Archive | November, 2011

The Stoneground Ghosts

10 Nov

Edmund Gill Swain (1861-1938) was Chaplain of King’s College, Cambridge as well as being an accomplished author of ghost stories, the best known of which were published in 1912 in the form of the collection entitled The Stoneground Ghost Tales. He was a colleague and contemporary of M R James and a regular member of the select group to whom James delivered his famous annual Christmas Eve ghost story readings. Like James, E G Swain was drawn to the rich vein of antiquarian and supernatural lore in East Anglia. In his capacity as Reverend Canon and Proctor at the University of Cambridge, he had ample opportunity to study the ghostly tradition of the eerie wastes of The Fens, where several of his best stories are located.

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The Green Children

8 Nov

One of the most enduring, universal myths in the British Isles is that of the Green Man – the spirit who stands for nature in its most wild and untamed form, a man with leaves for hair, who dwells deep within the mythic forest. Through the ages and around the world, the Green Man and other nature spirits have appeared in stories, songs and artwork, while forests have provided the setting for some of the most enchanted tales in world literature, from the perilous woods of medieval Romance and the faerie-haunted glades of Shakespeare and Yeats to the talking trees of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the archetypal wilderness of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood. All over Britain the image of the Green Man, masked with leaves or disgorging foliage from his mouth, is found carved not only into the wood and stone of pagan temples and graves but also on medieval churches and cathedrals. The Green Man is commonly perceived as a pre-Christian symbol and a connection is sometimes drawn between the foliate faces found in places of worship and the ‘Jack of the Green’ tales of folklore. There are also startling parallels to be drawn between the Green Man legend and that of the seasonal hero-king, who dies with the passing of each summer but is reborn again as winter yields to spring. Strangest of all are the stories told all over the world of real-life ‘green children’ who have periodically emerged from the forest over the centuries like nature spirits brought to life.

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The Murder Tree

6 Nov

There is an old story that is sometimes set in Yorkshire, England, sometimes in San Francisco, California and sometimes in Adelaide, Australia that goes something like this: one summer night in the year 1750, 1850 or 1950, a wealthy landowner, rancher or industrialist by the name of Timothy Lance, Thomas Read or Lance Thompson came home to find his wife and two children shot to death in their beds. The murderer was the estate’s head gardener, groundsman or gamekeeper, whose name was Harold Logan, Henry Fish or Logan Henriksen, who was seen fleeing the grounds with a pistol in hand and blood spattered on his clothes. For the rest of his life the wealthy man (we’ll call him Tom for the sake of simplicity) was haunted by the loss of his family and by the fact that the murderer (let’s call him Logan) was never caught and punished for his brutal crime. Tom let his business sink slowly into bankruptcy and spent his final years in an asylum, a mere shadow of his former self. In its day, this was a crime that shocked the nation (whatever nation that really was), but in modern times it’s been all but forgotten except by trivia and history buffs. At least that’s the official version. The truth of what happened that fatal night has never been made public. You see, it’s not true that Logan escaped. He was in fact chased down and apprehended by Tom and his servants on the very night of the murders. The reason that Logan was never seen again is that Tom hanged him from the tallest tree on his estate – an ancient sycamore that afterwards earned the ominous title of the Murder Tree.

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The Walking Dead

4 Nov

Zombies, it has to be said, are big business right now. As well as The Walking Dead, which is one of the best shows on TV at the moment, there is a list of recent movies as long as my arm that feature the shambling, rotting yet terrifyingly vital ‘living’ dead, including Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Weeks Later and Resident Evil: Afterlife to name just a few. Scary as the thought of a zombie apocalypse is, however, it is reassuring to think that this is almost certainly something restricted to the realm of fiction. Why did I use the term ‘almost’? Well, there is evidence, tenuous but nevertheless there, that zombies have existed in the past, are still around today and may well rise from the grave in the future.

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The Month of Blood

2 Nov

The word November comes from the Roman word novem meaning ‘nine’ because it was the ninth month in the Roman calendar. Personally, however, I prefer the more evocative Anglo-Saxon term for November – Blotmonath or ‘the month of blood’ – the month when these ancient people slaughtered cattle in honour of the old pagan gods. Perhaps because it was the time when the cold winds first began to blow, the first week of November has always been a time of festivals and celebrations marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter. It also has more sinister connotations, as it is the time of year that is overshadowed by the coming of darkness and the threat of the supernatural.

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