Mythical Monday: Sendings, Ghostly Assassins by Mae Clair

In keeping with the approach of Halloween, I’m staying focused on ghostly apparitions for the remainder of this month’s Mythical Monday posts. October and spooky just effortlessly go hand-in-glove. When it comes to ghosts, we tend to think of them as spirits who are reluctant to move on, or who have left something unfinished when torn from the earthly realm. But there is an additional type of specter, or at least one that makes an appearance in Icelandic folklore.

If legend is to be believed, a ghost can be magically conjured from a human bone. I find the idea pretty ghoulish—imagining some wrinkled  sorcerer or necromancer crouched and chanting over crypt bones—but apparently ghosts can be useful If you’re an unethical practitioner of magic.  In this case, the wraiths are known as “sendings” and were often employed as murderers or dispatched to perform grisly deeds. It makes you feel sorry for the poor soul whose bones were unearthed by an unscrupulous wizard!

The good news (if you were the mortal target of said unscrupulous mage) is that sendings were not without weakness. As a case in point there was once a comely widow who many men sought to marry. She refused all offers—I can’t help thinking the husband she lost was her only true love—but that didn’t stop the men who coveted her, and her land holdings, from pursuing her.Comely young woman, grieving over grave

One day as she was preparing supper a strange sixth sense came over her, warning of danger. Turning toward the doorway she spied a shadow on the threshold, velvet black but for an odd white spot at its center. As the terrified woman watched, the shadow crept toward her, inching nearer across the floor. Snatching up a knife, she struck the apparition where she sensed it was most vulnerable—the odd white blossom at its center.  Instantly, the shadow vanished, her knife claimed along with it.

The next morning she found the knife in the yard, pinioned through a human bone. Her quick thinking and her bravery had saved her life, and from that point forward she was bothered no more.

A strange HEA, but kind of cool nonetheless, and it speaks to my personal belief that some people have only one soulmate. What do you think of this tale?

 

Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of Gettysburg by Mae Clair

As Halloween draws nearer and thoughts turn to all things spooky, it seemed a good time to shine my Mythical Monday spotlight on rumored hauntings. Most of you know I live in Central Pennsylvania, which places the battlefield of Gettysburg not far from my doorstep. My husband and I have visited often, soaking up the history of this landmark site that was the turning point of America’s Civil War.

Confederate soldiers advance Civil War battle reenactment

I never really stop to think about it being haunted when I visit, but as a place where an estimated 50,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers met their end in a three-day battle, it stands as one of the most haunted locations in America. I’ve never encountered a ghost there (I don’t think I’d want to) but I do recall feeling significantly “creeped out” during one venture onto Little Round Top.

If you’re unfamiliar with Civil War history, Little Round Top (a large rocky wooded hill on the battlefield) was held by Union forces when the confederates launched repetitive assaults. The day culminated with a grisly downhill bayonet charge by the 20th Maine under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Union forces—who were out of ammo by that point—took the victory but it was costly to both sides.

The_New_York_Monument_on_Little_Round_Top By DeeFabian (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The_New_York_Monument_on_Little_Round_Top By DeeFabian (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve hiked Little Round Top numerous times but on the last occasion, I distinctly recall being uneasy as I walked downhill. Usually there are other people around, park visitors taking the trail up and down from the summit. On that day it was just me and my husband, and the surrounding woods felt entirely too still, much too solemn. Even today, I have a vivid memory of anxiously wanting to reach the bottom, imagining some unseen danger lurking in the trees. A presence I couldn’t name. It’s interesting to note I didn’t realize the site was haunted at the time. I’ve since heard there are numerous apparitions that have been spotted at Little Round Top—soldiers moving in formation through the trees, a headless horseman, and even an old private.

According to legend, when the movie Gettysburg was being filmed, many actors, hired as extras, would wander the battlefield in costume between takes. On one such occasion, a small group hiked up Little Round Top to enjoy the sunset. Near the top, they heard a rustling of leaves and turned to spy a haggard-looking old man approaching. Dressed in the uniform of Union private, he was filthy, his clothing reeking of sulfur (sulfur was a key ingredient of the black powder used in 1863). Approaching the group, he extended his hand and passed over a few musket rounds. “Rough one today, eh, boys?” he asked, then vanished while the men were focused on the ammo. No one had ever seen the old private before. When the men took the musket rounds into town they were authenticated as original rounds, 130 years old.

Photo of Devil's Den on Gettysburg Battlefield By Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Devil’s Den on Gettysburg Battlefield By Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Den, a ridge strewn with large boulders, known as the “slaughter pen” for the inordinate amount of lives lost there, is another hotspot for paranormal activity. It is considered by many to be the most haunted spot on the battlefield. Visitors routinely have issues when trying to use cameras at Devil’s Den. Perhaps the reason can be traced back to Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner. Controversy has swirled over whether or not Mr. Gardner moved a confederate sniper’s corpse, dragging the body into the Devil’s Den area to create a better shot with more photogenic surroundings.  Such callousness didn’t go over well with the men who fought and died there, and as a result visitors frequently complain of their cameras jamming and, on some occasions, even being thrown to the ground by an unseen force.

There is an interesting tale of a woman who was attempting to take a picture one morning when an apparition appeared. The phantom, described as a “scruffy-looking hippie type with ragged clothing, a shirt without buttons, a big hat and no shoes, directed the woman to take a picture of Plum Run instead, saying “What you are looking for is over there.”

Apparently this same phantom, identified as a Texan soldier, has taken a liking to the living and is often mistaken for a Civil War re-enactor. He has posed for photos with visitors, but the space where he was standing is always mysteriously blank when the film is developed. I have to say, I have never taken photos at Devil’s Den, but this has me curious to attempt it. I’ll definitely try it on my next visit.

There are numerous other reportedly haunted sites on the battlefield and in the town proper of Gettysburg. Several locations have been featured on “Ghost Adventures,” and there are numerous ghost tours available for anyone to eager to seek out phantoms. You Tube is loaded with videos of apparitions caught on tape.

An integral part of American history, Gettysburg entertains its share of ghost hunters all year, but probably more so near Halloween.

If you had the chance, would you go ghost hunting?

 

Sources:
http://hauntedhouses.com/

http://www.pennlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2013/06/gettysburg_150_12.html

Mythical Monday: The Neck, Water Men, and Nixies by Mae Clair

Last week for Mythical Monday, I ventured into the forests of Germany and Scandinavia for a look at the earthy Moss People. Today, I’m mired in the same region of the globe, but wading into a watery domain with Nixies and the Water-Men of Germany.

Tales vary depending on the branch of folklore you happen to be pursuing. In some legends, the Water-Men are human in appearance but have green teeth and favor green hats. They often mingle with humans in marketplaces where they do their shopping. For the most part they dwell on good terms with men, and even aspire to friendship. Their women are beautiful and ethereal, commonly called Nixies.Fantasy girl taking magic light in her hands, standing on edge of pond at night

In other legends, they appear human-like with amphibious features such as gills, webbed feet and hands. Many claim they are shapeshifters who have no true form.

In Scandinavia, these same creatures are known as Necks, a male water sprite who dwells in rivers and streams. Master musicians who favor the harp and violin, they prey on unsuspecting women and children by luring them to the water to drown. The music they weave is magically enchanted, much like that of a siren, too beautiful for mortals to resist. Pregnant women and unbaptized children are especially susceptible to their bewitching melodies.

In most tales the Neck is doomed, but in some, he is a creature who fervently craves redemption.

A timeworn legend tells of a priest who came upon a Neck as he played along the riverbank. Spying the creature, the priest rebuked the Neck harshly. “Look at this dead staff,” he said, displaying the withered piece of wood he used to aid in his walking. “This piece of rot will put forth green leaves, before your soul is saved.”

By Ernst Josephsson (1851 - 1906) (Swedish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ernst Josephsson (1851 – 1906) (Swedish) (Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hearing the cruel denouncement and fearing his soul beyond redemption, the Neck burst into tears. He threw his harp aside and buried his face in his hands, mournfully bemoaning his fate.

Satisfied, the priest left him  weeping, but as he walked away, guilt twisted his heart. He had not gone far when his staff abruptly surged with green sap, putting forth a bounty of twigs and leaves—a message from the great I AM that all creatures belong to God. Deeply ashamed, the priest retraced his steps. He found the Neck still sobbing, and humbly begged forgiveness, showing the heartbroken creature his staff. Seeing the change that had overtaken the withered piece of wood, the Neck rejoiced. Reclaiming his harp, he burst into song, his music so utterly beautiful that the river itself echoed with his sweet melody.

As someone who adores a happily-ever-after, I love that tale. I can imagine the old priest rejoicing with him, sitting down on the river bank and sharing his bread and wine.

Have you ever heard this legend before? Were you familiar with the Neck?

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 Ghosts of Baker Mansion by Mae Clair

Today, I’m shining the Mythical Monday spotlight on an infamous residence located within my home state of Pennsylvania. The Baker Mansion is a Greek Revival-style house, located in Altoona. Built in 1849 for Elias Baker, a prominent local ironmaster, this twenty-eight room home has a colorful assortment of ghosts residing within.

Baker Mansion in Altoona Pennsylvania

Baker Mansion in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Image by Pubdog (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Most of the attention goes to Anna, Elias’s daughter. A beautiful girl by all accounts, Anna fell in love with one of her father’s workers. The young man presented Anna with an engagement ring but when the happy couple shared the news with her father, Elias flew into a rage and drove off Anna’s suitor. A rich, powerful man, it’s believed Elias thought the poor boy unworthy, of lower breeding.

Heartbroken and bitter, Anna vowed if she couldn’t marry the man she loved, she would become a spinster. True to her word, she died single and alone in 1914. Many say she remained angry at her father all of her life for stealing her single chance at happiness. Perhaps that’s why her ghost haunts the home he prized, with particular attachment to a wedding dress displayed in her bedroom.

In 1922, the Blair County Historical Society made the mansion their headquarters and turned it into a museum. One of the items placed on display was an antique wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Bell, the daughter of another wealthy ironmaster.  Although the dress has since been removed to preserve the fragile fabric, over the years it gained a reputation for being “haunted.” Sealed in a glass case, the skirts of the gown were often seen swaying as if to the stroll of a woman’s light gait. Other times, witnesses observed the dress rocking violently, the case shaken so badly it was feared the glass would shatter.

Some speculate Anna’s ghost is at fault for these outbursts, reacting to the presence of a gown she never had a chance to wear. But Anna isn’t the only ghost haunting Baker Mansion. Her brother, David, once a crew member on a steamboat, prowls the basement.

Why there?

In the winter of 1852, David met his end in a steamboat accident. Because the ground was frozen, his body was stored in the cellar until the soil thawed enough for him to be buried. Some visitors have reported hearing chill screams coming from the basement; others tell of seeing a man in a steamboat uniform lurking in the shadows.

And then there is Hetty, Elias’ wife. An older woman dressed in black has often been seen on the stairs and roving about the third floor hallways. Many think this particular phantom is Elias’ wife. The ironmaster himself is known to make occasional appearances in the dining room. Ghostly figure descending steps

Finally, Anna’s brother Sylvester prefers to linger in the parlor where he died of a heart attack. Legend says he stood up from the sofa to retire one evening, suffered a fatal heart attack and collapsed. Pressure pads under the carpet—part of a security system installed in the 1980s—have been activated in that area when no one is present. The spot where Sylvester collapsed has even been crushed, as if someone had fallen on it.

Once, when a police officer responded to an alarm with his K-9 German Shepherd, the dog reacted as if sensing an unseen presence in the parlor. As trained, it immediately began sniffing and searching for a prowler but when the dog reached the parlor, it froze in the doorway, quickly turned, and fled from the house. This highly trained service animal could not be coaxed back inside.

Cold spots, moving furniture, knocking raps, orbs reflected in mirrors, even a music box that randomly plays and stops—all these events and more have plagued the Baker Mansion. Listed as one of the nine most haunted houses in America by Life Magazine in 1981, it continues to draw interested visitors and those hoping to experience a shiver of the supernatural.

Have you ever visited a haunted house? As much as I enjoy mythical stories, I wouldn’t want to set foot in one! How about you?

Mythical Monday: The Lore of Ley-Lines by Mae Clair

You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “ley-line,” but are you able to define exactly what a ley-line is and what it does?

It is believed many of the old places of the Earth resonate with power—fairy paths, shadowy forests, pre-Reformation churches, and wind-ravaged hilltops among them. Think of misty long-barrows, standing stones, crossroads, hill forts, stone wells, and old funerary paths….the list goes on. When these sites or “ley markers” align in a geographical pattern, they create a hypothetical link capable of releasing powerful energy.

A ley-line.

Old stone draw well in the forest

The term was coined by Alfred Watkins in 1921. An English author and amateur archeologist, Mr. Watkins was standing on a hillside in Hereforshire, England, when he noticed an odd peculiarity in the British landscape—many ancient sites seemed to be arranged on a straight line with others nearby. He hypothesized these lines may have been used in prehistoric times as navigation routes for trade or religious rites. The concept of the ley-line was born, though the awareness was far older–dating back to the Druids, then later, to Native American Shamans, who referred to them as “spirit lines.”

While there is no scientific proof ley-lines exist, many believe this grid-work of energy encompasses the globe. In a similar manner to the way stars connect to form constellations, ley markers scattered throughout the Earth, connect to form multiple pathways of ley-lines. UFO sightings have been attributed to areas where ley-lines are prominent, and many new age practitioners and psychics claim to draw on their energy.

Who hasn’t felt a spiritual hush while standing at an old crossroads, visiting a burial mound, or venturing into a circle of wind-pitted stones? The next time you walk the same path as an ancient funerary procession, stop to consider the energy that may be flowing beneath the ground. Whether you believe in ley-lines or not, the concept is certainly a fascinating one.

Have you ever visited a site that could be considered a ley marker?

Mythical Monday: Scotland’s Dog Suicide Bridge by Mae Clair

In searching a topic for today’s Mythical Monday, I happened upon a strange tale that will certainly strike at the heart of any pet lover.

Many people love to take their dogs for a walk. Whether it’s a turn around the neighborhood, a stroll down a country lane or a jaunt through the park, it’s a relaxing experience for owner and companion. If you have a dog, you may have even meandered across a bridge or two, your best friend trotting happily at your side. The image certainly conjures a quaint picture.

Unless you happen to be walking your pet on the Overtoun Bridge in Scotland. 

Overtoun_Bridge_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1024544

Looking across Overtoun Bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia. Lairich Rig [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tucked into the countryside, near the town of Dumbarton, the Overtoun Bridge is a gothic looking structure that carries a much darker name—the Dog Suicide Bridge. Built in 1895, it soars fifty feet over a placid stream below.

Since the 1960s more than fifty dogs have leapt to their death from the bridge. Making that anomaly even stranger is the fact all of the dogs have jumped from the exact same spot, and each apparent “suicide” has occurred on pleasant, sunny days. All of the dogs involved have been “long-nosed” breeds—collies, labradors and retrievers.  A few, fortunate enough to survive the fall, returned to the top of the bridge and leapt from the same spot again, as if compelled by a supernatural force.

Why this horrifically odd behavior from man’s best friend? Is it possible a dog can suffer depression and commit suicide? Or is the bridge cursed, as some speculate?

121124_Overtoun_House,_Dunbartonshire

Overtoun House, Photo courtesy of Wikimedia. By dave souza (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s long been believed animals have a keener sense of the spirit world than humans. Perhaps the dogs in question sensed a malevolent presence in Overtoun House, a nearby residence rumored to be haunted. Or perhaps they detected something extraordinary in an area considered a “thin place.” According to legend, Overtoun exists in a region where Heaven and earth are nearly joined.

The most practical explanation to date involves the presence of mink below the bridge. In marking their territory, it’s believed the mink emit a scent powerful enough to lure the dogs to their death. Overcome by the odor, the dogs react instinctively. Blinded by the wall rising beside them, they fail to realize the height from which they plummet.

Why, however, would any animal that survived such a fall, willingly return to the bridge and jump again?

Perhaps the answer will never be known. Thus any dog-owner should be wary when taking their pet for a stroll across Scotland’s Overtoun Bridge. I certainly would!