Thursday, 30 April 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #7 - Ghostly Gallery ed. Alfred Hitchcock

Another VIT (Very Important Tome) for me - for this was the first book of ghost stories that I ever bought. My memory is a little hazy on this but I think that this paperback may well have been the first book of proper ghost stories that I ever read too. It was first published back in 1962 in the USA, and received a UK publication in 1966. Judging from the information in the publisher's blurb page, this anthology was something of a best seller being reprinted in paperback every year, with two print runs in 1972 and 1974, and I recall it making regular appearances in bookshops for a good few years after I got my copy in 1976.

So then, what made me pick up this tome? Well it wasn't so much the stylized and oh-so-very-very-'70s cover, but the killer combination of the shuddersome quote on the back (from a tale within "The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford fact fans!) and the name of Alfred Hitchcock that convinced me that this was the right book for my purposes. Even at the age of seven, I knew Hitch was a master of terror, despite having never seen one of his movies, and in conjunction with that backcover quote, it was reasonable to assume that a book from a famous director of scary movies would guarantee that this paperback would be the real deal, delivering some properly scary tales of spooks and spectres. 

And why was that so important to me back then? Well, at that time there was craze in my school for telling each other ghost and horror stories and trying the scare the life out of each other. Therefore, with impeccable childhood logic, I reasoned that a book of ghostly tales from Alfred Hitchcock would be far more frightening anything my classmates could cook up and therefore once I'd read this proper book of proper ghost stories, I couldn't be scared anymore. Plus I'd have some real skin-freezers to blow the competition out of the water with! 

Of course what I didn't realise was that this collection, was but one of a legion of anthologies bearing the Hitchcock name being published back then, and that old Hitch actually had little to do with the selections. Indeed this volume, like several others was actually edited by Robert Arthur. However in fairness, Hitch did at least supply an introduction laced with his trademark black humour to this one. 

Thankfully however, I was still in safe hands. Despite this selection of stories containing the seemingly obligatory whimsical and humourous tales that many anthologies of that era sported as standard, Mr Arthur had included some genuine classic chillers - 

Introduction by Alfred Hitchcock
The Waxwork by AM Burrage
Miss Emmeline Takes Off by Walter Brooks
The Valley of the Beasts by Algernon Blackwood
The Haunted Trailer by Robert Arthur
The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
The Wonderful Day by Robert Arthur
The Truth About Pyecraft by HG Wells
Housing Problem by Henry Kuttner
In A Dim Room by Lord Dunsany
Obstinate Uncle Otis by Robert Arthur
The Isle of Voices by Robert Louis Stevenson

Of course, the keen-eyed among you will have also noticed that Mr Arthur has somewhat abused his editorial privileges. Normally in anthologies, it considered acceptable for the editor, if he is an author also, to include a tale of his own. However to put in three, and not even disguise the extra tales with pseudonyms, is a wee bit cheeky! Fortunately however Mr Arthur was a decent writer in his own right and his tales are highly entertaining - indeed it was actually Robert Arthur who created the Alfred Hitchcock's The Three Investigators series of books, and penned the first nine spooky cases for the juvenile detective trio. But more about those fellows another day...

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Never mind the prudish, probably everyone should avoid this book... at least with this cover.... unless you want to end up on a register somewhere..

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

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.


Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -

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




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 - Ghosts, Spooks and Spectres ed. Charles Molin

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


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 HYPNOGORIA family here -

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




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 1589. 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 also discover the fate of Joan Cunny's daughters. For both were  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 begged for mercy on the grounds that she was pregnant, and so was instead remanded in custody. 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 her "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 just 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 it was claimed the creature "pinched his wife and sucked her til she dyed". Another toad was unleashed on Richard Foster's wife, whom it "pinched" as well. 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 she showed repentance for her sins and asked 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 considering how her familiar sprites appeared to be one-shot deals and prone to wearing out, we might well conclude that the Devil indeed did deceive her - certainly at least she 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 - The Undead ed. James Dickie

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! 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


Oh where to start on this one! Firstly we have the blurb quote author's same in a bigger font that the book's Actual writer. Secondly... and speaking of that quote... HP Lovecraft never used the dubious term 'authentic gooseflesh' about Mr Hodgson's classic weird novel - that line apparently comes from a New York Times review which was quoted on the cover of a different edition so someone got very confused! And completing the triple whammy of this high terrible cover we have....Woooooo! Scary corn! And yes, there is no corn, scary or otherwise, in the book either! Truly this is a masterclass in how not to do a book cover!

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

Friday, 10 April 2015

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

One of the main problems for any investigator of folklore is that while assorted sages and scholars did an excellent job in the 19th century of preserving whole swathes of legend and lore from oral and local traditions, as one ventures back in time through the 18th century and beyond, there is a good deal less being written down and recorded. By its very nature, folklore thrives on the lips of people rather than in the pages of  books; it is passed down in tales told by the fireside, passed around the ale house, or spun out at bedtime. And so, as we have often discovered in this series of wanders down the leafy lanes and shadowy byways of folklore, when searching out sources dating from before the 19th century we are often left hunting for tidbits that have slipped into proper history books, and references to folk beliefs turning up in poems and plays.

Fortunately however we do have somewhere else to turn other than the jottings of antiquarians and poets. For while books and literature were the preserve of the rich and hence a limited resource in centuries past, from the 16th century onwards there was a popular press, churning out a variety of publications designed to tempt the pennies out of the pockets of ordinary working folks. There were inexpensive chapbooks and pamphlets, but cheapest, and hence the most popular, were the broadsheets and broadsides. These were single page publications which provided a whole world of entertainment: some relayed the news of the day, other retold exciting stories, and many did both in the form of popular ballads. Produced regularly and widely circulated, essentially these broadsides were the equivalent of the rolling news, movie channels, and the pop charts all rolled into one. Therefore just as modern bars have widescreen TVs to tempt customers in, so too wily landlords in ages past ensured their pubs and taverns had the latest broadsheets pinned up to attract the punters.   

Now admittedly these are perhaps not the most reliable of sources, for often fact and fiction were freely mixed up in the most sensational manner possible in order to sell as many copies as possible. Turning both popular stories and contemporary news into song form was highly popular, and these street ballads provided material that could be read for pleasure, recited as a poem or performed as music. Historically speaking they represent a fascinating time which sees the older oral traditions of storytelling, minstrelling and balladeering merging into what would become the modern newspapers, the book trade and the music business. Popular topics, whether fact or fiction, often would spawn many ballads on the same subject, while bestselling broadsides would be reprinted, re-illustrated, revised, expanded, and even pirated - proving that in the entertainment business, cover versions, sequels and remakes are not just a modern curse!   

But nevertheless there is a wealth of interesting material to be discovered here. Given that the broadside printers soon learned that the public loved a sensational story, the archives of surviving broadsheets feature a good deal of interest to folklorists. As criminal trials and accounts of gruesome murders were particularly popular with the punters who ponied up a halfpennies for ballads, it is no surprise that several ballads focused on the numerous witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

A New Ballad of the Life and Death of Three Witches Arrayned and Executed at Chelmsford 5 July 1589 was one of the earliest of these street ballads that detailed such a trial, which saw three women from Dagenham accused separately of witchcraft. Printed in London in 1589, a tattered copy eventually found its way into the hands of legendary editor Peter Haining, who restored the text and printed it in his excellent volume on the Essex witch trials The Witchcraft Papers (Robert Hale 1974) -  

A New Ballad of the Life and Death of Three Witches 
Arrayned and Executed at Chelmsford 5 July 1589
(To the tune of 'Bragandary Down', & etc)

IList Christians all unto my Song
'Twill move your Hearts to Grace,
That Dreadful Witchcraft hath been done,
Of late about this place;
But Three that cried the Devil's Name
With those who did them follow,
Now to Justice are brought home
To Swing upon our Gallow.

IIThere's scarse a Month within these Years
but Witchcraft foul is done,
And many are the weeping tears
These Satan's Fiends have rung;
Though they sought Mercy ere the rope
Soon as the Judgement's read,
Who gainsays the Devil's Hope
Is all when they are Dead?

IIIA vile long life they have run on
Regarding not their End,
Their hearts still bent to cruelty
Not minding to Amends;
Men and cattle they Bewitched
No Peace they gave the Rest,
But yet, in turn the parts were switched
By Marks upon their Breasts.

IVAs to the Story now to tell
The Truth I will Declare,
It was the Witches Children small
That they did not Beware;
For God into these Infants Hearts
Did pour the Light of Reason,
And all against their Mothers spoke
Of Witchcraft and of Treason.

VEvil were the tales of their demands
Sprung from the Depth of Hell,
And terrible the work of their Commands
As did the children tell;
Now the Judge the Sentence read
And ended in our town,
The rule of Imps and Spells and Dread
For many miles aroun'.

VISo listen Christians to my Song
The Hangman's swung his rope,
And on these Gallows hath been done
An end to Satan's Hope;
Give the News from Chelmsford Town
To all the world be spread,
A crew of Evil Witches have gone Down
Hang'd by the neck, all three are Dead
As is typical of many ballads of the time, the case is recounted as a moral lesson while at the same time reveling the dark deeds of the story and details of the execution. But also, even allowing for a degree of sensationalism and poetic license, this ballad does tells us much about the times it was written in, reflecting very clearly both how common witch trials were and how widespread the fear of witchcraft was during this period. The second verse make specific reference to the regularity of reports of witchcraft, and its claim of the discovery of witchcraft being nearly a monthly event is no exaggeration for dramatic effect. For in the Essex area at this time, there were 670 men and women accused of witchcraft between the years of 1560 and 1675  (see here for the staggering full list). 

Furthermore the text also assumes that its audience possessed a certain amount of foreknowledge and familiarity with the details of witchcraft. The mention of "Imps and Spells" is no idle poetic fancy, but an allusion to a common feature of many of the trials of the period, where it was claimed that the accused witches carried out their malice through the agency of a familiar spirit or creature which they sent abroad to do their will. Secondly the third verse mentions "Marks upon their breasts" referencing the common belief that witches had bodily signs of their allegiance to their master Satan, which were said to be either scars where the Devil had touched them, or wounds or malformations where they suckled their imps and familiars with their blood.  

The text also makes clear that more generally witchcraft wasn't seen as an isolated crime, but part of the grand plan by the Devil himself to bring chaos into the world. Witchcraft was seen as a fifth column in society, a destabilizing force from an enemy power. In a worldview that held that the Earth was a battleground for the forces of Good and Evil, monarchs were believed to have been given a divine right to rule, and hence in many witchcraft trials the accused were being tried for treason as well as sorcery, for to practice black magic was not only to be against God but to be against the Crown too.  Hence the line here - "all against their mothers spoke of Witchcraft and of Treason". 

Now as stated earlier, due the sensationalist nature of broadsides and the complete lack of journalistic ethics of their writers, aside from giving us a snapshot of contemporary attitudes and beliefs, is there any historical truth to the tale recounted in this ballad? Well, luckily for us, there are court records that verify that there was indeed such a trial and execution, and furthermore there was a similarly cheap and sensational pamphlet produced in the same era that gives us a more detailed account of the crimes and trial of the three witches of Chelmsford Town! 

And the full shocking tale of witchery - featuring blood drinking, storm raising, frog assassins and killer talking ferrets! - will be examined in full next week in Part II of Live at the Witch Trials!     

Thursday, 9 April 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #4 - The Gruesome Book ed. Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey Campbell is of course one of the modern masters of the weird tale, and even as far back as 1983 he was regarded as one of Britain's foremost horror writers. Of course a certain grubby twelve year old who picked up this book didn't know that, but he did know the name - as Mr Campbell had written some memorable short tales appearing in other anthologies, tomes edited by the late Michael Parry to be exact, but that's a story for another day...

Anyhow back to a grey February afternoon in the bookshop - it was just getting dark when the delightfully blood-spattered and worm-oozing skull caught my eye. Naturally as a young horror fanatic, back then my opinion was that the height of cover design was sticking a skull on it, preferably with plenty of blood and worms into the bargain, and hence The Gruesome Book immediately had my attention. And I was further delighted to see that cover artist Ivan Lapper had provided equally striking black and white illustrations for every tale too. Oh yes, this might be a slim kids book, but judging by the artwork both in and out, the gloves were well and truly off. 

Even the introduction from Ramsey reads like almost a dare - in a brilliantly no-messing-about two paragraphs, our host first decries the shoddy selections of ghost stories he encountered as a child - "those books wouldn't have scared a neurotic three year old" - and then outlines his mission to provide an introduction to good adult horror fiction with stories that have scared him... and still scare him. Now to my young and foolish eyes that seemed like throwing down the gauntlet - and yes, Mr Campbell - CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! You have my pocket money sir! 

Ivan Lapper illustration for Long Distance Call by Richard Matheson

Actually in all honesty, he had already got my sale from the instant I glanced at the contents page. Nigel Kneale was already a legend in my mind thanks to seeing assorted Quatermass adventures, August Derleth had penned a favourite of mine in Deadly Nightshade, and it was already my policy to buy or borrow any books with tales by either Robert Bloch or Richard Matheson in them. The full contents are as follows - 

Calling Card by Ramsey Campbell 
The Pond by Nigel Kneale - 
The Extra Passenger by August Derleth
Hobo by Robert Bloch
Bones by Donald A. Wollheim
The Deep-Sea Conch by Brian Lumley
Long Distance Call by Richard Matheson
3:47 AM by David Langford

Needless to say the Bloch and Matheson tales were both up to scratch, Derleth's story very creepy, and Nigel Kneale's The Pond proved to be stunningly strange and macabre. Wollheim's Bones was a mummy tale with a big and gory difference, while 3.47 by David Langford was a truly horrible tale of a recurring nightmare that I'll bet spawned more than a few bad dreams. The Deep-Sea Conch was my first taste of Brian Lumley, and Calling Card (originally called First Foot, a title that is blackly hilarious if you've read the story) cemented in my mind that I really had to find a full book of Campbell tales.  However my favourite tale in this collection - though only by a whisker thanks to the stiff competition - is The Graveyard Rats - both wonderfully atmospheric and horrible, and as I would later discover a story that neatly ties into HP Lovecraft's Pickman's Model

The Gruesome Book certainly lived up to its title, and indeed put many anthologies for grown-ups to shame. And it still stands up today as a very fine collection of horror tales, boasting perhaps one of the strongest line-ups of tales and top talents ever assembled, and hence well worth the trouble of tracking down. 

Ivan Lapper illustration for The Graveyard Rats by Henry Kuttner

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


Possibly one of the greatest book titles ever! 

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

Saturday, 4 April 2015

MICROGORIA 13 - Horror Movies by Alan Frank

Mr Jim Moon uncovers an ancient tome that was a whole generations introduction to horror history, an indispensable handbook detailing silent terrors, Universal monsters, Hammer horrors and much much more! Yes, it's a fond flip through and look back on Alan Frank's classic book Horror Movies (1974)!

DIRECT DOWNLOAD -  MICROGORIA 13 - Horror Movies by Alan Frank

Find all the podcasts in the HYPNOGORIA family here -

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




Friday, 3 April 2015

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Fairy Finds II: The Fairy Coffins of Edinburgh Part 2

Last week we scrambled down the slopes of history and unearthed a curious find in Victorian Edinburgh. Known as the Fairy Coffins, these little figures in caskets have provided students of the strange a lasting challenge, an enduring mystery that remains unsolved, with no convincing explanation for their purpose or origin ever so far being established. However since they were first discovered in 1836, there have been plenty of theories on the true nature of these enigmatic little folk. 

When the story of their discovery first broke, they were very soon dubbed the Fairy Coffins, however over the years no one has actually proposed that these are the relics of faery funeral rites and evidence of the existence of the Little People. But it is true that the first theories mooted for their existence owed something to the supernatural world. For the prevailing opinion in 1836 was that they were something to do with witchcraft. Arthur's Seat has long been said to be a favourite haunt of witches, with one area of the mighty hill being named Haggis Knowe thanks to local belief that witches gathered here. Its long association with witchcraft is further demonstrated by the fact that a natural spring on Arthur's Seat is featured in one of the earliest Scottish witch trials that we still have detailed records of. Apparently in 1572, one Jonet Boyman of Canongate, Edinburgh was brought to court charged with witchcraft and "diabolic incantation". It was alleged that - 
At an 'elrich well' on the south side of Arthur's Seat, Jonet uttered incantations and invocations of the 'evill spreits whome she callit upon for to come to show and declair' what would happen to a sick man named Allan Anderson, her patient. She allegedly first conjured 'ane grit blast' like a whirlwind, and thereafter appeared the shape of a man who stood on the other side of the well, an interesting hint of liminality. She charged this conjured presence, in the name of the father, the son, King Arthur and Queen Elspeth, to cure Anderson. 
                                       from  Scottish Fairy Belief by Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan (2001)

Of course other than local folklore and history, there was another reason that witchcraft was dominant in the first theories on the Fairy Coffins, and that is the famous magical device popularly known as the Voodoo doll. Now despite this pop culture term implying Caribbean or African sorcery, the use of dolls by witches to place curses on victims had been very well known throughout Europe for centuries. Indeed it appears in cultures all over the globe, and this seemingly universal curse operates by the witch fashioning an effigy of their intended target and whatever dire fate they subject the doll to would be magically transferred to their victim. Therefore it was suggested in the pages of The Scotsman newspaper on Saturday 16th July 1836 that - 
Are still some of the weird sisters hovering about Mushat's Cairn or the Windy Gowl, who retain the ancient power to work their spells of death by entombing the likenesses of those they wish to destroy. Should this really be the case, we congratulate the public, but more especially our superstitious friends, on the discovery and destruction of this satanic spell-manufactory, the last, we should hope, which the 'infernal hags' will ever be permitted to erect in Scotland! 
Given that odd artifacts discovered often do relate to witchcraft, it does seem reasonable to conclude that these curious caskets were some species of ritual object. However more benign rites have been suggested for the origin of the Fairy Coffins.  And this school of thought has yielded several variants; the first is that the dolls were placed by nautical men as a charm to prevent death on their voyages.  Whereas a second maritime based theory holds that they are a mimic burial, with these dolls buried as proxies for men who have lost their lives at sea. More generally, it has also been suggested that perhaps they are a memorial for deaths in a family - the interment of a child's beloved toys, or another symbolic funeral for deceased children. But the strangest theory of all also revolves around the time the Fairy Coffins were supposedly created.

As discussed last week, scientific analysis of the dolls and their caskets has placed the the date of their interment to be (probably) some point after 1830. And scholars of the strange and the macabre have noted that that 1829 is an important date in Edinburgh's history, for that was the year of the trial and execution of the infamous Burke and Hare. While this pair are somewhat synonymous with grave-robbing in the popular imagination thanks to their numerous appearances in horror fiction, in truth Burke and Hare took the easier and more brutal route of murdering folks to illegally supply cadavers for dissection and anatomical study. And in the course of their callous career they sold the bodies of over a dozen unfortunates to Dr Robert Knox, chief of a school of anatomy on Surgeon's Square. And it has been claimed that as there were seventeen victims and seventeen Fairy Coffins made around the same time, this interesting and macabre coincidence suggests that the mysterious find on Arthur's Seat in 1836 was a strange memorial to the victims of Burke and Hare.

However sadly we must rule out the ghoulish connection to Burke and Hare. Firstly the fact that all the eight surviving figures are male does rather sink this pleasingly gothic theory - for only five of the corpses obtained by the infamous pair were actually male. Secondly we should remember that we cannot be certain that all the figures were buried after 1830: for while some of the eight surviving figures include three ply thread only available after 1830, other figures could be older, and as nine caskets are lost we have no clue to the date of their manufacture. Finally, and perhaps most damaging for this theory, is the inconvenient fact that Burke and Hare only actually committed sixteen murders - the touted seventeen victims tally comes from including the first body they illegally sold, that of a pensioner named Donald, whom they simply found dead in the room he rented from Hare. So while delightfully macabre and adding a touch of gothic horror to the legend of the Fairy Coffins, the historical evidence kills the Burke and Hare hypothesis stone dead, and it should now be laid to rest and decently buried. 

So then what of the sailor theories? Well, while that fine city has raised many folks who went to sea over the years, we should note that Edinburgh is not on the coast. Therefore it makes no sense that the Fairy Coffins are some sort of charm against misfortune at sea, as usually superstitions and charms that set out to effect a sailor's safe return home are placed somewhere at the port their sea voyage will return too. Similarly the idea that the Fairy Coffins are "mimic burials" for mariners lost at sea also makes no folkloric sense either. Firstly there appears to be no other instances of such a practice existing in Scotland, or it seems elsewhere for that matter*, and so the Fairy Coffins remain a unique find. Secondly if they were some form of proxy funeral ,why were they interred on Arthur's Seat and not on holy ground in a churchyard or in a cemetery? Indeed this is an objection we can level at all the variants of the theory that the Fairy Coffins are some sort of funerary memorial. Indeed the fact that the figures aren't dressed in what would have been traditional funeral dress or shrouds further undermines the idea that they were proxy burials of some kind.

However there are two possible plausible workarounds here, with the first being an eccentric variation of a tradition we are familiar with today. It is common to leave flowers and tributes at the site of a tragic death, and we can imagine without too much difficulty that these little dolls in caskets were placed as such a memorial, albeit a rather unusual and weird one. But the problem here is that despite scouring historical records, so far no one has been able to find an event or accident featuring seventeen people occurring at Arthur's Seat or in the Edinburgh area in that time period. Even allowing for the possibility there was more coffins to be added to bring the number of victims higher, no matching tragedy has been discovered. 

But the place of death memorial theory could still be possible, if we go with the idea that the Fairy Coffins were a tribute for just one person. For a single tragic death on Arthur's Seat could easily go undetected by historians. Furthermore the idea that this mysterious burial is commemorating a single death does rather suggest that the loss was that of a child, for indeed even today, alongside the flowers and wreathes, toys, dolls and teddy bears are left at the site of a child's untimely death. Now considering the high infant mortality rates of the 1800s, unless it was a violent murder it is unlikely a child's death would be widely reported, if at all. A death by misadventure, say of tumbling down the rocky slopes where the Coffins were discovered, most probably would not have made the papers, and the place of death is unlikely to be recorded in parish records. 

Our second workaround is unfortunately even more undetectable in the records and assorted historical documents, due to its highly personal nature. This theory holds that the location of the Fairy Coffins was a significant place to the deceased; with their strange burial being the weird equivalent of having your ashes scattered at your favourite beauty spot or on your team's home grounds. Once again it is hard to not draw the conclusion that this would be marking the death of a child. And to don a Holmesian deerstalker for a moment, we can make some deductions from the figures themselves that appear to support this. Firstly as detailed last week it is likely that the figures were toys. And secondly, judging from the way the dolls have been given new clothes, this would suggest that they have been passed down in the family from older siblings or relatives; old battered soldiers getting new togs to make dolls for a girl, or perhaps just to smarten them up for a new owner.

However if we consider the Fairy Coffins as buried toys, another possible explanation presents itself. Rather than being a memorial to a dead child, is it not possible that they are toys which were buried as part of a game? Firstly we should note that from the end of the 18th century there was a huge interest in all things Egyptian - a craze that would find full flower in Victorian society. Hence it is not inconceivable that some children decided to make their own version of a pharaoh's tomb, making decorated coffins for their old toys. More generally, kids do love spooky stuff, and building a toy mausoleum is probably not as unusual as it first sounds. Furthermore as children start to grow out of toy soldiers and dolls, their childhood companions are often subjected to strange and terrible fates in their final playtimes - Action Men and GI Joes are shot with air pistols or blown up with firecrackers, and once favoured dolls are subjected to cosmetic experiments that would appal Frankenstein himself!   

However while this idea seems quite plausible, when one considers the time spent making and decorating the coffins, it begins to seem rather too elaborate for a child's game. And this suspicion is strengthened when we consider the clothes. The figures' garments are individually tailored, with even the limbless figures being stitched into their armless outfits. Again this would suggest a too great investment of time for a youngsters' game. However on the other hand, their clothing isn't highly elaborate, with signs that in some cases spots of glue have been used to fasten the garments in place. Possibly this is just the crude re-wardrobing of old toys, but it does raise the question of whether the clothes were made specially to bury the figures in. 

It is unfortunate we do not have more of the seventeen to examine, for ascertaining if the clothes were specifically made for the burial would throw a different light on the affair. For if they were, we could reasonably rule out the game idea as it becomes implausibly elaborate, but also the theory it was a child's memorial  could be discard too, for it would be odd to so drastically change beloved toys rather than inter them as their young owner knew them. 

However the possibility that the clothes were added deliberately for their burial could tie into the oldest theory of all. A common objection to the witchcraft theory is that all the figures are pretty much all alike, whereas we tend to think of voodoo dolls as being modelled to resemble their targets. However largely this is a conception born of 20th century horror fiction - in truth a witch creating an effigy in this way only needed to create a magical link to their victim and generally this was done in a way other than fashioning a doll-size doppelganger. Common methods used included burying the doll for a time where the victim walked, baptizing it with their full name, or incorporating hair, nail clippings or blood from the victim into the doll itself. And another oft-used method was giving or attaching to the doll something stolen from the target, such as an item of clothing; even a scrap of fabric would do... 

...Perhaps like the scraps of fabric used to clothe the little figures? Certainly as their dress does not seem to correspond to any contemporary fashion, it is tempting to assume that their garments were not intended to be decorative, and furthermore the cloth itself might be of some ritual importance. Of course, without any record of how the missing nine figures were clad, we cannot be sure that all the figures sported different outfits. Again this is another instance of any solution to the mystery being hampered by having an incomplete collection of the caskets. Additionally even if they did all sport clothes of different fabrics, this still could be simply be a case of their maker using whatever pieces of old cloth that were to hand. 

However the original notion that the Fairy Coffins as the product of witchcraft is still the best fit. As we have seen other theories are lacking in both supporting evidence or logic. Whereas the idea that these figures represented seventeen folks who had angered a person or persons unknown enough to warrant a hexing still seems very possible. Firstly we have a long-held association of Arthur's Seat with witchcraft, and secondly it ties into a well-established and widespread folk belief - after all, the doll curse is the witch's spell nearly everybody knows. So then while we cannot entirely rule out that they were some unusual memorial, or even that they simply were the product of some poor soul suffering from mental health troubles, witchcraft is still best fit for the case, with supernatural revenge being sought by burying magical effigies of their perceived enemies in the ancient soil of Arthur's Seat... 

 Indeed if you google 'mimic burials' you end up back at pages about the Fairy Coffins

Thursday, 2 April 2015

GREAT GHOSTS OF THE SHELVES #3 - Deadly Nightshade ed. Peter Haining

Peter Haining (2nd April 1940 – 19th November 2007) was one of the all-time great anthologists of weird fiction, editing dozens of collections of genre fiction. This little anthology, in a paperback edition from Beaver Books, first appeared in 1979 and was one of several collections from Mr Haining aimed at younger readers. Each tale received a short but informative introduction, telling us a little about the next story and its author. And hence the book as a whole is very much a who's who of great weird fiction authors - certainly it provided me with tasters of a whole range of writers whose works I would go on to seek out. The full contents are as follows - 

The Doll's Ghost by F. Marion Crawford 
Nurses Tale by H. R. Wakefield 
The Attic by Algernon Blackwood 
The Thing In The Cellar by David H. Keller 
The Dabblers by W. F. Harvey 
The Tortoise-Shell Cat by Greye La Spina
The Looking Glass Tree by Joan Aiken 
The Human Angle by William Tenn
Sweets To The Sweet by Robert Bloch
The Witch Of Ramoth by Mark Van Doren 
Twilight Play by August Derleth 
Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken 
The October Game by Ray Bradbury

Like all good anthologies there is a good mix of famous and obscure tales in there, and the late Mr Haining was a master at such compiling selections - always enough famous stories and top draw authors to draw your attention but equally always enough unfamiliar names and titles to not overlap with other anthologies. And so, after reading this book, as well as picking up any tome with tales by authors I'd enjoyed in this volume such James, Bloch, Bradbury or Blackwood, I was also on the look out by anything edited by Peter Haining. 

Needless to say this tome was a huge influence on me as a child, and unsurprisingly perhaps I have read several of these now well-loved tales on my podcast over the years (links to the shows provided in the contents list above).