Famous around the Welsh borderlands (particularly Monmouthshire and Herefordshire), he’s a magic user of a very different kind to Faustus and Sylvester.
While their magic is capable of horrible wonders, Jack’s is more the magic of the stage magician.
In the play ‘John a Kent and John a Cumber’, by the playwright and spy Anthony Munday, Jack appears much more like a stage magician than a devilish sorcerer.
His arsenal of tricks includes disguising himself as a Jesuit friar, producing magical music and strange mist.
His main interest in the whole plot (which is a fairly typical play about couples wanting to marry for love instead of money) is to harmlessly agitate the lovers while amusing himself by battling rival magician John a Cumber (who seems to be almost identical to Jack, except from Scotland.)
Even in this play, however, he seems to have real power.
Hags. My first Hag was either the Russian witch Baba Yaga, or the Annis Hag from 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Baba Yaga is the most interesting. I can’t recall much about the Annis Hag. The had a middling number of hit dice and a relatively uninspiring special attack.
Baba Yaga is weirdly great. Like many authentic myths there are aspects of the Baba Yaga myth that function by the rules of dream logic: in some versions of the story she flies around in a giant mortar (mixing bowl for crushed herbs or compounds), using the pestle as a rudder. Her house moves around on chicken legs (unless you’re in Poland, where it only has one and presumably hops.) One young girl is enslaved by her ala-Cinderella and only escapes by the kindness of a magical talking gate. Other times there are three Baba Yagas and they aid questing heroes, giving them the thing they need to complete their quests.
Her role in mythology is generally of antagonist, a complication along the way, aiding the hero by inadvertently giving him something he needs, or giving him the chance to prove his mettle. Again, in Poland, Baba Yaga is the original witch in the Gingerbread House, luring handsome blonde twins to their cannibalistic doom. She kills the unkillable and knows the unknowable. Baba Yaga, it’s safe to say, kicks ass.
Britain has it’s own great hag. The D&D Annis Hag might not have been my favourite monster (I preferred Rust Monsters, which I always found adorable) the mythological Hag Black Annis not only scares the pants off me, but she also gets about a bit. In Cornwall she causes storms, wrecking boats and killing mariners. In Leicstershire she eats babies on the Dane Hills before popping over to Yorkshire. Continue reading “The Evil of the Hag”
Snow isn’t a particularly scary thing for those of us who live in cities, but once you’re outside that comforting envelope of civilisation the desolate crisp whiteness and obscure visibility can turn the landscape into a dangerous alien world. The idea that predators lurk, ready to come out in the snow and snare the unwary is hardly a surprise.
Yuki Onna is a Japanese ghost called the Snow Maiden. She is every rice-boy’s Japanese girl fantasy: beautiful, dark almond eyes; pale, almost translucent skin; delicate and demure. She might appear naked, invisible except for her dark hair and eyes against the snow. Other times she might be wearing a thin white kimono, but those dark eyes are cold and merciless. Her embrace, even her breath, is deadly.
For the hunter Hiro, trudging home through the snow, she was death. He saw her faint figure in the waivering snow. Fearing for a lone woman he called out, “Beautiful woman, beautiful woman, we must find out way home.”
She did not answer. He moved closer, calling, “Beautiful maiden, beautiful maiden, you have nothing to fear.”
Finally, he drew close enough to see her, the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. His heart leapt for joy, despite the snow.
“Come closer, hunter,” she said, in a small voice. “And collect your reward.”
Hiro leaned forward, his lips ready to receive his kiss. Her pale, icy skin burned his cheek. At the last moment, he opened his eyes to see the cold, pitilessness in her eyes, but it was too late – her chill breath froze him into statue of ice.
Other times Yuki Onna preys on parents looking for children lost in the snow. She carries a baby in her arms, drifting through the snowstorm until someone finds her. Any who accept the child from her arms is frozen to death.
Sometimes, though, Yuki Onna can be merciful. In one Japanese folk-tale a young hunter/trapper/woodsman is spared because of his youth and good looks, but is made to promise that he will not tell anyone about the snow maiden. Years later he has met and married a beautiful wife who he regales with the story, only to have her reveal herself as Yuki Onna. In most versions she spares his life, sometimes because of the children, other times because he has technically told no one but her.
Another snow related spirit is Snegurochka. She’s another snow maiden, again with a heart of ice, but this time she has a loving mother with magical powers. When she meets a handsome woodcutter, but cannot love him, her mother gives her the ability to experience human feelings. Unfortunately the warmth of her love destroys her icy body and she melts away to nothing. Continue reading “Snow Queens and Devil’s Footprints: Haunted Winter Storms”
There have always been people who led the way in science and thinking: Issac Newton led the way by thinking up the theory of gravity that we still use (until someone discovers that it’s all just magnets buried by aliens.) Plato and Newton both put forward pretty accurate theories about the Earth’s core, and Aristachus of Samos put forward a fairly accurate picture of the Solar System about three hundred years before the Crucifixion.
On the other hand, the world has changed: in the modern day politicians still want to screw you, but they’re more likely to tell you they’re doing it because it’s necessary, because they’re keeping you safe, or because if they don’t communism will take over. They’re less likely to say, “The universe works this way and therefore I should be in charge because… umm… God.”
In the days where that was more common there was one type of person who always eventually fell under suspicion: people who asked questions. What kinds of people tend to ask questions? Philosophers, Magicians and Scientists. That might sound like three very different groups, but for most of human history they were one and the same. The problem is that when someone in charge stands to lose out from people knowing too much, the people who know too much fall under suspicion.
William of Newburgh, a 12th Century monk, wrote that although it was hard to believe that zombies existed, they were an essential warning. He told a story about a dead guy in Buckingham who crawled out of his grave and tried to go back to bed with his wife. When friends and neighbors intervened to stop the corpse, it went mad and started biting chunks out of people.
And that’s not an isolated story. Walter Map, a Welsh Courtier from the 12th Century wrote a book about the people and places in the world around him, and he also commented on how England sure had a lot of zombies.
He talked about a local knight called William Laudun who came to his lord asking the strangest advice:
“Lord, I take refuge with you seeking advice. A certain evil Welshman quite recently died irreligiously in my village, and immediately after four nights he took to walking back to the village each night, and will not stop calling out by name each of his neighbours. As soon as they are called, they take ill, and writhing three days they die, so that already very few are left.” — De Nigus Curialium
How does the brave knight eventually solve the problem? Yeah, decapitation followed by fire.
And those aren’t the only zombie tales. Caesarius of Heisterbach, a Cistercian monk, wrote about a nursemaid who was looking after her master’s children in his book Dialogus Miraculorum. She saw the animated corpse of a pallid woman with tattered clothing wander out of the cemetery. The creature stared over the fence, moaned, then wandered into the neighbors’ house for a while before going back to her grave and peacefully de-animating. Continue reading “The Walking Dead, Medieval Edition”
Prophesy has always been a big deal here in Britain. In the run up to the Great Fire of London (and, of course, afterwards) the world was full of portents: In August 1666 the Spanish Ambassador claimed that a ‘deformed monster’ had been born in London. “[It was] horrible in shape and colour. Part of him was fiery red and part of in yellow, on his chest was a human face. He had the legs of a bull, the feet of a man, the tail of a wolf, the breasts of a goat, the shoulders of camel, a long body, and in place of a head a kind of tumour with the ears of a horse.”
This wasn’t the only horrendous thing born of woman in troubled times: Meaux Abbey in Yorkshire said that a ‘human monster’ was born in Kingston-Upon-Thames, divided from the waist up with one half the upper body of a man and the other half the upper body of a woman (although this does sound rather more like a simple case of conjoined twins than anything in any way supernatural, especially since they became an accepted part of the community and lived until they were eighteen.) This unfortunate but mundane genetic abnormality/Satanic Hellbeast (probably the former) was seen as a portent of the Black Death.
An English poem form the time shows us the mood of the time:
“The rysing of the comuynes in Londe,
The pestilens and the eorthequake,
Teose threo things, I understand, betokenes the grete vengance and wrake,
That shulde falle for synnes sake,
As this clarkes canne de-clare,
Nou may we chese to leave or take,
For warnynge have we to ben ware.”
— A Warning to Beware, Anonymous, 1380.
Thomas Wimbledon preached at St. Paul’s Cross in 1388, saying that Armageddon would come in 1400, continuing a tradition stretching back to the earliest foundations of Christianity that the world was going to end really soon, and Christians would get the best end of it. Continue reading “Merlin: The Welsh Prophet”
On 4th August in the Suffolk villages of Bungay and Blythburgh a terrible thing happened. A horrific force of evil was unleashed… but did it end under the wheels of a classic car?
John Stow, the protestant historian who would later write his incredibly important Survey of London in 1603, wrote about the incident in his additions to Holinshead’s Chronicles:
“On Sundaie the fourth of August, Tempest in Suffolke between the houres of nine and ten of the clocke in the forenone, whilest the minister was reading the second lesson in the parish church of Bliborough, a towne in Suffolke, a strange and terrible tempest of lightening and thunder strake through the wall of the sale church into the ground almost a yard deepe, draue downe all the people on that side aoue twentie persons, then rernting the wall up to the vesutre, cleft the doore, and returning to the steeple, rent the timer, brake the chimes, and fled towards Bongie, a towne six miles off. The People that were stricken downe were found groueling more than halfe an houre after, whereof one man more than fortie yeares and a boie of fifteen yeares old were found starke dead: the others were scorched. The same or the like flash of lightening and cracks of thunder rent the parish church of Bongie, nine miles from Norwich, wroong in sunder the wiers and wheels of the clocks, slue two men which sat in the belfreie, when the other were at the procession or suffrages, and scorched an other which hardlie escaped.”
However, the local Rector, Abraham Fleming, had a darker tale to tell. Fleming was a schoolmaster and a scholar, in addition to being the Rector of the parish church of St. Pancras Bungay, wrote a tale of warning about man’s debauchery, atheism and fornication. In a pamphlet called A Strange and Terrible Wunder, published in 1577, he said the events of August 4th were…
A spectacle no doubt of Gods iudgement, which as the fire of our iniquities hath kindled…
He told a tale of the villagers gathering for morning mass while a storm of terrible force battered the village, of rain ‘with no less force than abundance’ lashing his parishioners with violent force. Thunder and lightning crashed over the village, ‘rare and vehement’, so that the people of Bungay were huddling frightened and confused in the church.
As they sat shivering with fear, listening to Fleming’s sermon about sin and death, and the dangers of Sodomy (he’s very concerned about sodomy, he mentions it twice in the preface to the Strange and Terrible Wunder whereas every other sin only gets mentioned once) when thunder and lightning started crashing and flashing around the church itself.The air darkened suddenly, so that even with the candles lit the fearful locals could barely see each other when… Continue reading “Black Shuck, Revenant Roadkill?”