Sunday, 16 August 2015

KML file of megalithic doom!

I've always been a bit frustrated when trying to find menhirs and other antiquarian goodness close to places I am visiting. Thus far I've used a combination of books (like Julian Cope's amazing Modern Antiquarian) and websites (like the associated, both of which are rather clunky in their own way. Books are naturally limited when plotting wilderness locations, and website interfaces are clunky and useless in the field when you've got no data connection. Both are equally bad at showing you what's in, say, 30 minutes of a place you're visiting.

However, I recently discovered that now offers a set of tools which can be used with Google Earth. So it's now possible to put in a postcode of a place you're going to, and see what's in the surrounding area. Joy! Now, like rats, you know you're never more than X number of miles from a megalith.

Nine Ladies stone circle in Derbyshire. This is a shot from a reel of analogue film I've just got back. More coming soon.

Monday, 27 July 2015

May Queen throne in Lustleigh

Earlier this summer I went on what is becoming an annual pilgrimage to the South West of the country - an area thick with folklore and legend. While there I was taken to the village of Lustleigh in Devon. Visitors to this picturesque civil parish are greeted by the quaint little church and the stone cross on the tiny green in front. However, there are older traditions kept alive in this settlement.

Further down the hill is an orchard bounded by a tiny brook. The field has been put to use as a children's play area, but looming over the grass is the largest of the many boulders which protrude from the earth and the top of this stone has been carved into a throne. This is the seat of the May Queen - the girl who, in true Wicker Man style is chosen to personify the May Day holiday and the fair weather and fecundity of the spring. My guide told me that, once a year, all the young girls are dressed in white smocks and line-up in front of the church to be blessed by the vicar, in a ritual that seemingly embodies the Christian aptitude for subsuming much older customs into liturgical practice.

The names of the Queens are carved onto the rock face and date back to 1968. No doubt the re wakening of public interest in folk ritual was the impetus to begin carving the names. I'd be interested to learn if earlier names are recorded anywhere, or if the tradition was broken before that year.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Occult iconography on film: Hardware

Blogging's been a bit slow here due to lots of renovation work on the Tears of Envy secret bunker. But with a bit of down-time I'd like to start what will hopefully be a series of posts. Then again, "The road to Hell..." and all that. So we'll see.

After seeing the excellent Lost Soul... documentary I've been re-watching Richard Stanley's back catalogue. I was surprised to see in Hardware the appearance of a pentagram. It appears when the killer robot is in its death-throws, and the viewer is taken 'inside' its head to see its virtual circuitry. The symbol appears for just a moment, but it's enough for us to register and so speculate on the nefarious origins of this maniacal machine. Was it programmed by occult fanatics? Has it been infected and corrupted by evil magicians? The possibilities are enticing.

While the evil connotations are adequately conveyed, it's worth noting that the pentacle, or pentagram, is 'good' side up. One point stands at the top and the 'horns' point downwards. Some authorities including Eliphas Levi assert that the symbol is only a mark of evil when the dual points are reared, mimicking the horns of the goat (and so the devil himself). Prior to the middle ages, the symbol is not uncommon, but seems to carry no evil association.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Whitby abbey

I've been sitting on these photos a bit but it's only now that I've found time to process them. As mentioned in a previous post, I visited the seaside town of Whitby earlier this year and spent a couple of lovely afternoons walking around the Abbey and neighbouring church.

The fishing port of Whitby has a long and interesting history, and consequently quite a few claims-to-fame. One of its most exciting (and lucrative) is the Dracula connection.  Bram Stoker was a visitor to the town, and set parts of his famous novel there. The abbey fell into ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. The hulking stone carcass that rises far above the town is no doubt one of the reasons why Stoker chose it as a setting. The craggy skeleton perches on a cliff and consequently the ruin is one of the first things you see as you come over the moorland from the south west from inland.

Most of the southern walls have tumbled down so visitors are able to walk right through the length of the trancept and nave and look out over the substantial grounds. There are some wonderful scultpural details still visible, and the nearby almshouses also retain some excellent corbles shaped like heads. It was bright and sunny when we visited, but I can imagine it being utterly terrifying on a dark, wet and windy winter's night.

Although the abbey provides a wonderful backdrop in Dracula, it's actually the graveyard of the neighbouring church of St Mary's which hosts one of the key scenes in the novel - where Mina discovers 'something dark' looming over the prostate from of her friend Lucy. I took quite a few shots of the graveyard with my analogue Nikon camera and have yet to process the film, so I'll post them in due course.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The sad state of Nottingham's cemeteries

A few weeks ago I went back to Nottigham's Rock Cemetery, which I've previously blogged about. It was a great oppotunity to do some research on vampires in preparation for my trip to Whitby, which I'll blog about soon.

Despite it being a sunny day with the cherry blossoms blooming, it was sad to see that there has been a lot of vandalism and pillaging. Several of the niches containing ashes had their doors ripped off and the contents strewn about. Another monument had clealry had some kind of (no doubt sculpted) mandala torn away. The resulting carcass was left with a kind of internal spine of brick exposed - a gaping maw howling in rage at the perpetrators.

Sad times.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Lost Soul

I am thankful to my pal Steve who gave me a heads-up that the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau was playing in Nottingham. I went to see it a few nights ago and I can assure you it's a corker.

The producers did an excellent job of giving what felt like quite a fair appraisal of the ill-fated exploits of the cast and crew on their remote set in Northern Australia. While it is clear that Stanley's vision would have made a far more interesting film than actually emerged, the trials and tribulations are thoroughly investigated and the documentary excites on a level beyond the simple teasing of a hypothetical masterpiece. On this note, many of the interviewees (including Stanley himself) are hilarious and special mention should go to Marco Hofschneider who seems like a really nice person caught in the centre of an increasingly bizarre madhouse (culminating in being, quite literally, punched "in the nuts" by the dwarf who went on to steal his screentime). Notably absent are Val Kilmer and David Thewlis, the first of whom comes off very badly, while the latter is barely mentioned.

Stanley is refreshingly dry and up-front about his interest in, and use of, witchcraft. He explains that he asked "Skip", a friend of his, to perform some magical fixes to get him the gig. I am not sure how serious to take him when Stanley goes on to exlain that his misfortunes were due to Skip falling ill and all his work unravling. This results in lightening hitting the filmmakers' mother's house and hyenas being seen by her neighbours (and there were hyenas on the wallpaper where Stanley was staying... so it all makes sense, y'know?). I did notice that on the bookshelf behind Stanley was the book Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beasts Within by John Skipp and I wondered if this was the "Skip" referred to.

Regardless of the merits of how he was treated, the experiece was clearly very hard for Stanley. He retreated afterwards to a remote ruin in Monts├ęgur, France where he has only more recently returned to the commercial world of film. He freely admits that he feels far more at home amongst the stones of the Cathar strongholds and the memories of the dead than he did amongst the machinery of Hollywood. He likens himself to a Moreau figure, and I hope the world will remember him for his pioneering and unique vision and not the filmic bloodbath in which it culminated.

Some of the amazing concept art produced by Graham Humphreys for the movie. These hint at the far deeper and more coherent themes which Stanley wanted to explore.

Marco Hofschneider - stuck it out despite being patronised by Brando, bullied by Kilmer and puched in the groin by two-foot-tall Spanish dwarf

Sunday, 17 May 2015

In the Mind’s Eye

The excellent John Coulthart posted this video earlier in the week. It's a sceptical looks at ghost phenomena broadcast in 1977.

The documentary concerns the 'Phantom Vicar of Ratcliffe Wharf'. It transpires this spectre is not all he was reputed to be, and the (occasionally hokey) journey the viewer is taken on delves into an analysis of how folklore is constructed and perpetuated.

The examination is rather cursory, but the show is endearing for being wonderful window into 70s London. Central to the human story is writer Frank Smyth - a bearded writer whose very serious brow looms earnestly over his pint glass. He would fit right into an East End hipster coffee-house in 2015. However, it's the shots of London's then-undeveloped docklands which excite me. The glittering glass and steel monuments to commerce which now occupy the region are nowhere to be seen, and it's easy to imagine how the dank, weed-strewn streets captured nearly forty years ago would be fertile territory for stories of murder and greed to breed.