Monday, August 27, 2012

Angels Sang to Me (Just Before I Fell to the Ground, Unconscious)

This preview is an instrumental interlude from my new project, Caligo. The title and mood allude to Robert Schumann's mental breakdown -- just before being committed to an insane asylum -- where he reported hearing celestial angels dictate to him a work composed by the dead spirit of Franz Schubert. [1]

1. For a detailed and insightful look at the mental breakdown of Robert Schumann as a symptom of paresis due to tertiary syphilis, see Deborah Hayden's excellent book, POX: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis. (Amazon.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012


We rot
and shed our ambitions
in mangy, leprous strings;
Flaking putrescent failure
couched in lofty dreams and pretty, painted sentiment.
Each successive step
yields a complimentary wound –
A festering chancre
which stains,
then fades with time.
Lost to memory,
Hidden from sight;
and waiting.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Myrmarachne formicaria

This time of year is perfect for amateur entomologists in Ohio who wish to do a little backyard surveying. Praying Mantis and Walking Sticks can be found munching on hydrangea leaves whilst indigo-colored wasps and hummingbird moths flutter about the last of summer's blooming flowers. One particularly interesting August denizen is a species which I only discovered for myself a few short years ago: Myrmarachne formicaria. (A rather large specimen is trying to climb its way up my leg as I type this post.) M. formicaria is an ant-mimicking spider, and a damn good one at that. In fact, the first time I recognized this creature for what it was, I had simply brushed one off of my arm, assuming it was an ant. Imagine my surprise when the "ant" descended to safety on a smartly-placed silk wire! Upon closer inspection, I realized that the apparent ant was actually an arachnid assuming a very convincing disguise.

Roberta Gibson has a nice little entry on M. formicaria at her blog, Wild About Ants, which features exceptional photos like the one below.

Also of interest:
The First Records of Myrmarachne Formicaria (Araneae, Salticide) in the Americas

Monday, August 13, 2012

Goofer Dust

From Wikipedia:

Goofer dust is a traditional practice of the African American tradition of hoodoo from the South Eastern Region of the United States of America. It can be used generically to refer to any powder used to cast a spell, especially if harmful in nature, but specifically refers to a concoction of natural ingredients that can be used to cause harm, trouble or even kill an enemy. Some historical sources, such as some of the interviews conducted by Harry M. Hyatt indicate goofer dust can be synonymous with graveyard dirt. It is sometimes used in love spells of a coercive nature, the severity of which range from the goofer dust being used to provoke helpful spirits to coax the target into love, to the more extreme "love me or die" spells. Rarely, it has been used in gambling spells.
     In practice, it was often used to create illness in victims, such as swelling of the legs or blindness. Recipes for making it vary, but primarily include graveyard dirt and snakeskin. Other ingredients may include ash, powdered sulfur, salt, powdered bones, powdered insect chitin, dried manure, herbs, spices and "anvil dust" — the fine black iron detritus found around a blacksmith's anvil. The result usually varies in color from "a fine yellowish-grey" to deep "black dust" depending on the formula, and it may be mixed with local dirt to conceal its deployment. 
     The word goofer comes from the Kikongo word "kufwa," which means "to die." Among older hoodoo practitioners, this derivation is very clear, because "goofer" is not only an used as an adjective modifying "dust" but also a verb ("He goofered that man") and a noun ("She put a goofer on him"). As late as the 1930s, goofering was a regional synonym for voodooing, and in North Carolina at least, the meaning of the term was broadened beyond spells of damage, illness, and death to include love spells cast with dominating intent. 
     A euphemistic word for goofering is "poisoning," which in this context does not refer to a physical poison but to a physical agent that, through magical means, brings about an "unnatural illness" or the death of the victim. Even more euphemistic is the special use of the verb "hurt," which is often defined as "to poison," with the tacit understanding that "to poison" really means "to goofer." The more general verbs "fix" (meaning to prepare a spell) and "trick" (meaning to cast a spell) are also applied to goofering.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Murder! Murder!"

The Newgate Calendar recounts in great detail those grisly events of February 23, 1807, where throngs of people came to watch a series of public executions outside Newgate prison in London and, in a somewhat ironic twist, inadvertently condemned many of their fellow spectators to death: 

The crowd which assembled to witness this execution was unparalleled, being, according to the best calculation, nearly forty thousand; and the fatal catastrophe which happened in consequence will for long cause the day to be remembered. By eight o'clock not an inch of ground was unoccupied in view of the platform. The pressure of the crowd was such that, before the malefactors appeared, numbers of persons were crying out in vain to escape from it; the attempt only tended to increase the confusion. Several females of low stature who had been so imprudent as to venture among the mob were in a dismal situation; their cries were dreadful. Some who could be no longer supported by the men were suffered to fall, and were trampled to death. This also was the case with several men and boys. In all parts there were continued cries of "Murder! Murder!" -- particularly from the females and children among the spectators, some of whom were seen expiring without the possibility of obtaining the least assistance, everyone being employed in endeavours to preserve his own life.
       The most affecting scene of distress was seen at Green Arbour Lane, nearly opposite the debtors' door. The terrible occurrence which took place near this spot was attributed to the circumstance of two piemen attending there to dispose of their pies. One of them having had his basket overthrown, which stood upon a sort of stool with four legs, some of the mob, not being aware of what had happened, and at the same time being severely pressed, fell over the basket and the man at the moment he was picking it up, together with its contents. Those who once fell were never more suffered to rise, such was the violence of the mob. At this fatal place a man of the name of Harrington was thrown down, who had by the hand his youngest son, a fine boy about twelve years of age. The youth was soon trampled to death; the father recovered, though much bruised, and was amongst the wounded in St Bartholomew's Hospital. A woman who was so imprudent as to bring with her a child at the breast was one of the number killed. Whilst in the act of falling she forced the child into the arms of the man nearest to her, requesting him, for God's sake, to save its life. The man, finding it required all his exertion to preserve himself, threw the infant from him, but it was fortunately caught at a distance by another man, who, finding it difficult to ensure its safety or his own, got rid of it in a similar way. The child was again caught by a man, who contrived to struggle with it to a cart, under which he deposited it until the danger was over, and the mob had dispersed. In other parts the pressure was so great that a horrible scene of confusion ensued, and seven persons lost their lives by suffocation alone. It was shocking to behold a large body of the crowd, as one convulsive struggle for life, fight with the most savage fury with each other; the consequence was that the weakest, particularly the women, fell a sacrifice. A cart which was overloaded with spectators broke down, and some of the persons who fell from the vehicle were trampled underfoot, and never recovered. During the hour that the malefactors hung, little assistance could be afforded to the unhappy sufferers; but after the bodies were cut down, and the gallows removed to the Old Bailey Yard, the marshals and constables cleared the street where the catastrophe occurred, and, shocking to relate, there lay nearly one hundred persons dead, or in a state of insensibility, strewed round the street! Twenty-seven dead bodies were taken to St Bartholomew's Hospital, four to St Sepulchre's Church, one to the Swan, on Snow Hill, one to a public-house opposite St Andrew's Church, Holborn; one, an apprentice, to his master's; Mr Broadwood, pianoforte maker, to Golden Square. A mother was seen carrying away the body of her dead boy; Mr Harrison, a respectable gentleman, was taken to his house at Holloway. There was a sailor-boy killed opposite Newgate, by suffocation; he carried a small bag, in which he had some bread and cheese, and was supposed to have come some distance to behold the execution. After the dead, dying and wounded were carried away, there was a cartload of shoes, hats, petticoats and other articles of wearing apparel picked up. Until four o'clock in the afternoon most of the surrounding houses had some person in a wounded state; they were afterwards taken away by their friends on shutters, or in hackney- coaches. The doors of St Bartholomew's Hospital were closed against the populace. After the bodies of the dead were stripped and washed they were ranged round a ward on the first floor, on the women's side; they were placed on the floor with sheets over them, and their clothes put as pillows under their heads; their faces were uncovered. There was a rail along the centre of the room: the persons who were admitted to see the shocking spectacle went up on one side of the rail, and returned on the other. Until two o'clock the entrances to the hospital were beset with mothers weeping for sons, wives for their husbands and sisters for their brothers, and various individuals for their relatives and friends.
       The next day (Tuesday) a coroner's inquest sat in St Bartholomew's Hospital, and other places where the bodies were, on the remains of the sufferers. Several witnesses were examined with respect to the circumstances of the accident, which examination continued till Friday, when the verdict was, "That the several persons came by their death from compression and suffocation."

A wonderful digitized version of the Newgate Calendar can be found HERE, and a more sordid look at the history of Newgate prison may be found in J.A. Brooks' splendid work, the Ghosts of London (Jarrold Publishing, Norwich: 1982).