Excalibur in the Lake’ by Aubrey Beardsley, 1893. For an island nation, perhaps it’s no surprise the most archetypal ‘British’ myth abounds with references to isles and islands.
‘Isle of the Dead’ by Arnold Böcklin, 1880, From Thule to Tir na Nog, Classical mythology is also filled with examples of portentous isles.
Sunrise at Futamigaura’ by Utagawa Kunisada 1832. Japan is another island nation rich with folklore with many cultural references to its own holy or mythical islands.

Hauntology

Recently I have been reading the work of the late cultural critic Mark Fisher, specifically his writing on both the Derridean concept of hauntology and his book on the weird and eerie. This fascinating (but tricky to succinctly explain) theory examines the concept of societies being ‘haunted’ by the real-world ramifications of non-existent ideas. Currently even popular physicists claim that the past and the future (and their myriad interpretations) are essentially non-existent on the quantum level. In addition, “At the deepest foundations of nature, time is not a primitive, irreducible element or concept required to construct reality” Following the physics and Derrida’s theory, it can be said it is only one’s own subjectivity that imposes any sense of both time and meaning upon our environment. Decisions within our control will influence how we perceive the world and ourselves within it. However our individual and cultural perceptions cannot avoid being haunted by the ‘ghosts’ of former generations and the baggage of history.

Mark Fisher, (2016). The Weird and the Eerie. London: Repeater Books

Digging up the Past

Well, then,” he said, “for all you’re a scholard, I can tell you something you don’t know. Them’s the three ‘oly crowns what was buried in the ground near by the coast to keep the Germans from landing–ah, I can see you don’t believe that. But I tell you, if it hadn’t have been for one of them ‘oly crowns bein’ there still, them Germans would a landed here time and again, they would. Landed with their ships, and killed man, woman and child in their beds.”

M.R James. (1925) A Warning to the Curious.
A Field in England (2013) dir. Ben Wheatley, Film4 Productions.
Set in the middle of the English Civil Wars, a mysterious Svengali-figure uses a handheld black mirror, drugs and the power of the crowd to unearth secrets and truths buried in the land.

Scanning any recent news feed will show that the UK and other countries are currently experiencing a period of profound self-reflection while also experiencing the global Covid pandemic. It is reflected politically in Brexit and the rise of nationalist landslides and also culturally in the arts. Despite sometimes being viewed as quintessentially English, ‘folk-horror’ as a genre and many its concerns have developed and permeated internationally into recent TV shows and cinema such as Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorists , the films of Robert Eggers and Ari Aster as well as Simon Stone’s The Dig (2021). One of my favourite artworks of the last few years appeared in the guise of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013), a mind-bending road trip movie confined to a 17th century field which managed to be both psychedelic and monochromatic. Unapologetic with its influences, while simultaneously breaking new ground, the film is a joyous ode to the wyrd and eerie to be found in British history, an arthouse reveling in the earthy Olde English language and atmosphere of big floppy hats, seeing stones and grimoires amongst the bucolic surroundings.

Small, independent publications such as Weird Walk, Hellebore Zine and Fiddler’s Green continue to thrive while catering to an audience sharing many of the interests of folk-horror. What exactly these interests are has been nicely stated by Adam Scovell on his Celluloid Wicker Man blog as…

  • Landscape
  • Isolation
  • Skewed Moral Beliefs
  • Happening/Summoning.

As mentioned previously, much of the contextual research behind the 3 Islands Blog Project so far has revealed the community surrounding the 3 islands to have been one that has undergone major shifts over time. The presence of ancient Iron-Works would suggest a community with major trading links to communities further afield. Despite the relative remoteness of the UK’s geographic location in the ancient world, major trading routes existed between it and Europe which took advantage of the large metal deposits found throughout the British Isles. Poring over OS maps of the Gairloch area and reading first-hand accounts of the area’s islands from previous centuries reveals a far richer landscape than would initially be suggested by a view of the area. Today the area lies near the wilderness of Fisherfield, the UK’s most remote spot, but it would have had a far more connected role in previous societies. The folkloric remnants of Pagan sacrifice and holy wells and islands hint at the mysterious world from which many of the area’s archaeological sites emerge. These unfamiliar moral beliefs and the eerie associations that go with them lend a palpable atmosphere to the islands and area we are studying. It is our hope that we can use this opportunity to impart some of that intrigyuing and mysterious atmosphere to the users of both our website and the Gairloch Museum.

For our next blog post we will examine some of the representations of islands in folklore both at home at abroad.

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