July 15th – The Festival of Silencing the Sylvetter Hall Head

The skull that sits pride of place in the entryway to Sylvetter Hall is perhaps the most well known non-relic bones in Buentoille. For the most part, the severed human bones and body parts kept in boxes that grace Buentoille are owned by the Chastise Church and generally relate to particular saints, but the Sylvetter Hall Head is a very different beast: it was the consultation head of the arcanist and wizard, Maelich Sylvetter, whilst he still lived.

You would think that most people would want to stay away from a house once owned by a man who practised magic, particularly magic as dark and disturbing as that performed by Sylvetter. Yet there are now five families who live happily in Sylvetter Hall, which has been converted into a communal block of flats since the 1920s. The grandiose building was commissioned for the wizard himself, albeit whilst he remained a simple aristocrat and had not become quite as eccentric. Perhaps it is the grandness of the building that encourages folk to stay there, despite the rumours of a haunting, the stories of infernal seances and blood rituals in the very rooms in which their children sleep. Perhaps it is because there is very little to suggest the dark past of the house, except of course for the skull in the lobby.

Sylvetter wasn’t known as a wizard until after his death, when his cousin (Vernal Sylvetter, the heir to his estate; Maelich had no children) visited the aristocrat’s study and found it full of grimoires, arcane symbols and contraptions of unknown function. Not wanting to cause scandal to befall his family, Vernal destroyed many of the devices and books and burned or poured away all the alchemical ingredients. There was a large wooden box with a long list of instructions upon it there too, but thankfully Vernal decided to open it before they set about destroying it. There was a muffled sound coming from within. When he opened it up, carefully prising apart the layers of soundproofing, he received a torrent of abuse from a very angry preserved human head.

Or that is, at least, how the story goes. The house was uninhabited for about fifty years thereafter, with local people frequently complaining of the strange noises that emanated from within. Allegedly, the cousin had buried the excoriating Head in the garden, under a simple grave marker, hoping to silence it, but when he did the Head’s spirit entered the house and haunted it incessantly, making it essentially uninhabitable. What he should have done was read the instructions on the box. Eventually the house and all its contents were sold to a family from the other side of the City who didn’t know of its haunted reputation, but that after they saw the box and read through it properly, they knew what to do.

Firstly, they dug up the Head and brought it back within the house. This might seem like a bad move, and yes, they were immediately met with a snapping, swearing skull (being buried in the earth for about fifty years had rotted the flesh off the bones, but somehow not robbed it of its capacity for foul language), which seemed intent upon revealing horrifying astral secrets to the unwilling audience. To avoid the steady flow of angry abuse they immediately placed the skull back into the box, where it waited, muffled but not silenced, until the next steps could be taken.

According to the tales, it was a few months before they could perform the next steps of the ritual to silence the skull, and depending on which version of the story you’ve heard, by this point one or more of the children may have been driven mad by the dark revelations imparted by the furious skull, having opened up the box out of curiosity or to show a friend. On the 15th of July, the day the wizard dug the Head up from a fresh grave originally, severing it from the spinal column with a special copper knife, the family took their next steps, carefully following the instructions the wizard had left on the box. Firstly they plugged their ears with cloth and wax, then they took a fresh liver and forced it into the skull’s champing teeth, taking care not to lose their fingers in the process. Once it had sufficiently reduced the liver to a pulp they sprinkled earth taken from the wizard’s grave into the skull’s eye sockets, and finally washed the whole thing over by dipping it in an underground stream that ran beneath the property and was accessible through the cellar. Once all of this was done, the skull finally shut up.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a permanent solution, lasting for only a year and a day before it once again began screaming. Thankfully, due once again to the instructions left by the wizard on the side of the box, they knew this to be the case, and the skull has remained silent since, the ritual being successfully performed once a year. This vital information was passed down through several owners of the Hall, until finally it was handed over to the People of Buentoille and converted into several dwellings. Not wanting to share their home with a screaming skull, the steps have never once been forgotten or fudged. One one occasion the Cult of Arthur Blair attempted to frustrate proceedings, in order to learn the terrible astral secrets promised by the Head’s ramblings, but they were driven off by the inhabitants of the house who didn’t want to live with that sort of nonsense going on.

There is only one known permanent solution to the noisy problem posed by the Head, and that is to bury the head with its body once again. An easy enough plan, you might think, but according to the inscription on the side of the box (now kept alongside the blissfully silent skull in the glass cabinet in the lobby), the wizard Sylvetter, who appears to have suffered from dementia in his old age, entirely forgot where he had gotten it from, hence the need for the more long-winded approach.

The exact purpose of the Head, Sylvetter’s presumable reason for going about the complex and dangerous process of creating it (described, partly, in the Corpascum Directim, although that famous text has a section missing that presumably remained intact in Sylvetter’s copy, before that too was destroyed), is unclear, but it is likely that he would have hoped to gain useful information about the underworld or afterlife. Some versions of the story have the wizard using it to gather information about the afterlife for the Waylayer, Sylvetter’s secret master. Others say that he used it to commune directly with the Grenin Waurst, who owned the person whose head was used, protecting himself as he did so by standing within a circle of candles.

As his magical strength waned, and as the dementia progressed, the wizard had progressively less control over the skull, and eventually the house was filled with its screams, and perhaps those of Sylvetter’s too. To avoid such a fate, the inhabitants of the Hall will today perform the ritual set out so many years before; manually directing the lifeless jaws to the liver, sprinkling the grave earth, and finally delving into the dark below the Hall, candle lanterns in hand (a nice occult touch not technically required, but it certainly adds to the atmosphere), bathing the time-bleached bone casing in the steady trickle of water that may not have seen light for many years.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Southerly Band Sets Out
  • Secure Systems Discount Day