


As we saw last week, toad bones were highly prized for their alleged unusual powers. However in ages past, despite their unfounded and undeserved reputation as being poisonous predators, toads were sought out for another bizarre but commonly believed reason, which William Shakespeare alluded to  in As You Like It.  In Act 2, Scene 1, the Bard of Avon has Duke Senior say:

Sweet the uses of adversity.
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head

Yes, as strange as it sounds for several centuries a belief flourished that held toad's heads contained a curious gem stone. Now aside from the monetary value of a jewel, these toadstones were also alleged to possess extremely useful properties. In the early encyclopedia, De Proprietatibus Rerum, written by the Franciscan scholar Bartholomaeus Anglicus in the 13th century, a toadstone was described as - 
A precyous stone somdeale whyte: other of dyuers colours. It is sayd yt this stone is take oute of a toodes heed... this stone helpith ayenst bytynh of serpentis & of creeping wormes: & ayenst venym. For in the presence of venym, yt stone warmyth & brennyeth his fynger yt towchyth him
Now this might seem to be absolute nonsense to the modern reader, but in earlier ages, when medicine was primitive, and poisoning was a common method of assassination, it is easy to understand why the idea that certain gems could not only ease, but also detect poisons, would be very appealing. Naturally it wasn't long before there was flourishing trade in toadstones, and by the 16th century these gems, allegedly taken from the heads of amphibians, were being set jewelry, most commonly rings, and were highly prized items. 

And in later ages, their claimed magical properties shifted slightly. Presumably as the fear of being bumped off by poisoning receded, the toadstone became more generally known as a magical remedy, with  Thomas Lupton in this compendium of science and technology Thousand Notable Things, Of Sundry Sortes (1576) alleging that - 

A Tode stone (called Crapandina) touching any part be venomed, hurte or stung by Ratte, Spider or Waspe, or any other venomous Beast, ceases the paine and swelling thereof

However being a tome full of handy practical hints and guides for the learned Elizabethean gent, Lupton handily gives us a method of making our own - 
A Goode way to get the stone called Crapaundina, out of the Tode. Put a great or ouergrowne Tode, (fyrst brused in dyvers places) into an earthern potte, and put the same in an Antes hyllocke, & couer the same with earth, which Tode at length ye Antes wyll eate: So that the bones of the Tode and stone, wyll be left in the potte
As those of you who read last weeks article on toad bone amulets will recognize, clearly Mr Lupton (or his source) had read their Pliny. Various other writers and sages in later years would continue to recommend the "ante hyllock" method of extracting a toadstone, however obviously one expect there were many disappointed folks you found naught but ant-flensed bones when opening their "eathern pottes". And perhaps this is why seminal bestiary compiler Edward Topsell detailed an alternative and more arcane method in his 1608 work The Historie of Serpents
There be many late Writers, which doe affirme that there is a precious stone in the head of a Toade, whose opinions (because they attribute much to the vertue of this stone) it is good to examine in this place, that so the Reader may be satisfied whether to hold it as a fable or as a true matter, exemplifying the powerfull working of Almightie God in nature, for there be many that weare these stones in Ringes, being verily perswaded that they keepe them from all manner of grypings and paines of the belly and the small guttes. But the Art (as they terme it) is in taking of it out, for they say it must be taken out of the head alive, before the Toad be dead, with a peece of cloth of the colour of red Skarlet, where-withall they [sc. the toads] are much delighted, so that they stretch out themselves as it were in sport upon that cloth, they cast out the stone of their head, but instantly they sup it up againe, unlesse it be taken from them through some secrete hole in the said cloth, whereby it falleth into a cestern or vessell of water, into which the Toade dareth not enter, by reason of the coldnes of the water.

Very bizarre indeed I'm sure you'll agree! But no matter how strange and fruitless these methods of extracting the fabled stones from the toad's heads were, from the trade in toadstone jewelry quite clearly some one was managing to get them. However by the 17th century, some inquiring minds were begining to wonder quite where the toadstones were coming from. One such sharp fellow was Sir Thomas Browne, who in his 1646 work Pseudodoxia Epidemica, or Enquiries into Very many Received Tenets, and commonly Presumed Truths, wittily debunked many commonly held misconceptions and myths. In this work, he rigorously investigated the subject of toadstones, basically highlighting the anatomical and biological unfeasibility of such things existing before revealing his own conclusion on what they were, and even proposed a test for alleged toadstones - 
But these Toadstones, at least very many thereof, which are esteemed among us, are at last found to be taken not out of Toads heads, but out of a Fishes mouth, being handsomely contrived out of the teeth of the Lupus Marinus, a Fish often taken in our Northern Seas, as was publickly declared by an eminent and Learned Physitian. But because men are unwilling to conceive so low of of their Toadstones which they so highly value, they may make some trial thereof by a candent or red hot Iron applied unto the hollow and unpolished part thereof, whereupon if they be true stones they will not be apt to burn or afford a burnt odour, which they may be apt to do, if contrived out of animal parts or the teeth of fishes.
 The Lupus Marinus is of course Latin for Sea-wolf, the archaic name for a shark. However while Sir Thomas was on the right track, he hadn't quite found the origin of the toadstones, for indeed many of these alleged mystic stones would have passed his hot iron test. A later writer (whom we encountered while talking of another alleged magical item the Fairy Flag of Dunvegan),  Thomas Pennant came closer still in his epic work British Zoology (1766). Pennant wrote of the toadstone that - 
all its fancied powers vanished on the discovery of its being nothing but the fossil Tooth of the Sea-Wolf, or some other flat-toothed Fish. 
And hence as they were fossils, a toadstone could be subjected to Browne's test and not give off the tell-tale smells of burnt calcium and enamel which would signify a fake. However again, while Mr Pennant was close to the truth, he was just a shade away from getting to the bottom of this batrachian mystery. In fact, he was quite correct on all counts except identifying the exact species of  fossilised fish teeth.

Modern science has of course now given us the answer: toadstones were in fact the teeth from fossils of a species of Lepidotes which flourished in everyone's favourite ancient time zones - the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when dinosaurs ruled the earth. And looking at the stony remains of these primordial piscines' jaws, one can see why they were passed off as toadstones, for in their shape and colouring, they do resemble the wart, knobbly hide of monstrous toads. 





Wednesday, 24 June 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES Special - Mysteries of the Unknown


In the late '70s children's publisher Usborne, produced a new line of books aimed at young readers. Entitled 'World of the Unknown' it comprised of three large format paperbacks, with glossy covers and lavish colour illustrations throughout. One was  All About Monsters, the next All About Ghosts and the third and final volume All About UFOs. All three volumes were collected together in a large hardback edition which hit the shelves under the title of Mysteries of the Unknown.

Introducing kids to strange creatures such as the Lambton Worm, the Hopkinsville goblin and Gef the talking mongoose, and transporting them to weird locales such as Loch Ness, Borley Rectory and the Nazca Lines, these books are fondly remembered by several generations of children. Packed full of details and wonderful illustrations, these tomes were high octane fuel for the imagination and now can command frighteningly high prices secondhand... Something that make me very glad I still got my much cherished though slightly battered edition of Mysteries of the Unknown. Indeed I still enjoy flipping through this tome whose words and pictures still trill me to this very day. 

Last year, in as part of my adventures in audio, I decided to go through the books on air as it were and reminisce about their marvels and read aloud some samples of their magic. And as Usborne collected all three volumes together into one bumper package, it is only right and proper that I now do the same... 


MICROBOBS 05 - ALL ABOUT GHOSTS

In this minicast, Mr Jim Moon once again dusts off a spooky childhood favourite. This time we talk about a volume in Usborne's late 1970s series World of the Unknown, the haunting tome All About Ghosts

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Microbobs 05 All About Ghosts


MICROGORIA 04 - ALL ABOUT MONSTERS

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

LISTEN HERE
DIRECT DOWNLOAD - Microgoria 04: All About Monsters


MICROGORIA 11 - ALL ABOUT UFOS 

Completing the trilogy of World of the Unknown books, Mr Jim Moon, in a predictably over-excitable fashion, voyages back to the 1970s to take a look at  All About UFOs (Usborne 1977)

LISTEN HERE
DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 11 - All About UFOS



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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

COVER ART-ROCITIES #16


Who can forget F Scott Fitzgerald's classic tale of the giant blue blanket monster ate Las Vegas?

Celebrating the mad, bad, and dangerous to look at covers inflicted on the book world

Sunday, 21 June 2015

HYPNOGORIA 13 - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part I - Unearthing Dracula


To mark the passing of Sir Christopher Lee, we begin a triumvirate of shows celebrating the life and works of a true legend of cinema and horror. In our first episode, Mr Jim Moon goes on the trail of a lost Dracula, and uncovers the tale of a long forgotten audio version of Bram Stoker's classic narrated by Sir Christopher Lee and its links to one of the first graphic novels The Illustrated Dracula from 1966

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - A Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee Part I - Unearthing Dracula

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOBOBS family here -

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

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

Friday, 19 June 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Toad Bones


As we discovered a few weeks ago, in ages past there was a whole branch of early medicine (and I use that term loosely) based about using toads, in whole or in part, as a remedy for a wide variety of ailments. Many of these dubious cures were in that strange borderland where early pharmacy emerges into folk magic, with some cures being derived from pills, lotions and potions made from toads while others worked by the patient carrying a dead specimen or some parts thereof as an amulet or charm against catching certain diseases and maladies. 

However, in a related set of folk beliefs, there is a long tradition of using toads for more purely magical purposes. As we have seen in previous articles, folk beliefs about the venomous nature of the creatures and assorted alleged familiar spirits appearing in the shape of toads, has resulting in the toad being associated with witchcraft and black magic, an idea that still persists today in the popular imagination. However the idea that toads possess magical properties stretches back further than the witch trials and medieval times, for like many widespread European superstitions, the origin of these beliefs can be traced back to Classical times. 

While the surviving writing of assorted Greek and Roman scholars formed the basis for Western philosophy, science and history for hundreds of years, unfortunately our ancient sages weren't always on the mark with their data and theories. For example, Pliny the Elder gave the world one of the first encyclopedias - the epic tome Naturalis Historia (or Natural History) which covered topics such as astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, physiology, mineralogy, zoology, botany, agriculture, pharmacology, mining and art history. But while this massive book was an important reference work for learned men for literally centuries, in Naturalis Historia we also learn dubious facts such as burying a toad in a jar will ward off diseases on a crop of millet, the ashes of toad mixed with grease is a good treatment for gout, and that sick pigs can be cured with water in which a toad has been boiled. 

And it is also in this epic work by Pliny that we discover the root of a very common folk belief about toads - namely that their bones have magical properties. When writing on what he referred to as the rubetæ or bramble-frog (the Classical terms for toads) our seminal scholar notes that - 
Authors quite vie with one another in relating marvelous stories about them; such, for instance, as that if they are brought into the midst of a concourse of people, silence will instantly prevail; as also that by throwing into boiling water a small bone that is found in their right side, the vessel will immediately cool, and the water refuse to boil again until it has been removed. This bone, they say, may be found by exposing a dead bramble-frog to ants, and letting them eat away the flesh: after which the bones must be put into the vessel, one by one.
Naturalis Historia 32.18

However Pliny goes to to relate that after your ants have flensed your toad, don't chuck the rest of the skeletal remains away, for certain other bones have even more remarkable properties - 
In the left side of this reptile there is another bone, they say, which, thrown into water, has all the appearance of making it boil, and the name given to which is "apocynon." This bone, it is said, has the property of assuaging the fury of dogs, and, if put into the drink, of conciliating love and ending discord and strife. Worn, too, as an amulet, it acts as an aphrodisiac, we are told. The bone, on the contrary, which is taken from the right side, acts powerfully as a refrigerative upon boiling liquids, it is said: attached to the patient in a piece of fresh lamb's-skin, it has the repute of assuaging quartan and other fevers, and of checking amorous propensities. 

Now that I'm sure you'll agree sounds like a very useful bone to possess! Indeed over the years, right up until the present day, there is a continuing tradition of magical belief in the power of toad bones. What is most remarkable however is that these superstitions are clearly drawn from Pliny, albeit with some added embroidering over the centuries. For example, nearly all toad bone rituals follow the Classical lore in using ants to strip the flesh from the bones, and while the alleged properties of the toad bones do vary from place to place, they have remained generally consistent - namely that a certain part of the skeleton can cure diseases and/or give its owner the power to influence both people and animals.

And while Pliny rather unhelpfully doesn't specify which bone it was, over the centuries it seems plenty of folks thought they could find the right one! In some traditions a specific part  of the toad is identified, most often usually the pelvis or breast bone. However what is very interesting is that over time new stages have been added to the process to magically correct Pliny's vagueness. Hence after the flensing by ants, we have an additional rite whereby by the magical bones will be revealed, most usually by using running water. On a an alleged propitious night - new and full moons and various Saint's days are common - the bones were cast into running water and the magical bone reveal itself by floating up against the current.

Now here we can clearly see some deductive thinking at work. As Pliny mentions that the bone has the property of cooling hot water and boiling cold water, hence at some stage a prospective healer or magician reasoned that therefore given the magical bone's contrarian effects on water, it would logically float against a current and thereby reveal itself. Interestingly though, even in times and places where the local tradition identified which part of the toad skeleton was magical, the rite of immersing the bones in running water was still carried out, indeed in some areas the process of acquiring a toad bone was known as 'going to the river' or the rite of  'waters of the moon'. However in these cases, it seems that the act of immersing of the bones in running water was now seen as part of the magical charging of the resulting toad amulet -
Then take the bones and go down to a good stream of runnin' water at midnight an' throw the bones i' the stream. All the bones but one will go downstream, an' that one as wont go downstream is the breast-bone. Now you must get 'old of this 'ere bone afore the Devil gets it, an' if you get it an' keep it allus by you - in your pocket or wear it - then you can witch, as well as that, you'll be safe from bein' witched yourself
from Lincolnshire Folklore (1936)
by Ethel H Rudkin

While the simpler versions profess to create a charm that is good against certain diseases and grants a power over animals - in English traditions usually over horses - as the above quote illustrates, where the method of acquiring a toad bone becomes more magically, more of ritual than a technical process, so too the reputed powers of the bone grow. While in the 16th and 17th centuries, English witchcraft thought to be dependent on the powers granted by familiar spirits and animals, in the 18th and 19th centuries magical prowess came from possessing a toad bone.  
There was one charm she told me of witch was practiced when any one wanted to get command over there fellow creatures. Those that wished to cast the spell must search until they found a walking toad. It was a toad with a yellow ring round its neck, I have never seen one of them but I have been told they can be found in some parts of the Country. When they found the toad they must put it in a perforated box, and bury it in a Black Ant’s nest. When the Ants have eaten all the flesh away from the bones it must be taken up, and the person casting the spell must carry the bones to the edge of a running stream the midnight of Saint Marks Night, and throw them in the water. All will sink but one single bone and that will swim up stream. When they have taken out the bone the Devell would give them the power of Witchcraft, and they could use that power over both Man and Animals.

from I Walked by Night: Being the Life & History of the King of the Norfolk Poachers (1935) 
edited by LR Haggard

Indeed being the holder of a toad bone amulet was so seen as being the key to possessing magical powers that in some areas folks possessing arcane knowledge and skills were known as toadsmen. In some cases, a toadsman was seen as a beneficial member of the local community, similar to horse whisperers or cunning folks: some one who could provided remedies against all manner of maladies, both natural and supernatural for people, livestock and crops. However in others these folks had a more sinister reputation, with toadsman being a byword for witch; indeed in the county of Norfolk casting spells was known as 'tudding', a corruption of 'toading'. And correspondingly the rituals had a darker nature too, as an old horseman called Albert Love recounted in 1966
While you are watching these bones in the water, you must on no consideration take your eyes off it. Do (if you do) you will lose all power. That’s where you get your power from for messing about with horses, just keeping your eyes on that particular bone. But when you are watching it and these bones are parting, you’ll hear all the trees and all the noises that you can imagine, even as if buildings were falling down or a traction engine is running over you. But you still mustn’t take your eyes off, because that’s where you lose your power. Of course, the noises must be something to do with the Devil’s work in the middle of the night...
from The Pattern under the Plough  (1966)
by GE Evans

Furthermore some traditions had additional rituals, to give the toadsman even greater powers. In East Anglia it was said that some time after acquiring the toad bone, usually five nights later, the toadsman would spend the night in a barn and call up the Devil, who he would then bind - presumably exercising the powers of influence in the bone - to his will. Interestingly in a call back to earlier English witchlore about familiars, the  pact or bargain with the Devil involved the toadsman offering up his blood. However the price of gaining such powers was high - as Nigel Pennick recounts in Secrets of East Anglian Magic (1995) the toadsman could expect all manner of infirmities, hallucinations and even a sudden death. So then, despite the alluring powers that having a toad bone amulet grants, perhaps it is best to leave the bones where they belong - in the toads.  

The toad-bone ritual making an appearance in cult BBC children's serial The Moon Stallion in 1978