Hookland County Chronicle
For Hookland is a wandering county. The ruins of the White Tower may be its most infamous ‘untethered place’, but it is far from the only location that cannot be relied upon to be consistently found in the same space or time. Among the buildings that refuse to stay stationary are chapels, churches and at least one pub on the Great Marshbone Road. Even some natural landmarks seem to find it hard to remain still. The Weeping Pool in King’s Chase Forest has had four different locations on Ordinance Survey maps since 1895. – George Kindred, Curious County, Vestal Books, 1973
Hello. Welcome to issue seven of the Hookland County Chronicle. It’s a harsh winter, wearying at all levels. Most days it feels like victory to just maintain. I recognise I’ve been in death-proofing mode for so long I have not had much actual upcoming news about the county to deliver. However, that will change over the next few months. There are plans. There is graft going on linked to those plans. Physical objects will manifest. When things happen, you’ll hear about them here first – promise.
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On the evening of the Armistice, the boys of the village made a torchlight procession and lanterns were placed in the front windows of every home. From up on Burr Hill, ribbons and rivers of light spread out across the land. In weary relief, much whiskey was drunk in the pub. Above the thankful din, I’ve never been able to banish the words I heard George Rudd speak: “All this light is no more than phantom beacon. Mark me, war may be done, but now the ghosts will come home.” – C.L Nolan, On the Haunted Now, BBC National Programme, 1934
You Beast You! Cave Chits
The bestiaries of England record many beasts from the hollow hills and Under-Albion coming up to to make an occasional surface visit. The Cave Chit or Cave Chittiface are among those creatures regarded as regularly flitting between sunlit realm and the eternal twilight below. The heretical Saint Martin’s Land Psalter contains a full bestiary cycle of cthonic creatures and is widely regarded as the best source of information on the Cave Chit as well as the earliest. Dating to circa 1180 ACE, it claims they were once a tribe of exiled changelings not welcome atop, below or in the woods of Elfland who made their home in the tunnels between Saint Martin’s Land and Albion-Above. Across the long years of history they were said o have become increasingly degenerate in nature, their skin turning harshly pale or grey, their freckles becoming like lichen and their bodies emaciated and much reduced in size to that of a human. The colouring of their flesh was said to allow them to blend with stone and remain hidden within caves. Their ears were sharp, their face thin, but with an odd appearance of youth in contrast to their withered forms, (it should be noted that the Hookland dialect word ‘chittiface’ means someone with a pinched countenance). They would occasionally form war bands known as ‘Spear Swarms’ and raid both the Twilight Realms and villages close to caves in England for children to take into slavery. Fanciful mediaeval accounts of the Embassy to Saint Martin’s Land portrayed them as primitive with nothing of value to trade as they valued only jewellery carved from bones and teeth. John of Coreham tells of three Cave Chits who became separated from their raiding party when they emerged from The Devils Scar. They could not survive the sunlight and perished within a week off capture. Those that observed them before they died were struck by how they talked among each other in a language of clicks and knocks, wore only fur and possessed red hair much weighted with bone beads. Despite being rarely reported after the 17th century, Chittifaces have become part of the subterrean folklore of Hookland and the mascot of the Weychester University Caving Club is a Chittiface wearing a headlamp. In 1974, a group of children playing near the entrance into Lost Mary’s Swallet reported encountering two grey children with ginger hair, who wore ‘leather dresses’, but had no shoes. The grey children joined in their games despite not sharing a common language and all was cordial till a dispute about the swapping of a stone knife for a Curly Wurly, half a pack of Toffos and some Hookland Horror cards developed. At this point, the grey children tried to pull one of the girls they had been playing with into the nearby cave and were only dissuaded when her screaming attracted the attention of picnicking couple. The stone knife that was left behind in the scuffle was taken to the County Museum in Coreham where a curator estimated it of being modern-making but a perfect reproduction of the style used in the Late Neolithic. Some have claimed this incident as evidence of a modern day encounter with Cave Chits, though the word evidence is undertaking a lot of heavy lifting in this context.
For now we come to the matter of shared landmarks between our familiar territories and the enfolding world of Faerie. Most common in number are certain trees said to grow simultaneously in our woods and the great forests of the Elves. Roots fed by our earth and the blessed soil of that weird realm, double-gifted in sun, it is no surprise that they are significant wooden beasts. Many of the mightiest oaks, the oldest wych elms and girthy sweet chestnuts across the country are said to be such twice-born trees. Yet shared landmarks are not restricted to arboreal wonders. Many ancient stones are claimed to occupy the space on both England’s hills and those of Elfland. This coincident manifestation in two planes of being seems to cause all manner of entanglements. Whether such landmarks represent the holes of entry and exit of some great thread stitching Human and Faerie realms together is beyond easy knowing, but the slipping between existences is evidently easier at such locations. The cunning folk place great importance on having maps that show all occurrences of synchronous spots, but the cunning also claim the knowledge of making a compass aligned to True Faery North so we would expect nothing else of them. – Rev. H.R. Fade, Elfland Explored, 1898
Is It Worth It? Enys Men
As a writer, my working definition of folk horror is any horror that uses folklore as part of its vital psychic infrastructure and refuses to treat it as mere tinsel. My working definition of a ghost story is an active infection of the past in the now. Both of those genre labels could and will be applied to Mark Jenkin’s brilliant new film Enys Men, but to rely on either of them to describe it would be far too limiting. While it tells a story of time-haunted location, of land soaked in lore, it might be better classified as metaphysical mystery, a telling of place through its relationship to time. It’s absolutely a ghost soil movie, but in the case of Enys Men, the ghost soil is Cornish granite.
It is hard for a reviewer to give away the plot of a film that is so gloriously non-linear and dreamlike as Enys Men. However, on the basis that it’s best seen without someone having tried to solve its mysteries for you, the following are the bare facts of its story. A volunteer isolated on Enys Men (stone island in Cornish), lives at the level of routine turned ritual repetition. She monitors a rare flower, drops a stone down a mineshaft, drinks tea and reads Edward Goldsmith’s key environmental text A Blueprint For Survival. Time manifests as ghosts, as lichen covering human and flower flesh. Time manifests as an eater of certainty, as gateway into the land’s long memories.
The volunteer – brought alive by powerful, subtle performance by Mary Woodvine – appears as I conversation with the land itself. Jenkin’s shooting of place not only lets its atmosphere and inherent sense of held memory bleed into you, but allows it have such a voice that it becomes co-star. Flooded with a sense of the uncanny and the unquiet past, Enys Men unsettles and dislocates rather than scares. It haunts with foreboding for the future of our ecology, disrupts with a sense that time is an active force, an interference pattern of yesterdays and tomorrows that both creates and undermines the now.
As someone who tries to create dislocated, temporal folk artefacts, I felt a particular joy in watching Enys Men. Whilst Marc Jenkins unmistakable visceral visual sense is nearly every scene, it also simultaneously manages to feel like it has fallen through a time tunnel connected to the 1970s. Up there are on the screen are joyous examples of things I try and do with Hookland: standing stones as spines through time; an undercutting of the chocolate box bucolic; non-linear storytelling stitched together with atmosphere; integrating the supernatural into the wider eco-system. Like Sebastian Baczkiewicz’s Pilgrim, it’s a good job I didn’t encounter Jenkin’s film in the early days of Hookland as I would have stopped the project through sheer intimidation of the talent of people expressing its core ideas so much better than I could.
Enys Men is the Cornwall I’ve known since childhood. Ghost-soaked, haunted by past that no amount of tourism commodification will ever make easy. It is a country where opportunities for primal encounters with nature have not been erased. Where those encounters demand an animistic, folkloric or mystic response because the land itself seems coded with the eerie. Yet like Hookland, it isn’t an actual location, rather than an imagined, misrememered one which becomes even more real. This is a movie veined with hireth. In making a hyper-specific and particularly Cornish film, Jenkin’s has also gifted us with a universally resonant telling of time as uncanny force manifesting through place.
People will still be watching Enys Men decades from now. It will become its own spine through time, continuing to provoke deeply idiosyncratic responses from its viewers. I can be trite and tell you it’s like watching the ultimate evolution of a peculiarly Cornish Sapphire & Steel. I can be intimate and tell you that I found watching it like a feverish, magical meditation through the land’s long memory. More than anything, I feel the need to say it’s a Marmite masterwork that you’ll either love or hate, but should definitely try to see.
8.5/10 Enys Men is absolutely worth it. A stab of visionary genius, like the work of Andrei Tarkovsky it has the power to haunt you for years to come. Also, if like me you adore 93-year old John Woodvine, it moves up to 9 for casting him as a preacher.
Here’s to the voices of the dead and their memory long
Here’s to the land and all its wild voices raised in song
Here’s to witch-wards and a door locked agin the night
Here’s to a sup of apple brandy that puts spirits to fright
– Trad. Hookland toast made on St. Lazarus Eve
Notes From the Wyrd Lab
Misrembering, the Atch and Dreams of Hookland
Hookland is misrememered. Deliberately misremembered. It is a tactic I’ve adopted to allow it to exist as coincident imagined impossibility and telling of the real England. Dream and brutality sharing the same simultaneous sunlight. Nothing in the county is made up, just remembered differently.
It has taken 11 years to happen, but that fracturing and mutation of memory has reached a personal critical mass. I now regularly visit Hookland while sleeping. Nothing exceptional happens in dreams of Hookland – I’ll study crow-flowers covering a pond, savour the taste of a pint of Lazarus, wreck my knees searching through the lower bookshelves of the Sea-Swallowed Children charity shop. The only shared themes of these county reveries is a terrible sense of dislocation on waking, an aching for return and the lingering idea that if I travelled to certain locations I’d be able to find invisible gates to transport me there.
I am not sure it’s always good idea to travel beyond the mirror silver of your imagination. Such navigations rarely work out as intended. There’s a tendency to become untethered in place and time, the constant danger of being trapped on the wrong side of the glass. However, the dreams have inspired a gnawing need to do just that. As we would say in Hookland, I’ve got the atch.
The atch has always been a core component of Hookland. What exactly is it? Well, former Poet Laureate Owen Booth explained the concept of atch in a talk he gave on the BBC Home Service in 1958. Prefacing a reading of his about poem about ‘Savage Jem’ called Returned To Song, he said: “The atch is kin to the Welsh hiareth and the Cornish hireth. Kin also to saudade, the animating spirit of Portugeuse Fado music. Our dictionaries are the poorer for it never having made thee jump from the logbooks recording dialect. In Hookland, atch is a homesickness for a place you cannot return to. The harsh weight upon the soul of yearning to walking the lost landscape of your past. The warping gravity of nostalgia for a home that never really was as full of sunshine as your memory wishes to paint it.”
In attempting to build a shared world for fellow fully-grown changelings and perpetual weirdos, I’ve accidentally found a place I want to be. A place now haunting my rare hours of sleep as well as my perpetually tired waking. On the frayed edges of memory, beyond easy access by rail and road, there’s a sense of a what-if home. One of my key benchmarks for Hookland working is conveying that atch for its unattainable locus. If the county is also bleeding into your dreams, I might just be getting it right.
At first he was convinced it was a fever-gifted vision. He was aware of the power of such things for he had suffered one in his nursery years. All his brightly coloured lead soldiers – Boer War calvary, infantrymen and stretcher bearers – had come to life. Marched across the territory of rug in search of foe while some among their number sang The Soldiers of the Queen. At first delighted then terrified by the animation of his playthings, he had assumed himself caught in nightmare. Yet when there was no waking, when he still felt the thorns in his throat, the uncontrollable shakes, he knew he was in the grip of something more powerful. Upon recovery, his father had explained such infections of the imagination were common symptom of the worst fevers and best not dwelled upon. He dived into this memory as comfort, as protection from what he saw. To be delirious, to be fever-ridden was more desirable than accepting any possibility that his eyes told true. – C.L. Nolan, Beyond Cold Glass, first published in The Long Echo magazine, 1913
Witch-Walking – Lesson Three
No-one can tell you with certainty nor authority why certain witches are recorded as walking barefoot. I can merely tell you this, at times to feel the soil on my soles is both balm to the spirit and connection to the great circuit of the land. However, witchery observes practicalities in the pursuit of practical magics. Only the foolish, intoxicated with ridiculous, misplaced romanticism walk the woods barefoot.
So boot up, rug up. This lesson requires you to be actually out and about. While previous exercises have shown that some forms of witch-walking can be done from the chair, this is not one of them. Today you walk to deepen your relationship with the land and harvest wild wisdoms from the wood.
For this exercises all you need to do is take a walk in your closest wood. Explore it without preset route. Exist and explore in the clockless now of place. Observe. Listen. Smell. Notice how crossing certain parts of it feels on your psychic skin. Notice micro-atmospheres, the sensation of traversing invisible, but still perceptible borders. Walk in the expectation of wonder, of conversation with place. For the first few times of doing this it may help to write down things that especially catch your attention in a notebook.
A salt-hag drifting the shore can tell tomorrow from the flight of gulls, surge, swell and crest of wave. She can tell tomorrow from storm-gifted flotsam or make doom-ward from ocean-polished glass, cures from bladderwrack. A witch walking the wood is no less rich in opportunity. For the land is often the only true tool a witch needs. Any walk gifts wood for wand. Any puddle can be made her eye, her temporary scrying mirror. While the wood may be a witch's wild temple, it is also a place of harvest, a library of symbols. To walk it is to be entangled in its wisdom.
For the witch walks to speak to land wights. The witch walks to find the clearing in her head where her feral, intimate magics come from. Her physical navigations create new paths where the future may walk towards her. Witchery is a pair of dirty boots.
It may help you to say to yourself as you begin: ‘I walk the wood, I walk the field and I will hold hands with their ghosts as I cross the land. For I am a witch and this is my way, this is my right. I choose this relationship to place.’
Alternatively, you may like to say these lines from what has become known as ‘The Witch’s Prayer’: ‘I invite the spirits of the land to walk the secret chambers of my heart and erase every word of pain and rage written on their walls and mark green wisdom and wild magics on them instead.’
The first strong sensation of crossing over you may encounter is that of the entangling border where green common becomes wildness of wood. Even as children we recognise that threshold. It is where fairytales may start, where strangeness might live. Even the most jaded of adults walks towards it perceiving it's where the feral folklore they refuse to believe in lives. Bone-deep, we know the wood as a Zone of Increased Possibility.
Push in. Do not be afraid to stray from the path. Take joy in making your own. Follow the harvest line of plant and herb. Take the Fox Bride tracks, move in the wake of undergrowth pushed aside by animals not man. In every step a possibility of green magics and a dancing with the land.
The witch gleans magic from the wood. This is the true continuity with dead sisters – not some Margaret Murray fantasy of victimhood, not some dead man’s fable of unbroken line of imitation. Glean the wood and walk with the witch of the past.
For the witch’s walk is a journey of scratch sacrifice to thorn and bramble, a harvest of wild wonders. Most of all those the witch’s walk is a communion with the land’s spirits. Every path she makes a conversation.
For the witch does not walk the wood, she walks with the wood. It sings to her and she sings back. An intimate antiphon. A ritual journey where more than secret paths are revealed. The witch walks with the wood and recognises its subtle territories, it borders of branch and mud. She knows the reach of wight and sprite. Knows the passports and permissions she needs to cross to their invisible thresholds.
Repeat this exercise until all these things are as certain and natural to you as was your childhood knowing that magic was real. Repeat this exercise till you notice how different the wood smells after rain last night, how much the wild garlic has grown in week. Until you notice when wood sprites wake from their winter dreaming.
Extract from Wild Witchery, the correspondence course in witchcraft first run by Emily Banting in 1982
For whilst most will admit to agreeing with L.P. Hartley when he said: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’, in Hookland they go further and say: ‘The past is a strange county: we hold to its ways’. Whilst the memory of history is as fractured as everywhere else, what has been allowed to be lost has a somewhat different character in Hookland. The sense of being enfolded by other magical realms persist strongly. Both the supernatural and superstitious walk in broadest daylight and have no problem with being served in any pub. – George Kindred, Curious County, Vestal Books, 1973
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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