The Witch and the King, an ancient tale of sorcery

The witch and the king

In the days leading up to Walpurgis Eve (Walpurgisnacht) — last day of April and night of the witches — I’ll be adding some tales of sorcery to the site. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Perched on the border of two English counties, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, stand a group of mysterious stones known as the King’s Men.

Part of a much larger arrangement, the Rollright Stones, the King’s Men are thought to be even older than Stonehenge.

Like sentries defending some forgotten treasure, they have stood for centuries gazing sombrely over fields of grassland.

Visit on a cold morning and you’re likely to see the circle bathed in an eerie mist — an atmosphere of ancient magic and enchantment, and the reason why the stones are the subject of many myths and legends. And where there are legends, come druids, magicians, mystics and storytellers, all who have visited the stones over the centuries, attempting to understand and harness their secret power.

Rollright Stones
To this day, the guardians of magic still gather here for meetings and rituals; visit and you may very well see their like standing amongst the decaying pillars. But if you do, mind that you are entering a place of sorcery. Strange energies have been detected around the stones, particularly in the circle of the King’s Men. Continue reading

THE JUDAS BURNING, a ghost story for Good Friday

Easter ghost story

I do not believe in ghosts, but, having witnessed a most remarkable, altogether inexplicable event, that happened to me when I was but a boy of eleven, near the burial ground of the Ancient Church in Toxteth, I have, finally, been persuaded at the request of a number of friends, to document the following particulars of the same; for, whosoever wishes to dwell upon this account, may find that it has more than ordinary interest.

The day was Good Friday and I had gotten up early to see the ‘Judas burning’, up against the wall of a derelict house in Charlecote Street.

I say ‘I’, but I wasn’t doing the burning; I was simply watching some older lads lighting their effigy, but, as is wont to happen when youthful recklessness abounds, it wasn’t long before the police arrived — a pair of them, on a motorcycle and sidecar would you believe! We all scattered but for some reason they decided to chase me.

I must have run for miles when, finally, I got cornered by the same two policeman. They had caught sight of me disappearing down a blind alley, and, at the end of it, had found me cowering amongst a pile of bins and rusting barrels.

One of the coppers informed me that Charlie, one of the older lads I mentioned earlier, had told them it was me who had started the burning. At first he was suspicious of the story — an older boy blaming someone younger — but it wasn’t long before the crowd of boys, now gathered around him, had all begun chiming in agreement that it was me who had started the fire.

Anyway, I pleaded with him that I wasn’t to blame, and, after some questioning, he let me go with no more than a ticking off. I think both men had felt sorry for me; they could clearly see from my shaking and mumbling that I wasn’t someone who was likely to be the ringleader of a gang of trouble-makers, especially ones older than me! Still, I was quite upset that I had been implicated in all this.

By then it was getting quite late. So I set off home to my house in Cockburn Street. I was proceeding leisurely on foot when, on passing the Ancient Church, my attention was suddenly arrested by the strange and uncanny appearance of its graveyards. The time would then be shortly after ten. The whole burying ground seemed alive and glistening with a thousand small blueish lights, like little flames, which appeared to creep in and out of the different graves, as if the departed spirits were taking a late evening ramble. I stood petrified, not knowing what to make of it, at the same time experiencing a feeling of horror which suddenly took complete possession of me. Just at this moment the moon, which had up until then been more or less obscured by a moving panorama of passing clouds, came, as it would seem, to my assistance, giving me for a very short time the benefit of her companionship. And now appeared the most startling phenomenon of all, a phenomenon which caused my hair to stand on end with fright, a cold numbness of horror, paralysing me in every limb — for advancing up the road, directly opposite to me, came a funeral train, the coffin borne along with measured tread, covered with an immense black pall, which fluttered up in the evening wind.

At first I thought I must surely be dreaming, and therefore pinched myself in the arm to ascertain if this were really the case. But no, I certainly was not, for I distinctly felt the nip, and was therefore satisfied as to my wakefulness. ‘What could it all mean?’ I asked myself as the cortege gradually approached me, and I began to distinguish the general outlines of the bearers. These appeared to be no more than boys, judging by their size, but they were indistinct, merely shadows of the human form. The most disturbing part of it was that they all bore walking-sticks mounted with deaths’ heads. I observed one somewhat younger boy among the crowd of followers, walking just behind the coffin. His distinctness, in comparison with the others, perhaps made me take especial notice of him. He was dressed in what appeared to be a suit, black velvet; the whiteness of his shirt standing out in marked contrast to the sombre nature of his general attire. The face of this young man was deathly pale, as were also the faces of all the others accompanying him, and, though his face remained somewhat blurred in form, I felt that there was something strangely familiar about it. Then, suddenly, instead of the procession advancing to the gate at which I stood, it turned and entered the burial ground by the one situated at a few yards’ distance. As the coffin was borne through this gate, all the blue spirit lights seemed to rise from the graves as if to meet the cortege for the purpose of escorting the body to its last resting place. These awful lights added considerably to the ghastliness of the scene as they floated over the coffin and heads of the mourners. Slowly the procession glided up the pathway, passing the main entrance of the church, and, continuing its way in a straight line, finally disappeared at the back of the edifice.

Where this most extraordinary funeral went to or what became of it, I cannot tell; but this much I distinctly aver, that coffin, mourners, and lights — even the pale flickering moonlight — all disappeared as mysteriously as they came, leaving me standing in the darkness, transfixed with astonishment and fright. Upon gathering together my somewhat scattered senses, I took to my heels and never stopped running till I found myself safe in my own house. In fact, I scarcely remember how I got home. After recovering a little from the shock I immediately aroused a female relative who had retired for the night, and related to her the above particulars.

She assured me that I must have been suffering from mental hallucination, but, seeing the great perturbation of my mind, she came to the conclusion that, after all, I might possibly have seen what has been described above.

The next day she made enquiries at the neighbourhood, and ascertained from a very old woman that she remembered a story in her youth having reference to the mysterious and sudden death of an old churchgoer, who ,was hastily and quietly buried, she thought, at evening time, in the old churchyard. If so, was this a ghastly repetition of the event got up for my special benefit, or was it a portent intended to foreshadow the coming of the Dread Visitor to myself?

Now, as I have before stated, I am not a believer in ghosts, but, certainly this very remarkable experience of mine has entirely upset all my previously conceived notions of the subject, leaving me in a quandary of doubt. On the evening upon which I saw the mysterious twilight funeral at the Ancient Church, I was exceedingly wide awake; I had passed several cyclists on Dingle Lane, with whom I conversed, and had likewise refreshed myself at the public drinking fountain placed at the top of The Mount. Strange that a few thousand yards further down the road I should encounter so ghostly an experience – an experience I shall, to my dying day, never forget. And, what of the burning of the effigies? Well, that dwindled out shortly after the war. Too many accidents, I suppose. One of the boys in the neighbourhood ‘got it’ not long after my encounter in the churchyard. The silly beggar had used petrol ! My dad read it in the papers — a gruesome report, too, saying ‘his charred remains were found amongst the debris of the Judas’. I think it was Charlie. Dad said I went to the funeral, not that I can remember.

* * * * *

I wrote this story after Tim Shewan alerted me to the custom of Judas Burning, prior to which I was entirely ignorant. Its practise in the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool, in celebration of Good Friday, was quite a singular event for the British Isles, even in the early part of the 20th century; for this custom had – and, possibly, still has – a much greater significance in the lives of our European cousins: those in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

You can read more about this fascinating custom at the BBC Liverpool website: Judas Burning.

In Crete, the Judas effigy is given quite a celebrated burning:

UNDER THE IVY, a haunting tale of a love lost

graveyard ghost

A ghost story inspired by the lyrics of Under The Ivy by Kate Bush

I contend that enjoyment of churchyards in no way indicates morbidity of mind. Indeed I find pleasantly absorbing these testimonies to the qualities of the unknown dead — generations of beloved husbands and devoted wives, of men who were people’s sons, of names that were mothers to men.

Which all goes to explain how I came to be wandering round the churchyard of a hamlet named — I think — White Rose Hill one spring evening. And there I found the perfect tomb, a monument so unusual that it took away my breath.

There in a quiet corner was the headstone whose story I shall never forget. It was unusual because it bore lettering not only upon its face, but also upon its back. And the words were oddly contradictory. Let me quote them straight away. “Here Lies,” read the inscription upon the stone’s face, “all that is mortal of Mary Gray, who passed away on May 3rd, 1890. In gentleness and virtue, in kindliness and calm, there breathed none like her. Pious, charitable and meek, she moved among those who loved her with tolerance and mercy. She never spoke an unkind word or did an unjust act. In lowliness and humility she passed her days, beloved by all, an example to everyone who crossed her path.” There followed the Initials, “G.T.”

* * * * *

On passing behind the stone I saw the other inscription, which ran as follows: “To the memory of Mary Gray from. A.T. She was free as a linnet, happy as a lark. Her world was laughter, and laughter was Mary. May these qualities never lie forgotten, the virtue of gay carelessness, the delight of her changing day.”

“You’ll be wondering about Mary Gray, I daresay,” said a voice, and there he stood, a greybeard with a scythe, the very spirit of all graveyard tidiers. Continue reading

THE CRAWLS, the story of the Tichborne Dole and its curse

tichborne dole

March 25th is ‘Lady Day’, the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.

It is also a day of festivities in Tichborne, Hampshire, when donations of flour, which have been blessed by the local parish priest, are handed out from the front of Tichborne House — and, a time when, once more, the villagers serve to abate the terror of an age-old curse!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Listen …can you hear her?

Strain your ears, press them close to the soil and you surely will!

That wretched wheeze: a drawn-out throttling of the throat that sounds like murder.

Then comes the coughing: a diseased hack-hack-hack, as if a seal gasping for air.

I am dying.

She is dying, but slowly.

What an odd place to die?

The plough-ravaged soil caresses her, taking her down.

Earth binds itself to her fingers; black rivers run across her back.

I will not let him win.

She has crawled this field many times before — every accursed March 25th for the past eight hundred years. And crawl it she must, for without her spirit, and the curse that is renewed each and every Lady Day, Tichborne would be nothing more than a dream of the past. So, let us bless the soul of Lady Mabella and allow her to tell her tale; a tale that has come to be known as ‘The Terror of Tichborne’. Continue reading

A Darker Shade of Spring, a haunting tale of madness

spring ghost

“Stitch ! Stitch ! Stitch ! Faster and faster come the sounds. He cannot sleep for the low, monotonous noise. Somehow the unpleasant thought is borne on his mind that someone is stitching a shroud for him.”

Read it here: A Darker Shade of Spring

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle: http://mybook.to/ghosts.

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year.

ghost stories

The Ghost of Alan Mophant

Victorian ghost

I am dying; the solid world, that once was so much to me and in which I held a great place, is slipping fast away like the ending of a dream. I have faith that I may wake in a brighter one. I look about me at the whitewashed walls of the prison infirmary, and am glad that this is at an end; I tell this story to one who has been a good friend to me and who will write it down, so that all men may know what my life has been, and may understand the ruin that fell upon me.

So many tales have got about, as to the crime I committed, that it is just and right that the truth should be told; as I hope for mercy I lay my hand upon my heart and look at the white ceiling above me and swear this is the truth.

I was said to be wild as a young man; I do not think it can ever be claimed I was vicious. The world seemed very full of wonderful things and I longed to see them; life stretched out before me like a great panorama, and I wanted to examine every corner of the picture. So, at an age when most boys are still in the home-nest, I had started out to make my fortune in what fashion I could.

I made that fortune somewhat more rapidly than most men have done. That was a day of new countries, when fortunes were to be picked out of the solid earth; when cities rose in a night, as it were; and when a man who rose a beggar in the morning might lie down at night a millionaire —or something very near it, at all events. I was one of the lucky ones; everything seemed to prosper with me; and I looked forward to returning, within a very short time, back to the old country a rich man. Then, in an evil hour, I thought I saw a chance to take a bigger stride even than before; and I arranged a partnership with Alan Mophant. Mophant was one of those bright, bold, dashing sort of creatures, who seem to twine their way into the hearts of their fellows, and who are always ready with a smile and a jest for good or ill fortune. I liked him; trusted him utterly. He repaid my trust by robbing me of all I had in a desolate part of Mexico, and leaving me penniless and almost starving. The crime was blacker when I remember that I was lying ill of a fever and could not help myself.

My fortune was gone; I had to begin all over again. A kindly woman nursed me back to life and health; and I set out with one bitter hope in my mind: to find Alan Mophant and take my revenge for the wrong he had done me. I couldn’t begin to make another fortune until I had found him —until I had met him face to face.

I was prospecting a little later in a place hundreds of miles from where he had deserted me and had practically given up all hope of finding him, when I suddenly came upon him — almost walked into his arms, as it were. We were all alone, as it happened; and, almost before he knew what had occurred, I was upon him, and we were grappling together like tigers.

I swear I did not mean to kill him; I don’t think I knew what my real intention was at that moment. All I thought of was the fact that the man who had robbed me of all I had toiled so hard to get, and who had deserted me when I was almost dying, was in my clutches. So we gripped each other and swayed about, breathing hard and not speaking a word. Continue reading

THE HOUSE WITH BLACK SHUTTERS, a Gothic tale

gothic tales

“When I was a boy almost all the folk, especially in Romsey, where I was brought up, believed in ghosts. Those that worked the breweries, the corn mills, the iron and jam makers’ works, the leather board and paper mills all had stories to tell. My mother believed in them; I believed in them; everybody believed in them. I have run many a mile from my own shadow and returned home with a certainty that I was followed the entire way.”

Read the whole story here: THE HOUSE WITH BLACK SHUTTERS

P.J. Hodge is the author of GHOSTS AND OTHER SUPERNATURAL GUESTS, 12 tales of supernatural terror available from Amazon as ebook and Kindle: http://mybook.to/ghosts.

Winner of Gothic Reader Book of the Year.