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!


The House of Blue Lights


Misunderstood people are sometimes feared to the point of folklore legacy. We cling to myth to avoid confronting the other, creating monsters that aren’t really there. So much of my own childhood lore was attached to that neighbor that seemed “off.” For example, “Old Man Bill,” that lived down the street of my childhood home, was rumored to have chased dogs and children out of his yard with a butcher knife. I could, like Kevin McCallister, approach this eccentric man and dig deep into his own personal loss. But, I was always told to stay away from strangers and the alleged tales of his violence helped in doing so.

But then there were the games. “I dare you to run to Old Man Bill’s yard and stick your toe in the grass.” “No…I dare you to knock on his door.” No one wanted those games to end and we looked forward to taunting younger children with the same tale and dares.

When do these tales go to far? When do these dares become harassment? How do our fears rewrite history? Where does fact end and fiction begin?

The House of Blue Lights

Skiles Edward Test

Growing up in the Indianapolis area, the story of The House of Blue Lights was an important part of my paranormal history.

The story begins with the tragic death of a millionaire’s wife. While the versions of the story differ from one storyteller to the next, I was told he kept her in a glass coffin in his mansion, surrounding her with blue (her favorite color) Christmas lights. Some legends say the lights were around the pool and other areas of his property. Some say you can see a woman walking the property at night, catching glimpses of her in one of the blue lights (the USC Digital Folklore Archives interviewed someone about this very story).

This man behind the blue lights was Skiles Edward Test.

Skiles Edward Test was born on October 19, 1889 and died on March 18, 1964. His father, Charles Test, made his fortune as president of Indianapolis Chain Works. Historic Indianapolis describes his childhood:

Skiles grew up, along with brother Donald and sister Dorothy, in the mansion their father Charles built at 795 Middle Drive in Woodruff Place on the near east side. The mansion still sits on a giant lot, its heavily wooded garden obscuring the carriage house set back from the street. Nearby Arsenal Technical High School wouldn’t open until 1912, so young Skiles attended Manual Training High School, located at 525 South Meridian before it was relocated to Madison Avenue in 1953. Skiles was a permanent fixture on the Honor Roll and finished in 3 1/2 years, graduating in 1908. If he had intended on going to college, he never got an opportunity. Charles Test passed away in a Wisconsin sanitarium of Bright’s Disease in 1910, leaving the eldest child, Skiles, to head the family.

In 1913, Skiles and his new wife, Josephine Benges, moved onto a large wooded and secluded property. His property was remarkable and had a full farm, large pool, small rail system, and it’s own working power plant. He definitely found interesting ways to spend his inheritance, but made sure to share it with his family and community.

According to Find a Grave:

The Skiles estate included two complete power plants and a cat and dog cemetery with headstones. Mr. Test loved animals and refused to turn away strays. At one time he reportedly had 150 cats and 15 St. Bernard dogs on his estate. After his death, albums of photographs of dogs, cats, squirrels and other animals lying in state in small caskets were found among his possessions. In spite of his reputation for eccentricity, Mr. Test was a friendly and generous man who supported many charities. He donated a large tract of land to the Lawrence Township School District that is now the site of Skiles Test Elementary School and a nearby nature preserve. A large portrait of Mr. Test is displayed in the lobby of the school.

He also, along with his siblings, constructed a building on the Monument Circle of downtown Indianapolis in his father’s honor (complete with Indianapolis’s first parking garage).


The tale of The House of Blue Lights popped up sometime between the two world wars. Author and former farmhand of Skiles, Garry Ledbetter, says closer to WWII. One explanation for these blue lights, according to Historic Indianapolis, was that “Skiles loved the color blue.  He put up blue lights each Christmas and hung blue bug-zapping lights around his enormous swimming pool.” And, his wife wasn’t even dead. But the story took hold and curious trespassers wanted a peek at the coffin. Historic Indianapolis describes these nightly visitors:

Throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties, the trespassers and vandals became increasingly bold. Skiles found a group of teens swimming in his pool and took their clothes and keys, only to be sued by one boy’s father. Trespassers released dogs from their pens and started fires in outbuildings.  Skiles found a teen in his kitchen drinking a Coke he’d taken from the fridge. For a while, he took to sleeping in the multi-story pool house, its cinder-block construction being more fire-proof than the house. Plagued with stress-related ulcers, Skiles began to leave each night and stayed at his girlfriend’s house, so as to not be tormented by the nonstop onslaught of lookie-loos.

It seemed that the stories of trespassing became lore. I once heard that a trespasser put one of Skiles’s cats in a cage with an aggressive dog.


The House of Blue Lights is a reminder that we must enjoy the tales we hear, but with a critical mind. We can become the “monster” if we get too caught up in the mystery, missing the opportunity to learn the other’s truth and wisdom.

The property and surrounding structures have been torn down since, but some still report flickering blue lights. I like to think that its just Skiles messing with us.

For more information, you might check out

Also, Skiles is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, a place I visited in a past post.

Book Notes: Animal Superstitions

Today, I am continuing with my notes on David Pickering’s Cassell Dictionary of Superstitions. Last time, I shared notes on general supernatural superstitions. This time, I’m focusing on animals. As Pickering writes, “Innumerable species  of animal are credited with supernatural powers, including the ability to seethe future and kingship with the spirit world.” “Belief in the magical nature of the animal world,” Pickering writes, “was once much stronger than it is now, and in many cultures animals were considered almost the equal of humans” (p.7). Below are some of the more interesting notes I found while reading this book.

Bat (p. 22-3):

  • “The appearance of a bat in a church during a wedding ceremony is considered a bad omen, and if a bat flies three times round a house or hits a windowpane this is a sure prophecy of the impending death of someone within.”
  • “A near miss when a bat flies close by is a warning that the person concerned is threatened  by betrayal or witchcraft at the hands of another.”
  • “Other traditions suggest that witches sometimes turn themselves into bats in order to enter people’s houses and that the sight of bats flying vertically upwards and then dropping back to Earth is a sign that the witching hour has come. Witches, it is said, often include a few drops of bat’s blood in the flying ointment they are said to smear on their bodies before taking off on their broomsticks: the idea is that they will then be safe from collding with anything […].”

Bear (p. 25): “According to popular superstition, bears obtained their sustenance by sucking on their own paws, and literally licked their newborn cubs into a bear shape when first delivered.”

Birds (p. 33): 

  • “Dark-coloured birds that fly around trees without ever seeming to settle are said to be souls of reincarnated evil-doers, though another popular superstition (from France) maintains that when unbaptized children die they become birds for a time until accepted into heaven.”
  • “The death of a caged bird on the morning of a wedding indicates that the marriage will not prosper, and pet birds must be kept informed of important family events or they will languish and die.”

Cow (p.73): A cow trespassing in a garden means imminent death, and 3 cows means 3 imminent deaths.

Dolphin (p. 85): Dolphins change color when death is near.

Donkey (p. 86): “[…] it is claimed that plucking three hairs from a donkey’s shoulders and placing the in black silk or muslin bag worn around the neck of a person suffering from measles or whooping cough – which sounds not unlike the braying of an ass – is certain to cure the disease, as long as the animal is the opposite sex to the patient.”

Duck (p.89): Ducks that flap their wings while swimming are warning us of approaching rain.

Eel (p. 93): “It was once said that witches and sorcerers clad themselves in jackets made of eelskin in the belief that these were impervious to gunfire.”

Fox (p. 110): In Scotland farmers nailed the head of foxes to the barn door to scare off witches.

Muskrat (p. 183): “The [American] Indians believe that the construction of the muskrat’s home can reveal much about the coming season’s weather. If the muskrat builds its home well clear of the water, heavy rains are due, but it constructs a house with thin walls the winters will be mild.”

Pig (p. 204): “According to the Irish, children suffering from mumps and other ailments should rub their heads on a pig’s back so that the disease will be transferred to the animal.”

Sheep (p. 225): “Consuming a little sheep dung in water will relieve both jaundice and whooping cough.”

Want more? 

Black Dogs and Death 

Cats and Death: A Very Brief History 

The 5 Scariest Mausoleums in America

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Recently on Twitter, I was talking with a few of you about Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (1997-2002). For those unfamiliar with this television show: each episode shared supernatural stories, then revealed whether the stories were fact or fiction at the end of the episode.

My favorite story from the show, “The Secret of the Family Tomb,” was about a haunted mausoleum. I included a clip of the story below (8 minutes) and will tell you whether it’s fact or fiction at the end of this post.

With haunted mausoleums on my mind, I wanted to find more. I’ve always found mausoleums interesting: they’re eerily quiet, mysterious, and beautifully made. What goes on behind those doors after dark? The following stories suggest the trapped spirits are trying to get out.

The Legare Mausoleum (Edisto Island, SC)

From Flickr 

In the mid-1800s, Julia Legare became sick with Diptheria. Her family watched as she suffocated, closed her eyes, and passed on. They laid her lifeless body on a stone slab in the family crypt, closed the door, and sealed the keyhole with wax. The family mourned and tried their best to move on.

Years later, Julia’s brother was killed in the Civil War and the family crypt was opened once again. The family moved the heavy door, only to watch bones fall out. The doors and floor were covered with claw marks. Julia didn’t die from Diptheria, but spent her last moments alive trying to escape the crypt. Obviously, her family was very distraught with this scene. They quickly placed their son in the mausoleum and left, but decided to visit him soon to make sure he was indeed dead. When they returned to the grave, the crypt door had a large crack down the middle. They replaced it, but it happened again, and again, and again…

The mausoleum has remained doorless ever since. Could Julia’s spirit be protecting her brother from the same fate?

The Hayden Mausoleum (Columbus, OH)

In Green Lawn Cemetery, there is a large mausoleum that holds members of the Hayden family. Legend says that if you knock on the mausoleum doors, a spirit will answer back with a knock. On rainy nights, people have also reported seeing a young boy leaning against its iron gates and crying. Is he buried inside?

According to a user on Find a Grave, the mausoleum is in decent condition on the outside, but is in very bad shape on the inside.

The Craigmiles Mausoleum (Cleveland, TN)

The alleged blood stain is above the right column. From Find a Grave

In Cleveland, Tennessee stands a beautiful 37-foot high mausoleum made of white Italian marble and stained with (what seems to be) blood. On October 18, 1871, Nina Craigmiles (age 7) died in a tragic buggy accident. Her grandfather, who often took her on buggy rides, was thrown clear of the accident and survived. Her father John Craigmiles was deeply saddened by this loss and constructed a church (St. Luke’s Episcopal Church) and mausoleum in her honor. Soon after her burial, blood stains began to appear.

Shortly after Nina’s death, her brother died (name not documented). In 1899, John died of blood poisoning after a serious fall on an icy street. Nina’s mother, Adelia, died in 1928 after being hit by a car when crossing the street. They were all placed in the mausoleum. With each death, the blood stains got darker and more prominent.

Could the spirits of the Craighmiles family be the cause of the mysterious red stains or is there some chemical reaction in the marble?

The Forest Park Mausoleum (Brunswick, NY)

The Forest Park Cemetery (also known as the Pinewoods Cemetery) is now abandoned and overgrown.  According to Wikipedia, the cemetery began with big dreams that were never fully realized:

Forest Park Cemetery was first incorporated in 1897 by a group of wealthy Troy businessmen under the Forest Park Cemetery Corporation, though based on older gravestones, the cemetery had apparently been in use since at least 1856. The original area chosen for the cemetery occupied over 200 acres (81 ha) of farmland in what was then rural Brunswick. Meant to outgrow and even outclass Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery, it was originally designed by Garnet Baltimore, the first African-American graduate ofRensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Baltimore planned on the cemetery to offer visitors a park-like experience, complete with statuary, winding trails, and a large receiving tomb near the entrance.

The Forest Park Cemetery Corporation went bankrupt in 1914 and the cemetery was never completed to the original plans. The only structure that had been built was the receiving tomb, which still stands today, albeit in a dilapidated state. The receiving tomb was built from granite and featured a copper roof with a large skylight and contained 128 marble catacombs used for storing corpses during the winter.

In 1914 the cemetery was re-incorporated by New York City natives under the name Forest Hills Cemetery. Due to financial difficulty, the corporation sold all but 22 acres (8.9 ha) to the neighboring County Club of Troy, for use in the construction of its golf course. Regardless, the corporation also went bankrupt during the 1930s. The cemetery went mostly unattended except for a local man named William Christian who volunteered to be caretaker and did so from 1918 to his death in 1961. Christian kept notes of interments, which indicate that the cemetery served upwards of 1,400 burials. Burials continued in the cemetery until about 1975, when the cemetery went completely unattended.

Until 1987, control of the cemetery was in dispute. During that year, control was vested in the Town of Brunswick, at the decree of New York State. In response, the town created a Forest Park Cemetery Advisory Council in 1991, but it ended up being disbanded in 1994. Based on local obituaries, the cemetery was put back into use in the late 1990s and has been used as recently as 2005 for a burial. Employees from the Town of Brunswick made multiple attempts during the 1990s and 2000s to remove the overgrown brush and plants, which had become a major problem.

In 1988, the cemetery was featured in the local Times Record newspaper after two youths discovered a partially exhumed grave. Two shovels, a pick and several beer cans were found at the crime scene. Although police reports were filed, no one was apprehended for the crime.

According to urban legend, this cemetery is a gateway to hell. People have reported that a headless angel statue bleeds from the neck (which many believe is just moss). The mausoleum (or the before mentioned receiving tomb) was opened by residents, revealing that there were no bodies inside. People believe the bodies disappeared or walked off. Others argue it was simply a holding area for bodies to be buried, and that it never served as a final resting place.

If you need a scare, Weird US has two stories from readers that have visited the site!

Massock Mausoleum (Spring Valley, IL)

From Illinois Ancestors

The small Lithuanian Liberty Cemetery was established in 1914 and holds less than 20 memorials. In the corner of the cemetery stands a mausoleum with the bodies of two brothers. According to legend, “The Hatchet Man” guards the mausoleum at night and chases off anyone that enters the cemetery.

As with many cemeteries, there has been vandalism. In the 1960s, a local boy allegedly broke into the mausoleum and took a skull. The boy drove around town with the skull on his dashboard. Once word got out that it was indeed real, the skull was returned and the mausoleum doors were cemented shut. In recent years, a burned dog’s head was found on the mausoleum steps and was linked to animal sacrifice.

Another legend tells of a reporter who poured holy water down the vent of the mausoleum, which caused a groaning noise from inside.

People have also reported a pale and thin apparition walking around at night.

So, is the scary story about the family tomb fact or fiction? 

This story is based on true events.

Book Notes: Supernatural Superstitions

Each week, I walk many blocks to the used bookstore to explore its supernatural and horror section. It’s one of those book stores where shelves are filled and the floor is covered with stacks of books. You can usually find me sitting on the floor, turning the pages of some new find.

Now that I have my own room for my reading and writing, I have the space to build a substantial supernatural library. And, nothing could make me happier. I have always taken notes when reading, because I don’t want to forget what I’ve read. I also like something to reference when I return to a topic. This is why I’ve always kept a commonplace book. In fact, the first post of this blog was book notes from Herbert Thurston’s Ghost and Poltergeists.  

Today’s notes are from a recent find, David Pickering’s Dictionary of Superstitions. This book contains superstitions about food, body parts, weather…really, a variety of subject areas. Below are notes I took the interesting supernatural entries. Enjoy!

Fariy (p. 100): “Great care should be taken to avoid dark green ‘fairy rings’ in the grass, which mark the place where the fairies have held a circular dance at midnight (the rings are actually made by a fungus). It is said that these may even indicate the whereabouts of a fairy village. It is throught very dangerous to sleep in one of these rings or even to stop into one after nightfall – especially on the even of May Day or Halloween – and livestock are also reputed to keep their distance from these phenomena.”

Ghost (p. 116): “Measures that may be taken against encountering ghosts include, according to Scottish tradition, wearing a cross of rowan wood fastened with red thread and concealed in the lining of one’s coat.”

Gremlin (p. 122): “The only way to foil the activities of gremlins, apparently, is to lay an empty bottle nearby – the mischievous creatures will crawl inside and stay there.”

Hallowee’en (p. 125-6):

  • “Hallowe’en is generally considered a time where extra care should be given not to linger in churchyards or do anything that might offend the fairies or other malicious spirits.”
  • “It is also risky to look at one’s own shadow in the moonlight and the most inadvisable to go on a hunting expedition on Hallowe’en, as one may accidently wound a wandering spirit.”
  • “Children born on Hallowe’en will, however, enjoy lifelong protection against evil spirits and will also be endowed with the gift of second sight.”
  • “In rural areas farmers may circle their fields with lighted torches in the belief that doing so will safeguard the following year’s harvest, or else drive their livestock between branches of rowan to keep them safe from evil influences.”
  • “According to Welsh tradition, anyone going to a crossroads on Hallowe’en and listening carefully to the wind may learn what the next year has in store and, when the church clock strikes midnight, will hear a list of the names of those who are to die in the locality over the next twelve months.”
  • “Several of the most widely known Hallowe’en divination rituals relate to apples. Superstition suggests that, if a girl stands before a mirror while eating an apple and combing her hair at midnight on Hallowe’en, her future husband’s image will be reflected  in the glass over her left shoulder. A variant dictates that she must cut the apple into nine pieces, each of which must be struck on the point of the knife and held over the left shoulder. Moreover, if she peels an apple in one long piece, and then tosses the peel over the left shoulder or into a bowl of water, she will be able to read the first initial of her futures partner’s name in the shape assumed by the discarded peel. Alternatively the peel is hung on a nail by the front door and the initials of the first man to enter will be the same as those of the unknown lover.”

Nightmare (p. 189):

  • “Superstition maintains that nightmares are sent by the devil and his minions to trouble the dreams of sleepers. Such demons steal into bedrooms in the dead of night, often taking the form of spectral horses (hence ‘nightmare’).”
  • Remedies for nightmares
    • “These include pinning one’s socks in the shape of a cross to the end of the bed or else placing a knife or some other metal object nearby, on the grounds that the latent magic of the iron or steel will see off malevolent spirits.”
    • “Carefully placing one’s shoes under the bed so that the toes point outwards is also said to be effective.”
    • “Other precautions include sleeping with the hands crossed on the breast and fixing little straw crosses to the four corners of the bed.”
    • “Any lingering ill effects resulting from nightmares may be dismissed by spitting three times on waking up.

More notes form this book to come!

Black Dogs and Death (Ongoing)


One of my majors in undergrad was Greek Mythology, so I’ve always been aware of Cerberus or the Hound of Hades. This multi-headed dog guarded the gates of the Underworld, making sure the dead remained. I, a fan of the show Supernatural, was also introduced to Hellhounds, dogs that drag their victims to hell. I thought, “Dogs and death…I got this!” But, shortly after beginning my research, I realized I bit off more MilkBone than I could chew.

Spectral black dogs in folklore (often called Hellhounds) are most common in the British Isles, but appear in various forms and are seen in other cultures. They are often described as being rather large (the size of a calf) and having bright, shining eyes (sometimes red). They are also commonly noted for their sly quietness: you cannot hear their footsteps and they leave no footprints. They may be seen in graveyards, at crossroads, places of execution, or during electrical storms. Black dogs serve as guardians of the supernatural, colleagues of the devil, and/or omens of death.

The following are interesting examples of the black dog’s relationship to death, though the list is much longer. I’ll update this post when I come along other interesting versions of the black dog. I’ll keep you updated.

The Black Dog of Hanging Hills (Connecticut, USA): This small dog is friendly, but one you’d only want to meet once. Seeing this dog once results in joy. Twice, is a warning. And third, is a death omen. According to Wikipedia, this phantom dog has been around for quite some time:

One of the earliest accounts of the dog was published in the Connecticut Quarterly, (April–June, 1898), by New York geologist W.H.C. Pynchon. According to Pynchon, in February 1891 he and geologist Herbert Marshall of the USGS were conducting geologic research in the Hanging Hills when they saw the dog. Pynchon had seen the dog once before. Marshall, who had seen the dog twice, scoffed at the legend. Shortly after the two of them saw the dog, Marshall slipped on the ice atop one of the cliffs and plunged to his death. His body was recovered by authorities. Reports of the Black Dog continue to circulate today.

The Black Dog of Newgate Prison (London, England): A black dog appeared before executions for over 400 years at this past London prison. 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. Could it be him?

Black Poodle (Germany): According to German superstition, black poodles lurk near the graves of disgraced members of the clergy “as evidence of their failure to live up to their calling during their lifetime.” (David Pickering, Dictionary of Superstitions)

Black Shuck (East Anglia, England): The term “shuck” comes from the Old English word “scucca,” meaning demon. This large black dog haunts graveyards, lonely country roads, misty marshes, or village hills. To run across this dog means death within a year. So, if you hear his loud, bone-chilling howls or feel his ice-cold breath: RUN.

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 (instead of a human soul).

Wisht Hounds (Dartmoor, Devon, England): This version of the supernatural black dog is attached to Whitman’s Wood and the surrounding vicinity in Dartmoor in Devon, England. This headless dog roams the moors with his master, Odin (who carries a hunting horn or pole). Sometimes the master is said to be the Devil or Sir Francis Drake. This dog chases the souls of unbaptized children or, as other legends say, he is himself the soul of an unbaptized child who has returned to earth to hunt down his parents. Seeing one means you might die within a year. If you happen to see one, immediately lie face down with your arms and legs crossed, and repeat the Lord’s Prayer until he leaves.

Gallytrot/Galley-Trot (Suffolk): This dog is actually described as being shaggy and white. It will silently show up to harass travelers.

Gytrash (Northern England): This dog haunts desolate roads, waiting for travelers. He can either help travelers safely reach their destination or lead them astray.  It sometimes appears as a mule or horse.

Huay Chivo and Huay Pek (Mexico): Associated with the Chupacabra, this mythical creature is half-man and half-beast. A talented sorcerer, he can change into different animals, including a dog. He can also take the shape of a goat so to torment and slaughter other livestock.

Moddey Dhoo (Isle of Man): During the 17th Century, Peel Castle on the Isle of Man was garrisoned by soldiers. Every night, a black shaggy dog would appear from a dark passage and would silently lie near the hearth. Before daybreak, he would get up and disappear down the passage. Even though the dog initially frightened the night guards, they let the dog be. One night, a drunk guard walked into the room and challenged the dog to follow him. He bragged he wasn’t afraid of the dog. The dog stood up and followed the man. Shortly after a deathly moment of silence, the guards heard blood curdling screams. The drunk guard reappeared, pale and shocked. Three days later, that guard died. Although this legend says that the dog was never seen again, there have been modern sightings.

Luison (Paraguay and Argentina):  In Guaraní mythology, Luison is the last child of the evil spirit Tau (who had kidnapped and raped his mother, Kerana). Luison looks horrendous and inhuman, and smells of decay. Said to be the Lord of Death, Luison frequents graveyards and burial grounds. If he passes through your legs, you will become a Luison also. Over the years, Luison was translated into a werewolf. Like traditional werewolf myths, Luison will bite his victims and turn them into werewolves.

Snarly Yow (Maryland): The Snarly Yow is a giant black dog seen on South Mountain. It has been reported that his coat can turn from white to black. Other witnesses say he is a white headless dog, dragging a chain behind him. He is not considered a death omen, luckily. More eyewitness accounts here.

The Black Dog of Valle Crucis (North Carolina): This extremely fast demon dog will chase cars, keeping up with them at fast speeds. If you drive past an old stone cemetery high in the mountains, the black dog will appear from behind a gravestone and chase after you. The dog has yellow teeth and glowing eyes.


James B. Barnes, “5 Terrifying Stories And Lore About The Legendary “Black Dogs” To Haunt Your Walks Home,” Thought Catalog

Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits 

“The Myth of the Moddey Dhoo,”


Nightmares, Sleep Paralysis, and the Supernatural


I have been plagued by horrible nightmares since my childhood. Just last week, I had a dream that my oldest dog was bitten by a wolf and bled to death in front of me. The dream was so realistic and upsetting that upon waking I realized I had been crying in my sleep.

While in my teens, a family member passed away and strange occurrences began to happen in our home. Electronics would turn on in the middle of the night, for example. One night, I woke up to a dark figure standing in my bedroom doorway. Frightened, I tried to speak and move, but no sound came out and I was paralyzed. While the black figure moved towards my bed, I tried to tell my brain to free my frozen limbs. I felt pressure on my chest, as if someone was sitting on me. At this point, the figure was standing next to my bedside and I heard sinister laughter. I closed my eyes tightly and asked for the creature to leave. When I opened my eyes, he had disappeared and I had control of my body once again.

Sleep is a very vulnerable state, where we hand over our mind and body to the night. Wes Craven addresses this very vulnerability in his Nightmare on Elm Street series. And, while Freddy Krueger is frightening, the inspiration behind him is even more so. In an interview, Wes Craven explains:

I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street.

This article, titled “Medical Experts Seek Clues to ‘Nightmare Deaths’ That Strike Male Asian Refugees,” begins with the scary sentence: “Since April, 1983, at least 130 Southeast Asian refugees have left this world in essentially the same way. They cried out in their sleep. And then they died.” Frightening! Medical experts cite stress and genetics as possible causes. Science, too, has given us some explanation on sleep paralysis, the thing that caused me to imagine a supernatural attack in my bedroom.

In “Ridden By the Hag: My Sleep Paralysis Visitors,” (The Hairpin) Jenah Shaw writes: “Reduced simply, sleep paralysis occurs when, in transition between sleeping and wakefulness, the mind is alert but the body still sleeping.” She continues:

For most people, this happens during their waking process; while REM sleep allows for sight and hearing, movement is suppressed. Typically, this muscle atonia is accompanied by the idea of a direct threat: the hallucination of an intruder in the room, or something or someone pressing down physically on your chest.

It is a very common occurrence with 3 million U.S. cases per year (source). Sleep paralysis often happens to people who have narcolepsy or sleep apnea. It is also common among young adults and people with a history of mental illness (source). Possible treatments include improving sleep habits and focusing on mental health issues.

While science has provided a reasonable explanation, it should not underestimate the stories of those who have dealt with it. Imagine, if you will, experiencing this terror before the time of modern medicine. How else would you explain it than through a supernatural lens? Surely, that was my initial reaction.

In her article, Jenah Shaw explains sleeps paralysis’s historical link to dreaming:

The word “nightmare” can be traced back to old Norse and Germanic words (“mare” or “mara” or “mahr”) that were used to describe the hag that sits on peoples chests while they sleep and brings them bad dreams; the spirit was also thought to ride horses in the night, leaving them exhausted by the morning. (Norwegian and Danish words for “nightmare” are mareritt and mareridt, which translate to “mare-ride.”) A Persian medical text from the 10th century describes a nightmare in which “the person senses a heavy thing upon him and finds he is unable to scream” and suggests that “the nightmare… is caused by rising of vapours from the stomach to the brain… The therapy includes bloodletting from the superficial vein of the arm and from the leg vein and thinning the diet, especially in patients with red eyes and face.

Lore attached this occurrence to the Old Hag. Generally, it is a supernatural creature, in the form of a hag or witch, that sits on the chest of their sleeping victim so they cannot move. The hag appears in a variety of cultures.

Newfoundland gives us the terrifying expression of being “hag rid,” or ridden by the hag. In Chinese culture it is called, in pinyin, guǐ yā shēn (“ghost pressing on body”), in Turkish karabasan (“the dark assailant”), and in Vietnamese ma đè means “held down by the ghost.” The Hungarian term boszorkany-nyomas means “witches pressure”, while German has alpdrucken, or “elf pressing.” (source)

Sleep paralysis was also tied to witchcraft as seen through documentation on the Salem Witch Traials. Jenah Shaw explains:

In the Salem witch trials, John Louder recounted how, after arguing with the accused Bridget Bishop, “he did awake in the night by moonlight, and did see clearly the likeness of this woman grievously oppressing him; in which miserable condition she held him, unable to help himself, till near day.” In 1595, in another trial, Dorothy Jackson accused several neighbors of witchcraft, saying she was “ridden with a witch three times of one night, being thereby greatly astonished and upon her astonishment awaked her husband”; in the late 17th century, Nicolas Raynes provided testimony at the trial of a purported witch and said that his wife, “after being threatened, has been continually tormented by Elizabeth, a reputed witch, who rides on her, and attempts to pull her on to the floor.

Along with the hag and witch, history has attributed this experience to demonic behavior or more specifically the incubus and succubus. The Encyclopedia Mythica describes this horrific being:

In medieval European folklore, the incubus is a male demon (or evil spirit) who visits women in their sleep to lie with them in ghostly sexual intercourse [I must interject to say most often without consent]. The woman who falls victim to an incubus will not awaken, although may experience it in a dream. Should she get pregnant the child will grow inside her as any normal child, except that it will possess supernatural capabilities. Usually the child grows into a person of evil intent or a powerful wizard. Legend has it that the magician Merlin was the result of the union of an incubus and a nun. A succubus is the female variety, and she concentrates herself on men. According to one legend, the incubus and the succubus were fallen angels.

In a 2015 Vice article on sleep paralysis, Brian Barrett talks to James Allan Cheyne, sleep paralysis expert and professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo, about the types of sleep paralysis. Sleep Paralysis can be divided into three categories: (1) Vestibular and Motor, (2) the Intruder, and (3) the Incubus:

Cheyne cautions that these categories are broad, and the experiences the describe can vary greatly. On the other hand, he also is one of three authors of a landmark 1999 scientific paper, published in Consciousness and Cognition, that helped define them.

Vestibular and motor incidents—Cheyne calls it “Unusual Bodily Experiences” in his 1999 paper—are relatively harmless, potentially even enjoyable. “It’s fancy term for feeling like your body is being moved without its volition,” Sharpless explains. “You could feel like you’re floating, or levitating, or your arm is being lifted.” Not so bad, right? Your standard Sigourney-Weaver-in-Ghostbusters scenario.

The other two, Cheyne says, have no such upside potential.

“For Intruder experiences, the main sensation is the sensed presence—a feeling of something in the room,” he recently explained over email. “That something may then also be seen, heard, or physically felt. It may move around the room, approach the bed, and sometimes climb onto the bed.” […]

“The Incubus experiences often continue this sequence by climbing on top of the ‘sleeper,’ Cheyne continues, “perhaps smothering, and even assaulting them physically and sexually.” This is how your brain works.

As we learned in my Ouija Board post, the mind is just as scary as supernatural creatures. While I’m still trying to explain the spooky behavior in my childhood home, I was relieved to learn my intruder was stress personified and not a dark mass of evil intentions. Sleep well, folks!

Bloody Mary and Other Childhood Games

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This week in my notebook, I returned to distant memories of when I would summon supernatural forces. A few sleepovers stuck out in my mind of innocent child play with dark consequences. At one sleepover, two older girls told me that they had summoned Bloody Mary in the mirror. Rolling up her sleeve to reveal their lower arm, one girl exclaimed, “And look, she reached her arm through the mirror and scratched my arm.” For a good six months, I refused to shower without the bathroom door open. I wouldn’t even think “Bloody Mary” three times in a row while peeing.

tumblr_ney778I1G51tjydheo3_500At another sleepover (which also involved a choreographed gymnastic routine to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill), we preformed the spells we saw in the movie The Craft. We were very unsuccessful at recreating the levitation scene. Maybe we didn’t say “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” with enough conviction.

While some of the actual details of these memories are blurry, I remember the feeling of walking without caution into the mysterious darkness of the paranormal. And that was more exciting than watching Now and Then for the 100th time (well maybe not).

Today, I wanted to explore 3 sleepover games and their histories (of what I could find): Blood Mary, Light as a Feather/Stiff as a Board, and Concentrate.

Bloody Mary

The legend of Bloody Mary has many variations and summoning methods. “Historically,” Wikipedia explains, “the ritual encouraged young women to walk up a flight of stairs backwards while holding a candle and a hand mirror, in a darkened house. As they gazed into the mirror, they were supposed to be able to catch a view of their future husband’s face.” Sometimes (and his is where it takes a rather dark turn), a skull or the Grim Reaper might appear instead, forecasting death before marriage.Halloween-card-mirror-2

In more modern times, this form of catoptromancy (divination using a mirror) has attached itself to the peculiar “Bloody Mary.” I was told you must chant her name 3 or 7 times in front of a mirror in a pitch black room (sometimes with lit candles).

We must ask: who is Bloody Mary? Some believe it is Queen Mary I. One version say Bloody Mary is a witch that was burned alive during the Salem Witch Trials. Another version says she was a hitchhiker that was murdered with a hook. These are just a few theories.

Although we cannot identify who the woman is behind the mirror, stories complied have one thing in common: it is scary as hell. Legend says that Mary screams, curses, tries to steal your soul, drinks your blood, or scratches your eyes out. While I have yet to find an actual death certificate stating “eyes scratched out by a vengeful mirror spirit,” I will not risk this chant in the mirror.

So what explanation might explain seeing Bloody Mary in the mirror? Some argue that staring at a mirror in a dimly lit room might cause hallucinations. Or it could be self hypnosis!  Or Troxler’s Fading! Still not convinced? Maybe it’s because you are a menstruating teen girl. Benjamin Radford at writes:

Folklorist Alan Dundes, writing in the journal “Western Folklore,” adopts a Freudian take. Noting that the action always occurs in a bathroom, sometimes involves a toilet, and often includes the sudden appearance of blood, Dundes argues that the Bloody Mary ritual is associated with the onset of menstruation and is a form of ritual initiation to womanhood for many teen girls.


Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board (LAAFSAAB)

Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board required that one person lie down (arms crossed on chest, eyes closed) while others sat around the person and placed one or two finger tips of each hand under their body. Then, the participants doing the heavy lifting chanted “Light as a feather, stiff as a board” repeatedly until the person lying down levitated in the air. Other versions recommend having someone sit in a chair.

According to Wikipedia, this game could have started in 17th century London:

The game could be seen played in 17th century London during the plague outbreak. Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator noted this being performed as a sort of ward against the disease. In his conversation with his friend Mr. Brisband on July 31, 1665, Pepys reported, “He saw four little girls, very young ones, all kneeling, each of them, upon one knee; and one begun the first line, whispering in the ear of the next, and the second to the third, and the third to the fourth, and she to the first. Then the first begun the second line, and so round quite through, and putting each one finger only to a boy that lay flat upon his back on the ground, as if he was dead; at the end of the words, they did with their four fingers raise this boy high as they could reach, and he [Mr. Brisband] being there, and wondering at it, as also being afeared to see it, for they would have had him to have bore a part in saying the words, in the roome of one of the little girles that was so young that they could hardly make her learn to repeat the words, did, for feare there might be some sleight used in it by the boy, or that the boy might be light, call the cook of the house, a very lusty fellow, as Sir G. Carteret’s cook, who is very big, and they did raise him in just the same manner.” Pepys also spoke of the chant that accompanied this performance.

Other mentions of it occur throughout history, as described on Urban Outfitter’s blog:
1862: In the book The Magician’s Own Book, or the Whole Art of Conjuring by Arnold George and Frank Cahill, a game of LAAFSAAB is described as having been played successfully at a large party in Venice using the heaviest man at the party. No confirmation on whether or not this was a rad slumber party.
1940: Boarding school girls were keeping the magical LAAFSAAB alive during the ’40s. An English boarding school teacher who saw the game being played was recorded as saying, “Whether by self hypnosis or not I do not know…it was more like real magic than anything I have ever seen.” Dude, get with the program. It IS real magic! Duh! *insert major eyeroll here*

So…is this real magic or is there a reasonable explanation? Some argue weight is equally distributed, but I still need to figure out how to do it before I can support such a claim.


Another game I remembered this week was Concentrate: a game that results in you finding out how you die. Much more morbid than I remember. The game works as such (Source):

Two people play.  One person sits behind the other.  The person seated has their eyes closed and is silent. The second person sitting behind them says:

(Every time they say this, they pound lightly on the person’s back with both fists)
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
People are dying. Children are crying.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
(Verse 1: Tap the person on the top of their head with your fist and run your hands down both sides of their head)
Crack an egg on your head.
Let the yolk run down. Let the yolk run down.
Crack an egg on your head.
Let the yolk run down. Let the yolk run down.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
People are dying. Children are crying.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.

Then it gets creepier…

(Poke the person, then mimic running hands down both sides of their back)
Stick ten needles in your sides.
Let the blood drip down. Let the blood drip down.
Stick ten needles in your sides.
Let the blood drip down. Let the blood drip down.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
People are dying. Children are crying.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
(Tap them on the back with their fist, then run their hands down their back)
Stab a knife in your back.
Let the blood drip down. Let the blood drip down.
Stab a knife in your back.
Let the blood drip down. Let the blood drip down.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
People are dying. Children are crying.
Concentrate. Concentrate.
Concentrate on what I’m saying.
(Mimic wrapping a rope around their neck and then pull the imaginary rope. The person’s head should move back as if they are being hung.)
Wrap a rope around your neck.
Wrap it till it’s tight.
Wrap a rope around your neck.
And… PULL!

As if this is creepy enough, now you tell them that they’re on the top of a building and someone pushes them off- The person narrating this entire thing pushes them and quickly asks “What color did you see?”… and THAT determines how they die:

Red means they are going to be stabbed.
Blue means they will drown in water.
Yellow means they will be poisoned.
Orange means they will burn to death in a fire.
Green means they will fall from a height and die on grass.
Purple means they will suffocate.
Brown means they will be buried alive.
Grey means they will die of a disease in hospital.
White means they will die of old age and go to Heaven.
Black means they will die of old age and go to hell.

I am still searching for the origins of this creepy sing-song poem. So for now: hey, do you remember doing this? Let’s talk.

Please (please!) share any spooky games you remember playing at sleepovers in the comments below!

I have also talked about the Ouija Board and its history in a past post, which I know was another popular sleepover game.




Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Banshee


When I was little, I would watch the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People every St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite scene (of course) was the one with the banshee. A beautiful lass Katie is sick and on her death bed. The banshee is flying and screaming outside her window. Because of Irish folklore, the audience knows this means Katie may die. The banshee calls forth the cóiste-bodhar, a death coach that will carry her to the land of the dead. I don’t want to give away the ending, but her father Darby breaks the curse. Katie survives and they sing a sweet Irish song.

The famous banshee scene from Darby O’Gill

The banshee is a complex death omen and, like most folklore characters, has many variations. Both Scotland and Ireland claim the banshee. In Irish folklore, the banshee can appear as a young woman, an old hag or matron. When I was growing up I was told that if you hear a banshee, someone in your family will die. If you see a banshee, you are going to die. The banshee’s sound is a scream, a song, or three knocks on the door. She may wear all red or green. She might have fiery eyes. She may fly. Some even say she might appear as an animal associated with witches in Irish folklore: a hooded crow, a stoat, a hare, or a weasel. Either way, you don’t want to see or hear her (source).

Irish folklore says that the banshee attaches itself to 5 families (although intermarriage expanded the list): O’Briens, O’Neils, O’Grady’s, O’Connors, and the Kavanaghs.

Another version of the banshee (and my favorite) is most commonly associated to Scottish folkore: the Bean Nighe or the “Washer at the Ford.” Said to be the spirit of a woman that died during childbirth, the Bean Nighe wanders around streams and washes the blood-stained clothes of those about to die. As Wikipedia explains, she is a very interesting creature.

A bean nighe is described in some tales as having one nostril, one big protruding tooth, webbed feet and long-hanging breasts, and to be dressed in green. If one is careful enough when approaching, three questions may be answered by the Bean Nighe, but only after three questions have been answered first. A mortal who is bold enough to sneak up to her while she is washing and suck her breast can claim to be her foster child. The mortal can then gain a wish from her. If a mortal passing by asks politely, she will tell the names of the chosen that are going to die. While generally appearing as a hag, she can also manifest as a beautiful young woman when it suits her, much as does her Irish counterpart the bean sídhe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends!

Cats and Death: A Very Brief Western History


The other night I did my nightly routine of letting my kitten out of the bedroom, because she was trying to bite my toes, and then listening to her scratch my door. I let her in, she bit my toes. I let her out, she scratched my door. Again and again. I thought: she will probably haunt me when she dies. She will never let me sleep ever again.

Cats are persistent, agile, and mysterious. Sometimes you cannot tell whether they are looking at you lovingly or plotting your murder. In folklore, myth, and legend, cats have been revered and feared (just like real life, right?). Cats have been portrayed as murderers, portents of death, and dance partners of the devil. People have shared stories of cats returning as ghosts, continuing to bite toes and scratch doors.

Scottish Cat Sith (Image Source)

Irish and British folklore recommend removing cats (and dogs) from a house immediately after a death has occurred. A cat jumping over a dead body can compromise the spirit’s welfare (The Great Cat).

In more mythical proportions, Scottish folklore warns of a fairy named the “Cat Sith.” This fairy is a giant black cat, with a small white spot on his chest and the ability to steal a dead person’s soul. Fearful of this fairy, the tradition of “Late Wake” began, which required guarding the body before burial. In an effort to keep the Cat Sith away, people would jump around a lot or lure away the fairy with catnip (mental_floss).

When not stealing souls, cats  forecast the death of a human. In British folklore, cats refuse to enter a home of someone about to die. Some say, a cat can also predict whether a dead person is going to heaven or hell. If the house cat ascends up a tree after someone’s passing, the deceased person is going to heaven. If the cat descends, they are going to hell (The Great Cat).

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My relentless kitten, Diamond Joe

The “Demon Cat” of modern American folklore is a ghost cat that haunts the governmental buildings of Washington, DC. Back in the day, cats were used in the basement tunnels to rid of rats and one never left. The cat appears before elections and tragedies. Notable appearances were before the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and JFK. The cat (black, of course) appears as an average-sized cat (some sources say a kitten), but will swell in size when startled. By swell, I mean 10 x 10 feet. The phantom cat will explode or try to catch the witness, vanishing before touching his victim. Interestingly enough, this story may have started after a drunk, horizontal security guard confused a cat’s licks for a fierce attack by a giant cat (Wikipedia).

During the middle ages, cats were associated with the Devil. Around 1348 CE, cats “were all but exterminated” during the Black Death, since they were supposedly linked to evil. Though, this worsened the problem; rats spread disease and cats are skilled rodent-catchers (mental_floss).

Cats have historically had a close connection to death and the afterlife. This belief continues in the ghost stories we hear of cats returning to say good-bye to owners or simply hanging around the house. Cats, too, are highly perceptive when it comes to a ghost’s presence. Today, I leave you with a story of a highly perceptive cat and a ghost named Charlotte.

Charlotte (from Jezebel) 

When I was 8, my family moved into an old Colonial that was built in 1810. My father still lives there. Until I was 17, every before I feel asleep, I would feel pressure next to me as if someone sat down on the bed next to me. This would always be accompanied with a feeling of increased pressure in the air. Although I knew this probably didn’t happen to everyone, I didn’t think about it much.

Until I got a cat. He was a present for my twelfth birthday. Each night, he would sack out on the bed near my feet. Each night, he would bolt from a dead sleep and glare at something in the doorway before hightailing it out of there. A few moments later, the pressure would return.

Again, while this was a weird thing to happen, I didn’t really question it. Maybe the cat was just neurotic. I didn’t talk about this nightly occurrence to anyone. However, I did refer this feeling/presence/what have you as “Charlotte.” I don’t know why.

So one day in the summer when I was thirteen, an elderly man and his middle-aged daughter pull up to our house and explain that the father lived in the house with his aunt while he was a boy and that he raised his family there for a few years. They had been visiting family in the neighborhood, and they wondered if they could take a tour for old times’ sake. My mom said sure. She, my sister and I led them around the house, and they recalled different memories.

Afterward, my mom asked them if they remembered strange occurrences or stories about the house. “Like ghosts?” the old man asked and chuckled. His daughter became very quiet and said firmly, “It’s not funny, Dad.” The man explained that everyone who slept in one bedroom felt a little unsettled, and his daughter interrupted to say that she always felt as if someone sat on the edge of the bed and she tried to go to sleep. Her father said they used to joke that it was just his aunt looking out for them—his Aunt Charlotte.

This confirmed what I had never admitted to myself. I had a freaking ghost that basically tucked me in at night for the previous five years.

Still, going to bed was never freaky or scary. I just tried to ignore the feeling when it came.

Until one night when I was 16. My parents had been going through a weird patch in their marriage, I was feeling depressed, and in general, it was a weird year. I went to bed; after about 20 minutes the cat took his typical bolting exit from the bed, and I felt the familiar pressure on my side.

Then I felt a hand brush through my hair.

Then I ran straight downstairs to the living room where my mom was dozing. She woke up when I burst in the room, saw my face, and asked what was wrong. I told her I had a nightmare and left it at that.

I spent a week sleeping in the guest room. When I got the nerve to go back to my room, I was nearly asleep when I realized I didn’t feel the pressure next to me. I did feel pressure in the air. I rolled on my back and saw the figure of a woman in her 60s, wearing a housedress, her hair pulled back in a bun, with her arms folded. She was looking right at me, very concerned. When I found my voice, she disappeared. I said out loud, “I don’t care if you stay, but I can NEVER, EVER, EVER see you again.” I never did.

However a few years later, after my parents divorced and my dad moved in his girlfriend and her 4 year old son, I wasn’t really surprised when she told me her little boy said a lady named Charlotte told him stories at night.