Sunday, January 28, 2018

Supernatural Friday: History of Witchcraft

The word ‘Witchcraft’ has been derived from the word ‘Wicca’ meaning ‘the wise one’. Witchcraft has been seen as a magical phenomenon, a pagan worship or religion, sorcery, devil worship, and others, at different periods in our world history.

Thousands of years ago, people lived much more primitive lives than we have in our technological society today.  Without the luxury of modern medicine and treatments, when a person was sick, ill or in pain there was little that could be done about it.  Becoming ill was much more dangerous in those ancient days, and the ramifications of any sickness were frequently much more serious.  But some women and even men learned the value of healing herbs, and other types of homeopathic treatments.  These people were actually very wise when it came to their knowledge of herbal remedies.  These astute women, skilled in the art of natural medicine, also sometimes functioned as midwives and assisted in the delivery of babies, using various plant-based medicines to ease the pain and suffering experienced during childbirth.

The earliest records of the concept and practice of witchcraft can be traced to the early days of humankind when witchcraft was seen as magical a phenomenon that was invoked for magical rites which ensured good luck, protection against diseases, and other reasons.

However, it was not until 1000 AD that the practice of Witchcraft and witches invoked the wrath of priests, Christianity, and members of the society. Witchcraft, seen as a religion of the ancient and traditional pagan religion which worships the feminine, earthly, and masculine aspects of God, was considered as anti-Christian and a heresy.

Held to be against the declarations and beliefs of the Church, witches were considered as evil, making pacts and connections with the Devil. It was even believed that witches engaged in practices such as flying, invisibility, killing, taming black wolves and cats to spy on people, and others.  The belief in the existence of witches was strengthened particularly after Pope Innocent VIII issued a declaration in the 1498 confirming their existence in society, and inquisition increased, although in 1200, killing of witches had already become authorized by Pope Gregory IX. The Inquisition thus began after 1200 on orders of the Church to discover the witches or heretics who were believed to be evil and against the Church. Full-fledged killing of witches was, however, recorded in the 1500s and 1600s.  The first crusade against witches was held in 1022 AD when a witch was burned to death.

In Salem in 1692, 150 people were tried as suspects of practicing witchcraft. Unlike Europe, where those tried and convicted of witchcraft (those that survived being piled on with the increasing weight of stones or dunked in a river to see if they swam or sank), in Salem, those convicted of witchcraft and executed, were done so by hanging.

People suspected as witches were usually burned at stakes, and those pleading their innocence were either stoned to death or even sometimes thrown in water to prove their innocence. Witches usually faced severe and painful deaths or punishments.

Unlike the cases in Salem, Massachusetts, where women had been accused unjustly and declared guilty, then hung, another commonwealth, Virginia handled the witchcraft thing much better. To curb runaway charges of witchcraft like in New England, the Virginia General Assembly passed in 1662, “An Act for Punishment of Scandalous Persons.” It stated that women who acted peculiar and scandalous and caused their husbands to bring suits against those accusing their wives of witchcraft, after judgment had been passed, the woman would be punished by ducking. If the slander was enormous, the damages were adjusted at a greater amount then five hundred pounds of tobacco.

So except for Witches are as much a part of Virginia’s history and folklore as anywhere else. There were homes in Virginia that have witch doors—crosses carved on the paneled doors to keep the witches away—and people made witch bottles to protect them against witches—though the bottles were used mainly in the Tidewater area. An Indian idol, “Okee,” was considered to be a “devil-witch” by John Smith himself after the colonists landed at Jamestown and settled it. In 1654, according to author and historian Richard Beale Davis, there was a conviction of witchcraft in Virginia that resulted in an execution on a ship bound for Jamestown. This would have been long before the witchcraft trials at Salem. At that time, witches were believed to conjure up storms at sea, along with causing widespread illness among the passengers. When a severe storm happened and threatened the vessel commanded by Captain Bennett, he ordered the death of a woman named Catherine Grady, all because she was a “witch at sea.”

Today, no one is hung or burned at the stake for witchcraft. In the United States people can do whatever religion they want to believe in, long as they don’t do harm to others. We’ve came a long way from our tribal ancestors who sat around a campfire or a bonfire and huddled in fears of evil spirits, demons and witches.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Monsters of the Last Frontier

With the cold weather leaving us for a while (at least where I live), I still wanted to blog about monsters connected to a cold section of the country—Alaska.

The first are tornits. In the beginning, the Inuit and the tornits lived peacefully in villages near each other, sharing common hunting grounds.
The Inuit people often built and used kayaks for hunting. While the tornits were unable to master the building of kayaks, they became aware of the advantages of having and using one. One tale says a young tornit borrowed a young Inuit's kayak without permission and damaged the bottom of it. The young Inuit grew angry and stabbed the tornit in the the neck while he slept and killed him. The rest of the tornits fearing they would be killed by the Inuit fled the country. Since that time, stories of hunters disappearing, later found dead and mangled or never seen again. Apparently, hunters and the tornits no longer peacefully shared common hunting grounds. One thing about these tornits, they sound like Bigfoot.

The next monster of Alaskan myth is the Tizheruk, large, snake-like sea creatures believed to roam Alaska's waters. They are described as having head 7 feet long, a body with a tail ending in a flipper, making them about 12 to 15 feet long. These creatures are claimed to snatch people from docks and piers.

The Tizheruk have some similarities to the Haietlik, or "Lightning Snakes," occasionally associated with the Thunderbird of Southeast Alaska and Pacific Northwest native cultures. Once the Thunderbird spotted a killer whale, it would launch Haietlik as living weapons by throwing them from the skies like lightning.

The Qalupalik is a creature of Inuit legend described as being human-like and having green skin with long hair and very long fingernails. She lives in the sea, hums to entice children to come closer to the water and wears an amautik -- a parka worn by Inuit women to hold a child against the back in a built-in baby pouch just below the hood.

Like the boogeyman legends, parents and elders tell children that if they are disobedient or wander too close to the sea shore, the Qalupalik will come onshore, snatch and stow them in her amautik, before taking them back to the sea with her to raise them as her own children. Some tales say she eats the children, but most I read say she keeps them in a secret place, putting them to sleep so they don’t try to escape. These tales say she feeds off their “energy” to stay young, to keep her shiny green skin lovely, and her wild hair lustrous. As the children age, the Qalupalik grows younger.

Then there’s the bloodthirsty Adlet, bearing resemblance to the werewolf. The Inuit legend tells that the Adlet are a race of people said to have the lower body of dogs and the upper body of humans. Typically, they're believed to be the offspring of an Inuit woman and a dog, thanks to an unnatural mating.

The woman gave birth to 10 children, half of whom were dogs and the other half, Adlet. The family was sent to a remote island because they were so voracious, and their grandfather would hunt for them and provide them with meat. Every day, the dog-husband was supposed to swim from the island to the mainland, where the grandfather was supposed to fill a pair of boots wrapped around the dog's neck with meat. Eventually, the grandfather filled the boots with rocks, drowning the husband.

Fearing for her children's lives, the mother sent them inland, where they spawned more Adlet. The Adlet are typically portrayed as aggressive savages who will attack men when they cross paths.

Although the Adlet legend is based in far north mythology -- a version of the story appears in Greenland too. There the Adlet are called Erqigdlit -- a few researchers have linked it to the European tales of the werewolf.

The last Alaskan beastie is The Keelut is described as an evil earth spirit that takes the form of a black, hairless dog with only hair on its feet. It's not unlike the Black Dogs that haunt Great Britain and other parts of the United States (like in my book, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales). It tracks travelers at night, attacking, and then killing them. If a trail of dog paw prints are found in the earth and they vanish, the story goes that it is considered a Keelut is nearby.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Friday, January 12, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Brrrr…It’s Cold: Myths and Legends of Winter; Part 2

Part 2 of the winter myths and legends. Enjoy.

Winter has so much interesting legends, myths, monsters, and gods and goddesses. Below is some more than the week before, but still, there are so much more. Like Babe the Blue Ox  was found by the giant, Paul Bunyan, in the snow in winter. These two are part of our American folklore.

There are the yetis, that are all year round, but because they are seen in the snowy Himalayas, we will add them to the winter myths and legends. But they are not the only monsters or beings we think of when it snows or winter’s harsh, cold winds blow.

Our first comes to us by way of the Inuit: Qiqirn. What if you live in the far North and traveling through the snow and ice when suddenly, you see a large, four-legged creature in front of you. It’s hairless, tufts appear on its ears, tail, feet, and around its fearsome muzzle. This creature is none other than the qiqirn. Lucky for you, the qiqirn is considered skittish if confronted, and flees when you shout its name. Lucky, as usually, they are potent hunters and excel at stalking their prey.

The next strange winter creature is a friendly one, via French-Swiss mythology. The barbegazi – from the French barbe-glacĂ©e, translating to “frozen beard.” These beings are small humanoid creatures with great beards and oversized feet. They travel around by using their feet as skis to zoom around the mountains. They also use their feet as snowshoes if the conditions call for it. During the warmer months, they burrow in deep tunnels within the mountains and aestivate until winter comes again. Barbegazi generally remain unseen by humans. That doesn’t stop them from liking people and helping them out, however. They help find animals that become lost, particularly sheep that wander from the flock, and they are always on the lookout for avalanches. If one is imminent, the barbegazi lets out a sharp whistle as warning.

Yuki-onna is known by many names, all a variant on “snow girl.” Yuki-onna appear as tall, beautiful women with black hair and blue lips. She either has transparent or pale skin that allows her to blend in with her surroundings, or wears a white kimono that serves the same purpose. The most common legend has yuki-onna being created by a woman perishing during a storm. She floats over the ground and strikes terror in those she encounters with her gaze. She can transform into a cloud of snow, and possesses lethal frost breath she uses on unsuspecting travelers that encounter her during snowstorms. Sometimes she manifests holding a child, and when someone offers to take the child, they are frozen in place. A few legends also have her killing people in their homes, though she must first be invited inside. Yuki-onna need to feed on the life force of the living, and she is sometimes depicted as a snow succubus, of sorts. In an interesting twist, she often spares those who are beautiful, good parents, or loving spouses. She’s big on promises being kept, as well. 

The ijiraq is a shapeshifter-shadow capable of taking any form it desires. Though their natural form is similar to a human’s, only their eyes and mouths are sideways, and their eyes glow a malevolent red. Ijirait will kidnap children and lead people fatally astray. They are only seen out of the corner of your eye, and cannot be seen if you are looking at them directly. They neither inhabit this world, nor are they quite outside of it, existing in two worlds at once. Legend has them as people who went too far north, and became trapped between the world of the living and the dead. The home of the Ijirait is a cursed land, causing even the most skilled of travelers to become lost, creating mirages that cause people to become increasingly turned around and panicked. Even if you survive an encounter with them, you will have no memory of it, as they cause forgetfulness to those they let live. Irjirait are generally considered evil, malicious, and to be avoided at all costs. The ijiraq is sometimes confused with the tariaksuq, another type of shadow-person. Tarriassuq (plural) are half-men, half-caribou monsters that can shift between their forms, and are possessed of malignant will, terrible claws, and shared the shadow people abilities of invisibility and non-detection with the ijiraq. 

Before we end this blog, we'll add a goddess to the mix. Beira is said the goddess of winter in Scottish folklore. Some sources also say she’s the Cailleach, a name which is said to be translated literally into English from Gaelic as ‘veiled one’. Apart from Scottish folklore, this figure is also found in the mythology of Ireland, though she is called by a slightly different name there. Moreover, they claim that a wintry figure is found in the beliefs of the various ancient groups that inhabited the British Isles. 

She may also be considered the mother of gods and goddesses in Scotland. Although a creator goddess, she was the type of deity who ruled through fear. Her subjects would begin to rebel against her reign when spring arrived, though she ruled undisputed during the winter. Those subjects looked forward to the coming of Angus and Bride, the King and Queen of Summer and Plenty.
There are versions of the stories where Beira is said to be an old blue hag with one eye. Her possession of one eye symbolizes her ability to see beyond duality, and into the oneness of all beings. In one version of the tale in which Beira is portrayed as a hag, the Queen of Winter seeks the love of a hero. If the hero accepts her, she would transform into a beautiful young maiden. This transformation symbolized the seeds that lay dormant in the earth during the winter, that sprouted with the arrival of spring. Here, Beira is seen not as an opponent of spring, but as spring itself.

In another version, Beira carries a magic staff that freezes the ground with each tap. At the end of each winter, she threw her staff under the holly and the gorse bush, both believed to be her sacred trees. The goddess transforms into a grey stone, signaling winter has ended.

Beira is also considered a goddess of death and rebirth, and another connection between Beira and the natural world makes her the guardian of animals during the winter, protecting them during the harsh season.

Next time, the polar vortex hits, or a terrible snowstorm, maybe we should make an offering to one of these beings. It couldn't be any worse than winterizing our homes and buying extra blankets, winter outerwear, or a shovel to dig ourselves out. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Brrrr…It’s Cold: Myths and Legends of Winter; Part 1

Most of the United States has went been freezing a polar vortex this past week, as of New Year’s Eve night. Yesterday, we had a nasty northeaster, where along the East Coast and places inland had snow dumped on it. With the return today of colder temps until the afternoon of Monday, January 8th, it might be good to blog about winter legends and myths for the next couple of Supernatural Fridays.

The winter solstice has Latin roots and means “sun standing still.” It happens in a two-to-three-day period, where the arced path the sun cuts across the sky stops descending and appears to come to a standstill, before making a slow trek upwards.

Shorter days, colder temperatures, and the associated dramatic changes in the patterns of all living things, contributes to many beliefs and practices associated with the winter time. Myths and legends arose to both explain and understand the ebbing of the sun’s light, warmth, and influence. Though some of these have either faded in prevalence and influence or have grown modified over time, others have endured for centuries. Also, over time, many customs, practices, stories, and elements of folklore from different cultures were borrowed or became blended.

The pagan celebration of Saturnalia might have been one of the first solstice-related festivals to incorporate the custom of gift-giving. It also might have helped foster a tradition of goodwill toward men at that time of year because during the several days of the celebration, slaves could reverse roles with their masters (a benevolent emperor permitting). The Druids may have been among the first to use the dominant colors and fragrances of the season and to place herbs, branches, and wreaths in their homes to adorn as well as sanctify them. In the Norse country, the goddess Frigga was not only thought to labor hard to bring back the lost light of day, but also to determine the fortunes and fate of humans for the coming new year at her weaving wheel

Native Americans have myths concerning winter. Like the Anishinaabe tribes’ Biboon. This mythological being is the North Wind spirit and his name varies widely from community to community. Biboon (and its many spelling variants) literally means "Winter." Gichi-Biboon means "Great Winter," and Biboonike and Gaabiboonike are names meaning "Winter-Maker" or "One who causes the winter." Giiwedin literally means "north wind," although this name is rarely used to refer to the mythological character.

Connected to the Chippewa people is a monster called the Windigo.  One other spelling is Wendigo, though there are many more. Windigos are the evil man-eating giants of Anishinaabe mythology. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Chippewa people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Windigo as punishment. The appearance of a windigo is huge, monstrous, and made of or coated in ice, but the human it once was is still frozen inside the monster where its heart should be, and must be killed to defeat the windigo. In a few legends a human has been successfully rescued from the heart of a windigo, but usually once a person has been possessed by a windigo spirit, the only escape is death.

In many Iroquoian and some Algonquian legends, the culture hero has a twin brother or younger brother named Flint who killed their mother in childbirth, usually by intentionally cutting his way out rather than waiting to be born. In Iroquois stories this spirit is often malevolent and goes on to create hardships for humans and fight with his brother. In Algonquian legends, the character of Flint does not generally commit any further crimes or problems other than the death of his mother. In many tribes, Flint is associated with winter, night, and death.

In Iroquois mythology, Flint (Tawiscara or Tawiskaron in the Iroquois languages) is one of twin grandsons of the mother goddess Sky Woman. He is often, though not always, associated with evil, like the Bad Spirit or Evil Mind of the Cayugas. Flint's brother is the creator god Sky-Holder. Sometimes they are said to have created humans together, thus explaining why people have both good and evil nature. In some Iroquois myths, Flint is a sociopathic villain, intentionally killing his own mother and deceiving his grandmother into believing his brother was the killer. Eventually, he must be defeated and imprisoned by his brother. In other Iroquois traditions, Flint is more of a trickster figure than a villain, and causes destruction merely because of his chaotic nature. Flint and Sky-Holder are sometimes said to exist in a kind of cosmic balance, with both light and darkness being necessary for life.

Flint is less prominent in Algonquian mythology, but is sometimes described as the youngest brother of the Anishinabe hero, Nanabozho, or the twin brother of the Wabanaki hero, Glooscap. Some of his Algonquian names are Chakekenapok (Potawatomi) and Mikwam (Ojibwe.) In some stories the culture hero kills him to avenge their mother's death in childbirth, but in other stories, Flint remains as one of the seasonal or directional demigods.

Next week, we will talk about more wintry beings from myths, legends, and folklore from different parts of the world. Until then stay warm, and watch out for the Windigo.