December 18, 2012

The Night Marchers of Hawaii

The Night Marchers of Hawaii
On certain nights at sunset and just before dawn, the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors, the night marchers or huakai-po, are said to rise from their burial sites and march through the Hawaiian countryside to battles long past or other sacred destinations. They may also appear during the day to escort a dying relative to the spirit world.

Should you happen across such a march, you will first hear drums in the distance and smell a rotten stench. Then you will hear a conch shell being blown, as an announcement of the deathly procession and a warning to get out of the way. You will see torches that get brighter and brighter as the marchers approach.

Legend says you must not look at the ghosts as they pass by, as seeing them and being seen by them spells death. Instead, you must lie down on your stomach and stare at the ground to avoid eye contact, be quiet and not move. If it is possible, the best thing to do is to simply leave the area before the procession comes close. However, if an ancestor of yours is among the marchers and they recognize you, you need not worry. He or she will call out “Na’u!” (“Mine!”), and none of the marchers will harm you.

The night marchers are the vanguard for a sacred chief whom commoners must never lay their eyes upon – to do so is to invite immediate death.

July 18, 2012

Skinwalker - Yee Naaldlooshii - He Who Walks on Four Legs

A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshiiSkinwalkers are ancient Navajo monsters who use black magic to turn into animal form and use that ability for evil. They are men and rarely women who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo.

A shaman gains the power of a skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii in the Navajo language, by renouncing the traditional ways of Navajo magic and adopting the teachings of the Witchery Way. At the highest level of priesthood, he or she must then make the final sacrifice of murdering a blood relative: a parent, a sibling, or a child. With this destruction of their humanity, they have gained the evil power inherent to the yee naaldlooshii.

A skinwalker can take the form, speed and strength of any animal it wishes, depending on what abilities it needs. Many Navajo believe it can even steal the skin, or body, of a human being; locking eyes with a skinwalker allows it to immerse itself into your body.

Some say skinwalkers are easy to recognize in animal form, as they are unable to move entirely naturally, and some Navajo describe them as distorted and mutated forms of the animals they are emulating. Furthermore, a skinwalker’s eyes glow like an animal’s when in human form and appear human when in the form of an animal.

Many Navajo can tell stories of encounters with skinwalkers. They will sometimes try to break inside homes to attack the residents, and will often bang on the walls, climb onto the roofs and peer inside through windows in strange, animal-like forms. Skinwalkers are also known to attack cars and cause accidents. And that's not all; the yee naaldlooshii are also believed to be graverobbers and necrophiliacs.

The yee naaldlooshii can use magic to curse people and cause suffering and death. They use a mixture called corpse powder which they blow into their victim’s face. Soon after, the victim’s tongue turns black, they go into convulsions, and eventually die. They can also use spit, hair and old clothes to send a curse at a particular person. Because of this, many Navajo never spit and make sure to destroy any hair or nail clippings.

Skinwalkers are agile and fast enough to easily keep up with a speeding car. Some believe they can read thoughts and make any animal or human noise they want, using tricks like the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes.

Killing a skinwalker is very difficult due to their great power. Often people attempting to shoot one find their guns jammed, and if the rounds do fire, they have no effect. While the Navajo have magical protections against the yee naaldlooshii, there is only one certain way to defeat them: if you see a skinwalker and call it by its true name, it will die.

Skinwalker lore is no mere children’s tales to the Navajo people. The subject is not open to discussion, even today, and the Navajo are reluctant to talk about it to outsiders. After all, a stranger asking questions about skinwalkers just might be one himself.

July 3, 2012

Kuchisake Onna - The Slit-Mouth Woman

Kuchisake Onna, or the Slit-Mouth Woman
A long time ago in Japan, there lived a beautiful and vain woman who was married to a jealous and violent man, a samurai in most stories. The woman was unfaithful to her husband and, after discovering her infidelity, the man took a sword and slashed her mouth from ear to ear, asking “Who will think you are beautiful now?”

Now her vengeful spirit wanders the streets of Japan, hiding her mutilated face and seeking to take her misfortune out on anyone unlucky enough to come across her. So the legend of Kuchisake Onna, the slit-mouth woman, was born.

In the 1970s, stories began appearing in Japan about a woman with a surgical mask covering the lower half of her face (not uncommon in Japan) who appeared to people at night. She would ask the traveler if they thought she was beautiful (“Watashi kirei?”). If they answered in the negative, she would immediately kill them with a long pair of scissors.

Due to her unearthly beauty, the victim would usually say yes. The woman would then rip off her mask, revealing the horrible, gaping wounds marring her face. “How about now,” she would ask the horrified traveler.

Saying no resulted in death by scissors, as you would expect. However, the terrified victim would hardly want to offend this nightmarish creature, and most would assure her of her beauty. But it would not save them. The Kuchisake Onna would slit their mouth from ear to ear, making them look just like her.

The only way to be saved was to answer the second question with “so-so” or “average”. This would confuse the Kuchisake Onna, giving the victim time to escape while she was lost in thought. Trying to run without this distraction was pointless – the spirit would simply reappear in front of them.

Rumors and sightings of the Kuchisake Onna chasing children first began to spread in 1979, which caused real scares in many towns. Police patrols were increased in some places, and some schools began sending children home in groups escorted by teachers.

The legend seems to have a basis in reality. In 2007, a coroner found records about a woman with a torn mouth chasing children. She was hit by a car and killed during one such chase. This woman was likely the origin of the 1979 panic.

The legend of Kuchisake Onna has survived to the the 21st century, with many variations popping up in Japan and other countries. For example, in South Korea she appears with a blood red face mask.

The Kuchisake Onna appears in film in Carved aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman aka Kuchisake-onna (2007) and its prequel Carved 2 aka Kuchisake-Onna 2: The Scissors Massacre aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman 2 aka Kuchisake-onna 2 (2008).

Image by Netjeret

June 8, 2012

Domovoi, the Hairy Old House Spirit

Domovoi, the Russian house spirit
A Domovoi is a house spirit in Russian folklore, usually making its living place at the threshold under the entrance, under a stove or in the attic. It is usually said to resemble a tiny, hairy old man, though it can sometimes take the appearance of the current or the former owner of the house - there are stories of neighbours seeing the master of the house out on the yard tending to his land, when in reality he was asleep in his bed. The Domovoi can take on other forms as well, such as a cat, a dog or a snake.

Despite the vivid descriptions, a Domovoi rarely shows itself. Instead, it will announce its presence through bangs and knocks, as well as moving things around in a helpful or mischievous manner. In fact, legends say that seeing the Domovoi is a forewarning of death in the near future.

Russian peasants used to try and win their Domovoi’s favor by making offerings, such as leaving milk and biscuits or bread in the kitchen overnight. When moving to a new house, they would entice the Domovoi to move with them, as there are many benefits to its presence.

A happy Domovoi is a friendly Domovoi. A spirit that is satisfied and on good terms with the members of the household acts as the guardian of the house, helping with chores, feeding the animals and protecting the residence from robbers. Small messes will get cleaned up when you’re not looking, plants will stay healthy even if you forget to water them, and intruders will be in for some nasty surprises. A Domovoi also brings good fortune to the household in other, more subtle means.

However, if you are thinking Domovye sound rather like house-elves from Harry Potter, you would be wrong. Respect and keeping good care of the house are essential in maintaining good relations with the spirit; it will not tolerate lazy layabouts or rude loudmouths. Profane language and disrespectful behavior are surefire ways to get you in its bad books.

If you lose a Domovoi’s favor, it will make its displeasure known in nasty ways. Banging doors and throwing objects around all night long is just the beginning. The retaliation will soon escalate to blighting the crops and killing livestock, and even suffocating members of the family in their sleep.

Ignoring rules a Domovoi sets will also lead to vengeance. One story tells of woman whose Domovoi braided her hair every night and told her to never undo the braid. So, the woman went for thirty years without combing or washing her hair, until she finally decided to undo and clean it on her wedding night. This was a serious mistake. The Domovoi became so infuriated it strangled her to death with her own braid.

Today, the Domovoi, like other beings of folklore, has mostly faded into myth and legend, though it is possible people in some remote rural areas still pay tribute to the spirit of the house.

May 26, 2012

Mary Worth and the Origin of Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary - possibly a witch named Mary Worth
Many people in the US have played ”Bloody Mary”, a popular children’s game and a test of a courage in slumber parties around the country. The game involves locking yourself into a dark bathroom with nothing but a candle, standing in front of the mirror and calling out ”Bloody Mary” three times. In another version, one must whisper ”I believe in Mary Worth.” This ritual serves to summon the vengeful witch, Mary Worth, who will then rip out the summoner’s eyes or claw their face.

It is uncertain where the legend originates from, but one possibility is a witch named Mary Worth who, according to local tradition, lived on the Old Wagon Road in Chicago during the Civil War. It is said that she used to kidnap runaway slaves and keep them chained in her barn, doing who knows what to them in her dark rituals.

The locals eventually became furious enough to take the law into their own hands and burn Worth at the stake. The legend says her body was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Doubtful, since an infamous witch would have never been laid to rest in a Christian cemetery. Instead, she may have been buried on her farm, as one couple learned the hard way.

Many decades after Mary Worth’s execution, a farmer and his wife bought her former property and, fully aware of the place’s history, built their home on the very foundations of the barn in which Worth practiced her black arts. Apparently not one to be scared by old legends, the farmer set out to clear the land for an oat field.

During his work, he came across a square stone and moved it to the door of the house, figuring it to be a good stepping stone. This proved to be a mistake. Violent and often dangerous events immediately began to plague the couple, with the wife finding herself locked in the barn or the house on multiple occasions and plates crashing on the floor by themselves.

As the activity worsened, the farmer began to wonder if he had inadvertently disturbed Mary Worth’s real gravesite. He tried to return the stone to its original place in an attempt to end the disturbing phenomena, but he never could find the exact spot. After several years of torment, the house burned to the ground in 1986, supposedly due to arson.

There were later several failed attempts to build on the property. A developer managed to eventually raise a group of houses, but the one nearest to Mary Worth’s barn has since burned down once or even twice.

Image by Skyberry-13

May 23, 2012

Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Lady

Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Lady
The case of the Toxic Lady is a modern medical mystery that has found its way into several TV shows including The X-Files, Grey’s Anatomy and The New Detectives. Although there have been attempts to explain it, none of the theories put forward manage to satisfy all the experts that have spent time trying to solve the mystery.

At 8:15 in the evening on 19th February, 1994, a 31-year-old woman named Gloria Ramirez, who was suffering from advanced cervical cancer, was rushed to the emergency room at Riverside General Hospital in California. She was extremely disoriented, had an abnormal heartbeat and was taking shallow, rapid breaths.

Efforts to stabilize her began quickly, with the medical staff administering a variety of treatments, including sedatives and drugs to stimulate her heart. It soon became evident that Ramirez wasn’t responding to treatment, so the staff tried to defibrillate her heart. At this point many of the people present started to notice a strange oily sheen covering her skin and a garlic-like smell coming from her mouth.

When a nurse named Susan Kane drew a blood sample from Ramirez’s arm, she noticed an ammonia-like odor coming from the syringe. She handed it to the respiratory therapist, Maureen Welch, who noticed the same smell. The syringe was then passed to Dr. Julie Gorchynski, and she saw odd, manila-colored particles floating around in the blood.

That’s when everything began to dissolve into chaos. Kane turned towards the door of the ER and collapsed, unconscious. Next Gorchynski began to feel nauseous. She sat down at the nurse’s desk, complaining light-headedness – and then passed out and started to convulse. As the two women were rushed out of the room for treatment, Welch was the third to succumb to unconsciousness.

Several staff members were now feeling ill, and an emergency was declared. The ER was evacuated into the parking lot, while a skeleton crew stayed behind to try and save Ramirez’s life. All their efforts failed. At 8:50, she was pronounced dead.

In total, 23 of the 37 staff members experienced symptoms, and five were hospitalized. Gorchynski was affected the worst, and she had to stay in intensive care for two weeks.

The Riverside County hazardous materials team was the first to arrive on the scene and begin the investigation. They searched the ER thoroughly, testing for every dangerous substance they had the capability for. They found nothing. There was no sign of any toxin of any kind.

An autopsy, performed in a sealed room by doctors in airtight suits, revealed that Gloria Ramirez had died of kidney failure due to her late stage cancer. However, no toxins were found in her body. Nothing at all that could explain the mass faintings and the very real physical ailments of the hospitalized staff members.

Baffled officials blamed the whole incident on mass hysteria, which is apparently political code for ”Hell if we know.” Many of the victims were understandably angered by this verdict, especially Gorchynski, who during her two-week hospitalization stopped breathing repeatedly, contracted hepatitis and pancreatitis, and developed necrosis of the bone marrow in her knees. She was crippled for months and needed several surgeries to recover. A rather impressive host of illnesses to have been caused by a mere delusion.

Scientists at the Forensic Science Center at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory came up with a more sensical theory. They found evidence of a chemical called dimethyl sulfone (DMSO2) in Ramirez’s blood. DMSO2 is a reaction product of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which is a solvent cancer patients sometimes use to relieve pain. The reaction could have been caused by the oxygen administered by the paramedics.

Even though neither chemical is dangerous, the scientists guessed that some unknown mechanism could have converted the DMSO2 into DMSO4, a powerful nerve gas that could have caused the symptoms suffred by the ER staff. The coroner’s office swallowed up the explanation despite criticism by many other chemists, who called the formation of DMSO4  a chemical impossibility. As of yet, the theory remains unconfirmed.

What happened that night in the Riverside General ER? Was it the release of poisonous gas by some unknown chemical reaction? If not, what could knock out almost two dozen people while leaving no trace of itself?

May 15, 2012

The Origin of Tarot Cards

A Tarot card depicting DeathAs all are probably well aware, Tarot cards are commonly used in divination and occultism. Tarot reading is thought to give the reader insight into the future and present possibilities of the person seeking advice. Some believe the cards are guided by a spiritual force, while others think they help the reader tap into their own subconciousness, or even the collective unconscious – a universal pool of images, ideas and concepts innate to all humans and theorized by Carl Jung.

However, Tarot cards were not always used for divination. When they first appeared in Europe in the 15th century, they were used purely as playing cards, with apparently no mystical connections. It wasn’t until the 18th century that occultists started widely using them and the divination systems began to develop.

The first proper Tarot cards were apparently created between 1430 and 1450 in northern Italy, although similar cards were used centuries earlier. They quickly spread throughout northern Italy and became a popular game for nobles.

Although widespread occult use of the Tarot didn’t begin until the 18th century, it was connected to divination as early as the 16th century. A book written in 1540 outlined a simple method of divination, in which Tarot cards were used to select an oracle, though they didn’t have any meaning in themselves.

Certain manuscripts in 1735 and 1750 described a simple divinatory system for Tarot cards, but their real initiation into the occult can be traced back to Antoine Court de Gébelin in 1781. He believed that their origin was in ancient Egypt, and that their symbolism contained within them the lost knowledge of Egyptian mysticism and magic, hidden in a simple game by Egyptian priests. De Gébelin also claimed that the Tarot was brought to Europe by the Romani people (Gypsies), who he believed to have been descendants of the ancient Egyptians.

When Egyptian hieroglyphs were deciphered, nothing in them supported de Gébelin’s theories. However, by then the belief in Tarot cards originating from ancient Egypt had become firmly entrenched in occult practices and endured to this day.

 In the 19th century, the famous occultist Eliphas Lévi connected the Tarot to the Kabbalah, the Jewish system of mysticism. This fueled a new belief that the cards were keys to the ancient mysteries of the Tree of Life – a belief preserved to this day in Hermetic Qabalah, a Western mystical tradition that includes elements from Jewish Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy, pagan religions and Enochian angelic magic, to name a few.

The Tarot is comprised of archetypical symbolism that crosses the boundaries of culture and time. This is why it has been linked to almost every mystical system and religion known to man, and many groups have recognized it as universal body of knowledge, relevant to any path and belief.

May 10, 2012

Durendal: The Holy Sword of Roland

The alleged fragment of Durendal in Rocamadour, France
Durendal was a legendary sword wielded by Roland, a heroic knight serving under King Charlemagne in the 8th century. Nearly as majestic as the fabled Excalibur, its blade shone white and stainless, and within its golden hilt were concealed four sacred relics: a tooth from Saint Peter, the blood of Saint Basil, strands of hair from Saint Denis, and a piece of the robe worn by Saint Mary.

In The Song of Roland, Durendal is shown to be preternaturally sharp and indestructible. The poem describes how Roland cleaved an armored Saracen soldier in half head to groin, with only a single swing of the holy sword. The strike even cut into the spine of the soldier’s horse. Later, Roland attempted to break the sword by striking it against a rock, but no amount of effort would even scratch it. He only succeeded in breaking off pieces of the stone itself.

Durendal’s origin is somewhat mysterious. One version of its legend claims that it once belonged to the greatest warrior of Troy, Hector, and was given to Roland by the great enchanter Maugris. Other works say that the sword was forged by Wayland the Smith, the legendary master blacksmith of Norse mythology and creator of the magical sword Gram. It was then brought by an angel of the Lord to Charlemagne, who gave it to Roland.

Roland and Durendal went on to conquer numerous territories for Charlemagne, from the shores of Italy to the hills of Scotland. Their story came to an end when Roland suffered a defeat at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass at the border of France and Spain, after a fierce battle to delay a Muslim army 400,000 strong with only 20,000 men in order to cover Charlemagne’s retreat into France.

Heavily wounded from the battle and on the brink of death, Roland tried to destroy Durendal to prevent the holy sword from falling into the hands of the Muslims, creating La Brèche de Roland with his futile swings. Once he realized the blade could not be shattered by human strength, he hid it underneath his body, and died facing the direction of his enemies in Spain.

Local folklore of the Rocamadour town in France claims that Roland threw the sword instead of hiding it, and that a fragment of it still exists embedded into a cliff wall in the village (pictured). However, the local tourist office says it is a fake.

May 5, 2012

Pontianak - The Vampire of Malaysian Folklore

When a woman dies in childbirth or while pregnant, there is a chance an undead predator, a Pontianak, will be created, says an old Malaysian legend. According to the myth, the woman’s spirit may rise from the grave as a vampiric ghost to prey on the living by night, while it resides inside a banana tree during the day.

The Pontianak is especially dangerous to men. It takes the form of a beautiful, pale-skinned, long-haired woman dressed in white to lure its victim close. When the unwary male comes near the creature, it suddenly turns into an ugly, sharp-toothed hag, digs its razor-sharp fingernails into his stomach, and devours his intestines and blood. Those unfortunate individuals the Pontianak has a particular grudge against face an even more gruesome fate: the demon rips out their sexual organs with its nails.

The Pontianak is said to relish the blood of newborn babies. It may kill the pregnant mother and eat the fetus, or alternatively attack during childbirth.

Some believe the Pontianak seeks out its prey by sniffing clothes hung out to dry. That’s why some of the more superstitious Malays never leave any of their clothing outside overnight.

There are a few of signs that tell a Pontianak is in the area. In folklore, it usually makes its presence known through baby cries. If the cry is loud, then the danger is not immediate – the Pontianak is still far away. However, if the cry becomes faint, it means the Pontianak is very close. Likewise, a howling dog indicates a Pontianak is far, while a whimpering one warns of the bloodthirsty creature’s immediate proximity.

When the Pontianak draws near, its presence is accompanied by a sweet, floral fragrance that quickly turns into a putrid stench.

There is only one way to stop this violent creature. If an iron nail is driven into its neck, it turns back into the woman it used to be. However, if the nail is ever removed, the Pontianak reverts to its monstrous nature, free to continue preying on humans. Some legends also state that if one were to tie a red thread from the banana tree the Pontianak resides in to the foot of one’s bed, the Pontianak would then become bound to that person’s will.

A popular Malaysian legend tells of a husband and his pregnant wife who are on their way back from the man’s hometown when their car breaks down. As this is presumably before cell phones became common items, the husband decides to walk to the nearest gas station for help, while the wife stays behind in the car.

For a while, everything is normal and uneventful. Then a slow, gnawing dread begins to creep up the wife's spine – not unexpected, considering she is trapped on a deserted road in the middle of the night. But all of a sudden she feels very cold, and the scent of sickly sweet incense fills the air before gradually turning into a rotten stench.

The woman is suddenly scared out of her wits by a loud banging on the roof of the car. The banging becomes more and more aggressive, as if something was trying to coax her out of the car, and the woman is too terrified to move.

Then, a police car pulls over nearby and the officer begins shouting at her to get out of the car and walk to him, slowly and carefully, and to not look back under any circumstances. She manages to overcome her terror enough to do as he says. But the banging persists and, unable to help herself, she turns around to see what it is. That’s when she sees a bloodied Pontianak leering at her, banging her husband’s severed head against the roof of the car.

April 28, 2012

The Mysterious Broadcasts of Number Stations

Number Stations
On certain shortwave radio frequencies, anyone with the appropriate equipment can hear strange, artificial voices reciting endless strings of numbers, words, letters, or even Morse code that seemingly make no sense.

These broadcasts usually adhere to strict schedules and are spoken in a variety of languages. The toneless voices reading these messages are often female, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are heard as well. Occasionally the transmissions contain even weirder elements, such as strange music or intonation.

Radio enthusiasts have dubbed the unexplainable broadcasts ”Number Stations”, and they have been observed at least since World War II. However, according to the Conet Project, a group that distributes recordings of these stations, the Number Stations’ transmissions have been going on since World War I. That would make them some of the oldest radio broadcasts in the world.

Despite efforts to track these broadcasts down, nobody has been able to definitively pinpoint their sources. In the few cases that a suspected site has been found, no one has been there to meet the explorers. No radio station or government has claimed responsibility for the stations, and their purpose remains uncertain. Naturally, many theories have popped up, ranging from the highly viable to the absurdly fantastical.

The most popular and likely theory is that the Number Stations are used by various Secret Services to relay orders to operatives inserted into hostile territories. With powerful enough transmitters, the coded message could be received anywhere in the world with simple equipment, and only the agent in possession of the key would be able to decrypt it. Even in today’s age of computer communications, this would be one of the most foolproof ways of communicating without leaving traces.

Some others speculate that the Number Stations are used by drug smugglers. After all, drug trafficking operations may well be organized enough to use such means.

Many of the Number Stations are likely explained by spy activity. However, some are just too weird to be unravelled quite so easily. Among them are the stations known as UVB-76 and the Backward Music Station.

UVB-76 transmits short, monotonous buzzing sounds around 25 times a minute, and it has been heard constantly, without interruption since at least 1982 – apart from certain occasions, that is. On Christmas Eve in 1997, the tone was interrupted for the first time by a Russian voice reciting names and numbers. A few similar interruptions happened on extremely rare occasions since then, until the activity suddenly picked up in 2010.

As if that wasn’t mysterious enough, it seems the buzzes are coming from something placed near a live microphone – distant conversations and other background noises can often be heard behind the tone. Despite much speculation, the purpose of UVB-76 is unknown.

The Backward Music Station broadcasts unearthly high-pitched schreeching and grinding noises, with occasional distorted voices. These signals appear to have multiple sources, with one possibly being in the US and the other in Europe. Theories include that it may be a highly encrypted message for spies, or possibly just feedback due to faulty equipment. Nevertheless, its purpose remains a mystery.

The Number Station broadcasts recorded by the Conet Project are available freely.

Image by Oroi at the German language Wikipedia

April 24, 2012

Devil's Stomping Ground

Devil's Stomping Ground
According to stories dating back to the 1800s, a spot in the woods near Bennett, North Carolina is where the Devil can rise from the depths of hell and come to earth. There he paces in circles on certain nights, plotting new horrors to unleash upon mankind and bringing evil into our world.

This place, called the Devil’s Stomping Ground, is a barren, circular patch of land about 15 feet across. Supposedly, the spot is hostile to life, as nothing can grow in the circle and animals shy away from it – one visitor’s dog choked itself on its leash trying to get away from the center. Others claim to have witnessed small animals dying on its edge. Furthermore, the state’s Department of Agriculture once analyzed a sample of the soil and determined it to be completely sterile due to a high salt content.

It is said that no one can spend the night inside the Devil’s Stomping Ground. According to the legend, anyone that tries will find themselves and their belongings moved outside the circle come morning. The same applies to items – many locals swear that anything left in the circle overnight is moved by morning.

In 1998, a sceptical journalist named Ethan Feinsilven decided to disprove the stories by pitching his tent in the spot and spending the night there. Indeed, he was able to stay in the circle until morning, but the night was constantly disturbed by ”ghostly”, ”kind of muffled” footsteps, as he described them. He came out of the experience conviced that there was indeed something sinister in the area.

One alternative theory states that the spot’s phenomena are caused vengeful spirits. Native Americans were supposedly massacred and buried there hundreds of years ago, and their spirits now haunt the place, killing everything that lingers on their graves for too long.

Whether the Devil’s Stomping Ground is a mere myth brought to life by people’s imaginations or a genuinely otherworldly place is quite uncertain. If you want to find out for yourself, directions are here.

Image by opus2008

April 16, 2012

The Cursed Devil's Tree

The Devil's Tree in Bernard's Township, New Jersey
Standing in Oak Hammock Park in Bernards Township, New Jersey is an unusual and sinister oak tree, commonly referred to as the Devil’s Tree. According to local legends, unexplainable things happen near it, and many deaths and suicides are said to have occurred under its branches.

Some people have reported feeling an oppressive, evil presence near the tree, hearing screams and seeing dark, hooded figures skulking about. Others claim to have been pursued by a black phantom car that disappears without a trace as you approach a major road.

Damaging or disrespecting the tree in any way is said to have severe consequences. Those who so much as make mocking remarks within hearing range will soon come to harm, possibly by getting into a car accident or by experiencing a major breakdown.

Strangely enough, when the city ordered the tree cut down to make way for a public park, the workers’ chainsaws refused to function near it – but were perfectly fine later. Not about to give up so easily, they brought in an old-fashioned pull saw made of tempered steel. The attempt failed again; the teeth broke right off the saw, and the city had no choice but to leave the tree where it was.

Why is this innocuous oak such a hub for strange happenings? Some people believe the tree is the property of the Devil himself and serves as a gateway to hell. It supposedly remains warm to the touch no matter how cold it is outside, and no snow will fall near it even in the middle of winter.

Others still say that the malevolence around the tree is caused by the lingering pain and despair of all those who have met their untimely ends in its vicinity. During colonial times, rebellious slaves may have been hanged from its branches, and in the Ku Klux Klan’s height of power, the organization supposedly held meetings and lynchings under it. Yet another legend states that a man killed his entire family, then walked to the tree and hanged himself.

Despite the warnings, the Devil’s Tree is scarred by apparently unsuccessful attempts to cut it down with saws and axes, and it has at some point been stained by graffiti. What became of those who vandalized this cursed tree is not known.

Image by chrysostom

April 13, 2012

Yuki Onna - Woman of the Snow

Yuki Onna using her icy breath
Yuki Onna (literally Snow Woman) is a feminine spirit of snow and ice in Japanese folklore. Seen in remote areas at night during snowstorms, she is described as a tall, beautiful woman with long black hair and inhumanly pale, even translucent skin. Some tales depict her as wearing a white kimono, while in others she appears nude.

Yuki Onna floats across the snowy landscape, leaving no footprints. In fact, in some accounts, she doesn’t have feet at all, a common characteristic for Japanese ghosts. She might be the ghost of a woman who froze to death in a snowstorm, or maybe a spirit of the snow itself.

Despite her beauty, Yuki Onna is a deadly entity, ruthlessly killing unsuspecting humans who cross her path. She often appears to travelers lost in snowstorms, breathing a gust of frosty air to turn them into frozen corpses. At other times, she leads them astray to die from exposure. She may even appear holding a child, and when a well-intentioned individual takes it from her, they will instantly be frozen solid. Sometimes she tempts men with sex, only to drain them of life or freeze them to death through a kiss.

Yuki Onna does have a softer side. For example, in one popular legend she lets a young boy, Minokichi, go because of his beauty and age, threatening to kill him if he ever tells anyone about her. A year later, Minokichi marries a beautiful girl named Oyuki and has many children with her over several years. Strangely, she does not seem to age at all.

One night, after the children have gone to bed, Minokichi tells Oyuki of the time he saw the Snow Woman:  "Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her, very much afraid; but she was so white! . . . Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow."

Oyuki suddenly stands up and bows over him, screaming "It was I - I - I! Oyuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it! . . . But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!"

Then she dissolves into white mist and disappears, never to be seen again.

Image by yazukiwolf

April 8, 2012

The Vanishment of Orion Williamson

The Vanishment of Orion Williamson
Orion Williamson was a farmer who lived with his wife and son in his farmhouse in Selma, Alabama. One sunny July afternoon in 1854, he was sitting on his front porch with his family. As neighbors, Armour Wren and his son James, were passing by, Orion stood up to move his grazing horses to the shade. He briefly stopped to pick up a small stick, which he absently swished back and forth as he walked in the ankle-deep grass.

Orion waved to his neighbors, took one step, and vanished into thin air.

Hardly able to believe their eyes, the Williamsons and the Wrens ran to the spot Orion disappeared in and searched for any sign of him. They found none. Most of the grass in the spot was gone too.

After hours of futile searching, Orion’s shocked family and neighbors went for help. A search party of three hundred men was formed, and they carefully and repeatedly combed every inch of the field. Later, bloodhounds joined the search. No sign of Orion materialized, even though the effort continued well into the night.

As news of the inexplicable vanishment spread, more volunteers and a team of geologists arrived. They dug up the field to see if the ground was in any way unstable or unusual. There was only solid rock a few feet below the surface. No holes, crevices or cave-ins, nothing that could explain the event.

Reportedly, Mrs. Williamson and her son could hear Orion’s voice calling for help for weeks afterwards, growing fainter and fainter. Each time they would rush out onto the field, only to find nothing. Gradually, Orion’s voice faded into a mere whisper, then disappeared forever.

After no amount of searching turned up anything, the judge declared Orion dead.

The following spring, it is said, a circle of dead grass appeared to mark the spot of the unlucky farmer’s disappearance.

The German scientist, Maximilian Hern, author of the book Disappearance and Theory Thereof, speculated that Orion walked into a spot of “universal ether”. He believed these places lasted a few seconds and could completely destroy all matter within them. Another scientist theorized a magnetic field had disintegrated Orion’s atomic structure and sent him into another dimension. To me, that sounds even less likely than “goblins did it”.

Years later, a traveling salesman named McHatten rewrote the Williamson disappearance. In his story, Orion’s name became David Lang, the place changed to Gallatin and the date was moved to 1880.

Even though the Lang story is fictional apart from the basic facts, it has been presented as true in newspaper aticles and books by authors who didn’t do their homework. Consequently, it is better known than the real vanishment behind it.

Image by Sam T

April 6, 2012

Dyatlov Incident

Igor Dyatlov, Lyudmila Dublinina and Yuri Yudin.
The Dyatlov Incident is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of modern times. Numerous theories have been proposed by forensics experts and armchair investigators alike, but nobody has been able to put forward a satisfying explanation for what happened in the northern Urals 50 years ago.

On 23 January 1959, a group of ten people, most of them students or graduates of the Ural Polytechic Institute, set out on a skiing expedition to the northern Ural mountains. The eight men and two women arrived by train at the town of Ivdel on January 25 and continued by truck to the far northern settlement of Vizhai. From there the group began a trek through the snowy wilderness between them and their destination, the Otorten mountain.

The route was classed as Category III at that time of the year, which meant the highest level of difficulty. However, all members of the party were experienced in cross-country skiing and mountaineering, especially their leader, Igor Dyatlov. There was nothing unusual in their group undertaking such an expedition. The plan was for the skiers to return to Vizhai by 12 February and send a telegram to the Instutute, confirming their safe arrival.

Everything went as planned until 28 January, when Yuri Yudin suddenly became ill and had to turn back, leaving the other nine to go on without him. That was the last time he saw his friends alive.

The skiers setting up their last camp.
The remaining group continued on through the uninhabited lands of the native Mansi people for the following four days. On 1 February, they began climbing the pass to Otorten after setting up a base in a woody valley near the river Auspia. Most likely they intended to make camp for the night on the other side of the pass. However, worsening weather conditions and decreasing visibility caused them to deviate west, and they eventually pitched their tent on the slopes of the mountain Kholat Syakhl.

It is not clear why they chose this spot when they could have found shelter from the harsh elements in a forest just 1.5 kilometers down the mountain. “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the distance they had covered, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope,” speculated Yudin later.

The last diary entries show that the group was in high spirits. They had even produced their own newspaper, a common Soviet way of bonding.

When the telegram failed to arrive on 12 February, no one was overly worried. After all, a few days’ delay was not unusual on such an expedition. But when there was still no word from the students several days later, concerned relatives raised the alarm. On 20 February, the Institute sent out a search party consisting of teachers and students, followed by the planes and helicopters of the police and the army.

The hikers' damaged tent at Dyatlov's Pass.
Rescuers found the abandoned tent on 26 February. It had been cut open from the inside with slashes large enough for a person to fit through, and the group’s belongings were found inside. A set of footprints belonging to nine or eight people was discovered in the meter-deep snow, leading away from the tent. The prints had been left by people who had been wearing only socks, a single shoe, or who were barefoot. No evidence of struggle or the presence of outsiders was found.

The footprints led 500 meters down the slope toward a nearby forest, where they disappeared. At the edge of the woods, under a large pine tree, searchers found two bodies - Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear - along with the remains of a fire. The branches of the tree were broken up to the height of five meters, suggesting someone had climbed it.

300 meters toward the tent, Dyatlov’s body was found lying on his back, looking in the direction of the camp and clutching a branch. 180 meters further was the body of Rustem Slobodin, and 150 meters from him lay Zina Kolmogorova. All three seemed to have been trying to return to the camp.

A criminal investigation was opened, but authorities failed to find any evidence of foul play. All five were determined to have died of hypothermia, and while Slobodin had a small fracture in his skull, it was not considered fatal.

It was two months later that the remaining four skiers were found.

The bodies of Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel, Ludmila Dubinina, Alexander Zolotaryov and Alexander Kolevatov were found in a ravine 75 meters from the pine tree in the opposite direction from the camp, covered in four meters of snow. Three of them had suffered traumatic deaths - Thibeaux-Brignollel’s skull was crushed and Dubunina and Zolotarev had several broken ribs. Dubunina was also missing her tongue.

Despite the severe injuries, there were no external wounds, and the doctor who examined the bodies said they couldn’t have been caused by another human. Besides, there was no evidence of hand-to-hand struggle. Some of the corpses were wrapped in strips of ripped clothes, apparently taken from the bodies of the first to die.

Initially, the investigators explored the possibility that the Mansi people had killed the skiers in retaliation for trespassing on their lands. Such a thing was not unheard of; in the 1930s, Mansi shamans drowned a female geologist who had climbed a mountain considered forbidden by the tribe. However, the theory fell flat due to a complete lack of evidence. The suggestions that the group might have run into a gang of criminals were also rejected for the same reason.

No explanation for the deaths was ever found. Soviet officials determined that the skiers had died due to an “unknown compelling force”, the investigation was closed and the files were sent to a secret archive. Access to the area was restricted for three years.

The area where the group of nine set up their last camp was officially named Dyatlov’s Pass and the incident became known as the Dyatlov Incident (or the Dyatlov Pass Incident).

For over 30 years, there were no new insights into the incident. The case files were finally declassified in the 1990s. What was found only deepened the mystery.

Tests done on the bodies and the clothes had revealed a high level of radioactivity, as if the group had been in contact with radioactive materials or been in a radioactive area.

Even more strangely, the files contained reports of “bright flying spheres” in the area from multiple eyewitnesses, including the weather service and the military. “I suspected at the time and am almost sure now that these bright flying spheres had a direct connection to the group’s death,” said the chief investigator, Lev Ivanov.

Yury Kuntsevich, who was 12 years old at the time and would later become the head of the Dyatlov Foundation, an organization based in Yekaterinburg attempting to solve the mystery, attended five of the skiers’ funerals. Later he recalled: “I attended the funerals of the first five victims and remember that their faces looked like they had a deep brown tan.”

One of the metal fragments Kuntsevich discovered.
Yuri Yudin believed that his friends had stumbled across a secret military testing site and had either been killed by an experiment gone awry, or been silenced in a cover-up. Kuntsevich agreed. He led an expedition to the area in 2007 and discovered a number of metal fragments, which led him to believe the Soviet military had conducted experiments there at some point. “We can’t say what kind of military technology was tested, but the catastrophe of 1959 was man-made,” he said.

What could have driven nine experienced mountaineers half-dressed to the Siberian winter and the cold death they must have known would await them? It is likely there will never be a definitive answer for what really happened to the group in that remote mountain pass 50 years ago.

There is a Dyatlov Pass movie in the works in which American students return to investigate the incident decades later.