An interesting visitor! Pan? Satan? Meet him in the next episode of “Bone and Sickle” uploading Monday, 5/21. (Painting by Jakob Jordaens, 1620)
May 21: “Crowley in Neverland”
June 4: “The Great God Pan”
June 18: “Lost Heads”
Normally, episodes come out every 2 weeks on Mondays. The first episode was officially scheduled for April 30, which might have you looking for a May 14 release, but because we gave you three shows all at once, the first is May 21. We’ll post more upcoming show topics as we get them cleared for takeoff.
After two episodes meandering about in the nocturnal folklore of Walpurgisnacht witches sabbaths, we’re inviting our Bone and Sickle friends out in the daylight for a celebrate the arrival of Spring. Not to worry, there’s still human sacrifice in the air, as we begin the show looking at that pre-emininent example of the folk-horor genre, and what’s been called “cinema’s greatest pagan horror musical,” Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, The Wicker Man.
In a curious counterpoint to the ghastly deed unfolding in the film’s final scene, the villagers of Summerisle sing a rather cheery song associated with Beltane, or the coming of summer, for which Beltane, in the Celtic calendar, is the first day.
The 13th-century song, “Sumer is a-cumin in” in modern English:
Summer has arrived,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed is growing
And the meadow is blooming,
And the wood is coming into leaf now,
The ewe is bleating after her lamb,
The cow is lowing after her calf;
The bullock is prancing,
The billy-goat farting.
Again with the farting goats! Listeners to our Walpurgisnacht episode will remember, the farting goats and witches from Goethe’s description of the witches’ sabbath on the Brocken in Faust. Perhaps farting goats will become a theme for this show. Please forgive the short, stinky side trip into this digression where we note the real world dangers associated with the issue as well as a popular YouTube video on the theme.
Also, speaking of things for which we might apologize, listeners should be warned that there is some unpleasantness regarding Wilkinson the Butler and his new spring suit at the beginning of this episode. You may want to skip past all that if such things offend.
Finally we do come round to our actual topic, the cuckoo in folklore, and Wilkinson is kind enough to read us some quite interesting superstitions associated with the bird’s arrival in spring from an edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine published in London in 1852.
And then a lovely folk song about the cuckoo with some some tragic themes and variations.
A curious line in the song about the cuckoo “sucking eggs,” is explained in epic detail as Wilkinson narrates an an extremely grotesque episode from the bird’s natural life cycle, reading from On Nature’s Trail: A Wonder-book of the Wild written in 1912.
Then the odd association between cuckoos and certain themes in Science Fiction is briefly addressed.
We follow the cuckoo into an even stranger and mostly forgotten associations between cuckoos and cuckoldry, losing ourselves further in the notion of the cuckold as one “wearing the horns,” and at long last arriving at a truly ghastly farmyard rationale behind the “horns” expression.
The painting below illustrates the “horns” symbolism rudely applied within a group of Italian commedia dell’arte performers. Further illustrations below (17th-century England and 19th-century France respectively) rerpresent other satiric commentary.
Naturally, the subject of cuckoo clocks must also receive brief mention, but we find our way to our native “horror” habitat back through the notion of the cuckoo clock as a species of “automata clocks,” and thereby other more morbid examples, such as this stellar piece used in Werner Herzog’s 1973 film, Nosferatu.
A few grisly tales associated with public “death clocks” receive dramatic treatment including this fellow from the Czech town of Havličkův Brod and the grim folklore surrounding him.
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In our second episode on the grim folklore of Walpurgisnacht — that is May Eve or April 30, St. Walburga’s day — we meet Walburga, the saint whose name was attached to what was likely a pre-existing pagan holiday.
While the saint’s bones for centuries have been said to be the source of a miraculously curative oil, namesake children dedicated to her have a significantly less holy reputation, with Walburga Oesterreich being a particularly notorious example known for her involvement in a bizarre murder we’ll briefly discuss.
More practices associated with Walpurgisnacht are provided by the highly influential, if a bit outdated, armchair anthropologist Sir James Frazer, of Golden Bough. The association between this day dedicated to the obscure German saint and witchcraft becomes clear as we examine the many prophylactics against evil spirits afoot on the occasion. Listen close so you know what to do with the black and red spotted hemlock! Keep that bonfire stoked…
“So far as the light of the bonfire reaches, so far will a blessing rest on the fields.”
Then we jump into real nexus of that association between witchcraft and Walpurgisnacht, that is, the play Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which not only established the night as a notorious witches’ sabbath, but also did much to localize to Germany’s Blocksberg (or Brocken) mountain. A Cliff Notes encapsulation of the witches sabbath scene is rather flippantly re-enacted for your audio enjoyment, wherein you will hear this oft quoted passage from Goethe:
Now, to the Brocken, the witches ride;
The stubble is gold, the corn is green;
There is the carnival crew to be seen,
And Master Urian will come to preside.
So over the valleys, our company floats,
With witches a-farting on stinking old goats.
We discuss the mythology of witches and mountains a bit more generally, surveying a few other German mountains upon which or within which lost souls and dabblers in witchcraft are said to play or reside. Then we get into some details on the Blocksberg relationship to witches, and the 1688 book which spread the reputation of the Blocksberg and inspired Goethe. Herein we are provided with many useful specifics such as the manner of transport the witches use to reach the mountain. Among the methods catalogued: flying with the assistance magic salves or on brooms, shovels, or pitchforks. Or on flying animals: goats, calves, wolves, Cats and dogs are listed. I don’t think it says how the animals can fly.
Along the way, we learn how specific features of the landscape on and around the Brocken have developed their own mythologies and associations. Such tales have always drawn the curious, and Walpurgisnacht tourism associated with this mountain, and indeed the whole legend-rich Harz mountain region wherein the Brocken lies, has grown over the centuries, as attested to by artifacts like the postcards collected below.
While the ominous reputation of the mountain may have lost something in our present day, modern celebrations of Walpurgisnacht are nothing if not enthusiastic… (Below, the “gone viral” video mentioned in the episode.)
Then there’s the Brocken Specter, a weird optical phenomenon that takes its name from the mountain. It appears in low-hanging clouds or mist as a huge, looming, elongated shadowy encircled by a rainbow halo and is caused by the sun behind human figure projecting a shadow on the clouds when atmospheric conditions. More than all my babbling in the podcast, videos like the one below may convey some of its eerie effect…
Last but not least we have a look at paranormal researcher and prankster/publicity hound Harry Price and his shenanigans atop the Blocksberg in 1932. A photo from his highly theatrical reenactment of “The Blocksberg Tryst,” a 15th-century Walpurgisnacht ritual supposedly once conducted on the mountain with miraculous results below…
NOTE: My apologies to all listeners for an uncorrected mispronunciation in Episode 2, namely the hard “G” in the name of the talking Mongoose “Gef” investigated by paranormalist Harry Price. Apparently, the animal informed witnesses that his name was “Jeff,” but was not very good at spelling when called upon to spell it out. You can find more on Gef from our friends at The Folklore Podcast.
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Episode One of BONE & SICKLE is the first half of a two-parter about May Eve, Beltane, or as the Germans call it, Walpurgisnacht (“Walpurgis night“) the night of St. Walburga, that and oh so much more!
It’s also about St. George’s Eve, and the conflation of the two in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and another kind of confusion in Lugosi’s 1931 film of the same name.
Along the way, we meet eccentric English churchman and scholar of folklore and occult, Montague Summers, who provides some interesting nuts and bolts on protecting oneself from evil spirits afoot on Saints George’s of Walburga’s nights. (Sprigs of various herbs placed around doors and windows are a start.) We also learn of what appears to be a strange and little remarked upon money-making hobby Bram Stoker devised for Count Dracula, one referencing actual Romanian superstitions of the 1800s, all of which Stoker had studied up on before embarking on his novel. (Do any readers of the novel remember the mysterious “blue flame” incident (something like a will-o’-the-wisp)?
We also discover what was apparently an early, discarded chapter from the novel Dracula, one rich in references to these earlier landmark works of the gothic genre, these being, Joseph Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Gottfried August Bürger’s 1844 poem Lenore, from which Stoker borrowed the epigraph, “The Dead travel fast” — both of which we’ll explore a bit. Am\nd there’s even a little nod to Walpurgis night.
Please enjoy this video trailer, a smattering of podcast snippets from upcoming episodes of Bone & Sickle accompanied by original imagery of an appropriately moody and evocative nature.
Our first episodes of Bone & Sickle celebrate May Eve, Beltane, or — as the Germans say — Walpurgisnacht. Learn more about the relationship between this holiday and European witchcraft traditions, the Dracula mythos, and the history of Germany’s notorious witch-haunted Blocksberg mountain, where occult rituals have been carried out into the 20th century.
April 30 Special Walpurgis Premier Binge Release:
Special Premier “Binge” release of 3 episodes at once. Thereafter on alternate Mondays.
Episode 1, WALPURGISNACHT, Part 1
Episode 2, WALPURGISNACHT, Part 2
Episode 3, LOUDLY SING CUCKOO!
Episode 4, LOST HEADS
Episode 5, TBA.
More episodes will follow throughout the Summer and Fall on alternate Mondays. Stay tuned for schedule details.
Are there topics within the folk-horror realm you’d like to see discussed? We’d love to hear your likes and suggestions!