Tag Archives: festivals

‘Tis the Season to be … Creepy

·         Are you the kind of person who takes delight when people slip on ice?
·         Do you often wonder what dark plans that angel must be forging while stuck at the top of the tree?
·         Have you ever noticed that your snowman is in a slightly different position from before?
If you have, then you sound like someone who enjoys a bit of a scare at Christmas time and will surely love the brand new ebook from Chris Priestley – Christmas Tales of Terror.
In this specially written ebook you will find malevolent snowmen, carol-loving corpses and a toy with an evil mind of its own.  Chris Priestley is on top form in these atmospheric, clever and thoroughly chilling stories. Add a new kind of chill to the fluffiest of seasons with seven brilliantly conceived examples of why you’d better be good at Christmas time.
The book can be bought on Amazon for the very festive price of £2.48
To celebrate publication of this new collection, Chris Priestley has written a very special 247tale on the subject of A Creepy Christmas for Bloomsbury’s short story writing competition. The competition is then open to budding writers aged between 10 and 16 to create their own frighteningly festive story. For full details go to www.247tales.com, but you should know that the closing date is next week, so get scribbling quickly (or get your classes scribbling, as the case may well be – thank you, Bloomsbury, for giving me such great lesson material!)
And here is that story, for those of you brave enough to read on:

A Creepy Christmas

That end of the park was empty and Lilian’s footsteps were the only ones to trouble the pristine blanket of pure white snow. It was so beautiful, so magical. She was breathless with excitement and, looking back only once at her now distant friends, walked on.

Lillian’s neat and charmless park was utterly transformed. The grim old archway that stood as a lone reminder of the workhouse that had once stood here was smothered in snow and feathery snowflakes fell and tickled her face. Lilian stepped through the arch as though stepping into another world.

The park was unrecognisable here. Lilian felt she was walking through a deserted wood as she reached an area thick with trees where the snow was especially deep and her whispered footfalls were the only sound. She had never thought of the children who lived and died in the workhouse but now they came unbidden into her thoughts. She even thought she could hear them whispering.

Then looking up she saw children sitting in the branches above her head. They looked like roosting owls. They were ragged children, poorly dressed and pale, eerily lit from below by bright snow. Their thin, wan faces looked down at her with large eyes twinkling in the snow light. They bore an expression she thought at first was one of tragic longing, but which she realised too late was in reality some kind of terrible and cruel hunger.

And, before she could even scream, they jumped.

Chris Priestley (247 words)

Happy Halloween: marking the festival creatively

Are you trick or treating with the kids? Waiting in, prepared for the trick-or-treaters? Looking for something to do to tap into the spirit of Halloween but not sure what? Here are a few suggestions.

Decorate your windows

with simple paper cut outs for silhouettes and tissue paper to get a nice glow. Simple, strong outlines work best: orange tissue for a no-mess pumpkin face (use black paper or black marker to make the features so the orange face glows) or a circle of white tissue with a black wolf or bat silhouette against it also looks good, as do spider and bat silhouettes in black paper straight on the window.

Remember the dead

This time of year has always been about honouring those who have gone before. A simple and unobtrusive altar or shrine can easily be created using photographs, momentos or items which symbolise loved ones, perhaps together with a candle for focus.

Write something seasonal

Here’s a couple of fun exercises I’ve used with a keen student creative writing group around Halloween:

  • Practice ‘show, don’t tell’ by writing a paragraph in which a character is scared. You must demonstrate their fear as many ways as possible and avoid the word ‘scared’ and its synonyms.
  • Write a poem, a brief monologue or a flash fiction piece inspired by an unusual phobia. A handy list of phobias is available online at the phobia list.

Practise divination

Again, this is traditional at this point in the year, when the veil is said to be thinnest. If you’ve got divination tools such as tarot or oracle cards tucked away somewhere, now is a good time to pull them out and give them a go. If you’ve never really got to grips with them, try shuffling and concentrating on being open to whatever you most need to know right now. Draw a single card and see what it says to you. Don’t reach straight for the book or leaflet – what does the image mean to you? Do take notice of ideas that appear in your mind; a lot of good information is too easily dismissed.
For the more practised, here’s a great Halloween spread, working on the principle of Samhain as a beginning and an ending and seeking guidance for the coming year. Simply draw three cards: what to cast off, what to hang onto, what to bring in. This can be done as a simple three card spread, or made more complicated by applying these three ideas to different areas that you want to focus on such as love, career, family etc.
What do you do at this time of year?

Magical Monday: Here Be Dragons

Since it’s St George’s Day, I thought I’d celebrate with some dragon lore.

How cute are these wallpapers?

The story of St George and the Dragon is very similar to that of Perseus and Andromeda. A beast (in this case the dragon) is appeased by the people by means of a regular sacrifice. In the St George story, this was a sheep, then two sheep, then eventually humans were offered, chosen by lots. When the Princess was selected to be offered to the dragon, the King pleaded for it not to be so, but it had been his decision to use lots and the people were unsupportive, since many had lost their own children. It is at this point that St George appears and steps in. Some stories simply state that he killed the dragon and the people then converted to Christianity, (presumably since George was such a great example) but in some versions he requires people to be baptised into Christianity before he will slay the dragon, effectively holding them hostage to his demands. The dragon can therefore be seen  as an allegory the devil, or of the ‘false’ way of paganism. This religious appendix is not present in the Perseus and Andromeda myth.

I suspect that for most Westerners, dragons are fire-breathing winged lizards with four legs, but there are also stories of water dragons, often known as ‘worms’ (or wurms, or wyrms), which are more snake- or eel-like and are not credited with fire power. In stories like that of the Lambton Worm, such creatures can emerge from water and attack livestock and children. In this legend, John Lambton caught the worm when he was fishing and was warned not to throw it back, but he dropped it down a well instead. Trapped, the creature grew huge and the well water became poisoned and murky. Eventually, it grew to full size, left the well and wrapped itself around a hill, leaving only to attack livestock until the villagers realised that they could appease it with a regular offering of milk. After seven years of this, John Lambton returned from the Crusades to be told by a wise woman that he was the only one who could kill the worm. He had to get special armour made, covered in spikes, and was warned that once the worm was dead, he must also kill the “first to cross his path” to avoid cursing his family. He arranged to blow his horn three times as a cue for his dog to be released so that he needn’t kill a person. Of course, this didn’t work out as he planned and his father ran out to greet him before the dog was released. He killed the dog rather than his father and seems to have triggered the curse, as many generations of Lambtons after met unnatural ends.

In a lot of recent fantasy literature, dragons are portrayed as wise creatures with positive attributes. I haven’t read much with dragons lately. Anyone got any good recommendations for dragon novels?

Magical Monday: Spring Equinox

This week sees the Spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and the signs are definitely out and about. We’ve been seeing snowdrops, daffodils and the odd crocus around, and on our walk at the lovely Watermead Country Park this weekend saw plenty of green shoots on the willows. It was noticeably greener than last weekend around the lakes. We’re also seeing an increase in activity in the birds in the garden and have been puzzled by the odd behaviour of long-tailed tits who’ve been pecking at the kitchen window and the glass in the back door. It seems (having prowled around the birdie forums) that they’re warning off their own reflections who appear to them as challengers for their territory. Perhaps we’ll get nesting long-tails this year!

This equinox, which falls on March 20th this year, represents the time when the light begins to overtake the dark as we move from the shortest day in the depth of winter towards the longest day at the height of June. This is the midpoint of the Oak King’s reign in the symbolic annual struggle between the Oak and Holly Kings, representing the waxing and waning energies in the year.

Old names for this point, celebrated as a Pagan festival, include Ostara and Eostre – both associated with goddesses of fertility and growth (and with etymological echoes of Easter). This sense of everything developing and growing and preparing to bloom is easy to pick up, and the idea that this energy could be harnessed and translated into human lives via sympathetic magic isn’t difficult to imagine.

We no longer routinely spring-clean to sweep away the winter darkness, but the sense of renewal is still infectious. I’ve noticed that although I tend to make new year plans (let’s not call them resolutions, okay?), it’s at this time of year that I tend to start really putting things into practice.

What about you? Do you find yourself buzzing with Spring energy?

Love and Magic

So, it’s Valentine’s Day. The day that the birds traditionally pair up for mating, and people celebrate the idea of love and romance (or fertility, since ‘true love’ seems to be a relatively modern idea).

There’s a ton of information around about love spells, for example:

  • different coloured candles can be used to focus on different kinds of love (e.g. new love = pink; faithfulness = green; passion = red)
  • over 150 different herbs have been associated with spells to attract love over at least the last few decades
  • contemporary books on magic tend to emphasise the need not to remove someone’s free will, and often advise creating a spell to facilitate meeting the right person, rather than a spell that asks for a particular individual’s love

I think the existence of love spells reveals a desire to make love certain and predictable. But perhaps that’s the point? Perhaps what makes us value ‘true love’ (or genuine commitment) is precisely the difficulty in finding it? Finding true love requires a leap of faith in making oneself vulnerable and even this cannot guarantee that love will be reciprocated. How much safer it would be if we could control the process and not have to risk so much! But then, would we put so much value on love?

Family Friday: Peace and Love

As we near the midpoint of the traditional twelve days, a period of ‘time out of time’, I hope you’re all enjoying the holidays in whatever fashion works for you.

Here are some of the aspects of Christmas/Yule holiday tradition that I particularly enjoy:

  • all the light/fire references, reminding us that it all stems from a celebration of the return of the sun as the balance shifts from dark to light again
  • the greenery decking the halls, a lovely piece of sympathetic magic encouraging the non-evergreen life to remember that life goes on
  • the rich, warming, spicy food and drink (as I write this, I can smell a ham boiling away merrily in apple and orange juices with cinnamon, cloves and allspice) to nourish ourselves for the coming winter
  • the sense of self renewal which has become the tradition of New Year Resolutions, possibly stemming from a natural inward-turning impulse in these longer and darker nights

This is my last post for 2011, so: whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope you’re making great memories and that 2012 will be a great and positive year for you.

Magical Monday: Samhain Celebrations

Today is celebrated as Hallowe’en but it is also part of the old festival of Samhain, which commemorates the dead. It is also a time of looking backwards and inwards before moving into the lighter half of the annual cycle which begins at the Winter Solstice.

The belief that the Otherworld is more accessible on this particular night both links to the commemoration of the dead and to the traditional practice of divination on this night.

In keeping with the backwards/forwards energy here, a useful divination practice (this can also be a meditation focus) is to look at what to let go of, what to keep and what to bring in, e.g.using Tarot cards, you’d draw a card for each. It can also be really tightly focused by taking different aspects of your life in turn (e.g. career, love, etc) – it’s interesting when similar themes crop up across different areas!

Family Friday: we love English Heritage!

We have been members of English Heritage for three years now and absolutely love it. It’s been brilliant on UK holidays in particular, as there are so many places you can just visit on a whim. And there are often great events in the summer like jousting, falconry and medieval music – at no extra charge! Finally, quite a lot of their properties allow dogs in the grounds (or in the case of ruins like our local Ashby Castle, all over the site).

This week (on Monday in fact, in recognition of Lammas, the grain harvest), we went to Sibsey Trader Mill in Lincolnshire and had a great time. We were able to see it in full sail and saw some of the inner workings. More was available to view but cowardice got the better of us after two flights of, er, ladder. I didn’t even manage to get an inside pic, as we were too busy being scared 🙁

Recovered from the ladders! 

Anyway, our youngest, who has recently become close to obsessed with the song “John Barleycorn” was thrilled to be able to actually see grain being crushed “between two stones” and was amazed to see that the mill can work with three different grains at a time.

We can also recommend the tea room 🙂 I can personally vouch for warmed fluffy scones with jam and cream!

Magical Monday: The Corn King

Today, 1st August is Lammas or Lughnasadh – the ancient festival of the first harvest (corn and grain). Stories and rites of this time therefore centre around sacrifice, death, rebirth and abundance. In old stories, this is the time when the Corn King (or John Barleycorn) is cut down in order to feed the people. Although there is sadness in the death of the king, everyone understands that this stage is necessary. Harvesting the corn allows more to be planted and allows the ground to regain its fertility. If the corn were left to die on the stalk, there could be no future crop either.

Corn dollies (as seen in the picture above) are related to Lammas celebrations and seem to have different meanings in different communities. To some, they celebrate the corn (symbolic of the whole harvest) and remind us of the abundance around us. To others, they are used in ritualised slayings of the Corn King or God (who sacrifices himself willingly for us). For others still, they are a kind of offering, a way of setting aside the last bit of the harvest rather than consuming it. Safeguarding the corn dolly through the year is sometimes seen as a way of protecting next year’s yield, showing gratitude for the harvest and thereby proving we deserve another one. Yet another belief is that the corn dolly houses the spirit of the corn over the winter. For those following this final system, the dolly would be buried when the new crop was planted, sometimes quite elaborately, or driven into the newly-ploughed ground in the spring. Either way, this ensured that the corn spirit was never lost.

For the original version of the picture above, along with others and instructions on making one design, visit this site.