Ghostly Paths through dark Forests

ghost in white sheetThroughout history unusual features in the landscape have sent human imagination into overdrive, spawning legends, fairy-tales and myths. I’d like to use the next couple of blog posts to investigate this super-charged landscape issue a little further.


My first candidate for natural phenomena are Hohlwege, the German word for well-trodden paths that have literally been hollowed out by generations of feet, hooves and paws as well as by rain and wind, taking several centuries to mature into their creepy and myth-inspiring selves. Such footpaths lead through fields, forests and mountains and typically connect ancient market towns and places of worship and are usually found close to popular pilgrim routes.


So close your eyes and imagine you’re on your way to a medieval market to sell your farm produce. Turnips, onions and beets anyone?


Travelling through Germany’s Mecklenburg in your top-of-the-range oxcart, you’ll come across a forested area called Hohenzieritz Woods, which sits in spooky silence between the towns of Penzlin and Hohenzierlitz. The ancient Iserputt footpath or Hohlweg snakes through the wood, where it leads overgrown and hollowed out by the weather, with deep and muddy cart tracks left by a hundred generations of market traders just like you and your team of pretty oxen, to the nearest place to sell your wares.


Vampire-bats-animatedMake haste and drive on your team of oxen, for at midnight twelve gleaming white men carrying a black coffin will appear out of nowhere and they just might select you as their number thirteen!


We can only imagine with what urgency travellers raced along the Iserputt path, their sandals flying over sticks and stones, their feet splashing through mud-filled puddles and their heads full of ghostly apparitions out to get them for whatever sin their superstitious medieval minds could conjure up!


Another legend has it an old man on a cart travelled on this path in the middle of the day. Without warning, the cart came to a halt and his horses refused to take another step. The old man got off his cart and went to investigate the source of the delay. He found a tall, black figure on the back of his cart, laughing wildly and terrifying the horses. The old man was furious to have a stranger mocking him, so he whacked the apparition with his whip. To the old man’s surprise the apparition disappeared and his horses took him and his cart from that place as fast as their hooves would go.


Ghost below the Sunset?


Ghosts, as one rather rude and ignorant blog reader informed me the other day, “do not exist, you idiots”. I dare to disagree! They may not be Caspar and Co. zipping down the corridor in some abandoned mansion or the Ghost of Canterbury having a score to settle with a new set of occupants, but ghosts are likely to exist in our traditions and belief systems we inherit from our forbearers and that makes them very real to us.


English: A ghostly Black Dog.


As long as humans believe in a soul surviving death, there will be talk of ghosts…they exist in our minds because they might represent our guilty conscience of unfinished business with the dear departed or our longing to see loved ones again or simply express our own hope that there’s life after death despite scientific proof that we’re just ending up as worm fodder.


Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, M...

Deutsch: Die Burg Penzlin (Landkreis Müritz, Mecklenburg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Imagine you’re an uneducated peasant working the fields surrounding Castle Penzlin in Mecklenburg, bringing in your hay in medieval Europe. The drudgery of day-to-day life must have been unbearable for an intelligent, but uneducated person of the lower ranks. How better to while away the time while making hay than to invent little stories about the things that occur in our surroundings – natural or supernatural phenomena, if that’s what you believe.


ghostly images in graveyardWhen we see mist rising up from the heated soil after a long, hot day in summer is cooled down by sudden rain, we can easily imagine ghostly spirits are leaving the ground in protest. Morning mist swirling upwards and gathering in clouds around the summits of hills and mountains, the wind changing and moulding their shapes into fantastical apparitions, are perfect candidates for souls rising up to heaven, while pea-soupers in historic towns are bound to be a demon’s breath robbing us of our sense of direction, trying to lure us into a trap.



Hohlwege (Photo credit: crobgun)


Naturally, I’m going to use this spooky landscape feature called Hohlwege in my upcoming novel Willow the Vampire and the Wuerzburg Ghosts. Are there any mysterious features in the landscape near you that might inspire a ghostly tale or two?


Würzburg – A City worthy of being a Vampire’s Lair

Before I get to my latest choice for the “creatures of the night” page, I’d like to explain a little about the location I’ve chosen for my follow-up novel to Willow the Vampire’s first adventure (Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove).

In book number two, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, my multi-stranded story will move between rural Stinkforthshire in the UK (a fictional place, please don’t hassle your travel agent for details) and historic Würzburg in Germany.

Fortress Marienberg is a prominent landmark on...

The ancient city of Würzburg is entirely surrounded by beautiful forests and vineyards, virtually straddling the Main River. Officially, Germany’s famous “Romantic Road” starts here and the city is a favourite with tourists exploring Germany for the first time.

Although around 90% of the old city centre was destroyed during WWII, my intrepid countrymen have lovingly recreated, restored and rebuilt what was once one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. Würzburg was once a Franconian duchy, but things got complicated when three Irish missionary monsters arrived in 686.

With the usual hypocrisy of churchmen the three chaps, Totnan, Kolonat and Kilian, began to pester Duke Gosbert to convert to Christianity and naturally, all the inhabitants of the Duchy should follow suit.

In the process he was to get rid off his wife Gailana, who was his former sister-in-law, his brother’s widow. In pre-Christian medieval times it was still a natural thing for people to marry their widowed brother or sister-in-law, but with the typical perversity of a Church that is happily abusing children, the Catholic monk-boys objected to two consenting adults being married in a perfectly legal match.

The 168 Meter long Seite of the Würzburg Resid...

The 168 Meter long Seite of the Würzburg Residenz, built in Würzburg Prince-Bishops from 1719 to 1780. It is the most significant Residenzbau of late Baroque in Europe. She was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981. The Residence is visited annually by approximately 350.000 Visitors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A woman after my own heart, Gailana didn’t wait around until she got ditched – no, she hired a hit man or gang of thugs and had the three irritating hypocrites bumped off in 689.

The murders weren’t discovered until several decades later and naturally, Rome had the three divorce-advocating missionaries declared saints. Würzburg became a city of pilgrimage in the process – always very lucrative, those saints’ days coincide with market days, don’t you know – and finally, the city became a bishopric in 742.

Most infamous for the witch hunt and subsequent burnings of nearly 1,000 people a few centuries later, the city was ruled with an iron fist by the resident prince-bishops from their hill-top perch on the Marienberg, where they had built a fortress in the early 13th century, possibly as early as 1201. The prince-monk-monsters must have been pretty fit – I give them that – it takes around 20 minutes to walk up the steep hill, which is covered in vineyards. From there our princely monks enjoyed stunning views over the city and their duchy.

With so much duplicity and double standards displayed by the clergy, the city makes for a perfect vampire lair, as Willow’s ancestors – in line with Joss Whedon’s blood-sucking character Angel – liked to feast on nuns and monks. Moving with the times, Willow’s family are now targeting bankers, lawyers and estate agents as their preferred source of blood; partly because there are far fewer nunneries and monasteries around – and partly because swallowing so much hypocricy gives you wind, even when your stomach’s meant to be undead and eternal.

Deutsch: Panorama von Würzburg, am Abend des 3...

The Marienberg fortress eventually lost in importance and in 1720 a new palace was designed right in the heart of the city. The Residenz Palast is not only one of Germany’s finest examples of a Baroque pleasure dome, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with many other monuments and buildings along the Romantic Road.

The palace is built largely in a horseshoe design and stands gleaming in gold and white at the eastern edge of the city. It’s home to the world’s largest fresco, painted by none other than Master Tiepolo and the Hall of Mirrors as well as the Imperial Hall are rather spectacular.

Fortress Marienberg

Fortress Marienberg (Photo credit: only_point_five)

My choice for the next creature of the night is a mixed blessing – partly, because Stinkforthshire is nowhere near the sea, but close to a river (Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon) and partly, because the “mermaid” is a mythical beastie that, according to the US National Ocean Service has never existed anywhere other than in seafarers’ fevered imagination.

Even Christopher Columbus couldn’t resist the temptation of dreaming about mermaids and reported sightings while cruising the Caribbean – if there were any mermaids the infamous Hollywood pirate Captain Jack Sparrow would undoubtedly get entangled with them!

The closest we have to a nocturnal siren is the African manatee, which can live in coastal seas and rivers. It is partly nocturnal, but very poorly studied. The family it belongs to is called the Sirenia and consists of dugong and manatees.

Their family name harks back to ancient Greek mythology, which mentioned sirens or mermaids quite frequently.

English: Wellmich with Maus castle near Sankt ...

English: Wellmich with Maus castle near Sankt Goarshausen. UNESCO World Heritage Site Upper Middle Rhine, Germany. The passenger ship in foreground is the paddle steamer Goethe built in 1913, seen here after the replacement of the steam engine by a Diesel engine. Deutsch: Wellmich bei Sankt Goarshausen mit Burg Maus. UNESCO Welterbe Oberes Mittelrheintal, Deutschland. Das Passagierschiff im Vordergrund ist der 1913 gebaute Raddampfer Goethe nach seiner Umrüstung auf Diesel-Antrieb. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m determined to write a mermaid into Willow’s adventures in the future, albeit not in the WIP I’m currently sweating over. Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid was one of my favourite stories as a child; as a teenager I became fascinated by the story of Lorelei, the siren that reputedly sat on a rock overlooking the Rhine River, where she lured sailors and fishermen to their doom…more of that and manatees in my next post.

Meanwhile, the only nocturnal creatures Willow and her friends shall encounter in Würzburg will be ghosts and very real monsters of the human kind.

(source of animation:; source of photographs Wikipedia)

More boar-ing Facts from the Wild Wood

Fig. 16 - Wild boar.

I’ve already touched on how wild boars were hunted to extinction in Britain during the Middle Ages. Before heading for the subject of boar worships, perhaps we should look a little closer at why boars are regarded as such worship-worthy beasties.

Famous for their resilience, strength and courage, wild charging boars make formidable opponents. Hunters, who merely graze wild boars with their bullets, lance or spear, might find they’re being chased up a tree, mauled, trampled, squashed and even killed. The general rule is to kill the boar or be killed by it. The wild pig is blessed with very thick fur and hide, dense bones and enormous tusks (worn by males only to impress the girls), which makes it so resilient.

The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancesto...

Naturally, boars were mainly hunted for their delicious meat, but they were also pursued with such relentless vigour because pigs, wild, domesticated or just ill-behaved, can cause tremendous damage to crops, kitchen gardens, fields and forests. They take being an omnivore very seriously and “hoover” up everything that comes before their snout, lizards, acorns, snails, mushrooms, carrots in a kitchen garden.

There were various methods to kill wild pigs, among them pick-sticking and hunting at bay with hounds like mastiffs or trapping with nets and deep holes. While pick-sticking had at least something of the single combat, heroic element to it, hunting with dogs, shooting with guns or trapping wild boar is unmanly and a hunting method used only by cowards.

During a pick-sticking hunt the hunter or spearman used a special boar spear to kill the animal, either on horseback or on “foot”, sometimes in groups of hunters but also in a single man-to-boar situation.

Worshipping boar for their strength and bravery reminds me of humanity’s first foray into this misguided belief. Can we truly imbibe our enemies’ physical strength and positive traits of character? I rather doubt it. If true, we’d all be biting Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Sarah Michelle Geller or Marilyn Monroe. It’s a fairy-tale made up by cannibals, when they clubbed each other over the head and consumed their uncles, aunts and nephews in the privacy of their own caves. A slice of Uncle Herbert, anyone?

Skeleton of wild boar

Skeleton of wild boar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just as there are still thousands of idiots out there who believe that bits of tiger flesh stewed with a selection of Asian herbs and spices or ground up rhino horn sprinkled over their oysters or snow leopard steaks with chips and mayo will give them greater prowess in the bedroom department, thousands of years ago Celts worshipped the boar and munched their way through thousands of these wonderful animals for rather different reasons.

Even the great King Arthur himself didn’t escape the boar-magic. A story found in the Welsh/Celtic Culhwch and Olwen mentions Arthur chasing after the mythological boar Twrch Tryth and that the boar and chase had something to do with Arthur entering the otherworld or realm of the dead in order to steal a magical object.

Culhwch entering Arthur's Court in the Welsh t...

Culhwch entering Arthur’s Court in the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike the aforementioned men with too much money on their hands and too little brain between their ears, the Celts created tiny metal boar statues to wear on their helmets and nearly life-size ones as offerings during special burials of important personages as their tribute to the boar. Romans were less fanatical in their boar hunting efforts, but also prized the animal for its courage and strength.

Although during the 13th and 14th century noblemen mainly hunted boar for sport and food, they also practiced their martial skills on them and eventually paid tribute to their wild opponents by including them in their heraldic emblems. Because wild boars were so ferocious and often killed hounds, horse and hunter, the boar was considered a malicious animal and was even accused of having links with Satan. However, this didn’t stop the rich aristocracy to covet their cunning, strength and intelligence.

My particular favourite is the noble house of Schweinichen, who used pictures of a wild boar in their heraldic emblems and colours (Schweinchen = piglet). Undoubtedly, the wild boars would have preferred to be left in peace to forage in the forest rather than being hunted and then used as a cute namesake.

Heubach wild boar

Wild boars, like all pigs, are highly intelligent animals. Hunted to extinction in large parts of Europe, wild boars are gradually making a comeback, thanks to their astute understanding of human habits and human habitats. In Greater Berlin in Germany, populations of some 10,000 animals have been recorded, around 4,000 of which sneak into suburbs to raid bins or forage for food in gardens or to play in the municipal parks with their piglets.

Knowing they are unlikely to be hunted or even chased by suburban humans, they have become so brazen that the normally nocturnal animals have been sighted during the day – when in May 2003 two wild boars went for a stroll on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, the municipal powers ran out of patience and sent out storm troopers to deal with the trotting menace. Both intrepid piggy-tourists were shot, proving once and for all that only Stasi-swine are allowed to live happily ever after in Berlin.

English: Mosaic of a wild boar on the Northern...

English: Mosaic of a wild boar on the Northern Aisle floor of the Byzantine Church of Petra, Jordan Français : Mosaïque représentant un sanglier sur le bas côté nord de l’église byzantine de Pétra en Jordanie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As per my earlier blog, wild boars have also discovered the delights of Hamburg, where earlier this year several of them invaded private gardens. These links are to German newspaper reports, showing pictures of the “humane” hunt with stun guns that merely sedated the animals. Only two of the Hamburg tourists were caught; the rest of the piggy gang escaped by jumping into the river.