Borgvattnet’s Frightening Vicarage

In northern Sweden, there is a small town called Borgvattnet that may be home to one of the most haunted buildings in all of Sweden. In this slightly remote town consisting of just fifty full-time residents, the closest city is Östersund and the trains only run there on weekdays. It may not sound like much of a tourist destination but the strange and intriguing Vicarage draws visitors every year.

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The vicarage of Borgvattnet was first constructed in 1876. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a vicarage is usually the house where the priest and clergymen lived. During this time there were church endowments and clerical income (usually derived from land, tithes, and buildings) to support clergymen and make sure they had a place to sleep, eat, and serve the church. However, just fifty years after the vicarage of Borgvattnet was established the hauntings began.

The first officially reported hauntings took place in 1927, although it is not unbelievable that there may have been earlier oral accounts that were never recorded. The resident vicar of the time began to note strange happenings from around the vicarage that, at first glance, seemed harmless. These included unexplained noises and laundry inexplicably being torn off the line.

From the first recordings in 1927 through the last of the vicars, almost all who inhabited the vicarage noted or recorded strange, unexplained happenings. Sometimes it was typical and distant such as unexplained noises or the feeling of being watched but other times the activity was much more intense. The house remained a vicarage until the late 1970s.

Although she may not be a lady in white like our dear Resurrection Mary, there is a lady ghost seen around the vicarage. The first recorded sighting of her occured in the mid 1930s by priest Rudolf Tangden. While sitting in a room one evening like he had many nights before, he noticed a woman wearing grey appear in the adjoining room. Confused, he went to get up and ask her what she needed but as he crossed the threshold to the room she vanished. Sightings of this grey lady have continued and she is also sometimes associated with noises of crying, laughter, and music.

In 1947, during priest Erik Lindgren's last year in the old vicarage, activity seemed to have peaked again as unexplainable and poltergeist-like activity plagued the home. The reports of Lindgren were so intense that it gained national attention and was even mentioned in the national press. Erik Lindgren also recorded on the most infamous parts of the vicarage’s story - the rocking chair. Shortly after moving in, Erik was exhausted and decided to take a rest in his rocking chair and read for a bit. Inexplicably, he was thrown from the chair abruptly and aggressively and fell onto the floor. When he sat down again in the chair and righted himself he allegedly felt a strong force enter his body. Today, the rocking chair remains on display and is often see rocking by itself.

However, its reputation continued to precede it and soon scholars of the paranormal and beyond began wanting to further investigate this strange house. One of the most notable was when Tore Forslund, a noted “ghostpriest” visited the vicarage in the early 1980s. His intention was to rid the vicarage and the town at large of this heinous presence and haunting.However, despite repeated attempts, Tore gave up within a year and seemed to have little to no success as many still report strange happenings to this day.

According to Tony and Nicls Lakksonen, who now own the house and have a paranormal ghost hunting team, noted that when they first stayed overnight in the house: “All four of us had dizziness, nausea, headaches, and a strong feeling that we were not alone, that 'they' knew who we were. We tried to document down as much as we could during the only night we had, but because we were so affected, we got out of the house on a number of occasions and we came out dizzy with a headache. But we defied this feeling and spent 24 hours in total in the house."

Today the ghost hunting team mentioned above run the vicarage as a bed & breakfast for paranormal experience seekers. Although, if you don’t want to stay the night you can always stop by the cafe for a coffee and a quick peek around.

The above image is provided and hosted on Ghostwatch.

Franek Kluski

In the early 1900s, Franek Kluski was born, well not Franek. His given name was Teofil Modrzejewski and he grew up with a middle-class family in Warsaw, Poland. Most of his early life was largely unremarkable -- he had a family, many friends, served in the military, had a varied writing career, and even attained a coveted position on the board of a prominent bank in Warsaw. However, bubbling just below the surface...Franek was, allegedly, an incredibly gifted medium.

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Unlike many mediums, during this time period, Franek never performed publically or made a big show of his apparent capabilities. Franek would never profit from his work as a medium and only practiced it for about seven years (roughly from 1918-1925). During this stretch of time, he engaged in an intense series of experiments to learn more about his gift. Before and after these seven years Franek had only a minimal interest in the paranormal and was not interested in showcasing his power or work. In fact, he wanted attention so minimally he didn’t even use his real name as a medium and used Franek Kluski as a pseudonym. These choices likely come from wanting to maintain respect in professional circles.

Interestingly enough the seances we have records of were largely carried out in the presence of the Polish military. Franek had a good friend who was a colonel and that is likely where his “in” was attained. In addition to a military presence, independent researchers, academics, and several lay witnesses were also usually present during Franek’s demostrations.

From what we understand from records, as Franek never wrote his own thoughts or reflections on these experiments and experiences, the seance would usually begin with knocking sounds from around the room, usually off of furniture, walls, or the floor. As the knocking sounds continued to build the furniture would begin to shift and move around the room and strange noises with an unknown origin would begin to fill the air. Observers also noted that Franek would seem physically pained during these seances and would often remain sick for days following his exertion.

Most interestingly in seances were the materializations and subsequent creation of plaster molds that were made when an apparition, typically humans but occasionally animal, in its ectoplasmic form would submerge a body part in a bowl of warm wax. Often impressions of hands, wrists, or other body parts were created. However, they were so incredibly fragile many did not survive long.

Although some claim that the molds were produced fraudulently or smuggled in those who attended were in complete awe of these creations. Additionally, because Franek used a fake name, never made any money, and only involved himself for a few years in mediumship it makes a person wonder why someone would be so hellbent on such a complicated con.

Another interesting element to Franek’s seances was his ability to manifest animals, creatures, and even humans using spiritual energy. One of the most popular was a “Pithecanthropus”, which was typically described as a primitive man and/or humanoid ape with long tangled hair, an impish spirit, and a strange tendency to smack its lips together. Although it was intimidating and quite large those who saw this manifestation reported that the being appeared to be good-natured, although a bit dim-witted. Franek would attempt to control or settle it at times when it became distracting but it often ignored him or, if its feelings were hurt, it would hide and whimper. If it was in a good mood it was rumored to lick the participants. Eye-witnesses attest to these strange apparitions and strange photos of the Pithecanthropus and other manifestations have surfaced.

It is also of note to mention that activity surrounding Franek was not limited to when he participated in seances. In fact, phenomena was often said to flutter around him. Similar to poltergeist activity small fires would, allegedly, appear around him and most unusually from inside his own mouth. Sometimes people would report seeing a strange light haze or light spots around him as he slept or was engaged in highly emotional activity. His apartment was also said to be busy with unexplained noises and activity, like a typewriter typing by itself. People often reported a scent of Ozone following him.

Whether or not you believe in Franek’s abilities this strange story is certainly astonishing.

The above image was taken by Norbert Okolowicz - Wspomnienia z seansów z medium Frankiem Kluskim, Warszawa 1926. Franek Kluski with a cloth phantom. It is in the public domain.

Reflections on Mother Shipton

I couldn’t let my birthday go by without posting about one of my favorite astonishing topics: Witches. Today, I’ll be exploring the fascinating, tragic tale of Mother Shipton (who was never actually a Mother). Mother Shipton’s story begins in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, England...but by centuries later the stories of Mother Shipton have traveled the four corners of the world.

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Mother Shipton wasn’t born a mother at all, nor did she just happen into existence. In fact, we know quite about the girl who would become Mother Shipton. She was born in 1488 and named Ursula Southeil. Her mother, Agatha Southeil, was just fifteen years old and unwed and would never name Ursula’s father. Her mother chose to give birth in a cave on the banks of the River Nidd. Ursula was unusual from the start and was said to be one of the ugliest babies to ever exist (now, how much of this is just rumor that became glued to the legend is unclear). I do find it interesting to note that Ursula means ‘little bear’ so, perhaps Ursula was a bit unusual or even hairy and her mother felt inspired to give her that name (although that’s just conjecture on my part).

Ursula and her mother would not be together long, though. In some versions of the story, Agatha dies in the cave during childbirth and Ursula is happened upon but in other versions of the story, Agatha remains with her child until she is two or three. However, most stories agree that by the time she was three Ursula was being fostered by another family.

Strange things began to happen around this strange looking child. It was said that objects would often move, go missing, or shift about when no one but baby Ursula was in the room. In one particularly outlandish tale, it was said her foster-mother stepped out for a short while and left the sleeping Urusla tucked away in her crib. Soon after she left she heard a great racket coming from inside. When she thrust upon the cottage door she found Ursula was not in her crib and there were a dozen or so imps (who allegedly took on the appearance of monkeys. The imps set upon the foster mother but she shooed them away, searching for baby Ursula. She was finally discovered swinging up the chimney and retrieved.

It was said her mother abandoned her and refused to name her father not out of intense shaming or abuse, but because Ursula’s father was the Devil himself.

As she grew, she continued to appear strange to the community she found herself in. In Yorkshire Legends and Traditions by Rev Thomas Parkinson, it was noted that “She was of an indifferent height, but very morose and big boned, her head very long, with very great goggling but sharp and fiery eyes; her nose of an incredible and improportionable length, having in it many crooks and turnings, adorned with many strange pimples of divers colors, as red, blue, and mix’t, which like vapors of brimstone, gave such a lustre to her affrighted spectators in the dead time of the night, that one of them confessed several times, in my hearing, that her nurse needed no other light to assist her in the performance of her duty. Her cheeks were of a black, swarthy complexion, much like a mixture of black and yellow jaundices, wrinkled, shrivelled, and very hollow; insomuch, that as the ribs of her body, so the impressions of her teeth, were easily to be discerned through both sides of her face, answering one side to the other, like the notches in a valley, excepting only two of them, which stood quite out of her mouth, in imitation of the tuskes of a wild boar, or the tooth of an elephant. The neck was so strangely distorted that her right shoulder was forced to be a supporter to her head, it being prop’t up by the help of her chin. Her legs were crooked and misshapen. The toes of her feet looking towards her left side, so that it was very hard for any person (could she have stood up) to guess which road she intended to steer her course, because she never could look that way she resolved to go.”

This description, if you take out the colorful language, doesn’t describe a particularly devilish woman. However, if you consider that it was a popular belief at this time that people’s outward appearances were representative of their inner-selves you may understand why she was so ostracized.

As she grew older her repuation began to percede her and she became known for not only strange happenings surrounding her being, but also having the ability to cure sicknesses and even tell the future.

At 24, she found a partner who she would remain with their entire lives. His name was Toby Shipton and although there were crude jokes that he “must be blind” or under a spell to fall in love with Ursula he nevertheless stayed with her. The couple themselves were never scandalous or even ill-spoken about (except the jabs about Ursula’s appearances) of. They would never have children but Mother Shipton gained the moniker all the same. Unlike his wife, Toby made a more traditional living as a carptener. However, it was said that he was proud of his wife’s abilities and talents.

Mother Shipton likely gained the nickname “Mother” because of the care in which she dispensed prophecies, cures, and spells. She’s often described as a soothsayer or healer and was often turned to in her community and even surrounding communities for her wisdom and talents.

One of Mother Shipton’s most profound visions, and what gained her quite a bit of fame, was a story that Cardinal Wolsey would one day see York without reaching it. In 1530, just a few years after this alleged prophecy, Wolsey fell out of favor with the King and set out to shelter in the North where he’d be out of the King’s crosshairs. Although he could see the town of York, towards the end of his travels a Lord arrived with an official summons back to London. He was later charged for his actions and never made it back to York.

At this turbulent political time, Ursula became a beacon of knowledge so far away from court. It is said she predicted the rise of Lady Jane Grey and the fall of Mary Queen of Scots. All of this was written down many decades later in 1641. But there were earlier mentions of her, such as “In 1665, London suffered because of the Great Plague, one year later the Great Fire destroyed much of it. Samuel Peyps wrote in his Diary “See - Mother Shipton’s word is out.”

It is also important to note that the story of Ursula is so well known, in part, because it was featured in Heinrich Kramer’s infamous Malleus Maleficarum, the most popular witch-finding (and hunting) manual of the age.

Unlike other famous witches, Mother Shipton was not put to death. She is believed to have died sometime between 1561 and 1567. Because of her practice she was buried on unconsecrated ground.

Throughout the centuries the legends and her prophecies have grown and while we know that there was a healer in a small village known as Ursula Shipton it is believed that her prophecies (perhaps one or two were real) were mostly made up by Richard Head, the writer of her life story and prophecies, 80 years later.

I wanted to take today to write about Mother Shipton because it is an interesting, famous narrative about not an evil witch, but a witch that was motherly and intelligent and, perhaps feared...but also loved. Perhaps she was scorned for her appearances but it seemed she didn’t let that stop her from sharing her gifts, being kind, and falling and love.

The image in this blog post is a scan of the frontispiece of Mother Shipton investigated: the result of critical examination in the British Museum Library of the literature relating to the Yorkshire sibyl (1881). This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

The Silver Arrow

Through the Resurrection Mary series we’ve explored haunted roads...but what about haunted vehicles? In Stockholm, Sweden, there is a phantom train said to pull in every so often into active stations. It's called the Silverpilen, or The Silver Arrow.

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I found the link between the Silver Arrow and Women in White that haunt highways incredibly interesting. Similar to the Women in White, the Silver Arrow is a ghostly silver color and haunts common subway lines. There is, seemingly, no rhyme or reason as to when the Silver Arrow decides to show itself. In fact, you could ride the same lines hundreds of times before ever getting a glimpse of this strange train. But, those who do witness it have stories to tell.

The stories gained traction beginning around 1965. It was during this year that the Stockholm metro added eight unpainted, silver aluminum train cares. Standing apart from the regular green trains, the unpainted silver trains were met to be a test to check performance and if all trains should lose the paint to save money.

However, these silver trains were not popular among commuters. They were spartan test models, rarely seen and often avoided. The doors slid open on the outside of the train unlike others and inside it was sparse of ads, decorations, or even a little bit of human flourish. Thus, they proved fertile grounds for the rumor of a ghost train.

Similar to the Women in White the Silver Arrow also seems to enjoy appearing at night, rather than the middle of the day. According to some versions of the legend, it is only seen after midnight and before dawn.

The train is usually seen completely empty, or sometimes sparsely filled with ghostly passengers. One should never dare to board the Silver Arrow, unless you want to join its passengers for eternity or, perhaps even worse, arrive at Kymilinge which is rumored to be the station of the dead.

According to Urban Legend scholar Bengt af Klintberg, “The passengers in the train seem to be living dead, with expressionless, vacant looks. A very common detail is that a person who just wanted to travel to the next station remained seated for one week in the Silverpilen. Many girls dared not enter trains which they believed could be Silverpilen”

Going back briefly to the station of the dead, Kymlinge, it is important to note that this is a real station. Well, kind of real. The death of Kymlinge wasn’t due to anything paranormal but rather a lack of demand for the station lead the structure to never fully open to commuters. Thus, the Silver Arrow had its stop - the abandoned station, Kymlinge. Like the strange silver trains, Kymlinge lacked any human touch or flourish and felt strange and uncomfortable for those who did glimpse it.

There are some people who claimed to have survived the Silver Arrow. One commonality amongst those who do make their way off this strange train is a loss of time. Some travelers mention just a few hours of lost time after getting off, but others claim weeks or even months had passed before they were let off the Silver Arrow. Another commonality is the fact that many of these travelers claim that when they finally deboard the Silver Arrow they are released at Kymlinge.

The silver cars were retired in the mid 1990s, but the sightings of the Silver Arrow have not slowed. In fact, even Stockholm’s young people who certainly did not experience the trains back in the 1960s know to avoid any silver cars that pull into the station.

The above image is of Kymlinge Subway Station taken April 1, 2014. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

The Wulver

Werewolves have long been associated with horrible power, blood-thirstiness, a lack of control, and unbridled rage...but are all werewolves like this? Perhaps the bulk of them are and in movies, film, and books more often than not the werewolf is depicted either as a terrifying monster or a terrifying, yet tragic, figure. The Scottish werewolf, the Wulver, challenges some of our worst assumptions about the werewolf in folklore.

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Wulvers are said to hail from Scotland and specifically the Shetland Islands. Unlike typical descriptions of werewolves, wulvers seem only to have the head of a wolf while maintaining a human body. Although the wulvers have human bodies those bodies are covered in thick brown hair. Furthermore, it may perhaps be wrong to include wulvers in the ‘werewolf’ category in the first place. Why? Well, it is believed that wulvers were never human in the first place and do not go through a change or transformation.

Wulvers appear to live together and seem to have a desire to help human beings. One of the ways they show their support and love towards humans is through leaving gifts of freshly caught fish on the windowsills of the poorest families or those who need help the most. This practice is so widespread and it was so common to see the strange profile of the wulver fishing for others that there is a huge rock in the Shetland Islands named ‘Wulver’s Stane.’ Wulvers prefer to be left alone so it is wise to avoid approaching them, despite their kind demeanor.

Wulvers seemed to enjoy being near water and often lived in isolated caves that were not easy to discover or traverse. In a way, it seems like the wulver is also a symbol of hope for the poor in the area who were helped by these strange, kind creatures.

Interestingly enough, many Scots believed the wulver to be an evolutionary bridge between humans and wolves. I find this quite interesting because it seems to link wolves and humans in an interesting and intimate way. So often, wolves are seen as adversaries to humans (and vice versa) which is why I think ‘evil’ werewolf lore is so prominent. However, I think this “evolution” from wolf to human and the wulver being this kind soul in between shows that wolves, however ferocious they might be, have several qualities that humans find admirable - their power, their connection with nature, and their pack instincts. I feel as though the wolf’s connection to the pack and human’s connection to other humans is given a kind of ‘perfection’ through the wulver that strives to help those most in need.

There may an interesting answer to why the wulver was so highly documented. There is a disease called hypertrichosis, also known as werewolf syndrome, where a human is covered in short, brown hair. Perhaps this person, or even a family who was genetically predetermined to get this disease,  lived in isolation due to their affliction and, being human, still craved human interaction and kindness and so fished for himself and gave his leftovers to the surrounding community.

The above image is of Aith, Shetland and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license by Wolfgang Schlick.

Feverfew Folklore

Now that spring has sprung (at least in my neck of the woods) I thought it might be interesting to learn about some flower lore that goes back as long as the seasons. In particular, Feverfew. If you don’t recognize the name ‘feverfew’ you might know it by the handful of other names it goes by like featherfew, featherfoil, devil daisy, flirtwort, bachelor's button, maid's weed, midsummer daisy, missouri snakeroot, nosebleed, prairie-dock, vetter-voo, wild chammomile, or matricaria. Its scientific name is Tanacetum parthenium.

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Feverfew is a woefully short-lived plant that is native to southeastern Europe but can be found as far-flung as Australia, Greece, Egypt, and North America. In fact, there are records of the Feverfew plant being used in Ancient Greece and Egypt to cure ailments like menstrual cramps, inflammation, and general pain.

In Medieval Europe, especially during plague years, the feverfew flower was an essential part of cottage gardens. Local lore said that planting feverfew flowers by the house, especially near the door, would help protect those inside from the disease. Interestingly enough there is some data to support that this may have actually worked. While the plant’s magical qualities are up for debate it is believed that the rats that carried plague did not like the smell or taste of feverfew and avoided munching on, planting it by the front door may not have been a bad idea at all for those wary of the plague.

In addition to safeguarding against aches, pains, and perhaps even the plague feverfew was also known as a cure for elf-shot. If you’re not familiar, elf-shot was a common ailment in Europe and especially in England. It was believed that elf-shot was caused when invisible, ne’er do well elves shot invisible arrows into a person or animal. The invisible arrows would shoot localized and intense pain to wherever they stuck. Today, it is believed elf-shot might have been what we call today ‘muscle stitches’ or even arthritis. It is believed the spear-shaped leaves of the feverfew flowers are natural markers of cures against elf-shot.

Because of its links to curing aches and pains, it is also believed to be a powerful cure for those suffering from heart-sickness or rejection in love.

Today, there has been a fair amount of research done in how feverfew is used to treat migraines. According to the NCCIH, “Some research suggests that feverfew may help to prevent migraine headaches, but results have been mixed. However, evidence-based guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society suggest that a feverfew extract may be effective and should be considered for migraine prevention.”

The above image is of feverfew. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license by Zeynel Cebeci.

Why Do You Throw Salt Over Your Shoulder?

Old Wives’ Tales are among my favorite topics to delve into. Many people that I grew up with on the East Coast of America were familiar with the idea of throwing salt over your shoulder, especially if you accidentally spilled salt in the first place. I realized that I often perform this action mindlessly...but why do we do it and how did this old wives tale get its start?

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There seems to be an association with accidentally spilling salt and bad luck. This association makes sense when you realize how powerful salt would have been to people in a time before refrigerators, electricity, and grocery stores. Salt had the power to make food last, to cleanse, and was an important ingredient in many dishes worldwide. So, wasting salt by spilling it would likely be considered unlucky. If that’s the case...why do we waste more salt by throwing it over our shoulder? Well, one idea is that bad luck is given to you by the devil, a demon, or some unseen but horrific creature. If that’s the case throwing some salt over your shoulder may temporarily blind, confuse, or cleanse the creature and avoid it from touching you with bad luck.

Some tie it back to biblical times and relate it to the story of Lott’s wife who looked back onto Sodom (a place of great sin) when she was being led towards a moral place. In act of anger, god turned her into a pillar of salt. This places the devil ‘behind you’ and the good before so you throw salt behind your shoulder when you do something bad or perhaps are being tempted to blind him. It is believed throwing it over your left shoulder has become a popular addition to this old wives tale because your left side is the ‘sinister’ shoulder.

This practice goes back a significant amount of time and one can see that in the famous The Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. If you look closely at Judas in the painting you may notice that he is in the process of knocking over a small salt cellar. This action is meant to be a metaphor for his coming betrayal of Jesus.

Salt is often considered a powerful mineral because of its close associations with the ocean, purification, and preservation. Because of this it is often considered incorruptible or has the power to fix corrupted things. To me, it is unsurprising that is has power and folklore-inspired action behind it that is meant to stop evil or bad luck.

Do you know of any other folklore surrounding salt? I’d love to hear more and see how they connect!

The above image is by Flickr user Clifford.rhode and is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Is Mezhgorye Russia's Area 51?

If you’re interested in the astonishing it is likely you’ve at least come across a mention of Area 51. However, places like Area 51 aren’t restricted to America and, in fact, there are dozens of strange and unexplained top secret locations around the world. One of them is, surprisingly, an entire town. Mezhgorye, Russia is often referred to as Russia’s Area 51...and one has to wonder what lurks behind this strange and secret-cloaked town.

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Mezhgorye is a closed town in Bashkortostan, Russia located in the southern Ural Mountains (yes, the same Ural Mountains our beloved Dyatlov hikers trekked). It is close to Mount Yamantau and about 100 miles from Ufa, the capital of the  Republic of Bashkortostan. Its close proximity to Mount Yamantau is notable because since the 1990s satellites images have picked up major excavations and activity. Despite numerous inquiries, the Russian government has given a myriad of responses that have not given a full or completely credible answer. Some of the responses have claimed it is a food storage bunker, a bunker for Russian leaders, and even a huge mining operation (mining what? Who knows). Many believe that there is some secret base located there.

The creation of the town dates back to the late 1970s but it was not given town status until 1995 at which point it also got its name, Mezhgorye.

Curt Weldon, an American politician, became interested in Mezhgorye when news about Mount Yamantau began mounting and lacked a clear answer. According to him, "I went to Moscow and spoke with the deputy interior minister who was in charge of mining. I asked him if there was any mining activity there. He just shook his head and said he had never heard of it. So I mentioned the other name the Russians used for it: Mezhgorye. He said he hadn't heard of that either. Then he sent an aide out to check. Twenty minutes later, the aide came back, visibly shaken. He said they couldn't say anything about it."

Mezhgorye seems to be specifically created to house and cater to the people and their families behind the Mount Yamantau project, which Russia typically claims is a public works project. As of a 2010 census report, there were 17,353 people living in Mezhgorye and, presumably, many of them work on the Mount Yamantau project.

Although at first glance Mezhgorye seems to be a relic of the cold war, the fact that the project is still being worked on and the the town remains healthily populated indicates something else at work, similar to America’s Area 51 and its alleged secret underground labyrinth of secrets. To this day, Mezhgorye retains a special restricted area status.

The above image is from Pesotsky - Памятник and is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The Kelpie

Kelpies were mentioned on our Gremlins episode and I thought I’d provide a bit of a deeper background on these strange creatures of lore. The Kelpie hails from Scottish myth and they may just be among the strangest beings you’ve ever heard of.

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Kelpies have one of the great powers of folklore, shape-shifting. Although they usually take on the shape of a horse, but can also take on the appearance of a beautiful young woman or man. Kelpies have one goal - to kill you.

As horses, they may appear as darling ponies to little girls or strong, battle-ready horses to men. They are kind, tempting, and personable and, eventually, tempt the unsuspecting victim enough to get them to ride the Kelpie. Once their victim is securely on their back the kelpie’s hide grows sticky and unable to get off of. Then, the Kelpie will ride into the river and drown whoever was unfortunate enough to ride it. In addition to killing one person at a time, they also maintain the power to cause floods.

If a Kelpie lures you in human form, they also try and tempt you. Except, instead of being a beautiful horse they are a beautiful young woman. They appear to men in rivers and lakes and lure them from the water’s edge. Interestingly enough, there is a way to tell if you are being lured by an evil Kelpie or a young woman. How? Well, check for hooves. If possible, try to catch a glimpse of the young lady’s hands or feet above water and if you see a glimpse of for the hills. If you are particularly unlucky there is also a hairy, aggressive human that lurks by roads near rivers to crush them to death and drown them.

It is believed that Kelpies are a kind of demon or devil and the horse isn’t it’s true shape. And, like other demons of folklore, it can be overcome by human force. In addition to checking for hooves in the water, it is said if you suspect a Kelpie in horse form to hit it. It will be so surprised, it will ‘glitch’ and drop its horse form. Interestingly enough, Kelpies could also be forced into marriage. If a young woman stole the bridle of a Kelpie the Kelpie, in his handsome human form, he would be forced to be her husband.

One question you might be asking yourself throughout this brief overview is...why a horse? Horses aren’t typically aquatic creatures and have, for most of history, been an aid to humans. In Scottish mythos, horses represent pure and unbridled power that demands respect. Perhaps the kelpie adopted the horse as a way to gain trust and respect from the Scots. Or, perhaps the Scots invented this creature in horse form as a way to highlight its fearsome power.

The above image is from Flickr user Shando. It is licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The DC Flap of 1952

You’ve heard about the Chicago Mothman Flap, the Welsh Flap...but what about the Washington, DC flap? In 1952 UFOs were seen all over the nation’s capital, particularly that summer. On a humid Saturday Night, July 19th to be exact, air-traffic controller Edward Nugent at Washington National Airport spotted and reported several oddly slow-moving objects on his radar screen. These objects were not flying in from or following any kind of civilian or military flight paths. He made a joke about a fleet of flying saucers headed for DC...but little did he know how monumental this sighting would become.

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Shortly after Nugent reported the strange flying objects two more air traffic controllers spotted an unexplainably bright light that as soon as they laid eyes on it sped away at an impossible speed. These sightings were reported and tracked by the team at National. They had no idea that Andrews Air Force Base radar operators were making similar reports of unidentified blips. According to they were “slow and clustered at first, then racing away at speeds exceeding 7,000 mph. Looking out his tower window, one Andrews controller saw what he described as an “orange ball of fire trailing a tail.” A commercial pilot, cruising over the Virginia and Washington, D.C. area, reported six streaking bright lights, “like falling stars without tails.”

Soon enough, the objects were headed right for the White House and the National Mall. In a serious moment it was unclear what may happen but luckily the unexplained objects buzzed right over the Mall without any attack. However, two nearby F-94 inceptor jets were scrambled.

In addition to formal reports, there were dozens of witness reports on the ground that had been reported on the same strange path that the teams at National and Andrews had reported. By dawn, what the teams at Andrews and National had seen seemed to have cleared the area...but this night wouldn’t be the last of the DC flap. In fact, the next night’s radar, as reported by the Air force, the objects were backed and performed inexplicably powerful gyrations and reversals. Some reports clocked the movement of the objects at 900mph. HowStuffWorks reports, “At one point, as an F-94 moved on targets ten miles away, the UFOs turned the tables and darted en masse toward the interceptor, surrounding it in seconds. The badly shaken pilot, Lt. William Patterson, radioed Andrews AFB to ask if he should open fire. The answer, according to Albert M. Chop, a civilian working as a press spokesperson for the Air Force who was present, was "stunned silence. . . . After a tense moment, the UFOs pulled away and left the scene."

As a resident of DC, I find these reports particularly interesting. The airspace above DC is regulated to an altitude of 18,000 feet and planes fly through predictable paths. An object breaking these rules would be impossible to miss and quite frightening.

One week later on Saturday, July 26th, another pilot on a flight into Washington noted strange objects above his aircraft.

Another interesting thing to note is that the Washington National Weather Station confirmed a slight temperature inversion was present over the capital during this time. However, these inversions alone could not explain the activity on the radarscopes. Two other jets from Newcastle Air Force Base were also scrambled. One of the pilots reported nothing of note while the other said he saw a white light. Once again, sunrise began a new day and ended the sightings.

1952 was a key year for UFO research lead by the government. Since the late 1940s when sightings boomed Project Blue Book and other government-led initiatives arose to try and figure out what exactly was behind this phenomena. On top of this, the media was hungry for new stories. So, when the sightings leaked the Washington Post gave the flap front-page treatment with the snappy title, “‘Saucer’ Outran Jet, Pilot Says; Air Force Puts Lid on Inquiry” and the rest of the country followed suit and the sighting made national headlines.

Stepp Cemetery

Like many interested in the paranormal, some of the first scary stories I encountered in my youth took place in graveyards. Growing up, graveyards often seemed like mystical, sacred places that at once repelled and compelled me to examine them more closely. Tonight, I’ll be exploring one of the most haunted cemeteries in America: Stepp Cemetery located in Indiana.

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The graveyard is over one hundred years old and the oldest gravestone dates back to around 1851. It belongs to Isaac Heartstock, who was a veteran of the war of 1812. Unlike the grand and sweeping cemetery you may be picturing, Stepp Cemetery is quite small and is home to just 25 graves. It is located in Martinsville, a small town located near Bloomingdale.

Today, it is largely only accessible by foot and is deep within a forest. It was already a rural cemetery when it was still regularly active but in 1929 the land the cemetery sits on became part of the Morgan Monroe State Forest.

Many of the stories regarding Stepp Cemetery didn’t occur when the cemetery was regularly used but rather in the 1950s through the 1970s. By the 1950s the Stepp Cemetery had been largely forgotten as a cemetery at all and became a local clearing in the forest where teenagers would hang out. As Stepp received more and more living visitors, the stories surrounding this strange piece of land ballooned.

One of the most popular ghosts that are said to haunt Stepp Cemetery is that of a woman in black. A young woman dressed all in black can sometimes be glimpsed sitting on a nearby tree stump and humming to a baby bundled in her arms. The baby died just a few days after its birth and is buried on the east side of the cemetery under a tombstone that has the name ‘Baby Lester’ etched into it.

Many of the tombstones in this small cemetery actually belong to children, sadly. The Hacker family, consisting of Sir Malcolm Dunbar Hacker and his wife Ann had eight children during their marriage. However, half of their children died before reaching the age of 12. The entire ten members of he family were laid to rest in Stepp Cemetery.

In addition to the lady in black, disembodied noises, and other unexplainable experiences Stepp Cemetery was also once host to the Crabbites. The Crabbites were a fringe Christian sect that allegedly used Stepp Cemetery as a locus for their ritualistic practices.

Rhonda Ann Dunn, an archivist with the Brown County Historical Society, notes “There’s one part in revelations, where it says something about four corners of the earth where the angels will come, so the Crabbites believed the earth was square, because it mentioned four corners, and they had strange beliefs like that.”

After the Crabbites’ departure and use of Stepp Cemetery, the cemetery’s reputation continue to grow stranger.

In the 1950s a young girl was murdered near Stepp Cemetery and her body was dumped in the vicinity of the cemetery. It is said that her spirit continues to wander and search for justice. Her killer was never found, despite her mother’s work to figure out who had murdered her daughter.

Whether or not this strange, remote cemetery is truly haunted is up for debate...but the stories that pour from it remain interesting and consistent.

The above image is from scaryforkids

Gwrach y Rhibyn

Translated as the Witch of Rhibyn, the Gwrach y Rhibyn is a Welsh spirit that warns that death is fast approaching. Often compared to an Irish banshee, the Gwrach y Rhibyn takes on a hideous appearance. She often appears as quite ugly with long, black, knotted hair, black teeth, bone-thin arms and legs, a pallid complexion, and, in some cases, leather wings.

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Many stories of the Gwrach y Rhibyn seems to place her in or near a water source and she seems particularly enjoy suddenly leaping and scaring the victim. Other times, she will silently stalk her victims. The victims may feel a tingle or as if they’re being watched but the Gwrach y Rhibyn will not reveal herself until they pass a water channel or a crossroads.

When the victim is finally able to lock eyes with her she presents herself in all her horrible glory and shrieks. The person who sees the ghost is being warned of their imminent death, or the imminent death of someone close to them. Once the Gwrach y Rhibyn has revealed herself she utters one of a few different cries.  For example, f the person who is going to de is a man she yells: “Fy ngwr! Fy ngwr!” (which translates to My husband! My husband). Or, if the soon-to-be-deceased is a child she’ll yell “Fy mlentyn! Fy mlentyn bach!” (which translates to My child! My little child!)

In addition, to be a frightening harbinger of impending death, she also has other elements that make her all the more frightening. Despite her misleading calls mourning a child who is about to de, it is said she actually enjoys capturing and drinking their blood. She never kills the children, though. Instead, she terrifies them and takes a fair amount of their blood leaving them to find their way home alone. They often appear pale and sickly when they finally do arrive home. It seems she may even feed on the blood of babies by directly visiting them in their cribs. If a babe was healthy and strong when it was first born but grows to become more sickly and pale it is said that the Gwrach y Rhibyn must be feasting on it.

The blood stains her teeth black and adds to her horrendous appearance. Some descriptions of her also note that her mouth is caked in blood or she has one particularly long, a hollow tooth that she uses to drink the blood of the children.

Like small children and babies who are often defenseless, it was also said that she would drink the blood of the old and bedridden because they could not stop her advances.

Although strong, Gwrach y Rhibyn can be fought off with physical force. That is the only way to ward her off or remove her from feasting on another human.

The above image is of Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825. It is licensed in the public domain.

Stull Cemetery

You may distantly remember a quick mention of Stull Cemetery during our Sallie House series. Tonight, I wanted to bring you more than a mention of this strange place that simply adds to the strangeness of this part of Kansas (it is only an hour away from the Sallie House).

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You’ve visited graveyards before with Astonishing Legends, like Resurrection Cemetery and Greyfriars Kirkyard, but Stull Cemetery stands apart from these others for one reason: it is said to be a gateway to hell.

But, before we get to that part of the story let’s take a step back and a learn a little bit about the history Stull Cemetery. Stull, Kansas is located in Douglas County. During the mid-19th century, Stull was founded and settled by Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants. As the community settled and continued to grow they raised the funds for a church. The Evangelical Emmanuel Church was completed in the 1860s and parts of it remain to this day. And, like with many churches, the Evangelical Emmanuel Church also had a graveyard.

Interestingly enough there is a rumor that the original town’s name was ‘Skull’ and later changed to Stull in order to obscure the town’s relation to black magic and the paranormal.

Stories, urban legends, and myths have swirled around this particular church for over one hundred years. Many of them come from the tragedies the small town suffered such as a boy who was burned, accidentally, to death by his own father and several suicides with bodies found in public places. However, despite these tragedies and a strange road named Devil’s Road (before it was renamed in the 1990s) Stull Cemetery did not make it into print until the 1970s when one intrepid University of Kansas student told the story.

In 1974 in an article in the University of Kansas student newspaper examined several strange experiences in Stull Cemetery. The article goes on to say that Stull, and the cemetery especially, is haunted by legends of the supernatural, paranormal, and even diabolical. Furthermore, it reported on the legends that claim Stull Cemetery is one of the Seven Gateways of Hell where the devil appears in person. Specifically, he appears two times a year in the flesh.

However, many residents of Stull claimed they had never heard of the stories or dark associations the town had.

How did a small community in Kansas become a doorway for the devil? Well, there are a few reasons. Some believe that there was something evil about Stull long before the cemetery was even created, as suggested by the tragedies that befell Stull and even the reason behind naming Devil’s Road. Others claim that when the church fell into disuse witches, devil worshippers, and those who used ritual magic took it over and began to summon him and create the gateway for him. However, local lore has a specific story, that of the ‘Wittich’ grave.

In the cemetery, there was once a grave that had the word ‘Wittich’ engraved upon it. This grave stood close to the alleged hanging tree, a tall pine said to have hung more than one witch in its life. Furthermore, the bones in the ‘Wittich’ grave are said to be that of Satan’s own child conceived with a mortal witch. It is for this reason that the Devil visits each year to spend some time at his child’s grave.

There is a grain of truth in these legends, or at least one thing that can be proven. There was a hanging tree...but it was cut down in 1998 to deter legend trippers. Furthermore, it is clear that this legend had reach. In 1993 Pope John Paul II had his flight rerouted so he would not have to fly over the cemetery.

The church itself is also a strange building….It is said that it never rains within the church. In fact, there are hundreds of eye witness accounts that purport that even if it is raining in the cemetery or elsewhere in town if you stand in the crumbling church’s walls you’ll remain dry, even without a roof. It has been vacant since 1922 and was destroyed in many ways by vandals and when the lightning struck the church and cleaved a huge crack in its stone walls. The church was bulldozed in 2003 to prevent legend trippers as well and, as mentioned earlier, the hanging tree was cut down.

Today, Stull is largely abandoned and has a population of roughly 20. Its homes and businesses are largely vacant and most who visit come only for the cemetery. However, these tourists are not welcome. The cemetery and remains of the church are owned by Major Weiss and Harvest Hills LLC who was shocked as he had not approved the razing of the church.

The above image is entitled “An image of Stull Cemetery, KS, looking northeast during the day.” It was taken by Ayleen Gaspar and is licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

The Chernobyl Wolves

Chernobyl was an event that shook humanity and has continued to impact the world we know. If you’re unfamiliar, on April 25th, 1986 the No. 4 light water graphite moderated reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic nuclear accident. The power plant sat right next to the town of Pripyat, in Ukraine.

To this day it remains the most disastrous nuclear power plant accident in history due to cost, casulities, and after-effects. The after effects continue to this day with health disorders, cancer, and radiation affect those who were present. But, the cost wasn’t just centered on humans. Residual radioactivity remains in the environment, the now abandoned town of Pripyat, and the surrounding forested area. Everything from groundwater to flora to fauna has been affected. Now, over thirty years later, we’re wondering what the effects of the post-incident generations of wolves.

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The radioactive ‘forbidden/exclusion zone’ of Chernobyl used to be more heavily controlled. However, in recent years it seems that the gray wolves from this zone are venturing out past the zone and into ‘normal’ environments. The exclusion zone was 18.6-mile diameter around the reactor that was placed off limits. The exclusion zone is open to tourism today, though.

Why is this astonishing, you may ask? Well, it gives scientists a chance to study the possibility of how the mutant genes that they carry will spread and interact with the ‘norma’ populations of wolves the Chernobyl wolves are now interacting with.

For a long time, the gray wolves of Chernobyl have been near the top of the food chain thanks to the fact that very few humans have ventured into the exclusion zone over the years. Without the threat of humans, the wolves and other wildlife populations have, in many ways, flourished despite the disaster. They are thriving compared to other wildlife refuges in the world and their numbers are roughly seven times higher.

In an interview with LiveScience (linked above) study lead Michael Byrne, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Missouri at Columbia said: “with their population density within the zone estimated at up to seven times greater than in surrounding reserves.”

The study consisted of tracking fourteen gray wolves in the Belarusian region of the exclusion zone with the help of GPS collars. At first glance, these wolves are normal. They have four legs, two eyes, one tail, and, as Byrne playfully adds, “No wolves there were glowing.” During the summer of 2018, the team tracked a young wolf that departed the exclusion zone. This wolf was a male juvenile that spent weeks away from home, traveling 186 miles over 21 days...which is well outside the exclusion zone. Byrne notes that this is “the first proof of a wolf dispersing beyond the exclusion zone...Instead of being an ecological black hole, the Chernobyl exclusion zone might actually act as a source of wildlife to help other populations in the region. And these findings might not just apply to wolves — it's reasonable to assume similar things are happening with other animals as well.”

Wolves have not been seriously studied mutation-wise, but many other smaller animals in the exclusion zone show, even to today, the effects of the disaster. In an article regarding the story in National Geographic (linked above) it is notable that “In other smaller animals in the area, exposure to radiation has been associated with tumors, cataracts, smaller brains, and certain developmental abnormalities.”

However, there are those that believe that the radiation-effects may be all but gone out of the wolf population in the surrounding area. For example, scientists Anders Moller notes, how would a wolf with harmful mutations associated with nuclear disaster be capable of moving so far?

Although it is unlikely that the radiation in the exclusion zone affects the gray wolf population in harmful, intense ways it is possible some subtler mutations hidden to the naked eye may have occurred.

So, back to the mating issue. What would happen? Since the Chernobyl wolves don’t seem to glow, have two tails, or any other notable physical mutations it is likely that their children with those outside of the exclusion zone would also not have any notable physical mutations associated with the nuclear disaster. However, they may reap some benefits.

Bridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary biologist at Princeton University, says to Mashable “Not all mutations are bad...Mutations are the bread and butter of diversity and can enhance proteins, or gene expression patterns, etc…[but] they can also be harmful."

For example, “Just being in this zone may also force the creatures here to adapt to the irradiated environment, in an attempt to avoid potentially harmful mutations. In 2014, researchers found that some birds in the zone are now producing more antioxidants, chemicals that fight the cellular damage inflicted by radiation.”

We aren’t sure what radioactive affected animals mating with ‘normal’ animals will be like, but I look forward to future studies on the topic!

The above image is of Chernobyl warning signs. Jorge Franganillo from Barcelona, Spain - Red Forest. Liscensed under CC by 2.0.

Nuremberg, 1561

You might think UFOs had their heyday in the 1950s-1970s, but there are many interesting stories from hundreds of years before. Yes, you read that right *hundreds* of years before. One of the most interesting UFO reports comes from Nuremberg.

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On a seemingly normal morning on April 14th, 1561, chaos broke loose in the skies over Nuremberg. In the sky, seemingly out of nowhere, crosses, tubes, wheels and other strangely shaped multi-colored objects appeared over the city. They were said to number in the hundreds and appeared to be smoking. In fact, some even crashed into the ground (although their remains were never discovered). One thing that was noticeable? The smoke, which was apparently visible for miles. After the battle and the skies had somewhat cleared, it was said a large black, spear-like object was seen in the sky. Almost every witness that observed this strange event categorized it as a ‘battle’ or in some way aggressive.

This event was recorded in the Nuremberg Gazette shortly after, and it is no surprise. It is said that people emptied out of homes, businesses, churches, and other buildings to get a better view of what was happening in the skies above. Although there is clearly no picture, artist Hans Glaser created an image of the strange event for the Nuremberg Gazette.

Interestingly enough, I haven’t really found any stories or reports commenting about noise or spell. It seems that this was a highly visual event. This surprised me a bit, as there are significant reports of smoke. I wonder if the smoke was also in the air and it was just a typical smoke smell, or if it was largely ‘normal’ smelling.

The entire event began early in the morning shortly after dawn and lasted about an hour. Ancient Origins (the third link) shared a translated abstract from the paper, “The dreadful apparition filled the morning sky with cylindrical shapes from which emerged black, red, orange and blue-white spheres that darted about. Between the spheres, there were crosses with the color of blood. This frightful spectacle was witnessed by ‘numerous men and women.’ Afterwards, a black, spear-like object appeared. The author of the Gazette warned that ‘the God-fearing will by no means discard these signs, but will take it to heart as a warning of their merciful Father in heaven, will mend their lives and faithfully beg God, that he avert His wrath, including the well-deserved punishment, on us, so that we may, temporarily here and perpetually there, live as His children.”

Scientists theorize that the events were not UFOs or cognizant creatures but a freak meteor shower and perhaps some comets as well. Another trick of the light could be caused by ‘sun dogs’, although the witness accounts don’t make them seem very likely. It is believed that the people at the time thought it was an act of God (or gods) and took place in heaven. Others theorize it was early air tech gone wrong (or even fireworks), but airplanes and the concept of humans and large objects in flight were still centuries away.

Just a few years later another similar event took place nearby in Basel, Switzerland. However, instead of the colorful and bright display that the citizens of Nuremberg witness, the Basel event only involved black orbs. This event was also recorded in the city’s gazette.

What do you think happened that day? Was it an astonishing battle in the sky? Is there an astonishing, yet non-supernatural, explanation?

The above photo is Celestial phenomenon over the German city of Nuremberg on April 14, 1561, as printed in an illustrated news notice in the same month. It is licensed in the public domain.

Estes Method

If you have been keeping up with the multi-part documentary series Hellier, you may have heard their team mention the Estes Method. The Estes Method, also known as the SB7 Spirit Box Experiment, is one of the latest innovations in paranormal investigation. It is named the Estes Method due to where the method was conceived. Perhaps it has a little bit of the shine, because it was first used in Estes, Park, Colorado in the hallowed halls of the infamous Stanley Hotel.

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It all began in January 2016 when Karl Pfeiffer, also a part of the 2019 Hellier docuseries, Connor Randall, and Michelle Tate were brainstorming on a new way to make contact. What became the Estes Method began as a simple concept: What if they isolated noise from an SB7 Spirit Box (a popular ghost hunting device that sweeps the radio for noise which paranormal investigators believe are manipulated by the spirits to communication) and fed THAT into a person, making them the receiver.

To back up a little, let’s talk a little more about Spirit Boxes and, in particular, the SB7. Spirit Boxes are a device with a fairly simple goal in mind: to capture and output communications from spirits. How does a spirit box do this? Well, it uses a frequency sweeper with different millisecond intervals. During this time you’ll hear snippets and phrases that are believed to be controlled by or spoken by a spirit. Now, even ghost hunters acknowledge that there is a lot of audio pareidolia that happens and that not every word heard is a direct communication.

Sound a little strange? Perhaps...but isn’t everything astonishing marked by a little strangeness?

The hope of the Estes Method is to further isolate and concentrate on the random radio feed. One must have the SB7 Spirit Box tapped into soundproof headphones (so they cannot hear the questions being asked) and be blindfolded (so they cannot guess/read lips at what is being asked). Once this has been established, the other investigators in the room (not the person listening) ask questions and see if the radio snippet of the human receiver match. The human receiver says out loud any words or phrases they can make out.

According to Week in Weird, “With time to kill, the group hooked Connor Randall up to a pair of headphones and sat him down in the Concert Hall’s basement hallway, where the team had been experiencing increased activity in prior weeks. While Connor sat quietly, eyes closed, listening to a direct feed from the SB7, Pfeiffer began to ask questions pointed at the ghosts in The Stanley. To his surprise, Randall began to spit out answers… and they were making too much sense to be coincidence.”

Greg Newkirk of Week and Weird and Hellier shares his own thoughts on the method, “Having seen and utilized the Estes Method myself, the results are nothing short of stunning, and that’s coming from someone who loathes all forms of spirit boxes, radio sweeps, and “random” speech generators used by paranormal investigators. The brilliant part about the Estes Method is that effectively removes the “group bias” of spirit boxes, a side effect which taints their usage.”

Like Greg, I have also been skeptical of the ability of spirt/ghost boxes because there seems to be so much room for, well, just listening to chopped up versions of the radio. However, it does make me wonder if what the Estes Method has created is some kind of digitally-enhanced mediumship or if it could even be considered digital/technologically-aided scrying.

Scrying is a method of divination (just like the Estes Method is a method to spirit communication). Scrying is usually done in order to receive answers and largely question-based (just like the Estes Method). In fact, the word ‘scry’ comes from the Old English word “descry” which means to “make out dimly”...which, also sounds like what the Estes Method is trying to accomplish. Often, scrying is depicted with the use of a crystal ball, although other tools can be used. The medium, in the Estes Method this would be the receiver, acts as a focus for attention and clears their mind as much as possible. Once this is achieved, the scryer can hen use free association with perceived images (like images in a crystal ball) or even the changes of candlelight to lead the questions asked to answers.

I’m ending this with a quick look at the Estes Method with how-to guide to create your own Estes Method experiment. The below instructions come directly from Greg Newkirk’s fantastic article on the subject (first ‘link’ in link section):

  1. A willing Receiver and a willing Operator. In other words, someone to perform the Estes Method and someone to ask questions.

  2. A solid, tight blindfold. This particular type of mask, affectionately referred to as an “eye-bra” by Randall, works best.

  3. An SB7 Spirit Box, preferably the latest model. They’re much louder, which helps rule out fraud by unscrupulous Receivers.

  4. A pair of Vic Firth S1H1 or S1H2 Stereo Isolation Headphones. These are vastly important. If you aren’t using these headphones or an equivalent, throw out all of your evidence. These cans were made for studio drummers and block external noise up to 25 decibels, ruling out unintentionally hearing the Operator’s questions or outright fraud. If you see an investigator using off-the-rack headphones or earbuds, they’re performing the experiment incorrectly and might be trying to pull a fast one on you and the viewer. Anything less than 20 decibels of sound isolation won’t cut it. Stick to the Vic Firths. A general rule of EVP playback applies here as well: beware of sound-cancelling headphones. These types of headphones work by playing a tone that deafens the ears to outside sounds; you don’t want your headphones accidentally muting a spirit voice that might whisper through your feed.

This image is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) and is by Flickr User tomasz lusiak and is entitled ‘crystal ball.’

The Tokoloshe

Today we visit South Africa for a story about the Tokoloshe, a small and terrifying creature that seriously messes with your ability to have a restful night’s sleep. Tokoloshes are a creature from Zulu mythology that inhabit South Africa. These creatures attack you in your sleep and are said to be a part of the reason while many people in the Zulu culture used to sleep with their beds raised off the floor.

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Tokoloshe are described physically in a large variety of ways. One constant seems to be their small size. Sometimes they are described as small humanoid creatures (like gremlins or brownies) and other times they are described more primate-like.

These creatures are malevolent and very dangerous. They are said to crawl into sleeping people’s rooms and cause all kinds of havoc - from simply scaring them all the way to choking them to death with their long, bony fingers. It seems to particularly enjoy scaring children, often leaving them with long scratches on their bodies. One way to keep the Tokoloshe at bay is to put bricks beneath the legs of one’s bed. This will you put you out of reach, and hopefully out of harm’s way, of the Tokoloshe.

Tokoloshes are creatures called upon by those with magical abilities (like witches) to wreak havoc and pain in a community.  One of the ways the witches are able to keep them docile is to cut the hair out of their eyes so they can see and feed it curdled milk.

If a Tokoloshe continues to terrorize a household or a community a sangoma (Zulu witch doctor) is summoned to exorcize the area and/or the home with the use muti, a kind of traditional magic practiced by the sangoma.

But why was the Tokoloshe such a promintent and terrifying creature? And why did it only attack the sleeping? Well, there might actually be a very real, terrifying reason for the creation of this creature.

Let’s back up to the sleeping arrangements quickly. As mentioned above, raised beds are an important way to combat the Tokoloshe. Traditionally, many South Africans in areas rife with Tokoloshe myths slept on grass mats encircling a warm, wood fire that would keep them warm during the bitter winter nights. However, sometimes healthy people would inexplicably be found dead come morning.

Why? Well, the Tokoloshe of course.

But, there is a theory that sleeping close to the fire in their homes may have depleted the oxygen levels and filled the home with carbon dioxide. As it is heavier than pure air, it would sink to the bottom of the home where people slept. Thus, seemingly healthy people and sometimes entire families would be found dead. A parallel was found between elevated sleepers and a lack of death so the Tokoloshe was told as a story forewarning those who slept close to the ground (and the fire). While it might not be an actual malevolent creature, what kept away a Tokoloshe would also keep away death from carbon monoxide.

The feature image is by Flickr User Jason Rogers, entitled Day 466 / 365 - Reach for the Light and liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Rusalka

Sirens, mermaids, fish-people...notions of humanoids that live in water pervade many cultures throughout the world. The Slavic peoples are no different and their own mermaid myth. They call them a rusalka.

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The folklore of the rusalka has been dated back to the eighth century although it was probably a part of the oral tradition for quite some time before it was written down. In fact, the rusalki are said to be descended from Bereginya. Bereginya, in Slavic folklore, is the great goddess and creator of the world. According to the Slavic Chronicles, “Bereginya is basically a combination of  “hearth-mother,” associated with the guardianship, even of the nation itself,” although some consider her to be a spirit.

Unlike some stories of mermaids, the rusalka are made from human choices and do not seem to be a race of creatures independent from humanity. What I mean by this is the idea that rusalki are created, not made. It is said that a variety of circumstances can transform a human into a rusalka, although many have to do with death. For example, if a young woman dies a particularly violent death related to water she may become a rusalka. Other times it deals with suicide, such as a young woman drowning herself because she has become pregnant by wedlock or rejected by a lover. Others say that any young woman who dies a virgin is bound to become a rusalka.

Another interesting fact, if one considers these potential origin stories, is that the rusalki are said to have a finite time in the world. According to Ancient Origins, “These souls linger on in water until their allotted time on earth is complete (this version of events usually accompanies the violent death or suicide origin stories). Others must remain until their death is avenged (this version of events usually accompanies the murder or jilted lover origin stories).”

As folklore has grown and mutated throughout the centuries so do the rusalka looks. In the earliest stories regarding rusalki their hair and eyes are described as blue and green while later stories their hair is described as red, the color of sin. However, their shapeshifting powers seem to remain constant with their ability to transform into animals related to the water such as fish and frogs. Another constant is that they are not half-fish, they appear as typical human women with feet. However, they do have the ability to survive in and manipulate water.

Like sirens, it is believed rusalki are predators. They tempt people, in particular young men, by her voice or physical appearance. Once tempted, she traps him and pulls him under the water. In folklore stories of heroes the rusalka often represents a ‘test’ and if abused or if the hero fails the test he will be cast into a watery grave.

However, they do have some protective power and don’t seem to be all bad. For example, during harsh storms, hail, and other intense water-related weather if they are worshipped correctly, they will protect the people. It is also believed that rusalki take revenge very seriously. According to Slavorum, “In other stories a rusalka may fall in love with a man from the world of the living but they always end in tragedy. No good may come from such a love story and there is no happy ending for the poor rusalka’s damned soul: she’ll haunt the river forever with her sorrow and vengeful fury. Even almighty Slavic Gods Perun, Svarog, Veles and many other couldn’t stay indifferent to a beauty of Rusalka.”

Today, some places still celebrate Rusalka Week, also known as Green week, which occurs after Easter. It is said that at this time the rusalki are supposed to be at their most powerful and they sing and dance in the woods bringing with them water to reinvigorate life.

The featured image is Załaskotany (cykl Rusałki). Olej na płótnie. 38 x 109,5 cm. Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego w Krakowie and is liscensed under the public domain.

This is your Brain on Mud

In 2009 archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust found one of the rarest items in all of the field of archaeology: preserved soft tissue. It is extremely rare in archaeology to discover soft tissue remains of creatures. When skin, flesh, hair, and more are discovered it is entirely unique and has the potential to forever change our understanding of days gone by. So, what was the rare soft tissue find that the York Archaeological Trust discovered? A brain.

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This brain was discovered in Heslington, York, England during the excavation of an Iron-age dig. One of the items discovered was a skull, with the jaw and two vertebrae still attached. This find wasn’t incredibly surprising, but when the skull was being cleaned, Rachel Cubitt noticed there was something...inside.

The 2,000-year-old brain was harboring a secret, it was harboring a brain. Rachel notified the team and they immediately reached out for an expert medical opinion. Shortly after, the skull was scanned at York Hospital and the existence of a preserved brain was confirmed. Dr. Sonia O’Connor, a research fellow at the University of Bradford said, "This brain is particularly exciting because it is very well preserved, even though it is the oldest recorded find of this type in the UK and one of the earliest worldwide."

A team of over 30 researchers have been studying the brain ever since and have discovered a few interesting things about the person behind the brain. This person is a man and is believed to have lived during the 6th century BC. Researchers have also discovered his cause of death. At the time of his death, he was somewhere between 26 and 45. It appears that, through analyzing the remaining vertebrae, that he was hit hard on the neck and then the neck was severed with a small, sharp knife. The head was removed completely shortly after he was killed and then the body was buried. Where he was buried was a clay-rich ground with a fair amount of moisture, which provided a sealed and oxygen-free burial.

Although the brain did change (for example, it shrank) it preserved roughly the same shape as well as defining brain-features that are found only in brain tissue.

We know how this man died, but the reason(s) for his death remain unknown, although some believe it was ritualistic. The brain is now known as ‘The Heslington Brain.’

The featured image is of the Heslington Brain and is liscensed by the University of York under fair use.

Italy’s Red House

One of my favorite things to write about on this blog is haunted houses you may have never heard of. This particular haunted house came to me thanks to someone posting about it in the facebook group. So, without further ado, let’s head to the mountains of Cortenova in Italy and open the doors to Villa De Vecchi, also known as the Red House and what may be one of the most haunted homes in Italy.

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Villa De Vecchi lies just east of Lake Como in the bewitching, lush forests in the mountains of Cortenova. Villa De Vecchi, in addition to being known as the Red House, has also been called the Ghost Mansion and the House of Witches (Casa Delle Streghe). It took three years to build between 1854-1857 and was initially created to be the summer home of Count Felix De Vecchi. The count specifically sought out his friend and architect Alessandro Sidioli to design the home but it would be Sidioli that would serve as the first bad omen for Villa De Vecchi. Sidioli would die one year before the completion of the home and would never be able to see the finished project.

Some of the rumors about the home might be about its unique architecture, at least for Italy. Before he became a decorated war hero Felix spent much of his youth traveling through Egypt, India, and the Middle East. While traveling he wrote and sketched beautifully of his adventures and even published them in a book, which was celebrated. His travels continued in the early 1840s during his honeymoon with Carolina Franchetti di Ponte. His reputation as a lover of eastern art, architecture, and culture proceeded him and it only made sense that his home would reflect the architecture and art he so admired.

The family lived in the summer retreat for several seasons enjoying the beautiful architecture and lush forest that surrounded them. However, as the legend states, one summer the tranquility of the home was forever changed. In 1862 while the Count was off working his daughter and wife stayed at home in their summer retreat without his protection. In a move that was believed to be born out of anger for Felix’s support of Unification, a team of people unknown to this day snuck into the home and brutally murdered his wife and stole away his daughter. Although he searched for her, it was in vain and she was never discovered. In a fit of pain and unable to continue on without his family, he took his own life.

Although this seems like a legend bound to create a  haunted house, it has been largely debunked. According to Italy Magazine, this tale is, “Not true. The building was abandoned and fell into disrepair after De Vecchi’s death.”

However, it is said the house was never habitable again for a consistent amount of time, even as a vacation home. Although several aristocratic families tried to make their stake in the beautiful and utterly unique home each left shortly after spending time on it. Some say it is because of the ghosts of Felix and his family, others say the very ground is cursed, and others say that something about the house just seems to drive people...mad.

However, the home’s reputation continued to make its way around Europe and in the 1920s infamous occulist, Aleister Crowley spent a few nights in the home. Although it is not reported quite what he did there his visit inspired many of his fans to also make pilgrimages to the Red House. Fans began to flock to the home and rumors of ritualistic orgies, animal sacrifices, ritual harm, spell-casting, astral projection, and other occult activities began to swirl.

Locals of the area say that the infamous, but now destroyed grand piano, can still be heard distantly playing in the distant. Urban explorers frequent the site to this day, although it is now off limits since the second floor collapsed and injured an explorer. Although it has been heavily affected by the elements the house miraculously survived a 2002 avalanche. Large boulders came falling down throughout the moment but they stopped mere feet before they reached the home. And, as Italy Magazine says, “ Locals are not sure that was a good thing.”

The featured image was taken by jeff kerwin and is licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).