Weird in Nature
The Weird begins in the ancient tales of our forebears, told around campfires, in the caves, in the earliest settlements – tales of beasts and supernatural dangers, many of them cautionary, perhaps aiming to protect the young and reckless from adventuring too close to natural threats or the territories of rival tribes.
Or perhaps it was a way of acquiring the light of understanding for a species trapped in the darkness of a hostile world – a way in which to explain an existence which was otherwise inexplicable, or of describing the marvels and mysteries that inhabited its every physical aspect, open space or geographical contour.
The Weird, in this sense, is a projection of human fear and wonder onto the suspected or actual perils of the natural environment, which are ultimately conceived in supernatural terms, so that the supernatural is essentially a creation of the human reaction to the natural, which makes nature itself the first cause of the propagation of the Weird and its perpetual outbreak over time (the Weird never goes away. It just reforms itself in relation to the perceived dangers and wonders of the epoch in which its executors dwell).
Nature, then, is the first and foremost creator of the Weird, the instigator of these existential terror blocks, where the sky, the mountains, the rivers and seas, the woodlands and the boggy tracts were latterly conceived as the primary sites of sublime or nightmare visions of actual supernatural import.
Because that’s what makes this all the more startling: that these sublime or nightmare visions were conceived as real.
Even in our lifetimes, the ancient Weird permeates the hearsay of oral accounts, fed through the generations with as much efficacy as an inherited life skill, a local knowledge or an episode of family history.
Only recently, for the first time, I discovered a written account of a story that has been familiar to me since I was a child – the tale of The Wizard of Skene – a story told to us by grownups (by the local minister, old farmers and teachers, as I recall), then relayed among our peers with appropriate responses of fear, awe and a reverence for the genii locorumwe knew to exist because we had been there.
The legend concludes with a caveat of terrifying proportions because it encourages you to participate in the outcome of the legend itself:
“Sheena Blackhall, a poet and historian in north-east Scotland, spent part of her childhood in Skene and remembers local children saying that if they ran 100 times round the Wizard Laird’s gravestone he would rise from the dead.”
Blackhall is right. That’s how it was and is today. I know where the Wizard Laird’s gravestone is – it’s still there. I can take you there, if you like. But don’t ask me to run around it 100 times. I wouldn’t do that – none of us would who come from the area – because we believe in what the story tells us. That’s how powerful the Weird can be. It is powerful enough to be believed in because of what it stirs inside of us – ancient terrors and wonders that first took hold of us around the campfires of our prehistory.
This is the kind of Weird that is intimately bound up with human experience to the point that it is a part of our everyday lives. It is not the excursionist Weird of reading books, watching films or taking up temporary residence in the imaginative worlds of modern fiction.
It is the Weird at the core of our being – preliterate Weird that works its way through our collective and individual psyches, that finds its articulation through the domain of written words, which has propelled us to our current state of modern Weird renaissance . . . and beyond.
The Weird Inscribed
The advances of the Weird through the written word have been dramatic and long-lasting, if persistently downtrodden by the patriarchs and pragmatists of the Enlightenment – and the po-faced perpetrators of common sense who followed thereafter.
The Weird was inscribed in our mythologies, was asserted in the records of the archivists and folklorists. It was driven with force through the innovations of the novel – through the Gothic Romances of renegade women, who orchestrated its presence within the canon as a permanent fixture.
Walter Scott nailed it to the mast of fiction through his virtuoso restorations of the folkloric, legendary and Gothic elements; and, since then, the journey has been one of an undulating mix of conventional elements buffeted and reshaped by the innovations of the avant-garde.
In all its varieties, the Weird is the transubstantiation of the imagination into something real. Not real in the sense that it exists in the physical world; but real in the sense that it is believed to exist (hypothetically, at least) in any world of our choosing.
Such beliefs are as real as anything in determining the motivations of human behaviour that constitutes history. Religion, for example, uses the Weird to achieve its target of securing the convictions of the masses and mustering faith (through fear and awe) upon which the whole of Western civilisation (so-called) is founded.
Perhaps this is the key to understanding the indelible contribution of the Weird: it distorts the history from whence it came and confuses reality with strangely fanciful notions which are acted upon as being truer than truth itself.
Perhaps it is the role of the Weird, then, to destroy truth – to replace it with something far more engaging than the blankness of nature, which is far more terrifying to the human mind than anything.
“It is the preserve of the Weird that it lies at the very core of all storytelling” – Minstrel’s motto.