Mythical Monday: The Moss People by Mae Clair

I feel like I’ve taken a leave of absence, and I guess I have. I was on vacation all last week, enjoying an end of summer fling at the shore. Now I’m officially ready to embrace fall, just in time for another Mythical Monday.

Dense forest with moss-covered treesWith the trees starting to turn color, I thought I’d creep into the forest where they grow in abundance, and spend some time with the Moss People or Wood Folk.

Germanic in origin, Moss People are a type of fairy, often compared to dwarves or elves. They have a strong affinity to trees and the forest. In many tales they are pursued by Odin during the Wild Hunt, and seek shelter by entering trees that have been scored with a cross—a sign a woodsman has marked the tree to be cut down. Some tales describe Wood Folk as gnarled and gray, covered with moss, in others they are said to be comely, endowed with wings like a butterfly.

An unassuming and shy people, they occasionally borrow items from humans, but compensate for any loan generously. Above all, they prize a gift of maternal breast milk from a human woman, something they covet for their own children as a remedy for all ills. Timid by nature, it is hard for them to beseech such a boon, perhaps the reason they choose to reward such generosity in abundance.

Legends of the Moss People are most popular in the forests of Bavaria in southern Germany, and parts of Scandinavia. In closing, this description of a Moss Woman is taken from “The Moss Woman and the Widow,” a tale of southern Germany, shared in The Fairy Family, a series of ballads related to fairy mythology:

“A Moss Woman!” the haymakers cry,
And over the fields in terror they fly.
She is loosely clad from neck to foot,
In a mantle of moss from the maple’s root.
And like lichen grey on its stem that grows,
Is the hair that over her mantle flows.

Her skin like the maple-rind is hard,
Brown and ridgy and furrowed and scarred;
And each feature flat, like the mark we see,
Where a bough has been lopped from the bole of a tree.

As unassuming as she seems, doesn’t it make you wonder why the haymakers flee?

Mythical Monday: The Brier Hill Monster

The autumn of 1926 was by all accounts a regular Pennsylvania autumn in Erie County. The trees were dressed in vibrant shades of orange, cinnamon and gold, with the nip of the coming winter biting at the air. Neighboring farms stretching between Brier Hill and Masontown looked postcard perfect—pastures slowly browning with the tint of fall, and curls of woodsmoke rising from the chimneys of picturesque homesteads.Farm field in autumn beneath a stormy skyThis placid atmosphere was shattered when a farmer found his chicken coop had been broken into. The carnage was gruesome, many of the chickens partially devoured. It seemed unlikely a dog or fox had been the culprit, and the farmer suspected a large predator. Still, others shrugged it off. Chickens were often the prey of wild animals, especially if the coop wasn’t adequately secured. Perhaps the farmer had been negligent in protecting his stock. And if not . . . well, wasn’t that the price of farming?

But within days, other chicken coops were attacked and several pigsties were breached as well. The unknown predator made short work of half-grown hogs, literally ripping them apart. More and more, it seemed some unusual animal was at fault. As the carcass count continued to grow, the creature was dubbed “The Murderous Monster of Brier Hill.” Parents feared letting their children outside. Any creature large enough to kill a hog could do the same to a child, possibly even an adult.

Fear rose to a feverish pitch when a farmer reported losing a cow and a horse to the beast. Both were found disemboweled, their carcasses ripped apart. Though they appeared to have struggled fiercely, even these large animals could not fend off their attacker.

Men quickly banded together in armed possess in an attempt to track the monster. For several weeks the carnage continued, and although blood trails were discovered leading to Brier Hill on two occasions, no evidence of the beast was ever found. After a while, the killings stopped. People latched onto the hope that the creature had tired of the area and moved on. Life eventually returned to normal for the farmers and the residents of neighboring towns, but the memory of that bloody autumn remained.

To this day, no one is certain of the true identity of the Murderous Monster of Brier Hill. Some insist a gorilla escaped from a circus in Brownsville around the same time, but there is no evidence to support an escape. Gorillas are also herbivores and would have no reason to slaughter and partially devour so many animals.

I came across this story in the book MONSTERS OF PENNSYLVANIA by Patty A. Wilson. Have you looked to see if there is a “Monster” book from your own state? It’s amazing the folklore tucked away in murky campfire histories. I wonder if the Monster of Brier Hill could have been a rogue black bear. Though you’d think farmers would certainly have recognized bear tracks. Still . . . it makes for interesting reading and speculating.

What do you think?

Mythical Monday: Tommyknockers by Mae Clair

Ancient mining tools and basket full of rocks inside a tunnel in a mineStephen King made the name famous in his 1987 science-fiction novel. But people of the Old World, and those who worked in coal regions, knew about Tommyknockers long before then. Some believe them to be the spirits of departed miners, others insist they are sprite-like creatures who cast an eerie blue glow as they move through darkened mine shafts.

Whatever their nature, Tommyknockers dwell in the shadowy recesses below ground. Like many supernatural beings they can be helpful—digging industriously and assisting miners in locating ore—or harmful if not treated well. As a result, workers frequently left pans of water and food, occasionally even coins as gifts to these gnomish mine-dwellers. In the event of an impending cave-in, Tommyknockers alerted the miners by a repeated sharp rapping sound. They were even known to lead rescuers to injured workers or guide men clear of dark shafts seconds before collapse.

It is believed the Tommyknocker legend grew from the tales of Welsh immigrants who arrived to work the coal mines of Western Pennsylvania. After the California gold rush of 1848, the legend spread west.

Often simply called Knockers in Welsh and Cornish folklore, Tommyknockers were the equivalent of the Irish leprechaun or Scottish Brownie. Mischievous as well as helpful, they had a fondness for unattended tools. Thus most misplaced items or petty thefts were blamed on the creatures. Welsh mine workers believed so strongly in these fey spirits, they would not work in a mine until assured by the owners that Tommyknockers were already in residence.

As late as the mid-twentieth century, mine workers clung to the superstition. When a large mine was sealed in 1956, workers petitioned the owners to reopen it in order that the Tommyknockers could be set free and find a new mine. The owners complied.

Today, though many scoff at the idea there are Tommyknockers, others who live in the vicinity of mines insist they still see blue lights weaving among the dark passages, and hear the sound of industrious workers digging away.

Or perhaps steadily knocking . . .

Mythical Monday: The Phantom White Wolf of French Creek

When I think of folklore, there are several creatures particularly suited for the mystical and eerie trappings of legends. Owls, cats, crows, and wolves immediately spring to mind. For today’s Mythical Monday, I stumbled over a a fireside tale about a town in West Virginia that was plagued by a mysterious white wolf.

In the mid-1800s an albino wolf began attacking and slaughtering livestock in and around French Creek. The residents hadn’t seen a wolf in years, leading many to believe the creature must be supernatural—especially given its ghost-white appearance. Fear blossomed and spread quickly, fueled by growing rumors.

a white wolfOne local farmer who lost several sheep to the wolf,  claimed he’d shot the beast three times, but the bullets had no effect. (Hmm…perhaps he should have used silver). Later the same month, the wolf was shot at close range, but again bounded away without being harmed. In the meantime, farm animals and pets continued to fall prey to the animal’s nighttime raids.

One of the farmers who lost a cow was a man named Bill Williams. In earlier years, when wolves dominated the countryside, Bill had been renowned for his prowess as a hunter. He’d killed hundreds of wolves, the bounties he’d collected allowing him to retire a wealthy man. Eventually turning from the practice, he took up farming, vowing never to hunt the majestic creatures again.

But the slaughter of his cow drew him from retirement. The townspeople and other farmers were relieved when he said he’d find and kill the albino wolf, putting an end to its reign of terror. Loading his rifle, he headed for an area the wolf was known to haunt. He took a small lamb with him and tied the helpless animal to a stake. Then he sat back and waited for the wolf to arrive, certain he would have an easy kill.

But fate was not kind to Bill.

When he failed to return the next day, several townspeople hiked to the area they knew he’d staked out. They found Bill with his throat mangled, his head nearly ripped from his body. In direct counterpoint to the grisly scene, the lamb was unharmed, still tied to the stake. Even stranger, there were no signs of blood or paw prints anywhere in the vicinity.

People believed the white wolf had exacted vengeance on Bill for breaking his vow to never hunt its kind. Others said the creature was a demon, for surely only a demon could do something so heinous and leave no trace of its passing. But why spare something as innocent as the lamb if that was the case?

A wolf in silhouette howling at the moonIt is unclear whether the white wolf continued to haunt the people of French Creek after Bill’s death, but tales of white wolves still circulate in remote areas of West Virginia.

According to legend, the ghost-like creatures slip from the darkness on nights illuminated by a full moon. They are impossible to catch or kill, and will simply vanish if cornered . . . only to return again when the full moon rises.

It makes you think twice about walking through the woods alone!

Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Hoodoo Train, Engine 1313 by Mae Clair

Before launching into today’s Mythical Monday post, I invite you to visit me at the blog of Kristi Rose where I’m sharing ECLIPSE LAKE and also news of my next two releases. Do hop over if you get a chance. You can find the post here. As for Mythical Monday, today’s topic isn’t about a beastie or mystical place, but a cursed train tucked into Pennsylvania history. As a “Keystoner” I’m always intrigued by legends related to my home state. Thus, I invite you to ride on the hoodoo . . .

Most people are a little freaky about the number thirteen. Even if you’re not superstitious, most are conscious of the ill omens associated with a number tied to bad luck. Given that connection, it’s surprising the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had no qualms about rolling out Engine 1313 in 1888.

Many muttered no good would come of it, but the railroad wasn’t interested in superstition or idle gossip tied to ancient folklore. The engine went on the line with high aspirations, all quickly squelched when the train struck and killed two children during its maiden voyage. The engine was examined, found to be in perfect working order, and placed back on the track. It failed again when the train plunged off a railroad bridge killing twelve people including the train’s fireman and engineer. A month later, it collided with another train, resulting in the derailment of several cars and injuries to numerous passengers.

steam train with smoke exiting funnel rising up hill ** Note: Slight blurriness, best at smaller sizesPuzzled, inspectors thoroughly examined the engine but could find nothing wrong. Surely, the catastrophes couldn’t be tied to the assignment of an ill-fated number.

The train was placed back on the track, only to have its boiler blow as it laboriously chugged up a mountain. The train’s fireman was blown out of the car and badly injured. Once again the train was examined and once again, the engine passed inspection. Despite growing grumblings from railroad workers who whispered of bad tidings and ill omens, the train was returned to the line. For several months all went well, and the hoodoo taint of 1313 seemed a thing of the past. Then, when arriving at Manor Station, its brakes failed, causing it to ram another train. The fireman for Engine 1313 was injured in the accident just as many of his predecessors had been.

Officials at PRR pulled the train off the tracks and had their mechanics scour it for defects. Despite all the stories about brake failure, they couldn’t find anything wrong. The train was returned to operation, but it wasn’t long before catastrophe stuck. Engine 1313 failed to stop at a station when the engineer applied the brakes, resulting in the death of three people. PRR’s mechanics took the train to task but found nothing wrong.

Placed on the tracks yet again, 1313 was rolling through Sang Hollow when its oil can suddenly exploded, burning the fireman and engineer. The last straw for most of the workers, they beseeched PRR to pull the train from commission. The company finally complied. Whether or not PRR believed the jinx associated with Engine 1313, it was abundantly clear workers wanted nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s hoodoo train.

Which brings me to my question—how do you feel about the number thirteen?

I readily admit it’s one I don’t like, and I’m highly superstitious about it. By the same token, it’s my street address/house number, which doesn’t bother me at all. What a strange parallel. Could it be because one is mystical and the other mundane and common place? I’d love to hear your thoughts on hoodoo thirteen—and Pennsylvania’s Engine 1313. Please share!

Mythical Monday: The Sea of Darkness by Mae Clair #Myth #Folklore

It’s Mythical Monday and that means it’s time to delve into the dusty archives of myth and folklore. Rather than focus on one of my favorite beasties today, I poked around in my treasure trove of mystical places and unearthed a spine-tingling tale of the sea. Perhaps it’s fitting that as I type this, a vivid crescent moon hangs outside my window, suspended against a coal black sky—the perfect companion to this frightening bit of nautical lore:

Old sailing ship on a misty seaTucked into the annals of seafaring legend is a place known as Mare Tenebrosum, the Sea of Darkness. An oceanic region that is said to glide across the surface of the water, some believe it may be the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Others that it follows the ocean currents, moving from place to place, thus it doesn’t appear on any charts. Into this watery domain of shadow, lost ships and seamen sail forever in perpetual night.

A ship can enter the domain of Mare Tenebrosum without its crew being aware they have crossed a boundary. It’s only when night falls that the spreading taint of the Sea of Darkness is felt. No matter how rough the waters previously, with the touch of night, the sea grows mysteriously calm. No light shines from above, the moon and stars obscured by a dense ebony cloud.

Into the blackness, the rigging of a ship glimmers briefly as if illuminated by ghost-light. Horrific cries echo on the air – the wails of men drowning, the boom of cannon fire, commands bellowed in multiple languages, voices jumbled one upon the other in confusion and panic. The screams of women and children rise and fall as if nearby vessels are sucked beneath the waves. It is a symphony of terror played over and over in the darkness as phantom ships loom then vanish into the cloak of night.

Old sailing ship at dawnIf the ship is fortunate enough to sail free of Mare Tenebrosum into the dawn, crew members are often left teetering on the brink of madness.Those who escape with their sanity intact, avoid talking of their time in the Sea of Darkness, wanting only to forget the evils which reside there.

Folklore like this makes you realize the romanticism of the sea can often be dark and deadly. Do you agree?

Mythical Monday: Chasing the Chupacabra by Mae Clair

The chupacabra is a creature said to haunt South America, Puerto Rico, parts of Mexico and portions of Texas. Known for attacking livestock and draining its prey of blood, the chupacabra’s name in Spanish is translated as “goat-sucker.” A mythical creature, the chupacabra is also recognized as a crytpid—a creature that may exist but hasn’t been proven to exist. If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you know I enjoy reading about mythical beasts and those put under the microscope of cryptozoology. It’s interesting when those fields intersect, as in the case of the chupacabra.

This is not a guy I would want to cross while out for a stroll.  A heinous looking oddity, the chupacabra has alternately been described as a winged monkey, a hairless dog with a pronounced spinal ridge or quills on its back, and a rodent or a reptile with grayish-green skin. The beast exudes a ghastly odor, is endowed with sharp fangs, and a forked tongue. Some believe the chupacabra is a coyote infected with mange, others that it is a species brought from outer space, still others that it is the result of a government experiment gone haywire.

Naturally, something this ugly has to have glowing eyes. In the case of the chupacabra, they are malignant red, capable of hypnotizing its victim and freezing them in place while the creature drains the victim’s blood.

Old farmshouse with free walking chickens  in rural surroundingsThe first report of dead livestock occurred in 1995 in Puerto Rico when a farmer found eight of his sheep drained of blood, each with three puncture wounds to the chest. For this reason, some believe the chupacabra is related to the vampire bat. It’s also been known to hiss and screech when alarmed and make an odd sound when feeding (who would want to get that close?).

Throughout the years the chupacabra has been blamed for numerous bizarre deaths in the killing of goats, chickens, pigs and dogs. Though most common to Latin America and South America, it has been spotted as far north as Michigan and Maine and has even shown up in Russia. There are countless videos and websites devoted to the myth of the chupacabra. This infamous crytpid has also made appearances on Animal Planet, and the Discovery Channel. Despite all the debate and discussion about El Chupacabra—including various descriptions from eyewitnesses—its legend continues to grow confounding skeptics, cryptozoologists and the curious in general.

As the debate rages, perhaps it’s best to err on the side of caution. What do you think?