Sense8; actually this is just about the only thing I am watching right now. A slow surreal sci-fi dip into “dreamy conspiracies and chimerical fellowship”, and is apparently lauded by critics as both a masterpiece and a disaster. All I can tell you is that this show makes me feel all of the feels. Which is pretty uncomfortable for me, I don’t mind telling you. And I love it.
Ghost, Meliora. I have been listening to this non-stop for the past month. And I will be seeing them again live next month! I didn’t know if I was on board with this new album, but it’s pretty amazing…super catchy in a kind of syrupy, tricksy way, and this Dirge review really sums up my thoughts quite well.
Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon. Shut up. Whatever you are going to say, I don’t want to hear it. This album is sad and fucked up in an epic way. It is Lana gone full-Lana.
Some Aftelier samples; Bergamoss is a heartbreaking gorgeous oakmoss, and I am afraid to even look at what the full-size costs. (OMG I just did. It’s $240.)
The Bitterroot Shawl, from knitty 2007 or something like that. This is the third time I have knit this pattern, and I still love it. I actually even added the beads on it this time, and despite that, and the fiddliness of the stupid yarn (warning: do not use knitpick’s Diadem for lace projects), I started and finished this in nine days. It will soon be off to its new home!
Next up: hats and scarves and wristwarmers – I’m actually getting started early on the holiday gifts this year!
Other than the above, (and the full time job which I never talk about because who wants to hear about that? Ugh) I have been busy with grandmother duty, a bit of writing and the odd guest blog here and there, the struggle with wellness and mental health, and getting ready for our trip to Portland next week. After that, there are lots of exciting things coming up in the next few months- the Ghost show, the Necromancy Art show at Gods & Monsters, Bat Boy the Musical, and Death Cafe Orlando! Though now that I see it typed out like that…it all looks rather exhausting. And stressful. Hm.
How is your fall shaping up? What have you been into lately and what looms on the horizon for you? I want to hear all about it!
Vögguvísa, a commissioned work of art by Becky Munich
Many years ago, when my sister and I were very young, my mother would sing us bedtime songs as she tucked us in for the evening. Well, my sister really. The little lullabye wasn’t for meant me, but I listened from the twin bed on my side of the room and was comforted by it anyway.
As my younger sibling lay sleepily, clutching a faded pink crocheted afghan in one small hand and a red wooden rooster named “Wolf” in the other, my mother crooned to her in soft, low tones:
“Well, a-hee hee hee and a-ha ha ha, and a couple of ho ho hos…”
Not much of a lullaby really. Who knows what it meant? Harmless nonsense that she made up to send a fussy child off to dreams, most likely.
Older now, and having a lifetime of observing my mother (and yet still not really knowing the woman at all), I found myself growing vaguely uneasy the other evening, wondering what exactly she might have been thinking about as a young single mother – and a very troubled woman -singing her children to sleep on a moonless night in the suburbs.
Bíum, bíum, bambaló, Bambaló og dillidillidó. Vini mínum vagga ég í ró, en úti bídur andlit á glugga.
“Beeum, beeum, bambalow, Bambalow and dillidillidow. I rock my friend to sleep, but outside there’s a face in the window.”
From faces looming at windows, to desperate outlaw women throwing their babies into the waterfulls, to black black-eyed pigs in the pits hell*, it would seem that, paradoxically, Icelandic lullabies are the stuff of nightmares, tragic and terrible. Why is that? Why sing of such things to your precious wee ones? And are Icelanders alone in their penchant for soothing their children to sleep with melancholy melodies of murder, mayhem, and madness?
In researching lullabies in different parts of the world, I unearthed an intensely interesting article from 2013, Why Are So Many Lullabies Murder Ballads? in which ethnomusicologist and UCLA lecturer Andrew Pettit, whose research has focused on lullabies from India, asserts that “you can take any song, slow it down and sing it to your kid to help them sleep.”
A study published in the journal Pediatrics in April 2013 found that live lullabies slowed infant heart rate, improved sucking behaviors that are critical for feeding, increased periods of “quiet alertness” and helped the babies sleep. Researchers followed 272 premature infants in 11 hospitals and found that the music, provided by a certified music therapist, offered stress relief for the parents too. The study concluded that “lullabies, sung live, can enhance bonding, thus decreasing the stress parents associate with premature infant care.”
As an explanation for the dark lullaby, it is said that “…it is that voice and the rhythm and melody of the music that the youngest babies respond to, not the content of the song. Is it the case then, that the words are as much for the parent as for the child? That the mother is singing as much to herself as to the baby? Lyrics to lullabies, Pettit said, can indeed be interpreted as a reflection of the caregiver’s emotions.”
“People have said that lullabies are the space to sing the unsung,” Pettit said. “A place to say the unsayable. You’re alone. Nobody is listening, and you can express the feelings that are not okay to express in society.”
“There is a special physical bond between mother and child in the first year of life, in which mothers feel they can sing to their child about their own fears and anxieties, but in the safety and comfort of physical togetherness,” Blythe said.
In particular, lullabies embody a mother’s fear of loss, said Joanne Loewy, lead author of the April 2013 study in Pediatrics and director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York.
The article goes on and on, citing many examples from cultures all over the world in which lullabies and cradle songs are grim, macabre affairs: “…an Italian lullaby about a wolf devouring a lamb until “the skin and horns and nothing else remain.” An Andalusian lullaby about a rider who “led his horse to water but would not let him drink.” And a Turkish lullaby about a mother mourning her baby after an eagle has torn it to pieces, karmic punishment when the father fails to fulfill his vow of sacrificing three camels.” (And it would seem in the time I started writing this blog post, mentalfloss has put together a list of creepy lullabies from all over the world, as well.)
And of course here in America “…there’s “Hush Little Baby” with its broken mirrors, fallen horses and mockingbirds that won’t sing. “Rock-a-Bye Baby” ends with an uncertain prognosis — death? injury? — after a cradle containing a baby plummets from a treetop.”
Themes of separation, isolation, of fear and loss are common to all cultures and repeatedly show up in these cradle songs, and even the comments on this article offer some interesting insights:
“It seems to me people are thinking of this outside of the context. The child is warm, safe, in bed, attended by parents. The song, the lullaby, is clearly about a different child, a child that is outside of hearth and home, a child that is untended, alone – “in the tree tops”. The child is comforted in contrast to the child in the song, at the same time social values are reinforced.”
“…Or it could be that being sole (or almost sole) caretaker of an infant is a very demanding job, however rewarding. For those first couple of years, you’re exhausted beyond belief, you lose nearly all privacy, your life disappears as you become the watchful eyes, ears, and lifeline of your small charge. You cannot express any sorrow or fear you have about losing yourself openly, and you surely cannot take it out on that little one whom you truly do love more than you love yourself. And so you sing words you would never say and don’t really mean, but it’s a safety valve of sorts.”
SO interesting! I could read about this sort of thing all day…and I don’t even have children.
In Monsters of Our Own Making: The Peculiar Pleasures of Fear By Marina Warner, the author mentions studies regarding benefits of cradling a baby on the left side versus the right, with left-side cradling attributed to the placement of the heart, beating and pulsing rhythmically, lullaby-like, to pacify the infant. However, observations have shown that the preferred sound of both the fetus and the infant is the mother’s voice, not the heartbeat at all.The hypothesis takes as it’s premise the bilateral division of function in the brain where language, expression and communication are concerned: a baby’s brain, as it grows, learns to read facial expressions and to understand pitch and tonality with the right side of the brain, which is connected to the left ear and eye; by contrast, verbalization is linked to the left hemisphere and the right ear and eye. Consequently, this line of inquiry proposes that a baby cradled on the left, with the left ear and eye free will be “…absorbing facial and vocal expressiveness, independent of verbal meaning.
Warner cites a “strikingly harsh” example from an old Icelandic song “Móðir mín, í kví, kví”, which may clinch the argument about the phonetic importance of lullabies and nonsense songs and nursery rhymes:
The story goes thusly…
A young woman who lived on a farm became pregnant. After giving birth to the child she set it out to die of exposure, not an uncommon act in this country before it became punishable by severe penalties. Now one day it happened that the young woman was invited to a dancing party. However, she had no good clothes, so she stayed at home in a sour mood. That evening, while milking the ewes in the fold, she complained aloud that for the want of a proper dress she could not go to the party. She had scarcely spoken when she heard the following song:
Móðir mín í kví, kví,
kvíddu ekki því, því; ég skal ljá þér duluna mína duluna mína að dansa í, ég skal ljá þér duluna mína duluna mína að dansa í.
(English) Mother mine, in the fold, fold
You need not be so sad, sad. You can wear my castoff rags, So you can dance, And dance.
The young woman who had let her child die of exposure thought that she recognized its voice. She took such a fright that she lost her mind and remained insane the rest of her life.
According to Warner, it may be that passing on of distinctive sounds, singing on behalf of another, ascribing speech and babble to the infant and for the infant, transmitting cadence and language, telling the child of imaginary fates it has avoided, or sometimes of fortunes lying ahead…are some of the earliest formulators of omniscient thought near a child forming that child’s fears and longings on it’s behalf.
As for myself, who knows what fears or longings my own mother had when we were too young to know or recognize such concerns. She is no longer with us, and the opportunity to ask her these things has passed me by. If nothing else, listening to her sing to us – whether to sleep in the evenings, or while washing our hair over an old sink in our dark basement – taught me a deep love of singing, and song, and music itself.
I wish…I wish we could have learned some of these strange, foreign lullabies together. I think she would have appreciated the sad melodies, the grim stories, and haunting imagery they conjure. Maybe I’ll learn them anyway. I don’t have any children, but perhaps one day I shall sing them to my mother, a ghost who never really grew up, though she did eventually grow old. I think she would love this one as much as I do.
Sofðu unga ástin mín. Úti regnið grætur. Mamma geymir gullin þín, gamla leggi og völuskrín. Við skulum ekki vaka um dimmar nætur. Það er margt sem myrkrið veit, minn er hugur þungur. Oft ég svarta sandinn leit svíða grænan engireit. Í jöklinum hljóða dauðadjúpar sprungur. Sofðu lengi, sofðu rótt, seint mun best að vakna. Mæðan kenna mun þér fljótt, meðan hallar degi skjótt, að mennirnir elska, missa, gráta og sakna.
Sleep, my young love. Outside the rain is weeping. Mummy is watching over your treasure, an old bone and a round case. We should not stay awake through dim nights. There is much that darkness knows, my mind is heavy. Often I saw black sand burning the green meadow. In the glacier cracks are rumbling deep as death. Sleep for a long time, sleep quietly, it is best to wake up late. Sorrow will teach you soon, while the day is quickly decaying, that men love, lose, cry and mourn.
Here is Damien Rice singing a not very traditional version of it, I reckon.
And lastly, I’d like to share some music from a group of young Icelandic musicians whom I stumbled across several years ago, Samaris. The first song I ever heard by them, Vögguljóð, translates as lullaby, and that is their general sounds as well: ethereal, clarinet-led electronica, conjuring images of cold nights, snow dusted firs, blinking stars and aurora, enchanted liminal spaces. The first video is the original version of the song, and the second, I believe is the re-worked version for their album.
* RE: black eyed pigs and such: when originally reading the article that sparked my interest in this, I was particularly intrigued by the mention of this portion of a lullaby:
Sofðu nú svínið þitt, svartur í augum. Farðu í fúlan pytt, fullan af draugum
Which translates to
Sleep, you black-eyed pig. Fall into a deep pit of ghosts.
The more I read, the less I am convinced that this is an actual traditional lullaby. In some places it is noted as a 19th century lullaby translated by W.H. Auden, and in others I gather it is somehow attributed to Halldór Laxness, a beloved Icelandic author and poet. A mystery!
Fashion for gentle poets of sensual horror, for a life brimming with uncanny beauty and perverse, morbid delights. Conjure a dreamy wardrobe of desolate chateaus, solitary vampires and violent seduction.
Click on each image to take you to a polyvore page with a complete item list.
I’d forgotten that a million years ago, I’d made a little Amazon referral store. Well, now it’s been updated! If you’re ever interested in picking up any of the cinema, literature or music that I mention, you might find it here.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how it works. But if you find something I’ve list that you have an interest in, and purchase it, and then somehow I get credit for it toward some other purchase? Well that’s pretty good. I’m much obliged to ye.
Do you know your tikbalangs from your duwendes? Says Mikey Bustos ““We Filipinos have some really crazy mythical beings. Imagine they were all rap stars!” I have seriously watched this video, like 20 times in the past 12 hours. It’s fantastic.
(h/t Madeleine Spencer)
Though I stumbled across Evi Vine only today, I am fairly certain just from this stunning teaser-trailer alone, that debut album, Give Your Heart To The Hawks, is going to quickly become a favorite.
This Sunday, April 26 2015, be certain to head out to Brooklyn Zine Fest from 11am to 6pm at the Brooklyn Historical Society and visit the Heretical Sexts booth, manned by brilliant mastermind, Tenebrous Kate. Copies of all HS zines plus buttons, stickers, and exclusive mini zines will be available! Also -debuting at the fest is the Witch Women zine, in which I am honored to have been a contributor. (Images via Kate’s instagram)
How to be polite. An extremely worthwhile read. This piece really resonated with me, on so many levels. I have felt this way since always. (h/t Amit)
The soundtrack that made Twin Peaks. I was just trying to explain to someone yesterday that while I love the music for this show, the main theme in the opening credits literally, *literally* made me want to puke. It was such a visceral reaction. I love the rest of the music in the show, and I appreciate the different character’s themes, but there’s just something about the track for the opening credits that plucks uneasily at my guts. I can’t even describe it without sounding like a dummy, but it hits me right in the dummy feels, I think. Not something I can articulate on a higher-brain level. It’s like…bland, benign…yet blighted (?) hold music. And you’re on hold forever. It speaks to some fear I have of waiting forever for the other shoe to drop. The big, doom-filled shoe in the sky that you can’t even see but somehow you know it’s there and it’s a cloudless, sunny day…and you are just waiting…waiting…waiting…to be stomped into oblivion. (h/t Drax)
A role playing game about ghosts, in just 150 words. You and your friends play spirits of the dead, each with something holding you back from crossing over. With a brief, structured question and answer set and a single die, you discover and resolve your unfinished business. That’s it. (h/t John H.)
The Royal Dress-Maker game by sarriathmoonghost is inspired by old dressup stickers and paperdolls and features influences from historical clothing during the Medieval, Renaissance, Rococo and Victorian era. It is too much addictive fun. My creation (above) is just one of many that I spent an obscene amount of time playing around with.
The 20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015, by Bess Lovejoy over at the smithsonian.com, featuring haunting hotels, whaling museums, burial grounds and crystal caves seems like the perfect guide for a summer roadtrip.
Have you ever wondered what the play poster for Hellraiser would have looked in Victorian times? Ari Pramagioulis certainly has and his vision is really quite wonderful.
21 Dresses, a story of the discovery of an an exquisite cache of dresses from atelier “Callot Soeurs”. Though barely remembered now, the fashion house was one of the great names in Belle Époque fashion. h/t OTB
Marina Bychkova, of Enchanted Doll, had a 2015 birthday contest, in which the participants are requested to design a tattoo for an Enchanted Doll!
“Somethin creepy goin down at da crib called 124,” indeed! I wish Thug Notes had been around when I was in 11th grade AP English. I have a sense that Beloved was a book I might have loved…had I understood it better. Thanks for breaking it down, Thug Notes. h/t Jack
For fans of creepy dolls, trulyrealro is the most magnificent instagram account you can hope to find.
In Episode 7 of Under The Knife, Dr Lindsey Fitzharris discusses how a pot of pee used to be a crucial diagnostic tool in the past. Learn all about piss prophets and medieval urine wheels!
Exercise music for the cold of heart and the sluggish of blood.*
Image: Image: Oltretomba Colore #73
Zombie ,Natalia Kills | Shallow Grave, The Birthday Massacre | Phantasmo, Asmodeus | Run For Your Life, The Creepshow | Coffin Rocket, Dead Vampires | Tonight, There Will Be No Survivors, Zombina and the Skeletones | Maneater, The Koffin Kats | Tomb Of The Zombie Queen, Sasha & The Shamrocks | Blind, DANCE WITH THE DEAD
I am having a difficult time putting together a workout playlist because I pretty much can’t stand the artists and lyrical content of most music that’s good for making the blood pump faster. Ideally I want music that *sounds* (beatwise, I guess?) like Ke$ha, or Lady Gaga or Rhianna, but they should be singing about hexes and mummies and changelings and poison gardens and grave robbing. Why does this not exist? Not everybody wants to hear songs about being all up in the club, or whatever.
SO this is what I have got so far, but it’s not even close to what I want, and I would love suggestions. Also, I’m sure people are going to mention bands like The Cramps, and they’re great, but I mostly try to keep my playlists current to artists within the last 10 years or so.
You’ll notice that I have included a fair amount of psychobilly/horror punk (I guess you could call it), but I am not overly attached to that genre; it’s just that these folks are the only ones singing about the things I want to hear.
Criteria: must be fairly recent (last 10 years or so), must have a driving beat that would make someone want to propel themselves forward, must have a macabre/monstrous/witchy vibe.