Fairy Circles of Doom: Natural or Supernatural?

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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

Fairy Rings (also called Fairy Circles, Elf Circles, Elf Rings, or Pixie Rings) are circles of mushrooms that appear in forestland and grassland.

Fairy_ring_on_a_suburban_lawn_100_1851Various 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).
  • On Walpurgis Night, witches dance in the circles.

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.

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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.

Devil's Tramping Ground
CC BY-SA 2.5 by user Jason Horne

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

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CC BY 2.5 by user Stephan Getzin (via Beavis729)

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! 

In My Commonplace Book: #FolkloreThursday + Smudging

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Y’all, I’m back with my commonplace book and ready to do some weekly updates…staring now!

My commonplace book has been filled recently with a lot of miscellaneous information, tiny bits I just had to capture. I usually come across this information on Twitter. Articles that have caught my eye on Twitter lately include:

#FolkloreThursday on Twitter has also been a source of knowledge and community for me. Each Thursday folklore scholars and lovers share their favorite pieces of folklore in 140 characters or less. I like to screenshot my favorite tweets, print them, and glue them into my commonplace book.

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I have also done some research on making smudge sticks. I had so much sage in my garden and thought purifying my space would put it to good use. I still have so much to learn about the origins of smudging and its complexities (colors, herbs to use, uses across cultures, etc). The following links have only started this current research project.

I especially loved this quote from the last article.

To understand the protocol means you have to learn something about aboriginal people. So in a sense the medicines are working in a kind way, saying ‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together’ – Cat Criger, aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto

Commonplace book exercise for this week: Join #FolkloreThursday this Thursday and write down (or copy/paste) some of your favorite tweets! 

The Chain on the Tombstone

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Today I wanted to share another piece of Indiana folklore: the chain on the tombstone.

In Bonds Chapel Cemetery (Orange County, Indiana) sits a gravestone that reads “Floyd E. Pruett, 1894-1920.” On the side of the stone is the ghostly appearance of a chain. Many argue the chain developed over time and the number of links continue to grow in number. The chain has been the topic of speculation for quite some time.

Folklore scholar William M. Clements interviewed Terry, an “expert” on this tombstone, in 1968. Terry explained the tombstone’s unusual appearance.

Well, the tombstone itself isn’t unusual. I mean, it’s a small tombstone; but when you get up close, you can see what appears to be a chain. And small links of a chain look maybe engraved in the tombstone to form a cross […] sometimes there’ll be seven or eight; sometimes there’ll be up to fifteen or sixteen. And, well nobody knows why it changes. Some people think maybe it’s the weather and something in the stone itself; and other people just think it’s psy…(whistle) supernatural. (from Indiana Folklore: A Reader, 1980)

A chain, huh? According to S.E. Schlosser (Spooky Indiana, 2012), legend says Pruett died by a cursed chain. He had killed his wife with a logger chain (he was a logger) and, before her dying breathe, she put a curse on her husband. A few days later, a chain broke loose from a timber wagon, whipped in the air, and snapped the man’s neck. Some legends say it was the same chain he used to kills his wife. If you touch the chain today, you will be killed by a chain. This is just one of many versions of the story, though.

For example, a more romantic version has been posted on hauntedplaces.org. A user writes:

He was killed in battle, and his girlfriend stood across the road, watching his burial from afar. Some say her ghost to this day still awaits his return. The chain is said to grow [edited from groe] one link longer every year, symbolizing her growing love for him, and it is said to glow at night. An apparition in a black dress can be seen standing on the other side of the road.

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Image Source: Angelfire

But, Clements interviewed a grocer who remembered Pruett died from tuberculosis, and that the mysterious chain was probably the result of a rusty chain that had come in contact with the stone in the quarry. Another informant gave a similar explanation for the chain mark and Pruett’s death.

Clements concluded that “a legend has been created among the youth of several southern Indiana counties in order to explain a physical phenomenon as well as to provide a supernatural ‘thrill’ as an escape from boredom” (264).

Pruett most definitely died of usual circumstances and was unfortunately given an unusual gravestone. How did the story start? I don’t know. It is interesting to see the various explanations for the chain, from the believable to the wild. But, let us remember to see past the legend and acknowledge he is a person. 

Want to hear more locals (of the past) tell their version of the story? Read more here.

Update. There’s a similar story about a Carl Pruitt in Kentucky. Same last name but different spelling. Weird right?

Haunted Cemetery Statues in the United States

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Not haunted, but a girl can dream.

In elementary school, our music teacher played a 1980s PBS cartoon set to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” on Halloween. The cartoon began with a statue of a cloaked skeleton coming to life after sunset, using his instrument to summon skeletons from their graves. Since then, I have always imagined the statues I see in cemeteries becoming animated at nightfall.

In an article about haunted objects in Collectors Weekly. Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society said, “[…] anytime you have a human figure, people are likely to think it holds some kind of invisible force, because of our propensity to believe in the afterlife and that humans carry a soul.” What better place than a cemetery, then, for stories about statues coming to life? They are so close to death, bodies, and souls.

The following are cemetery statues believed to exhibit characteristics of the living: moving, bleeding, crying. Some of these statues are also a gateway to the afterlife, having the power to predict or even cause death.

Inez Clarke and Eternal Silence (Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL)

In Graceland Cemetery stands a memorial with the statue of a young girl behind protective glass. Legend says this young girl, Inez Clarke, was struck by lightening in the 1800s. On stormy nights in the cemetery, the statue is said to disappear (hiding from fear?), leaving an empty glass case. She then reappears in the morning. There’s an excellent detailed description on Find A Grave (also to be credited for the image).

The Eternal Silence statue (aka “The Statue of Death”) in Graceland Cemetery is, on its very own, very eerie and spooky. The statue memorializes Dexter Graves, who in 1831 led 13 families from Ohio to, what would become, Chicago. The hooded bronze statue, a version of the Grim Reaper, was designed by Lorado Taft.

Supposedly, if you stare into the eyes of Eternal Silence, you will see a vision of your own death. There have also been many reports of the statue raising and lowering its uplifted arm. Further, the statue (up until the 1970s) could not be photographed, “stemming from amateur photographers reporting malfunctioning of normally cooperative cameras, or inexplicable destruction of camera film” (Atlas Obscura).

The Haserot Angel (Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, OH)

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Image Credit: Ian MacQueen // CC BY-SA 3.0

This statue, named “The Angel of Death Victorious,” is a life-sized bronze statue of a seated angel. She holds a extinguished torch upside down, which represents a finished life. Some visitors believe that the statue is crying black tears, but could it just be the effects of aged bronze?

The Bleeding Statue (Forest Park Cemetery, Brunswick, NY)

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Image Credit: Pinterest

I discussed a haunted mausoleum in this very cemetery in an earlier post. According to urban legend, this cemetery is a gateway to hell. One day when the mausoleum/receiving tomb was opened, it was revealed that the bodies were missing. So, already a creepy place.

The cemetery also has a headless angel statue with a bleeding neck. One popular theory is that the blood is just moss. Moss is boring though. Let’s go with blood.

Black Aggie (Druid Ridge Cemetery, Pikesville, MD)

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Black Aggie is a name given to a statue that once resided on the memorial of General Felix Agnus in Druid Ridge Cemetery. The statue was moved because of damage caused by visitors, and eventually ended up in a courtyard behind the Dolley Madison House in Washington, D.C.

When Black Aggie lived in Druid Ridge Cemetery, there were many scary stories attached to it. According to legend, the dead of Druid Ridge would gather around the statue at night. The statue was also believed to cause blindness and miscarriages (Source).

The statue too became an attraction for local teens seeking a thrill. One story about Black Aggie describes a fraternity ritual where initiates have to spend the night at the foot of the statue. For one pledge, this method of hazing led to his death. From Spooky Maryland

What had been a funny initiation rite suddenly took on an air of danger. One of the fraternity brothers stepped forward in alarm to call out to the initiate. As he did, the statue above the boy stirred ominously. The two fraternity brothers froze in shock as the shrouded head turned toward the new candidate. They saw the gleam of glowing red eyes beneath the concealing hood as the statue’s arms reached out toward the cowering boy.

With shouts of alarm, the fraternity brothers leapt forward to rescue the new initiate. But it was too late. The initiate gave one horrified yell, and then his body disappeared into the embrace of the dark angel. The fraternity brothers skidded to a halt as the statue thoughtfully rested its glowing eyes upon them. With gasps of terror, the boys fled from the cemetery before the statue could grab them too.

Hearing the screams, a night watchman hurried to the Agnus plot. To his chagrin, he discovered the body of a young man lying at the foot of the statue. The young man had apparently died of fright.

The Black Angel (Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City, IA)

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Image Credit: Billwhittaker // CC BY-SA 3.0

In Oakland Cemetery stands a 8.5-foot bronze statue of the Angel of Death, which was erected in 1913 and marks the grave of Teresa Feldevert. Like the Black Aggie, there are many thrill-seeking games involving the eerie statue. On Halloween, young people dare their friends to touch or kiss the statue. Touching or kissing the statue, rumor has it, will strike you dead (unless you are a virgin). And, like Black Aggie, this statue allegedly causes miscarriages.

Little Gracie (Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA)

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Image Credit: Pinterest

Behind a private iron fence sits the grave of Gracie Watson marked by a statue of Gracie sitting on a tree stump. In 1889, Gracie (age 6) died of pneumonia, leaving behind her grief-stricken parents. Her spirit still lingers in her parents’ hotel. Hotel staff have reported Gracie’s disembodied voice in the back stairwell, a place she once hid in during her parents’ parties.

Many visitors to Gracie’s memorial leave small toys and gifts. It is said that if you remove gifts from the site, she will cry tears of blood. Visitors to the cemetery have also reported seeing a young girl in a white dress skipping through the property, only to vanish into thin air.

Commonplace Book Entry: Cemetery Cats

My current obsession is looking up photographs of cats in cemeteries, a marriage of my two obsessions. I am not sure what happens after death, but I like the idea of cats hanging out near my grave (maybe even howe sitting on it). As I have explored in a past post, cats are associated with death and the supernatural, so cats and cemeteries are not an unlikely pair. Why are there so many photographs of cats in cemeteries? Are they trying to steal corpses? Comfort mourners? Sun bathe and chill?

In the following post, I recreate a entry from my commonplace book on this topic. So, it is a collection of sometimes unrelated pieces (texts and images) rather than a linear narrative.

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Image Source: Daderot / CC0 1.0

“In European and American tradition […] it is commonly believed cats must be kept away from corpses, because they will attack them. In fact, according to medical examiners I have spoken to, this is occasionally observed–cats are carnivorous, after all” (27). – Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial, and Death 

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Image Credit: Brett Hammond / CC BY 2.0

Montmarte Cemetery in Paris is home to a rather large community of cats. “No one is quite sure where they came form, but dozens and dozens of cats live amongst the mausoleums, quietly sunning themselves on the marble tombstones and keeping watch over their long forgotten inhabitants” (Atlas Obscura)

Graveyard Guardian
Image Credit: Bart Everson / CC By 2.0

Kasha: In Japanese folklore, Kasha is a monster cat that steals corpses out of their coffins. “Kasha are occasionally  employed as messengers or servants of hell, in which case they are tasked with collecting corpses of wicked humans and spiriting them off to hell for punishment. Other times, they steal corpses for their own uses — either to animate as puppets or to eat” (Yokai.com). They live among humans as average cats, but can grow into sizes larger than humans and are sometimes accompanied by fire.

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Barney the Cat, Imaged Credit: Guernsey Press

At St. Sampson’s Parish Cemetery on the island of Guersney (off the coast of England), Barney the Cat roamed the cemetery for 20 years and comforted mourning visitors. When he passed in 2016, he was buried in a special place and memorialized with a plaque and bench in the cemetery. Many took to social media to share their personal stories about Barney. More info (and stories): Buzzfeed.

31 Ghosts to Scare You This Halloween

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Happy Halloween! I cannot give you candy via the internet, but I can give you 31 ghosts. Hope you don’t run into any evil spirits while celebrating. Stay safe, folks!

  1. Petni/Shakchunni (Bengali folklore): Female spirits that died unmarried and want marriage in the afterlife. They may possess rich women to fulfill this desire.
  2. Churel (South Asian folklore): A female spirit that died during childbirth, sometimes because she was neglected by family. This ghost seeks out male relatives and drains them of their blood, semen, and virility. (Source)
  3. Imori (Japanese folklore): The ghosts of warriors that have been transformed into geckos. They hide in ruins and attack tresspassers.
  4. Vântoase (Romanian folklore): Female ghosts living in the forest with the ability to control the wind, causing dust storms. They also attack children.
  5. Penchapechi (Bengali folklore): A ghost in the form of an owl that follows lost travelers until they are alone and vulnerable. Then, he strikes and consumes the traveler.

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    Depiction of a White lady by Edward Kelley // Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons
  6. White Lady (appears in many cultures): A female ghost often linked to tragedy or betrayal (by a lover). Here’s a long list by location.
  7. Zashiki Warashi (Japanese folklore): House spirits that appear as 5-year-olds or 6-year-olds wearing traditional clothes. They cause mischief around the house, but bring its inhabitants luck.
  8. El Silbon (Venezuelan folklore): The ghost of a male spirit that killed his father (one legend says it was because his father came back empty from a hunt). He attacks drunk men on their way home, drinking the alcohol out of their stomachs through their belly buttons. He is known for his whistling.
  9. The Knights of Alleberg (Swedish folklore): The ghosts of 12 soldiers that died during the Battle of Alleberg (1389). They are trapped inside a mountain, waiting for a new war. Legend says if they fight in this new war and save their country, they will finally go to Heaven.
  10. Shui Gui (Chinese folklore): The spirits of people who have drowned and inhabit the water where it happened. They drag victims into the water so to possess them.
  11. Screaming Skulls (English folklore): Screaming skulls are ghosts in/attached to human skulls that haunt a location, most commonly places in England. Most often, these spirits seem to be attached to their homes and will exhibit poltergeist or ghostly behavior when removed. Read more on this past blog post.
  12. Ridgeway Ghost (Wisconsin folklore): This ghost of two combined spirits of brothers who died in a bar fight in the 1840s. The ghost appears in many forms: headless horseman, man carrying a whip, domestic animals, a young woman, or an old woman. The ghost haunts a along a 25-mile stretch of road in Wisconsin.
  13. Jack-In-Irons (English folklore): A ghost that haunts the roads of Yorkshire, England. He is covered in chains (which is actually a less common image in folklore than pop culture might suggest). He jumps out into the road and scares travelers.
  14. Faceless Gray Man of Pawleys Island (South Carolina folkore): The gray apparition of a faceless man that appears before hurricanes. He was last seen before Hurricane Matthew in 2016, allegedly.
  15. The Black Dog of Newgate Prison (English Folklore): A black dog appeared before executions at this past London prison for over 400 years. According to legend, a scholar was brought to this jail in 1596 on allegations of witchcraft. Before given a fair trial, he was killed and eaten by starving prisoners. Shortly after the dog appeared.
  16. Greenbriar Ghost (West Virginia folklore): The ghost of Elva Zona Heaster Shue led her mother to evidence proving her husband killed her, which was later used during the trial. Read the fascinating story on mental_floss.
  17. Vardøger (Scandinavian folklore): The appearance of a person before their actual arrival. According to Wikipedia: “Stories typically include instances that are nearly déjà vu in substance, but in reverse, where a spirit with the subject’s footsteps, voice, scent, or appearance and overall demeanor precedes them in a location or activity, resulting in witnesses believing they’ve seen or heard the actual person before the person physically arrives. This bears a subtle difference from a doppelgänger, with a less sinister connotation. It has been likened to being a phantom double, or form of bilocation.”
  18. Aka Manto (Japanese urban legend): A spirit that haunts public bathrooms and asks visitors if they want red or blue toilet paper. If you choose red: you will be cut until you clothes are stained red. If you choose blue: you will be chocked until your face turns blue.
  19. Nishi (Bengali folklore): A nocturnal spirit that lures victims into secluded areas with the familiar voice of a loved one. The victims disappear and no one knows what happens to them.
  20. “Philip”: an artificial ghost created during a 1972 parapsychology experiment. Read the story on this past blog post.
  21. Radiant Boys (English and German Folklore): The spirits of boys that were murdered by their mothers. The sight of a radiant boy foretells bad luck or death.
  22. Vetala (Indian folklore): A spirit that haunts cemeteries and inhabits corpses. They also love to play tricks.

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    The Wild Hunt: Aasgaardreien by Peter Nicolai Arbo // Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons
  23. Wild Hunt (European folklore): A spectral hunting party that appears at night. If you see this spectral procession, you may be transported to a foreign land or the underworld. Or, you may die.
  24. Demon Cat (American folklore): A large spectral black cat that haunts the basement tunnels of Washington, DC government buildings. It’s appears before elections and national tragedies. Read more on this past blog post.
  25. Kyokotsu (Japanese folklore): Skeletal spirits that pop out of wells to scare people. These are the spirits of people who died after falling in a well or had their remains thrown into one.
  26. Mechho Bhoot (Bengali folklore): A ghost who loves fish. He lives near ponds and lakes, urging nighttime fisherman to give him fish. If they refuse, he may threaten harm. He also likes to steal fish from kitchens.
  27. Diao si gui (Chinese folklore): Spirits of those who died from hanging (murder, suicide, execution).
  28. Kerakera onna (Japanese folklore): The ghost of an enormous, middle-aged woman dressed in a brightly colored robe and covered with make-up. She appears in the the alleys of the red-light district and scares men with her crackling laugh.
  29. Old Book (American folklore). Are you following me on Instagram? I tell a short story about a haunted place on Wednesdays! Such as the story of Old Book…

    The old Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville, Illinois is home to a ghost named “Old Book.” Old Book (1878 – 1910) was a popular patient at the hospital, who served as the hospital’s gravedigger during his time there. After the burial services of each patient, it is said that Old Book leaned against an old elm tree and cried for the deceased. When he died, hundreds of patients, doctors, and staff members came to the funeral. When staff members were lowering his casket, they commented that it felt empty. Suddenly, a crying sound came from the old elm tree, making the funeral guests turn and look. Many claimed to see Old Book, leaning against the tree. They checked the casket to make sure he was indeed there, and when they went to open the lid…the crying stopped. He was still in his coffin. After the funeral, the elm tree began to die. Several groundskeepers tried to remove the dead tree with no luck. Eventually, the tree was struck by lightning and removed.

  30. Church Grim (Swedish and Finnish Folklore): The Church (or Kirk) Grim is attached to a particular church and oversees the welfare of the churchyard. They might also appear in forms of other animals, though dog is most common. They are the spirits of those first buried in a church’s cemetery. Oftentimes a dog was sacrificed and buried when building a new church and accompanying cemetery, so that he could serve as a Grim in the afterlife (intsead a human soul).
  31. And of course…Jack-o’-Lantern. Read the ghostly origins of this Halloween tradition on mental_floss. 

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Halloween Weekend Reading Material

Although it’s always spooky on Notebook of Ghosts, I thought I might share some links on history specific to Halloween. I looked through my favorite websites and created a short list for Halloween Weekend reading. Enjoy!

The History of Candy Corn: Halloween’s Most Iconic and Reviled Treat – Atlas Obscura

“Halloween provides a cavalcade of whimsical scares for children and adults alike, but nothing chills the bones quite as much as the piles of candy corn left at the bottom of pumpkins and pillowcases across America.”

The Reason for Your Halloween Candy Paranoia  – Jezebel

“Timothy wasn’t killed by a maniac getting children to unknowingly participate in a game of Russian Roulette with cyanide-tainted candy. He was killed by his father, Ronald, in an equally tragic and pathetic attempt at some good, old-fashioned insurance fraud.”

11 Fun Historical Newspaper Clippings about Halloween – mental_floss

“Halloweens of yesteryear were filled with treats, but many more tricks—or at least that’s how it seems from contemporary newspaper clippings.”

Halloween Folklore and Superstitions – Folklore Thursday

“We all know that Hallowe’en, as a festival, is not an invention of the trick-or-treating Americans but it is far older than many people realise. Its origin can be seen in the ancient festival of Samhain, a celebration which marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter.”

How Detroit Exorcised Devil’s Night – Atlas Obscura

“Some call it Mischief Night, others Cabbage Night but the night before Halloween, with its long history of pranks escalating into chaos and destruction, is perhaps best known as Devil’s Night. Halloween tricks are nothing new, but Devil’s Night in Detroit has historically brought out some of the worst vandalism and arson.”

And if you haven’t yet, check out my post on the Lost Halloween Traditions for Summoning Future Lovers.

Lost Halloween Traditions for Summoning Future Lovers

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Halloween is the time of year when the veil between life and death becomes thinner, but so does the one between present and future. Many lost Halloween traditions involve girls and young women foretelling your future partner through unique rituals. You don’t need a crystal ball to see your future lover, just some autumn food, some household essentials, or maybe some comfortable walking shoes.

Want to see your future lover this Halloween? History suggests…

Playing with Food

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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

  • Eat an apple and comb your hair in front of a mirror at midnight on Halloween. Your future husband’s image will appear over your left shoulder.
  • Have women mark apples and then place them in a tub of water. Then have men bob for apples to see future love matches.
  • Peel one long strand of an apple skin and throw it over your left shoulder. The first initial of your future partner’s name may be revealed.
  • Or take that apple peel, nail it above your front door, and the first person to walk under it will have the same initials of your future lover.
  • Make a fire and have all your unmarried friends tie apples to strings. The order in which the apples fall off the string is the order everyone will get married. The owner of the last apple dropped will never marry.
  • Go to bed with an apple under your pillow and you may dream of your future spouse.
  • Grab some hazelnuts and designate each one for a love interest. Throw them into a fire. The hazelnut that burns to ash, instead of popping, is your future partner (Scottish tradition).
  • Eat some salted herring before bed. It will cause a thirst that will hopefully summon the sympathetic spirit of your future partner (with a glass of water of course).
  • Blindfold yourself and pull a cabbage out of the ground. Examine the root with your hands to collect clues for your future spouse.
  • Make Colcannon (a traditional Irish dish made with kale, mashed potatoes, and onions) and hide a ring in it. The person that finds the ring is getting married within the year.

Easy Household Divination

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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
  • Sprinkle letters cut out of a newspaper into water to see your future lover’s name.
  • Get three bowls. Fill one with clean water, fill another with foul water, and leave the last one empty. Blindfold a friend and have them pick a bowl. If the bowl with clean water is picked: your future partner will be attractive. The foul water: your partner will already have been married before. Empty: You will die alone.
  • Hold a candle in front of a mirror in a dark room (sometimes after having walked up/down stairs backwards) and your future lover will appear.
  • Eat a sugary dessert made of walnuts, hazelnuts, and nutmeg before bed. Your future lover will appear in your dreams (Scottish Tradition).

Outdoor Predictions

  • Find a stream at a point where the land belonging to three people meet (easy right?). Stick your sleeve in the stream. Go home and hang your shirt/dress over the fire. That night your lover will appear and turn over the sleeve to allow the other side to dry.
  • Take your friends outside for a hazelnut hunt. The first person to find a burr is the first person to marry.

Sources

 

 

A Repository of Paranormal Knowledge: Ghost Lights

This series explores the paranormal basics: key terms, categories, theories, and schools of thought. This will prepare you to be an intellectual ghostbuster. 

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What is a Ghost Light?

Ghost Light: a mysterious ball (or irregular shape) of light with no natural explanation that often appears at night in remote locations. Ghost lights usually come in yellow or white, but can be red, blue, or orange.

According to the Ghost Research Society (via Rosemary Ellen Guiley), ghost lights have 5 characteristics:

  1. They appear in remote areas.
  2. They are elusive and can be seen from different angles and distances.
  3. They react to noise or light by receding or disappearing.
  4. They are accompanied by hummings, buzzings, or outbreaks of gaseous material.
  5. They are associated with folklore surrounding a haunting because of an accident or tragedy (for example the light represents the lantern used by a ghost searching for his decapitated head).

(The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, page 138)

Ghost Lights in Folklore

There are several examples of ghost lights in folklore.

Aarnivalkea (Finish folklore): a light that appears over the location of buried faerie gold.

Aleya (West Bengal & Bangladesh): A ghost light that appears over marshes that causes fishermen to lose their bearings, sometimes leading to drownings.

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Onibi (source)

Hitodama (Japan): “Hitodama are the visible souls of humans which have detached from their host bodies. They appear as red, orange, or blue-white orbs, and the float about slowly not too far from the ground […] On warm summer nights, these strange glowing orbs can be seen floating around graveyards, funeral parlors, or the houses where people have recently died. Most often they are only seen just before or just after the moment of death, when the soul leaves the body to return to the ether” (Yokai.com).

Onibi (Japan): “One of the more dangerous types of hi no tama yokai, onibi is a beautiful but deadly phenomenon. Its name means ‘demon fire,’ and it certainly earns that moniker. It look likes a small ball of flame, usually blue or blue-white (red and yellow onibi are less common), and often appears in small groups of twenty to thirty orbs. The orbs can range in size from three to thirty centimeters, and usually float around at eye-level. They appear most often during the spring and summer months, and particularly on rainy days. They appear more frequently in places that are surrounded by nature” (Yokai.com).

Will-o’-the-wisp (English and European folklore): “or ignis fatuus (/ˌɪɡns ˈfæəs/; Medieval Latin: ‘foolish fire’) is an atmospheric ghost light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes. It resembles a flickering lamp and is said to recede if approached, drawing travellers from the safe paths. The phenomenon is known by a variety of names, including jack-o’-lantern, friar’s lantern, hinkypunk, and hobby lantern […]” (Wikipedia).

So many other interesting folklore examples of ghost lights from all over the world can be found here.

Famous Ghost Light Locations

Click here for famous ghost lights seen all over the world.

Explanations for Ghost Lights

  • See above
  • Piezoelectricity
  • Man-made fire or lights
  • Fires
  • Ball Lightning
  • Natural Gases
  • Meteors
  • “optical phenomena of light emitted through electrical activity” (Wikipedia)
  • UFOs
  • Pranks

What About That Other Ghost Light?

These ghost lights are not to be confused with the ghost lights in theatre. Ghost Light can also refer to the single illuminated light left onstage in a theatre after everyone has gone home. There are two reasons for this light. The first reason is more practical: to provide light in a dark theatre so no one falls into the orchestra pit. The second reason is more paranormal. It is believed that every threatre has a ghost. The ghost light keeps the ghost from being mischievous when everyone is away.

You can learn more here: “The Story Behind the Ritual that Still Haunts Broadway,” Atlas Obscura. 

 

The Yellow Ribbon

b339ede4580ca4f2b727cf285a0b018bI was obsessed with Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories when I was a child. I checked it out from the school library as often as I could, and I always turned to the short story, “The Green Ribbon.” The stories in this book are inspired by folklore, and with folklore comes different versions of a story. I have heard versions with a yellow ribbon. I had mentioned this story on Facebook yesterday and Kira Butler said she heard versions with a black or blue ribbon. Whatever color ribbon you prefer, the frightening twist at the end always stays the same.

Today, I’m sharing a version with a yellow ribbon as retold by S.E. Schlosser, author of Spooky Wisconsin. Enjoy!


Jane wore a yellow ribbon around her neck everyday. And I mean everyday, rain or shine, whether it matched her outfit or not. It annoyed her best friend Johnny after awhile. He was her next door neighbor and had known Jane since she was three. When he was young, he had barely noticed the yellow ribbon, but now they were in high school together, it bothered him.

“Why do you wear that yellow ribbon around your neck, Jane?” he’d ask her every day. But she wouldn’t tell him.

Still, in spite of this aggravation, Johnny thought she was cute. He asked her to the soda shoppe for an ice cream sundae. Then he asked her to watch him play in the football game. Then he started seeing her home. And come the spring, he asked her to the dance. Jane always said yes when he asked her out. And she always wore a yellow dress to match the ribbon around her neck.

It finally occurred to Johnny that he and Jane were going steady, and he still didn’t know why she wore the yellow ribbon around her neck. So he asked her about it yet again, and yet again she did not tell him. “Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it,” she’d reply. Someday! That answer annoyed Johnny, but he shrugged it off, because Jane was so cute and fun to be with.

Well, time flew past, as it has a habit of doing, and one day Johnny proposed to Jane and was accepted. They planned a big wedding, and Jane hinted that she might tell him about the yellow ribbon around her neck on their wedding day. But somehow, what with the preparations and his beautiful bride, and the lovely reception, Johnny never got around to asking Jane about it. And when he did remember, she got a bit teary-eyed, and said: “We are so happy together, what difference does it make?” And Johnny decided she was right.

Johnny and Jane raised a family of four, with the usual ups and downs, laughter and tears. When their golden anniversary rolled around, Johnny once again asked Jane about the yellow ribbon around her neck. It was the first time he’d brought it up since the week after their wedding. Whenever their children asked him about it, he’d always hushed them, and somehow none of the kids had dared ask their mother. Jane gave Johnny as sad look and said: “Johnny, you’ve waited this long. You can wait awhile longer.”

And Johnny agreed. It was not until Jane was on her death bed a year later that Johnny, seeing his last chance slip away, asked Jane one final time about the yellow ribbon she wore around her neck. She shook her head a bit at his persistence, and then said with a sad smile: “Okay Johnny, you can go ahead and untie it.”

With shaking hands, Johnny fumbled for the knot and untied the yellow ribbon around his wife’s neck.

And Jane’s head fell off.