Monday, 30 May 2016

Ghost Ship Mystery - Phiip Pullman

Read the abridged extract from The Adventures of John Blake: The Mystery of the Ghost Ship here. It's a new graphic novel by Philip Pullman and illustrator Fred Fordham. Read more here.


Saturday, 28 May 2016

Japanese Witch

I would have loved this when I was a kid.

Read review of Kiki's Delivery Service ...


Friday, 20 May 2016


Crow - North Bridge, Edinburgh
While in Scotland we saw a few magpies. You don't see them much in Newfoundland but when I lived in Alberta I saw them a lot. I was always impressed with the blue bits. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a decent pic of one.

Fortunately this crow, greeting morning commuters, was far more cooperative.

Monday, 16 May 2016

A Queer Place - more encounters with fairies

Remember a while back I wrote about people who go missing in the woods? I wrote about how easy it is to get lost or turned around and how often people have attributed this losing of one's bearings to the supernatural...particularly 'the fairies.'

I mentioned that I'd once spoken with a man I'd met on Signal Hill, Newfoundland, while he was picking berries. And he'd told me how he got lost on the Hill one day, even though he was very familiar with all its paths, etc. He explained it as having been "fairy led." He believed this happened because he'd been picking berries without having any bread (or stones) in his pockets as payment for the fairies.

Well, here is a fascinating exchange between two men in Ireland about something similar. It might be a little hard to follow because, as in some areas of Newfoundland, the accent and colloquialisms are thick and frequent. So, good thing there are subtitles!

In case you don't want to watch the whole thing here's the upshot. So, one day John took his rifle out to do a spot of shooting...get himself a wood pigeon. He saw a "quare lookin' bird" up in a tree and shot it. A colourful "foreign lad" that Ned thinks might have been a falcon from Greenland. Or...something else? Something supernatural? Because after shooting this bird (a transgression?) John crosses into a field, that Ned calls Hell's Kitchen, and after going round it "10 times" realizes he can't find his way out of it. Johns only finds his way out by going in the same direction as the cars that he sees in the distance. My man on Signal Hill found his way out by following the path of a power line he could see in the distance.

Later, Ned talks about someone else seeing fairies in a field (a different field?) playing hurley. Hurley is an ancient game (something between hockey and lacrosse) played with hooked sticks and a ball. The man who saw the fairies hurley game, or his grown son, (not clear on that) afterwards wouldn't walk past that 'ditch' alone.

By the way, there is a grave stone at Clonca in Innishowen, Ireland that's linked to one of my ancestors. It has a hurley stick on it -- see a pic here. There's also a 12th C High Cross at this same site where a 6th C monastery once stood.

The world is indeed full of 'quare' and wonderful places!

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Magical Dead

National Museum - Scotland, Edinburgh

"Human remains were sometimes used for ritual, magical purposes. 

Around 2000 years ago, in the Western Isles, the partly decayed body of a youth age about 12 was cut into quarters and deposited in four pits along with the butchered remains of two young cattle and two sheep. The pits were found beneath a house.

It may be that he had drowned, and when his decaying remains were found, rituals were performed to lay him -- and perhaps his ghost -- to rest. Or he may have been the victim of a sacrifice. Placing the dismembered animal carcasses in the pits was part of these rituals.

The house may have been built above the pits because this place was now seen as a place of good luck."

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

London Alchemy at Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery by me, Spring 2010 
I was lucky to have had a quick run round Brompton Cemetery back in the Spring of 2010. It's easily overlooked but I had a local guide (my cousin) take me there. It was full of fantastic things but obviously in need of some maintenance...or at least pruning! Apparently they are raising money for its restoration.

So if you are in London, or planning to be there in early June, then you might want to check out London Alchemy: A Series of Talks on Alchemy and Magick. The talks will take place in the cemetery's chapel!

Wish I could be there. Sigh.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Symbols in the houses of the dead

Tomb lintels at the National Museum - Edinburgh, Scotland

"Some of the Orcadian tombs, builts as houses for the dead, were decorated with sacred symbols. These stones originally were lintels in two such tombs. Their decoration closely resembles that found on tombs in the Boyne Valley in eastern Ireland. 

It seems that the powerful people responsible for building these ancestral monuments in Orkney and Ireland were in contact with  one another. Such long distance links would have bolstered the local power of each elite group."

This is why I have a thing for spirals
So many interesting things to see at Scotland's National Museum. We went specifically to see the mesmerizing Celts exhibition. I recommend it if you are going to be anywhere in the UK in the coming months. It ends September 25, 2016. Check out the exhibition page.

The videos below were made by the British Museum where this exhibition started last year. Click here for an interesting review on the differences in this exhibit from London to Edinburgh.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Coffin Dolls of Arthur's Seat

Coffin dolls - Scotland's National Museum, Edinburgh
Click here for more images
"Seventeen miniature coffins were found in 1836 on Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, each containing a clothed figure. No one knows what they were, why they were buried or who buried them, but people have been trying to solve the mystery ever since.

At the time of their discovery The Scotsman newspaper suggested they were used by witches casting death spells on specific individuals. Another theory is that they were kept by sailors to protect against death.

They may even represent a mock burial, possibly for the 17 known victims of Burke and Hare. In 1827-8 Burke and Hare, working in Edinburgh, sold the bodies of people they had murdered for dissection in the city's anatomy classes. This horrified many Scots who feared that a dissected body would not rise to life at the Last Judgement. William Burke was caught and executed for his crimes in 1829. Ironically, his body was legally given to an antaomy class for dissection. Look at the mortsafe for more about Burke and Hare. 

We are unlikely ever to be sure of the meaning of the coffins. It remains with the hidden aspects of death and belief in Scotland."

Friday, 6 May 2016

Houdini and Doyle - family fare

Ok, today I'm giving you  a little break from the Edinburgh visit ;)

So, over the last few weeks I've managed to catch a few episodes of the new ITV Victorian detective show, Houdini and Doyle. And yes indeed, Houdini is the escape artist extraordinaire we've all heard and read so much about while Doyle, portrayed oh so charmingly by Stephen Mangan (*blush), is Sherlock author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Houdini and Doyle is definitely NOT Penny Dreadful or Ripper Street. And within a few minutes of watching the first episode I was sure a Canadian production company had to be involved. And sure enough I was right. One thing we Canadians seem to be getting fairly good at is family friendly period television fare eg) Anne of Green Gables, Road to Avonlea, Murdoch Mysteries. This one adds just a pinch of Victorian spookiness to the otherwise wholesome mix.

Interestingly, Houdini and Doyle did actually know one another. And both had an interest in the spiritualist / medium movements of their time. They came at it from opposite ends however with Doyle the believer and Houdini the skeptic.

Houdini, in fact, dedicated quite a bit of time to exposing spiritualists as charlatans whereas Doyle, well, he would not be shaken in his supernatural beliefs. So much so that he had a falling out with Houdini because Doyle was convinced the escape artist had powers he would not admit to! Read more on the Victorian web here.

Interestingly, there is a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre in Edinburgh. And it is now home of the Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Burying the Scotland!

Horse-drawn hearse - Scotland's National Museum

"...owned by Botlton kirk session, East Lothian, 1783-1844, decorated with symbols of death and tears. The undercarriage may be from a mid-17th-century coach, making it the oldest surviving road vehicle in Scotland. 

The use of a horse-drawn hearse to carry the coffin initially indicated wealth and status, but gradually became an accepted part of many funeral processions. Funds raised through hiring out the hearse contributed to poor relief."

Hearse detail skull
Hearse detail tears / hour glass

Funeral invite - Scotland's National Museum

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Cannibal burgers

The Scots are a funny least in Edinburgh.

Burgers & Beer on the Royal Mile

Monday, 2 May 2016


Another interesting stop during our stay in Edinburgh was the Plague! exhibit at Scotland's National Library.

Spooky low light
It's not just bubonic plague covered here but any disease that caused misery and death to the masses. Each display case, disguised as upright coffins, houses various documents, images, and objects related to cholera, tuberculosis, plague, etc.

There's even a very low key soundtrack that cuts in now and then with sounds of a tolling bell, a hacking cough, and crying baby.

Makes you glad to live in the 21st C.

Read a review here.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Mary King's Close, Edinburgh

Uw aye! We're just back from a wee trip to the land beyond Hadrian's Wall. Locating ourselves in the festival city of Edinburgh we managed to squeeze in a lot during one week. A tour of underground Edinburgh was a top priority on my list.

Now, if you haven't been to Edinburgh and you are a fan of Halloween and spookiness, well, you are definitely missing out. Sad to say we did not take advantage of every ghost tour on offer (and there are lots!) but we did take the tour of Mary King's Close, which was really interesting.

Our costumed guide, Agnes, brought our group through a sampling of the rooms in buildings built over then sealed up well over a century ago. We were told tales of plague, murder and given a good understanding of exactly how cramped, dark, dank, and smelly these 'streets' in Edinburgh's old town once were. Although there's not a lot to see other than the brick and stone walls touches of period furniture and various wax figures and tableaux do help flesh things out.

As do the cries of "Gardez loo!" which you will hear during your tour. This cry was heard twice a day in old Edinburgh. Coinciding with the church bells it was the only time you were allowed to empty your chamber pots...into the street. Everyone. At the same time.

Now, I didn't find this tour particularly frightening but it was certainly atmospheric and rather fascinating to be in the actual spaces that people once lived in and walked through. The room that thrilled me most was the one that still contains the grinding stone for making flour. You can also see bits of horse hair poking out from inside the crumbling lime plaster still clinging to spots on the walls and propped up ceiling. This domicile is comprised of three rooms, the smallest of which is thought to have been a bedroom. And that is the room which currently holds an assortment of dolls and toys people have left behind for Annie, the ghost of a little girl who died of plague centuries ago....

The hole in the floor is part of the grinding stone