The Sluagh: Celtic spirits of the unforgiven dead

Celtic folklore has given us some of the darkest and most frightening stories in history including three-headed monsters, headless horsemen, famine-spreaders, and a variety of creepy spirits. One of the most fascinating are probably the Sluagh na marbh (host of the dead), or “Fairy Host”, spirits of the unforgiven or restless dead who soared the skies at night searching for humans to pick off, and especially the dying. Some believed them to be Fallen Angels, while others thought them the spirits of unbaptized children who had returned to earth to…

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A visit to the St. Simons Island Light, Georgia

St. Simons Island Light is a lighthouse on the southern tip of St. Simons Island, Georgia, United States. It guides ships into St. Simons Sound and warns of the many sandbars in the area. The original lighthouse, which was built in 1810, was a 23-m-tall early federal octagonal structure topped by a 3 m oil-burning lamp. However, during the American Civil War, U.S. military forces employed a Naval blockade of the coast, and an invasion by Union troops in 1862 forced Confederate soldiers to abandon the area. And the retreating…

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Piscatawaytown Burial Ground and the witch of Edison

New Jersey is steeped in urban legends and stories of the supernatural. There everybody has heard of the Jersey Devil, a creature with the head of a goat, the body of a deer, giant horns and wings. It is said that he was the 13th child of Mother Leeds back in 1735 and was born a demon through a curse. There have been a number of sightings of the Devil since then, one of them even being reported by the brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte. But there is a legend…

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Rotomairewhenua: the clearest body of fresh water known to man

Rotomairewhenua, also known as the Blue Lake of New Zealand’s Nelson Lakes National Park, officially holds the title of the clearest lake in the world. Literally translated as the “land of peaceful waters”, Blue Lake is spring fed by the neighboring glacial Lake Constance, and its water passes through a natural debris damn formed a long time ago by a landslide. This debris acts as a natural filter that retains most of the particles suspended in the glacial water, making Blue Lake almost as clear as distilled water. New Zealand’s…

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Folklore and magic of crows and ravens

Both crows and ravens have appeared in a number of different mythologies throughout the ages. In some cases, these black-feathered birds are considered an omen of bad tidings, but in others, they may represent a message from the Divine. But, above all, they have long been synonym of doom and devastation as they destroy crops, devour corpses, act as emissaries for soothsayers and gods, and are closely linked to human fortunes. But not only, as they have long plagued farmers and gardeners by devouring their freshly planted seeds. An old…

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Vulcanalia: appeasing the God of fire

In ancient Rome, Vulcan (or Volcanus) was well known as the god of fire, both beneficial and hindering fire, particularly in its destructive aspects as volcanoes. Similar to the Greek Hephaestus, he was a god of the forge, and renowned for his metalworking skills, and he is portrayed as being lame. He was patron also of those occupations having to do with ovens such as cooks, bakers, pastry makers and pizza makers. Vulcan is one of the oldest of the Roman gods, and his origins can be traced back to…

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Grave of Midnight Mary: the final resting place of a New Haven urban legend

In life, she was known by the name Mary E. Hart, but today most people in New Haven, Connecticut, now know her simply as Midnight Mary. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, and her tombstone can be found at the back of the cemetery, on the path that parallels the iron wrought fence that separates the graveyard from Winthrop Avenue. As story goes, at 48 years old, Mary dropped to the floor one day at midnight. Believing her dead, her family had her buried at Evergreen Cemetery. However, one night…

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Hoshizuna-no-Hama: Japan’s amazing star sand beach

Hoshizuna-no-Hama, literally translate as “Sand in the Shape of a Star”, is a small but charming Japanese beach famous for its star-shaped tiny grains of sand. Located on Irimote, the second-largest island in Okinawa prefecture, it doesn’t look too different than the hundreds of other beaches in the Japanese archipelago, at least at first glance, but a closer inspection reveals that many of the sand grains have a very curious shape: a five or six-tipped star. Actually the stars are not grains of sand, but microscopic, now empty exoskeletons of…

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Theodore “Fodor” Glava: the vampire of Lafayette

For generations, vampires have been a fascinating part of folklore and literature, introducing a collection of iconic characters described as corpses supposed, in European folklore, to leave their graves at night to drink the blood of the living by biting their necks with long pointed canine teeth. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a grave with “born in Transylvania” etched on the stone would invite vampire comparisons, but the people of Lafayette, Colorado, have really gone all-out. Local legends say that a tree growing over the grave sprung from the stake…

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The Well of Barhout: Yemen’s mysterious Well of Hell

In the arid wastes of eastern Yemen lies a fascinating natural wonder called the Well of Barhout. Shrouded in mystery and folklore, this “million and millions” years old large hole in the ground said to be God’s most hated spot on Earth. Those who live near the hole believe anything that comes close to the “Hell Pit” will be sucked in without escape. According to a Yemeni legend, “extinct tongues fizz on cold nights” there, a reference to what might be lurking inside the hole. Located in the eponymous valley,…

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Charlotte M. Sitton: the “The Crying Woman” of Adelaida Cemetery, California

Located west of Paso Robles, California, Adelaida is now over-ridden with wineries, but still rich in history and the strange. Originally, a mixture of mercury mines, farms, and ranches, it was first settled in 1859 by James Lynch, a sheep rancher. Pioneers flocked to the area due a perfect weather that seemed to make everything grow, and the population eventually reached a size of seven hundred scattered throughout the area amongst hills and valleys. The old trail to Mission San Miguel was opened in 1797 and used predominantly in the…

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Erdstalls Tunnels: Central Europe’s last great mystery

Across Europe, there are hundreds of underground tunnels that, apparently, lead to nowhere and about which any historic records have ever been found. They are mostly located in the southern German state of Bavaria and the nearby Austria, where they are known by the German name “Erdstall”, which literally means “place under the earth”. Locally, they are also called by various names such as “Schrazelloch”, or “goblin hole”, but also “Alraunenhöhle”, meaning “mandrake cave”, which reflects the various theories and legends associated with the mysterious tunnels. Some believed that they…

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The Month of August: holidays, falling stars and folklore

“Summer declines and roses have grown rare, But cottage crofts are gay with hollyhocks, And in old garden walks you breathe an air Fragrant of pinks and August-smelling stocks.” —John Todhunter (1839-1916) Welcome August! What do we celebrate in this month? August is the time to reap what you’ve sown, quite literally even, as most summer vegetables are ready to be harvested. In fact for us it brings the best bounty of the season, including ripened tomatoes, melons and watermelons, sweet corn on the cob, and zucchini. Canning season is…

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Lammas: welcoming the harvest

We are in the middle of the dog days of summer, when the gardens are full of beautiful flowers, the fields are full of grain, and the harvest is approaching. The hot days of August are upon us, much of the earth is dry and parched, but we know that the bright reds and yellows of the harvest season are just around the corner. Corn has been planted, tended, harvested and consumed for millennia, and so it’s no wonder that there are myths about the magical properties of this grain.…

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Thann, Alsace and L’œil de la Sorcière (The Witch’s Eye)

The little town of Thann lies on the eastern slopes of the Vosges, in the département of Haut-Rhin (Alsace). A historic town which once belonged to the Habsburgs in the Middle-Ages, it is renown for its remarkable Gothic church and the Rangen vineyard and, in fact, it is also the southern gate to the Alsace Wine Route. According to the legend, the town originated from a miracle attributed to St. Theobald, the Bishop of Gubbio (Umbria, Italy). In 1160, Ubald (or Theobald) saw his death coming soon and promised his…

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The Spirit of the Grain Fields

Harvest is the most important time of the agricultural calendar. Not only in past, the fortunes of farms, families, and even entire communities were tied to its outcome. And thus, unsurprisingly, harvest has developed its variety of deities, traditions, and superstitions which are found in almost every farming culture worldwide. Ever since the first farmers planted their crops over 10,000 years ago, people have had an anxious wait for summer. Will there be enough hot weather to ripen the corn? Will an unlucky spell rot the grain in the fields?…

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July 15: the weather folklore of St. Swithin’s Day

What’s the weather doing outside your window today? July 15th is St. Swithin’s Day and, according to an ancient tradition, if it rains on this day, it will rain for the next 40 days. In short, the story began in the year 971, when the bones of St Swithin (who had died over 100 years before) were moved to a special shrine at Winchester Cathedral, and there was a terrific storm that lasted for 40 days. And People said that the saint in heaven was weeping because his bones had…

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The secret history of Closeburn Castle, one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland~

Closeburn Castle is a tower house and one of the oldest continually inhabited buildings in Scotland. It is located 1 km east of the village of Closeburn, in the historical county of Dumfriesshire. The lands were granted to the Kirkpatrick family back in 1232, with the likelihood that the ancient fortalice was built thereafter. The tower house was probably built in the late 14th century, although some sources give a date as early as 1180 or as late as 1420. In any case, everything about the building was designed for…

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Medb’s Cairn: the grave of a mythological Irish queen?

Perched atop the monolithic Irish hill Knocknarea west of Sligo town, lies Medb’s Cairn, in Irish Miosgán Médhbh, a 5,000 year old burial mound, even though no one is quite sure whose it is. It is about 55 metres wide and 10 metres high, making it the largest cairn in Ireland outside the Brú na Bóinne complex in Meath. It is believed to date to around 3000 BCE, and it is a protected National Monument. In recent years, archaeologists have warned that the ancient cairn is being eroded by hikers…

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Tanabata: the Japanese Star Festival

Tanabata (Japanese: たなばた or 七夕, meaning literally “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival (星祭り, or Hoshi matsuri), is a Japanese festival that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively. According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, who are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The festival was introduced to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755. It originated from “The…

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The Hartest Stone

If stones could talk – what stories could they tell? Hartest is a small village south of Bury, Suffolk, England, located in a deep dale. At its North end lies its silent stone sentry, a limestone boulder with an interesting past. And, of course, there are different versions of its story. Just as the Treaty of Utrecht brought Britain the Rock of Gibraltar, it is also said, in at least one story, to have brought it this more humble roughly one metre cube rock, dragged to its present spot in…

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Midsummer: history, folklore and magic

Litha, or Midsummer, is a celebration that has been observed for centuries, in one form or another. Its exact dates vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world. It is no surprise, then, that there are plenty of myths and legends associated with this time of year. We all have heard of the ancient summer solstice celebrations held at holy places like Stonehenge and Chichen Itza, and we have read…

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‘Nemuri-Neko’: is the Sleeping Cat asleep, or just pretending?

We are in Japan. As we already know, Tōshōgu Shrine, the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, is the most popular tourist attraction in Nikkō. Of course, It’s popular for its elaborate architecture, but also for its carved details, including the three wise monkeys and others. One of the most notable carvings is the Nemuri-neko, or the Sleeping Cat, at the entrance to the okumiya (rear shrine) where Tokugawa Ieyasu’s remains are housed. The carving is attributed to Hidari Jingorō, a legendary 17th-century artist who…

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Buried in a Barrel: the story of Captain Sluman Gray~

We’ve probably heard of metaphorically being “over a barrel”, but what about literally being in one? This is the curious sea-farin’ tale of Captain Sluman Gray of Lebanon, in Connecticut (and what happened to him after his demise and burial), even though the gulf between the story and the truth can be as wide as the ocean itself. Well, for a long time, the story regarding Capt. Gray went something like this: an experienced whaling captain, Gray—with his wife Sarah and their children in tow—put out aboard the James Maury…

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The Folklore of Bees

In the middle of spring, outside, in addition to the greening of the earth, we notice a change in the local wildlife. Suddenly, squirrels are everywhere, birds are twittering away madly in the trees, worms are popping in the soil and, everywhere you look, life has returned. Among others, you’ll see bees buzzing around your garden, partaking of the rich pollen in your flowers. The plants are in full bloom at this time of the spring, and the bees take advantage, buzzing back and forth, carrying pollen from one blossom…

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The legend of Richmond’s phantom Drummer Boy~

It seems there is a particular charm that attaches itself to the world of hidden tunnels, especially to ones that are held to possess ecclesiastical associations. Somewhere deep in the English imagination there seems to lurk the suspicion that the monks of yore, dispossessed and done away with during the years of Henrician terror, held close a knowledge of secret subterranean networks that connected their abbeys to other centres of worldly power and, in some instances, to realms neither secular nor holy. Hidden treasures, madness, slumbering knights and kings: these…

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Crackpot Hall: the dramatic remains of an abandoned farmhouse on the edge of a remote hillside in North Yorkshire, England~

On the slopes of Swaledale, near the village of Keld, North Yorkshire, England, stands the shell of a 300-year-old farmhouse. The building, curiously named Crackpot Hall, is an abandoned 18th-century farmhouse shrouded in its own myths and legends. Its name is said to be derived from the Old Norse words for ‘crow’ and ‘cave’ and, not by chance, many of the underground caverns in the area are also known as Pot, meaning a deep hole. An earlier 16th-century hunting lodge is thought to have stood on the site, when this…

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Swaledale Corpse Way: a winding medieval path used by mourners to carry their dead to the nearest church~

There was a time in England when commoners couldn’t afford to hire a horse or a cart to transport their dead, and so they were forced to carry the corpses themselves to the nearest church. This unpleasant situation led to the creation of paths like the Swaledale Corpse Way, now known simply as the Corpse Way or corpse road, a 16-mile medieval track linking the hamlet of Keld with Grinton, farther down the valley, a small village and civil parish in the Yorkshire Dales, in the Richmondshire district of North…

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Standing Rock Monument of Fort Yates, North Dakota: said to have once been a young woman, is sacred to the Sioux people.

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation covers more than two million acres of grass plains, rolling hills, and buttes running alongside the Missouri River. The reservation takes its name from a sacred rock formation that resembles a woman with a child on her back, that stands outside the Standing Rock Agency office in Fort Yates, North Dakota, and it is home to Lakota and Dakota Sioux people. The reservation was set up for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in 1889. Before that, it was part of what was known as the…

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Devil’s Lake (and its stories): a remnant of the last Ice Age in Wisconsin, this lake is surrounded by fascinating rock formations.

Nestled near the small circus town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, is Devil’s Lake State Park, named for the large lake that sits at its center. The lake is located in the middle of a deep chasm, with no visible inlet or outlet. Its name comes from a misinterpretation of a term from the Ho-Chunk Nation, the region’s Indigenous inhabitants. In any case, on a cool foggy day, it’s not too hard to imagine why, and imagination probably had a lot to do with it. At the time when white trappers, then…

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