Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard:
Q: I've heard you talk at Witchfest about growing up in a Welsh village where folk magic practices were the norm. Would you like to tell us about this?
A: Well, I grew up in a Welsh city initially (Cardiff) but it was surprising how much folklore and folk magic persisted even then. When I was a child, I loved chatting to our older neighbours and sometimes they would let slip bits and pieces that were definitely pagan and magical in nature although they didn’t like answering direct questions very much! It was a bit like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box. My father was keen on folklore and local history, so I learned a lot from him too, although his real interest was alchemy.
On my mother’s side, I came from a family of witches, but all they ever did was hex. It was very scary because they had no moral brakes, so if they bore a grudge, for example, they just acted on it. I was always afraid my mother would kill me and bury me under the cabbages. She did in fact put me in hospital with one of her hexes. It was a horrible experience especially as I was pregnant at the time.
I never understood why my family were like that. Yes, I learned some things from them, but also realised that I didn’t want to follow their path, so eventually I struck out on my own. This grew into what I called ‘Seeking the Green’ which was the title of my first book about paganism. My path became more nature based, and I have always enjoyed it.
However, leaving that sort of family group was a bit like being in the Mafia. You couldn’t choose to leave. They didn’t allow it. This was what made me research and practise psychic self defence. It was necessary for myself and my young family and this explains my interest in the darker side of magic and witchcraft. Sometimes we need to know what’s out there so we can protect ourselves.
Although I can’t say that folk practices were the norm everywhere, I do remember one day when my mother was up to her tricks again and my much loved mother in law (who was not a witch and actually went to church) rolled up her sleeves and told me to get some old shoes. She threw these on our open fire (we had open hearths in the house back in those days) along with a LOT of table salt. (Actually you have to be careful throwing salt on the fire, it’s a bit risky because it spits in the flames). Anyway, my mother in law stood there, muttering over the flames (I really wish I’d been able to hear what she said, but she never told me) but obviously it was something she believed would drive the ‘evil’ out. And it worked.
So yes, I think there was a lot of folk magic back then. It wasn’t always talked about, but it was there all the same, and when necessary, people would do what was needed. There were tin baths that foretold the snow, pictures flying off the walls foretelling deaths, ghostly white hands knocking at the windows. Not really horror, but close.
A: The story is an amalgamation of tales I’d heard years ago (My husband worked in a cemetery during the summer holidays when he was a student), and they just grew from there, mixed up with plenty of local bits and pieces. I keep notes of anything I’ve heard (on buses, in shops, on the street) that strike me as funny or surreal. I live in the Rhondda Valley now, (it’s the area where they filmed the series ‘Stella’) and I really love the way people can tell stories without even trying. They’ll start off, ‘Do you remember Mrs Jones…’ and it flows on from there. Plus of course I love the nicknames. They usually rhyme, so in this story there is Merv the Swerve, but also a cat called Cledwyn the Bedouin. The nicknames can open up huge narratives by themselves. Some are mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the story.
I mention in my biography that I live opposite a large cemetery, which is famous for its many, large stone angels, hence the stone angel in Merv the Swerve although the incident with the golf ball actually happened, only in a different cemetery (in the next valley across from me).
Q: On what Welsh customs, myths and traditions did you draw for this story?
A: You’ll find most of the myths in the opening paragraph, such as the way we call mist dragon’s breath, or the long legged man stalking through the valley… they are all real traditions, things I heard about when I was growing up. I tried to weave snippets into the story, without making it seem too forced.
Q: What led you to becoming a full-time witch and author?
A: As I’ve said, I was brought up in a family of witches, and branched out on my own, because I didn’t like the sort of things they did. They were extremely powerful, especially my mother who was blessed with power but little or no moral compass. It’s an awful combination. But the pagan aspects of the spirituality stuck with me, and I love that.
As for why I became an author, I have been writing since I was about six. I just love it. It was an escape for me from a very unhappy childhood. I haven’t written short stories in several years, so it was lovely to write ‘Merv the Swerve’ for Rayne’s anthology. I really enjoyed myself and I hope it shows. I’ve always been a bit irreverent!
With my non-fiction, as my children grew older, I realised they might be a bit witchy, but they were not very interested in following my path. I then thought about other solitaries, struggling on their own paths, and decided I would write about my own journey so they could pick up where I left off. (Actually, I have a small, very witchy granddaughter who seems to instinctively understand magic, which is quite awe inspiring for me! Perhaps the witchcraft has missed a generation!)
The reason I sometimes write fiction is that my children used to like me to write stories for them. I would then read them aloud (something else I enjoy) and make sure that each section ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger so they wanted me to read more to them the next day. I try to include elements of paganism, folklore, horror and witchcraft in all the stories, although it’s a bit of a balancing act to ensure I don’t overdo it.
A: I learned a great deal on this topic when I was trying to get away from my mother’s family. This book gave me free reign to delve into the darker aspects of the Craft. I then began helping other people who felt they were under psychic attack (it’s much more common than we might think.) Psychic attacks are many and varied but usually follow a similar pattern which is good because we only need a handful of methods to deal with most of them.
It’s easy to learn just a few methods of psychic self-defence and to learn them well. That gives us confidence and confidence makes it so much easier to defeat any attack.
I always feel that being prepared is one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves. We don’t need to be paranoid, just aware. The book’s chapter on psychic armour is very useful as are the sections on cleansing and psychic protection. I try to deal with just about everything that might be an attack (even vampires and werewolves), and then go on to explain the main methods for dealing with them.
I built up an extensive set of case notes built up over the years, and was able to draw on some of these situations and remedies in my book. Most psychic attacks come from living human beings rather than supernatural entities and are fuelled by jealousy and spite rather than malevolent entities.
Q: What are your best tips for psychic self-defence and protection against potentially harmful supernatural entities?
A: The main defences are very simple: cleansing, protection and laughter. That last one is important because we must not show fear, no matter how bad the attack seems. Psychic attacks feed off fear. Psychic self-defence may require lengthy cleansing and protective work, but it’s the best way to banish whatever is out there. Cleansing can be as simple as spring cleaning, or involve salt, incense, bells etc. Bells are my favourite method. You can feel the atmosphere changing when you ring them.
Q: What personal experiences have you had in dealing with ghosts or spirits of people who have passed?
A: My childhood home was very haunted, and I think remains so. Some houses absorb negative energies over time, and they can take a lot of cleansing. Seeing ghosts however, isn’t a big deal when you’ve seen enough of them. We also have a House Brownie here who is good at finding things but takes most of my spoons. My present home is also very haunted but it doesn’t bother me. We hear footsteps, knocking at doors, ringing a bell, occasional ghostly figures… there is even ‘someone’ who regularly types sentences on my phone and my computer (a bit like the Dodleston Messages). That can be a bit creepy. The important thing is to communicate with these entities, recognising that we have our space and they have theirs. If they promise to not frighten us, then we must do our best to avoid annoying them.
To do this, it’s vital to be firm; don’t show fear, but do show respect. Most times this will work. Although some ghosts and spirits like to frighten people, most don’t. Their power is nothing like as great as we might think. And don’t forget that the living can cause many paranormal events too!
A: There’s obviously a lot of imagination needed in order to write fiction, though I do deliberately include magic, and sometimes horror. It’s such a big part of my life that I couldn’t leave it out, although I don’t want to appear ‘preachy’ with it, just to let it gently seep through the pages. Magic can happen silently, it’s not just about rituals and chants. My book Magic on the Breath deals with casting spells without even speaking, just allowing the intention to pass out of us on the breath.
Q: What message do you have for readers of A Bad Witch's Blog?
A: Be yourself. Don’t let others make you feel you have to be ‘doing’ witchcraft all the time in order to be a witch. Sometimes we need a break. Sometimes our path will change or grind to a halt. It doesn’t matter. When you’re a solitary you learn from others but practise to please yourself.
It’s a bit like writing: never stop practising, never stop learning.
About the Author
Tylluan Penry is a pagan solitary witch who has devoted much of her life to teaching about the Craft. She was born and brought up in a family of witches (on her mother’s side) although all they ever did was hex. It was a horror story in its own right! When she managed to leave this tradition (and her family, though it wasn’t easy) she moved on to develop her own solitary path which she called ‘Seeking the Green.’ Over the years she has developed this further and written about many topics including Ice Age spirituality, the Anglo-Saxons, knot magic and magic on the breath.
She is married, has a large family, including grandchildren, dogs, and lives in a rather ramshackle home with an overgrown garden, together with ghosts, spirits and the Gentle Folk. There is a huge cemetery opposite her home which ought to be scary but is actually very serene and peaceful. She has always loved writing, and wrote her first (very) short story when she was six, soon progressing to full-length stories. She has now written almost 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Most can be found here: https://shop.thewolfenhowlepress.com/
Some of her fiction is on Kindle under the name T P Penry. Her chapter in the anthology, ‘Among the Headstones’ is based firmly in Wales, with a smattering of golf balls, gravestones and the Highway Code. She has always believed that creepy stories need a good pinch of humour in order to work well (at least, in her experience.)
Tylluan also has a YouTube Channel, with more than two hundred videos about solitary witchcraft here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC48MN8sa7_lFsBX9v2ZAeAg/videos
Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard edited by Rayne Hall, presents 27 of the finest - and creepiest - graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.
Here you'll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.
You'll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.
Now let's open the gate - can you hear it creak on its hinges? - and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.
But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement... They may be right behind you.
Purchase Link: mybook.to/Headstones
The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 77p (99 cents in the US) until 31 January 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.) A paperback will follow.