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  • Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit March 6, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit

    Beach has long tradition of posts of unusual nineteenth-century accounts of the survival of witchcraft in Britain and Ireland. Here is one from Bridgewater, Somerset (the south-west), which appeared in Notes and Queries in 1853. A cottager, who does not live five minutes’ walk from my house, found his pig seized with a strange and […]

    Dreaming Death: Early Registration of Death March 5, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dreaming Death: Early Registration of Death

    This appeared in the newspaper as ‘an extraordinary hallucination’: Beach had very tentatively put it in his list of Victorian urban legends until he verified the existence of Sheriff Balfour. It could alternatively be sure bloody chance; or a murder case (if you close your eyes and squint at it from an unusual angle): any views […]

    The Earliest Cargo Cult? March 4, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Earliest Cargo Cult?

    Cargo cults are Melanesian religious movements centred on the ability of the colonial powers to bring the kind of trinkets that fill shopping malls and dollar stores to the some of the virgin corners of the earth. The first references to cargo cults, the Vailala Madness, which began in 1919, for example, saw Papuans preach […]

    Dead Hands, Live Wens: Latest Record? March 3, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dead Hands, Live Wens: Latest Record?

    There is a well attested belief that the bodies of executed criminals could heal certain illnesses. This led in past centuries to bits of executed felons being bought, sold and even eaten. Though the most gentle version was as simple as going to the gallows and begging the hangmen to let you run the dead […]

    Killer Cameras March 2, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Killer Cameras

    When many years ago Beach travelled in Sub-Saharan Africa he was warned by anxious parents, and relatives not to take photographs of the natives. They might believe that their soul had been taken. Where does this idea come from? And did anyone anywhere ever actually believe it? Well, a run through sources suggests that the […]

    Thoughts on Poltergeists from Harry Price February 27, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Thoughts on Poltergeists from Harry Price

    What do poltergeists like? Or, in more scientific terms, in what kind of environment do poltergeist phenomenon take place? Here is Harry Price, one of the most famous ghost hunters, with his views. Beach quotes this paragraph as part of a quest to understand what poltergeist phenomenon are. Price has the virtue here of concentrating […]

    Tom Dockin, Iron Toothed Child Killer February 25, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Tom Dockin, Iron Toothed Child Killer

    Here is another in our series of the minor monsters of British mythology, the terrible child-eating ‘Tom Dockin’. The name ‘Tom Dockin’ was associated with Sheffield (in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire) and seems to date back at least to the late eighteenth century on the evidence of this intelligent-sounding correspondent, John […]

    Urban Legend: the Clock Trick February 24, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Urban Legend: the Clock Trick

    One newspaper report includes this precious Victorian story, which Beach has been unable to track down elsewhere. It is satisfying so there must be other versions out there. There is an old story of a thief who, engaging the landlord of a country tavern a bet that he could not sit in front of clock […]

    Witches and Paganists: In Search of a Term February 22, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
    Witches and Paganists: In Search of a Term

    A terminological problem that readers might be able to help with: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com. Historians of witchcraft break down into two categories. The vast majority believe that the witch craze was essentially all a horrible misunderstanding and that the men and women found guilty of crimes were innocents. A small minority, but not […]

    Bogeys, Snot and Monsters February 21, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
    Bogeys, Snot and Monsters

    A few weeks ago Beach had the very great pleasure of looking at the genealogy of various words with a root in bugge: these related to such monsters as bogeyman, boggles and boggins (all nasty fairies). That post was dedicated to following an almost pathetically inadequate trail of breadcrumbs through the Indo European forest. This […]

    Where is the Dorset Ooser? February 18, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Where is the Dorset Ooser?

    The Dorset Ooser is a simply terrifying horned head/mask that was once kept in the village of Melbury Osmond: it so shocked a man there in the mid nineteenth century that he jumped through a window and almost died from his wounds. As can be imagined there are some very colourful theories about its purpose […]

    Review: Return to Magonia February 17, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Review: Return to Magonia

    This review should begin with an important caveat. The author loathes UFOs, aliens and Close Encounters of the Third Kind: mosquito smudges on the window of our existence. Yet the book pictured above, which details a series of mysterious objects in the sky (and near to the earth) from 1662 to 1947, gripped and impressed […]

    Victorian Cannabis Use February 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Cannabis Use

    Cannabis became illegal in the United Kingdom once the 1925 Dangerous Drug Acts came into force in 1928. However, before that there was a long tradition of ‘hemp’ smoking in the country: mainly for medicinal reasons. Regrettably we know little about British hemp-smokers. Victorian interest in opium often reached almost hysterical levels: but interest in […]

    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded? February 14, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded?

    A lazy morning and so Beach inspired by his recent post of a girl who died of fear decided to look a little deeper. How many people really die because they are frightened? To carry out a half decent experiment he surveyed the British press from January 1850 to December 1859. He ignored probable urban […]

    Bogey Lanterns February 11, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Bogey Lanterns

    The whole question of where pumpkin heads or Jack o’ Lanterns come from is fascinating. No one has been able to drag the date convincingly back beyond the nineteenth century and the point of origin is very generally: ‘Britain’ or ‘Ireland’ with constant references to ‘the Celtic areas’, with the implication that the tradition is […]

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