Ye Olde Boneyard

Hello All!

With less than a week before Halloween, I hope you are all enjoying the season, occupying your thoughts with scary movies, frightful literature, and spooky tunes. For this week, I will be talking about cemeteries. They are a cornerstone of Halloween Tradition amongst others, including Dia de los Muertos. They are as old as people and can range from a single marker, to a cairn, to miles of burial plots. Every culture has their own traditions and means to prepare the dead. And attitudes toward such places can evoke fear or fascination. I will be adding my own opinions toward the topic of cemeteries as well.

As long as there are people, the dead will find a place to rest. The oldest known cemetery in the world is Taforalt Cave in Morocco. Those in their gentle repose have been resting there for around 15,000 years. This tradition has taken many forms. Grave fields are known for their unmarked burial plots but can include barrows, ossuaries, and underground tombs, so long as they are not marked above ground. Necropolises have a long history from Egypt’s pyramids, the Etruscan City of the Dead, Iran’s Naqsh-e Rostam, and France’s Père Lachaise Cemetery. Many draw visitors due to the architecture of these dead cities. A potter’s field or potter’s hill belongs to the pauper. See, death is a business like anything else. There is always money in death. And for those that can afford it, they can be buried in grand crypts or mausoleums. Such burial sites are known as garden or rural cemeteries. Beautiful places with aesthetic and placement of bodies planned out. Of course, such beauty comes with a price. In this instance, that price is monetary. The poor, the unclaimed, or the unknown, they get sent to the potter’s field. There are many currently used in the United States, including Hart Island in the Bronx, New York.  

As there are hundreds of thousands of cemeteries in the world, there are numerous means in which the dead are prepared and buried, or cremated, or consumed . . . Many cultures’ traditions toward the dead are based around their religious practices, their mythologies. In many cultures, such as Russian or Jewish, the mirror is covered after a death. In Jewish Tradition specifically, the body is not left alone until it is buried and the time of mourning that comes after the burial, usually a week, is known as the shiva. A well-known practice for preparing the dead is the Egyptians; the ancient ones with their mummies, tombs, and curses. Hmmm perhaps I should look into the idea of the Egyptian curse one of these days. Anywho, so we all know how they attended their dead. Modern Egyptians however, follow different traditions, mostly tied to their faith whether it is Islamic or Christian. Islamic funerals tend to be quick, emotional, and a community affair. There are a few unique means of tending the dead around the world. In the Philippines, the Igorot Tribe of the Mountain Province “bury” their dead in hanging coffins. They nail these coffins to the side of mountains due to a belief that the higher the dead are, the closer they are to their ancestors. Though less frequent in modern days, endocannibalism was another way that some cultures treated their dead. The Wari’ People of Brazil, in their history, would eat their dead. It was a sign of respect and a belief that the dead would live on in those that ate them. This practice has ceased.

Attitudes toward cemeteries vary both in a culture and individually. As I mentioned above, Dia de los Muertos features customs surrounding cemeteries. Many people celebrating the festival will go to cemeteries and make offerings at the graves of their family. They build altars, decorating them with orange marigolds, and leave food and drink for the souls of those who have died. There is care towards the cemetery and planning for the festival. Of course, cemeteries can also induce a bit of fear and superstition. From a psychological stance, necrophobia and coimetrophobia would play a large role in someone’s attitude toward the kirkyard. People who suffer from a fear of dead things or a fear of rot or being buried alive would face stark reminders in such places. Of course phobias tend to be an irrational fear, something not so easily overcome. Moving away from psychology, there are those who are more superstitious, who fear the stories surrounding various cemeteries. A vanishing hitchhiker is a popular legend found in different cemeteries, also known as Resurrection Mary. Other hauntings include the Smiley ghost of Mills Cemetery in Garland, Texas, said to try and pull into the ground those who lay upon his family’s plot. Aside from ghosts, there lie the dead and those who would rise from it; vampires and zombies, the standard undead faire. There are graves in Europe encased in iron to keep such beings in their resting places. Of course, others say such grave cages are actually meant to keep people from digging the bodies up. Grave robbers, a fine profession for those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. Of course, such acts are illegal and come with their own superstitions. And finally, there is also the fear of black magic and necromancy that might occur in graveyards, at night, in the dark.

But hey, who are we to judge.

I have spent many a day and night in cemeteries. One of my earliest experiences with graveyards was when I was 6 years old. It was my mom, my grandparents, and I. We were at the family cemetery in Westbury, New York. It was a hot, humid July day. Bugs abound, their buzzing a background hum. We were there with a somber task. Two years previous, nearly to the day, my aunt died and before she did, she wanted her ashes buried in New York, where most of the recent generations of our family have been born. So on that day, we were there, at our family’s plot, to bury ashes of my aunt. I say we but in truth, it was not a team effort. I was 6 and more concerned with entertaining myself. I darted around the graves, jumping here and there. I actually leapt over an open grave. It was basically, a park with statues as far as I was concerned. Again, I was 6. So that leaves, my grandparents: my grandma, my grandpa, and his wife, my step-grandma; and my mom. Of the four of them, the only one who actually fulfilled my aunt’s wishes was my mom, her sister. She sat on the ground, before the plot of earth and used a gardening trowel to dig while the others just watched. “You could get down here and help, you know,” she said to them. “No, we’re good,” they replied. So, by herself yet not alone, she dug down until she was satisfied, until she had enough, and set my aunt’s ashes into the hole before covering it back up.

That is my earliest experience with graveyards. I have always enjoyed then actually. Seeing the architecture, the names, famous writers—I have been to Washington Irving and H. P. Lovecraft’s graves—none of it feels morbid to me. Even at night, in the pitch black, it was not frightening. Were there ghosts then . . . probably.  But whether you love them, hate them, or have yet to form an opinion, cemeteries are diverse, old, and will live on, if you’ll excuse the pun.

So this Halloween, maybe spend some time with the resting dead and if you see a ghost or a zombie, leave it alone. It probably just taking a moment to itself.    

Strange Legends

Hello All!

So as I hinted last week, I have something a bit more spooky and Halloween themed this time. But before I go into that, allow me to add a bit of buildup. I got the idea for this from a story I was working on. The idea is, of course: Strange Legends. Now these don’t just have to be for Halloween but given the nature of the season, why not, right? As always, the main purpose for me sharing these tales is to give others ideas to tell their own stories. The story that I am writing that I mentioned last week is based on a local legend I recently discovered and researching it, the place it occurred, and the ramifications was fun. So I hope you will draw some inspiration from these legends. Some you may know. Others, perhaps not. There is no particular order but we shall start with the Devil.

The Devil’s Tramping Ground

They say the Devil walks in North Carolina. In Bear Creek, off State Route 902, there is a place where no grass grows. 40 feet in diameter, this barren circle is said to be were the Devil paces at night, plotting. The legend can be traced back to the 1880s and states that witnesses have seen red glowing eyes in the center of the circle. Furthermore, it has been reported that an object placed inside the circle overnight will either be found a number of feet outside the circle come morning or will not be found at all. Of course, people have tried to stay in tents in the center of the circle and while no person has been moved as of yet, there has been reports of footsteps around the tent and strange phenomena occurring. The land itself within the circle will not support growth. There have been attempts to plants flowers and trees yet they will not grow. A scientific examination of the soil revealed only high potassium readings in the circle though it is not enough to explain why plants wither and die within the area. Whether it is truly the Devil or a Native American burial ground, or the site of a UFO landing, the area is strange. For more information, you can check out The Devil’s Tramping Ground & Other North Carolina Mystery Stories by John Harden.

Riverdale Road

We can’t talk about strange legends and places without mentioning a haunted road. Located in Thornton, Colorado, the road stretches from E. 160th Street south west until it ends at a crossroads at Cypress Drive and Colorado Boulevard. It has been labeled the most haunted road in the United States and is home to numerous tales of strange goings on. Of course, first and foremost, one of my favorites is the phantom hitchhiker that traverses the empty sections of Riverdale Road. Of course, the hitchhiker is a woman in white. Now additionally, another woman in white is said to haunt another patch of the same road. She is said to be the wife of a man that had lost his mind and burned his own house down while his family slept. It seems that this road is home to many other tales of strange and tragic incidents as there is also a phantom Camaro that will ride up from behind; the ghost of a child killed on the road who leaves bloody fingerprints on the signs at night; and during a full moon, the bodies of dead slaves can be seen hanging from trees. This road appears to be the sum of a multitude of murderous and tragic events that still lingers to this day. 

From my own personal experience, I have traveled across this country a number of times and there is a vastness to the land that those who don’t drive cross country might not fully grasp. There are places where, as you drive past them, you get that sense of abnormality, that eerie feeling that you should not stop, no matter what. That there is a certainty, you are not alone even if there are no other cars in sight.

Kuldhara

Going outside the United States, another haunted place is Kuldhara in Rasjasthan, India. While the village was started in the 1200s, it is popularly known for its sudden abandonment in the 1800s. Supposedly, the entire population vanished overnight. Speculation has ranged from a lack of a water supply, cruelty by a minister of the kingdom towards the people of the village, and most recently, that an earthquake forced evacuation. Of course, an entire population vanishing from a village or settlement is not uncommon. This brings to mind the Lost Colony of Roanoke whose population had vanished by the time the colony’s governor had returned with supplies. For Kuldhara, the folklore around the village states that the land had been cursed to spite the aforementioned minister and any that live there will die. Some who had stayed the night in the crumbling ruins have heard screams and voices. It is said that such tales are simply to acquire tourists but who knows.      

Kuchisake-onna

And finally, we come to Japan with a creepy one. I am very interested in the legends of Japan. The last time I posted on various stories like this, I mentioned the Suicide Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Aokigahara. Here we will look at a ghost story that spans centuries. While there are variations of course, the story goes that a beautiful woman, married to a samurai, was having an affair. Upon discovering this, the samurai slit her mouth from ear to ear. Other versions suggest she was the victim of a botched medical procedure or mutilated at the hands of a rival who thought the woman too beautiful. Now, the legend doesn’t end there. It is said that after her death, she still haunts the streets, the lower portion of her face covered by a fan, a cloth, or a mask; and she holds something sharp, a knife or scissors. She wanders the streets and if she approaches you, she will ask “Am I beautiful?” If you say yes, she reveals the lower portion of her face and asks again. If you say no, she kills you. If you say yes, she slits your mouth to look like hers. Not much chill in this situation. Oh and if you say no to the first time she asks, she’ll just kill you. So aside from simply avoiding women in masks, the only ways to try and escape such a fate is to call her average looking or try to bribe her with hard candies. As I said, there are different versions of this story. Hard to say which one would be true.

I hope some of these have piqued your interest and perhaps inspired your own story telling. I have always loved urban legends and folktales. Some are very similar, spanning regions, centuries, and even oceans. I think we all love a good scary story now and then.

So until next time, remember, that thing that goes bump in the night, or those headlights behind your car may not be as normal as you think.

Postmodern

Hello All!

It has been a bit of a busy week for me. A couple of writing opportunities have come up with strict deadlines and have inspired me to write a story so I have been focused on that. It is coming along quite nicely. So we will see where that goes. It is another horror story. I do like those a lot. The one I am writing also contains a story within a story, which I have always enjoyed.

Overall, I tend toward more traditional movements in my style, beginning, middle, and end; a reliable narrator; a linear path. Amusing then that my first published story, Mr. Mungo’s Shop of Oddities, had an unreliable narrator. Such a narrator is part of the postmodern movement. A while back, I wrote on that topic and I thought I would share that here.

While this has little to do with the spooky season we find ourselves in, I have something interesting to share next time that reflects this glorious October.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the following opinion on postmodernism in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

A Postmodern Ceremony

Throughout history, there have been many artistic movements. The Renaissance brought classical works and attention to more scientific ideas to the forefront of society. After the Renaissance, the Reformation came along followed by its counter-movement the Baroque. This trend, movement then countermovement, continued with Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Realism, eventually moving into Modernism. This modernism however, coupled with advances in technology, has given rise to a unique movement devoted to the individual: Postmodernism. Extreme ideas, anti-traditional, and always searching for new mediums, the postmodern writer encompasses a breaking away from the past by looking at what has come before in a different way. Leslie Marmon Silko and her novel Ceremony stand out as an important part of postmodern literature through what postmodernism showcases, how her novel relates to postmodernist features and how she influenced both the literary world and the academic world.

But what is postmodernism? Though the term was coined in the 1940s, postmodernism is a pseudo-countermovement to the architecture of Modernism and gained strength after World War II (Felluga 2011). Eventually its ideals spread to art and literature. The changing face of technology has also played a major role in the postmodern movement. Electronic publishing, alternative mediums, and the rise of flash and micro-fiction have brought postmodernism directly into the 21st century. Due to the varied expressions of this movement, postmodernism is difficult to define. A loose explanation asserts that it is “[a] rejection of the sovereign autonomous individual with an emphasis upon anarchic collective, anonymous experience” (Keep, McLaughlin & Parmar 2000). But due to the very nature of postmodernism, a size-fits-all definition is nigh impossible as the movement means different things to different people.

What critics can agree upon are the numerous aspects of postmodernism which “extends the modern or tendencies already present in modernism, not necessarily in strict chronological succession, or working out questions and problems implicit in modernism without a break from core assumptions” (Irvine 2013). Some characteristics overall include the use of metafiction, using local myths or abandoning Master Narratives,  experimentation with format, syntax, and point of view, and a rejection of character presentation and linear storytelling (Irvine 2013). Postmodernist writers will use any and all of the aforementioned characteristics and some that have not been mentioned. And that is where Leslie Marmon Silko comes in.

Leslie Marmon Silko (originally Leslie Marmon) was born in 1948 in New Mexico, USA. She was a child of “mixed-breed ancestry” (qtd. from Poetry Foundation 2016), but grew up as a Laguna Pueblo Native American, living on the border of the reservation and attending school on site until the fifth grade. Silko has cited her own ancestry, predominately the Laguna side, as a great influence for her writings, specifically the stories and myths of her people which showcase her people’s beliefs and way of life (Poetry Foundation 2016). Overall her writing offer a narrative outside the western civilization’s predominate view which is a part of postmodern writing. As such, Silko used the history of her people to walk her own path to bring an “awareness that the epistemological ‘limits’ of those ethnocentric ideas are also the enunciative boundaries of a range of other dissonant, even dissident histories and voices – women, the colonized, [and] minority groups” (Bhabha 1994). Specifically, this can be seen in her novel Ceremony which also serves as a quintessential postmodern piece. 

The novel follows the story of Tayo, a half-Laguna pueblo, half-white, young man as he recovers from his time serving in World War II. Tayo also suffers from PTSD and one of the means in which he may heal is to follow the traditions of his people and preform a ceremony that occurs throughout the novel. The main postmodern elements that are displayed throughout the work concern how the events occur out of chronological order or in a somewhat fragmented manner. At one point in the novel, Tayo is a young boy thinking about his late mother, asking questions about her to his aunt (Silko 70-1) then after a Laguna myth is recounted, Tayo is in his late teens and signing up for the army with his cousin Rocky (72) before finally the novel shifts to sometime before that event when Tayo is helping his Uncle Josiah secure some cattle (73). The novel rejects the traditional use of plot concerning a linear beginning, middle, and end, instead weaving between various pasts and presents as well as narrating through different point of views including Uncle Josiah and Helen Jean, a girl Tayo and his companions pick up one day. This fragmentation of events serves to tell the story in bits rather than as a whole. Silko makes a direct reference to this weaving of the past and present when she writes:

He could get no rest as along as the memoires were tangled up with the present, tangled up like colored treads from old Grandma’s wicker sewing basket when he was a child, and he had carried them outside to play and they had spilled out of his arms into the summer weeds and rolled away in all directions, and then he had hurried to pick them up before Auntie found him. (6-7)

Here not only is Silko addressing the form in which she is writing, similar to metafiction, but she is also shifting the focus of this long sentence, built of clause after cause, from the tangled memories to a memory, effectively moving the present to the past with a single thought.

 Another aspect of postmodern literature that Silko displays in her novel is the unreliable narrator. Along with stepping away from the linear passage of time, postmodernist writers will also abandon traditional views of narration, specifically by making the narrator unreliable via different means (Van Brunt 2004). It can be done by limiting the narrator’s knowledge or, in Tayo’s case, by the author providing reason for the reader to doubt the narrator’s version of the events. When Tayo is introduced, he is “toss[ing] in the old iron bed” (Silko 5) drifting back and forth between his present and his memories of his time spent as a POW to the Japanese during World War II. While not directly mentioned in the novel, Silko implies Tayo is suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental condition that can involve flashbacks, anxiety, and nightmares (Mayo Clinic 2016). Tayo experiences all three, such as when his thoughts “became entangled” (Silko 7), experiences hallucinations, and doubts his own existence. The latter can be seen in the following passage:

For a long time he had been white smoke. He did not realize that until he left the hospital, because white smoke had no consciousness of itself. It faded into the white world of their bed sheets and walls; it was sucked away by the words of the doctors that tried to talk to the invisible scattered smoke. (14)

Here Tayo doubts his existence, his mind “scattered” from what he experienced in the war as well as grief from the loss of his Uncle and his cousin Rocky. Furthermore, throughout the novel, Tayo’s mental state is questioned. His aunt is always “watching him” (215), waiting for something to happen and near the end of the story, the “whites” are trying to “lock [Tayo] in the white walls of the hospital” (232). Overall, the shifting nature of Tayo’s mental state and recollection of events causes the reader to question the narrator and “to discern and decide his or her own version of what is true and what is not within the context of the story” (Van Brunt 2004). By forcing the reader to question such events, and more importantly, the world seen by Tayo, the reader must decide on believing his words and ultimately whether or not the journey he, and the reader, took was in fact true.

Finally, another characteristic of postmodernism that is portrayed in Ceremony is magic realism. Magic realism is a subgenre of both postmodern and post-colonial movements that centers on the supernatural connected with the rational world in a way that is meant to be believable by the characters of the literary work. Put another way, “The presence of the supernatural in magical realism is often connected to the primeval or magical “native” mentality, which exists in opposition to European rationality” (Moore 2012) which connects to Silko’s narrative specifically due to her use of the Laguna Pueblo myths interwoven throughout the novel. One example is:

“Fly will go with me,” Hummingbird said.

“We’ll go see

what she wants.”

They flew to the fourth world

below.

Down there

was another kind of daylight

everything was blooming

and growing

everything was beautiful. (Silko 82)

The rest follow in the same pattern, each part of a larger story, similar to the fragmentation mentioned earlier. During the latter half of the novel, Tayo begins to see connections to the stories after visiting Betonie, a medicine man. The use of ceremony and ritual becomes an undertone of the story framing Tayo’s path until he reaches a crossroads near the very end of the novel. A choice between killing an enemy who was hurt a friend of Tayo’s or letting the situation reach its own conclusion without him. But with the myths throughout the story, the myths that he believes, Tayo decides not to interfere for if he had “[t]he witchery [would have] … ended the story” (253). This witchery is a part of the myths that Tayo relies on to heal him of his fears and memories obtained from World War II. On a larger scale, these ceremonies, these myths act as a part of the Laguna peoples’ reality. 

Leslie Marmon Silko’s works, Ceremony specifically, has been a grand influence on those that came after her. The postmodern ideal centers on alternative narratives and non-Eurocentric mythologies and seeks to elevate writers that reflect that ideal. Silko’s Ceremony has been called “a masterpiece” (Nealson 1) and is a premiere Native American text devoted to capturing the Laguna Pueblo world view. Critical essays have been written about Ceremony including two collections, Leslie Marmon Silko: A Collection of Critical Essays (1999) by Louise Barnet and James Thorson and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony: A Casebook (2002) by Allen Chavkin. Both collections “gathers together the work of fifteen Silko scholars” (1). Additionally Silko’s writings have been the source of many studies, both in Native American studies and feminist studies as well as literary theory. A number of colleges cite Ceremony or require it as a text to study.

Additionally, Silko’s work can continue to serve as an influence on the future of cultural literature and literature in general. Due to the post-colonial movement, more and more writers, especially those with a non-western, non-Eurocentric world view are growing in number. The more non-Eurocentric voices are added to the tapestry of literature, the clearer the image of the world becomes. This cultural literature also acts as a bridge between cultures as represented by Silko who not only represented her Native American heritage but writes as a woman of diversity, being part Caucasian and Latina as well. And considering within “the next 15 years … the younger part of the U.S. population is growing entirely because the numbers of racial minorities” (Frey 2015), Silko, and others like her that paved the way, will serve as examples for younger generations.

Furthermore, Ceremony’s use of the Laguna Pueblo myths and stories hold another important place for the future. They provide an established link to a culture that had been oppressed and segregated. The oral traditions and myths she shared in her novel, originally kept solely amongst the Laguna Pueblo people, will now be available for future study, by the younger generation of the tribe, by cultural historians, and by mythologists. Silko offers a change to what came before by transcribing an oral tradition into a written one (Austgen n.d.). Therefore, as heritages merge and societies become more diverse, these myths and stories will still impact the world.

The postmodern movement is a fundamental part of Silko and her novel Ceremony thanks to the various postmodern aspects she utilizes as well as her role in providing a voice for the Laguna Pueblo people. From the beginning of the postmodernist age, the attention of the author traversed large expanses, ranged through extremes of thought, and rejected traditional notions. Silko’s Ceremony plays with time, with form. It has the reader question the events experienced by the protagonist and incorporates magical realism into the story via the myths and stories of the Laguna Pueblo people. Her works have influenced future generations and academic. Ceremony stands as a testament to the post-colonial movement because of its attention to the non-Eurocentric voice and is widely used as an academic text for higher education. As far as what is next for Leslie Marmon Silko, her works continue to attract students and scholars alike.

Works cited:

Austgen, Suzanne M. “Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and the Effects of White Contact on Pueblo Myth and Ritual.” History.hanover.edu. n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London ; New York: Routledge, 1994.

Felluga, Dino. “General Introduction to Postmodernism.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. June 31st, 2011. Web. 16 July 2016.

Frey, William H. “In the U.S., Diversity is the New Majority.” Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2015. Web. 26 July 2016.

Irvine, Martin. “Approaches to Po-Mo.” Georgetown University. 2013. Web.  26 June 2016.

Keep, Christopher, Tim McLaughlin & Robin Parmar.”Defining Postmodernism.”  The Electronic Labyrinth. 2000. Web. 30 June 2016.

Mayo Clinic. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Definition.” Mayo Clinic. 2016. Web. 17 July 2016.

Moore, Lindsay. “Magical Realism.” Postcolonial Studies @ Emory. 1998. Ed. 2012. Web. 17 July 2016.

Nelson, Robert M. Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony: The Recovery of Tradition. Peter Lang Publishing. New York. 2008. pp: 2. E-text.

Poetry Foundation. “Leslie Marmon Silko: Biography.” Poetry Foundation 2016. Web. 30 June 2016.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. Penguin Books 1977. pp: 5, 6-7, 14, 70-1, 72, 73, 82, 215, 232, 253. Print.

Van Brunt, Alexa. “The Postmodern Crisis of Narrative: Byatt, Carey, and Swift.” Brown University, 2004. Web. 17 July 2016.

October

Hello All!

So another October has arrived. It is a time of slowing down, a time of autumn; a time for ghosts and monsters to shake off the dust of summer and begin to skulk around in the shadows. Spooky things have always interested me. Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of the year. And I am pleased to say that this October has gotten a little bit more frightening due to a story of mine being published. Yes, that is right, another story is out in the world and it is a tale of horror.

The story is one I have put a fair amount of work into; one I am quite pleased with. Isolation plays a central part to the story and I think for many, isolation can be terrifying to face. Humans are social animals, to paraphrase Aristotle, and as such most people seek out interaction, connection; an issue even more problematic in the world currently. That the story coming out in October also fits the story’s genre—horror, obviously—as well as its setting; a farm house surrounded by a corn field. The harvest, reaping what one sows, is entwined in this month as well as Halloween. Samhain is considered to mean Summer’s End though at its heart it is a festival to celebrate the close of the harvest. And what a harvest it is. I am very pleased that my story was published during this month which brings me to an important point: where can you find it?

Cosmic Horror Monthly, an online magazine, has published my story, Among the Stalks, in their October issue. It can be found on their site Cosmic Horror Monthly and comes in electronic format with a paperback version appearing soon in their E-store. The issue contains a number of other stories, including the work of Charles R. Bernard and a piece by H.G. Wells. Additionally there are a number of art pieces in the issue, including work by Kevin Hurtack (kevinhutack.wordpress.com), Luke Spooner, and cover art by Toeken (https://atoekeneffort.weebly.com/).

October 2020 Issue #4. Art by Toeken

Cosmic Horror Monthly also has a number of fiction stories under The Crypt as well as nonfiction pieces. Check them out. Their first issue came out in July of this year. I would like to take this moment to thank Cosmic Horror Monthly and their editor, Charles Tyra, for this opportunity. This is my first publication in an online magazine and has been very exciting for me.

Now then, of course I will be sharing an excerpt to tempt you all.

It comes again. More puissant than the night before, the dreadful sound mingling with the wind and shifting rustle of the corn that surrounds the farm. I stare out one of the windows for hours but can discern nothing from the swaying stalks with their sharp edges. The dark sky, with its far away pinpricks of light, hiding anything that might serve to explain this growing nuisance, this encroaching sense of doom that pervades my mind like some cyclopean horror. I have never felt such fear before and it worries me. Is this…? No, I must get a hold of myself. It would do me no good to fall apart now.

I first heard the sound about a week ago, a deliberate motion in the dead of night as though there was something alive out there. But when I checked the next morning, I found nothing that would suggest proof of my ridiculous notion. What could be out there? As I peered from the dreary, rotted porch, all I saw had been a seemingly endless sea of corn; that and a single scarecrow.

What could that noise be? Where will it lead? I hope you will find out what lurks Among the Stalks. (Yes, I went there. No, I regret nothing.)

So this October, isolation and our own harvests probably play a deeper role in our lives than may be apparent. And that is why there are horror stories to make such themes relatable, or perhaps it is vice versa. Either way, read something that scares you.

Until next time, sit back with a cup of something warm, perhaps laced with pumpkin, and read. Halloween will be here before we know it and we should all take advantage of the change in season.

Dungeons & Dragons

Hello All!

So I have been playing RPGs for some time, mostly in video game format. As for tabletops, I have been playing Magic: The Gathering for years. For me, the lore, the story, of such pursuits was a large of part of the appeal. To create your own personal history in the game, your backstory, is very interesting and fun. With that said, it is only within the last year or so that I have truly delved into Dungeons & Dragons. I had heard about it before but with its sudden surge in media popularity, I was seeing it everywhere. Honestly, it was due to a combination of Stranger Things, iZombie, and Outside Xbox that I finally started looking into it.

I have since started my own campaign as a DM and I enjoy it. I am currently using 5e guidelines. The world building and collective storytelling are very interesting to me. While I am no stranger to world building—I have a number of fantasy stories in the works—I find the D&D approach more involved. Granted you can do anything you want in a homebrew, the ways the Dungeon Master Guide outlines methods to create a city, an NPC, or even a magical item have opened up different perspectives for my stories, even ones that aren’t within the fantasy genre. I find myself looking at my characters differently, their appearance, their goals, and of course their backstory; even minor characters. I am sure some will say that this should be a given for any author and I don’t disagree, but it is in the how that has helped me try to flesh out my characters, even the unnamed NPCs.  

With regards to collective storytelling, this is something I have not had much experience in until I started to delve into D&D. While “no man is an island” and most published works are not solely created by an author, specifically through the work of editors, beta readers, and the like; writing in and of itself can be a solo adventure. This is not the case in most D&D/ Tabletop RPGs. While the DM crafts the frame work of the story, the players add life to it and actively change it. Unless you are a DM that seeks to establish every inch of your adventure which I would prefer not to do as a bit of chaos is fun. Such an element forces the DM to improvise, to build on the narrative and let it become a living thing. It allows the players to feel truly a part of the story and that their decisions matter. Plus, as a DM, you can totally build on their backstories in terrible and heart wrenching ways when they least expect it, or make them deal with the consequences of their actions.

In the campaign I have brewed up, I have made a framework that is still being fleshed out. And I don’t mind the empty spaces. As the PCs progress through the storyline, I am adding more and more: NPCs, organizations, villains, people to save, and of course problems to solve. Their actions have forced me to consider everything they might do as they move from place to place. I try to plan for everything just in case, at least to a point. Some things are just improvised.

As far as the reading material, the source books, guides, and the monster manuals; there is so much lore to draw from, it’s hard to know where to start. I have yet to run a module though there are a number that look intriguing. The monster manual and character guides are probably my favorite as they can really help shape ideas for the narrative. Through character arcs, dungeon bosses, or even that goblin bard that really just wants to impress the gnome girl in the minstrel group, the lore the books offer, at its core, a means of creation.

And I think that is what writing, at its core, is all about. To create, to tell a story.

While this has not been as long as my last post, I hope you all enjoy my thoughts on the topic of D&D. While I have yet to delve into the other multitudes of tabletop RPGs out there—I’m looking at you Cthulhu and the Weird West—I enjoy what I have been doing so far.

So until next time, explore a cult ridden mineshaft, overthrow a corrupt kingdom, go shopping at a dragon owned bazaar, and turn that annoying human into a turtle (if they fail their save of course).           

Something Different

Hello All!

I am trying something different today. As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to share some of the nonfiction pieces I have worked on in the last few years. They are longer than my previous posts, come with sources, and have a more academic feel to them. I thought it might be interesting to share. The first piece takes a look at revenge in two Shakespearean pieces. I hope you enjoy.

To Avenge or Not To Avenge?

There are times when the desire to seek retribution seizes you, whether it is because you were passed over for a promotion at work, been the butt of a vicious joke, or perhaps your uncle killed your father and married your mother to become king of Denmark. While the latter is less likely to happen in contemporary times, the urge for vengeance and justice still endures to this day.  Revenge is characterized by the act of punishing a person or group for a perceived injustice. Justice centers on the conceived notion of what is right and what is wrong spanning both morals and law. Together, they touch everyone regardless of the era in which they live but for Elizabethan England, such themes radiated from playhouses due to Hamlet and Macbeth. The former’s plot directly entwines with the desire for revenge and uses the “blood feud” that was popular at the time. The latter’s use of revenge to achieve justice follows rebellion against a tyrannical king. The role of revenge and justice showcased in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, as well as their contemporary counterparts, reveals an enduring theme. It also shows how Elizabethan culture and modern societies view a highly emotional topic, through their religious attitudes and Shakespeare’s legacy.

For Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the plot was heavily influenced by the themes of revenge and justice which are explored by the title character. Hamlet questions his actions, as well as the validity of the ghost which acts as a catalyst for the piece’s events. The Ghost’s words “So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear” (Shakespeare, 1.5.11) followed by “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.29) send Hamlet on a deadly course with tragic consequences. His preoccupation with seeking justice for his father’s death blurs the line between moral and selfish justice. He wishes to find proof of his uncle’s villainy, as well as punish his mother for marrying his uncle. On numerous occasions, Shakespeare has Hamlet second guess the apparition, driving him to find out the truth rather than blindly kill his uncle. This can be seen when Hamlet has a group of players act out the murder so that he and Horatio can monitor his uncle’s reaction.

Hamlet

Fie upon’t! foh!—About, my brain! I have heard

That guilty creatures, sitting at a play,

Have by the very cunning of the scene

Been struck so to the soul that presently

They have proclaim’d their malefactions;

For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak (2.2.564-569)

The justice that Hamlet seeks–and later, that Laertes desires for the murder of his father, Polonius, and the madness and eventual suicide of his sister, Ophelia–creates acts of revenge. These two concepts are highly entwined, as the need for justice can act as a driving force for revenge. In an article by Thomas Tripp, Robert Bies, and Karl Aquino for Social Justice Research, they state, “the emotion of moral outrage mediates the relationship between perceptions of blame and revenge: the more intentional the harm is perceived to be, then the stronger the moral outrage is, which results in more vengeful responses” (Tripp, Bies, and Aquino, 19). Here, the need for justice coupled with high emotions results in the blood feud that eventually ends not only Claudius’ life but also Hamlet’s, Gertrude’s, and Laertes’. This calls to attention a quote attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

In Macbeth, the role of revenge and justice is brought up towards the end of the play, when Malcom, the son of Duncan, and Macduff, Thane of Fife, are in England. While trying to convince Malcolm to retake the Scottish throne from the tyrannical Macbeth, Macduff learns of his family’s murder. Beside himself, Malcolm remarks “Be comforted. / Let’s make us medicines of our great revenge, / To cure this deadly grief” (4.3.220-22). Here, Shakespeare builds on Macbeth’s arrogance and growing madness to present revenge as a viable, almost necessary option.

During the Elizabethan era, revenge and justice were interesting notions. On one hand, the “Tudor-Stuart attitudes towards revenge … have focused on the blood feuds” (Broude, 39), which centers on seeking justice of a personal nature against another. Such blood feuds “harked back to a past where smaller self-governing units controlled local power” (Lavery, 2016) and culminated in duels regardless of who was truly at fault. Eventually, public displays of vengeance became a means to punish acts that were deemed against the welfare of the people (Broude, 41).  On the opposite side of the spectrum, religion was “a part of the fabric of life, like sleeping and working and breathing” (Hinton & Moore, 13). It predominated much of the political theatre, as the schism between England and the Vatican grew due to the rise of Protestantism, and later Anglicanism, under Queen Elizabeth I. Yet, the very nature of Protestantism /Anglicanism goes against the idea of revenge as Canon D.B. Knox asserts, “The teaching of the Christian faith is that punishment is based on the concept of justice. That is, it is never self-centred, but revenge, however, is always self-centred” Knox, 2016). The influence of religion combined with revenge and justice can be seen in Hamlet during act 3, scene 3 where Claudius confesses his crime through prayer calling out to heaven while Hamlet, hearing this, forestalls his vengeance out of fear that his uncle would ascend to paradise rather than sink to the underworld (38-100). In Macbeth, once Macduff learns of his family’s murders, he cries out to heaven to allow him face to face with Macbeth so that Macduff can get his revenge (4.3.237-42).

For the title character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the desire to avenge the murder of his father causes him great internal strife while in Macbeth, Macduff’s desire to avenge the murder of his wife and children is resolute. Here, Shakespeare presents revenge in a justified way. In Eleanor Prosser’s essay “Revenge on the English Stage, 1562-1607,” Prosser explores the audience’s possible reaction to revenge by judging the methodology behind the character’s desire for revenge. Such figures like Hamlet or Macduff, “may have flaws of character, but, at least until he must decide whether or not to take private revenge, his primary commitment is to virtue” (Prosser, 3). Such virtue, valued by Elizabethan society, earned the audience’s sympathies: “[c]aught up in the excitement of the play, they may have sympathized strongly with the very actions that later, either in subsequent scenes or after the play, they strongly, if regretfully, condemned” (20).

There are a few other works wherein Shakespeare includes the theme of revenge and justice. Coriolanus, the main character of the play of the same name states “And make my misery serve thy turn. So use it / That my revengeful services may prove / As benefits to thee; for I will fight / Against my cank’red country with the spleen” (Shakespeare, 4.5.86-89) indicating his desire to seek revenge on his home for his banishment. In Titus Andronicus, revenge and justice circle the characters of Titus and Tamora who fall into a cycle of vengeance and blood. It begins with Titus sacrificing Tamora’s eldest son as recompense for the deaths that occurred before the events of the play.

Revenge and justice continue to play an active role in today’s world. Feelings of resentment, of anger, at others over perceived wrongs remain prevalent as Eric Jaffe writes “A thirst for vengeance is nothing if not timeless” (Jaffe, 2016). Enduring across many mediums, the desire for revenge, for justice, can be seen and experienced in many different ways.

One literary work that includes the desire to avenge a murdered parent, as seen in Hamlet, is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Although the story’s major theme is true love, a subtheme, as seen through Inigo Montoya’s arc, consists of his desire to avenge the murder of his father. As Inigo tells the swordsmith, Yeste, “I have spent all these years preparing to find the six-fingered man and kill him in a duel” (Goldman, 68). The act of revenge is shown as justified due to the cruel nature of Count Rugen and the honorable qualities of Inigo. The difference between Inigo and Hamlet is their approach. Inigo does not question whether he should seek revenge against the Six-Fingered Man whereas Hamlet wavers back and forth, debating on whether he should kill his uncle.   

A contemporary film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet reinvents the piece to adhere to modern conventions. Directed by Michael Almereyda and starring Ethan Hawke as Hamlet, the film attempts to remain true to the play. The dialogue remains unaltered throughout yet it is set in contemporary times. The theme of revenge is present though how the events unfold is updated using modern representations: the Ghost is seen through security footage, and Hamlet uses surveillance bugs to spy on his uncle. 

Scotland, PA, a film directed by William Morrissette, is a 2001 adaptation of Macbeth. This version is stylistically different than the play. Set in 1975, the events take place in Scotland, Pennsylvania in and around a burger joint owned by Duncan. Mac (Macbeth) kills Duncan to gain ownership of the restaurant. In this version, while madness and paranoia remain prevalent, the theme of revenge is more symbolic, becoming poetic justice rather than something sought out by Macduff and Malcolm’s characters. The character of Macduff, named Mcduff in the film and played by Christopher Walken, is a detective looking into the murder of Duncan. Macbeth’s death at the end is not motivated by Mcduff’s desire for revenge but is a side effect of the investigator attempting to arrest Macbeth.

Humans are emotional creatures and when faced with injustice, the desire to seek retribution, regardless of being acted upon, is a part of human nature. For some, revenge is truly about justice, “the idea that simply seeing an offender suffer restores an emotional balance to the universe” (Gollwitzer, cited from Jaffe, 2016). It is that hunt for justice that still leaves Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth a relevant force. The symbol of the avenger centers on the notion of protecting your loved ones, to seek justice for the crimes against them. As time wears on, that same ideal is still present. Hamlet has seen at least twenty-five such adaptations both as a play, with one of the most recent productions at the Barbican Theatre starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Barbican, 2016) and on the silver screen. Macbeth has seen at least twenty-two reproductions. Shakespeare’s legacy will endure so long as humans seek justice, seek to right the wrongs they have incurred, revenge, and such mediums that display the theme, will continue to be relevant and enjoyed.

Works cited:

Broude, Ronald. “Revenge and Revenge Tragedy in Renaissance England.” Renaissance Quarterly 28.1 (1975) pp: 38-58. The University of Chicago Press. Web. 4 March 2016.

Goldman, William. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Etext.

Hamlet. Dir. Michael Almereyda. Perf. Ethan Hawke, Julia Styles, Kyle MacLachlan, Liev Schreiber, Diane Venora, and Bill Murray. Buena Vista Pictures. 2000.

“Hamlet.” Barbican. Hamlet-Barbican. n.d. Web. 12 March 2016. 

Hinton, Peter, & Jane Moore. “William Shakespeare: An Overview of his Life, Times, And Work.” NAC English Theater Company. 2008. Web. 4 March 2016. 

Jaffe, Eric. “The Complicated Psychology of Revenge.” The Observer 24.8. Oct. 2011. Web. 12 March 2016.

Knox, David Broughton. “Punishment As Retribution – and Capital Punishment A Criticism of the Humanist Attitude to Justice.” Interchange 1.1 via Anglican Church League. April 1967. Web. 4 March 2016.

Lavery, Hannah. “Hamlet and Elizabethan England.” OpenLearn.com. 11th Feb. 2016 Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

Prosser, Eleanor. ““Revenge on the English Stage, 1562-1607.” Hamlet and Revenge, pp. 36-73. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1967. Web. 4 March 2016.

Scotland, PA. Dir. Billy Morrissette. Perf. James LeGros, Maura Tierney, and Christopher Walken. Lot 47 Films. 2001.

Shakespeare, William. “Coriolanus.” Project Gutenberg. N.p., 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.   

Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” Project Gutenberg. N.p., 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.     

Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth.” Project Gutenberg. N.p., 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.   

Tripp, Thomas, Robert Bies, and Kar Aquino. “A Vigilante Model of Justice: Revenge, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and Avoidance.” Social Justice Research. 20.1. March 2007.  Pp: 19. E-text.

Life’s Little Journeys

Hello All!

Oh my, it has been a long time. A bit of a cliché, I suppose, to start a blog then leave it by the wayside due to life and all its little journeys. A lot has happened since last I addressed you all. Hell, a lot has happed for all of us since the beginning of this year alone. What I am here to say is that I intend to breathe life back into my wordpress. I will start today with sharing a bit of what I have done and then go into what I plan to do. This will be a bit more personal in tone.

First and foremost, in a previous post, I had mentioned I was in school. Well, I did finish and I acquired my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English. Additionally, I also took a number of classes in history. I find that both of these have helped me in understanding the research required for certain writing projects, particularly period pieces. Furthermore, I have delved a bit more into nonfiction which admittedly is not my favorite area of storytelling. Nevertheless, I have grown to appreciate it more.

As far as my writings are concerned, I am pleased to say that I have two more short stories published, both in anthologies. The first, “To Steal from a Wizard,” was published in Meet the Systems: Stories of Regimes, Formulas, and Schemes: 3rd Annual NaNo Los Angeles Anthology by Viannah E. Duncan (Author), Lisa Walsh (Editor), Daniel Prosek (Editor), K. Andrew Turner (Editor), Katy Mann (Editor), Brad Ray (Editor), June Low (Editor), Cara Barker (Editor), Spencer Borup (Editor), Sara W. McBride (Editor). Below is an excerpt to stoke the fires of interest:

“Could belong to one of Master Soravi’s wives,” the younger guard said.

The dark-haired guard shrugged, then took the piece of silk from the other man’s hand and sniffed it.

Nori groaned and felt sick at the thought of the man smelling her scent. How could I have been so foolish? She shifted slightly and felt the pressure of the blade’s tip prick her back through the thin fabric of her gown. This stupid girl. She wanted to bite her hand, wanted to scream, but then the guards would find them.

The dark-haired guard coughed then shook his head. “You are probably right.” He turned and began walking toward the cabinet.

Nori stiffened and felt the girl’s grip tighten. The advancing guard’s shadow slithered through the cabinet’s slats, seeming to reach for them. The pulse of the girl’s veins throbbed against Nori’s lips as the faintest hint of rotted fruit drifted into her nose. Nori’s heart thundered as the man fiddled with the cabinet’s knob. Neither girl breathed. The seconds crawled by. The guard bent closer. Nori could see that his eyes were a light brown. The rattle of the knob filled the cabinet. Nori shut her eyes.

The second story, “What Remains Behind,” was published in We’ve All Been There: 4th Annual NaNo Los Angeles Anthology by Elisabeth Ashlin  (Author), Spencer Hamilton (Editor), Jeff Yabumoto  (Editor), Sara W. McBride (Editor), W. L. Weddendorf (Editor), Robert Todd Ogrin (Editor), & Katy Mann (Editor). This story has a different feel than the previous one and the first story I had published “Mr. Mungo’s Shop of Oddities” back in 2014. Of course, I can’t let you just simply have the name of my story and that’s it. So here is an excerpt.

Mr. Camden fiddled with the lock, the nape of his neck turning red.

“There!” he declared finally, and pushed the door open. It yawned like a sleepy dragon stirring from a prolonged nap. She dismissed the chill that skittered down her spine as he led her inside.

The house greeted her with a claustrophobic embrace. She quickly scanned the floor, an old habit she had retained from her early days as a buyers’ agent. No blood, at least in the living room. On the other hand, a heavy coat of dust covered everything. The coffee table, the television, even the air was thick with it.

“Like disturbing a tomb,” Mr. Camden said in a reverent tone.

“It has been vacant for some time.” She paused, then added, “May I ask why?” If there was something wrong with the place, it was best for her to find out ahead of time. It could reduce the price, or extend escrow, depending—

“It’s haunted.”

A lot of people were involved in their creation as is standard for the NaNo Los Angeles Anthologies. Meet the Systems: Stories of Regimes, Formulas, and Schemes: 3rd Annual NaNo Los Angeles Anthology came out October 10th, 2016 and We’ve All Been There: 4th Annual NaNo Los Angeles Anthology came out October 9th, 2017. Both can be found on Amazon in print and e-book formats and proceeds go to the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program.

I am still writing and have some interesting things to share in the coming weeks and beyond. What I intend to do is to try different things every week. Sometimes it will be my opinion on certain genres or bits of lore to write about, sometimes it will be an update on what I am doing or perhaps my thoughts on a book I just read. I will put up some of the nonfiction pieces I have that will span numerous topics though history will be a common thread. And a special story that I will touch on regards Dungeons & Dragons. I will add more about that later. And of course, Halloween is coming so that is always fun.

Until next time, I hope this finds you all well, keeping busy, and to those that are writing (or any other form of creation), may the muses keep you well supplied.

Halloween Lore

Hello All! Next Saturday is Halloween and I am sure you are all excited. It is my favorite holiday. I always enjoyed the atmosphere of the festivities, the specials on TV, and, of course, the lore. Halloween has a lot of myths and stories surrounding it, from its place in history, as a Witch’s Sabbat, to the Celts, and so on. Today I will explore some of that lore as well as round out a few of the season’s creatures.

The name Halloween comes from a contraction of Hallows’ Eve or All-Hallows-Evening. It was created by the Christian church in response to the older pagan Sabbat of Samhain, for which Halloween took a number of traditions. Samhain represents one of four great pagan festivals of the year. It signifies the end of the harvest and the move towards winter; the darker side of the year when the Horned God Cernunnos rules the land. There are of course other traditions depending on which pantheon you follow, Gaelic, Welsh, Celtic, etc. In the old days, bonfires would light up the country side once the sun set. Between festivities, rites and rituals would be held as offerings to the departed would be made. Of course, during such times, human sacrifice was practiced.

The act of trick or treating served a more important purpose then simple candy for children and some adults. Samhain also represented the thinning of the veil between the living and the dead. To appease the spirits, treats were left out for them. In medieval times, an exchange of soulcakes for prayers was an alternative to this tradition. Dressing up as creatures and monsters grew out of using disguises to fool the wandering spirits just as jack-o’-lanterns were meant to keep malevolent spirits away. This is also seen in the use of gargoyles and grotesques adorning cathedrals. The old jack-o’-lanterns were made from turnips. While there are varying stories about the origin of the name, a consistent idea is jack-o’-lantern’s relation to the will-o’-the-wisp.

Witches, monsters, and the dead, they all play a role during Halloween. Black cats, bats, and spiders decorate walls and porches while howls and cackling laughter fill the night air. What drives such choices? What is the motivation behind such decorations? I would wager fear. We like to scare ourselves. Freud would attribute it to our Thanatos drive but I say it is the adrenaline that accompanies such fear that makes us feel alive. Over time, we have come up with many different creatures to frighten ourselves with.

Witches, while not inhuman like a few of the other things that haunt Halloween, have been a source of fear centuries. Many of the hysterias have been created out of religious beliefs and a fear of the foreign. Witches were believed to make pacts with devils yet in truth, they are worshipers of nature and magic is neither good nor evil. But fear and greed turned the witch into something evil. Times have changed of course. And even though judgement still lingers, the view towards the witch has changed.

Werewolves, the children of the moon, are another staple during this time.  It should be stated right away that much of the lore surrounding these beats have been contaminated by the movies. In one version, werewolves were said to be witches that, through a magical girdle, could take the form of a wolf. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a number of myths regarding humans turning into wolves. Yet the lore regarding how to dispatch said monsters, that is: silver bullets, came later. Additionally, if one looks around the world, one will find that wolves aren’t the only shapes humans can take. Jaguars, panthers, bears are just a few of the shapeshifting lore out there. Wendigoes and skinwalkers are also included.

While demon has become a popular term regarding fiends from hell, the word is much older than the mainstream religions. In ancient Greece, daemons were wise spirits. In other parts of the world, what are known as demons today were the old gods and goddesses of yesterday. As with most things concerning history, the past is created by propaganda and subjective decisions. Nothing can truly be objective for we as a species are shaped by our language, thoughts, upbringings, and beliefs. What is fact is merely what has been decided upon to be included in the annals. So what people see as demons might have simply been storm gods, nature spirits, or elementals.

And finally the dead. Though I touched on this subject in my last two posts, I will bring it up again to circle back to my previous assertion regarding fear. The fear of death, dead things, and unliving things given life is as primordial as the night. Even in the old myths, it was believed that the night killed the day. Ghosts, zombies, vampires, these are just masks to cover up the fear of the end. But rather than dwell on the finality of it, people ask “What is beyond death?” That is a question posed by scholars and theologians alike, if not everyday people. Myths and lore offers answers to that question. And there are festivals all over the earth honoring those answers. Which brings us back to Samhain and Halloween.

I hope you enjoyed these little pieces of lore I’ve shared. Whether you learned something new or not, it is always fun to look at traditions and the old stories about what goes bump in the night. So until next time, Happy Halloween, Happy Samhain, scare some people, and scare yourself. It is how you know you’re alive.

Ghosts, Spirits, and Haunted Places

Hello All! I hope you are enjoying our journey into lore. Last week I touched on the living dead. Today I will write about the other side of the coin: Ghosts, spirits, and the places they haunt.

First and foremost, I would like to address the topic of believing in ghosts. There are many people who don’t believe in them. Some might reject the very notion of a spirit, or they don’t believe in the afterlife, or they are simply skeptical, searching for proof before they believe. I have participated in ghost hunts. I have been to haunted places, even lived in a few. I have used the Ouija board many, many times. To those who don’t believe, nothing I could say would sway you. Proof of the supernatural is a private thing. That I have witnessed a séance, spoken to the dead, and felt their presence is true for me but without experiencing it yourself, it is just a story.

With that said, time to get to the fun stuff. If you’ll notice, I distinguished between ghost and spirit. The reason for that is in my travels, readings, and experience; I have found that there are different types of ghosts–to use a general term–different versions depending on how the person died, where, and so on. I will list a few and some of their characteristics.

As I said above, I will be using ghost as a general term. The first type is the Spirit. Spirits are the essence of a living thing. Their soul, memories, life. They are the most common type of ghost and the oldest in lore. What makes the spirit unique is that spirits aren’t always human ghosts; animals, even strong emotions can leave spirits. Another aspect would be nature and elemental spirits.

On the darker side of things, there are the ever popular Poltergeists. German for Knocking Ghost, the poltergeist is known for its mischievous, sometimes dangerous, behavior. Often confused with or known as demons, poltergeists are ghosts that enjoy playing tricks on the living. They usually attach themselves to homes but can also cling to families if there is emotional turbulence.

Shades are an interesting type of ghost; a black form, a silhouette of a person. Similar in nature to shadow people, according to lore, shades are what remain of a person’s shadow after death. Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Kentucky, USA is said to be haunted by shadowy figures.

Death Echoes can be found throughout the world. They are the ghosts that repeat their deaths. Like a memory, they are forced to enact their final moments or in other cases, repeat a specific action, like walking down a hall. Many such ghosts are found in historical places such as the Tower of London.

As far as haunted places, where ever there is death there can be a haunting.  Almost every place we go has seen death in one form or another. So why aren’t there more ghost sightings? Well, who says there aren’t? But to get to the point I am trying to make, it has been said that the way someone dies can leave a mark on a place, the aforementioned death echo is one example.  The following is just a few haunted places all around the world.

Aokigahara, known as the sea of trees, is located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. Dense, with thick trees and uneven terrain, the forest extends fourteen square miles. What makes this place unique is people go there to die. This Suicide Forest has been home to hundreds of suicides for decades. The local police still find bodies yearly. Historically, the site was allegedly used to leave the elderly and excess family members to die during times of famine. Local lore claims the forest is home to demons and ghosts and with so many people who had died there in the past, their deaths had tainted the ground and trees.

The Sensabaugh Tunnel in Tennessee, USA has a mixed history surrounding it. The lore states that a baby’s ghost haunts the tunnel and the cries of the child can be heard throughout. In addition, if you stop your car in the tunnel, it will not start right away and you can hear footsteps approaching the vehicle. The backstory contains multiple versions involving Ed Sensabaugh. One says Ed offers a homeless man a place to stay for the night but later they get into a confrontation regard the latter trying to steal from him. The homeless man then kidnaps Ed’s child and takes it to the tunnel where he kills it. The second version alleges that Ed killed his whole family and put them in the tunnel. Neither seems true but still people claim a paranormal force resides in the tunnel.

The United Kingdom is home to many haunted places. Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, England is known for its royal ghosts. Queen Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn are said to haunt the corridors. In Scotland, Mary King’s Close, an alleyway in Edinburgh, was said to have housed victims of the plague. The lore goes that these victims were left to die, their homes beneath the streets bricked up to stop the spread of the disease.

So there you have it, some examples of ghosts, spirits, and haunted places. Tales of the paranormal have been around since time immemorial and so long as there is life, there will be ghosts. So until next time, just remember, the cold chill out of nowhere, a whiff of old smoke, or that moving shadow behind you right now are just the dead letting you know they are still around.

The Living Dead

Hello All! In honor of the return of The Walking Dead tonight, I decided to look at the living dead in lore. A popular topic for some time now, the undead come in many forms. Vampires and Zombies are the leaders of the pack, so to speak. For at least a solid decade, they have garnered the attention the world over. Their myths and lore are well known, so I won’t spend too much time on that except to say the history and lore revolving around both vampires and zombies have changed much over the years, often due to storytellers. Writers, whether literary or film, have altered the myths in many ways. Abandoning parts here, adding others there; the Haitian version of the zombi has been seemingly forgotten in popular culture in favor of the science fiction viral apocalypse. While the latter is always fun, a return to voodoo would be refreshing.

The first undead creature I have decided to address is the Mummy. I’ve heard a long standing argument regarding whether or not a zombie and a mummy are the same thing. I personally feel it depends on which type of zombie you are referring to. A zombie of magical reanimation has more in common with a mummy than a zombie produced by a virus. (Yes, this is a serious discussion.) I don’t feel they are the exact same thing but they share a number of qualities. A reanimated corpse that attacks the living, yet many other creatures could fall under that category. The idea of the Mummy has been extolled by storytellers in regard to a curse. Ancient Egyptian belief systems centered on the afterlife. Many of their religious texts, The Book of the Dead, were inscribed on the sarcophagi of their deceased. The many individual texts of the Book of the Dead centered on prayers for the newly dead as well as instructions on how they could ascend to their afterlife. Should they pass the weighing of the heart of course. The mummy itself came about from the specialized way the Egyptians preserved their dead. Many other cultures mummified their dead; even nature can do it given the right conditions. But it is the curse of the mummy that brought the creature to the spotlight. Whether it is a simple plague upon the people who opened the mummy’s tomb or the mummy returned to life to enact that curse, the stories differ. True curses found from examining tombs are uncommon; nevertheless, there have been recorded passages that imply the deceased shall strike the trespasser down.

The following creatures of lore come from different parts of the world and have varying amounts of information surrounding them.

The Revenant, French or Latin for return–depending on the version–is similar to the zombie. They are reanimated corpses that rise from their graves for a particular reason, mostly to victimize their family or those that have wronged them. The lore says they do not eat and are difficult to destroy. Fire seems to do the trick, but a lot of it. The entire point of the revenant is its need for revenge. Some myths refer to the creature as a ghost but many others state it is an actual walking corpse.

Another undead creature is the Ghoul. Originally Arabic, ghouls live in graveyards and eat the flesh of the dead. They are also said to take on the form of those they have devoured. Another version of the myth claims ghouls were once human but became cursed for eating human flesh, similar to that of a wendigo.

In German folklore and fantasy culture, the Lich has grown in popularity. Originally a deceased person who rose from the grave, the traditional appearance and idea of a lich has become a sentient skeleton with magical powers.  In some versions almost impossible to destroy, the lich’s most prized possession and weakness centers on its phylactery. One definition of a phylactery is a leather box containing Hebrew texts written on vellum. Also considered an amulet, for a lich, the phylactery contains the spirit or soul that binds the body and makes it almost indestructible. Destroying the phylactery can destroy the lich.

So there are just some of the undead things shambling about in the dark places of our world. I wonder how different The Walking Dead would be if any of the aforementioned creatures showed up. An interesting thought… at least to me. So until next time, respect the dead for they travel fast and rarely stay buried.