May 1st – The Festival of Phantasmagoria

On the first day of May in 1633 a woman called Bella Trisgothic was murdered at a night club called The Cat and Spindle (now a bar known as The Projector Room) for supposedly conjuring spirits and summoning the dead. The early sixteenth century was a time when tensions were running high with Strigaxia, and witch hunting was commonplace as those in power either ignored or encouraged the barbaric practice. The Monarch of the time, Queen Matilda Bathenhurst, had herself been accused of witchcraft, and sought to disprove those claims by encouraging witch hunting. It was a choice that would come back to haunt her.

The hysteria of witch hunting seems to bubble up to the surface now and again in Buentoille, and indeed when the Knights of Buentoille went to war with Strigaxia in the eighteenth century there were widespread accusations of ‘Strigaxian spies’ amongst the City’s population. Even then, however, the rule of law was strong enough to deter most vigilante attacks on these poor folk, and trials usually ended in the survival of the ‘witch’. The period of hysteria in the 1630s is exceptional in that so many were killed at the hands of mobs who were empowered by the Queen’s assent.

Of course, Trisgothic was not a witch, nor a sorcerer or occultist. She was actually a performer and projectionist from Litancha who had travelled to the Buentoille to perform her ‘Most Incredible Phantasmagorical Show,’ with little knowledge of the troubles that were besetting the City. In a typical performance Trisgothic would stand onstage in her occultist raiment; a long black dress with moons and stars in silver sections, and a large sheer black veil with silver thread run through it. There she would make a short speech about her magical powers, and her intentions to summon ghosts, devils and even dreaded waursts, before making a salt pentagram on the stage floor, a bowl of chicken’s blood at each corner. In the centre she would place and light a silver bowl full of incense that produced a large quantity of smoke, and then she would say some magic words.

When her incantation was complete, an offstage assistant, Anna Lubert, would uncover a magic lantern, projecting an image of a ghost, skeleton or devil into the smoke onstage. The movement of the smoke gave the image an animated quality, although actual (rather basic) animation was created in some instances by passing a number of similar images across the lens and obscuring the light on and off at the same time. Trisgothic’s lantern is the first known instance of such an animation method, and it had been shown throughout much of Litancha. As a projectionist and inventor foremost and performer second, Trisgothic would wheel out the lantern and reveal how the trick was done, after she’d scared her audience suitably.

Unfortunately for her, Trisgothic had disbelieved those who warned her against performing in this manner in Buentoille at the time, and she never managed to reveal her trick at the Cat and Spindle. As soon as the first ghost appeared before them, three men leapt out of the audience and killed her there on stage. It wasn’t until the projectionist ran out screaming with the magic lantern that the murderers realised their mistake. They were tried in the courts, but only received a conviction for manslaughter, not murder, due to powerful witch hunting lobbyists.

When the witch hunting hysteria died down finally in 1638, Lubert, who had been offered work at the Cat and Spindle, her former employer now dead, began to stage memorial performances in the style of Trisgothic, using her equipment. These performances continue to this day, and make up the bulk of today’s festival, which will be held tonight at seven o’clock, at The Projector Room. The performances have remained much the same over the years, although with the advent of digital, 3D projectors and laser technology, there is a segment given over to modern phantasmagoria. Despite the fact that the main part of the performance has, since its inception, used only the original equipment and lantern plates, in 1653 several eye-witnesses claimed that one of the projections was Trisgothic herself.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Listen to the Whistling Tap: A Festival of Endurance