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?

Mythical Monday: The Finfolk of the Orkney Islands by Mae Clair

Deep below the ocean in the area surrounding the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland, lays a kingdom known as Finfolkaheem, the winter home of the Finfolk. A brooding race gifted with sorcerous magic, the Finfolk spend the cold months of the year dwelling in a massive underwater castle of soaring chambers and crystal hallways. During the summer, they inhabit Hildaland, a magical vanishing island.

Pretty blonde mermaid with green and blue fish scales peering through the seaweed in an underwater scene, 3d digitally rendered illustrationSkilled boatmen and shapeshifters who hold dominion over the sea and storms, Finfolk dislike marrying among themselves, prizing human captives for their spouses. To that end, they frequently venture onto land, altering their shape to ensnare an unsuspecting mortal. Finmen often appear as fisherman in a boat, while Finwives like to assume the guise of a young maiden with long flowing hair and ivory skin. There is nothing romantic in their overtures or quest, and they have no qualms about abducting their potential mate. The unsuspecting human will then find themselves forced into a life of servitude to their Fin partner.

Finwives especially despise marrying Finmen. To do so means they will lose their beauty and mystical gifts, aging seven years for every year a Finwife is married to a Finman. Eventually, as the Finwife’s bewitching beauty is corrupted over time, she will become a Finhag. With this outcome in mind, it’s no wonder Finfolk search for a spouse among humans.

The only trinket prized more highly than a human spouse is silver. Like many enchanted beings, Finfolk like shiny things, particularly silver jewelry or coins. A human’s best chance of escaping abduction is to toss the Finfolk a few silver coins and flee in the opposite direction.

Isn’t it amazing, the power of silver in myth?

Mythical Monday: Davy Jones’ Locker by Mae Clair

open treasure chest with shinny gold underwaterRecently, I was having a discussion with someone about Davy Jones’ Locker. It started as a conversation about 1960s music and the simplistic names of bands like the Beatles, the Byrds, the Doors, the Turtles, and the Monkees. Talking about the Monkees led to Davy Jones, which of course, led to Davy Jones’ Locker. When the person asked if I knew where the name had originated, I realized I didn’t. Naturally, that research had to be the subject of a Mythical Monday post.

I’m sure most everyone is familiar with the term Davy Jones’ Locker as referring to the bottom of the sea, a resting place of sailors and others who have drowned. Davy Jones is an evil spirit who holds dominion over those who perish in his watery domain. He can take various forms and is known to perch in a vessel’s rigging before disaster strikes. But who was the real Davy Jones, the man who inspired the myth?

Apparently, there wasn’t a single individual. A pirate by the same name roamed the Indian ocean in the 1630s, but most scholars feel he wasn’t famous enough to have spurred the legend or sustained such long-lasting fame. The most common belief is that “Davy” is derived from “Duppy” a term for a malevolent spirit in the West Indies. (You can learn more about the Duppy in a Mythical Monday post I shared last August on Island Spirits). Some also believe Davy comes from Saint David, the Patron Saint of Wales, whom many Welsh sailors called upon for protection when they took to sea.

Curious dolphins approach the wreckage of a sunken ship beneath the sea.

“Jones” is from the biblical prophet, Jonah, who brought ill fortune and storms to the vessel he boarded. The seas calmed only when the sailors threw him overboard and he was swallowed by the great whale God sent to claim him. Many referred to him as “Devil Jonah,” for in fleeing God, he brought calamity to others. To this day, people refer to a “Jonah” as someone who brings bad luck.

Two other general references include Duffer Jones, a myopic sailor who routinely fell overboard and ended up in the drink courtesy of his near-sightedness, and a British pub owner who wasn’t above profiting off drunken sailors. He’d toss them in his locker, then sell them to any captain looking to draft a crew for shipboard service.

As with many old legends, it appears Davy Jones and his Locker are derived from a compilation of myths and historical figures. When it comes to final resting places, I’d much rather frolic on Fiddler’s Green, an Old Salt’s idealized vision of Heaven, than languish at the bottom of the ocean.

For now, I’ll hop over to Pandora and hunt up some Monkees music. It seems only natural I should remember the singer who’s name was the catalyst of this post. :)

Mythical Monday: Divining Love by Mae Clair

Young fashionably dressed couple with man in a top hat holding roseAs someone who reads and writes romance, it doesn’t surprise me that from the first glimmer of time, women—especially young girls—have had an insatiable curiosity to learn who their future husband might be. When I was a kid, there was a board game my friends and I used to play called Mystery Date.  I don’t remember much about it other than you collected cards and then spun a dial on a door to find out who your mystery date would be. The guys waiting on the other side ranged from a suave dancer in coat and tie, to a laid back surfer in beach clothing, and a string of others in between. Even then, as ten-year-old girls, we wanted to know the kind of guy we were going to end up with.

Women of the past were no different and often employed tricks of nature and time to catch a glimpse of their future husband. Certain days and seasons worked better than others, with some rituals highly involved, others basic. Of the later variety, a girl might place a two-leafed clover in her right shoe before venturing outside. The first man she encountered would either be her future husband or bear the same name. What a contrast, huh?

To discern the trade of the man she was destined to marry, all a girl had to do was gaze out her window on Valentine’s Day. The first bird she spied told the tale: Blackbirds indicated a cleric, a robin a sailor, a goldfinch a rich man. But woe to the poor maiden who spotted a woodpecker, for it was a certain indication she would never marry.

On Midsummer’s Eve maidens plucked rose blossoms and placed the petals beneath their pillows before falling asleep. On this magical night dreams were given power, allowing the girl to glimpse her future husband as she slept. The image would remain with her when she awoke, allowing her to recognize her true love in the waking world.

Happy groom and bride outdoors

On the eve of St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, girls would bake a mixture of flour, water, eggs, and salt, called a “dumb cake.” It had to be prepared in absolute silence and eaten before retiring.  If done correctly, the girl would meet her future husband in her dreams.

Another trick—performed on any night—was to walk around a churchyard twelve times at midnight. And, finally, on Christmas Eve, maidens prepared a feast to attract a husband. Like the dumb cake, the banquet had to be prepared in silence. The girl would set a sumptuous repast on the table then hide nearby. If a man appeared and ate the meal, he would marry her within the year. But the forces of darkness were at their peak in winter, and sometimes brought ill omens rather than favor. Should some foul monster devour the feast instead, it was a sign the poor maiden was doomed to marry a man who would make her miserable.

I’m sure there are many more superstitions related to seeing the future love of your life. I recall one about placing your shoes in the form of a “T” before going to bed, and I know there are several related to May Day. Can you think of any others? Have you ever tried any? I remember doing the shoe trick as a tween, but why I would have been thinking about a husband then, escapes me now.

Maybe I’ve just always been a diehard romantic. In any event, I met the right man. Dream or no dream, it’s beautiful magic.

Mythical Monday: Australia’s Min Min Light by Mae Clair

This one doesn’t really qualify as mythical because its existence has been documented, but there’s plenty of debate about what it is and what causes it.

A dark night sky with several glowing discs of lightA light phenomena of the Queensland region of Australia, the Min Min is a large flickering disc of luminescent light that appears at night, hovering about three feet above the ground. Named after a small settlement in the Outback, the Min Min made its first appearance in 1918 when discovered by a stockman (cattle worker). Its origin, however, can be traced farther back in time to Aboriginal myths that predate western settlement of the area.

The lights do not appear to be harmful and will vanish if fired upon, only to reappear later. They have been known to follow people on foot, horseback and in cars, sometimes keeping pace for miles. A few night time travelers have reported them assuming the shape of a horse or a man. Most, however, claim the Min Min to be a glowing amorphous light. According to legend, anyone who chases the lights and successfully catches one will never return to tell the tale.

Sign welcoming visitors to Min Min Light Territory in Boulia, Queensland, Australia

Photo by GondwanaGirl 6 January 2009 (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Theories put forth include an optical illusion, swarming insects that have taken on bio-luminescent characteristics, and a geophysical phenomenon produced from an natural electrical charge. Whatever the cause of these unusual lights, thousands have reported seeing them. The town of Boulia in Queensland, welcomes visitors to the Land of the Min Min Light with a large sign proclaiming the mystery.

As someone who has been fascinated by atmospheric ghost lights and spook lights since I was a kid, I find the idea of the Min Min enchanting. Wouldn’t you love to see one of these eerie weaving lights?

Mythical Monday: Mayland’s Mythical Dragon, the Snallygaster by Mae Clair

In the early 1700s, German settlers who made their homes in the hills surrounding Frederick County, Maryland brought tales of a fearsome flying half-bird, half reptile creature from the Old Country. Known as the Schneller Geist, meaning “fast ghost” or “quick spirit”, the beast had razor-sharp teeth, long talons and demonic features borne of nightmares. A single eye glared from the center of its forehead and its wingspan was said to be twenty-five feet wide.

By 1909, it was more commonly referred to as a “Snallygaster.” Reports of the dragon-like creature—which swooped down to carry off prey—became so highly publicized that year, the Smithsonian Institution offered a reward for its capture and former president Theodore Roosevelt expressed an interest in hunting it.

Sightings were frequent and often reported in small town periodicals. Fearful of attack, residents of the area painted seven-point stars on their barns, believing they would ward off the frightening monster.

wooden fence in the grass on the hillside near the village at night in moon lightThe beast did most of its hunting at night, carrying off unattended children, pets and farm animals. It moved swiftly, its extraordinary speed making it invisible in flight. Preferring to roost in barns, it would occasionally enter homes and steal objects it fancied. Later, the Snallygaster would replace what it had taken, returning the object to a different spot in hopes of confusing and frightening the owner. The creature made a shrill whistle-screeching sound and laid eggs large enough to hold a baby elephant.

Sightings of the Snallygaster continued for decades. In July of 1934 near Middletown, Maryland, several large explosions were said to be the sound of Snallygaster eggs hatching. An unidentified hunter claimed to have killed one of the hatchlings and said the carcass was approximately five-feet tall with speckled features, and four-inch claws.

The Snallygaster is believed to have one foe—a two-legged creature with the face and fur of a wolf known as a “Dwayyo.” Also sighted in Maryland, the Dwayyo and Snallygaster  are said to have engaged in several vicious battles throughout the decades.

Does the Snallygaster exist? There have been plenty of sightings through the years, and the creature was given enough credence in 1909 that Teddy Roosevelt almost canceled an African Safari to hunt it. But like most myths and urban legends, it remains a “what if” possibility to this day.

Maryland is practically in my back yard, and a favored stomping ground. The next time I take a drive through the “Old Line State,” I plan to be more vigilant in watching for Snallygasters. After all, it’s not every state that has its own mythical dragon!

 

Mythical Monday: Folklore of the Sycamore Tree by Mae Clair

Sycamore trees have a long history in folklore dating back to Egyptian times where the Holy Sycamore is said to connect the worlds between the dead and the living. This great tree stands at the eastern gate of heaven which releases the sun to rise each morning.

Sycamores in general are known for their longevity. The North American sycamore is one of our largest hardwood trees and can grow to mammoth proportions. Perhaps it is their strangely colored trunks—which become mottled with stark patches of white, gray and greenish brown when the bark flakes off—that make them seem so mysterious. Their odd appearance earned them the name “Ghosts of the Forest” from Native Americans, with many tales spun around their magical, often sinister, nature.

A close-up look at the trunk and bark of an American Sycamore tree. The result of shedding its bark for new growth is said to resemble camouflage.

According to one legend that originates with the Wyandotte tribe, the great chief who ruled over evil spirits grew angry at two of his followers. He cast them from his sight, and they fell to the Earth where they collided with two majestic sycamores that shaded the banks of a river. The wicked nature of the spirits seeped into the trees and immediately deformed them, turning their limbs into twisted, grotesque branches.

The Wyandotte in the area knew to avoid the trees when they followed the local trail to the river, but settlers who arrived later, scoffed at the native superstition. Some even threatened to cut them down and use the wood for kindling. Those who made such boasts usually met with inexplicable misfortune not long afterward. Rumors even spread of a settler who’d been “frightened to death,” his body found beneath the trees, his face twisted in a mask of terror as if he’d happened upon something unholy.

In 1840, one of the men decided to put an end to what he considered foolishness. He would rid the area of the cursed trees once and for all. Grabbing his axe, he hiked up the trail to where the sycamores stood, and swung the heavy instrument, aiming for the nearest of the two. Instead of sinking into the bark, the axe glanced off the trunk and sliced open his leg.The ax head severed his artery and he bled to death, gaping up at the misshapen, mocking branches of the trees.

But not all sycamores were malevolent. As large as they grew, with trunks often hollow, they could also provide shelter. Such was the case of John and Samuel Pringle, brothers who deserted from the army during the French and Indian War. For almost three years years they lived inside a sycamore tree in Upshur County, West Virginia. Eventually, running low on provisions, John risked a trip to South Branch along the Potomac and learned that the war had ended. He and his brother were no longer wanted as deserters and were able to move out of the eleven-foot trunk cavity that had made their home. Today, you can visit Pringle Tree Park where a third generation sycamore stands in the place of the original “Pringle Tree.”

Whether you view sycamores with respect and wariness as the Wyandotte warned early American settlers to do, or are more inclined to see their sheltering nature like John and Samuel Pringle, remember that these mysterious-looking trees have deep roots in folklore!