Oct 22 2018178 Wendigo

Cannibalism is one of the the most prevalent taboos across human societies, and people who practice cannibalism have frequently been demonized throughout history. The Wendigo, a creature from Algonquin folklore, is one of the most vivid examples of how cannibalism is demonized. The story goes that if someone consumes human flesh, they will become a flesh-eating monster that never truly satiates its desire for human flesh.

The image below is from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

Sep 30 2018176 The Cadaver Synod

In 897 Pope Stephen VI put the corpse of one of his predecessors, Formosus, on trial. The current pope ordered that the former pope’s dead body be dressed in papal finery and put on a throne to stand trial. Stephen VI acted as prosecutor, accusing his predecessor of attempting to have two bishoprics at once and coveting the papacy. The current pope then ordered the Formosus’ body stripped of its finery, the fingers on his right hand be cut off, and his body thrown into the Tiber.

The painting below, Pope Formosus and Stephen VII, is the work of French artist Jean-Paul Laurens and painted in 1870.

Nov 27 2017145 Bonnie MacBird on Unquiet Spirits

Bonnie MacBird¬†(the co-writer of Tron) is writing new, novel-length Sherlock Holmes adventures. We talked about her experience with Conan Doyle’s stories, how she adapted the author’s voice for a modern work, and other Sherlock media. We also discussed whiskey, which features prominently in her new book, Unquiet Spirits. The plot centers on a real-life catastrophe in the French wine industry, that led to more widespread consumption of whiskey in European upper classes.

Nov 11 2017143 Brandon Seifert on Werewolves

Brandon Seifert has written horror comics such as Witch Doctor, Hellraiser, and The Fly. Lately, he’s been studying werewolf folklore. We talked about the history of werewolf stories, werewolf witch trials, why people believed in werewolves, and what to do if you live in the 1500s and someone accuses you of werewolfism.

Oct 24 2017141 How Dracula Was Dracula?

Dracula, anymore, is as much of a character type and a trope as he is a single character. Different takes on Dracula abound, from Bela Lugosi to Sesame Street’s Count to numerous other media. There was also, though, a historical Dracula. Vlad the Impaler was a prince of Wallachia in the 1400s, and is often cited as the inspiration for Stoker’s Vampire. But, was he? Was the real Dracula anything like the character type we know now?

 

 

Feb 02 2017115 Italian Fascism Part Four, Voter Suppression and Murder

Following the March on Rome Mussolini and the fascists cemented their grasp on power via an electoral reform known as the Acerbo Law, voter suppression and intimidation in the 1924 election, and (possibly) by killing one of their biggest opponents, the socialist MP Giacomo Matteotti.

Oct 20 2016102 Five Scary Clowns

Anymore it seems like scary clowns outnumber standard, whimsical clowns. Clowns are monsters, figures of fear, and they seem more likely to laugh with homicidal mania than laugh with joy. How did that happen? How did a figure of fun and comedy turn into a figure of fear? How did clowns get scary?

Easy: Clowns have always been scary.

gwynplaine

Jan 14 201663 The Forty-Seven Ronin, Part Two

Last week Asano, Lord of Ako was ordered to commit seppuku, and his newly unemployed samurai were plotting revenge on Kira, the noble whom they blamed for their lord’s death. This week, the 47 ronin extract their revenge on Kira, and the incident becomes one of the most retold narratives in Japanese history.

The image below illustrates a scene from Kanadehon Chushingura, the most famous fictionalized version of the 47 ronin story. The characters in Kanadehon Chushingura have different names than the actual historical figures whom they purport to represent, audiences in 1748 and onward would have recognized the fiction as being roughly analogous to actual events. Anymore, Chushingura refers to the entire body of media either directly about or touching on the 47 ronin incident.

Wataya_Kibei_-_Kanadehon_chushingura

Jan 07 201662 The Forty-Seven Ronin, Part One

One of the most famous and bloody incidents in samurai history is the story of the 47 ronin, a group of masterless samurai who extracted bloody revenge on behalf of their dead lord. The actual events of the incident are hard to parse out, as the facts of the events have been occluded by popular culture, drama, reinterpretation, and retelling. What we do know for sure is that in 1701 the daimyo of Ako (a domain near modern Osaka) was forced to kill himself after assaulting a courtier, Kira, in Edo. After the lord was dead, his various samurai were suddenly unemployed, and forty-seven of them planned revenge.

The traditional telling of the story is that Kira was supposed to instruct Asano in the ways of etiquette at the Shogun’s court, and that Asano was supposed to bribe him in order to be treated well. Kira was dissatisfied with Asano’s bribe, insulted the young lord, and, in a fit of rage, Asano drew his short sword and wounded the etiquette instructor. After Asano’s death, his samurai took it upon themselves to finish what Asano had started, and vowed to kill Kira.

The image below is a probably stylized rendering of Asano, the lord of Ako, drawing his weapon on Kira in a fit of rage.

asanoandkira

Oct 22 201553 Bathory

Elizabeth Bathory is one of history’s most notorious killers. Supposedly, the Bloody Countess (as she is sometimes called) murdered an unknown number of young girls in a variety of way, ranging from stabbing, to burning, to exposure to cold. One detail of the story is that Bathory also bathed in the blood of her victims to preserve her youth and vitality, but that is almost certainly an embellishment added years after the fact. Still, Bathory’s appetite for murder has made her a popular figure of horror, and she has been the inspiration for movies, video games, and at least one metal band.

Nowadays, there is some doubt about whether or not Elizabeth Bathory really was the excessive and cruel killer that she was made out to be. There is no evidence that she ever bathed in the blood of her victims (for instance) and most of the evidence obtained against her was gathered under torture, a notoriously unreliable method for getting to the truth. Nevertheless, even if the stories about Elizabeth Bathory were completely fabricated, her life still has the makings of a chilling horror story.

Elizabeth_Bathory_Portrait