Halloween and Twelfth Sun by Mae Clair

October has officially arrived, bringing with it the promise of pumpkins, colorful leaves and cozy hearth fires. As noted earlier in the week, I’m roaming to various blog haunts the beginning of the month, including two today.

My friend and Lyrical Press sister, Laura Lee Nutt is interviewing me on her blog. She came up with a host of unique questions, so in addition to talking about TWELTH SUN, we’re also discussing archeology, favorite books and antiquities.

Brynna Curry's 31 days Banner 2To celebrate Halloween, I’m a guest at Brynna Curry’s blog, In Shadows, for her 31 Days of Halloween festivities.

It’s a post I’ve shared before about nautical superstitions, but perhaps there’s a new one that’s struck your fancy. Why not join me and select one? Everyone needs a favorite nautical superstition, LOL.

Happy Friday!

Mythical Monday: Island Spirits by Mae Clair

bigstock-Sea-Sunset-Beach-13760705Have you ever encountered a chickcarnie? How about a duppy or a Rolling Calf? If you’ve vacationed in the Caribbean Islands, you’ve already visited the habitat of these and other restless spirits.

Recently, my friend Loni Flowers took a Caribbean cruise and came across a print periodical that included an article about island folklore. Given she was enjoying crystal clear water, sparkling beaches, recreation and fun, I was thrilled she thought of me and my Mythical Monday posts (thanks, Loni!). When she sent me the magazine, I was hooked by the tidbits of native folklore, and knew I had to take a closer look at island spirits. Let me introduce a few:

The Chickcarnie
As might be suggested by its name, the chickcarnie is a birdlike creature but resembles an owl more than a chicken. Like an owl, they have the ability to swivel their head completely around for a glimpse of anything lurking nearby. Chickcarnies have three fingers, three toes, red eyes and a prehensile tail which they employ as a handy hook when hanging from the tops of tall trees (a favored chickcarnie pastime). If you see two pine trees joined together, there’s a good chance you’ll find a chickarnie nest at the top. Treat this island dweller well and you’ll be blessed with good fortune, but laugh at the chickcarnie or malign it in anyway, and misery will follow you for a lifetime. These guys wrote the book on holding a grudge.

bigstock-Spooky-Beach-1093037The Duppy
In the folk religion Obeah, considered a harmless form of voodoo, it’s believed each person has two souls – a good soul and earthly soul. When someone dies the good soul ascends to heaven but the earthly soul hangs around in the burial coffin for three days. If the coffin isn’t sealed tightly, the earthly soul can escape and become a “duppy.” This is a malevolent spirit that usually appears at night to wreak mischief.

You can tell when a duppy is nearby because you’ll likely become extremely warm and your head will feel as though it’s growing larger. Chase the duppy off by eating salt or wearing your clothes inside out. Apparently neither salt nor clothing worn in reverse rate favorably in the duppy’s eyes. It makes you wonder if they had an aversion to salt while living. Hmm.

The Rolling Calf
Finally we come to the Rolling Calf. Yes, it literally rolls around on the ground in chains. Rolling Calves are always male and are believed to be spirits of men who led a wicked life. For some reason many Rolling Calves were butchers during their lifetime. Perhaps being a Rolling Calf in the afterlife is an ironic sentence for having slaughtered cattle as an occupation. Whatever the case, this troublesome spirit also favors the night for roaming.

It searches for souls, wicked like itself, and molds them into its image. To escape a Rolling Calf, drop any number of objects in its path forcing it to stop and count them, or run to a crossroads and insert a pen knife in the ground.

So what do you think? Could you see yourself encountering one of these creatures while on an island vacation? If you had to choose between the three, which would you pick as the island spirit you’d risk encountering on a dark night?

As always, I love hearing from you, so please share your thoughts!

Mythical Monday: Thunderbirds and the Mysterious Disappearance of Tom Eggleton by Mae Clair

I can’t believe two weeks have swept by since I last posted on my blog. It’s true what they say about summer — life slows down and seems to move in fast-forward at the same time. Or maybe that’s just my own topsy-turvy view of warm weather months.

The first week of the July, I was on vacation. Seven whole days of relaxation, goofing off and neglecting my daily routine. Last week, I couldn’t seem to return to the flow, especially with several new projects coming onboard at my office.

Today, I am happy to return to Mythical Monday with a post on the Thunderbird.

These enormous winged creatures have been an integral part of Native American folklore down through the ages, but original Thunderbird legends date back thousands of years and can be traced to Egypt and Africa. With wingspans of twelve to fifteen feet or more, the Thunderbird has been known to carry off small animals, children and even adults. It is a formidable avian spirit, able to shoot lightning from its beak and summon the roar of thunder with a clap of its powerful wings. It is a storm spirit, a harbinger of change.

Dramatic sky

Surprisingly, there have been numerous sightings of Thunderbirds in the 20th and 21st centuries. My home state of Pennsylvania is abundant with them. The story I’d like to share, however, dates back to the late 1800s, a bizarre tale that beings on a hot summer evening in August 1897.

On that date, nineteen-year-old Thomas Eggleton decided to hike to nearby Hammersley Fork in order to mail his mother a letter. He told his employer, a farmer, where he was headed, then set out on his evening trek. It was likely a walk he’d undertaken numerous times in the past without incident.

But Tom never arrived in town, nor did he return to the farm the next day. Worried by his absence, the farmer traced Tom’s footsteps in the dirt, following the path he had taken toward Hammersley Fork. No doubt he had visions of Tom, always a reliable young man, injured and lying somewhere along the path. Much to his dismay, the farmer lost Tom’s tracks outside of town. Unwilling to abandon the effort, he enlisted others with bloodhounds. The dogs were able to pick up Tom’s scent and his trail was tracked to the middle of a bridge where it simply vanished.

Old Wooden Bridge through Heavy Forested Path

Unable to understand how the young man’s scent could cease to exist in the middle of a bridge, the people of Hammersley Fork, feared the worst. They dragged the river, but Tom’s body was never found. Spooked by the odd circumstances, the locals began to murmur among themselves about a thunderbird.

A few insisted they had seen a massive bird in the vicinity shortly before Tom’s disappearance. Surely it must have snatched him away and carted him off to a distant place from which he couldn’t return. With the flames of fear stoked, schools closed for a period of two weeks until the panic eventually dwindled and passed.

It wasn’t until four years later that news of Tom Eggleton surfaced again. On that day, the farmer who had employed Tom received a letter from him. Thankful to learn the boy was still alive, he eagerly tore open the envelope but his excitement gave way to shock. Tom relayed how he had only recently awakened in a South African hospital with no memory of his past or how he’d come to be there. All he could recall was that he had worked for a famer outside of Hamersley Fork.

Had Tom been abducted by a Thunderbird? Had it snatched him off the bridge as many locals speculated, or had he somehow slipped through a hole in time? The mystery of Tom Eggleton has no definitive answers, but whispers and rumors of Thunderbirds remain.

This story was relayed in the book, Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty A. Wilson. Want more weirdness? There are “Monster” books available with the strange denizens of various states on Amazon. Check them out! After all…

Who knows what creatures and beasties lurk in your neck of the woods!

Mythical Monday: In Search of the Mothman by Mae Clair

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to a small town in West Virginia called Point Pleasant. Our entire purpose for visiting was so that I could do research for a novel I intend to write drawing on the Mothman legend, UFOs and the Silver Bridge disaster of 1967.

It was a 6.5 hour drive, but thankfully, most of that was by scenic highway. Visiting the area, talking to some of the people who live there and experiencing the surroundings firsthand gave me a much a richer view than I would have found online or in books. I definitely owe hubby a trip of his choice for this one!

Point Pleasant is a riverfront town located on the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Morning to night water traffic is steady with powerful riverboats pushing enormous barges of coal up and down the waterways.

barge

We found Main Street to be quaint but very old, positioned behind towering flood walls. On the opposite side of those walls lies a picturesque riverfront park with walking trails, spots for fishing, a large pavilion, open amphitheater and – most unique of all – endless hand-painted murals depicting the town’s history beginning in the early 1700s when it was a settler outpost.

muralsmurals2

The first night we were there a duo of musicians with steel stringed instruments set up in the amphitheater and we lingered to enjoy the concert.  I was shocked more people weren’t crowded about. The park was never busy, no matter when we visited. When there isn’t live entertainment, music is piped throughout by speakers mounted on the floodwalls. Talk about a place for a writer to linger!

singers

theater

But, my main purpose for being there was to learn more about the Silver Bridge disaster and the Mothman. The original Silver Bridge collapsed into the icy waters of the Ohio River on December 15, 1967 during heavy rush hour traffic, claiming forty-six lives. Later analysis showed it was carrying much heavier loads than it was designed to sustain and had been poorly maintained.

Many, however, believe the Mothman — a giant humanoid winged creature with glowing red eyes, spotted numerous times in the Point Plesant area beginning in November of 1966 — was somehow tied to the bridge collapse. Some believe him a malevolent form, others that he was attempting to warn the town of impending disaster. Whichever account you favor, it’s undeniable that after the Silver Bridge fell, sightings of the Mothman dwindled then ceased altogether. Coincidence?

According to legend, the town of Point Pleasant was originally cursed by a Shawnee Indian Chief named Cornstalk in the years preceding the American Revolution. Once at war with the white man, Cornstalk eventually made peace and became a friend of the settlers. Through trickery and deceit, he and his son were unjustly imprisoned and murdered. It’s said that with his dying breath, Cornstalk condemned the region and its people down through the ages. Some believe the Mothman is an extension of that curse.

Although there were numerous credible eyewitness reports of “the bird” (as he was originally dubbed locally), the legend of the Mothman didn’t truly take wing until 1975 when John Keel wrote a New York Times best-seller about the events. THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES  was later made into a movie in 2002, starring Richard Gere.

Having read the book, devoured the movie, and engaged in extensive online research — including much related to the Silver Bridge disaster – I was eager to discover the area myself. Did the Mothman still roam the skies of Point Pleasant?

Please join me next week as hubby and I set out in pursuit of this elusive urban legend, venturing into the remote “TNT Area,” said to be the site of an old Indian burial ground. Ghost hunters frequently visit the region, and it was featured on A&E’s Paranormal State.

Legend has it that even George Washington recorded “strange sightings” in his early surveys of the area and, if viewed by satellite, the region is “blurred out” in the same manner as Area 51.

Next week on Mythical Monday, I’ll be share my own experiences in this isolated region as my Mothman search continues! I hope you’ll join me  for the conclusion of my two-part blog.

msearchteam

Mythical Monday: Nautical Superstitions, by Mae Clair

Treasure chest at the bottom of the seaWhether it’s ghost ships, sea lore, or whispered tales of phantom winds and water sprites, I’ve always been intrigued by the murky depths of the sea. From ancient times to present, the underwater world has harbored creatures both serene and foul. And, oh, so interesting!

The Old Testament references the leviathan, a mighty seabeast, while legends passed through generations speak of floating islands, vanished cities, and merpeople who live beneath the waves.

But what of the brave men and women who attempted to tame the sea or, at the very least, exist within its dominion? Even today, sailors are a superstitious lot, many of their beliefs retained from an earlier age when water haunts and sea serpents were commonly recognized and feared.

While writing TWELFTH SUN, a novel which centers around a maritime artifact, I had the occasion to sort through a host of nautical superstitions. I referenced a few in the book, but much of the research was strictly for fun. I grew up reciting “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.” Remember that? I still often mentally conjure that sing-song verse when I notice a red sky.

But that tidbit of seafaring superstition wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy the myth-monger in me, so I went diving for more. Here are some of my favorite nautical superstitions:

Untying knots in a rope bring favorable winds.

Knitting hair into the toe of a sailor’s sock will bring him back to you.

If a sailor dreams of a horse, it is an omen of high seas.

Disaster will follow if you step onboard a vessel with your left foot first.

A ship’s bell will always ring when it is wrecked.

If St. Elmo’s Fire appears around a sailor’s head, he will die within a day.

A woman onboard a ship will make the sea angry.  Unless, she’s naked which will calm the sea. (Gee, wasn’t that a convenient superstition for sailors and pirates?)

Never rename a ship, for it is bad luck.

A ship’s name ending in “a” is unlucky.

Nail a shark’s tail to the bow of a ship and it will ward off other sharks. (Of course, you’ve still got the problem of convincing a shark to give up its tail. I don’t imagine there were a lot of volunteers for that job).

The feather of a wren will protect a sailor from death by shipwreck.

Death comes with an ebb tide and birth with a rising tide.

Black traveling bags are bad luck for a seaman.

möwe_abendrotA silver coin placed under the masthead ensures a successful voyage. Pouring wine on the deck also brings good luck.

Gulls harbor the souls of sailors lost at sea.

There are a host of other superstitions, but these are a few of my favorites. Next Monday, I have one particular belief I want to share, including how it gave birth to an entire urban legend. Intrigued? I hope you’ll be back next week for the details.

In the meantime, are there any superstitions you adhere to, nautical or otherwise? I tend to knock on wood a lot and I’m freaky about the number thirteen. What makes you superstitious? :)

Mythical Monday: The Boogeyman and Other Childhood Monsters, by Mae Clair

Childhood days are filled with fun, a time of delight and discovery. But children also have vivid imaginations for conjuring the denizens of make-believe. Like most otherworldly elements, the fantastical is inhabited with beings of light and dark.

Full moonMost of us remember the boogeyman under the bed, a malevolent creature born from the blood of midnight, dust and shadow. When darkness settled, the boogeyman left its realm, oozing to life through the floorboards beneath a child’s bed. We knew better than to dangle a hand or foot over the edge of the mattress. The temptation was a blatant invitation for the boogeyman to “get us.” Although it was never really clear what that amounted to, we knew it would be terrifying.

Trying to convince an adult of the boogeyman’s existence was pointless. Once a light switch was activated, or a parent peered under the bed to reassure us, the boogeyman retreated, seeping back through the floorboards before it could be spied. Clever and ghastly, it wasn’t the only menacing creature to haunt our bedroom.

Kindred of the boogeyman, the closet monster was every bit as sinister. Like the boogeyman it appeared at night, summoned when a closet door was left standing ajar. That crack, no matter how minuscule, summoned it with the lure of slipping into our world. Shut the closet and the monster would be trapped inside. For all its menacing presence, it was powerless to open the door on its own.

bigstock-Silhouette-of-branches-19396952With the closet monster contained and the boogeyman prowling beneath the bed, that left only the dark enchantment born from the night. Wind, moonlight and shadow had the power to turn everyday tree branches into writhing snakes and skeletal fingers. When those same grasping fingers tapped against night-blackened window panes, we knew the danger lurking outside actively sought a way indoors.

In the morning, the touch of sunlight banished all dark creatures to their shadow-draped warrens and we could almost believe the danger wouldn’t return. Almost. In the bright wash of daylight, darkness and the denizens that inhabited its realm held no power.

We rode bikes, raced across open fields, picked wild strawberries and climbed trees. When dusk fell, we danced with fireflies, told ghost stories and played hide-and-seek. Twilight was magical, nothing to fear. But night eventually settled, forcing us to crawl into bed, certain the boogeyman had returned.

Somehow, despite all the ghoulish creatures that wanted to “get us,” we emerged from childhood unscathed. In time, we reached an age where they no longer existed, and ceased to trouble our sleep.

Maybe it’s just me, but dangling my hand over the edge of the bed is something that still gives me pause. Even as logic tells me there is nothing down there, I get that shivery sensation that has me snatching my hand back to safety after a short time. Silly? Yes. But a writer’s imagination is every bit as vivid as a child’s. How about yours?

Bet honest. How comfortable are you dangling a hand or foot over the edge of the bed? What nighttime creatures frightened you in childhood?

Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: The Nine Lives of Cats

Arafel

Arafel, my first cat came from a litter of farm kittens. I always told her she looked like a little woodland creature from myth.

I love all animals, but cats are my favorite. As a kid I grew up with cats, dogs, goldfish, hamsters, gerbils, a parakeet, tropical fish and even a chinchilla. As an adult, I bonded with cats and never looked back. These animals have alternately been revered and feared throughout time. From the ancient Egyptians who worshipped them as demi-gods, to the people of Medieval England who believed them to be the accomplices of witches, felines have known extreme highs and lows. Perhaps this is the reason they are said to have nine lives.

More likely, the cat’s agility and its uncanny self-righting mechanism allowing it to survive falls from great heights, is where the myth originated. Felines are extremely graceful, swift, and able to squeeze into small spaces–traits that add to its undeniable mystique. Of all domesticated animals, the cat is the least tame. Like its wild kin, it is most active during early morning hours and at night, the best times for hunting prey. The nocturnal aspect of the cat and its ability to see in the dark also support the nine lives belief.  Blessed with enhanced senses and fluid agility, this clever and crafty animal could easily live nine lifetimes.

McDoogal

McDoogal was a rescue cat who entered our lives a year after Arafel. I joke with my husband that McDoogal worshipped me. He was definitely MY cat.

When superstition was rampant, many believed a witch could take the form of her cat familiar nine times, thus giving the cat nine lives.  Another tale related to the myth involves a cat entering a home where nine hungry children resided. Nine fish had been set out for the children to eat, but the cat devoured them all. The poor children died of starvation while the cat met an untimely end from gluttony. When the feline arrived in Heaven, God was so angered by its selfishness he made it fall to the earth for nine days. The nine lives of the children reside in the cat’s belly, which is why it must die nine times before finally being able to rest.

Sometimes those nine lives came in handy.  Seafarers knew cats were able to predict storms, which is why they considered a cat onboard ship good luck. It wasn’t simply a matter of running roughshod over vermin.

That was something Noah knew about. When the ark set sail, there were no cats onboard. Rats and mice multiplied and soon overran the boat.  In desperation, Noah asked the lion for help. The great beast sneezed and two cats were born, the only animal not originally created by God.

Onyx

Onyx, my last lovely boy. Everyone said he was so handsome with his silky black coat he should have been a show cat. I preferred spoiling him rotten.

Whatever you believe, there’s no denying these frisky and entertaining animals have found a place in our hearts, whether for a single lifetime or nine. Disney gave us The Three Lives of Thomasina while Stephen King terrified us with Pet Sematary.

I prefer my cats cuddly and affectionate over Mr. King’s variety which is why I’m dedicating this post to the lovely felines who graced my life with companionship–Arafel, McDoogal and Onyx. All are gone now. It would have been nice had they hung around for eight more lifetimes!

To close, I leave you with one of my favorite cat quotes. Nothing against dogs, (I love them too), but I think this quote speaks volumes about the mind of a cat:

A dog looks at you and says, “You take care of me. You must be a god.”  A cat looks at you and says, “You give me food and shelter. I must be a god.”

Wish I could credit it, but I don’t remember who said it.

What’s your take on cats (or dogs)? Do you have a favorite pet story or a strange superstition to share?