What makes terror?
Is it what you can see, just for a split second or what you can only imagine?
And what lies between? Can true horror be found when the world wakes up, can it be a tangible object, still awful long after the birds have finally, finally started singing?
The main horror in horror is in its ethereal elusiveness, the liminal, the slippery netherworld between dark and light- ‘And when she woke up, there was nothing there’
Terror happens mostly in the dark, is vanquished with the longed for dawn, terror is a feeling, not a ‘thing’ that can be picked up and held, looked at in the solid gaze of a day that scorns your pre-dawn fears.
But what of those solid three dimensional objects made by humans, things that don’t disintegrate or slither into some dark portal but things that still hold some elusive trace of ‘the other’ about them?
This is not a new thing, votive carvings and sacrosanct offerings have been charged with more power than their mere exteriors would show despite being made by humans with human materials.
Yet somehow a darkness from another place sometimes creeps in.
Binoculars in MR James’s A View from a Hill, Indiana Jones fighting cursed relics, evil artifacts that do not wither and die as the sun rises can be found from ancient times to when perusing Ebay.
Here is a random top three of fictional and real (?) evil or horrible artifacts in no particular order. There are obviously many many more. I am not even sticking to cursed objects. If an object is real and carries with it some nightmarish tang, some otherworldly miasma of horror and I am interested in it, it counts.
The Hand of Glory
I once had to write and present a five minute talk about a hobby that interested me greatly as a child when I started a new school in Australia at the age of seven. I chose the Hand Of Glory. My careful annotated photocopies were surprisingly left behind and I did not get many playdates.
The Hand of Glory, as I discovered in that wonderful portal into darkness, The Reader’s Digest of Folklore, Myth and Legend was the left hand cut off from the newly hanged body ( better if a murderer) This was then cannily utilised by other nefarious more alive people in their shady deeds as they thought that once the hand had been pickled and a candle placed in it made from the fat of the unfortunate previous owner of the hand, that using it when engaging on more criminal acts of terror, would render the victims of any crime motionless.
I have always wanted to find a Hand of Glory at a carboot sale but has thus far proved unlucky. One can be seen at Whitby Museum however along with an 18th century manuscript appertaining to its making which makes your average Yotan Ottolenghi recipe seem positively easy.
It must be cut from the body of a criminal on the gibbet; pickled in salt, and the urine of man, woman, dog, horse and mare; smoked with herbs and hay for a month; hung on an oak tree for three nights running, then laid at a crossroads, then hung on a church door for one night while the maker keeps watch in the porch-“and if it be that no fear hath driven you forth from the porch … then the hand be true won, and it be yours”
Victorian Figurines Commemorating Nasty Murders
Again, I often scan charity shops looking for such an artifact but they are hard to identify as sadly just feature the winsome female about to be murdered rather than the act itself which is obviously somewhat hard to ascertain when looking at a winsome red cheeked figure in flouncy skirts on a dusty shelf unless you have a worrying ( or impressive) knowledge of the appearance of murdered Victorian women as portrayed in bone china.
Staffordshire Potteries were quick to realise the potential of terrible crimes made into cutesy figurines and the murder of Maria Marten in 1827 at the infamous Red Barn in Suffolk by her exceptionally unpleasant paramour, William Corden was a particularly salacious murder almost begging to be rendered into something to pop on the mantlepiece.
Not only was a woman of ill repute murdered ( she had illegitimate children! Burn the witch!) but the place where she was said to have been buried was revealed to her grief-stricken stepmother in a dream. Low and behold, when the spades dug into the soil in The Red Barn, there her decomposed body lay, attributed to her by her missing tooth.
It is a particularly interesting story in that her boyfriend had supposably eloped with her and sent letters detailing her good health from abroad. However, the dream sent a possibly already suspicious family a strong message which they acted upon and thus found the body. It would be interesting to see how this scenario would work in modern day courts ( I for one,would have my eye on the step-mother)
Maria’s boyfriend was caught and hanged, it helped that he had advertised for a new wife in the The Times ( having had over 100 replies as swiping left did not yet exist)
Twee figurines of the both of them, William beckoning her in to the Red Barn and then an image of him before the judge were very popular items to purchase along with the broadsheets, folk songs (more recently by Shirley Collins and the Albion Band) and accompanying ephemera to such a happy ghastly crime. A set of three figurines recently sold at Bonhams for close to twelve thousand pounds. The Red Barn itself was stripped by ghoulish souvenir hunters, the Victorian equivalent of those who sought after ancient religious relics in Medieval times. A play about the events was sensationally popular.
It is 1971 and kids are sticking sticks in the ground in their unremarkable urban garden in North- East England and digging as kids have always been wont to do until the existence of Pokemon. They find something, two things, two little stone heads and run inside to tell their parents.
Things are never quite the same.
Bottles are thrown across rooms by invisible hands, the Heads move of their own accord and even the neighbours are troubled by unearthly visits by someone ruffling their hair and a half man-half goat sighting presumably because these unearthed ancient visitations of evil don’t quite understand the concept of semi-detached houses when walking through walls whilst haunting.
Enter Dr Anne Ross, an expert in Celtic artifacts- this story gets more MR James by the minute because she too becomes not the expert but the victim, seeing a part-man,part-wolf leaving her house in Southampton after the heads were deposited in her care and other supernatural occurrences occurring in her house. Newspapers loved the story of the cursed heads.
Exit the Hexham Heads to somewhere elsewhere.
A man by the name of Des Craigie then said he had made the heads himself when living in the house where the heads were found. This is disappointing. Nobody likes rationality and truth when there are half-men half werewolves ruffling heads in the nighttime.
The heads were analysed by the University of Newcastle who concluded they were artificial then given to Don Robins, a chemist with somewhat unusual thoughts and theories such as the Stone Tape theory, being that stone due to its magnetic properties could record strong events and emotions and then replay them. After some time studying them, he passed them on to a dowser by the name of Frank Hyde. Nothing appears of them ever again. Or indeed of Frank Hyde. I have looked for him in old newspaper archives but he has gone. Along with the stone heads.
I was more than happy in the spirit of enquiry to bid on this but the face seems more redolent of Sharpies (circa 2020 Wh Smiths) than evil filtering through the ages.
The winning bid was £27.77. Quite a reasonable price to have demonic entities from another world entering your home.
Haunted dolls seem to be the most popular carriers of evil, in particular cheap looking versions of Victorian dolls. No haunted Barbie and Ken’s surprisingly. You can also exorcise Demons by selling cute fluffy teddy bears called Craig.
‘Craig has hatred in his heart his gf dumped him for a more taller and richer man he hated her for this and I can feel this whenever I am around Craig he still feels anger and is confused on why she would do such a thing to him he hates he for it this is why you should not say anything to do with girlfriends to him as he gets angry’
It does appear that Craig has an axe and a lot of negative energy. The owner to be fair has had a lot of bad luck due to the large amount of haunted artifacts he has to sell. And a lot of badly photographed evil teddies. Looking at the reviews, nobody seems to have evil entities arriving in their home after their purchase but all seem to be happy with their ebay ‘win’.
‘faster than expected delivery, item as described my daughter loved it thanksHaunted doll Buffy( paranormal Negative energy) (#143690745589)