Episode 9: The Buried Moon

Lincolnshire: a region of bogs and swamps, of fever-haunted marshes, and ague-infested lowlands….

A creepy Lincolnshire legend featuring a collection of evil creatures that haunt the darkness, spells to keep them away and a possible moral about knowing your place in the world.

Especially if you have got a really important job to do.

“Bogles, an’ de’ad Things, an’ crawlin’ Horrors: tha a’ coomed oot o’ noights when the moon didna shine.”

– The Dead Moon, Marie Clothilde Balfour
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

The Lincolnshire Carrs are a large area of wetlands in the east of England. While today they have been much diminished by drainage in the past they were truly vast marshes, interspersed with the occasional small collection of houses and a few workable fields.

A dangerous swampland far remote from the rest of English society. A true backwater, where travellers seldom frequented and inhabitants rarely left.

And yet, when one night the moon’s curiosity finally got the better of her and she decided that she wanted to walk the Earth, it was on the Carrland that she set down her shimmering feet. 

She looked around in wonder, took her first tentative steps. She took herself to the edge of one of the great inky black pools that make up much of the landscape and gazed into it.

She shivered, looked around, pulled the black hooded cloak she wore around herself tighter.

On she pressed, through the fen, all muddy grassy mounds, stagnant water, roots and fallen branches protruding out of the ground at strange angles.

In the darkness they appeared as frightening shapes and the moon was beginning to get a little scared. But nevertheless she pressed on.

But the things she made out in the darkness weren’t all tricks of the eye. For all around her were the things that lived in the swamp: a great red eye staring out of the darkness, the lanterns of the willow of the wisps. The animated bodies of the dead rose from the waters, horribly gnarled and warped, with fire in the sockets of their skulls. Cackling witches riding great black cats grinned horribly at her.

The moon looked around panicked as she discerned the bogles gathering in, all around her.

And in her haste she slipped in the mud and fell. She reached out caught a root which fortunately held tight. She breathed a sigh of relief just as the root moved in her hands. It twisted like a snake, and in the blink of an eye it had wrapped itself around her wrists with a quick vicious, and very final sounding, snap. She was trapped.

She heard a terrified cry nearby – not of one of the nightmarish monstrosities but a human cry. She looked around. Nearby she spied a wretched traveller, lantern in hand, trying to make his way through the swamp, pursued by all manner of swamp creatures.

She could see that soon he would fall and they would be upon him. Despite her own predicament she wasn’t putting up with this. She was the moon. She struggled, managing to shake her hood from her head,  revealing her long golden hair.

And from it a brilliant light shone out in all directions, shocking the abominations. The evil things fled in terror and confusion, back into the dark places.

The man was overjoyed to see the light again and to witness the shrinking back of the bogles. And by the light he could now see the path he must take. He seized his opportunity and he ran as fast as he could, making his way out of the swamp and danger. But in his haste he didn’t see the source of the light that had been his saviour.

The moon was still trapped. She struggled and she struggled but to no avail,  and when exhaustion at the futility of her task finally over took her she slumped forward. The hood fell again around her head. Try as she might she was so tired and she couldn’t shake it off again.

The darkness had returned, and the creatures started to emerge from their hiding places.

This was their ancient enemy, the one who took their night from them whenever she was in the sky. Here she was. Trapped. At their mercy. And they had none.

An argument broke out between the dead men, the witches, the bogles and the rest of them, each wanting to do something different with their captive.

It went on so long that the first light of dawn was threatening to come over the horizon. And this spurred action. The Dead held the moon down, wrapping her cloak to her body tightly. The bogles found a huge stone, and they rolled it on top of her, crushing her into the dank earth and green slimy water.

And there they left her, and as the sune came up they returned to their homes under the earth and in the stagnant water.

It took a few days for the moon’s disappearance to be noticed. She had come down from the sky at the time she was usually gone, to avoid disruption. But the people always looked forward to the night of the bright new moon, when the night time threat was much lessened.

And when that night came and there was no moon in the sky. Well that was disquieting. When she wasn’t there again the night after that was positively terrifying.

And worse still the marsh dwellers seemed to be bolder than ever before – their faces would appear at the windows. They’d snap at the latches and the people were so afraid that every house started to burn lamps over night, else they feared creatures would cross the threshold of the doorway and then there’d be no stopping them.

There was a wise woman who lived in the old mill and they asked her for answers. She consulted the tools of her trade: her books, her mirror and her vast brew pot. None of them could tell her where the moon was, but she gave charms aplenty to the villagers to help hold the things back.

One afternoon the villagers were gathered in the tavern, dolefully drinking their ale or smoking their tobacco, lamenting the disappearance of the moon and what it meant for their miserable lives.

It so happened that a man from the far end of the boglands was there. He was listening to the conversation when all of a sudden he gave a start and sat up.

“My goodness! This might be nothing, but… I might know what’s happened to her!”

All eyes were him on as he told the story of how he’d been drunk and wandering through the swamp one night. About how the things had chased him and how he’d escaped certain death only by the mysterious light.

At the stories end the pub’s inhabitants fair dragged the man to the mill and the wise woman.

She listened to his tale, took up her arcane tools once more and with this new information she could almost find the moon. And she could tell the villagers how to find her more accurately, and how to stay safe doing so.

Though it was no straightforward task:

“Go together, all of you, and just before the night falls put a stone in your gob, take a hazel-twig in your hands, grasp it firmly, and, this is important: Do not say a word until you are safe home again. Not a word!”

“Walk on into the marsh, banishing all fears from your mind, walk until you find a coffin, a candle and a cross. Then you’ll be close to the moon. Search around well and you shall find her!”

So come the next evening the people gathered and they did exactly as instructed, for they trusted the wise woman. And while it was clearly dangerous they were set on getting the moon back. So the community came together, did not say a word and as darkness fell they set off into the marsh, stones in their mouths, hazel twigs and lanterns in hand.

Raspy cries came from all around them, the sound of wings beat near their heads, cold dead fingers brushed against them.

But they didn’t falter in their obedience to the wise woman’s instructions and so they remained unharmed.

They found the stone the bogles had rolled over, which looked nothing so much as a tremendous coffin. And at its head, the snag, the root that had held the moon stretched out its tendrils in a dark gruesome parody of a cross. And should there be any doubt there upon the stone was a light of the will-o-the-wisp, a sickly unnatural light flickering like a dying candle that never quite goes out.

This was the place.

Silently they acted in unity, taking hold of the stone. It was hard to organise without words, and the stone was extremely heavy. But with a strenuous effort they managed it. The stone moved.

The moon didn’t wait around. For one instant they saw a strange and beautiful face looking up at them from the black water under the stone. But the light from it shone so bright and strong that they had to avert their eyes, and all around them the night was suddenly alive with the terrible wails of the marsh horrors, desperately beating their retreat from that white dazzling light. 

When the people looked back there was nothing there. But up, up in the sky was a full moon, illuminating the treacherous waters, the safe paths and all the great bogs stretching away around them, almost as clear as day.

From her place amongst the stars the moon smiled kindly down, deeply relieved to be free, to be back in her place and ever so grateful for her rescue by the Carr folk

They do say that even to this day the moon shines brighter on the Carrs than anywhere else, in recognition of the help afforded her by the people there. 

The End

The Legends of the Carrs

Moon over fenland

There are a lot of contenders for my favourite story of the podcast but this one is right up there.

However I think the combined legends of the Carr’s published by M.C.Balfour in the journal folklore probably are certainly my all time favourite collection of stories: they depict a strange world remote from civilisation. A place where Christianity mixes with half remembered paganism and folk magic.

And these forces are the only things keeping the people safe against the massed evil of the very real nocturnal terrors that infest the primeval marshes, and threaten to overwhelm and destroy the flickering flame of humanity.

To bowdlerise Gary Numan: Nothing seems quite right in the Carrs.

Even M.C. Balfour’s introduction to the supposedly real Lincolnshire makes it sound like some mythical place:

“I have given this slight outline of the district and some of its inhabitants, in order to show amid what surroundings linger these wild tales of witchcraft, and the spirit-world, in this little isolated home of folk-lore. Here, in this bleak and lonely tract, scarcely yet won over to civilization, has dwelt for ages a people, ignorant, poverty-stricken, weakened by malaria, and strongly affected by their wild home; and here still, amongst a few elders, who remember the traditions of their youth, and the beliefs of their fathers, linger tales that tell of the old pagan customs, that have perhaps existed in these parts since the very dawn of history.”

You can read the whole thing here: Legends of the Cars – introduction. And this is the only bit of the work that’s in easily comprehensible English, and not the local dialect transcribed in Balfour’s unique way.

Moonlit Landscape
Moore of Ipswich, John; Moonlit Landscape; Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/moonlit-landscape-12126
Claire De Lune
Not strictly relevant but another depiction of a female moon I liked

Even more Carrs….

If you you’re keen to learn more about the legends of the Carr’s than I can’t recommend enough the website Telling history – legends of the Carrs by Maureen James. It really does have everything you need to know, including her very own research on the legends (though of course contains spoilers for possible future podcasts).

And in case you want more M.C. Balfour content from the podcast then you’re in luck.

At time of writing – one more story from the collection is currently available to Patrons: “The Green Mist”. You can sign up here if you want to listen now: https://www.patreon.com/BritIsleTales (and technically you can can sign up, listen, then un-sign up so it’s basically free if you really want it to be.)

Buried Moon art

I was so taken with this story I was determined to get some art work done for it. This awesome picture is by Sheffield based artist Harry Trent, https://www.instagram.com/harrytrenttattoo/ (link may be nsfw).

Buried Moon harry Trent
Just everyday life in Lincolnshire (© Graeme Cooke, Artist: Harry Trent)

And a couple of much earlier illustrations with a similar feel:

Marie Clothilde Balfour

Marie Clothilde Balfour published one of the smallest collections of folktales of anyone featured on the podcast, and also one of my favourites.

Selected Sources

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses:

Lionel Schmitt
The Healing
Hide and seek
Castle of darknes

Dark Waves

Ben Von Wildenhaus
Week Thirty-two
Week Twenty-six
Week Twenty-one

Kevin Hartnell
Libidinous Orison

Maid behind the bar

Lee Rosevere
The Nightmare

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