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Bird-women hybrids of Greek legend and Russian folklore are uniquely ambivalent, sometimes bringing death and destruction and at others, prophetic wisdom and the joy of Paradise. The two Greek species we treat are sirens and harpies, both at times described as having the bodies of birds and faces or upper bodies of human females. Beginning with har…
 
Messages delivered by the extraterrestrials Ashtar and Orthon to Contactees of the 1950s represented a sort of repackaging of 19th-century Theosophy, a philosophical descendent of the Rosicrucianism of the 1700s. After our previous epiosde examining George King of the Aetherius Society, this episode looks at two other Georges of the Contactee movem…
 
The esoteric teachings of Theosophy, particularly those regarding Venus, were surprisingly influential on the tales told by flying saucer Contactees of the 1950s and ’60s. We begin with a quick review of Theosophy and its principles as defined by the Russian international adventurer Helena Blavatsky in the later decades of the 19th century. Blavats…
 
Cases of madness and even murder were associated with Hexerei, a form of witchcraft brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants. Following up on our previous examination of the tradition of Braucherei or Pow-Wow as practiced in 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania, our current episode eplores some more disturbing cases of witchcraft beliefs survivin…
 
Stories of witchcraft and folk-healers in early Pennsylvania are surprisingly plentiful. In this episode, we examine the state’s German-American tradition of Braucherei that spawned these tales. The practice came over with immigrants from Germany’s southwestern Rhineland beginning in the late 1700s and established itself among the Pennsylvania “Dut…
 
Emperor Nero’s reputation for wickedness and depravity had already attained mythic status within a century of his death, making him a prototype for early Christian beliefs regarding the Antichrist. We begin the show with a look at the role poison played in Nero’s ascent, putting him on the throne at the age of 17 in 54AD. After her marriage to Empe…
 
We’re doing something different this time out. As we are celebrating Bone and Sickle’s third anniversary on April 30, we’re taking a week or two off to rejuvenate and prepare new material for year four. To fill the gap, we’re offering listeners a sample of the short bonus episodes all our $4-and-up Patreon subscribers hear every month. If you’d lik…
 
In this episode, we continue our survey of supernatural sailors’ lore of the North with a look at mermen, Iceland’s “evil whales,” and sea-draugs. After a brief audio tidbit recalling our previous discussion of the Norse World Serpent, Jörmungandr (courtesy of the TV show Vikings), we briefly reconsider the Kraken in the context of the 13th-century…
 
The Kraken is only one of the monsters said to inhabit the storied northern seas of Scandinavia. This episode is the first of two that will examine fantastical nautical tales of these regions. We begin with a bit of dialogue about the Kraken uttered by Davy Jones in Disney’s 2006 Pirates of the Caribbean film Dead Man’s Chest. It’s particularly app…
 
The mythology of bees has been tied for centuries to notions of the otherworld and death. In this episode we trace some of that folklore along with examining some highly peculiar uses of honey. Horror or sci-fi films referencing bees exploit the more mundane fears bee holds for mankind. Our survey of these includes clips from the dreadful 2006 The …
 
Medusa was one of the Gorgons, creatures originally considered quite monstrous, who over the centuries came to be humanized and even regarded as beauties transformed into snake-haired villains. In this episode, we’ll dig back to the most ancient sources to examine the bare bones of the myth. We begin with a nod or two to the pop-culture Medusa. Odd…
 
The motif of lovers retaining the head of a decapitated partner is surprisingly widespread. In this — our romantic Valentine’s Day episode — we have a look at old ballads, literature, fairy tales, legends, and even a few historical anecdotes in which such things occur. We begin with the English murder ballad, “In Bruton Town,” also known as “The Br…
 
Four our third year, we embrace the old tradition of seasonal ghost-storytelling. This year Mrs. Karswell reads for us a tale written by Edmund Gill Swain, from his 1912 collection Stoneground Ghost Tales (“Stoneground” here being the name of a particularly haunted but fictional English village.) Swain was a Cambridge colleague of M.R. James, the m…
 
Books of cautionary stories for children were a popular Christmas gift in Victorian times. These tales of misbehaving children and the tragic consequences of their deeds, like the Krampus myth, served as not-so subtle reminders of parental expectations. This episode consists mainly of readings by your host and Mrs. Karswell of these grim (and amusi…
 
Harlequin is an enigmatic figure with roots in dark folklore of France, specifically that of the Wild Hunt (Chasse Sauvage) a nocturnal procession of ghosts or devils, particularly associated with the time around Christmas and New Year. The myth is also common to England and examined more closely in its Germanic manifestation in Episode 16, “The Ha…
 
In southern Italy, belief in witchcraft has a long history, much of it centering on the town of Benevento, about 30 miles east of Naples. From a 1428 testimony by accused witch Matteuccia da Todi, we have the first mention (anywhere in Europe) of witches flying to their sabbats — their gathering spot, in this case, being Benevento. Matteuccia was a…
 
As a short holiday bonus, we’re offering this special episode examining some obscure aspects of Halloween as manifested in our lives today. Forgotten traditions associated with the holiday arise in surprising forms many of us may not initially recognize. Simple occurrences perceived as nothing more than an everyday nuisance come into focus during o…
 
Illustration from 1832 broadsheet “Execution of James Cook, and Hung in Chains at Le’ster for the Horrid Murder of Mr. Paas.” The gibbet was a hanging iron cage used to display the corpses of criminals in 18th and early 19th-century England. To be thus “hanged in chains,” in the judicial jargon and thinking of the day, subjected the criminal to an …
 
We’re doing something different this time out. Bone and Sickle is taking off the rest of September to allow time for Mr. Ridenour’s research and Mrs. Karswell apiary maintenance. To fill the gap, we’re offering listeners a sample of the short bonus episodes all our $4-and-up Patreon subscribers hear every month. We hope you enjoy this substitution,…
 
The method Frankenstein employed to create life is left mostly a mystery in Mary Shelley’s 1818 book. How then did the notion of stolen body parts stitched together and animated by lightning become so firmly entrenched in popular imagination? Our episode begins with a clip from Universal’s pattern-setting 1931 production, Frankenstein, in which Hen…
 
Western tales of bottled spirits, imps, devils, and even ghosts are largely borrowed from the Islamic and Jewish legends of jinn captured by King Solomon. In this episode, we explore how this is expressed in folk tales, demonological treatises, and literary borrowings. We begin with a nod to the Assyrian god Pazuzu (and a clip from Exorcist II, The…
 
Toads have long been associated with magic, as witches’ familiars and as a source both of poison as folk healing. We begin with a poison allegedly brewed from a toad by the “wise wife of Keith,” Agnes Sampson, one of the accused in Scotland’s North Berwick witch trials in 1591-2. The poison was to have been used against Scotland’s James VI before h…
 
Quite distinct from their Western equivalent, Slavic mermaids might better be described as water ghosts, as they are almost always the spirits of departed females, while their male equivalent takes the form of a water goblin or water sprite. The Russian word for mermaid is rusalka (rusalki pl.) and male creature is a vodyanoy. Similar words are use…
 
This episode looks at puppets given life through magical or mechanical means, holy puppets of the Catholic Church, medieval robots, an early automata of gothic literature, some related films, and an Alpine sex puppet that only puts up with so much. We begin at the end of Carolo Collodi’s original Pinocchio story, or at least the end of the story’s …
 
The Great Plague of London of 1665 to 1666 is vividly portrayed in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, which we’ll be examining closely in this episode. As the text is quite entertaining (much more so than his better known Robison Crusoe) we’ll be hearing more extensive quotes from the material than usual, delivered as usual by our diligen…
 
The figure of the masked plague doctor is an object of intense fascination but also the subject of much misinformation. This episode sorts things out while seeking particular evidence for such handsomely dressed character in the historical record. We begin with a few clips from horror films in which plague doctors figure, including the 2008 film Th…
 
Explore the folklore of the Tooth Fairy and teeth, particularly dead teeth — those lost by children or adults, and those removed from skulls. We open with a brief look at the Tooth Fairy as inspiration for horror films, hearing a bit about (and a montage of clips from) Darkness Falls (2003), The Tooth Fairy (2006), The Haunting of Helena (2013), an…
 
As a special Valentine’s episode, we present collection of folk songs known as “sweetheart murder ballads.” We begin with two newer songs dating to the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Ohio” and “Down in the Willow Garden.” While considered American songs and first documented in Appalachia, these ballads appear to borrow elements from older Europ…
 
The bestiaries of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were books describing animals (some recognizable and others fantastic) in terms borrowed from classical texts and framed by Christian teachings. In this episode, we examine a few of the stranger beasts and strange customs and beliefs associated with them. Here’s a brief look at the animals we’ll be …
 
Walling up a living victim, or immurement, has been used both as a punishment and for darker, magical purposes. In this episode, we detangle the history from the folklore of this grisly act. We begin with an instance of immurement from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 story “The Cask of Amontillado” (including a clip from a dramatization in 1954 radio show, …
 
Bone and Sickle continues its holiday tradition of Christmas ghost stories, or a goblin story, in this case. Our tale about an encounter between a gravedigger, or sexton, and a host of goblins is extracted from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella, The Pickwick Papers. Strangely, it is not Dickens’ only Christmas goblin story. As a special holiday treat, …
 
Frau Perchta, sometimes known as “the Belly-Slitter” for the trademark punishment she’s said to inflict on disobedient or lazy children, is figure of Alpine folklore of Austria and Germany in many ways similar to the Krampus. “Perchta” is only one spelling or name for this figure, who may also go by Pehrta, Berchte, Berta, and a myriad of other nam…
 
Our seasonal look at butcher lore begins with the slaughter of an immense ram as related in the centuries-old English song, “The Derby Ram” (AKA “The Darby Ram”). In the lyric, a butcher and his boy assistant are “washed away in the blood,” giving us our episode’s title. The song is roughly enacted in an old Christmas folk play from Derbyshire, “Ol…
 
This Halloween we have five stories of witches from all the way back to around 1125AD to the 1960s. Some of them are actual historic personage, some seem more purely folkloric. It’s a somewhat longer episode for which I”ll provide somewhat shorter show notes here. So, I won’t going into the details of each story, but just give a sketch of who we’ll…
 
Here’s a short bonus show celebrating Halloween. It’s a bit different format. Whereas most of our shows look at folklore and incidents happening centuries ago in Europe or further afield, in this one we’re staying in the United States looking at how Halloween was celebrated, for better or worse, from the turn of the last century up into the early 1…
 
Goblin lore from old folk tales, literature, ancient and modern legends is our topic this time around. We begin with the poem from which we take our episode title, James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” in which the poet remembers his childhood nanny and her “witch tales” and threats about goblins coming. Next, we take a quick look at the wo…
 
Hear how notions of Purgatory influenced medieval ghost stories, the tradition of All Souls’ Day, and a Neapolitan “cult of skulls.” We set the scene with a clip from “The Lyke Wake Dirge,” a 14th–century British song sung or chanted as a sort of charm over the body of the deceased in the night before burial. It describes the perils confronted by t…
 
This episode explores the connection between vampires and disease, beginning in 19th-century New England with a strange graveyard ritual involving the exhumation of the bodies of Mercy Brown and family members in 1892. The gruesomely ritualistic destruction of Mercy’s body parts was spurred by a belief that those who succumbed to tuberculosis might…
 
This episode explores the Russian witch, the Baba Yaga, tales in which she appears, possible origins, and regional variations on the character. We begin by retelling one of the skazi (folk tales) in which she’s particularly well-definined, “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” a version recorded in the mid-1800s by the folklorist Alexander Afanasyev, Russia’s …
 
The werewolf (Fr: loup-garou) epidemic of 16th-century France forms the core of our show, but we also include some medieval French werewolf tales as well as the legend of a figure connected to both werewolves and Bluebeard. In our last episode on Bluebeard, I promised to recount a legend that may have inspired Charles Perrault’s story. This would b…
 
Bluebeard and his bloody chamber full of murderous secrets is widely known as one of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales, but it’s part of a larger family of folk tales and ballads we examine in this episode. Our show begins with a brief summary of this tale in which a young woman is courted by the mysterious and strangely whiskered nobleman, Bluebeard.…
 
This time we look at the myths of British giants Gog and Magog, and a belief in biblical giants seemingly confirmed by giant bones dug from the earth. We begin with a 1953 newsreel welcoming reconstructed figures of Gog and Magog back to the London Guildhall after the Nazi bombing of the city destroyed the originals. While Londoners may know the fi…
 
Our episode continues from our last with more terrors of the night, the incubi, sucubi, and the most notorious succubus, Lilith — and the breeding of demons “Burney Relief” formerly thought to represent Lilith. We begin with a quick nod to the shoddy treatment the topic of the incubus has received in films, as represented by the 1981 misfire, Incub…
 
This episode examines the terrors that come by night, not-so-soothing lullabies, prayers and charms against the nightmare. We open with the grim Icelandic lulluby “Móðir mín í kví kví,” which tells the story of a newborn’s ghost haunting the mother who abandoned it. Another lovely, yet menacing Icelandic lullaby follows. “Bíum, bíum, Bambaló” allud…
 
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