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Saturday, 17 December 2016


It’s a finely crafted chest made of walnut, but of a slightly mean character with four rows of six drawers. The drawers are 1.5 inches square and 3 inches deep and each contains a small clay figure: homunculi, 24 of them.


1 The chest is an Advent calendar, a ghoulish present by a Dr Rant to his sister, for his nieces. The homunculi themselves are carved to look like little people, sleeping in their drawers. Dr Rant promised that his sister would never have to suffer vermin if she accepted his present. Dr Rant’s sister disliked the macabre advent calendar and hid it their roof space, where it was forgotten

Time passed, and the house changed hands, several times. The house developed a peculiar reputation: pets never thrived and would disappear, or grow ill, or die prematurely.

When the roof space was eventually opened as part of building work for an extension, the Advent calendar was found, in perfect condition. Around the chest were hundreds of tiny bones from rats, mice and pigeons

2 The homunculi are crudely fashioned, and made of a mixture of clay, dung and blood: they are golems.

The interior of the chest, behind the drawers, contains a piece of parchment covered in writing. The writing is Latin, and when translated describes instructions for controlling the golems. The golems’ orders must be written inside a pentagram in which one or more golems are placed. A splash of blood and a short incantation complete the instruction.

Once activated, the golems carry out the instruction to the letter – and become inactive the moment they complete their task.

3 Each of the homunculi are extraordinarily detailed, and uncomfortably lifelike. Each one is unique, and dressed in fine robes suitable for 17th century nobleman and women. They appear to be representations of real individuals. Most of them are broken, however, with their heads severed as if by a chisel or knife.

Each homunculus has an eyelet in the top of its head, so that with a length of yarn or thread they can be suspended as if in a grotesque mobile. Four of the homunculi even have ancient thread still attached.

If any of the remaining intact homunculi are suspended, then they swing and spin before settling down into a very specific direction. Every time they are moved, they again swing and spin, before returning to that same direction. It’s always the same direction, as if they are pointing towards something.

The homunculi were commissioned by Mr Gideon Stem, an occultist. The figures represent powerful supernatural individuals. The homunculi, magically tied to the individuals, always turned to face them, and Mr Stem used this property effectively. He tracked and destroyed many of the individuals before removing their heads. He did not finish his task before his enemies caught up with him.

© Steve Hatherley

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