Thursday, October 31, 2013

Old Halloween Traditions

Today we celebrate Halloween or Samhain (Samhain comes from Gaelic meaning Summer's End) Back in the time of the Celts, the New Year began on November 1st.  On the eve of the New Year (October 31st) it was believed that the physical world and the spirit world were closest allowing the spirits of the dead to roam the earth.  Because the veil between the worlds was thin, it was a good night  for divination.  Predicting the future was a way to get through the cold winter months and have hope for the spring.  One thing that many people (particularly young women) tried to predict was if, when or who they would marry. 
You can try some of these divination tools tonight if you're looking for information on your future love life:

Bobbing For Apples
Yes, this seemingly innocent game whereupon you nearly drown yourself to bite into and pull out an apple from a bucket of water was originally a way to predict the future.  A bushel of apples was dumped into a large tub of water and "players" would attempt to pull an apple out with their teeth.  The first to do this would be the first to marry out of the group.  If the apple was crisp and crunchy it was predicted to be a happy marriage and if it was rotten it would be a marriage of misery.

Bite The Apple
In Bite the Apple, a coin is inserted into the apple and the apple then hung from a string.  Players held their hands behind their backs and attempted to bite the apple.  The first to do so won the apple, the coin and the prediction of a prosperous life.  I actually remember playing this game as a child.  I'm pretty sure I remember cheating and using my hands.

Peel the Apple
This one isn't really a game.  Girls would peel an apple then throw the peel over their shoulder onto the floor or into a tub of water.  The letter formed by the apple peel was the first initial of the man they would marry.  I tried this once in my youth, but the dog always stole the peel before I could see the initial. I was once told by someone that if you recite the ABC's while twisting the stem on an apple, the letter you're on when the stem comes loose is the initial of the man you'll marry. 

Apple Paring Game
This one is slightly creepy.  A girl sits in a dark room in front of a mirror with only a candle as light and peels an apple while staring into a mirror. If she's to marry, the face of her future husband will appear.  But if she's destined to die before marriage, a skull will appear. Many teens play the "Bloody Mary" game where it's said that if you look into a mirror in a dark room and say Bloody Mary 3 times her ghost will appear in the mirror.  In the Maryland area,  there was the legend of Black Aggie.  If you said the name Black Aggie in the mirror three times in the dark at midnight, she was said to appear behind you and either stab you, cause you to lose your mind or transport you to hell – or all three at the same time.  I imagine that these games have some basis in the original game played with apples during Victorian times.

Dumb Supper
The celebration of Samhain is also a time to honor passed loved ones.  One interesting way to do this is by
hosting a Dumb Supper.  (Dumb in this sense refers to being silent.)    There are several different ways to host one, but here are the basics.  The menu should consist of foods that remind you of those who have passed (their favorite foods or a dish they enjoyed making, etc) or feature foods like apples, fall squash, fall greens, etc.  A place setting is put out at the head of the table for the departed.  Typically, the food is served backwards- that is you start with dessert, then entree, then appetizer.  The place settings are also supposed to be backwards.  Food is served to all the place settings, including ones set for ancestors.  The entire meal is silent.  No talking.  No communicating of any kind.  The only noise is music that is played in the memory of those who have passed.  After the dinner, guests share memories and stories about those who have passed on.  Guests are encouraged to bring photos of those who have departed.  Also, each guest is encouraged to stop at the chair at the head of the table before being seated.  In some suppers, when guests are finished dining, they each one by one take a note they've written for their loved one to the head of the table where they read the note silently then burn it.  They're really are many ways in which you can conduct a Dumb Supper- as long as you conduct it in silence. 

Happy Halloween!

Check out these other blog posts about Halloween and Ghosts
History of Halloween
Stories from my Great-Great-Grandmother
Haunted Haven Beach
Old House Woods

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Oldest Ghost Story

Ever wonder what the first recorded ghost story was?
It happened back in the 1st century AD- Pliny the Younger wrote about a spirit in his letters.

There was a house in Athens with an unsavory reputation.  It was reported that each night, the sounds of weapons and chains could be heard first from far away and then gradually getting closer.  Eventually the ghost of an emaciated, dirty old man with a scraggly beard and hair would appear with chains on his hands and feet. 

The house fell empty because of resident being afraid of this ghost.  It was eventually sold to a philosopher named Athenodorus who purchased it despite it's history.  One evening, as he was up writing, he heard the sounds of chains growing closer and closer.  When they sounded as though they were in the room with him, he looked up and saw the spirit of the old man.  The ghost actually beckoned to Athenodorus, but he ignored the ghost and continued writing.  Then he heard the rattling chains above his head, so Athenodorus took his torch and followed the ghost to an open area.  The ghost disappeared.  The philosopher marked the area where he last saw the ghost and went to bed.

The next day, the area where the ghost disappeared was dug up and in the hole they found a skeleton with chains on its arms and legs.  The skeleton was given a proper burial and the ghost was never seen or heard from again.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

You Might Be...

a Paranormal Investigator if you clean out your spice cabinet and find a bottle of Holy Water.
And then the next logical thing is to put it in your purse.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Movie Review- The Conjuring

Theatrical Release Poster
The plot of the movie The Conjuring deals with events that took place in Rhode Island in the early 1970's in the home of Carolyn and Roger Perron. Mr. and Mrs. Perron along with their 5 daughters were terrorized to the point that Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amityville Horror fame) were called in. 

The beginning portion of the movie outlines those hauntings and the subsequent investigation by the Warrens.  This was the most believable and enjoyable part of the movie.  It was full of suspense, the typical shots where everything is quiet and you just know something will be popping out or showing up in a mirror without notice. I'd have to say the most chilling moment in the movie was a scene where Christine, one of the daughters, has her foot pulled by an unseen entity.  She wakes her sister Nancy who she shares the room with and tells Nancy she sees a man standing by the door.  Nancy goes to the door to investigate and sees nothing though Christine keeps saying there's a man there.  The door eventually slams shut. It's scenes like this that really freak a person out.  You've either experienced something similar or have heard stories.  Because the scene is so simple and you don't actually see the man, your imagination fills in the gaps.  Believe me, my imagination scares me more than anything Hollywood does to spell things out.  And therein lies my big complaint about this movie:  Hollywood. 

Apparently, demons sell movie tickets and bring in TV ratings because that seems to be what all the paranormal based shows and movies are about now.  It's old.  I've seen the levitating people, I've seen the people flying around a room, taking on demonic appearances, Holy Water being sprayed and crucifixes.  I've heard the Rite of Exorcism so many times on TV I think I can recite it myself without it in front of me.  It's like the boy who cried wolf.  Hearing how every haunting is demonic desensitizes you to it.  "Oh, that guy got possessed? Yeah, been there done that AND saw the reruns."  So while the first half of the movie entertained and kept me in suspense, the last bits made me laugh.  In fact, the 3 of us who went together who all investigate the paranormal, laughed.  And that's a shame, because the events that happened in the movie at the end could have possibly actually happened to that family and Hollywood cheapened it.

So to sum it up, the first half was great- lots of scares, suspense and a peek into old investigation techniques.  The last half- way too exaggerated leaning towards unbelievable.  So Hollywood, if you're listening and you're thinking of doing another Warren investigation turned movie, stick with the truth and don't over dramatize.  Trust me when I say the actual events are scary all on their own- scarier than anything you make up because they happened.

Overall, if you enjoy scarey movies, I'd recommend seeing this one in theaters.  As a paranormal investigator, I'd give it 7 out of 10 stars.  My daughter (who ended up sleeping in my room after seeing it) and her friend (who cried) would probably say as a regular Joe, it's more like 8 out of 10, maybe 9.  So go see it and let me know what you think.

Monday, July 8, 2013

P. Noel

Above the rocks of Devil's Den, there's a large boulder that bears the mark P. NOEL.
There is a story that Peggy Noel, who was decapitated in a carriage accident along Marsh Creek,
came here in ghost form and carved the name with her finger of fire.
I've also heard the more believable story that it was chiseled by a surveyor.
Either way, it's said that if you trace the name with your finger, 
bad luck will follow.
A few years ago,
I was with a Boy Scout Troop and told them the story of Peggy, 
her finger of fire and 
the doom that would come 
should they dare to trace the name.
Of course, several of them traced the name.
On the way back to the cars, 
one boy stepped in a ditch and had to be taken to the hospital
with what was thought to be a broken leg.
Immediately following, there were 5 boys sobbing in a van
certain they had brought about their friend's accident by tracing the name.

Do I think doom will befall you if you trace it?
Will I trace the name myself?
Why take the chance?

(The boy didn't break his leg, just did some ligament damage and it's been a great story to tell)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pennies From Heaven

It's said that when an angel misses you, they toss a penny down from Heaven for you to find.  I had heard of this in passing many years ago, but never really put much thought into it.  I don't believe in coincidences, and I do believe that spirits of our loved ones try to communicate with us in sometimes very mundane ways.  I've heard of experiences with songs that are heard more often than is typical, feathers found in odd areas or odd ways, butterflies interacting with people or showing up in unexpected locations and of course, pennies, and sometimes dimes, showing up in unexpected places.

When my grandmother passed, I lost not only a family member, but a very close friend.  Despite knowing she was on borrowed time, her death was still not easy to deal with- what death is?  Two years later, I still tear up at those times when I think about something I would have liked to share with her.

Some time after her death, I went into work as usual.  I unlocked my office door, turned on the lights and went over to my desk.  There I found three pennies sitting in front of my keyboard face up all in a row.  While odd, it didn't completely register how odd it was.  Luckily, something told me I should save the pennies someplace safe and out of the way.  A few days later, I was doing the dishes at home.  I finished loading the dishwasher and rinsed out the sink.  As I placed the dishcloth on the faucet, I noticed 3 pennies lined up in the sink.  This caught my attention because just moments before there were no pennies.  No one had come into the kitchen while I was there.  The pennies just showed up.  A week later, I was shopping at a plant nursery and as I walked to an area with a display of African Violets, there on the floor were three pennies face up in a perfect line.  It was at that moment that I realized the pennies I was finding were more than a small windfall.  They were signs from my grandmother.  She and I took many trips to plant nurseries where we always left with plants- almost always African Violets. The timing of the pennies was interesting too.  They began showing up at a particularly stressful time in my life.  It was as if she just wanted to let me know that she was there in spirit.

This past summer, I've also had some interesting encounters with birds.  I'm sure there are some people who would scoff or question how I could consider a bird a "sign" since birds are around all the time.  It's true, one of the bird species I had an encounter with- an Eastern Bluebird- is a common enough sight in the rural area where I live.  However, it's typical to see only one or two, usually a mated pair.  One day, while walking the dogs down to our barn, I had seven bluebirds fly over and line up on the split rail fence next to me.  I was only about 5 feet away and walking two very large Labrador retrievers and yet these 7 birds just sat there looking at me.  I laughed.  Any time 7 bluebirds of happiness line the fence as you walk past it means you're either a Disney Princess or it's some sort of sign.  My grandmother loved birds, it was an interest we both shared.  I had even purchased a bird identification book for one of the last Christmas gifts she received.  I knew it was a sign from her.  But my bird encounters didn't stop there.

My family owns property in Virginia and April of 2011 the house was hit by a tornado.  We were lucky that most of our damage was to our trees, though that loss cut deep.  Those trees were very old and had been there all my life.  The landscape had forever changed.  I was most concerned about one tree in particular and the birdhouse that was nailed to it.  My grandparents had made a birdhouse out of a coffee can years and years ago when they used to live there.  It was knocked down at some point, found in the brush, and after sitting around for a few years, I finally managed to fix it and put it back in the tree.  I couldn't recall any birds actually using it as a house, but it was something from my grandparents and I placed it there for nostalgic reasons.  When my parents called with the damage report, I asked about the coffeepot birdhouse, knowing it must be long gone.  Imagine my shock when not only had the coffeepot not moved off the tree, but that tree was one of the few we has left.  When I managed to travel down to the house, I went over to check out the birdhouse to make sure it was secure.  I noticed that for the first time a bird was nesting there- it was an Eastern Bluebird.

In addition to the Bluebirds, I also had a few sightings of an Indigo Bunting.  While familiar with what an Indigo Bunting looks like, I had never had the pleasure of seeing one in the wild.  And one morning at our backyard feeder, there one was.  My second sighting was again at our house in Virginia.  There amidst the trash and torn up trees that comes with the aftermath with a tornado, sat a couple of Indigo Buntings in the brush.

Along with an interest in birds, my grandmother and I also shared a love of gardening.  At her house she had a blue hydrangea bush that had already bloomed a few months earlier.  Walking around the side of the house, I was surprised to see that there was a large bloom on the plant.  Knowing, without a doubt, that this was another of her "signs", I snapped a photo. 

So, remember, those we love might be gone in the physical sense, but they are still very much a part of our lives.  Look for those odd, out of place occurrences that might signify something more profound. 

Save those pennies from Heaven.