Friday, March 30, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Easter, Ostra, All in a Name-Happy Easter!

Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In Christian countries, Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But in actuality, Easter has many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and with nothing to do with Christianity.

The word, Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre." Both are goddesses of mythology that signify spring and fertility. Festivals for them were celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Like the Easter Bunny.  The rabbit is a symbol originating with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the hare or rabbit.

The date of Easter is determined by the moon—symbolism strongly tied to the hare. Ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st.

The Easter Bunny was introduced to American folklore by German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure," of course after a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. If children had been good, then the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs. The children built their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys used their caps and girls, their bonnets, to make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets came much later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread throughout the country.

Weird traditions connected to Easter:

I was shocked to find this custom in Czech Republic/Slovakia, on Easter Monday, Whipping Monday is very popular. Men lightly whip or spank women with special whips to show their affection. Some women even give the men colored eggs or money to thank them for the favor- according to legend, spanking a woman ensures that she will keep her health and beauty throughout the next year.

Poland has Dyngus Day, a variation on Whipping Monday. Boys will lightly whip girls with a pussy willow or dump water on them- but the girls get their revenge with whips and water the next day, on Easter Tuesday. The tradition of Dyngus Day is especially popular with the Polish community of Buffalo, New York.

If you’re looking to have a Big Fat Greek Easter, then you’ll need to stock up on fireworks and earthenware pots when you take a trip to Greece around Easter. As soon as Easter Mass ends, townspeople across Greece hurl pots out of their windows in order to ward off evil and bring prosperity. Another tradition, known as rouketopolemos, is celebrated in the town of Vrontados. Two rival church congregations celebrate by attempting to knock down each other’s bell towers using fireworks as ammo.

In England, a few places in the country where you can find still Pace egg plays, but they’re still going strong after hundreds of years in a few small towns like Heptonstall in West Yorkshire. The plays usually depict St. George locked in a monumentally epic struggle with evil. Not sure what Easter has to do with St. George.  Pace plays are often accompanied by Morris dancing, which is a bouncy, skip-like traditional dance.

The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of traditions particularly due to the relationship of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter, is derived from Pesach.

A Spanish festival commemorates the resurrection of Easter with colorful fireworks and booming cannons. Judas images often are shot at by the soldiers. Greeks would buy Easter candles and colored eggs for Good Friday, and on Easter, served the traditional lamb for dinner. They sometimes would do solemn processions wound through the streets, carrying lighted candles and holy pictures. A Bavarian custom concerned fashioning of little crosses and they would set those up in the fields. They also did Easter parades along with children rolling Easter eggs downhill for fun. In Tyrol, musicians would tour every valley and sing Easter hymns. The villagers of villages they did this would join in, and after dark, light the way with torches.

Other legends connected to Easter:

Easter Bells 
These were rung in France and Italy throughout the year, but never rung on the Thursday before Good Friday. The silence of the bells had to do as remembrance of the death of Jesus. On Easter, they were rung  as a way of telling people Jesus lived again.

The Cross 
A symbol of Christian religion as Jesus was put on a cross, then was brought back to life.

The Easter Lily 
The lily was a reminder to the Christians of how Jesus came back to life.

Easter Flowers 
These being daffodils, narcissus and tulips. Because bloomed late in spring, they became meshed with Easter as symbols.

Pussy Willows 
Especially picked at Easter in England and Russia, people tapped each other on the shoulders with a branch of it for good luck.

A symbol for Jesus as the Good Shepherd who would watch over them as they were lambs.

Rabbits are symbols of spring and new life (though I would consider lambs too, since born around this time), besides also the favorite animal of the spring goddess Eastre.

The Egg 
A sign of spring and Easter, they are a sign of new life. Interesting Fact: Back in the 19th century, families too far from town hall, took an egg and dye it, inscribing it with an infant's name and date of birth—making eggs into birth certificates. It was accepted as a legal document.

The chicks are born from eggs and are a reminder of spring and Easter.

Enjoy two tales that are legends to do with Easter, too. Unlike pagan ones, these are more Christian in relation.

Hot cross buns and other breads marked with an X symbolizing the cross are a tradition on many Easter tables. There are many kinds of sweet breads from all over the world, like Choreg (Armenia), Paska (Ukraine), Babka (Poland), Tsoureki (Greece). There is a traditional Italian Easter Bread that has eggs baked right in (talk about hiding the Easter eggs!). The breads are risen breads which may also show a desire for Easter traditions to be different from Passover which includes unleavened breads.

Legend of the Dogwood

An old and beautiful legend says at the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Its firmness and strength got it selected as the timber for the cross, but to be put to such a cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: "Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. You will remain slender, bent, and twisted, and your blossoms in the form of a cross—two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints—brown with rust and stained with red. There will be crown of thorns in the center of the flower, remembrance for all who see this."

The Easter Lily

One of the most famous biblical references to the lily is the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ told his listeners: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies are said to have been found growing in the garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. It is said these beautiful white flowers sprang up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and distress. Christian churches at Easter by filling their altars and surrounding their crosses with masses of Easter lilies, commemorating the Resurrection and hope of life everlasting.

The pure white lily has also long been closely associated with the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is seen holding out a branch of pure white lilies to her, announcing that she is to be the Mother of the Christ child. In other paintings, saints are pictured carrying vases full of white lilies that they give to Mary and the Infant Jesus.

Lilies had a significant presence in the paradise of Adam and Eve. Tradition says Eve left the Garden of Eden, shedding real tears of repentance, and from those remorseful tears sprang up lilies.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Supernatural Friday: Do Ghosts Get Clean Sheets While Haunting a Hotel? (Haunted Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island)

From February 28th through March 4th a couple of weeks ago, I got to stay in what is considered one of the most haunted hotels for a horror writers convention. That’s the Biltmore Hotel at 11 Dorrance Street in Providence, Rhode Island (Lovecraft Country). That I had a couple of experiences, paranormal activity wise, just added to my enjoyment.

The first one happened Wednesday night, I brought my flashlight that can change from white LED to green LED to red laser dot, I set it to the green light, and used it when I needed to go to the bathroom. This way, I wouldn’t bother my two roommates and wake them up, or trip in the dark if I didn’t turn on the light. While I was in the restroom, the green light flickered. I peered at it closer, and it began to grow smaller and small, ready to go out. I said, “Really? You’re going to suck the batteries’ life,” shook the flashlight, and it came back on, so I managed to get back to bed, thinking I might have to replace the batteries in it. But the rest of the weekend, it remained strong when switched on. The second thing that happened to me was Friday night. Dead tired after seeing the mini horror films and enjoying the reception afterwards, Dee and I decided to go to bed and not go to the Monster Mashup. Our other roomie, Cat, did go. Dee put her headshot connected to her radio and fell asleep. I didn’t. It was while I lay in bed in the very quiet room, between Dee’s and my bed in the bedroom a loud whistle like someone blowing from their lips sounded in the air. I turned on the light by me and asked Dee if that was her, but she just snored lightly only. The next day she said maybe her radio, but I did as best as I could an imitation pf the whistle and she said, “No, it doesn’t do that.” I wondered why the whistle, but again who knows why? I also admit earlier on Friday night, when Dee and Cat went down to outside for Dee to smoke, I was alone and suddenly felt I was not alone. I just kept my eyes closed and finally the roomies returned.

I do know my streaming laptop wouldn't come up, no matter how long I charged it up. Funny thing, back to normal once home. Was it paranormal. or maybe just the Internet which was sort of wonky (not paranormal) or even the electricity? I'd brought my ghost box which wouldn't come up at all, but it was okay once home. But my EMF meter came on. Who knows why for all that.  Our room was 830.

Strange, but with possible explanations were the elevators stopping and opening and no one on the floor (these were the floors with rooms only). Some people mentioning odd noises in the hallways and no one else out there, or in their rooms.

I did used my pendulum Saturday afternoon since my ghost box didn’t come on. It said yes to being female, there since the 20s, and causing my light to start dying, plus my laptop. Still rather have done my ghost box, but maybe it did answer me with the pendulum.  

It would have been interesting to find out of HP Lovecraft has ever stepped into the hotel, or if his spirit has been seen there. After all, Providence was his stomping grounds and he would have been alive when it first was built and people stayed there.

History of the Biltmore

The Providence Biltmore Hotel is a historic landmark built in 1922. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Today, there are about 300 rooms and 2 ballrooms. It has 18 floors.

"Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye" was all the rage when 12-hundred guests gathered at the hotel for an opening night ball on June 6, 1922. The brick edifice was brilliantly lit and decorated with sprays of roses and carnations, the Providence News reported. Guests gorged themselves on a ten-course meal that included two seafood and two meat dishes. Then-Providence Mayor Joseph Gainer said the lack of a modern hotel had been holding the city back.

The hotel went on to fulfill its promise, becoming a social gathering point for Rhode Islanders and a destination for a host of celebrities, including President John Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, actress Audrey Hepburn, boxer Rocky Marciano and a young senator named Joe Biden. Even the dance floor was once converted into a swimming pool for Esther Williams and a skating rink for Sonja Henie. In the early years, the chef grew vegetables and raised roosting hens on the roof of the hotel so that celebrities like Benny Goodman could have fresh eggs. (Ah, here are those ‘chickens’ people claimed raised for Satanists I will mention later in this post.).

The hotel has also had its share of hard times. During the 1938 hurricane water filled the first floor. Hurricane Carol inundated it again in 1954.

By 1975 the Biltmore closed after its owner was unable to make a gas payment. Of course, it reopened, otherwise, Stokercon 2018 wouldn’t have been held there earlier this month. There are articles online that it was sold in October 2017 and will be part of a hotel chain in 2019.

There’s the glass elevator tacked onto the front of the Biltmore in the 1970's. It hasn't worked in years. They even have a cute sign attached to it that I took a picture.

The Ghosts and the Legends

There is supposedly a local legend suggests that hotel ran as a satanic paradise complete with animal sacrifices, murders, and so much more. That chickens were raised on the roof to become sacrifices for these Satanic ceremonies.  Others say that the hotel housed vibrant parties run by the mob during prohibition (which Rhode Island rebelled against). During these parties it is believed that many murders occurred filling the hotel with ghosts of those slain inside. Now, these I take with a grain of salt, as didn’t find that on ghost books of Rhode Island, and the chapters on Biltmore do not mention this.

One of the main ghosts to occupy the hotel is a financier who lost all of his money in the Depression in 1929.  He was staying in a room on the 14th floor when he received the news that he was effectively broke and was so overwhelmed by it that he threw himself out of the window.  His ghost doesn’t just haunt the room in which he was staying but seems to enjoy wandering through all the rooms he passed during his fall.  Guests staying in these rooms have reported seeing someone fall past the window but never a body on the street when they rush over to look.

Other ghosts are believed to be the spirits of those murdered in the hotel during the 1920s and 1930s.  Raucous parties are heard as well as laughter and people are seen dancing – none of whom are present.

A former event planner at the Biltmore tells "intuitive medium" Pam Patalano who relays the story to NBC 10's R.J. Heim that she saw ghosts dancing in the empty ballroom during the middle of the night on numerous occasions.

The Director of Marketing at the Biltmore, Pamela Baldwin, says some guests have told her that they have seen, heard and felt things during their visits, although she hasn’t had any first-hand experiences.

If you search "paranormal activity at the Biltmore" online, you will find plenty of stories. Pam Patalano says, “25% would be accurate and real. The rest would be just fake, or you could debunk it, or chalk it up to something else.” But it's that 25% she finds fascinating.

Another story I found concerned a guest who stayed at this hotel. Her partner and she were asleep when the woman woke to something like a dog, walking back and forth on her pillow. She tried to wake her partner who was in a deep sleep. The next morning, the partner admitted to having the same thing that happened, but afraid to say anything. Another story is about the 3rd floor of the Biltmore Hotel that has claims by guests is that it is haunted by the sounds of children at play.

And after checking out the cool architecture of Providence, Rhode Island, check out the other ghostly hauntings and legends of this spooky state in New England.

Thirteen Spooky Rhode Island Hauntings and Legends

1) Drink At Your Own Risk: Legend has it if you drink from the fountain outside the Providence Athenaeum you may leave Rhode Island but are guaranteed to always return. Since the fountain is from 1873, it is not in the best condition and we recommend you don't test this legend out or you may never return to life itself. 
Also, look out for Edgar Allen Poe's ghost at the Athenaeum, as many locals claim he still visits there.
2) Rhody's Most Famous Vampire: Exeter resident, Mercy Brown who died of tuberculosis in the 1890s was said to be a vampire because her body (allegedly) never decomposed and her hair and nails (reputedly) never stopped growing.
3) A Bewitching Drive: The Witch Tree located in the middle of the intersection of Log and Mann School Roads is said to be named after a witch that lived down the road. Many residents claim if you drive around the tree three times and head in a certain direction you will be followed by a phantom; no chance it's a cop.
4) Campus Hauntings: With four major colleges in Providence, there is no doubt there are some eerie places around the campuses. Brown's University Hall, RISD's Homer Hall, Providence College's Aquinas Hall, Johnson & Wales' Xavier Hall and URI fraternity house Lambda Chi Alpha are all rumored to be haunted.
5) The Scariest House Ever: Harrisville is home to the real farmhouse that inspired the recent hit film The Conjuring. The Perron family experienced some unnerving events that resulted in them moving out. The home is now occupied by folks who claim they have experienced the spook but not to the same extent.
6) The Haunting of Sprague Mansion: After a chilling murder took place at the Sprague Mansion in Cranston, paranormal acitvitiy such as lights flickering, cold gusts and phantom foot-steps have been reported more than once.
7) The Old Abandoned Mental Hospital Trick: The Ladd School in Exeter, an abandoned mental rehabilitation hospital with a not so pleasant past has locals and curious trespassers claiming they have heard disembodied moaning, crying and whispering. Ghosts and glowing orbs have been reported to wander the grounds. It was torn down in 2013, leaving Rhode Island without the haunted abandoned mental hospital that is required by New England's by-laws.
8) Watch Out for Children: Tower Hill Road in Cumberland is said to be a paranormal hot spot. Total strangers have reported the same sightings of a ghost boy and his dog, a little girl who lingers in the same spot and a toddler ghost on a tricycle.
9) Hello, Dolly: Foster is where Dolly Cole, an alleged witch, vampire and murdered prostitute haunts the dense forests where she was killed. Those who say they have encountered her ghost can barely speak of the experience.
10) Uninvited Guests at the Biltmore: In 2000, the Biltmore in Providence was named "America's Most Haunted Hotel" for good reason. With stories of murders, ghost encounters and visitors disappearing forever, this place will definitely have you shaking in your boots. (Which I blogged about in this article.)
11) The Devil Went Down to South County: Devil's Foot Rock in North Kingstown is said to be a spot that Satan himself visited as he was leaping around New England. He met a bride in Little Rhody whom he tried to bring back to his fiery abyss. During this process his hot hooves were imprinted into the granite.
12) The Mysterious Rune: The legend of the Narragansett Rune Stone is that it has a medieval inscription on it that only appears for 20 minutes each day at low tide. Real or hoax?
13) Make Yourself (Un)Comfortable: In the woods of Narragansett you will find the Witches' Altar and Druids Chair, a mysterious circle of stones around an altar-like stone. The druids chair is a curved stone placed off to the side of the circle. Use your imagination to come up with what could go on there.
BONUS: Even though the Red Headed Hitch Hiker of Route 44 is a legend of nearby Rehoboth, MA, we thought he was worthy of mentioning. Creepy stories have been told of the hitch hiker having a distorted face, bugged out eyes and creepy giggles.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Supernatural Friday: St. Patrick's Day is a Very Mythic Day

Sorry to be late with posts, but the past two weeks I've been to a convention, then became ill from a sinus infection. Next Friday, will be about the ghost stories of the haunted Biltmore Hotel in Rhode Island I stay at for Stokercon 2018, and what happened to me there.

Once upon a time, blue was the color to wear. That's right, not green, but blue! Because blue was the color of Ireland's flag. It was changed to green most likely due to the shamrock.

St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. Except that would be hard, as there never been snakes in Ireland. Separated from England and the Continent thousands of years ago, Ireland emerged from the Ice Age snake-free.

Contrary to popular belief, the shamrock is not the official emblem of Ireland. Ask any head of state or diplomat. That honor goes to the Celtic harp. But in the hearts and minds of people all over the world, the shamrock is considered the symbol of Ireland. You could say the shamrock is the emblem of Irish culture.

The shamrock was once known as "seamróg", pronounced "Seamroy,”  which meant "little clover". They also mention the fact that it is a very common clover that grows heartily in Ireland.

Many agree that the ancient Druids honored it as a sacred plant. The Druids believed the shamrock had the power to avert evil spirits. Some people still believe the shamrock has mystical, even prophetic, powers. It is said that the leaves of shamrocks turn upright whenever a storm is coming.

According to Lady Wilde, the shamrock "enlightens the brain and makes one see and know the truth".

The ancient Irish Celts also revered the shamrock because it has three leaves, and they considered "3" to be a sacred number. The ancient Celtic Druids believed many numbers held mystical powers.

The three leaves shaped like hearts were associated with the Triple Goddess of Celtic mythology, otherwise known as the "Three Morgans". The Triple Goddess represented the Triple Mothers, the hearts of the ancient Celtic tribes.

This Celtic tradition of honoring "3's" continued in Ireland for millennia.

Three was also sacred to devotees of the goddess, Brighid, signifying totality. And the Irish bards continued the significance of "3's" by using triple repetition in their storytelling rhythms.

Legend of the Banshee
When most people think of a Banshee, they imagine a floating, spectral figure wailing and generally being extremely frightening. You may also be aware of the old belief which states that Banshees are harbingers of death.

What is a Banshee?
A Banshee is said to be a fairy in Irish legend and her scream is believed to be an omen of death. The scream is also called ‘caoine’ which means ‘keening’ and is a warning that there will be an imminent death in the family and as the Irish families blended over time, it is said that each family has its own Banshee!
A Banshee is a disembodied spirit and can appear in any of the following forms:
§  A beautiful woman wearing a shroud
§  A pale woman in a white dress with long red hair
§  A woman with a long silver dress and silver hair
§  A headless woman carrying a bowl of blood that is naked from the waist up
§  An old woman with frightening red eyes, a green dress and long white hair
§  An old woman with a veil covering her face, dressed all in black with long grey hair

Historians have traced the first stories of the Banshee to the 8th century which were based on a tradition where women sang a sorrowful song to lament someone’s death. These women were known as ‘keeners’ and since they accepted alcohol as payment, they were said to be sinners and punished by being doomed to become Banshees. According to the mythology of the Banshee, if she is spotted, she will vanish into a cloud of mist and this action creates a noise similar to a bird flapping its wings. Legend says that Banshees don’t cause death; they only serve as a warning of it.

Banshees – The Good & Bad
Not all Banshees are hate-filled creatures; there are some that had strong ties to their families in life and continued to watch over them in death. When they manifest themselves, these Banshees appear as beautiful enchanting women that sing a sorrowful, haunting song which is filled with concern and love for their families. This song can be heard a few days before the death of a family member and in most cases the song can only be heard by the person for whom it is intended. 

On the other side of the coin we have the angry and scary Banshee that most of us are familiar with. During their lives, these women had reasons to hate their families and appear as distorted and frightening apparitions filled with hatred. The howls emitted by these Banshees are enough to chill you to the bone and rather than appearing to warn a family member, these Banshees are celebrating the future demise of someone they loathed!

And forget that cute little guy on the Lucky Charms cereal box. Leprechauns are more like the character played Warwick Davis in the Leprechaun movies is not cute or nice. Like many fairies, they were brutish and nasty little people. They were the grumpy, insufferable, alcoholic elves in employ of other fairies. 

According to the book The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, by John and Caitlin Matthews, the leprechaun legend can be traced back to eighth-century tales of water spirits called "luchorpán," meaning small body. The legend eventually evolved into a mischievous household fairy said to haunt cellars and drink heavily.

Leprechauns are shoemakers. Some researchers claim that the word leprechaun came from the Irish 'leath bhrogan,' meaning shoemaker, said to be the sprites' main vocation.

If you happen to come across a Leprechaun, be sure to hold on to him.  According to Irish legends, people lucky enough to capture a 
leprechaun can barter his freedom for three wishes. But dealing with a leprechaun can be a tricky proposition.

A leprechaun is a trickster figure who cannot be trusted. Folklorist Carol Rose offers a typical tale of leprechaun trickery in her encyclopedia "Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins," it concerns "a man who managed to get a leprechaun to show him the bush in the field where his treasure was located. Having no spade [shovel], the man marked the tree with one of his red garters, then kindly released the sprite and went for a spade. Returning almost instantly he found that every one of the numerous trees in the field sported a red garter!"

Like most fairies, leprechauns have a distinctive sound associated with them. While the Irish banshee can be identified by a mournful wail, leprechauns are recognized by the tap-tap-tapping of a tiny cobbler hammer, driving nails into shoes, that announces they are near.

Leprechauns are always male. In the 1825 book "Fairy Legends" noted that Leprechauns seem to be entirely male and solitary. No female Leprechauns at all! They are often described as bearded old men dressed in green and wearing buckled shoes. Sometimes they wear a pointed cap or hat and may smoke a pipe. But Leprechauns weren't always dressed in green, nor wore pointed caps or  hats. Early tales of the creatures reported wearing red clothing and tri-cornered hat perched on their heads. 

And according to Carolyn White’s A History of Irish Fairies, there is no record of any female Leprechauns existing. This of course means that Leprechauns defy typical laws of biology by surviving and there is no evidence which tells the story of how they breed. The book also mentions that Leprechauns are deformed children of the fairies.

Next time you watch that horror film, Leprechaun, remember that is the true fey being.

But no matter if myth or truth, enjoy the day and dance a little jig. Just don't overdo the green beer and Irish food.