Thursday, 1 March 2018

"When snow falls dry, it means to lie".

As I write, storm Emma is making her presence known! Outside the wind is gusting and the snow is swirling around...and it is COLD.  This made me think about the folklore relating to snow, and this one seemed more than relevant.

'When snow falls dry, it means to lie'...and that is exactly what we have here, tiny, hard pellets of snow mixed in with softer ones, the slightest breeze is making it start to drift and it stings your face if you venture out into it. Dry snow at this time of year is said to predict a dry summer, whereas softer snow tells of a wet spring and summer. It is also said that if a snow storm starts with small, dry, hard flakes it is more likely to last a long time and stick, whereas wetter, softer flakes at the beginning of a storm results in a shorter fall.

Well, by the looks of it, we are in for a doozy, it certainly makes me doubt the well-known saying 'its too cold to snow'. Kettle on again I think, stay warm out there folks.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Elf holes and fairy doors.

I think of myself as very lucky, in the way that when I was a child, my parents and I walked a lot. On these walks my Dad would sometimes tell me tales, superstitions and stories of the countryside, being from a farming family superstitions were rife with his elders...everything (or so it seems) could bring bad luck! Never bring snowdrops into the house, red and white flowers mixed in a vase would mean a death in the family, never bet on a horse with one white foot, they go on and on.

However, on a lighter note, elves and fairies were not always a bad thing. Holes and cracks in cliffs and rock formations were elf entrances to their homes, and similar crevices in trees were where fairies lived. We would often leave a little present (a sweet, a penny, a flower) by the hole as a good will gesture for passing through their area - to a small child this was fantastic. 

In my adult life I have found many similar things, fairy doors are now made by craft people to put in one's garden for example. Research I did for an article about the Domovik house spirits seemed very familiar and I could see in my mind's eye farm houses from my childhood being home to such helpers.

Are children still told these tales? I do hope so. Sadly in the age of political correctness I wonder sometimes if these age-old stories will be allowed soon! The resurgence in storytelling and folklore should hopefully keep these encounters alive...fingers crossed.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Doomed to Sail Forever - The Flying Dutchman.

The mysterious ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, recently brought back to fame by the Pirates of the Caribbean films is actually a long-standing nautical legend dating from around the 17th century. The name ‘Flying Dutchman’ refers to the ship’s infamous captain Hendrik van der Decken, but it has become known as the name of the vessel over time, it is a phantom ship doomed to sail the seas forever as punishment for the evil behaviour of the captain and crew. 

The Flying Dutchman has been sighted many times over the last few hundred years, usually from afar or on the horizon around the Cape of Good Hope and sometimes described as having a ghostly light around it. The ship often appears during storms and is considered an omen or portent of doom to anyone who sees it especially if they are also on board a ship. Mariners used to nail horseshoes to the masts of their vessels in an attempt to ward off the Dutchman and any bad luck associated with it. Most versions of the story behind the doomed ship tell of a horrible crime that took place on board or sometimes of a disease that infected the crew, due to the crime or illness the ship was not allowed to sail into port anywhere and was therefore condemned to sail forever. 

In one Dutch version of the tale, the ship’s captain, here known as ‘van Straaten’, was an arrogant man who claimed he could sail around the Cape of Good Hope, he said he would not retreat even if faced with a terrible storm, the ship was lost during the voyage however and the dead crew still sail the seas today. A German version of the legend says the captain, this time called van Flakenberg, engaged in a game with the devil, he subsequently lost and was condemned to a living death aboard his ship, never allowed to set foot on land again. 

The Flying Dutchman is said to have been seen as recently as 1923 at the Cape of Good Hope – the ship’s legendary home which is known for its treacherous sailing conditions, the ship was seen from land just on the horizon although many say it was simply a trick of the light. The last recorded sighting of the ship was in 1942 off the coast of Cape Town; four people saw the Dutchman sail into Table Bay... and simply vanish. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Buckhurst Hill Shuck, Essex.

One of the most recent sightings of this spectral black dog was in 1989. A small group of teenagers were walking through a local graveyard one night when a large hound appeared and scared them, shortly after this, the beast leaped the churchyard wall and 'landed' on the bonnet of a passing car, much to the driver's shock.

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.