Life, just like Viking graves, is often full of surprises. But one thing is certain: warriors have always lived lives of pain and suffering and death. Every battle had the potential to be their last. And when faced with all that risk and fear, those warriors found ways to cope, often through the stories they shared. And, yes, those stories from the battlefield can be frightening, and sometimes even drove people mad. But if we want to dig into them, we need to be aware of an undeniable truth: sometimes the darkest places to look for folklore are also the most dangerous.
Episode 161 of the Lore podcast furnishes another answer to the question posed in the classic Edwin Starr song: what war is really good for is the development of folklore. Host Aaron Mahnke begins by surveying the relevant figures from Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology, and then outlines the types of soldierly superstitions that have arisen throughout history (e.g., premonitions of death, use of charms, alleged assistance by ghostly figures). A significant portion of the episode is devoted to the angels said to have rallied to the cause of British forces in the World War I Battle of Mons; the narrative grows even more intriguing by its entanglement with a contemporaneous weird tale written by Arthur Machen. The concluding segment shares some positively ghoulish lore surrounding the trench-warfare notion of “No Man’s Land.” Because battlefield superstition is such a fertile topic, one wishes that Mahnke had dug up a few more stories like this, but listeners will still find “Shell Game” well worth playing.