Susanna Clarke's 2004 historical fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has been adapted into a seven part television series currently airing on the BBC (beginning on BBC America June 14th). John Reppion plucks out some of the more easily disentangled fragments of folklore, magic, and the like from the book (and the show) and takes a closer look at them.
(Previous in this series: Strange and Norrell I - The Language of the Birds)
II – On Fairies and Witchcraft
The word fairy derives from Middle English faierie (also fayerye, feirie, fairie), a direct borrowing from Old French faerie (Modern French féerie) meaning the land, realm, or characteristic activity (i.e. enchantment) of the legendary people of folklore and romance called (in Old French) faie or fee (Modern French fée). In Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Faerie (or the Other Lands as some magicians call them), the home of the fairies, is an Otherworld realm connected to England by magical means. Clarke's Faerie is a large land with many kingdoms and territories. There is Lost-Hope the home (or brugh) of the fairy known only as The Gentleman With The Thistle-Down Hair, which at times borders or intersects with real world locations such as Sir Walter Pole's Harley-street home. The Gentleman's other kingdoms include The City of Iron Angels, and a place called Blue Castles. There is Pity-Me (“a miserable little place" according to The Gentleman) which, oddly enough, has the name of a real village in Durham, England; "a whimsical name bestowed in the 19th century on a place considered desolate, exposed or difficult to cultivate" according to the Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names. There is also Untold Blessings ("a fine place, with dark, impenetrable forests, lonely mountains and uncrossable seas"). John Usglass – the almighty 12th century magician known as the Raven King – is held to have possessed three kingdoms: one in England, one in Faerie (the name of which is not given) and "a strange country on the far side of Hell" sometimes called the Bitter Lands. Indeed, relations between Faerie and Hell are well established, not least in Scottish folk tradition where “the teind” (tithe) must be paid by the former to the latter every seven years. Mortals who have strayed into the Other Lands are sometimes taken as payment as hinted at in the 16th century ballad of Tam Lin and the 15th century romance of Thomas the Rhymer (itself later condensed into a ballad). Though the teind itself is not mentioned in Susanna Clarke's book, it is briefly referred to in the third episode of the television series.
It may surprise you to learn that, in Britain, consorting with fairies was once a capital offence. Midwife Bessie Dunlop, a resident of Dalry, Scotland was burned at the stake in 1576 after admitting receiving magical tuition from a fae Queen of the "Court of Elphyne" (elfland or fairyland).  Allison Peirson (or Pearson) of Fife, Scotland was likewise punished for the same offence seven years later. In a 1583 ballad written about the then Bishop of St. Andrews, Patrick Adamson, the Scottish balladeer Robert Semphill makes reference to the scandal surrounding the trial of Allison Pearson when it was discovered that Adamson had sought advice from the magician (or witch as the court called her). In Semphill's ballad he has Pearson taking part in the Fairy Rade (Ride?) described in Thomas Keighley's 1870 work The Fairy Mythology thusly:
“The Fairy Rade, or procession, was a matter of great importance. It took place on the coming in of summer, awl the peasantry, by using the precaution of placing a branch of rowan over their door, might safely gaze on the cavalcade, as with music sounding, bridles ringing, and voices mingling, it pursued its way from place to place.” 
Semphill's version the trooping of the fae seems to have been mixed up with the witches Sabbath, the event even taking place on Halloween rather than the eve of the Summer. The 16th and 17th centuries – while at the tail end of the Golden Age of Magic in Strange & Norrell – were not a good period to be a practitioner of magic in Britain. In England, Scotland and Ireland, a series of Witchcraft Acts enshrined into law the punishment (usually death, sometimes incarceration) of individuals practising, or claiming to practice magic. Many books were written upon the subject of magic and the detection of those who practised it at the time and among them was King James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England)'s Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie (written as a conversation between two characters named Philomathes and Epistemon). Published in 1599 the work was divided into three parts, the last of which is entitled The Description Of All These Kindes Of Spirites That Troubles Men Or Women. In the fifth chapter of this book, The Description Of The Fourth Kinde Of Spirites Called The Phairie: What Is Possible Therein, And What Is But Illusiones, Epistemon makes it clear that he (and therefore King James) believes that fairies and the Other Lands are mere illusions created by the Devil to trick humans. The old beliefs, stories, and practices are dismissed in one fell swoop: anything non-Christian is automatically anti-Christian and therefore the work of the Arch Fiend itself. Faerie and Hell no longer near neighbours but, in the eyes of the King and his loyal subjects, the self same place. So it was that for centuries there was no magic in Britain, only Witchcraft. No magicians, only witches.
Witches (as opposed to magicians) are mentioned as such only two or three times in Strange & Norrell, the practical magician Mr. Gilbert Norrell describing them as “those half-fairy, half-human women to whom malicious people were used to apply when they wished to harm their neighbours". Clearly they are, or were, not respectable in Norrell's estimation but then he is a man who disapproves of almost all magic that is not done by himself. Are, or were, there then any female magicians? The story of The Master of Nottingham's daughter, an adventure concerning a magical ring and a wicked sorceress named Margaret Ford, appears in a one of Susanna Clarke's ample footnotes for Chapter Twenty-five. It is quite a long story very much in the Fairy Tale tradition but, at its conclusion, we are given the following information:
“There is another version of this story which contains no magic ring, no eternally-burning wood, no phoenix –no miracles at all, in fact. According to this version Margaret Ford and the Master of Nottingham's daughter (whose name was Donata Torel) were not enemies at all, but the leaders of a fellowship of female magicians that flourished in Nottinghamshire in the twelfth century. Hugh Torel, the Master of Nottingham, opposed the fellowship and took great pains to destroy it (though his own daughter was a member). He very nearly succeeded, until the women left their homes and fathers and husbands and went to live in the woods under the protection of Thomas Godbless, a much greater magician than Hugh Torel. This less colourful version of the story has never been as popular as the other but it is this version which Jonathan Strange said was the true and which he included in The History and Practice of English Magic.”
The world of gentlemen magicians is an undeniably patriarchal one then, yet so too was the historical era in which Strange & Norrell is set. Even so, it is perhaps interesting to note that the enchanting Fairy Queen, ruler of Faerie of our own traditions, seems to have been replaced by Clarke with a host of male fairy Kings, Dukes, and so on. In Strange & Norrell's alternative history the witch-trails never happened; magic instead being, if not celebrated, then feared and respected during the Raven King's reign over Northern England (the area between the rivers Tweed and Trent) which lasted from 1111 up until his disappearance in 1434. Even so with magic in decline, both in employment generally and in potency when employed, in the centuries after the Raven King's departure, it seems people did find cause to speak and write against it. Published in 1698 skeptical magio-historian Valentine Munday's The Blue Book: being an attempt to expose the most prevalent lies and common deceptions practised by English magicians upon the King's subjects and upon each other denied the existence of the Other Lands entirely and stated that anyone who claimed to have visited them was, not in league with Satan as King James would have had them, but merely a liar. In the mannerly world of Strange & Norrell the ruining of his or her reputation seems to be very worst punishment that could be levelled against any magician then.
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- Injectable mesh stimulates and records neuron activity.
Quote of the Day:
We live at a very special time... the only time when we can observationally verify that we live at a very special time!
Lawrence M. Krauss
Remember the "Milk: It does a body good" commercials from the 80's, featuring celebrities holding a glass of whole-some cow juice in one hand, while sporting an unashamedly white mustache? Now Nutrition Science has done a complete 180° turn-over, and no doubt you are friends with at least one obnoxious health-obsessed hipster, who would just cringe in horror if he or she ever caught you grabbing a carton of pasteurized whole-milk at the supermarket.
In Medieval times there was also a certain caution against milk --but not for the reasons you might think. You see, milk was one of the favorite drinks of the fey folk, and as such many old wives' tales warned against accepting any offering of milk or any other kind of ingestible from these trickstery entities, lest you become bewitched by them and entrapped in their magical realm forever --of course, the same folk tales also warned about never EVER offending the fairie-kind, so either way you were pretty much screwed…
The exchange of liquids and food-stuffs between mortal men and fairies didn't end with the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of Materialism; it merely 'transmogrified' to adapt with the new times, and instead of wine offered by an enchanting wood elf, now we have card-board tasting pancakes handed down by humanoids traveling in silvery saucers. Trying to find the connective thread --if any-- between ancient folklore and modern witness accounts, Fortean researcher Joshua Cutchin managed to mix it all up to cook "A Trojan Feast: The Food and Drink Offerings of Aliens, Faeries, and Sasquatch" [Amazon US & UK], which was published last month and has already gathered praised reviews all over the Fortean blogosphere.
And just to whet your esoteric appetite, here's a small morsel from the chapter about liquids. Mind you, this is only a fraction of the complete chapter, stripped from all the footnotes Joshua was careful to include in the text.
Get it while it's hot!
Milk, a staple of life since time immemorial, is common in faerie lore. Practically all of the fae folk accept milk as an offering, are quick to steal it from farmers, and occasionally offer it directly to humans (recall the man who died for rejecting the banshee’s buttermilk).
It isn’t always animal milk that faeries offer, however. In one Scandinavian folktale, a young cowherd was fending off sleep when a faerie happened upon him. “You look hungry,” she said seductively. “Come, I’ll give you something to drink. Take a suck, if you dare.” She presented her breast and somehow enticed the young man to suckle, whereupon he fell into a trance and “stayed there for an eternity.” Somehow he eventually extricated himself from this awkward position, possessing only a foggy memory of the encounter.
Even more enticing was the milk of the Milk-White Milch Cow, a fae bovine with the miraculous ability to never run dry. Any Celtic family lucky enough to happen upon her could drink her milk and be made healthy, wise, or happy, depending upon one’s needs.
In the early 1970s in Veracruz, Mexico, several child disappearances were attributed to the chaneques, small elemental faeries similar to the aforementioned duendes. One child was Arturo Gutierrez, who disappeared at age six after going on a hike with his uncle. The uncle was awaiting trial for murder when the boy reappeared 33 days later in perfect health, saying that he had “been living with the little men. They gave me food and milk with honey in it. We played a lot of games. I was very happy.”
As mentioned earlier, there are very few stories where Sasquatch offer liquids, presumably because—if one adopts the biological ape theory—they lack the sophistication to create drinking vessels. Nonetheless, there are still a few interesting connections to make with folklore and anecdotes. Just as Milk-White Milch Cow guarded her magical liquid of life, so Tsonoqua holds a special elixir of her own. According to folklorist Cheryl Shearar, if Tsonoqua was slain, her skull could be turned into a wash basin, one whose “water gives children anointed with it remarkable strength. She occasionally endows select, fortunate and clever individuals with great wealth.”
Several reports exist of hairy hominids suckling humans. Circa 1200, a baby was stolen from its nanny in Sienra, Spain. A hastily organized rescue party quickly located the boy, who was “happily sucking one of the tits” of the serrana, or wild woman. There is some dispute as to whether or not this account is describing a bear, although such behavior would seem unlikely from a wild animal. One Indian news source ran a story, no less suspect, of an alleged Yeti abduction that ended in an unfortunate man being “forcibly breastfed.” He described the milk as “sour with a mixture of bitterness.”
There is also no shortage of extraterrestrial cases where witnesses allegedly consume milk or a “milky” substance.
- A 52-year-old repeat experiencer in Dagestan, Russia, awoke one night in 1990 to find two humanoids dressed head-to-toe in tight-fitting suits. One held a bottle of “some unknown whitish liquid” which she was forced to swallow. The entities disappeared immediately afterward. She later remarked that the beverage tasted like sour milk.
- In 2007, one witness recalled an incident some 33 years earlier when Grey aliens entered the bedroom and administered “some white liquid that had the appearance of milk but had a horrible chemical taste.” The witness remembers a Grey alien, larger than its compatriots, hovering close by and communicating good intentions.
- Researcher Albert Rosales had direct correspondence from “Margaret,” a mother in Queensland, Australia, involved in multiple encounters. Margaret reported that in 1993 her daughter claimed to have met a “tall woman” who had come through the window and given her “cake and pink milk to drink in a large goblet.” Though it is possible these were simple childish flights of fancy, the mother had seen several shadowy figures moving through the home around the time of the incident, and once even caught a glimpse of a tall woman on their property.
- “Godre Ray King” wrote in 1934’s Unveiled Mysteries that he had encountered “Saint Germain” four years prior while working at California’s Mount Shasta. King, whose real name was Guy Warren Ballard, said that Saint Germain was an immortal being who gave him a peculiar creamy fluid to drink called “Life—Omnipresent Life.” He also consumed a golden beverage with the consistency of honey. Ballard would later found the “I AM” Activity, a New Age organization.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Excerpt from "Chapter 4 - Food: Liquid"
Reprinted with permission from A TROJAN FEAST by JOSHUA CUTCHIN
Published by ANOMALIST BOOKS, SAN ANTONIO, TX.
Copyright © 2015 Joshua Cutchin. All rights reserved.
- NASA's flying saucer test ends in disaster.
- Inhabited Sky: Researchers discuss historical sightings of UFOs.
- New NASA video flies over the surface of strange dwarf planet Ceres.
- DERPA: Video shows robots failing badly at DARPA challenge.
- Legends say that mysterious women built the megaliths of Portugal.
- The 6000-year-old crown found in Dead Sea cave.
- Priest rides 'possessed' man like a donkey in bizarre exorcism video.
- Monkeys' cosy alliance with wolves looks like domestication.
- The very strange life of Nepal's child goddess.
- Medicine's hidden roots in an ancient manuscript.
- Could the next generation of aircraft fly on sugar?
- Conspiracy theorists claim that America is preparing for an asteroid impact with an army training exercise to stop apocalyptic riots.
- Paranormal pundit Bruce Duensing has sadly passed away.
- Image of the Day: the moment a mountain-size tsunami hung above Geneva.
Quote of the Day:
Man is above all the plaything of his memory.
Rest easy that when the robot apocalypse descends upon us, the only safety measure you should need is to hide behind a door. At least that seems to be the case going by video released of the 'fails' that occurred during Day 1 of the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. Robots don't just seem to faint at the sight of doors, in some cases (e.g. 0:56) they seem to self-terminate due to some sort of door-inspired existential despair.
Best YouTube comment? "DERPA".
Last month was a busy one for me: I attended the so-called 'Roswell slides reveal' --a.k.a. beWITNESS-- at the National Auditorium, and because of that a few of my podcasting friends asked me to come to their shows to share my impressions of that bizarre event. Hence, folks in the Fortean blogosphere probably suffered an overload of my thick Mexican accent.
While I enjoyed every single one of those radio discussions, by far the one that stood above them all was, ironically, the one which had absolutely NOTHING to do with that embarrasing UFOlogical circus: My friends Darren and Graham set up a fantastic round table discussion with myself, Skeptiko's Alex Tsakiris and philosopher/pornstar Conner Habib. We discussed everything from Climate Change, Charlie Hebdo, Paradigm changes, why certain discussion subjects make people uncomfortable, and whether enlightened beings may have some things in common with psychopathic murderers --have I managed to pique your interest yet?
I think what appreciated the most about this long discussion, is the fact that it was an honest conversation between individuals who, although they respect each other, they don't necessarily agree 100% with one another's viewpoints. I for instance take a different stance than Alex's when it comes to Climate Change --unfortunately problems with my Internet connection prevented me from laying out my full opinion on the subject-- and as you'll hear on the mp3 Alex showed a certain disagreement with Conner on a few points, particularly with how he seems to think that our aesthetic values play an important part in how we construct our view of the world, hence we should strive in 'wanting to believe' the things that would bring the most amount of love and compassion to our fellow men.
But here's the thing that certains skeptics and debunkers seem to forget all too often: It's OK to disagree, so long as you do so with courtesy; if a healthy amount of civility is maintained in a discussion --even a heated one-- you might find yourself learning the things you thought to be so certain about are not as 'set in stone' as you once believed --hence the need of a high tolerance of uncertainty, as I mentioned at one point during the show.
Besides, can you imagine how BORING this world would be if everyone agreed with everyone else about everything? *Shudders*
Enjoy the show, and embrace your diversity of opinion!
PS: As some of you may now, I was terminated from my day job last week. As I try to regain my footing financially, and find a new path now that I'm no longer an 'institutionalized man', I'll try to do an effort to keep myself involved with the Grail and my other niches on the interwebz. This Red Pill Junkie refuses to go gently into that good night!
Surest cure to Monday-itis is the Daily Grail news briefs. Self-medicate at your leisure...
- Amputees often experience 'phantom limbs'. Those who have lost eyes also experience 'phantom eyes'...but also actually see phantoms.
- Childhood hallucinations are surprisingly common - but why?
- Five scientific discoveries made in dreams.
- The Charlie Charlie challenge was a viral marketing campaign for a new movie.
- Chinese surgeon has performed over 1000 head transplants on mice, and eventually wants to perform the procedure on a human. Minor note: over 1000 mice haven't lived longer than a day after the surgery.
- Forget space-time: information may create the universe.
- Demons and the Defense Department.
- Fringe nuclear fusion research ventures take small steps toward energy leap.
- Mysterious worm-like creature causes panic in Taiwan.
- Talk about backdooring! Surfers' rectums being studied for insights into 'superbug'.
- Ever had a personal encounter with God after taking a psychedelic? These guys want to talk to you.
- Hacker can send fatal dose to hospital drug pumps.
- New theory put forward to explain the Higgs mass.
- Britain's Astronomer Royal says if we do find aliens, they will likely be machines.
- Earthquake-predicting' oarfish washes ashore near Los Angeles - the fifth to be found on the West Coast in the past year. Learn to swim?
Quote of the Day:
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.
A summary of all the stories and news briefs posted on The Daily Grail over the past week. Feel free to share anything interesting!
- News Briefs 01-06-2015 (Monday)
- Experiencing the True Horror of Sleep Paralysis
- News Briefs 02-06-2015 (Tuesday)
- Strange & Norrell : I - The Language of Birds
- News Briefs 03-06-2015 (Wednesday)
- Homo Martis: A New Species May Soon Dawn
- News Briefs 05-06-2015 (Friday)
- Inhabited Sky: Researchers Discuss Historical Sightings of UFOs
Have a good weekend!
Last week in Spain a group of fantastic researchers into the UFO phenomenon came together for the 'Inhabited Sky' conference in Spain (three of whom I've had the honour of publishing, in Darklore and standalone books). Jacques Vallee, Chris Aubeck, Theo Paijmans and Nigel Watson discussed sightings of UFOs throughout history, and the various things we've learned in recent times about the phenomenon.
As many readers would know, Jacques Vallee's Passport to Magonia (re-released last year by Daily Grail Publishing) is the classic work in this field, but his more recent book with Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky, updates the historical catalogue of sightings significantly. Nigel Watson and Theo Paijmans are also respected Fortean historical detectives, looking back at old sightings and stories and digging for the truth behind them. So the line-up was definitely an impressive one.
Luckily for us, their presentations at the 'Inhabited Sky' conference were captured on video (see the top of this post), so there's a full 3 hours of fascinating lectures and Q&A for interested readers to dig into. While the introductions and questions are in Spanish, the speakers themselves presented in English - see the timeline below if you're searching for something in particular:
3:30 - Theo Paijmans, ufologist, Dutch author and editor, examines the social impact of spaceships and aliens in comics and literature of the early twentieth century.
41:00 - Nigel Watson, author of the recent book UFOs of the First World War (2015), tell us how advances in aviation and space travel were published in the media and art and how it shapes our view of them.
1:17:30 - Jacques Vallée, astrophysicist, computer scientist and world-renowned ufologist, will talk about the importance and impact of anomalous phenomena observed since ancient times.
2:04:00 - Jacques Vallée and Chris Aubeck, questions and debate on anomalous phenomena observed since ancient times.
Related book: Passport to Magonia
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- This week’s evidence of the looming robot uprising… ‘Bot Olympics.
Quote of the Day:
“Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”