The Folklore of Haunted Art

The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is one that we have heard said in regards to famous photographs.  Whether they are sad, depressing, joyous, shocking, the more you stare, the more you come to your own conclusions.  But what if you were wrong?  What if you saw a painting and thought it was just an expression of a tortured artist only to find out that the painting has killed?  Could that even be possible?  Join us as we take a look at two of the most notorious paintings known for the chaos they sow.

painting 2The first painting we are looking at today is known as the Anguished Man.  The most disturbing thing about this painting isn’t the image itself — though the image is quite unsettling.  In fact, it was discovered that the artist had mixed his own blood into the paint as he had worked, committing suicide shortly after.  Ever since, every owner of this painting has complained of shadow figures, pets becoming distressed at unseen things and even at the painting itself, and even sounds of crying that, after being investigated, have no source.  Current owner Sean Robinson keeps it safely locked away, though you can find his YouTube channel in which he has posted videos of the creepy occurrences happening within his home.

The second painting is a bit more well known.  Titled, The Hands Resist Him by Bill painting 1Stoneham, the painting depicts a young boy standing in front of a window, a doll in the shape of a young girl beside him, with what appears to be clawing hands pawing at the glass of the window trying to get to the boy.  Originally painted as a way for the artist to deal with his adoption, the painting hung in an art gallery until it was sold in 1974.  However, ten years after this purchase, the buyer, the owner of the gallery, and an art critic who had written an article about the painting, all died.  That is not the end of the story, however.  Eventually, the painting resurfaced.  On eBay.  The terrified seller claims that the figures in the art come to life at night, while some people who view it claim to have physical illnesses or even blackouts.  Though there is no need to fear, for the painting was eventually bought by another art gallery where they keep it locked away.

These two paintings are just examples of countless of other haunted paintings that are scattered around the world.  And while the artist of the Anguished Man remains a mystery, we can at least hear what Bill Stoneham says about his own haunted painting, which makes his a bit unique.  According to Stoneham,

“When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm. Both the owner of the Gallery where ‘Hands’ was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show.  I’m sure it was coincidence, but some of what I paint resonates in other people, opening the inner door. Or basement.”

So the question is, what do you believe?  Can an ordinary painting become haunted because of memories and feelings and emotions?  Or are we left to view only paintings such as Anguished Man as an exception due to its dark history?  Is there such a thing as a cursed piece of art?  Or is it all mere coincidence?


For more reading on these and other haunted paintings (sources):

The Folklore of Oshiroi Baba

OSHIROI BABAThere are Winter Witches and Snow Queens that litter folklore and mythology — from giant ogresses to hags who eat children.  The more you look through them, the more you notice a pattern of death and cannibalism.  However, there is one wintry figure who is neither, who brings sake to weary and cold travelers.  Her name is Oshiroi Baba.

Oshiroi Baba, or the Face Powder Hag, is considered a servant to the Goddess of Cosmetics and appears as an ancient looking woman, her back bent with age, leaning on a bamboo cane.  She is clothed in kimono rags, with a straw hat broken and heavy with snow.  In her other hand, she holds a bottle of sake.  But it’s her face that gives her her name: her wrinkled and lined face is covered in oshiroi — white powder just like what the geisha’s wore.  The last bit of her appearance goes to her mirror, and the reason why I leave this for last is because it is usually not seen.  However, the sound of a clanging mirror being dragged behind her is always heard, alerting you of her presence.

The most commonly told stories of Oshiroi Baba are by travelers who find themselves lost and cold, wandering in snow storms.  She brings her sake and offers travelers a chance to warm up before they continue on their way.  The most famous story about her is very different and comes from the Hasedera Temple.  According to the story, the monks were starving after their food was confiscated by the army, and they prayed, pleading that they may finish their work.  The next day, they spotted a woman washing rice at the well, and as they watched, they noticed she would empty the bucket of all but a single grain, and when she would, the bucket would magically refill.  She repeated this until there was enough food to feed all of the monks.

There is not much lore in regards to the Oshiroi Baba.  Some believe her to be a variation of the Yuki Onna, traveling down the mountain to demand makeup or sake from travelers, others believe her to be a blessing.  However, the belief that there is a winter hag who brings sake to those who are cold is a much more warming thought.  So if you ever find yourself lost in the snow, keep an ear out for the sounds of a clanking mirror as it might be Oshiroi Baba bringing you warm sake to give you strength.


For more reading on Oshiroi Baba (sources):
Oshiroi Baba – The Face Powder Hag

The Myth of Frau Perchta

frau perchta 2Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, is a well-known Yuletide figure.  However, over the years we have seen some of the more… unsavory characters come into the spotlight.  Krampus was one of those characters from folklore who became wildly popular after his 2015 horror/comedy debut on the big screen.  However, there are still other mythic stories, legends and folktales of different Yule spirits and demons and elves and trolls. Today, we are going to be taking a look at one of these, a witch who punishes naughty children.  Her name is Frau Perchta.

Frau Perchta comes to us from Austrian and Bavarian tradition, becoming more well known with her other name Frau Berchta which was popularized by the brothers Grimm.  She is also associated with Berchta the Germanic goddess of abundance who was demonized by the Catholic church and referred to as a witch. Either way, Frau Perchta is generally depicted as a crone dressed in rage with a beaked, iron nose.  Sometimes she carries a cane, but almost always she carries a long, sharp knife that she keeps hidden beneath her skirts.

frau perchtaYou see, Frau Perchta — much like Santa Claus — will reward good children and punish the bad.  She also punishes women for unkempt households and unspun flax. For those she deems good, a silver coin is left for them.  If she deems you unworthy, if you forget to leave out a bowl of porridge for her, if your flax is half spun and unfinished, she slits open your abdomen, removes your organs, and replaces them with straw.  She was also associated with the Wild Hunt, flying through the night sky while accompanied by her demonic Perchten — Krampus-looking creatures — and elves and unbaptized babies. During the last three thursdays before Christmas, you will hear the sounds of thunder and wind roaring, however it is really Frau Perchta leading her Wild Hunt.

Either way, Frau Perchta doesn’t seem like a woman to cross.  Whether she is a crone who judges your housework, or someone who comes to punish the naughty and reward the nice, or even the leader of the Wild Hunt itself, Frau Perchta promises punishment for those who she sees as undeserving.  One thing is for certain: whichever version of her tale you believe, be sure to have your house dust-free and stay indoors on the nights leading up to Christmas or Frau Perchta might replace your organs with straw.

For more reading on Frau Perchta (sources):

The Folklore of the Yuki Onna

yuki onnaImagine this: you find yourself lost in the woods, high up in the mountains of Japan.  Snow is falling in a thick curtain, and out of the corner of your eyes you see a woman dressed in white slipping amongst the trees.  You blink and she is there, sucking your life force from you as you freeze up, turning solid as ice. This is the fearsome creature known as the Yuki Onna.

Yuki Onna are Japanese yokai — a category of supernatural beings in Japanese folklore which includes demons, monsters, and creatures.  Their legends are more prevalent amongst the people living in the Japanese Alps where they can await — and eventually hunt — unsuspecting travelers who find themselves lost during snowstorms.

yuki onna 2The Yuki Onna are described as being beautiful, with long, black hair and violet eyes.  Their flesh is pale, their kimonos white to blend in with the snow. Their powers include being able to freeze a human by sucking out their souls with their icy breath and entering homes, flash-freezing entire families while they sleep.  However, not every interaction with the Yuki Onna ends with their human prey frozen. In fact, some lore suggests that they will fall in love and marry. However, the Yuki Onna are immortal, and when their husbands realize she does not age their marriages fall apart.

So be wary, travelers.  If you happen to find yourself lost on a snowy mountain road, keep your eyes out for a woman of great beauty dressed all in white.  For she may be a Yuki Onna, awaiting her latest prey.

For more reading on the Yuki Onna (sources):

The Folklore of “The Scottish Play”

macbethThe theater has been host to much folklore over the years.  There is the saying “break a leg” which means “good luck” — though you are never supposed to actually wish someone “good luck.”  There are stories of haunted sets due to deaths, of cursed parts — such as the ghost in “the Peony Lantern” which stems from a 1919 performance in which the two actresses playing Otsuyu and her maid fell sick and died within a week of each other.  However, there is one play that no one dares utter the name of. One that has supposedly been cursed for centuries. And that play is Macbeth.


macbeth 2

According to lore, to even utter the name of the play was considered horribly bad luck, therefore it was always referred to as “The Scottish Play.”  This all stems from the notion that — again, according to legend — Shakespeare used actual incantations for the witches, causing a coven to curse the play forevermore.  Another theory is that the actual incantations the witches speak during the performance is the curse itself, causing all of the misfortune that has befallen this play since its opening day.

macbeth 3

As we take a look at a few of the accidents that have occurred throughout the years, we have to begin in 1606 when the actor playing Lady Macbeth died the day before the play was to debut.  This forced King James I to ban the play for years in order to prevent any further incidents. However, the actresses who have played Lady Macbeth have been known to suffer the worst of it.  There are stories of the actors being strangled, breaking both of their legs, falling to their deaths off the stage, and — the worst of it all — being attacked by audience members who become completely bewitched by the play.  This leads us to 1849 when — in New York — the audience was so bespelled by the play that a riot broke out, killing over thirty people. Macbeth 4When Laurence Olivier played Macbeth, he was almost killed by a heavy weight that mysteriously dropped from backstage, and during his performance they used real swords which, unfortunately, led to one flying into the audience, hitting one of the patrons and causing him to have a heart attack.  In 1942, three actors died under unexplained circumstances, and the costume designer took their own life on opening night. The final story we have of this play’s destruction comes to us from 1953 when actor Charlton Heston was in a horrific motorcycle accident during rehearsals, leaving both of his legs badly burned for his performance. The reason? His tights had been mysteriously soaked in kerosene, leaving them highly flammable.

With every curse there comes the chance to break it.  And this one is no different. According to theater folklore, should you utter the name of the play you must immediately exit the theater, spin around three times, spit, curse, then knock on the theater door in order to be allowed back in.  So if you happen to find yourself cast in “The Scottish Play” fear not! Just whatever you do, do not say the name of the play, or you might find yourself added to the list of unexplained deaths this play has been collecting since the very beginning.

For more reading on the curse of Macbeth (sources):

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):

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): Ernest Rayburn.  Midwest Folklore.  Vol. 4, No. 4 (Winter, 1954), pp. 213-215