OGOM Demon of the Day #GothicHybridity

Following the success of #FebruaryAngels OGOM is launching 2 new hastags. The first is #GothicHybridity in celebration of the IGA conference in Manchester in July. OGOM will be presenting a panel entitled ‘Gothic Hybridities: Ambiguous Creatures and Ambivalent Morals’. The new hashtag will be combined with ‘demon of the day’ @OGOMproject. The second is inspired by Kaja’s interest in eco-criticism, folklore and the eerie #FearfulFens, applies to any unusual happenings or stories relating to lowlands, marshes and quagmires and it begins in May!

Hybrid Demons 

I’ve blogged about fairy tale hybridity in relation to Beauty and the Beast and commented on the Wellcome’s ‘Making Nature’ exhibition on faux taxonomy and hybrid creatures as well as responding to a BBC article on fictional representations of hybridity: Hybrid Creatures from the Owl Man to the Demon Dog  This is the first time I have approached hybridity via demonology.

It occurred to me that one of the reasons why a negative view of hybridity has developed (apart from those taxonomies which outlawed anything that was not ‘pure’ stock labelling them ‘monstrous’) is because of the iconography surrounding demons. The process of cross-fertilisation can of course create something new, more than the sum of the original parts. It moves us away notions of identities which are either/or, either one thing or another (either black or white for example) and acknowledges instead the sheer complexity of identities and their openness to change. Demons work against this positive idea of hybridity because they are shown to be flawed, malformed, and akin to the devil, and also cast out and forever in a state of exile or unbelonging.

In Christianity demons have their origins in the Fallen Angels who follow Satan when he was cast out of heaven by God. As Christianity spread, Pagan gods, goddesses, and nature spirits were incorporated into the ranks of demons. Descriptions from antiquity portray demons as shapeshifters who can assume any form, animal or human or hybrid. Some theologians and witch hunters say that demons have no corporeal form,  and only give the illusion that they are in animal or human form. They create voices out of air that mimic people.

In Judaic lore, demons are invisible, but can see themselves and each other. They cast no shadows (linking them to Dracula). They only assume bodies to copulate. In Christian lore demons assume forms that are black, such as black dogs, and other animals. Because they are evil they are imperfect, shown in flaws such as malformed limbs and cloven feet. Demons are described as unclean, if they make their bodies out of air, or occupy a living body, they exude a stench. Throughout history the activities of demons has been thought to cause illness and disease. Demons can send bad weather, pests such as armies of rats and mice and swarms of locusts. Such belief holds that humans are in constant danger of demonic attack in some form, and constant vigilance is required. The greatest danger occurs at night when sleeping humans are at their most vulnerable, births and deaths are perilous times, as are nights on which marriages are consummated. At these times demons are better able to wreak havoc!

Demons were believed to aid witches during the inquisition, they acted as familiars, taking the form of animals, participating in sabbats. They can also assume beautiful and seductive forms, acting as sexual predators. By the C14th it was accepted that demons had sex with humans, in the form of Incubi and Succubi, or even as Satan himself. They are organised into hierarchies, according to GRIMOIRES or inquisition writings. Such magic books give the names, duties, seals, incantations and rituals around summoning and controlling demons.

The DICTIONNAIRE INFERNAL describes demons organised in hierarchies. It was written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and first published in 1818. There are several editions of the book; perhaps the most famous is the 1863 edition, which included illustrations by Louis Le Breton depicting the appearances of several of the demons. I am excited to say that the Bibliothèque nationale de France has scanned this book and made it available for download here

This, together with a used copy of Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology (2009), has inspired my interest in demons. It is not about poltergeists or demonic possession for me, but discovering wonderfully hybrid and magical creatures. I have started to tweet some of my favourites and you can catch up below:

MARCHOSIAS. Fallen angel and 35th of 72 Spirits of Solomon. He is a marquis ruling 30 legions of demons. He appears as a she-wolf with griffin wings and a serpent’s tail. A shapeshifter he will take human form. Once a member of the angelic order of dominions, he is set to return after 1,200 years.

ADREMLECH. A Chieften of hell. Grand Chancellor of Demons, President of the Devil’s General Council. Governor of the Devil’s Wardrobe. Often portrayed as a mule with a peacock’s tail.

ANDRAS. Fallen angel and 6rd of the 72 Spirits of Soloman. Wonderfully hybrid, he appears in the form of an owl-headed demon who rides a black wolf! He creates discord and kills his enemies with a gleaming silver sword.

AMDUSCIAS. Fallen angel 67th of the 72 Spirits of Solomon. Appears first as a unicorn. He will take on human shape but this will cause musical instruments to be heard but not seen. Trees sway at the sound of his voice  He gives humans the power to make trees fall and he gives excellent familiars!

BEELZEBUB. Prince of Demons, ‘Lord of the Flies’. Manifests either as a monstrous bug or being of great height on a giant throne- in his latter guise he has huge nostrils, horns, bat wings, duck feet, a lion’s tail and a covering of thick black hair.

GAAP. Fallen angel and 33rd of the 72 Spirits of Solomon. Prince in Hell, ruling 66 legions of demons. Humanlike, with huge bat wings, he can make you insentient or move you from place to place. Takes familiars away from magicians!

Do join in on Twitter with demons and fens from now until July!

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Twitter ‘Moment’ for #UrbanWeird2018

Here’s our Twitter ‘Moment’ for #UrbanWeird2018 documenting the fantastic OGOM meets Supernatural Cities conference and tour. Enjoy!

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The Urban Weird Conference

Thanks to our wonderfully weird speakers and keynotes, OGOM and Supernatural Cities presents ‘The Urban Weird’ was extremely inspiring on the research front and probably the most fun it is possible to have at an academic conference! It seemed to have had everything from boggarts, big bugs, fairies, ghosts, golems, and mummies, to vampires, trolls, and witches (and even albino penguins).

The conference showed that there is still lot to say about ‘the weird’, and Mark Fisher, author of The Weird and the Eerie (2016), was much quoted and debated as a theorist throughout the proceedings, along with Lovecraft, whose notion of  the supernatural (1925) involves a breathless and unexplainable dread of outer unknown forces.

My own sense of the ‘weird’ developed from these definitions, together with real life experiences that saw me come face to face with the lost children of Hamelin, those families in Romania with German sounding names who claimed to be the descendants of the children who were spirited away by the Pied Piper.  Well, they say fascination mixed with certain trepidation is integral to the weird! Transylvania is believed by some to be the final destination of the lost children and a certain otherness and outsiderness continues to attach itself to this place, and those associated with it, in the British imagination. My exploration of city demons from Dracula to Nosferatu and the Pied Piper, explored this aspect of the urban weird.

According to Mark Fisher, the weird is a particular kind of unsettlement, involving ‘a sensation of wrongness’, something that ‘should not exist in the here and now’. Many of the papers addressed this idea in original and compelling ways. For my own part, it was fun to dismantle Fisher’s notion that black holes are weirder than vampires. In fact, vampires and werewolves are not deemed weird at all by him, as they conform to particular lore and behave in a manner that is entirely expected of them (hmm). Elsewhere at the conference, the weird was imaginatively interrogated in relation to its related terms of ‘eerie’ and ‘uncanny’.

So to summarise the conference – on day one we began with a boggart workshop led by Dr Ceri Houlbrook (some weird Mancunian mischief here).

After a morning of panels on ‘Urban Myths and Fairy Tales’, ‘Weird Victorians’, ‘Ghosts and Spectrality’, it was time for lunch, followed by more panels on ‘China Mieville’, ‘The Virtual Weird’, and ‘Nineteenth-Century Europe and the Weird’. The OGOM Urban Weird biscuits, decked with our winged skull symbol, arrived mid afternoon to help us celebrate the weird moon that was rising!!

This was followed by our first keynote, Dr Karl Bell of Supernatural Cities, on ‘Dark City: Daemonic Architectures: Towards a Cartography of the Urban Weird’. The weird was gloriously and very insightfully interrogated here and this really set the scene and uncovered many of the key themes we were to grapple with over the 2 days.

Panels in the afternoon included ‘Paranormal Romance’ with OGOMers Dr Bill Hughes (urban fantasies of Paris and London in YA fiction) and Dr Kaja Franck (trolls and environmentalism in Holly Black) presenting their research. The panels on ‘Killers of London’, and ‘The Politics of Horror’ ran in parallel. There was supper in the bar, prior to a mesmeric screening of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), with an informative and lively intro from Dr Mikel Koven. Late night drinks and animated discussions ensued and a growing sense of excitement about day two.

Saturday kicked off with panels on ‘The East and the Weird’, ‘Weird London’, ‘The Urban Weird and Fantasy’, and then it was time for my keynote, ‘City Demons: Urban Manifestations of the Pied Piper and Nosferatu Myths’.

This excursion into the weird in fairy tale and myth was followed by ‘Weird Archaeology’ (where OGOM PhD candidate Daisy Butcher spoke on The Mummy) and ‘Weird Resistance’, then lunch. Prof. Owen Davies on ‘Supernatural Beliefs in Nineteenth-century Asylums’, added to the interdisciplinary nature of our discussions, with insights into real life cases involving belief in witchcraft, magic, and the fey.

At four, we all boarded a bus to for the Spectral St Albans Tour. This part of the conference was inspired by the weird or the eerie, and those uncanny or submerged histories that give play to the imagination and rise up to frame spatial narratives. St Albans is built on the Roman city of Verulamium, razed to the ground by Boudicca. There is a secret spectral history that lies within Hertfordshire’s finest ghost city, therefore. In researching the tour, we discovered that St Albans is home to a succubus or female grotesque:

There is also a tortured martyr, ghostly monks, pagan Gods, grotesque carvings, winged skulls, a dragon’s or ‘wrym’s den (Wermenhert), witches, magical puddingstones, Wiccan communities, folklore rituals, and more.

The tour, which took in all of these sights, led us from the clock tower, to the abbey and prison, the OGOM headquarters (where our mascots Teddy and Willow made an appearance), the gateway to the Roman city of Verulamium, St Michael’s Church and village, Kingsbury Water Mill,  and Wicca dwellings on Fish Pool Street.

We concluded at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which is said to be the oldest pub in England. The octagonal half-timbered structure was once a medieval dovecote. There are underground tunnels stretching from the beer cellar in the Inn to the Abbey. These secret passages were regularly used by the monks.  In fact ghostly monks still haunt the Inn!! One morning in 2001, a terrified member of staff witnessed spectre monks emerging from the ancient cellar. What made the figures even more frightening was that they had no legs from the knees down. The ghostly monks glided across the room and sat down at a fireside table before disappearing. At other times the cellar keys have been found hanging on hooks swaying violently by themselves!! This was the perfect place to stop off before dinner and more weird chat. What a fantastically weird two days!! If you missed all the fun, you can view the full Urban Weird programme here

As I said, The tour included a viewing of the OGOM project ‘death’s head’ winged skull in St Albans Abbey

To commemorate the success of the conference, we have this eerie three-dimensional image of the skull, made specially by Dr Ken Lymer, who spoke on the weird archaeology of Lovecraft at the conference. How very uncanny. On behalf of OGOM, I’d like to thank everyone who presented or came along. It really was extremely memorable and enormous fun. Keep following us on Twitter @OGOMProject  and on the blog. You can see all the photos and live tweets at #UrbanWeird2018.

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Press Release: OGOM and Supernatural Cities to Host ‘The Urban Weird’, 6th-7th April

University of Hertfordshire to host ‘The Urban Weird’, a two-day programme of events on the theme of supernatural cities

‘The Urban Weird’ will take place at the University of Hertfordshire on the 6 and 7 April. The event will explore supernatural and magical cities and examine the significance of the ‘urban weird’ in all its various manifestations and cultural forms. Topics include: ‘Weird Victoriana’, ‘Ghosts and Spectrality, ‘Urban Myths and Fairytales’, ‘Paranormal Romance’ and ‘Weird Archaeology’.

This programme of events marks an exciting collaboration between the Open Graves, Open Minds group at the University of Hertfordshire and the Supernatural Cities  project at the University of Portsmouth. The festival will boast over 40 research papers; a Spectral St Albans Tour, exploring the magical and supernatural history of Hertfordshire’s finest ghost city; a special workshop on mischievous spirits or ‘boggarts’, led by Dr Ceri Houlbrook; and a screening of the cult film Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, introduced by Dr Mikel Koven, a specialist in folklore cinema.

The Open Graves,Open Minds research group is known for its imaginative events and symposia. These have included a three-day conference on shapeshifters, werewolves and feral humans, a first for a UK academy. Dr Sam George, Convenor of the project and Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire said:

“It’s very exciting; this event is inspired by the weird or the eerie, and those uncanny or submerged histories that give play to the imagination and rise up to frame all kinds of spatial narratives. Day two takes place in St Albans, home to tortured martyrs, ghostly monks, pagan gods, witches, demons, grotesque carvings, winged skulls, Wermenhert, the lair of an ancient dragon or ‘wyrm’, modern-day Wiccan communities, folklore rituals and more…”

The Open Graves, Open Minds, project is also represented by Dr Bill Hughes, who will speak on urban fantasies of Paris and London, and Dr Kaja Franck, who will present her research on the troll in the city, urban fey and environmentalism.

Keynote talks will cover ‘Supernatural Beliefs in Nineteenth-Century Asylums’ (Professor Owen Davies), ‘Dark City, Daemonic Architectures: Towards a Cartography of the Urban Weird’ (Dr Karl Bell, University of Portsmouth) and ‘City Demons: Urban Manifestations of the Pied Piper and Nosferatu Myths’ (Dr Sam George).

To find out more about the event and see the full programme, please visit: http://www.opengravesopenminds.com/urban-weird-2018/full-programme/

For more information/images, contact the University of Hertfordshire Press Office on 01707 285770, Email: news@herts.ac.uk

 About the event:

 Date: 6th – 7th April 2018 Venue: University of Hertfordshire, de Havilland Campus, Hatfield, AL10 9EU

About the University of Hertfordshire’s Open Graves, Open Minds project:

The Open Graves, Open Minds project began by unearthing depictions of the vampire and the undead in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures and other supernatural beings and their worlds. OGOM opens up questions concerning genre, gender, hybridity, cultural change, and other realms. The Project now extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical, and its most recent research has been on tales of werewolves and how they, and the figure of the wolf itself, cast light on what it is to be human. http://www.opengravesopenminds.com/

 About the University of Portsmouth’s Supernatural Cities project:

 The Supernatural Cities project is an interdisciplinary network of humanities and social science scholars of urban environments and the supernatural.  We aim to encourage the conversation between historians, cultural geographers, folklorists, social psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and literary scholars as they explore the representation of urban heterotopias, otherness, haunting, estranging, the uncanny, enchantment, affective geographies, communal memory and the urban fantastical. We will share calls for papers, work on collaborative funding bids and promote relevant research. http://supernaturalcities.co.uk/



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Review: Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic

Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic, edited by Robert McKay and John Miller (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2017. 272 pages).

The eleven essays in McKay and Miller’s Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic focus on a creature that has already been analysed critically in a number of texts in terms of the social anxieties it represents—i.e. class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender. According to the introduction, Werewolves is meant to offer a new perspective through the lens of the “ecoGothic,” where werewolves and wolves are both regarded as “perpetrators” and “subjects” of violence as a consequence of past extinction and current rewilding efforts (5). As a centralizing idea, it’s a lot to bite off, even for a “my-what-big-teeth-you-have” sort of monster, resulting in a collection that contains some profound insights and originality, but also instances where more chewing is needed for digestion.

Certain essays stand out in terms of clarity and perception. Priest begins the collection with “Like Father Like Son: Wolf-Men, Paternity and the Male Gothic,” which explores how twentieth and early twenty-first century depictions of the male werewolf work against historical depictions, particularly medieval and Victorian texts that adhere to the “wicked woman” trope, where a woman is either responsible for the man’s unfortunate transformation or is herself an evil werewolf. For Priest, the cinematic male werewolf has become a figure of the “grotesque, disfigured and impotent masculine” (21). In her analysis of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Wolf Man (1941), Priest points out that both lead females, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) and Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), are not responsible for David (David Naughton) or Larry’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) transformation; in fact, both women attempt to save the ill-fated men from their curse through loyalty and love. In contrast, Larry and David illustrate a new “fascination with the disabled and broken male body” (28). The vulnerability of these male werewolves, as well as the theme of contagion through biting that Priest links to paternity, are similarly illustrated in a study of Being Human (2011-2014). For further contemporary cinematic analysis, Batia Boe Stolar looks beyond female sexuality and monstrosity in the Ginger Snaps Trilogy to examine sisterly relations, mainly through the character of the younger sister, Bridgette (Emily Perkins).

Jazmina Cininas’ “Wicked Wolf-Women and Shaggy Suffragettes: Lycanthropic Femmes Fatales in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras” delves into an area of female monstrosity studies where there is much overlap and repetition; however, Cininas’ inclusion of Baring Gould’s examples of “real” female werewolves in The Book of Werewolves (1865) and beastly images of anti-suffragette postcards add new and noteworthy dimensions to her analysis of Sir Gilbert Cambell’s The White Wolf of Kostopchin (1889), Clemence Housman’s “The Were-Wolf,” and Clemence’s brother, Laurence Houseman’s illustrations for “The WereWolf” (1890).

Kaja Franck’s “‘Something that is either wolf or vampire’: Interrogating the Lupine Nature of Bram Stoker’s Dracula” provides perhaps the clearest example of the collection’s notion of the ecoGothic. By contrasting nineteenth-century travel narratives set in Romania and Transylvania with Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Franck convincingly fixes Dracula’s lupine characteristics to the wolf, and thus to civilization’s fear of nature. In Franck’s argument, Dracula’s death ultimately reaffirms an anthropocentric worldview with British civilization conquering the “wolf as Gothic creature” (135).

In another stand-out essay, Bill Hughes’ “‘But by Blood No Wolf Am I’: Language and Agency, Instinct and Essence—Transcending Antinomies in Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver Series” wades through the mire of what Hughes himself admits is often badly-written YA romantic fiction to discover a more sophisticated, nuanced, and well-written example of a paranormal romance involving teenage werewolves. Hughes’ examination of the Shiver series reveals a complex narrative that does not look down on either humanity or animality, but instead considers the best qualities of both. For humanity, it is “love, creativity, society” (229). Then, after this thoughtful deliberation, the main characters must make a choice of which world to live in and who to love that is not based solely on biological determinism.

The collection shifts with Michelle Boyer’s essay on nineteenth-century Indian Removal and Relocation Acts in America that juxtaposes wolves and American Indians, specifically Sioux and Cheyenne tribes in Dances with Wolves (1990), Last of the Dogmen (1995), and more contemporary television series True Blood (2008-2014) and The Originals (2013-). Boyer’s tone is rightly indignant about the offensive and misleading depiction of Native Americans in film and television, however the essay fails to examine why there might be a re-emergence of the previous century’s tension in the 1990s (when wolves were controversially reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park) or more recently (the Standing Rock Sioux fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline of crude oil through tribal land). The history of each tribe and its current land disputes should be included, especially if issues of ecocentrism and racism are being addressed. In contrast, Roman Bartosch and Celestine Caruso’s essay on the “ubernatural” and representations of otherness in the Twilight saga is more specific to the Quileute tribe while also maintaining a scathing tone regarding Hollywood’s highly-stereotyped portrayal (on the rare occasions indigenous American actors get roles on screen) of characters like Jacob and his “pack.”

Fairy tales and folklore are the topics of essays by Margot Young and Matthew Lerberg. Young investigates agriculture via the wolf fiction of Angela Carter, focusing mainly on Carter’s setting in the European forests of the Middle Ages, although Young also interjects fascinating anecdotes and quotes from Carter’s experiences with animals, specifically ants and baboons in the London Zoo. Although the essay occasionally conflates land conflicts from nineteenth-century America, it remains most salient in Carter’s European setting.  Lerberg provides a contemporary look at fairy tales through the character of the Big Bad Wolf, who appears in noirish fashion as Bigby in Fables, a DC Comics series and Monroe from Grimm (2011-2017). Lerberg contends that critics must continue scrutinising the wolf in new fairy tales in order to find out if these tales maintain the negative connotations for wolves that were held in works by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

For readers interested in early twentieth-century literature, John Miller’s essay examines the masculine, yet often homoerotic, wolf stories of Saki (H. H. Munro). Miller’s writing is layered with intriguing biographical sketches of Munro’s time in Burma and Russia, as well as being theoretically dense, linking Saki’s work to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Additionally, Robert McKay explores Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris (1933) in its historical context of Depression-era America while also incorporating biography and integrating Endore’s vegetarianism and leftist leanings.

As a transformative monster, the werewolf is a tricky creature to pin down on the page with words. For the most part, writers in this collection have done so successfully, making creative associations between eras and genres, and opening up new avenues of study.

Review by Shannon Scott for The Dark Arts Journal https://thedarkartsjournal.wordpress.com/

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Full Programme for OGOM and Supernatural Cities Present: The Urban Weird, 6th-7th April

Our design for ‘The Urban Weird’ 6th-7th April has now been released in all its glory. You can view all the wonderful panels and events over two days and see the graphics for our complete programme here. 

If you are still to book there are a few days left but we will be looking at numbers for catering etc. on Thursday 29th March. Amongst the very reasonable fees are a limited number of undergraduate student tickets at 25.00 all in for 2 days including tour, workshop  and screening.  Book now to avoid disappointment.

** Please contact us directly if you experience any difficulties; the site has experienced some technical issues, though we expect to have these resolved soon.
Please email s.george@herts.ac.uk for assistance and we will make sure you get booked in successfully.

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The Urban Weird 6th-7th April Booking is Open

The amazing OGOM and Supernatural Cities present ‘The Urban Weird’ on 6th-7th April is now open for bookings!! You can log on and select a number of events from spectral city tours to Urban Weird screenings and workshops!! Find out more by browsing the Keynotes and Events and looking at our fantastic Panels and Papers . We’ve got everything from Demons to Trolls, Nosferatus to Boggarts. We’re in St Albans on day two,  England’s finest spectral city,  home to tortured martyrs, ghostly monks, pagan Gods, grotesque carvings, winged skulls, Wiccan communities, folklore rituals and more. If you are a delegate or you just want to come along and get involved please visit our booking site here for details.

** Please contact us directly if you experience any difficulties; the site has experienced some technical issues, though we expect to have these resolved soon.
Please email s.george@herts.ac.uk for assistance and we will make sure you get booked in successfully

Here’s the first glimpse of our gothtastic poster. It’s all very exciting! Join @OGOMProject and @imaginetheurban on Twitter using #UrbanWeird2018 #GothicHertfordshire

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Urban Weird Conference News

I’m just announcing one or two changes to the line up for our forthcoming ultra exciting  ‘Urban Weird’ conference. We now have Dr Mikel Koven taking us on a filmic, folkloric, urban weird journey into witches through the ages, following supper on day one. A summary of keynotes and special events is below. The amazing ‘Urban Weird’ is only a few weeks away now and  booking opens next week (we’ll post the link).  I can’t wait!


Urban Weird:  Keynote Speakers

Prof. Owen Davies (University of Hertfordshire), historian of witchcraft and magic, ‘Supernatural Beliefs in Nineteenth-Century Asylums’

Dr Karl Bell (University of Portsmouth), Convenor of Supernatural Cities, ‘Dark City, Daemonic Architectures: Towards a Cartography of the Urban Weird’

Dr Sam George (University of Hertfordshire), Convenor of the Open Graves, Open Minds Project, ‘City Demons: Urban Manifestations of the Pied Piper and Nosferatu Myths’

Special Events (all free to delegates)

Urban Weird Film Screening  introduced by Dr Mikel Koven (University of Worcester), specialist in folklore cinema and President of the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR).

Following supper in the bar delegates will be introduced to an eerie screening of Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922) which exemplifies our theme of folklore and the ‘urban weird’. A lively discussion will ensue!

Urban Weird: Spectral St Albans Magical City Tour

From Britannia to the Wicker Man: The Welcome Return of Folk Horror   makes reference to the ‘submerged histories’ which give play to the imagination and rise up to frame spacial narratives and this is precisely the theme for our Spectral St Albans Magical Cities Tour. St Albans is built on the remains of the ancient Roman city of Verulamium, razed to the ground by Boudicca. You can join us for a stunning tour of the buried city on the 7th April and engage with the magical and supernatural history of Hertfordshire’s finest spectral city (home to tortured martyrs, ghostly medieval monks, pagan Gods, grotesque carvings, winged skulls, Wiccan communities, folklore rituals and more).

Urban Weird Boggart Workshop

Delegates will be invited to participate in a special workshop on a Mancunian Boggart, led by folklorist Dr Ceri Houlbrook (ECR , University of Hertfordshire). Using a wide range of material – from the pens of antiquarians to local ballads and oral histories – this workshop will trace the history and folklore of Boggart Hole Clough, where today, still, ‘there lurks that strange elf’…ooh!!

Supernatural Cities logo

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Frankenstein and Counter-Enlightenment

Image result for frankenstein angry villagers

I’m sure many will have seen the furore stirred up in social media, particularly among Gothicists, by the Sun’s article on Frankenstein, which screams, ‘SNOWFLAKE students claim Frankenstein’s monster was a misunderstood victim with feelings’. I don’t think it’s altogether true to reply, as some (understandably) have done, that the sympathy with the creature is the whole point of the novel (see here). Mary Shelley’s greatness lies in setting up a cluster of questions and arguments, not in didactically pushing one viewpoint.

Frankenstein itself is ambivalent. The sympathy for the monster is crucial. The claims for recognition and human rights (something the Sun clearly wants to undermine) are central. Yet the monster is a cruel and cold-blooded killer; his crime all the worse because he is sentient, cultivated to an extent, and shares the potential for nobility of human beings. But he has been unjustly exiled from all community and social life and his rebellion is justified. (The Sun isn’t notably a fan of just revolt.)

I haven’t read all of Prof. Groom’s new introduction (which is quoted from in the article). It’s almost certainly quoted in a way that distorts its meaning. He seems to be saying that students may be one-sided in their ‘sentimental’ response and to have missed the crucial ambivalence. That’s what academia is for—to restore the complexities that either/or thinking wants to efface. Yet the students’ sympathy is not untrue to the book either and their concern for rights—rights which the Sun isn’t noted for endorsing—is not to be dismissed lightly. David Barnett in the Guardian defends the need for such empathy in our atomised, asocial world.

Sun journalists probably know that the novel shows sympathy to the creature—they’re well-educated, just cynical and manipulative and contemptuous of their readers. They have had a privileged education and earn high salaries. They serve and often belong to the very elite that they are so fond of casting as monsters—that is, the real elite, those who have wealth and power, not those deemed elite just because they have had the opportunity to cultivate knowledge. The article is based on an article in The Times which is slightly more subtle, though still announcing its contempt for young people (or ‘millennials’). The Times, of course, has always been the voice of the ruling classes; they can’t even aim at the fake demotic credentials of the Sun.

The Sun article is in a wider context of right-wing attacks on students, on academics, on expertise itself. But, as quite a few social media commentators have pointed out, it takes on extra significance at this moment when university staff are striking—a strike motivated in part by a resistance to those forces which seek to degrade academic life.

There are those who read Frankenstein as a counter-Enlightenment tract, warning against the hubris of science and progress. I would say that it’s more a novel that explores the consequences of an Enlightenment project that (as the philosopher Jürgen Habermas claims) had halted. I argue here that ‘the Modern Prometheus’ of Shelley’s subtitle is a Prometheus whose pursuit of knowledge has become distorted by capitalism and who no longer serves human ends. That project is in urgent need of defence from the new counter-Enlightenment which scorns critical thinking and progressive politics, hurls insults at academia and ‘experts’, and lies behind the destruction of universities that strikers are fighting against at this very moment.

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The Selkie: Storytelling, Poetry & Panel

I am teaching Selkies this week on OGOM’s YA gothic course and I have just discovered this Selkie: Storytelling, Poetry & Panel Discussion on the 19th March in Brighton. The event is part of Imogen Di Sapia’s exhibition The Selkie: Weaving & The Wild Feminine at ONCA 17th – 25th March, see here for more info and events.

It is described as a night of tales relating to the wild feminine and magical handcraft; the second half of the evening will feature a panel discussion on the symbols within the stories. Telling from Imogen Di Sapia, Fleur Shorthouse, Stacia Keogh, Joanna Gilar & Abbie Simmonds. Musical performances from Tracy Jane Sullivan on Harp and The Butterfly Wheel with acoustic song.

Door & bar at 6:30pm, telling begins at 7pm. Follow the link above to book. Tickets 5.83.

Meanwhile we are studying inbetweeness, liminality, shapeshifting and adolescence in Tides which I really enjoyed!!


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