May 28, 2018

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A delightful Scottish word that means counter-clockwise, or the direction against the rising of the sun.  Because it was considered lucky or wise to follow the path of the sun, to travel widdershins was considered unlucky.  The Scots seem to use it in place of counter-clockwise, but it comes up often in pagan witchcraft for the use of dark or harmful magic.

The word comes from old German, literally meaning “against the way.” It’s Scottish opposite is “deisul.”

I came across the word in the British writer M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge. 



April 23, 2017


Built from or relating to an ancient masonry made up of no mortar and giant irregular blocks.

According to Webster’s, the name comes from the architecture in ancient sites like Troy and Mycenae where the design was so puzzling that it was suggested that only a race of Cyclops could have such strength to build this.

The word features prominently to describe the architecture of the fictional city of R’lyeh, resting place of Cthulhu.  The angles of the city were said to make no sense.


April 19, 2017

A person who begins to learn or study late in life, from the Greek opsé for late.

Just a great word I picked up from the great podcast A Way With Words.

Derek Bentley

January 22, 2017


Derek Bentley was a 19-year old British man hanged for the murder of a policemen during a robbery in 1953.  The case was noteworthy because it was Bentley’s partner, Christopher Craig, who shot the officer after Bentley, who had been detained, said “Let him have it, Craig.” There was some debate if Bentley was telling Craig to shoot or turn over his gun.

Ironically, Craig, who was sixteen, was ineligible for the death penalty while it was mandated for Bentley.

The unique situation, and further questions about Bentley’s mental ability, led to a 45-year campaign to pardon Bentley.  In 1998, the Court of Appeals rescinded the conviction.

I had only known the case from Elvis Costello’s 1989 “Let Him Dangle,” but only recognized it was a real story after hearing it mentioned again in Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen.

Codex Gigas

January 19, 2017


An illuminated bible, and the largest existing medieval manuscript in the world.  It is infamous for a unique and giant picture of the devil.  The manuscript is believed to be from the early 12 century by the work of single monk over 5-12 years named Hermann the Recluse.

The legend of the codex was featured in the Black Tapes.  The story tells of a monk, so despicable that his fellow monks had sentenced him to death by bricking him up in a wall.  The monk begged for his freedom by promising to illustrate a bible that would cement the monastery’s fame.  He promised to do this in one night.  Either way, it was a ridiculous promise, but because he was such a talented illuminator, the monks took the bargain.

When the time came for the manuscript to be due, the monk was woefully behind, so he made a deal with Lucifer to help him finish the book in exchange for his soul.  Hence, it forever became known as the Devil’s Bible.

A more reliable telling of the story can be found here.


January 10, 2017

Real-life Naglfar made by the artist Mike Libby

Norse for Nailship.

In mythology, it is a boat made entirely from the untrimmed fingernails and the toenails of the dead.  Nordic eddas have it that Loki and Hrym will pilot this ship full of the souls of Hel to Asgard to destroy the God.  This will be part of Ragnarök.

But, the process can be slowed.  If you trim the nails of the dead, then evil has less material to build from and the ship’s construction will be slowed.

Thanks to Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men for first pointing out this story to me.

Vigenère cipher

January 5, 2017

A Tabula Recta or Vigenère Square used with a password to crack the cipher

A powerful cipher that uses a keyword to create a series of Caesar ciphers — difficult to solve without the keyword, and easy if you have it.

A Caesar cipher shifts letters in the alphabet by a determined number, so ABCD with a shift of 3 would become DEFG.  The Vigenère uses several different Caesar shifts based on a keyword.  The keyword (e.g. Password) is repeated over and over again during the message (e.g. passwordpasswordpasswor…).  Each letter is paired with the encrypted message to produce a different shift based on a tabla recta — shown above and easily replicated.  As a result, the letter z might mean an t at one point in the code but it might mean an h at another point.  Without the keyword (or at least knowledge of how long the word even is), it is nearly impossible to crack.

According to Wikipedia, the cipher dates back to 1553 in the writing of crypologist Giovan Battista Bellaso but was incorrectly attributed to Blaise de Vigenère and named for him.

This was another cipher taught to me by the great minds behind the Mystery Experiences Company.