Mythical Monday: Ravens, Rooks and Crows Revisited by Mae Clair

Good day, friends! I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to borrow from a post I ran in 2012 for today’s Mythical Monday. I have a rare day off work and hubby and I are taking a short trip to a neighboring town known for its eclectic shops and microbreweries. My normal writing time this weekend was gobbled up preparing A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS (my Mothman novel) for submission and clicking “send” (more on that in a later post, I hope).

So I’m cheating today and rerunning an old post that not many people saw. I’ve trimmed this down from the original and tweaked a bit. I no longer have the car mentioned toward the end (it didn’t do well in northern winters, so I traded it for an SUV), but I do recall the fun I had on Twitter tweeting about the events in this post. Mostly how my car was used in a murder.

Curious? Read on . . . 🙂

A crow perched on a tombstone at night in a spooky cemeteryHow do you feel about birds associated with folklore and superstition?

Ravens have a long-standing kinship with mysticism. In addition to being portrayed as a familiar to witches and wizards, they were also known to be extremely divining. Many Native American tribes regarded them as “Keeper of Secrets,” wise ones who safeguarded the teachings of magic.

Raven, a man with the head of a bird, brought light into the world and taught its inhabitants how to care for themselves. On the flip side, the raven was also a Trickster initiating change, not always pleasant. I find it interesting the term “rook” made it into our slang as a reference for being swindled. A rook is an old-world type of crow or raven. In reality, these intelligent birds are clever mimics that have been known to learn human words.

In the Bible, Noah sent a raven from the ark in search of ground, but it flew back and forth, unable to find a place to land in a world deluged with floodwaters. Later, he sent the dove which returned with an olive branch. Ravens were also commanded to feed the prophet Elijah and, in the gospel of Luke, we’re reminded that God feeds the ravens though they don’t sow, reap, or have storerooms or barns.

Would I know the difference between a crow and a raven if I saw them? Probably not. I know that ravens are larger and prefer less populated areas, while crows are more apt to hang around cities and urban spaces. Even cars.

A solitary crow on a post bows its head Case in point:  Two weeks ago while visiting my sister, I walked outside to find six or seven crows camped out on the roof and hood of my Chrysler 300. If I’d had a camera, I would have snapped a picture – large black birds on a solid black car. Turns out there must have been something snagged in the wiper blades. I never did find out what it was, but it had one handsome gent summoning his cronies to investigate. Before I knew it, my car had become the site of a “murder”.

Now I like birds, but not that much. There is something inherently creepy about seeing that many black birds rooted to your car. It’s not natural. By the time I shooed them away, they’d already turned my wiper blades into a gourmet snack.

And, of course, it was raining. That meant I was treated to a firsthand glimpse of the damage on the drive home—my wipers trialing long black strings that looked like ragged feathers. Trickster? Two new wiper blades later, I’d say it’s safe to tack that name onto crows, too.

So, despite having my car become the momentary snack of choice, I haven’t lost my appreciation for these the magical tricksters. How about you?

Mythical Monday: The Pukwudgie, by Mae Clair

Before I lope off into Mythical Monday land, I wanted to mention that Dane Carlisle and Ellie Sullivan of my romantic mystery, ECLIPSE LAKE, are doing a character interview today at Jennifer Lowery’s blog. If you’d like to stop by and say hello, you can check the interview out here.

Now, about the strange creature in the title…

Interesting name, Pukwudgie. For some reason it makes me think of gremlins, or gnarled forest imps. Actually, those descriptions aren’t too far off base.

The Pukwudgie can be found in the folklore and myths of the Wampanoag people, Native Americans who occupied southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island beginning in the 17th Century. Legends describe the Pukwudgie as human in appearance but with a large nose, fingers and ears. They stand about two to three feet high, and have bodies covered in thick hair. Their skin is ashen or bluish-gray, and they favor natural materials which lend to camouflage for clothing—items like grasses, moss, tree bark, and reeds.

Despite its diminutive size, the Pukwudgie is a powerful being able to conjure the forces of magic. It can vanish at will, summon fire, and shoot flashes of light from its body. It also has the ability to shapeshift, its most common form that of a porcupine which walks upright. It delights in mischief and will often snatch children from unsuspecting parents. It also favors arrows tipped with poison that quickly cause a victim to sicken and die. Worse, those who perish at its hands remain trapped in its control for eternity.

3d Digitally rendered illustration of a Will O' the Wisp carrying a lantern through a misty swamp with dead treesThe Wampanoag call these departed spirits “Tei-Pai-Wankas.” Spheres of light, they are similar to the will-o-wisp and are used by the Pukwudgie to lure unsuspecting humans to their deaths. Those who follow a Tei-Pai-Wanka are mesmerized by its glowing form, unable to turn away. Easily enticed into swamps riddled with quicksand or compelled to walk off sheer cliffs, they suffer a grisly fate. If all else fails, a Pukwudgie is also able to inflict harm on a person simply by staring at them.

So how do you protect yourself against these nasty troll-like beings? (Supposedly, there are still Pukwudgie sightings today).

The best defense is to ignore creature and pray it won’t trouble you further. If that doesn’t work, you can recite the Lord’s Prayer, spread salt, or arm yourself with iron. Much like European Faeries, the Pukwudgie is repelled by all three defenses. You’re most likely to encounter one in New England or the Great Lakes Region, so be wary when travelling.

And at the very least, you might want to think twice before following any spheres of glowing light!  😉

Mythical Monday: The Brown Mountain Lights by Mae Clair

Brown Mountain is a low lying ridge tucked into the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For hundreds of years (some say longer) a phenomenon known as the Brown Mountain Lights has been observed by countless witnesses. The illumination, which appears as multi-colored balls floating above the mountain, has even resulted in two surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Society–one in 1913, the other in 1922. Many believe the Cherokee Indians observed the lights as far back as the 13th Century.

According to eye witnesses, the lights usually begin as a red ball which transitions to white before vanishing altogether. Sometimes a single orb will divide into several before reforming. Witnesses have also reported seeing blue, green, yellow and orange orbs, most lasting only a handful of seconds before fading or winking from sight.

A stony overlook extending into a treed gorge in

Overlook at Wiseman’s View in Linville Gorge, NC, one of the best vantage points for viewing the Brown Mountain Lights.
Photo of Wisemen’s View by Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The phenomenon is so consistent there are specific mile markers within the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook designating from where they are best viewed.

Usually “spooklights” of this sort occur in swampy areas where decaying plant matter produces methane gas. This in turn spontaneously ignites, causing mysterious light manifestations. There are, however, no swampy areas where the Brown Mountain lights materialize, and unlike gaseous orbs, those of Brown Mountain appear concentrated with the ability to maneuver about the mountain.

Naturally, theories have developed. Many involve ghosts, energy beings, UFOs and even aliens. Older folklore relies on stories passed through generations. One tale dates back to the year 1200, when a bloody clash took place on the ridge. According to that legend, a fierce battle between the Cherokee and Catawba Indians claimed the lives of many braves. That night, grieving for their fallen warriors, Indian maidens scoured the mountain by torchlight, searching for bodies. To this day, that eerie torchlight can still be seen flickering on the ridge as they continue their endless hunt for the fallen.

Another tale speaks of a cruel man who butchered his wife and child then buried the bodies on Brown Mountain where he thought no one would find them. Not long after he completed the grisly deed, lights began to appear and hover over the graves. The mysterious illumination drew others to the site, enabling them to discover the murder victims. The killer fled before he could be punished for his crime, and was never seen again. Perhaps the forest enacted its own fatal justice.

Whatever the source of the Brown Mountain Lights, they have been captured on film and video and witnessed from miles away.  As for the surveys conducted by the US Geological Society, investigators concluded witnesses mistakenly reported the oncoming headlights from trains and autos as something more mystifying.

In direct counterpoint, locals reported seeing the lights before autos and trains descended on the area. Additionally, in 1916, a flood wiped out area transportation routes for a full week. During that time the lights were still active and observed.

Fast forward to 1982, when a man named Tommy Hunter claimed to have touched one of the lights. Supposedly it bobbed up to the ridge where he was standing and hovered several feet off the ground. A few times larger than a basketball, it appeared yellowish in color, and gave him an electrical shock when he extended his hand. The light dimmed slightly at the contact, then floated off into the woods.

If you would like to know more about this puzzling phenomenon, check out Joshua P. Warren’s free booklet, The Brown Mountain Lights:Viewing Guide available for download in PDF.  As someone who has always been fascinated by spooklights, I found it mesmerizing reading!