Via Pixabay

Via Pixabay

I said last week that it was impossible to track the beginnings of Halloween.

We do know that it’s linked to early harvest rites that were often further linked into death and renewal nights (Samhain being one of them).

(A minor sidetrack, I said years ago that I didn’t see the connection between Samhain and fae faiths. Being too trained not to, I have readjusted that stance in the years since. I’m just too lazy to go back and readjust that entry. But, yes, I’m willing to meet people further up the road on that one, though I’m still not sure that that the mounds were the main drive of that holiday.)

(A complete sidetrack, speaking of faeries and Halloween. Try coming up with a fast, simple, yet thorough way of describing the sluagh and the Wild Hunt to someone who knows absolutely nothing about fae lore.)

Once the Catholic church rose to cultural dominance, the holiday that we now call Halloween began to take shape-but we don’t have a set, easily verifiable date to look at and say, ‘this is the year that it tipped over into what we would recognize as Halloween.’

Except for the United States and a city called Anoka.

Prior to the 1920s, there was really nothing to control children and teens from heavy pranking during events such as Nut Crack and Bonfire Nights. Halloween was practiced, but it was mainly a home-based holiday with parties and other events held on private property. While there was limited practice of treat or treating at the time, it was not as well established as a cultural icon as it would be in later decades. The pranking aspect of the holiday was in full force, leading up to Halloween night proper.

Towns would wake up destruction from the annoying but not necessarily completely damaging such as eggings and toilet paper to outright destruction of property and thefts.

In Anoka Minnesota, a town leader named George Green held a meeting in 1920 to address the pranking issue in a manner that would fulfill the population’s desire for social outlets, interesting enough to divert attention away from pranking and other less than desired activities, and community minded. What the town decided to put together was the first known civic Halloween event-which solidifies the town as the birthplace of American Halloween as we know it (sorry Salem, you have nothing to do with this one).

The events included a giant bonfire that has been held every year since, other than years affected by World War II in the 1940s, a giant parade, and mass distribution of candy. According to Anoka’s history website, the event has changed over the years to account for changing tastes; at one point, a giant snake dance was involved.

Was the Anoka the first place in the United States to shift into a ‘modern’ style Halloween? Probably not. In fact, I would be more surprised if it was. But Anoka has been acknowledged as the first place to fully ritualize it as a community event. Therefore, in a sense, you can date American Halloween to Minnesota, 1920.




I’ve mentioned Krampus in passing, several times, but as his popularity has grown in American pop culture has grown over the past few years (want to smell like Krampus? Because you can. No, really…you can buy Krampus themed perfume) maybe it’s time he gets his own standalone entry.

It seems that European cultures are much more willing to play up the ‘bad’ side of Christmas-in America, at least, while there’s this veiled threat against misbehaving children the end result is pretty benign on the whole. The worst that can happen is that you don’t make it onto the ‘nice’ list and therefore don’t get presents. I suppose in a culture that is as commercially driven as my own, not being gifted-especially as a child-is pretty traumatic.

I suppose as a prior warning, if you click any of the links provided in the end of this entry, you might see vintage images of children being physically punished. It’s not horribly graphic, but if you don’t want to see these things you might want to avoid clicking those links.

You might also want to stop reading now, since that’s sort of the point of Krampus-otherwise known currently as the Christmas demon.

Krampus, like most folkloric figures, has a slight range of appearances, ranging from the Baphomet inspired cloven hooves and horns to a surly gentleman in black, to a gentleman in black who may be slightly furrier than normal. He comes holding some form of weapon for physical punishment (either rusty chains or whips) and a basket or other holding device. It should be noted however that there are other interpretations of the items he holds including the chains marking the binding of the devil by the Christian Church (Wikipedia has a full paragraph on the symbolism of his items; article is linked below.)

Krampus has one specific job: to accompany Santa Clause or St. Nicholas and heavily punish misbehaving children. If you’re lucky he’ll just beat you…if you’re not so lucky he’ll beat you and drag  you into hell. This is not a minor folkloric, throw away concept either-December features Krampusnacht, held the night before St. Nicholas’ Day. Krampusnacht features dancing, singing, drinking, mummery, parades, and other carnival like events to ring in Krampus’ return.

Krampus even had his own Christmas cards, often with slightly more adult tones than you would think.

As the Santa Clause image began to filter into American culture, the Krampus image with its potential ties back to Pagan solstice rituals (National Geographic claims that Krampus is the son of Hel) and emphasis on punishment lost favor and was never really picked up in the States outside of regional traditions. While the image also never died out fully in Europe, Krampus is now slowly making a re-emergence both Europe and the States with increasing numbers of Krampus parades, the reintroduction of Krampus cards, and the reintroduction of the image back into popular culture.

However, the States would not be the only culture to reject Krampus. The Austrian government took an unfavorable view on Krampusnacht and banned the practice by law in 1934. In the 1950s they distributed pamphlets warning against the evils of Krampus. This was most likely was a reaction to political thought in that era than the actual image, however. Further, perhaps understandably, the Catholic church wasn’t exactly fond of him either.


(As an aside, while Buffalo hosts a Santacon this weekend-and I would very much like to see it-several cities hold a challenger Krampuscon. I’m assuming that if Santacon is drinking and collecting charity gifts-which it is in Buffalo- then Krampuscon must be drinking and brooding.)



Who is Krampus? Exploring the Christmas Devil

10 Fun Facts About Krampus, the Christmas Demon

Killer Legends (2014)

things that go bump in the night

My academic intentions went something like this: I wanted to be an epidemiologist and work with the Plague (no, really), I wanted to be a folklorist, I ended up a sociologist.

I would have been a folklorist and worked  with urban legends, except that I realized that I had absolutely no interest in the types of anthropology that you have to do in order to finish your degree, but I was actually deeply interested in most aspects of sociology that you have to finish in order to get a BA.

In other words, I have a deep interest in the back stories to urban legends.

And this documentary is actually fairly creepy.

By the same production team that released Cropsy, the documentary takes the same premise-talking to the people involved with true crimes that inspired wider urban legends or provided new life to old legends-and looks at wider American culture. Where Cropsy was interested in local, New York legends, this documentary looks at legends from around America including killer clowns in the Midwest and the Phantom Killings in Texarkana.

While this can be a dry documentary style for people who aren’t as interested in the theoretical elements of these legends (a sociologist! They actually talked to a sociologist over an anthropologist for once! Team Soc!), the way that the documentary is shot including the score choice makes this an actually fairly dark, creepy watch.

This is the type of documentary that I probably would have seen in college but probably not before-there’s a fair amount of crime scene photography, including postmortem photography. Some of the discussions run to the slightly graphic and it doesn’t shy away from some of the nastier social forces involved in the crimes (at least one the crimes is bluntly related to race relations, and is stated in a way that’s not made more politically correct. It is however coming from a primary source).

This is probably a documentary for older viewers, but it’s also one of the better true crime documentaries that I’ve seen for awhile-and the UL angle is definitely entertaining.



things that go bump in the night


Papa Legba




Eshu (though Ellegua, Legba, and Eshu are  derived from the same deity but function in extremely different, those still related, ways)



Do not, and I repeat, do not, blunder into the crossroads lightly. Do not interfere with liminal magic without knowing full well what you’re getting into. The shadows shift there, nothing is as it seems. Of all the folk magics you can get entangled with, this is the one that’s the most like Alice’s Caterpillar-And WHO are YOU?


Humans do not like what I call the in-between and what Jim Butcher calls the NeverNever. We do not like doorways, we do not like dusk, we do not like crossroads. We do not like places that we can’t see our footing in-and in folk magic, the crossroads is right up there on the top of the list of shadowy, shifting places. The only other place that may be more charged in this manner may be the entrance to a graveyard (I almost placed Baron Samedi and his many faces on that list as well, but graveyard and death energy is actually fundamentally different from crossroads energy).

But why? Why are we so afraid of these places?

Because of the potential-and the potential of getting stuck, or getting stuck wandering throughout reality with no set ‘road’.

That’s what the crossroads ultimately represents-the potential. The fact that you are presented with at least five choices-each of the four roads, and the point in the middle-means that all things are fluid here. You also can’t see what’s coming from at least one road all of the time.

To be liminal, an energy has to be stuck in a state of flux. This is almost the Schroedinger’s cat of folkloric thought. The liminal places are those that are in between two states-life and death, future and past, change or continuation. In the positive, the crossroads can be used to pull positive change in a situation. Lord Ganesha likes to open roads for people to succeed. Hecate is used to aid women in childbirth as much as she’s known for her role in witchcraft. The crossroads can be used to summon new skills, new business ventures, money, move out negative energies, and just generally introduce new and cleaner energies into your life.

Or it can be used to summon up demons, death himself, the devil himself, sell your soul for skills, lay curses, bury the unclean dead, trap wandering spirits, bury those accused of vampirism and lycanthropy, work roots, hexes, conjures, and other roots, and otherwise just cause general mischief and misanthropy. Supposedly Robert Johnson knew exactly who the black man he met at the crossroads was, he just didn’t care.

Further, there’s an aspect to crossroad belief that is hugely important but always seems to be left out of conversations of crossroads work: the price. These are not favors that are given away for free, though with some figures the price is slightly lower than others. Ganesha likes when I leave him spare change in the penny cups at the gas station. However, never, and I repeat, never, pick up money you find in a crossroads. Some energies like literal cash as payment and that money belongs to someone else. I wouldn’t want to anger him, personally. Depending on the faith that the belief is coming out of-in Christian folklore, Johnson’s black man was actually the devil-the price can be your soul.

When you’re a folklorist who lives wedged between four crossroads, you tend to learn the legends.


things that go bump in the night

I might as well call this the Year of the Teeth, because I’m finding in the midst of thing with very big teeth. Darkness is one of those things that you only fear when it’s unknown.

Blah blah blah metaphysical blah. Anyway. I like the goddesses that run to the dark end of the spectrum. I’m not really sure why there’s so much emphasis on goddesses that can help you with happy things. I don’t really have a lot of trouble with the ‘happy things’, it’s the ‘how the hells am I going to pay rent’ and ‘how do I get this monkey off my back’ and ‘how do I learn how to grieve’ that I need help with.

If you’re going to start naming ‘dark’ goddesses, Hecate tends to be right up there near the top in her crone aspect. She is in fact a goddess of witchcraft-but sort of like Freya, you’re not getting the full picture if you only use her in that regard. Somewhere along the way, for reasons that I do actually have something of a grasp on, a lot of her job requirements were stripped away and she was left with something like the witch stereotype that’s so prevalent this time of year.

However, Hecate is actually sort of a heavy duty deity-as long as you’re not looking for the entirely bright and pleasant. Hecate is actually a triple-faced goddess-though it should be noted that she most likely did not start out that way, meaning that she can express in at least three main forms. Her signs, at least according to some sources, were the torch, the keys, and dogs. I do feel the need, however, as at least a quasi-social historian, to remind everyone that when dealing with deities from cultures that have been gone for millennium,  what the Greeks associated with her may have been different. This is the best that we’ve come up with-and that’s without touching the whole ‘how I PERSONALLY perceive her’ nonsense that tends to go on in modern work.

The easiest way to think of Hecate is that she is the Lady of the in-between and the hidden. She was associated with hearthwork-in Athens she was a hearth deity who was used to bless the family and the home. She was used for magic and similar works, but she was also used to protect women and children (especially women in childbirth), travelers, the poor, and to a point, the underworld. She was associated with certain poisonous plants. Hecate was sometimes placed in the role of the psychopomp-she was appointed Persephone’s guide in her original descent into the underworld. Some of these associations are most likely modern. With at least some awareness of my own hypocrisy, it’s hard to find her associations that don’t come from a blog with a heavily Pagan title.

However, even with her associations with darkness, night, and some of the darker magics, she was and is very much seen as a protector entity. The emphasis on the witch mythos, with the further emphasis on malignant activity, is very much a modern association. While she was in fact associated with underworld and spirits-it is much more likely that she was used to actually ward off and protect a home from spirits and the unsettled dead. At the very least, the use of Hecate as a protective entity was probably as likely. Take a much later culture, an established history of doing odd things to women and representations of women, and a deity that has direct connections to death and the underworld, and you have an equation  to start mutating Hecate’s representations much later in European history. The current emphasis on Hecate as crone is probably not helping-Baba Yaga has faced the same process, where whatever good she did was overshadowed by her less pleasant, more aggressive tendencies.

More Reading


Seasonal Sunday Legends-November Witches

Not quite seasonal, we’re a little early, and not quite the witches that you’re probably thinking. I did, however, find reference on one of those Internet lists that Buffalo thinks the November Witch is some sort of giant green fey entity. I’m not saying that there’s no historical folklore to that effect-I will say I’ve never found anyone in this city that actually thinks that.

I finally begged Mid to pull the air conditioner out of the window because it’s drafty and we’re facing our first official frost warning. I have a feeling that we’re going to get a witch or two this year-we’ve already gotten hit with one band of lake effect rain. In honor of the weather and the season, I’m pulling something from way, way back out of the archives-this was originally posted in 2011.

November Witches/Witches of November

Weather factors heavily into folklore, and for good reason. Regardless of how technicologically advanced we’re becoming, the one thing that we can’t alter is the weather. Weather systems affect everything from crop cycles to travel. The effects of weather systems were only magnified in eras when the survival of entire regions were dependent on rain levels and snow storms- while this is still a reality, it is at least slightly lessened by advances in technology and transportation.

Weather patterns have been featured in horror ranging from The Fog to Storm of the Century. In fact I think that I’m safe in saying that some of the most deeply rooted images of the genre, for Americans at least, are found in weather phenomena- thunderstorms, fog, pounding rain. Whether used to set mood or as setting, these images are traditional to American horror culture.

There is a very localized phenomenon that reached international exposure in 1975. The November Witches, or the Witches of November, are exceptionally strong storms that develop only in the Great Lakes region of the United States. These storms are effectively inland hurricanes, bringing windspeeds of over 80 miles an hour plus snow, wind, and massive waves. I have had the pleasure, or misfortune, of surviving at least minor Witches since I dormed in a building overlooking Ontario.

While the name sounds quaint, these storms are lethal. Thousands of ships and hundreds of lives have been lost across the Great Lakes due to these weather systems. Current advances in predication and monitoring have helped to pull numbers down but these are still dangerous events.

The November Witches in Popular Culture

While not a traditional horror image, the November Witches are a part of popular culture. Most famously, Gordon Lightfoot used the term ‘Witch of November’ in the lyrics to The Wreck  of Edmund Fitzgerald. The wreck of the Fitzgerald still holds a place in at least regional popular culture.


The Farmer’s Almanac


The Weather Network

Third Man Factor

myths and memes 2014

I don’t know if this fits into this month’s theme, but I like the idea of the thing so I’ll put it in anyway.

That’s the joy of blogging. You can get away with just sort of doing things.

The Third Man factor is the idea that during certain high stress (think extreme mountain climbing, extreme weather events, or terrorist activities such as 9/11) situations people will report being guided to safety or otherwise protected by an entity or spirit that only they can see or hear. The individual sometimes knows the gender of the being, and sometimes even can identify the person they’re with. Even if the person seems to be aware that the individual they are interacting with is imaginary-that imaginary being seems to have been capable of helping the individual avoid danger or find their way back to base camp.

This is an actual, recorded phenomena. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton reported the factor, which places the factor at least as far back as the turn of the 20th century-and there seems to be no reason to assume that this is a modern effect. While it is most likely to be some form of psychological effect, it has inspired both works of fiction and modern metaphysical thought to wonder if people are interacting with ghosts, guardian angels, or other incorporeal but relatively sentient beings.

While Shackleton was one of the first to report the phenomena in relation to his extreme explorations, there have been modern reports of Third Man factor. The final survivor of the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11 claimed that he had an encounter with something that fits the factor. Ron DiFrancesco claims that something lead him by hand out of the burning building from the 84th floor-except that he was in fact alone the entire time. In many cases, the factor doesn’t prove physical aid so much as a feeling of comfort, support, or simple companionship-athletes who have reported the factor have claimed to attempt to feed their ‘companion’ only to discover that they are alone.

Interestingly, it’s not always a  ‘third man’-on some occasions it’s ‘third men‘. Charles Lindbergh reported the presence of multiple beings on the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

Third Man factor

Guardian Angels or the ‘Third Man factor’?

Third man theory of otherwordly encounters