At last the revenants became so troublesome the peasants abandoned the village and it fell solely into the possession of subtle and vindictive inhabitants who manifest their presences by shadows that fall almost imperceptibly awry, too many shadows, even at midday, shadows that have no source in anything visible; by the sound, sometimes, of sobbing in a derelict bedroom where a cracked mirror suspended from a wall does not reflect a presence; by a sense of unease that will afflict the traveller unwise enough to pause to drink from the fountain in the square that still gushes spring water from a faucet stuck in a stone lion’s mouth. A cat prowls in a weedy garden; he grins and spits, arches his back, bounces away from an intangible on four fear-stiffened legs. Now all shun the village below the chateau in which the beautiful somnambulist helplessly perpetuates her ancestral crimes.

Wearing an antique bridal gown, the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone in her dark, high house under the eyes of the portraits of her demented and atrocious ancestors, each one of whom, through her, projects a baleful posthumous existence; she counts out the Tarot cards, ceaselessly construing a constellation of possibilities as if the random fall of the cards on the red plush tablecloth before her could precipitate her from her chill, shuttered room into a country of perpetual summer and obliterate the perennial sadness of a girl who is both death and the maiden.

Her voice is filled with distant sonorities, like reverberations in a cave: now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation. And she is herself a cave full of echoes, she is a system of repetitions, she is a closed circuit.’ Can a bird sing only the song it knows or can it learn a new song?’ She draws her long, sharp fingernail across the bars of the cage in which her pet lark sings, striking a plangent twang like that of the plucked heartstrings of a woman of metal. Her hair falls down like tears.

The castle is mostly given over to ghostly occupants but she herself has her own suite of drawing room and bedroom. Closely barred shutters and heavy velvet curtains keep out every leak of natural light. There is a round table on a single leg covered with a red plush cloth on which she lays out her inevitable Tarot; this room is never more than faintly illuminated by a heavily shaded lamp on the mantelpiece and the dark red figured wallpaper is obscurely, distressingly patterned by the rain that drives in through the neglected roof and leaves behind it random areas of staining, ominous marks like those left on the sheets by dead lovers. Depredations of rot and fungus everywhere. The unlit chandelier is so heavy with dust the individual prisms no longer show any shapes; industrious spiders have woven canopies in the corners of this ornate and rotting place, have trapped the porcelain vases on the mantelpiece in soft grey nets. But the mistress of all this disintegration notices nothing.

Angela Carter
The Lady of the House of Love

hold off Death

March 4, 2020

Out of the dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and, lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere. Life is nothing. Life is all. It is the Hand with which we hold off Death. It is the glow-worm that shines in the night-time and is black in the morning; it is the white breath of the oxen in winter; it is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset.

H. Rider Haggard

King Solomon’s Mines

Dark Charms

January 26, 2020

Eventually the future shows up everywhere:
those burly summers and unslept nights in deep
lines and dark splotches, thinning skin.
Here’s the corner store grown to a condo,
the bike reduced to one spinning wheel,
the ghost of a dog that used to be, her trail
no longer trodden, just a dip in the weeds.
The clear water we drank as thirsty children
still runs through our veins. Stars we saw then
we still see now, only fewer, dimmer, less often.
The old tunes play and continue to move us
in spite of our learning, the wraith of romance,
lost innocence, literature, the death of the poets.
We continue to speak, if only in whispers,
to something inside us that longs to be named.
We name it the past and drag it behind us,
bag like a lung filled with shadow and song,
dreams of running, the keys to lost names.

Dorianne Laux

Shadows that are

November 23, 2019

Against the wall shadows grope, shadows that pin light to stone,
that are carapaces of light when sky negatives to purple black.
Sleeping rough, they fatten for the border crossing
on the fruits of rock vines; uncle who crossed too late
is a fossil in that wall. The ivy purposes to warm and shield him.
And the shadows are the bodies of dreamers deranged from bed
by the scent of the night-blooming jasmine, a plate of prosciutto,
the code of clinking forks. Languages flitter through cracks in the wall;
to the untutored ear they sound the same, but their blood types differ.
So the agents go on drinking vermouth while night bleeds the river
that is studded with fire opals cold to the tongue. They keep living
in this land that midwifed a stillborn dream. Peace does not come.
It merely lifts its shining horn and passes through indifferent stone.
Its cloven hooves crush mortar shells while evening prayer,
that dark orchid, clings fast and tenuous to the air.

Carol Alexander

Vital to the modern moment…are the novels of Alan Garner and Susan Cooper; especially Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Owl Service (1967), and Cooper’s dazzling The Dark Is Rising sequence, published between 1965 and 1977. Once read, these novels are hard to forget. They lodge and loom in the memory. Garner turned eighty last autumn, and a volume of essays exploring his legacy, called First Light, is being compiled at present, with contributions from Philip Pullman, Ali Smith and Neil Gaiman among others. I regard the second book of Cooper’s sequence as among the eeriest texts I know; Helen Macdonald is another for whom Cooper’s novels have been imaginatively vital.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as an excess of hokey woo-woo; a surge of something-in-the-woodshed rustic gothic. But engaging with the eerie emphatically doesn’t mean believing in ghosts. Few of the practitioners named here would endorse earth mysteries or ectoplasm. What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).

Robert Macfarlane
The eeriness of the English countryside

Three Persons

October 3, 2019

 

We drop the shadows where they are then
return to them
when the light has grown heavy.

You’ll take your time lugging the weight into our room.
Or stand over there in the shade.

We’ve never been too sure that we exist as the earth does.
We’re most at home in water
that soaks up the letters in our brains.

It could be we have been dry too long.

A spirit is a mess when excess spoils it.

Fanny Howe

Ravenswood

March 17, 2019

Night doesn’t fall,
but rather, all the disregarded shadows of a day
flock like blackbirds, and suddenly rise.

Stuart Dybek
Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall & Winter 2012

whispers

January 17, 2019

She hangs in the shadows of my dreams
And whispers…

Johnny Hollow
Alibi

What use is knowing anything if no one is around
to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse

after Quranic verse. Each syllable was perfect, but only
the lonely rumble in my head gave praise. This is why
we put mirrors in birdcages, why we turn on lamps

to double our shadows. I love my body more
than other bodies. When I sleep next to a man, he becomes
an extension of my own brilliance. Or rather, he becomes
an echo of my own anticlimax. I was delivered

from dying like a gift card sent in lieu of a pound
of flesh. My escape was mundane, voidable. Now
I feed faith to faith, suffer human noise, complain
about this or that heartache. The spirit lives in between

the parts of a name. It is vulnerable only to silence
and forgetting. I am vulnerable to hammers, fire,
and any number of poisons. The dream, then: to erupt
into a sturdier form, like a wild lotus bursting into

its tantrum of blades. There has always been a swarm
of hungry ghosts orbiting my body—even now,
I can feel them plotting in their luminous diamonds

of fog, each eying a rib or a thighbone. They are
arranging their plans like worms preparing
to rise through the soil. They are ready to die
with their kind, dry and stiff above the wet earth.

Kaveh Akbar

Convincing my shadow

July 30, 2017

30th July

In a pub crowd yesterday, good people with one exception: Mr gob-on-a-stick, who has all the charisma of a potato chip – and an IQ to match. He’s off to live on Elba (thank goodness for small mercies). More money than sense, most of it inherited. A young magistrate who believes in elitism. The poor are a necessary evil, here to serve their betters –

‘It’s okay to burn bridges,’ I tell him, ‘because they’ll help light your way. ’ And ensure you don’t return –

We live in a society where money is the only source of true virtue. Mr gob-on-a-stick and his kind are the inevitable product of such a society.

#

One time I spent a month or more trying to convince my shadow I was someone else. It was a complete waste of my time. My shadow, so I learned from this futile exercise, has no feckin’ imagination whatsoever –

#

At least we’ve finished sending out party invites. The ‘Erotic World of Faery’ event will be the last week in August. Fingers crossed for some good weather. It’s all down to Robin Goodfellow now. I just love fancy dress parties. And it’s not just Faeries that’ll be putting in an appearance, either. No, there’ll be hobgoblins, witches, elves and a rich variety of wicked supernatural beings.