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Bone and Sickle
20 minutes | 16 days ago
Marvelous and Rare II
We’re doing something different this time out. As we are celebrating Bone and Sickle’s third anniversary on April 30, we’re taking a week or two off to rejuvenate and prepare new material for year four. To fill the gap, we’re offering listeners a sample of the short bonus episodes all our $4-and-up Patreon subscribers hear every month. If you’d like to hear more in this format, another sample episode was released to our wider audience in September 2020. We hope you enjoy this substitution, and if you do, might consider joining us on Patreon to hear more of the same. We’ll be back later in May with a traditional Bone and Sickle Episode. Until then, happy May Day (and Walpurgisnacht) to you all! Facebook Twitter The post Marvelous and Rare II appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
46 minutes | 24 days ago
Mermen and more Marvels of the Northern Seas
In this episode, we continue our survey of supernatural sailors’ lore of the North with a look at mermen, Iceland’s “evil whales,” and sea-draugs. After a brief audio tidbit recalling our previous discussion of the Norse World Serpent, Jörmungandr (courtesy of the TV show Vikings), we briefly reconsider the Kraken in the context of the 13th-century Norwegian text Kongsspegelen/Speculum Regale (“King’s Mirror”). In what is likely the earliest reference to the Kraken, the attributes described and context of the discussion suggest that at this early stage of the creature’s mythology, it may have been imagined not as a cephalopod but as a particularly large and monstrous whale. This brings us to the topic of the “evil whales” or Illhveli of Icelandic lore, much of which is taken from Olaf Davidson’s article of 1900, “The Folk-Lore Of Icelandic Fishes.” Particularly dangerous and even malevolent toward seamen, these beasts are also enemies of benevolent species of whale that protect man. Their flesh is considered poisonous, and utterance of their name, we learn, can summon them and great misfortune. The largest of these creatures (if we disregard the Kraken, which seems more to occupy a class unto itself) is the Lyngbakr or “heather-back,” often mistaken for a land-mass covered with heather or grass. The same motif occurs in tales of the Kraken or Hafgufa (not discussed in the show thanks to the thematic redundancy), but tales of the Lyngbakr characteristically describe sailors actually landing on the heather-covered mass, mistaking it for an island, and perhaps dwelling there for days on end — until the fish takes a dip. Monster from Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (1539) The most vicious member of the Illhveli, seems to be the Raudkembingur, or “red-crest,” named for its red color and/or the rooster-like comb it sports. Mrs. Karswell reads for us a selection of Davidson’s stories of the Raudkembingur’s attacks upon ships and rather emotional disposition. We then hear about the Hrosshvalur or “horse-whale,” named for the neighing sound it produces. It was also sometimes called the blödku hval or “flap-whale” thanks to long eyelids or flaps that hung over its eyes. As these tended to obscure the beast’s vision, it was given to wild leaps from the sea, during which the flaps would bounce from the eyes, providing the creature a brief respite from near-blindness. We then hear a bit more about other other Illhveli, less frequently mentioned, learn why the Narwhal was regarded as the “corpse-whale,” how the Ox-Whale proved a nuisance to herdsmen, and of a particularly strange eccentricity of the Shell-Whale. Our discussion of mermen focuses primarily on accounts provided in Danish-Norwegian author Erik Pontoppidan’s 18th-century text The Natural History of Norway (cited frequently in our previous episode). While a mermaid or two is also mentioned, Pontoppidan treats the mermen less as a sort of fairy being inclined to abduct men to an undersea realm (as is typical further south in Europe and in Britain) and more as a sort of cryptid or naturalistic phenomenon. We hear some descriptions of mermen allegedly caught in the Northern seas (quite different from what is typically imagined), tales of enormously oversized mermen, and of the odd uses of the fatty flesh of mermen. The merman of the north also is uniquely gifted with the ability to tell the future, a trait referenced early on in the 14th-century Hálfssaga and preserved in the Icelandic folk-tale “Then Laughed the Merman” told by Mrs. Karswell and myself. “Sea Troll” by Theodor Kittelsen (1887) Sometimes identified as a Draug. Our discussion of the sea-draug begins with a clip from the 2018 Swedish film, Draug, a horror story set in the 11th century. Draug is a word from Old Norse used throughout Scandinavia to describe a walking corpse, usually guarding its grave or an underground treasure. Its folkloric attributes have been somewhat changeable and led to the evolution (specifically in the North of Norway) of a figure known as a Havdraug or (Sea-Draug). These are the ghosts of sailors lost at sea, who return as physical creatures horribly transformed. While usually dressed in the typical oilskins and gloves of sailors of the North, their heads are often said to be missing, and they are known to sail about in broken boats missing their stern or to haunt the boathouses of the region. Their presence is an evil omen, and their notorious shrieks can either foretell or indirectly cause death. We first hear mention of sea-draugs in the 13th-century Saga of the People of Eyri in which the crew of a sunken sip show up at a Yule feast, illustrating a predilection of the sea-draug to appear around Christmas, a motif maintained in tales of sea-draugs that became popular in the 19th century. We hear some descriptions from these and the folk-tale “The Land Draugs and the Sea Draugs”. Our episode closes with a strange tale of another Norwegian whale of the modern era, one killed near the island of Harøya in 1951 — at which point it’s weird saga actually begins. The story rather unexpectedly involves a brief appearance by Louis Armstrong, and we hear some bits from his 1938 hit “Jonah and the Whale.” Facebook Twitter The post Mermen and more Marvels of the Northern Seas appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
45 minutes | a month ago
The Kraken and Other Marvels of the Northern Seas
The Kraken is only one of the monsters said to inhabit the storied northern seas of Scandinavia. This episode is the first of two that will examine fantastical nautical tales of these regions. We begin with a bit of dialogue about the Kraken uttered by Davy Jones in Disney’s 2006 Pirates of the Caribbean film Dead Man’s Chest. It’s particularly appropriate to our first theme: the Kraken (and a couple Kraken-adjacent creatures) as embodiments of the apocalypse. The first of these is probably never far from some listeners’ thoughts — Cthulhu. The second is the Norse World Serpent (a Sea Serpent), Jörmungandr. Lovecraft’s creation, some scholars believe, may have been inspired by an 1830 poem “The Kraken” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, which we hear read by Mrs. Karswell. Of particular interest here is the way in which Tennyson associates the creature with the sort of epochal shift Lovecraft later represented in the rising of the Old Ones to claim the Earth for themselves. Jörmungandr is a primary participant in the Norse End of the World or Ragnarök. We hear this described in a passage from the 13th-century Prose Edda. We also hear a more “light-hearted” tale in which Thor goes fishing for the World Serpent – hilarity ensues! Thor fishes for Jörmungandr (18th century illus. fro Eddas) The earliest accounts of sea serpents (though not necessarily the Kraken) come from the Swedish writer Olaus Magnus, a 16th-century Archbishop of Uppsala. He not only populated his map of the northern seas, the Carta Marina (the first to represent the region) with illustrations of monsters, but described some common beliefs about the creatures in his 1555 book, History of the Northern People, from which he hear some passages focusing on sea serpents. Hans Egede, Lutheran missionary to Greenland of Danish and Norwegian descent, provides our next account of a sighting, not secondhand lore as with Magnus, but a description of a creature he alleges to have seen himself on July 6, 1734. The passage we hear is from his 1745 publication, A Description of Greenland. Detail: Carta Marina (1539) Then we come to the definitive source for our show’s topic, the Danish-Norwegian author and Lutheran bishop, Erik Pontoppidan. His work The Natural History of Norway, published in two volumes in 1752 and ’53 describes both serpentine monsters and the Kraken. Regarding the former, he provides a wealth of information, from which we have extracted the more intriguing bits — sailors firing on sea serpents and serpents sinking ships, the creature’s disgusting method of attracting a meal of fish, the differences between sea serpents of the Norwegian and Greenland Seas, preventative measures taken against these monsters, and an interesting use for sea serpent hide. Where Pontoppidan turns his attention to the Kraken, the waters get murkier. It soon become clear that our current way of imagining the Kraken (formed largely by 19th-century illustrations and later media) may not apply. In an effort to “rationalize” this monster by comparison to natural creatures, Pontoppidan calls in a number of candidates: “polypi” (squid or other cephalopods) as well as starfish, a type of sea anemone, and even crabs. “Krabben” (a form of crab) even turns out to be a name equivalent to “Kraken” according to Pontoppidan. We also hear what we think of as tentacles referred to as “horns” or “antennae.” One thing that remains clear in Pontoppidan’s descriptions (and perhaps more so in earlier accounts to be explored next time) is that the monster is very large, the largest animal of land or sea. We hear an account from The Natural History of Norway emphasizing this as well as some others highlighting the creature’s more off-putting habits. One reason, we learn, that Pontoppidan won’t just lock in the giant squid comparison, is that the existence of such creatures was not confirmed by those who study such things until the 1870s, roughly a century after Pontoppidan’s career. Even in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the tentacled creature visualized so memorably in Disney’s 1954 film (from which we hear a clip) was not identified as a squid, but as an octopus (or octopi, as it’s an entire school of these that menace the Nautilus.) After a quick look at how the giant squid worked its way into Kraken lore and public consciousness, we sirvey a few more modern accounts mirroring the legendary attacks these beasts would make on ships, the latest from 1978, and a substantially more dramatic one from World War II. Features are some clips from a 1980 episode, “Monsters of the Deep,” from the television show Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. Crew of Alecton attempts to capture giant squid. (Illus: La vie et les mœurs des animaux, 1866) Facebook Twitter The post The Kraken and Other Marvels of the Northern Seas appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
53 minutes | 2 months ago
Bees: Gods, Death, and Honey
The mythology of bees has been tied for centuries to notions of the otherworld and death. In this episode we trace some of that folklore along with examining some highly peculiar uses of honey. Horror or sci-fi films referencing bees exploit the more mundane fears bee holds for mankind. Our survey of these includes clips from the dreadful 2006 The Wicker Man remake, Candyman (1992), The Deadly Bees (1967), The Swarm (1978), and Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973). Also included are some snippets of “Not the Bees” remixes by Koolfox, CyberPunkStefan, and KCACopyright. The Deadly Bees (1967) Continuing on (in a sense) from our Medusa episode, there follows a good deal of Greek mythology, thanks to the significant role these creatures played in that culture’s imagination, beginning with the bee-nymphs or honey-nymphs who served as nurses to the infant Zeus. There are a number of triads of female bee creatures in ancient Greek literature, which may or may not be the same. Along with Zeus’ nurses, these include the Thriae, who serve as oracles, and creatures simply dubbed “The Bee Maidens” described in a Homeric “Hymn to Hermes” (who also serve as seers.) Priestesses of Artemis and Demeter were also dubbed”bee,” and some have proposed a connection between the Delphic oracle and bees or honey, as is discussed. Possible representation of the Thriai, Rhodes, 7th century BC.d A brief musical interlude follows this: “The Bee Song” by British comedian Arthur Askey. Our next topic seems to be most prominent in ancient Greek thought but was found elsewhere and persisted into the Middle Ages, namely, the belief that bees were spontaneously generated from the carcasses of oxen. This superstition, known as “bugonia” (from the Greek words for “ox” and “spawn”) is discussed in passages we hear from Virgil’s volume on agricultural lore, Georgica, and from a similar 10th century book of Byzantine creation, Geoponika. We also hear an example from the Old Testament and learn a a related and unseemly lesson about a honey-like product found in many British households. And there’s a poem by Kipling, “The Flies and the Bees” from which Mrs. Karswell reads a relevant excerpt. Human corpses (if they happen to be a priestess of Demeter) can also generate bees, according to a passage from Virgil’s Aeneid, which we hear. And there is a story of a skull filled with honeycomb from Herodotus’ Persian Wars, one somehow similar to a report from an 1832 edition of the Belfast News Letter, which is gratuitously included merely for the grotesque image it presents. Next we look at the ancient practice of preserving human bodies in honey. The case of Alexander the Great is described along with a number of examples from Sparta (including a honey-preserved head, which advised King Cleomenes I. And there’s a particularly repulsive story of Mariamne, the wife of King Herod, who was thus preserved. We then examine more wholesome stories of bees — their exemplary reputation for cooperation and industry, which served many writers as a model for human society. Also wholesome are a few inlcuded Christian legends involving bees. We hear of 5th century French prelate St. Medard, whose bees punished the thief attempting to steal a hive from the saint’s apiary, and of the 6th-century Irish saint St. Gobnait, who commanded an army of bees against hostile forces threatening her community. Also included are some pious legends of architecturally ingenious bees related in Charles Butler’s The Feminine Monarchie from 1632. The Feminine Monarchie by Charles Butler Next, the “telling of the bees” is discussed, that is, a custom whereby those who kept hives would announce the death of a family members to their bees so they might participate symbolically in the mourning process. Also included are a number of newspaper stories of bees that seemed more than eager to participate in funerals. We wrap up with a look at “mad honey,” a psychoactive type of honey, the effects of which are produced by a compounds called grayanotoxin found in certain plants (the rhododendron, azalea and oleander) from which bees have gathered nectar. Caveat emptor! Facebook Twitter The post Bees: Gods, Death, and Honey appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
49 minutes | 2 months ago
Medusa and the Gorgons
Medusa was one of the Gorgons, creatures originally considered quite monstrous, who over the centuries came to be humanized and even regarded as beauties transformed into snake-haired villains. In this episode, we’ll dig back to the most ancient sources to examine the bare bones of the myth. We begin with a nod or two to the pop-culture Medusa. Oddly, one of the first big-screen appearances of a Gorgon did not represent Medusa herself but a sister, whose spirit takes bodily form to terrorize a 19th-century German town. It’s a 1964 Hammer Film featuring both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing called, The Gorgon, a rare deviation from the studio’s habit of remaking Universal horror films. We hear a bit from the film’s trailer. However, the film that did the most to fix the character of Medusa in the minds of audiences seems to be 1981’s The Clash of the Titans. It follows (quite loosely) the adventures of Perseus as he battles, among other things, Medusa, and a sea monster, Kitos in the Greek stories, but oddly given the Scandinavian name “Kraken” for the film. Clash of the Titans is best remembered as the swan song of stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen, a nostalgic advantage that was hard to compete with when its ill-fated 2010 sequel was produced. We discuss some variances with the classical mythology and between adaptations and hear bits from the 1981 and 2010 trailers as well as a snippet of Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010),which offered a modern incarnation of the figure of Medusa for kids. Bronze Gorgon Gorgon coin, Greece, 500-450 BC Next we have a look at the classical mythology of the Gorgons, creatures most famous for their hair of snakes and ability to turn men to stone with their gaze. Their appearance, we learn, was generally described in earliest texts as quite grotesque, characterized by fearsome mouths, tusks, and wings. In art, they were typically represented by disembodied heads, explicitly heads recently severed by the hero Perseus. Medusa, as many listeners will already know, belongs to the group of creatures called Gorgons, denoting a very very limited set of beings, only three, all sisters. We hear a bit about their individual traits, parentage, and home in some far-off (variously defined) land, where their habitat is usually a cave. Before examining the story of Perseus vs. Medusa, we look at an aspect to the Gorgon’s story that wasn’t part of the original narrative, but appeared toward the 1st century, an element which became particularly important in how Medusa is embraced in more recent culture, namely an explanation for her snakey hair involving a curse laid upon her by Athena. Next we get some background on Perseus, the strange way in which he was fathered by Zeus and a mortal woman, and the circumstances that brought him to an island where King Polydektes sends him on his quest to obtain the Gorgon’s head (note to self: avoid boastful talk). To prepare himself for this encounter, Perseus must seek out the Graeae, or “grey ones,” a triad of crone-like sisters who know the ways of the Gorgons as they share the same parents. Their distinguishing feature is the communal possession of only one eye which each uses in turn, something Perseus is able to turn to his advantage. In most or many versions of the myth, Perseus is then directed onward to obtain magical tools needed against the Gorgon from the Hesperides, nymphs of the sunset. He receives a special curved sword or sickle, a bag in which the head is to be carried, winged sandals from Hermes, and a helmet of invisibility from Hades. Sometimes he also receives a polished shield allowing him to view the Gorgon indirectly as a reflection and thereby avoid her deadly gaze. The decapitation of Medusa in the classical story is a bit uneventful as Perseus finds the Gorgon asleep and easy prey when he arrives at their cave, but on the way back to present the head to King Polydektes, he does make time to battle a sea monster, Kitos (the cinematic “Kraken”) Mrs. Karswell reads for us a dramatic telling of this tale by Ovid. After decapitating Medusa, Perseus makes good use of the head, which handily retains its petrifying powers. A few accounts of encounters involving this weapon are also shared with listeners. Stepping back from the myth itself, we have a look at the use of the Gorgon’s head as a symbol of power and intimidation in ancient Greek culture, something called the aegis when worn by mythological beings (Athena and Zeus primarily) and called a gorgoneion when employed by mortals as an apotropaic charm against evil. We wrap up the show with a look at two completely bizarre Filipino films from the ’70s featuring, if not Medusa herself, an actress outfitted much like her (dangerously so, it seems, as live snakes were used.) The first goes by a number of names, but most often, Devil Woman (1970), and the even stranger sequel is Bruka Queen of Evil (1973). As they are Filipino-Hong-Kong co-productions, they feature lots of martial arts scenes, as well as a witch with human head and snake body, an army of midgets, and battles with basement-budget walking trees and bat people. . Facebook Twitter The post Medusa and the Gorgons appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
44 minutes | 3 months ago
The Lover’s Head
The motif of lovers retaining the head of a decapitated partner is surprisingly widespread. In this — our romantic Valentine’s Day episode — we have a look at old ballads, literature, fairy tales, legends, and even a few historical anecdotes in which such things occur. We begin with the English murder ballad, “In Bruton Town,” also known as “The Bramble Briar,” “The Jealous Brothers,” or “The Constant Farmer’s Son.” It might seem a strange inclusion at first as there is actually no decapitated lover in the song, but it’s widely recognized by scholars as having derived from a 14th-century story identical in all other elements of the narrative. Though no heads are removed, there is a murder, namely that of a suitor courting the sister of two brothers who find his social status unacceptable (as well as the fact that he is slipping into their sister’s bedroom along the way). There is also a visitation by the ghost of the dead lover, in which he reveals the location of his corpse, with whom the woman lives for three days in the woods before being forced home by hunger — all of which may remind some listeners to the lover’s ghost in “Fair Margaret and Sweet William” discussed in our Undead Lovers episode. The segment begins with a snippet from a version of the song given a enthusiastically gothic treatment by The Transmutations. The a cappella version is by A.L. Lloyd. The probable source story for the ballad is from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, a tale told to entertain her fellow travelers by Filomena, one of the refugees fleeing plague-stricken Florence in the novel’s frame story. She describes the tragic romance of Lisabetta and Lorenzo. As in our ballad, Lorenzo is an unworthy suitor engaging in secret rendezvous with Lisabetta, whose brothers are similarly protective of her and their sister and family status. Lorenzo meets his end when invited by the brothers to join them on an excursion out beyond the city. He later appears in a dream to reveal the location of his corpse. Illustration for tale of Lisabetta of Messina from The Decameron by Maestro di Jean Mansel (1430-1450) As she grieves over her lover’s body, Lisabetta recognizes that she is physically unable to transport it back for burial, and so does the next best thing, removing the head with a handy razor. The rest of the story relates how the head is hidden in pot planted with basil, the discovery of which causes the brothers to flee from justice. Mrs. Karswell reads for us all the grisly details Boccaccio provides. Roughly three centuries later, we find a lover’s remains planted in a pot in Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone or “The Tale of Tales,” perhaps the earliest compilation of European fairy tales. The story, “The Myrtle,” presents a fairy who lives in a sprig of mirtle kept by a prince who nightly makes love to her as when she assumes a human form. When she is murdered by jealous rivals, the prince’s servant mops up her bloody remains and dumps them in the pot where they regenerate through the mirtle. The understandably annoyed fairy sees to it that her would-be assassins meet a fitting fate. We then take a quick look at other writers who picked up Boccaccio’s tale, including the 16th-century German playwright Hans Sachs and 19th-century English poet John Keats (“Isabella, or the Pot of Basil”). The derivation of the folk ballad may have come through an English version of Sach’s play, but there’s no documentation to prove this. Isabella and the Pot of Basil, William Holman Hunt, 1868. Another interesting iteration of the story comes from Denmark, from the pen of Hans Christian Andersen — from his 1872 story “The Rose-Elf,” or “The Elf of the Rose.” This one tells much the same tale, but presents it through the eyes of an invisibly small elf who occupies a rose, and later a leaf in the tree under which the murderer buries the lover’s body. While the elf may have been inserted in an effort to position the tale as one for children, the story is grim even by Andersen standards. We then examine a couple historical cases of loved one’s heads kept as postmortem mementos, among these, the head of Sir Walter Raleigh kept after his beheading by his wife Elizabeth Throckmorton and that of Thomas More kept not by his wife but his daughter, Margaret Roper. Next up, a few tales of the preserved heads of lovers serving as objects of terror and disgust rather than romantic attachment. The first is that of Arthur and Gorlagon, one probably composed in 14th-century Wales. It’s a truly weird narrative, so much so that some scholars have suggested it was composed as a joke or parody. Without giving too much away, the story (which we hear at length) is perhaps best described an Arthurian Shaggy Dog story, a werewolf story actually, one that meanders in the classic shaggy-dog mode and likewise can’t be expected to deliver the anticipated payoff, though it does provide us the preserved head of a deceased lover. A similar tale with an embalmed head employed as an ever-present, shaming reminder of a wife’s infidelity is found in The Palace of Pleasure a collection of stories by John Painter published in several volumes first appearing in 1566. This one features a pleasingly gothic scene of a black-clad woman with shaven head employing some rather gruesome tableware. We wrap up with the tale of Willem Mons, an unfortunate lover of Catherine the Great who lost his head (though Catherine hung on to it) and the 2016 story of Davie Dauzat of Bellmont, Texas, who decided the family freezer would be a good place to retain the head of the wife he decapitated. The closing song snippet is by Arrogant Worms. Facebook Twitter The post The Lover’s Head appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
59 minutes | 4 months ago
The macabre feelings stirred by waxwork figures go far beyond their use in horror films, back to the Terror of the French Revolution, and beyond to their use as funeral effigies and in magic rites of popular Italian Catholicism and Roman-Etruscan witchcraft. We begin with a brief look at wax museums in horror cinema (going back to 1907). The most famous example, 1953’s House of Wax, not only created Vincent Price as a horror actor, but pioneered the use of 3D. It happened to be a remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, coincidentally another technological pioneer thanks to the film’s use of Technicolor’s early 2-color process. Offering a few more comments on horror films in this genre, we note some common themes: wax figures created over human remains, waxworks as uncanny, liminal presences, neither living nor dead (though being alive enough to kill you), and madness or death awaiting one who accepts the challenge to overnight in a wax museum. All of these have historic roots reaching far beyond their cinematic iterations. A final commonality is the presence of waxworks murderers and representations of historic villains and villainy, with a particular emphasis on the French Revolution. Naturally, this brings us to a central figure in our story, Madame (Marie) Tussaud, whose name has become synonymous with waxworks. Her story begins, however, not in France, but in Switzerland, where as a child she began assisting the wax modeler Philippe Curtius, whom her mother served as housekeeper. Her move to France came when the Prince of Conti invited Curtius, his assistant and domestic to join an artistic circle he sponsored in Paris. Through the Prince’s connections, Curtius and Tussaud entered elite circles, including the court at Versailles, this thanks to Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Elizabeth, who sought out Tussaud as a mentor to help her create religious figurines in wax. When the Revolution broke out, Tussaud and Curtius were called upon to demonstrate anti-royalist sympathies by documenting the Revolution’s victories. This meant crafting likenesses of heads that tumbled from the guillotine, to be carried on pikes or displayed on trophies. This could be particularly gruesome work given the empathy Tussaud had developed with contacts at the court, as we hear in a grim passage from Tussaud’s Memoirs, read by Mrs. Karswell. When Revolutionaries don’t have real heads, wax will do. In 1804, when Tussaud accepted an invitation to display waxworks in London (and was later prevented from returning to France by the Napoleonic Wars), she brought with her Curtius’ concept of a discrete room dedicated to the infamous. His “Den of Thieves” became the “Chamber of Horrors” central to Tussaud’s fame in London and later the world. The Victorian’s fascination with murder and executions discussed in our “Gallows” and “Gibbet” episodes was enthusiastically exploited by Tussaud, and we hear some amusing details and contemporary criticism of all this from the magazine Punch. Tussaud was by no means to the first to display waxworks or even waxwork horrors in England. We have a look at some earlier innovators, including a “Mrs. Salmon” whose work illustrating some rather bizarre legends was shown on Fleet Street, a popular 18th/19th-century location for waxworks exhibitors once they had graduated from installing traveling displays at Fairs. Charles Dickens gives us a taste of the life of traveling waxworks exhibitors in his 1840 novel The Old Curiosity Shop, which features and impresario named Mrs. Jarel clearly inspired by Tussaud. We hear a passage from that and several more from an obscure 1896 non-fiction work containing a trove of information on the waxwork business in 19th-century England: Joe Smith and his Waxworks. In particular, we hear more about the public’s hunger for murderers and how that is best accommodated. Mrs. Jarel schooling her waxworks apprentice in The Old Curiosity Shop Our association of waxworks with the macabre also would seem to have to do with their historical use as funeral effigies. We have a look at the practice (dating to 1377) of crafting wax and wood stand-ins for England’s royal funerals and how their post-funeral display in the crypts of Westminster Cathedral by the 1800s had evolved into what might be considered England’s oldest wax museum. Along the way, we hear a strange anecdote of these wax monarchs showing up in the Piccadilly tube station and of similar effigies in France being treated like living humans in quite surprising ways. Another forerunner of the wax museum can be found in Italian Catholicism, in particular, with the creation of votive offerings left at shrines to represent prayers that have been answered. A common form of these, representing relief from medical afflictions, are small wax models of the afflicted body part miraculously healed. But wax arms, hearts, feet, and hands are only the beginning. Full figures — wood and paper mâché bodies with wax heads and hands, and dressed in the wardrobe of the person commissioning the figure — once populated certain churches. We discuss a few examples of this including the Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation (the Annunziata) in Florence and The Shrine of Our Lady of Grace (Le Grazie) near the town of Mantua in Lombardy. The first no longer exhibits these figures but was described by a 16th century Dutch visitor as resembling “a field of cadavers.” The second also features the taxidermied remains of a crocodile suspended over the sanctuary. Votive in Le Grazie: spared from execution! . Scholars, including the art historian Aby Warburg, have commented on the similarity between these votive wax figures an figurines used in sympathetic magic. Illustrative of this: in Florence, when political tides changed, the removal of a disfavored person from the Annunziata would be referred to as a “killing.” Connections with Etruscan magic, the source of magical practice and witchcraft belief in ancient Rome is also discussed in this context. As are the Romans’ use of wax funeral masks representing the ancestors and a wax effigy created for the funeral for Julius Caesar, one which was partially mechanized and sported realistic wounds from his assassination. Perfect for a Chamber of Horrors! We wrap up the show with a bit of later history on Madame Tussauds, a talking parrot, and a strange birthday party celebrated in 1969 by Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. Facebook Twitter The post Waxworks appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
30 minutes | 5 months ago
A Christmas Ghost Story
Four our third year, we embrace the old tradition of seasonal ghost-storytelling. This year Mrs. Karswell reads for us a tale written by Edmund Gill Swain, from his 1912 collection Stoneground Ghost Tales (“Stoneground” here being the name of a particularly haunted but fictional English village.) Swain was a Cambridge colleague of M.R. James, the master of the modern ghost story and proponent of Christmas as a time for telling ghostly tales. We heard a story of his in our 2018 Christmas episode, and a supernatural story written by Dickens’ (not the one you’re thinking) in our 2019 show, should you want to check those out too. Facebook Twitter The post A Christmas Ghost Story appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
45 minutes | 5 months ago
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 for Belloc’s “Cautionary Tales” Facebook Twitter The post Terrible Tales for Terrible Tots appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
48 minutes | 5 months ago
The Hellish Harlequin: Phantom Hordes to Father Christmas
Harlequin is an enigmatic figure with roots in dark folklore of France, specifically that of the Wild Hunt (Chasse Sauvage) a nocturnal procession of ghosts or devils, particularly associated with the time around Christmas and New Year. The myth is also common to England and examined more closely in its Germanic manifestation in Episode 16, “The Haunted Season.” We open with a snippet from an album dedicated to Hellequin’s folkore by a Belgian band called Maisnée d’Hellequin. In the show, we trace a thread leading from medieval stories of Hellequin (Harleqin’s ancestor in France) and King Herla (the English equivalent) to the more recent theatrical figure of Harlequin, along the way examining a link with the traditional English Christmas play (mummers’ play) and its role in the evolution of the figure of Father Christmas. A darker Harlequin from the 1601 book, Compositions de rhétorique de Mr. Don Arlequin Our first story comes from the French-Norman monk Oderic Vitalis, from volume two of his Ecclesiastical History. It was written in about 1140, making it not only the first account mentioning Hellequin (“Herlequin” in his text) but also the first European ghost story, one Vitalis relates as a true event transpiring on New Year’s Eve 1091, and told to him by an eyewitness, a priest, by the name of Vauquilin (Walkelin). While returning from a visit to an ailing member of his parish, Vauquilin, hears the thunder of what sounds like an approaching army and is met by a giant with a club, whom he recognizes as Hellequin and who in this case serves as a sort of herald of the ghostly crew that follows. It’s a richly detailed and extravagantly ghoulish tale, splendidly read by our own Mrs. Karswell. Without giving away too much, suffice it to say, that the spirits Vauquilin sees passing are enduring a sort of purgatorial torment for past sins, an apparently temporary but unenviable state of earthbound damnation. (For more on medival tales of ghosts visiting mortals from purgatory, see our “Ghosts from Purgatory” episode.) In the procession, these sinners are accompanied by devils who torture them, chief among these, apparently Hellequin. Our next story, from around 1190 paints a more detailed picture of the English version of Hellequin, King Herla. It was written in Wales by the courtier Walter Map and contained in his eccentric collection of myths and pseudo-historical anecdotes called De Nugis Curialium, or “trifles for the court.” This one’s more of an origin story explaining King Herla’s transition from mortal king to ghostly rider. I won’t give away the details on this one either, but it involves a dwarf king’s wedding party inside a mountain, parting gifts, and bad gift etiquette. A darker Harlequin from the 1601 book, Compositions de rhétorique de Mr. Don Arlequin Our third story comes from 14th-century France and is a bit different as it doesn’t describe what are supposed to be supernatural events but a representation of this, a fictional procession imitating Hellequin’s ride. The procession in this text takes the form of a charivari, a sort of parade with participants noisily banging pots and pans or playing discordant music on various instruments. Charivaris were most commonly occasioned by weddings, in particular those which defied some social convention, such as the rushed wedding of a widow or widower who not honoring a suitable period of mourning. In our story, the wedding is that of a figure named Fauvel, who is marrying the allegorical figure of Vainglory. Fauvel, by the way, is a horse representing all the worst traits of social climbers of the day. The satiric Romance of Fauvel (“Romance” = “novel”) was written in 1316 by a Gervais du Bus, then much enlarged in 1316 with additions, including our charivari scene, by another writer by the name of de Pesstain. The text describes a particularly carnivalesque scene including a bizarre, wheeled noise-making machine, and all sorts of taboo-breaking behavior by the participants. The connection between the Wild Hunt and carnival is also noted in an 18th-century German carnival procession we hear described, one mimicking in this case Frau Holde and her retinue. The Fauvel passage ends with the narrator encountering a giant recognized as Hellequin, who is bringing up the rear — leading from behind in this case. Charivari illustration from The Romance of Fauvel. We then have a look at the theatrical, Harlequin who originated in the 16th century as a stock figure from the Italian commedia della’arte, where he’s known as Arlecchino. He wears a black half-mask along with a suit sewn with multicolored diamonds. And he always carries a sort of short club, an element that seems to be borrowed from the diabolical Hellequin. Though he’s most well known as an Italian figure, Arlecchino seems to have his source, as a theatrical entity, in a devil of this name from medieval French mystery plays. We also look at some supernatural Hellquins in secular plays including a 13th-century work by the Norman poet Bourdet and the satiric work, Le Jeu de la feuillée by Adam de la Halle. We then follow the theatrical Harlequin to England where in the 18th century, the commedia plays morphed into were called “harliquinades,” frothy comedies, which eventually evolved into the British tradition of Christmas pantos/pantomimes. We also examine a little remarked upon influence of the commedia and harliquinades on England’s seasonal mummer’s plays, particularly the traditional Christmas Play. An echo of Arlecchino’s trademark slapstick, or club, along with a mumming character called “Father Beelzebub” helps us connect the character of Father Christmas found in these plays with the devilish old Hellequin/Herla of French and Anglo-Norman folklore. Father Christmas (on left) from Sandys Christmastide, its History, Festivities and Carols (1852) Facebook Twitter The post The Hellish Harlequin: Phantom Hordes to Father Christmas appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
48 minutes | 6 months ago
Witchcraft in Southern Italy
In southern Italy, belief in witchcraft has a long history, much of it centering on the town of Benevento, about 30 miles east of Naples. From a 1428 testimony by accused witch Matteuccia da Todi, we have the first mention (anywhere in Europe) of witches flying to their sabbats — their gathering spot, in this case, being Benevento. Matteuccia was also the first to speak of flying ointment as a means to achieve this. We include a musical setting by the southern Italian band Janara of the incantation that was spoken while applying the ointment. Sermons of the Franciscan monk Bernardino of Siena seems to have introduced the idea of Benevento as a mecca for witches, mentioning a certain tree as the center of these gatherings, one later identified as a walnut. “Walnut of Benevento” by Raffaele Mainella, 1890? Though no tradition around a specific location for this tree has survived in Benevento, the legend has been wholeheartedly embraced by the local distillers of Strega (witch) liqueur, created in 1833 and now distributed worldwide. This seems to have been part of a 19th-century revival of interest in the legend, which saw the composition of a popular poem, “The Walnut Tree of Benevento,” which added a serpent living in the tree’s branches, and probably inspired Niccolo Paganini to compose his signature piece, Le Streghe, (The Witches) from which we hear a snippet. (Yes, that’s a real clip about Strege liqueur and elections from the film Kitty Foyle). What really locked down the local mythology was an essay written in 1634 by Benevento’s chielf physician, Pietro Piperno, one titled “On the Magical Walnut Tree of Benevento.” This is the first mention of the species of tree in question. Piperno also places the walnut at the center of a curious rite conducted by the Lombards occupying the region in the 10th century, a rite he sees as a model for the Benevento witch tales of his own day. Mrs. Karswell also reads for us a retelling from Piperno’s text of a hunchback who stumbles upon a sabbat, only to have the hump on his back magically removed. The discovery of a the ruins of a temple to Isis in Benevento in 1903 led to further speculation as to possible origins of the region’s witchcraft myths, but it was the Roman goddess Diana most strongly associated with southern Italy’s witches, in part because the name used there for a type of witch is janara, believed to come from the Latin dianara, a servant of Diana. We hear snippet form a 2015 Italian horror film called Janara (retitled in English “The Witch Behind the Door”), a bit about folk practices taken against these night-hag-esque beings, and of their activities at sabbats, which apparently includes dancing La Volta. Then we hear a tale of “the fishwife of Palermo,” as she’s identified in 1588 trial records of the Sicilian Inquisition. It illustrates an aspect of Italian witch mythology that seems to have absorbed elements of fairy lore, including details such as a beautiful king and queen presiding over nocturnal gatherings. From Naples we hear the sad tale of the “Witch of Port’Alba,” who was sentenced to a peculiar fate for casting spells on her wedding day, a story involving leaping, bell-wearing witches on the slopes of Mr. Faito on Naple’s southern outskirts, and a story of a witch calming lost souls said to be screaming from the depths of Vesuvius. Still from “Magia Lucan” by Di Gianni” We then move beyond the witch of folklore and Inquisitions to the notion of the witch as folk-healer, something very much alive and well, as represented in the short documentaries on Souther Italian magic made in the 1950s-70s by Luigi Di Gianni in conjunction with anthropologist Ernesto de Martino, who was mentioned in our discussion of tarantella possession in our Pied Piper episode. An example of these films would be L’Attaccatura (dialect for fattucchiera, the standard Italian for folk-healer, or literally “fixer.” A whole playlist of the films can be found here, though unless you speak Italian (and local dialects), you’ll have to settle for YouTube’s auto-translate function. Of great interest to those consulting folk-healers is protection from the evil eye or malocchio. The concept of fascinatura or “binding” is central to the evil eye’s workings, one which happens to be the English title of a 2020 Italian folk-horror film sampled in the discussion. The driving force of envy said to be behind the evil eye is well illustrated in the spurned lover a the center of the 1963 film Il Demonio, from which we hear excerpts. (In the show, I mistakenly called the film “Demonia” (feminine form), missing the point somewhat as the actual “demonic” forces portrayed might not be those belonging to the rejected female lover and town outcast/witch, but those of the male villagers around her.) Still from “Il Demonio” A number of magical charms and gestures prescribed against the evil eye are examined, as are the pazzarielli of Naples, flamboyantly costumed characters who deliver street blessings against the malocchio. Their characteristic cry, “Sciò sciò ciucciuè” (sort of “shoo, bad luck”) is take up as a 1953 song by Nino Taranto, which we hear (along with a Calabrian song about the possessor of the evil eye, the jetattore) “Sciò Sciò” Neapolitan luck-bringer figure Our show concludes with look at the strange tale illustrating the dangers of taking the advice of fattucchiera in the wrong way. It’s that of Leonarda Cianciulli, Italy’s answer to Sweeney Tod. We also hear a bit about the 1977 Italian cult comedy, Gran Bolitto (English title: Black Journal), which combines Cianciulli’s grisly tale with elements of drag and musical theater. Facebook Twitter The post Witchcraft in Southern Italy appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
13 minutes | 6 months ago
Halloween Bonus Episode
As a short holiday bonus, we’re offering this special episode examining some obscure aspects of Halloween as manifested in our lives today. Forgotten traditions associated with the holiday arise in surprising forms many of us may not initially recognize. Simple occurrences perceived as nothing more than an everyday nuisance come into focus during our holidays – if we are attentive – as something making sense only in the light of old folkways, superstitions, and beliefs. Many of us have had these experiences without considering such context and associated old calendrical celebrations. Halloween, in particular, has drifted far from its original cultural significance, but in recognizing patterns of repetition within history, we may recognize a surprising confluence with the old holidays known to our ancestors and thereby allow ourselves to experience the same, albeit in a modern idiom. Extreme care, however, must be exercised, in such pursuits, which can bring with them bitter lessons in the fragility of our existence. Facebook Twitter The post Halloween Bonus Episode appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
54 minutes | 7 months ago
Midnight Spook Shows featured stage illusions borrowing from techniques used in fraudulent seances alongside vaudeville-style comedy and burlesque. Performances were staged in movie theaters, paired with a film screening, usually but not exclusively from the horror genre. The tradition began in the mid to late 1930s and ran into the early ’70s, reaching its heyday in the ’50s. After World War II, shows began catering to younger audiences and emphasizing movie monsters, horror and gore. In this episode we examine the history of the genre and a few of its colorful artists, sometimes called “ghostmasters.” Two leading lights in the field were (Dr.) Bill Neff, and Dr. Silkini (actually a pair of brothers Jack and Wyman Baker). Other practitioners we look at include Raymond Corbin (Ray-Mond), George Marquis, Phillip Morris (Dr. Evil), Kara-Kum, and the various shows presented by Joe Karston. Bela Lugosi dabbled in the field and is discussed. This episode picks up the thread from last October’s show about unruly American Halloween celebrations, those of the teens and twenties. While the 1930s offered relatively sedate Spook Shows, by their 1950s heyday, as box-office lines wrapped the block and theater balconies sagged under the weight of screaming teenagers, the Spook Shows shared something of that unruly, possibly even dangerous, spirit of old Halloween. Facebook Twitter The post Spook Shows appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
46 minutes | 7 months ago
The Gibbet, Hanged in Chains
Illustration from 1832 broadsheet “Execution of James Cook, and Hung in Chains at Le’ster for the Horrid Murder of Mr. Paas.” The gibbet was a hanging iron cage used to display the corpses of criminals in 18th and early 19th-century England. To be thus “hanged in chains,” in the judicial jargon and thinking of the day, subjected the criminal to an extra measure of postmortem shaming and offered the general public a rather extravagant cautionary example. Naturally, this frightful spectacle also generated a fair measure of folklore, which we explore in this episode as a follow-up to our “Gallows Lore” show. The gibbet was a relatively rare punishment reserved for the crime of murder, and only then used in particularly heinous or high-profile cases. Though it was sometimes employed before 1751, its use was more widespread thanks to The Murder Act instituted that year. This bit of legislation offered this extra punitive measure in response to a sort of inflation of the penal code attaching the death penalty to increasingly minor crimes, such as acts of theft. The Murder Act also designated anatomical dissection of the criminal body as an additional option for postmortem punishment, a fate actually much more common than the gibbet. Dissection may have been intended primarily to enhance physicians’ medical knowledge, but it also provided the surgeons with body parts and substances that could be sold off for other purposes. We make a grisly digression from gibbets to explore some of the ways the human byproducts of executions were made use of in folk-medicine, magic, and certain professions. William Hogarth’s “The Anatomy Lesson (The Reward of Cruelty)” 1751, satirizes a criminal dissection. Next, we get into the details of the gibbetting process. Contrary to common understanding, the gibbet was not simply designed as a sort of narrowed human-sized birdcage. It was an arrangement of customized form-fitting iron bands wrapping the limbs, trunk, and body, and connected with vertical cross-pieces. The cage was suspended in a way that allowed it to rock freely in the wind, lending a sort of eerie animation to the corpse and thereby increasing the terrifying impact of these displays. The horrific impression made by the gibbeted corpse is detailed in Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel The Man Who Laughs, in a scene describing an encounter with a gibbet by the story’s protagonist as a child. Mrs. Karswell reads for us a few lavishly macabre paragraphs from the novel. We follow this with another literary gibbet, one surprisingly found in a now-forgotten series of children’s books by Mary Martha Sherwood, The History of the Fairchild Family, published in three volumes between 1818 and 1847. Then we hear a typical ghost story told of the gibbet, a tale set down in ballad form as “Old Grindrod’s Ghost,” which first appears in the 1872 collection Ballads, Romantic, Fantastical, and Humorous by the historical novelist William Ainsworth. The excerpt of the song heard is from the North-English band Pendlecheek. Jame Cook’s gibbet (see first illus) at the Leicester Guildhall museum. While gibbettings drew huge crowd, the morbid fascination they popularly exerted lingered on in relics obtained from the gibbets as they fell to pieces over the years — in bits of bone, fragments of iron and wood that were carried off as mementoes. We examine cases of gibbet iron and wood recycled as novelty products, or even as structural elements in buildings, such as an old gibbet post serving as a ceiling beam in The Hare and Hound on the Isle of Wight. There are a few ghost stories, and gibbet rhymes and riddles along the way. Though the gibbet was relatively exclusive to England, the practice was inherited by its colonial states. From America, we hear of a very demanding pirate gibbetted on a small island in Boston Harbor, and from Canada, a unique case of a gibbetted woman, Marie-Josephte Corriveau, hanged in chains in Québec City for murdering her husband in 1733. Though her case was sensational enough for its time, her fame was greatly increased in 1851, when her gibbet was accidentally dug up and then acquired by P.T. Barnum for exhibition. In the wake of this, a body of folk tales sprung up, in which “La Corriveau” became a sort of witch or spirit — or beautiful femme fatal. We close with a nod to the predatory birds that famously tear at the bodies hanged in chains. From Germany, we offer a bit of folklore on magic eggs produced by ravens who have thus dined, and from Scotland we hear a bit of the ballad, “Twa Corbies,” (two ravens or crows), which tells of the birds feeding not on a convicted criminal, but a slain knight. Included is a snippet of an excellent rendition of the song by The Cories. La Corriveau by Henri Julien, illustration for “Les Anciens Canadiens” by Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, 1861. Facebook Twitter The post The Gibbet, Hanged in Chains appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
24 minutes | 8 months ago
Marvelous and Rare
We’re doing something different this time out. Bone and Sickle is taking off the rest of September to allow time for Mr. Ridenour’s research and Mrs. Karswell apiary maintenance. To fill the gap, we’re offering listeners a sample of the short bonus episodes all our $4-and-up Patreon subscribers hear every month. We hope you enjoy this substitution, and if you do, might even consider joining us on Patreon to hear more of the same. We’ll be back in October with a regular episode following upon on our “Gallows Lore” show, as well as a special Halloween offering. Till then… Facebook Twitter The post Marvelous and Rare appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
48 minutes | 8 months ago
We examine the lore of the gallows, focusing on the British Isles, encountering hangmen as figures straddling history and myth, strange histories and folk-tales, as well as superstitions and magical practice associated with the hanged man’s rope and body. We begin, of course, with a bit of gallows humor, provided in the sea shantey, “Hanging Johnny,” from a 2004 Smithsonian Folkways recording. Then it’s on to meet Jack Ketch, the 17th-century hangman who so fascinated the British public that he was memorialized in various turns of phrase, i.e, “to dance Jack Ketch’s jig” (the death spasms at the end of the rope). Emblematic of all who follow his trade, he was even adopted into the traditional Punch and Judy show. Punch with Jack Ketch, early 1900s. Much of his reputation is based on grim incidents reflecting poorly on his skill — not with the noose but with the sword with which he was less practiced. We hear of two particularly grisly incidents in this arena: the executions of William, Lord Russell, and the Duke of Monmouth. The Irish song “The Night Before Larry Was Stretched” opens a further discussion of the language of execution by hanging. “Stretched,” here is borrowed from the underworld dialect known as “criminal cant,” and of course means “hanged.” “Stretched at Tyburn” is another usage referring to the gallows of Tyburn, where the London’s hangings took place from the 12th century up to 1782. We hear a bit more about Tyburn’s strange configuration of scaffolding, (“The Tyburn Tree”) and of the “Execution Dock” on the Thames, reserved exclusively for pirates and smugglers. Taking a quick side-trip to the technological side of things, we learn that throughout the Tyburn era, death by hanging occurred not through the long drop and broken neck, but a short drop and a dreadfully slow process of strangulation. This less decisive process occasionally resulsted in certain convicts being revived, such as the case of “Half Hanged Smith” in 1705. Mrs. Karswell reads for us Smith’s unhappy remarks on being thus revived. The Tyburn Tree by Wayne Haag from the Hyde Park Barracks Mural Project, Sydney, Australia. Prisoners to be executed at Tyburn were housed in Newgate Prison on conveyed by cart to the gallows in riotous public processions. Carnivalesque details of these proceedings and the reason for moving executions to Newgate in 1782 are explored. (And we stop at some pubs en route!) One last topic before we move from history to folklore — the career of William Calcraft, another notorious London hangman serving from 1829 to 1874. We hear some unkind words on his professional conduct from Charles Dickens and about Calcraft’s relationship with Madame Tussaud’s. Our look at the folklore of the gallows begins with the magical properties assigned to segments of the hangman’s rope, something sought out for everything from luck at gambling to the cure of various physical afflictions. The touch of the hanged man’s hand (dead but still warm) was an even more widely sought cure for warts, cysts, and occasionally other ailments like epilepsy or paralyzed limbs or digits. In 1888, the English writer Thomas Hardy placed this superstition, or a version of it, at the center of one of his most popular short stories, “The Withered Arm,” from which we hear some passages. A good BBC adaptation can be found here, btw. The hand of a hanged convict needn’t be still warm and still attached to the wrist to offer magical protection. It can be severed and dried as is the case with the infamous hand of glory. This preserved hand of a hanged convict was widely used by thieves in Britain and Ireland as a charm that would incapacitate the occupants of a home they would burglarize — usually by a deep sleep, but some other mechanisms are also discussed. We hear some directions for creating and using the hand of glory from the 1706 French grimoire known as the Petit Albert. Hand of Glory from the Petit Albert Belief in the power of such charms seems to have arrived in the British Isles from the continent. Particularly in German-speaking regions, there are a number of variations on the theme featuring the hands of unborn children, and other iterations discussed. Two further hand of glory stories are recounted: one telling of a very strangely dressed visitor who might not be trusted from the 1883 volume About Yorkshire, and another from the delightfully comic 1837 collection of folk tales and ghost stories, The Ingolsby Legends by Richard Harris. As for the actual use of this charm in a non-literary context, we hear a newspaper account from 1831 involving some Irish burglars unsuccessfully employing the talisman, and of an actual specimen recovered from inside a wall in 1935 and now preserved in the museum of the north English town of Whitby. Hand of glory in the Whitby Museum The strange name for this talisman, btw, comes from the French word for mandrake “mandragora,” which was heard by Brits as “main de gloire” (“hand of glory”). But there are other parallels contributing to this confusion. As we noted in our “Bottled Spirits” episode in our discussion of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s novel Galgenmännlein, or “little Gallows man,” the mandrake plant was believe to be seeded by bodily emissions (almost always semen) ejected from the hanged man at death. We hear a bit more of the strange folklore of the mandrake, and then have a look at how this theme was explored in the 1911 novel Alraune (another German word for “mandrake”), a sort of early science-fiction story by Hanns Heinz Ewers describing the results of an experiment in which a prostitute is impregnated with the semen of a hanged man. The novel has been adopted several times in German cinema, including a 1952 version featuring Erich von Stroheim, which we hear in the background. We close with a cheery hanging ballad: “MacPherson’s Lament,” supposedly composed by Scottish outlaw Jamie MacPherson on the eve of his execution in 1700. Poster for Alraune, 1930 Facebook Twitter The post Gallows Lore appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
49 minutes | 9 months ago
The Frankenstein Method
The method Frankenstein employed to create life is left mostly a mystery in Mary Shelley’s 1818 book. How then did the notion of stolen body parts stitched together and animated by lightning become so firmly entrenched in popular imagination? Our episode begins with a clip from Universal’s pattern-setting 1931 production, Frankenstein, in which Henry Frankenstein rhapsodizes about building the creature’s body from the dead. While the idea’s suggested in Shelley’s novel, the process doesn’t quite seem to match the cinematic treatment in which the creature’s fabricated from whole human body parts stitched together. We’ll hear some passages read by Mrs. Karswell, that seem to suggest Shelley’s Frankenstein fabricates his creature instead from component materials — tissues and whole systems built up slowly over bones obtained from the charnel house. The creature’s large stature in films, however, matches the literary prototype — for very practical reasons, as is explained. Frontispiece, Frankenstein, 1831 Next we have a look at how Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein’s desire to create life as influenced by his study of alchemical texts (by Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus,) Of particular interest here is the work of his Swiss countryman, Paracelsus, who in the 16th century set down directions for the creation of a homunculus, a tiny human-like being grown in a glass bottle. These comments, in a general way, seem to have influenced an odd inclusion in the script for 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, in which Frankenstein’s partner in monster-making, Dr. Pretorius, presents his own experiments in creating homunculi (as in the clip played). Pretorius and “Devil” homunculus, Bride of Frankenstein As further evidence that Bride’s screenwriters went digging in some rather obscure texts, the film’s portrayal of the miniature king escaping his bottle to pursue a homunculus-queen in an adjacent bottle appears to be directly lifted from a legend of an Austrian freemason Count Johann Ferdinand von Kufstein, creating homunculi in 1755 — a legend appearing only as a footnote in an 1896 biography of Paracelsus by the Theosophist Franz Hartmann. While none of this appears in Shelley’s novel, some scholars have attempted to locate the inspiration for her novel in the work of another alchemist: Johann Conrad Dippel, in particular because the location of his birth in 1673 is listed as Burg Frankenstein, Castle Frankenstein on a hill near the city of Darmstadt Germany. We look at evidence for parallels in Shelley’s story and von Dippel’s career, and though the linkage appears to be fairly speculative, we end up with some good stories involving the misuse of bone oil, and a corpse dyed blue. We next examine references to Victor Frankenstein’s interest in lightning and galvinism (early notions of electricity), and how this supplants his earlier interest in alchemy. The connection between galvinism, 18th-century researcher Luigi Galvani, and frog legs is explained, as is Mary’s husband Percy Shelley’s hands-on dabbling in this field. While both Percy and Mary had an interest in this evolving field, their understanding of these matters could often be of a more poetic than scientific. In Mary’s introduction to the 1831 reissue of her novel, she references galvinism as a possible source of the creature’s animation, though the idea here is inspired by her highly idiosyncratic understanding of an experiment conducted by Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles). A reference to what seems to be living pasta is also muddled into all this. Next we hear a a bit about Luigi Galvini’s nephew Giovanni Aldini, and his use of electricity to produce convulsions in the carcasses of oxen as well as a notorious 1803 experiment with the body of a recently executed convict from London’s Newgate Prison. We don’t know if Shelley was aware of these experiments, but it’s certainly possble. Even more ambitious than Aldini’s experiment was one conducted by the Scottish physician Andrew Ure in Glasgow in 1818. Ure also worked with the body of an executed convict but with stated intention of actually reviving the deceased using electricity. The date on this one (the same year as Shelley’s composition of the novel) makes it highly unlikely to have influenced her composition, but the grisly details seem nonetheless worth relating. Ure’s experiment, illustr. “Les merveilles de la science” 1867 Another suggested source of inspiration for Frankenstein is the researcher Andrew Crosse, known to locals living near his isolated mansion in Somerset’s Quantock Hills as “The Thunder and Lightning Man.” Crosse converted his home into a lab for the study of electrostatic energy produced in the atmosphere, channeling this into an immense array of homemade batteries, and releasing thunderous charges mistaken by neighbors for lightning of his own creation. While the case for any of these serving as direct inspiration to Shelley is rather tentative, it’s actually the more familiar figure of Benjamin Franklin whom the author mentions in her novel. In a passage removed from the 1831 publication, Franklin’s kite experiment is referenced, making him the only contemporary electrical researcher mentioned in the text. An article about Franklin is also a likely source for the reference to Prometheus in the novel’s subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. The Frankenstein of Universal films and beyond has its roots in theater. For many years Shelley’s novel was actually better known from theatrical adaptations, which began appearing not long after the book’s publication. The first was 1823’s, Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, which Shelley herself attended with a mix of irritation and delight. It’s in this play that the character of the laboratory assistant first appears, here as “Fritz” (as in the 1931 film) and later acquiring the name “Igor.” Only three years later, The Man and the Monster; or, the Fate of Frankenstein appeared giving audiences the first direct representation of the monster’s animation. T.P. Cook as creature in “Presumption” There is still no electricity involved in all of this by the time the first cinematic adaptation appears in 1910 — Edison Studio’s 13-minute production called simply Frankenstein. Here we see Victor Frankenstein brewing up his creation in a vat, pouring in flashing chemicals. The 1927 play Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre by Peggy Webling, served as the basis for Universal’s 1931 film, but even here, there is no electricity animating the creature, a feat accomplished instead by Frankenstein administering the alchemist’s “Elixir of Life.” In 1931, this play was itself reworked into another theatrical adaptation by writers of the studio’s Dracula, John Balderston and Garrett Fort. It’s only here that electrical apparatus is employed, an aspect director James Whale whole-heartedly embraced based on his fondness for the mad scientist’s lab in the 1927 film Metropolis. We finish this novel-to-film progression with a quick look at elements of Shelley’s novel brought to the fore in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein and the creator of the props that populated the film’s laboratory, Kenneth Strickfaden. Then there’s a few bizarre footnotes on Ben Franklin from recent history. Very strange indeed! Facebook Twitter The post The Frankenstein Method appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
45 minutes | 9 months ago
Bottled Spirits: Imps, Devils, Ghosts
Western tales of bottled spirits, imps, devils, and even ghosts are largely borrowed from the Islamic and Jewish legends of jinn captured by King Solomon. In this episode, we explore how this is expressed in folk tales, demonological treatises, and literary borrowings. We begin with a nod to the Assyrian god Pazuzu (and a clip from Exorcist II, The Heretic.) Here, aconnection between feared Assyrian spirits such as the jinn is mentioned. Pazuzu’s identity as a spirit of ill winds, brings us to a wind-related track from the original Exorcist soundtrack (from 1972’s oddball album Songs from a Hill.) It’s a recording of a wind harp, or Aeolian harp. And this brings us to the Greek god of winds, Aeolus. Pazuzu figurine in Louvre. Aeolus features in the Odyssey in an episode that anticipates our bottled spirit motif. He presents Odysseus a bag of wind to speed him on his journey. The wind spirits contained in this bag then brings us to a story about King Solomon trapping a wind demon in Arabia to aid him his construction of the Jerusalem Temple. We hear this particulsar tale from the medieval text, The Testament of Solomon read by Mrs. Karswell. We then look a bi from further medieval texts commenting on Solomon’s capture of demons in various vessels, and how thesee are later broken open by heedless conquerors of Jerusalem, releasing a Pandora-style plague of demons upon the world. Our motif entered the literary world via 17th-century Spain, in Luis Velez de Guevara’s satirical novel El Diable Cojuelo, “the lame devil.” We also hear a bit about a French adaptation, Alain-René Lesage’s 1707 novel, Le Diable Boiteux. Both of these feature the demon Asmodeus, and referenced Asmodeus’s identity as demon of lust, a notion taken up in various demonological treatises. Alain-René Lesage’ss 1707 as Le Diable Boiteux, The Lame Devil Next we look at folk tales, beginning in County Cork, Ireland, with the “Legend of Bottle Hill,” which takes its name from a curious (and curiously inhabited) bottle obtained by one Mick Purcell on this particular Irish hill. Both good and rather surprising bad luck follow. From Scotland, we hear the legend of the Wizard of Reay and of his efforts to evade Satan’s over-eager efforts to claim his soul, as well as his bottle-imp story, involving a cask in the Cave of Smoo, a reputedly haunted sea cave in Sutherland. The Wizard of Rea’s tactic for controlling the demon he finds in the cask is the same as we find in the folk tale, “The Wizards of Westman Islands,” from Iceland (in which we learn what role the sinister “Sending” plays in Icelandic folklore.) From The Brothers Grimm, we hear “The Spirit in the Glass Bottle,” involving another bottled imp discovered in the gnarled roots of an ancient tree, and of a similar tactic used to subdue his volatile nature. Jumping ahead a bit, we look at Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1891 short story, “The Bottle Imp,” which likewise adapts themes from the previous folk tales, while adding further complications and convolutions. The story has served as basis for several films, an opera, a standard magician’s trick, and more than one radio adaptation. (We hear a bit of one from a 1974 production by CBS Radio Mystery Theater.) Stevenson makes use of some elaborate caveats attached to his bottled spirit, conditions that will produce either good or very bad luck, involving among other things, the need to rid oneself of the infernal talisman before one’s death by selling it for less than one payed for it. This motif is also found in German Romantic writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s novel Galgenmännlein (“little gallows man”), a name taken from the German word for the mandrake plant, and here we dig a bit into the grim folklore of that plant. Fouqué’s story makes use of some nice, gothic elements in its resolution, a “Black Fountain,” ravening beast, and sinister black rider, among others. Switching gears a bit, we have a look at the topic of witch bottles. It’s a perhaps questionable how well these fit our theme, but we dig up some interesting source texts describing their original use, unseemly as it is. And we hear of some startling, tragic accidents involved in their historical use. Witch bottle from Padstow England, 1800s. We close our show with a look at near contemporary instances of those who claim to capture demons and ghosts in bottles. Apparently, bottled ghosts can be a big money maker. At least in New Zealand. Facebook Twitter The post Bottled Spirits: Imps, Devils, Ghosts appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
48 minutes | 10 months ago
They Arabic mythology of the jinn is, not surprisingly, quite different than what you might glean from Western pop culture. Films such as 1940’s The Thief of Baghdad and 1958 Ray Harryhausen classic, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, which we hear sampled in our opening might have you believe these creatures function as nothing more than wish-granting slaves, but their existence needn’t be entangled with human wants and needs. One Thousand and One Nights, or the collection sometimes titled Arabian Nights, is the original Western source when it comes to our topic of the genies or the jinn. This begins with the word “genie,” an English rendering of the original French translation of the Arabic word, “jinn” (which can be used as both plural and singular, btw.) These tales are told within a frame story related by Scheherazade, a woman providing a cliff-hanger night-by-night narrative intended to delay the plans of her newly wed husband, who intends to execute her after the wedding night. (We hear a bit of Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 symphonic suite Scheherazade along the way). After reviewing the evolution of these Arabian Nights stories from original oral forms (which were more often Persian, Indian, and Greek than Arab, actually), we have a look at some surprising misunderstandings about the story of Aladdin, which, like the stories of Sinbad, and Ali Baba, were not even part of the first collection of these tales assembled. Jinn are a separate race, created between men and the angels. They are not immortal, and live in an invisible society organized like our own with similar social orders, marriages, and offspring (though sometimes humans are taken as marriage partners also). They are not necessarily good or evil, choosing their own path, which may include following the Muslim faith, as the Qur’an speaks of the Prophet preaching to this race of being. They may also follow other faiths as Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian jinn are also sometimes mentioned. We spend some time looking at how their appearance has been described in literature, though no particularly definitive description emerges, as they are constant shapeshifters. They may appear simply as shadows or whirlwinds, but more often seem to take human form, albeit, often that of a human hybridized with various animals features (horns are common). Frequently, they may also simply take the form of animals, particularly dogs, and snakes. We hear some interesting anecdotes in this regard, illustrating the reverential treatment animals sometimes receive lest they reveal themselves to be dangerous jinn in disguise. Manuscript illustration of Persian jinn, source unknown. While their theoretical home is Mount Qaf-Kuh, the sort of Mt. Olympus of Islamic mythology, jinn obviously do not confine themselves to this location and can be found nearly anywhere man ventures. Some locations, such as abandoned homes, cemeteries, and ruins are obvious, but others such as certain mosques and marketplaces also are mentioned. More obvious than where you might encounter a jinn is when you might do so. Their nocturnal nature is widely agreed upon, and just as certain treatments of animals is ill-advised for risk of offending the jinn, we hear of a number of actions that should not be performed by night for similar reasons. Along the way, we learn how iron and salt may be used to repel the jinn, favorite foods of the jinn, how shooting stars relate to the jinn’s propensity to eavesdrop, and hear an interesting tale of a jinn-human marriage from Edvard Westermarck, a Finnish scholar who spent a great deal of time in Morocco. The jinn, we learn, may be sought out for their advice, thanks to their supernatural knowledge of things seen and unseen, and can be summoned for this purpose (or to achieve other ends) by skilled magicians. We even hear in the Qur’an of Mohammed invoking the jinn to perform a miracle on the modern site of the Mosque of the Jinn in Mecca. Jinn illustration as part of charm crafted by magician The different types of jinn are briefly discussed, though clear taxonomies for these (or other purely folkloric beings) is always hard to pin down. A commonly mentioned type is the ifrit, a particularly strong and cunning, and the marid, who is particularly immense. Other creatures — which may or may not be jinn — are the fiery samum, seductive female si’lat, and the notorious graveyard ghoul. Decidedly evil beings like these would belong to a subclass of jinn called the shayatin (singular shaitan) related to the West’s “Satan.” While Shaitan may be used to designate the Devil or the chief embodiment of evil in Islam, a closer match to Lucifer would be Iblis. According to most accounts Iblis is a jinn embraced by the angels as one of their own, but then cast from heaven to become the tempter of mankind and father of seven jinn kingdoms. In hearing a bit more about Iblis, we also have a look at how jinn fit into the Islamic creation myths: how they were created of fire, how they rebelled against God, were defeated and scattered to earth’s hidden corners. We also hear an amusing legend explaining why Iblis has one eye, and where one might go about finding a jinn egg for sale. Our next topic is King Solomon — more the King Solomon of Talmudic and Islamic legend, than the more traditional Old Testament figure. In a number of tales from the early Middle Ages, shared by both Jewish and Muslim cultures, Solomon’s legendary wisdom comes, in part, from his magical mastery over the jinn or demons. This power is provided him by a ring known as The Seal of Solomon. Using this ring, he also compels them to construct the First Temple in Jerusalem. A side story within this Temple legend regards a magic tool that is employed in this cutting of stones for the temple, the shamir, which oddly may either be a stone that can cut jewels and other stones, or… a fantastic stone-cutting worm. We also hear a couple legends of how one of the chief jinn obtained this ring from the king after the Temple was constructed, and the mischief and just rewards following. Jinn possession and exorcism (“eviction”) is also discussed, as are the activities of certain Sufi brotherhoods in Morocco. Through ecstatic dance and music, members of the Hamadsha and the Aisawa brotherhoods are said to manipulate the powers of the jinn for good, but are perhaps more notorious for their demonstrations of supernatural empowerment that once featured rites of self-mutilation and other shocking acts. Possession by the jinn is also subject a few noteworthy horror films that may interest listeners. A critics’ favorite is 2016’s Under the Shadow from Persian director Babak Anvari, a story examining supernatural encounters with the jinn within the historical setting of the Iranian revolution. Horror fans, however, may be more dazzled by the visual gymnastics of Turkish director Hasan Karacadag work. His horror films have been huge box office successes in Turkey and are marketed using the title of his breakout film, Dabbe, a reference to a figure wandering the earth in the Last Days — sometimes stylized as “D@bbe”. Dabbe 3, 5, and Dabbe 6 have recently been made available online with English subtitles and well worth checking out if you’re interested in Eastern Folk Horror. Facebook Twitter The post The Jinn appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
53 minutes | a year ago
Toads have long been associated with magic, as witches’ familiars and as a source both of poison as folk healing. We begin with a poison allegedly brewed from a toad by the “wise wife of Keith,” Agnes Sampson, one of the accused in Scotland’s North Berwick witch trials in 1591-2. The poison was to have been used against Scotland’s James VI before he ascended England’s throne as James I. At the center of the trial was the accusation that Sampson and others had raised a storm to sink the ship bearing James home from Oslo with his new wife Anne of Denmark. Macbeth and the Witches (Thomas Barker, 1830) Shakespeare seems to allude to elements from this trial in his play Macbeth, mentioning toads and frogs as elements of the concoctions brewed by his witches in Act IV and seemingly referencing the events in an aside uttered by a witch regarding sending a storm against an enemy’s ship. The Bard’s inclusion of “real” witchcraft in his play has long been said to be the reason for a “curse” upon productions of Macbeth. Included in our discussion is a particularly ugly (and lethal) 1848 incident in New York City attributed to this bit of lore. A witch’s servant, or familiar, in the form of a toad is also alluded to as an offstage character in Macbeth. Mrs. Karswell reads for us a number of accounts from 16th and early 17th century England presenting toad familiars sent to torment the enemies of witches. We also hear of a toad exploding in a fire, and toads sustained on the blood of their witch mistresses, as well as a sad story from Newmarket, England, involving William Harvey, physician to Charles I, and an bruitish attempt to subject an alleged toad familiar to scientific scrutiny. A woodcut illustration from a book published in 1579 of a witch feeding her ‘familiars’. Next we discuss the fear of toad’s venom in the Middle Ages, hearing some comments on the subject from 12th-century German mystic and theologian Hildegard von Bingen and a tale associated with the English boy-saint William of Norwich involving some prisoners and an unfortunate attempt at the use of toad poison. Toad’s venom, according to medieval folklore, could be neutralized by the toadstone, a particular mineral also assigned powers against stomach and kidney ailments. We hear of a peculiar method of obtaining this prized artifact and an obscure reference to the toadstone in the 1973 folk-horror classic The Wicker Man. Toadstone lesson from “The Wicker Man” (1973) We also hear a clip from The Wicker Man in which a toad or frog is used in folk medicine to cure a sore throat. Superstitions about toads and their magical efficacy against various ailments continued into the 19th century, resulting in the phenomena of traveling “toad doctors” and “toad fairs.” The use of toad bones in a midnight ritual performed by English “Toadmen” in order to gain mastery of horses to be trained is also discussed as is the discovery of miniature frog coffins, stashed in Finish churches, in a folk-magic practice similar to the British and American use of “witch bottles.” We return to the continent and the discussion of toads’ association with witches (and heretics) as conceived by the Church in terms of service to Satan. This topic brings us a letter written by Pope Gregory IX to bishops of the German Rhineland involving Satan as a french-kissing toad, as well as a ritual attributed to French and Italian members of the Waldesenian sect allegedly consuming a ritual beverage brewed from toad excrement. In Spain’s Basque province of Navarre, home to the “Cave of Witches” at Zugarramurdi, witchcraft trial testimonies demonstrate a particular emphasis on toads. We hear of them raised by novice witches in the fields, used to poison the land, and dancing at the witches’ sabbath. Toads are sometimes mentioned as an ingredient of the “flying ointment” believed to have induced a visionary experience transporting witches to hilltop revels. However, this effect is more likely attributed to other ingredients in historical recipes (particularly plants of the nightshade family.) While the venom produced by toads of the Old World doesn’t seem to contain the quality and quantity of bufotoxin necessary to produce such visions, this can’t be said for certain New World species. One of these is the Cane toad (bufo rhinella) that invasive species best known for infesting Australia, Florida and other southern states and native to South and Central America. In the Caribbean, it’s been identified by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis as a possible ingredient in a drug administered in Haiti to transform an enemy into a zombie, (i.e., to drug the individual into a deathlike state from which he is later “resurrected.”). Research into this subject was documented in Davis’ 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow, later serving loosely as inspiration for Wes Craven’s 1988 film of the same name (from which we hear a clip). The show ends with a quick look at the role of the Colorado River toad or Sonoran Desert toad, (bufo alvarius) as a source of psychedelic experience, particularly as its been reinvented with the last years as part of a life-changing “shamanic experience” for drug consumers already bored with ayahuasca. Facebook Twitter The post Toad Magic appeared first on Bone and Sickle.
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