Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hellebore #1: The Sacrifice Issue

Hellebore #1: The Sacrifice Issue (Samhain 2019)Hellebore #1: The Sacrifice Issue by Maria J. PĂ©rez Cuervo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The inaugural issue of Hellebore shows great promise for the folk-horror afficionado and the acolyte alike. You won’t find any jargon-filled occult ramblings or rehashings of horror movie fandom. No, Hellebore is much more approachable and, one must use the word “staid” than all that. Adventurous? Yes. Fun? Of a sort. But not “twee”. The articles in this first issue are eclectic in their subject matter and approach, but a steady editorial hand is evident here. Each essay is of an academic bent, but without the egotistical esotericism one often finds in related literature.

Katy Soar's essay "The Bones of the Land" outlines the historical emergence of ideas that tie stone circles to ritual sacrifice. The connections are tenuous, mostly fiction spurred to life by Romantic writers, rather than based on unbiased historical fact. But there is some connection between these places and death, as evidenced by remains (sometimes cremated) at several of these sights. That connection may not involve human sacrifice, but there is a connection. I recall on my last visit to England, when my wife and I stopped at Devils Quoites, Oxfordshire, that there was an explanatory plaque there indicating that both human and animal bones had been found by archaeologists on-site. But in looking at the actual archaeological paper written on the excavations there, it is noted that only 1 of the 200-odd bone fragments found there is human. Evidence for human sacrifice at this megalithic site? Not likely. And Soar doesn’t take the bait here that might lead into sensationalism. Her analysis is restrained, well-reasoned, and well-written, yet entertaining and engaging.

"Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog," written by Deedee Chainey, explores the . . . complicated relationships between witches, cunning folk, and animals. A great overview by one of the creators of Folklore Thursday.

Maria J. Perez Cuervo traces the emergence of the ties between fertility rites and folk horror in "From His Blood the Crops Would Spring" (name that TV show!). They are much more modern than you might think!

Ronald Hutton, historian of witchcraft, etc., is interviewed in an enlightening Q&A regarding witches, witchcraft, and their place in modern social discourse.

John Reppion's analysis of "The Bodies in the Bog" is a carefully-reasoned essay regarding so-called Bog People, ancients whose remains are found well-preserved in peat moss deposits. I am impressed by the restraint and balance present here (and in the other essays). Sensationalism is minimized, logic emphasized. This isn't fan fiction disguised as academic work. This is good, scholarly effort.

"The Ritual of the Hearts," by Mercedes Miller, gives some context to M.R. Jame's story "Lost Hearts" with a bit of speculation on whom the villain Mr. Abney may have been modeled after.

Verity Holloway pens an art history/archaeology/anthropology crossover essay about the St. Peter & St. Paul medieval church located in Bardwell UK in her essay "The King of Terrors". An excellent piece of local history, but much more than that, this is the sort of cross-disciplinary work the intellectual world needs more of.

David Southwell (of Hookland renown) gives a 30,000 foot-view of "Landscape Punk" and calls on us to become the cunning people in his inspiring essay "Re-enchantment is Resistance".

This first issue of Hellebore is packed with information, but does not read like a dense academic text. It owes much of its aesthetic to the zines of the ‘70s, but with better, more consistent production values. There’s an underlying folk-punk vibe here, the movement of a nascent community. I also love that each of these articles is short enough to read in a brief amount of time, but "full" enough to keep the mind going long afterwards. And I hope that Hellebore and its emerging community goes on for some time to come.

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