A Way to Feel Less Alone

Are you a writer, photographer, painter, sculptor, gastronomist, death doula or simply a fan of the macabre? We would love to have you join us and engage at Danse Macabre. This is just one project being offered to members of Bancroft Manor.

The World of Georgina McClure

Cartoon by Jonny Sun

Being open and vulnerable with your loneliness, sadness and fear can help you find comfort and feel less alone, says writer and artist Jonny Sun. In an honest talk filled with his signature illustrations, Sun shares how telling stories about feeling like an outsider helped him tap into an unexpected community and find a tiny sliver of light in the darkness.

Being persistent and consistently trying to reach out and be heard can be hard to sustain. Listen to Jonny Sun and you will appreciate how, as a creative who spends a lot of time alone, you may benefit from joining and actively engaging, connecting with others in the Bancroft Collective.

Bancroft Manor is a tiny sanctuary where people can connect and prove that we are not necessarily as alone as we may think we are.

Check the FAQ and consider whether it is worth investing…

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Visiting the Isla de la Munecas

IT LOOKS like the stuff of nightmares: a grotesque playground of mutilated dolls, many hanging limp from nooses, others with heads attached to spikes, all with soulless eyes staring blankly ahead. Personally, while I couldn’t wait to visit the bone church at Kutna Hora and wasn’t the least disturbed by all the human bones, I am not sure I would be up to visiting this place. Having said this I vividly recall assembling a ‘Who Killed Barbie’ cake on one beach holiday. We were with a large group who set up camp on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the cake featuring a mutilated Barbie was a huge hit at the time.

Mexico’s Isla de las Munecas, or “Island of the Dolls”, became an unlikely tourist attraction  drawing thousands of tourists and photographers morbidly fascinated by the strange spectacle (check out the photos on the linked site). But it’s the tragic story behind the island that is perhaps more disturbing, and according to legend, it begins with the tragic death of an anonymous young girl more than 50 years ago.

According to reports, a man named Don Julian Santana left his wife and child one day and moved to an island on Teshuilo Lake in the famous Xochimilco canals to live out his years as a recluse. Upon arriving at the island, reportedly sometime in the 1950s, Santana discovered the body of a young girl who had drowned in a canal. He later found her toy doll floating nearby. Moved by the discovery of the girl’s body, and perhaps to appease her spirit, Santana set about transforming the whole island into a shrine dedicated to the lost soul. For decades he collected dolls by their hundreds, including baby dolls and even some Barbies, and decorated the island with their lifeless bodies.

Santana salvaged the dolls from the canals and garbage. He lived in a small cabin, where his photo and a few possessions are still on display, surrounded by trees and some 1500 of his decaying dolls. As word of the island spread Santana began accepting a small fee to show visitors around his peculiar home. Ghost stories are a part of local lore in the region, which gave way to spooky tales of the dolls coming alive at night, apparently consumed by the dead girl’s spirit.

But in a dark twist, in 2001, Santana’s nephew found him dead in a canal — in the same spot where Santana had decades earlier discovered the corpse of the girl that inspired his life’s work. As popular interest in the island and its dark legend grew, relatives of Santana questioned whether the dead girl really existed and suggested it was a figment of Santana’s imagination. But the strangeness of the legend behind Santana’s bizarre island has continued to fascinate the public. Isla de las Munecas is about 28km south of the centre of Mexico City. Visitors can catch a ferry there from the Embarcedero Cuemanco or Embarcadero Fernando Celada, and it’s about a four-hour round trip.

No matter what genre you choose to write in, be it crime or science fiction or even an autobiography you need to build a world for your story. Every writer needs to build a strong sense of place so that your readers can have a placeholder to flesh out the context in which a story is set. For example, the television series, Hinterland, so brilliantly depicts a part of Wales that you feel that you have been transported to this wild, wind swept, harsh part of the world.

If you’re writing a current-day story, you should know where it is set and what’s happening in the world around your main characters. Consider The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. For these stories to come alive, the main characters’ experiences had to be set in rich and textured worlds.

Surely the Isle of Dolls provides a rich back drop for a macabre story, perhaps involving hapless tourist taking photographs.

Empty

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it conscientiously.

Pascal

She was an explorer, a photographer a sometimes writer with no one in her life to notice if she never showed up after a day or a week or a month or ever again.

It had never occurred to her that this was a bad thing. That’s how she found these empty and abandoned. towns or maybe they found her, these concrete, brick and wooden corpses of dead little cities sitting alongside highways that tried to make their way to the outside world and tragically failed.

She was out on that Sunday looking for something to write about or maybe something to take pictures of for her library when she ended up on this particular road that simply ended and miles and miles of sand and nowhere stretched out in front of it.

Huddled there on the side of the Highway were the faded remains of a fast food stand that sold chicken in a basket and milkshakes – as promised by the weather worn giant plastic chicken in a blue and white basket perched precariously on the red tin roof.

There was the skeleton of a building across the street from the Chicken Stand that may have been a general store with a stack of empty shelves that served as it’s last remaining wall and a closed sign hanging from an empty socket where a window used to be.

Next to the all but dead store was a gas station with a faded blue horse painted on it’s side and a soda pop cooler with a missing door and an ice machine decorated with light blue snowflakes with it’s door chained shut

She slowed down and wondered about that chained ice machine- the chain was as rusted and worn as everything around it, but the lock was new. She wondered if anyone noticed it. If anyone had noticed it and just didn’t care enough to ask what it was they were looking at.

She stopped her Jeep and slowly backed up until she was right in front of the machine.

And it’s locked doors.

She shut her engine off. She unlatched her seatbelt and raised her hips off the seat and fished a scrunchie from her back pocket and tied her long dark hair back into a pony tail.

Her walk to the Ice Machine and it’s locked doors was a slow one. She looked up into the sky and she whistled. She wondered how far it was to the next rest stop. She wondered if it was almost lunch time because she was getting hungry.

When she got to the Ice Machine and it’s rusted lock she reached into her back pocket and took out a ring of little keys. She flipped through them and stopped at one with a little red dot and fit it into the lock.

It clicked and as it did she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun and smiled.

She unhitched the lock and opened the door- just a little. Just enough to let a little light inside and just enough room for her to place her eye right up against the little opening so that she could get a peek inside.

Satisfied she carefully closed the door and locked it again.

Because, we can ask ourselves, who on earth chains ice machine doors shut in abandoned towns on forgotten highways where nobody goes?

An explorer, a photographer a sometimes writer with no one in her life to notice if she never showed up after a day or a week or a month or ever again.

That’s who.

Make Descansos to Mark the Macabre

I  first learned about the concept of Descansos when I read Clarissa Pinkola Estes ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’.

Estes describes how when you travel in Old Mexico, New Mexico, southern Colorado, Arizona, or parts of the South, you will see little white crosses by the roadside. These are descansos, resting places. The concept of marking resting places is not confined to the United States or Mexico. They may be found in Greece, Italy and many other countries, including Australia.

Recently I photographed this small cross that so clearly marks a spot for someone. It is not in a cemetery but in a reserve which memorializes the gold rush in this region. As I took the photograph I was actually thinking about the very dark side of the Victorian Goldfields that have been so well documented by Goldfields Guide – Exploring the Victorian Goldfields. I  considered ways to mark, document and lay to rest some of the important moments in the history  of this region in Victoria that so many choose to forget.

It may sound macabre but it can be cathartic to mark, with crosses, events that have impacted your life or, for that matter, macabre world events which have changed the course of history.

Metaphorically perch yourself high in a pine tree, in a place where you can see the whole picture. Mark things which still need to be mourned and consider spending time noting what has seemingly been forgotten, but which like the spirit of Joan of Arc lives on. For example, indigenous Australians are well aware of the trauma of colonisation but those of us whose ancestors were forcibly bought to this country in chains can forget what they were forced to endure and how those events changed the course of history for everyone involved.

Working with Descansos

Descansos and the Lunar Eclipse

Alexander Khan

Dagmar Overbye (1887 – 1929)

This piece is just the first of a series for those who are interested in researching and portraying a female serial killer.

Danish serial killer Overbye murdered anywhere between 9 and 25 children during a seven-year period (1913-1920) although some historians believe the figure could be as high as 200. She was born in 1887 and little is known about her early life. Overbye worked as a professional child caretaker where she was supposed to look after children born outside of marriage. It was known as a ‘babyfarm’ or an unofficial adoption agency, and it was the scene of her serial killing spree.

All of the murders happened in Copenhagen, Denmark and she killed the unfortunate victims via strangulation and drowning or else she burned them to death. Overbye buried and burned the corpses or else she hid them in the loft. There are scant details regarding her arrest in terms of how she was eventually caught. It is remarkable that she was able to murder so many children over such an extended period without arousing suspicion. Her trial was one of the most talked about in the history of Denmark and her actions resulted in changes to the nation’s childcare legislation.

During the trial, Overbye’s lawyer tried to defend his client by saying she was abused as a child. This cut no ice with the jury as she was found guilty of nine murders and the judge had no hesitation in sentencing her to death. Only three women received the death penalty in Denmark during the 20th century, but like the other two, Overbye’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After her arrest, over 180 children were reported missing from her ‘baby farm’. There is a possibility that these reports came from parents who committed their own misdeeds and they sought to cover things up, but one has to assume that Overbye almost certainly killed more than 25 children. She never spoke about her reasons for murdering the children; perhaps she saw herself as a missionary whose job was to get rid of unwanted babies. Whatever the reason, Overbye took it with her to the grave as she died in prison in 1929.

Therapeutic Power of Macabre Art

Refrigerator Magnet Advertised on Etsy

Art and art therapy is part of the technique of visualization, a technique which is actually a form of meditation. When undertaking visualization you may simply make something up. However, another form of visualization is to spend an extended period of time simply looking at an image, taking in all the detail and seeing what you want or need to see within.

Viewing any and all expressive art can have an amazing effect on your health. Consider how you felt the last time you walked through a gallery and perused the art. Reflect on how different pieces gave you different feelings? Did some of the dark and macabre art actually seem most appropriate at the time?

Everyone feels something different when they view a piece of expressive art, and it’s likely that your feelings are different than those of the person that made the art as well. It’s not really what the artist believed to be the point of the piece, but rather it is about what it does for you.

The fridge magnet shown here appeared on Etsy. This expressive face may, like the famous ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch depicts feelings we are not always encouraged to feel. Perhaps it sums up how you have felt at times, or how a character you are working with feels.

Take yourself to a gallery or check out some macabre art online and meditate upon the emotions depicted. Who knows! A character you are working with may gain depth as a result of this simple exercise.

Le Mante – Macabre Viewing

Have a Hannibal-shaped hole in your heart? Are you a lover of international crime dramas? Do you love to binge watch crime dramas? Allow us to introduce you to La Mante – “The Mantis” – a new Netflix original series that puts a fresh spin on the serial killer thriller. Starring Carole Bouquet, Fred Tesot, and a handful of other famous French actors, the French-language series wastes no time in introducing us to a grisly murder that sets up what is to come.

Bouquet stars as Jeanne Deber, a serial killer who terrorized France over 25 years ago and has since spent her days alone in prison. When the news of this murder and others like it reaches her and it becomes apparent that it is a copycat killer, she offers to lend her assistance – on one condition: her son Damien, who has not spoken to her since her arrest and is now a police officer, must work by her side. Desperate to help catch the killer, Damien agrees – even if it means throwing his own life into turmoil.

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