The Folklore of Hekla

heklaImagine seeing a giant fissure open up, fire erupting into the sky as smoke and ash billow along the winds.  You might think that this explosion was nothing else but the gates of Hell opening onto the earth. Well, that is exactly what the people in Iceland thought back in 1104: our first written record of a volcanic explosion from Hekla.

hekla 3.jpgHekla is a volcano in the south of Iceland.  However, in 1104 when the volcano erupted there was quite the panic, especially from Christians who saw Hekla as one of the doorways into Hell.  Now, the volcano is known for throwing lava bombs — up to twelve tons in size! — from its fire fountains, and as they travel into the cold night air, they begin to hiss due to the cooler temperatures.  Well, when people had seen these projectiles, they believed them to be escaped spirits screaming in agony. Birds flying nearby would be accused of being souls circling the gates while others claimed that witches gathered around the crater to meet the devil and practice dark magic.

Hekla 2

Today, however, the volcano has become quite the tourist attraction. Hekla is still active, and people travel from all over just to see the fire fountains explode into the night.  Though you might be kept at a safe distance from the volcano, it isn’t hard to imagine why early European thought that Hekla was a gate into hell — especially when one witnesses the fire fountains erupting themselves.

 

For more reading on Hekla (sources):
http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/hekla-gateway-hell
http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/1015

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 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 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 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/

The Folklore of Glamis Castle

glamis 2Have you ever wondered about what goes bump in the night?  Ever seen the spooky spectres who haunt the halls or heard footsteps on the floor above you when you know no one is there?  As Halloween draws near, we hear about ghosts and spirits, demons and imps that terrorize our homes and attack the everyday person.  We will not be talking about those today, however, and instead we will be focusing on some famous ghosts that haunt the Glamis Castle all the way in Scotland.

Quick history of the castle itself: it was originally built during the fourteenth century and sits beside the village of Glamis in Angus, Scotland and has been home to the Lyon family since then.  Which brings us to our ghosts. Over these centuries, the castle has become the home to several famous ghosts, with many accounts by eyewitnesses who have come face-to-face with them — in a manner of speaking.

Our first famous ghost is the woman without a tongue.  No one knows who she was, however many people have reported seeing her wandering around the grounds, pointing to her disfigured face, or even staring out of the barred castle windows.  Next up is out young servant boy who has been spotted sitting by the door of the Queen’s room on multiple occasions, quietly waiting. Though not much is known about either of these spirits, we do have two very famous ghosts that have been known to roam these halls.

glamis 3The grey lady is reportedly the ghost of Lady Glamis — or Lady Janet Douglas.  Lady Glamis was burned at the stake in 1537 supposedly because she was a witch, accused of murdering her husband and planning on poisoning the King — King James V of Scotland.  Though she was accused of poisoning her first husband, she was acquitted and so married her second husband. However, nine years after her husband’s death in 1528, she was accused of planning to murder to king.  She was innocent, of course, but that didn’t stop the king from torturing her family and servants until she was convicted, resulting in her being burned at the stake on July 17,1537. Now, people claim to see the grey lady as she runs up the stairs in the clock tower, supposedly leaving a trail of ash in her wake.

The final of our famous ghosts is the ghost of Alexander Lindsay, 4th Earl of Crawford — also known as Earl Beardie.  The story of our Earl goes like this: supposedly he was cruel man who tended to drink heavily, and — according to legend — he had been visiting the castle at the time and returned, drunk and shouting, looking for someone to play cards with.  However, it was the Sabbath, and since no one would take him up on his challenge, he shouted that he’d play the Devil himself. Well, soon after there was a knock at the door, and standing there was a tall man in a long, dark coat — though some stories claim he wore a dark, hooded robe.  He asked if the Earl still needed someone to play cards with, and together they locked themselves in a room in the castle and proceeded to play cards into the night. Well, following this, loud swearing and shouting began to come from the room, and a servant peeking through the keyhole to see what was going on was blinded in that eye and was sent away, accused of spying.  However, that was the last time the Earl was seen — the man had disappeared, along with Earl. It is said that to this day, he is still playing cards in his secret room, shouts echoing from within. It is also said that children who stay in the castle wake in the middle of the night to see a dark figure standing over them, watching them sleep.

glamis 1We might not know what exactly lurks in the darkness, but when we hear these stories we are reminded that some people are never forgotten.  Whether it is a trail of ash or the screaming shouts of a drunk Earl, there are reminders of the past everywhere. That is, if one is only brave enough to stay around after dark and find them.

For more reading on the ghosts of Glamis castle (sources):

https://www.rd.com/culture/most-haunted-places-world/

https://www.hauntedrooms.co.uk/glamis-castle-angus-scotland

The Myth of the Bunyip

Bunyip_1890Australia.  Home to twenty-one out of the twenty-five most venomous snakes in the world.  A magical place where deadly creatures from sharks to box jellyfish to spiders roam free.  And yet, despite all of these known creatures, there is a myth of one that is far more terrifying living in the swamps and lakes and rivers.  Its name is the Bunyip.

Bunyip is the aboriginal term for ‘devil’ or ‘evil spirit.’  It is an aquatic Aboriginal creature of myth described differently in several regions — under different names until European settlers used the more popular of them — and ranging in appearance from an ox to a hippopotamus to a manatee with a long neck.  Though the image changes, one fact that all the legends have in common is that the Bunyip is said to be massive — a giant man-eater.

The Bunyip is known for its monstrous looks, his cries that echo, and the fact that it has killed several people definitely adds credence to the legend.  However, not all agree that the Bunyip is harmful. In fact, he is sometimes described as being a protector of wildlife.  This benevolent image is portrayed in popular culture where there exists a series of children’s books featuring the Bunyip.

bunyip 2.jpgThough the Bunyip can be either a monstrous man-eater or a benevolent protector, the legends seem to have some facts in common.  If you find yourself traversing near bodies of water in Australia, remember to keep an eye out.  For there may be something worse than the deadly bugs and snakes lurking about. One thing is for certain: if you hear its echoing cries or see a massive creature rise up from the depths, run.

For more reading on the Bunyip (sources):

https://aminoapps.com/c/thewitchescircle/page/blog/aboriginal-lore-the-bunyip-devil-spirit-of-australia/8qv1_pjSmuW5YWz1WpgLErK2XMR851GGP

https://mythology.net/mythical-creatures/bunyip/

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