The Folklore of Blood Stopping in the Ozarks

ozarks.jpgFolk medicine is comprised of rituals and medicines, herbs and crystals and stone.  Even as a child, my mother would prepare an herbal tea when I was sick and it would go away within the day.  And though it sounds a lot like ancient methods and miraculous magic, some people still use these techniques today.  In fact, in the Ozarks there are those who still practice a lot of these rituals today. One such practice is the stopping of the flow of blood and the people who practice it are called “blood stoppers.”

Let’s say that you sliced your palm with a knife, and there were no doctors around.  According to tradition, you would stab the knife into the ground to stop the bleeding.  However, these “power doctors” could supposedly cure illness and disease through supernatural methods.  And if they were available to help treat a wound such as that, they would burn the sole of the peron’s shoe and then rub the ash into the wound to avoid blood poisoning.

ozarks 2.jpgHowever, in order to cure something more debilitating, the power doctor would stop the “unnatural” flow of blood by reciting bible verses — usually from the Book of Ezekiel.  The belief that these people could stop the flow of blood was so powerful, that a story of a man who challenged a blood stopper traveled around in which he told the doctor to “try your luck on this beef.”  According to the story, the skeptic went hungry as he killed the cow which never bled a single drop, ruining the meat in the end. Similar stories of blood stoppers helping those in need can be found in abundance, from a woman who went into a barn and prayed for three minutes while a man bleeding to death in a wagon just stopped bleeding altogether and was saved, all the way to a man who suffered a nosebleed and placed a chip beneath to catch the blood, keeping the chip in a safe place so that it would go undisturbed and he wouldn’t get a nosebleed again.

Whether you believe in folk medicines and folk magic does not really matter as there are others who do.  As we can tell from these stories, people do believe, and they have different tales of healing that have been passed around for generations.  Whether you have been stabbed or suffer nosebleeds or something equally as bad, it is clear that a blood stopper would be able to heal you with nothing more than the power of their faith.

For more reading on blood stoppers (sources):
https://listverse.com/2015/11/17/10-folk-magic-traditions-of-the-early-modern-era/Otto Ernest Rayburn.  Midwest Folklore.  Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter, 1954), pp. 213-215

The Myth of Cerberus

CerberusImagine this: you are entering the underworld through the River Styx, and as you make your way towards the gates you see a three-headed dog guarding the entrance.  He allows you to pass through, though you will never leave again. This is Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog who guards the gates of the Underworld.

Cerberus was supposedly a gigantic, three-headed dog who guarded the gates of the Underworld, stopping any shade who would try to escape.  He is described as a creature who eats raw flesh, having a mane of writhing snakes, a serpent’s tail, and lion’s claws. Some accounts claim he even has fifty heads, though some scholars believe they were counting the snakes as well.

cerberus 2One of the most famous stories regarding Cerberus was the twelfth labor of Heracles.  Heracles was charged with capturing Cerberus and bringing him back from the Underworld.  There are several versions of this story, however one of the famous ones involves Hades telling Heracles he could have Cerberus, so long as he defeated the animal using only the weapons he had carried with him.  According to this version of the myth, Heracles uses his lion-skin shield to defend against two of the heads as he chokes the third, ending with Cerberus submitting to him. Hades says Heracles still could not take the creature, and so Heracles shoots Hades with a stone-tipped arrow and he concedes.  In other accounts, the two do battle and Heracles wins.

Whichever version of the story you believe, Cerberus was still a fearsome creature who guarded the Underworld with his three heads and lion claws.  Whether he was won, or whether he was beaten, Heracles had performed quite the feat in retrieving Cerberus from the Underworld. I mean, who else could do battle against a three-headed creature?

For more reading on Cerberus (sources):
https://greekgodsandgoddesses.net/myths/cerberus/
http://www.theoi.com/Ther/KuonKerberos.html
https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Cerberus/cerberus.html

The Folklore of Vasilisa the Beautiful

vasilisaImagine going against a witch with iron teeth who rides on a mortar and pestle, lives in a house that stands on chicken legs, and eats people.  Not a very pleasant thought. However, Vasilisa the Beautiful wasn’t alone when she was forced to face the witch Baba Yaga. For Vasilisa was given a doll by her mother who helped her along the way.

The story of Vasilisa the Beautiful comes to us from Russian folklore.  A cinderella story in its own way, the girl is cast out of her home and sent to retrieve light from Baba Yaga in the woods by her stepmother.  Unbeknownst to the stepmother and stepsisters, Vasilisa was given a doll by her mother on her deathbed. So when she ventures into the woods, it’s her doll who encourages her.  As soon as Baba Yaga “saves” the girl, she is brought in and fed and told to work otherwise she would be eaten.vasilisa2

Thankfully, as the girl feeds her doll, the doll helps her through her tasks.  Unfortunately, this only enrages Baba Yaga who decides to roast her. Vasilisa then bribes the maid who is building the fire, ensures Baba Yaga sleeps soundly, and then offers gifts to the animals and tree that have been charged with attacking her should she escape.  On her way out, she grabs a skull whose eyes are glowing and brings it home, turning her stepmother and sisters to ash. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Cinderella story without a prince, and indeed she does marry one in the end. The doll living in her pocket forever.

So yes, we have a version of a Cinderella story with Vasilisa the Beautiful.  Yes, her mother does help her — not in the form of a tree but in the form of a doll.  However, I don’t remember Cindy having to fight off a cannibalistic witch. Vasilisa, on the other hand, is certainly a heroine in her own tale as she had outsmarted the witch Baba Yaga with nothing more than her wits and her doll.

For more reading on Vasilisa the Beautiful (sources):

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/freaky-fairy-tale-ancient-folklore-vasilisa-beautiful-and-baba-yaga-009545

https://study.com/academy/lesson/vasilisa-the-beautiful-summary-characters-analysis.html

 

The Myth of the Sphinx

sphinx 2Imagine this: you are wandering in the desert when you come across these giant statues.  They have the head of a human, the body of a lion, and they tower over everything for miles.  You have just come across a sphinx.

 

sphinx

The sphinx — in ancient egypt — was a spiritual guardian that was found near tombs and temples.  Generally a male’s head, though sometimes a woman’s, the sphinx was often described as having the body of a lion and wings, wearing a pharaoh’s headdress.  Besides the great sphinx of Giza, there is also a place called Sphinx Alley in Upper Egypt in which a two-mile avenue connecting the temples of Luxor and Karnak is lined with sphinx statues.

One of the most famous of the sphinxes comes to us from the Greek play Oedipus Rex, in which a sphinx terrorizes Thebes, demanding the answer to a riddle.  The riddle, taught to her by the Muses, went: “What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” Whenever the riddle was answered incorrectly, the sphinx would devour the man until Oedipus had given her the proper answer.  Once learning it, the sphinx killed herself, thus sprouting the legend that the sphinx was an all-knowing creature of wisdom.

sphinx 3The sphinx was a creature to protect, not a monster.  However, the idea that one of them would devour you had you not answered her riddle correctly is a terrifying thought.  What if you didn’t know the answer? Well, then I guess the sphinx would make you their dinner.

 

For more information about the sphinx (sources):

https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-egypt/the-sphinx

https://www.britannica.com/topic/sphinx

The Folklore of Roanoke

Roanoke-IslandThe story of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock is of course famous for being one of the first colonies to be founded in the “New World” — the first being Jamestown.  However, before they had come here, there was a group of one hundred and seventeen people who landed in Virginia, only to never be seen again. This is, of course, the story of Roanoke.

In 1587 colonists landed at Roanoke Island and established a settlement — the first of its kind.  Included in these numbers are John White and his daughter Eleanor Dare — who was pregnant — and her husband, and Chief Manteo who had become an ally to the English.  The group set to work repairing an old fort that had been erected on the island previously, and soon after Eleanor Dare gave birth to the first English child born on the continent.  A few days later, her father left for England to fetch supplies in order to help the budding colony.

roanoke.jpgJohn White was delayed in England, and when he arrived back in Roanoke — three years after his departure — he found that the fort was deserted.  The only piece of evidence that might hint as to where the colonists had gone or what had happened was the word “CROATOAN” which was carved into a nearby tree. Croatoan was the name of Chief Manteo’s home, though when John White went looking for them, he was stopped by a hurricane that damaged his ships so horribly he was forced to return to England.  Though he made several attempts to go back, John White would never return to look for his family and died never knowing what had happened to them.

The colonists of Roanoke had vanished from history.  No one knows exactly what happened — whether they were attacked or they fled or they starved to death remains a mystery.  Archaeologists still search for clues as to what happened to the lost colonists, searching for answers. So far there are none.

 

For more reading on Roanoke (sources):

https://www.ncpedia.org/history/colonial/roanoke-fact-or-fiction

https://www.outerbanks.org/things-to-do/attractions/historic-museums-sites/lost-colony/

The Myth of the Banshee

banshee 1Imagine this: you are walking by the ruins of an abandoned castle in Ireland or Scotland in the middle of the night.  The moon is high above you, and there is no one else around except for you. And then you hear a scream. You have just had an unfortunate encounter with a banshee.

The banshee — Irish: Bean Sidhe; Scots Gaelic: Ban Sith — originally meant a woman of the fairies.  She was a woman who had supernatural abilities, according to myth. She would release a loud, wailing scream that was believed to predict the death of a family member of the person who has heard it.  But where did the banshee come from?

banshee 3.jpgThere are several stories that point to the origins of a banshee.  One story is that she was a murdered young woman, another that she was a mother who died in childbirth.  The way she is described varies from an old woman in black with long, grey hair and a veil to the image of a headless woman, naked from the waist up, carrying a bowl filled with blood.  Though her image tends to shift from region to region, she remains a harbinger of death to those that witness her and hear her wailing scream.

Whether she is a young woman or a headless, naked figure, one thing stays consistent in the stories.  Of course, I am referring to her howls of premonition. One thing is for certain: if you hear her cries do not panic.  Just be prepared for the worst.

 

For more reading on the banshee (sources):

https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/wailing-out-lament-filled-legends-and-origins-irish-banshees-007244

https://www.britannica.com/topic/banshee

The Folklore of the Jersey Devil

Jersey-devil 2Wherever you go, folklore and urban legends lie in wait.  Whether it’s a mythical creature or a curse or a ghost, lore of this sort is scattered from city to city, town to town.  In the state of New Jersey there is said to be a creature that roams the Pine Barrens, and it is known as the Jersey Devil.

According to legend, in 1735 Mother Leeds — a resident of the Pines — was pregnant with her thirteenth child.  In some stories she cries this out when she find out she is once again with child, in others it is during labor, but according to legend Mother Leeds raises her hands to the heavens and cries: “Let this one be a devil!”  Whichever version you believe, she goes into labor on a stormy night surrounded by midwives while her husband and children were in another room. The child was born — a normal baby boy — however, the baby began to transform, twisting itself into a hideous creature.  The tiny child was no longer so small as it grew in size, horns and talons and bat-like wings sprouting from his body as feathers coated his flesh. Finally, the child’s eyes began to glow red as they grew into its snarling face.

The child turned on its own mother, killing her, and then went after the midwives.  It flew at them, ripping them apart — some lost their lives, others were maimed — and once it was done it went to the rest of the family and killed most of them.  As quickly as it had attacked, the creature fled up the chimney before the few survivors’ eyes, demolishing it into rubble, and escaped into the Pine Barrens where it has dwelled ever since.

Jersey-devilAnother version states that the creature fled after its birth and returned every night to visit Mrs. Leeds, though she turned it away until it came around no more.  Whichever story you believe, it all leads back to the Devil being loose in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Of course, what kind of creature would it be if it didn’t have stories of being spotted?  One of the most famous accounts comes to us from the beginning of the 19th century when a Commodore Stephen Decatur — a naval hero — was testing cannon balls when he spotted a strange creature flying across the sky.  He fired — and hit — the creature, but it continued to fly away. Others have seen the creature since, continuing into modern times with the most recent repost coming to us from 1987 when a german shepherd was found gnawed on and surrounded by mysterious footprints that could not be identified.

Whether you believe that the devil killed its human family or visited them, it all comes down to that curse Mrs. Leeds cried out.  The child was, in fact, the devil, and can still be found eating livestock and pets, stalking the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. One thing is for sure: stay away from the Pine Barrens at night, or the Jersey Devil just might make an appearance.

 

For more reading on the Jersey Devil (sources):

http://www.pinelandsalliance.org/history/devil/

http://theshadowlands.net/jd.htm

https://weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/