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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


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