Forteans Before Fort
And strange laws I have known
One of my favorite places to browse for old and used books is Bonners Ferry’s Bonner Books, with an ever-changing array of reasonably priced newer books on a central sale table. It was there I recently came across Sabine Baring-Gould’s fascinating “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,” first published in England in 1866. A precursor to the strange delvings of Charles Fort indeed! Regrettably, however, the present editor states in the foreword that the present edition is heavily edited and foreshortened. “I have ruthlessly cut back and abandoned the farther shores of the good Curate’s research,” causing an audible groan to myself and fellow Forteans for it’s in just those “farther, wilder shores” where our best and most interesting cases are to be found. Still, there’s some wonderful stories and accounts still left to be discovered, including the true tales behind the legends of The Wandering Jew, Prester John, Saint George and the Dragon and so many more.
To use, by way of example, Baring-Gould’s exhaustive detective work, let’s consider for a moment The Pied Piper of Hamelin. The town itself was so profoundly devastated by the calamity of the loss of its children that the town actually began dating its public documents from that date in 1284 AD to commemorate the event, along with still-extant inscriptions carved in stone and painted in gold script lamenting the catastrophe. Using already ancient church and lay documents he discovered in musky, old-world archives, Baring-Gould related variant sources and accounts.
In Harrison’s “Highlands of Ethiopia” for instance, the Hadjuiji Madjuji are demon pipers who ride on goats drawing the children hypnotically behind them to destruction, of a fiddler who did the same to the children of Brandenburg, and even a bagpiper from the Hartz Mountains.
Now Baring-Gould, a clergyman and rector in Devon, considered himself mainly a biblical scholar, with “Lives of the Saints” (in 15 volumes!) his most popular work, but his hobby was folklore, with “A Book of the West” and “Collected Folk Songs of Cornwall” only two of his many on the subject. To my mind, however, his masterpiece is the rare and hard to find “1865 Werewolves: Being An Account Of A Terrible Superstition.” Even in this modern day and age I find his exhaustively researched and sobering conclusions the apex of lycanthropic (werewolf) knowledge. Included in this opus are not only sober accounts by officials describing werewolf encounters in their locales, but a collection of sermons from the middle ages warning against the prevalence of the satanic shapeshifters in our midst. Oh, and by the way, most of you are perhaps familiar with the name Sabine Baring-Gould as the author of over 100 hymns, including the beloved “Onward Christian Soldiers!”
A brief word on Strange Laws I have Known: In 1970 I was a just-returned Vietnam vet, hitch-hiking cross country, when I was stopped in Coeur d’Alene for “suspicion of vagrancy” by the county cops. who found a tiny roach in my backpack. I got 90 days for that in the Kootenai County Jail, and years later it cost me my job as a firefighter since I had a drug bust on my record. How many other people’s lives have been ruined because of a stupid, ignorant law which should not be a law?
A decision by the Spokane Sheriffs recently to continue arresting pot smokers for simple possession of small amounts, despite the clear will of the voters of Washington who this November legalized the recreational use of marijuana, is on a par with the county’s decision to shut down the so-called “hookers website.” Known as SpokaneBoard.com, it was a website in which hookers and escorts had a secure locale where they could get together and discuss things like which Johns to be wary of. The police claim it encouraged prostitution and the website owners are being charged. There’s a few other escort sites out there, but only the SpokaneBoard was targeted, the only one run mainly by and for “the girls.”
In San Francisco the group COYOTE was formed (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) to help defend the rights of the working girls and its clear to me the Spokane-CDA area is in dire need of something similar.
‘til next time, keep spreading the word; Soylent Green is People! All Homage to Xena!