All posts by Romany Reagan

Romany Reagan received her PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London in performing heritage in 2018. Her practice-based research project ‘Abney Rambles’ is comprised of four audio walks that she researched, wrote, and recorded from 2014 to 2017 within the space of Abney Park cemetery, located in the north London community of Stoke Newington. Researching the layers of heritage that make up Abney Park led to a study of the occult literary heritage of Stoke Newington, ‘earth mystery’ psychogeography, and folklore. Since completion of her PhD, Reagan has expanded her folklore research scope to encompass legends and lore from the British Isles which she is documenting on her blog, Blackthorn & Stone. Publications: ‘Crossing Paths/Different Worlds in Abney Park Cemetery’, Ways to Wander (Bridport: Triarchy Press) 2015; '"Thoughts on Mourning" Audio Walk Exploring Mourning Heritage and Death Positivity in a Victorian Garden Cemetery', Thanatos Journal, Volume 6, 2017, p50-82; 'The Gendered Garden: Sexual Transgression of Women Walking Alone in Cemeteries', Death & the Maiden, 2017, https://deadmaidens.com/2017/10/10/the-gendered-garden-sexual-transgression-of-women-walking-alone-in-cemeteries/ Website: https://blackthornandstone.com/ Twitter/Instagram: @msromany

Haunted Bloomsbury—Audio Walk Tracing Spiritualism, Ghost Stories & the London Occult

By Romany Reagan

Whether it was considered an intellectual pursuit, a genuine religious order, a feminist flag, or just a grand excuse for a gin-soaked party, Spiritualism was a crucible where many of the conflicting and newly forming ideas of the late Victorian era brewed and clashed. At one point it was the domain of the intellectual elite, who held literary salons discussing Swedenborg and Blake. At the other extreme it was reverse colonialism gone mad, with female liberation, drunkenness—and worst of all Americanness—running rampant through England. 

The Victorians had long been fascinated by a wide range of phenomena that might loosely be termed the ‘occult’; and earlier manifestations of interest in spirituality had made their mark during the first half of the 19th century. Tracing Spiritualism’s lines of origin, we’re driven through these occult pathways into the heart of Bloomsbury. Button your greatcoat and steel your nerves as your tour guide Dr Romany Reagan leads you on an audio journey through the Bloomsbury backstreets into a landscape of gothic intrigues and Victorian ghost stories.

‘Dickens, Mesmerism & Ghosts’ Video for The Dickens Project, Dickens-to-Go

I made this video with The Dickens Project out of University of California, Santa Cruz for their Dickens-to-Go project.

Just in time for Halloween, Dr. Romany Reagan explains how the Victorian revival of Mesmerism of the 1830s allowed Dickens to explore “ideas about the workings of the mind [that] come through in his work when you start to see his characters and their hauntings through the lens of his mesmeric philosophy.”

21st-Century Victoriana: Our love letter to the dark

By Romany Reagan

We humans would rather have something a bit flawed but true than gloss-plastic perfection. On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be so—with ‘reality’ TV shows illustrating a life that’s nothing like reality and Instagram influencers filtered into poreless automatonica—but there is an undercurrent backlash to this that I see all around us. Our collective psyche is seeking to balance itself: enter Victoriana.

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Podcast: ‘The Romany & Sheldon Death Show’, by Cemetery Club

The Romany & Sheldon Death Show

In May 2020 Dr. Romany Reagan shared a Facebook status posing a scenario: the events experienced by a hypothetical person born in 1900. Aged 14, World War One begins. When you’re 29: The Great Depression hits. Aged 62, you have the Cuban Missile Crisis. This led Cemetery Club founder Sheldon K.Goodman to question: how sheltered are we from death nowadays? How has Coronavirus changed our attitude towards it? How are cemeteries adapting to changing ways of memorialisation and remembrance? Are they even needed any more? Join cemetery historians and guides Romany and Sheldon in a friendly death-positive conversation that we’d love you to get involved with.

Listen on Spotify.

Listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen on Radio Public.

Virtual Talk: Hail the Highgate Vampire! Goth kids, Cemeteries & the Search for the Secular Sublime’

I’ll be giving a virtual talk Sun 27 Sept 10pm BST for the #RuralGothic conference. There will be lots of amazing speakers over the course of two days! All for a tenner!

My talk closes out the conference:
‘Hail the Highgate Vampire! Goth kids, cemeteries, and the search for the secular sublime’
☠️⚰️🧛🏻‍♂️🕯
Through repetition and shared community lineage rituals become codified in society. The lines between acceptable and unacceptable ritual tend to follow the law of established shared-heritage practices going unquestioned, winning validity over recently invented rites. From media-hungry occultists battling it out with mock satanists in Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s to 21st-century wiccan white witches in Abney Park cemetery today, older sites of ritual continue to draw new practices. Our Victorian garden cemeteries offer the pull of an historical site with the aesthetics to match. From their crumbling chapels to their Egyptian follies, new rites fit into the old ways. This talk will take you on a journey through alternative meanings of space as practitioners search for the secular sublime.

Witch Bottles & Hidden Curses: Objects of Protection; Objects of Vengeance 

By Romany Reagan

Written accounts of witchcraft, witch trials, cunning folk, and folk magic were largely recorded by the Church, with all the prejudices associated with a highly biased account. Given these practices were handed down generation to generation through oral histories as a form of intangible heritage, a one-sided narrative has traditionally developed as our record. Luckily for researchers, instructions for creating witch bottles were written down, and the most common dark magic finds are written curses secreted in walls. Stepping away from the ‘official’ texts to these scraps and personal finds can help us learn from another perspective about these practices, offering a fascinating look at the fears—and sometimes wrathful vengeances—secreted away in hearths and walls by our ancestors.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.

Continue reading Witch Bottles & Hidden Curses: Objects of Protection; Objects of Vengeance 

London’s Buried Rivers: The Hackney Brook in Stoke Newington & Other Ghosts from London Below

By Romany Reagan

The 13 rivers and brooks of London still flow. Once they passed through fields and valleys, and now they run along pipes and sewers. But they have survived through the human world. They are buried, but they are not forgotten. (Ackroyd, 2011, 38) 

The vision of London’s rivers flowing in the open air is of a time long past. These rivers today flow in darkness. They are as hidden from our view as the past from which they came. It’s this ability that they hold to be of the past—yet also, undeniably, here and now—that positions the river as a conceptual access point to conceive of the temporal shifts within hidden layers of place. 

This post is an excerpt from my PhD thesis Abney Rambles : Performing Heritage as an Audio Walking Practice in Abney Park Cemetery

Continue reading London’s Buried Rivers: The Hackney Brook in Stoke Newington & Other Ghosts from London Below

Lord of the Dead, Fairy Cavalcade, Psychopomp: The Mysterious Origins of the Wild Hunt & Its Many Faces in Popular Culture

By Romany Reagan

They both turned to stare as the clouds directly above them parted. A shadow grew in the air, darkening as it neared them: the figure of a man, massive and bound in armour, bareback on a red-eyed, foaming brindle horse—black and gray, like the storm clouds overhead. The horse came to a neighing, pawing stop at the foot of the Institute steps. The man looked up at them. His eyes were two different colours, blue and black. His face was terrifyingly familiar. It was Gwyn ap Nudd, the lord and leader of the Wild Hunt. And he did not look pleased.

Lord of Shadows, The Dark Artifices, Cassandra Clare 

Wild Hunt. It crosses our path at scarily unpredictable intervals, often through the sky and nearly always at night. It is very numinous and also doom-laden. Otherwise, no one knows quite what to make of it.

— Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Numinous & Doom-Laden

I have a guilty secret. At least, that’s what I’m supposed to say before such an admission: I love young adult fantasy novels. Someone with a PhD isn’t supposed to admit that, but what does ‘supposed to’ even mean? According to whom? One of the joys of getting a PhD—I kid you not—was feeling I could finally proclaim my love of pop novels and no one could make fun of me! But then you get this degree and you feel you have to Uphold the Code, or something… 

Well, no more. Hello world, my name is Romany Reagan and I love young adult fantasy novels. I’ve been known to take a break from my high-brow bookshelf to devour Cassandra Clare’s six-book Mortal Instruments AND Dark Artifices series in a go. I even loved all four Twilight books. I know, it’s madness. It’s like having an industrial goth fiancé who likes Dire Straits. 

But I’m not the only one. These books are international best-selling series, so there must be something they’re doing right. Some sort of cultural zeitgeist they capture or inner thrill they ignite in many people. 

In this post I focus my academic eye on analysing one aspect of the pop novel trope—the repurposing of the Wild Hunt myth for new generations. This piece investigates the evolution of the Wild Hunt myth (which features prominently in Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Dark Artifices series, led by Gwyn ap Nudd) from its mysterious multiple origins and how it has evolved over time to stay with us, re-emerging with new relevance in pop novels and video games.

Continue reading Lord of the Dead, Fairy Cavalcade, Psychopomp: The Mysterious Origins of the Wild Hunt & Its Many Faces in Popular Culture

Blackthorn: Dark Mother of the Woods, Crone of the Triple Goddess, Witch Wood

By Romany Reagan

‘The blackthorn full of spines—but how the child delights in its fruit.’ 

— ‘Cad Goddeu’, 14th-century Welsh poem 

The blackthorn tree fascinates because of its inherent duality. On one hand, a folkloric symbol for strength, overcoming adversity, purification, and protection, it is also considered a trickster, bad luck if crossed, and easily used as a weapon in the wrong hands. Blackthorn has, perhaps, the most sinister reputation in Celtic tree lore. 

Continue reading Blackthorn: Dark Mother of the Woods, Crone of the Triple Goddess, Witch Wood

Online Lecture — ‘If There’s Death, Let There Be Dancing: Discussing Cemetery Use’

Tuesday 18 August 2020 7pm – YouTube

An online lecture and Q&A Session exploring the Victorian garden cemetery today as a place for mortality mediation and shared community space

Book tickets here.

Continue reading Online Lecture — ‘If There’s Death, Let There Be Dancing: Discussing Cemetery Use’