I traveled to New Orleans this past week for work. What did I do with my free time? Visited cemeteries and haunted locations, of course. A common thread I found on my guided tours of New Orleans was a disdain for Nicolas Cage.
Here’s how the story goes (according to local lore/rumor/facts)…
Nicolas Cage loves New Orleans (who wouldn’t; it’s a great city). He also loves the occult. He purchased two cursed properties in New Orleans (2007): LaLaurie Mansion and the historic Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel. He purchased the LaLaurie Mansion, because he figured “it would be a good place in which to write the great American horror novel.” In 2009, he lost the properties to foreclosure. They were worth $6.8 million.
Rumor says he was having nightmares after purchasing/losing (it’s unclear) these cursed properties and sought advice from a psychic/medium. He was informed to buy a grave as close to famous voodoo priestess Marie Laveau as possible. This is very difficult, you see. She is buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1, which is completely packed. Nicolas Cage had money and was able to convince the diocese to make room for his nine-foot-tall white pyramid. His name is not on the future memorial, but it has the Latin phrase “Omni Ab Uno,” which translates to “Everything From One.” What does this all mean? There are theories.
Cage was able to keep his memorial, as I was told on a tour, because the IRS cannot take cemetery plots. The tomb, for good reason, pissed off a lot of people in New Orleans. Many accuse him of having bodies moved to make room for his pyramid. Fans have left lipstick kisses on his tomb, so not everyone is a hater.
Local lore says “the curse” not only caused Cage to lose his New Orleans properties, but also caused the downfall of his career. Though, some could argue that happened way before the curse. I was also told on a tour that his tomb (not even the tallest in the cemetery) was struck by lightning. Was Cage cursed? Or does he make poor life choices?
This Saturday, I drove nine hours total (in some very foggy conditions) to hear some of my favorite paranormal scholars speak about ghosts and other supernatural beings. Since this was my very first conference in the area of the paranormal, I did not know what to expect. I have been to many academic conferences, which can sometimes be very intimidating and stuffy. What I found at the Haunted America Conference was a friendly and welcoming group of people, with interesting stories and insights. I left with my commonplace book full of new avenues of research, along with ideas for growing my own “ghost business.”
The conference was two days with a variety of speakers during the day and activities in the evening. I, needing to work on my dissertation, only attended Saturday’s day sessions (woke up at 3 a.m….I love ghosts!). The evening activities looked so interesting–ghost hunts, a dumb supper, technical workshops, walking tours–and I look forward to signing up next year. When not in sessions, I walked around the Vendors Room and conversed with folks promoting their podcasts, publications, ghost tourism businesses, and products (candles, pendulums, jewelry). There was also an extensive raffle that read like my Christmas List. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the Ouija cheese board and Walking Dead wine.
Below are some of my conference highlights.
I finally met Colin Dickey and Sarah Chavez! Colin, author of Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, presented on American grave robbers. I especially enjoyed how the history of medical colleges were woven into the narrative. Sarah Chavez, my favorite death feminist, spoke about the relationship between food and death. Check out more of her work at Nourishing Death and Death and The Maiden. Side note: Sarah had very cool nails.
I met one of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Jones of The Dead History. Once a paranormal investigator, Jennifer now runs a blog full of very extensive historical research on haunted locations and tombstones. I really appreciate the humanist approach she brings to her research.
I read so many Rosemary Ellen Guiley books when I was growing up. In her presentation “Strange Encounters and Strange Things,” Rosemary shared stories about werewolves, aliens, cursed objects, and other strange creatures.
I also grew up reading the website Prairie Ghosts, so I knew I had to attend a conference hosted by Troy Taylor and his Haunted America team. Troy has written 120 bookson ghosts, hauntings, history, crime and the unexplained in America. So, he knows his stuff. He presented on the relationship between music, death, and the devil. He’s a very entertaining speaker; he reminded me of a very cool radio DJ.
I met the very kind folks of the See You On The Other Side podcast. Their website describes their work as “a rock band’s journey into the afterlife, UFOs, entertainment, and weird science.” Their podcast, as I understand, discusses a supernatural topic each episode and includes a song inspired by the subject matter. A creative idea, right? They entertained us during breaks the entire conference. I look forward to giving their podcast a listen!
Overall, it was definitely worth the nine-hour drive. I look forward to attending next year. Maybe I’ll see you there?
You are walking in the woods alone. You come across a circle of mushrooms or a barren circle surrounded by lush greenery. Do you step into the circle? Might seem innocent enough, but lore recommends turning around and heading back home.
Listen, I’m not a wilderness woman. I cannot tell you which poisonous plants and wildlife to avoid, but I can tell you what supernatural spaces and forest demons to avoid when camping. So, get your pen ready…
Fairy Rings (also called Fairy Circles, Elf Circles, Elf Rings, or Pixie Rings) are circles of mushrooms that appear in forestland and grassland.
Various cultures attribute fairy rings to supernatural beings: witches, fairies, elves, demons etc. These circles form a space for magical beings to gather, dance, or protect. Any non-magical human who enters the circle will face consequences. Some (somewhat) scary consequences include:
If you enter the ring, you will be forced to dance to exhaustion or madness (English and Celtic folklore).
If any livestock crosses the fungi boundary, the milk they produce will be sour. That’s where the devil keeps his milk churn, after all (Dutch folklore).
If you dance in a fairy circle, you might enter a time warp. You see, fairies live at a different pace. You may leave the circle thinking it has been minutes, but it has actually been days or weeks (“Rhys at the Fairy-Dance”).
Not all fairy rings are bad. Some happy consequences include:
If you grow crops around such circles and have cattle feed nearby, you will increase fertility and fortune (Welsh folklore).
What creates these rings? Austrian folklore says the fire of a dragon, but there are some natural explanations.
A fairy ring is formed when a mushroom spore falls in the right spot and grows a mycelium (“vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacterial colony”) and then spreads tubular threads called hyphae underground. The mushroom caps grow on the edge of the network. Basically, the formation absorbs and pushes the nutrients outwards. When the nutrients are exhausted, the center dies and leaves the ring. The rings can grow up to 33 feet in diameter.
Circles Without Vegetation
During my research, I came across the phenomenon of barren circles in nature. In these cases, I never heard the word “fairy circle” uttered. Nevertheless, I am going to discuss them (I’m the blog boss).
Devil’s Tramping Ground (North Carolina)
In Bear Creek, North Carolina there is a 120-year-old legend concerning a barren circle of forest ground created by the devil’s tramping. Animals refuse to enter the circle; plants will not grow. If you leave an object in the circle overnight, no matter its weight, it will be thrown from the circle by the next morning. The devil needs room to dance!
Journalist John William Harden (1903–1985) wrote of the spot:
Chatham natives say… that the Devil goes there to walk in circles as he thinks up new means of causing trouble for humanity. There, sometimes during the dark of night, the Majesty of the Underworld of Evil silently tramps around that bare circle– thinking, plotting, and planning against good, and in behalf of wrong. I have heard that boy scouts spent the night there and woke up with their tents a few miles away. There were also some guys who tried to stay up the whole night there. 2 men attempted to stay up all night, but were lulled to sleep by a soft voice.
Would you be brave enough for a campout? In recent years, a journalist (and his two dogs) stayed the night in a tent right in the middle of the circle. He went there to disprove the old legend, but ended up hearing footsteps circle his tent. Other overnight campers reported strange shadowy figures staring at them from the treeline.
Is there a natural explanation for this barren circle? Could heavy traffic and bonfires be the culprit? Soil scientist Rich Hayes, who has run several tests of the site, says it may not be that easy: “The fact that there are written accounts going back hundreds of years about this spot being barren of vegetation makes me think something else is going on here besides people camping and burning big fires.” He argues soil tests do not give any reasons why plants cannot grow there. The mystery continues!
Hoia-Baciu Forest (Transylvania region of Romania)
Hoia-Baciu is called the “Bermuda Triangle of of Transylvania” and was named after a shepherd who disappeared in the forest with a flock of 200 sheep. The Clearing, where trees abruptly stop and surround a barren oval, is by far the creepiest part of the forest. In 1968, a military technician captured a photo of an alleged UFO flying above the clearing and received international attention. The Clearing, according to The Independent, “attracts Romanian witches, sword-wielding Americans, and people who try to cleanse the forest of evil through the medium of yoga.” I have no natural explanation for you concerning this circle, so maybe hold off on your yoga retreat.
The forest itself is home to ghosts. People have also reported losing track of time, electronic devices failing, and random “ectoplasms” floating in the air. One legend says a five-year-old girl was lost in the forest and returned years later, unchanged and wearing the same clothes.
Fairy Circles of Namibia
There are mushroom fairy circles and there are these fairy circles: circles created by mysterious grass formations. Until recently, this phenomenon only occurred in the grasslands of the Namib desert of southern Africa. These circular patches can range in size from 7 to 49 feet, dotting the red desert surface like chicken pox.
Folklore says these circles are the footsteps of the gods or poisoned patches caused by dragon breath. These circles are believed to hold spiritual powers.
There are two competing scientific theories behind these circles. One theory is that termites are clearing the area around their nests, creating the circles. Another theory is that plants are competing for water. There was a detailed article about the scientific journey to explain these circles printed in The Atlantic last month. I recommend giving it a read.
Stay out of the forest and don’t walk into fairy circles!
According to Ovid, the month of May was named for the ancestors (maiores) and on May 9th, 11th, and 13th, the Romans celebrated the festival Lemuria (or Lemuralia). The term Lemuria is connected to lemures: “angry or overlooked spirits, who could cause trouble for the living” (AshLI).† The festival sought to appease these spirits through offerings. Ovid describes one type of offering ritual, or exorcism, performed at midnight in Book V of Fasti.
He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,
Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)
And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,
Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.
After cleansing his hands in spring water,
He turns and first taking some black beans,
Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:
‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’
He says this nine times without looking back: the shade
Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.
Why Beans? According to scholar Robert Schilling, “This food was considered a powerful attraction for the Lemures, for in archaic times beans constituted a food par excellence.” So in preparation for Wednesday, stock up on some beans!
† Not to be confused with manes: “ghosts [that] were members of the natural, and ever-increasing band of dead ancestors and close relatives, who functioned as guiding and protective forces in Roman daily life.” They were celebrated in another festival in February called the Parentalia (AshLI).
I recently finished The Monk by Matthew Lewis and was drawn to the Bleeding Nun character. This ghost of a sinful, murderous, and heartbroken nun walked the halls of a castle, wailing and praying. Her spirit was only put to rest when her bones were found and given a proper burial. “That’s it,” I thought, “I need more ghost nuns.”
I started scouring the internet and my books for ghosts nuns throughout history. I noticed I had covered this topic in an old commonplace book, which was hidden away in my closet. Obviously, this topic has always haunted me.
The following are ghosts of nuns (except one) that still walk the earth today, each with their own interesting backstory. Grab your rosary and holy water. Let’s do this…
The Faceless Nun of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Terre Haute, Indiana)
A faceless nun haunts the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. According to legend, there was a nun who worked there with great skills in painting portraits. She believed the face was the most important part, so she always saved it for last. One day, she decided to start a self portrait. Before she could start the face, she died of an unknown sickness. Since then, a faceless nun has been seen walking around Foley Hall and its courtyard.
One day a Sister heard crying coming from the room that held the unfinished portrait. The Sister went inside the room and found a nun crying in front of the painting. She approached the nun so to comfort her. The crying nun turned around and instead of a face, there was only darkness. DARKNESS.
The Nun with Roses (Würzburg, Germany)
An abbey in Würzburg, Germany has a scandalous history (the best ones do). Maria Renata Von Mossau was a nun accused of mixing herbs into food so she could bewitch other nuns. After the nuns exhibited odd behavior, Maria was caught and sentenced in court. They decapitated her and burned her to ashes, which were then scattered. The ghost of a nun believed to be Maria has been seen walking down the halls. The ghost picks petals off a bouquet of roses, leaving a trail of petals behind her.
The Headless Nun of French Fort Cove (Miramichi, New Brunswick)
In the 18th century, a nun named Sister Marie Inconnue was beheaded (Inconnue is French for “unknown”). There are two legends behind this: (1) a “mad trapper” cut off her head and ran into the woods, or (2) two sailors decapitated her when she refused to give the location of buried treasure. Her head was never found and she now walks around looking for it. The ghost has even asked late night visitors for help finding her head. Other versions say she actually walks around holding her head.
The Famous Ghost Nun of Borley Rectory (Essex, England)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (you probably have). The Borley Rectory is was the most haunted house in England (it was demolished in 1944). The house was the subject of a very famous Harry Price investigation.
The house was constructed in 1862 by Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull near the Borley Church. The location was the site of a previous rectory that burned down in 1841. The property already had a ghost nun, which locals saw walking the grounds. Legend says that a nun and monk fell in love and were planning to marry. They were caught and executed: the monk was beheaded and the nun was buried alive in the cellar walls.
The Bull family witnessed a phantom nun walking the grounds on several occasions. Henry even went to talk to the nun, but she disappeared. They also reported a phantom carriage driven by two headless horsemen.
The Bull family left and the rectory sat vacant until October 1928. Reverend Guy Eric Smith and his wife moved in and the paranormal activity started soon after. Smith’s wife reported finding a woman’s skull in a cupboard. They also reported bells ringing, phantom lights, phantom carriages, and unexplained footsteps. The Smiths got the Daily Mirror and Society for Physical Research involved and this is where Harry Price came into this very spooky picture.
In 1929, the Smith family left and Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster and his wife Marianne moved in, along with their daughter Adelaide. The Foyster family reported frightful activities just as the families before them: bells ringing, rocks thrown by disembodied hands, windows breaking, and vanishing household items. On one occasion, Adelaide was locked in a room. She was also attacked on another occasion. The wife reported being thrown from her bed, slapped, and almost suffocated by an unseen presence. Mysterious writing also appeared on the walls (see below).
Price believed the writing on the wall was written by a Catholic woman, most likely the nun of local legend. In 1935, the Foyster family moved out and Harry Price moved in. Time for some old fashioned ghost research!
Price recruited some students and observers to help with the research and they began to uncover the nun’s backstory (allegedly). The investigation involved some insightful spirit communication:
During a sitting with a planchette, an alleged spirit named Marie Lairre related that she had been a nun in France but had left her convent to marry Henry Waldegrave, a member of a wealthy family whose manor home once stood on the site of Borley Rectory. There, her husband had strangled her and had buried her remains in the cellar. (Prairie Ghosts)
Five months later, another spirit said the house would burn down that night, revealing proof that the nun was murdered. The house did not burn down that night, but rather 11 months later when an oil lamp was knocked over. Harry Price investigated the cellar and found bones that belonged to a woman: the nun he believed. She was given a proper burial in the small village of Liston a few miles away.
If you are not familiar with the history of the Borley Rectory: read this (I’ll wait). FYI: many people consider this a hoax, but have your fun.
The Nun of Saint Anne’s (aka Pine Glen Cove, Utah)
This property is located deep in the Cache National Forest and Logan Canyon. The site was a private retreat for rich businessmen (from 1910 to the 1950s), until it was donated to the Roman Catholic Diocese. It was used later as a summer camp for children and then eventually ended up in private ownership.
The property is dripping with folklore and is a popular destination for legend trippers. One legend tells of a pregnant nun secretly giving birth on the property and then drowning her newborn in the the property’s pool. Distraught with what she did, she ended her own life. Visitors say you can see the nun looking down into the pool. They even may have caught her image on an episode of Ghost Adventures.
Other paranormal activity on the property include hellhounds, along with rumors of satanic worship (of course).
I’m going to go off track a bit, because the property also has modern frights. In October of 1997, 38 teenagers visited the property around 4:30 AM. Three security guards were hired to watch the private property, which was a popular destination for those hoping to get a scare. The teenagers were confronted by the three security guards with loaded guns and knives. The guards tied up two groups of the teenagers, one in the empty pool and the other group in a cabin. The teens were verbally harassed (threats of violence, racial slurs) and sexually harassed for three hours until cops arrived (which were called by the security guards). The group in the cabin was tied together by their necks and told that any sudden movement would set off explosives. The three security guards pleaded guilty and accepted a plea bargain. Just a reminder that humans will always be scarier than ghosts.
The Nuns of Black Mass (Montpelier Hill & Stewards House, Ireland)
Around 1725, William Conolly (famous Irish politician) built a hunting lodge on Montpelier Hill. Builders supposedly disrupted a cairn while building (maybe even using some of its stones to build the lodge). Shortly after construction, the roof blew off. Revengeful spirits, obviously.
In the 1730s, the Hell Fire Club used the lodge for their gatherings. What is the Hell Fire Club you ask?
The club was founded in 1735 by Richard Parsons, a known dabbler in black magic. The members met at locations across Dublin and were known for their amoral behaviour and debauchery involving alcohol and sex. The secrecy surrounding the club members led to speculation that they were Satanists and Devil-worshipers. The president of the club was named ‘The King of Hell’ and dressed like Satan, with horns, wings and hooves. The members were said to set a place at each meeting for the Devil, in the hope that he’d attend. They were also said to hold black masses in the lodge during which cats – and even servants – were sacrificed. Some say the building was deliberately set on fire in order to enhance its hellish atmosphere. (Source)
At some point the lodge was damaged in a fire and the Hell Fire Club moved to the nearby Stewards House, which seemed to absorb most of their occult energy. According to legend, a giant black cat haunts the area. Could it be a cat that had been sacrificed by the club?
Two nuns, Blessed Margaret and Holy Mary, also haunt the area. Well, they may be women dressed as nuns. Nevertheless, these two women are believed to have participated in the black masses at Montpelier Hill. They can be seen walking the grounds today.
The Bleeding Nun of Wymering Manor (Portsmouth, England)
The Wymering Manor dates back to 1042 with King Edward the Confessor as the first recorded owner (though the current structure dates back to the 16th century). It is no surprise that a house with so much history is filled with so many ghosts. There have been reports of a ghost nun on the top of the stairs near the attic bedroom. She stares down the staircase, hands dripping with blood. One occupant of the house, Mr. Leonard Metcalf, reported occasionally seeing a choir of nuns walking across the manor’s hall at midnight and chanting.
Bonus: Haunted Railroad Tracks (San Antonio, Texas)
OK. This is a bonus entry, because the ghost is not a nun. But, there’s a nun involved. Stick with me (it is a sweet ghost story).
There are haunted railroad tracks in San Antonio, Texas with various legends and versions of such legends. One story grabbed my attention. In the 1930s or 40s, a nun was driving a school bus of sleeping children after a school trip. The bus stalled in the railroad tracks. The nun saw a train coming down the tracks in the distance. She tried desperately to get the bus started again, doing so not to wake the children. The train hit the bus, killing all the children. The nun survived after having flown through the windshield.
The nun returned to the scene after the accident full of guilt and with thoughts of suicide. She parked her car on the tracks and waited for a moving train. Before a train could hit her car, she felt something pushing the back of her car. Eventually the invisible force moved the car completely off the tracks. Bewildered, the nun exited the car and checked the back of the car. She saw tiny hand prints on the trunk. Grateful that her schoolchildren had saved her, she devoted her life to helping other children. She chose to live and open a school for orphans.
If you visit the tracks today and park your car on the tracks, you will be pushed over by the caring ghost children. Some people even put baby powder on the trunk to capture the hand prints.
When I was young (maybe 12ish), I wrote down everything concerning the occult in a black-paged notebook with Gelly Roll pens. I kept a dictionary in the back with all the new terms I learned. I wrote down every haunted location, glued every ghost photo, and copied down interesting quotes on the occult into my small spiral notebook. While the library provided me a plethora of literature on all things spooky, I spent most hours doing internet research. I read online forums, About.com, and many sites hosted by Angelfire. Angelfire launched 22 years ago and (at least when I was using it) provided users free web-hosting. These websites were a wild 90s ride with crazy backgrounds, colorful fonts, annoying banner ads, guestbooks, visit counters, and much more.
(insert dial up noise)
I was mostly intrigued by websites about haunted places in Indiana (my home state). I would fill my notebook with places I hoped to explore someday. Although I could not drive yet, I could visit these haunted locations from the comfort of my father’s computer chair. Further, I was happy to know there were other people out there just as weird as me.
Many friends tell me that they too loved these sites and would visit these haunted locations with their friends on weekend nights. There is not much else to do in Indiana when you are a teenager, after all. You cannot help but think that teenagers had a hand in creating and circulating some of the legends on these websites.
When the weather is warmer, I plan on visiting some of these haunted locations. 12-year-old me will be very pleased.
Below are some more screenshots of my favorite Indiana-specific websites. These websites are still online today. I recommend proceeding with caution, because some of these websites have pop-ups and you never know about viruses (or whatever).
For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my favorite stories from these Angelfire sites on my Instagram as part of #humpdayhaunts. I have posted them below for your reading pleasure. Please excuse any errors as I am usually typing these with my dumb thumbs.
I had the opportunity to write for Dirge Magazine while it was still online (Rest in Peace). I learned so much as a writer from the editors, so I wanted to make sure I was able to save my favorite and proudest piece. I grabbed the following article from the depths of Wayback Machine. The article was published in Dirge Magazine with the original title “Before Bullet Journals, There Were Commonplace Books” on January 8, 2017. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The latest trend in self improvement is the bullet journal or the “analog system for the digital age.” The system, invented by digital product designer Ryder Carroll, allows users to turn a blank notebook into a to-do list, diary, notebook, and sketchbook. The bullet journal is especially helpful for those with tasks coming from multiple directions, and who need an organized plan of action that favors rapid-fire note-taking and prioritization. With the increasing number of technological ways to store information, it is nice to see the traditional blank notebook receiving fresh attention.
While the blank notebook basks in the limelight, I thought it might be fitting to discuss the commonplace book, the long tradition of using a blank notebook for storing and organizing information for later use. The commonplace book differs from bullet journals in that it is devoted to knowledge-making, and not necessarily planning out one’s life. A commonplace book is not a journal at all, as John Locke writes: “Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.”
The commonplace book is an excellent tool for readers, helping memorialize words, phrases, quotes, passages, and images. Further, it creates an accessible reference book you can use forever and pass along to others. After providing an introduction to the commonplace book tradition, I will introduce my own experiences to help you start your own commonplace book. Like the bullet journal, you only need a blank notebook and a pen.
What is a Commonplace Book?
A commonplace book “contains a collection of significant or well-known passages that have been copied and organized in some way, often under topical or thematic headings, in order to serve as a memory aid or reference for the compiler” (Harvard University Libraries). These books are traditionally handwritten and may include drawings and clippings from outside sources. Organization is as unique as the writer, but information is arranged so as to ensure accessibility. As writer and poet Jonathon Swift explains in “A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet,” the commonplace book keeps the remarkable in our memory:
A COMMON-PLACE BOOK IS WHAT A PROVIDENT POET CANNOT SUBSIST WITHOUT, FOR THIS PROVERBIAL REASON, THAT “GREAT WITS HAVE SHORT MEMORIES;” AND WHEREAS, ON THE OTHER HAND, POETS BEING LIARS BY PROFESSION, OUGHT TO HAVE GOOD MEMORIES. TO RECONCILE THESE, A BOOK OF THIS SORT IS IN THE NATURE OF A SUPPLEMENTAL MEMORY; OR A RECORD OF WHAT OCCURS REMARKABLE IN EVERY DAY’S READING OR CONVERSATION.
Commonplace books are a tradition spanning from the Middle Ages to today. The concept originated from commonplaces in ancient Greece and Rome, categories under which orators could place ideas, arguments, and rhetorical turn of phrases for later use. As most concepts in antiquity have, commonplaces would be re-purposed. In the middle ages and early modern period the florilegium (gathering of flowers) collected passages from religious and theological works (Harvard Libraries). The zibaldoneappeared in fourteenth century Italy and was used by merchants to keep records of daily life and activities.
Its height of popularity was during the Renaissance and early modern period, where “students and scholars were encouraged to keep commonplace books for study, and printed commonplace books offered models for organizing and arranging excerpts” (Harvard Libraries). Although focused on the individual, commonplace books have been both published and passed down to later generations, a sort of autobiography of the mind.
Many famous thinkers and leaders kept commonplace books, including the following:
Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft kept a commonplace book filled with “ideas, images, & quotations hastily jotted down for possible future use in weird fiction.”
Thomas Jefferson kept two commonplace books for literary matters and another for legal matters.
Writer and activist Nancy Cunardkept a commonplace book full of quotes and poems by her friends.
American suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton kept a commonplace book with “private notes, correspondence (to and from Elizabeth Cady Stanton), diaristic writings, literary transcriptions, and pasted-in engravings of various European tourist sites.”
Scientist Carl Linnaeus kept commonplace books to help systematize his findings.
How to Create A Commonplace Book: One Example
To keep a commonplace book you only need a blank notebook and a writing utensil; the content and arrangement is up to you as the compiler. I found my method has been developed through time and influenced by other commonplace books. Thus, I thought my own experience with this genre might provide you some ideas for starting your own.
As a child, I spent a lot of my time researching paranormal history and reading ghost stories and folklore. I was overwhelmed by the terminology and theories, and began keeping a notebook filled with handwritten notes, drawings, and articles I printed from the internet. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized I was participating in the tradition of commonplace books. I still, to this day, keep a commonplace book on the occult.
When I approach a blank commonplace book, I designate two sections in the front (table of contents) and back (glossary). Then, I number the pages accordingly. Whenever I am ready to start a new subject of inquiry, I write a title in bold at the top of the new page and make sure I repeat that title in my table of contents. Other practices I have developed over time include:
Instead of a glossary (in some cases), I made text boxes with key terms throughout the book, and then made an index in the back with the words and page numbers.
For information that doesn’t fit into a current section and does not warrant a new section (I call this “purgatory information”), I write it on a post-it and place it on the inside back cover. When its time has come, I simply move the the post-it to its new section.
To highlight key materials, I use highlighting and color-coding.
To enhance my understanding of complicated material, I occasionally create visual maps, tables, infographics, etc. For example, when reading about types of ghosts, I created a table that outlined their characteristics into columns.
When a desired passage from a source is too long, I am not afraid to print or make copies of the material. I tape or glue it into my commonplace book, and then write notes in the margins or highlight.
Materials I include in my “commonplace book pouch”: colored pencils, a nice pen (I like Sharpie black pens), tape, scissors, stickers, and highlighters.
I have used different notebooks for different commonplace books. My notebooks are usually lined, because I prefer writing. Though, I have used sketchbooks when my commonplace books incorporate more visuals than text.
I always recommend using a sturdy notebook so your commonplace book will last (and may appear in an archive someday).
I have been inspired by textbooks, so I often incorporate text boxes, sidebars, headings/subheadings, bulleted lists, etc.
I have, inspired by Virginia Woolf, kept a list of books I have read and a list of books to read in some of my commonplace books (as a sort of appendix).
This is one compiler’s approach to keeping a commonplace book. I suggest looking through examples online for ideas (I have linked some examples earlier and there’s archive.org). I also suggest letting your first commonplace be a trial run. You will develop your own unique system over time, and you may create different systems for different types of commonplace books you keep. There are some rather dated guides for writing commonplace books too, if you are so inclined (You could start with Locke’s A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books or Eramus’ De Copia).
In The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, Robert Darnton speaks to me in regards to why we keep commonplace books:
READING AND WRITING WERE THEREFORE INSEPARABLE ACTIVITIES. THEY BELONGED TO A CONTINUOUS EFFORT TO MAKE SENSE OF THINGS, FOR THE WORLD WAS FULL OF SIGNS: YOU COULD READ YOUR WAY THROUGH IT; AND BY KEEPING AN ACCOUNT OF YOUR READINGS, YOU MADE A BOOK OF YOUR OWN, ONE STAMPED WITH YOUR PERSONALITY.
There is no system for keeping a commonplace book, like the bullet journal. The reasons to keep one are so varied and the subject areas so diverse. And, I fear promoting one might interfere with your own personal “stamp.” Although you’ll be inspired by a mix of compilers, this book in the end will represent you.
Blair, Ann. “Humanist Methods in Natural Philosophy: The Commonplace Book.” Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 52, no. 4, 1992, pp. 541-551.
Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. Deaf Subjects: Between Identities and Places. New York University Press, 2009.
While not too much of a shock, the blog is taking a hiatus until February. This will give me time to finish work and school projects, while also giving me the opportunity to plan future posts for this site.
Sorry for the delay and thanks for being a friend!
This December, I am embracing the holiday spirits. I have decided to (1) read a ghost story every day until Christmas and (2) learn more about the pagan origins of the holiday. Any excuse to buy more books right? The following are books I plan on reading this month. I have also included some online articles for those interested in additional and shorter readings on the season.
I ordered two books from my favorite online used book seller La Creeperie: Christmas Ghosts and Mistletoe Mayhem. Both books are anthologies filled with short ghost stories. I mostly purchased these books because of the covers. I mean…
I highly recommend La Creeperie for rare anthologies and some fun covers (along with any horror and occult books you desire). The store gets most of my paycheck. 🙂
My favorite anthologies from the batch are The Valancourt Books of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories. The stories chosen did not overlap with my many other ghost story anthologies, so I was extremely happy. Each story comes with a brief introduction about the author and where it was first published. Each volume also comes with an interesting historical overview of the Victorian tradition of ghost stories at Christmas.
I am also reading some Charles Dickens’ ghost stories for obvious reasons.
In an effort to learn more about the pagan origins of the season, I purchased two Llewellyn books. While I have not had the chance to to read The Old Magic of Christmas, I flew through Yule: Rituals, Recipes & Lore, which is part of their Sabbat Essentials series. Even if you are not a practicing pagan, the book reveals the reasons behind some common traditions and gives you ideas for some new ones.
I unknowingly read a Christmas ghost story at the very end of November. Richard Matheson’s Hell House is a Christmas ghost story like Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The book follows two mediums, a parapsychologist and his wife on a investigation of the “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses” during the days leading up to Christmas. This novel is a mix between The Haunting of Hill House and Eyes Wide Shut.
When I was a child with a commonplace book full of ghost research (written in gel pens of course), I asked Santa Claus for an Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detector. I thought I could wave it around my friends’ houses and catch ghosts. I never got one. Bummer.
Flash forward to today: I’m more skeptical than I used to be and I have no idea what EMF means or how it works. So, I did some research for you/us. I am not an expert on the subject or claim to be, so please share any insights or articles in the comments. I’d love to learn more!
Definition of EMF: “a physical field produced by electrically charged objects” (Wikipedia).
A more detailed definition of EMF: “Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. EMFs are typically characterized by wavelength or frequency into one of two radioactive categories:
Non-ionizing: low-level radiation which is generally perceived as harmless to humans
What causes it? Where can it come from? EMFs can be produced from conventional power sources: computers, power lines, cell phones, home appliances, x-rays. etc (there’s a nifty chart in this article). Also, the further you are from the EMF-producing source, the less harm it does to you.
What effects does it have on humans? Ghosts?
EMFs can affect the brain (and body) in many ways: shred your DNA, alter your morality, train you off food and water, cause seizures, etc (io9).
Research shows compelling evidence that EMFs can induce panic, disorientation, deep fear, and hallucinations–all things associated with hauntings. Though, research cannot 100% prove its validity.
One study published by Michael Persinger (a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada) in a 2001 Perceptual And Motor Skills article followed the experience of a 17-year-old girl who claimed to receive visits from The Holy Spirit. She also felt the presence of an invisible baby on her left shoulder. An investigation revealed that the electric clock she slept 10 inches from was producing “electromagnetic pulses with waveforms similar to those found to trigger epileptic seizures in rats and humans” (Marcus, Scientific American). The clock, along with a minor brain injury in her youth, were the cause of her nocturnal visits. The visions stopped when the clock was removed.
For another study, psychologist Christopher French (Goldsmiths, University of London College in London) created a “haunted” room in an apartment building, which was filled with electromagnetic producers and infrasound generators (it is believed that extremely low frequencies can cause strange experiences). French and his colleagues invited 79 people to spend time inside this dimly lit room, warning them that they might experience some strangeness. Participants were also given a psychological evaluation to understand their paranormal beliefs. French said about their findings: “Most people reported at least some slightly odd sensation, such as a presence or feeling dizzy, and some reported terror, which we hadn’t expected” (Scientific American). French and colleagues could not 100% determine that these feelings were attributed to the EMFs.
Some researchers have also theorized why these alleged hallucinations (hauntings) happen most often at night: “Because of the way the solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, the planet’s magnetic field stretches out on the side that’s in darkness. Some researchers hypothesize that this expanded field interacts more strongly with people’s brains” (How Stuff Works).
Some paranormal investigators will say ghosts cause high EMF levels. Another possibility is that high EMF levels create an ideal environment for actual paranormal activity. I once heard that some paranormal investigators will create high levels of EMF so to produce more activity during an investigation.