Sunday, 26 April 2015

HYPNOGORIA 11 - The Woman In Black Part II


This week we return to Eel Marsh House to see if Mr Jim Moon has survived his night there... And if he has, there's be a discussion of the BBC radio versions of The Woman in Black, the scarifying 1989 TV movie adapted by Nigel Kneale, Hammer Films' big screen incarnation starring Daniel Radcliffe, and a look at the sequel The Woman in Black: Angel of Death in the form of a novel by Martyn Waites and a movie by Tom Harper.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  HYPNOGORIA 11 - The Woman In Black Part II

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

Friday, 24 April 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Live at the Witch Trials! Part III


This week, we are continuing our investigation of a 16th century pamphlet that recounts the tale of three witches tried and executed in Chelmsford in 1589. Previously we have heard how both Joan Cunny of Stysted and Joan Upney of Dagenham had confessed to keeping familiar spirits in the shape of frogs, toads and "moule like" creatures, and sending these demonic beings out to wreak havoc and cause injury, illness and death. 

Now the allegations of using familiars were a common feature in many of the witch trials in this period of English history. These beings were said to appear as common animals, albeit sometimes are freakish beasts rather than natural creatures, which could converse with their human masters and mistresses and possessed magical powers. Indeed in these three cases it would appear that all the alleged magic was accomplished by the familiars, with the witches merely giving them orders. For in England at that time, witchcraft was more seen as commanding and consorting with supernatural beings rather than the potion-brewing and spell casting the popular imagination depicts witches engaging in. Indeed in a statute against witchcraft, passed by Elizabeth I in 1563, very clearly defines the crime of witchcraft as being chiefly "Invocacons and Conjuracons of evill and wicked Spirites".  Indeed the three women on trial only appear to be witches by dint of the fact that they had access to familiars. Likewise Joan Cunny's daughters were also tried for witchcraft as they had used their mother's black frog sprites. 

However while the confession of Joan Cunny tells of how she was taught to draw a circle and intone certain words to raise her familiar spirits (see Part II for details), claims of actually conjuring up sprites are actually somewhat rare in the accounts given at the witch trials. More common was the means by which Joan Upney received her familiars - being given them by another witch. And more interestingly after Joan Upney's  first familiar seemingly wore out, new ones came  on their own to replace it. However equally common was the way in which our third witch gained her little helper. 

Joan Prentice lived at the Almshouse of  Hinningham Sibble (a town now called Sible Hedingham), and she related to the court that some six years previously, one wintry night some time between Halloween and Christmas, around ten o'clock as she was preparing to go to bed,  she received a strange visitation. For in her bed chamber appeared a dunnish furred ferret "with fiery eyes", who scampered towards her, and standing on its hind legs, placed its forepaws in her lap. The odd creature stared her in the eye and spoke, saying "Joan give me thy soule". The shocked lady asked what this creature was, to which the ferret replied "I am Satan" and went on to reassure her - "feare me not, my coming unto thee is to doo thee no hurt but to obtaine thy soule, which I must and wil have before I departe from thee". Joan replied that her soul belonged to Jesus, who had shed his blood to redeem it. And hence the wily ferret said "I must then have some of thy blood". And so Prentice offered the creature her left forefinger, which it bit and drank from. She asked again what the creature's name was and this time it replied its name was "Bidd". Then when her strange visitor had drank its fill of her blood, it promptly vanished.

However this was not the end of the story for Prentice then went on to relate how about a month later, the curious animal reappeared, again as she was preparing to go to bed. This time Bidd leapt up on her lap and sucked blood from her cheek. But after sating itself this time, the ferret spoke to her saying "if thou will have me doo any thing for thee, I am and wil be alwaies ready at thy commaundement". And so having had a quarrel with a local man, one William Adams, Prentice instructed Bidd to go and spoil the ale his wife was brewing. And so began a partnership or mischief and malice. Prentice only had to intone the words - 
Bidd, Bidd, Bidd, Come Bidd, come Bidd, come Bidd, Come suck, come suck, come suck
- and lo, Bidd would appear, and after drinking blood from her left cheek, would ask for instructions.

However recently the partnership had soured - a Master Glascock had turned her away while begging and so in revenge she instructed to Bidd to go nip one of his daughters, a girl named Sara, "but hurt it not". However the following night when the ferret returned, it reported that not only had the child been attacked but she would now die as a result. Prentice was horrified and chastised her familiar, who promptly vanished, never to reappear to her again. As for Joan Prentice herself, the court spared little time in finding her guilty, and like Joan Cunny and Joan Prentice, she was hung without delay. 

While an account of a blood-drinking ferret, which may or may not have been Satan himself, may sound extremely weird to our modern ears, the witch trials that flourished in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries were full of similar tales of familiar spirits. While European and Scottish witch trials were dominated with accounts of Black Masses and Sabbats, English witchery in these period was dominated by accounts of these supernatural creatures. However what is very strange is that during the period of these Essex witch trials, the use of torture was outlawed. Now historians have speculated that the lurid accounts of the Sabbats found in Scottish and European trials were the results of torture, but at the time of these Chelmsford witches, legally the courts were not allowed to extracted confessions by torture. Hence we appear to have here three ladies giving of their own free will these disturbing accounts of malicious familiars, confessions that they surely knew would seal their doom. 

But most intriguing is the last section of Joan Prentice's confession, which indicates that the familiars were seemingly somewhat independent rather than servile beings.  For she claimed that she was not the sole mistress - indeed if mistress she truly was - of the demonic ferret Bidd. For she claimed that two other women, one Elizabeth Whale and Elizabeth Mott, wife of the town cobbler, also knew of Bidd, but she did not know what, if any, mischief it had carried out on their commands. Curiously, from the surviving historical records there is no indication whether these two other ladies were brought before the court. Bidd's current whereabouts remains unknown...


Thursday, 23 April 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #6


Yes, another influential tome from my childhood! At my junior school, as well as a proper school library, every class had its own mini-library from which we were encouraged to borrow books. Needless to say many were rather dull learn-to-read style textbooks and assorted battered encyclopedias, however in my third year our new class room had a huge selection of exciting looking books including a great many classic novels of firm favourites such as The Hobbit, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Water Babies and  Call of the Wild.

However the hot favourite, and the book that there was an unofficial waiting list for, was this anthology of spooky tales. For, according to those who had stumbled upon it first, it contained real ghost stories for grown-ups and was PROPER SCARY!!! And while like many anthologies of ghost stories aimed at young readers published at that time, Mr Molin includes some not very frightening retold folk tales and a few comedy stories, there actually were some genuine skin-freezers in there, as you can see...

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde
Teeny-Tiny by Anonymous
The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens
The Strange Visitor by Anonymous
Madam Crowl's Ghost by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
A Ghostly Wife by Anonymous
Legend of Hamilton Tighe by Richard Barham
The Phantom Ship by Captain Marryat
The Brown Hand by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Ghost-Brahman by Anonymous
The Ghost-ship by Richard Middleton
The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall by John Kendrick Bangs
The Inexperienced Ghost by H.G. Wells
The Buggane and the Tailor by Dora Broome
Laura by Saki
The Betrayal of Nance by R. Blakeborough
The Ghost Who Was Afraid of Being Bagged by Anonymous
The Beast with Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey
The Night the Ghost Got In by James Thurber
The Story of Glam by Andrew Lang

And as is usual I've linked to podcasts containing my readings of these fine tales.

The cover design was by Philip Gough who also did this atmosphereic frontispiece



Tuesday, 21 April 2015

COVER ART-ROCITIES #7


Possibly the campest cover every to turn up in the Fantasy section! And if the dapper fellow with his shirt off doesn't make you feel a little uneasy, the non-masterful way the artist has angled this dubious scene of unicorn molesting on an annoying slope certainly will!


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

Sunday, 19 April 2015

HYPNOGORIA 10 - The Woman In Black


In this episode Mr Jim Moon takes up residence in the ill-starred Eel Marsh House to begin a two part investigation in the terrifying hauntings there. In this first episode, we discover the origins of Susan Hill's classic novel The Woman in Black, and discover how this dread spectre has manifested as a long running West End play at the Fortune Theatre in London through the medium of Mr Stephen Mallatratt.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  HYPNOGORIA 10 - The Woman In Black Part I

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, 17 April 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Live at the Witch Trials! Part II


Last week we delved into the world of the early popular press, the world of the ha'penny one sheet broadside, and found a late 16th century ballad telling of three witches tried in Chelmsford.  Now the street ballads of the 16th and 17th centuries, while often drawing inspiration from current events, aren't exactly known for their historical accuracy; indeed a good deal of sensationalist embellishment was part and parcel of penning a popular ballad. So then was there any truth to the tale laid out in A New Ballad of the Life and Death of Three Witches Arrayned and Executed at Chelmsford 5 July 1589

Well fortunately for us, another branch of the popular press of the day can provide us with a good deal more detail. From the late 1400s onward the publication of essays, tracts, stories, songs and poems as quarto sized booklets formed by folding printed pages together became exceeding popular - they cost little to print, were fast to produce, and were sold cheap. Their short and inexpensive nature proved to be very popular with the public, and this ensured that a writer could reach a very wide audience very swiftly. While political and religious pamphlets would start to dominate the market in the late 16th and early 17th centuries as England lurched towards the Civil War, much like the one sheet broadsides and ballads accounts of trials, preferably involving murder and mayhem, were highly popular. Therefore when a craze of witch-hunting swept through the country, the pamphleteers had ringside seats at the trials, ready to pass on all the lurid details of deviltry and black magic to an eager public. 

Hence we have a lavish account of the case in the form of a pamphlet entitled The Apprehension and confession of three notorious Witches. Arreigned and by Justice condemned and executed at Chelmes-forde, in the Countye of Essex, the 5. day of Julye, last past. 1589. Yes, while these little booklets were very short, they hadn't yet mastered the art of punchy titles. However thanks to high amount of detail in this pamphlet, historians have been able to verify that this trial took place as described from the records of the local court of Assizes. The Assizes were Crown appointed courts that were held quarterly across England with the country divided into six circuits. At this time Essex was part of the Home Circuit which also covered Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex and were held in Chelmford. Hence what we have detailed in this pamphlet is not one witch trial but three separate ones, featuring three separate charges of suspected witchcraft being brought to the court from over the previous quarter. Somewhat oddly however all three witches were named Joan. 

After a stern warning about the perils of witchcraft and shielding those who go against God in this fashion, we have the first case brought against one Joan Cunny of Stysted, Essex, tried by Anthony Mildemay on the 31st March 1598. The case opened with her confession, in which this widow claimed to have been taught how to raise the Devil by a Mother Humfrye of Maplested, who instructed her on how to draw a circle on the ground and intone certain words to raise "Sathan the cheefe of the Devills". She carried out this instructions in a field and "two Sprites did appear unto her within the said Circle, in the similitude and likenes of two black frogges". In return for her soul, these Sprites would do whatever she wished, and having struck the bargain, apparently Cunny was to command four of these black frogs for the next few years, each with its own name and powers - "Jack killed mankinde. Jyll killed womenkinde. Nicholas killed horses. Ned killed Cattell". These hell-frogs were kept in a box, fed upon milk and white bread, and often conversed with Mother Cunny. She soon set them to work such as destroying property (a local's stack of firewood) and causing harm and hurt to those around her. While she held that some folks she was unable to harm thanks to their faith and virtue, he admitted that "she hath hurt divers persons within this sixteene or twenty yeeres, but how many she now knoweth not". She also confessed that her daughter Margaret had sent out the sprites to harm villagers too. 

Further evidence is presented by her own grandsons, the bastard children of her daughters, aged 10 and 12. The elder boy testified that on the way to Braintree market, a man named Harry Finch whose wife was then busy brewing, refused to give them any drink. For this Joan Cunny sent out the sprite Jyll to Finch's wife, who was "greevously taken in her head, and the next day in her side, and so continued in most horrible pain for the space of a week, and then dyed". The same lad testified that his grandmother had sent out another of her frogs to harm a boy who had stole firewood from him, and furthermore had instructed him to take the imp Jack to a field belonging to Sir Edward Huddlestone, the Sheriff of the Shire, where the sprite then raised a wind that brought down a mighty oak tree. 

The pamphlet records that the judge wasted no time in sentencing her to death. However looking through the records of the Assizes, we can all discover the fate of Joan Cunny's daughters. Both were also brought before the same court on charges of witchcraft, with Margaret being found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to a year in prison and to be pilloried. Her sister Avice was also found guilty of murder by incantation, however she begs for mercy on the grounds that she is pregnant is instead is remanded. It seems a little odd that the pamphlet writers did not make more of a whole family of witches, but knowing their audience's appetites we may guess that prison sentences did not warrant as much interest as an execution. 

The next case recounted is somewhat shorter, but bears a number of similarities to its fellows. This was the testimony of one Joan Upney of Dagenham, who was brought before Sir Henry Gray Knight, on 3rd May 1589. Upney had been identified as a witch by two local men, John Harrolde and Richard Foster, and had attempted to flee justice. In her confession, she claimed that some seven or eight years previously.a witch from Barking named Fustian Kirtle or Whitecote, had given "a thing like a Moule", and was instructed that the creature would harm anyone who she bade it to. Rather strangely, this creature seemingly worn out - "it consumed away" - but was replaced by another like it, and a toad which she had for a great while, and had had many more toads too. 

One toad she placed in the Harrolde house, and claim the creature "pinched his wife and sucked her til she dyed". Another toad was unleashed on Richard Foster's wife, whom it "pinched". Both of these familiar creatures did not return after their mission. Upney claimed she had two more toads in her home but they too had been "consumed away" when she fled her house. She too was sentenced to death, however the pamphlet claims showed repentance for her sins and ask God for forgiveness before her execution. It also notes that she "cryed out saying: that she had greevously sinned, that the devill had deceived her" - and consider how her familiar sprites appeared to be one-shot deals and prone to wearing out, we might well conclude that she indeed got a poorer deal than Joan Cunny, who had received a far better class of familiar!  
However our third witch had the most interesting familiar of all, whose exploits we will examine in detail in the third part of Live At the Witch Trials



Thursday, 16 April 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #5


Back in the day before the internet, secondhand bookshops were rare and wonderful things. In those days, to get hold of out of print titles, the only way to find them was scouring every secondhand book shop in your local area and hoping the titles you were hunting would appear. Therefore when a new secondhand book operation opened for business, it was instantly added to every bibliophile's flightpath. 

Therefore as a young book lover with limited transport and even more limited pocket money, it was a huge delight when the local post office round the corner suddenly gained a secondhand book section alongside its other side lines of stationary, knitting supplies and assorted ornamental tat. The used book corner didn't last long, but for the year or two it was there it proved to be a real treasure trove. And one of the first tomes I picked from there - for the bargain price of 20p - was this somewhat battered paperback anthology of vampire tales. 

Now I know what you are thinking... What no Carmilla? No Berenice? No Horla? How can this be vampire classics Mr Dickie! Well, as our genial editor explains in the lavish and informative introduction he chose to leave out several well known tales to avoid over-lapping with another volume. the publisher of this tome, Neville Spearman/Pan, had issued another undead anthology The Vampire curated by Roger Vadim in 1963, and hence for this 1971 collection Mr Dicky courteously avoided any overlap with the preceding volume. It was a gentlemanly and ultimate canny move, for Vadim's The Vampire promptly went on my To Buy list and we shall look at that volume another day! 

However as you will see, despite Vadim have the first pick of the crop, nevertheless Mr Dickie has assembled a rather fine selection of tales here for some of the true masters of weird fiction  - 

The Undead (verse) by Richard Wilbur
For The Blood Is The Life by F. Marion Crawford
The End Of The Story by Clark Ashton Smith 
The Death Of Ilalotha by Clark Ashton Smith 
The Tomb Of Sarah by F. G. Loring 
Revelations In Black by Carl Jacobi
The Death Of Halpin Frayser by Ambrose Bierce
A True Story Of A Vampire by Eric, Count Stenbock
The Hound - H. P. Lovecraft
When It Was Moonlight - Manly Wade Wellman
The Canal by Everil Worrell
The Old Man's Story by Walter Starkie

The Undead is a highly entertaining collection of vampire tales, delivering a fine roster of literary bloodsuckers, and giving me my first taste of Lovecraft, Bierce and Clark Ashton Smith into the bargain. And while Vadim might have bagged some of the heavy hitters, in the long run I feel Dickie's tome has come out the winner. For in not overlapping with the earlier collection, this book also has managed to avoid overlapping with countless later volumes of vampire tales too while still delivering plenty of classics - which makes it an essential tome to track down for any fan of vampire lore!