Sunday, 19 November 2017

Poveglia Island.

Poveglia Island - it is a place you can’t visit, it isn’t open to tourists or the public, nobody local wants take you, in the rare event that people have been to the island, most have come away wishing they hadn’t tried except for some paranormal investigators.  It is considered one of the most haunted places on the planet, and its history explains why. 

Situated between Venice and the Lido area in northern Italy, Poveglia Island looks like an innocuous place, green, wooded, with a large building to one side and a generally tidy, peaceful place, but it has a past that makes one shudder.  It started out well enough, in the year 421, people from the surrounding Padua and Este fled to the island to escape barbaric invasions that were occurring in Italy, these people were the first inhabitants of Poveglia and by the 9th century the island became fully populated and stayed that way for many years, until Venice came under attack from the Genoan fleet in 1379 and the people were moved off the island leaving it abandoned. It remained uninhabited for centuries and it began to promote an ominous feeling in local people. It is said that in 1527 the Chief Magistrate of Venice and Genoa offered the island to the Camaldolese monks, but they turned down the offer, then in 1661 the descendants of the original inhabitants of Poveglia were given the chance to rebuild their village on the island, but they also flatly refused. 

This however, isn’t the only history of the Island; there is a much more disturbing series of events related to the plague or ‘black death’. Dating right back from Roman times Poveglia Island was used to contain thousands of plague victims, and then again during the times when the disease spread through Europe - it was considered an efficient way of keeping the infected people physically separated from the healthy.  At first it was just the dead bodies that were taken there for burning, but as the plague spread, living people infected with the disease were taken, dumped and left to die mixed in with the bodies of the dead.  

In the 1700s when the island was under the control of the public health office and became a useful checkpoint for ships, goods and people visiting Venice, until two ships arrived with the crew infected with the plague. At this point, the large, imposing buildings seen today were built and the island was again used to confine those with the plague. Those who have visited the island say that it is still possible to read the writing scratches onto the walls of the building by people who were confined there. Over 160,000 people have died on Poveglia Island during its history. 

The disturbing legacy of Poveglia Island doesn’t stop there; more horrific records exist from much nearer today. In 1922, the island and it’s buildings were used as a mental hospital, people give accounts that the doctor in charge supposedly tortured and killed many of his patients there, eventually becoming mad himself, legend has it that he either jumped or was thrown to his death from the bell tower, and according to that same legend, he survived the fall, but was 'strangled by a mist that came up from the ground'. 

There are plans that the Italian government may open up Poveglia Island to the public, but it will be interesting how many people will actually visit, and what the opinion of the local people will be. A place with as much evil history and recorded haunting will certainly attract many people, but how many will leave wishing they hadn’t gone in the first place? 

Monday, 13 November 2017

Thoughts on 'The Paranormal'

The world of the paranormal conjures many feelings in us, curiosity sometimes, even fascination but more often than not it is fear, and this is usually a fear of the unknown, mixed in with influences of the movies and horror stories. There are many positive, even happy experiences within the realm of things classed as paranormal, but they have to be hunted out from behind the easier to believe and more ‘interesting’ scary ones. 

As with many things in life, especially with a subject as diverse and personal as paranormal experience, we are often only told the bad, scary things, and due to the nature of paranormal happenings there is usually a factor to expand upon for effect such as things happening in the dark of night or in an old, cold building. Tales of ghosts and spirits were used as tools to keep people away from certain places or to deter children from being naughty, and these almost ingrained feelings are naturally passed down to each generation, the supernatural is something scary and unpredictable and must therefore be feared. 

Add to this the more recent influence of Hollywood, films such as the Amityville Horror or The Blair Witch Project, based on ‘true’ events but transformed into best-selling movies by artistic licence left scores of people hyper-sensitive to strange happenings or the slightest bump in the night. This kind of movie mania isn’t just restricted to films of this type of course, just recall the fear that Jaws struck into the hearts of those who saw it, and sadly as a consequence an irrational fear of sharks the world over, animals persecuted due to a horror story and a very effective theme tune. It is a natural reaction of self-preservation of course, to fear that which we are told to be afraid of, and feelings of fear should not be ignored, but there has to be some rationality too. 

Fear of most things can be overcome or at least eased by learning – knowledge really is power. Research and information is the best defense against feelings of fear getting out of control, the paranormal is a vast and varied area of experience, it cannot all be frightening, by looking up positive tales of protector spirits and friendly ghosts for example, one can realise that nothing is all bad, and that there is so much to be gained from thinking about the paranormal in a different way, even if a person doesn’t believe in it, but that does naturally raise the question, why be afraid of something you don’t believe in?  

For those who have had paranormal experiences, they may well be unsettling or confusing, but are they to be feared? Some undoubtedly will be yes, and fear is an instinct that is within us for a reason, but the paranormal as a whole need not be tarred with the same brush, people need to make up their own minds rather than being influenced by culture. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Knots have been used throughout history for symbolic, magical and practical applications beyond the simple fastening of objects; in fact Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian mentioned the use of knots as early as the year 400BC. We all know the old wives tale that tying a knot in one’s handkerchief when thinking of something should help us remember it, but what else have knots been used for? 

One of the longest used and more familiar uses for knots was their use by travellers, sailors and soldiers. It is said they would leave a number of simple knots in a cord or rope with their loved ones at home to signify when they would return from a journey, one knot would be loosened each day and when the last one was undone, the man would return. Dates, numbers and seasons have been tracked, marked and logged by using knots as time markers in a similar way for centuries, lunar cycles, equinoxes and solstices were noted and predicted by knot work by pagan astronomers and Inca astrologers for example. 

In the world of magic, knots have great importance as a tool and symbol. Tying a knotted rope around a sick person, patch of land or at a certain time of year to attract weather would bind an illness, emotion such as grief or trap an element, when the spell was cast or the time had passed, releasing the knot would free whatever it was the people of the time were trying to trap. Love knots are another well-known example of a magical use, to bind two people together a willow branch would be tied in a knot on a waxing moon then was hidden until the desired relationship had blossomed, the branch would then be returned to the land with thanks. 

In medicinal folklore, knots are mentioned too, Pliny the Elder the great Roman herbalist and naturalist recommended knot magic to heal difficult ailments; knots would be tied onto a cord or string of certain types during rituals with an incantation uttered as each was done to increase the potency of the cure. In Celtic and eastern artwork, the graphical representation of knots such as the triquetra, drawn with incredible accuracy represent the importance of the symbolism, no beginning, no end, eternal pathways of energy. 

Aside from their practical uses and the boyhood challenges of tying complicated ones, knots have a much wider significance, whether in art, folklore or the working world, they are interesting creations with a lot of history. 

Friday, 3 November 2017

Ghostly Pekingese.

Should you be near Land's End in Cornwall at anytime in the evenings or at night, be warned not to pet a small Pekingese dog. It is said that the body of a Chinese Princess is buried in the beach/cove area (although we are having trouble finding any detailed information) and that her grave is guarded by her little dog. Should anyone try to disturb her resting place, the phantom dog will bite them...death will come for the perpetrator before long!

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Lost Souls of Aokigahara Forest.

There are few places in the world that conjure up feelings of sorrow, pity, fear, and ultimately fascination as Aokigahara Forest in Japan. Also called the ‘Sea of Trees’, this dense woodland at the base of Mount Fuji has the unfortunate fame of being one of the most well-known places to commit suicide in the world. It is known to be haunted by the ghosts of the hundreds who have died there. 

Aokigahara Forest is the most popular place to commit suicide in the whole of Japan; in fact it is only second to the Golden Gate Bridge in the world. Since records began being taken in the 1950’s, over 500 people have taken their own lives amongst its trees, most by hanging, some by overdoses or other methods. The gruesome trend supposedly began after the publication of Seicho Matsumoto’s novel Kuroi Kaiju (Black Sea of Trees) where two of his characters commit suicide at Aokigahara, however the history of suicide predates this and the forest has had an association with death for a long time. 

Due to the high numbers of incidents, the unenviable task of an annual body search began in 1970, consisting of a small collection of police, volunteers, and a few journalists. These groups follow official and unofficial forest trails as well as going off the beaten track to recover bodies and mark the places with tape – this tape is never removed. They have found over 100 corpses per year in recent times, but who knows how many they never find? The first kilometer in is where most of the bodies are found, and some people are saved from their attempt, but those who are determined tend to walk a long way into the woods. 

These lost souls are said to haunt the forest, which is in itself a very eerie place. The densely packed trees mean that there are parts that are in continual darkness, the light blocked out by the foliage. Due to the closely growing trees there is hardly any wind and an odd absence of wildlife gives the forest a silent, foreboding atmosphere. The ghosts of people who took their own lives are likely to be troubled, unable to rest, and there have been many reports of spooky encounters.  

Due in part to its reputation, the Aokigahara Forest is a popular tourist destination as is Mount Fuji itself. People have talked of the feeling of being watched, followed and taunted by unseen entities as well as hearing sounds which can’t be explained. 

The trend of suicides at Aokigahara doesn’t seem likely to diminish any time soon. The Japanese government has tried to dissuade people by employing officials to position signs, in both Japanese and English, urging those who have gone to the woods in order to commit suicide to seek help, think of their families and not kill themselves. Whether it is due to folklore, the draw of a novel or the fame that precedes it, the lost souls of Aokigahara Forest will most likely continue to grow in number for the foreseeable future. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Tarr Steps, Exmoor.


The Tarr Steps is a 50 metre long clapper bridge situated on the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park. It is the largest example of its type and is a well known landmark and tourist attraction. The bridge is designated as a grade 1 listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument by English Heritage. 

The exact age of the Tarr Steps is unknown, many theories say the bridge dates from the Bronze Age whilst others claim is was built from 1400 AD onward, however most clapper bridges were erected in medieval times. The word ‘clapper’ comes from the medieval Latin word ‘claperius’ meaning pile of stones which is descriptive of this style of bridge, they are constructed from large slabs of rock, commonly granite or schist which weigh between one and two tonnes each, these are supported by stone piers if the bridge is placed across a river, or the slabs rest on the banks of smaller streams. Clapper bridges are mostly found on the moors of Devon and other upland areas of the UK. 

There are several local legends associated with the Tarr Steps, it is said that the devil placed the bridge across the River Barle and would kill any person who tried to cross over, he was eventually confronted by a brave local parson who challenged the devil, he finally conceded and agreed to let people cross the bridge, except when he was sunbathing upon it. It is said he still has the right to sunbathe on the bridge to this day. 

Another legend states that the Tarr Steps will only be damaged in years ending in the number two, and this seems to be eerily true. It was partially ruined by flooding in 1952, and again in 1982, however the worst harm in living memory happened in December of 2012. Cables had been installed upstream of the bridge to protect it from raging flood water, but these were themselves broken by fallen trees. Following weeks of heavy rain, the River Barle had swollen dramatically and the fast flowing waters, filled with debris washed around a third of the bridge away. Some of the slabs travelled a long way downstream, luckily however all the stones had been numbered following previous floods so they can be retrieved and put back into place to keep the bridge in situ. 

The bridge was again damaged during Storm Angus in 2016 however, several thousand pounds had been spent on repairs prior to the storm, with winter coming, and more storms on the way lets hope the bridge stays put for the foreseeable future.


We're back!

After a long break away and a very busy summer, the Dark Legends and Moonlit Myths site is back up and running, we have included our twitter feed and have updated some details generally, so welcome again, and keep an eye open for articles, tweets, news and more!