Friday 10 November 2023

A New Demonology: John Keel and the Mothman Prophecies


Tuesday 28 November 2023

A New Demonology:
John Keel and the Mothman Prophecies



From the 1960s the “ultraterrestrial hypothesis” became a popular alternative to the ETH for UFOs and other fortean anomalies as a result of the writings of the American journalist John Keel (1930-2009). Keel’s theories are best known today via his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies that chronicled an outbreak of weirdness in the Ohio Valley, USA, that included visits by a winged humanoid (the Mothman), Men-in-Black, UFOs and animal mutilations. His book had a Hollywood makeover in 2002 and the legend is now marked by an annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Dr David Clarke
’s talk is based on an extended interview with Keel during his visit to the UK in 1992 and the contents of his chapter “The Mothman of West Virginia: a case study in legendary storytelling” in The Contemporary Legend Casebook 2: North American Monsters (Utah University Press 2020).

Date: Tuesday 28 November 2023
Venue: The Bell, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX
Doors: 7.30pm
Start: 8pm
Tickets: £5/£3



Saturday 4 November 2023

The Haunted Landscape: Witchcraft, Ritual and the Supernatural 2023

It’s getting darker. Join us at Conway Hall as we explore the Haunted Landscape, our annual gathering of witchcraft, folklore, ghosts, and fairies from the British Isles. Speakers this year: Jamie Canton, Nigel Pennick, Dr. Helen Frisby, Kirsty Hartsiotis, Sandra Lawrence, Allyson Shaw, James Edward Frost, and Francis Young. 

Live and online.

The Spro Mine by Vlash on flickr

Saturday 18 November 2023

Doors, books stall, and coffee from 9.30am.

Talks 10 am - 5 pm.

Lunch 1 pm-2 pm (ish)

£25 / £18 concessions. £15 live stream. Advance tickets

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Tube: Holborn


A link to all live streams will be sent out to all online participants after booking. 

London Fortean's Mailing List

Facebook event page

10 am
Allyson Shaw - Ashes and Stones: A Scottish Journey in Search of Witches and Witness. 

A moving and personal journey, along rugged coasts and through remote villages and cities, in search of the traces of those accused of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Scotland. 

This is the untold story of the witches' monuments of Scotland and the women's lives they mark. Allyson's book Ashes and Stones is a trove of folklore linking the lives of contemporary women to the horrors of the past, a record of resilience and a call to choose and remember our ancestors. Allyson Shaw untangles the myth of witchcraft and gives voice to those erased by it. Her elegant and lucid prose weaves together threads of history and feminist reclamation to create a vibrant memorial.  

Ashes and Stones: A Scottish Journey in Search of Witches and Witness is published by Sceptre Books. It will be available on the day.  

11 am
Sandra Lawrence - As if the sick earth had burst into foul pustules: Fungi in Folklore and Superstition 

The word ‘mycophobia’ was coined in 1887 but fear, loathing, and hostility towards the fungi kingdom has been with certain parts of the world since the dawn of humanity. Other cultures can’t get enough mushrooms in their cooking pots, medicine chests, and spiritual lives. What is it about Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘foul pustules’ that brings out such extremes in people and just how old is fungal folklore anyway? 

Sandra Lawrence is a freelance journalist and author, writing, over the past 20-odd years, hundreds of articles; for all the broadsheets and over 60 magazines and journals. She specialises in heritage and garden writing. She is a columnist for British Heritage Travel and on the Q&A expert panel for History Revealed. She is a full member of the Garden Media Guild.  

Sandra is the author of 14 non-fiction books for adults and children, on a variety of subjects, ranging from history) via myths, legends and folklore (including Myths & Legends, 360 Degrees, 2017; An Atlas of Heroes, Templar, 2018 and An Atlas of Monsters, Templar, 2019) and quirky heritage (Paperscapes: Paris, Welbeck, 2019; Paperscapes: London, Welbeck 2019). 

The Magic of Mushrooms: Fungi in folklore, superstition and Traditional Medicine was published in 2022 by Welbeck will be available on the day.  

11.45 am

Kirsty Hartsiotis  - Ghosts of the Cotswold and Wiltshire Landscape   

Storyteller Kirsty Hartsiotis explores the haunted landscape of the West Country.  Hear of fields haunted by a slew of Civil War ghosts and the prehistoric and Tudor hauntings in Wiltshire.  Kirsty presents Kirsty will discuss more recent sightings and look at how the ghosts are related to their specific landscapes, and how the physical landscape and history affect ghosts.  

Raised in East Anglia, Kirsty's lived in the East, North and West of England, as well as in Italy and Greece. She's a storyteller, writer, speaker, and a part-time museum curator. She is the author of numerous books including Wiltshire Folk Tales and Suffolk Ghost Tales (History Press) which will be, among other books, available on the day. 

12.15 am
Dr Helen Frisby - The Sin-eater: lives and afterlives 

A sin-eater was a ‘long, leane, ugly, lamentable poor raskal’ (Aubrey, 1687) who, by eating a special meal over the coffin, consumed a dead person’s sins and thus helped them enter heaven. In this talk Dr Helen Frisby surveys the historical evidence for this fascinating old funerary character and their mysterious rituals in service of the souls of the dead. As it turns out, things aren’t quite what they might first seem - but Helen will suggest that it’s the sin-eater’s very elusiveness within the historical record that has enabled them to rise again in present-day film, TV and literature. 

Helen has taught history at the University of the West of England, Bristol, and funeral directing at the University of Bath. She is Secretary of the Association for the Study of Death and Society, and a Council Member and Trustee of the Folklore Society. Helen has previously appeared on BBC Radio and The History Channel and continues to research a range of topics relating to death, funerals, and bereavement, past and present.  

2 pm
James Edward Frost - The Kentish Hooden Horse 

Hoodening is an ancient calendar custom unique to East Kent, involving a wooden horse's head on a pole, carried by a man concealed by a sack. The earliest reliable record is from 1735, but little serious research had gone into the tradition between Percy Maylam's seminal work The Hooden Horse, published in 1909, and George Frampton's 2018 update, Discordant Comicals. 

James Edward Frost describes what hoodening was, what the hooden horse is. He covers historical records and artifacts, revival groups, 'Autohoodening' performances which reimagine the old tradition in a modern context, and related practices such as the Mari Lwyd, Obby Osses, various northern beasts, and stag guising. James hopes to bring a hooden horse with him for a demonstration on the day. 

James is a Lecturer in Performing Arts at Canterbury Christ Church University, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He curated an exhibition at Maidstone Museum on the Hooden Horse and is the author of Animal Guising and the Kentish Hooden Horse: An Exhibition at Maidstone Museum (‎Ozaru Books) which will be available on the day. 

2.30 pm
Jeremy Harte - When Saint's Go Bad

You didn’t mess with medieval saints. On earth, they may have turned the other cheek, but that was

then… and this was the twelfth century, with shrines at risk of pillage and robber barons on the prowl. If the earth opened up and swallowed some hired thugs, it was no more than they deserved. 

The saints jealously guarded their personal space and time, blinding intruders who broke into shrines and crippling labourers who worked on feast days, while the oxen commanded to plough on a saint’s holiday would run mad and gore the farmhands. 

From their seat in Heaven, all nature was at the saints’ command:

lightning and earthquake quelled national enemies and armies of rats were sent to gnaw the provisions and occasionally persons of unbelievers. Even pious curiosity was penalised; many an abbot died for letting daylight in on the bodies of the mighty dead without due reverence. 

Tender to the sparrows that nested in their church and the ducks that waddled round their hermitage, they were hard on men and women, especially women. Newly returned and (so far) unharmed from scholarly pilgrimage to Edmund, Æthelthryth, Modwenna, Cuthbert and Ive, Jeremy Harte looks at the mean side of the meek.

3.15 pm
Francis Young - The Origin of British Fairies 

A bold and field-defining exploration of the cultural and religious origins of Britain's fairies and other supernatural beings. 

Throughout the recorded history of Britain, belief in earthbound spirits presiding over nature, the home, and human destiny has been a feature of successive cultures. From the localised deities of Britannia to the Anglo-Saxons' elves and the fairies of late medieval England, Britain's godlings have populated a shadowy, secretive realm of ritual and belief running parallel to authorised religion. Francis Young argues that accreted cultural assumptions must be cast aside to understand the godlings – including the cherished idea that these folkloric creatures are the decayed remnants of pagan gods and goddesses. He traces Britain's 'small gods' to a popular religiosity-influenced classical learning. It offers an exciting new way of grasping the island's most mysterious mythical inhabitants. 

Francis’s book Twilight of the Godlings delves deep into the elusive history of these supernatural beings, tracing their evolution from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the end of the Middle Ages.  

Francis Young has written eighteen previous books in the fields of folklore and the history of religion and supernatural belief, including – most recently – Magic in Merlin's Realm (Cambridge University Press, 2022). A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he teaches courses on history, myth and religion for the Department for Continuing Education in the University of Oxford. Twilight of the Godlings (Cambridge University Press 2023) will be available on the day. 

4.15 pm
James Canton - Grounded: A Journey Into the Landscapes of Our Ancestors 

When James Canton walked into Suffolk's Lindsey Chapel, it was the beginning of what would become a new journey in his life. Inside the chapel, Canton realized that his past cosmopolitan desires had been replaced by an intense yearning to understand the history of the place he called home, a burning curiosity about the past, and the spiritual ways and beliefs of the people who came before us. 

In his book Grounded, Canton retraces his steps into the places where our ancestors have experienced profound emotion, otherwise known as numinous experiences, to help us better understand who we are. Through lyrical meditation, reflection, and a thoughtful consideration of the ways and beliefs of the people who came before us, Canton seeks to know what our ancestors considered to be human, and what lessons we can learn from them to find security in our contemporary selves. Steeped in literary and folklore references, Grounded is a powerful exploration of the power of nature to soothe, nourish, and inspire the human soul. 

Dr. James Canton runs the Wild Writing MA at the University of Essex and is the author of Ancient Wonderings and Out of Essex: Re-Imagining a Literary Landscape, which was inspired by his rural wandering in East Anglia. He was awarded his PhD by the University of Essex and reviews for the TLS, Caught by the River, and Earthlines. Canton is a regular on British television and radio and lectures frequently. He lives in Essex, England. Grounded will be available on the day.  

The Haunted Landscape

Saturday 18 November 2023

Doors, books stall, and coffee from 9.30am.

Talks 10 am - 5 pm.

Lunch 1 pm-2 pm (ish)

£25 / £18 concessions. £15 live stream. Advance tickets

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL

Tube: Holborn


A link to all live streams will be sent out to all online participants after booking. 

London Fortean's Mailing List

Facebook event page

Sunday 1 October 2023

Hallowe'en Special

 Hallowe'en Special

Tuesday 31 October 2023


Instead of our usual fortean talk, we’re delighted to welcome back after 10 years the wonderful storyteller Olivia Armstrong to tell us witchy and ghosty tales.

Olivia has been a professional storyteller for over 15 years, telling stories at (amongst many others) Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, the National Gallery and the British Library. 

As well as telling us haunting folktales and fairytales, Olivia will answer your questions about the storyteller’s craft, where she finds her raw material and how she crafts her stories.

A rare opportunity, not to be missed!


Venue: The Bell, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX

Date: Tuesday 31 October 2023

Time: 8pm (doors 7.30)


Friday 8 September 2023

The Highest Strangeness -- Richard Freeman


Tuesday 26 September 2023

The Highest Strangeness

Forteana by its very nature is strange. Nobody could say that encountering a ghost, UFO or sea serpent was an everyday occurrence. Yet there are some fortean cases that go beyond the bounds of simply strange. These could be called The Highest Strangeness, cases so weird that they have even the most seasoned investigators scratching their heads.

Modern day sightings of dragons, giant glowing ghost crabs, bigfoot piloting UFOs and haunting houses like ghosts, bubbling, stinking, crawling phantom trees, weird little animals turning up during poltergeist outbreaks, demonic dogs in flying saucers, the town haunted by a Godzilla-sized phantom snake, fairies in spaceships, organic flying saucers, balls of light melting people alive, giant worms in stone circles, pixie and fairy sightings, the giant talking cat with human eyes that saved two kids from a child molester, and that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Richard Freeman, zoological director at the Centre for Fortean Zoology and author of The Highest Strangeness, tries to make sense of it all.


Venue: The Bell, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX

Date: Tuesday 26 September 2023

Time: 8pm (Doors 7.30)

Tickets: £5/£3

Thursday 27 July 2023

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Shifting Realities
Myth and landscape in Alan Garner's novels


Alan Garner has been exploring creatively the landscape of his native Cheshire for over 60 years; his fictional landscape is a country in which fantastic creatures from mythology erupt into the mundane world, communication between dimensions is possible in a supernatural multiverse and events proceed through the operation of repeated actions played out across generations, articulated through folktale, myth and story, as Garner takes his cue from the quantum universe and the overarching constellations above Alderley Edge. Sue Terry, who lives 40 minutes away from Alderley Edge and is working on a book on Garner’s fiction, explores the shifting nature of reality that emerges through the interplay of history, folklore and landscape within Garner’s early novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, Elidor and Red Shift


Venue: The Bell, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX

Date: Tuesday 29 August

Time: 7.30 for 8pm

Tickets £5/£3 from



Saturday 15 July 2023



Although the tube strike has been called off, we'd already shifted the date of our next meeting at the Bell, Jeremy Harte speaking on Gypsies and the Supernatural, from Tuesday July 25 to Tuesday August 1.
Please note that we're sticking with this new date.

Sunday 25 June 2023


Tuesday 1 August 2023

Lucky For Some: Gypsies and the Supernatural
Jeremy Harte



Because of the Tube strike we can't meet on our planned date, Tuesday 25th July. Instead, both our speaker Jeremy Harte and the manager at the Bell have kindly agreed that we can move to the following week


NOTE: there will be Aslef action on the trains on the new date, but most trains will still be running -- and most important, the Tube will be running normally. So book your tickets to hear brilliant folklorist Jeremy Harte speak on "Lucky For Some: Gypsies and the Supernatural". Let's have a great turnout!


Some peoples achieve magical status, some have it thrust upon them: the Gypsies have done both. Arriving in Europe as an unprotected minority, the Romany turned their alien status into an art (prophecy is the trade that needs no tools) and an armour (who would mess with a people with such occult powers?). Fortune-telling was a seduction, a charming into shared intimacy about the future, and a way to deploy the intuitive cunning cultivated by all subaltern groups.
Jeremy Harte has spent many years with English Gypsies and was commissioned to write a history of the community. He’ll be reflecting on two themes that run through Romany culture – plaited threads of truth and lies which entwine when people sense the supernatural suffusing family and identity, yet make a living from the huckster arts of the fairground.

Venue: The Bell, 50 Middlesex Street E1 7EX

Date:  Tuesday 1 August 2023

8pm (doors open 7.30)

Tickets £5/£3