Lore: Getting To Know The Unknown

A while ago I started to write a “sequel” to my post Books I’ve Been Reading Recently Which Have Made An Impression but then I was faced with the issue of not actually reading enough books to justify an entire post. The few books I did attempt to read which may well have been interesting, I never made it further than a few pages, because my concentration utterly deteriorated in a short space of time.

Quite fittingly, it was around Hallowe’en – the day before I went to Iceland – that I started listening to Lore for the first time. If I’d known just how much of a back catalogue there was to catch up on I’d have started a lot sooner but then, had I known that I’d been missing out on three years’ worth of intriguing true stories, perhaps things would have been very different in my life, but you know. I am eternally late to the party. It seems to be my lifelong curse. Movin’on.

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image courtesy of screenrant.com website

Lore is a podcast created in 2015 by Aaron Manhke, a sci-fi and supernatural enthusiast, who was seemingly as taken with the likes of the X-Files as I am (or was at least back in the day, I was more into the earlier stuff, before Mulder left to do other stuff such as play against-type hedonistic writers and then write Holy Cow), and who was prompted to start writing about some of the many unexplained and unsolved mysteries in the world, before realising that it was better suited to the podcast format – a format that incidentally I had only recently taken to.

And there is perhaps good reason that this format is worth exploring. After a combination of travel burn-out, a considerable stretch of time switching between medications and, basically, a solid decade or so of exhaustive, omnivorous reading, I’d reached a stage where I’d simply had enough of reading. I went through a similar “reading famine” in my mid-teens, funnily enough when I probably could have done with reading most as a respite from real life. But there you go. I wanted more than words on paper, or usually in my case, words on screen. But for a long time I couldn’t figure out what else to do or to try, how to keep absorbing aspects of the world that I couldn’t reach in person, for whatever reason. But as with lots of things in life, the next thing I would be into came out of nowhere.

I can’t even remember what the first podcast was that I listened to that led to yet more listening, during a phase when I couldn’t read more than a few sentences at a time, but when I alighted upon Lore, I was happy to stay and linger for a while. (There are a few podcasts I got into around the same time (which also took up an awful lot of listening time on their own) but I’ve decided to focus on this one as it’s the one for which I’ve managed to listen to every episode.) Each episode focuses on a particular theme – death, ghosts, witches, vampires, etc – and usually centres upon a particular historical story which is basically unexplainable. I started listening when packing my suitcase to leave the next day, and not only barely got any sleep from listening late into the night, but listened in the queue to check-in, on the plane (the first of which I’d been on which had wifi), the bus to the hostel, and basically during any time when I wasn’t undertaking any scheduled activity. Macabre tale after macabre tale unfolded over the course of a week or so, and in fact ended up retrospectively giving the trip to Iceland a “theme” that I hadn’t planned in advance. So now I associate Iceland with lore, and not just their own traditional kind, with the sagas and elf folklore and everything.

I think there were a few episodes left by the time I returned home. That was before I realised there was a TV show and the first book of a series on Lore to get into. So it was a case of suddenly being hit with something which I’d no idea existed, and which I had no obvious reason to have overlooked this whole time. But better late than never I guess, so I’ve been making up for lost time. As I usually find that I have to do.

That is the story of my discovery of Lore, now for a review of some of the tales which resonated most with me.

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image courtesy of goodreads website

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Each episode of the podcast is a standalone one, the type of format I prefer as there are no complex plot arcs to keep track of (which I’ve noticed with other podcasts I otherwise like) and while there are a range of stories to delve into, I’d have to narrow down a few of my favourite ones to:

#5 – Under construction

This episode struck something of a chord immediately as it concerns the phenomenon of the Huldufolk, or the Hidden People who are the subjects of Icelandic folklore, particularly as I listened to this one en route to the volcanic isle. The cold one, between Europe and North America. They are said to be just like humans, but invisible, and prone to interfering in the lives of their human counterparts, in ways ranging from romantic, to mischievous, to hostile, and many Icelandic people still take care to respect them just in case they do exist. The myths emerged during the early settlement of Iceland and tales emerged of people encountering these hidden folk, with various outcomes depending on their temperament and fortune. They are/were said to be prone to acts of mischief or even malevolence, never being a type of people to let mere humans outwit them at any time. They could/can replace human children with ones of their own, lending a variation to the myth of the “changeling”, because of their assumption that the human world was better than their own. (Although given the hardships of the era, it might have been a close call as to who had it worse.) They could/can even be the subjects of romance, with human/hidden person pairings being spoken of now and again. Many people, Icelandic and foreign alike, do still believe in these “alternative” people, certainly a greater proportion of the population than a typical nation. But then Iceland is very sparsely populated, so… in any case, it is a unique country both in terms of its mythology and geography, and so the tales to emerge from the place will unsurprisingly reflect the collective imagination of the people, and what they claimed (whether they were telling a tale or what they believed to be true) to see when they were getting on with the demands of their (challenging) everyday life.

#11 – Black Stockings

Another episode which (quite by coincidence) ties in thematically with me personally for reasons I’ll explain shortly, the idea of the “changeling” is brought to the fore. Prevalent in Celtic (and specifically Irish) cultures, the myth of the changeling tells of how otherworldly creatures find a human (usually an infant) and replace them with one of their own. The myth has been used to explain sudden changes in the personality of the changee and was most likely used as an explanation for the apparently sudden onset of conditions such as autism, schizophrenia or depression. It just so happens that my latest study guide was centred upon a story about a woman who believed she was a changeling, but in a twist on the original myth, fully took to this idea and in fact tried every single day to return to the place she felt she truly belonged to. This episode focuses on a different, and true, tale of a young woman who was ultimately murdered by her husband, in an effort to bring back his “true” wife which had gone horribly wrong. I’d definitely say there are themes of lingering superstition (in the face of an increasingly modern culture) and particularly of patriarchy – there is the sense that this crazed attempt to bring back his wife was driven not so much by love as by a sense of possession and entitlement over his increasingly independent wife. Unfortunately, this type of story is far from rare.

#12 – Half-hanged

The Salem witch trials of 1692 was one of the most famous examples of a widespread moral panic gone tragically out of control. It has inspired countless books, films, TV shows, etc and still holds a place in the minds of people today. It certainly does in my mind, having been a fan, growing up, of the likes of Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft and also having played a role in a college drama production of the Crucible (Mary Warren for anyone who wants to know) and – more recently – having read the The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane for an historical fiction online course. However Salem, however well known, is not the only example of a witchhunt, and indeed many took place throughout the western world from medieval times onwards, up until surprisingly recent times. Sometimes, it was a case of individual outsiders – mostly women who didn’t fit in in some way – who were targeted as being witches. There are examples noted of strange coincidences of people targeting animals and inanimate objects and their alleged witch counterparts suffering the effects, and the story focuses on one particular woman, Mary Webster, who started to have accusations thrown her way before long. Due to her abrasive nature, she was strongly suspected of being a witch, and more strange events befalling her neighbours didn’t do her reputation any favours. In a culmination of said events, Webster was eventually abducted and hanged by a group of men, then left for dead. However, Webster was said to have survived this attempt on her life, and lived for some time afterwards. These events inspired her descendant, the novelist Margaret Atwood, to write a poem about her entitled “Half-Hanged Mary”, about how what was done to her, if she was not already a witch, had in itself made her one. Any period of time up until the present day has always been particularly hard for anyone, particularly women, to live undisturbed, free from accusation and able to benefit from full inclusion in the communities in which they live.

#41 – Hole in the Wall

The theme of witchcraft continues in this episode, with a reference to the Great Scottish Witchhunt of 1597 in particular, showing that witchhunts weren’t confined to the US in the Puritan era. One notable example took place not far from where I live, in Paisley, Scotland in 1696. Christian Shaw, the young daughter of a wealthy landowner, fell ill and it came to be believed that she was cursed. She had accused Catherine Campbell, a servant, of placing a witch’s curse on her after the latter had been caught stealing. Not long after the alleged curse, a “known witch”, Agnes Naysmith, began to appear to the girl, supposedly prompted by the devil to do so. Before too long, Shaw began to regurgitate strange objects which couldn’t be explained by anything other than witchcraft at the time. As to be expected, accusations started flying all around the town, people’s lives were disrupted and even ended as a result of the fall out, including that of Naysmith, who was said to have placed a curse on the town. It later emerged that there was a hole in the wall above where Shaw’s bed would have been, where she had stored all the objects which were said to be coming out of her. The interesting thing about Shaw is that her story did not end there – in fact she grew up to lead quite a normal adult life, at least initially, but then later played a role in overhauling the town’s threading and sewing industry, for which it would become famous worldwide, as indicated by the Paisley Pattern. This shows that sometimes people were not always brought to justice in the way that many might expect, and indeed had more than a singular historical role. Indeed this booming trade somewhat contrasts with the local notion that the curse placed upon the town would lead to the later collapse of Scotland’s thriving trade industry, leading to a lasting economic depression. Or perhaps it was delayed revenge. It is never entirely clear with tales such as these. It is certainly a colourful history, in any case, as places where accusations of witchcraft took place tend to have.

#78 – Exposure

This episode centres upon spirit photography, capturing two of my interests – photography and the supernatural – the former can be seen in other sections of my website, and I think the latter is quite apparent right now… The episode begins with an introduction to the practice of photographing the recently deceased, in order to preserve their memory and also most likely to aid the grieving process of the remaining family. As a very young medium at the time, photography provided an unprecedented opportunity to preserve moments in time like never before, and as cited in this episode, it was thought by some to be a way of “unlocking the afterlife”, taking into consideration what photography would soon be viewed as being capable of doing. The main story focuses on a successful craftsman called William Mumler, based in 1860s Boston, who became very famous when he started taking photos of what appeared to be spirits or apparitions of deceased people, alongside the living subjects whose photos he was originally taking. Teaming up with fellow craftswoman by the name of Hannah Green Stewart, who was herself a successful business woman and dubbed as a “midwife for the grieving” due to her ability to create meaningful keepsakes for bereaved people, Mumler’s reputation spread very quickly, riding the wave of the growing spiritualist movement of the era. It wasn’t too long before accusations of fraud and forgery emerged, resulting in a trial which ultimately provided a verdict of “not proven” but which resulted in Mumler retreating amid the growing backlash and skepticism of those less inclined to believe everything they saw.

Indeed it was a time during which the rapidly improving technology of the camera, the swift diversifying of America’s population and the upward trajectory of technological and scientific progress all conspired to prompt people to question what was presented to them more than they might have before. Charlatanism was a well known scourge of public entertainment/media so the split between those who wanted, or were prepared to, believe, and those who were not going to be taken so easily for a ride – when people were out to promote an image as much, if not more so, than the product or service they were selling – was probably more extreme than it ever had been before.

#Soundtrack to Lore

The soundtrack to Lore is provided almost exclusively by pianist Chad Lawson, without whose music the entire tone of the podcast would be entirely different in my opinion. Complimentary and unobtrusive to the tales in each episode, it provides a subtle backdrop against which to unravel each episode whilst being more than capable of standing as individual musical pieces on their own.

There is also a book series based upon Lore but for the purposes of keeping this blog post as concise as possible I will limit focus to the audio part of the franchise – at least for now.

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I’ve spent much of my life both afraid of spooky things and the unknown – to this day I’m still in the habit of leaving the lights on for weeks after watching a scary movie and you couldn’t pay me to stare in a mirror while saying a specific set of words three times because you know – but also intrigued by what lies just outside our scope of understanding. I too was taken in readily and enthusiastically by the X-Files at a young age (I watched one episode at the age of eight which basically doubled the household’s electricity bill from my refusing to turn the lights off so that goes back a long time) and one of the first things I ever remember wanting to be when I grew up was a paranormal investigator, before I got “too cool” (full disclosure: I was painfully uncool the entire time) for such a thing.

I’ve always found myself drawn to, or back into, the horror genre, despite maintaining for ages that it just “wasn’t my thing” – however my inclinations, time and again, keep telling me otherwise. One of my current favourite shows is American Horror Story and, despite recoiling against the violence and gore, I’m intrigued enough to keep watching, time and again, for the narrative. For the somewhat-true stories that unfold each season.

Likewise, however horrified and disturbed I was by some of the tales in Lore (and wish I could unhear sometimes – the live burial stuff for instance) I eagerly await each new episode. Although I wish so much that I’d caught onto the series much earlier on – and having been on Spotify for at least five years I honestly have no excuse for missing out for so long – I’m glad I did now.

It has taken me quite a long time to put into words my thoughts and feelings on a show that has become a “big thing” for me in such a short space of time, but I have now, and hope to start creating more of my own original material soon. For some reason I find myself doodling more often when I listen to shows such as these now – it’s early days but perhaps this might be the start of something. Or maybe it’s just doodling. But it’s something, which I suppose is better than nothing.

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