folklore

What’s Your Favorite Scary Story?

I’ve spent enough time working commissions that my phone autocorrects everything to scarf or mitten.

I will be pulling this blog out of retirement.

Including the horror and folklore content.

Tell me about your favorite scary stories bonus points for things that came out of 2016.

The Halloween Mask Effect

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This is a repost from 2014, but in light of it being Halloween season again, and actually an election year, I’m pulling this one out again. No, I have no idea currently which mask is selling better this year, and I would be surprised if that data is out yet-but I might check in a few weeks.

I know that we’re now in November and therefore past the point where this is relevant, but at the same time, I really like this quirk (assuming this is true, and I sort of want it to be true).

It’s claimed that you can tell who will win a presidential election in November by what masks are sold for Halloween in October. This claim holds true for American society, but I’m not sure if it’s limited to Americans, if it’s because Halloween is currently a heavily American holiday, or if no one’s bothered paying attention to anywhere other than the States.

But it’s apparently accurate with a fairly freakishly high success rate-you can tell who will win by who is the most popular candidate to dress up as.

However, that’s probably the key word: popular. While the ‘nasty’ costumes for less than loved politicians are common, people like to collect and surround themselves with images of things that they like. Therefore, they’re going to be more likely to buy a costume of someone they are more willing to vote for than those they have no interest in. It’s an extension of popular culture; the images that people like are the ones that they want to dress up as (I read that Ryan Murphy was startled to already see Twisty the Clown costumes on the street this year-and multiple of them, to boot). The trend supposedly dates back to the 1988 election, with Reagan being the successful candidate and the highest selling mask. Or 1980, depending on source. However, the basic idea is still the same-for the past 30 years or so, the American election can be predicted by the sale of Halloween costumes.

This is one of those trends that is weird enough that pop culture loves it. It makes for a wonderful headline (Halloween predicts presidents! Next it’ll rain frogs!). I like it because it starts getting into those interplays that make sociology fascinating.

Strange Election Indicators: Halloween Masks

6 Bizarre Factors that Predict Every Presidential Election

Halloween masks predict Obama win 60-40

Halloween makes predict elections?

For Halloween 2012 prognosis, look to…Halloween masks?

Halloween Presidential Mask Sales Have Correctly Predicted Last Five Elections

Mount Misery Road, Huntington, New York

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Long Island is way too far off for this legend to be listed as a Haunted Western New York entry.

[That may seem obvious, but I, and many other New Yorkers, know that a lot of people who aren’t from the state split New York into New York City and Not-New-York-City with very little understanding of the geography of a fairly large state. Long Island and Buffalo are pretty much at opposite ends.]

However I do still favor New York ghost stories, especially during a month filled with them.

According to legend the road is not called Mount Misery because of the stories associated with it-it was just not a nice area to live in and extremely hard to farm. However the name is probably not aiding the road in shaking any ghost stories that have been started through the years [have you noticed that a cemetery is much more likely to be haunted than the OB ward of a hospital, even though if we’re honest with ourselves, they both most likely see a fair amount of death?]

However the name came into being, there are suggestions that the area has had a haunted reputation for almost as long as the area has been settled-though it is worth noting that just because the stories claim connection to the 1700s doesn’t necessarily mean that the legend itself dates to the same era. Regardless, the legend claims that there was an asylum built along the road in the 1700s and a female patient was killed [the dates for the hospital are shaky, and increase the potential for the eras to have been added at a much more modern point-some reports place the hospital at a much later 1840]. She eventually became the first ‘woman in white’ ghost seen along the road, and her story may have slowly merged with more modern stories who claim a phantom hitch-hiker in the same region.

The Lady in White is not the only type of ghost claimed to be haunting the road. There are stories of lights, suicides, ghost vehicles, and ghosts that will interfere with vehicles to ‘stop’ accidents (even if the road is already clear). There are echoes and implications of wider regional legends such as the presence of the ghost of a woman murdered and dumped along the road; this is a legend that exists throughout the Long Island region as a whole, as well as potentially linked into wider Mid Atlantic and New England lore.

Regionally, there are some potentially troubling ghosts that are supposed to be haunting the region. Like several other areas settled by Western Europeans (especially the British and Dutch) both Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Roads have their own black dogs/black shuck style ghosts. Reflecting the dullahan and its American cousin the Headless Horseman, there is a man supposedly wandering the area with a basket of severed heads. Finally, a cop will sometimes pull you over or appear a the scene of minor accidents and break downs. There have been reports that he is missing the back of his head.

Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Road

Mount Misery

Connecticut Phantom Crash, 1997

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I have spent a fairly long time on a fairly ancient laptop, as far as laptops go- the machine I had been running was over a decade old. It finally died outright, for all intents, this weekend and I bought a tablet/2-in-1. The machine itself works much, much better so hopefully I will be able to blog more consistently now (and I do mean actually be able-it was taking me close to half an hour to write three or four paragraphs). I am trying to figure out the battery patterns on this machine, though. I’ve never seen a computer that decides when or if it’s going to charge and I don’t know if it’s a battery issue or if this is deliberate.

 

I will admit that this is a very vague story, but one that I really wish was better developed online (even if it were to be truly folkloric).

The development of new technology will eventually become reflected in the folklore of the era. So we start  with phantom armies, and move into phantom carriages, trains, cars. Therefore it’s really only natural and probably a matter of waiting for the development of ghost planes and phantom crashes.

One of these crashes is claimed to have taken place in Westbrook, Connecticut in 1997. There were witnesses to the crash-though the reports were admittedly odd. Eyewitness claims stated that there were no waves kicked up from the plane, let alone wreckage. However rescue crews were sent out and nothing was ever found of the supposedly downed plane.

The crash report is vague and sounds suspiciously like at best a misidentification and at worst an outright fabrication. However this is not the only case like this on the books in the United States. Reports of phantom plane crashes in various forms ranging from distress calls and sounds to full visual sightings may date as far back as 1955-and may become more common as aircraft and air travel become that much more ingrained in culture.

List of phantom crashes

The Blue Lady [Moss Beach California]

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Creepies of the 80s and 90s were children when Unsolved Mysteries was on air in the States-and that show helped launched many of us into full on love of the weird, odd, and scary. That theme song still makes the hair on my arms stand up.

One of my favorite aspects of that show was the ghost and haunting segments-I really didn’t care about the disappearances or unsolved crimes. Aliens really didn’t do much for me either, and I remember a segment about people who could turn street lights on and off as being a little bit baffling (as in, it’s something I probably will never be able to do but at the same time, it’s not anything I found (or find) terribly impressive either).

However a lot of those ghost stories have lingered for me. The show was my first introduction to the Blue Lady. I have never found this story creepy or scary at all; if anything I have always found the story a little bit sad. Who is she waiting for? Does she know he’s not coming?

The story is a little vague and for that I apologize. At a restaurant known as the Distillery in Moss Beach, California, a woman in a dated blue dress can be seen at the bar. She looks like she’s waiting for someone. Legend says, including the Distillery’s own website, that she was in a relationship with the piano player. The Lady may or may not have been married already; regardless of the state of her romantic life she and the player were assaulted on the beach below the bar some time during Prohibition. She was killed while he was not, and she may still be at the bar, waiting for him to return. The haunting has a lot of the ‘traditional’ aspects of American hauntings-moving items, cold spots, locked doors, as well as full sightings of the infamous woman in blue at the bar.

[It is worth noting that like the Grand Island haunting in Buffalo, a lot of the haunting is played up for the sake of publicity. In the case of the Distillery, the show Ghost Hunters found that many of these events are created. Whether or not the push of the legend pre-dates these effects is unknown.]

Mr. Flibbles and the Bad Luck, Really Kind of Terrible Day

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I am not one to read too much into omens, as much as I have a habit of tracking the feathers I find and am most likely more superstitious than I like to let on.

After about a year and two other attempts and patterns, I have finally started another sweater using some of the handspun I was working on last year. I’m hoping it’ll get me to get Freya out of storage, work down fiber, and I really honestly need my hands busy right now. I decided the problem has been that I’ve been forcing a yarn that really doesn’t want to be a cable into a cable, and decided I like the yarn in a rib much more. Ribbing is really forgiving so it’s actually a helpful move-I actually am aiming for bulky and heavy, for Buffalo winters, and the shaping with be that much easier.

So I happily packed my bag for work, got a few rows in before shift started and then the worst happened.

The damnable needle broke in my bag. And proverbial hell broke loose.

I remember hearing somewhere in my 20 years of fiber wanderings-though Internetlandia is failing me to back it up-that breaking a needle is a hugely negative omen. And within half an hour I was in fights, embarrassing scheduling mishaps and somehow have forgotten how to spell.

I have been knitting for 20 years and this is the first needle I’ve had go on me in the middle of a project. The sheer amount of tension and conflict in the rest of the day makes me want to hunker down in a woolly shelter. I’m not necessarily saying I’m sure it was the needle…but the needle didn’t help.

The Hodag

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I’m not an astrology person but March is working out to be  a weird one, if you were to follow such things. Two eclipses and a sabbat (which one of the eclipses falls on).

Not saying you need to follow such things but hey this is a folklore post.

So this month has been odd and I feel like writing about slightly strange things.

Like the hodag.

The hodag is a smallish, dog sized creature with dinosaur spikes. Originating in Wisconsin, the hodag dates back to the 19th century.

Combining the features of several animals including a frog, elephant, and the aforementioned dinosaur, the hodag was first ‘discovered’ in 1893 by one Eugene Shepard. Shepard led a search for the hodag in Rhinelander Wisconsin which did end with a ‘corpse’.

However Shepard was known for his pranks and ultimately the hodag was outed a a hoax. The cryptid was believed to be real however until a team from the Smithsonian went to Wisconsin to view it,and Shepard had to out himself. Rhinelander took to the hodag, and made the animal its masot regardless of its status as a gaff.

A is for Abundance

I have become increasingly aware of a theme running through neopaganism/neofolk thought patterns that I’m sure I’m not the first to pick up on. It’s just one that I’ve come increasingly sensitive to.

The basic idea is this-it’s perfectly fine to ask the gods/Universe/angels/whatever for ‘fertility’ or ‘abundance’ as long as you’re not asking for material items. It doesn’t matter why you need money (or food, and I’m going to touch on that in a moment), it’s against the ‘rules’ to ask for anything that you can actually touch-unless you’re talking about children. I mean, you can physically interact with a child. But they’re in a special class amongst themselves.

I have my pet theories on why this has happened, ranging from something tinged by Weber’s work on Calvinism to good old fashioned class blindness. But however it happened, this is the problem with it: abundance in the form of cash or crops or stuff in general, has a very very long standing history in mythological and folkloric thought.

There are the admonishments against too much stuff, ie greed-Midas didn’t end well. But the fact that he even got his wish is telling. Zeus turned himself into a shower of golden coins. The pathways back from Beltaine’s current emphasis on ‘fertility’ don’t have a straight line back to simple ‘gee I wish we could have more people,’ a lot of that fertility is framed around ‘gee, it would be awesome if this summer managed to produce enough food we don’t starve to death.’ As in, there’s definitely a ‘stuff’ angle here.

In fact, the undertone of ‘abundance is greed, but asking for children is awesome’ is fairly new and not really backed up fully in the folklore. People have been asking for kids right along, but there’s as much stuff warning about messing with human fertility as there is for asking for too much material items. There’s no real suggestion that fertility is better than abundance; there are as many or more warnings regarding the manipulation of love and sexuality as there are Midases and a love for too much gold.

But, should you be asking the Universe for abundance? And what is abundance in the first place? I ask the Universe for abundance daily, for whatever form of abundance the Universe sees fit that day-money, overtime, not missing my bus, easy social interactions. I just, put myself in the place I need to be to collect what I need. Ethically and historically speaking, there are schools of metaphysical thought that have no issues with abundance work (and not so ironically they’re paths that have always attracted a high amount of lower class and marginalized people-not great shock there. Also, common to American folk magic. That’s another tangent). There are generally limitations-it’s not going to be instantaneous, make sure you’re asking from a place of need, be willing to work…make sure you actually need the money-but it’s well within the limits of acceptable behavior.

Needled

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I’m knitting again.

I know it’s a weird statement, on a knitting blog. But this rut I’ve been in has extended to anything harder than garter stitch blankets. But I’m working on a trade, a scarf for a Christmas ornament, and I’m really enjoying the project. I’m not working on anything terribly complicated-lace on largish needles with bulky yarn. It’s pleasant enough though-and I like the yarn. Always a bonus.

As I settled into the rhythm, I realized that the needles I’m using are bright green-which triggered an idea I’ve had for this column for a long time and have mentioned in passing on occasion. But it’s unofficially Memory Month, so if I’m rehashing an idea, it’s actually appropriate.

There is an idea, in relation to folk magic and urban legend, that you can work spells and raise energy with fiber arts. The basic idea is an extension of knot magic: knitting is basically a series of needle-worked knots, and knots can be used to ‘trap’ or catch energy. So in theory, you could work up spell bits and bobs, in various colors, and hold onto energy that way. If you wanted, you could hold the piece until the end of the spell and burn the piece then to release the energy. Or you could hold onto it like a talisman. This idea actually extends to a superstition that’s floated around my Internet career on various fiber sites-that different cultures had the idea that it was terrible to rip out your own work because it tears out your own luck.

The idea of this binding means that you can also bind a person to you through knitting or other fiber work-working your hair or the hair of another person will bind the two of you together.

Knitters will sometimes say that projects and yarns have personalities, and you can ‘raise’ energy will working on a piece. It’s not necessarily bad luck to work a project that you don’t like, but it can be rough going and sometimes yarn will tell you what it does and does not want to be-it’s easier to work with a yarn that wants to be, say, a scarf than yarn that doesn’t.

In terms of energy, it also possible to use fiber to work with manifestations, meditations, and other mindsets that are aided by repetitive motion. If you wanted to work an abundance chant, for example, you could use green needles (hence what triggered this post), green yarn, or both (or neither, to be honest) and work your chant across each chant. Spinning and knitting are both helpful to clear the mind for meditation.

Folklorically, a lot of the myth surrounding European hearth spirits mention fiber, at least in passing. Many of these spirits (fae or otherwise) are deeply interested in spinning and other fiber arts. Some will actually do the spinning for you if you stay on their good sides, for others, if you slack on your fiber work, you risk enraging them.

Knitting is not without its own little urban legends and superstitions-it’s terrible luck to knit for a baby before it is born. As in, potentially fatally bad luck. There is also the infamous sweater curse-don’t knit for your partner before you’re engaged, or you run the risk of breaking up the relationship. You should also try to never hand a person a pair of needles with the points to them or risk damaging your relationship. Dropping needles is bad luck. Don’t leave knitting needles empty.

Hansel and Gretel

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I haven’t been blogging because blogging requires a voice, and I haven’t felt like talking recently. Not in a blogging sense anyway. I’ve been working on getting that voice back but I’m still stuck in a months long rut of just repeating the same projects over and over again and people are asking me to keep repeating those projects or work on stuff they want me to help them with or the like. I have been doing things like improving my bread making skills-so it’s not a total loss.

Part of my lack of voice is that even with my red notebook of folklore ideas, nothing is coming to me for writing ideas. I ended up turning to a Facebook group to get an idea for this post, but it’s currently topical for me. Fall is when I start thinking Baba Yaga and crone magic.

Hansel and Gretel were the children of a woodcutter, who loved them dearly. They had a happy life with their father, who was a widower. Eventually their father grew lonely and decided to take a wife. But his new wife did not love her stepchildren nearly as well as their father did; however she was a patient woman and settled into her new life.

Everything was fine until a drought struck. The crops died in the fields, and hunger set in. The woodcutter did what he could until he was forced to admit that his family was most likely not going to survive. He wept bitterly. His new wife came to him in the night and said the unthinkable: take the children out to the woods in the morning. Give them a little bit of bread.

Leave them there.

While he knew that it would break his heart forever to do so, in the deep of the night he also saw the wisdom in his wife’s words. So he didn’t fight her.

However the children were still awake in the next room and heard this plan. Instead of being at risk of being abandoned, they stole a little bread [in some legends they left with a pocketful of stones] and left a trail behind them when their father attempted to leave them in the woods. They simply followed the stones back home-much to their stepmother’s horror.

The next day after their return, their father takes them back to the woods-this time making sure there are no rocks, just bread. The children leave another trail but the birds eat the crumbs. However they manage to make it back to the house again, only to find that the doors have been locked and they are alone.

The siblings decide to brave the woods themselves and eventually find themselves in the deep dark of the forest. However what they find amazes them; there is a house made entirely of gingerbread and candy.

The scent of the house lured them forward and the two find it owned by a crone. The crone is ugly and blind, and she invites the two into the house. Not sensing anything dangerous here the children enter the house-and are quickly imprisoned by the crone who is really a witch, who desires to eat the children.

The crone puts Gretel to work in the kitchen while attempting to fatten up her brother. Eventually the children manage to outsmart and overpower the witch, push her into her own oven, and escape.

They make it back to their father-who, especially after the death of his second wife in the famine, is elated to see them. They live happily ever after. Except for the dead crone and the dead wife.

——————————————————————————————————–

What is interesting with this version of a witch crone story is that the only real benefit that the children receive from their time with the witch is that they’re sort of riding out the time until the false mother (the stepmother) leaves their lives again. There is a suggestion that the children weren’t in any real danger, and one actually has to wonder why they waited so long to leave again, what with the witch being weak enough to be pushed into an oven by a child. This story doesn’t make her out to be a Baba Yaga type, capable of taking someone out herself. In some variations the witch is actually rich and the children steal money to bring back home with them.

There are some noted parallels to the Baba Yaga archetype, but the story is not simply a retelling of earlier Baba stories. Baba takes on a much heavier teacher role in her stories; for all of her unpleasantness, Baba Yaga teaches or provides the hero with an item or wisdom, and follows through with her promises as well as her warnings. Her standards may be high, but she plays fair as long as you stay within her boundaries. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, while the stories may stem from a similar route (or the Hansel story may have actually evolved out of the Baba Yaga archetype) the function of the witch crone here is markedly different: the children here are gaining nothing from the crone except perhaps the triumph of the strength and cunning of youth over aged femininity.

I’m getting a little bit rambl-y but the role of older women as a whole in this story is interesting. There’s a heavy suggestion that the first mother wouldn’t have let the children out in the forest in the first place-and we’re definitely not supposed to be siding with the stepmother for doing so. In fact the only woman who comes out of this story looking okay isn’t a woman at all; we cheer on Gretel’s actions as she and her brother work to free themselves. The stepmother and the crone are both presented as the dark mother; these are women who sort of forgot how to ‘woman’ along the way and we’re definitely not supposed to be okay with that. I have seen discussions where there is a suggestion that this is a reflection of stances on women, but my personal suspicion is that we’re seeing more of a development of a shadow element than a direct comment on the role of femininity. I know I write from a horror perspective, but I have to wonder if our current rejection of the mother and crone presented here are based more on a societal refusal to reject the feminine shadow more than a true gender imbalance statement: after all, we aren’t questioning the role of the father and his shadow in this encounter at all. But then, men have a much longer history with embracing their shadows in literature then women.