Beyond the Veil

Still discombobulated from the paperback launch of The Red Man and Others, we got the message that the line-up of Flame Tree Press’s Beyond the Veil would be made public.

You can find the full list on Flame Tree Press’s blog post, as well as links to further info on each author. This anthology will come out on Kindle, in paperback and in hardback in October, just in time for Hallowe’en. It was edited by Mark Morris, and contains twenty original horror stories, sixteen of which were commissioned from some of the top names of the genre, with the other four selected from hundreds of submissions.

It’s a great list of names, and we are really proud to see ours amongst Priya Sharma, Toby Litt, Matthew Holness (Dream Weaver, and actor, of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace of which we’re huge fans), Lisa Tuttle, and Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen, another favourite of ours).

For our story, For All The Dead, we returned to the area I grew up in, close to the Northern Dutch coast, but that of a century and a bit back. We find ourselves in Soltcamp, the fictionalised version of Zoutkamp, the fisherman’s village that once lay by the sea. It’s a village where the people kept, in the words of one of our characters, ‘one eye on the Bible, the other on the sea.’ It allowed us to play with the folklore of the sea, and embroider our own mythology.

Familiar as we are with the history of Zoutkamp, we worked in elements of one of its infamous residents of the past, the seer Meldine, who was said to have made many predictions of things still to happen, and with her followers to practice her own particular version of Christianity. She is said to have appeared at funerals to preach about the fate of the departed, until the villagers felt she carried that too far and told her to stop. You can read more about Meldine, and other prophets of the sea, in our article for Northern Earth.

The sea, an ever lurking danger behind the dikes of the low-lying areas, certainly had a hold over the people of the coast. It provided their livelihood, but several big floods also devastated the countryside. Chief amongst them was the Christmas flood of 1717, claiming 14,000 lives, but there were other dangers. For our story we were thinking of the disaster of of 1883. A few years ago we visited the monument on the dike of the village of Moddergat on a cold and windy April day; its plaque tells how 109 fishermen went out on 22 ships, and how 17 ships and 83 men remained at sea.

The sea giveth, and she taketh away.

Electra (1962): Blood and Mud

Mikhalis Kakogiannis’ 1962 Greek film of the Euripides play straddles a reality which is ours, and yet not quite. Its characters are human, all too human; they inhabit an earthy world, yet they follow a course which seems to be predestined, with stylised speech and ritualised movement. Where Medea was a feast of sets and costumes, Electra gets its strength from plot, character, choreography and camera.

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly actress Irene Papas, who also appears in the other parts of Kakogiannis’ ‘Greek Tragedy’ trilogy, The Trojan Women and Iphigenia. Striking, somewhat androgynous, she is stripped down to simple clothes, hair and make-up. She plays the part of Electra, who was banished when her father Agamemnon came back from the Trojan War, and was murdered by his wife and her lover. Humiliated into an arranged marriage with a farmer, Electra bides her time, and when her brother joins her in exile, they plot their revenge.

Aside from the prologue and a few other scenes, the film is set entirely around the simple farm on which Electra lives. The strongest impression we get of the city is the gargantuan walls, with small figures moving against the huge stones. Agamemnon, when we first see him, is likewise gigantic, shot from below. Gone for a decade, he’s become a mythical figure in the child Electra’s eyes. Only then, when she throws herself in his arms, does he become a man of human scale again, before being brought down by his wife and the usurper.

The outdoors is earthy; we see clouds move through the skies, sometimes becoming a character in their own right, a plough pulled through dank earth and still women, their heavy long dresses moving in the breeze. These women are both a Greek chorus and a coven, protecting and literally shielding Electra whenever intruders enter their domain. First it is Electra’s brother who comes out of his own exile. When he walks to and fro, the women move with him, just as Electra turns to keep facing him. Scenes like this could just have been two people talking, but instead it is used to prop up the idea of a heightened reality, a pseudo-reality. We’re in the ancient Greece of Troy, not that of history.

Another visitor, at Electra’s invitation, is her mother, queen Clytemnestra. She explains why she killed her husband and Electra’s father, and apologises. There is no starker contrast possible between these two powerful women: Electra with her inner strength, and her mother, whose royal bearing seems to come as much from her dazzling clothes and make-up as from her controlled movement; controlled power emanates from her.

Whereas the reckoning with Agamemnon’s murderer, the usurper Aeghistus, happened off-screen and almost off-handedly. This is a story about women, and Clytemnestra’s killing is the lynchpin of the movie. She is led into the farmhouse in which Electra’s brother Orestes waits. At her screams, Electra’s women panic. They hurl themselves around in their black cloaks, as crows fly off from the treetops and a horse bolts. This is not a murder that is being committed, it is a taboo being broken. Only the enslaved Trojan women Clytemnestra brought remain impassive. They care not. The contrast between the frantic movement and the stillness that follows is powerful. It’s a held breath, but then the women slowly rise: the Gods have not descended, and their world has not ended.

Throughout the film, you feel the constant presence of the Gods, yet they do not reveal themselves. The drama, in the end, is one on a human scale.

The Oera Linda Book

Let’s start with this: the Oera Linda book is a fake, probably put together as a satire on the Frisian nationalism of the 1870s, orthodox Christians, and the Frisian antiquarians’ zeal to piece together a Great Frisian History that never existed. The joke got out of hand when a prominent Frisian antiquarian took it seriously and had it published as genuine. While by the late 1870s it was generally recognised as a forgery, it was translated into German in 1933, dubbed “the Nordic Bible” and a panel discussion in 1934 inspired Himmler’s Ahnenerbe. It again popped up with the neopagans from the late 1970s onwards, and it’s become a bit of a darling of neo-Nazis too.

“Okke min sun. Tissa boka mot i mit lif and sele waria” – as runes go, they’re not very runey.

As we live in an era in which history is all too easily dismissed as ‘old stuff for the scrapyard,’ we would do well to remember that the study of history is a living thing in itself. Not only do we keep learning about who we are, we also keep placing history in its proper context and finding new angles: a lot of our thinking about history, and indeed history writing, was formed by the 18th and 19th century culture of conquest, empire building and white male supremacy. Only now have we begun to write women back into history, and PoCs and other groups previously omitted. In studying and teaching history, another important role is to fight the misuse and perversion of history, for example by those neo-Nazis.

But let us go back to the earliest mentions of the Oera Linda book in the Dutch papers! The first mention we find is in the Provinciale Overijsselsche en Zwolsche Courant of 16th November, 1871.

Jan Gerardus Ottema, publisher of the Oera Linda book

The bookseller H. Kuipers in Leeuwarden has sent a prospectus of the much discussed manuscript: Thet Oera Linda Bok, of which dr. J. G. Ottema has taken on the editing and translating. The prospectus states that under this title a collection of writings is offered, of which the first is called: Thet bok thére Adela Folstar and is written by Adela, the wife of Apol Grêvetman ovir the Linda wrda, the second by Apollonia her daughter, the rest by her later descendants Frêthorik en Wiljow, their son Konerêd and grandson Bêden, who all have the family name Oera Linda. The first two pieces, the prospectus says, give the most important messages about the country, the people, the social position and religion of the Frisians in the earliest centuries. The later pieces contain a history of Friso and his successors. The authors mark themselves as contemporaries of the incidents of which they write, or give an attestation of the source of the messages. The whole is a strange addition to the old Frisian letters…

In the prospectus a page has been printed from the writing by Fréthorik Tobinomath Oera Linda about the arrival of Friso in Staveren. The first page, of which the first words are in the original language goes like this: Twa jêr nêi that Gosa moder wrde, kêm er en flâte to thet Flymare en fala. Thet folk hropte ho-n-sêen; which according to the prospectus should be read as: Two years after Gosa became honorary mother, a fleet came to the Flymeer. The people called ‘Houzee!’ They sailed to Staveren, and there they called again. The banners were in top and at night they shot burning arrows in the sky. When day broke, some of them rowed to the harbour. They again called ‘Houzee!’ When they came to land a young man jumped on the shore. In his hands he carried a shield; on which were laid bread and salt. After him came an old man. He said: we come from the far Krekaland, to preserve our customs; now we wish that you are so friendly as to give us enough land to live on. He told us a whole history, which I will narrate in more detail afterwards. The elder didn’t know what to do. They send messengers round, also to myself. I went to them and said: now we have a Mother, we should ask her counsel. (Provinciale Overijsselsche en Zwolsche Courant, 16Nov, 1871)

Friso, first King of Frisia, on his way to Staveren

It goes on like this. You may have noticed that Friso, the founding father of the Frisians according to myths, comes from Krekaland – a hardly disguised Greece, “Griekenland” in Dutch. They have sailed past an island called Kreta, after the shouting (“kreten”) of the inhabitants when they see the ship. This in itself should have been a tip-off for Dr. Ottema that this document was a stinker. Not so. From the same newspaper, on 10th of October 1872, this notice: At H. Kuipers from Leeuwarded rolls off the press: Thet oera linda bok. After a manuscript from the thirteenth century. Edited, translated and published by Dr. J.G. Ottema. Price: Fl 4.

And it was good enough for some! From the Leeuwarder Courant of a week later, a book report. The newspaper only prints part of what apparently was a longer letter.

Finally the manuscript, that last year caused so much ruction amongst men of letters, has been published. Then I’ve always said: we can and must not judge before the whole work has been printed and read by us. And what impression has reading it left us with? Such a thing could one not invent; like this could someone from our century, from the us known practitioners of the Frisian language, not have composed it. The new, and so far unknown and so mathematically formed writing system; – the peculiar spelling of the old-Frisian, older and better than that of the old Frisian laws; – the style and appearance of myths and legends, as pieces from different, from older times remained writings from different people in different times; but especially the contents, the thoughts, the characteristic expressions and original images, – this all contradicts the possibility that it could be an invention from our own time. (…)

It is a miracle book which, however you look at it, praise it or doubt it, will remain a mystery, while for its provenance the honesty of the owner, who won’t sell it for any money, is guaranteed. For him it is an heirloom from his father and forefathers, and he still lives in the area which was the stage of most of what happened: because this is remarkable too, that it contains so many details about the area between the province of Noord-Holland and the islands and Staveren, and mentions countries, forests and places of which we know so little, because they have been swallowed by the South Sea in the 12th and 13th century. Though – read the book yourself and write to me what you think. Your friend, F. (Leeuwarder Courant, 18 Oct 1872)

The ‘standing runes’ of the Oera Linda book.

In 1873 academics were still stroking their learned chins. The Frisian Society for History, Antiquities and Language had their 135th meeting on the 27th of August. Twenty members and two guests heard a lecture from Dr. A.T. Reitsma, a historical-critical investigation of Thet Oera Linda bok. He encapsulated its authenticity in three questions: 1. Was the manuscript really written in 1256 by Hiddo Oera Linda? 2. Is it a copy of another manuscript by Liko Oera Linda, from 803? 3. Are the pieces in that manuscript from the times and hands of the writers whose names they bear, and composed between 558 and mid-1st century before Christ?

Regarding the 1st question we argue for authenticity; aside from the way in which the manuscript has come to the family Over de Linden, a) the language in which it was written, similar to that of the oldest old-Frisian documents, b) the completely original script, differing from the later Roman script, and c) the writing tools that were used. Regarding the 2nd question; a remarkable gap which happened because of turning two pages at the same time proves that it is not an original but a copy. Also, the preface by Liko completely corresponds with the era of Charlemagne, in which it was written, and explains why the manuscript from that time on could no longer be counted as part of the national literature, but only has been saved as a relic in one family. Regarding the 3rd question; the relationship between the various pieces show that Adela has started in 558 with writing down the curious tales from antiquity, and that this work was continued by her offspring in the family of Oera Linda, maybe until the time of Liko, though the last part of the manuscript has been lost. In this manner, each writer is a witness to the authenticity of the previous writings.

Regarding the internal proof of authenticity, the speaker pointed out firstly the general level of culture in which Frya’s people according to these writings lived in the 6th century before Christ, which is not inconsistent with, but with keeping in mind the singularity of this people, completely in correspondence with the cultural situations of other older people. Secondly, that the manner of history writing was in its infancy, not showing any artistry, and can be compared with the histories of the Greek logographs from before Herodotus. On basis of these internal and external facts the speaker concluded that the manuscript was authentic.

François Haverschmidt’s student poetry.

Of course, the ‘evidence’ trotted out could well have been foreseen by the composers of the fake manuscript: for centuries, stories have been told in the form of diaries, and ‘here a page is missing’ is one of the tricks a writer has up their sleeve to give their story a veneer of authenticity. The (likely) main author of the book, François Haverschmidt, was a preacher who had published a collection of poetry in his student days, under a punning title translating as Sobs and Grim Smiles. He did so under the pseudonym of Piet Paaltjens, a student who, according to the collection’s preface, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Leiden “on the 9th October 1853”. We see the same sort of mystification as used in the Oera Linda bok. In the collection, Haverschmidt fights his own lingering depression by ridiculing sentimentalism, and so it is a rare example of cynical romanticism. As a theology student, Haverschmidt lived above an undertaker, which lead to the following lines: When I see the mourner walk / my heart beats in joy / because I think how soon / I shall go out to pray.

“…Nei Atland sunken is…” Yes, it went there!

Haverschmidt, with help, wrote the book as an elaborate parody. As a result, scientists in 19th century Frisia found themselves the horses put behind the wagon, and confirmation bias was a significant factor: they wanted the documents to be real, and found the reasons why it was real; it conformed to their idea of what the Frisian history should be. The Oera Linda joke backfiring shows us why we need to be critical about history as we are being taught and told it, and consider: “How much of this is true? Is this interpretation of the evidence correct?” and, “What has been left out of the history books?”

On a Secession

In 1834, in the then isolated and remote village of Ulrum, Reverend De Cock was unhappy with the increasingly Enlightenment-influenced ideas that permeated the Dutch Reformed state religion, and with the church board he seceded. Eventually, his secession lead to a split in the Dutch Reformed Church, and reverberated through to the USA. Before that, De Cock was relieved of his function by the government, forbidden to preach, and another pastor, Reverend Smith, was called in. Writer, traveller and local gadfly Marten Douwes Teenstra wrote an anonymous pamphlet (with some italics mine)…

The Dutch Reformed church in Ulrum

(…)Sunday (12 October) morning ships full of hungry souls arrived in Zoutkamp (the next village, a harbour) to come to Ulrum with their dirty linen; more than a hundered carriages and a legion of pedestrians gathered in the streets of Ulrum, of which many went to the Widow Koster (in whose pub the secessionists met), who poured them gin, then left without paying – well, that was for De Cock and the landlady to solve; to pay is worldly and to pray and sigh is heavenly. It was mostly unknown faces who looked at each other in bewilderment. “O, if only these could be the last days of such violence,” others sighed.

At 10 o’clock, Reverend Smith went to the church, which was already full of people, both natural children of Adam as those who (as they felt) were reborn and had seen the light and belonged to the chosen flock. (Here Teenstra’s want of an editor becomes apparent, as the text becomes mired in smug allusions which, 185 years later, become unreadable. Suffice to say: De Cock was busy conspiring with his church council, and sent a friendly preacher, Scholte, to the church to try and preach. As designated preacher, Smith refused to forego his sermon.)

The pub of the widow Koster, meeting place of the Secessionists, early 20th c. photo

Reverend Smith, climbing off the pulpit, was asked again by Scholte to be allowed to preach in the church that afternoon. On being refused again, as Reverend Smith had received a message from the Provincial Church Council in Groningen to not only refuse it but to prevent it with suitable means, De Cock and his Xantippe started lambasting his sermon. Now the plebs started thronging more and more. Reverend Smith, almost 66 years old, was squeezed and punched, especially in the underbelly, so that his supporting girlde broke. The elderly preacher, almost breathless, would have collapsed in the pushing and pinching mass (amongst which Mrs De Cock shouted out: “Now is the time!”) if not for the few men, who also associate our own work and labours with religion, who supported him in getting out. Now the Game Cock put up his feathers (quo quis indoctior eo impudentior – the more stupid, the more brazen) and shouted to the people: “Stay in the church! Stay, people! Anon Reverend Scholte will speak.” Then some verses from Psalm 25 were sung. Later, however, De Cock and his cronies were driven out of the church by police officials, in name of the church elders and the local governors, after which the church was closed.

Reverend Hendrik de Cock, and his Act of Secession

Now we come to the main events of Sunday 19th October.

G.J. Van Polen, police officer from Appingedam, had already arrived early, as well as the constables of the neighbouring villages of Leens, Kloosterburen, Baflo, Warffum, Usquert and Kantens in Ulrum, and, with Ulrum’s constable, guarded the doors of the church. Two of them placed themselves at the pulpit, and two others accompanied J. van der Helm, reverend of Niekerk and Vliedorp, whose turn it was to preach. Coming in the church towards 9:30, it was already filled with participants and onlookers. The constables helped the preacher to get through the crowd and reached the step to the choir, close to the choir fence; here they got so much push-back that they had to retreat a little; while one Klaas Pieters Ritsema (commonly named after his wife, Klaas Wietskes), day labourer in Ulrum, being warned against pushing back by the constable of Leens, called in a loud voice: “Reverend Van der Helm will not get on the pulpit, but De Cock will.” – The constable of Leens called for help from the constables at the pulpit, but they called back that they couldn’t push through: Reverend Van der Helm, while hearing many sniggering comments, had to leave the church.

Interior of the church in Ulrum, 1925

Now De Cock, in full regalia, climbed on a bench within the choir fence, after having tried himself to get to the pulpit, now being stopped by Van Polen, whom he asked: who gave you the right to refuse me; to which Van P. answered: my superior, that is, the Officer of Justice. Upon this, De Cock, who did not want to answer to any worldly powers, read openly the ACT OF SECESSION.

(…) After reading this so-called Act of Secession – of which we could hear little, and so don’t know where De Cock ended, so we have included the whole thing (though I’m not) – Van Polen once more asked with the utmost sweetness, if it were praying and begging, to no longer rebel against the government – quoting once more the Officer of Justice, to which De Cock replied: “that the Officer didn’t have a say, and that he came in name of God, the King of Kings,” after which he called to the crowd: “Shall Van der Helm climb the pulpit? – No! No! Away with that Baal-priest! Away with the papist! Away with the idolator! Away with Satan’s sermon!” and adding: “The church is ours, we have seceded!”

Van Polen letDe Cock know in soft and modest terms that he was rousing the crowd and was heating tempers, to which De Cock replied: “I do nothing except for God, and should you use violence against me, than you will find your death; because I do not fear any worldly power of government.” A new attempt (by De Cock) to reach the pulpit failed, and the crowd started singing from the 118th Psalm, after which De Cock did a very noisy prayer. (…) We felt sorry for the man: his long, straight hair hung over his hollow eyes and pale cheeks, as if he was drowning. (…) We hoped that Van Polen would let him continue, thinking as the father of a madhouse: “leave the mad to do their talking.” But of course! He was again urged to obedience by Van Polen. De Cock said: “God should be obeyed sooner than people. There are no earthly powers who can stand against this,” and he started reading the community something from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Another caution from Van Polen again was fruitless and the gospel exercise lasted until 11:30, closing with an announcement that the service in the church would continue towards 1. Then De Cock left, the crowd thinned, those who remained were driven from the church, the door was closed and the church was surveilled by the constables.

Hotel/village hall of Ulrum, early 20th century

(…) Wednesday evening, 22nd October, De Cock and church elder J. J. Beukema, the first decent in black and wearing a tricorne hat, the other, as a crippled Vulcan, with coloured stockings, knee breeches with the buckles undone, and a blue sleeping cap on his head, appeared in the village hall. Here they immediately (as if to shoot burning soot from a chimney with a two barrel gun) announced officially that they had seceded and now were independent; requesting protection, instead of opposition, from the Council, because they had to follow God’s holy laws instead of the worldly.

(…)”What shall it be tomorrow?” was the question going round on Saturday 25 October. All sorts of rumours spread here: Reverend de Cock, Reverend J. van den Helm, the constable of Ulrum, called Jan Koster, and also the other constables present, as well as the earlier mentioned Klaas Wietskes had been summoned to appear in Appingedam at the courthouse on Friday the 31st; (…) Others said, that in Zoutkamp more than 40 ship’s mates, all big followers of their preacher Du Cloux of Vierhuizen, would appear armed with crankshafts, to help their reverend, whose turn it was, to the pulpit. One of the main Cock-friendlies (sorry, it’s what it says) said (and I have heard this myself): that opposition made matters worse, and if the constables had started anything, then it wouldn’t have stopped with the eight people (who had been summoned to Appingedam), and what would they have done against it? (…) followed by a much-meaning nodding of the head. He meant that a small force was like a drop of water in a coal fire, only stoking the heat. The sailors from Zoutkamp would not help either; because on Sunday the 26th so many people would come from Friesland, from the other side of the canal, from here to Delfzijl, to help De Cock in the pulpit, that nothing would stop them.

So, what did happen? Saturday afternoon, about 2 o’clock, an infantry company of the 10th division, one hundred men strong, not counting the officers (and Captain Vrij), came marching along the towpath from Mensingeweer to Ulrum, having come with three barges from Groningen city. (…) The soldiers were quartered with the villagers, and the night from Saturday to Sunday remained peaceful. (…)

The Ulrum rectory, 1925 postcard

Mr De Cock had not been forgotten in this respect, having aside from twelve men quartered in, also a guard at his house. Further there were no or few exceptions; all villagers, whichever denomination, were tasked with housing soldiers, of which butchers, bakers and pub landlords had the most profit: however much bakers were the main cause of the circumstances (Beukema, main church elder, was a baker and owner of half a dozen properties in the village). The girls too, being pious yet greedy, rejoiced, that Ulrum was enriched with a garison.

(…) Sunday morning, the 26th October, heard aside from the rumbling of clocks also the beating of drums. More than a thousand strangers (many out of sheer curiosity) came to Ulrum. This was the end of the handwringers’ mutiny: Soldiers who had withstood the siege and bombardment of the citadel of Antwerp in 1831, stood in line and received orders to loosen their ammunition belts. (…) The church was occupied and the reverend A.P.A. Du Cloux climbed without any opposition into the pulpit.

(…) De Cock wanted to go outside in the morning, telling his guard that he wanted to preach. (…) The guard simply kept him in the house and De Cock was not allowed to preach or go out. (…) Then came a crowd of Cock-friendlies to the rectory, and twenty were admitted, and now started a service in the presence of an officer, who quickly put an end to it.

To the south of Ulrum some of the pious gathered to hear a certain Roelf Medema, farmer in Adorp, in a field, while others played church on the sides of a ditch – then this crowd was soon disbanded.

(…) The soldiers muttered about the lady who’d have them sleep on straw, though they’d managed to get themselves beds, pillows, etc.

Reenactment soldiers at the 175-year anniversary

De Cock was now inaccessible under house arrest; and the guard at the rectory said: “He (De Cock) is not allowed out and nobody can visit him; if he has to go somewhere, an armed man goes with him, as well as with the missus, and even the maid is followed closely. All his papers have been sealed and moved away, so that he doesn’t even have a napkin left.” It goes without saying, that this was said in an exaggerated tone; only those papers were taken by the constable which had to do with his correspondence.

Everything is peaceful and quiet for now. Many poor villagers, who are not looking towards the coming winter without worry, are concerned that in their poverty they will be eaten out of bread and home, and complain about their guests. And also, these are soldiers from Holland (the west; Ulrum is in the far north), and they are not used to such guests. The soldiers guarding the rectory were also jealous that Mrs De Cock outdid them in swearing and cursing.

(…) Ulrum, 28 October 1834.

Nosferatu in Holland

This week as main attraction the most interesting film of this season.
NOSFERATU
THE SCOURGE OF MANKIND

Mysterious movie play in 6 acts. Freely adapted from the novel “Drasula” by Bram Stoker
NOSFERATU
Does this word not sound like the midnight cry of the deathbird? Beware of speaking this thought out loud; otherwise images of life will bleach to shadows. The child of Belia was the vampire Nosferatu who lived off — and fed with the blood of mankind. Ghostly shapes arise from the midnight fog and stalk their prey.

This is how the Haagsche Courant of the 16th February 1922 heralded the coming of Nosferatu to the Dutch shores; in this case to the Flora and Olympia cinemas in The Hague. It should be noted that the premiere came before the German premiere. Either the PR man or the typesetter was not familiar with Stoker’s book, though “Drasula” has a certain ring to it. You had to be 18 to be admitted, and you wre encouraged to book your seats timely. The Nieuwe Courant gave the following review:

It’s a somewhat horrific film, which is the main attraction in the Flora and Olympia. “Nosferatu, the Scourge of Mankind” immediately awakens feelings of repulsion by his appearance, which becomes abhorrence when one sees his obscure practices. Like a shadow he haunts, the vampire, in the sombre-romantic castle in Transylvania, and then later extends his territory to bring his horror elsewhere, which he and his faithful accomplices, plague and death, spread. But, as it should, we will also see the end of his reign when he, surprised by cock crow, disappears in a phosphor flame. (Nieuwe Courant, 19 Feb 1922)

Very slowly Nosferatu made his way through the Netherlands, landing in the Amsterdam Luxor Theater in April that year:

Nosferatu, the Schourge of Humanity, the plague, the ghostly mystery, the bloodsucking vampyr escorted by scary rats and with coffins filled with cursed earth as luggage; see there the attractive-sensational image of this film. It’s true, with his excessive demand of increasing tension and emotion, the audience is making a difficult job for the screenwriters. Scary absurdities, deathly leaps and death defying stunts, unnatural things “that are not meant to be” and “easy girls” are always a good draw, in film and on the stage; serious pieces of art however give low box offices. But this ghost and horror story is of a whole differnent extreme, which the visitors did not know how to fully appreciate. After all, they had the best of time with this frightful ghost and took it more as a lugubrous-sinister joke. And that’s the sad think with this film. The subject could, with a somewhat less Grand Guignol-like approach, have yielded a gripping script. The locations chosen by the director contrast well with the corruption-bringing plague: the quiet-satisfied old-German city with the pittoresk houses and streets and the costumes of almost a century ago that fit so well with them. You could also not wish for better actors for a first class work: the estate agent, the young man and his wife, and Nosferatu himself all give outstanding and touching performances. But we are assured that a less outrageous topic would have given us a better result. (Algemeen Handelsblad, 11 April 1922)

Tittering in Rotterdam too:

A moving picture which because of its excentricity will draw lots of interest played for the first time in Pompenburg and W.B. Theatre. It is a collection of horrors, which so played on weak nerves, that a part of the audience appeared to have the urge to laugh away the unpleasant feeling; a proof that the superstitious practices, for which the Medieval times are preferably qualified as “dark”, have not yet lost their influence on the modern masses. For adults this picture, showing a period from a plague-epidemic, very enjoyable; not in the least because of the technical finesse and neat scenery. (Maasbode, 11 Aug 1922)

How much film art changed in the 1920s of the last century shows this article from 1927, when the cinema club Filmliga Amsterdam held a revival screening of Nosferatu:

With Faits Divers from the French cineast Claude Autant-Lara the Filmliga brought an avant-garde film as without them we would not get to see. It’s a short film, from 1923, but it still comes across as completely modern and pure, though four years mean a lot in the development of film art. The other film of the afternoon proved this: Nosferatu, the first film of the director Murnau, who afterwards made Faust, Der Letzte Mann proves completely out of date in seven years time. The Filmliga could have chosen a more typical and nicer specimen of the German film art of that time: Caligari remains unsurpassed as a whole: but with Nosferatu one gets an interesting look back on the nature of the first attempts, for the film to win an independent place on its own terrain. Nosferatu is “eine Symphonie des Grauens” and shows the typical characteristics of what was the crown of the German film in that time: the still hesitant balancing of a direction which had resolutely stepped away from imitating the stage, but did not manage yet to fill the now available possibilities with life. Film drama was forsaken and an independent script was sought, but such a script was also in horror films from that first time often completely depending of and guided by the film effects that were then seen as characteristic: the unreal, being able to realise the supernatural, the suggestion of environment and atmosphere. Nosferatu is still sketching this jump into the fantastic, with randomly thought up and spooky scenario; the best moments of the film which still are strong are mostly those who have a quite loose connection with the whole; a single nicely lit fragment in the harbour, the passing of a sail boat, the suggestion of a wall with closed shutters. The tempo is not really fluent; a few time when the ghostly is sped up it looks comical; and what especially disappoints in Nosferatu is the lack of atmosphere: the capricious clair-obscur that, discovered by the German film, seemed full of possibilities for a whole, has not yet been used significantly and the lighting remains stark and straightforward. A look back which creates distance. (Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 27 Dec 1927)

Well, that’s Murnau told!

Now Playing: Frankenstein

It’s tucked away on the advertising page, with ads for Esperanto, children’s wound ointment, steam washery Ozon and the family notices (Hermanus Gosses Offringa, Klaaske Faber and Tjitje Dijkstra have passed). Then, underneath a big advertisement for Droste’s Nurses Cacao (“Prices from before 1914.” we find the programming for the cinemas of Leeuwarden, Friesland, for the Friday after onwards, in the Leeuwarder Courant of 8th September 1932.

CINEMA has De Verloren Zoon (The Prodigal) with Lawrence Tibbet, the LEEUWARDER “again brings 2 features: Het Geheim van een Priester.” (Lubitsch’ Broken Lullaby, I think) and Paniek in Chicago (Robert Wiene’s German film Panik in Chicago), promising “A tense filmwork, set in the underworld of Chicago.” Both films start at 7:30, and you’ll have to be 18 to enter.

You’ll also have to be 18 or older for what the TIVOLI has to offer:
This week the great, mysterious sensation-filmwork:
THE MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN
Made after the novel, written in 1818 by Mrs MARY WOLSTONECRAFT SHELLEY, the wife of the great English poet PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY. A film that has broken many records.

I wonder. What would you make of this, in lieu of a photo, review or other description? There’s an awful lot of focus on Shelley the poet; his name is printed in bold, even. Coupled with “mysterious, sensation” we expect thunder and lightning, perhaps, but especially grand gestures, exotic countries, doomed love, thigh breeches and floofy hair and people who orate in ‘dost’ and ‘thou’. And written by a Mrs, his wife, so surely it’s wholesome. Alas and Alack. What the Frisian purveyor of a Tivoli ticket, pre-sales courtesy of the cigar shop D. Ebbens at the Wirdumerdijk, got instead:

The Leewarder Courant’s reviewer, on the 10th of September, indeed was not impressed:
The Monster of Frankenstein” was made after the novel of Mrs Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley and written in 1818. It’s more than 100 years ago that the writer enriched (?) the world with this product, and if it’s a paragon of the literary taste of that time, we cannot have else than pity with them who indulged in such nonsense.
The contents are a sheer fantasies about which one cannot but shrug. Who has ever heard of a learned young man who, with a miscreant of a helper, collects bodyparts from a graveyard, steals a prepped and abnormal brain from the university, and then put all these elements together, to bring it to life with the aid of a certain electrical current.
But what the use of filming all of this is a mystery to me. The film has once more returned to its early stages, to speculation and the urge for the most primitive sensation.
And to this, the current technical improvements have been expended, which does not help the case, because they’ve been used most skillfully. You could argue that the film brings something special in direction, mime and make-up, sure, and we have pointed out little things that can make a film so beautiful. However, with “Frankenstein” this is null and void because here the rough-sensationalism and the appearance of the monster dominate so strongly, that everything else falls away. We are not surprised at all, that several ladies left the room and neither were the pale faces at the film’s end a surprise.
No, then “Charley’s Aunt”, the jolly, fun student comedy (9 acts) which preceded it. Howls of laughter erupted about the hilarious situations. It was a good compensation for the main feature and it would maybe be recommended to switch them around.
The news was interesting and extensive.

Nobody could accidentally blunder into The Bride of Frankenstein, 4 years later, based on the advert, though. (Of course, that’d not always be the case). The Cinema theatre had this sequel:

CINEMA presents You:
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN
Freely adapted from the story by MARY WOLLSTONE CRAFT SHELLEY. In the lead BORIS KARLOFF as THE MONSTER
The sensational driven to a peak!
An unbelievably fascinating depiction on film of Frankenstein’s sinister monster!
Hundreds of thousands of sensation lovers, trembling of emotion, have already witnessed the creation of the artificial bride and hundreds of thousands will follow their example.

New Year’s Misrule

One of my early New Year’s memories is visiting my grandfather and seeing, on the roof of a municipal building, a complete farmer’s wagon. In an 1985 newspaper article someone remembers about such an occurrence, decades earlier: My father, who came from the Hogeland (northern Groningen) told us in all colours about it. They would take a wagon completely apart, take the axels out, take the sideboards off, and then it was put together again on top of a farmer’s barn. My father also told that they sometimes loaded the wagon full of manure. (…) Once we were dragging an enormous barrel of fish offal. It stank awfully. We just had it standing on a bridge when the police came for control. The barrel was left standing there, of course, and we were covered with gunk. (…) Sometimes farmers would chase us. They were already waiting for us, and then they had their fun. (Nv/hN, 31 Dec 1985)

Dragging in Emmen, north-east Netherlands, 1959

New Year’s pranks like this happened in our village too. Ulrum is a small village, yet it had four churches. That it was the seat of the 1834 Seccession may have to do something with that. Members of some of these churches were not really on speaking terms; “we are not Brothers,” as the Freed Christian Reformed Article 31 members had it. Yet, one Old Year’s Day, after their Old Year service, they had to interact with each other when all bicycles of churchgoers were swapped between churches. My brother adds: “I did it a lot in my youth, starting already during the evening, continuing through out the night. Our main goal was to block church doors and entrance roads to the village. But we also did other pranks such as placing mannequin dolls on top of roofs, changing the name signs of villages in the neighbourhood etc.” From the 1985 Nieuwsblad van het Noorden article: “The young people were getting giddy in anticipation of the dragging. We were thinking of stunts everyone would be talking of the next day.” He still has good memories of the time when he and his friends during the Old Year service swapped all the coats from churchgoers of the two churches. (Nv/hN, 31 Dec 1985)

The Old Year church service fell victim to pranks a few more times: once when one youth brought in a box of eggs and, from a perch near the back, released the eggs, one at the time. The church floor sloped towards the choir, so each egg would quickly gain speed, rattle underneath the benches and, if it didn’t come to a stop at someone’s feet, come to a yolky end at the front. Another time, someone removed the spark plugs from the electric church organ, bringing a hymn from a full ‘all registers’ to a premature and whimpering anti-climax.

For many years, an old car, a clunker, would be secured ahead of New Year’s Eve, and then after midnight rolled to the village square by local youths and set alight. The fire brigade would be prepared, but wait a while before extinguishing it, meanwhile standing around the fire themselves with a pot of beer. The local Spar owner, poor Mr. Scheper, would also be prepared and have his insurance papers ready, as many years his shop windows would burst through the heat.

Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may be reminded of that novel’s own clunker (here spelled ‘klunker’), a decrepit car which stands on a frozen lake in Laketown, Wisconsin. The place is protected by Hinzelman, a kobold who does so in exchange for the midwinter sacrifice of a child. Every year, residents hold a raffle in which they predict the date when the klunker will finally crash through the ice, signalling the end of winter. It’s been a while since I read the book, but I would guess that dragging the klunker onto the ice is also a communal, almost ritual, effort. What all these traditions in common have is some kind of shared effort, or a spectacle involving the public destruction of a focal object, to mark the turning of a season.

American Gods‘ Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) with Hinzelmann’s klunker.

Sanne Meijer, a blogger from Groningen, writes:
In some villages the youth goes out on New Year’s night to “drag”: moving objects which have been left lying around outside the house. In the past, farmers’ carts were placed on roofs; now it’s usually smaller objects being moved. Sometimes to a central location, but it can also happen that people really have to search the next day, to get their flowerpots and garden furniture back.
“Dragging” is often part of an “Old Year’s Stunt” which was used to put a village or club in the spotlight. In the last weeks of the year a particular object of note disappears from the village, which then is placed back at the turn of the year. On the 31st of December 2013 the signs for “Most fun village of the province Groningen” were removed from Niekerk, and then appeared the next day in the village of Kornhorn.
One of the best known stunts was the appearance of Lenin in the Frisian village Oosterwolde. On New Year’s day 1998 a giant statue of Lenin had appeared in the village. It turned out to have come from Tjuchem in Groningen; the owner had imported it from the erstwhile USSR.

Lenin, 9 metres tall, in Friesland.

To prevent their stuff being dragged, people used to make sure that they’d put everything that could be moved in the shed. I remember that my dad would make sure that our red-and-white painted trash can (easy to recognise when there are twenty bins at the roadside for collection) was safely locked up. Still, looking on the Internet you see reports of place-name signs being swapped, ‘for sale’ signs being moved, orchestrating a garden gnome football match, and what else the youth can invent. There’s a fine line between “slepen” (dragging) and “slopen” (wrecking); swapping people’s garden furniture to have neighbours puzzled or mildly inconvenienced is one thing; dragging their stuff away to set alight is another. You can see both, and the sheer scale of dragging, in this 1978 footage taken in the northern villages of Ulrum, Leens, Wehe, Eenrum and Zoutkamp. In front of Ulrum’s town hall stands a manure wagon, a shopholder is rebuked for having rip-off prices per grafitti, a lot of farm equipment blocking the roads… Do watch it!

As with many unwritten rules, this is not always clear, and slepen can easily turn into slopen. A Nieuwsblad van het Noorden commentator already rings alarm bells (or death knell) of the dragging custom:
Another tradition is moribund; the tradition of (in the countryside) the dragging of goods from one place to another. At first glance nothing to lose sleep over, except maybe for those who experience the loss of any tradition as painful and the curse of the modern age. But there’s more. The traditional dragging has been replaced by violence and vandalism. According to the Groninger police force New Year came with chaos, fires and vandalism. It was the same in the other northern provinces. A sad development. Dragging wasn’t always fun for the victims, but it was never more than teasing neighbours or fellow villagers. Whomever had lost something in New Year’s Night, usually knew where to search the next day. Now the dragging has turned into vandalism, searching is no use, as the belongings will have been destroyed. This is bad business. When people are out to cause damage and misery, then it’s about time for the powers that be to sit around the table to talk about these developments. Whether it’ll help can be doubted, but the chance that these conversations leak through to the perpetrators and calms them down can not be left unused. (Nv/hN, 02 Jan 1978)

When slepen becomes slopen – bonfire on the Zuiderdiep in the city of Groningen, New Year’s Eve, 1966

Then again, already in 1962 there were those who’d rather see it go altogether:
START WELL: NO DRAGGING
A custom can be old and good, and should be kept, but a custom is not good because it’s old. It’s a custom for some to drag the goods from others in New Year’s Night, because they find it funny, or because it happens each year, or because their parents used to do it, or to tease, or another reason. However, this custom may be old, it is not good, and should be banned. Let’s start the new year well. A good start is half the job done. Sincerely, G.W.M. ZIJLSTRA, Grootegast. (Nv/hN, 28 Dec 1962)

There are more subtle societal sides to dragging which are easily overlooked:
People would leave stuff outside on purpose. When you thought that you’d secretly dragged something away, they were thinking from behind the curtain: Finally rid of that old wheel-barrel.” However, it could also be corrective: Sloppy farmers had to search and haul back a lot, while the youth was watching and sniggering. People who had placed themselves too much outside of society would find their door barricaded with dragged stuff: “We were dragging those empty oildrums to a peculiar shopkeepers couple. As children we were afraid to pass them; you were not even allowed to stand in front of the shop window, because he’d come outside with a stick and if he got the chance he’d beat you. Someone like that would be put to rights.”

New Year’s pranks are a tradition of the northern Dutch provinces, and the domain of teenagers, the older youth. New Year’s mischief is an example of the upsetting of the normal order, and the short reign of the Lord of Misrule. Think of the passages in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame set during the Feast of Fools (set in the book on 6 January), in which Quasimodo is made the False Pope; while the historical Feast of Fools was an ecclesiastical ritual in which upper and lower clergy would trade places, Hugo’s story widens it up to larger and wilder social context, more akin to the (unrelated) Roman Saturnalia. Rituals of inversion have obvious appeal in situations where there is a rigid hierarchy – such as a military chain of command. The British Army have a tradition, begun in 1890, of officers serving their soldiers in bed on Christmas Day. The drink? ‘Gunfire’, which is black tea laced with rum. Even deployed troops have their small taste of Christmas misrule, as often their Christmas dinner is served by officers. In Groningen too it was tradition that farmers would treat their staff on a good meal at Midwinter; something to come back to another day.

Quasimodo as Pope of Fools, 1844 illustration from Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris.

Saturnalia was celebrated on the 17th December, later extended until the 25th. It included gift-giving, gambling and, indeed, role reversal: in particular slaves were given licence to disrespect their masters, and they were treated to a luscious banquet. It was a time for free speech, called “December liberty” by the poet Horace. This levelling of social hierarchy was temporary and had its limits; social norms were not threatened, as the holiday would end. In our contemporary society, it would be the youngsters, living under the thumb of their parents and teachers, and in general having low societal influence, how are allowed for one night to be out all night and engage in mischief, as long as after New Year they’re back to good behaviour.

But how then to match a Roman and a Catholic tradition to something what seems to be more pagan, playing out over the Eastern provinces which fall in the Nether-Saxon language area? Lazily, I wander to the wiki article about the Germanic Yule feast. A description of the pagan Yule has sacrifices left, right and centre, and drinking and toasting. Drinking and toasting isn’t unknown to New Year’s revellers, of course, but the sacrifices are harder to place in the current context (there are other Midwinter traditions that fit, like gift giving and even the carrot for St Nicolas’ horse). With a bit of imagination we can see dragging a clunker through the village for the bonfire as a faint echo of the dragging of the yule log, the communal effort to bring the object to be burnt, the thing that sparks the new year.

The 7th C saint Eligius, who worked for 20 years to convert the pagan population of Flanders to Christianity was said to have been firm about what his listeners had to renounce: the godless and nonsensical merriment on the 1st of January, making sculptures of people and harts, holding big meals, sending round of New Year’s gifts and well-wishing toasts. A century later, Boniface still wrote in anger to the pope about the heathen noise at New Year. There are strange customs we’ve lost: our Germanic forefathers may sit on the roof with a sword with magic runes, and from which way the wind blew they’d know what the new year would bring. Others may sit on a bull’s skin on a crossroads, where they’d fall asleep. Fairies who were trekking round on New Year’s night, as it was their migration night, would predict the future in passing. (Nv/hN, 31 Dec 1985)

These bands of fairies are not unlike the Wild Hunt, and with the Wild Hunt, with supernatural activity and undead beings walking the Earth, we’re getting closer to roaming youth causing mayhem. Are these youngsters a reenactment of the Wild Hunt? I am also reminded that all of this happens at the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new; a sort of organised chaos is allowed to happen in this liminal period in which people ask each other, “What day is it again?” It’s almost as if it’s a mini-Ragnarok, a “mini-end-times’, a reenactment of when Loki, the Nordic and Germanic trickster and Lord of Mischief, turns against his fellow gods, and battles at the side of the giants, in a cataclysmic war, after which the world will resurface ‘anew and fertile’. Are our youth allowed, for one night only, to be Loki turning against their fellow people?

And what will you be up to on New Year’s Eve?

(RvS)

The Call of Midwinter

You’ll hear it from miles away, the Midwinter Horn. It’s a large, bent, wooden horn, played from Advent till Epiphany in the Groninger area of Westerwolde, huddled against the German border, with its Eighty Year War fortification of Bourtange. It’s a mournful sound, and you’d think it’s lowed over the heather for centuries, since Saxon times. While the area indeed has Saxon roots, the tradition has no known history in Groningen; only in 2005 did it blow over from the southward provinces of Drenthe and Twente. It is very popular there too – there are several Midwinter horn groups, courses in making a horn, and classes and exams. It’s great to see so much interest in this very old custom, especially since at certain point it was moribund.

It’s interesting to see how it’s been written about in the regional newspaper, the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden. In 1926, in the folklore column, we read:
A previous year I was in a noisy Belgian environment of popping Champagne corks, amidst a celebrating audience in paper hats and half-dressed in ‘evening dress’, witnessing such a ‘reveillon de grand-gala’, and celebrated New Year’s Eve amidst a wild bunch, culminating in the cacophony of a raging jazz band. But in the land of Twente the old year still dies under the mysterious notes of the lamenting Midwinter horn and the blessed clock ringing of so many towers in Twente. (Nv/hN, 6 March 1926)

1933 shows us a photograph of a farmer and his wife (but note that the woman’s horn is made of welded metal instead of metal-banded wood):
An old custom, of which the origin and meaning are lost in the darkness of centuries, the blowing of the home-made Midwinter horn. This custom still exists in Twente, and especially in Ootmarsum. Preferably, the Midwinter horn is blown over a well, which will amplify the note so much that the heavy sound can be heard hours further. (Nv/hN, 28 Dec 1933)

And from the 1935 Christmas picture spread (see the smoked meat hanging from the rafters!):
The Midwinter horn is taken from the wall in the “Los Hoes” in Ootmarsum. The blowing of the Midwinter horn still happens in Twente in the dark days before Christmas. (Nv/hN, 21 Dec 1935)

This from the 1953 New Year’s Eve picture spread. Standards appear to have slipped – no solemn and mournful tooting over a well; it’s a band of youngsters now, with easier to make metal horns:
Through the somber wood the sound of the Midwinter horns sounds. In Twente this old custom is still kept in honour in the dark days between Christmas and New Year. (Nv/hN, 29 Dec 1953)

The columnist, poet & satirist Kees Stip writes the following in 1970. It does show resistance to the reawakening interest in folk tradition, which at that time was seen as the domain of ‘hippies and dropouts’ and nostalgists, while for another part of the older generation (Stip was born in 1913) it was just old junk, to be consigned to the scrap heap. It’s also significant that Stip assigns the custom a distinct ‘Germanic’ identity, while the War was still fresh in memory. He writes, snidely:
* Who still has a shred of Germanism in his soul, can have his soul blown through in Twente. Over the whole area the sound of the Midwinter horn will sound again. I think it’s pretty, but pretty nauseating, just like Wagner. The soundscape reminds me of the rutting cries of an old elk which has fallen in the well, tries to climb up and falls down again. In reality it’s only water in the well, with a farmer blowing above it.
* Farmer or elk, blowing the Midwinter horn is an art requiring a lot of skill. Only the most skilful it is given to add to the basic notes not only the terts and the kwint but also the sekst. For farmers this may not mean much, but for elks it probably is one of the most stimulating forms of sexual entertainment.
* Our heathen forefathers blew the Midwinter horns to chase away evil spirits. Nobody knows whether this is true, but as an extinct heathen you’re depend on the Christians to interpret your deeds. The Christians themselves interpret their still uncured Midwinter blowing ailment as the heralding of the glad tidings. You’d get that news tooted through the phone like that. For me, Midwinter horns mean that it can’t be summer soon enough. (Nv/hN, 22 Dec 1970)

An article from fifteen years later is more enthusiastic. It paints the picture: “Outside it’s foggy and already dark since four-thirty. Suddenly, as if from a different world, come the somber, mournful and mystical sounds you’ll never have heard and will never forget.” It seems to me that the writer has been rummaging in the paper’s cuttings, picking up some of the phrasing. As the tradition’s origin, the heralding of Christ’s birth is mentioned, and the banning of the Catholic mass in the 17th and 18th century; apparently German priests would sneak over the border to hold secret masses in farmers’ sheds, and the Midwinter horn would be used to sound the alarm if they were disturbed. The writer is most convinced by a pre-historic origin, and the chasing away of dark powers, and gives some useful facts on its history and construction:
While in Switzerland and, for example, Hungary, similar horns are used to call the cattle, the use of the Midwinter horn in Twenthe looks most like the “hyrdelurs” played in Sweden and Norway during Midsummer nights. Cave drawings in the south of Sweden from 1800 BC suggest that these horns are older than Methuselah. The Midwinter horn would only have decorated a wall here and there if a few folklorists hadn’t reinvigorated the old custom about 30 years ago. From that time onwards, the mysterious sounds can be heard again over the stubble of the corn fields. Twenthe even has a few craftsmen again who can make the real Midwinter horn. They use a one-and-half meter long birch or alder branch which is drilled in at the thin end for the mouthpiece (in Twente dialect, “de happe”). Then the wood is sawn through lengthwise, are both halves hollowed out with a chisel, glued together and wound round with rattan. (Nv/hN, 20 Dec 1985)

The website of the Ootmarsum Midwinter horn blowers (founded 1992) also regales its history, from pagan origins to Christian instrument for the heralding of Christ and as alarm mechanism. On its modern history and usage:
The tradition of the Midwinter horn blowing was near dying in Twente. Luckily, the custom was restored in the fifties by Toon Borghuis from Oldenzaal. The horns on which we play now are made of wood. From the early 20th century come the tin horns, a product from the village smith. These instruments are a thorn in the ‘ear’ of the fan. Restoring the tradition didn’t go without a hitch. There were two groups who fought for the oldest honour and practices. There are farmers, who think that the ‘oalde roop’, the one simple note of the horn, are the real tradition which needs to be preserved. Others, the melody-blowers, can get a seven-note sound from the horn.
Around 1970 there were already more than 300 blowers who, between St Andrews and the Sunday after Epiphany, produce the mysterious sounds and now the tradition is alive and well! Practiced players can now produce at least four notes from their instrument, and star players can blow a series of seven or eight notes. The melodies are set and there are two common riffs. Many players feel it should stay at that; no ‘Happy Birthday’ and other songs on the Midwinter horns.
What is important for all groups in Twente is that the tradition should not be overshadowed by making it a carnaval. It should remain a solemn occasion. It’s folklore, but a continuation of an stately occurrence. It is also out of the question that more than one horn is blown at the same time. This is against tradition. The sound of one horn has to echo over the land; through this simple means from their own farm, the farmers would notify each other of the days getting longer, and the coming of the Messiah. (Midwinterhoornblazen.nl)

Saasveld, 10 miles further down the road, has its own group (est. 1970) and website. They’ve got more about the history and correct usage. Their outreach activities are still going on, this year for the 66th time:
In the early fifties of the last century the blowing of the Midwinter horn was resuscitated by some famous men from Twente, like the musician Toon Borghuis, Dr Bernink, the architect Jan Jans, beer brewer and folklorist Meijlink and Hendrik Racer Palthe from Everloo. In Saasveld, from 1952 onwards, there was a movement from the folklore group Saterslo to get more attention for the dying tradition of the Midwinter horn. Gerard Hesselink Jr (Holtkamp) with some other villagers, took up the gauntlet, and in 1954 the first organised activities happened. These existed of going round the hospitals and old people’s homes, together with the theatre group Enscheder Spöllers, the “De Krekkel” dancers and taking part in contests. (…)
The neighbourhoods of Saasveld have from the start had an eye for the preserving of tradition in the right but contemporary way. For this, the basis is the trinity of period, horn and call. The period Advent to Ephiphany is for blowing, the horn (wet or dry) is to be made of native wood (such as alder, birch, willow) with a mouthpiece of elder. The call is depending on place or even family (not sheet music).
The past sixty years we have, together with the former group
Kemissie veur ‘t Mirreweensterhoornbloazen and the later foundation from Twente, taken action several times to preserve the tradition in the right way. Tin horns and horns made of slats, plastic mouthpieces and the nailing down of the right call have been discussed. In this context it is notable that the neighbourhood of Saasveld as one of the few is mostly blowing on the wet horn. (midwinterhoornblazerssaasveld.nl)

Early Saasveld blower Hendrik Weghorts with wife and sister

This Commission for the Mirreweenster Horn Blowing organised its first competition on boxing day 1953. Notably, this was done on the tin horns, which were more durable and were easier to blow on. Toon Borghuis did say: “Op ‘n deur mu’t te we’j weer noar ‘t haolt.”“Eventually, we need to go back to wood.” As the goal for the competition he’d stated: “it needs to be a flowing, easy melody; the call from one farmer to the other. That’s the real Midwinter horn blowing, as it can be heard in Advent’s time in the east of Twente, when at hours’ distance it is passed on from one farm to the other.” This competition followed the first organised blowing, on the 18th December 1949. That evening, at 7pm Bernard Boomkamp from Hertme stood with his horn at the well of his Vrielinks farm. The sound was then carried from farm to farm through the area. Around 10:30pm the sound was answered from Losser and Denekamp.

From a folklore thing from a corner of the country, the Midwinter horn became a tourist favourite, and in 1985 the tourist board already organised demonstrations throughout the region. Then, in 1987:
H.G. Lich is in his daily life director of the tourist board in Exloo. Last summer he got a letter from the Spanish organisers of the festival of international customs in Malaga. “If I knew someone who practiced a real Dutch tradition. Then I thought of F. Tenniglo. He is Dutch champion Midwinter horn blower and the only person still making the instrument. I phoned him, told him about the festival and that I had already entered his name. ‘Nothing will come of it,’ he told me. But two weeks later he got a message.”
The Spanish were interested in the Midwinter horn blower from Twente and wrote that a plane ticket was ready for him. Tenniglo then understood what he had signed up for and got cold feet. “I’m happy to come, but not on my own,” he demanded. Lich also had to come.
The tourist board director was keen, but couldn’t play an instrument and also was not a craftsman. “So we got the farmers’ horn of Exloo from the cupboard. You only have to signal with it. Everyone can do that.” However, Lich is not bringing the original. He has put a small whistle in a replica to make it easier to blow on. “They’ll never notice,” the apprentice tooter knows. “The real farmers’ horn remains in the Bebinghehoes in Exloo. We’re afraid it’d get stolen in Spain, or damaged.” (Nv/hN, 12 Dec 1987)

New Year Singing

This is about the New Year Singers, from the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden newspaper, 31 December 1928.

The once so loudly sounding “Neijoarszing’n”, New Year Singing – roughly between Saint Nicolas’ Day and the start of February – is only very sporadically found nowadays. Those “Neijoarzingers” often were very eccentric village types and had typical names. On ‘t Hoogeland, the most northern area of the Netherlands, we have known “BLINDE PAIT”, Blind Pete. “TIDDE TENUE”, “HEN BRINKTJE”, “JAAN KOATJES” en “PAIT NAIN” also were well-known “Neijoarzingers”. The song they sung however was a Christmas song that was very seldom sung in dialect.

Our photo shows FRISTER KLOK in 1918. He was then 75 years old and for three decades he has regularly sung the “Neijoarslaid” in the Ommelanden area. As a boy of eight years old he already went out with his older sister. Klok, who lived in Schildwolde, has died not long ago.

Frister Klok, New Year Singer (1918)

Marten Douwes Teenstra, in his DeKinderwereld (1853) writes (somewhat condensed; the man does gripe on a bit):

On the first of January the year starts for the whole of Christianity, but already before New Year’s Day, around Christmas, poor people and their children start deliver their new years letters to the well-off, or go round the houses with their well-wishing New Year songs; one can not say however that they are nicely worded or “pleasant of voice” – it is more a pesky begging. (…)

In the Ommelanden region, as well as other areas of the country, the begging for a New Year’s gift, which goes with music and singing, is still in use. The musical instrument usually is the rommelpot, named after its sound, which has replaced the earlier used gons and bagpipes. Poor boys then usually start a high and shouting song, as if to frighten children.

Child with a Rommelpot: a tin, a skin and a stick.

On the Hoogeland in Groningen you’ll also find old women who go along the houses around Midwinter (Christmas) and New Year, with the rommelpot to sing new year songs, like:

Doar schenen drei steerens ien ‘t oosten zoo kloar,
Dei schenen drei doagen, drei nachten veur woar,
Al ien dat godzoalige Neije joar” (etc)

Three stars shone in the East so clear,
They shone for sure for three days and three nights
In the holy new year” (etc)

Or another ditty:
“An heurt eerwoarde hoesman schoon
Wat ik joe sal verhoalen,
Hoe God zien ein’ geboren Zoon
Veur ons leid neder doalen.
Te Bethlehem al ien ain stal,
Doar lait het kind ien douken,
En dat veur ons menschen al,
Doar zellen wie ‘t goan zouken.” (enz)

“Hear on dear revered house owner
What I will tell you,
How God let his own born Son
come down for us.
To Bethlehem in a stable,
There it lies in linen,
And that for all people,
That’s where we’ll find it.”
(etc)

We will not permit ourselves to write out these songs completely. (So concludes Teenstra.)

The Light of Zeerijp

I.

When Emperor Charlemagne had conquered the Frisians, he ordered them to translate into Latin, and record in writing, all the laws they had hitherto passed down via the oral tradition. The Frisians (to which the Ommelanders also belonged at the time) refused this, and invoked their old customs which barred them from writing down that which was spoken by their elders in the old oracle language. Charlemagne therefore summoned the 12 lawgivers of Frisia, the Wimoedes or Asegas and gave them the choice between obedience or death by the sword, being buried alive or being set adrift at sea in a rudderless ship. The twelve Asegas maintained their refusal and chose a death in the waves.

II.

In Zeerijp they meekly went on board the ship that could sustain one ebb and one flood and were cast out to sea. When they eventually found themselves in peril, one of the oldest remembered the sermons of Willibrord; how the preacher had learnt that Jesus Christ after his arising had appeared amongst his praying friends, whilst the doors of the room in which they sat were closed. He suggested to his fellow sufferers that they should beg for the help and intervention of Jesus. And lo, when the twelve prayed, they saw in the back of the ship a man, much like themselves, who rested with his hand on a rudder pole, with which he guided the ship. So did he bring them back to the harbour from which they had come.

III.

When the thirteenth came to shore with the twelve Asegas, he threw the rudder on the ground, where it caught fire and burnt into a beacon for ships at sea. Then he schooled and taught the twelve and guided them in which of the Frisian laws they would choose in obeisance to the empirical edict. So the Frisians obeyed the Emperor and Christ, and devised the Landrecht, the country law, which was taught to them by Mary’s son. This collection of laws gained the approval of both Emperor and Pope. From that time onwards there appeared in Zeerijp, even when the sea had long retreated from there, and even in the days of our grandparents, a mysterious light – “het Riepster licht”.

Art by Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882-1945), from the Niewsblad van het Noorden newspaper, 24 December 1947. It was inspired by the stained glass windows of the great hall of the university in Groningen, designed by fellow artist Johan Dijkstra. Folk belief has it that the light is still seen in modern times.