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The Druids in Fact, Folklore and Fiction – Part One

Posted by Harbinger451 on February 15, 2017

The Horror of it All CategoryThe Druids in Fact, Folklore and Fiction – Part One

The Druids were a high-ranking priestly class among the Iron Age Celtic Peoples of Europe, they were at their most influential within Celtic society starting sometime between the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE up until the 1st century CE when the Romans started to prohibit their activities. Little is actually known about the Druids and their practices for they kept no written records themselves, having a purely oral tradition. It is only from a few (probably biased) contemporary snippets of information given by Classical writers that any details can be gleaned, though perhaps also some can be (cautiously) deduced from later Early-Medieval British and Irish histories, myths and folktales, as well as from other surviving folklore that can be reasonably sourced to an ancient Celtic origin. Practically everything we know about the Druids is hugely debatable – and that even includes the meaning of the word itself.

Part One of this article, presented here, will take a thorough look at those snippets that are provided by contemporary writers and will try to assess the veracity of the information they provide. We’ll take a brief look at the Celts and their beliefs, at the role of the Druids themselves, at the bloody rites they were involved in, at the undoubted existence of female Druids and finally at how they disappeared from the historical record and became the stuff of legend and folklore. Part Two will look at how popular perceptions of the Druids have changed over the years, taking in misconceptions regarding the Druids, the Druid Revival of the 17th and 18th centuries, Neo-Druidism in the 19th and 20th centuries and how Druidism has been depicted in fiction – from the Romanticism movement onwards – in film and then games – specifically fantasy role-playing-games. But first, what does the word Druid actually mean?

The etymology of the term ‘Druid’

Arch Druid

Fanciful illustration of ‘An Arch Druid in His Judicial Habit’, from “The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands” by S.R. Meyrick and C.H. Smith (1815), though the gold gorget collar is copying Irish Bronze Age examples not Iron Age.

The word Druid is the Modern-English variant of a latinised Gaulish term Druida – derived from the proto-Celtic compound dru-wid- (‘strong seer’ – or ‘all seeing’ perhaps), which itself is derived from the proto-Indo-European roots deru-weid (deru – to be firm, solid or steadfast, and weid – to see). The word was pluralised by Latin scholars as druidae, a term also used by the ancient Greeks – along with druidēs (δρυΐδης). Compare the Old-Irish drai and the Modern-Irish draoi, meaning ‘magician’ or ‘sorcerer’; also the Old Cornish druw and the Middle-Welsh dryw, meaning ‘seer’ aswell as ‘wren’ – a bird traditionally connected with augury (interpreting omens, one of the roles of a Druid).

A persistent definition comes from a link between the Celtic dru and the Greek drus (oak), so therefore, it goes, Druid means ‘oak seer’ or ‘seer of the oak’, but there is no reason to link a Greek word with a Celtic one, especially considering the Modern-Irish word for ‘oak’ is dair and the Cornish word is derw (though the Welsh is the more appropriate drew – but this is not reflected in the Modern-Welsh reconstruction of Druid as Derwydd).  This ‘oak-seer’, or sometimes ‘oak-knower’, interpretation seems to have originated with Pliny the Elder in the 1st century CE, in his Natural History he considered the word to contain the Greek noun drýs (δρύς), ‘oak-tree’ and the Greek suffix -idēs (-ιδης), ‘belonging to’… so, technically ‘oak-tree-ite’ or ‘of the oak-tree’? That presumes a literal Greek translation correctly transliterates into a Gaulish word. This, added with the known significance of the oak tree to the Celts in general, and to the Druids specifically, was enough to cement the ‘oak seer’ meaning popularly, almost in to perpetuity (it’s still used on Wikipedia).

Although the Greek word drus is derived from the same proto-Indo-European root (deru) as Druid, so are many other words in various Indo-European derived languages – including; Sanskrit dāru (wood, timber), Old Norse tryggr (firm, true), Old English trēowth (faith, loyalty or truth – from Germanic treuwithō). Likewise, the Indo-European weid has many later derivatives – including; Old English wit or witt (knowledge, intelligence), Germanic witan (to know), Old High German wīzag (knowledgeable or wise). So using the same logic as that for the ‘oak seer’ meaning we could also claim that Druid means ‘oak knower’, ‘wood wise’ or ‘truth seer’, along with potentially hundreds of other combinations.

The Celts, their Beliefs and their Gods:

The ancient Celts were an animist-pagan people of Indo-European stock, not so much a single ethnicity or nation but more a collection of tribes with a common celtic language base and a loose cultural unity that spread throughout Western, Central, and parts of Eastern Europe from about the 8th century BCE. The long established view is that they originated from around the upper Danube region at that time, then later spread to the north-west and south-east;  though a current (prevailing?) view is that they started in the west much earlier than the 8th century BCE along the Atlantic fringe and spread eastwards from there – some linguistic and archaeogenetic evidence seems to support this hypothesis. Where-ever their origin, they threatened Greece and Rome from the 4th to the 2nd centuries BCE and their influence, at its peak, reached from Italy in the South to the British Isles in the North, and from Spain in the West to Turkey in the East. They were a warrior society and a fiercely tribal one, that often warred among themselves as well as with outsiders, who were skilled horse riders and charioteers. Celtic settlements were typified by the use hill-forts and homesteads with extensive agricultural field systems. Although a largely agrarian society there were some urban centres, especially among the continental Celts.

Celt Map

Map showing the ‘standard model’ for the expansion of Celtic culture into the east and west from central Europe, starting around 800 BCE.

The Greco-Roman view of the Celts is typified by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, in his Bibliotheca historica (Historical Library, c. 36-30 BCE) he relates “The Gauls [the Celts that largely populated what is now France] are terrifying in appearance and speak with deep, harsh voices. They speak together in few words, using riddles which leave much of the true meaning to be understood by the listener. They frequently exaggerate their claims to raise their own status and diminish another’s. They are boastful, violent, and melodramatic, but very intelligent and learn quickly.”

Numerous Classical accounts describe the Celts as animists, holding that all of nature is sacred. The elements, the land and its features, the seas and rivers, the animals and plants, all are possessed by spirits and deities that require proper placation and respect. Their sacred spaces and shrines tended to be focused on natural features; oak groves, wells, springs etc., rather than temples or churches – though they often built ritual complexes around, or close to, larger or particularly holy sites. The Celts were great believers in the effectiveness of votive offerings to gain favor with, placate or thank the nature spirits and deities involved with particular places and activities. Some of these offerings would have apparently been made in anticipation of the achievement of a particular wish, but more often, it seems, the offering was made after the wish had been fulfilled. These votive offerings, often items of great status, were thrown into wells, lakes, rivers and even pits in the ground or tied to trees – anywhere that was considered sacred or a liminal link to the worlds of the water, underworld or sky gods.

The mundane and the supernatural were intricately interwoven and ritual was a big part of everyday life when dealing with all things and practices, whether considered (by today’s standards at least) sacred or profane, for the Celts probably did not see any distinction between the two – all was sacred. It is also well documented that the Celtic Peoples believe in what is commonly termed the Pythagorean doctrine among the Classical descriptions – the Greek scholar Alexander Cornelius Polyhistor (c. 100 BCE) perhaps sums it up best, “The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among the Gauls’ teaching that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a fixed number of years they will enter into another body.”

The Celts particular admiration of mistletoe and the oak tree is discussed by Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia (Natural History, 1st century CE) “The Druids, for that is the name they give to their magos [magicians], held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, supposing always that tree to be the robur [a hard timbered oak]. Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves, and they perform none of their religious rites without employing branches of it; so much so, that it is very probable that the priests themselves may have received their name from the Greek name for that tree. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by [the] god himself as an object of his especial favour.”

The Celts were also polytheists (pagan) in that they had many gods and goddesses in a pantheon that can be readily comparable to other Indo-European religions, each linked to aspects of life and the natural world. According to Julias Caeser’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico (The Gallic Wars, c. 50 BCE), “The chief god of the Gauls is Mercury and there are images of him everywhere. He is said to be the inventor of all the arts, the guide for every road and journey, and the most influential god in trade and moneymaking. After him, they worship Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. These gods have the same areas of influence as among most other Peoples. Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva is most influential in crafts, Jupiter rules the sky, and Mars is the god of war.” He also tells us that “The Gauls all say that they are descended from the god of the dark underworld, Dis, and confirm that this is the teaching of the Druids. Because of this they measure time by the passing of nights, not days. Birthdays and the beginnings of months and years all start at night.” It is unfortunate – and characteristically Roman – that Caesar only gives the Roman names for the deities mentioned and not their Gaulish equivalents. The identification and naming of the comparative deities across the Celtic tribes and later nations is a massive undertaking in and of itself – so much so that it requires a separate article all its own, which will be linked to here when done.

Some typicaly boisterous ancient Celts with some typicaly Celtic round house in the background.

Some typically boisterous ancient Celts with some typically British Celtic round houses in the background.

The Festivals

The ancient Celtic Peoples celebrated four major festivals throughout the year, connected to the pastoral seasons  they were commonly termed fire festivals for they each involved the lighting of ritual fires. The solar festivals, the solstices and the equinoxes, were probably also celebrated but it seems these did not hold the same importance to the Celts. The first of the fire festivals marks the beginning of the Celtic year, in the same way that days were measured from when the dark of night sets in (sunset) – the year is measured from when the dark of winter sets in. The ‘First Day of Winter‘, known in Wales as Calan Gaeaf , in Cornwall as Kalan Gwav, and in Brittany Kalan Goañv, is most famously known under its Irish Gaelic name Samhain (Samhainn/Samhuinn in Scottish Gaelic and Sauin in Manx Gaelic), which probably means ‘Summer’s end’ but may also simply mean ‘assembly’. Essentially this was a celebration of the ‘meat harvest’, a time when animals were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock was slaughtered for the coming winter. By todays calendar it is celebrated from the evening of the 31st October (which became the christianised Halloween) into the 1st of November (which became the christianised All Saints Day).

The second fire festival marks the beginning of Spring and is called in Ireland Imbolc or Imbolg (which may mean ‘in the belly’, referring to the pregnancy of ewes) and Brigid’s Day (Irish: Lá Fhéile Bríde, Scottish Gaelic: Là Fhèill Brìghde and Manx: Laa’l Breeshey). According to the 10th century CE Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) Imbolc is derived from oimelc, “ewe’s milk” and indeed, because of this, the festival, a celebration of the lambing season, is now sometimes called Oimelc. Brigid (Brigit or Brig) is the Gaelic name for the Celtic goddess, possibly connected to Gallo-Roman and Romano-British Brigantia, derived from the Indo-European deity of the dawn associated with Spring, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. In the modern calendar this festival falls on the evening of the 31st of January and into the 1st of February (which became christianised as Saint Brigid’s Day). In Wales the equivalent festival is now known as Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau (Mary’s Festival of the Candles), and is transposed to the Christian feast day of Candlemas, which is celebrated on the 2nd of February.

The third fire festival, that marks the beginning of Summer, is most commonly known by its Anglicised name of Beltane – in Irish it is Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic Là Bealltainn and in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn/Boaldyn. In Wales it is known as Calan Mai (first day of May) or more usually Calan Haf (first day of Summer). Beltane is usually ascribed the meaning of ‘bright fire’ but it may also mean ‘Bel’s fire’, Bel being Belenus (also Belenos, Belinus, Beli Mawr) the Sun God, one of the most ancient and most widely worshiped Celtic deities. A festival of the waxing sun, it was a time for the livestock to be taken out to the summer pastures – often driven between two fires – and of  rituals to protect crops, dairy products and people, and to encourage growth. It’s modern cognate is May Day, the 1st of May.

The fourth fire festival is known as Lughnasadh in Irish Gaelic – a combination of the god Lugh and násad (an assembly) – Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, Manx: Luanistyn, and it marks the beginning of the main harvest season and the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer. According to Irish myth, the festival had been begun by Lugh as a funeral feast and athletic competition in commemoration of his mother Tailtiu – who may have been an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind. In Welsh it is known as Gŵyl Awst (feast of August) or Calan Awst (first day of August), but in the majority of Britain, and beyond, it is known as Lammas Day from Old English hlafmæsse (loaf mass) – the 1st of August.

The Role of the Druids:

The Druids were central to Celtic society, they were a powerful and influential priestly caste whom Pliny the Elder described as “that tribe of diviners and physicians”, open to both males and females (though you wouldn’t know from the earliest accounts – but more on that later), with tenuous hints at shamanism, and believed to have originated in Britain where the great ‘schools’ were said to be based. They were responsible for the passing on of wisdom in theology, philosophy, science, medicine, history and law, acting as teachers, herbalists, advisors, arbiters, judges and possibly mediums, as well as bards, seers and priests conducting religious and sacrificial rites. Whether all Druids carried out all these functions, or whether there were branches of different sub-classes of Druid that carried out some of them and not others, is debatable.

Druids Photo

Druids among the groves – from National Geographic’s The Truth Behind: Secrets of the Druids.

The earliest record of the Druids seems to have come from two Greek, now non-extant, texts of c. 300 BCE. Diogenes Laertius refers to them in the introduction to his Vitae of the 2nd century BCE: “Some say that the study of philosophy originated with the barbarians. In that among the Persians there existed the Magi, and among the Babylonians or Assyrians the Chaldaei, among the Indians the Gymnosophistae, and among the Celts and Gauls men who were called Druids and Semnothei, as Aristotle relates in his book on magic, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his Succession of Philosophers.” Semnothei is probably another name for a Druid, though it could be a sub-class. Here is a short list of synonyms for (or possibly sub-classes of) Druid that are mentioned in the ancient texts:

  • Semnothei (priest – a Latinised Celtic word, literally “reverer of the gods”) used by Diogenes Laertius
  • Bardi (bard- a poet/composer – a Latinised Celtic word) used by Ammianus, Diodorus and Strabo,
  • Vates (poetic prophet/diviner – Latinised Celtic, cognate with the Old-Irish Fáith – Modern-Irish fili – the Welsh Gwawd and the English Ovate) used by Strabo,
  • Seer (prophet/diviner) used by Diodorus,
  • Eubages (unknown – possibly a philosopher, teacher) used by Ammianus,
  • Saronidae (seems to be a synonym of Druids – Latinised Celtic, possibly compounded from sêr, ‘stars’ and honydd, ‘one who discriminates or points out’ and is probably related to the Old-Welsh Seronyddion, ‘astronomer’) used by Diodorus.
  • Gutuatri (masters, or priests, of particular sancturies – Latinised Celtic, from gutu ‘voice’, perhaps meaning ‘speakers or voice of the gods’) known from a few inscriptions and from Aulus Hirtius’ addition to Commentarii de Bello Gallico which mentions a gutuatros put to death by Caesar.

With this plethora of names many have tried to delineate up to five distinct sub-classes, offices or orders of Druid, though most classical writers limit themselves to three. A closer look at the meaning of these words (and their context within the ancient texts) may prove this delineation to be folly – as will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Druids Inciting the Britons to Oppose the Landing of the Romans – from Cassell's History of England, Vol. I.

Druids Inciting the Britons to Oppose the Landing of the Romans – from Cassell’s History of England, Vol. I.

Perhaps the most detailed account of the Druids, and potentially one of the few first-hand accounts, has no distinction of sub-classes what-so-ever. It comes from Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, in which he claims that there are only two orders of men who are of any rank and dignity among the Gauls; the Druids and the Equites (knights or warrior-elite), the rest, he asserts, are little more than slaves. Of these two orders, it is the Druids that “are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. To these a large number of the young men resort for the purpose of instruction, and they [the Druids] are in great honor among them. For they determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they interdict him from the sacrifices. This among them is the most heavy punishment. Those who have been thus interdicted are esteemed in the number of the impious and the criminal: all shun them, and avoid their society and conversation, lest they receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them. Over all these Druids one presides, who possesses supreme authority among them [i.e a High- or Arch-Druid]. Upon his death, if any individual among the rest is pre-eminent in dignity, he succeeds; but, if there are many equal, the election is made by the suffrages of the Druids; sometimes they even contend for the presidency with arms. These assemble at a fixed period of the year in a consecrated place in the territories of the Carnutes, which is reckoned the central region of the whole of Gaul. Hither all, who have disputes, assemble from every part, and submit to their decrees and determinations. This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally precede thither [to Britain] for the purpose of studying it.” This last passage seems to be the main, and possibly only, source for the idea that Druidism originated in Britain. It may be so, but many have since extrapolated Druidism as a native ‘British’ religion older than the Celts themselves, that spread among Celtic culture once it reached Britain’s misty shores. An attractive idea – but pure speculation.

He continues, “The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters [though that changed to Latin as the Romans annexed Gaul]. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valor, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.” It should be noted that Caesar makes no mention of Bards or of any form of divination or prophesying, but this may be because he is coming at the subject as a pragmatic soldier and comments only on those aspects of the Druids that are pertinent to him and his campaigns in Gaul.

The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero’s philosophical treatise in the form of a dialogue De Divinatione (On Divination, 44 BCE) gives us this quote which can almost be imagined as something he may have said to his friend, non other than Julius Caesar himself: “Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among uncivilized tribes, if indeed there are Druids in Gaul — and there are, for I knew one of them myself, Diviciacus, the Aeduan, your guest and eulogist. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which the Greeks call physiologia [physics—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena], and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture.” This individual, the only Druid from antiquity whose existence is attested to by name, was known to Caesar as the chief diplomat appointed by the Gauls to petition the general during his campaign – though Caesar makes no mention of him being a Druid in his accounts, he does mention that he was elected magistrate (a Druidic role) among his people. Diviciacus met Cicero in 63 BCE when he travelled to Rome to ask the Roman Senate for military aid.

A Welsh Druid playing the Harp.

A Welsh Druid playing the Harp.

The Bardi

Diodorus states that the Gauls “have lyric poets called Bardi, who, accompanied by instruments resembling lyres, sing both praise and satire. They have highly honoured philosophers and priests called Saronidae [Druids]. They also make use of Seers, who are greatly respected. These Seers, having great authority, use auguries [predict the future by observing the flight and calls of birds] and sacrifices to foresee the future.” He goes on, “They do not sacrifice or ask favours from the gods without a Saronidae present, as they believe sacrifice should be made only by those supposedly skilled in divine communication. Not only during peacetime but also in war, the Gauls obey with great care these Druids and singing poets, both friend and enemy alike. Often when two armies have come together with swords drawn these men have stepped between the battle-lines and stopped the conflict, as if they held wild animals spell-bound.” Diodorus initially suggests that the Bardi, Seers and Saronidae or Druids were separate entities, but then later seems to lump both the Bardi and the Seers together as “singing poets” – so perhaps they are connected? Perhaps not.

The Vates

Strabo, a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian, states in his Geographica (Geography, c. 7 BCE-23 CE), “As a rule, among all the Gallic Peoples three sets of men are honoured above all others: the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards are singers and poets, the Vates overseers of sacred rites and philosophers of nature, and the Druids, besides being natural philosophers, practice moral philosophy as well. They are considered to be the most just and therefore are entrusted with settling both private and public disputes, so that in earlier times they even arbitrated wars and could keep those intending to draw themselves up for battle from so doing and it was to these men most of all that cases involving murder had been entrusted for adjudication. And whenever there is a big yield from these cases, they believe that there will come a yield from the land too. Both these men and others aver that the human soul and the universe are imperishable, although both fire and water will at some times prevail over them.” This seems to suggest that the Bards, Vates and Druids were separate entities, but the descriptions of the Vates and Druids are barely distinguishable – the Vates oversee sacred rites and the Druids practice moral philosophy, but they are both natural philosophers – and there is no mention of the Vates presumable role as Seers, though this may be because the use of the name Vate makes it implicit.

The Eubages

Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman historian (c. 4th century CE), recorded of Gaul in his Roman History, “Throughout these provinces, the people gradually becoming civilized, the study of liberal accomplishments flourished, having been first introduced by the Bards, the Eubages and the Druids. The Bards were accustomed to employ themselves in celebrating the brave achievements of their illustrious men, in epic verse, accompanied with sweet airs on the lyre. The Eubages investigated the system and sublime secrets of nature, and sought to explain them to their followers. Between these two came the Druids, men of loftier genius, bound in brotherhoods according to the precepts and example of Pythagoras; and their minds were elevated by investigations into secret and sublime matters, and from the contempt which they entertained for human affairs they pronounced the soul immortal.” Though the role of Bards is clearly stated here, and conforms to previous passages, the roles of the Eubages and the Druids are less clearly delineated – though the Eubages seem to be teachers of the people – and again, there is no mention of divination – or the overseeing of rites – for either of them.

Taking all these passages, and the etymology of the words where known, into account I wonder if the Bards were a distinct class of more secular (if such a thing can be said of anything to do with the ancient Celts) poets and minstrels who recited and performed heroic tales and histories. They may have been taught in the Druidic ‘schools’, but they were not actually Druids themselves, and, though still respected, probably had a much lower social standing and level of influence – perhaps explaining why Caesar did not mention them. The rest of the terms mentioned above, I believe, are probably all synonyms or specialisations of Druid (the true distinctions of which were probably rather fuzzy to the Greek and Roman chroniclers) – Vates seem to have been divinely inspired prophets, poets and minstrels, as well as overseers of sacred rites and philosophers of nature; Seers were prophets, auguries and overseers of divinatory rites; Eubages were natural philosophers and teachers; Saronidae were natural philosophers, priests and astronomers; and the Semnothei were priests, moral philosophers and intermediaries with the gods. Some of these specialisations clearly overlap and all of the attributes alloted to them have also been assigned to the Druids as a whole, so I think it fair to assume that they all were Druids – perhaps a Druid could be any of them according to whatever function or role needed carrying out. The role of Vate and the Seer may be one and the same, as might Saronidae and  Semnothei.

The Sacrificial Rites of the Druids:

There can be no doubt that the ancient Celts performed sacrificial rites, as did all of the ancient pagan cultures, but the idea that they performed human sacrifices, and even ritual cannibalism, has been a rather contentious subject in the modern period. It has been a long standing tendency since the ‘Druid Revival’ of the 18th century CE to dismiss all the classical accounts of such as simply biased propaganda. But, is it really that simple? No, it is not. First, we must remember that the Celts ritualised almost every aspect of their lives – and that includes death and execution – what may appear to the Classical authors as ritualised human sacrifices dedicated to dark, primitive gods, may in fact simply be the executions of criminals and prisoners of war that have an added ritual component. So, let us have a look at some of those classical accounts:

wicker man

An 18th century illustration of a wicker man, the form of execution that Caesar claimed the druids used for human sacrifice. From the “Duncan Caesar”, Tonson, Draper, and Dodsley edition of the Commentaries of Caesar translated by William Duncan published in 1753.

Julius Caesar seems to delight in telling us, “The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases, and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods can not be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes. Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft, or in robbery, or any other offense, is more acceptable to the immortal gods; but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.” Granted, this infamous ‘wicker-man rite‘ does beggar belief… and I feel that Caesar is probably guilty of exaggeration at least, but is it really any more unbelievable than using crucifixion to execute your criminals on a massive scale – sometimes thousands at a time? He also tells us that “the funerals of the Gauls are magnificent and extravagant. Everything which was dear to the departed is thrown into the fire, including animals. In the recent past, they would also burn faithful slaves and beloved subordinates at the climax of the funeral.”

Caesar also informs us that “Before a great battle, they will often dedicate the spoils to Mars. If they are successful, they will sacrifice all the living things they have captured and other spoils they gather together in one place. Among many tribes, you can see these spoils placed together in a sacred spot. And it is a very rare occasion that anyone would dare to disturb these valuable goods and conceal them in his home. If it does happen, the perpetrator is tortured and punished in the worst ways imaginable.”

Strabo, before confirming the ‘wicker-man rite’, tells us that the Gauls “used to strike a human being, whom they had devoted to death, in the back with a sabre, and then divine from his death-struggle. But they would not sacrifice without the Druids. We are told of still other kinds of human sacrifices; for example, they would shoot victims to death with arrows, or impale them in the temples, or, having devised a colossus of straw and wood, throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt-offering of the whole thing.”

Diodorus, when speaking of the druidic Seers who make sacrifices to foresee the future, relates a few more details, “When seeking knowledge of great importance, they use a strange and unbelievable method: they choose a person for death and stab him or her in the chest above the diaphragm. By the convulsion of the victim’s limbs and spurting of blood, they foretell the future, trusting in this ancient method.” Too detailed a description I feel to be just dismissed as propaganda. He also tell us that the Gauls carry out other “particularly offensive religious practices. They will keep some criminal under guard for five years, then impale him on a pole in honor of their gods—followed by burning him on an enormous pyre along with many other first-fruits [usually a religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest, so perhaps a Lughnasadh ritual – but see below for another possible meaning]. They also use prisoners of war as sacrifices to the gods. Some of the Gauls will even sacrifice animals captured in war, either by slaying them, burning them, or by killing them with some other type of torture.” Could his “enormous pyre” also be another version of the wicker-man rite?

Diodorus also passes on this salacious little tidbit, not about the Druids specifically, but about the Celts generally and their apparent cult of the severed head: “They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and striking up a paean and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first-fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold.”

Illustration showing Celtic warriors - the mounted warrior has severed heads hanging from his horses neck. © Angus McBride

Illustration showing some Celtic warriors – the mounted swordsman has a number of severed heads hanging from his horse’s neck. © Angus McBride

Tacitus, the Roman senator and historian, in his Annals (c. 110 CE), writes that the Britons’ “religious groves [were] dedicated to superstition and barbarous rites” and that “the natives [stained] their altars with the blood of their prisoners, and in the entrails of men explored the will of the gods.” It would be so easy to dismiss such accounts as just Roman prejudice and propaganda but I think that would be doing the Roman historians, the testimonies of whom we are so willing to accept in most other regards, a disservice – and, are we to believe that the Greek historians were just as prejudiced?

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (more commonly known as just Lucan), in his epic poem Pharsalia or De Bello Civili (On the Civil War, 1st century CE), while writing about the end of Caesar’s Gaulish campaigns – as well as giving us names to three of that nation’s deities – grimly waxes lyrical about the bloody rites of the Druids:

“Cruel Teutates pleased by dreadful blood,
Horrid Esus with his barbaric altars,
and Taranis, more cruel than Scythian Diana.
Oh Druids, now that the war is over
you return to your barbaric rites and sinister ways.
You alone know the ways of the gods and powers of heaven,
or perhaps you don’t know at all.
You who dwell in dark and remote forest groves,
you say that the dead do not seek the silent realm of Erebus
or the pale kingdom of Pluto,
but that the same spirit lives again in another world
and death, if your songs are true, is but the middle of a long life.”

A 10th century CE manuscript called the Commenta Bernensia (A.K.A. the Bern scholia) includes commentaries and marginalia related to Lucan’s Pharsalia. It expands on that poem’s references to the Gaulish gods mentioned and druidic human sacrifices associated with them. It states that victims dedicated to Teutates  (whom it equates with Mercury) were drowned, those dedicated to Esus (equated here with Mars) were hanged/suspended from trees and ritually wounded, while those to Taranis (equated with Jupiter) were burned. The authors and sources for these comments are unknown but many modern scholars link these scholium with the notion of three-fold death, a proposed ritual sacrificial practice in Indo-European societies that are persistently referenced in both Celtic and Germanic mythologies.

Two good examples of three-fold death from Welsh legend (pre-12th century CE) are mentioned in the story of Myrddin Wyllt (Myrddin the Wild – one of the sources for the Merlin of Arthurian legend). As a test of his skill, Myrddin is asked to prophesy how a boy will die. He says the boy will fall from a rock. The same boy, but with a change of clothes, is presented again, and Myrddin prophesies that he will hang. Then the boy is presented dressed in a girl’s clothes, and Myrddin replies, “Woman or no, he will drown.” Later in life, as a young man, the boy concerned falls from a high precipice during a hunt, he is caught in a tree and hangs head down in a river, where he drowns. Myrddin himself also dies in a three-fold manner, this time by a fall, a piercing, and drowning – an event he also prophesied. A gang of shepherds drove him off a cliff, where he was impaled on a stake left by fishermen, and died drowning with his head below the water. It is often a factor in these many tales of three-fold death that they are prophesied before hand or that they are the result of a curse.

Is there any archaeological evidence to back up these claims of human sacrifice? Unfortunately there is very little physical evidence for the Druids at all – but, there is evidence that, in Britain at least, foundation sacrifices occurred from the Neolithic time to the Roman era, these sacrificial victims were placed into the foundations of buildings and other structures.  Also, we can point to Lindow Man, the preserved bog body of a man discovered (1983 CE) in a peat bog at Lindow Moss in Cheshire, North West England – a high-status, fit, young man who may have been sacrificed willingly some time between 2 BCE and 119 CE. He was apparently strangled, hit on the head, and had his throat cut – a three-fold death possibly dedicated to three separate gods – and traces of mistletoe were found in his well preserved gut.

skull-veneration

Cult of the severed head – from National Geographic’s The Truth Behind: Secrets of the Druids.

With regards to the cult of the severed head, the Celts’ reputation as head hunters is well evidenced in both the Classical sources and the archaeological record. The Celtic Peoples seem to have had a great reverence for the human head, apparently seeing it as the centre of the soul, emotions and of life itself. The severed head is a motif that appears regularly in sculptured representations and in later Celtic folk-tales and legends – the British Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Irish Ulster Cycle are but two of many. The practise was probably a warrior tradition, rather than a religious one, but it does lend credence to the bloodthirstiness of the Celtic Peoples as a whole.

We may also be able to point to the finds from a cave in Alveston, England, that were discovered recently (2000 CE), as evidence of human sacrifice. The bones of as many as 150 people, who show evidence of skull-splitting blows and dating back to about the time of the Roman conquest, were found – archaeologists believe they may have been the victims of a large sacrificial event. One bone from this cave, a human femur, may even provide evidence of ritual cannibalism. It had been deliberately split longitudinally just as one would do to extract the marrow, though personally I feel this would be more to do with starvation than ritual. Having said that…

After Pliny the Elder reassured us that “we can be glad that the Romans have wiped out the murderous cult of the Druids,” he goes on and says that they “thought human sacrifice was considered an act pleasing to the gods and eating the victim was thought to be beneficial to one’s health.” Again, it would be easy to dismiss this as prejudiced hyperbole (especially the ritual cannibalism part), but it is Pliny that, among a discussion of the properties of mistletoe, gives us the most detailed account of the trappings involved in a Druidic sacrificial rite that is available to us – this one involving bulls though, not humans: “The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the fifth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the omnia sanantem [all-healing]. Having made all due preparation for the sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, the horns of which are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe the priest ascends the tree, and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, which is received by others in a white sagum [military cloak]. They then immolate the victims, offering up their prayers that (the) god will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has so granted it. It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.” Although Pliny is the only authority to mention this ceremony, the main elements of his account – including oak trees, mistletoe, ritual banqueting, the moon, and bull-sacrifice  – are all features of Celtic religion that are confirmed elsewhere. Pliny’s source for this information is unknown, but it may have been Posidonius of Rhodes, a polymath who flourished in the 1st century BCE and whose large body of work is now largely lost. It is probably the case that a good deal of what the Classical writers tell us of the ancient Celts is in fact sourced from Posidonius, who visited and travelled among them for a while.

Female Druids:

Druidess & Vercingetorix

A rather flimsily dressed female Druid with the Gaulish hero Vercingetorix, from Histoire Nationale des Gaulois sous Vercingetorix. By Ernest Bosc 1882.

According to Strabo, Posidonius can definitely be credited with the following strange tale: “there is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Loire River inhabited by women of the Samnitae [Namnitae or Namnetes] tribe. They are possessed by Dionysus and appease this god by mysterious ceremonies and other types of sacred rituals. No man ever comes to this island, but the women sail to the mainland to have sex with men, then return. Each year the women take down the roof of a temple and build it again before dark, with each woman carrying a load to add to the roof. Whoever drops her load is torn to pieces by the others. They then carry the pieces of her around the temple shouting with a Bacchanalian cry until their mad frenzy passes away. And it always happens that the one who is going to suffer this fate is bumped by someone.” This story may seem farfetched, but within, I think, are the grains of truth – the wet, windy climate of Western Gaul made it likely that the thatched roofs of dwellings (made from branches, reeds and straw) would have to be redone every year; secondly, according to Pliny the Elder, a common religious practice amongst the Celts was to not drop new materials; and thirdly, Poseidonios attests that circumambulation was a known part of Celtic rites. This island could be Île d’Yeu , just off the Vendée coast of western France – or possibly one of the twin islands Houat and Hoëdic, they’re smaller, but slightly closer to the Namnetes’ tribal coast. Are the women, who practise mysterious ceremonies and sacred rituals there, female Druids? They certainly seem to be priestesses of the Gaulish equivalent to Greek Dionysus and Roman Bacchus – perhaps they were a Celtic version of the Greek maenads.

The island women mentioned above may be similar to those attested to, a little less sensationaly, by Pomponius Mela, c. 43 CE, on an island up to 200km away – Île de Sein off Pointe du Raz, Finistère, western Brittany: “Sena, in the Britannic Sea, opposite the coast of the Osismi, is famous for its oracle of a Gaulish god, whose priestesses, living in the holiness of perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number. They call them Gallizenae, and they believe them to be endowed with extraordinary gifts to rouse the sea and the wind by their incantations, to turn themselves into whatsoever animal form they may choose, to cure diseases which among others are incurable, to know what is to come and to foretell it. They are, however; devoted to the service of voyagers only who have set out on no other errand than to consult them.” These Gallizenae, who were first alluded to by Artemidorus Ephesius c. 100 BCE,  certainly seem to have many attributes in common with those of the Druids, plus a few we haven’t come across before – shapeshifting and elemental magic – and the fact that they are described as Gaulish priestesses at all suggests to me that they must be Druids – as must those described rather colourfully by Strabo. The ancient Celts were among the most egalitarian of societies at the time, certainly compared to Greece and Rome – according to Plutarch, Celtic women were actively involved with negotiating treaties and wars, they participated in assemblies and mediated quarrels. We also know that Celtic women could be rulers and warriors, so it seems logical that they could be Druids as well.

Tacitus mentions a group of women who may be Druids in his account of the attack (c. 60 CE) on the British Druid stronghold at the island of Mona (now Anglesey – Ynys Môn in Welsh, north west Wales): “On the opposite shore stood the Britons, close embodied, and prepared for action. Women [Druids?] were seen running through the ranks in wild disorder; their apparel funereal [probably ripped and torn, or perhaps a form of sackcloth and ashes]; their hair loose to the wind, in their hands flaming torches, and their whole appearance resembling the frantic rage of the Furies. The [male] Druids were ranged in order, with hands uplifted, invoking the gods, and pouring forth horrible imprecations. The novelty of the fight struck the Romans with awe and terror. They stood in stupid amazement, as if their limbs were benumbed, riveted to one spot, a mark for the enemy. The exhortations of the general [Paulinus Suetonius] diffused new vigour through the ranks, and the men, by mutual reproaches, inflamed each other to deeds of valour. They felt the disgrace of yielding to a troop of women, and a band of fanatic priests; they advanced their standards, and rushed on to the attack with impetuous fury.” Tacitus does not equate the women he describes within the ranks of the Druids as Druids themselves, but that probably boils down to a matter of perception – it didn’t occur to the male-centric Romans that women could be Druids so they did not see them as such. This may also explain why Caesar did not mention women in his otherwise extensive description of the Druids, there may have been women there, he just did not perceive them as Druids.

A 19th century CE statue of a female Druid, Potager du Dauphin à Meudon.

A 19th century CE statue of a female Druid, Potager du Dauphin à Meudon.

Cassius Dio, a Roman statesman and historian of Greek origin, in his Historia Romana (Roman History, c. 2nd century CE) mentions a female Druid named Ganna who went on an embassy to Rome and was received by Domitian, the younger son of the Emperor Vespasian, in about 70 CE. Curiously, numerous allusions to female Druids are made in the post-Druid-prohibition period of Roman history. The Historia Augusta (Augustan Histories, early 4th century CE) are a collection of biographies by six different authors that mention the following anecdotal (and probably satirical) references:

Aelius Lampridius, in his Alexander Severus – a biography of that Roman Emperor who reigned 222-235 CE – states that “as he went to war, a Druid prophetess exclaimed to him in her Gallic tongue, ‘Go ahead, but do not hope for victory or put any trust in your soldiers.'”

Flavius Vopiscus, in Aurelianus, records that “Aurelian (Roman Emperor, 270-275 CE) would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.”

The same author, in Numerianus – about Emperor Numerian (283-284 CE), tells us that “While Diocletian (who would be the next Emperor, 284-305 CE) was still a young soldier he was staying at a tavern in the land of the Tongri in Gaul. Every day he had to settle his account with the landlady, a Druidess. One day she said, ‘Diocletian, you are greedy and cheap!’ Jokingly he responded to her, ‘Then I’ll be more generous when I’m emperor.’ ‘Don’t laugh,’ she said, ‘for you’ll be emperor after you’ve killed the boar.'”

Irish folklore and myth is resplendent with accounts of female Druids known as bandruí (woman-druid – though they are often refered to as sorceresses or witches, depending on the translation) as well as male Druids (often refered to as magicians and wizards), Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley, a part of the Ulster Cycle) and the Fhiannaíocht (the Fenian Cycle) are but two of them. The Mythological Cycle includes the story of the fight between the Tuatha de Danaan (Tribe of Danu – the gods) and the Fomóraiġ (Fomorians – probably meaning under(world) demons or nether demons) at The Second Battle of Moytura mentions two sister Druids – “‘And you, Be Chuille and Dianann,’ said Lugh [commander of the Tuatha de Danaan forces] to his two witches, ‘what can you do in the battle?’ ‘Not hard to say,’ they said. ‘We will enchant the trees and the stones and the sods of the earth so that they will be a host under arms against them [the Fomóraiġ]; and they will scatter in flight terrified and trembling.'” Not only is this another example of Elemental Magic it is also an excellent indication that the Druids were latterly believed to practice what is called Battle or Offensive Magic.

The Prohibition of the Druids and the Fall into Folklore and Myth:

There can be no question that the Druids were very influential in all levels of Celtic society when the Romans first invaded Gaul c. 130 BCE and then Britain in 43 CE, and it was about then that Druidism was outlawed within the Empire’s provinces.  Professing revulsion for the Druidic human sacrificial rites, a practise they had outlawed among their own people in 97 BCE, the Romans decided to suppress the activities of the Druids almost as soon as they annexed Gaul c. 50 BCE but it wasn’t until about 40 CE that an outright prohibition was sought within the Roman provinces, which, within twenty years would include most of southern Britain. One should not doubt the Roman desire to clamp down on these perceived ‘barbaric’ rites, but it should also be remembered that the Druids were a unifying force within an otherwise disunified tribal society – so there were probably other motivations at play when they decided to wipe out the Celtic priesthood. The Druids of Britain were the last to rapidly decline under a remorseless onslaught that culminated in the attack on the island of Mona, it’s druidic inhabitants were slaughtered and the nemeton (sacred oak groves) burned and leveled – Tacitus suggested that it was the Britons themselves that kindled the flames, so perhaps the groves were burned by the funeral clad female torch carriers he described. Did they decide to destroy the holy trees ritually to prevent an unthinkable Roman defilement of them?

Lone individuals may have continued, becoming travelling wise men and women, ‘magicians’ and ‘witches’, or even bards, storytellers and itinerant sooth-sayers, carrying on the ancient wisdom as best they could. Effectively the age of the Druids, certainly within the parts of Europe under Roman influence, had passed.  Druidism certainly carried on a little longer in Ireland, Scotland and, to some extent perhaps, Wales – which the Romans could never fully tame. The story of Vortigern, the legendary 5th century British warlord and alleged king of the Britons, as reported in the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons – originally attributed to Nennius but probably compiled early in the 9th century CE from various sources), provides a rare glimpse at the possible survival of Druids in Britain after the Roman withdrawal. After being excommunicated by Saint Germanus, Vortigern seeks instead the council of twelve Druids (often translated as wise-men or wizards) to aid him in his rule. It is these Druids that advise him to seek out and sacrifice the young boy, Ambrosius Aurelianus, to placate two warring dragons beneath Dinas Emrys – where the king wants to build a citadel. Ambrosius Aurelianus and the previously mentioned Myrddin Wyllt were later conflated into Merlin Ambrosius (Myrddin Emrys in Welsh) – the wizard of Arthurian legend.

Christians oppressing the Druids

Detail of a fresco depicting the Christian oppression of the Druids, found in the basilica of St. Boniface’s Abbey, Munich. From Histoire Des Peintres, École Allemande, published 1875.

With the advancement of Christianity into Wales by the 4th century CE and into Scotland and Ireland by the 5th, Druidism soon declined in these places too. Simply moving into Christian legend, the Druids became sorcerers for the saints to combat and eventually defeat. In Adamnan’s Vita Columbae (Life of Columba, c. 700 CE) for example, two Druids act as tutors to the daughters of Lóegaire mac Néill, the High King of Ireland. These Druids endeavour to prevent the progress of Saints Patrick and Columba by raising clouds and mist. Before the battle of Cúl Dreimhne (between 555 and 561 CE) – essentially a battle caused by Columba stealing a copy of a book from Saint Finnian – a Druid named Fraechán made an airbe drtiad (fence of protection) round the Finnian sided army of King Diarmait, which eventually lost despite the supposed magical protection.

The priestly Druids did not survive in Wales certainly beyond the 7th century CE, interestingly the roles of Bard and of Seer (Welsh: dryw) were revived in the 10th century CE, by King Hywel Dda (the Good), and survived  into the 13th century. We can use the few mentions of Druids in the early written law and lore of Ireland as an illustration of their fall from grace as Christianity became increasingly dominant there:

  • 6th century CE—”Oaths may be sworn in the presence of druids” from the ‘First Synod of St Patrick’. Druids are members of the nemed, the free ‘privileged’ or ‘sacred’ ranks topped by the priests, nobles and kings, and still hold a high level of social status.
  • 7th century CE—”the sick-maintenance [the recompense provided by an injurer to the victim] due to a druid, satirist [bard] and díberg [brigand – probably meaning a foot soldier] is no more than that due to a boaire [a free-man farmer/land-owner]” from the legal tract Bretha Crólige (Judgements of Blood-lying). Druids are now ranked at the lowest end of the free nemed.
  • early 8th century CE— the Uraicecht Becc (Small Primer), that lists the social ranks of various classes, places the Druid among the dóer-nemed, the ‘subject’ artisan classes, which depend on a free patron for their living; along with wrights, blacksmiths and entertainers etc.
  • 8th century CE—”Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids … protect me” from the hymn The Breastplate, attributed to St Patrick. The Druid is now demoted to the level of a magical malcontent.

The prophetic poets of Ireland, the Fáith, remained members of the higher ranked nemed much longer than the Druids for they were able to adapt to Christianisation more easily and were essentially co-opted by the new Christian hierarchy. The later fortunes of the bardic systems of Ireland and Scotland were intricately linked to the Gaelic aristocracies that patronised them in each nation and, like those aristocracies, they lasted until the mid-17th century in Ireland and the early 18th century in Scotland. It is these bardic traditions that probably helped ensure that so much of the Celtic mythologies of Ireland, and similarly in Wales, survived from a much older oral tradition.

Traces of Druidism can be found in a number of these written myths and folklore – some of which have already been mentioned – dating from the Post Roman British Isles and the following Dark Ages and early Middle Ages, especially in the large body of Irish myths that include the not previously mentioned Historical Cycle. The earliest of these Irish myths were committed to writing c. the 11th and 12th centuries CE, though the prose can be dated on linguistic grounds to the 8th century, and some may be as old as the 6th century CE. This literature represents the most extensive and best preserved of all the branches of Celtic mythology.

The Welsh tales collected in the Mabinogion are the earliest prose literature of Britain. The eclectic collection of mythic stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries CE from earlier oral traditions that have many parallels with the Irish tales. These tales, along with those generally refered to as the Matter of Britain – the body of literature and legendary material associated with Britain and Brittany (variously from the 6th up to the 15th century CE) – include the first (and later) incarnations of the semi-mythic prophet-bard Taliesin, the much more mythic prophet-magician-wizard Merlin or Myrddin, and the entirely mythic witch-sorceress Morgan le Fay (variously Morgaine, Morganna and Morgant, among others – possibly derived from a British correspondent to the Irish goddess Morrigan). All of whom can be seen as bench-mark characters in the journey of the Druids as they slip from history into legend.

Bibliography and suggested reading:

Pufendorff, Esaias – Dissertation Upon The Druids, 1650 (Translated by Edmund Goldsmid 1886) (Read & Download HERE)
Davies, Edward – Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, 1809 (Read & Download HERE)
Guest, Lady Charlotte – The Mabinogion, 1877 (Read HERE, Download HERE)
, J. A. – The Religion of the Celts, 1911 (Read HERE, Download HERE)
Rolleston, T. W. – Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911 (Download HERE)
Wright, Dudley – Druidism the ancient faith of Britain, 1924 (Read & Download HERE)
Chadwick, Nora – The Druids, 1966 (Revised by Anne Ross, 1998) (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Chadwick, Nora – The Celts, 1972 (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Ellis, Peter Berresford – The Druids, 1994 (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Kendrick, T. D. – The Druids, 1996 (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Imbas – large website on Celtic Mythology and Celtic Studies, 2004 (LINK)
Parker, Will – The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, 2005 (Read HERE)
Cunliffe, Barry – The Druids: A Very Short Introduction, 2010 (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Cunliffe, Barry & Koch, John T. Celtic from the West. Alternative perspectives from archaeology, genetics and literature, 2010 (Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com)
Celtic Literature Collective – Massive website collecting translations of historical texts, 2016  (LINK)

___

Part Two of this article will look at how popular perceptions of the Druids have changed over the years, taking in misconceptions regarding the Druids, the Druid Revival of the 17th and 18th centuries, Neo-Druidism in the 19th and 20th centuries and how Druidism has been depicted in fiction – from the Romanticism movement onwards – in film and then games – specifically fantasy role-playing-games. Coming SOON!

This is also the first in a series of articles that will be looking at the origins of a wide range of magic-users in Fact, Folklore and Fiction – including Witches, Warlocks and Wizards among others.

The Horror of it All… enter HERE all those who delight in horror, death, the macabre, the occult, black humor, weird tales, dark fantasy – and all such nefarious pleasures.

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The Horror of it All

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Posted in The Horror of it All!, Universal Mythos | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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Posted by Harbinger451 on January 19, 2017

Harbinger451 Updates CategoryHarbinger451’s New Patreon Subscription Page Needs You!

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Lovecraftian Book Review: Whispers From The Abyss (Volume 2, 2015)

Posted by Harbinger451 on September 21, 2016

The Lovecraftian CategoryThe Horrors That Were & Shall Be (Various Authors, Edited by Kat Rocha, 01Publishing, 2015)

This is the second volume in 01Publishing‘s series, Whispers From the Abyss (see here for review of first volume), collecting together twenty-six short stories inspired by the work of the great H.P.Lovecraft.  I’m pleased to be able to report that this is another great collection and, thanks to the sterling work of the editor Kat Rocha, the high standard of writing established in the first volume has been carried over, creating another treat for Lovecraft fans everywhere.

cover

Cover of Whispers From The Abyss Volume 2: The Horrors That Were & Shall Be (2015)

There are so many good stories within that they cannot all be covered here as they very much deserve but I’ll list several of my personal favourites which just so happen to be the final three stories and among the best.

Echoes in Porcleain by Konstantine Paradias is highly original, looking at the longer-term consequences of the famous R’lyeh from an angle I’ve never encountered before, having something meaningful to say about refugees which obviously has contemporary resonance.

Shadows of the Darkest Jade by Sarah Hans again comes from a unique angle, nicely building up the story to a classically Lovecraft denouement.

The Dreadful Machine by Martin James Hunter is particularly well written with the author having total control of the material, revealing a little at a time as the story moves on, hinting at what’s to come to good effect.  It’s a fittingly excellent way to close this splendid collection.

A few honorable mentions, all of them funny: Nyarlathotep’s Way by Tom Pinchuk; Notebook Concerning The Class Struggle in Dunwich, Found In The Ruins of a Construction Site by Kevin Wetmore; Kickstarter by Richard Lee Byers.

This volume presents a very particular problem for me as a critic.  My review of the first volume was itself criticised for being, if anything, too positive.  But as the material in both volumes is generally excellent, there is genuinely nothing negative to say and so it is out of my hands.  I am therefore left in the critically difficult position of having nothing negative to say – critically difficult as people love to read reviews that demolish their subject (the best ever example of this is of course by Dorothy Parker who famously wrote: ‘This is not a book to be cast aside lightly – it should be thrown with great force!’). And once again, the only, extremely minor critique I can offer is that I’m not terribly impressed by the cover, it is by no means bad, it’s simply not as superlative as the contents.  I’d like to suggest that as many of the stories have a contemporary setting, a similarly modern cover might do the volume more justice and perhaps make it stand out as it very much deserves to.

So congratulations again to 01Publishing and Kat Rocha, here’s hoping there will be a third volume in the series and that it will continue in the original, well written and satisfying vein very clearly established by the first two.

The Lovecraftian’s Rating: 8/10 (Very Good) – another highly recommend volume. If you don’t long to see R’lyeh rise from the dark depths after reading this – there’s something wrong with you.

Buy Whispers From The Abyss Volume 2 at Amazon.com
Buy Whispers From The Abyss Volume 2 at Amazon.co.uk

Also

Buy Whispers From The Abyss Volume 1 at Amazon.com
Buy Whispers From The Abyss Volume 1 at Amazon.co.uk

Please feel free to comment on this review – or, if you’ve read the book, add your own review – by replying to this post.

More Lovecraftian stuff…

Go HERE for a full list of Lovecraftian film and TV adaptations. We have an expanding section of our website dedicated to The Lovecraftian – purveyor of all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends from the field of Lovecraft lore – the man, his works and his weird worlds of Yog-Sothothery.  Stay up-to-date with the news and join The Lovecraftian’s adventurous expeditions into the world of the Cthulhu Mythos by following him on Twitter where fact and fiction become entwined! The Lovecraftian’s main webpage can be found HERE.

Also: Check out The Lovecraftian Herald, an online newspaper concerning all things Lovecraftian in the world of social media and beyond. Published daily by us here at Harbinger451.

For the uninitiated:

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an influential and prolific American writer of early twentieth century cosmic horror fiction who saw himself chiefly as a poet – though many believe that it is his immense body of often literary correspondence that is in fact his greatest accomplishment – he wrote over 100,000 letters in his lifetime. He inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world.

The Cthulhu Mythos: Lovecraft, somewhat light-heartedly, labelled the “Mythos” that he created in his body of work Yog-Sothothery – and also, on rare occasions, referred to his series of connected stories as the Arkham Cycle. It was his friend August Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (named after one of the monstrous beings that featured in Lovecraft’s tales) to encapsulate his epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

The Horror of it All

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Lovecraftian Book Review: Whispers From The Abyss (Volume 1, 2013)

Posted by Harbinger451 on September 3, 2016

 The Lovecraftian CategoryWhispers From The Abyss (Various Authors, Edited by Kat Rocha, 01Publishing, 2013)

Has all your reading of H.P.Lovecraft’s entire works left you hungry for more? Good news, fellow Lovecraft fans (Lovecraftians? Necronomicomrades? Cthulhunatics?) – I have the solution! This truly excellent collection of short stories inspired by Lovecraft’s fiction explores all areas of his canon, from the good ol’ Cthulhu Mythos to the more obscure corners of that very unique mind’s body of work.

cover

Cover of Lovecraftian anthology “Whispers From The Abyss” (2013)

Although some of the stories are more successful than others, even the less well realised ones are full of good ideas and the standard of writing never wavers from the highly professional. Of course, none of them achieve the same sense of creeping dread and tearing open of the seams of reality that Lovecraft does, but that is rather like saying, ‘You don’t play the guitar as well as Jimmy Hendrix, do you?’

Particular standouts among the thirty three stories presented include my favourite, The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread by James Brogden which has a wonderfully English slant and is very funny (shout-out to Radio 4!), The Jar of Aten-Hor by Kat Rocha which gets inside the idea of obsession and the final story in the collection, a long one called Death Wore Greasepaint by Josh Finney which comes at the Cthulhu Mythos from an original and very well-realised angle that is highly enjoyable.

I searched hard to find a criticism, the only one is extremely minor and barely worth mentioning at all – but I will anyway as that’s a critic’s job: a volume this good deserves a better cover.

There is a second volume of this collection which is reviewed HERE, but I heartily encourage 01Publishing to keep going with this series, especially if they can maintain the high standard that they have set for themselves with this initial collection.

The Lovecraftian’s Rating: 8/10 (Very Good) – highly recommend. I devoured it like Cthulhu swallowing a world and you most certainly will too.

Buy Whispers From The Abyss at Amazon.com
Buy Whispers From The Abyss at Amazon.co.uk

Please feel free to comment on this review – or, if you’ve read the book, add your own review – by replying to this post.

More Lovecraftian stuff…

Go HERE for a full list of Lovecraftian film and TV adaptations. We have an expanding section of our website dedicated to The Lovecraftian – purveyor of all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends from the field of Lovecraft lore – the man, his works and his weird worlds of Yog-Sothothery.  Stay up-to-date with the news and join The Lovecraftian’s adventurous expeditions into the world of the Cthulhu Mythos by following him on Twitter where fact and fiction become entwined! The Lovecraftian’s main webpage can be found HERE.

Also: Check out The Lovecraftian Herald, an online newspaper concerning all things Lovecraftian in the world of social media and beyond. Published daily by us here at Harbinger451.

For the uninitiated:

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an influential and prolific American writer of early twentieth century cosmic horror fiction who saw himself chiefly as a poet – though many believe that it is his immense body of often literary correspondence that is in fact his greatest accomplishment – he wrote over 100,000 letters in his lifetime. He inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world.

The Cthulhu Mythos: Lovecraft, somewhat light-heartedly, labelled the “Mythos” that he created in his body of work Yog-Sothothery – and also, on rare occasions, referred to his series of connected stories as the Arkham Cycle. It was his friend August Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (named after one of the monstrous beings that featured in Lovecraft’s tales) to encapsulate his epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

The Horror of it All

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Vampire Horror Movie Reviews: the Nosferatu films 1922, 1979, 1988 & 2000.

Posted by Harbinger451 on May 8, 2016

The Horror of it All Category

A Short History of the Nosferatu Vampire in Cinema, from 1922 to 2014.

Here we will be (mostly) looking at the classic silent-movie Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F. W. Murnau, Ger. 1922) with Max Schreck as the nosferatu. It’s remake Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (Werner Herzog, Ger/Fra. 1979) and then the later sequel (of sorts), Nosferatu a Venezia (Augusto Caminito, Ita. 1988) – both with Klaus Kinski playing the nosferatu. Followed by Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, USA. 2000), which is a fictional account of the making of the original movie, with Willem Dafoe playing the actor Max Schreck as a real vampire.

But first, a brief discussion of the origins and meaning of the word Nosferatu, reputedly to be of Romanian etymology – but it is absent, in written form at least, from any known historical phase of Romanian that precedes the publication of Bram Stoker‘s popular Gothic novel Dracula in 1897. Its first written appearance (anywhere) was actually in an 1865 German-language article by Wilhelm Schmidt which discusses Transylvanian customs, in which he implies that nosferatu is the Romanian (or, at least, a local Transylvanian dialect) word for vampire. British author Emily Gerard, whom Stoker identified as his source for the term, was the first to record the word in an English-language publication in her article Transylvanian Superstitions in 1885 – and, like Schmidt, she refers to it as the Romanian (or a Transylvanian dialect) word for vampire. It seems likely that the word’s etymology is probably derived from the similar Romanian forms Nesuferitu (insufferable/repugnant one) or Necuratu (unclean one), terms typically used when referring to Satan or the Devil.

Max Shrek in Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (Friedrich Wilhelm Mornau, Ger. 1922)

Max Shrek in Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (F. W. Mornau, Ger. 1922)

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F. W. Murnau, Germany. 1922)

AKA: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (UK, USA) | Nosferatu (UK, USA)

Nosferatu 1922 Poster

This German Expressionist Horror Movie directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Mornau and starring Max Schreck in the titular role is the first film adaptation, though a fairly loose one, of the novel Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897). It was made without the permission of the then copyright holders (Stoker’s heirs) and despite changing the Count’s name to Graf Orlok, paring down the story line and characters dramatically and never mentioning the word vampire (using nosferatu instead) the film makers were sued and a court ruled in 1925 that all prints of the film should be destroyed. Luckily, they weren’t – just a few survived – for this is a brooding, melancholic master work of early horror cinema with some truly nightmare-like scenes utilising shadow and darkness to spell-binding effect. The use of speeded up sequences and negative images make the slow pace mesmeric and fascinating while Schreck’s depiction of the Count remains one of the most horrific, and iconic, to date. The idea that sunlight is fatal to vampires originates from this movie.

The plot: In the (fictitious) German town of Wisborg, Thomas Hutter (played by Gustav v. Wangenheim) is sent by Knock, his boss, to Transylvania to meet with a wealthy client named Count Orlok who wishes to buy a house in their home town. Before leaving for Romania, Hutter entrusts Ellen (Greta Schröder), his young wife, to the care of friends Harding and Annie. After a long journey Hutter reaches the Carpathian Mountains and stops at an inn for the night, he tells the locals his destination but they become frightened and try to dissuade him from going on to meet with the Count. The next morning he travels on by coach till, as nightfall approaches, they reach a bridge at a mountain pass and the coachmen refuse to go any further so Hutter is left alone by the roadside. After night-fall a mysterious dark clad coach driven by a mysterious dark clad figure arrives to pick him up and take him the rest of the way.

Once ensconced at his client’s crumbling old castle Hutter starts to enjoy dinner with the decidedly spooky looking Count and accidentally cuts his thumb with a knife – Orlok takes his wounded hand and tries to drink Hutter’s blood but, repulsed, the young man pulls his hand away. The next morning Hutter awakes to find he has two puncture wounds on his neck and, after exploring, discovers that the castle is apparently deserted. He writes a letter to his wife, which he gives to a courier – who just happens to be passing by. (Odd that, considering how the locals won’t come near the place). That night, after seeing a photo of Hutter’s lovely young wife, the Count immediately signs the documents granting him possession of a suitably dark and crumbling premises back in Wisborg – just across from the young man’s own house and just across from his wife’s lovely young neck. After retiring for the night, Hutter finally gets round to reading a book he had picked up at the inn earlier… and it’s all about the nosferatu. Now suspicious of the Count’s true nature, Hutter explores the castle further during the next day. He finds the crypt and discovers the dormant Graf Orlok in a coffin. Terrified he retreats to his room to cower. As another night comes in Hutter sees from his bedroom window the count piling coffins on a cart and then climb into the last one as the cart drives away. He realises Orlok is heading for Wisborg and for Ellen. The desperate young man’s only escape route from the castle is to climb out of the window, which he does, but then falls and is knocked unconscious.

Count Orlok and his coffins get shipped by raft downriver to the sea, and then by schooner to Wisborg. During the journey the crew of the schooner fall victim to the nosferatu one by one till the craft sails into the town port a ghost-ship – the dead captain tied to the wheel – and its hull full of plague rats. Hutter, not yet recovered from his injuries, leaves the hospital in which he awoke and rushes home to warn the town and Ellen of the impending danger.

Watch the 1922 Nosferatu movie (English Version) here for FREE:

Runtime: versions vary from about 65 to 94 min – Black & White or Tinted Monochrome – Silent.
Harbinger451’s Rating: 8/10
(Very Good) – though silent era movies can often seem clunky and the acting style comically over-exaggerated to modern audiences you really should persevere with this one for it is an iconic and influential piece of cinema history that still manages to be creepy, unsettling and even beautiful to watch. A must see for any movie buff and especially for fans of the horror genre. Although various versions of this movie are available for free (like the one above), I can’t recommend enough getting a fully restored version through the links below:

Buy Nosferatu (1922) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy Nosferatu (1922) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

Poster for Nosferatu the Vampire (Werner Herzog, Ger/Fra. 1979)

Poster for Nosferatu the Vampire (Werner Herzog, Ger/Fra. 1979)

Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht (Werner Herzog, Germany/France. 1979)

AKA: Nosferatu: fantôme de la nuit (France) | Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (UK) | Nosferatu the Vampyre (USA)

A hauntingly creepy reworking of F. W. Mornau’s classic 1922 original, with Klaus Kinski in the title role, now renamed Count Dracula as opposed to Orlok. Isabelle Adjani is Lucy Harker (Ellen), the main object of his thirst, and Bruno Ganz is Jonathan Harker (Hutter), the hapless victim who sets Dracula onto Lucy’s trail.  The performances and visuals are striking indeed and the musical score very atmospheric. Despite being infuriatingly slow at times – especially in the first half – his film is probably more palatable to a modern audience than the 1922 version.  It features some excellent scenes of bats and thousands of rats, and incorporates heavy symbolism as the town of Wismar descends into chaos with Dracula’s illicit arrival among a hoard of plague carrying rats. It follows the same basic plot as the silent original but the ending is definitely a turn up for the books.

Runtime: 107 min – Colour – German, English & Romanian.
Harbinger451’s Rating: 7/10
(Good) – it has moments of genius but doesn’t quite live up to the original, inexplicably missing out some of the more iconic scenes. Kinski is brilliant as the Count however, not only making him a repulsive character but also a strangely sympathetic one full of pathos and even prone to the occasional (unintentionally?) comic moment, and Adjani is suitably pale and ethereal as the classic Gothic heroine who must stand (or lay) alone against him.

Buy Nosferatu (1979) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy Nosferatu (1979) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

Kurt Barlow, the Master vampire in Salem's Lot (1979)

Salem’s Lot

Salem’s Lot

1979 saw a hugely popular television mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s vampire novel Salem’s lot (1975) – directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason. Reggie Nalder plays Kurt Barlow, the ancient Master vampire who has come to the small American town of Salem’s Lot with evil and, of course, vampiric purpose. The visual appearance of Barlow (left) is very reminiscent of the Nosferatu vampire, even down to the long and sharp rat-like front incisors instead of the (now) more common fangs.

Nosferatu a Venezia (Augusto Caminito, Italy. 1988)

Klaus Kinski in the 1988 movie Nosferatu in Venice

Nosferatu in Venice

AKA: Nosferatu in Venice (UK) | Vampire in Venice (USA)

This underrated (at the time of its limited release) semi-sequel to Werner Herzog’s 1979 homage to Mernau’s seminal vampire horror followed almost a decade later. It picks up the pace and spices up the blood and nudity quota a couple of notches, though not necessarily for the better, and fans of modern horror may still find the pacing a little too slow and the performances a little too brooding for their liking. Kinski (right) reprises his role as the nosferatu, with hair this time (apparently, he refused to wear the make-up from the first film again), who is revived by a ill-conceived séance during carnival time in Venice. Christopher Plummer appears as the rather ineffectual vampire hunting Professor Paris Catalano and Donald Pleasence as the pious priest Don Alvise – the pair pit themselves against the anguished but immensely powerful and murderous immortal (known only as Nosferatu in this movie) who has set his sights on the beautiful Helietta Canins, played by Barbara De Rossi.

Runtime: 97 min – Colour – Italian.
Harbinger451’s Rating: 6.5/10 (Pretty Good to Good) – The film looks great, benefiting from the awesome setting, and Kinski continues to carry himself with an evil indignation that fits the part perfectly. The movie is let down by a rather disjointed plot that many may have trouble making sense of. Definitely a case of style over substance but still very much worth hunting down for that style is often breathtaking.

Buy Nosferatu in Venice (1988) on DVD at Amazon.com
Buy Nosferatu in Venice (1988) on DVD at Amazon.co.uk

The Master Vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In the 1994 movie adaptation of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire the vampire character Luis (Brad Pitt), presumably in 1922, visits a cinema that is showing Mornau’s Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens, and Count Orlok’s death scene is shown.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The look of the main antagonist (or Big Bad) in the 1997 first season of Josh Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series was heavily influenced by the appearance of Nosferatu. Mark Metcalf played The Master (left), a centuries-old vampire determined to open the portal to hell below Sunnydale High School in the fictional town where Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy lives.

Shadow Of The Vampire

Shadow Of The Vampire

Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, Luxembourg/UK/USA. 2000)

This black-comedy horror is a highly fictionalised account of the making of Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens (F. W. Mornau, Ger. 1922) that depicts director Mornau (John Malkovitch) as an obsessive and ruthless perfectionist who will do anything to create his masterpiece of horror. The film requires a ruined castle, so he finds a real ruined castle. The film requires superstitious peasants, so uses real superstitious peasants. The film also requires an ancient evil vampire, so he uses a real ancient evil vampire… what could possibly go wrong? Willem Dafoe plays the unnamed vampire who is playing Max Schreck playing Count Orlok – without the need for makeup. Eddie Izzard plays Gustav von Wangenheim (Hutter) and Catherine McCormack plays Greta Schroeder (Ellen), while Udo Kier plays producer Albin Grau and Cary Elwes plays cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner. The creators of this film clearly have a great deal of affection for their source material and took pains to lovingly recreate many of the classic scenes from the original.

Runtime: 92 min – Colour – English, German and Luxembourgish.
Harbinger451’s Rating: 5.5/10
(Average to Pretty Good) – This is a great idea for a movie and it has a really good cast, but it fails as a black-comedy, a horror and a homage. The whole, in this case, is NOT greater than the sum of its parts. I really wanted to love this movie for its concept has potential (and most critics can’t seem to praise it enough), but at best, its a darkly amusing and interesting portrait of vampirism and early motion picture making. I, for one, was disappointed – but that may be because I had such high expectations.

Buy Shadow of the Vampire (2000) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy Shadow of the Vampire (2000) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

In 2002 Max Schreck’s Count Orlock made a brief appearance (via manipulated stock footage) in the SpongeBob SquarePants animated series (Season 2, Episode 16, Graveyard Shift) flicking a light switch on and off… the gag ending revealed that it was he who was responsible for the lights flickering on and off mysteriously throughout the horror trope filled episode.

What We Do in the Shadows

In 2014, the New Zealand horror comedy mocumentary film What We Do in the Shadows featured an 8000 year-old nosferatu type vampire named Petyr, played by Ben Fransham (left), who lives in a stone coffin on the bottom floor of the house he shares with three other (much younger) vampires. The film is presented as a fly-on-the-wall style documentary as the four mis-matched immortals are forced to adjust to early twenty-first century life, relationships, and technology when a new rookie vamp is introduced to the fold… and all while being followed by a very mortal film crew. For the most part it is very funny, but it does lag a little in places.

Count Orlok flickering the lights on and off in Spongebob Squarepant.

Count Orlok flickering the lights on and off in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Please feel free to comment on these reviews – or add your own – by replying to this post below.

We are building a whole section dedicated to the wider genre of horror on our website HERE.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

The Horror of it All

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Guy Fawkes – from Religious Terrorist to the Face of Anonymous Protest (Part Two)

Posted by Harbinger451 on April 24, 2016

Babble CategoryGuy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent – To blow up the King and Parli’ment.

Having dealt with the history of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot in Part One, I will now turn my attention to how this turn-of-the 17th century English fanatical religious terrorist, wannabe-assassin and potential mass-murderer become the 21st Century’s face of world-wide protest, anarchy and anonymity? There are numerous reasons of course but principle among them are an annual national bonfire night used for the burning of effigies of hated figures,  a 19th century historical romance, a late 20th century cult comic book, a 21st century super-hero movie and a loose collective of anonymous activists, hacktivists, anarchists and protest movements.

What is Guy Fawkes Day (or Night) – is it Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night?

In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, King James I’s Council allowed the celebration of its thwarting and the saving of the King by the lighting of bonfires without any danger or  disorder. The Observance of 5th November Act 1605, also known as the Thanksgiving Act, was passed in Parliament on the 23rd of January 1606 and it made the celebrations a public annual thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. Needless to say Gunpowder Treason Day (as it was at first known) provided Protestant preachers an ideal occasion to deliver anti-Catholic sermons to their parishioners but also it was used as an excuse for sanctioned public festive drinking and processions as well as for the lighting of bonfires and small explosives. Another, more sensible, tradition was started because of the Gunpowder plot (and is still carried out today) – that of searching the cellars of Parliament by the Yeoman of the Guard before its ceremonial opening.

Bonfire Night at Windsor Castle in 1776

Bonfire Night at Windsor Castle in 1776

In 1626, at the age of 17 and while still an undergraduate at Christ’s College – Cambridge, John Milton wrote his epic poem In Quintum Novembris (On the Fifth of November) about the Gunpowder Plot and featuring Satan as a character – foreshadowing his later, and much more accomplished, Paradise Lost. The name Guy Fawkes does not appear in its verses and in fact, in this highly mytholigised version of the then recent historical events, it is Satan himself who calls a cabal of devils, including the Pope, to carry out the evil plot fated to end in failure and with the God of Protestantism laughing at the futility of the Catholic evildoers. Though essentially a school exercise in Latin the work was first published in a collection of his Latin verse printed in 1645.

By the time of the English Civil War (1642–1651), Gunpowder Treason Day was still being being celebrated but increasingly it was being referred to as simply Bonfire Night. Effigies of hated figures started appearing (usually of Guy Fawkes or the Pope), they were paraded around local areas in masked procession before being set on top of a large bonfire and ceremoniously burnt with the pyre. Not surprisingly, during the English Interregnum (1649-60, the years between the execution of Charles I and the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II) the now less formal annual day of thanks became more a celebration of the saving of parliamentary government and of Protestantism than of the saving of a monarch.

Three-score barrels of powder below – To prove old England’s overthrow;

After the Restoration, Charles II tried to return the celebrations of the 5th to a more formal monarchist purpose but the people of the land were inexorably drawn to the more diverse and anarchistic (but still very much anti-Catholic) elements of the fire festival. Bans on bonfires and fireworks tried to quell the often raucous festivities and on numerous occasions militias were called in to suppress the more boisterous of the commoners’ excesses. When James II (the last Catholic monarch of England) came to the throne in 1685 the attempts to suppress anti-Catholic sentiment moved to the fore-front – but still to little avail.

As the years (and centuries) rolled on Bonfire Night (always its common name) survived various bans of bonfires and fireworks – and many attempts to quell the mayhem caused by commoners, often relishing the anonymity provided by the wearing of a mask, who increasingly saw the event as a release valve for relieving tension and bringing a little chaotic freedom by railing against the often heavily imposed order of the day. By the 18th Century Gunpowder Treason Day had, officially at least,  become Guy Fawkes Day with the custom of burning masked effigies of Fawkes and other notorious personalities and perceived enemies of the people  (now all increasingly referred to as Guys) remaining a focus of the celebrations.

A masked Guy being paraded on Guy Fawkes Night, 1868.

A masked Guy being paraded on Guy Fawkes Night, 1868.

The 19th Century saw the overtly anti-Catholic aspect of the annual fire festival finally begin to wane, by 1826 British Catholics were allowed to vote again and had been awarded greater civil rights.  The focus of the 5th shifted more resolutely to a rebellious vilifying of unpopular celebrity or political figures of the day.  And, though organised civil celebrations continued in many villages, towns and cities throughout this period, people also started to have smaller family and friends type celebrations with their own small-scale bonfires (with or without Guys) and the celebratory firing of bought or home-made fireworks. In the run-up to the big night it became common for, often masked, groups of children to roam the streets with there own little effigies ready for the burning, collecting pennies to fund their personal bonfire and fireworks blow-outs. To this day, in the days between Halloween and Bonfire Night, you still get children hanging around outside pubs asking all comers (and usually asking again all leavers) “Penny for the Guy, Mister (or Missus)?” – while proudly displaying their own particular attempt at constructing a barely recognizable humanoid Guy.

As the national anti-Catholic sentiment declined so softened the popular attitudes to Gay Fawkes himself. Despite the fact he sought to overthrow one intolerant religious monarchy and replace it with a another, even more intolerant one, he was increasingly seen in a more sympathetic light. A romantacised rebel supporting the plight of the common people rather than a fanatical and religiously intolerant terrorist. This might largely be due to the publication of the 1840 historical romance Guy Fawkes by William Harrison Ainsworth which cast Fawkes as an adventurous, but tragic, hero who was honour bound to embark on a doomed course of events. Between 1840 and 1878 the hugely popular tale – mixing fictional and Gothic elements in with the historical – was published twice as a serial and seven times as a novel, one of which was a 3-volume set illustrated by George Cruikshank. Almost immediately, versions of Ainsworth’s novel were adapted as stage plays and the now more acceptable character of Guy Fawkes, with the more “commoner-friendly” elements of the Gunpowder plot, even started appearing in pantomimes with the likes of Harlequin and Pantaloon, and went on to numerous appearances in penny dreadfuls and children’s adventure books.

By God’s providence he was catch’d – With a dark lantern and burning match.

Guy Fawkes effigies and collectors, all masked, 1903, by John Benjamin Stone.

Guy Fawkes effigies and collectors, all masked, 1903, by John Benjamin Stone.

Into the 20th century pyrotechnic manufacturers cottoned on quickly to a growing mass market for their goods and their advertisements started to refer to the night of the 5th as Fireworks Night – marking yet another old and popular festival or holiday being co-opted (and sanitised) by the greed of modern commercialisation – even to the point of large numbers of cheap cardboard or paper Guy Fawkes masks being sold to children or “gifted for free” with children’s comics. The softened and more populist characterisation of Guy Fawkes also started appearing in a different kind of light show – the movies. He was depicted on film as early as 1913, played by Caleb Porter in the silent British movie Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot directed by Ernest G. Batley, and then again in 1923, played by Matheson Lang in another silent picture Guy Fawkes directed by Maurice Elvey. The latter an adaptation of Ainsworth’s influential 1840 novel. Guy Fawkes made regular appearances on British TV in dramas and dramatised scenes for historical documentaries as well as often turning up (in parody) on comedy sketch shows and children’s TV shows. Somewhat bizarrely, the only other movie depiction of Guy Fawkes in the 20th century (that I could find on the IMDB) was played by Bill Maynard in the historical comedy Carry on Henry directed by Gerald Thomas in 1971.

Although a well known and recognisable character in Britain for hundreds of years, Guy Fawkes – as an historical and then fictional figure – barely registered a blip on the cultural RADAR screens of even the ex-colonies let alone the rest of the world. Or at least that’s the way it was until a slow burning fuse was lit by writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd in 1982 when the British anthology comic Warrior started the troubled and protracted publication of the pair’s black-and-white cult comic strip V for Vendetta.  Unfortunately Warrior was cancelled in 1985, two episodes short of publishing the complete Moore and Lloyd strip. The mantle was taken up by DC Comics in 1988 with the publication of a ten-issue series that reprinted the Warrior stories in colour and continued the series to completion. Within two years the tale was reprinted in graphic-novel format, in the US by the DC Vertigo imprint and in the UK by Titan Books. In 1999 The Comics Journal ran a poll on “The Top 100 (English-Language) Comics of the 20th Century” and V for Vendetta reached 83rd place.

Buy the V for Vendetta graphic novel at Amazon.com

V wearing a stylised Guy Fawkes mask and costume in the comic book V for Vendetta.

Set in the late 1990s, V for Vendetta depicts a dystopian and post-apocalyptic near-future Britain ruled as a police state by a fascist regime (and is heavily indebted to George Orwell’s 1984). The titular protagonist, V, is a masked vigilante, anarchist and revolutionary dressed in a stylised Guy Fawkes costume. Starting on Bonfire Night, 1997, the story follows his elaborate, theatrical and explosive campaign to murder his former captors who experimented on him, bring down the fascist government that allowed it, and convince the people to take back the power and rule themselves… all while training a young protégé, Eve, and all by the Bonfire Night of 1998. Aswell as continuing the re-invention of the fictional Guy Fawkes character started by Ainsworth in 1840, it repackages and updates the whole story of the people’s revolutionary into a dark, politically and intellectually astute, Batman-like super-hero story fit for mass consumption and world wide appeal. All that was needed was a slick, glossy big-budget movie adaptation. It came in 2006.

Directed by James McTeigue, written and produced by The Wachowski siblings and starring Hugo Weaving as V, with Natalie Portman as Eve and Stephen Rea as Finch, the detective leading the investigation into V’s activities… oh, and Clive Ashborn as Guy Fawkes himself – seen in the (not exactly accurate) opening sequences looking back at the historical character. Although still set in Britain, Warner Brothers‘ movie of V for Vendetta transposes the timeline to the late 2020s and in many ways Americanises the political conflict by switching it from a very British narrative of anarchism against fascism to a more American style conflict of liberalism against right-wing neo-conservatism. The anarchistic and morally ambivalent aspects of V’s character are toned down to make him a more acceptable hero figure for American audiences. It was less a criticism of Thatcherite politics in early 80s Britain and more a criticism of the Bush-era politics of America in the early 2000s. That said, it is still a largely faithful adaptation of Moore and Lloyd’s comic book and although Moore disowned all connections with it (as he has done with all big screen adaptations of his work) Lloyd embraced it saying, “if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it”. The film renewed interest in Moore and Lloyd’s original story, and sales of the graphic novel – now available in hardback – rose dramatically in the USA.

Buy the movie V for Vendetta (2006) Blu-Ray

A scene from the movie V for Vendetta (2006)

The movie, like the comic book before it, initially met with a very mixed critical reception and its controversial story line dealing with themes of anarchism, terrorism, totalitarianism, religious and racial intolerance and homophobia has proved problematic for many sociopolitical groups. right-wing groups complained of its apparent promotion of anarchism and terrorism while anarchist groups complained that it had watered down the original’s political message for the sake of commercial Hollywood violence and flashy special effects. But over time the movie, like the comic, has become a popular favourite and it too has achieved a certain level of cult status. In 2008 Empire magazine named the film the 418th greatest movie of all time.

Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring – Holla boys, Holla boys, BURN ‘im ‘n’ sing!

Members of the group Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks at a protest against the Church of Scientology in London, 2008.

Members of the group Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks at a protest against the Church of Scientology in London, 2008.

The movie V for Vendetta was released in the USA on the 17th of March, 2006. Merchandising and promotional items included replicas of the Guy Fawkes mask used in the movie. Within a month these stylised Guy Fawkes masks based on David Lloyd’s original design (or close approximations to it) started to be worn by protesters in demonstrations. On the 17th of April that year, outside the New York City offices of Warner Brothers and DC Comics, the odd spectacle arose of anarchist freegan demonstrators wearing Guy Fawkes masks – protesting the perceived misrepresentation of the Anarchist movement in the movie – being met with by a counter demonstration of libertarians wearing Guy Fawkes masks (possibly supplied by Warner Brothers themselves) – protesting the protesters.

Late in September of 2006 a minor Internet meme of a stick-figure known as “Epic Fail Guy” (or EFG) started appearing on the online message-board and image-board 4chan. Very soon EFG was wearing a V for Vendetta style Guy Fawkes mask – presumably because Guy Fawkes failed in carrying out the Gunpowder Plot (an epic fail indeed) – and the internet meme started to get more traction and spread out of its 4chan confines. Anonymous, the ad-hoc group of Internet users who are often associated with various hacktivist operations, also has its origins in 4chan, which launched in late 2003 as an anonymous online community that doesn’t require registration and where all users not choosing to use a nickname are displayed as “Anonymous” – and thus perpetuating the notion that users of the site are part of a group called Anonymous – not a single person but a collective (or hive) of users.

In January 2008 the online (or cyberspace) collective known as Anonymous, started using the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask in its first offline, or real world (meatspace), operation Project Chanology – a series of protests directed against the Church of Scientology. The use of these masks by Anonymous was ostensibly a reference to EFG, they were using it to suggest that Scientology was an epic fail, but it seems more likely that there was a much more practical purpose – preventing the famously litigious and snap-happy scam “Church” from photographing faces and identifying individuals. As the protests continued, more and more protesters started using the masks and it soon became a symbolic “face” for the anonymous group online as well as in the real world. Alan Moore, a self professed anarchist, said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2008, “I was also quite heartened the other day when watching the news to see that there were demonstrations outside the Scientology headquarters over here, and that they suddenly flashed to a clip showing all these demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks. That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow.”

Buy a V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask on Amazon.com

A protestor wearing a V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask.

The V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask was adopted by many more protest groups in the following years. In Britain, on 23 May 2009, a group protesting the MPs’ expenses scandal exploded a fake barrel of gunpowder outside Parliament while wearing the masks. The mask became very popular internationally with the Occupy Movement that evolved from the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. It appeared in Poland in January 2012 during protests against the signing of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a multinational treaty for the purpose of establishing international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement. In June 2012 demonstrators wore the mask in Mumbai, India, protesting against the Indian Government’s censorship of the Internet and in 2013 a number of Persian Gulf states were forced to impose (an ultimately futile) ban on the sale of the mask as it started appearing in demonstrations that were part of the ongoing “Arab Spring” movement. It has been used in numerous anti-government protests in countries as diverse as Thailand, Egypt or Turkey and Brazil or Venezuela.

I think we can best sum up this article with the words of the mask’s designer, David Lloyd:

“The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I’m happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolise that they stand for individualism – V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system.”

Buy a Guy Fawkes Mask on Amazon.com

Buy William Harrison Ainsworth’s Guy Fawkes novel at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk

Buy the V for Vendetta graphic novel at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk

Buy the V for Vendetta movie on DVD at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk

Buy the V for Vendetta movie on Blu-ray at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk

Buy the V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes mask at Amazon.com or at Amazon.co.uk.

Brought to you by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved


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Lovecraftian Horror Movie Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Posted by Harbinger451 on April 22, 2016

 The Lovecraftian CategoryRe-Animator (Stuart Gordon, USA. 1985)

An adaptation of (the first two parts of) H. P. Lovecraft‘s short story Herbert West – Reanimator but updated to a more contemporary setting and infused throughout with some very campy and decidedly black humour. All the actors involved play it entirely straight and the dry jokes are delivered so dead-pan that it just makes this movie even funnier.

UK movie poster for Re-Animator (1985)

UK movie poster for Re-Animator (1985)

Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a very intense, dedicated and some-what weird medical student who comes to the Miskatonic University in New England in order to further his studies after an unfortunate incident at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Medicine in Switzerland, resulting in a(n un)dead professor, caused him to leave there rather unceremoniously.

West rents a room and basement space (for his experiments) from fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) who eagerly takes him in for the extra income and despite his girl-friend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton)’s reservations that West is too “creepy” for a house-mate. Soon after, Dan’s pet cat Rufus goes missing so he and Megan search the house top to bottom and finally find its corpse in West’s refrigerator… along with some mysterious vials of strangely glowing green liquid. Dan later confronts West about the dead cat and West explains that the cat was already dead when he found it but didn’t want Dan or Megan finding it in such a condition so he refrigerated it till he could break the bad news to them gently.

Dan then asks West to explain the green liquid and West tells him that it is the result of his ongoing experiments to find a cure for death itself. Dan, of course, is sceptical so West proves the efficacy of his “reagent” by injecting it into the dead cat. Rufus is reanimated and immediately goes crazy – attacking them both – so they kill the cat a second time. Both shocked and exited by this event Dan agrees to assist West in his experiments and the pair decide to try to perfect the reagent by experimenting on corpses stored in the University’s morgue. The chaos resulting from this experiment causes the medical school’s Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson), Megan’s father, to stumble into the pair in the morgue but the Dean is killed by a reanimated corpse – which West re-kills with a bone-saw.

Realising the Dean’s corpse is the freshest they’re likely to get, West injects it with the reagent and it too is reanimated… but it too behaves violently toward them. When police and security officers arrive and subdue Halsey, West and Dan – to explain the scene of carnage – claim that the Dean simply went crazy and attacked both them and the corpses in the morgue. The reanimated Dean is strapped into a straight-jacket and taken away – put into the care of his brain specialist colleague Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). After lobotomising Halsey, Dr. Hill soon realises that the Dean is in fact dead and reanimated. Realising that West must be onto something with his research, which the doctor had earlier scoffed at, Hill determines to get West’s secrets for himself.

Little does Hill realise quite how unhinged Herbert West was becoming with each increasingly disastrous and chaotic experiment. Hill tries to blackmail West into handing over his secrets, West plays along just long enough to decapitate Hill with a shovel… and then West wonders how his reagent will work with body parts…

Content Warning: be prepared for very dark humour with very gruesome and bloody scenes… also some nudity and a particularly controversial depiction of a sexual assault (that gives new meaning to the phrase “giving head”).

Watch the trailer here:

Re-Animator – Tagline: Herbert West Has A Very Good Head On His Shoulders… And Another One In A Dish On His Desk
Runtime: 86 min (unrated) / 95 min (R-rated) / 106 min (extended cut) – Colour – English.
The Lovecraftian’s Rating: 9/10
(Extremely Good) – this might be schlock, but it is schlock of the highest order – a very funny and gory horror comedy. Jeffrey Combs‘ performance is particularly brilliant and it cements in place the foundation for his (as well as director Stuart Gordon‘s and producer Brian Yuzna‘s) prominent position in Lovecraftian cinema history.

Buy Re-Animator on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy Re-Animator on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

Please feel free to comment on this review – or, if you’ve seen the movie, add your own review – by replying to this post.

Go HERE for a full list of Lovecraftian film and TV adaptations. We have an expanding section of our website dedicated to The Lovecraftian – purveyor of all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends from the field of Lovecraft lore – the man, his works and his weird worlds of Yog-Sothothery.  Stay up-to-date with the news and join The Lovecraftian’s adventurous expeditions into the world of the Cthulhu Mythos by following him on Twitter where fact and fiction become entwined! The Lovecraftian’s main webpage can be found HERE.

Also: Check out The Lovecraftian Herald, an online newspaper concerning all things Lovecraftian in the world of social media and beyond. Published daily by us here at Harbinger451.

For the uninitiated:

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an influential and prolific American writer of early twentieth century cosmic horror fiction who saw himself chiefly as a poet – though many believe that it is his immense body of often literary correspondence that is in fact his greatest accomplishment – he wrote over 100,000 letters in his lifetime. He inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world.

The Cthulhu Mythos: Lovecraft, somewhat light-heartedly, labelled the “Mythos” that he created in his body of work Yog-Sothothery – and also, on rare occasions, referred to his series of connected stories as the Arkham Cycle. It was his friend August Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (named after one of the monstrous beings that featured in Lovecraft’s tales) to encapsulate his epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

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Lovecraftian Horror Movie Review: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Posted by Harbinger451 on April 17, 2016

 The Lovecraftian CategoryThe Dunwich Horror (Daniel Haller, USA. 1970)

A contemporary and not entirely faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story of the same name with some 70s counter-culture and Crowley-esque occult-ness added for good measure… oh – and a young Dean Stockwell hamming it up to the max!

The Dunwich Horror Movie Poster

The Dunwich Horror Movie Poster

The enigmatic young warlock Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) is twin to a monstrous entity locked in the attic of his family’s Dunwich farm-house. The pair were born to Lavinia Whateley (Joanne Moore Jordan) who was driven insane by the trauma of the birth and (presumably) by their conceiving – since the father of the “brothers” was Yog Sothoth, an Outer God summoned briefly by Lavinia’s own father Old Whateley (Sam Jaffe) twenty-five years earlier.

Wilbur wants to get his hands on a copy of the Necronomicon and a virgin so he can perform a ritual to open the trans-dimensional door that will let the Old Ones, heralded by Yog Sothoth himself, through to this world and bring about their dominion over humanity. At the Miskatonic University in Arkham he finds both the eldritch tome he’s looking for and a suitable young virgin, Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee). He successfully ensnares Nancy but the book proves to be a bigger problem as a suspicious Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley) refuses to “lend” it to him.

After getting Nancy ensconced, drugged and mesmerised at his Dunwich home Wilbur sets out to steal the Necronomicon. Meanwhile, Dr Armitage sets out to rescue Nancy from the warlock’s influence and then slowly realises it will fall to him to prevent any magical skullduggery from coming to fruition.

Pedagogic nit-picking: everyone in this movie pronounces the town’s name as “Dun-witch” when in fact it should be pronounced “Dun-itch”.

Content Warning: some nudity, sexual situations and orgiastic scenes.

Watch the trailer here:

The Dunwich Horror – Tagline: A few years ago in Dunwich a half-witted girl bore illegitimate twins. One of them was almost human!
Runtime: 90 min – Colour – English.
The Lovecraftian’s Rating: 7.5/10
(Good to Very Good) – an underrated (by most) cheesy 70s horror but a minor classic of Lovecraftian cinema that is very entertaining, even if the ending is a bit rushed. Much better than the director’s previous Lovecraftian effort – Die, Monster Die (1965). Stockwell steals the show!

Buy The Dunwich Horror (1970) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy The Dunwich Horror (1970) on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

Please feel free to comment on this review – or, if you’ve seen the movie, add your own review – by replying to this post.

Go HERE for a full list of Lovecraftian film and TV adaptations. We have an expanding section of our website dedicated to The Lovecraftian – purveyor of all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends from the field of Lovecraft lore – the man, his works and his weird worlds of Yog-Sothothery.  Stay up-to-date with the news and join The Lovecraftian’s adventurous expeditions into the world of the Cthulhu Mythos by following him on Twitter where fact and fiction become entwined! The Lovecraftian’s main webpage can be found HERE.

Also: Check out The Lovecraftian Herald, an online newspaper concerning all things Lovecraftian in the world of social media and beyond. Published daily by us here at Harbinger451.

For the uninitiated:

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an influential and prolific American writer of early twentieth century cosmic horror fiction who saw himself chiefly as a poet – though many believe that it is his immense body of often literary correspondence that is in fact his greatest accomplishment – he wrote over 100,000 letters in his lifetime. He inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world.

The Cthulhu Mythos: Lovecraft, somewhat light-heartedly, labelled the “Mythos” that he created in his body of work Yog-Sothothery – and also, on rare occasions, referred to his series of connected stories as the Arkham Cycle. It was his friend August Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (named after one of the monstrous beings that featured in Lovecraft’s tales) to encapsulate his epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

The Horror of it All

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We made a Promo Video for our upcoming free H. P. Lovecraft eBook

Posted by Harbinger451 on April 13, 2016

451 ePublishing Haus CategoryPromo Video for our upcoming free H. P. Lovecraft eBook.

The first volume of our free Dark Matter series of ebooks is proving to take quite some time to compile and format. It collects all of H. P. Lovecraft’s creepy cultish fiction with a good spattering of his relevant essays, poetry, letters and his only sketch of Cthulhu. This eBook will also take a look at the legacy of his Cthulhu Mythos – an epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror – which inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world. It will have 144 of Lovecraft’s weird works; including ALL of his extant tales, with his juvenilia, his collaborative and his revision works. It will also include selected examples of those poetical and non-fiction works that we think will be of interest not only to fans of his fiction and Mythos in particular – but also to fans of horror and weird fiction in general.

Anyway – to the main point of this post. We thought a little promo video would serve well to drum up some interest in the aforementioned e-book… and, without further ado (except, put your headphones on people – the soundtrack will knock your socks off),  here it is:

Made using entirely free software with the addition of some open-source sound files from freesound.org. All the graphics were made using the open-source vector graphics editor Inkscape. The Cthulhu illustration was created using the GNU Image Manipulation Program GIMP. These graphics and images were then incorporated into video format using Microsoft’s Movie Maker.

The soundtrack featured in the video was made using the free, open source, cross-platform software for recording and editing sounds Audacity. This soundtrack includes a special guest appearance by Bloop the mysterious ultra-low-frequency and extremely powerful underwater sound detected by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1997. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu quote “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” was voiced by Harbinger451 himself… here it is in isolation:

For a break down of who was responsible for each individual sound used in the soundtrack see the credits at the end of the video… but also presented here for your convenience:

Video Credits

Video Credits

Details of the free ebook Dark Matter Vol 1: The Weird Tales of H. P. Lovecraft can be found HERE – including a full list of its contents.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved


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Lovecraftian Horror Movie Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Posted by Harbinger451 on April 12, 2016

The Lovecraftian CategoryCurse of the Crimson Altar (Vernon Sewell, UK. 1968)

AKA: The Crimson Cult (USA) | The Crimson Altar (USA poster title)

Very loosely based on Lovecraft’s short story The Dreams in the Witch-House – and we do mean loosely, the only connections we could see are the facts that there are dreams and they are indeed experienced in a witch-house. This was the last film featuring Boris Karloff to be released during his lifetime.

Poster for Curse of the Crimson Altar

Poster for Curse of the Crimson Altar

Set in contemporary England an antiques dealer, Mark Eden (Robert Manning), searching for his missing brother is led to a large and Gothic country house occupied by J. D. Morley (Christopher Lee) and Eve (Virginia Wetherell) his niece – descendants of the infamous Black Witch of Greymarsh Lavinia Morley (Barbara Steele) who was burned at the stake by the local villagers three hundred years earlier. The obligatory creepy butler, named Elder, is played very well by the excellently doomy Michael Gough while an elderly Karloff appears as the dour and forbidding wheel-chair bound expert on witchcraft, Professor Marsh.

The drug induced dream sequences have to be seen to be believed – they’re both trippy and kitsch and some of the costumes are in turn awesome (the green/blue skinned Lavinia’s regalia), sinister (the animal-masked jurors) and sometimes hilarious (the PVC bondage-esque blacksmith/torturer’s outfit for example).

Content Warning: There are some brief scenes of mild nudity… and the sight of the middle-aged Eden letching and pawing at the lovely young Eve in the supposed romantic angle of the story is quite literally stomach churning.

Watch the trailer here:

Curse of the Crimson Altar – Tagline: What obscene prayer or human sacrifice can satisfy the Devil-God?
Runtime: 89 min – Colour – English.
The Lovecraftian’s Rating: 6/10
(Pretty Good) – benefits from a strong cast, a terrific setting and a some-what psychedelic sixties vibe but is otherwise pretty lacklustre… especially the rather perfunctory ending.

Buy Curse of the Crimson Altar on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.com
Buy Curse of the Crimson Altar on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon.co.uk

Please feel free to comment on this review – or, if you’ve seen the movie, add your own review – by replying to this post.

Go HERE for a full list of Lovecraftian film and TV adaptations. We have an expanding section of our website dedicated to The Lovecraftian – purveyor of all the latest news, updates, chatter and trends from the field of Lovecraft lore – the man, his works and his weird worlds of Yog-Sothothery.  Stay up-to-date with the news and join The Lovecraftian’s adventurous expeditions into the world of the Cthulhu Mythos by following him on Twitter where fact and fiction become entwined! The Lovecraftian’s main webpage can be found HERE.

Also: Check out The Lovecraftian Herald, an online newspaper concerning all things Lovecraftian in the world of social media and beyond. Published daily by us here at Harbinger451.

For the uninitiated:

H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an influential and prolific American writer of early twentieth century cosmic horror fiction who saw himself chiefly as a poet – though many believe that it is his immense body of often literary correspondence that is in fact his greatest accomplishment – he wrote over 100,000 letters in his lifetime. He inspired a veritable legion of genre writers then, and to this day, to set their fiction within his strange cultish world.

The Cthulhu Mythos: Lovecraft, somewhat light-heartedly, labelled the “Mythos” that he created in his body of work Yog-Sothothery – and also, on rare occasions, referred to his series of connected stories as the Arkham Cycle. It was his friend August Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” (named after one of the monstrous beings that featured in Lovecraft’s tales) to encapsulate his epic vision of a chaotic and dark universe filled with unspeakable horror.

Brought to your attention by Harbinger451.

Copyright © 2016 Harbinger451 – All Rights Reserved

The Horror of it All

Posted in The Horror of it All!, The Lovecraftian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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