Have we got history all wrong? Is it possible that dragons were real animals that walked the Earth and ruled the sky? Could it be that dragons lived among us?
Everybody loves a dragon. They’re a fantasy staple, appearing in dozens of books, films and TV series, from Sleeping Beauty to The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to Game of Thrones. Sometimes they’re man-eating monsters. Sometimes they’re Toothless, the most adorable dragon ever, in How to Train Your Dragon. And they feature on numerous national flags, emblems and coats of arms, too. (I, of course, felt compelled to join in all this dragon fun when I wrote my fantasy novel, The Pendulum Swings, so I added a sassy dragon character with a deformed wing called Guibbette.)
Across Europe, dragons have a recognisable form. Take a look at the Welsh flag, which depicts the red Welsh dragon. These bodily features are what we imagine when we think of a dragon. The reptilian snout. The scaly hide. The bat-like wings. The four legs with eagle-like feet and talons. The long, sinuous tail with an arrow-shaped end. The reptilian tongue. And many dragons are also depicted with horns, neck frills and spines down their backs to add to their grandeur and might.
Depiction of a Chinese dragon
Mind you, this is just what the European dragon looks like. The other famous dragon is the Chinese dragon, which looks more like a multicoloured snake with four legs. Its reptilian snout and scaly hide are similar to its European cousin, but Chinese dragons do not have wings and are nearly always depicted with colourful flame-like frills and spines.
And while Chinese dragons are well-known for summoning rain, the European dragon has an arguably more famous trait: breathing fire.
Most people think of dragons as mythical creatures in mythical stories. Just make-believe. However, a small body of dragon believers argue passionately that dragons were real animals. Could they be onto something?
Forget stockings and presents and candy canes this Christmas. What about a bottle of bone discharge from the body of the “right jolly old elf” himself?
The miracle of manna, it’s called. Manna is the name of the sweet-smelling liquid supposedly coming out of the bones of Saint Nicholas, the gift-giving, 4th-century Greek bishop on whom the legend of Christmas Eve’s busiest man is based. It’s a liquid that apparently has robust healing powers. Every May 9th, the “Santa Manna” is removed by priests from St Nick’s tomb at the Basilica of St Nicholas in Bari, put in glass bottles and sold to pilgrims. It is then consumed as a drink or poured over an injured body part.
Firstly, eww. Secondly, for real?
The original mince pie scoffer earned a reputation in the 4th century for secret gift-giving. Legend has it that he famously helped a poor man with three daughters, who couldn’t afford a dowry for them to get married. Nicholas delivered 3 bags of gold coins to the poor man by dropping them down the chimney (so that he couldn’t be seen). One of the daughters had just washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, so the bags of coins ended up falling in the stockings.
Mmmm. Sounds familiar.
This week I’m getting in the spirit of Halloween by investigating the mysterious Meon Hill, on the edge of the Cotswolds in Warwickshire. It’s a place of Satanic legends, phantom black dog sightings, alleged witches and shadowy pitchfork-wielding killers. Anyone fancy pitching a tent there on October 31st?
Meon Hill is nestled between the sleepy Cotswold villages of Mickleton, Upper Quinton and Lower Quinton. An 8th century legend says that it was actually formed by the Devil. Frustrated by the growth of Christianity, the Devil chucked a large clod of earth at the recently built Evesham Abbey, intending to destroy it. However, the bishop spotted him and prayed for the clod of earth to miss its target. It did, landing and forming Meon Hill.
Another legend from Celtic Welsh folklore says that Meon Hill is haunted by the phantom dogs of Arawn, king of the ‘otherworld’. For centuries, numerous sightings of stray black dogs have been reported in the area. Black dogs are said to be nocturnal apparitions, bringers of death and agents of the Devil (think the Rottweilers guarding Antichrist Damien Thorn in The Omen).
But it’s what happened on 14th February 1945 — Valentine’s Day of all days—that really put Meon Hill on the map. This is when 74-year-old Lower Quinton farm labourer Charles Walton was murdered on its slopes.
Walton’s murder was brutal, gruesome and unusual. He was killed with his own instruments. His head was smashed in with his walking stick. His throat was cut with the trouncing hook he’d been using to trim hedges, which was found buried in his neck. And he was impaled and pinned to the ground with his own pitchfork.
There was a conspicuous further detail: a cross-shaped symbol was carved into his chest.
Next week I’ll be on Canadian online radio station, Spaced Out Radio, talking to host Dave Scott about UFOs, conspiracies, time travel and general weirdness. Eeeek! I’m nervous and excited but I’m sure it’ll be great fun — for me and for listeners!
The interview, I’m told, will last two hours and Dave wants my take on some of the stranger conspiracies, mysteries and monsters out there. I’ve certainly covered some utterly crackers theories of late! Expect talk about royal lizards and Flat Earth. Hopefully we’ll get into some time travel urban legends (my favourites) and things like the Loch Ness Monster and the suicidal munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. I’ll also make sure to talk a little bit about my conspiracy fiction writing, namely Million Eyes and the Million Eyes Short Stories, which are ultimately the reason why this blog exists.
I understand I’ll also be answering questions from the audience in Spaced Out Radio’s chat rooms.
The show broadcasts from British Columbia and will start at 9pm Pacific Time, midnight Eastern Time, and 5am London Time.
And yes, as I’m a Brit on London Time, it’s going to be an early start for me! Hopefully I’ll be coherent. Thank you Flying Spaghetti Monster for inventing coffee.
The show will broadcast live on Spaced Out Radio’s website at all the times I’ve just mentioned, and you can also listen to it on Tune In. If you’re in the UK and, like most people, your bed is more important at that time in the morning, you’ll be able to listen to the show on the station’s YouTube page afterwards. I’ll post a link on the blog when I have it. I’m also told you’ll be able to download the show from iTunes.
The vanishing crew of the Mary Celeste is one of the biggest maritime mysteries in history. The Bermuda Triangle’s been blamed before, but is usually dismissed because the ship’s route didn’t pass anywhere near it. Could it be that whatever’s been swallowing ships and planes in the Triangle… moves?
On November 7th 1872, the cargo ship Mary Celeste set sail from New York City to Genoa, Italy, carrying 1701 barrels of raw commercial alcohol. The captain was 37-year-old Benjamin Briggs. His wife Sarah and 2-year-old daughter Sophia were with him, along with a crew of 7, making a total of 10 people on board.
On December 4th 1872, the Mary Celeste was discovered adrift near the coast of Portugal by the British Empire vessel Dei Gratia. It was still under sail, but not a single soul was on board.
The reason this empty ‘ghost ship’ has become so famous is that there were no real clues as to where the crew had gone and why. The ship was still stocked with 6 months’ worth of food and water. The cargo of alcohol was intact (but for a handful of barrels that were thought to have leaked). And everybody’s personal belongings, including valuables, were undisturbed.
Henry VI, the real ‘Mad King’ of England
One of the main inspirations for the plot of Game of Thrones is the Wars of the Roses, a late 15th-century dynastic struggle that was fought between the houses of Lannister and Stark—no, sorry, Lancaster and York. The wars began during the reign of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen—no, sorry, the Mad King Henry VI, whose mysterious death in 1471 continues to befuddle historians…
Henry VI was king during the final years of the Hundred Years War between England and France. The war concluded with a French victory in 1453, which caused Henry to go completely bananas. For more than a year, he suffered hallucinations and was unresponsive to everything around him, including the birth of his son.
Historians believe that he may have been suffering from a form of schizophrenia. It’s also possible that he inherited the illness from his grandfather, Charles VI of France, who experienced intermittent bouts of insanity in the last 30 years of his life (as did his own mother, Joanna of Bourbon).
Henry VI was a Lancastrian. It was during his breakdown that the rival House of York gained power, after years of growing discontent throughout England. In 1460, civil war broke out. Three major battles culminated in Henry being kicked off the throne by Edward of York, who became Edward IV. By this point, Henry’s madness had returned. Apparently, at the Second Battle of St. Albans on 17th February 1461, Henry was singing and laughing hysterically as the battle raged around him.
John White returns to Roanoke to find the colony missing
Born August 18th 1587, Virginia Dare was the first English child born in America. However, she was also part of the ill-fated Roanoke Colony, which mysteriously disappeared around the time of the Spanish Armada and thereafter became known as the “Lost Colony”…
In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I instructed Sir Walter Raleigh to establish an English colony in an area of North America to “discover, search, find out, and view such remote heathen and barbarous Lands, Countries, and territories… to have, hold, occupy, and enjoy.”
Raleigh’s initial voyages discovered Roanoke Island on the eastern coast of North America. His first attempt to establish a colony failed, but in 1587, he dispatched a second group of colonists led by John White. They arrived on Roanoke Island on July 22nd 1587. A few weeks later, Virginia Dare — John White’s granddaughter — was born to White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband, London tiler and bricklayer Ananias Dare.
Tensions were high between the colonists and several Native American Indian tribes. One colonist, George Howe, was murdered by Indians while fishing. John White ordered a retaliatory attack, but ended up killing or wounding a bunch of friendly Croatoan Indians by mistake.
The quaint little English village of Woolpit in Suffolk is home to a mysterious legend. In the 12th century, two nameless children showed up there out of the blue. They spoke an unknown language, ate only raw beans and their skin was green. Were they aliens? Demons? Time travellers? Sick children suffering from chlorosis?
One day, during the reign of King Stephen (the one who fought a war with his cousin, Empress Matilda, and got an honourable mention in my Game of Thrones article two weeks ago), the villagers of Woolpit found two children—a young brother and sister—beside one of the pits they used for catching wolves. They wore unfamiliar clothing but looked human, apart from their green skin. They were taken in by a local landowner called Richard de Calne and initially refused all food. When they came across raw beans, they hungrily tucked in. Eventually they learned to eat food other than raw beans and started to lose their green pallor.
The brother didn’t last. He was sickly and frail. The children were baptised, then the boy died. His sister, however, adjusted to her new life and learned to speak English. That’s when she told people her story. She and her brother had come from a place called ‘St. Martin’s Land’, where the sun never shone, the light was like twilight and all the inhabitants were green. Just before arriving in Woolpit, they’d been herding their father’s cattle and had followed them into a cavern. They heard the sound of bells, saw a bright light and suddenly found themselves in the wolf pit.