Monday, 24 December 2018

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Folk Horror - Interview with Tom Rowsell

This interview was first published on the Folk Horror Revival blog.

Firstly can you tell us a little about yourself – your background, how you ended up as a writer and involved with graphic novels? 

I come from a media background; used to be a writer for trendy magazines in London and wanted to be a film maker. I started out directing horror films and music videos with zombies in the English countryside and wrote my dissertation for my Media degree in 2007 on representation of rural communities in horror films of the seventies. In 2011 I quit my media job and went back to University to study paganism of the Germanic peoples and subsequently directed and presented a documentary film on the subject called From Runes to Ruins (2014). I grew up reading graphic novels; 2000 AD and Alan Moore etc. So when I was approached by Christopher Steininger, a Canadian artist asking to collaborate on a comic book project, I was delighted. I immediately suggested a folk horror story for Christmas.

Who are your influences/heroes? (as a writer and in general)

In film making I was very influenced by everyone from Ingmar Bergman to Piers Haggard. My presenting style is based on old pedagogical BBC TV; people like Kenneth Clarke and David Attenborough but mixed with Jonathan Meades’ cheeky humour. My writing for this particular work was deliberately based heavily on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but also on the old BBC ghost stories for Christmas.

Do you consider your work to fit into the Folk Horror genre and if so what is it about it that you feel fits that label? 

Absolutely. I have a personal connection to the genre; my grandfather’s farm was near Kirkcudbright where The Wicker Man was filmed, and I knew all the places from the film. By the time I went to university, I was obsessed with it, which is why I had to include it in my dissertation. It had previously influenced all the horror films I made as a teen, which depicted the English landscape as pregnant with the horror of history. That was over a decade ago and since then I have become more passionate about the genre, although I have not made any horror for a long time. This book was consciously written as a part of the Folk Horror genre, so the terror derives from the pagan roots of the land’s history.

Do you have a particular process (ritualistic or preparatory) when are working on a particular project? Any way in which you get yourself in `the zone’ or work up ideas? 

Sometimes I can’t write and sometimes I can. David Lynch says concepts of the sphere of pure ideas come to him from "the unified field" which is an ocean of pure consciousness from which he says "everything comes". I have similar views. I don’t feel like my ideas are my own, and I’m not interested in being original, just communicating ideas from that realm in different ways so they can be understood by different people.

Can you give an outline of the content of Spirit of Yule and how/why you ended up creating it? So the cartoon came out first (almost a year ago) and the book this year. Was that always the plan? 

In both the motion comic and the graphic novel, the reader, guided by The Green Knight, travels back through the centuries to learn the pagan roots of Yuletide; from the Dickensian, to the Arthurian and back to the Anglo-Saxons and Norse. The ghost story is set in Victorian England on Christmas Eve, but it teaches the reader all about how pagan people in England used to celebrate Yule 1300 years ago. I based all the pagan practices depicted in the story on contemporary accounts of Yule celebrations among Norse pagans, so this is not only entertainment, but also a kind of educational tool, suitable for all ages (provided they don’t mind a bit of horse blood!). Someone commented on the cartoons saying it ought to be a book, so Christopher grabbed that ball and ran with it. We struggled to get it all ready and self-publish in time for this Christmas though!

What is next? 

Christopher and I will work on another graphic novel in future, this time on comparative mythology of different Indo-European traditions; Celtic, Hindu, Greek etc. He is a versatile artist, so I am excited to see what he comes up with for the next project!

The Spirit of Yule is available to purchase here

Friday, 7 December 2018

National Origin Myths and Narratives of Identity

Shakin' Stevens as Odinic Archetype in "Merry Christmas Everyone" Music Video

In the music video for “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Welsh rock ‘n’ roll singer Shakin Stevens we see a clear example of the dormant Jungian Odinic archetype manifesting in popular culture. It begins with a towheaded Anglo-Saxon youth boarding an aeroplane and flying to Hyperborea aka Tomteland near Mora in Darlarna county, Sweden. Tomte land is translated by the “elves” who greet him as “Santa world” however this is only partly true. Jultomte is the Swedish translation of Santa Claus, but neither Santa Claus nor Father Christmas (yes, they were once separate things) were part of Nordic culture until recently. A Tomte or nisse is nowadays seen as a cute elf like thing, but, like elves themselves, are an echo of a forgotten cult of the ancestors. Tomte were associated with midwinter and with ancestors who first claimed and cleared the land, often ancient farmers. Another name for Tomte is the haugkall or haugebonde, from the Old Norse haugr meaning a barrow – so we see a clear Indo-European connection to the worship of ancestral spirits at mounds.

Tomteland aka Valhalla

After disembarking from a bus, the metaphorical vehicle to the Hyperborean land of the ancestors, we see that the youth is now accompanied by an Odinic figure in a grey coat, perhaps an echo of Odin’s other name Hárbarðr “grey beard”. After a shot panning across the frosted lakes and snowy pine forests of the Nordic landscape, the shot fades to the man himself, the Odinic spirit made flesh to communicate the divine poetry, Shakin Stevens. The English child is a symbol of the Nordic soul, and his journey to Hyperborea is that of the aristocratic soul to the afterlife, which is guided by the psychopomp, Odin, over the rainbow bridge, Bifröst. Shakin’ Stevens is clearly a psychopomp who is guiding the souls, hence his prefix “Shakin”, for Bifröst is consistently referred to in Norse poetry as a bridge which “trembles”, thus Shakin’ Stevens “shakes” or “trembles” with the path to the beyond.

Utterly Odinic

Next we see Shaky on a horse drawn sleigh, being pulled through the forest at night, like Odin who leads the wild hunt. At his side is a Nordic “elf” who drives the horses on through the darkness. The association of Odin and elves is attested in the skaldic poem Austrfararvísur, by the Norwegian skald Sigvatr Þórðarson who describes encountering a sacrifice to the elves in Sweden which one of the participants relates to their “fear of Odin” – thus Odin is appeased via a sacrifice to the elves, which was at that time a broad term, describing many supernatural entities, including the souls of noble ancestors.

The lyrics at this stage reveal Shaky’s desire to “find that girl underneath the mistletoe”. Those familiar with Norse mythology will be well aware that mistletoe is the one entity, living or dead, in the entire cosmos that did not swear to Frigg not to harm Baldr, son of Odin. This leads to a dart of mistletoe being used to kill Baldr and causing all of creation to weep with sorrow. Baldr’s death is described differently in Völuspá, Hákonarmál, Eriksmál, and in Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, yet each hint at the resemblance between Baldr’s death and that of the noble souls of war dead, Einherjar, whose sacrifice on the field of war wins them a place in Valhalla. Loki does not weep for Baldr’s death because it would annul the sacrifice, for only Loki knows that Baldr’s death is a necessary sacrifice for the renewal of the world. The poet of Völuspá specifies that Baldr will return:

All horror will be mended, Baldr will come; The two of them Baldr and Hodr 

Will inhabit the victory settlements of Hroptr,

sanctuaries of choice-slaughter deities.

Thus the association of the death of Baldr with a human sacrifice “choice-slaughter” which is necessary for renewal can also be seen in the context of the midwinter sacrifice and appeasement of “slaughter deities” for renewal of the earth for the following year. Thus our Odinic guide’s lyrics refer to his desire for a human sacrifice, hinted at by reference to the mistletoe used in the sacrifice of Odin’s son Baldr.  

In the following verse he sings “Oh, I wish that Everyday was Christmas, What a nice way to spend the year” in a clear reference to the coming Fimbulvintr, a terrible winter which will last for three years and heralds the coming Ragnarök in which Odin will lead his army in battle against the forces of Chaos and trigger the death and renewal of the earth for the next cycle of time.

Next, in a workshop, the children (souls) are put to work creating toys, a clear metaphor for the einherjar training in Valhalla for the great battle of Ragnarök. They are guided now by Santa Claus, or as we say in Britain, Father Christmas, which is interesting because Jölföðr “Yule father” is one of the names of Odin, as is Jölnir “Yule figure”. Much has been written about the grey-bearded god’s resemblance to Santa Claus, but even if there is no direct historical link between them, the similarities can still be read from an esoteric perspective as a manifestation of the Odinic spirit, which Jung called an archetype, and which resides within the unconscious of all Northern Europeans. The metaphor of training for the final war is made explicit three minutes in to the video when Shaky and the children engage in a snowball fight. Shaky even throws a snowball at a snowman, which clearly represents Hrym who shall lead the opposing forces of the frost giants at Ragnarök This is followed by a tragic foreshadowing of Odin’s death at Ragnarök - Shaky is struck by a snowball and falls, representing Odin’s defeat by the wolf Fenrir who shall consume him.

Press F

After the training session, the souls of the dead return to the great hall to feast with Odin. Shaky is shown accompanied in his sleigh now by the Yule father himself, as it draws him to the great feasting hall. We are to assume it is as this point that the “girl beneath the mistletoe” is offered to Shaky but, sadly, this is not shown. 

Any arguments that this video merely depicts a pop star taking some children on a festive holiday are rendered totally invalid by the final sequence. Shaky, Yule father, his elves and the Nordic looking souls of the noble dead all leave the hall and brandish flaming torches as Shaky mounts the sleigh once more, and an elf drives it away into the dark forests of the Nordic night. The children and the Yule Father wave him goodbye and remain at the hall, for Shaky must return to Middle Earth to obtain more einherjar for the fateful war when he shall be no more, but the earth will be renewed by his son Vali the avenger, just as the earth is renewed each year with the cycle of the seasons and the coming of Spring.

looks like Xmas in 1930s Germany tbh

Hail the Yule Father! Hail Shakin’ Stevens! Very Indo-European!