Monday, September 22, 2014

Fairyland & the Dead

by Susan A Sheppard

I have learned that whenever I dream of fairies someone is going to die.

This may startle some who view fairies as airy, winged sprites that perch daintily on flowers or hide under mushrooms and grant wishes to the good. But just like human beings, not all fairies are beneficent, and are said to exist in an in-between place from heaven and earth.
Throughout history, most especially in the British Isles, fairies have long been associated with witches, ghosts and spirits of the dead. Yet the idea that links fairies with spirits of the dead should not cause alarm. It is all an aspect of the nature such beings have a part in. After all, what we view as "supernatural" is simply a part of nature that we just don't understand yet.
Tales of human entry into Fairyland, mostly in Scotland, held that fairies attended to the dead, and were sometimes responsible for a number of hauntings in homes, or ghostly visits, acting as witch’s familiars. To some, fairies were pagan souls from pre-Christian days cloaked in some astral form, not knowing how or deserving to get into a Christian heaven. In Celtic belief, it was thought Fairyland was the very first place souls would visit after death before moving on to an astral realm, guided by fairies into Summerland or Celtic Otherworld and the Netherworld of the Egyptians.
But in popular culture, this link has been largely forgotten. Death, and anything associated with it, such as ghosts or spirits of the dead, is an area of cultural and religious taboo. New age circles are not always so comfortable with the idea of ghosts or haunted places. We revere fairies while we fear the dead. The concept of ghosts remains disturbing to many and is erroneously associated with evil. It may seem hard to see fairies in such a place, but people in the past believed some fairies were in the land of the forgotten dead.

Some say that the communications with spirits upsets the dead and such spiritual interference should only be allowed during Samhain or Halloween. In some respects, this very well may be true. But there are many spirits who still want to communicate with the living, and they will make their presence known until their message is received. This is what causes hauntings. Thus in our modem day, like the Banshee fairy that washes out the bloody clothes of her dead along waterways, fairies and their connections to ghosts have been rinsed of their powers.
Long ago, fairies and ghosts were viewed as much as the same, spirits neither good nor bad but s
omething in-between. Even human beings were thought to be fairies if they showed special powers or unusual ugliness or beauty — much the same as witches. In Scotland, it was considered great esteem for a man to marry a woman who was a “fairy witch.” This could be dangerous as well since fairy witches were often blamed for blights and bad luck.

Yet in Ireland, where the ghosts were called Thevshi or Tash, Finarva, the King of the Fairies ruled over the dead. Again, there was danger that was associated with fairies and haunting ghosts. If not treated with proper respect, they might come back to wreak havoc on the living, thus, all fairies were referred to as “the little people” or the “wee folk” and the names of the dead were rarely spoken
It was believed in the Celtic realm that when a soul leaves the body, it could be enticed away, at times, by fairies, looking for a new soul to join them in fairyland. Very small children were susceptible to this, because they fairies themselves are much like children themselves, open and natural to the world. In western Ireland, in Christian times, when a small child died, blood from a chicken would be sprinkled on the threshold so spirits or fairies would be enticed away from the body.
According to Lady Wilde, in her 1897 book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland that starting on All Hallows Eve, “the dead would spring up in their shrouds and rush out into the moonlight with mad laughter to join the fairies.” On the last night of November, it was especially tenuous between the living, souls of the dead, and the fairies. It was this last night (believed by the Irish) that fairies would dance with souls of the dead on hillsides before they must return to the chilled, cold earth. Certain tales indicate fairy witches joined them in their dance.
Individuals who died at twilight would find themselves in Fairyland and could visit the living as ghosts. It is interesting to note that modern ghost researchers say the most opportune time to investigate ghosts and hauntings, is to start around dusk since this is the time spirits tend to show themselves to mortal human beings. Once again, with the coming of night pulls us into a twilight world, a ghostly dreamtime.

Fairies as Witch’s Familiars

Familiar spirits are ghosts, or discarnates such as fairies, that contact human beings routinely and can be used for magic. The most recognized familiar in witchcraft as in popular culture has to be a black cat, followed closely by a raven or a crow. Native American familiars arrive in the form of a totem animal more likely to be a bear, eagle or an elk. The animal’s body is possessed by another spirit or divinity that is primarily an imp, a ghost or a fairy. When called upon, the familiar may wish to assist a sorcerer, magician or witch, or rescue a person who needs help.

The animal familiar is mostly found in England where accused witches were thought to have familiars that were really fairies, demons, imps and elves, and sometimes ghosts of evil people invading the body of an animal. Familiars could be kept as a pet, or even a spider or a toad found inside the house of the accused witch. The idea of familiars traveled to America to show up in some of the Salem Witch Trials later.

By 1598, beliefs in fairies appearing in the guise of animals was firmly solidified, when a man in Aberdeen claimed he had met with the Queene of Elphen (Queen of Elfland) along with her cats wandering along the rode at Twilight.

At this time, in Gaelic lands it was believed that anyone who passed away around at Twilight, his or her spirit could get lost, ending up in Elfland only to return as ghosts. Fairies were very much like the undead, or the nosferatu, whom some believed they shared tombs with while in Elf or Fairyland.

Fairies and familiars exhibited related psychic powers, they have the ability to divine the future, and leave their realms, just like ghosts who want to interact with the living. They are also described as ghosts very early on, as in a green glowing light, rather large or small and inside a moving shadow. In British occult lore, it was believed that sometimes when the Devil appeared, he did as a handsome man dressed in green, a color primarily associated with fairies. The Devil would then vanish in the form of a black dog, of course, associating him to the banshee’s Black Shuck and other British hobgoblins.
What is lost on our culture today is fairies became a part of demonology after the witch trials. It is only when the Victorians cleaned up fairies, and their associations with witches and the dead, that they were re-introduced as very much watered down creatures.
It was once feared that when there was no water or milk left out for the fairies or familiar spirits that visited the home, they might have to drink human blood. The most common name for a witch’s familiar in England was “Robin.” It is interesting to note that the legendary figure of Robin Hood, like the fairies so often, is always portrayed wearing green clothing.

Fairies and Poltergeists

When considering poltergeists, and how we view them in our modern day, it is not so different than the way common folk used to see fairies. Fairies, like spirits, could cause havoc and mayhem in the household if not given the proper respect. Fairies could also move objects and hide them in the most unlikely places. At times, they even threw things, like glasses or cups and might splash food or liquids in people’s faces to show their unhappiness. Sometimes the fairies might drum to keep residents awake all night, tap or knock on doors or walls in order to draw attention to their plight or just to show their disapproval at homeowners. Others were reported to run a cane up and down the headboard of a bed or made loud invisible footsteps in homes. Unruly children might cause the fairies to slap, to pinch or push. Mysterious lights or shadows appear and disappear in the home. This was all just a part of fairy mischief.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it should. The unseen type of fairy, the kind that plays tricks, is very much like our everyday poltergeist. Of course, in German, poltergeist simply means a rapping ghost or meddlesome spirit.

The appearance of the poltergeist tends to occur in cycles, and never appears as a person, or a personal ghost, with a face or a history or a name. (They may lie and respond to any name given though.) Some may mistake their poltergeist for a person that they know of that died in the home or perhaps a relative who passed on. Such unsettling occurrences, such as doors slamming, shelves crashing and empty footsteps must be explained somehow. But it usually is not. Poltergeists may be our own volatile and erratic psychic powers unleashed, and are typically associated with an adolescent boy or girl.

Therefore, the popular theory explaining poltergeists over the past fifty years is, that poltergeist phenomenon is fueled by dormant telekinetic powers found within the human brain. The stress of adolescents may stimulate the poltergeist activity that at one time could easily be mistaken for the powers of fairies, witches or spirits of the deceased. What is intriguing about linking poltergeists to fairy hauntings in the distant past is that poltergeists are generally not thought to be spirits of the dead, either. They are a form of haunting all on their own, but generally associated with other types of hauntings.

In fact, I have found during my own ghost investigations that the appearance of poltergeists are often a pre-cursor or a “firing up” to other major types of hauntings, which may involve actual ghosts or spirits of the dead. Where you have poltergeists, you will most likely find actual ghosts. There must be some synergy between the human mind and spirits, and other type of spirits, for instance fairies, earth energies, and elementals.

 Imagine what might happen to the owner of a home plagued with poltergeists during the times of the witch trials and executions. It would seem insane to admit to poltergeists (as fairies or ghosts or imps) in the home to anyone, most especially authorities who could put you on trial. And a number of witch inquisitors, when visiting the homes of many supposed witch’s home, reported having their hats knocked from their heads, having their shins kicked and their pockets turned inside out. In any event, the only way to save oneself was to point a finger at the “real witch” responsible for the haunting.

Elementals as Spiritual Expressions of Earth Energies

Elementals, or natural earth energies representing the four elements of fire, earth, water and air, have much in common with fairies. They are ethereal forms of life and spirit that are not usually seen by the human eye but are also expressions of earth energies. In fact, many believe fairies are just that — elemental spirits that are really not human in any way, but can be contacted by psychic visions and by other powers.
One could hardly call elementals supernatural since they are very much a part of the natural world. But they sometimes appear as balls of light, colored gases and cloudy lights, the rippling silver of waves on water, or even in the simple stirring of a blade of grass. Such energies have personalities and it is the tradition of witchcraft that interactions with elementals will benefit crops, will cause gardens to be more abundant and will generally make life on earth more pleasant for human beings.

After all, elementals are in the primordial phase of all creation on earth and in our solar system. Yet they are not impartial to humans — they are in essence helpers.
Earth Elementals govern the physical realm of sinew, bone, mountain, muscle, grass and rock. Air Elementals govern the ethereal realms, such as wind, storms, the influencing of stars, planets, oxygen and spirit. Water Elementals represents the astral realm, just beyond the earth realm. They rule emotion, empathy, medium-ship and ghosts.

As the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas once wrote: The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, drives my green age – after all, green is the color of life and growth.Behind nature, perhaps, is where the spark of divinity lies. Such could be said of the elemental forces found in the natural that are apart from the human mind or soul, and yet also a part of both.

The pentacle or pentagram, as is related to witches and Wicca, represents the elementals and elements of fire, earth, water and air — plus a 5th element of Akasha, meaning spirit.
Summoning The Fairies

Whether you believe fairies to be actual souls of pagan ancestors, shining ones named divas, earth’s elementals, spiritual guides or watchers, or ghosts from a forgotten race such as the Tuatha Da Dannan, there are ways to contact the fairy realms. In most instances, the fairies will contact you first, but if you wish to bring them into your own domain, with evidence for their existence, you might try these methods.
Begin by making an effort to spend time in the natural world. Meditate or contemplate under a grove of cool trees, fall asleep under the stars, near an isolated water source, such as a waterfall or a stream. This will open your consciousness to the fairy realms.

Get comfortable and relax, especially nearby a nature setting or one easily in your view.

Now close your eyes. Allow your mind to fill with a rich, velvety darkness.
Imagine a shimmering green light filling your mind’s eye. Mentally, move toward it. Focus fully on this glowing green.
At this point, perhaps you feel a gentle rocking sensation. Surrender to it.
Now imagine a shining green sphere expanding throughout the blackness. Watch the green ball fill throughout your consciousness. See black no longer. Only green.
Think of a favorite scene from nature.
Mentally, call out to your fairies or fairy. Do you see anyone walking or flying toward you? Is there mist, vapors or fluttering over you, or nearby?

Invite your fairy into your abode. Greet your fairy visitor with good cheer.
Add some silver. Fairies are most fond of silver. It connects them to moonlight.

Focus on a name or on a fairy clan name. If the fairy has no answer, think harder. (If the fairy does not give you a name, tell it to go away for the time being. It may not be one of the sidhe.)
Expect your fairy to answer you in imagery and pictures. Your fairy may come across to you clear enough to get names and words. If you do, consider this a bonus.

If you have a need, ask it of your fairy, or inquire of your fairy what ways your need or goal can be accomplished.
Before your fairy leaves you, ask for peace and wisdom in forging your own path.
Bid your fairy farewell by saying “Merry part.” To invite your fairy to visit with you again, set out small bowls of sugar, flowers, or milk.
Once you make contact psychically, creatively or mentally, there are signs that indicate the presences of fairies in your life. This may seem juvenile to some, but fairies were once and still are taken very seriously in parts in the British Isles and now ....America..... Individuals in the past knew that fairies were powerful presences. That is why people in the countryside gave the sidhe great respect.

Signs of Fairy Presences

You experience dreams (ones that stick with you) where nature plays a prominent role, especially nature dreams that involve singing or music.

Dreams of miniature human clothing, such as shoes, jackets or pants, etc.

The sound of bells, or childish laughter from which you cannot determine the source may indicate the presence of fairies.

A sudden unexplainable gust of wind.
Finding impressions of circles in the grass not there the day before.
You hear your name being whispered into one ear (never aloud) and not in the other. You just basically hear whispering when no one is there.
A sudden feeling of warmth, wit or mirth.
What is usually termed poltergeist activity in the home, such as the motion or displacement of objects, disembodied movement such as lamps, swinging, doorbells being rung with no one there and other strange spiritual manifestations.
Pets begin to show great interest in certain parts of your yard, area or home, such as sniffing, whispering or ears standing up or just becoming more alert.
Walking into a room or area and you suddenly see shimmering lights, or bright sparkles in the black grasses after dark, as well as evidence of small lights or miniature orbs in pictures near your home.
In a green world, this is what fairies are about. Do not be afraid to seek them out!



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Marrtown: A Quiet Place Where Banshees Haunt

(copyrighted --all rights reserved-- Llewellyn's Magical Almanac)

by Susan A Sheppard

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
O, well done, I commend your pains.
And now about the cauldron sing,
Like elves and fairies in a ring.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes...
From “MacBeth” by William Shakespeare

Not all fairy tales have happy endings. Not all fairies bring goodness and light. Among the Irish and Scottish people there is a supernatural creature they call “the Banshee.”
 The Banshee is an attendant death fairy, one that brings an omen of doom to Irish or Scottish clans. It is the Banshee that announces the death of a family member, usually over bodies of water with her keening or caoine, a shrill crying for the dead. But the Banshee doesn’t just stay near bodies of water washing out the grave clothes of her dead as it is told. She also travels to the homes of those about to die, sometimes mounted on a pale (at times black) steed or riding a black funeral coach with two, white headless horses leading the way.

There are various descriptions of the Banshee. The Irish Banshee is called Bean Sidhe in an older tongue. Depending upon what source you use, “Bean” means woman and “Sidhe” (shee) means fairy. But other sources say that Bean Sidhe is translated as “woman of the hills.” Some ancient lore says the Banshee can even be the ghost of a young woman who has died in childbirth, especially if she was not given the last rites of confession.

The Irish Banshee is said to materialize as a beautiful young woman with streaming auburn hair. She wears a green woolen dress with gray cloak clasped about her shoulders. She hangs out at rivers and waterfalls.  Sometimes she is said to have white hair and a silver comb. The only hint that this beautiful Banshee is a messenger of doom comes from the fact that her eyes are blood red from crying for her Irish dead.
 The Scottish Banshee, the “Bean Nighe,” is more menacing. The Scottish Banshee dresses in moldering grave clothes, her face covered by a tattered veil. Often, she rides a prancing steed. Her age and features are difficult to make out but she appears to be a decrepit crone. And yet, the Banshee’s movements are lithe and she rides her pale horse sometimes with a black hearse following behind her. Rarely, the shroud of the Scottish Banshee is crimson, reddened by the gore of blood. 

The Mid-Ohio Valley as well as West Virginia was settled predominantly of people of Irish and Scottish ancestry. Along with the Welsh and French, they shard ancient Celtic ties and are descended from clans. The Celts believed in unique forms of mysticism, such as sorcerers, witches, leprechauns and fairies, and not the least of them — the Banshee.
Stories of Banshee spirits went underground as Irish and Scottish immigrants moved into the verdant hills of the Ohio Valley and West Virginia. But the legend of the Banshee is not entirely forgotten, as you will see by reading the following pages.

Let us travel back to the shores of Scotland on a blustery winter day in the year 1590. A group of women, known later as the Berwick Witches, summoned their powers at the ocean’s edge. Over the icy waters of the North Sea, King James VI and his new bride Anne of Denmark made their way back to Scotland when their boat nearly capsized. Rumors circulated that King James was in great danger from a plot or a curse put upon him by the witches of North Berwick.

This quickly caught King James’s attention, since he had always been fascinated by witchcraft. It wasn’t long until the "witches" were captured and put on trial.
One young woman, called Gilly Duncan, confessed under torture that she and other witches cursed the King, and was intent upon murdering him by chanting spells and evil curses. She also claimed that she and other witches were in cahoots with the Earl of Boswell, first in line to the throne after King James’s death, and they wished him dead.

King James had earlier written a treatise against witchcraft. Wild claims about the Devil being intent upon murdering King James were made and rumors flew. It was reported back to King James that a group of Scottish witches had gathered at night near a castle in Edinburgh where they fashioned a waxen image of the King. In front of a raging bonfire, the witches passed the wax doll amongst themselves, chanting in unison:

“This is King James the VI, ordained to be consumed at the instance of a nobleman, Francis Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.” The witches’ poppet was tossed into the flames where it melted away instantly.
Were such dubious claims likely? It is highly doubtful. Most of the women charged with witchcraft identified themselves as devout Christians, and would not likely talk ill against such a powerful and paranoid ruler.
But the story fit in perfectly with what the King already believed, making him even more determined to hunt down the “witches” who were “persecuting” him. More “witches” were brought forth and the King himself interrogated them. It was alleged that 200 witches met at a Church in North Berwick on All Hallows Eve to curse King James again. It was then told that the Devil himself presided over the meeting wearing a black mask, preaching obedience to him and bringing great evil against the King. Unable to stay quiet a moment longer, King James interjected and called the witches present liars.    

The witches were later executed at Edinburgh’s Castle Hill. But it did not end there. In later years, Scottish witches were “brought to justice” at MacBeth’s Hill near the town of Nairn. Witchcraft had a strong hold in Scotland. Scottish rule executed 4,400 alleged witches. Only a handful of witches were executed in England and Ireland. Next to Germany, Scotland murdered more people during their witch trials than any other country.

If the names of “Duncan” and “MacBeth” sound familiar, there is a reason. It has long been thought that King James held great influence over William Shakespeare and was even responsible for Shakespeare’s unflattering portrayal of Scottish witches in his play “Macbeth.” James supported the works of Shakespeare, whose famous plays came about later.

King James was certainly one of the most literate of all British Kings and Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written only seventeen years after initial royal paranoia about the Berwick witches, a long enough time for the imagination to fodder and take certain liberties with the actual story.
Most of the scenes for MacBeth took place at Glamis Castle, allegedly the most haunted castle in Scotland. This was even acknowledged in the day of Shakespeare. But Scotland’s influence on public thought having to do with witches and witchcraft did not end there. Many trials and executions were to follow later.

 North of Aberdeen, there is a haunted place called the “Forest of Marr.” It is believed this is the area where some of the Scottish witches escaped. As they went underground, the women’s occult powers grew. It was conjectured that the ghosts of the executed witches eventually became Banshee spirits known as the "Bean Nighe" and continued to roam the countryside bringing death to the Scottish Clans who backed King James or were responsible for their persecution. From that area of Scotland to Wood County, came a family named “Marr.” Some have said that their lives were marred by the earlier witches’ tragedies. And now we begin our first tale moving from the dark reaches of Scotland into the even darker reaches of West Virginia...
Marrtown Banshee

On certain lonely, moonless nights in the Mid-Ohio Valley, under a sky littered with stars, riding over the hills of Marrtown, there appears a shrouded figure on a white horse— one that is known as “the Banshee of Marrtown.”

 Marrtown was once a small farming community southeast of the city of Parkersburg. The family of Scottish immigrant Thomas Marr settled Marrtown in 1836. Thomas later married a local woman named Mary Disosche whose family owned a local brewery. The Marr family brought to America many of the ancient beliefs and superstitions from their native land of Scotland, where a belief in banshees, witches and ghosts remained strong. The daughter of a widow, Mary Marr was an autumn bride, considered to be an ill omen among the Scottish people. In years to come, Mary would lose six of the eight children that she bore. Only two would carry on the Marr name. Times were hard for Thomas and Mary Marr but they did not lose their dream of a better life, pouring their energies into a simple tract of land that is now Marrtown.

Soon, a picturesque white farmhouse stood against shadowy woods thick with sumac, milkweed and blackberry brambles, framed by a sweeping green valley. To the west of the Marr homestead was a steep hill that ran directly into the Ohio River. To the north was Fort Boreman Hill, where Union troops camped during the Civil War, and where a Pest House housed locals and soldiers who had contracted typhoid fever, small pox and other diseases.

The years of the Civil War, as for most, were not happy ones for the Marr Family. They lost two of their children to typhoid fever. From their front window Thomas and Mary witnessed small clashes that turned into bloody battles between Yankee and Confederate soldiers. There were public hangings on nearby Fort Boreman Hill. As the Civil War drew to a close, marauding soldiers from both sides stole freely from the Marr family, making off with what food and stock the family had put away for themselves.

Shortly after the Civil War, the Marr family’s Scottish brew of bad luck appeared to come to an end. Thomas landed a job as night watchman at the toll bridge that crossed over the Little Kanawha River from lower Parkersburg to the road leading into Marrtown. Mary would stay home to tend the farm and children. Still, there were ominous hints of what was about to unfold.

On several occasions as Thomas traveled to and from his work, he mentioned to Mary about seeing a robed figure riding a white horse. Thomas said that he came upon this rider nearly every night in the identical spot not far from his farmhouse. Mr. Marr said he was not able to determine the gender of the person on the horse but it was as if their paths were fated to meet. Some sense told Thomas that the person was a woman but he couldn’t be sure. The face remained covered by a ragged hood. Whenever Thomas tried to approach the shrouded figure, the black mare reared. Horse and rider then disappeared into the mists of morning.

On a cold February night in the year 1876, Mary sat by the front window awaiting Thomas to come home from his job. Earlier, Mary had awakened suddenly and was eager to see her husband. The middle-aged woman heard footsteps coming up the road. She stood up to peer out the window. But instead of Thomas, a white horse loped up to the front gate of the house and then stopped. Sitting atop the horse was a rider whose face was covered by a tattered veil. It looked to be a woman. Alarmed, Mary moved from her chair and walked outside into the frigid night air. The rider, dressed in the threadbare clothing of a beggar, remained silent.

As bitter winds gusted, Mary pulled her woolen shawl close. Mary asked the rider what she wanted. There was no answer. Plumes of icy air billowed from the nostrils of the white horse. As Mary repeated her question, rider and horse inched closer. The aged woman sat stiffly in her saddle. Underneath the gauzy veil, Mary saw that the woman’s eyes radiated an eerie red glow. After a few moments, the woman on the horse spoke. “I am here to tell you, Mary Marr that Thomas Marr has just died. Say your prayers, Lady. I bid you well.” Rider and horse turned abruptly and galloped away.  Mary collapsed onto the front stoop. Through tears, she watched the shrouded woman and her horse vanish entirely just as they reached the bend in the road. Within the hour, a man who worked with Thomas came to deliver the dreaded news.

No one knows for sure what happened to Thomas Marr that fated winter evening. Some say that while working at the toll bridge Thomas was shot by an assailant’s bullet then fell and drowned in the Little Kanawha River. Others claim that it was the cry of the Banshee that startled Thomas into meeting his end in the river below.

Other reports have Thomas Marr found dead along the B&O railroad tracks only a few yards away from the turbulent waters. After all, it is known that the keening of the Banshee is most often heard over bodies of water. The truth is, Thomas Marr did die on February 5th, 1878 when the Marrtown Banshee was to have made her visit, and she had to cross water to do so.
In years to come, the Banshee did not abandon her Marr clan just yet. The ghostly rider continued to make other visits to the family. Mary Marr lived to be ninety years old. Such advanced years were an exception for the time. As Mary lay as a corpse in the parlor of her home many years after her husband’s death, family members heard the rattling of chains in the attic. Others claimed to hear the shrieks of a wild cat near the house around the same time.

A few years after Mary died, one of the Marr descendents had his arm cut off in a tragic accident. As family members sat up with the boy, they heard snarling and growling sounds on the porch. When the women went outside to see what is was, the stoop where Mary met her Banshee was covered with blood as if a terrible struggle had taken place.

What has become of the Banshee of Marrtown? It is said she still rides, giving dreaded omens to those of Scottish Blood. Not Scottish or Irish, you say? You would still be wise to avoid Marrtown on certain still, dark and moonless nights…

 The Banshee of Center Point
 Banshees aside, if you have ever had the opportunity to fly over West Virginia and the Mid-Ohio Valley in a small plane, you may have noticed the foliage below appears as dense and electric-green as that of a rainforest, an excellent place for harboring fugitives but terrible for your sinuses!
In a time where most of the wilderness in the U.S. is vanishing, West Virginia is still “wild and wonderful,” as the slogan says. But what kind of “wildness” may mean something other than what the travel ads claim. Native American tribes were afraid of these lands. The Shawnee Indians were especially spooked by the lands east of the Ohio River and avoided it as much as possible. The Native Americans did not make a habit of settling into what is now West Virginia believing cursed by ghosts and strange beasts.  
 There is a community in a remote part of Doddridge County called Center Point, a place that is now a virtual ghost town. Center Point is typical of small mountain communities reclaimed by the woods. The village used to have a post office and the Ross Country Store, but that is all but gone. A craggy, brown creek courses through lush foliage with leaves as big as mud flaps. Modest white houses cling to the sides of hills with sloping yards made muddy by children at play.
In Center Point, there isn’t much for children to do other than chase each other with sticks or head for the creek in search of the little brown clots with pinchers known so familiar to West Virginians as “crawdads.”
Unless you’re crazy about pleasant green scenery, country areas, like Center Point weren’t exactly a hullabaloo. Nothing that good had happened there. But nothing that bad happened either. That is, until the summer of 1918, when the Black Flu hit. That was the year when the people of Center Point thought the entire world was coming to an end. The rest of the world did, too. Millions had already died.
And…Unless you were a seven-year-old girl named Pearl White who loved to play in the woods, one who dreamed of flapping her arms and flying away like a bird, a place like Center Point could be pretty dull. But there was plenty for Pearl to do. She had drive and imagination. She wasn’t worried about the Black Flu. Sickness happened to people older than she was and Pearl was invincible. Why, she almost knew how to fly already!
It was near dusk in late summer. Pearl was staying with her Grandmother at Center Point on the farm while relatives traveled to Pennsboro to help those already stricken by Black Flu. Like so many of the flu victims, Pearl’s young, unmarried uncle had taken sick but appeared to be doing fine. His flu didn’t seem to be much worse than a chest cold. It was odd how the Black Flu preyed upon those in the full bloom of life. Many victims that succumbed to the Black Flu were young, only in their twenties and thirties. But Pearls’ uncle was in good spirits, sitting up and talking as the day wore on.
One late August evening drew in a bit more somberly than before. The indigo of twilight was soon upon them. The night was clear. There was not one cloud among the stars. Flickering lights studded the evening sky. Pearl counted them as the Big Dipper, the belt of Orion, the North Star and dreamed of flying to all of them. Center Point was small, but the world was still hers.
Pearl’s grandmother was in the process of taking her granddaughter to the outhouse one more time for the night before retiring to bed. As darkness enclosed, the clip-clop sound of horses’ hooves sounded up the road. The trot was slow and measured. Whoever it was didn’t seem to be in a hurry. They looked around to see a rider on a horse. Grandmother thought, perhaps it was the mailman paying a late visit. After all, the Black Flu had taken its toll on Center Point. Many people had died. Mail could arrive at just about any time of day or evening. 
Pearl and her grandmother paused to watch the rider and horse make their way toward the farmhouse. Crickets sang in the shadows. It seemed strange how the figure sat erect on the horse and was enshrouded in pale, fluttering rags almost like a mummy. The horse itself was also pale like a ghost. The gender of the rider could not be made out either although something told them it was a woman.  
Pearl felt an urge to draw near the figure. She was curious and ran toward the front porch, where the horse and rider seemed to be intent upon stopping. Her grandmother followed Pearl. Now they could see that the rider looked more like an old woman and still, the little girl was not sure. The rider’s face was covered by what was a torn, ragged veil Garnet red eyes glittered beneath the gauzy fabric. The hands looked old and waxen, too, like those that had been sealed within a coffin.
Pearl’s grandmother recoiled but still the little girl ran to meet the figure on the horse anyway. They sauntered up the front walk. The sun was entirely gone, the world left in shadows. The rider tugged on the bridle and the horse stopped. In later years, Pearl would say that she was so close to that Banshee’s horse that she could feel its hot breath on her face.
Yes, those of Celtic blood called this creature a Banshee. Pearl and her relatives were of Scottish descent and this is a classic way that the Scottish Banshee appears, always as a shrouded figure.
And yet, on that fated night in Center Point the Banshee spirit issued a warning. She pointed a bony finger at Pearl’s Grandmother and proclaimed in a rasping voice, “One of yours is to die this very night!” A keening cry split the evening’s stillness. Banshee and horse instantly vanished.
Shaken and left in shadows, Pearl and her grandmother hugged each other. But there was no time to think about the terrible thing that had just happened. Already sounds were coming from the house, sounds of someone struggling for air.  It was Pearl’s uncle.
The two ran inside just in time to realize that the young man’s lungs filled with fluid. Blood foamed from his nose and mouth. This was the usual way people with the Black Flu died. Grandmother knew it. There was no saving him. Within moments, Pearl’s uncle had drowned in his own blood. After the death rattle, all became still, except for the sound of horses’ hooves galloping away. It was then something squalled like a wildcat in the distance.
Despite the evening when she witnessed her uncle’s terrible death from the Black Flu, Pearl White grew up and she did learn to fly. She became a pioneer in the field of aviation and was the first woman to parachute out of a plane. Pearl was a member of the famous “Barnstormers,” a name given to pilots who performed dangerous stunts. Pearl performed her stunts all the way from the Pennsboro Fair in 1935 to the movies in Hollywood, California.
In her life, Pearl White feared very little. In fact, as a young woman she was attracted to danger. When she was just at the age of sixteen, men would strap Pearl’s body to the belly of a plane, go up and then swoop down so she could pick up small objects off the ground. She broke her back one time, and that was at Ravenswood, West Virginia in 1935 and yet she came back.
It was strange how in later years, Pearl was often afraid to sit outside on her front porch at her modest home on upper Juliana Street in Parkersburg. There was something that disturbed her... the oncoming of night.
Pearl was not afraid to be strapped to a plane and fly through the air. She was not afraid to jump out of one as a teenager. After meeting up with the Center Point Banshee as a small child the only thing Pearl White was ever afraid of — was the dark.
Variations of these articles were first printed in Llewellyn's Magical Almanac and on the Haunted America website. You can also read these banshees stories and other tales of the paranormal in Susan's book "Cry of the Banshee" which can be ordered through West Virginia Book Company. Here is the link:
Susan A Sheppard

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Mostly Ghostly Or Really Rather Real?

 By Susan A. Sheppard

Linking vampires and werewolves to the spirit world is questionable since they are usually portrayed  in our literature and folklore as physical beings, ones that can be felled by a silver bullet, or stopped by a wooden stake driven through the heart.
 Hollywood movies tell us that Vampirism and Lycanthropy are somehow linked to ghosts, spirits, or at least the occult and so, “Dracula” and “The Wolfman” show up, along with witches and ghosts, as popular symbols each All Hallows Eve though little really links them to the day of October 31st, a date which was of the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain and the Irish Catholic holiday we now know as Halloween.
=If we travel back in time, though, ghosts or spirits of the dead were believed to have the ability to return as corporeal or carnal beings, still interested in experiencing humanly
 Long ago, it was thought that the dead still ate, could take in nourishment, become intoxicated by alcohol (in fact, they craved it), and could even return to have sexual relations with human beings. In fact, a common belief was the dead envied the living. Fearing their wrath, people left offerings to appease the walking spirits of the dead, as a way to placate them with promises of physical pleasures, such as food, tools, favored animals, slaves or wives, who were sometimes sacrificed to keep the deceased spirit happy or satisfied with familiar company in the afterlife. If the spirit or ghost was not satisfied, they could visit bad luck upon those still alive.
We still see elements of carnal ghosts in animistic religions
such as Voodoo, where rum, flowers, candles and cigars are left on gravesites or altars for the dead to enjoy, and the Dumb Suppers of the Welsh where an extra plate is left at the table for the returning spirits to eat with and visit relatives. We have mostly outgrown this idea of appeasing the dead with offerings and gifts, but we still send bouquets to funerals, leave flowers on graves as well as heavy stones to keep the dead from “walking,” or rising out of the ground (the origins of tombstones) a terrifying concept even in our modern age. When an idea has that much power over the human mind and imagination, it is not about to go away. Thus, we find our tales of the walking dead in books and movies about vampires. Fictional vampires remain hugely popular, and are even believed in, with vampire television shows and movies, vampire nightclubs, vampire games such as Masquerade, the Gothic music movement and individuals who truly believe they are vampires, and must partake of human blood, usually to remain “the Undead,” (a word completely made up by author Bram Stoker), and to maintain their, special vampire powers.

This, given the fact that vampires, as we look upon them now, are entirely a literary invention.
The first literary vampire may have appeared in 1812 in John Polidori’s The Vampyre, where the vampire is truly a Byronesque figure, since Polidori based his vampire character on his former employer, the infamous English poet Lord George Gordon Byron. Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu appeared in 1872 and introduced female vampires as sexual beings. In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker picked up the wand and published his groundbreaking book Dracula. A number of plays and movies followed into the 20th Century, culminating with Anne Rice’s famous novel Interview with the Vampire in 1976 and the literary obsession with vampires continues through books like Twilight and others.
Originally vampire tales can be traced to places like India, Greece, the Middle East, most especially Scythia, that made their way into Eastern Europe, fueled by the Gypsies or Romani peoples migrating out of India, where the vampire saga gained momentum, unfolding its legend like the multi-petals of a blood-red rose.  But in the beginning the vampire was little more than a shade or a ghost, or at least an energy thief coming in the guise of a vexing spirit. Usually this ghost was thought to be someone who had recently died, one who missed his family and tried to return by leaving his grave at night. But after one died, the spirit of the deceased could change into something much more malevolent.
Often, the vampire would attack those who were sleeping, feeding upon their vital energies, crushing and paralyzing his victims with supernatural strength. Since the walking dead or the vampire had become a demon of sorts, crucifixes were placed above headboards of beds, and garlic wreaths were put in strategic spots in the home, such as over doorways or in windows to ward off the afflicting fiends. Sleep Paralysis, or the Old Hag Syndrome as well as beliefs in “Elf pressing” and being “Hag ridden” may explain what is really behind ancient tales of vampirism, when its victims woke up tired and depleted of energy while remembering the presence of an evil spirit having visited upon them the night before.
At the same time, vampires were capable of transforming very much like witches and fairies that are transformed through their fairy-witch glamoury powers. The vampire was thought to turn himself into a bat, a wolf, a rat or a mist that could seep under doors or through openings in the windows. Also, like the living, the vampire needed sustenance, preferably human blood.
And yet, it is implied that it is the vampire’s control over his victim that is most important. The vampire is a monster who has gained mastery over himself and his urges. He is not an emotional wreck of a monster like the werewolf He chooses his victims to suit his purposes. The vampire may be cursed but he is not at the whim of his curse and really rather likes being a vampire.

Like most parasites, the vampire is concerned with self-preservation, at least in the tales that have developed around his legend. As a preternatural being, the vampire is only vulnerable while he is sleeping. Somewhere between a ghost and a ghoul, vampires are commonly referred to as revenants, from the French word revenoir meaning “to return.” In this way, it is easy to see how the vampire remains a type of carnal ghost.
During the Middle Ages, werewolves were looked upon pretty much the same as witches, or mortal human beings who made a pact to the Devil, ones who rnbbed magical ointments on their bodies in order to fly, and were capable of transforming themselves into animals, such as a wild a cat, in order to gain power over others or visit evil upon them. They did not start out as a shade or a ghoul in legend as the vampire did. Instead, the werewolf was a brute of a beast whose only magical ability was shape shifting.
Werewolf comes from the Old Saxon word wer, meaning man, coupled with the word “wolf’ literally translated as “man-wolf.” But unlike ghosts or spirits, the werewolf is a corporeal beast. One could turn into a werewolf just by being bitten by a wolf.

According to Hollywood movies, the werewolf is cursed and suffers because of it in his human form. The werewolf strives to defeat or contain his bestial nature, whereas, the vampire may know he is cursed, but does not wish to change and has no remorse over his beastly acts. The werewolf begs to be locked into a room upon oncoming night to contain his savage nature, especially during full moons, while the vampire gladly leaves his coffin for a night on the town under the very same circumstances.  Early 20th Century writer, Montague Summers firmly believed in werewolves and wrote and published his book “The Werewolf’ in 1933. But Summers concluded much as others did in Medieval times that Lycanthropy was the result of some dealings with the Devil, thus, werewolves, and witches too, were practicing a form of Satanism. And yet, stories of werewolves abound in almost every society, every country, including non-Christian ones and places without wolves, such as Japan, might have Were-foxes, thus, stories of werewolves as beastly creatures of the night, pre-date Christianity by a few thousand years.

In ancient Greece and the Baltic regions, a number of cults worshipped werewolves, or at least canine creatures very much like them. The earliest Germans believed that their ancestors returned to them as wolves. Later in Germany, the hide of a hanged criminal could transform a man into a werewolf, if he chose to wear the skin during the Full Moon. At least, it was thought. The dates of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are both linked to the werewolf. Children born during Christmas or New Year’s Eve had a better chance of becoming a werewolf it was believed, especially if the baby was born having teeth already. A baby at birth wearing a “caul” (or membrane sac over the face) was also a possible werewolf
In 1589, a man by the name of Peter Stubbe, of Cologne, France (now Germany) confessed to killing and eating a number of children, including his own son. He also admitted to stealing and devouring livestock, as well as having sexual relations with his daughter and sister. A pact with the Devil, Stubbe claimed, gave him the savage powers of the werewolf Stubbe later confessed since he was not able to control himself After a speedy trial, local government sentenced Peter Stubbe to being burnt at the stake, with sister and daughter meeting the same fate. In the years between 1520 and 1630 there were thirty thousand reports of werewolves in France. By the 1700s, witch-burnings and reports of werewolves faded in Europe. Like the vampire, the werewolf gained new life through literature and works of the fiction much later because the general public no longer believed in the half-man half beast. Shamanism and Animism may have something to do with a belief in werewolves early on. In most cultures, the line that defined human beings as separate from the animal and plant worlds was blurred. Uncivilized humans did not have the same desire to “lord over” creatures and plants. All beings in the natural world were connected. The wolf, especially, because of his prowess and strength, became a creature very feared but also admired. Since the wolf’s eyes reflected light in the night, he seemed quite spectral.
 In the legend about the founding of Rome, there is a tale that hints at a history behind the werewolf, or the half-man half-beast. Romulus and Remus were twin sons born to the god Mars and Rhea Silvia, but they were unwanted and so cast into the river Tiber. While the god Tiberinus rescued the mother Rhea Silvia, a she-wolf saved the twins and suckled them as her own along with her cubs. Rome was then founded on Palantine Hill where the she-wolf nursed the twins. As the twins reached adulthood, Romulus killed Remus after an argument. Romulus, the wolf-boy, then founded Rome, or Roma, after his name. Stories of wolf-boys and wolf-girls abound throughout world culture, or rather feral children who are raised by animals, primarily dogs or wolves. In 1920, in Northern India, a missionary in charge of an orphanage near Midnapore happened upon a wolf pack late at night, and noticed two childlike, yet ghostly figures enter-twined with the wolves. The missionary climbed into a tree that sat atop a termite mound to view the wolf-pack from a birds-eye-view, and glimpsed two very human apparitions accompanying the wolves and described them as"
"Hideous looking. Hand, foot and bodies like human beings; but the heads were a ball of something covering their shoulders, and the upper portion of the bust. Their eyes were bright and piercing, unlike human eyes and they ran on all fours like wolves.”

However, the beings were neither ghosts, nor apparitions. They were two actual human children that had been raised amongst wolves, now referred to as “feral children.” Feral children have been reported everywhere and will continue to in the most remote parts of the earth that still have populations of dogs and wolves.

The question persists: Are werewolves (and vampires) really real?
Or are such isolated reports of feral children or adults behind the legend of the werewolf? Do the witch’s powers of glamoury or “shape-shifting” have connection to supposed appearances of werewolves through their spells? Are werewolves and vampires preternatural creatures intrinsically aligned as they are so often in popular Halloween imagery? Or are werewolves born out of simple myths surrounding an ordinary animal once feared?
Perhaps like witches nd fairies as fairy-tale creatures, tales of the werewolf and the vampire reveal truths, but perhap truths that speak only of our human desire for enchantment
not only in the way we choose to dream and imagine but also in the way we fear. -- Susan A Sheppard

Although the author of this article is Susan Sheppard, grateful acknowledgement is made to the Haunted America website where the article first appeared.
Learn about Susan's Haunted Parkersburg Ghost Tours at the link below.