Category Archives: witches

Ancient Sorceries, Dabblers in the Dark Arts

Ancient Sorceries by Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   February 5, 2013

“Because of sleep and because of cats.” What an odd turn of phrase. Got you puzzled? There is a deep mystery in these words in Blackwood’s short story Ancient Sorceries. If a passenger on a train said these words to you while stopped at a small town in France, would you think it was a warning or a riddle?

Blackwood, a masterful writer of the supernatural, was a psychical researcher who believed secret powers lie in everyone. So it seems fitting to trust him to mesmerize us totally with his imagination. In Ancient Sorceries, he writes a seamless prose that moves along with a plot of witches, felines, demons, and reincarnation.

The psychiatrist, John Silence, is a doctor of the mind but also of the soul, a psychic physician with great spiritual sympathies for his patient, Arthur Vezin. Vezin, a timid and sensitive man, recounts an experience to the doctor that is so bizarre, that Vezin barely survives to speak of it—or at least Vezin thinks he survives.

Vezin is travelling to London by rail but exits the train at an unknown sleepy hill town in France. He is attracted to this little town and stays at a rambling ancient inn because it was so warm and still, making him want to “purr.” But he quickly discovers that there are secrets in this town and the people he sees. Enchanted with these secrets, Vezin likens this experience to a “softly-coloured dream which he did not even realize to be a dream.”

What a very weird place to be.

He meets a woman with “red lips” and “laughing white teeth.” He falls in love. His intense longing for her versus his intense dread for her propels the story with great suspense. This woman’s dark magic ensnares him. Can he resist the adventure or does he succumb to the Dance that never dies?

Blackwood does not disappoint his readers with this “sweet and fearful fantasy of evil.” Ancient Sorceries will certainly leave you spellbound. Perhaps Blackwood is right that there is a force secretly hidden in all of us.

Read it here:

Stop back next Tuesday for another Tale of Terror.

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Filed under dark fantasy, demons, fiction, horror, reincarnation, short stories, supernatural, tales of terror, witches

The Ash Tree … Hollow, Haunted, and Deadly

The Ash Tree  by  M.R. James

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror, January 1, 2013


M.R. James (1862-1936) is known as the master of ghost stories. His tales are somewhat formulaic in that he sets his characters in ordinary life, creepy surroundings, and into this he lets the ominous enter. Much of James’ horror is implied and suggested in his famous chilling style. The Ash Tree is a story that can truly make you shiver. The dark and gloomy house Castringham Hall in Suffolk is not without a history of 17th century witch-trials. We meet Sir Matthew Fell, his heir Sir Richard, and a particularly vengeful witch named Mrs. Mothersole, who, the story goes, is hanged for her crimes not far from the Hall. Witches, you might know, are especially fond of ash tree branches as they make quite fine brooms for zooming across the night sky.

In this old twisted ash tree that grows directly outside the windows of Castringham Hall, the branches touch the very glass of the bedroom windows. One evening Sir Matthew sees an odd moving creature scurry among the branches. In this thick moonlight, Sir Matthew can only make out that this blackened creature has more than four legs. The next day, Sir Matthew is found dead, swollen, and black in his locked bedroom, the window open to the branches.

Sir Richard succeeds Sir Matthew and inherits Castringham Hall, and Richard decides to build a family tomb on the property. But one grave in unhallowed ground must be removed.

Yep, you guessed it, they exhume the coffin of Mrs. Mothersole, the witch executed in the district. The sealed coffin is dug up, pried open, and …

And here is where M.R. James lets the ominous rule the rest of the delicious ghostly story, which has quite a fantastic climax.

Read it here, maybe on a windy night, by firelight, and near a window:

But if you like stories to be read aloud to you, here is an M.R. James story read by Robert Powell from a shadowy English library under the flickering firelight. Superb!

Also, I came across a short film of The Ash Tree (30 minutes) you might find fun:

Please leave a comment and stop back every Tuesday for another classic Tale of Terror.


Filed under fiction, Hauntings, horror, mysteries, short stories, supernatural, suspense, tales of terror, witches