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The Haunted Landscape: Witchcraft, Ritual and the Supernatural

  • Start date: 18th Nov 2023
  • End date: 18th Nov 2023
  • Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL
  • Organiser: London Fortean Society
  • Website

Join us at Conway Hall as we explore the Haunted Landscape – our annual gathering of witchcraft, folklore, ghosts, and fairies from the British Isles.

Allyson Shaw – Ashes and Stones: A Scottish Journey in Search of Witches and Witness

A moving and personal journey, along rugged coasts and through remote villages and cities, in search of the traces of those accused of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Scotland. This is the untold story of the witches’ monuments of Scotland and the women’s lives they mark. Ashes and Stones is a trove of folklore linking the lives of contemporary women to the horrors of the past, a record of resilience and a call to choose and remember our ancestors. Allyson Shaw untangles the myth of witchcraft and gives voice to those erased by it. Her elegant and lucid prose weaves together threads of history and feminist reclamation to create a vibrant memorial.

Sandra Lawrence – “As if the sick earth had burst into foul pustules”: Fungi in Folklore and Superstition

The word ‘mycophobia’ was coined in 1887 but fear, loathing and hostility towards the fungi kingdom has been with certain parts of the world since the dawn of humanity. Other cultures can’t get enough mushrooms in their cooking pots, medicine chests and spiritual lives. What is it about Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘foul pustules’ that brings out such extremes in people and just how old is fungal folklore anyway?

Kirsty Hartsiotis – Ghosts of the Cotswold and Wiltshire Landscape

Storyteller Kirsty Hartsiotis explores the haunted landscape of the West Country. Hear of fields haunted by a slew of Civil War ghosts and the prehistoric and Tudor hauntings in Wiltshire. Kirsty will discuss more recent sightings and look at how the ghosts are related to their specific landscapes, and how the physical landscape and history affect ghosts.

Dr Helen Frisby – The Sin-eater: lives and afterlives

A sin-eater was a ‘long, leane, ugly, lamentable poor raskal’ (Aubrey, 1687) who, by eating a special meal over the coffin, consumed a dead person’s sins and thus helped them enter heaven. In this talk Dr Helen Frisby surveys the historical evidence for this fascinating old funerary character and their mysterious rituals in service of the souls of the dead. As it turns out, things aren’t quite what they might first seem – but Helen will suggest that it’s the sin-eater’s very elusiveness within the historical record which has enabled them to rise again in present-day film, TV and literature.

James Edward Frost – The Kentish Hooden Horse

Hoodening is an ancient calendar custom unique to East Kent, involving a wooden horse’s head on a pole, carried by a man concealed by a sack. The earliest reliable record is from 1735, but little serious research had gone into the tradition between Percy Maylam’s seminal work The Hooden Horse, published in 1909, and George Frampton’s 2018 update, Discordant Comicals. James Edward Frost describes what hoodening was, what the hooden horse is. He covers historical records and artifacts, revival groups, ‘Autohoodening’ performances which reimagine the old tradition in a modern context, and related practices. James hopes to bring a hooden horse with him for demonstration on the day.

Nigel Pennick – Secret Societies of Rural England: The Magic of Toadmen, Plough Witches, Mummers, and Bonesmen

Exploring the folk customs and magical traditions of guilds and rural fraternities such as the Shoemakers and Horsemen and the secrets guarded by the Free Gardeners, Witches, Toadmen, and Bonesmen, Nigel Pennick shows how the common working people of the Fens belonged to secret societies based on their specific trade. He details the hidden aspects of rural life that most historians ignore–the magical current that flowed through the lives of working people–and describes the secret rites, ceremonies, oaths, and initiation rituals of the guilds and fraternities to which the folk belonged.

Francis Young – The Origin of British Fairies

Throughout the recorded history of Britain, belief in earthbound spirits presiding over nature, the home and human destiny has been a feature of successive cultures. From the localised deities of Britannia to the Anglo-Saxons’ elves and the fairies of late medieval England, Britain’s godlings have populated a shadowy, secretive realm of ritual and belief running parallel to authorised religion. Francis Young traces Britain’s ‘small gods’ to a popular religiosity influenced classical learning. It offers an exciting new way of grasping the island’s most mysterious mythical inhabitants.

James Canton – Grounded: A Journey Into the Landscapes of Our Ancestors

When James Canton walked into Suffolk’s Lindsey Chapel, it was the beginning of what would become a new journey in his life. Inside the chapel, Canton realized that his past cosmopolitan desires had been replaced by an intense yearning to understand the history of the place he called home, a burning curiosity about the past and the spiritual ways and beliefs of the people who came before us. Through lyrical meditation, reflection, and a thoughtful consideration of the ways and beliefs of the people who came before us, Canton seeks to know what our ancestors considered to be human, and what lessons we can learn from them to find security in our contemporary selves.