Saturday, 3 December 2016

MICROGORIA 39 - Gef the Talking Mongoose

In the last episode before the Christmas specials begin, Mr Jim Moon is in a somewhat festive mood as he investigates one of the strangest haunting ever... In this episode we take a trip back to the 1930s and voyage to a remote farm on the Isle of Man to meet Gef the Talking Mongoose! 

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Friday, 2 December 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres VII

Welcome once again dear readers to yet another exploration of all things ghostly and folkloric. This week we are still considering the possible classifications we can make under the heading of Animal Apparitions. We already discovered the spectral equivalents of man's best friends, the hound and horse, and last week investigated the strange fluttering of avian apparitions. So then it's only right and proper that we firstly sketch in a subcategory for Feline Phantoms, for as cats have enjoyed our company for many centuries it is unsurprising there a fair few folk tales relating to metaphysical moggies.

Now to keep us on track and focussed on ghostly folklore, I'm not going to be making such mention of the reports of panthers and pumas roaming the British Isles. For these Alien Big Cats (or ABCs for short) are a relatively recent phenomena and are perhaps more properly considered as belonging in the field of cryptozoology rather than folklore. Now that is not say that folklore cannot be modern or recent, but while some writers and researchers have mooted the theory that ABCs are possibly a modern mutation of traditional tales of phantom black dogs, I tend to consider them to me more likely real creatures than phantom animals. Aside from tricks of perspective causing misidentification of regular felines, I think it is telling the ABC phenomena begins after a law was passed in the early ‘70s that regulated the ownership of exotic animals, and several reports have been uncovered of big cat owners releasing their former pets into the wild as a result.

However even leaving ABCs aside, there is still a strong enough tradition of ghostly cats to justify a Feline Phantoms category. However while spectral hounds tend follow the same pattern, and tales feathered phantoms can be classified into distinct sub-groups, accounts of ghostly moggies seem to prove that even when they are ethereal or ectoplasmic, cats will still be cats i.e. independent to the last, always doing their own thing, and generally defying any rules we try and impose on them!

Naturally several tales of ghost cats would appear to be accounts of deceased pets returning. For example, at a house in Birtley, County Durham, a phantom Persian cat has been spotted on several occasions, and research has revealed that such a cat was the pet of a former owner. While at the Market Cross pub in Swaffham, Norfolk, a phantom cat is frequently mistaken a real moggy. It is speculated that possibly this feline phantom was the pet of one of the pub’s other ghosts, one of the spectral old fellows who are sometimes seen sat drinking and smoking by the fire.

Actually it would appear that pubs are something of a favourite haunt of spectral cats. In Bedford, London, the Square Inn (formerly known as The Bull-nosed Bat) there have been many sightings of a phantom cat. While at The Beehive in Great Waltham, a ghostly grey cat is often seen disappearing through walls. This would appear to be something of a favourite trick with feline phantoms, as in the Gatehouse Restaurant, in Battle, Sussex, the ghost of a former house cat floats about and alleged is often seen disappearing through a wall. At the Old Talbot public house in Worcester, a ghostly cat has been known to brush up against people, only to disappear as soon as it  has gained their attention. And at Sower Carr Lane, in Hambleton, another spectral cat does much the same trick, rubbing against legs of walkers yet remaining invisible.

At Ye Olde Starre Inne in York two phantom black cats are often seen, and seem to take a delight in spooking the dogs of any patrons. It is said they are the spectres of two cats that were bricked up in a pillar between the front door and the bar. While this may sound terribly macabre and cruel, it is a historical fact that many dead cats have been found walled up in old buildings. The theory is that these animals were a kind of sacrifice or protective charm carried out when these places were built, and this practice is suspected to be the origin of several ghostly moggies. For example, the black cat that haunts the bridge over the River Coquet, in Rothbury, Northumberland may well have been such a sacrifice made when the bridge was built.

In a tale of a haunting in the late 19th century which took place at Lower Seedly Road, Manchester, part of the ghostly manifestations was the sound of a cat crying, and later the spectre of a headless cat appeared. Quite how it cried without a head remains a mystery. However being missing bodily appendages does not appear to overly trouble feline phantoms, for in 1675 the house of a Mr Edward Pitts in Puddledock, London suffered a poltergeist infestation, and one of the phantoms reported was a legless cat floating through the house. Of course cats famously never abide with convention, as demonstrated by the phantom puss that haunts Balbriggan, County Dublin who appears sporrting a striking shade of green.

Surpisingly given that traditional assocaition with witches, there don't seem to be very many ghostly cats linked with witchcraft. However there are a couple who appear to belong distinctly to the dark side. Firstly there's tales of a seemingly evil black cat that manifested in a room at Powerham Castle and attacked a guest. But perhaps the most famous ghostly moggy of all also enjoys a highly sinister reputation. Montpelier Hill in County Dublin, Ireland was the home of the Irish Hellfire Club where much whiskey was drunk and allegedly orgies, debaunchery and evocations of Satan took place. The club's mascot was a large black cat who allegedly took the place of Satan in their gatherings. It was also said they had burnt a cat alive and comitted several murders at their gatherings.

At first they met in a ruined hunting lodge atop the hill, and later in a nearby Victorian mansion, the Killakee house. In 1968 when renovations were being done on the now crumbling house, workmen began reporting ghostly manifestations, and soon several folks had seen an evil looking black cat. One of these was the painter Tom Massey who was left badly shaken after an enounter with the snarling brute, which he described as having burning eyes - and he would later paint the beast as seen below. In 1970, further work at the house uncovered a shock secret, a small skeleton was buried beneath the kitchen floor, and what's more with the bones was a brass statue of  a demon. This macabre discovery seemingly proved the old tales that the Hellfire Club had once beaten a deformed boy to death. However there's still tales of ghostly activity in the area, and the malevolent spectral cat is still allegedly seen at the house and prowling Monpelier Hill...

Well folks, that brings us to the end of Species of Spectres for this year - over the next few weeks we'll be shifting gear into a more festive mode and looking at some Yuletide folklore...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #17 When the Red Red Robin....

Well dear friends, currently it would appear that certain waterfowls appear to be ballooning and elderly gentlemen are reporting their headgear filling up with loose change. This can only mean one thing - Christmas is coming once again!  And to get you in the come for the coming festivities, here's a little series I wrote exploring the folklore behind one of the great icons of Yuletide, the humble robin redbreast! 

Part 1 - In which we examine superstitions surrounding the robin redbreast

Part 2 - The origin of these supserstitions and the robins role in Babes in the Woods

Part 3 - the folklore behind Babes in the Woods

Part 4 - The robin and his associations with Christmas

Furthermore, if all of that looks like an awful lot of reading, last Christmas I created an audio version, adapting this little series into a podcast, which you can find here -

Sunday, 27 November 2016

FROM THE GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 25 - Sredni Vashtar & Tobermory

As a curtain raiser for our forthcoming investigation of the curious case of Gef the Talking Mongoose, Mr Jim Moon invites you to take a seat by the fireside to hear two weird tales of unusually gifted animals from the pen of the great HH Munro AKA Saki.. 

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Friday, 25 November 2016

FOLKLORE ON FRIDAY - Species of Spectres Part VI

Welcome once again dear friends to another instalment of Species of Spectres in which we attempt to devise categories to classify assorted ghosts and ghouls. Now last time we were looking at Animal Apparitions, and discovered that according to folklore the most common varieties of spectral creatures are two species that have had a long relationship with humanity, horses and dogs. However what of our feathered friends?

Now in the realm of folklore there are many supernatural beliefs associated with birds, but most usually these are related to the presence of birds at certain times, is seeing a certain type of bird is good luck, while the appearance of another is a harbinger of misfortune. More closely relating to all things ghostly, it is commonly held that a sure sign a particular place is haunted is the absence of birds, with no birds will nest in the eaves of a haunted house, and in lonely countryside places where uncanny things are said to walk there will be no sound of birdsong. For example, at Nibley Green, Gloucester in 1469, the troops of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle and William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley fought a terrible battle. And it is said the soldiers who perished there were buried in a mass grave in a nearby wood. Sightings of ghostly soldiers have been reported there, and it is said that no bird sings in that particular stretch of woodland.

Actual spectral birds however are another matter, and although uncommon there are enough accounts of avian apparitions to separate into three groups. Firstly we have simply the shades of bird that have ceased to be… The famous ghost hunter Elliot O'Donnell reported that at a house on Dean Street, London, a phantom black bird was often seen by locals. While not far away a house on Great Russell Street was prey to a phantom magpie that would tap on the windows,  before appearing inside perching on a phantom baton that floats in thin air. In Leamington, an old (and now demolished) house called Brookhurst was a Sonic Spectre ( is a ghost that is only heard) which manifested as the sounds of a large bird flapping round the place. As many varieties of birds have been tamed and kept by folks, it's not surprising there are a good few accounts of feathered friends returning from beyond the grave. Once upon a time, the Blue Bell Inn at Tushingham, Cheshire had a pet duck that playfully pecked at patrons ankles, a practice it perpetuated even after it perished, and its psychic predations were only prevented thanks to pious priests exorcising the phantom fowl!

However aside from mere ghosts of birds that have joined the choir invisible, many old legends tell of phantom fliers that appear serve a specific purpose. the first are harbingers, usually to foretell a death. For a typical example of this let us call in at Salisbury, where it is said that when a Bishop is going to die to two spectral white birds appear, either hovering over his house or on the roof of the cathedral. In a similar fashion it is said when there is to be a death in the family a flitting white bird-shaped apparition flaps about Arundel Castle and taps at the windowpane. A rarer variant of these traditions is recorded in Bangor, where at the Faenol estate, trespassers are warned away by the eerie crying of a spectral bird. And it is said that this particular avian apparitions is actually the ghost of a man executed for stealing timber from there, now doomed to warn others of the perils of theft.  

Finally we have a strong body of lore that tells of more fearsome feathered phantoms. At Temple Grafton in Warwickshire, there is a hill called Rolls Wood Hill. However locally it is also know as Alcocks Arbour, as it is claimed that the notorious highwayman John Alcock hide a cache of buried treasure there. However these riches are guarded by a demonic cockerel, and despite the risk of sounding like Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I must warn you that while this guardian sounds ridiculous it is not to be messed with. For the last fellow who attempted to retrieve the treasure was eaten alive by the evil avian! And the only way to gain safe passage passed the creature is to be holding one of Alcock’s bones, which I fear are in somewhat short supply these days…

 There is a similar tale told of Bransil Castle in Herefordshire - once again it said that there is a hidden hoard of riches, guarded by a huge black bird, who may only be warded off by holding the bones of Lord Beauchamp who alleged buried the treasure in the first place. And there are many more legends of supernatural treasure guardians that take the shape of birds. Interestingly these feathered fiends are very often described as having black plumage.

In Shorwell on the Isle of Wight, there is said to be a treasure chest buried in a quiet wood, beneath an elm tree. However if that sounds like a road to easy wealth, once again beware, for it is guarded by a fearsome spirit in the shape of a large black bird. Likewise at Penyard Castle at Weston Penyard in Herefordshire there is said to be more buried treasure, again guarded by a hideous black bird. While at Verwood in Dorset, there is a large rock known variously as St Stephen's Stone, the Hoarstone, or simply the Verwood Stone. And beneath this stone is said to be a hidden golden vessel containing yet another stash of treasure. However once again, these riches are guarded by a black bird that attacks anyone who tries to claim it. 

Next time we will be further considering Animal Apparitions, looking at some of the odder ghostly creatures that lurk in folklore and legend...

Thursday, 24 November 2016

FOLKLORE FLASHBACK #16 - Headless and Chained!

illustration by Russ Nicholson

To compliment our on-going current series running on Folklore on Friday, Species of Spectres, here's a round-up of previous entries on the subject of ghost,s and specifically how they appear in folklore. Firstly we examine why it is that spooks and spectres are so often depicted as wearing manacles and chains -

And then we have a  brace of articles that explores that other great ghostly cliche - the headless phantom! Here we encounter many spirits that go about sans bonce, and take a look at one of the most famous examples of this type of decapitated denizen of the dark, the shade of Anne Boleyn!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

MICROGORIA 38 - New Arrivals at the Great Library

As Christmas is coming at an ever-increasing pace, Mr Jim Moon presents a trio of tomes from the wonderful world of horror comics as requests from Santa Claus... We have look at Phil Trombetta's huge and gorgeous volume The Horror, The Horror, and we take a look at two just released collections - Misty: Moonchild/Four Faces of Eve and a comics adaptation of MR James' Ghost Stories of an Antiquary from Leah Moore and John Reppion.

DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 38 - New Arrivals at the Great Library

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MICROGORIA is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.