Hookland County Chronicle
For Faerie has been at war with humanity since its first forging of iron. When the first metal ax cut into tree, they screamed battle for they could see the ending of forests. When oxen first pulled a wheeled plough with an iron-blade across field, they screamed havoc for they could see the ending of feral places. For in man’s attempts to tame the wild he only made the most terrible of enemies when early he turned away from the hammering of meteoric iron and made kilns to smelt, the black weapons of green erasure.
– Rev. H.R. Fade, Elfland Explored, 1898
Hello. Welcome to issue nine of the Hookland County Chronicle, read by some 1800-odd folk in 47 US states and 42 countries worldwide, (still shunned in West Virginia despite it being home to some of my favourite tramping after monsters). I am sorry this edition is a week late. I promise to try to not let this happen again, but February true to form, has been a cruel month. On a more positive note, if you have work you feel is Hookland adjacent and would like me to review in an upcoming issue please contact me at HooklandGuide@gmail.com.
My first rural parish in Hookland was at Clare cum Ashen. A picturesque village that surprised me with its depth of its vague paganism. For while there was some church-going, there was no widespread belief in God nor prayer in the accepted sense of the church. If anything, the people held to the sort of prayer made by tying a ribbon to a tree or throwing flowers into a well. It was not the paganism of those who insist their fantasies of continuous worship of old gods are real and revealed through the hidden meanings of folklore, but rather a hazy idea that their sense of god didn’t live in four walls of St. Giles. When the September 1st parade of wooden breasts, horned men and tasteless leper mumming came around in a riot of torchlight, ale and something roughly approaching music, none thought of Saxon deities nor saw antlered Alf Shuttle the shop-owner as Herne. No, if there was continuity it was of the smoke-obscured kind with bonefires past and raising a drunken cheer to the numinous land. – Rev. D. Hartnell, A Peculiar Living, Henning & Whitfield, 1953
You Beast You! Rude Bones AKA Scrim Mares
Given how one of humanity’s most ancient and important relationships is that with the horse, we should not be surprised by the number of fantastic variations of the animal appearing in bestiaries. For the horse is engine of civilisations rising, engine of agriculture and travel, engine of war. It may well be our mot important ongoing alliance with the natural world. Among the odd creatures recorded in the Weychester Book of Beasts and Woodville Psalter are the Rude Bones, a breed of wild horse that owes its lineage to a single stallion said to have escaped from Faery.
Described as giant chestnut horses with flaxen manes, they are said to live in woods and grassland that have borders adjacent to Faery. According to legend they are set apart from other equines by being gifted with several amazing talents. These include the power to understand all human speech, an ability to change their colour to blend in with snow or even grass and eyes that not only can see true in the dark, but which refuse all blinkering. They also have the significant talent of being able to detect the presence any malign magic or hostile witchcraft, alerting all to danger by letting out a deafening scream – possibly leading to the alternative name for them in some parts of England as Scrim Mares.
According to the Bestiaire of Gilbert de Thaon from the 12th century, if you wish to travel to the Empire of the Dead, it is suggested that the only steed to be trusted for the expedition is a Rude Bone or Rude Bone hybrid. This fact may account why so many stories of spectral corpse carts making journeys along the old lych paths and wraith ways are pulled by Rude Bones. Due to its faery heritage, Rude Bones have an aversion to iron and can only be shoed with silver. They also refuse all bridle and saddle made of leather – though this may be a largely unnecessary bit of knowledge given how it is almost impossible capture and domesticate them. Judging by the words of de Thaon, it is easier to find a virgin in a brothel for purposes of trapping a unicorn than it is find anyone who can make the oil of enchantment needed to draw a Scrim Mare from its wild territory into any paddock.
Rude Bones appear to have been relatively common up until the Late Middle Ages – Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Mallory were able to make reference them in their work without any exposition, Henry V was recorded as having rode a one into battle. However, during the 16th century, appearances of them began to rapidly decline and by the 17th century they were a pale memory, with most learned folk believing them to be either mythical or extinct. However, diarist Dr. Bron recorded the auction of one at Coreham market in 1636, while many of the broadsides recounting the exploits of the monster killing Borland brothers make the claim that the rode a pair of Scrim Mares while about their destruction of bio-diversity and general witch-bothering.
Although there have been almost no confirmed modern sightings, Rude Bones remain a strong part of the feral folklore of many places in England. Several locations take their name from legends of its fantastic leaping or ability to split the ground by the striking of its hoofs. In the Red Vale of Hookland’s Shire of Strangers – said to contain the lost hill figure known as the Red Horse of Bell Hill – the local skeletal equid is known as Rude Bones. It takes the form of an ochre-coated horse skull paraded on a poles at Midsummer and Midwinter ahead of a troupe wielding spears and clubs. At one point in its progress one of the accompanying warriors will appear to die, prone and motionless till the horse jumps over them to return them to life – a seeming demonstration of the Rude Bones traditional role as psychopomp. Of course, those few who still insist Scrim Mares exist say that rather than being extinct, they are now merely using their Faery heritage to blend in so well that we can no longer see them, let alone exploit them.
Living in Greenstone in the 1950s was like being in a bubble of time older time. There weren't any homes built in the 20th century. Any change to the place seemed measured in growth of ancient oaks, the yearly return of ghosts to the crossroads. There were no bus or train timetables, just agricultural almanacs, a marking out of the year in seasons of mud, rain and sun. I know to some that might sound idyllic, but it bloody wasn’t. For a teenager, it was temporal suffocation. On top of that, anyone who still at school was forced into playing a part in all the folk rituals of the place. Hunting the Hag, the Coming of the Faery Court, Wren dances. I remember being 14, wanting to be connected to world outside. Connected to a modernity of coffee bars, underground jazz clubs. The last thing I wanted was to wear a velvet tunic and a crown of moss to parade around the place. – Penny Dunn speaking to the Hookland Oral History Project – Intercommune (HOHP-I), 1979
Is It Worth It? Tatterdemalion
Sometimes you come across a film which forces you to ask the question: why did none of my so-called friends ever tell me about this? Ramaa Mosely’s Tatterdemalion (also known by the title Lost Child) from 2018 is one of those movies. Her tale of a traumatised US military veteran returning to her childhood home in the Ozarks who ends up taking in a boy abandoned in the woods delights in refusing to be anything as neat as a single genre. Even better, it aches with a sense of place, psychic cicatrix and the dark social consequences which may grow from folklore.
While Tatterdemalion has the feel of a rich of slice of fever dream Southern Gothic, it’s also resonates as folk horror (if you are prepared to accept the Southwell definition of the genre as ‘anything that treats folklore as intrinsic to the story, not just as tinsel’). Yet to classify it as one single thing would be missing the point. Much of the film’s power comes from being a near constant salt-line blur of possible genres.
For most of its length, Tatterdemalion doesn’t let you know whether you are watching something that will ultimately reveal itself itself as supernatural thriller or social commentary. Being unsure at times whether you are experiencing horror or a relatively straight tale about PTSD among veterans and a lack of care for those in the American fostering system is not problematic. In fact, it turns out to be a powerful dramatic engine. More importantly it allows for Tatterdemalion to examine the eerie not just as an atmosphere or mystic plot device, but as an environmental factor stemming from Ozarks and the characters’ responses to it.
Tatterdemalion is soaked in superstition. It offers folklore as ubiquitous as the film’s weather-prophesying dew, folklore that seeps into people like rust-contaminated rainwater draining of a shack’s tin roof. Within its first third it gives us house-burning as exorcism, a dog pound shaman, ghosts, sacred rules of hospitality and hints of a mysterious Howler crpytid. Of course, there’s also the titular Tatterdemalion spirit which manifests somewhere between Changeling and an enervating demon of the woods. It’s a film that understands folklore not only as parental scarelore and useful survival tool, but as cultural core, a side-effect of place.
While the initial non-believer battling against a growing sense of the occult as real is an overly familiar trope, Tatterdemalion manages to make good use of it by giving it a wider context. It examines folklore as warping gravity potentially injurious to the well-being of fringe communities and people made vulnerable by marginalisation, by the wounds of childhood abuse. This isn’t the first drama to remind us the social consequences of certain folklore may be more dangerous than any of its monsters, but it is one of the strongest of them.
Leven Rambin’s performance of the protagonist Fern is phenomenal. The enfolding eerie Tatterdemalion delivers comes in a large part from Rambin being able to transmit a sense of experiencing it. At every turn, her ability to give an emotional reaction to the story carries the film. She benefits enormously in being partnered by Landon Edwards who plays Cecil, the tattered boy she finds in the woods. In his debut film, the unschooled actor brings not only a feral energy, but an incredible inner believability. It is notoriously difficult to portray characters as wounded, bitter and distrusting as the central pair without pushing an audience into thinking: ‘I don’t care if bad shit happens to them’. However, both actors pull it off with exquisite grace. Their performances demand we engage and in the end, this may be the film’s biggest triumph.
There is little sense of the low budget of Tatterdemalion constraining it. The cinematography consistently offers a powerful sense of the Ozarks’ fringe communities as not only geographically isolated, but economically neglected and uncared for. More importantly, it allows the wood themselves to become an essential character in the story – early on it is even described as: “A living, breathing thing. Show it some respect, she will take care of you.”
What some critics have claimed as major flaws for the film – occasional dips of energy or pace, a somewhat lackadaisical attitude when it comes to driving plot points home – I saw as techniques deployed to match the story of the mythical Tatterdemalion as an evil spirit that eats the will and slowly drains life from its victims. Techniques that help embody a messy perspective on life that’s never going to be about easy resolutions.
Tatterdemalion isn’t perfect. There is a reliance on overhead drone shots that rubs away at its own sense of unique visual manifestation. Its movements from day-for-night to nighttime shooting are jarring to the point of unintended hostility towards the viewer. Some of its subsidiary characters walk a line a little close to cartoonish depiction of hillbilly. Its ending is also unlikely to find fans among those who wanted it as a horror film or to depart from a storytelling path of redemption so often trampled no-one watching could miss its likely destination 20 minutes in.
Mosely delivers a film that doesn’t just reference folklore and the psychic cicatrix of trauma stored in place, but deals in their possible extreme repercussions. It doesn’t shortchange the issues it highlights – PTSD, failings in the fostering system, reverberation of childhood abuse – but never allows them to feel preachily simplistic. Tatterdemalion is rare in championing rationality without stinting on uncanny atmosphere, a suffocating sense of superstition. More than a year after first viewing it, I’m still haunted by its telling of folklore as contamination and collective danger which is a true testament to its undoubted power.
7.5/10 Worth watching for Leven Rambin’s performance alone, its exploration of the potential othering danger of folklore is atmospheric and emotionally satisfying.
Of course Hookland was full of other cults, other newly emerged belief systems that always seemed on the edge of becoming weaponised against the common good. I remember I was always worried about one group – the Aerialists – whose outer faith was one of creating psychic TV aerials to receive transmissions from the ether. Any group willing to carry out experimental, DIY home surgery to plug their friends in to signals from the great beyond or Planet Skareg needed watching. Home trepanation is one thing, but cults playing around with wires often seemed to lead to bombs in the end. – DI Callaghan in a post-retirement interview to True Crime Tales, 1985
Notes From the Wyrd Lab
Confessions, the Importance of Pure Play and Writing as the Mapping of the Fault Lines of Memory
Often readers make the assumption that an author knows what they are doing. They want to believe the writer has control, competency, a mastery of all the tools in the box. Dear reader, if you think this about me, you are mistaken. There’s an awful lot of tools in the box I can’t even name let alone use. I must confess to always just winging it.
I am aware of tricks I rely on far too much – alliteration, repetition, kennings. This is to be expected. As a child of Essex, I’ve Beowulf in the blood. Walk the continuity of his landscape long enough and some of its style becomes mental muscle memory. However, most use of those Saxon techniques is instinctual. All I am ever doing is trying to find a route to goal. To connect you to the idea, to connect you to the internal picture as directly as possible.
While I adore the killer sentences writers like Iain Sinclair and Angela Carter seem to pack their pages with, I write with no expectation of being able to do this. When you are working class and relatively unschooled, it’s rare to believe you have the space to be poncey. If I can paint the invisible electrical storm in my head with words, I consider it winning. If the broadcast of my imagination transmits with enough signal strength that it’s easily understood, I’m doing OK.
Hookland being off the radar has advantages. It is’t reviewed, rated or barring one or two rare exceptions, scrutinised in academic papers. Those who know about it and read it are fairly tolerant of me just putting my head down and getting on with it. For more than a decade it has been a space where I can experiment – hence Notes From the Wyrd Lab – and learn more about writing while drowning in the doing of it.
In those years of exploring the county I’ve discovered many things, but one of the most important is the power of pure play. More than that, the power of play without a sense of supervision. It has been a struggle, but with Hookland I’ve got to a place where I don’t worry about judgement or praise for its writing. It is the difference between a playground scrutinised by a teacher with a whistle they ache to blow and the clockless hours of running around in the woods or scouting the uncurated mud of abandoned industrial units.
My metrics for the county have became how useful it is for others to use, the level of re-enchantment it manifests. What joy it bring to myself and others. When I am walking the Belgar Navigation chasing up rumours of Stay Belows or having a pint of Toad-in-the-Bottle in The Otter’s Share in Breywych I don’t have to primarily think: ‘Does this have literary value?’ I can haunt the stacks of the Black Library of Weychester Cathedral coughing in the wake of dust homunculi filled only with delight in reading the Woodville Psalter, learning the history of the Angelic Astrolabe.
This doesn’t mean each word is chosen without care. It doesn’t mean the etymology of every village name, surname or bestiary entry isn’t researched until the rabbit hole has become such a warren of complexity it generates a three-page map of itself in my little black notebook. There’s just a different feeling about writing when instead of being focused on matching current fashions in prose, the words come from something akin to the childlike glee of daydreaming about whether a monster is more deadly with tentacles of bone axes for appendages.
Writing is exorcism. Writing is dealing with the repeats on the psychic TV of childhood, mapping the fault lines of memory. It's a fucking glorious dance with ghosts. Sometimes, when we experiment and play freely, it manifests artefacts of the imagination that are all the better for absence of overthinking style. If an unexpected side-effect of sharing Hookland’s stories is occasional stabs of poetry, that’s great. It’s just never going to be the county’s central concern.
If I keep on for another decade, I promise to try to get better with words, use more tools. I even promise to attempt a few killer sentences. However, never at the expense of sharing a sense of play.
For the witch works to the slow time of quarters – winter, spring, summer and autumn. Her calendar grows from observation – the pushing up of wild garlic, the coming of hawthorn flowers to hedge, swelling of the Bone Moon. She thinks in terms of long continuance of river and hill, thinks of revolution of plough wheel, the incense of post-harvest bonefire. While she may refuse a bus timetable of saints and made up festivals, she doesn’t refuse dialogue with time. For time is part of the infrastructure of magic – whether in divination or gaining guidance from the dead – because it is part of the infrastructure of all life. The witch’s awareness of it may have many sources. We are surrounded by constellations of meaning, constellations of ancient time travelled into the now – whether starlight or stone frozen groupings of fossils. – Extract from Wild Witchery, the correspondence course in witchcraft first run by Emily Banting in 1982
Tawny owls hoot the night, heralds of the coming of Bride. Rushes are woven, reed dolls are dressed with rags and shell crowns. Bride’s babies are walked along the ways, put to bed to with sweet treats and green lullabies. The Sailors refuse the sea until her parading is over. Elder leaves open in her wake. Raven and jackdaws pair in her honour.
Snowdrops offer bells to peal for Candlemas. The Christian church a day late to the Pagan party. Sacred flames are lit. Serpents wake. Yew trees make male flowers. Winter’s lasting length reckoned in the spying of witches gathering wood, the foulness of rain. Golden plovers leave the fields in omen formations. Ashes are riddled at merging streams. Everywhere a harvest of auguries.
Candles are crossed for Blaise’s blessing, scarves dipped in his well. Rumours circulate that wild beasts and sheep hold secret procession in his honour while shepherds are too drunk on his bonus to notice. Pheasants feast on the wood’s last berries. Curlews come to shore, storms follow them. Salt-hags gossip with Jack Snipe and practice their conchomancy on roasted oyster shells.
Bare-bone branches scratch at the earlier coming of dawn. Rooks argue loudly against the gossip of thawing streams. The slow cold of winter seems broken by mild days which make promises we know they cannot keep. Charms of goldfinches are heard spelling the land with song. New newts peer from ponds. Bats swell at twilight. Fear of the Fethrower grows.
Rooks and ravens build their nests. Coal titmouses sing the wood. Consolations of fieldfares cackle the farmer at work. Hedges are repaired, ditches cleared. Sheep brought to shelter. Trinity nails are pounded to threshold, bound with blood thread. Lesser celandine brings golden stars to the path, calling to the sun to come, the cunning healer to collect. The well of the Seven Devout Women gives harsh prophecy.
The 13th arrives and Hell’s own birthday is marked in bonefire warding against damned let loose. At those places where cracked earth makes easy passage to Neath, apple brandy libations are offered to tongues in torment. Underworld words rise and are collected in the cunnings’ Book of Whisperings. Valentine lots are drawn. Hearts desires divined in twist of apple peel, laddering of stockings. Blackbirds, song thrushes and partridges pair to mark the feast of love. Children at King’s Chase play the wolf’s game.
Frogs come to see the first flowering of willow, listen to the building songs of thrushes. Dace and tench are taken from river. Fishmongers prepare for Lent with extra prayers to Andrew and Peter, make grand displays of brill, haddock and whitings. Black-headed gulls come to join this feast of fish – that or to watch the plaice spawn. Us ungodly folk enjoy the cheapening of mutton and watch penny-scramble riots. Primroses come to wood, grassland and hedge. Despite themselves, people talk of their Spring hopes, repeat cottage wisdom of how the plants provoke Faery glimpsing.
Yellow hammer chirp and dipper song wake Straw Bears. Robins and greenfinches join the chorus, urging them to rise, stalk shrovetide fields. In their slow footsteps coltsfoot flowers. Children shout at seeing the Straw Bear stuttering dance across the land. Call for swords, sticks and chains to come. In this false hunting, in this sad parade that can only end with stolen embraces and stabbing – a thousand wishes for fertility. Before day is out there will be death and rebirth, beer and bonefires.
All animals raise their voices louder on St. Wulfric’s Day, knowing no slaughter to any of them may be done. Even gorse warbler and blackcap can be heard to sing. Wrens pair. Magpies pair. Cowslips remember their old name as Peterwort and push up for the Feast of the Chair. St. Matthias comes on his day to make or break ice – saint of hope or saint of perseverance depending on the weather. The skull of St. Ælfwald is taken to his well for those who need to drink a curse away.
Aspen and alder flower. Stags cast down their antlers. The Hymn of St. Ælfflæd is sung to ward agin the Teeth of the Woods. Lapwings find love. Impatient geese compete to lay first egg. Otters are left lard cake for chasing luck downstream. Pale brindle moths are seen on woodland leaves, brimstone butterflies fly to scrub. Three ears of corn saved at harvest are offered to St. Walpurga. Grain mother gifts for the growing of the land.
Hedge sparrows build their nests. Periwinkle opens, its flowering blue eyes let stirring soil see the sky. Blackbirds sing an ending of the month. Every fourth year Leaplings are born and women grow bold in their courting, knowing they have promise of a dress if any man refuses them. Sin Hounds rise from the Devil’s Scar. Those beyond God’s grace plug their ears so their baleful barking won’t drive them early to the soul-furnaces below.
– C.L. Nolan, The Turning of the Year (Back in print next year after more than 80 years and after after much delay by me).
Put match to curse candle, make it aflame
Scratch at its wax for the cattle to go lame
If your worst enemy you desire to transfix
Tie tight black ribbon to your candlesticks
Strike a match, strike a match! Have a go!
Bring those all agin you nothing but woe!
Put match to curse candle, make it aflame
If you wish your stolen property to reclaim
Dress with Curving Oil and trim your wicks
If you wish their home burnt down to bricks
Strike a match, strike a match! Have a go!
Bring those all agin you nothing but woe!
– 19th century Hookland rhyme said to be used during candle magic
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Hookland Roll of Kindness
Lee Ann Day
K J Stark
In kindness there is connectivity, an impulse for good and a better world that is not denied. Kindness is a refusal of darkness. In its graceful light friendships have been found, lives saved and hope restored. – C.L. Nolan