jump to navigation
  • Beachcombed 36 June 1, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Beachcombed , trackback

    Rainy beach

    Dear Reader, The third birthday of Beachcombing’s Bizarre History has just passed. A huge thanks to all those friends and correspondents who send in the material that really matters on this blog, 15000 words below from the last month alone: thanks too to the tireless link senders.  Here in Italy all is rainy and crappy outside. But life in the house is far better and Beach is a quarter of his way through his four writing months. Hoping for a warmer and improved summer… Here are some of our best offsite links from the month and below them bizarre history stories: a great mathematics tale; an overwild archaeology story?; depressing racialism in the US ; excellent TLS article on the internet; playing with food; last of the beguines; fairy-lore out west; nice Mary Beard meander through Spartacus; and the ghost of Montrose air base.

    Brownies of Bangor: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes ‘On long ears in fairylore – what about Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream? 🙂 The Victorians often portrayed fairies/hobgoblins with pointed ears – John Henry Fuseli, for example, in The Nightmare. How much of the long ears comes from the Jester’s cap, which has become associated with some fairies like Puck?  Even earlier, this image of “Puck” with several erect appendages (and again)  And even further back, medieval demons:  And this long-eared Jar Jar Binks-like creature from The Temptation of St. Anthony by Marten de Vos. I think the leap from medieval demons to Elizabethan/Jacobean fairies is a pretty logical one. The pointed ears were then given a pastel icing-sugar gloss by Victorian fairy artists.’ If Chris is right then presumably the long ears of fairies comes via demons and then ultimately from goats or donkeys, the models of demons? Aisla, meanwhile, writes in with this thought. ‘I’ am wondering if the Bangor referred to in the Manchester paper is not the city of Bangor in Gwynedd, but rather the smaller Bangor-on-Dee of the race course fame. This Bangor is situated close to Wrexham and has a very historic church with many legends attached to it. It is closer to England and there are many connections between it and Liverpool. I think that brownies feature in the folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the name is said to derive from the Scottish Gaelic. They were considered a type of house spirit or elf. They do not feature in the traditional folk tales of Wales, nor were they associated with graveyards.’ In my experience Lancashire and Cheshire and Derbyshire don’t do brownies, they do boggarts. But otherwise everything else fits. Also Bangor-on-Dee is much closer to Manchester and would have been of interest to Manchester readers. Aisla has very likely cracked the problem then. Thanks a million, Aisla and Chris!

    The Hell of Being Christopher Robin:  Rhys has this nice thought. The saddest example must be Peter Llewelyn Davies who was still an infant when JM Barrie began appropriating his name, first in The Little White Bird, then in Peter Pan. Like Christopher Robin Milne, Davies grew to strongly resent being associated with a fictional character. Unlike Milne, he never came to terms with it. After Barrie’s death, Davies received neither the rights to the work nor the fortune Barrie had amassed from it. He became an alcoholic and at sixty-three, committed suicide by throwing himself under a train. (A story I’ve never been able to confirm claims that Davies met an elderly Alice Hargreaves (nee Liddell) in 1932 at a celebration for the centenary of Lewis Carroll’s birth.) Another possible example is Kenneth Grahame’s son, Alastair. A partial inspiration for the character of Toad in The Wind in the Willows, he also committed suicide by train. Polly, meanwhile, sent in this brilliant but horrific link on Barrie.  Finally Borky has this to say ‘I always say to my two and any other young people I might chance to interact with there’s a process we all have to go through which if we don’t usually proves utterly catastrophic namely we have to at some stage see through our parents and recognise their limitations and flaws as human beings then at a later point see back into them recognising how wise and virtuous in their own way they always actually were. Because if we don’t we end up like the sons of various famous individuals like Gregory Peck topping themselves because they couldn’t live up to their parents’ godlike standards or achievements or demands [this’s why I’m such a huge admirer of Michael Douglas for having carved out a movie career for himself on a par with daddy Kirk’s with a similar rota of archetypal characters andmovie moments which’s almost beyond belief though I do also wonder how much his pulling this off may’ve contributed to some of his own kids downfalls]. And speaking of pulling off at some stage though we have to have the humility to acknowledge just how indebted we are to our parents and how not everything they did was designed or intended simply to ruin or spoil our fun or even destroy lives otherwise not only’ll we succumb to the Atum psychosis of imagining everything we are or’ve achieved’s all purely a product of our own indescribable greatness but we’ll make exactly the same mistakes with our own kids our parents made with us.’ Perhaps in the end the parent by stealing the child’s identity blocks this process off? Thanks to Borky, Polly and Rhys!!!

    Will O Wisps: MR writes in: Moths and other insects circle lights and candles because they mistake the light for the moon and are used to navigating by keeping a fixed angle to the source of light. I wonder if deep down in the human brain, if there are no other reference points, there is an instinct to keep the brightest light at a fixed angle, this would certainly cause one to veer to the left or right depending on which side the light was. KR, meanwhile, writes: If a person is in the dark and concentrates his vision on lights (even little ones)for a while, he reduces his natural night vision, and can see less well than before. This can be disorienting, as Also if you are not paying attention to a path, but instead you are walking while staring at fireflies, you are likely to have a fall. The swamp gas flares are often said to resemble fires and lanterns. So I should think that back in the times when lanterns and firelight marked the location of a house or village, someone out on the moor as it began to get dark might say “Oh! There’s the light of the village! I must have got off the path!” when he was actually seeing swamp gas instead, and wasn’t close enough yet to see the village lights or the lights of his home-fires. Children might chase such a light thinking it is a “fairy” because they think they might be helped, or find a pot of gold, or just because they are both curious and feel a youthful invulnerability. You might not have so many stories now because not so many walk at night near swampy places, and when we are looking for town, we aren’t fooled by a little fire: we want street-signs traffic noises streetlights neon! Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes While I don’t have any first-person accounts that would stand up in court about persons being injured or led astray by will-o-the-wisps or “spook lights” as they are often called, there were several 19th-century theories to explain the mysterious balls of lights.1) Swamp gas. People noted the terrain in stories about spook lights and often said the lights arose from a marsh or swampy area.2) Phosphuretted hydrogen gas. I have no idea what this is. 3) Effluvia –bad smells rising out of decaying matter, which have been somehow ignited 4) Signs of buried treasure 5) Ghosts 6) Lights reflected from automobiles or streetcars 7) Corpse candles or some other bad omen 8) Lights which are seen on railroad tracks, often mistaken for oncoming train headlights 9) You also have a separate category of lights which appear in mines. Modern-day forteans would probably add “luminous owls” or insects, plumes of methane arising from graves, UFOs, and ball lightning. In some stories, the lights seem sentient and respond to challenges from witnesses as in the woman in this story who asks the light where it’s leading her and the man who challenges it to fight. I’m also amused by the housewife who gives a scientific explanation. This particular story seems to ring all the changes on spook lights: it shape-shifts, guards a treasure, is seen in a marshy area, responds to human interaction, and, ultimately is “explained” as gas. THE GOLD GHOST IT MAY GUARD THE MISER’S POT OF SHINING PIECES THE PHENOMENAL LIGHT THAT ROAMS O’ER THE WILSON FARM AT HARRISBURG, STARK COUNTY IT IS A VERSATILE “LIGHT” WITH A LEANING TOWARD LIGHTNING CHANGES A MATTER OF FACT ORIGIN THE PEOPLE IT HAS TACKLED AND THEIR TALK An uncanny, mysterious light, or rather ball of fire, is an oddity that is seen hovering about a farm near Harrisburg, Stark county, on dark, foggy nights. This ball of fire, it is said, has been seen at various times during the past century. It is a veritable will o’ the wisp, ghostly, supernatural and fear inspiring, and many remarkable tales concerning it are told by the country folks around. In short, the “light on Wilson’s farm”—as the ball of fire is now called—has been a source of gossip and speculation for years. The “light” wanders to and fro on the farm; it rises high in the air; descends into hollows; tremblingly moves down a small stream of water; suddenly brightens, as quickly fades away; and, so it is said, the “light” pursues and attacks venturesome travelers who attempt to capture it in order to discover its origin. The land on which this strange light is seen is owned by Solomon P. Wilson, a well to do American famer. Nearly forty years ago it was owned by a German named Knouff. The farm is one and a half miles south of Harrisburg, on the left of the old Harrisburg and Louisville road, as you travel towards Louisville, and consists of about 160 acres of timber and farming land. The soil is rich and the topography of the land gently sloping and rolling. A small stream of water, fed by several springs, flows through the west end of the farm in a sort of swampy hollow. A large barn, a neat farm house and several fine outbuildings and sheds are the buildings upon the land; in fact, Wilson’s farm is very much like many others found in the neighboring country. As already noted, many strange stories are told concerning the “light.” Several of them are worth repeating. It is said—and, mark you, these stories are told as they were related to the writer—that a Louisville maiden named Mary Dence was one dark night passing by the old Knouff farm. The maiden was not at all superstitious, and when she caught sight of the strange, pinkish colored ball of fire she cried out: “Whither would you lead me, will o’ the wisp?” The “light” immediately came toward her, rested upon the rail fence, then began slowly moving up the small creek. The maiden climbed through the fence and followed the ghostly ball. It darted to and fro, yet traveled always straight ahead, the puzzled girl following. Suddenly the “light” disappeared—faded from her sight. Startled, then horrified, the maiden turned to flee, when missing her footing, she toppled and rolled down a steep hillside and was badly injured upon striking the ground below. She lost consciousness and upon regaining her senses was horrified to see before her bedimmed eyes the phantom ball of fire. Screaming with fright she started on the run for the highway, gained it and sought shelter in a neighboring farm house. An honest old farmer, Brown by name, was returning toward Louisville from Harrisburg several years ago. With him was his wife. They reached the “Wilson” farm toward 11 o’clock at night—at least, so the story goes—and as it was winter they traveled in a sleigh. The tinkling bells on the horses seemed to attract the “light,” for it moved toward the sleigh and rested upon the rear seat. Mrs. Brown was the first to see the mystic apparition and screamed. Brown, attracted by his wife’s cries, turned and saw the strange “light.” He immediately whipped up the horses, whereupon the “light” changed into a fiery red dog, with glaring eyes, red tongue and awful teeth. Faster and faster went the horses, more and more frightened were Mr. and Mrs. Brown. At last they reached the center of the farm, when the fiery red dog changed suddenly into a ghoulish, blue colored coffin. It followed the fleeing horses and sleigh; it moved silently, stealthily and quickly. Mr. Brown lashed the horses forward, urging them on and half supported his wife who had fainted. They finally gained the Strasburg crossing road in safety, where upon the awful, ghostly coffin faded suddenly away. It was months ere Mr. and Mrs. Brown recovered from their fright.   It is related with declarations of truth that George Beam, a farmer’s boy, who lived close by, once upon a time borrowed a horse and wagon from old man Knouff. George attended a ball at Louisville that night and did not return home until after the midnight chimes had run. The farmer had reached the Knouff farm late at night. Upon reaching the cross roads he saw the mystic ball of fire hovering about the wagon and carriage house on the farm. But he was a brave lad and not at all afraid of the “light’ and so he drove toward the barn. Meanwhile the “light” slowly moved toward the door of the carriage house and beckoned the lad to follow. George, evidently controlled by an unseen power, followed. When the “light” went through the carriage house door the lad opened it and passed within. In a corner of the carriage house, moving slowly up and down, was the ghostly “light.” Going toward it and glancing toward the last corner, George held a large iron kettle overflowing with bright gold pieces. Eagerly he sprang forward to grasp the prize, when there was a hissing noise and the “light” turned into a purple colored, horrible shaped dragon. Not a sound did the frightful dragon make, but its attitude was one of open defiance and threat. The frightened lad gave but one glance, staggered back to the door, half fell outside and ran screaming toward his home, leaving the unhitched horse standing near the stable door. The next night George was sitting in his room, gazing out a window which overlooked the Knouff farm. Suddenly the strange “light” appeared near a corner of the cross roads fence and beckoned to him. He arose from his seat and leaned far out the window. In the twinkling of an eye the “light” left the fence corner, traveled swiftly toward the Knouff house and ran up the water pipe to an upper window. It still beckoned the lad to follow, but he was so engrossed in watching the strange spectacle that he seemed incapable of waling. Suddenly at the upper window of the Knouff house a weird transformation took place. The “light” changed from a globe form to that of a star. It changed in color from white to green. Again it changed in form and color—this time from a green star to a pink crescent; then to a yellow egg, to a blue headstone, to an iron kettle and then into the form of an old, old gray-haired and white-robed man. The old man raised his right hand and beckoned George to come and secure possession of the kettle of money. But the lad was so startled in viewing the strange spectacle that he heeded not the invitation and in a few moments the old man faded from sight and was seen again no more. Many years ago, at least a quarter of a century, so it is said, a Harrisburg man named Campbell swore that he would visit the Knouff farm and dare the strange “light” to injure him. That he might feel quite courageous Campbell filled himself with liquor and together with a friend started from Harrisburg at 11 o’clock one dark rainy night for the Knouff farm. The “light” seemed to know the drunken couple were coming for it was waiting for them at the end of the farm nearest Harrisburg. Campbell, reckless with liquor, greeted the “light” with loud curses and taking off his coat dared it to “come on and fight him like a man.” Save an uneasy, tremulous dancing the “light” did nothing. “I dare yez to touch me,” was Campbell’s challenged to the strange ball of fire. But the “light” started slowly toward the center of the far. “Ye coward; ye ___ coward,” yelled Campbell, suddenly whipping out a large horse pistol. “Take that, ye spalpeen, will yez?” There was a loud report and in a second, thereafter the strange “light” was at Campbell’s side. It had assumed the fiendish garb of a hydra-headed scorpion and ferociously darted at the white faced, thoroughly frightened Campbell. Then there as a scorching, burning sound and all was still. An hour later Campbell’s companion rushed into Bailey’s saloon at Harrisburg and told the startled inmates that Campbell had been killed by the “light” on Knouff’s farm. But Campbell had not been killed. Several days after the night’s adventure related a wild, half crazed man, with a badly burned face, was found wandering in the woods near Strasburg. It was Campbell and he was mad. The foregoing tales are ones that were related to the writer, and it led him to visit the farm and investigate the strange light. It was a bitter cold February day when the writer and a friend started out from Harrisburg to walk to Wilson’s farm. At several houses along the Louisville and Harrisville road the country people were interviewed concerning the “light.” Almost without exception they agreed that there was a “light” hovering about Wilson’s farm but ascribed to it no ghostly or supernatural powers. Said a farmer’s wife who lives opposite the farm in question: “I’ve lived here for twenty years and have seen the ‘light’ many times, and I never seen it leave the creek in the hollow. Yes, I know there are lots of spook stories told about the ‘light,’ but they are not true. They are told by superstitious persons who are afraid of their own shadows. Wilsons’s farm is just as good, if not better, than other farms hereabouts, and you can rest assured all of these spook stories about that ball of fire makes him mad. Why, the ‘light’ is perfectly harmless—it’s nothing more than a will o’ wisp, and is caused by the water in the creek being charged with phosphuretted hydrogen gas.” And from all that could be learned of the “light,” the farmer’s wife’s explanation of the phenomenon is correct. At one time there was a graveyard on Wilson’s farm. The phosphorus from the buried bones is carried down the small creek of water by the underground springs and as a result on dark, damp, foggy nights an ignis fatuus arises. The vain, false fire on Wilson’s farm is similar to the ones described in text books on natural philosophy and physical geography. It has a luminous appearance and is generally seen only on foggy damp nights. The “light is of a pale bluish colored flame and sometimes burns steadily during the greater part of the night. It arises, it is thought, from phosphuretted hydrogen gas, which possesses the power of spontaneous combustion upon coming in contact with dry atmosphere. It can readily be seen that such a harmless apparition is apt to frighten superstitious people who do not understand the nature and origin of the “light” or ball of fire. Mr. Wilson, the proprietor of the farm, is well aware of the “light’s existence, and, it is said, has frequently shot at it in order to observe what effect a bullet will produce on the “light.” Mr. Wilson does not care to talk about the “light,” for in the past it has injured the sale of his farm. The will o’ wisp is certainly a strange phenomenon and yet, so far as know, a harmless one. Scientists who love to study nature have a field of observation in Stark County. Perhaps they might capture the ignis fatuus on Wilson’s farm; perchance they could imprison certain of the spontaneous combustible gases, analyze them and give the result to the world. Certain it is that such a result would prove interesting to scores of people. The tale connected with the light by the country folk is that an old miser once lived on the Wilson farm and buried upon it a huge pot of gold. That gold his spirit in the form of a fire ball hovers over and protects.  Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 28 February 1889: p. 8 A story, but not first-person, of a man chased by a ball of fire. A Ghost in Allen County St Mary’s Dec. 6 A fiery spook is again terrorizing the people in the vicinity of Conant, Allen county. Several months ago the weird spectacle was first observed, it resembling a ball of fire, oval-shaped, while its pranks threw the whole community in a state of great excitement. Nightly the apparition would appear and would remain at a fixed point for some time, when it would very suddenly disappear. Hundreds of people witnessed the phenomenon each night, until at last it vanished altogether. A few nights ago the mysterious visitor again put in an appearance, when it confronted an old man on his way home at 10 o’clock at night and for a while made life miserable for him, being so overcome upon reaching his house after running a distance of several miles that he fell exhausted in the doorway. Nobody seems able to explain the cause of this uncanny apparition. The neighborhood is greatly excited over it. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 7 December 1891: p. 1 A crowd of 500 persons assembled around the Au Sable cemetery Monday night to see, if possible, the strange blue light or ball of fire that numbers of the people in that vicinity say has appeared almost every night for several weeks, but no light appeared. Those who claim to have seen it, say that the light appears to rise over the grave of Fulton, one of the victims of the late Burner horror, after ascending six or eight feet seems to fall back to the grave like burning tar. Many superstitious people in that neighborhood think it an evil spirit. Others, more scientific, believe it to be escaping gas. Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 16 October 1885: p. 3  A weird story about something called “Owl Blasting” tells of a ball of light in broad daylight setting fire to trees.   Other posts on strange lights and fire balls:  fiery hand of doom  spook lights and corpse candles Then we have this extraordinary story:  Struck by a Ball of Fire [From the San Antonio ( Texas ) Express] Yesterday afternoon, Fred Balder, 11 years old, son of Constable Balder, went home from school, and finding his parents gone, went to the cupboard and sliced off a piece of bread, buttered it, and then went to the front of the house and sat down on the gate-post and began eating. In a few seconds he was enveloped in a flame which passed around the house to an irrigation ditch and was then lost Freddie’s sister, near by, saw the flame, and describes it as a ball of fire. Freddie’s hat was burned, also his shirt-bosom, and his eyebrows were singed off, and the hair where not protected by the hat. He is unable to see, and can scarecely hear. His face is swollen and ridged as if by a sharp instrument. The boy is in great pain, and may lose both sight and hearing. There was no one near except his little nine-year-old sister at the time. The burning is said by physicians to have been produced by an electric fire. It is the occasion of universal wonder and comment there, being an extraordinary case.  Titusville [PA] Herald 20 November 1880: p. 3 Thanks KR, Chris and MR!

    Magonia #1:  Borky, has a different way of looking at this. Well think on this the only reason we’re aware of this Magonia’s because Agobard told us about it. The only reason we know its sailors could sail vessels among the clouds’s because Agobard told us. The only reason we know they took crops’s because Agobard told us. And the only reason we know crew members could fall from the sky and get caught’s because Agobard told us. Now bear in mind he’s supposedly reflecting on the stupidity of people believing insane things yet here he is promulgating all manner of detail about these things and even refering to a specific instance in which he himself became involved. I’m suggesting therefore two things to you. First like Augustine of Hippo who supposedly recorded all those heresies as a warning in case they reemerged Agobard was really ensuring Magonia like Augustine’s heresies wouldn’t be forgotten in the future. Second he was using one narrative to convey two quite different sets of details about two quite different types of Magonians. Those who mainly operated using hi technology who we may view as not unlike students in transition and those who operated on a much more metaphysical plane ie their ships were the very lightning clouds themselves. He’s also implying two other things I suggest 1) both the physical and the metaphysical Magonians were supposed to be carrying out God’s work but’d figuratively and literally fallen to the level of using storms to extort both physical and metaphysical vampire like energetic crops 2) he himself though he’d originally fled Dalai Lama style the invasion of Spain by the Muslims may’ve become a Sufi his way of alluding to this possibility being the hybrid term Magonia which implies amongst other possibilities a region whence mages and jinn cohabit in the fullest sense of that term as well as hinting at the Koran’s description of Dhul Qarnain rejecting the offer of tributes from the people who hardly understood a word to build the mysterious dam which’ll protect them from the extortioneers and false gods Gog and Magog until God finally bursts it asunder and allows them to descend into the world and ultimately carry off their worshippers to Hell.’ Thanks Borky

    Soul Selling 19 Cent London: MR writes in: A young man’s soul brought $400 on the Internet auction site eBay.The bidding began at 5 cents Feb. 1 and concluded at 4:36 p.m. Thursday on the listing “20 yr-old Seattle boy’s SOUL, hardly used,” offered by Adam Burtle, a University of Washington student and part-time automotive technician from Woodinville, a tony suburb northeast of the city. For the auction listing, he displayed a picture of himself wearing an “I’m with stupid” T-shirt. “Please realize, I make no warranties as to the condition of the soul. As of now, it is near mint condition, with only minor scratches,” he wrote.  Turns Out You’re Not Allowed To Sell Your Soul On eBay. Linked series of videos of lecture “I sold my soul on ebay‘ Hemant Mehta comes to Toronto to talk about faith and his experience with “selling his soul”. In January 2006 Hemant Mehta, once Jain now atheist, created an auction on eBay offering up his atheist mind&body to go to the worship service of whatever the winning bidder chose. Every $10 would equal one hour in that particular place of worship. The bidding ended on February 3, 2006 with the final bid sitting at $504 from Jim Henderson, a minister from Seattle, Washington. The money was later donated by Hemant to the Secular Student Alliance, a non-profit organization. The agreement was for Hemant to visit a variety of churches and to write about his experiences at them at the web-site off-the-map.org, and later developed into his book “I Sold My Soul On eBay”. He continues to open up dialogue at his personal blog friendlyatheist.com Thanks MR for this great story!

    Magonia 3#: The Count writes in: You want to know why Christians thought hail was especially likely to be used as an instrument of supernatural wrath? Look no further than the Bible (if I may quote Moses and Wikipedia at the same time – the ultimate exobiddle?): 7. Plague of hail (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35 This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now. Give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a place of shelter, because the hail will fall on every man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will die. […] The LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.’ The seventh plague of Egypt was a destructive storm. God commanded Moses to stretch his staff skyward, at which point the storm commenced. It was even more evidently supernatural than the previous plagues, a powerful shower of hail intermixed with fire. The storm heavily damaged Egyptian orchards and crops, as well as people and livestock. The storm struck all of Egypt except for the Land of Goshen. Pharaoh asked Moses to remove this plague and promised to allow the Israelites to worship God in the desert, saying “This time I have sinned; God is righteous, I and my people are wicked.” As a show of God’s mastery over the world, the hail stopped as soon as Moses began praying to God. However, after the storm ceased, Pharaoh again “hardened his heart” and refused to keep his promise. Interestingly (and surely not coincidentally), given that that particular hailstorm was mingled with fire, in that rather dodgy Flash Gordon movie with the Queen music, one of the buttons pressed by Ming the Merciless when he assails Earth with mysterious catastrophes is clearly marked “hot hail” – a subtly blasphemous comment about the nature of God in a very unexpected place…? Thanks Count!!!

    Cunning Folk: Nathaniel takes us to George Fox: ‘For anything to do with 17th-century religious/folk beliefs, I often find myself referring to George Fox (mainly because his “Journal” is the only first-hand account from the time that I’ve read). The below is from memory. He refers to witches a few times. On one occasion he sights a group of women in a field, and (in his words) “I saw that they were witches”. Maddeningly he doesn’t elaborate. He seems to assume that his 17th-century readers will immediately know what he means. Of course being George Fox he doesn’t bother them (unless subjecting them to a religious harangue counts as bothering; maybe it does). Another time while he is speaking in a church he looks at a woman and says “you are a witch”, and she leaves. Again nothing specific about why he thinks this. Other people present tell him that she does indeed have that reputation. A small clue is an occasion when a crowd throws mud on him (that and worse were fairly common experiences for him). He describes himself that time as being “dirty as a witch”. So apparently there was some common-place idea about what a witch was. Generally a woman, maybe with something odd about her appearance or behavior, and dirtier even than the 17th-century average. Slender evidence, but enough to make it likely that it wasn’t something wholly invented by the church or over-zealous prosecutors.’ Andrew writes in with this gem: A comment, I have found it useful to reflect that Hermes is not only the Gods messenger, but also the god of liars…and salesmen.’ Thanks Nathaniel and Andrew!

    Ghosts and Chains: As to chains KR writes: It was apparently thought that binding a corpse with chains would keep a ghost from wandering about. In his story “A Christmas Carol,”  Charles Dickens refreshed the ghost-and-chains connection with the words of his character, the ghost of Jacob Marley: “I wear the chain I forged in life!” Ben V, meanwhile, writes: Speculation on chains & ghosts: maybe the chains were representative of slavery – the fear of what their vengeful spirits might mete out in the next life – or just generally fear of slaves / convicts.Just a thought. Then KMH with something more esoterical: Some might think ghosts are given chains simply  to communicate, but this oversimplified. Only ghosts who have died in chains will rattle chains after death. Ghosts are normally an unhappy lot. They exist as ghosts because in their extreme emotional and vengeful condition they become completely identified with their environment and can’t be extricated by higher spirits  to other planes without serious damage to themselves. In some instances the chains may be only symbolical of the slave-like connection the ghost has to his circumstances at death. As time passes, whatever mental or intellectual faculties  ghosts possessed continually degrade until  they  ( like  advanced Alzheimer victims) are unable to use words or form sentences. They can still rattle their chains, which have become a part of their psyche or what is left of their soul. Once a ghost has degraded down to a continual slumber state, he can be removed from his area of haunting by the spirits who deal with human souls at the time of death. The wait takes only a few centuries, perhaps no more than five at most. Anyone seeing something which would have occurred a thousand years ago, for example, has experienced what is called a ‘time-slip’, not a ghost. Thanks Ben, KMH and KR!

    Rain of Blood: This from Amanda, These might be of interest concerning rains of blood: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20028490 http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/mar/05/spaceexploration.theobserver http://natgeotv.com/ca/paranatural/galleries/blood-rain-and-star-jelly http://paranormal.about.com/od/earthmysteries/a/Weird-Weird-Rain.htm http://natgeotv.com/uk/wild-x-files/galleries/blood-red-rain http://www.oddee.com/item_97047.aspx http://www.sott.net/article/238921-UK-Mysterious-Rain-of-Apples-Stuns-Drivers http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/9623778/Weird-weather-ahead-as-blood-rain-forecast-for-Halloween.html http://paranormal.about.com/od/earthmysteries/a/Weird-Weird-Rain_2.htm http://www.utaot.com/2012/11/11/rain-contained-human-white-blood-cells/ A rain of blood is mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle: A.D. 685.  This year King Everth commanded Cuthbert to be consecrated a bishop; and Archbishop Theodore, on the first day of Easter, consecrated him at York Bishop of Hexham; for Trumbert had been deprived of that see.  The same year Everth was slain by the north sea, and a large army with him, on the thirteenth day before the calends of June.  He continued king fifteen winters; and his brother Elfrith succeeded him in the government.  Everth was the son of Oswy. Oswy of Ethelferth, Ethelferth of Ethelric, Ethelric of Ida, Ida of Eoppa.  About this time Ceadwall began to struggle for a kingdom.  Ceadwall was the son of Kenbert, Kenbert of Chad, Chad of Cutha, Cutha of Ceawlin, Ceawlin of Cynric, Cynric of Cerdic.  Mull, who was afterwards consigned to the flames in Kent, was the brother of Ceadwall.  The same year died Lothhere, King of Kent; and John was consecrated Bishop of Hexham, where he remained till Wilferth was restored, when John was translated to York on the death of Bishop Bosa.  Wilferth his priest was afterwards consecrated Bishop of York, and John retired to his monastery (21) in the woods of Delta.  This year there was in Britain a bloody rain, and milk and butter were turned to blood. http://omacl.org/Anglo/part1.html. Thanks Amanda!

    Hob: April writes in: well, not actually you this time but this writer found herself saying to herself, “why isn’t the actual meaning of the sweet small word ‘hob’ not known by all?” Or, well, at least not known by you most specifically, being as you are rather informed and clever about such wise on the average.  Where I was raised (another day, another missive) I cannot recall anyone ever wondering aloud or otherwise over the meaning or origin of the word hob. Why? you may ask. Well, herein lies the obviousness of it all — it being the why of anyone not knowing the singular syllabletimedness of hob’s true meaning and further evolutionary transformation within this ever changing vocabulary we loosely refer to as the English language, King’s, Queen’s or otherwise. But I digress.  Hobbe / hob, depending less on your local dialect and more on the quite recent standardization of spelling  — as I’m sure will ring loud bells in your memory — refers to an early (I do apologize for not knowing exactly how early) though still sometimes in usage, capelet of a kind with long wide ties which can be left loose to hang down the front of your tunic or kirtle, as the case may be, while warming the shoulders; or, more to the point, the splendidness of the hob’s design when put to its fullest use. That use being when the capelet is draped over the head with its widest part at ones midline, so to speak, and the long wide ties taken from left to right (and right to left, of course) and threaded through the provided slits — i.e. large button hole sorts of devises at about the then neck-line — on each opposite side of the hob, which, due to this very clever design, not only then covers the head and ears but can also, for very cold weather, be used to cover the lower face by the judicious crisscrossing of the ties into place. I do hope I am succeeding in providing a proper idea and mental image of the hob; because, when used in this manner rather than its shoulder covering capelet use, it’s rather easily seen how ‘hob’ — with only the single intermediate form of ‘hod’ — became the modern word ‘hood’. One can also see, quite easily it is hoped by this author, how Hobbe/Hob Hyrste/Hyrst and, for that matter, Robin Hood — more properly Robin Hod, it being during the time of this middling change — are names used for rascals — and in some minds down right gangsters (or in the modern vernacular gangstas) — since those of that sort of ilk tend to avoid exposure of the face during their acts of highwayman-shipping, even-the-scoring, or borrowing-from-othering (depending on ones point of view).I needn’t go into the explanation of hob-gobblins I’m sure. Enough said this author hopes.’ Thanks April!

    Scratching Witches: Chris from HauntedOhioBooks writes: When you say “We’ve been able to find no twentieth or twenty-first century study.” Do you mean a study of witchcraft and blood? Or do you mean 20th/21st century cases of people hitting “witches” to break a spell? If the latter, NEIGHBORS Charge an Indiana Woman With Witchcraft. Jasper, Ind., June 14. Catherine Ferry, aged 67, an intelligent woman, came here yesterday afternoon badly bruised. She alleged that her neighbors charge her with witchcraft, and that she is held responsible whenever a death occurs in the neighborhood, whether of man or beast. Yesterday a horse owned by a neighbor, became unmanageable. He charged the animal with being bewitched, and assaulted Mrs. Ferry with a black-snake whip, knocking her down and beating and kicking her. The authorities are investigating. Akron [OH] Daily Democrat 14 June 1901: p. 1 WITCHES AFTER HIM Henry Schaeffer, 70, who resides at 408 Lindsay Street, imagines that his neighbors, the family of Mr. Robert Newell, are witches, and that they have him under their spell. He got out yesterday with a big butcher knife and alarmed the people in that vicinity by starting after the evil spirits. Officer Matthews had a good tussle with him, but finally got him into the patrol wagon. He will be watched. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 13 October 1900: p. 15  HAMILTON COUNTY ‘WITCH’S’ WHISKEY SPOILED HER VOICE, WOMAN TELLS COURT She Then Drew Blood From Face to Banish Evil Spirits Which Had Been Called The Husband Is To Blame Scenes of Witchcraft Days Are Enacted in Pottsville Court by Mrs. Short Pottsville, Pa., Nov. 19.  It might have been Salem, Mass., and the time two centuries ago from the character of the testimony in the celebrated “witchcraft” case from Turkey Run, on trial before Judge Koch. Mrs. Katie Short, aged, wrinkled and bent, wearing a hood over her shoulders is alleged to be a “German witch in league with the Evil One,” Mrs. Michaelana Zamowski alleges that Mrs. Short, “from her incantations and sorceries and alliances with the devil,” cast a spell over her so that for a year she lost her voice and was ill otherwise. Mrs. Zamowski was told that if she attacked the allege witch and made her blood flow, the spell would be broken. Accordingly she attacked Mrs. Short as she was walking the streets three months ago and scratched her on the face, and the result was a suit by Mrs. Short for assault and battery. As the testimony showed that Mrs. Zamowski was ordered by her husband to assault Mrs. Short, court ordered the acquittal of the woman, as under the law in Pennsylvania a woman is supposed to be coerced when ordered to commit an unlawful act by her husband, and the latter is responsible for her deeds. The husband was convicted. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 19 November 1914: p. 4 If the former, not really a clue, although this article has some bits about eating blood/witchcraft in the Old Testament: EATING THE BLOOD: SAUL AND THE WITCH OF ENDOR.  Authors: Reis, Pamela Tamarkin Source: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Mar1997, Issue 73, p3. 21p.  Does the association of witchcraft/blood come from Leviticus 19: 26? “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.”  I don’t know if, in the original, the two verses are actually linked contextually or are simply sequential.  And I’m not sure how that could be twisted to mean “drawing blood above the mouth (so the witch doesn’t eat blood) will break the spell.” Or perhaps the drawing of blood is merely meant to symbolically weaken the witch by taking some vital fluid. April, on the other hand, has this to offer: As we all know, and have for eons known, bleeding is not only a sound medical practice, it is also the bodies own way of cleansing a wound. Of course too much bleeding can cause general weakness and apathy bringing about an inability, or at least a disinclination, to protect or standup for one’s self — the self having been drained out as it were. Since magic, spell casting, binding, weaving and other eclectic sorts of witch — not to mean the leaving-out of wizardry — craft are all dependent, in large measure, on sympathetic forces, and since it has been proven time and again that if the sympathy is removed so too is the magic and/or what not, the logical answer then is just that, removal of sympathetic forces. This fact was first discerned, in relation to witches, during episodes of dunking, pressing, burning-at-the-staking and other suchlike, often lethal, ways of finding witchery out. The people, if you will, of the times realized shortly that killing a witch certainly removed her (or him) from the population, but did not always remove, and at times even added to, the curses and/or, shall we say, spells.  It became evident, over time, that if sympathy were removed more gently the results were more acceptable to all involved. Lashing enough to cause a bit of, but not too much, bleeding became the du jour method of solving the curse, spell, etcetera sorts of issues up until and including, this author is told, the better portion of the 18th century.  As we entered the more modern era — with its microscopes and understanding of extremely small wriggly things — it became obvious just how little blood was really needed to diagnose a problem.  And as has so often been the historical case of medicine being bound up with alchemy and alchemy owing it truest heart to witchcraft, less and less blood has been needed to break a spell or the like, as might be the case.  Of course, as is clear from your examples, more blood than is necessary is at times let, in which cases the bleeder, rather than the bled, receives such punishment, in our moderning days, as is deemed commensurate with the crime at hand.  Today, wee amounts of bloodletting are deemed, in the standard “western view,” as being no crime at all.  The term “western view” being set off here due to its less messy sense of justice than, say, the “east by southeasterly view” of things and so on.  As to the when of the historical recording of your last question, alas, I confess to being impuissant on this point. KR writes here: re scratching witches with thorns. This folklore might have a lot to do with scratching a witch with a “witch-thorn” and the practice is likely due to jumble of old half-recalled lore. On this link, scroll down to “Folklore and Myth” for some folklore connecting thorns with witches and fairies.  The thorn is still a favorite as a “walking-stick” due to its mythic associations, bringing thorns and magic from ancient times into present. Interesting how certain folklore just keeps going on and on through vast ages of time, starting in times when literacy was rare amongst the general population.  I forgot also to mention the association with the thorn-crown of Christ, which might cause people to think that a “holy thorn” from the plant which gave that crown, might counteract the “unholiness” believed to be associated with a witch’s spirits or powers. As the thorn brought forth the blood of Christ, it became holy by that blood: thus, by bringing forth the witch’s blood, it might eliminate her unholiness, or at least the power behind it… This is just a logical guess of mine, not associated with a written source I know about, although there might be such: never do I assume that my ideas have not been thought before.  As to how these things stay in the folk-lore: I write once more on this subject with a little true tale from only six years ago. I was having a path cleared through a small wood and laid with gravel. When the workmen started to cut a scraggly thorn bush, I blurted “Oh, try not to cut down thorn bushes, it’s said to be bad luck.”  Now, I hadn’t really thought before speaking which is unusual for me: I think BEFORE I speak. Undoubtedly I had got this lore from something or other I had read, probably in an old herb-book: it wasn’t, (at least, I don’t think it was) passed on to me by family. It popped into my head and into my speech almost simultaneously. I wasn’t particularly embarrassed by it, but I remember thinking, “Now what made me say THAT?” The workmen, no doubt, thought I was a nut-case or else a witch, but I would be willing to bet they still pass the “lore” along. If you could only have seen the looks on their faces, you would know it made an impression. I hope their luck didn’t change for worse thereafter, the impression thereby reinforced, and their tales all the scarier. As for me, I can only hope witch-burning does not come back into fashion: I don’t think I am one, but they might…’ Southern Man writes in, meanwhile: ‘it is interesting but in lots of sources it is written that it is not enough to draw a witch’s blood but that the cut has to be above the mouth. Is this a symbolic mutilation or shaming?’ Thanks KR, April SM and Chris

    Astrology: Nathaniel writes ‘Up until the late 1600s astrology and astronomy were the same thing. IIRC it was in 1670 that the French royal astronomer was officially prohibited from casting horoscopes. Newton himself spent more time on the occult than on what we would now call science. Astrology is the poor relation that the millionaire astronomy doesn’t want to admit any connection to. Then the Count. Actually it’s not so silly to cast horoscopes for cities. Back in its infancy, when astrology was a brand new thing invented by some of the early Middle Eastern civilizations, it was taken for granted that one set of stars can’t possibly rearrange themselves to reflect the lives of every single human being all at once. And why would they bother to do this just to shed light on the potential marriage prospects of some random guy who weaves baskets in Baghdad? Individual horoscopes were cast only for kings, because it was clearly absurd to imagine that the Heavens would mirror the destiny of anyone who wasn’t in a position to influence the course of history. You may recall that the BIble contains a story – almost certainly a late and extremely generic addition, but hey, it’s in the Bible so it must be true! – about three Middle Eastern astrologers who, observing a very impressive comet (or whatever), automatically assume that it heralds the birth of a great king who will have a vast influence on the world. And when the comet mysteriously leads them to a complete nobody born in a shed, they take it as read that the Heavens cannot lie and bow down to him anyway. However true this tale may or may not be, it reflects the early view of astrology. Horoscopes were cast for a handful of VIPs, entire civilizations, and, yes, cities. But never for Joe Soap the Baghdad basket-weaver! The idea that astrology applies to absolutely everybody was invented by the Greeks, for reasons which are lost in the mists of time, but which I suspect may have been not unconnected with marketing. But the idea that astrology was more valid for royalty lasted a surprisingly long time. There’s an insignificant star which briefly became very prominent, thanks to a supernova before they understood the concept, which was (and still is) named Cor Caroli in honor of Charles II, because its sudden appearance clearly indicated that God approved of the restoration of the English monarchy. Thanks Nathaniel and Count!

    Dowries: Invisible writes in: ‘I don’t know if this counts or not, but many religious orders (and I’m only speaking for the nuns – I don’t know about monks.) still either require or strongly suggest a dowry. This pays for things like health insurance and living expenses. Some of it may be refundable if the candidate does not stay – and it would be interesting to know if one would get more of the dowry back if the order decided she was not suitable rather than the aspirant decided to leave. Candidates are also provided with lists of ‘trousseau’ items – sensible shoes, toiletries, stockings, etc. – to bring with them. This kind of shopping could be an amusing exercise in culture shock during the last gasp of religious life before Vatican II – imagine shopping for veil pins, nun’s shoes and black stockings while wearing a miniskirt. Some girls were feted at ‘showers’ and given gifts to take with them to the convent. So possibly the dowry still survives in the world of the Brides of Christ. I have always jokingly told my daughter’s suitors that she comes fully equipped with a dowry and trousseau. Oddly enough, all of them knew what I meant. Being something of a reactionary, I have assembled a trousseau that will allow her to entertain on the scale of an Edwardian ambassador’s wife. The convent-embroidered linens will look lovely with the Ikea furniture.’ Thanks Invisible!

    Amazons 4#: [important note, these were general comments relating to the first four posts, the authors had not seen the thoughts above] KR is in an ironic mood. So, dear Beach, here we find evidence that the first Europeans to discover the New World were the Eastern-European Amazon warrior-woman tribes, first noted in written records by the classical Greeks, and many centuries later rediscovered by the Conquistadores as the goddess-rulers of the Indians on the greatest river in South America. No doubt they got sick of the constant wars in eastern Europe and sailed to the New World and right up the Amazon river centuries before written histories say that men did that. ;)’ In fact, there are lots of wild theories that we’ve not dignified. Sword&Beast writes:  Even though this myth reappeared in some other accounts of early European travellers to Brazil, it was never taken seriously by Brazilian historians. Most of them discredited them as pieces aiming to raise curiosity in the distant tropics, full of riches and mysteries. But the origin of the myth – if European or Amerindian – has remained an open question. Nonetheless, I put forward another option: recently, a Brazilian anthropologist has suggested that these accounts refer to women warriors of a particular tribe, which are known to have regularly fought alongside the male warriors. They were known as çacoaiambaeguira.’ The Count now with some very general very stimulating thoughts. I’d not previously heard the story that the River Amazon was named after the supposed presence of actual real live warrior women thereabouts – I’d just assumed it was the kind of random mythical association that got Brazil named after a place in the middle of the Atlantic that’s about as real as Pepperland, or caused Mount Olympus (or more properly, Olympus Mons) to end up as an extinct volcano on Mars. Though in the latter case, it’s by far the biggest mountain in the known Universe, so that’s fair enough. And given the number of sightings of Greek gods in recent centuries, perhaps they did in fact move there. After all, Mars has pyramids (in this instance the conspiracy theorists have a point, because Doctor Who paid a visit to them when he was Tom Baker, so it must be true). Anyway, considering the mythological motifs that crop up in just about every tribal culture – for example, the notion of a secret society of very stealthy and usually troublesome “little people”, or the existence of huge, physically powerful but intellectually challenged brutal humanoids who are usually no longer around because they were destroyed by one or more comparatively puny but quick-witted humans, warrior women are extremely uncommon. That’s probably because primitive warfare doesn’t really lend itself to female participation, owing to the inescapable fact that nearly all primitive weapons rely on the strength of the wielder’s arm. In a straight fight, a woman facing a man will be at a huge disadvantage, so it makes sense to keep war a men-only business. In a flat-out battle between all the adults in two tribes, half the women will end up fighting other women on equal terms, and half will fight men who will almost certainly beat them, so getting on for 75% of your female soldiers will, all things being equal, lose their first fight, as opposed to 50% of the men. These are not good statistics if your tribe wants to carry on breeding! This was especially true in the Bronze Age, when armour and weapons had to be very thick and heavy to be effective. Famous women who took part in battles usually did so in a way that made their physical weakness irrelevant. Boudicca rode a chariot whose projecting blades meant that she just had to point it in the right direction, and Joan of Arc was present on the battlefield to boost morale, but didn’t actually fight. In feudal Japan, the wives of samurai, whose husbands were frequently away for extended periods, were trained in the use of an emergency defensive weapon the name of which I forget, but basically it was a pointed cleaver on a six-foot pole. The idea was to make one desperate all-or-nothing lunge, and impale the intruder before he got within sword range. Not bad for home defense, but lousy in melee. South American tribal warfare in the jungle, on the other hand, would be less of a problem for women than most types of lo-tech combat. The primary weapon was a very primitive type of bow, used almost entirely at fairly short range, ideally from ambush. Not much physical strength is needed to use such a weapon, and if these ladies were good at spotting their enemies coming and riddling them with arrows from a safe distance, they’d be at no disadvantage at all. It’s easy to imagine a situation where the entire adult male population of a tribe went off to war and got slaughtered, with maybe a handful of stragglers making it back to warn the remaining villagers that the victors were on the way to kill or enslave them. And then, when a totally unexpected last-ditch defense by women with bows proved extremely effective, the ladies who now constituted almost the entire adult population looked at one another and had the interesting idea of seizing the opportunity not to be the property of men any more.Modern studies have shown that, in situations where physical strength isn’t a factor, women make excellent soldiers. And since pulling a trigger requires a lot less strength than swinging a two-handed broadsword hard enough to pierce plate-mail, there’s a place for them in modern warfare. The Israeli army did a lot of pioneering research in this field, since, being a small and constantly threatened country, they were especially keen on anything which might instantly double the number of potential soldiers. Apparently female soldiers are more emotionally stable than men, and therefore, although they aren’t as aggressive, they’re better at keeping their heads in difficult situations, following orders in a disciplined fashion, and being brave in a cool but efficient kind of way. Also, they’re a lot more stoical when they’re wounded. In terms of strength, a low-powered bow is basically a gun. If these Amazonian Amazons had good leaders, they might well have been capable of setting up an ambush and waiting patiently for just the right moment to spring the trap in a coldly efficient manner utterly unfamiliar to their male adversaries, whose idea of tactics was probably to run at full tilt towards the enemy howling blood-curdling battle-cries. Also, they’d presumably ignore the established code of conduct for male warriors, whatever it was – there’s usually some kind of warrior code, however basic – and do whatever seemed most efficient. I can imagine them being genuinely formidable adversaries. And there’s nothing else about their way of life that seems implausible. Of course, as one tribe with a lifestyle both aberrant and abhorrent compared to all the more traditional tribes that surrounded them, they’d have to win every single battle. That’s a tall order, and presumably one day they didn’t, which is why we don’t hear much about them any more. One other point. These Amazons were supposed to have incredible amounts of gold, as was another tribe led by a fellow called Ira, though no more was heard of this lot because the myth wasn’t anywhere near as interesting. I think this is a side-issue. Once the natives of South and Central America caught on that these brutal and extremely dangerous white men wanted gold above all else, their standard response to demands for the stuff was to explain that, although they had a little bit of it, vastly larger amounts were possessed by some other tribe a long way away. Whether these tribes existed or not was beside the point – what mattered was that the Spaniards went somewhere else. What the natives appear to have been saying here was that instead of bothering them, the conquistadors should check out those women with the weird lifestyle who were alarmingly good at killing people. They were almost certainly thinking that, with a bit of luck, the Amazons would slaughter the Spaniards. And in a worst-case scenario, the Spaniards would slaughter the scary lesbians, and then some excise could be found for the absence of vast amounts of gold – maybe they’d hidden it. Or maybe every year they threw it all in a lake? Presumably this Ira character was a powerful chief who they didn’t like very much either. The Pueblo Indians got more creative than anyone. They told the conquistadors about The Seven Cities Of Gold allegedly to be found in California, and pointed in the direction of a very large desert. It worked extremely well. Needless to say, no trace of even one golden city has been found as yet. Though there are probably a few nuts still looking’ Thanks Count, KR and S&B!!!

    Newspapers: April says: you ended with several inquires, but the one that seems most pertinent was, ‘Is anyone able to offer any more general rules?’ As I’m sure many of your readers have already come forward to tell you, “Yes”. But in my humble opinion this wasn’t meant to be a simple yes or no question and I therefore feel compelled to give a more meaningful ‘riposte’. Putting aside general rules of fair-play, catch-as-catch-can and cricket-in-the-corner, I generally believe that when it comes to editing anyone else’s words or, plainly put, editing another author’s work, with or without emphasis on punctuation and syntax — especially when that author is likely long dead — is just plain one-upmanship in a base sort of fashion not to mention a wee bit, well, rude to put a fine point on it. Besides, editing when taken to the sort of extremes you mention in your post, is for the timidly faint-of-heart, those who fear asking their readers to work a bit for their part of the process. And who are we to say that this newspaper or that is being unclear or any less deserving of our fullness of quotation than, say, Shakespeare? The general rule to which you alluded in your question is simple: always put quotation marks around the entirety of that which one is quoting directly. It’s really that simple. If you want to just paraphrase then there are other general rules for that, but you didn’t ask about those rules, so we won’t address them now. However, the issue of ‘to bibliographize or not to bibliographize’ old, especially defunct, newspapers, is, again, simply answered: of course. For example, T. S. Elliot is, in a word or two, mortally defunct, yet he is always given full credit for his poetry even if Ezra Pound deserves a good half of it (now there was an editor!). And as to leaving out page numbers for old newspaper articles, truly, isn’t it enough that the author (in your case you) has chosen to use the most obscure, bedimmed references possible? For an editor to leave out the page numbering seems a rather trenchant iniquitousness, does it not? Plainly put, even if the good reader should find said newspaper in some mouldering pile in some library’s deepest bowels, same said reader would then be obliged to read all that eeny-teeny print on age darkened, brittle pages before finding the article in question — if find it (the article) reader, in fact, ever does. Which brings on a word of advise — or ‘aviser’ if you are in the mood to translate Old French — seems in order; if one’s editors should try to dissuade one from the straight path of the simplicity of these forthright rules, then one should gird-up one’s loins and tell said editor that people have been known to commit suicide while in jail for plagiarism and/or while questing for an obfuscatory reference, don’t they realize? And they as editors wouldn’t like to be in any way responsible for such a wretched state of affairs, would they? One more thing in relation to what I’ve already mentioned above: I made up “cricket-in-the-corner” so there are actually no rules to it, general or otherwise, but please note that I’ve quoted my own self, in this case, because it’s simply the right, fair and correct way to live by the golden rule. Didn’t see that rule coming? Never mind, neither did I. Next up is Alan who writes: I have been (obsessively) editing and proofreading texts for some thirty years now, so I can see a few more grammatical mistakes and peculiarities. However, common usage has changed, and this is a North American text anyway. First of all, goods are shipped to a destination, not in a destination. Also, “what part of the country” is incorrect; it should be “which”. Next, to conform to more modern usage, I would remove the comma after “replied”, although this may be a matter of personal preference rather than compliance with any rule. Once again, we have the verb “shipped”, but this time with “into”. Next, we have “at the South”; but as you have already mentioned “at the North”, that particular point has been made. In the phrase “especially in the States of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas”, I consider the word “in” to be redundant. You may differ. The spaces before colons and semi-colons are still used in French punctuation; I hate it. In the phrase “from whence”, the word “from” is definitely redundant; but “whence” was already fading from the English language, and people were forgetting how to use it. Finally, I would put a comma after the word “now” in the last sentence, thus: An extensive manufacturer, on being asked recently to which part of the country the larger part of his goods were shipped, replied that while they were shipped to nearly every section of the country, the best market was in the South, especially the States of Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas; and on being asked whence the raw material from which his goods were made came, replied, “Oh, we get all our stock from the South.” Now, labourers can be employed in the South at least one-third cheaper than they can in the North, and in North and South Carolina help is even cheaper than elsewhere at the South. Thanks April and Alan!

    Indians in Australia: Gus writes: It is extremely interesting how such things could have happened. If the contacts were relatively limited and short-lived, the physical archaeological evidence would be so small and localised the likelihood of it ever being found, if it still exists, is incredibly small. So there are only the enduring DNA and cultural/social/language/technological evidence left as indicators. I suspect this overlooked “founder effect” contact situation is much more common than suspected in many populations. On the issue of: “Then southern Indians at this date were bang in the middle of the bronze age, so it seems unlikely that they would waste their time perfecting ‘better’ stone tools. My understanding is that use and even refinement of stone tools continued well on into both the bronze and iron ages in almost all cultures, particularly as metals were such limited and expensive resources, and often the well established and refined stone tool technologies were better at many jobs than the emergent and early metal technologies. River, meanwhile, writes in with this great piece, note that all names changed. ‘The 11% of DNA that is Indian doesn’t necessarily mean “Two men, two women and two dingos find themselves on a boat that got (very, very) badly blown off course”.  One person can have a big impact on a small village. To prove my thesis, when I lived on the island of Roster Alaska, I was married to a man with the last name Larson and my children are Larsons as well. I was a little startled when I brought one daughter to the doctor’s office with an earache and the physician mentioned “native kids” seeming to have a lot of earaches, since I had never mentioned my husband’s family having lower 48 “native American” ancestry. (Also we don’t really look like stereotypical “native Alaskans” but after 200 years of Russian occupation many of the natives don’t either. ) Also we started to get phone calls about working on my ex-husband’s (non-existent) fishing boat. We eventually figured out that there was a man from the native village of Lullat with the same first and last name as my ex-husband. In fact, we were told, Larson was a very common name for native Alaskans on the island. When I got a chance to meet some native Alaskans with the name Larson, someone told me this story, sorry but I can’t recollect my source. Around 1900 a man with the last name Larson moved from Sweden (or some Scandinavian country with similar biome to Alaska) to the largest native village on Roster Island, Old Harbor. He married a native woman and fished commercially. They had a large number of children, definitely numbering in the teens, possibly 19 (?). In the 100 subsequent years they had populated each of the villages on the islands, as people often move around like that for jobs and to marry someone who isn’t a near relative. These stats are really off the top of my head and not to be taken as a census, but most of the Roster villages (there were 12 when I moved away and yes new ones appear and sometimes disappear even in living memory due to things like tsunamis or logging camps) have about 150 people. The main town, which was established by Russians, has over 5000 people. Dozens of the people living in the archipelago are Larsons. I imagine this sort of genetic legacy could get magnified over 2000 years. There are stories of Spanish sailors washed ashore in Ireland after the defeat of the Spanish Armada who are said to have left a genetic legacy in Ireland. Has anyone looked into that? It might give an idea of how long it takes for genes to spread from just a few stranded sailors. And Jim is tongue in cheek: maybe,but the masons were here first of course-  Thanks River, Jim and Gus!

    Lavoisier Blinks: PJ writes: My favorite beheading story actually involved the “humanitarian” guillotine rather than the chopping block. (You may be familiar with this tale, as it’s rather famous.) Many reports from the French Revolution speak of the heads of guillotine victims remaining animated for several minutes after tumbling off the neck and into the basket. By far the most vivid of these stories, for me, is that of Charlotte Corday, the woman who stabbed the revolutionary, Marat, to death while he was taking a bath, memorialized most famously by Jacques-Louis David: http://bit.ly/12WPSGI. When her head tumbled into the basket, witnesses reported, it was snatched out by the executioner’s assistant who held it up by the hair and slapped Charlotte’s cheek. It’s said her eyes looked his way and her disembodied head wore an expression of indignation. Some even say her lips moved as if she tried to speak. Sources for this story listed at Wikipedia: [La Révolution française vue par son bourreau : Journal de Charles-Henri Sanson, Documents (in French), Monique Lebailly, preface, Le Cherche Midi, 2007, p. 65, ISBN 978-2-7491-0930-5; idem, Griffures, Paris: Éditions de l’Instant, 1988, ISBN 978-2-86929-128-7] and [Mignet, François (1824), History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814.]  Whether this is apocryphal, who can say? It’s widely repeated, at any rate, and a hell of a good story. For more fascinating “Life After Beheading” stories (including a skeptical shoot down of such): http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/10-brain-myths6.htm Thanks PJ!

    Halley’s Comet: Zenobia writes in with this gem of a post on the Magi and Christmas. Thanks Zenobia!

    Dogs of God: The Count writes in with ‘Some reflections on recent topics [most touching though on issues from this post]. You’ll probably have guessed that I’m less of a Murrayite than you are, even though you’re at the lukewarm end of the scale. I personally think that the similarity between the religious and mythical behaviors of ethnic groups who can’t possibly have influenced each other – for example, Australian Aborigines and the Inuit – conclusively demonstrates that, to paraphrase a term from theoretical physics, the Weak Archetypal Principle is self-evidently true, but the Strong Archetypal Principle was just Jung getting ridiculously carried away. The WAP basically states that, since all human brains are hardwired in the same way, so all cultures have surprisingly similar legends and beliefs. The relevance here is that Ginsburg’s argument that the ravings of Theiss the Holy Latvian Werewolf and their similarity with the claims of the Benandanti show that they were both influenced by some all-embracing pagan cult with influence across Europe. Before we proceed any further, here’s something to think about: On one out-of-the-body trip to Mars, he found that a sentient asteroid ‘the size of the British Isles’ was attacking the Martian space fleet. When the Martians’ own military efforts failed, King himself – who else – led a final ‘death or glory’ assault that defeated the object with what he called ‘a weapon of love’. That’s a description of a typical day in the life of George King, a strange man who in 1955 founded the Aetherius Society, a failed religion (well, it still exists, but at last count there were reckoned to be about 650 members worldwide – the Pope isn’t exactly shaking in his little red shoes! Incidentally, if he clicks his heels three times and says “There’s no place like home”, will he be teleported to Kansas?) based on various other religions plus a hefty dose of 1950s “Space Brother”-type UFO flapdoodle. Do I need to point out the similarity between this and the kind of thing the aforementioned characters claimed to get up to? George King was of course an attention-seeking fantasist who throughout his life collected an increasingly grandiose array of extremely dodgy titles, up to and including “Prince”, though unfortunately not “King”. Theiss was clearly a similar type of person. His initial claim to be a shape-changing warrior of God came about when, having summoned a neighbor before the magistrate for allegedly breaking his nose – a very banal accusation which, his nose being indubitably broken, was probably true – he got carried away and claimed that the incident occurred in Hell when they were both transformed into mythical creatures. It’s not clear who won the case, but it seems to have been laughed out of court. One point of interest is that, although technically Theiss accused the nose-breaking assailant of being a magician in the service of Satan – that is, a witch – no charges of witchcraft seem to have been brought against anybody. Indeed, it made Theiss more popular with the locals, probably because it was the funniest thing that had happened in ages.Ten years later, he was in court again. You wrongly state that the judges were in town to try Theiss as a witch. Actually they were summoned to try a man accused of robbing a church – a very serious but not remotely supernatural crime. Theiss wasn’t accused of anything, but merely called as a witness. Though given his record of attention-seeking fantasy, it’s anybody’s guess whether he actually saw the crime. He certainly doesn’t appear to have made the slightest attempt to give evidence about it, instead launching into a presumably compulsive and certainly irrelevant rehash of his moment of glory a decade before.Of course, he went too far, and it was his undoing. You state – also wrongly – that he got off with a whipping. Yes, he was indeed flogged, and then banished for life. Since he was an 80-year-old mentally unstable pauper who would inevitably be stigmatized as an outsider with a shady past by whichever community he ended up in, it might have been kinder to hang him. Note how the judges never for one moment believed his werewolf yarns. He claimed that a whole pack of these improbable lycanthropes secretly existed, yet absolutely no investigation of this mysterious cult was made, despite the judges obviously having it in their power to do so.Specifically, when Theiss initially said that he’d gotten his werewolf skin from a certain farmer, but when asked for the man’s name, he changed his story, the court didn’t bother to press the point because they understood that Theiss wasn’t trying to cover for anybody, he was just telling a whopping and very muddled lie. And they did take the trouble to find out whether Theiss was sane enough to know what he was saying before punishing him. But it wasn’t actual witchcraft that got him whipped and banished – it was a vague charge of turning people away from God. Theiss was a “cunning man” who claimed to be able to cure various ills in people and cattle by chanting the usual scraps of doggerel. Unfortunately for him, he neglected to include any references to God in his incantations, and furthermore, he couldn’t even be bothered to go to church for the feeblest of reasons. Cunning folk nearly always made sure that they couldn’t be accused of witchcraft (though in really tough anti-witch countries like Scotland, it didn’t always work) by including a Christian element in their magic – God and/or a saint or two would be mentioned in their invocations, and herbal nostrums usually had to be drunk in conjunction with a brief but impeccably Christian prayer. Theiss either forgot to do this, or had such a huge ego that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t get full credit for his “miracles”. About 4% of the population are fantasy-prone. That’s quite a lot! Most of them are of course just “day dream believers” straight out of the song, and there’s no harm in being a but dreamy. Combined with some other unfortunate personality trait such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which affects 1% of the population, so you’d expect one person in 250 to have both), what you end up with is somebody who not only tends to believe unlikely things about themselves and the world in general, but can’t stop going on about how special they are, and will act like spoiled children if anybody doubts their unique talents. Every paranormal research club, no matter how small, has at least one petulant, immature “psychic” (who is usually at least 40, by the way) who can see and talk to spirits, human and otherwise, and aliens too if that’s what the club’s into. She (or he, but the great majority seem to be women) nearly always has some sort of “healing” power, which nowadays, what with the possible legal ramifications, is often some kind of “psychic counseling” or hypnotherapy rather than actually telling you that they can make physical ailments go away by magic. And they quite often get up to the most extraordinary things on the Astral Plane, or have amazing powers which they could show you any time but for some reason they don’t feel like demonstrating right now.See also the peculiar and short-lived 1980s Fortean phenomenon of “psychic questing”, whereby attention-seeking fantasists claimed to be using their amazing psychic powers to battle vast occult conspiracies, and proved it by discovering suspiciously cheap antiques they had obviously planted themselves, simply to get a handful of extremely gullible authors – but mostly Andrew Collins (there are several writers of that name, but you’ll definitely know which one I mean) to write books saying how amazing they were.Anyway, moving on to the Benandanti, one thing that strikes me is that there don’t appear to have ever been very many of them, and they all popped up in roughly the same place at roughly the same time. Could this simply have been a very small cult – probably small enough to fit in one room – inspired by one fantasy-prone but charismatic person? Somebody like Theiss, but probably smarter and less confused, and quite possibly absolutely sincere. But why the similarities? Simple! We don’t even need to invoke the Weak Archetypal Principle here! Consider the Twilight franchise, and the Blade franchise, and other peculiar developments vampire fiction has taken in recent times. People kind of like the idea of vampires – well, they do since Polidori, and later, Bram Stoker turned them from ravening, slightly putrid zombies into suave aristocrats who happened not to be alive.Incidentally, the best fictional account of the classic pre-Dracula European vampire is a short story by Gogol called The Vij. I can’t send you a pdf because the copyright situation is very complicated – apparently all the rights have been bought by Robert Englund, who has been trying to get a film made of it – naturally starring himself – for donkey’s years. Anyway, it’s Gogol, so I’m sure you can find it. However, it has already been filmed, as the final and by far the best segment of Mario Bava’s portmanteau horror movie Black Sabbath, starring Boris Karloff just before he started getting too infirm to give a really good performance; worth a look if you haven’t seen it before – Boris is the creepiest vampire ever, except of course for the unsurpassable Max Shreck in Nosferatu).Anyway – vampires: having cool superpowers and stuff is obviously good. But being a cadaverous leech with no soul reanimated by Satan? Not so good… Solution? Invent some new kind of pretend vampire that has all the good qualities, but only the merest token smattering of the bad ones. Let’s apply that to witches. Shape-changing? Flight? Going to secret midnight feasts where you could have a high old time? Sounds pretty good! But that whole “being in league with Satan” thing – no, maybe not… Both Theiss and the Benandanti were precursors of J. K. Rowling. Back then, witches were the obvious template if you wanted to fantasize about having superpowers. Theiss and the Benandanti claimed to have all the powers a witch could have that could possibly be thought of as beneficial, or at least harmless if a bit weird. But they have the exact opposite of any witchy qualities that are unequivocally a no-no. Serving the Devil? No, of course not – in their own very special way, they serve God. Harming people and livestock? Theiss cures them. Destroying crops? That was the biggie! The very worst thing witches were alleged to do was to destroy crops, which, if they did it thoroughly enough, could condemn untold thousands to death by starvation. But these “witches” not only refrain from doing that, they fight the bad witches to stop them ruining the harvest, thus saving all those ordinary mortals who never even knew they were in peril! Basically, they’re the X-Men. Also, it’s a perfect algorithmic conversion of “bad witch” into “good witch”, with everything morally neural left alone, and everything bad precisely inverted. Note also that, because salt is present in holy water, rejection of their baptism leaves witches – the bad, nasty kind of witches – with an aversion to it. Sabbat feasts, in addition to being generally disgusting, were often unsalted (salt also destroyed Haitian zombies for the same reason). Which is almost certainly why Theiss made a point of telling the judges that the holy werewolves liked their roast meat salted. One final point which the Murrayite camp have as yet to satisfactorily explain (I’m not rabidly anti-Murrayite, I just can’t resist this nice bit of logic). The Benandanti and Theiss are both supposed to be devotees of a pre-Christian pan-European cult of good, eco-friendly, nice pagan witches. Everyone except Montague Summers agrees that the bad, nasty, pointlessly horrible Satanic witches were nothing but a figment of the rabid imagination of misogynist inquisitors who should have got out more. Yet apparently the good, real witches believe in the bad, made-up witches so sincerely that they believe they’re at war with them…’ Thanks Count, I’ll return to this theme.

     Soul-Selling: Steve T (an old friend of this blog) writes: Although you said ‘no Faustian pacts’ I just have to mention the legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul at ‘The Crossroads’ mainly because it seems to highlight the fact that different cultures and religious practices associate different meanings to phrases. In a lot of voodoo and hoodoo based beliefs it seems to be the case that “selling your soul” to a black man at ‘the crossroads’ is the equivalent of a grail knight making the spiritual quest, rather than anything particularly evil or involving a chap with horns.’ Chris from HauntedOhioBooks wrote: Sold Her Soul to the Devil Omaha, April 7. Laura Phillips, a pretty and well educated young lady from Valiscoe, Iowa, (Villisca?) committed suicide Tuesday in a very sensational manner. She took blood from her own veins and wrote with it the following note, which was found on her pillow: “I, Laura Phillips, hereby sell my soul to the devil, in consideration for which he agrees to give me wealth, beauty, and the power to overcome all my enemies.” She had taken a heavy dose of morphine. Her home offered her every comfort, but she left it and came here three years ago. Step by step she went to degradation. Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette  9 April 1886: p. 8 SOLD HIS SOUL FOR $2.50, PAID $100 TO GET IT BACK Man Declared There Was No Such Thing as Salvation or Further Life—Suddenly Changed Mind About Bargain Vienna, Oct. 27. The queerest case ever treated at the Rudolph Hospital here was that of a man who had “sold his soul” for $2.50. Following on this Faust-like transaction, he became very ill and believed he could only be cured by buying back his chance of salvation. Weiss, the modern Faust, was discussing religious topics with some friends at a Pressburg café, and declared that there was no such thing as salvation or future life. “I would sell my chance of salvation,” he added, “for 12 kroner.” (about $2.50). His offer was accepted by his friend Krauss on condition that a legal contract was made and accordingly a deed of sale was properly executed by Weiss and handed to Krauss in exchange for the agreed price. Soon afterward Weiss’ wife was killed in a carriage accident, which the bereaved husband took for a sign of divine anger at his impious bargain. With this idea preying upon his mind, he lost his reason and was taken to the hospital. The only treatment that Professor Obermayer, who examined him, could think of was counter-suggestion, and he advised Weiss’ relatives to recover the deed of sale. Krauss now demanded $200 for the deed, because he said his business had prospered exceedingly since he had bought Weiss’ chance of salvation. Eventually through the mediation of the rabbi of Pressburg, he accepted $100. Having recovered his “soul,” Weiss recovered his health also. After a new deed had been drawn up, by which Krauss restored to Weiss his chance of salvation, the patient was discharged as cured. Boston [MA] Journal 28 October 1907: p. 3  Other, longer stories include a Russian who sold his soul for 500 rubles–the article prints the legal documents, which were properly notarized and stamped–the seller was put on trial for blasphemy. An 1890s New York bookkeeper who seems to have eloped with a girlfriend and sent notes to his wife and employer claiming he’d sold himself, signed “Mephistopheles, Jr.”,  and an African American former slave who was widely believed to have mystic powers and had the mark of a cloven hoof burned into his chest over his heart as a sign of his pact with Satan. KMH, meanwhile writes,  For the scholastically inclined, the “unforgivable sin”  arises from Mark 3: 28-30 – “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme; But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.” The scribes explained Christ’s ability to cast out demons by saying he had an unclean spirit from Beelzebub, the prince of demons, thus blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Claiming the works of God are the works of the devil is one example of the unforgivable sin. Any deliberate false statement about the Holy Spirit is unforgivable for those who have experienced the Holy Spirit.’ Thanks KHM, Chris and Steve!

    Happy June to all readers!