Thursday, October 23, 2014


It's most likely that someone you know has told you that they've seen, a ghost, or knows of a house, graveyard, or other spots which are haunted. By haunted I mean the cold drafts where there should be none, weird smells, misty objects that move and then disappear (especially around stairways), and sounds that can't be explained, such as rapping on walls, thunks, or objects that move or fall off walls. Or, maybe you've had such experiences? Either in your own home, or in another? And it need not be as creepy as these places either...

I've dealt with a ghost in our 1906 farm house from time to time, although as of late (for the past several years), it's been very quiet. The original people who built the house homesteaded the area. Their last name was McGurr, and I'll come back to this in a moment.

If you go to your bookstore (if you still can find one), right now I'll bet you can find a dozen or more coffee table books on haunted places. If you go on a tour of older homes, you'll likely be told that it is haunted. I've been told many times by people who work in the older buildings at NIU, where I drive a bus. Libraries and basements seem to be the best chance to find a ghost. There's a multitude of famous dead people who are said to be haunting famous places. Like Anne Boleyn who they say haunts the Tower of London. Or Rose who walks a famous graveyard near Chicago.

And some who have an unusual amount of supernatural, or unexplained phenomena happening night after night open up their homes around this time of year and attract thousands of visitors every year for tours, and make a little loot off of their ghosts--and why not? The glowing mist floating around the room would really raise the hair on my arms, for sure!

It's believed that around this time of year, Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced sow-'n) is when the veil between our world and that of the dead is thinnest, and it would be relatively easy to communicate with the spirits of loved ones who have died during the previous year.
Some people hire a spirit medium in order to contact the dead person who may be haunting a house. There are also those who investigate hauntings. We have people who do that in our area. I'm sure that is an interesting side-line.

Now, I'm going to tell you about our ghost(s). We've had some nights where banging on walls and other phenomenon happened around this old house, especially when we first moved in. One night, we were sitting watching TV when a strange clattering sound came from down in the basement. It sounded to me like a large round piece of metal fell, and made that wobbly sound before it settles. We have a cistern, that isn't very deep and I thought it sounded exactly like a covering might sound if someone were to lift one end and just let it fall. But there was/is no such covering on it.

We've lived in the old McGurr house for 20 years now. In the beginning we had a LOT of weird sounds and happenings. The usual was rapping on walls at night. Once I swear while in bed the sound of what might have been a shoe dropping maybe three feet on the other side of the bed had me holding my breath for a minute, waiting to hear anything else. My husband claimed to be asleep at the time. There were the steer horns that were above the threshold that fell, missing my husband by only a few feet, and a glass that--by his description--shot out of the cupboard and shattered when he opened the cupboard.

But the weirdest thing that happened was the day before we were to host the descendants of the McGurrs on a walk through the house as part of a family gathering (they requested it through the park district superintendent, and since we live here as park managers, we complied). This meant we had to clean the house, top to bottom. There are three floors--if you include the roomy attic. We were nearly finished, and left the one room that had a bad bug problem for last. the floor was littered with dead flies and so forth (bad seal around a window), and one of us had to go up and sweep the bugs up. My husband went up to do this, while I was busy doing something else at the base of the stairs.

 About a minute later my husband calls down to me "Did you sweep up the bugs up here?" he asked from the top of the stairs.

"No," I said.

"Well... who did? There isn't a bug anywhere," he said.

I ran upstairs, thinking he was joking. I got to the room and he was right. There wasn't a bug to be found anywhere. And unless one of us did this during an episode of sleepwalking (we aren't sleepwalkers), there is no explanation other than the ghost we came to call "Old Mrs. McGurr", who we had heard a number of little stories about, had come up and cleaned this room, knowing her off-spring were coming to visit. Weird. Right?

Well, the next day the grandchildren of the McGurrs--all grown with their own grand kids--came out for the tour, each of them had a memory about some part of the house. It was a nice visit. When the tour was over, I took a couple of the ladies aside, because they were talking about ghosts, and told them what had happened the day before. They looked at one another, and then one of them said, "That was the old mother." In other words, Mrs. McGurr, who slept in a small room, downstairs, which had become a bathroom.

Do you have any stories of hauntings, or ghosts?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Witches' Ride

Webster's New World Dictionary: Witch n. 1. a woman thought to have supernatural power as by a compact with evil spirits; 2 an ugly, old shrew 3 a fascinating woman or girl

Well, well, well. You know, I've never actually looked up the word before this moment. The picture above was what I grew up with seeing and as a child was exposed to. We didn't really believe that witches could fly on a broomstick. (And then along came "Harry Potter" and blew that out of the water.)

Furthermore, justification of witchcraft on biblical texts, written originally for a religion (Jewish/ Old Testament) which had no devil. We all know there are errors throughout the Bible where translations are changed to suit what they felt they wanted to convey. Many Catholics and Protestants quoted Exodus xxii. 18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But the Hebrew word kaskagh (occurring 12 times in the Old Testament with various meanings) here means, as Reginald Scot pointed out in 1584 "poisoner," and certainly had nothing to do with the Christian concept of "witches". This quote and other texts which some tried to use (or did so), in order to twist the truth in order to torture and put to death hundreds of thousands of people. It turned into a 300 year holocaust in whichever nations observed "witch hunting". I hope the world will never see again, for thousands of innocent people died at the hands of very sick, disturbed people under the guise of religion.

"Europe would not have suffered, for three centuries from 1450 to 1750, the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization, the blackout of everything that homo sapiens, the reasoning man, has ever upheld... The record of witchcraft is horrible and brutal: degradation stifled decency, the filthiest passions masqueraded under the cover of religion and man's intellect was subverted to condone bestialities that even Swifts' Yahoos would blush to commit." from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.
Execution of  alleged witches

And then we have the other side of the coin... Homer speaks of the witch Circe as a "goddess with lovely hair... radiant...beautiful goddess singing in a lovely voice..."  Medea, the witch in the Golden Fleece adventures, is describe as a beautiful young princess. And there are more examples of "beautiful" witches. But you know, as well as I (especially when there's an election), a good smear campaign is the best way to win everyone over to your side--Yay! Of course, if you had enemies, watch out, you'd be in the stocks waiting your fate at the stake.

Burning witches was only the final destination. There were as many devised tortures invented as there were men to use them.

The word witch is derived from wicce or wicca, meaning "wise one,"  witches being both female and male.
Meaning of the word Witch is linked to "wisdom," and is the same root as "to have wit" and "to know." It comes from the Anglo-Saxon.

Also, the word "Witchcraft" has been misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as "witchcraft." It mattered not if it were African witchcraft, Native American witchcraft, or Australian aboriginal witchcraft, none of which have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe. In fact Witchcraft--Wiccacraeft (craft of the wise), dates back from long before Christian times. It is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans.

So, where do we get this "crone" who rides the broomstick idea? Probably pulling from an old religion. The Celts believed in a goddess whose form changed with the seasons. The spring maiden turned into the life-giving mother of summer and then the wizened crone of fall. At Samhain, she would climb upon the tree of life--a broomstick--and ride across the sky to the spirit realm, and there rested for the winter.

And because black cats were believed to see spirits, one was her companion.

And a Greek earth goddess Hecate was associated with night and the moon, ghosts and spirits, magic, witches and sorcery. She was known as Prytania of the Dead, or the Invincible Queen, goddess of enchantments and magical charms.
"Lost Caprichos" by Goya

Transvection or levitation
"Witches" by Hans Baldung
Witches flying on brooms may have come from older religions, and beliefs, because, well, the old ways just would not go away. They could torture, burn, drown, but people would not give up their beliefs. And it's like the more wild the story the more it will be retold and retold again, down through the generations to come.
Did women ride brooms, or certain beasts to get to their Sabbat? Who knows. Possibly this was a combination of heavy drinking and consuming funny mushrooms that had people thinking they did this, when really they didn't. They just had one hell of a party in the woods. And artists certainly loved to portray them, especially when they added an erotic element, or some of the more grisly aspects of their most deranged imaginations. Goya, the Spanish artist, had many such paintings of hags, during his "Black" period.

A number of infamous old women who were considered "old crones", who lived in appauling squalor, were apparently gifted with the art of curing sickness, making prophecies and even raising the dead. One of such was Mother Red Cap, or also called "Mother Damnable."

But funny just how seriously these ideas took hold when something called Cannon Episcopi  of the tenth century defended as heretical superstition the belief in the claims of "wicked women... who profess that in the dead of night they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Dianna, and fly over vast tracts of country." Demonologists flat out denied the possibility of transvection by saying these people were delusional.

But, this is Halloween, and, well, I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fun. The whole idea is to have fun, isn't it? As long as we all understand it's make believe.

Next up, I'll scare up some real ghosts stories! BOO!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

He Smiles In The Dark

Would you let this guy guard your front porch, or be anywhere near your wee ones without so much as a simple background check, or list of references? I thought not.

Well, if you haven't guessed, I've turned my attention to the Jack-o'-lantern in today's blog post. 

Pumpkins were not the first vegetable to be carved and disemboweled for use as a lantern. Potatoes, turnips and rutabagas were used to carry coals from house to house. It was probably used during the fires of Samhain, on All Saints Eve, in order to carry the hot coals back to a humble hut for the hearth. Oh, there's a bunch of nice people carrying their coals now...

There are at least a dozen different variations on how, what and who began the tradition of carrying these lit faces, and why. The story of Jack (Jack-o'lantern) are as varied as the pumpkin faces you carve on this large gourd. The story is of a thief that tricks Satan into agreeing to never take his soul. But as it turned out, Jack was too sinful for heaven, and so he was also barred from Hell, and had nowhere to go. He had no light to see, and wondered how he'd find his way. The Devil mockingly gave Jack an ember from the fires of Hell, and tossed it to him. Jack carved a turnip and used it to carry the coal around. 

But it wasn't until the Irish settlers came to America and found the plumpness of the native American pumpkin was easily adapted to a perfectly carved face, and carrying coals.

Now, the lowly, gruesome-faced orange gourds have been elevated to something more than just a glowing, weird face to ward off evil. In many a village, and humble lawns, we find the art of pumpkin carving and decorating more than just something to admire. Heck, Halloween has become more on the level with Halloween costume contests. In a nearby town dressed up, painted and carved pumpkins are brought to the courthouse lawn and put into categories and earn prizes and this has been done every Halloween, along with a fare, parade and lots of vendors for at least 50 years. Anything like that around your area? I'd love to hear about it.

The only question left is...
Will you carve a friendly face?...

Or one that really makes you shiver?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bits and pieces...

Just a few things today...

I wanted to write something else today, but I'm going to stay with my Halloween theme for the duration of the month.

That being said, here are a few places to check out.

First Penelope Crow talks about Death, here.

Oh, and Krisztina Williams has the corner on anything you need for holiday fixin's as well as fun things for party games and crafts for kids. She has a Halloween chocolate marshmallow pops tutorial right now. These look too good to pass up!

Another place to check on, even after holidays is Vintage Halloween Collector. I love the skeleton wreath, she shows you how to make (no not with real bones, silly!) here.

And another one to check on is Halloween Night. You see? I've got the goods all under one roof. You'll have to look at your own pace, of course. And @ Justine's Halloween... she had a nice delivery of some spooky goods!

I'm up to my knees in my work...

Work on #5 Sabrina Strong book is coming along. 

Oh, but meanwhile, some other ideas for Halloween spring to mind, and they are quite simple really...

Cheese cloth could make a great spook in your yard! Ooooo! It's better than a sheet because it looks tattered! (love the added skull at bottom. Very cool. (You get that I'm deranged, right?)

You could also make some tattered curtains if you really want to spook people out. Die the ends of tattered cheese cloth with tea or coffee to make them look old. Then add spiders or creepy crawlers and hang somewhere for display. That would be an easy thing to do.

Make cre-eee-py ice cubes by adding gummy worms, or such. I'll try and come up with some recipies, too.

Come on by mid-week when I talk about that orange vegetable we all like to cut up or decorate for the season as continuation on my theme for Halloween. I'll be doing these all throughout the month of October. So fly in on your broom!