Straw Bear – The Land Witch

Never believe anyone who claims that there isn’t magic in the landscapes of East Anglia. Ignore those people who decry this vital sweep as boring. Disregard those who claim my mysterious home as in any way inferior to supposedly more interesting locales. Every time I come back to the East I’m both comforted by and in awe of the wide open spaces, the great flat expanses. The broadly uninterrupted countryside is something akin to the terrifying but compelling omnipresence of the sea when you have sailed so far as to be out of sight of land. There’s equal measure of exciting possibility and unquantifiable threat in both places. Calling Ely Cathedral the Ship of the Fens makes so much sense. Being in the East can be like experiencing vertigo. You want to hide from the vastness but you struggle not to throw yourself into it.

Anything could happen out there – you could do anything – but anything could happen to you too. What do you know until you’ve stood in lonely farmland in the heart of Suffolk, trapped in the maze of intertwining roads, dirt tracks, drainage banks and pumps, or in amongst the lengthy beaches in North Norfolk walking past dead channels and seemingly abandoned fishing boats, desperately searching for a sign of the lost sea ? Until then you haven’t felt the immense power of this, one of the great wild places of the British Isles.

It is here that is home to the monstrous Land Witch generated by Straw Bear, a fivepiece originating in East Anglia but now slightly further flung. The Straw Bear (still celebrated now in Whittlesea near Peterborough) is one of those old customs with which we, and Europe (not that we have the monopoly), have so richly decorated our history. Although it is a relatively friendly example of costumed ritual – the bear dances and moves for gifts of food and drink – there are plenty of other traditions that have more in common with the Witch. Across Europe we dress in straw and other natural products, and don masks, reminding ourselves of the “unseen enemy” or paying tribute to unfathomable powers. There’s Krampus, Perchtenlauf, John Barleycorn, the empaillés (straw men) of Evolène, the Buttnmandi Run, and Mast Horses for soulcaking.

These aren’t grand monsters: they aren’t Gojira or Galactus. But that is what gives them their power – they haven’t come to kill the Earth in one overwhelming attack too terrifying to comprehend. They are much closer to us than that. The Land Witch, like Baba Yaga, Yama-uba, Nökken, Black Annis, Will O’ The Wisp, or the nameless ghost in The Handsome Family‘s “Cold, Cold, Cold”, lurks in the land around us, always watching. She waits to catch or lure us as we journey home, or to take our children as they play. She’s malevolently hunting “among the trees” and “damp, crumbling bark” to take her prey to “her home beneath the earth”.

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This fearful but beautifully-set folk-pop fairy tale is taken from Straw Bear’s ‘Black Bank’ LP which you can get your hands on right now. They’re about to enter the studio to record their third album – we’ll hope to bring you more on that next year.

Just in case you want to scare yourself Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch Project-style, you can watch the official video here:

If that isn’t enough witchery for you, you can also check out this lovely version, recorded live in the studio.

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