Many people have heard of smudging, but what about Saining? I’m not talking about the kind of saining you did as a fourth grade experiment but the spiritual kind. Saining, in this sense of the word, is focused on a Scottish blessing and protecting and is usually seen as a protective charm.

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Traditional saining rites are similar to other rites around the world and usually focus on water, smoke, and repetition. In general, saining practices serve a very simple purpose: to remove influences of negative spirits. The goal of saining is to help safeguard the health, well-being, and general spirit of an individual or household.

Similar to Smudging from Native American practice, Saining rituals can include smoke. Instead of sage, juniper is used. Juniper was readily available and usually able to be burned in large enough quantities to create enough smoke to sain an entire home. Sometimes, when gathering juniper, it was said picking it in a certain way made it better for saining. For example, they should be pulled by the roots then made into four bundles and carried home between each finger while repeating:

“I will pull the bounteous yew,

Through the five bent ribs of Christ,

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,

Against drowning, danger, and confusion.”

However, saining with fire is not the only when to sain. On each Quarter Day and several festivals it was suggested one should sain their doorways and walls of their home with saining water, specifically ‘magic water.’ Magic water is typically water that has been in contact with gold or silver, or been spit in by members of the household. Usually this water was taken from a stream that both the living and dead were believed to have crossed. The water would then be sprinkled throughout the house, all the windows and crevices would be scrubbed, and saying a charm like the one above. Some left over water would be saved and poured over a fire to create smoke to fill the home.

Saining was often carried through several times during the year but almost always on New Years Day to establish protection and clean energy for the coming year.

The above image comes from cogdogblog and is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Witte Wieven

As noted in our Resurrection Mary series, Women in White seems to be a folklore tale that spans the world. In particular, the Netherlands has an interesting take on these kind of specters. They’re known as the Witte Wieven and, instead of ghosts of women wronged, they are portrayed as fairy-beings or the ghosts of wise women past.

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Similar to Women in White of American lore, Witte Wieven has a type of uniform. They’re usually describe as ethereal beings that are dressed in veils and seem to produce fog that keeps them largely hidden or obscured. As mentioned above, what they are does allow for some debate. Some believe they are the healers of folk religions that have passed and others believe they are a kind of fairy, wight, or elf. Personally, I find the idea that they are the ghosts or remains of wise women to be quite convincing simply because ‘Witte Wieven’, though it literally translates to White Women, also is connected to Wise Woman. How? Well, in Dutch Low Sax ‘wit’ means wise.

Witte Wieven don’t appear to wait by the roadside, but instead inhabit dolmens, passage graves, and other tombs in addition to motte-and-bailey castles. Although, it appears they did have some freedom of movement and would sometimes travel outwards to the fields and forests surrounding their domain. In some tales, they would dance and temp those who came across them to follow them. Although it is not clear where they would be led many were never seen again. Like banshees, sometimes seeing them was believed to be a bad omen or even a sign of looming death.

In a story close to what happens when one enters a fairy ring, the Witte Wieven of Monterflan drove a farmer quite mad. “A farmer called Gert van Beek was sitting in tavern was ordering beer after beer, at the end of the evening he was totally drunk and decided to leave, but the other people in the tavern advised him to stay a little longer because this was the time when the White Women were roaming the forests; "Don't you know that the White Women are on the prowl at 12 oclock during full moon? Just wait a little longer before you go!" the farmer laughed about this and said; "if I encounter any of them I will ask her for a dance!", and he went outside. On the way back to his house in the village of Beek he took a shortcut through the forest and suddenly he saw strings of mist appearing between the trees, he could not see a thing and all around him was the grey shroud of the fog, he saw figures being formed in the mist and suddenly three White Women appeared in front of him of which one approached him. Gert was still very drunk and impudently he asked her to dance with him; the White Woman grabbed him and started dancing, she continued through the entire night and would not stop, Gert desperately tried to free himself but he had no control over his body anymore and had to continue with the White Woman's death-dance, the sweat was pouring from his face and he begged the White Woman to stop, but she continued and made him dance like he had never done before. The next morning Gert's body was found by some villagers after he had literally danced himself to death.”

Johan Picardt, a 17th century Dutch doctor and historian, wrote about them in 1660: “Among the mounds, one can find a few that have sunken in and which used to be hollow. Wherever you go, you will hear the people say that they used to be the homes of the white women, and the thought of their various works is still so fresh in the memory of many grey heads as if it had all happened only recently.

In some places where one finds these dwellings of the white women, one will hear the inhabitants declare that in some of those great mounds the white women used to live; that they used to be haunted; that they used to hear terrible cries, moans and laments of men and women; that day and night the white women fetched and helped women during labour, even when all seemed desperate; that they predicted people their good and bad fortune; that they pointed out the hiding place of things that had been lost or stolen; that the people honoured them and recognised all that was godly in them; that some of the inhabitants had on a few occasions been inside these mounds and had seen and heard incredible things there but had been made to swear on their lives not to speak of it; that they had been quicker than any creature; that they had always been dressed in white and were called not white women but simply whites because of it.”

So, it seems these creatures are complex and have a more detailed background than one might initially guess. Although they fit into the Woman in White legend, these creatures seem to bridge the spirit world and the other world, landing them in a unique place in the wider Woman in White mythos.

This image is from Flickr user Rosmarie Voegtli. Licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The Key of Hell

Manuals are often seen as mundane, typical, or otherwise boring. We have manuals for our cars and our microwaves and our assembly-required furniture. But, there was a time when there were manuals for black magic. One of them was called The Clavis Inferni (the Key of Hell) written in the late 18th century. It’s full title is lavis Inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metatrona, which translated into English is: "The Key of Hell with white and black magic proven [or approved] by Metatron."

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The book itself is written in several languages, including Latin, Hebrew, and even a cipher-based alphabet. It is believed to be the Black Book, a textbook used of the Black School of Wittenburg (an alleged German magic school). We also don’t know who the author is, as it is labeled as ‘Cyprianus’, however, Cyprianus is a common apocrypha author for magical texts, particularly black magic texts. The mention of Metatrona is a reference to an angel Metatron (referenced in Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Kabbalistic texts). Metatron may sound familiar to Supernatural fans but this angel is important to magical texts because he is the angel of the veil, celestial scribe, and the highest ranking angel, so it makes sense a manual of magic would be run by him.

The book itself is filled with detailed illustrations, sigils, invocations, directions, and supernatural themes. And, as the subtitle suggests, strong themes of Kabbalah and religion run through it. Several important occult figures also get shout outs in the released pages, including Paymon who is depicted as “King of the West.” Paymon (or Paimon) for those who have seen Hereditary may ring a bell. Paimon was named in the Lesser Key of Solomon (also known as the Ars Goetia), another grimoire complied earlier in the 17th-century. Paimon is a King of Hell obedient to Lucifer. He has various powers that attract his followers including reanimating, create visions, knowledge of all events past and present, and knowledge of secret things.  

It also includes information and spells on how to banish a demon, written as Fuga Daemonium. So, it seems that while you may summon and interact with might also want the ability to banish it back to hell when it has served your purposes.

It was released in the public domain but, to date, a full key to read and understand it has not been made public knowledge or otherwise shared. Historian Benjamin Breen, who discovered the text in Wellcome Images, notes “Only the elect, or those with direct knowledge passed down from a magical practitioner, were thought to be worthy of understanding books like this. Contemporary practitioners of “magick” might try to unlock them, and historians might successfully contextualize them, but in a very real way, these books will always be ciphers to us.”

The above image comes from the Wellcome Library and is liscensed under the public domain.

What’s in a Love Potion?

As a young girl I’ll admit to have being enamored by the idea of love potions, and a bit afraid of being given one. As I grew up I continued to see love potions in media, in fiction, and as a cultural touchstone that people could comment on, regardless of if they knew what was in them or their history. Recently, I’ve stopped to wonder what exactly was in these medieval-seeming potions of yore.

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Love potions don’t serve just to create an obsession in the object of your desire for you, but they were often allegedly used to inflame or cool down libidos, used to create political alliances, and generally manipulate those around you, regardless of if you had a romantic interest in them or not.

Love potions differ, but they typically include a mix of secrecy and, usually, bodily fluids. One of the most popular fluids was sweat. Love Cakes were quite popular medieval treats...but they aren’t quite as good as they sound. The cake, which was in all likelihood more of a bread, would have to be made while naked. Then, when the dough was completed they would rub in under the armpits, genitals, leg, neck, and lower back to soak up their sweat. Once finished, they would feed it to their hopeful beloved...and, if everything went correctly, they’d be lovebirds in no time.

Blood, particularly menstrual blood, was also an important part of blood magic which is sometimes tied to love potions. Most blood-based love potions required the blood of the spell-maker, but some also required the blood of the beloved (which must have been...weird to get). But, blood as an indigents shouldn’t come as a surprise as blood, and blood magic, was an incredibly popular ingredients and spell-work at this time. The fear, awe, and life-giving ability of blood of course makes it an essential part of most magic, including love spells. Blood is life and, to a point love (or, at least love-making) is also life. However, using blood can be binding and could even turn the love potion into a kind of emotional slavery.

Now, not every love potion demanded the use of bodily fluids (although those seem to be more purportedly potent) but many required a level of secrecy. For example, according to the lore of the Carolina mountains you just needed to come across some liverworts with heart-shaped leaves. Once you discovered these naturally occurring heart symbols, you would need to pick them and dry them out by a fire. Once dried, the leaves should be crumbled and made into a loose powder. Without your beau knowing, sprinkle this liverwort powder on some of their clothes. Before you know it, they’ll be pining for you (or the person of your choosing).

Another plant-based element popular in love potions were mandrake roots. You might know mandrake roots as witches’ familiars and important in other magical potions. However, it’s also been historically treated as an aphrodisiac. It’s connection to love and human control is likely due to its humanoid appearance. One could also be used as a fertility amulet worn around the neck.

Perhaps more strange and more sinister than sweat or blood or plants is the use of deceased people for the most intense of the love potions. Often, human cadavers were used for their bones. The bones would be ground into a powder and used in love potions. It seems that, when it comes to bone powder, the corpse doesn’t matter as long as its a corpses. However, some recipes called for very specific deceased persons. For example, one exceedingly powerful one called for the spleen and bone barrow of a young boy that had been murdered. However, it seems that many believed during this time that the bodies of the dead had particular power.

I think love potions are a way to control something we don’t always have control of - who we, or those around us, love. Love is an extremely powerful emotions so controlling it would obviously be an attractive power.

What’s in a love potion seems to align with most other spells and potions and it is the intent that truly makes the difference. Like power, life, luck, and other states achieved by magic love requires similar powerful objects derived from nature but molded and use just a little differently.

Scenes of Witches, Salvator Rosa. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Beware the Fairy Ring

Beware the Fairy Ring

Have you ever seen a gathering of mushrooms in the shape of a near-perfect circle and been drawn to it? Well, do your best to take care because that might just be a fairy ring. While it may seem like a harmless, everyday occurrence of nature according to lore this spot marks the boundary between our world...and theirs.

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To many, it would seem that these rings would appear overnight and their quickness was a sign of an otherworldly presence setting up shop. Sometimes, one can even see the creators of these rings dancing around them. Other origins have them linked to fairies dancing and/or parties from the night before or burned into the ground by their dancing feet. Fairy rings, as inviting as they may seem, often have malevolent intentions.

If you dare to enter the ring there is no telling what could happen to you. In some cases, it is mere humiliation. For example, Fairy Room reports that anyone who enters a fairy ring may be “welcomed and have fun at first, but the dance will start to move faster, and then faster until the speed confuses his human senses and he falls to the ground exhausted. The playful fairies, riled by the unconscious body, throw him high into the air through the combined effort of many tiny, magical arms. The unhappy human interloper wakes in the morning to find the fairies gone, the merriment over, and himself covered in bruises.”

However, the effects of fairy rings can be much more harmful and intense than mere humiliation and a handful of bruises. Some people spend a night in a fairy ring and are driven insane or even whisked away to fairyland permanently, with no hope of ever returning home.

Fairies sometimes feel as if the humans are imposing when they cross the boundary. To protect their portals, they often curse those who intrude. For example, the fairies would forever plague you of visions or even premonitions that would slowly but surely ruin your life. Or, if you ate while in fairyland it is said that as soon as you eat human food, you will crumble into dust. Others warn of plagues of disease, bad luck, and even early (and eerily unexplained) death.

However, fairy rings weren’t all bad. As long as you respected the rings they were seen as a good omen. If one popped up on your land they were said to bring good luck to your household for however long they remained. In parts of Africa, they were also believed to be the souls of dead or symbols of the human soul and also seen as a positive.

Fairy rings do naturally occur. The fungi create a ring or arc within the soil which affects the grass and, in turn, grows up through the greenery creating a circle of fungi. They vary in size from just a few inches to 100 feet. The grass within the ring can sometimes die and wither, which leaves an even more permanent mark in the land. They seem to pop up overnight because the tops of mushrooms represent a huge network of subterranean mycelia. Interestingly enough, perhaps with some understanding of how fungi work, it was believed in Wales that seeing a fairy ring indicated an underground fairy village that should not be disturbed.

This image was created by user Sporulator at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Strength of Garlic

Most people know garlic as a popular ingredient in many delicious dishes, some people know garlic as a way to ward off vampires, but not many people know the power and folklore behind this flavorful bulb.

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Although garlic seems to have originated in Central Asia there are now wild varieties worldwide and it has been grown, used, and consumed for some 5,000 years. For those 5,000 years, it seems it has been a prominent element of folklore and spells. For example, in Indian, it is said the garlic came from a drop of amrita (similar to ambrosia) left behind by the Garuda, a giant bird, while he was sleepy and a little careless. Garuda is said to drive away black magic, negative spirits, evil incantations, and even has the power to remove all poisonous effects in one’s body. The Bowers Manuscript featuring Buddhist medical treatments states that the first garlic in the world appeared where a demon’s blood fell, which seems to give the food a strange power.

And, according to the ever-prolific Pliny the elder garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the ancient Egyptians when they took oaths. This was later supported when archaeologists often found clay garlic bulbs placed in Egyptian tombs and pyramids for the dead to use in the next life.

The Ancient Greeks also treated garlic with an elevated sense of purpose. Those going on long journeys or passing crossroads at night would place or bury garlic at crossroads. Why? As a dinner for Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, ghost, and necromancy, to gain her trust and protection. They also believed that garlic could use to ward against the gaze of the evil eye. Many ancient Greeks would wear a triangle-shaped amulet containing coal, salt, and garlic to keep the gaze off of them.

As you can see garlic has a long and storied history of being so much more than simply  a ward against vampires. But, of course, it is most well known in the magical world to ward off vampires. The link between garlic and warding off vampires is likely because of garlic’s power against general evil. In addition, garlic is believed to repel bloodsucking insects. Perhaps when rubbing garlic on themselves or putting it around their homes people realized fewer mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers were hanging about. So, if they covered themselves in garlic and it work against mosquitoes...perhaps it could work against much bigger bloodsuckers.

But, perhaps people were onto something when it comes to garlic and its ability to ward off evil. During plague years, many people used garlic to ward off the evil of the disease.  A team of scientists from Washington State University, Pulman, realized that when people believed they were protecting themselves from an evil they really were protecting themselves from disease.

Coauthor Xiaonan Lu writes, "While previous studies have validated that volatile thiosulfinates, a group of intermediate, unstable and volatile bioactive sulfur-containing compounds, have antimicrobial activity against Helicobacter pylori, our result demonstrated that the garlic-derived organosulfur compounds have the potential to be used as antimicrobial agents."

The focus of this study was on Campylobacter jejuni, which is known to be the most prevalent cause of bacterial food-borne illness in the world. It caused symptoms that often been linked to vampirism such as abdominal cramps, fever, diarrhea, and leukocytes. So, the history of using garlic to fight “evil” which was linked to disease actually has a grounding in science

The above image is available under Creative Commons it is by

The Ocean and the Full Moon

Lunacy and the madness associated around the moon, particularly the full moon, is a theme in many cultures’ folklore. However, they had a good reason to be a bit creeped out by the cycle of the moon. Why? Well, it did and continues to affect animals in strange ways. In particular, the moon seems to have a distinct pull among the creatures of the ocean.

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Marine animals during the full moon seem to have a certain drive towards the unexplored and perhaps even the uncomfortable. For example, during full moons, grey reef sharks are more likely to stay submerged in deeper and deeper water but during new moons, they are brought back towards the surface. The greatest depths swum by these sharks, over a three year period, usually aligned with the full moon. Perhaps it is because of a weekly change in where the shark’s food is going...but perhaps they are pulled by something other than prey. If it isn’t prey...then what could it be?

It also seems that the full moon brings forth a particular kind of lunacy in animals looking to mate. Although it only happens once a year the mass coral spawning on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef seems intrinsically tied to the full moon. In a synchronized fashion, usually aligning with a full moon, the corals spawn and this mass spawning increases the odds that the free-floating eggs and sperm will come into contact. Interestingly enough, researchers have found that if the sky is cloudy and the moon is obscured the corals will not spawn when regularly schedule and may even wait until the next full moon. How do they know when that is? Well, corals have light-sensitive neurons that are aware of the wavelengths of light that the moon shines. This ability matched with genes that sync their activity levels with the waxing and waning moon.

Crabs also seem to feel the need to mate under a full moon. It is believed that Christmas Island Crabs are pulled from the forest to the sea to mate and lay their eggs under a full moon. Seasarma crabs from Japan also head towards sea-flowing rivers where they release their eggs and sperm in alignment with the moon’s cycles. Even the strange, ancient-looking horseshoe crabs are not impervious to the full moon and come ashore only on certain nights to mate.

National Geographic recently covered french researchers that monitored the opening and closing of oysters over a 3.5-month period. It was discovered that two types of oysters in the Arcahon Bay closed significantly when the moon was full and opened up quite a bit more during a new moon. It also appeared as if “the oysters could tell the difference between the first quarter moon and the third quarter moon, and were significantly more open (by nearly 20 percent) at the latter.”

Why do they do this? Researchers aren’t quite sure and there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. Like the sharks swimming deeper, it could have to do with prey patterns. But, it could just as easily be something else that we don’t quite know (or understand) yet.

It is fascinating to me the power of the moon. The moon does not produce light or heat of its own. It cannot sustain the earth. However, without it, it seems that the patterns of the earth would almost certainly crumble. Just through looking through the moon’s power is all-powerful and irreplaceable when it comes to the lives in our seas.

Coral by night, North Horn, Coral Sea Great Barrier Reef, Australia by Cory Doctorow. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Witch Burials

The idea of witches and magic has struck fears into the hearts of many throughout the centuries. From ostracizing accused witches to killing them, it should come as no surprise that the death of an alleged witch would also be treated in very specific, cautionary ways.

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You may be familiar with specific practices for burying vampires to make sure they didn’t rise from the grave again...but did you know witch burials were often treated with the same caution? Oftentimes, people would go to great lengths to make sure the witches that died or the ones they killed themselves would not return to terrify the town or avenge their death.

A common practice of making sure vampires stayed dead was forcing a brick or stone into their mouths.It was believed that if you plugged up a vampire’s mouth they would not be able to escape the grave and hunt. Interestingly enough there was a tomb uncovered from the 16th century in Venice. The pit was largely filled with plague victims, but one of the corpses stood out. It was the body of a woman believed to be around 40-50 who appears to have been purposefully killed (and perhaps not a plague victim at all) and had a huge brick forced into her mouth. The witch angle came out because during this time period and especially during plague years any woman living past middle age was believed to have made a deal with the devil to live longer and cheat death.

Also similar to vampire burials witch burials usually involved some...nails. While stakes through the heart weren’t as common it wasn’t unusual for a witch to be nailed to the bottoms of their coffins to make sure they didn’t hop up and get on their brooms. Nails, like with vampires, were often found in their jawbones or mouths so they would not be able to speak the spells necessary to free them from their graves.

Since witches were more often than not viewed as scourges on their communities they were sometimes treated similarly to criminals upon their deaths. Centuries ago it was believed that a person must be buried face-up, gazing towards the heavens, in order for their soul to escape their body, particularly through the mouth. However, witches and criminals were often buried facedown which would force the soul to remain inside the body. It was believed a witch, especially if the witch was murdered, would use her soul to bring ruin and terror to the community that condemned her. By burying a witch face down, she could only grow closer to hell.

One of my favorite witch burial/archaeological discovery stories is the tale of Lilias Adie. Lilias of Torryburn was a poor woman that confessed to having sex with the devil and being a witch. During her imprisonment, she passed away before she could be tried, sentenced, and burned, as was custom. Because her body would not be burned like many of the other witches in the area at the time, it was believed the best way to safely dispose of her body would be to dig a hole in the sticky, unrelenting mud of the Fife coast right between the mark of high and low tide. For extra precaution, they also laid a heavy, flat stone over her body.

The BBC notes, “After they buried her, the good folk of Torryburn must have breathed a contented sigh of relief like scientists entombing nuclear waste. They had made Lilias safe for the centuries, or so they believed.” However, in the 19th-century witches were seen as powerful talismans and people who had pieces of these alleged witches were believed to have great power. So, her grave was discovered, dug up, and bits of her were sold all over. In fact, her skull even traveled to St Andrews University Museum.

These people were seen as so powerful that even in death the people surrounding them spent a huge amount of time, energy, and perhaps even money ensuring they would never return for them. But, was this done out of true fear...or out of guilt that these people had done something truly heinous to a potentially innocent victim? Perhaps it is a mix of both. As archaeologists continue to find strange and unusual burials we may be able to learn more about how these people may have felt and reacted to the death of a witch.


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. It is from Johnson, Helen Kendrik (Ed.): “World’s Best Music”' (1900).

The Ancient Ram Inn

In a country full of haunted Inns, the Ancient Ram Inn stands above as Britain’s most haunted house. Despite the stiff competition many agree that, as far as inns go, the Ancient Ram Inn holds the title of most haunted thanks to its long and disturbing past of murder, satanic worship, horrible crimes, hauntings, and witchcraft. The former Bishop of Gloucester, where the inn is located, said that the Ancient Ram was “the most evil place I have ever had the misfortune to visit.”

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To begin discussing the Ancient Ram Inn and its all strange inhabitants both past, present, and long gone we must begin with its location. The Inn was first built in 1145 on the intersection of two ley lines (though it impossible to tell if this was purposeful or not). If one traces these ley lines you’ll pass squarely through the center of Stonehenge, which makes this British Inn seem all the more powerful. It is also purported that the Inn is built on-top of an ancient “Pagan burial ground” although that claim is a bit more difficult to prove. Nevertheless, when construction finished in 1145 it was primarily used by priests to house workers and slaves who helped build the impressive St. Mary Church. Furthermore, in later years when water had to be redirected on the Inn’s property a portal for dark energy opened up and has been spewing forth nasty entities ever since.

One of the most infamous permanent residences at the Ancient Ram Inn is a witch from the 15th century who made a room home for a number of months. Before she could leave the Inn, she was found out and turned into authorities. Despite attempting to dodge the stake she was discovered and taken out to the front of the Inn and burned at the stake. Her spirit remains angry to this day, and those who visit her suspected chambers often leave with scratches or burns. Others report smelling smoke or even burning flesh. When Ghost Adventures visited the Ancient Ram Inn they caught an EVP of who they believe is the alleged witch saying “I’m Special” in a distinct southern English accent.

John Humphries, who owned the Inn for a number of decades, said before his death again and again that the Bishop’s Room was the most haunted part of an already very haunted Inn. It is said to be home to an astonishing nine different entities. The most popular among these apparitions are a long-dead bouncer and his dog standing guard at the door, a man in a hooded robe believed to be a monk, and a woman hanging from the ceiling. Visitors often report inexplicable mist, orbs, and light as inhabiting this room, forming before their very eyes.

The Humphries family, who have owned the Inn for quite some time, have discovered scads of demonic and pagan artifacts both inside and on the property of the Inn. For example, they found the hoof of a goat encased behind the chimney, mummified animals, ritualistic daggers, and dozens of jars filed with unidentified liquids and objects. John Humphries, the patriarch of the family, bought the Inn in 1968 and has reported paranormal experiences up until his death, including a succubus that lived within the Inn and often tormented visitors and made them incredibly uncomfortable.

According to the Bohemian Blog, who visited the Inn while John was still living, John told the story of discovering a child-sacerfice below the Inn. “That’s where they found the little children’s bones,” John told us. He was referring to a group of ghost-hunters from nearby Swindon, who in June 1997 were given permission to tear up parts of the concrete floor while searching for the entrance to a sealed cellar. Instead, they found a grave – containing the remains of a woman and child, buried along with broken iron shards. The pieces were analysed by Bristol Museum, who conceded that the signs may point to ritual sacrifice using an iron dagger. The ghost hunters, meanwhile, suffered a car crash on their way back home. Coincidence? John thinks not.”

It is said that locals respect the Inn but do not wish to go near it and go as far as crossing the street rather than walk past the Ancient Ram Inn at night.

The above image is of the Ancient Ram Inn taken by Brian Robert Marshall and liscensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0.

Corvin Castle

Corvin Castle, also known as Hunyadi Castle, is one of the most spectacular medieval castles in Transylvania. Built in the 15th century, Corvin Castle looms over the town Hunedoara built by Ioan of Hunedoara, one of Transylvania’s greatest rulers. Corvin Castle has quite a long history. In fact, its location was chosen because it was the site of an old Roman camp and while the building began in the 1400s, it would continue into the 17th century. A castle this old is bound to have some haunting stories surrounding it and is even said to have inspired Castle Dracula.

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The castle was built not only to be a beautiful and powerful reminder of Ioan and his family legacy but also s a strategic defense in case the religion was ever seriously attacked. The castle itself boosts an impressive 42 chambers and can be accessed by two bridges supported on four massive piers.

Being such a strong defense it is unsurprising that the castle hosted some f the most devious lawbreakers and criminals of Romania. One of these prisoners, allegedly, was Vlad the Impaler. It is said he was locked away in the dungeon for years and was completely isolated and driven insane. Today, the dungeon Vlad allegedly stayed in is open to visitors.

And what would a medieval castle with an impressive dungeon be without a torture chamber? Corvin’s torture chamber included several infamous, gruesome instruments used to completely destroy those who visited this horrible room against their will. There was also a bear pit, where prisoners would be thrown in alive to be devoured by the creatures.

One of the other infamous prisoner stories is that of the three Turkish men who dug an impressive well that remains to this day. Ioan had promised these prisoners that if they dug enough and found water they would be set free. They dug and dug for ten grueling years and finally hit water. Grateful that their sentence was served the men were eager to tell Ioan and secure their freedom. Tragically, Ioan essentially laughed in their faces and kept them as prisoners until their death. One of the prisoners wrote the message “You now have water, but you don’t have a soul” on the side of the wall and some say the castle, still new(ish) at this point, was cursed forever because of this injustice.

To this day the many ghosts throughout the centuries seem to inundate the castle. The castle is often plagued by ghostly silhouettes that appear in photographs. Additionally, the castle has been susceptible to bouts of poltergeist activity that is particularly violent. This is usually blamed on the tortured souls that perished within the castle walls.

There is also a story that a group of tourists bribed castle guards to remain in the castle overnight, which none had done for some time. However, when the guards went to open the castle the next day and secretly let out the overnight guests they appeared bruised, beaten, and clearly shaken. It was said they were hunted and haunted by an angry ghost that had tortured them with noises, beatings, and terrifying premonitions.

Another slightly less violent ghost is the ghost monk that haunts the Capistrano Tower. It was rumored this monk met his death and his eternal haunting place when he was spying on a nobleman in the Council Room. He was punished for spying and put to death. Rumor has it his final resting place was within the very walls of where he was spying, the Capistrano Tower, where he was bricked up and slowly died. Many claim to see this ghostly figure, listening and spying on them. It is also common for people to feel as if they are being watched in this part of the castle.

The image for this blog is by Giuseppe Milo and liscensed under CC by 3.0.

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.