Friday, February 28, 2014

Supernatural Friday: Tribute to L. B. Taylor

A few days ago, I received the news that author L.B. Taylor Jr. passed away on Sunday, February 23, 2014.  This man is one of two ghost book authors that inspired me when I wrote my own nonfiction ghost books.  
L.B. released at least a dozen volumes of his most popular title, "The Ghosts of Virginia,” besides many like “Ghosts of Richmond,” etc… Taylor's interest in ghost stories goes back three decades. According to a short biography in Volume XII of "The Ghosts of Virginia," Taylor was researching for the 1983 book "Haunted Houses" and became intrigued by stories of the paranormal. He began to get more stories, filling the pages of 20 books about Virginia ghosts. His most recent book of ghost stories released in 2013, focused on tales from Roanoke; “Haunted Roanoke.”

I got to see him one last time back in October 2013 when both he and I were authors signing at the Williamsburg Book Festival. He brought over my latest nonfiction ghost book,  “HauntedRichmond II” and I took out my copy of his book, “Monstersof Virginia:Mysterious Creatures in the Old Dominion.”  We signed our books for each other.

His books helped me to find the places I would research for my own books. This is one reason I tell ghost hunters to check out the ghost books—to find haunted spots to investigate. Writers are the modern day shamans. Instead of around a campfire or a roaring fire in a hearth, they put the tales to pen so readers can check the books out of libraries or buy in bookstores, then read them by the light of lamp at night. Thanks to authors like Taylor, the stories won’t disappear into obscurity, but remain with us years down the line.  Isn’t that the point of writing them? That our descendents will learn the legends and stories, too?

So for Supernatural Friday, I felt he deserved to be blogged about. Check out his published works. Reading their books is the best tribute anyone can give any author.

To find L.B. Taylor’s books, so you can order them from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or even from your independent bookstore (new and used), here is the link for them on LibraryThing (includes his non-ghost books):

Friday, February 21, 2014

Supernatural Friday on Hold: At Mysticon This Weekend

Supernatural Friday will return next Friday as I am at Mysticon this weekend. Thank you for your patience, but I have been working a a movie script that is finished and with the producer, and a short horror story for another anthology submission.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Supernatural Friday: What Has Valentine’s Day Have to Do With the Supernatural?

Every year on February 14th, most people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.” Today is Valentine’s Day. This day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. It was also dedicated to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus—those twins that fed at the teats of a she-wolf.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection in classical mythology. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus, and is known in Latin also as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros.  Eros appears in Classical Greek art as a slender and winged youth, But in the Hellenistic period he became more and more portrayed as chubby boy, with the bow and arrow to represent uncontrollable desire.

Cupid is a minor character in myths who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. The only time he is a main character is in the tale of Cupid and Psyche, when wounded by his own weapons he experiences the ordeal of love.

The history of Valentine’s Day, along with the story of its patron saint is shrouded in mystery. February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. Also during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, another reason for Valentine’s day to be one of romance.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, everyone martyred. One legend claims that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death.

Other tales suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before he died, the legends goes on to say that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression still in use today. 

So when you celebrate with your loved one today, think of how closely the supernatural has to do with a day for lovers.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Supernatural Friday: Forget Those Chopsticks and Learn the Myths Behind the Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year 2014 began January 31st. This year it is the year of the horse. Which happens to be my son's and my Chinese Zodiac animal. 

The Chinese Zodiac has the horse, tiger, rat, rooster, dragon, snake, goat, monkey, ox, dog, cat, rabbit and the boar.

The new year celebrations were born out of fear and myth. There is an ancient Chinese legend that told of a man-eating predatory beast called Nian. This creature was fierce, and had a long head and sharp horn. Nian dwelled deep in the sea most of the year, but on every Chinese New Year Eve it climbed onto the shore, and devour livestock and harm humans in a near-by village. Every Chinese New Year's Eve, the villagers would take their old and young and head for the mountains to hide from the monster.

One Chinese New Year's Eve, a grey haired man appeared in the village. He asked permission to stay for the night and assured everyone that he would chase away the beast. No one believed him. When it was time to go hide in the mountains, the old man steadfastly refused to do that. The villagers departed without him.

The beast arrived at the village to wreck havoc as usual, but it was met with a sudden burst of exploding firecrackers. Startled by the noise, the flashes of light and red banners flying about, it turned about and fled back into the sea.

The next day, when the villagers returned from the mountains, they found everything intact and safe. The old man had left, but they found the remains of the three precious items he had used to chase the beast Nian away. They all agreed that the old man must be a deity who had come to help free them of the beast.

From then on, every Chinese New Year's Eve, families hung red banners, set off fire crackers, and light their lamps the whole night through, awaiting the Chinese New Year. The custom spread far and wide and became a grand traditional celebration of the "Passing of Nian" ("Nian" in Chinese means "year"). So celebrating the Chinese New Year is "passing of Nian" or "Guo Nian" in Chinese. 

Today, the 15-day New Year festivities are celebrated with a week of vacation in metropolitan areas of China. Much like the Western New Year (January 1st), the biggest celebration is on the eve of the holiday. But aside from New Year's Eve, there are other important days of the 15-day New Year Festival, including:

JIE CAI CENG: Welcoming the Gods of Wealth and Prosperity
On the 5th day of New Year's, it is believed that the gods of prosperity come down from the heavens. Businesses will often participate in setting off firecrackers as they believe it will bring them prosperity and good fortune for their business.

YUAN XIAO JIE: Festival of Lanterns
The 15th day of the New Year is known as The Festival of Lanterns and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. All types of lanterns are lit throughout the streets and often poems and riddles are often written for entertainment. There are also paper lanterns on wheels created in the form of either a rabbit or the animal of the year (Pig for 2007). The rabbit lantern stems from a Chinese myth or fairytale about a female goddess named "Chang E" who jumped onto the moon. So she wouldn't travel alone, she brought a rabbit with her to keep her company. It is said that if your heart is pure enough, you can see the goddess Chang E and her rabbit on the moon on this day.

Called "hong bao" in Mandarin, the red envelopes filled with money are typically only given to children or unmarried adults with no job. If you're single and working and making money, you still have to give the younger ones the hong bao money. The color red denotes good luck/fortune and happiness/abundance in the Chinese Culture and is often worn or used for decoration in other celebrations.

The Dragon is present in many Chinese cultural celebrations as the Chinese people often think of themselves as descendants of the mythical creature. On the fifth day of the New Year when many people have to start going back to work, they will also have the Dancing Dragons perform in the front of the office building. On the 15th day of the New Year (Yuan Xiao Jie), they will also have a lot of dancing dragon performances. The dragon represents prosperity, good luck and good fortune.

Traditional Foods

The Chinese New Year's Eve meal is the most important dinner of the year. Typically, families gather at a designated relative's house for dinner, but these days, many families often celebrate New Year's Eve dinner at a restaurant. Many restaurants require reservations months in advance. There are also some families that hire a professional chef to come cook at their house. Chefs are often busy running from one home to another cooking dinners for different families on New Year's Eve.

Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration and each day, many families rotate celebrations between homes of their relatives. The festivies are day-long and sometimes, a family ends up cooking two meals for their relatives, once at lunch and once at dinner. These dishes used to be all made from scratch, but now people can easily buy them prepackaged at the supermarkets.
Eight Treasures Rice (contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds). 

"Tang Yuan" - black sesame rice ball soup; or a Won Ton soup.
Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes.
"Song Gao", literally translates to "loose cake"- which is made of rice which has been coarsely ground and then formed into a small, sweet round cake.
"Jiu Niang Tang" - sweet wine-rice soup which contains small glutinous rice balls
a sweet soup made of cut-up fruit: Cut fruit is added into hot/warm water which has had a thickening agent (like cornstarch).

Based on the Lunar Calendar
The date of Chinese New Year changes each year as it is based on the lunar calendar. While the western Gregorian calendar is based on the earth’s orbit around the sun, China and most Asian countries use the lunar calendar that is based on the moon’s orbit around the earth. Chinese New Year always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Other Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam also celebrate new year using the lunar calendar.
Though Buddhism and Daoism have unique customs during the New Year, the Chinese New Year is far older than both religions. Chinese New Year is rooted in much a celebration of spring just like Easter or Passover. 

Depending on where rice is grown in China, the rice season lasts from roughly May to September (north China), April to October (Yangtze River Valley), or March to November (Southeast China). The New Year was likely the start of preparations for a new growing season.
Spring cleaning is a common theme during this time. Chinese people clean out their homes during the holiday. There is another possible reason for the New Year celebration just a way to break up the boredom of the long winter months. 

Another interesting Chinese festival concerns hungry ghost. I blogged about that at Supernatural Friday: Ghosts Are Hungry.