Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Halloween or Samhain?

The subject of Halloween vs. Samhain (sow' -en) has been debated repeatedly.  Is one holiday just an older version of the other?  Is one a mocking tribute to a sacred black sabbat?  The answer to both questions is probably no.

Halloween is the fun-filled, secular holiday where people get to don costumes, play pranks, beg for candy and entertain their macabre side.  The word Halloween is a shortened form of All Hallows Even (the day before All Hallows Day).  I love Halloween!  Not only does it take place during my favorite season (fall), but it packs one heck of a level of shock value.

Samhain is a Pagan sabbat.  It marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter.  In my opinion, Scott Cunningham described it best:

"Samhain is a time of reflection, of looking back over the last year, of coming to terms with the phenomenon of life over which we have no control - death.  The Wicca feel that on this night the separation between the physical and spiritual realities is thin.  Wiccans remember their ancestors and all those who have gone before."

Personally, I celebrate both Halloween and Samhain.  During the month of October, I plan, carve, decorate and scare with my family.  The day of Halloween, after the kids are in bed and things are winding down, I take the time out to remember the people who have passed before me. 

How about you?  Do you celebrate Halloween, Samhain or both?  

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Pretty much everyone knows something of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," even if they haven't read Washington Irving's short story.  But just in case you are unfamiliar, let me give you a very brief run-down. 

The story is set in Tarry Town, a fictitious place in the state of New York.  A local ghost story is told here of a Headless Horseman, who was killed in an unnamed battle during the American Revolutionary War. 

Ichabod Crane, a lanky schoolmaster from out of town, is the story's main protagonist.  He goes to a party one night and falls in love with Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy townsman.  However, Ichabod soon realizes that he must compete for Katrina's hand with none other than the town's local hero, Brom Bones.

After leaving the party, Ichabod experiences an encounter with a giant cloaked horseback rider.  Ichabod desperately tries to out-ride and out-smart this figure, who could only be the Headless Horseman.

The next morning, Ichabod is nowhere to be found and the story ends as many short stories do - with more questions than when it opened up.  Was Ichabod just another victim of the Headless Horseman?  Was the whole chase really between Ichabod and Brom Bones (in disguise)?  Was Ichabod merely spooked, causing him to have a terrible accident?  Is something supernatural to blame?  What really happened?

If you haven't read the original story, I'm sure you've seen one of the many other adaptations.  From small screen, to the silver screen, to the stage, and beyond, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is one of the most popular ghost stories around today.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Vampire Infliction

If you know me or you've read my blog, you know that not only do I love vampires, I also study the myths and legends surrounding them.  Every now and then, I turn to a book I have called THE VAMPIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA by Matthew Bunson.  The book is filled with all sorts of interesting little tidbits and lore on my favorite type of monster.

In his book, Bunson presents a list of traits that have been said to lead a person to become a vampire.  Keep in mind, the vampires of legend and lore are generally considered to be fearsome monsters, not the sexy seductive creatures that are so prevalent in today's horror genre.  Also, most lore - being based off of the beliefs of people long gone - often seems to be outdated with regards to today's knowledge of science.  Bunson says:

"Becoming a Vampire

Methods by which a person can become an undead, as documented from traditions and customs of folklore.


  • Born at certain times of the year (new moon, holy days)
  • Born with a red caul, with teeth, or with an extra nipple
  • Born with excess hair, with a red birthmark, or with two hearts
Conceived on a holy day
Weaned too early
Suckled after weaning
Born the seventh son of a seventh son
Death without baptism
Received a curse
Mother did not eat enough salt during pregnancy
Mother stared at by a vampire while pregnant

Actions in Life Leading to Vampiric Transformation

Committing suicide
Practicing sorcery or witchcraft
Eating sheep killed by a wolf
Leading an immoral life, i.e., prostitutes, murderers, and treacherous barmaids
Saying a mass while in a state of mortal sin (for priests)
Being a werewolf

Death or After-Death Causes

Death at the hands of a vampire
Wind from the Russian Steppe blowing on the corpse
Having a cat or other animal jump or fly over the corpse
Having a shadow fall on the corpse
No burial or improper burial rites
Death by violence or murder
Murder that is unrevenged
Having a candle passed over the corpse
Having one's brother sleepwalk
Death by drowning
Stealing the ropes used to bury a corpse
Being buried face up in the grave (in parts of Romania)"

Today, this list seems a bit over-the-top.  Pretty much anyone could be a vampire with all of these superstitions.  But it is a list made up of the beliefs of people from various cultures throughout history.  I find the information to be very interesting.  How about you?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hansel and Gretel

Most people know something of the story of Hansel and Gretel.  Here is how I grew up knowing it:

A little boy (Hansel) and his sister (Gretel) wandered into the woods one day.  They became lost and frightened.  They walked around and tried to find their way home but were unable to.  Finally, they came upon a house made of candy and sweets.  The two children immediately began to eat the goodies that made up the house.  The owner of the house (a wicked witch) came home and saw the children eating.  She invited them into the house - pretending to be a kind old lady - and ended up kidnapping them.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the witch fed Hansel and Gretel until they became fat.  Her intent was to cook and eat them.  Somehow, the children managed to escape the old witch and find their way home where they lived happily ever after.

In preparation for this blog post, I visited the website www.candlelightstories.com.  There I acquired a copy of the story of Hansel and Gretel from the Grimms' Fairy Tales collection.  When I read the story, I noticed some differences from what I always believed the story to be.  My summary of the Grimm Brothers' version of Hansel and Gretel goes like this:

There was a poor wood-cutter that lived with his wife and two children.  Times were getting so hard that there was little food left to eat.  One night, the man's wife convinced him they needed to lure the children to the woods and abandon them there so that the man and his wife would no longer have to worry about feeding them.  Hansel and Gretel over-heard this conversation and Hansel prepared by collecting white pebbles.  The next day, the man and his wife led the children into the woods and Hansel left a trail of pebbles so he and his sister could find their way home.  It took them some time, but Hansel and Gretel found their way back to the house.  The man was very happy to see his children, his wife was not.  Soon, the wife convinced the husband that they must lure the children into the woods again, but take them farther in so they would be unable to find their way home again.  The next day, the children went into the woods with their parents.  This time, Hansel left a trail of bread crumbs.  When the children went to follow the trail home, they discovered that the crumbs had been eaten by birds.  Hansel and Gretel wandered the woods and got lost.  They came upon a house made of bread and cakes with windows made of sugar.  The wicked witch that lived in the house went out to lure the children into her home.  She pretended to be nice for that night but things were different the next day.  She locked Hansel away so that while he ate, he would become fat.  The witch made Gretel her maid.  After some time, the witch decided it was time to eat Hansel.  She tried to trick Gretel into walking into the oven, but Gretel was too smart for her.  When the witch stepped up to the oven, Gretel pushed her in and locked the door.  Hansel and Gretel eventually made it back home where their father was very happy to see them.  The man's wife was already dead.  The father and his children lived happily ever after.

When I read the actual story, I found that while it was considerably longer and some minor things were different than the story I grew up knowing, both versions of Hansel and Gretel are basically the same.

How does your story of Hansel and Gretel differ from the ones provided above?

Friday, October 11, 2013


Symbolism has been around for as long as anyone knows.  Symbols are used all around us and for various reasons.  Depending on their image, they can instill happiness, caution or fear.  For the sake of this blog, I intend to discuss a few very recognizable symbols and their meanings.  After that, I will reveal a few of my favorite symbols.

Made you flinch, didn't I?  This is the ever-recognizable biohazard symbol.  It has been used in hospitals and labs for years to caution people to the presence of substances that cause a threat to one's health.  Recently it has been used as a symbol to warn of a zombie apocalypse. 

Ooh, this one caught your attention, didn't it?  Unfortunately, this symbol has become representative of racism and "white supremacy."  The dark period of the Holocaust used this symbol to breed hate and fear.  However, the swastika happens to be an ancient symbol of peace. 

This is an elaborate, Gothic ankh (AKA: the key of life).  I have this symbol tattooed on my right thigh.  Normally there wouldn't be any points and the symbol would be gold.  It is an ancient Egyptian symbol for eternal life.

Another ancient Egyptian symbol, the Eye of Horus (AKA: Eye of Ra) is symbolic of protection, royal power and good health.  I love the beauty of this one!
Are there any symbols that you fear?  What are your favorite symbols?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I must admit, when I first came up with the topic of this blog, I was not too excited about it.  As anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows, my monster of choice is definitely a vampire.  Werewolves are NOT my cup of tea!  But duty to the world of writing overcame me and I proceeded to do a little research.  Some of what I found out has intrigued me, and I intend to share that information with you here.

The myths and stories surrounding werewolves originated in Europe.  Many of today's ideas seem to be heavily influenced by German Paganism.

Belief in werewolves seems to be non-existent before the 14th century.  Werewolf superstitions seem to have arose along side the rising popularity of Christianity.  Once Christianity became the norm, transforming into a wolf - or other beast - was seen as a Pagan belief and thus associated with the Devil.

Werewolves also have a strong tie to the European witch trials, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Once the witch trials subsided, werewolves became extremely popular within folklore and helped bolster the Gothic horror genre. 

There have also been medical explanations given for the belief in werewolves.  I have found four medical conditions associated with werewolves:

  • Congenital Porphyria (symptoms are photosensitivity, reddish teeth and psychosis)
  • Hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth - hereditary condition)
  • Downs Syndrome (I didn't find much info here, just that some scholars have linked the two together) 
  • Rabies (remarkable similarities - supports idea of being bitten by a wolf and becoming a werewolf)
Just as with myths of vampires, a person could go on for days - or longer - explaining all there is to know of werewolves.  The above are just a few of the things that stood out to me.  Do you know of any other information that you think is interesting and wasn't mentioned in this blog?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Salem Witch Trials

Have you ever been to Salem, MA?  I have, a number of times.  I love its Old World feel and narrow - sometimes cobblestone - streets.  I love it's shops, both quaint and magickal.  And the town is totally rife with history.

Between February 1692 and May 1693, The Salem Witch Trials took place.  During this dark period in American history, nineteen people were hung and one person was pressed to death with stones.  Many more people were accused of witchcraft and sent to prison. 

Americans were definitely not alone in their fear of witchcraft.  From 1560 to 1670, the rest of the world conducted persecutions on people suspected of having trafficked with the Devil.  It was a very common belief that demons would prey on those that were not pious enough.  And science was no where near what it is today, so infant deaths, illnesses in general and crop failure were all looked at from a supernatural point of view.

When two girls in Salem Village began to act in, what was then thought of as strange ways, suspicions of witchcraft were raised.  The first women accused of witchcraft were Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba.  All three women were considered outsiders and had no one to stand up for their good characters.

The trials proceeded, spiraling out of control.  I don't intend to review the entire set of trials here - there are whole books and courses set aside for just that.  However, I would like to note that the cause behind the Salem Witch Trials is still unknown. 

Was there a family feud that became so big, the entire town suffered for it?  Did a strange illness infect everyone in the area?  Did a few kids just want to stir up some mischief and have a fun time?  We will probably never know.