So, yeah, I vanished without a trace…..or at least not much of one!
But, like some of the dead, I am back!
And in time for ghosts and witches and vampires and other scary characters!!
Are you ready for some frights of truth?!?!?
We are going to explore some of the real stories and legends that have given rise to some of the scariest thrills shared year after year, sure to keep you sleeping with the lights on and double checking all your doors and windows at night!
From dark forests and remote villages across Europe and into America, we are set to find out the truth about tales that haunt our nightmares and delight our desire to scare each other.
Are there more to some ghost stories than just our eyes playing tricks on us? And what made witches so scary in our past? Do the dead really come back to ‘life’?
In addition to telling the tales with expected monsters of legend and lore, we are going to also share with you some scarier characters from the pages of history, that will make you question whom the real monsters are!
Gather your courage and pack up your wit as we set out to find the facts that scare us the most! Be scared of the shadows of the night, but be even more afraid of the ones in the day!
We have grown up with tales told at bedtime that include all sorts of wonderful and scary creatures, some are warm and furry, others are ugly and mean, and still others defy imagination. Some of them are tricksters, others are mischievous, some are helpful and others are not very nice at all. We did meet some of the scary creatures of the night last month; so maybe it is nice to meet some creatures that are not so scary that we should be wary.
One of the interesting things that you find when you start looking at our wonderful ancient knowledge, left to us from the rich cultures of times past, are all the over-laps and similarities. Not only are the story-lines similar, but, also the qualities of the characters involved seem to resemble one another. Several of the creatures included in the ancient stories are very similar to us in appearance. Some of the creatures that resemble us include giants, elves, fairies, leprechauns and gnomes, just to name some.
For now, let’s take a look at those creatures found in lore and myth that are known, more commonly today, as Gnomes.
Most of us have seen these whimsical creatures in the gardens and yards of many a green-thumb. But have you ever wondered why? According to modern folk-lorists, the gnome is a fairly recent fantasy creature. The credit for the first use of the term gnome goes to the Swiss Alchemist Paracelsus. Paracelsus uses the word in his discussion of Elementals; describing gnomes as earth spirits, whom lived underground and could walk through solid soil as easily as we walk through air. He describes them as two spans high and shy of humans. Some thought that Paracelsus used the word gnomes from the New Latin genomos meaning earth-dweller or others that he was referencing the Greek gnosis which means knowledge, considering the qualities attributed to gnomes it seems that he might have used both words knowingly.
In hunting for these shy small creatures in the scenes of our lores and myths we come across many beings that are too similar in their appearance and features to truly be different entities. There are Germanic dwarfs, as well as, Greek chthonics. There are also Chalybes, Telchines and Dactyls whom possess characteristics in common with our gnomes. There is the belief that gnomes and dwarfs have the same origins and that goblins are an off-shoot of gnomes and dwarfs.
So what do our gnomes look like if we search the world over…..just like us. Just as people dress or have some different features from location to location so do our gnomes, but look beneath that and common features are what you find. First the creatures are always small, they are mostly males and appear old with beards. They dwell in the earth. While they are rarely seen, in most cases they are benevolent to man. It is believed that they protect treasure, either mines or things buried deep in the earth, or the treasure of good crops and healthy livestock. They are considered to have supernatural strength and speed. While they seem to be spread far and wide, they do not possess global features; though the most common include, red hats and simple clothing, possessing human intelligence and personalities, and the Sun’s rays turning them to stone. Other sources say that they spend the day as toads, instead of turning to stone. While older sources give descriptions that are uglier and more akin to today’s view of goblins. They are also, many cases that considered them to be creatures of the night, thus any or all help they provided was preformed at night. So let us travel the legends of the world and see what surprises we find!
The strongest beliefs in our gnomes seem to be broadest and longest lasting in Northern Europe, from the Alps to the North Pole and from Prussia to Iceland. While the name varies from the kaukis of Prussia and nisse of Denmark and Norway to the tomte of Scandinavia and the vættir of Iceland, the gnome has been part of life and lore for all memory. So honored are then in Iceland that roads are routed around areas that are believed to be the dwelling places of vættir. The Scandinavian gnomes, seem to be more centered around farms, hence their name of tomte from tomt or farm. The tomte are believed to be the first dweller of the farm and it is believed that the tomte has their dwelling place located within the burial mound of the farm. The name tomte is credited to St. Birgitta of the 14th Century, which is tonttu in Finish. It is believed that they lived for 400 years and that the females only gave birth once and usually to twins. The Danish nisse is clean shaven wearing grey and red woolen clothes, about 1840 he became the ‘Julenisse‘ bearing Christmas gifts. The new tradition spread across the north and in 1881 Swedish painter Jenny Nystrom gave the image for the ‘Jultomte‘. The Finish ‘Joulupukki‘ identified the Joul-tonttu with his goat companion, although other sources include a horse or cat and sled. This new job for the Scandinavian gnome compliments the older practice of leaving out a gift such as a bowl of porridge on Christmas night to thank the tomte, else he leave the farm or cause mischief.
In the Netherlands our gnome is known as kabouter. And supposedly they taught a shoemaker how to make wooden shoes and could be household spirits instead of just underground dwellers. Yet, in Germany, it is believed that the mythological German dwarfs gave rise to gnomes with the incursion of Nordic culture. Rubezal, the lord of the underworld, was sometimes said to be a mountain gnome. Therefore, it is not surprising that it was German ingenuity that gave rise to the modern popularity of the garden gnome statues, by Phillip Griebel from Grafenroda in Thuringa. Continuing south to the Alps between France and Switzerland the gnome has retreated to remote caves high above the tree-line. These, barbegazi, ancient French from ‘barbe‘ and ‘glacee‘ meaning frozenbeard, are dormant in the summer and come out to enjoy the snow in the winter. Due to their winter activities, the barbegazi are said to be covered with long white hair and have huge feet that are perfect for the snow, acting as snowshoes or skis. The gnomes, just like their northern cousins are very human shy, yet benevolent as they have been known to warn people of avalanches or to round up lost sheep and return them to their shepherds. Their warning is said to be a whistle that could be mistaken for the wind; this would support other stories that claim that gnomes have magical songs as well as having invisibility and shape-shifting abilities.
Not all the gnomes in the stories are nice, the Spanish Duende (Duwende, in the Philippines), which appears in stories from Spain and Portugal to Central and South America seems to be more goblin than their Northern European counterpart. The prime commonality is in its name, which originates from dueno meaning the real owner of the house. Duende are short, ranging from 1’3″ to 4’6″ in height, ugly, hairy with long teeth and arms wearing big hats and animal skins or red and green clothes. One of their unique features is that their feet are reversed with pointed heels. The behavior of the duende appears similar to the British hob or boggle. Living primarily in houses and causing mischief or harm to people.
If you would like to learn more about the gnome or other mythical creatures please check out the links below.
As we have seen, there are many creatures that are neither living nor dead. The number of such creatures lends to many beliefs. First, that their are many creatures that defy our understanding. Second that there is something after or more than this life. Third, that the natural and supernatural overlap each other. So let us continue our venture into the land of the night and the realm of the undead…..
We will travel to the Caribbean and the Island of Hispaniola, the country of Haiti, the land of Voodoo.
Across the beautiful tropical isles of the Caribbean is a complex and intriguing mix of Christianity and the ancient religions of Africa. Voodoo is one of the major old practices of the region. Zombi, a possible origin of the word Zombie, is actually a West African deity. Another version of the origin is the use of the Kongo or Dahomey word nzambi or soul. Once mixed with Haitian Voodoo the word became zombi.
According to Voodoo, the body can die one of two ways. The first is a natural death which is just as it sounds, from illness or very old age, the second is unnaturally, murder or tragically, before their time. When that happens, the soul is stuck waiting by the grave for the gods to allow them to move on.
During this time the soul and the body are vulnerable. It is when this happens that a boko(r) or powerful sorcerer can literally bottle up the person’s soul and thus control both parts of the victim, body and or soul. Most Voodoo practicers do not fear zombies, they fear becoming one!
Can one really become a zombie? According to researcher, Wade Davis, the answer is YES!
Davis has written 2 books The Serpent and The Rainbow and Passage of Darkness. In his research Davis claims that he found a powder/drug that can create a zombie. This powder or drug is a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. Which could create a death like state in a victim, whom could later be ‘stolen’ from their grave and revived. Thus, creating the legend of the zombie, by creating an actual Zombie.
So beware of Boko(r)’s offering gifts of food or drink this Hallow’s Eve!!!!!
It seems that the night is full of things that we do not see in the light. And it is those things, that it seems, we have been taught to fear, through the ages. All those bumps and thumps, all those shadows and whispers, even the creaks and moans of the night send shivers down our spines. Why is it that we fear the creatures of the night?
Even older than the tells of vampires and ghouls are the legends of were-creatures or shape-shifters. Creatures that by choice, design or fated curse have the power and or ability to change the form of their appearance. For those that were always shape-shifters the power to change their outward appearance is something they do at will. It seems that they usually take the form of an animal, bird or even sea creature, as suits their needs, at the moment. Those shape-shifters that seem to be merciful and or helpful seem to not take forms that would scare us. Yet, it has been known that others are not so kind.
There are creatures that have been cursed, usually by an encounter with a were-creature, that sentences them to a life of torture and solitude. According to some of the lore, one becomes a were-creature by being bitten or scratched by a were-creature. This of course raises the question of where the first were-creature came from, if you must be bitten or scratched by one to become one.
The most famous were-creature is the werewolf or lycanthrope. There are many legends from the Fox tribe of the Americas to the Epic of Gilgamesh that contain references to wolf-man or man-wolf creatures. In addition, Ovid and the Icelandic Sagas contain the werewolf within their lines. In some stories, such as the Fox tribe lore, the ability of man to become wolf was a gift; however, in other lore, such as with Ovid, it was punishment from the gods for bad behavior.
There are many accounts of persons be tried for being a werewolf. Some of these cases we can now more intelligently reassess as serial killers, which steals Jack the Ripper’s fame as the first. And some of these cases were simply the over zealous furor of the witch hunters!
We may never know the true origin of the story, but it seems that if it were merely a tale that it would have lost its appeal by now. So what is the truth that keeps this legend alive? For, I believe there must be some truth, more than just the lure of a good tale, by the fire, in the dead of night, that keeps us looking up at a full moon and peering into the darkness, searching the shadows, for those things that go bump, in the night…..
I would like to add that there some other undead beings or creatures that roam around:
Wights. Wights are not unlike skeleton warriors; but they are fallen lords, dukes and such nobles, who have been placed in a barrow and which their battle gear and wealth was stored with them. These barrows are protected by powerful enchantments. These nobles are more powerful than skeletons and are normally found leading groups of skeletons or zombies.
Azeman. The Azeman originate from South America. They take the form of a human female during the day but at night they transform into a bat. The Azeman fed by draining the blood of their victims. Azeman are obsessed with counting, and if seeds are scattered on the floor she will stop to count them all. It is thought that some of the modern vampire lore comes from the Azeman, which are South American versions of the European vampires.
Banshee. Banshees are restless spirits of evil witches and females. Their spirits live on in the material world, because they fear to cross into the void where they will face punishment for their deeds. The Banshee’s appearance is varied, they are usually seen as a skull with hair and a flowing dress; they float above the surface of the ground. As banshees are ethereal creatures like ghosts they have the power to move through walls. Banshees are well known for their howls of despair, this howl of the banshee is meant to bring death to those who hear it.
One of the most prolific scares of the dark is that of encountering the undead! The most famous of the undead is the vampire, but, they are not the only undead that lurk in our shadows and imagination. Several happenings caused the vampire to become widespread in history; not the least of which was the fact that people were accidentally burying the living. The methods for pronouncing a person dead were not accurate or reliable….matter of fact, so common was the misdiagnosis, especially, during cholera outbreaks, that a string was tied around the finger or foot of a newly buried corpse and attached to a bell above ground, so that if the person awoke and panicked they could be heard and hopefully dug up in time, giving birth to the phrases “Saved By The Bell” and “Graveyard Shift”.
Of the other undead roaming in the dark are ghouls and zombies, which seem not to mind the sun, unlike other undead. Ghouls are some of the scariest of the undead, maybe cause they are not as well known as their more famous counterparts. They are also reminiscent of vultures. The ghoul is an ugly creature, who’s appearance represents his true nature. They have long dirty, claw like nails. Their bodies more resemble those of a dog than a human. Most accounts have them with distorted gaits, attributed to all the time they spend in tunnels and other low ceiling dwellings of the dead. However, in a gory way, the ghoul has a specific and sometimes much needed niche in the cycle of death. The ghoul scavenges the dead, he feeds on the flesh of the departed. Want to know more? Mr. Robert Lamb has written a very informative article on Ghoulology 101 that I certainly cannot improve upon and is very worth the read if one finds one’s self in need of ghoul knowledge.
The next of the undead are the zombies. These poor hapless creatures are humans that either through virus or contact or curse were transformed into mindless masses that seek out healthy living humans and attack them. Thus, zombies play on the taboo of cannibalism. Ironically, many ancient cultures believed in the consumption of your enemy. Consuming his blood and or heart as a means to take his strength into your own body. The blood was considered sacred as the source of life or one’s life force. And long before the compilation of Grey’s Anatomy the heart was considered the house of the soul. Even today those things of emotions and more are attributed to the heart, even though medicine tells us it is merely a muscle.
The rock star of the undead world is the lord of the night, the beguiler of innocents, the predator extraordinaire….commonly known as Vampire! (Although I am pretty fond of Frankenstein)
While modern day lore seems to give most credit of the myth of the vampire to Bram Stroker, there have been legends and myths and tells of demons or predators or creatures that are more powerful, faster, and more cunning than regular men. Creatures that seem to never age and appear to be immortal, whom survive by feasting on the blood of living creatures, namely man. But where did these legends originate? And what makes a creature a vampire?
In today’s mythology of Hollywood, the vampire is etherally attractive and charming, is wealthy and powerful, heals extremely quickly and is very hard to kill. Some consider the vampire an undead while others consider them demons. As one strolls through the stories of the ancient past one can see where vampires have always existed. From Shezmu of Egypt, to demons of Greece and Rome, right into the nightmares of Victorian times.
It is that time of year again! The air is crisp and the leaves are turning colors. The harvest is ready and the feasts are being prepared!
Do you have your pumpkins ready for carving? Are your treats handy to prevent the tricks? Are your offerings for the spirits and your ancestors your best?
I hope so!
Have you ever truly wondered why we do the things that we do during this time of year? Our rituals, practices, and stories and where they all come from?
I do. So, I thought being the season, that we might look at how our ancients saw this time of year and how that still lingers in our current society and rituals.
Why do we tell ghost stories?
What did the ancients think of ghosts?
What did ancients do with their dead?
Why they did the things they did?
What did ancients think about death?
What about what happens after death?
As for this time of year…. What did our ancestors think about the cycle of the seasons? What did the ancients think of the coming darkness and cold? What did they think about the coming winter? What did having long periods of darkness through fall and winter mean to them? How did shorter days impact their daily lives during autumn and winter?
When thinking about the ‘holidays’ of this time of year what was the purpose? Why did the ancients celebrate the harvest? Why did our ancestors honor and celebrate their ancestors? Were they guided from loyalty and love or was it fear that moved them?
Speaking of fear…..Who told the first ghost story? When and why was it told? How long have we believed in ghosts? When and where did we create demons? Who was the first ghost? Who was the first demon? Why do we seem to like being scared? Why do we believe in ghouls and goblins and other spectres? Have we always been afraid of the dark?
Do you know…..Why we ‘Trick-or-Treat’? What is a Jack-O-Lantern? What happens on All Hallow’s Eve? Why are bonfires so popular this time of year? What about bobbing for apples? Why do we wear costumes and take to the streets for treats and parties? Is the Boogie Man more active this time of year?
I think it will be fun, if maybe a little scary, to study the spooks and haunts and bumps in the night over the next few weeks so that we might be better in the spirit of the season…….least the spirits be not pleased with us!!!