5 Strange Tales from Pandaemonium,a 17th Century Book on Demonology

Bovet

An incomprehensible image from Richard Bovet’s “Pandaemonium.” 

Even by the standards of this blog, the English demonologist Richard Bovet is a neglected soul. His 1684 book Pandaemonium, or the Devil’s Cloister passionately argued for the existence of demons and witches at a time when the rest of Europe was beginning to come to its senses. Not much is known about Bovet; there were two people in 17th century England with the name, a father and son, and either men might have been the author we’re discussing today. At any rate, both Bovets were fiercely anti-Catholic, and one of them sought to combine his anti-Catholicism with supernatural quackery.

The result, Pandaemonium, sold poorly in its day and is about well-remembered now as the sonnets I posted on Tumblr as a teenager. To my knowledge, Bovet’s book hasn’t been reprinted since 1951, when an edition was posthumously published by the great Montague Summers. Summers declared that it was “without question one of the most extraordinary works in the immense library of occult research.” I’d say that it IS pretty extraordinary, but probably not in the way that the author intended.

The first half of the book is a credulous discourse on the existence of the supernatural, including sections about how Catholics and the Pope are in league with the Devil. The second part, which is much more amusing, is a collection of accounts about ghosts, witches, and other ghastly things. In traveling around England and gathering stories, Bovet picked up some of the most delightfully strange tales I’d ever heard. (I first encountered the Demon of Spreyton, in fact, in his book.) To honor Bovet, I’d like to retell five of my favorite relations from Pandaemonium, in no definitive order. The original text, for those interested, can also be perused here.

1. The Possession of the Merideth Children 

I’ve long believed that children are a nuisance. They’re dirty, annoying, and as an entire genre of horror movies has shown us, have a habit of becoming supernaturally possessed. In the incident of the Merideth family from Bristol, their son and three daughters were showcases for that third issue. At the start of their “possession,” the kids complained about headaches, then their limbs, mouths, and eyes were distorted into “unimaginable alterations.”

The children soon became unbelievably strong. They would fall into fits of laughing and crying for an hour at a time, and would crawl around the floor like cats. One neighbor even told Bovet that the kids “would hang about the walls and ceiling of the room, like flies or spiders.” Other antics included foaming at the mouth, pretending to drop dead, and in the case of one child, throwing up pins. These strange fits would last all day; it was only when the Merideths fell asleep that they would stop.

After months of this behavior, the Merideth children all of a sudden recovered. Some doctors attributed the cause to a “natural distemper,” but Bovet, ever the careful observer, recognized witchcraft when he saw it.

2. How a Falconer Summoned a Demon 

From Bovet’s friend “Dr. B.” comes a warning of the dangers of unsavory books. In the county of present-day Dorset, Dr. B kept a house with a huntsman and falconer. The huntsman was a fellow who liked to drink, while the falconer was a more temperate person. The two men shared a bed at night, but the falconer preferred to read over talking with his drunken bedfellow.

One night, while the huntsman was asleep, the falconer was busy reading a book he’d borrowed from a chaplain. The book “happened to be of the wrong sort”- perhaps a euphemism for a grimoire or demonological text- and the mere act of reading it summoned a monster to the falconer’s bedside. When the terrified falconer tried to nudge his bedfellow awake, the drowsy hunter only mumbled, “Good Devil, do not mistake, for that is the falconer,” before going back to sleep.

The drunkard having failed him, the falconer shouted for help from the house’s other lodgers. Fortunately, a deus ex machina arrived in the form of the chaplain, who came to the rescue and banished the demon away. Illuminating the tale’s lesson, Bovet remarks that “Some people, by perusing unlawful studies, have put themselves in the power of evil spirits. And though some may look on this relation but as a jest, upon inquiry it will be found a real truth.”

3. The Fair of the Fairies 

Near the town of Taunton, Bovet had heard that there was a fair held by fairies in the summertime. Many locals had reportedly seen it, but kept their distance, because the fair always harmed any human brave enough to approach it. During one such fairy fair, around the 1630s, a man whose curiosity got the better of him would pay for it dearly.

While riding home in the area, to the parish of Combe St Nicholas, the man saw on the side of a hill what appeared to be a fair. There were drinking booths, people in country dress, and all sorts of peddlers, just like a normal fair. Since he knew of no fairs in the area, the man wondered if these people were fairies. He started to ride toward the crowd, but as he got closer, the fairgoers disappeared. The man could feel their presence, yet couldn’t see them at all.

After riding past where the crowd was, the man looked back and saw that the fair had reappeared. Before he could try again, the man’s body was seized with pain. He quickly headed home, and when he got back, became lame all on one side. The poor fellow never recovered from his paralysis; he lived another twenty years, serving as a warning to anyone else who dared to attend the fair of the fairies.

4. The Rat Hole Prophecies 

Toads, black cats, and bats are often associated with witches and other magical ne’er-do-wells. To this trinity of evil, Bovet added the rat, an animal he claimed was cherished by witches. In the following tale about the long-tailed vermin, Bovet discovered what might be the only record of mûsomancy, my neologism for a prophecy delivered by rats.

At a house in the county of Devon (now Devonshire), Bovet was treated to a meal by a Mrs. Wood. In the top of the parlor, Mrs. Wood pointed out to her guest a giant hole, which she supposed was the result of hungry rats. Mrs. Wood’s husband had died a few weeks earlier, just as the hole was created, and it was her belief that the hole predicted her husband’s death. When another hole appeared in the room, Mrs. Wood concluded that she, too, would die.

The rat-constructed holes were right; Mrs. Wood, in perfect health, dropped dead a short time later. A year later, the rats were still enjoying the Woods’ house, and decided to leave another prophecy in their hosts’ parlor. On this occasion, the hole was for Roger Wood, the family’s oldest heir. One morning, back home from hunting, Roger promptly died after complaining about a headache.

5. An Encounter with an Invisible Ghost 

As a collector of supernatural stories, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bovet allegedly had a spooky encounter himself. In 1667, somewhere in the West Country of England, Bovet had stayed at a nobleman’s house. The house was once a nunnery, and according to the servants and  some other visitors, the place was brimming with ghosts and unexplained noises.

On one night during his stay, Bovet testified that a group of five spectral women, each with a white veil covering her face, marched into his room. One of the ladies struck Bovet on the hand, and when he brought it to the attention of his bedfellow, the man freaked out and told Bovet that a monster, “assuming a shape betwixt that of a lion and a bear,” had tried to get onto their bed. The next night, Bovet’s companion refused to sleep in the room, leaving Bovet the place (and bed) to himself.

At around 1 AM, Bovet was ready to sleep. As he tucked himself in, doubtlessly thinking about bear-lions, Bovet heard something come into his room. The being was invisible, but so obnoxiously loud that it gave away its movements. After passing Bovet’s bed, it opened some curtains and entered a locked closet. Behind the door, the intruder grabbed a chair, repeatedly groaned, and seemed to be flipping through a book. “…so it continued in that posture,” Bovet wrote, “sometimes groaning, sometimes dragging the chair, and clattering the book, till it was near day.” As it happened, the author miraculously survived this ordeal; Bovet slept several more times in the room, but never experienced anything strange again, allowing him to write his great masterpiece.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. The book has a habit of conjuring demons upon being read, and the morbid and bizarre stories therein star such characters as a playwright who stages real deaths for his work, a corpse that leads a revolution in a banana republic, and a sleazy photographer who claims to take pictures of ghosts. If your tastes lean toward the absurd, do give the book a read and leave a review, death-threat, or prophetic message on its Amazon page. 

ForgottenLivesCover

 

 

Ape Canyon’s Bizarre 1924 Bigfoot Attack

FredBeck

Fred Beck, veteran of America’s most horrific Bigfoot battle

As far as I can tell, Washington’s Ape Canyon is a gorge on Mount St. Helens that is neither shaped like an ape nor inhabited by one. The odd name comes from an incident reported in July 1924, when five miners claimed that they were attacked by a group of apemen. The story goes that a member of the mining party, a man named Fred Beck, took a shot at one of the creatures after being spooked. Later that night, the monsters appeared at the miners’ cabin, tossing boulders and rushing the door to break it down.

According to The Oregonian, the first paper to break the story, the apemen were covered in long black hair. They stood at 7 feet, weighed over 400 pounds, and possessed great strength. At one point, they made a hole in the cabin’s roof and dropped a rock inside, knocking Beck in the head. Despite the apemen’s mastery of rock-throwing, the gun-toting miners were able to hold their ground. By the morning, the creatures had retreated, allowing Beck and the other humans to run out the log-fort and return to civilization.

Yes, the miners’ tale was likely just a campfire yarn, but how could newspapers resist a showdown between giant apes and gold prospectors? At a time when the word “Bigfoot” hadn’t been coined yet, people referred to the miners’ violent apemen as “mountain devils” and “gorillas.” As word of the ambush spread, the story also became increasingly outlandish. A skeptical mention in the Engineering and Mining Journal put the number of combatants involved at “more than twenty animals,” while one Native American editor tied the apemen to the Seeahtik, a mythical tribe who used hypnotism to hunt for their game.

Although the Washington media’s interest in the Bigfoot assault eventually faded, the gorge where it happened was christened “Ape Canyon,” ensuring that the battle remained a part of local folklore. After the modern conception of Sasquatch took off in the late 1950s, researchers like journalist Betty Allen rediscovered the Ape Canyon incident and incorporated it into Bigfoot mythology. Probably encouraged by this new Bigfoot mania, Fred Beck sat down with his son Roland to create a memoir of the failed 1924 siege, titling his 1967 booklet “I Fought the Ape Men of Mt. St. Helens.

Despite the long passage of time, Beck remembered the greatest Bigfoot brawl of the century rather well. Before that fateful day in July, Beck and the other miners had already come across large, unfamiliar tracks. The week of the incident, they heard whistling outside every evening, as though two creatures were trying to communicate with one another. During his description of the attack in the booklet’s first chapter, Beck clarifies a couple details that were misreported in the press. It was actually his friend “Hank” (a pseudonym) who shot the first apeman, for example, and it wasn’t true that Beck was hit in the head by a rock.

At most, Beck and his mining party saw only three apemen at a time, although there might have been more. When things quieted down in the morning, the miners came out of their cabin, and Beck spotted one of the creatures standing near a cliff. He shot it three times, sending the damn dirty ape over the edge, down to a fall that was four hundred feet below. After fleeing to a park ranger station at Spirit Lake, Beck wanted to keep the whole ordeal a secret, but “Hank” couldn’t keep his mouth shut. The story spread, journalists requested interviews, and curiosity-seekers and law officers scoured the area for signs of the attackers.

In the second chapter of the booklet, Beck reprints a 1964 news article about the Mt. St. Helen apemen, mentioning his own incident and the 1950 disappearance of a skier on the mountain. Further on, he admits to having been clairvoyant since childhood, noting a history of “visions” and “spiritual meetings.” Because a psychic element just wasn’t enough, Beck completely twists his story and speculates that the apemen were beings from a lower plane of existence. As a lost link between humans and their ancestors, the apemen sometimes manifested into our own dimension, anxious to ascend their petty state. They are curious, largely harmless critters, and are only searching for a higher consciousness.

This spiritual gobbledygook, although not entirely unwelcome for entertainment purposes, is entirely absent from the original ’20s reportage. There’s been debate over how much influence Roland had on his father’s written account, and even whether Fred Beck could remember the story as accurately as he thought he did. In terms of more practical solutions, a logger named Rant Mullins admitted in 1982 that he rolled rocks onto a cabin in the Mt. St. Helen area in 1924. Mullins had also faked giant footprints for decades, suggesting he was responsible for another important part of Beck’s “ambush.”

Another theory argues that the miners mistook a rock slide that hit their cabin for the monsters, and yet a third maintains that the assailants were teenagers from a local YMCA, who couldn’t be seen clearly due to the time of night. As for the Bigfoot that Beck shot and sent down into oblivion, this was either the case of an overactive imagination, or the brutal assassination of an innocent apeman attempting to reach a higher consciousness. Personally, I don’t believe in Sasquatch or its cousins, so I’m going to opt for the former explanation.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes such sugary sweet tales as “The Society for the Preservation of Vice,” in which a group of decadent artists attempt to pull off a human sacrifice, and the heart-warming “A Gourmet’s Confession,” in which a glutton resorts to cannibalism after he can’t eat conventional food anymore. Although not appropriate for everyone, the book is a favorite among apemen, and has been a popular item to toss at miner cabins. 

ForgottenLivesCover

 

On a Banshee’s Prediction of a Rector’s Death

banshee

Along with Bono and the leprechaun, the wailing banshee is probably one of the best-known creatures to come out of Ireland. While some people consider it a spirit, others classify it as a kind of fairy. Its exact appearance also has a variety of interpretations, from depicting the banshee as being unusually tall or amazingly small, to rendering it as an ugly hag or a beautiful young woman. Despite the diversity of images, it’s generally agreed that hearing a banshee’s cry means that somebody in an Irish family is about to die.

Banshees are especially thought to shriek if the victim has a surname with the Gaelic prefixes Ó or Mac, or has a gift for singing and playing music. (The one indicates native Irish ancestry, and the other reflects the belief that music was a gift from fairies.) An account of a banshee, reported by antiquarian Thomas Crofton Croker in 1825, concerns a man who possessed the latter feature. In life, the 18th century reverend Charles Bunworth was a harpist as renown for his kindness as his talent for plucking. He earned his MA from Trinity College, Dublin in 1730,  and served as the rector of Buttevant, a town in Ireland’s County Cork.

Bunworth was popular with both the rich and poor, but neither group seemed to love the rector as much as the country’s traveling harpists. In return for his support and patronage, Bunworth’s fellow musicians blessed him and praised his daughters in their songs. At the time of his death in 1770, Bunworth had fifteen harps in his collection,  all of them presents from harpists who he’d helped over the years. Although one biographer in 1815 noted that Bunworth’s own harp was still being kept by his descendants, the rest of the collection was accidentally used as firewood by a caretaker in the family’s house.

More extraordinary than the fate of these unfortunate instruments might be the allegation that Bunworth’s death was preceded by a banshee’s cry. In his book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, the earlier mentioned Croker states that “The circumstances attending the death of Mr. Bunworth may be doubted by some; but there are still living credible witnesses who declare their authenticity, and who can be produced to attest most, if not all of the following particulars.” According to Croker, the first sign that something was wrong happened a week before Bunworth passed away.

That evening, the members of the Bunworth household heard a noise that sounded like a sheep, but nobody paid it any mind. A few hours later, a herdsman named Kavanagh visited the Bunworths’ home with some medicine for the family patriarch, who’d fallen sick. When Kavanagh handed the bottle to one of Bunworth’s daughters, the lady noticed that the herdsman seemed upset. As he was questioned, Kavanagh mumbled something about his master and immediately broke into tears. Ms. Bunworth suspected that her overly emotional servant was drunk, but Kavanagh swore that his tears were sober ones.

Crying “We will lose him! We will lose him!,” Kavanagh revealed that he’d seen and heard a banshee on his way back home. Ms. Bunworth dismissed the monster as a superstition, but the herdsman was persistent. He claimed that as he passed through a glen, a long, white haired-banshee appeared and walked alongside him. The banshee clapped and screeched, chanting Bunworth’s name and keening (a poetical sort of lamenting done at traditional Irish funerals). Once Kavanagh reached an abbey, the banshee sat under a tree and “began keening so bitterly, that it went through one’s heart to hear it.”

It was not a keen, however, that went through Ms. Bunworth’s heart. She told Kavanagh that her father was improving, and asked that he not frighten the other servants with his silly banshee story. Nearly the whole week passed without further incident, but then something strange occurred the night before Bunworth died. That night, the old rector was sleeping in the parlor, under the watch of an elderly female friend. A group of men sat in the room next to them, and even more friends had gathered in the kitchen.

While watching Bunworth, the elderly friend suddenly heard a woman moaning and clapping her hands at a window near the rector’s bed. The aged lady alerted the men in the other room about the noise. They’d heard the commotion too, so a pair of skeptics volunteered to search the house. When they couldn’t find anything, the men went outside and investigated the road, still finding no trace of another human being.

After coming back into the house, the men were told that the moaning and clapping had intensified and stopped again during their absence. Right as the men closed the room’s door, the mysterious mourning broke out a third and final time. Bunworth’s health, already in bad shape, rapidly deteriorated. When the morning came, Charles Bunworth promptly went the way of all flesh, just as the banshee predicted.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. The book is available on Kindle, and it goes without saying that every purchase is preceded by a loud disembodied scream outside the buyer’s window. 

ForgottenLivesCover

The Vrykolakas: a Greek Revenant that Knocks on Doors

vrykolakas

In American pop culture, vampires are frequently charming, sexy, and sophisticated. They’re rarely scary, and since the vampire romance boom, they’ve become lame and boring. If hideous, evil revenants ever become fashionable again, then I can only hope writers and filmmakers might explore the vrykolakas, a Greek cousin of sorts to the Slavic vampire. Like the vampire, the vrykolakas is a pale, undead corpse that terrorizes the living at night. While it doesn’t typically drink blood, the vrykolakas is capable of turning other people into its ilk.

Instead of biting people’s necks, however, the vrykolakas has a more sanitary method of infection. It appears at a victim’s house, knocking on the front door and calling the person’s name. If you’re polite enough to answer the door, you’re unfortunately fated to die and become a vrykolakas yourself. Even if a person dies naturally, they’re at risk of turning into a vrykolakas if they’ve been excommunicated or buried in unconsecrated ground. Interestingly, the word “vrykolakas” originally meant werewolf. This accounts for the blurring between the two in some folk beliefs, and the beautiful idea that a werewolf can become a vrykolakas after it dies.

It’s hard to say when exactly a party of drunken Greeks might have come up with the creature. It doesn’t appear in ancient or Byzantine texts, and only first pops up in the written word around the 15th century. Greek scholars like the Vatican librarian Leo Allatius wrote about the vrykolakas, while foreign travelers and observers also recorded stories. A detailed account of an alleged vrykolakas, along with the hysteria it provoked, comes from the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708). While island-hopping through Greece in search of plants, Tournefort happened to stay in Mykonos during a vrykolakas attack.

According to the skeptical Tournefort, the vrykolakas was a quarrelsome peasant who’d been mysteriously murdered in a field. Two days after his burial, the peasant was seen taking nightly strolls. Over the course of his solitary entertainment, the new vrykolakas “came into houses and turned over furniture, extinguished lamps, embraced people from behind, and played a thousand little roguish tricks.” The townspeople thought this was hilarious, but the vrykolakas was treated more seriously when the town’s elites began to complain. On the tenth day after the vrykolakas’s burial, the town’s religious and secular authorities ordered for an exorcism to take place.

The exorcism was held in a chapel, attended by many of the townspeople. The vrykolakas’s unconscious body was carried there, and a mass was held to expel the demon thought to be possessing the corpse. To the disgust of Tournefort and his party, the town butcher was tasked with cutting out the monster’s heart on the spot. As the corpse was dissected, its body released a stench so horrible that it whipped the onlookers into panic. Incense that was burned to hide the smell only made things worse. Some townspeople shrieked “Vrykolakas!” over and over, while others insisted that the smoke from the incense was actually coming from the corpse’s body. Even the butcher was affected, claiming that the dead man was still warm.

Despite (or because of) this intervention, the vrykolakas only became more troublesome. The townspeople now accused him of “beating people at night, of breaking in doors, and even roofs; of breaking windows, tearing up clothes, and emptying pitchers and bottles.” People were so afraid of night-time that families slept in the town square, while others fled for the countryside. Everyone debated what to do, questioning if something went wrong with the exorcism. Meanwhile, the town’s holy men fasted and dispensed holy water, covering doors with their blessed H2O.

As a man with a scientific bent, Tournefort was not convinced that anything supernatural was going on. At the exorcism, the Frenchman and his companions informed their Greek hosts that the vrykolakas’s body was quite dead. None of Tournefort’s party, in fact, witnessed the vrykolakas in the middle of its shenanigans. The tall tale might nearly have been put to rest when a couple of vagabonds were rounded up and arrested for the mischief. For some reason, the vagabonds were let go after two days, and once again, terrified citizens complained about somebody drinking and emptying their wine jugs.

Finally, with the town in such an uproar, the authorities concluded that desperate times called for desperate measures. Since pouring holy water into the vrykolakas’s mouth didn’t work, and sticking swords in its grave wasn’t much help either, somebody came up with a wiser solution. On January 1, 1701, the vrykolakas was moved to St George Island, where it was thrown onto a pyre and set on fire. The monster’s body burned quickly, and that was the last anybody saw of the vrykolakas. It never bothered the people of Mykonos again, with the result that several songs were written in honor of the island’s victory.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by buying my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. The book was just released on Kindle today, so I would recommend getting a copy before a vrykolakas shows up at your front door. 

ForgottenLivesCover

On the Horrors of Having Your Children Snatched by Fairies

Changeling

Depiction of a mother and a “changeling,” a fairy-child swapped for a human one.

In today’s world, parents often worry about whether their kids are eating healthy and getting a good education, and in the case of long car trips, whether the children have their phones fully charged. It’s tough being a modern parent, but at the least, you don’t have to worry like Europeans did about your spawn being snatched by fairies. While the concept of the changeling has now been relegated to folklore, it was once a serious threat for many superstitious moms and dads. Well after the Enlightenment,  between 1850 and 1900, courts across Europe were still handling cases of people who abused or killed children accused of being changelings.

According to folktales and historical accounts, a fairy-swapped child could be identified by physical deformities, a sickly or underdeveloped body, and an excessive (or small) appetite. By the 19th century, scholars recognized that stories of changelings likely stemmed from children who were disabled or mentally challenged. The idea of the changeling is thought to have originated with peasants’ recognition that something was “wrong” with their children, and it could have been used to justify abusing and killing the poor kids.

An interesting historical example of a changeling comes from the English poet and topographer George Waldron. While working as an official on the Isle of Man, the London-born Waldron wrote a book about the island’s history and culture, 1726’s “A Description of the Isle of Man.” Criticizing the Manx for being superstitious, Waldron noted that the belief in fairies was still alive and well. “The old story of infants being changed in their cradles,” he observed, “is here in such credit, that mothers are in continual terror at the thoughts of it.”

When Waldron was presented with an alleged changeling, he described the child as having a beautiful face and delicate complexion. The boy was five or six years old, with long and thin limbs. He didn’t talk or cry, hardly ate anything, and was unable to walk and stand. When the kid was left alone, people watching from his window would see him laugh by himself. It was believed that he was in the company of fairies then, and that they would wash the boy and comb his hair.

In another example, Waldron heard a story from a mother who claimed to have been continually harassed by fairies. The trouble began four or five days after she gave birth to her first child. All of a sudden, her family heard somebody shout that there was a fire. They ran out of their house to see where it was, leaving the mother and her baby alone in their room. As she trembled in bed, the woman watched incredulously as her baby was picked up by an invisible hand and stolen away. When the rest of the family came back inside, finding no fire anywhere in their neighborhood, they discovered the baby lying at the entrance of the house. Naturally, fairies were blamed for moving the child.

A year after this incident, following the birth of the mother’s second child, the family heard a loud commotion from their cattle barn. As they rushed to see what the problem was, the mother and her new baby were once again left alone. Inside the barn, nothing was out of the ordinary, and no cows had gotten loose. Reassured, the neglectful family made their way back to the house, where they were greeted by the second baby lying in the entryway. As with the first child, this mysterious displacement was believed to be the work of the little people.

As the saying goes, the fairies figured that the third kidnapping’s the charm. Not long after this same mother delivered her third child, another commotion was heard in the barn. Like clockwork, everybody ran outside, leaving the mother and baby with a nurse who was fast asleep. As the nurse snoozed, the mother watched with horror as an invisible set of hands promptly snatched her baby and carried it away. The woman screamed for her nurse to get up, but it was too late: The fat and beautiful baby was spirited away.

When her family returned, the mother was found crying hysterically. Although the husband pointed out that the baby was still inside the bed, the mother couldn’t be fooled. This was a skinny and deformed impostor, a changeling. The creature, Waldron reported, lived with the family “near the space of nine years.” During its brief existence, the changeling ate “nothing except a few herbs, nor was ever seen to void any other excrement than water: it neither spoke, nor could stand or go,” resembling the child Waldron met on the island. While our English reporter doesn’t detail what ultimately happened to this particular changeling, I think we could sadly conclude that the child suffered from malnutrition and neglect, if not deliberate abuse.

 

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.  

ForgottenLivesCover

 

 

 

How the Devil Set a Troublesome Teenager Straight

thedevil

From buying guitarists’ souls to impregnating Mia Farrow, the Devil has always kept himself busy. Personally, I cannot speak much for his talents, but one might want to take a note from his parenting skills. Consider, for example, the case of unruly English teenager Joseph Boxford. According to a pamphlet published in London in 1645, Joseph was a fifteen-year-old boy who lived in Bow, a village in the county of Devon. Joseph’s father John sent him to the town of Crediton to become a weaver’s apprentice, but after a month of work, Joseph wanted to do something else.

Without telling his father, Joseph decided to trade the excitements of weaving for the life of a soldier. As this was a decision made during the First English Civil War, when the Parliamentarians were engaged in fighting King Charles I and his Royalist supporters, this was not the best idea. Joseph spent his summer in the king’s army, being such a general ne’er-do-well that he ended up dressed in rags.

When the broken boy went back home for support, his father gave him new clothes and recommended that he return to his apprenticeship. As teenagers are wont to do, Joseph refused to listen to common sense. John, furious, threatened that he’d apprentice the boy to the Devil.

In the morning, John announced to his son that they were going to Crediton. A rebellious Joseph insisted that he’d rather be apprenticed to the Devil. This was not what John actually wanted, so he beat the boy until Joseph agreed to leave the house. As father and son approached Crediton, with the former hitting the latter, and the latter swearing at the former, the Boxfords came across a man in a carriage pulled by four horses. The argument caught the driver’s attention, so he asked John why he felt the need to be so violent. John answered with a rant, complaining about Joseph and his refusal to do anything responsible.

Taking pity on the poor boy, the driver offered to take Joseph along and find him a good employer. John came to an agreement with the carrier; if Joseph didn’t like the work the carrier found him, then he’d be sent back to Bow within eight days. With both Boxfords satisfied, John turned back home and left his son with the stranger and four horses. I suppose, if this were a YA novel, this would be the part when the benevolent stranger would reveal that Joseph was actually a great wizard or hero or something, and that he’d come to start the misfit boy on his destiny. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out.

Instead, the stranger immediately morphed into a ugly, dark horse, snatching Joseph up and taking flight into the sky. Riding on the horse’s back, Joseph was so high up that big cities like London looked “no greater than small cottages.” The teenager rode past the moon and Neptune, dropping into a cave in the earth that brought him to Hell. Now in the safety of his home, the Devil rid himself of his disguise. Saying that Joseph could see some of his old Royalist war-buddies, the Devil summoned an army of ghosts who howled, suffered, and vocally regretted taking up the Royalist cause.

Scanning over this collection of ghosts, Joseph noticed a politician named Sir Peter Ball, whose eternal damnation was rather creative. The sinner’s legs and feet were engulfed in flames, while his buttocks were burned on a gridiron, his back and shoulders were cooked in a frying-pan, and his face was boiled in a kettle. Next to Ball were two spots reserved for “Greenvile” and “Goring,” references to the Royalist military-men Bevil Grenville and George Goring. These two gentlemen, once they were ready, would be punished by having hot aconites shoved down their “belching throats.” Goring’s sister “Lady Scot,” on the other hand, received the honor of being hanged by the tongue on scalding tenterhooks.

All this horrible torture was too much to bear for Joseph Boxford. He begged to leave, and since they were there long enough, the Devil whisked the teenager away to a place in Devon called Cannon Lee. A pair of servants later spotted Joseph under a hedge, where his “hands and legs (were) strangely distorted, his haire of his head singed,” and “his Clothes all be smeared with pitch and rosin and other sulfurous matter, which yeelded an odious stench.” Since Joseph was in bad shape, and couldn’t manage to speak, the men took him to their master’s house.

Once he recovered, Joseph bared his misadventure with the Devil, a tale the owner of the house found creditable. His father was called, and John picked the boy up and forgave him for their disagreement. According to Jonathan Gainwell, a minister who heard Joseph tell his story, the former juvenile delinquent became reformed. To make for an even happier ending, the Devil was also seen that day, back in his carrier-with-horses disguise. A group of Royalist soldiers passing by took a fancy in the horses, and as they were in the middle of stealing them, the Devil and his entourage disappeared in an inferno. Three of the Royalists caught fire and died, and the rest took off running for their lives.

Despite the pamphlet’s over-the-top claims, despite the fact that I can’t trace a place called Cannon Lee, and that Sir Peter Ball died many years after the end of the English Civil War, I believe there are some valuable lessons here. Children should obey their parents, parents should love their children, and nobody who pledges allegiance to the King of England should be allowed into heaven.

 

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider supporting my work by pre-ordering my book “Forgotten Lives” on Amazon here. My first collection of short stories includes the company of such wonderful people as a vengeful circus dwarf, a gourmet cannibal, and a mother who convinces her daughter that aliens are coming to abduct them. If you’re up for something strange and morbid, be sure to check the book out when it hits Kindle on September 23.  

ForgottenLivesCover

 

Murdered by the Devil

Griffin

In 1662, one Englishman had the misfortune of being attacked by both griffins and the Devil.

For all the evil attributed to the Devil, his personal kill count is remarkably low. According to a count on the skeptical blog Dwindling In Unbelief, Old Nick is estimated to have killed only 60 or so people in the Bible. It’s a pretty embarrassing number for the Prince of Darkness, but based on a story from an old English pamphlet, we could bump this number to 61.

In 1662, a pamphlet was published in London entitled “A Strange and True Relation of One Mr. John Leech.” One morning, Leech- a farmer from the village of Raveley-set off to go drinking at a fair in the town of Whittlesey. Walking two miles away from his house, Leech bumped into one of his neighbors, and demanded the man take part in his merrymaking. Since you should never decline a morning drink with your neighbor, Leech and his friend stopped at a near-by house for some fermented refreshments.

After Leech began to get “very merry,” his neighbor asked the members of the household what time it was. They answered that it was almost 11, but Leech wasn’t apparently done yet. He replied, “Let the Devil take him who goeth out of this house today.” More drinking and sitting followed until Leech suddenly remembered the fair, and decided to stick to his original plan. Though his friend reminded Leech of his earlier words, Leech scoffed that he was too heavy for the Devil to carry. He then called for his horse and left.

On his way to the fair, Leech began to have second doubts. His mind was plagued with anxiety, and he rode back and forth in a daze until dark, never reaching his destination. At one or two morning, Leech encountered a pair of monsters that looked like griffins. The sight scared the bejesus out of him, and then he heard a voice repeat”Remember thy sins and the Oath thou hast broken this day” three times. At the sound of these words, Leech fell from his horse and was seized by the griffins, who carried him twelve miles into the air. The monsters tore off his clothes and dumped him, bloody and gory, in a farmyard.

In the morning, some servants starting their day found Leech laying incoherent on a set of harrows. They asked him a bunch of questions, but Leech could only sigh and groan. The servants’ master took pity on Leech, and ordered him to be moved to a bed in the house. When Leech recovered his strength, he explained what happened, and the master allowed him to rest there for another day or two.

Meanwhile, a few of the servants doing their chores found torn-up clothes two miles away from the farm. They showed the rags to Leech, who quickly “grew into a Frenzy so desperate, that they were afraid to stay in his Chamber.”  The master offered to call Leech a minister, but Leech refused, saying it was too late to save him. The master called for a minister anyway, and when the man went into Leech’s room, Leech jumped out of bed and threw the minister so violently that he nearly killed him.

The master and his servants heard the commotion and rushed to the bedroom. Inside, Leech was trying to beat the minister to death, so they grabbed and bounded Leech onto the bed. Leech immediately broke loose, and everybody was so terrified at this point that they opted to just lock Leech inside the room. (Because why waste money on an exorcism when you can just lock the door?) For the rest of the day, nobody dared to enter Leech’s room.

When morning came, the members of the household went to check on their demented guest by listening at his door. They didn’t hear a single screech or bit of glossolalia, and when they unlocked the room, discovered why. Leech was found dead on the bed, with “his neck broke, his tongue out of his mouth, and his body as black as a shoe, all swelled, and every bone in his body out of joint.” Most of the people of the town saw Leech’s body, and his corpse was eventually buried after the smell got too unbearable.

For anybody who thinks the poor farmer simply had too much to drink, the author of the pamphlet takes care to note that the account had been verified by six “Persons of unquestionable Credit.” At any rate, I hope you’ll all think twice the next time you invoke the Devil during a morning drink with your neighbor.

Please consider supporting Bizarre and Grotesque on my Patreon here. For pledging just a dollar per creation, you’ll get access to my Patreon feed and a special bonus article every month!