March 16, 2018
Boggarts and Bogeymen
Boggarts have terrified English country-folk for hundreds of years. Particularly feared in Lancashire, they were said to haunt the fields, woods, and marshes – sometimes stealing away naughty children. The term Boggart derives from the Middle English bug meaning ghost, hobgoblin, or object of terror (OED).
According to those who have seen these spirits, Boggarts come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they appear as ugly humans, while others have described them as beast-like creatures. Everyone, however, seems to agree that they are hairy, strong, have strange eyes, and sometimes resemble devils.
Tradition says that if a Boggart is given a name it becomes destructive and unreasonable, rather than simply mischievous. Perhaps for this reason these sprites are often referred to generically as The Bogeyman.
While they have sometimes been held accountable for poltergeist activity inside the home, Lancashire Boggarts prefer the outdoors – they scare people with eerie noises, overturn farm items, sour milk and ale, lame animals, and leave behind weird hoof-prints. They also get blamed when children or travelers go missing.
So how do you ward off Boggarts and Bogeymen?
Stay away from the places they roam, especially at night. And hang a horseshoe over the front door of the house – or leave a pile of salt outside your bedroom.
The Golden Horseshoe (William Michael Harnett)
Wikipedia: “Boggarts” accessed 3/28/2015
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon,1993)
March 15, 2018
Olde English Cottage Pie v. Shepherd’s Pie.
I am often asked what the difference is between Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie. They are essentially the same recipe, except for the type of meat at the base. Shepherd’s Pie uses minced lamb, so it has always been popular in sheep farming communities. Cattle-rearing areas generally prefer minced beef instead, to make Cottage Pie. Both versions are nourishing but can be rather bland. So here is my own tasty version, developed from my Great Grandmother’s recipe to spice things up.
Pinch of salt
Knob of butter for greasing dish
2 tablespoons of milk
1lb lean minced meat (lamb or beef)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic
1 finely chopped onion
3 carrots, cut into rounds
1/2 pint beef stock
6oz tomato paste
1 tablespoon mixed herbs
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4oz grated cheese
1. Preheat the oven 350/ 180 /gas 4.
2. Grease a 2-pint ovenproof dish with the knob of butter.
3. Peel the potatoes and place in a pan of water with the pinch of salt. Boil until soft.
4. Heat the virgin olive oil in a large saucepan to boiling. Add the garlic, chopped onion, and meat. Stir until thoroughly browned. Add the carrots. Stir well.
5. Slowly mix in the beef stock. Then pour in the tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce. Add the mixed herbs and stir.
6. Reduce to a medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes until the carrots are soft. Remove from the stove.
7. Drain the boiled potatoes. Mash with 1oz of butter. Add the 2 tablespoons of milk and whisk to a creamy consistency.
8. Place the meat mix in the ovenproof dish and spread flat. Cover with a layer of grated cheese.
9. Spread the mashed potato evenly over the top of the cheese, taking care to seal the edges so that the meat will not bubble over.
10. Place the dish in the center of the oven for 20 – 30 minutes to heat through. Brown the top layer under a high grill for 5 minutes for a crunchy topping.
Serve with fresh garden peas or sweet corn. Enjoy!
March 13, 2018
A molten sphere
the raw edge of evening
like a thumb-spun doubloon
arching the air
sinking below denim fields.
March 12, 2018
In Search Of Evil
After recently re-reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I am again left questioning the origins of evil. Golding takes the classical stance that there is good and bad in everyone – the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other – yet he ultimately remains pessimistic about human nature, and the fate of civilization. Golding sides with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, suggesting that the “life of man” is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But where does this wickedness come from?
It can be argued good and evil are human psychological concepts, projected onto outside active agents. People need something other or outside to worship, fear, or blame — something beyond their own selves — and so they unconsciously create, and then personify, supernatural forces. The semantic origins of God being G
ood and Devil being Devil supports this theory. These powers are then courted, worshipped, and offered sacrifices, in an attempt to secure individual favors.
By turning something other into the wicked outside element, communities can maintain an image of themselves as chosen or blessed. They are then able to avoid looking too carefully at their own souls, may deny personal responsibility, and can point the finger of blame at a scapegoat: the witch, beast, devil, bogeyman, or whatever.
Over time, encounters with the supernatural have either turned into folk legends or been expanded into organized religions. The eternal battle between good and evil was then mythologized in morality tales that showed folk how to live together in civilized societies, or served as warnings against giving in to selfish desire.
I find myself agreeing with Golding’s conclusion that the beast dwells within us all. As the Lord of the Flies tells Simon: “You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are as they are?”
What do you think?
March 09, 2018
The Ancient Rushbearing Festival
Rushbearing is an old Lancashire custom from the early Middle Ages that still survives in a few rural areas today. It began as an annual Catholic festival to rededicate the local parish church, and soon developed into a day-long village celebration. In olden times, the floors of churches were made of packed earth. These were covered with rushes, herbs, and grasses to provide a sweet-smelling insulation against the cold and damp – a practice that continued until flagstones were finally installed. One day a year, at the end of summer, or on the Saint’s Day associated with a particular church, the old rushes got swept away and new ones were put in their place.
Over time, this religious ceremony developed into a community festival that contained many carnival elements. The rushes were harvested and dried out several weeks in advance, and then fashioned into a bee-hive decoration on the official rushbearing cart – a float also adorned with garlands and flowers. The cart was traditionally pulled by all the young bachelors of the parish, and a village maiden chosen as the Rushbearing Queen rode on top. The procession was often accompanied by banners, Morris Men, street performers, dancers, bands, and minstrels.
The day began with a slow progress through the crowded streets. Those towns that do not use an official cart appointed several Rush Maidens instead, who carried a white sheet containing the new rushes. Once they arrived at the church everyone ceremoniously helped to spread out the fresh flooring. It was originally customary to ring the church bells, and to provide wine, ale and cake for the rushbearers – but the ceremony later developed into a day-long drunken revel, which unfortunately encouraged a lot of criminal activity.
By 1579, this festival had become so bawdy that Queen Elizabeth 1st outlawed the custom, disapproving of the drinking and frolicking taking place in local churchyards. It was reestablished by King James 1st as part of the “diverting exercises” endorsed in his Book of Sports.
Rushbearing can be seen each August at Newchurch-in-Pendle. Other Lancashire towns have replaced the ceremony with similar village processions such as Club Day or Carnival Day.
Ashworth, Elizabeth. Tales of Old Lancashire (Berkshire: Countryside Books, 2007)
Wiki: “Rushbearing” Accessed on 4/6/2015
March 08, 2018
Kit’s Crit: Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) tops my list of all-time favorite books!
In the wake of a nuclear war, a group of school boys are being evacuated from England when their aircraft is shot down. The survivors land on an isolated tropical island with no adult presence. Here,they have to fend for themselves. The children ultimately form two rival gangs and soon cross the line from civilization into savagery.
There are three main reasons why Lord of the Flies is the perfect novel. Firstly. it is an allegory that makes readers question their moral, spiritual, anthropological, and psychological beliefs about childhood innocence. Secondly, Golding produces a beautiful cocktail of modern and poetic language where every sentence advances the action, or reveals something important about one of the central characters. And thirdly, he incorporates mythology, magical realism, anthropological research, religion, and psychology to build up the tension with carefully crafted foreshadowing and symbolism. This is a very tight, taut, controlled horror story full of unpredictable events, where the only relief comes right at the end.
Lord of the Flies exposes the darkness of the human condition. It is a pessimistic examination of everything we hold sacred. And that is why it so wonderfully terrifying.
March 06, 2018
The “Witch” Church
Newchurch-in-Pendle is an ancient village in the North of England, close to where several of the Lancashire Witches once lived and roamed. It has been a religious center since Druid days, with the first Christian building appearing around 1250. In 1544, a stone chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Chester, possibly with the original tower. Then a gallery was added in 1915, though the current St. Mary’s Church that stands here today has been restored and renovated many times throughout the centuries.
The most fascinating feature is the carving on the west face of the tower (under the clock face) – a large eye said to symbolize the all-seeing Eye of God. In earlier years though, this may have been a talisman to ward off evil from the local cunning folk who were forced by law to attend services here every Sunday. Today, St. Mary’s is also one of the few remaining churches that still celebrates the medieval Rushbearing Festival with a special service each August.
The graveyard contains the headstones of many old families. The Nutter plot (dated 1694) likely contains the descendants of Alice Nutter, one of the witches executed in 1612. From this consecrated soil, another witch – Old Chattox – supposedly stole twelve teeth that she later traded with her rival, Old Demdike.
In later times the village funeral processions were led by two black horses, and when these were spotted coming over Nanny Maud Hill the church bells began tolling The Passing Bell.
The Bone Room opens onto the graveyard, and for many years served as the Charnel House – a place where human remains were stored. These were skeleton parts that had either been dug up by accident, or intentionally removed to make room in a plot for fresh bodies.
St. Mary’s Church is one of two major landmarks to have outlived the old belief in magic. The other – providing its majestic backdrop – is the famous Pendle Hill.
Clayton, John A. A History of Pendle Forest and the Pendle Witch Trials (Lancashire: Barrowford Press, 2007)
Stansfield, Andy. The Forest of Bowland & Pendle Hill (Devon: Halsgrove House, 2006)
“St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch in Pendle.” Wikipedia, accessed 3/23/2015
March 05, 2018
Magic Or Medicine?
Magic Or Medicine?
Doctors / Physicians
Hans Brock der Altere (c. 1584)
Throughout history, people have consulted doctors to diagnose and treat their ailments, but educated physicians were rare, expensive, and often dangerous. There was no understanding of how germs spread disease. Indeed, well into the seventeenth century practitioners still followed Galen’s Greek notion that the body was made up of four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and when one of these fluids got out of balance the body fell sick. Leeches and blood-letting were common practices because fevers were thought to originate from having too much blood in the body.
Franz Anton Maulbertsch (c. 1785)
The first barber-surgeons were monks who aided parishioners in their monasteries. They often advocated a heavy dose of fasting and prayer to accompany their herbal remedies.
Later on, barber-surgeons were found on battlefields tending the wounded. In the age before anesthetics, surgery was considered a lowly occupation and these quacks performed many of the procedures that physicians refused to do, including barbaric amputations, teeth-pulling, enemas, and blood-letting for those who could not afford a physician.
If a person knew what was wrong and merely required a cure, they could visit the apothecary. These were early pharmacists who made medicines, salves, and potions, and also gave out advice on surgery and midwifery. Their tonics consisted of herbs, minerals, animal parts, urine, honey, and a variety of fats.
Cunning Men and Wise Women
If you could not afford any of the above, a cure might be found with a folk-healer. Cunning men and wise women used magic, prayer, herbal lore, and family experience to tackle the everyday ailments of the townsfolk, villagers, farmers, and their livestock. They were cheaper than apothecaries and could be paid by trading goods instead of money. The cunning folk also provided an array of services for specific problems that could be dealt with very discretely – contraceptive powders, abortion, love potions, impotence cures, and poisons.
Some of the more unfortunate – or unpopular – cunning folk got caught up in the witch hunts that swept across Europe throughout that period. But when people began realizing these healers were not only useful, but necessary, new regulations appeared that differentiated between good magic and bad. Lighter sentences were handed out – time spent in the pillory or jail – and capital punishment was only awarded to witches – those in league with demons, who conjured up devils or committed murder.
By the end of the Seventeenth Century extensive advancements had been made. William Harvey discovered how the heart controls blood circulation in the body; Ambroise Pare made important breakthroughs for treating war wounds; Marcello Malpighi invented the microscope; and the first blood transfusions were carried out by the Royal Society in London. But it took a great many years for these advancements to permeate throughout England. In the meantime, the common people continued to pray and turn to the wise women for help!
March 02, 2018
The First Temptation
Do you think a look
in the crystal vault of wanting
can secretly covet
without red’s betraying blush –
that some unsteady charm
will fool a close observer
and open the portal
on all of that heady rush?
March 01, 2018
Olde English Rice Pudding
For a deliciously creamy rice pudding, try my Great Grandmother’s version:
knob of butter
1 pint of full milk
2oz short grain pudding rice
2oz castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 pint fresh whipping cream
1. Heat the oven Gas 2/150 c/300 f
2. Grease a 2-pint baking dish with the knob of butter.
3. Slowly heat the milk in a large pan on the stove. Add the rice, sugar, salt, and vanilla essence, stirring constantly until the mixture boils.
4. Pour into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with lots of grated nutmeg.
5. Bake 60-90 minutes until golden brown on top.
6. Remove and cool slightly.
7. Carefully peel off the skin if not required (though most people love it). Fold in the fresh cream and stir well.
8. Serve warm with homemade raspberry, strawberry, or blackberry jam.
For a fruitier, chewy version fold in 4oz of dried fruit (currants, raisins, or sultanas) to the pan of boiled rice before pouring into the baking dish.