Blog, Film, folklore, Hellebore, History & Archaeology, Myths, psychogeography

Archaeology and Folk Horror in HELLEBORE

I’d like to thank James Dixon and Lorna Richardson for inviting me to discuss archaeology and folk horror in HELLEBORE at the 5th Public Archaeology Twitter Conference.

I’ve compiled all the tweets from my presentation in this post for easier reading.

Thank you for inviting me to discuss history and archaeology in @helleborezine for #PATC5. I’m Maria, and I’m the founding editor of HELLEBORE, a small press magazine devoted to British #FolkHorror and the #Occult.

Folk horror is enjoying much interest at the moment. The term remains associated with these three films from the late 60s-early 70s (the so-called “Unholy Trinity”), but its roots go back to the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Why are history and archaeology important in folk horror? The idea that drives the subgenre is the survival of ancient cults, usually in remote rural areas, a mere step away from our “civilised” surroundings.

These ancient rituals will be re-enacted, almost inevitably, to some horrible ending.

In folk horror, the past is unearthed, often literally, with or without archaeologists involved.

Or the past has never left, and it remains captured in the natural environment, or recorded onto the stones, from Pallinghurst Barrow (1892) to The Stone Tape (1972).

As in gothic fiction, in folk horror the past always returns to haunt us. But this past is seen through the Victorian prism of cultural evolutionism: it is irrational, “primitive” and “barbaric”.

The theories of James Frazer and Margaret Murray had a huge influence on the subgenre. Both are often quoted as authoritative sources. See, for example, the sinister Mr. Palmer in Robin Redbreast (1970): 

I studied Journalism and specialised in history and archaeology; specifically, in the intersection of archaeology with the occult in popular culture. I found my community on Twitter. Many interesting conversations were happening online, but they felt ephemeral.

I wanted to create something tangible, perhaps because digital content reminds me of our own mortality (#GothGirlProblems). So I decided to create a magazine. An object to treasure. We consume so much content online that print feels like a small luxury.

It was important that it looked beautiful and felt luxurious, within the limitations of guerrilla publishing, combining the punk, do-it-yourself spirit of zines with high production values. Something Nathaniel Winter-Hébert understood quickly and reflected in the design and art direction.

If you look closely at the design of @helleborezine, you’ll see how it references pulp art from the 60s and 70s, Czech and Polish film posters, Victorian/Edwardian imagery, and the spirit of the first zines. It’s grainy and murky, yet polished.

I wanted the content to be accessible, with an academic flair, and unashamed of its love for popular culture. A perfect example of this is Ruth Heholt’s wonderful piece on Hammer’s ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ in issue 2.

We’re moving in fields traditionally very upper-class, male-centric—history, archaeology, classics, psychogeography, film criticism. On top of that, the far and alt-right love folklore. So it’s important to reclaim all these spaces.

To analyse these ideas and cultural products from a critical perspective, but never lose the fascination with the subject matter: the past, magic, ritual. As David Southwell says in Issue 1, #ReEnchantmentIsResistance.

Because the first issue felt like a mad enterprise, I asked friends to write in it (Katy Soar, JohnReppion, Verity Holloway, David Southwell, Dee Dee Chainey). To make it financially viable, pre-orders were very important. Thankfully, we got enough to fund it. I am hugely grateful.

@Helleborezine is a physical object born from a digital community. When people receive it, they tend to share beautifully staged images and videos of it on social media. It somehow returns to the digital world. The cycle is complete.

I like to think of it as a tiny mark that part of this digital community has left in the physical world. A sort of antidote to our existential dread and to some political ideas that are growing dangerously.

Thank you for coming to my #PATC5 talk. And now it’s time for your questions.