Salem: It’s Alive

I finally joined my gals’ annual Salem jaunt. A tough time of year for me to get away, but I promised them this year I would go. We had a lot of fun and good eats, and there was a fantastic exhibit on at the Peabody. More pics on the ‘book.

Film for a Friday: Woman Who Came Back

Yes, it is written like that in the title card: no article on Woman. Low budget offering from Western Television, Woman Who Came Back (1945) offers a tale of the past invading the present in the form of a witch burned at the stake who wants revenge. In New England — where of course no one was burned as a witch.

Criminy people: witches were not burned in the US, they were hanged (and occasionally pressed). Also EARLY MODERN ERA was the time of the  wild witch crazes: you needed the print era to really get propaganda going on a massive scale.

Anyhoo: this is a fun little no-budget film. Including great creepy vintage Halloween costumes.

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The story is simple: Lorna Webster (Nancy Kelly) on a bus returning to her hometown and the man she ran away from at the altar meets an old woman who claims to be Jezebel Trister (Elspeth Dudgeon – best name I’ve heard in a while), the witch who had been condemned by Lorna’s great grand pappy. Of course she’s back to curse his progeny and the bus crashes killing everyone except Lorna and the old woman’s dog who haunts her the rest of the film.

Her paternalistic head-patting fiance (Now Voyager’s John Loder) assures her everything will be fine and the epically old guy pipe-smoking Rev. Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger) agrees. Let’s just all forget this bus full of dead people and get on with our charming New England lives of small town paranoia: Shirley Jackson meets Grace Metalious.

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Of course weird things happen: everything Lorna touches dies and it spooks people, like Expositio her housekeeper (okay, her name’s not really Expositio but she does explain a lot of back story before giving notice presumably because the windows won’t stay shut and the curtains billow mysteriously in the ever-present wind).

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Naturally, Lorna discovers the truth about her curse from a volume in old grandpappy’s study that just happens to be in a mausoleum in the crypts under the church. The townfolk don’t like these goings on especially when her fiance’s niece falls ill and they react accordingly.

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Will they gather into an angry mob or will clearer pipe-smoking heads prevail to show they’ve all been Scooby-Doo’d? It’s only a little over an hour so you can watch and find out for yourself. Hardly a masterpiece, it’s nonetheless fun and goes on my list for the course on witch films I’m thinking about doing sometime in the near future.

I learned about this film from a terrific piece on the folk-horror of Powell & Pressburger’s Gone to Ground.

Supernatural Scotland

Charles I Angel as charm

Angel of Charles I, the last minted for circulation © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Friday’s voyage to Edinburgh was a delight. I attended the IASH workshop ‘The Supernatural in Early Modern Scotland’ (thanks to Cailleach’s Herbarium for the alert). It was a bit tricky finding the Institute due to both construction and its rather hidden corner, but I only missed the very beginning. I thought I might feel a bit of an interloper as a medievalist in their midst as well as a stranger but I must say people went out of their way to be welcoming all day.

The event kicked off with the esteemed Julian Goodare (if you don’t know him, you might know the database he helped create) who spoke about the emotional relationships between humans and spirit guides. The history of emotions is an emerging field so it was interesting ground to tread, looking at the ways people engaged with the spirits or fairies whether it was a patron/client relation or something more close (many reportedly had romantic relationships) and looking into their backgrounds for evidences of trauma.

Liv Helene Williumsen explored the tale of the ninety-nine dancers of Moaness in Orkney. The geographical location suggested a remoteness well within sight, while the number suggested that the whole village must have been there, but the influence of ‘stark aill’ (strong beer) was blamed for whatever did happen.

Lizanne Henderson opened up the topic of supernatural animals in the period as everything from familiars to spirit guides to shapeshifted humans (is a human who’s shifted to animal shape still human or animal?). She brought up a variety of strange stories of animals and the supernatural, including the pig put on trial for murder (I had to mention to her the Colin Firth film The Advocate/Hour of the Pig which portrays that story).

After lunch coordinator Martha McGill presented a lot of material on angels in folk culture, including the angel coins pictured above and worn as protective charms. She touched on the unfortunate effects of the Protestant Reformation in destroying so much of the art history of Scotland though angels had been as plentiful as ‘brambles’ despite the kirk’s disapproval.

Michael Riordan focused on ‘The Whole Prophesie’ of Thomas Rhymer which had a variety of uses in the early Modern period and linked up everything from Jacobites to Rosicrucians and Masons. If you’re familiar with Thomas the Rhymer who met the Queen of Elfland, it’s the same one. I was most inspired because I think this will play into my Raven King paper for next month, so now I’m reading up on this.

Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart looked at the cultural contexts of second sight in the islands and Highlands. As in the Icelandic medieval stories, this wasn’t about seeing ghosts but seeing the fetch of a living person and knowing what would happen down the line. It was interesting to hear that novice seers would have to defer to older and more experienced practitioners, perhaps to exercise a kind of community control over the nature of the experience.

Before the roundtable discussion Hamish Mathison spoke on the nature of the supernatural in Burns’ Tam o’Shanter. He argued that Burns offers a nuanced balance of the ‘wild’ and the ‘domesticated’ in the landscape of the ruined church, a mixture of the comic and the Gothic which makes for a certain discomfort. It was a great note to end on.

If you’re wishing you could have been there, it may comfort you to know that there is a forthcoming collection of essays with a few additional folk who were not able to be there. You’ll want to pick that up.

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Tam o’Shanter by Thomas Landseer

Charcoal Burners, Black Sails & Magic

Uskglass Charcoal Burner

Admittedly I’ve not left the house since I got here, but don’t let my indolence fool you! I am ready to rise to the opportunity and sure enough, I will be. Thanks to Cailleach’s Herbarium mentioning it on Facebook, I got on the waitlist and now have ticket in hand to attend ‘The Supernatural in Early Modern Scotland’ this Friday. A workshop at The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, it looks to be a fascinating day (see the whole list of speakers here).

So many interests colliding in useful ways! It’s great to have the feeling you’re in the right place at the right time.

And speaking of collisions: the above illustration is of course the lovely Charles Vess. It’s for the last story in Susanna Clarke’s collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu. In my usual way I had hoarded the last few stories last summer, thinking when I read them there would be no more of her writing to read as she has nothing else out at present (yes, that’s how my brain works). I didn’t know the interest I would develop in charcoal burners in the meantime! So it was the first thing I read when I got back here. A delightful tale with saints (including Brigit), Uskglass and of course the titular charcoal burner.

Total collision count: dissertation subjects, two forthcoming conference papers, and the new all-consuming medieval project, Rauf Coilyear. I’m teaching Rauf in the upper division medieval class this fall. I love it when a plan comes together.

Meanwhile I am playing dolls with Miss C and catching up on Black Sails with my sweetie. Life is good.

#FolkloreThursday Freebie: Hard-Boiled Witch 2


Click the picture: today only, get Hard-Boiled Witch 2: Toil and Trouble for free — then pick up the others for just 99¢/99p each. Celebrate #FolkloreThursday by following the hashtag on Twitter or dropping by their Facebook page.

Hecate Sidlaw finds herself caught between a wannabe witch and one of the oldest hereditary powers in the land. When she and her familiar Henry end up as seconds in a magical duel, will anyone be left standing at the end of the shootout? Enter the dark streets and weird magic of HARD-BOILED WITCH and your life will never be quite the same. This is the second episode in the short story series.

FREE This Week: Hard-Boiled Witch

Happy Halloween! All this week, the first Hard-Boiled Witch is FREE! Help yourself and then try the others. They’re just 99¢/99p each. Click the image below or head to your Amazon.

Hecate Sidlaw eats punks like you for breakfast — at least that’s what her familiar Henry claims. When someone needs a protection spell or a nasty hex, they knock on her door. Hecate can handle most magical problems, but what happens when a new crime kingpin gets a magic man of their own?

This 20-page ebook single is the first in a new series from the author of WHITE RABBIT, OWL STRETCHING, and the CHASTITY FLAME thriller series.

“Laity has been proving for quite some time now that her noir prose ranks right up there with the likes of Meg Abbott, Dorothy B. Hughes, and Sara Paretsky.”
~ Vincent Zandri

“Laity knocks your socks off with the language and also with the dialog.”
~ Les Edgerton

“Laity is probably a figment of her own imagination, and what an imagination that is! A witty and inventive wordsmith. A natural storyteller. A one off!”
~ Paul D. Brazill

“Laity mixes genres in ways that are always rewarding… a compelling writer who is utterly readable.”
~ Richard Godwin

Out Now: Hard-Boiled Witch 4

HBW 4 Abra CadavraOut now! The fourth tale in the Hard-Boiled Witch series. Set in a slightly more magical Dundee, the tales make use of local stories and locations (yeah, had to make a reference to the V&A).

When a new burlesque club opens in Dundee, the owner calls on Hecate Sidlaw to deal with some strange attacks — by a skeleton! She and her familiar Henry need to get to the bottom of the magical threats, if she can get him away from the performers long enough to investigate. Looks like they need someone with expertise in calaveras…

Enter the dark streets and weird magic of HARD-BOILED WITCH and your life will never be quite the same.

There’s a special ‘guest star’ who makes a surprise appearance: I’d already written her entrance when someone on FB posted this link which reminded me of Michael Marra’s song. Thank you, subconscious!

She said she’d never felt so happy in a long long time.
Her mind was relaxed and her body felt fine.
She said, ‘Put on, Perdido. Tonight’s the night.
I want to dance with Jimmy Howie in the pale moonlight…’

Buy US 99¢

Buy UK 99p [and available at all Amazon sites]