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).
Haunted dolls have always been my greatest fear, which I blame on being introduced to the movie Chucky far too early in my youth. This fear grew when my dad told me of the scary nightmares (or not?) he had of his teddy bear flying around the ceiling at night. A devoted X-Files fan, I only missed one episode when it was on TV: “Chinga” (but I sat through “Home” fine). Co-written by Stephen King, the episode followed Scully as she tried to solve the case of people inflicting wounds on themselves in the presence of a doll. Side note: I finally faced my fears and watched it, and it wasn’t so scary and a fun Monster-of-the-Week episode.
I am not alone in my fear of dolls, Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures also shares the fear. I feel much less wimpy knowing that a buff guy who locks himself in abandoned mental institutions (at night) is also afraid of dolls.
Speaking of Ghost Adventures, on one episode they visited Isla de las Munecas or “The Island of The Dolls” located in a floating garden of Xochimilco, Mexico. Story goes that a man, Julián Santana Barrera, was very distraught he could not save a drowning girl. Later, he found a doll floating in the same spot of the young girl’s drowning. He hung the doll in a tree to show respect, but began to hear whispers and women screaming. To appease the angry spirit, he began to collect broken dolls and parts and hang them in trees. The island is covered with creepy dolls and is now a spooky/quirky tourist attraction.
Now, I’m not going to go to The Island of the Dolls to face my fear, so I instead immersed myself in all things haunted dolls. Dolls to the wall, if you will.
The doll, once owned by artist Robert Eugene Otto (family called him Gene), is allegedly possessed by spirits. This story takes place in Key West, Florida.
Gene was given the doll by a Bahamian servant that practiced voodoo and was upset with the family. The 40-inch tall doll was a young boy wearing a sailor costume (also seen holding a teddy bear).
As a young boy, Gene would shout at night. His parents would enter his room and find furniture moved. These types of pranks would happen often and Gene would say, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it.” The family claimed that they could see, in the corner of their eye, glimpses of Robert running around. Neighbors, too, claimed to see Robert moving back and forth through a window.
Gene grew up, became an established artist, and inherited his parents’ house. Robert stayed close to his side, even through adulthood. Gene’s wife, frightened of the doll, was rumored to have died of insanity after locking Robert in the attic. Supposedly, Gene died with Robert at his side. Legend also says:
Robert supposedly attacked people, sometimes locking them in the attic. People who passed by claimed to hear evil laughter coming from the Turret Room. For some time, Robert remained in the empty house by himself until a new family purchased the mansion and restored it. The doll was once again moved to the attic. This pleased it as much as the last time. The doll was often found throughout the house. On one certain night, Robert was found at the foot of the owners’ bed giggling with a kitchen knife in hand. This was enough to send them fleeing from the home.(From Creepypasta Wiki)
You can visit Robert at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida. Be careful taking pictures of this doll. He allegedly places curses on those who do. The walls near the glass case he now lives in are covered with letters asking Robert for his forgiveness, requesting he remove the hex he has placed.
Annabelle is a haunted rag doll that inspired the films The Conjuring and Annabelle. The case was also taken up by famous paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. She also inspired me to freak the hell out. So, in the 1970s, a mother purchased a doll at a second-hand store for her daughter’s 28th birthday. Her daughter (Donna) was a college student who lived with a roommate (Angie) in an apartment. Both women began to notice this doll was strange.
The doll would slightly change positions during the day and would sometimes be found in different locations of the home. The girls also found notes throughout their apartment. These notes were written with pencil on parchment paper, both materials they didn’t have in their apartment. These notes would read “Help Us” in the handwriting of a small child.
One night, Donna came home to find blood on Annabelle’s hands and chest. She contacted a medium at this point. During a seance with the medium, it was revealed that a spirit named Annabelle Higgins inhabited the doll. They learned Annabelle was a 7-year-old girl that had died on the property and that her spirit entered the doll because she felt comfortable with Donna and Angie. Donna and Angie said she could stay.
Annabelle didn’t chill out, though, and began to take it out on their friend, Lou. Poor Lou:
Donna and Angie’s friend Lou was reportedly attacked by Annabelle on several occasions. After expressing his distaste for the “evil” doll, he awoke one night to find her “slowly gilding up his leg” before moving onto his chest and “strangling” him. Lou, who at first believed the ordeal was a bad dream, claims to have blacked out from the strangulation. The next day, Lou entered his friend’s apartment only to hear strange noises coming from Donna’s room. While searching the home for a possible break in, he felt a presence behind him and was soon after cut and left with “7 distinct claw marks” on his chest. The scratches, despite causing him to double over in pain, healed almost immediately. Lou’s injuries caused Donna to finally believe in the doll’s evil nature. After contacting a priest to help her with the matter, Donna was later directed to speak with the Warrens. (From IBT)
The Warrens entered the scene and informed Donna and Angie that this doll was not possessed but most likely manipulated by an inhuman spirit. This spirit, they warned, wanted to take over a human body. Oh, great. The Warrens had the apartment exorcised and took the doll with them, which must have been a fun car drive.
The Warrens said weird behavior continued with Annabelle in their care, including levitation. Annabelle may have been responsible for deaths, too:
A priest who visited the Warren’s home and insulted Annabelle, telling her “you can’t hurt anyone,” was reportedly involved in a near-fatal car crash after the visit. Two of the Occult museum visitors, a couple, reportedly crashed their motorcycle after poking fun at the doll’s abilities. The man, said to have slammed on Annabelle’s case, died instantly after crashing into a tree in route home from the museum. His girlfriend survived but was hospitalized for a year after the crash. (From IBT)
The doll now lives at the Warren Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut if you ever wanna kick it with a demon doll.
For more information, visit the Warren’s New England Society for Psychic Research website. As a warning, the site automatically plays a recording of a child singing, which wasn’t a fun surprise for me.
Recently, my grandmother passed. She was a devout Catholic and left behind piles of rosaries, saint amulets, and containers of holy water. When looking through her books, I found Herbert Thurston’s Ghosts and Poltergeists. I wasn’t surprised to find the text, because she passed on to me her interest in ghosts. We would sit for hours recounting ghost stories we had heard during our lengthy times apart. I distinctly remember the lecture she gave me on the risks of using the Ouija board.
She had once told me that she wanted to see a ghost before she died. This never happened, but my aunts have reported visits following her death. Reading this text reminded me of our old talks, and was a visit from her of some sort.
And on to Ghosts and Poltergeists…
Herbert Thurston, S.J. (15 November 1856 – 3 November 1939) was a English priest of the Roman Catholic Church, and also a member of the Jesuit order. Thurston was highly prolific, writing nearly 800 articles (over a span of 61 years). He also produced 150 entries for the Catholic Encyclopedia on more sensitive topics including “Witchcraft,” “Mary Tudor,” and “Shakespeare.” Thurston’s bold approach to controversial topics in the church earned him quite the reputation.
Thurston’s writings were marked by painstaking research and a refusal to allow pious sentiment, tact, or his own pride in the English Catholic tradition to cloud his scholarly judgements. His reputation for exposing popular legends of the saints and pious myths led to the apocryphal story that he had been begged by a dying Jesuit to ‘spare the blessed Trinity’ (Crehan, 66). His equally impartial scrutiny of the claims of spiritualists and psychics led some orthodox Catholics to fear that his treatment of the paranormal was too sympathetic to be compatible with his priesthood. But this same quality made him, as was tacitly recognized by many of his Catholic contemporaries, a strong apologist for Catholicism, and has given his work enduring value. (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
Ghosts and Poltergeists (1953)is a collection of documented poltergeist activity, which he discusses with some skeptical distance. The following notes are copied from my notebook (with some edits). I generally wrote down stories and quotes that stood out to me. I have bolded text for you skimmers.
Chapter 1: A General View of Poltergeist Phenomena
He tells the story of Rev. Dr. Phelps and his family’s experiences with a peculiar poltergeist in Stratford, Connecticut in 1850.
Written communication appeared in unexpected places (sometimes letters signed with the names of local clergy, huh). Once in his study, Dr. Phelps found (in fresh ink) a message on a sheet of paper: “Very nice paper and very nice ink for the devil” (12).
Once after breakfast, multiple “images” (maybe 11 or 12 total) appeared in the middle room: “They were formed of articles of clothing, found around the house, stuffed to resemble the human figure […] These all but one represented females in the attitude of devotion, some having Bibles or prayer books placed to complete the figure” (13).
Chapter 2: Ghosts That Tease
Thurston repeats often that there has never been a case of a poltergeist killing anyone. He writes, “‘Death by Poltergeist’ is not a formula sanctioned by coroners, but it would make a good newspaper head-line, and if any suspicion of this sort were aroused the world could hardly fail to hear of it” (27).
Chapter 15: A Rare Type of Poltergeist
In this chapter, Thurston talks about the Dagg family’s poltergeist troubles during December 1889 in the Province of Quebec . What I found most interesting was the disembodied voice heard by the family members, specifically the eldest daughter, Dinah. This story was shared widely by a Mr. Woodcock, an international artist.
On the Saturday morning of Mr. Woodcock’s visit, he tried to have a private talk with Dinah. She declared see had see something and said into the emptiness: “Are you there mister?” In a deep gruff voice, sounding four or five feet away from Mr. Woodcock, was a reply in “a language that cannot be repeated here” (164). Mr. Woodcock said to the voice, “Who are you?” In response the poltergeist said, “I am the devil. I’ll have you in my clutches. Get out of this or I’ll break your neck” (164).
This went back and forth for a few hours, then Mr. Woodcock demanded proof of the written communication the family had claimed:
Putting a sheet of paper and a pencil on a bench in the shed he saw the pencil stand up and move along the surface. As soon as the pencil dropped, he stepped over and examining the paper said: “I asked you to write something decent.” To this the voice replied in an angry tone: “I’ll steal your pencil,” and immediately the pencil rose from the bench and was thrown violently across the shed. (164)
News of this poltergeist reached the public and the family began to receive curious visitors. On one occasion a visitor asked the spirit why it stopped using filthy language (a key characteristic of earlier communications). The voice responded: “I am not the person who used the filthy language. I am an angel from Heaven sent by God to drive away that fellow” (165).
Mr. Woodcock believed this was a lie, of course.
Appendix: The Exorcism of Haunted Houses
Thurston laments on the fact that many guidebooks used for exorcisms acknowledge people possessed by evil spirits and not places possessed by evil spirits. While exorcisms already presented in guidebooks are similar in nature, Thurston assures of some differences:
But in all these exorcisms it is the activities of Satan and his myrmidons which are the direct object of attack. There seems to be no recognition of ghosts or of spirits of the dead as such, and there is no suggestion that the souls of men are likely to return to haunt the scenes amidst they formerly dwelt the earth. (205)
Luckily, in the appendix of Rituale Romanum (published with full authorization of the Council of Inquisition 1631), there appears a document titled Exorcismus domus a demonio vexatae (The exorcisms of a house troubled with an evil spirit).
Overall, the book is an interesting text produced by a member of the Roman Catholic church. While it (unfortunately) doesn’t give first hand accounts of exorcisms themselves, it’s an excellent collection for those interested in stories of poltergeists. I can see my grandmother now, clutching her rosary, and enjoying these tales of the supernatural.
I look forward to posting more on this blog, both about what I research and the spooky places I visit. For more information on my blog, please read the About page. I plan on posting Sunday mornings, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. You can also follow this blog on various social medias. Thanks for stopping by!