Sunday, 27 November 2016

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 25 - Sredni Vashtar & Tobermory

As a curtain raiser for our forthcoming investigation of the curious case of Gef the Talking Mongoose, Mr Jim Moon invites you to take a seat by the fireside to hear two weird tales of unusually gifted animals from the pen of the great HH Munro AKA Saki.. 

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Friday, 25 November 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres Part VI

Welcome once again dear friends to another instalment of Species of Spectres in which we attempt to devise categories to classify assorted ghosts and ghouls. Now last time we were looking at Animal Apparitions, and discovered that according to folklore the most common varieties of spectral creatures are two species that have had a long relationship with humanity, horses and dogs. However what of our feathered friends?

Now in the realm of folklore there are many supernatural beliefs associated with birds, but most usually these are related to the presence of birds at certain times, i.e. seeing a certain type of bird is good luck, while the appearance of another is a harbinger of misfortune. More closely relating to all things ghostly, it is commonly held that the absence of birds a sure sign a particular place is haunted - no birds will nest in the eaves of a haunted house, and in lonely countryside places where uncanny things are said to walk there will be no sound of birdsong. For example, at Nibley Green, Gloucester in 1469, the troops of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle and William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley fought a terrible battle. And it is said the soldiers who perished there were buried in a mass grave in a nearby wood. Sightings of ghostly soldiers have been reported there, and it is said that no bird sings in that particular stretch of woodland.

Actual spectral birds however are another matter, and although uncommon there are enough accounts of avian apparitions to separate into three groups. Firstly we have simply the shades of bird that have ceased to be… The famous ghost hunter Elliot O'Donnell reported that at a house on Dean Street, London, a phantom black bird was often seen by locals. While not far away a house on Great Russell Street was prey to a phantom magpie that would tap on the windows,  before appearing inside perching on a phantom baton that floats in thin air. In Leamington, an old (and now demolished) house called Brookhurst was a Sonic Spectre ( is a ghost that is only heard) which manifested as the sounds of a large bird flapping round the place. As many varieties of birds have been tamed and kept by folks, it's not surprising there are a good few accounts of feathered friends returning from beyond the grave. Once upon a time, the Blue Bell Inn at Tushingham, Cheshire had a pet duck that playfully pecked at patrons ankles, a practice it perpetuated even after it perished, and its psychic predations were only prevented thanks to pious priests exorcising the phantom fowl!

However, aside from mere ghosts of birds that have joined the choir invisible, many old legends tell of phantom fliers that appear serve to a specific purpose. The first are harbingers, usually appearing to foretell a death. For a typical example of this, let us call in at Salisbury, where it is said that when a Bishop is going to die, two spectral white birds appear, either hovering over his house or on the roof of the cathedral. In a similar fashion it is said when there is to be a death in the family a flitting white bird-shaped apparition flaps about Arundel Castle and taps at the windowpane. A rarer variant of these traditions is recorded in Bangor, where at the Faenol estate, trespassers are warned away by the eerie crying of a spectral bird. And it is said that this particular avian apparitions is actually the ghost of a man executed for stealing timber from there, now doomed to warn others of the perils of theft.  

Finally we have a strong body of lore that tells of more fearsome feathered phantoms. At Temple Grafton in Warwickshire, there is a hill called Rolls Wood Hill. However locally it is also known as Alcocks Arbour, as it is claimed that the notorious highwayman John Alcock hid a cache of buried treasure there. However these riches are guarded by a demonic cockerel, and despite the risk of sounding like Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I must warn you that while this guardian sounds ridiculous it is not to be messed with. For the last fellow who attempted to retrieve the treasure was eaten alive by the evil avian! And the only way to gain safe passage past the creature is to be holding one of Alcock’s bones, which I fear are in somewhat short supply these days…

 There is a similar tale told of Bransil Castle in Herefordshire - once again it said that there is a hidden hoard of riches, guarded by a huge black bird, who may only be warded off by holding the bones of Lord Beauchamp who allegedly buried the treasure in the first place. And there are many more legends of supernatural treasure guardians that take the shape of birds. Interestingly these feathered fiends are very often described as having black plumage.

In Shorwell on the Isle of Wight, there is said to be a treasure chest buried in a quiet wood, beneath an elm tree. However if that sounds like a road to easy wealth, once again beware, for it is guarded by a fearsome spirit in the shape of a large black bird. Likewise at Penyard Castle at Weston Penyard in Herefordshire there is said to be more buried treasure, again guarded by a hideous black bird. While at Verwood in Dorset, there is a large rock known variously as St Stephen's Stone, the Hoarstone, or simply the Verwood Stone. And beneath this stone is said to be a hidden golden vessel containing yet another stash of treasure. However once again, these riches are guarded by a black bird that attacks anyone who tries to claim it. 

Next time we will be further considering Animal Apparitions, looking at some of the odder ghostly creatures that lurk in folklore and legend...

Thursday, 24 November 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #16 - Headless and Chained!

illustration by Russ Nicholson

To compliment our on-going current series running on Folklore on Friday, Species of Spectres, here's a round-up of previous entries on the subject of ghost,s and specifically how they appear in folklore. Firstly we examine why it is that spooks and spectres are so often depicted as wearing manacles and chains -

And then we have a  brace of articles that explores that other great ghostly cliche - the headless phantom! Here we encounter many spirits that go about sans bonce, and take a look at one of the most famous examples of this type of decapitated denizen of the dark, the shade of Anne Boleyn!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

MICROGORIA 38 - New Arrivals at the Great Library

As Christmas is coming at an ever-increasing pace, Mr Jim Moon presents a trio of tomes from the wonderful world of horror comics as requests from Santa Claus... We have look at Phil Trombetta's huge and gorgeous volume The Horror, The Horror, and we take a look at two just released collections - Misty: Moonchild/Four Faces of Eve and a comics adaptation of MR James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary from Leah Moore and John Reppion.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 38 - New Arrivals at the Great Library

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Friday, 18 November 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres Part V

from Mysteries of the Unknown (Usborne 1977)

Welcome once again dear friends to another little exercise in classifying all things ghostly. In this little blog series, we have been attempting to devise possible categories for different hauntings based upon how they are documented in folklore and local legends. Now we often think of ghosts as being the shades of folks who have passed over, dead people returning to bother the living. However in the realm of folklore, a ghost is not necessarily something that takes an anthropomorphic shape. Indeed the spectral kingdom is apparently home to an entire phantom menagerie! 

There seems to be a wide variety of Animal Apparitions out a-haunting on a regular basis, so much so that several sub-categories can be constructed very rapidly. Perhaps most famous of all spectral beasts is the dreaded Black Dogs that appear all over the British Isles. Most regions have their own version of this famous phantom canine, and often have a local name too such as Barguest, Trash, Padfoot, Grim, Shuck, Skeff, Galleytrot. Commonly they are described as being hounds of a gigantic size, jet black, often with shaggy fur and burning red eyes. However there are some local physiological (or should that be ectoplasmic) variants, for example Norfolk's Black Shuck is sometimes described as appearing with a single burning eye, while the Yeth hounds of Dartmoor are sometimes said to headless (and further tales of the phantom hounds of Dartmoor can be heard here). 

Generally speaking, these spectral dogs are considered something of an ill omen, with a common belief that to see one is a harbinger of a death. However despite their fearsome reputation, the British Black Dog has had a remarkable impact on culture, inspiring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create The Hound of the Baskervilles, turning up as the Grim in the Harry Potter series, and inspiring musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Nick Drake and The Darkness. So possibly these spectral hounds are not quite as unlucky as folklore would have you believe...

Another popular ghostly creature is of course the Ectoplasmic Equines, however I suspect their numbers are often greatly underestimated as the ghostly humans accompanying them tend to hog the limelight. For there are legions of tales of spectral coaches, ghostly hunts and headless horsemen in the annals of folklore and legend, but as I said all too often it is their riders that receive all the attention. However, typically phantom horses usually appear as coal black steed, and like their canine brethren often with the usual accessories of burning red eyes. However flaming hoofs are not uncommon for phantom equines, nor is it unknown for them to follow suit with their spectral masters and appear sans heads too. Phantom coaches, usually bearing a local historical dead celebrity, are frequently Calendar Observers and Anniversary Apparitions, however Ectoplasmic Equines may be further divided into sub-sub categories too. 

Often very similar to your usual phantom coach set up - i.e. black horses, possibly headless, with headless and/or skellington drivers, a tendency to drive dangerously - are the Dead Coaches. These sinister vehicles are largely considered a major inconvenience as they come to pick up the souls of the soon to be dear departed, and frequently that means you if you've spotted one. However as troubling as the Dead Coaches are, our next sub-category is often even more sinister, if not in many cases downright evil. There are many legends of the Wild Hunt and usually it is considered extremely bad luck to witness this band of spectral riders pass by. In the oldest legends the hunt was led but Odin or Woden or Wotan, but in later tales we find some local villain of black repute or the Devil himself leading the spectral hunters. Some legends hold that these spectral riders are hunting down the souls of the wicked, however there are many stories of them hunting far less charming quarry such as the souls of unbaptised babes. And in some tales, often  anyone who they encounter is considered fair game, a famous example of this is the company of witches and devils that hound Tam O'Shanter. Finally it should also be noted that there is a certain overlap with the Black Dogs here, for spectral hounds are sometimes said to be part of these fearsome ghostly hunting parties. 

So then, having rounded up some of the more common Animal Apparitions, next time we shall hunt down some of the more unusual non-human phantoms haunting the realm of folklore and legend. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Once again it's reached that time of the year when we start wondering where all the time has gone. Is it really nearly Christmas once again? It doesn't seem that long ago we were resolving to eat less and do more exercise... 

However as much as we sometimes desire a break from the tyranny of clock and calendar, in the past time pieces behaving erratically was generally seen as an ill omen...

And as much as we often wish we could stop the advance of those two hands around the dial, a stopped clock was often the herald of dark times. And there is even a true story behind that old song about a stopped grandfather clock too...

Sunday, 13 November 2016

HYPNOGORIA 43 - My 70s Satan Part II

In the second part of our little series examining what Satan was up to in the early '70s, Mr Jim Moon meets the very strange Messiah of Evil (1973), and tangles with the Brotherhood of Satan (1971). Plus in a bongo bonus feature, we attend Blood Sabbath (1972) starring cult favourite Dyanne Thorne.


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Thursday, 10 November 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #14 - Northern Haunters

This week on Folklore Flashback we are delving into the archives to resurrect some night terrors from the North! First up we are journeying to Yorkshire, to Burton Agnes, where we will encounter a peculiarly British sort of haunting - the tale of a screaming skull!

Next we travel further northwards, to discover a very strange being that haunted a lonely stretch of road on the River Tees, between Hurworth and Neasham - a terrifying beast known as the Headless Hob!

Finally we travel a little further into the North, past Darlington, to the little village of Sedgefield. Here we'll find a haunting with a very unusual tale behind it - the story of the Pickled Parson!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


Last year I began an epic voyage exploring the mysteries of the fabled 1970s Horror Trumps cards. Earlier this year, I finally finished this brain-melting voyage tracking down the inspirations of these notoriously graphic, gory and lurid cards. Here then is a complete index of that voyage through two decks of brightly coloured monsters and blood splatters!


The Introduction
Full listings of all the cards


Alien Creature and The Beast
Colossus and Creature from Outer Space
Creature from the Black Lagoon and Cyclops
Death and Devil Priest
Diablo and Dr Syn
The Fiend and Fire Demon
Frankenstein and High Priestess of Zoltan
Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Jailer
Killer Rat and The Living Gargoyle
The Living Skull and Lizard Man
Martian Warrior and Mistress Vampire
The Mummy and The Slime Creature
The Sorcerer and Talon
Terror of the Deep and Thor
Venusian Death Cell and Wolfman
Zetan Priest and Zoltan


Ape Man and Cannibal
Circus of Death and Dracula
The Executioner and The Freak
Fu Manchu and Gargantua
The Ghoul and Godzilla
The Gorgon and Granite Man
The Hangman and Headhunter
The Incredible Melting Man and King Kong
Lord of Death and The Mad Axeman
The Mad Magician and Madman
Maggot and Man Eating Plant
Phantom of the Opera and the Prince of Darkness
The Risen Dead and Skeleton
The Sorceress and The Thing
Two Headed Monster and Vampire Bat
Werewolf and Zetan Warlord

Sunday, 6 November 2016

HYPNOGORIA 42 - My 70s Satan Part I

In the first of a two part mini series, Mr Jim Moon takes a look at what the Devil was up to in the early 1970s. First we join Alan Alda to learn how to do The Mephisto Waltz (1971) and then head out into the desert to investigate mysterious deaths in Enter the Devil (1972).


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Friday, 4 November 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres Part IV

Welcome back once again dear friends to our little series on all things ghostly, that is attempting to classify assorted spirits by the shape of the stories they inhabit. In previous episodes of this tentative guide we have seen how different ghosts may be defined by looking at who they were, and where and when they appear. Therefore this time we shall be completing the set of 'w' questions by asking what  they appear as. And this is perhaps the most fascinating question we have levelled at the canon of ghost related folklore so far, for according to the old tales, phantoms may manifest in many different forms. Rather than just the floating white sheets of popular culture or glowing transparent folks beloved of movies and the gogglebox, ghosts in folklore may take a wide variety of forms. Let's start with some of the most common varieties. 

Perhaps the largest, but also the most mundane, species of the spectre we can define by appearance are those ghosts that have a colour coding. For example, many folkloric female phantoms are named for the hues that they appear in, with dozens of stories telling of White Ladies or Grey Ladies, although varieties coming in blue, green and red are not unknown. And their male counterparts are often described by their spectral plumage too, with many reports of hauntings by Grey Men, Brown Monks and Blue Boys. Now given the often misty forms ghosts are said to manifest in, it is perhaps not surprising that so many phantoms are dubbed white or grey. However when examining assorted stories from folklore it does seem to be more the case that usually the spectres are coloured coded by the clothes they are wearing, rather than the make-up of their ectoplasm. But before we leave this category of Spectrum Spectres, it is worth recounting a little tale from the folklorists Eric Maple and Lynn Myring in Haunted Houses, Ghosts & Spectres (Usborne 1979). They have a story of a ghost that literally faded in colour over time. For in the 18th century, an old house was allegedly haunted by a lady in red. But in later years the ghost was reported as being a lady in pink, and then more recently as a lady in white. The last reports of the haunting were just the sound of her footsteps... 

And that brings us nicely to our next category - the Sonic Spooks - hauntings that are purely auditory. These ghosts are the opposite of what good children are supposed to be - never seen, only heard! Phantom footsteps are a very common form of this particular species of spectre - for example in an housing estate built in the 1970s in Sychdyn, near Mold, the sound of a woman walking is often heard at night, but no strolling lady is ever spotted. While at the wonderfully named Hall i' th' Wood Manor House near Bolton, there is a staircase which a phantom is frequently heard running down - who it is or why they are in such haste we do not know for they always remain invisible to mortal eyes...    

Also very common are tales of ghosts that make assorting knocking and banging sounds; indeed one of the best known technical terms for a spectre, 'poltergeist' simply means 'noisy ghost' in the original German. A famous Sonic Spectre of this type is the Phantom Drummer of Tedworth - in 1661, a magistrate named John Mompesson had the drum of a vagrant named William Drury confiscated, and soon after his home was plagued at all hours by the phantom sound of a drum. Not only did these ghostly drums trouble the Mompesson household for many months but the phenomena escalated into a full blown poltergeist haunting with objects thrown and damaged. 

However not all rapping and tapping hauntings are necessarily the work of poltergeists, for strictly speaking the moving of objects is probably a better defining factor for a poltergeist infestation, and there are plenty of spooks who prefer to make a racket rather than show themselves. For example at the Suffolk Arms pub in Cheltenham, an unseen spook delights in making knocking sounds in the dark whenever anyone enters the cellar, while at a haunting at Hindley the invisible tenant had the habit of knocking on every door in the house, always finishing my rapping on the front door at 2.30 AM. 

Of course, there is another well-known variety of ghost that is famed for the noise it makes - the infamous Banshee, a spirit famed for making an unearthly wailing. And according to legend, to hear the banshee's cry means that a death is coming soon. Now some stories do tell of this spirit actually appearing, sometimes as an old hag, sometimes as a young woman, and in similar fashion different legends ascribe different origins to the banshee, with some holding that this ill-omened female spirit is one of the fairy folk, while others claim she is a long dead ancestor of the family the banshee haunts. But the true defining characteristic of the banshee is its keening wail, with its maker usually remaining unseen. 

In the next part of our little exploration into the nature of all things spectral, we will be continuing to examine the shapes of ghosts appear in, and be discovering a wide variety of manifestations that perhaps many might wish remained unseen...

Bunworth Banshee, from "Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland",
 by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825

Thursday, 3 November 2016


This week on Folklore Flashback, we are unearthing some very old lore on strange stones. First up we travel to the little village of Shebbear where November sees the an age-old annual ritual called the turning of the Devil's Stone carried out. Meanwhile in our second offering we discover the assorted magical uses of certain rocks and pebbles called Dobbie stones...