Category: cautionary tales

Who Put the Hell in Helloween?

Who Put the Hell in Helloween?

During the Satanic Panic, the notion of Halloween as a Satanic High Holy Day came to prominence, but the elements necessary to this mythology were set in place much earlier.

This episode focuses particularly on the early years of Wicca, some missteps in disassociating  the movement from Satanism, and early evangelical personalities spinning “ex-Satanist” yarns from this material, which is to say, we focus particularly on the 1960s Occult Revival  up to and including 1973. To set the mood for the era’s pop occultism, we hear some audio snippets by records released by witches, Louise Huebner, Gundella the Green Witch,  Barbara the Gray Witch, and Babetta, the Sexy Witch.

Barbara the Gray Witch
Back of Barbara the Gray Witch 1970 LP

We first have a quick look at Anton Lavey’s creation of The Church of Satan in 1966. While this sketched out cartoonish tropes of  the Panic narrative, Lavey’s carnival-barker style and insistence that there was no actual Satan in his school of Satanism, undermined the influence he might have among all but the most credulous and paranoid.

The real roots of the Panic lay not in Lavey’s publicity stunt, which in the wider historical context was a mere flash in the pan, but in a much older idea conceiving witchcraft and Devil worship or traffic with demons, a notion that held sway for more than seven centuries and therefore not to be quickly rooted out by modern Wiccans.

Some of the sticking points here are rooted in 19th and early 20th century writings on witchcraft by the American folklorist Charles Leland and British Egyptologist Margaret Murray, and their “witch-cult” concept regarding witchcraft as an underground survival of ancient pagan religion.  Problematic here too were their identification of the deities of this religion as “Lucifer” (Leland) and “The Horned God” (Murray).

We then turn to Gerald Gardner, the British civil servant, who in his retirement got the whole Wiccan ball rolling, declaring in the early 1950s, that he had been initiated into the ancient mysteries of this witch-cult by members of a surviving Coven in the New Forest region.  In particular, we examine the way in which Gardner’s emphasis on UK traditions within Wicca, strengthened an association between Halloween and witches (despite virtually no mention of witch gatherings actually occurring on Halloween in earlier historical writings).

Sibyl Leek
Sibyl Leek and her jackdaw “Mr. Hotfoot”

We then have a brief look at Sybil Leek, first acolyte of Gardnerian Wicca in the US, and darling of 1960s journalists. (Leek was profiled in our 2019 Halloween episode, “All of Them Witches.”) As the United States was the birthplace of the modern Halloween, Leek’s insatiable engagement with the press around that time, did much to strengthen the idea of Halloween as a singularly important time for witch gatherings and ritual.  She also provides Halloween recipes!

By the 1960s, Wicca had branched into two paths, Gardnerian and Alexandrian, the latter named for the British witch Alex Sanders, who with his wife Maxine, headed a coven in London. Sanders has much to do with continued confusion between Wicca and Devil-worship thanks to his indiscriminate pursuit of media interest inclined to titillate audiences with the old diabolic model. We discuss his involvement with the British band Black Widow and their Satanic sacrifice stage-show, publicity involvement in the film Eye of the Devil (1966) , and his feature role in the documentary Legend of the Witches (1970) and mondo “documentary” Secret Rites (1971).

Sanders Secret Rites
Sanders in “Secret Rites”

Just as Wicca originated in the UK, only later to be embraced in the US. fraudulent ex-Satanist testimonies were first told in Britain. In 1970 Bristol-born Doreen Irvine began relating stories of her involvement in the occult, tales that took their final form in her  1973 publication From Witchcraft to Christ.  We hear a bit of her tale of teenage street-life, drugs, and prostitution leading to Satanism, her claims to curious supernatural abilities, and her crowning as the “Queen of the Black Witches” on the Dartmoor moor.  As well as her warnings about celebrating Halloween.

While the ex-Satanist narrative, never really caught on in the UK, it hit the big time with American Mike Warnke’s 1972 book purporting to document his experiences in Satanism, The Satan Seller.

Mike Warnke
Mike Warnke in his early days.

While Warnke’s fraudulent stories garnered him celebrity in the early days of the modern evangelical movement, by the late 1970s, he had reinvented himself as a popular Christian comedian.  He did, however, revisit the theme once the Satanic Panic got rolling, with the 1979 release of the album “A Christian Perspective on Halloween.”

We hear his Satan Seller narrative of a good Midwestern boy corrupted by drugs in a California college, eventual elevation to High Priest within global Satanic underworld, eventual self-destruction through drugs leading to a stint with the Navy, during which he’s saved. Along the way, are some bizarre details about his fingernails, strange ordinations in real-world sects, and eventual exposure and fall within the evangelical community.

Another evangelical making the rounds with ex-Satanist stories in in Warnke’s day was John Todd, who began spinning his yars tales around 1968 in Phoenix. We only briefly discuss Todd as he really hits his stride outside our timeframe, namely, in  the late ‘70s when his story of involvement in a Satanic underworld reached its greatest audience via Jack Chick comics.

We wrap up the show with a look at some early collaborators with Warnke in the the occult fear-mongering business — David Balsiger, Morris Cerrullo, and Hershel Smith (AKA “the Skin Eater) as well as their collaboration on the legendary “Witchmobile,” an “anti-occult mobile unit” that roamed the US and Canada from 1972 to 1974.

Witchmobile
Herschel Smith and the Witchmobile
Dark Fairy Tales II: Heads in a Fountain, Bones in a Bag

Dark Fairy Tales II: Heads in a Fountain, Bones in a Bag

Dark fairy tale elements including floating heads and bags of bones are featured in a family of tales classified under the Aarne-Thompson system as Type 480, “Kind and Unkind Girls.”  Imaginative punishments and rewards for the kind and unkind characters in question are a further interesting element.  The girls in these tales are always sisters or stepsisters, and a wicked stepmother (sometimes mother) is part of the formula.

Our first example is the English tale, “The Three Heads of the Well.”  The fairy tale bears a strange connection to an earlier 11th-century British legend featuring as its heroine the Byzantine Empress Helena, here portrayed as the daughter of the mythical “Old King Cole” of nursery rhyme fame.  Both legend and fairy tale are set to the town of Colchester in Essex, understood to be named for King Cole.

King Cole
Father of Empress Helena?

From “The Three Heads of the Well,” we learn that being polite to heads floating out of magic wells serves one well, while rude behavior is strictly punished.  A curious element of the narrative  is the request made by the floating heads that their hair be combed.

Our next tale, “Three Fairies,” comes from Giambattista Basile’s Il Pentamerone, or Lo cunto de li cunti (“The Tale of Tales), a source used in our previous episode for the story “Penta the Handless.” The tale involves an encounter with fairies living in a fantastic palace hidden deep within a chasm.

Basile’s tales are particularly noteworthy for their extravagant and playful verbiage, illustrated in several lengthy passages read for us by Mrs. Karswell.

In this tale, we learn the value of diplomacy in discussing the hair and scalp conditions of fairies. A second lesson: one must be particularly wary when allowing oneself to be sealed in a barrel.

Perrault
Perrault’s 1697 Tales of Passed Times

Our next story, “The Fairies,” comes from perhaps the most famous collection of fairy tales pre-Grimm, Charles Perrault’s 1697 volume Tales of Passed Times, sometimes subtitled Tales of Mother Goose.  This French story can be found in certain English-language collections under the title “Diamonds and Toads,” referring to what falls from the mouths of its kind and unkind girls respectively — a blessing or curse depending on the girls’ charity toward fairies disguised as mortals.

The Grimms’ story, “Frau Holle” is introduced with a snippet of the “Frau Holle Lied,”  a children’s song describing the grandmotherly (and witch-like) Frau Holle shaking feathers from her featherbed to make the snow in winter, an element from the Grimm story.

As in the Perrault’s “The Fairies” the Kind Sister in “Frau Holle” is sent to fetch water, and ends up not in an enchanted chasm, but falling into an enchanted well, passage to a sort of parallel dimension in which ovens demand their bread be baked, apple trees their fruit be picked, and Frau Holle has all sorts of housework for the heroine to perform.  The girl’s unkind sister, however fails miserably when confronted with identical tasks, and we see both the rewarding and punishing side of Holle, an aspect of the story that relates it loosely to the winter mythology of the Frau Holle/Frau Perchta figure I discuss in other shows and my book as inspiration for the Krampus.

The rewards and punishments doled out in “Frau Holle” are likely borrowed from Basile’s “The Three Fairies,” as you might be able to guess from these depictions:

We introduce our next  iteration of this tale with a clip is from an English-dubbed version of the 1964 Soviet folklore film Morozko (or Father Frost) by pre-eminent Russian fairy-tale director Alexander Rou.  The film weaves its own elaborate story around the bare bones of the classic tale “Father Frost” collected by Alexander Afanasyev in the 1850s. Here, goodness is demonstrated by the Kind Girl’s willingness to endure cold, a particularly Russian virtue.

Illustration of Father Frost from a 1932 volume

Our last story is the most obscure (and gruesome): “Rattle-Rattle-Rattle and Chink-Chink-Chink” from a 1919 collection by Parker Fillmore called Czechoslovak Fairy Tales.  As with several of our stories, a key role is played by an all-knowing housepet who can speak.

We wrap up with a footnote to our first story, “The Three Heads of the Well” and its connection via an Elizabethan play, George Peele’s “The Old Wives’ Tale” to “Willow’s Song” from The Wicker Man (1973), all of which leads us into the bizarre folklore of an aphrodisiac charm known as “cockle bread.”

(NOTE: For details on the 2022 Bone and Sickle shirts and merch mentioned in the show, please visit boneandsickle.com, or go directly to our Etsy shop.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Terrible Tales for Terrible Tots

Terrible Tales for Terrible Tots

Books of cautionary stories for children were a popular Christmas gift in Victorian times. These tales of misbehaving children and the tragic consequences of their deeds, like the Krampus myth, served as not-so subtle reminders of parental expectations.

This episode consists mainly of readings by your host and Mrs. Karswell of these grim (and amusing) stories intended to be enjoyed along with a hot cup of cocoa, eggnog or the more dangerous adult concoctions of the season.

We begin with an example from Jane & Ann Taylor’s 1800 publication Original Poems for Infant Minds.  The Taylor sisters’ 1806 sequel to the book, Rhymes for the Nursery, happened to include a poem called “The Star,” providing the lyric to the “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which we hear interpreted from a 2019 album called, naturally, Possessed Children: Creepy Nursery Rhymes.

From Taylor’s “Original Poems for Infant Minds”

We also hear a poem about a lad who embraces a hot poker as a toy, one from Elizabeth Turner’s 1807 collection The Daisy or, Cautionary Stories in Verse, adapted to Ideas of Children from Four to Eight Years Old 

Then we turn to the mother of all cautionary tales for children, known to many simply as “that scary German children’s book,” but actually titled Der Struwwelpeter, Merry Tales and Funny Pictures for Good Little Folks. Written in 1854 by Heinrich Hoffmann, Der Struwwelpeter (“un-groomed Peter”) pairs charmingly awkward drawings executed by the writer himself with tales of children who play with matches, refuse to eat, suck their thumbs, torment animals, or commit other childish misdemeanors meet ghastly fates. 

Created for Hoffmann’s three-year old son as a Christmas gift, Der Struwwelpeter’s opening page identifies the book as one specifically to be given at Christmas, to well-behaved children exclusively. 

Struwwelpeter opening page

We hear a clip of this introductory poem set to music by the British punk-cabaret artists The Tiger Lillies, as part of their 1998 opera Shockheaded Peter.

Der Struwwelpeter went on to inspire all manner of imitations in Germany, England, and particularly in America.  We hear a few examples of these including one from the most famous volume inspired by this book, Max and Moritz, A Tale of Seven Boyish Pranks, written and illustrated in 1865 by Wilhelm Busch. 

 Our last author in this genre, one whose intent was actually to exaggerate and parody the pedantic tone of the Victorians was Hilaire Belloc, a friend of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw.  His first book of this type, whimsically illustrated by his friend Basil T. Blackwood, was The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896), followed a year later by More Beasts (for Worse Children). Longer, more dreadful stories appear in the verses of his 1907 book, Cautionary Tales for Children, Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years, from which we hear a number of fine examples.  Edward Gorey recognized a kindred spirit in the collection illustrating a version published posthumously in 2002.

Gorey illustration
Gorey illustration for Belloc’s “Cautionary Tales”