hauntings


Be forewarned: this isn’t about a haunted house, it’s about a haunted person. It’s about a strange thing that happened around the time of my mother’s death which has troubled me in the four years since she passed. I am writing about it mostly because I want to make sense of it. If someone could suggest a rational explanation that isn’t more preposterous than a paranormal one, I would glom onto it like a leech to a fleshy leg, but I suspect there is none.

In the last few years of my mother’s life, a marked coldness dominated her room—much more than the rest of the house. I had to buy her an electric mattress cover so she didn’t sleep so cold at night. The chill was so pervasive it stretched about five feet out of her bedroom door into a small adjoining den. Walking through the den towards her door you would hit a well-demarcated wall of ice. Being a mostly rational human being, I searched for possible sources of the chill, had the heating company check the vents, but none of us could find anything. And to test the existence of this wall of cold, I had my friends walk through the den to see if I was imagining it, but they felt it, too. Even the skeptical one.

The day my mother died, I brought her home for hospice to that bedroom. She arrived at noon and was gone by about eight that night. Two remarkable things happened after she died. First, five to ten minutes after she passed, our cat (who had not gone into her room once the cold stuff started happening) came to the foot of her hospital bed and started rolling around, showing her belly and acting coy as she did when my mother talked baby talk to her. The second thing, which I didn’t notice until the next day, was that the cold had completely disappeared. No wall of ice emanating from her door, the bedroom the same temperature as the rest of the house. And it has never returned in the four years since, even in the coldest parts of winter (which in L.A. is a relative thing, but you catch my drift).

What haunts me is wondering what caused this. I am certain there are no lingering spirits in this house, nothing sinister. I have lived in a genuinely haunted house—and that was sinister and creepy. I can tell the difference. Here, in my current home, there may be the occasional transient spirit—something of a lifelong pattern for me—but nothing sinister-creepy. So, I don’t think there was anything evil in my mother’s bedroom sucking the life/heat out of the place. I sometimes wonder if my mother, who was herself a force of nature, was sucking the energy out of the room in her fierce determination to stay alive.

See, Mom had two incidents of possible near-death experience in her later years. There was the time in her late eighties when she got a severe blood infection and almost died. She told me that one night she woke up in the hospital and three shadowy figures stood in the corner. They didn’t speak aloud, she said, but in her mind. They told her that if she wanted to leave this life at that time she could go, but it was up to her. She told them she wasn’t ready to leave, and they said she could stay but things would get much harder from that point on. She survived, and things did get much harder. Maybe a year after this incident, her shaky kidneys finally failed and she had to start dialysis. A year after that, she had a stroke. We were lucky in that it didn’t affect her mind, nor was she paralyzed in any way, but it severely affected her vision and her sense of balance. Though she was still strong and remarkably flexible for her age, she could no longer stand upright without a walker or she would fall right over. She had to go into rehab for three months and came out of it with her fighting spirit intact.

She confessed to me, though, that her three shadowy figures visited her in the rehab center and offered her the same deal. Again, she refused, and again they said things would get much harder. And they did. Things were okay for a while, but the severe stenosis in her spine made things difficult. “I don’t know how she’s still walking,” said her doctors. “Determination,” I said. But in order to tolerate the severe pain, Mom had to go on opiates.

Thank the gods, she kept her faculties until the last month of her life, but the other thing that haunts me is the memory of her slow, inevitable decline. Yes, I know, the circle of life and all that crap—but it’s very hard to watch up close. In particular, there is my memory of the time the hospital fucked up and took her off her opiates then sent her back to the rehab facility after her being off the drugs for several days. The rehab facility couldn’t legally start the opiates again without a doctor’s authorization but it was evening by the time she got back there and she was going through withdrawals. The doctor on call was not answering his page. I held her in my arms while she writhed in agony for over two hours before the doctor finally responded and the drugs finally took effect. It was the most harrowing night of my life. Even sitting by her bed holding her hand while she died was not as harrowing because she was at peace then.

I tell myself she’s no longer in pain, she’s dancing now in the Summerlands—and I believe she is. But some things are not so easy to move on from. April 7 would have been her 98th birthday. My friends and I—those who were her adopted kids—always celebrate her birthday by going out to a restaurant she would have liked, but this Sunday I had to cancel our plans. I’d been suffering for days from some unspecified belly complaint. The symptoms were real but I can’t help thinking the source was somewhere inside my spirit.

Yes, I know she’s at peace now. She’s not haunting me. I’m haunting myself. I did therapy and grief counseling in the year following her death and that helped but I was still working then and distracted. Now I have time to contemplate things and I have been doing ancestor work lately which has been hawking up a bunch of stuff. This is mainly a good thing, as it’s helping me to process so many things that I pushed down and away. And these things need to be processed for my own soul’s growth. As I’ve often observed, once you entered Faery, there’s no going back. You must go forward to find your way out again. On the other side, things will be better, but in the meantime, I haunt myself. The scales drop from my eyes, one by one, and I feel lighter once I’ve faced things I didn’t want to look at before. Things will get better. Or so I tell myself. It’s easy to be fooled when you’re a mere mortal.

And I still would like to understand the icy cold that came and went. I probably never will—leastways, not completely, not on this side of the veil. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad.

torches

The purpose of this post is mostly to call attention to this fascinating and readable academic article by Katharine Luomala from Pacific Studies, 1983. Ms. Luomala does a thorough—and nonjudgmental—investigation of the widely perceived phenomena of Night Marchers, torch-bearing spirit processions which are still being perceived today in the Hawaiian islands. These processions seem to share similarities with the trooping fairies of Ireland, as well as other marching “beings.” There may also be something of the Wild Hunt in this mythology, as well.

The Night Marchers, however, are distinctly Hawaiian, incorporating in their processions the ritual of taboo, where it was on pain of death that ordinary people looked upon the being of sacred chiefs.

As Ms. Luomala explains:

The most sacred chiefs and chiefesses were carried in litters because their feet would taboo the ground. They seldom went out except at night, thus preventing the disruption of daily labor and the chance of a polluting shadow falling on anything or anybody. A taboo-breaker might be killed or seized for a sacrifice at a high chief’s heiau (place of worship). Sometimes the penalty was extended to the violator’s entire family group.

Even in spiritual form, it is widely believed, if you look upon the Night March, you will die—or be kidnapped and forced to march with them for eternity. Whenever you see a line of torches flickering in the distance and dark, folk of the islands say it is best to run as fast in the opposite direction as you can. If flight isn’t possible, hide—but by all means, do not do any curious peeking from your hiding place or you are doomed. If even hiding is not possible, prostrate yourself on your face on the ground and do not look up until you have heard the sound of marching feet pass you by and disappear in the distance.

Here’s the testimony of a limpet picker from 1970:

Suddenly I heard the sound of a conch shell blowing in the distance. Keoki heard it too. I thought it was the wind. Then a little while later we heard it again. This time it was a little louder. It was spooky because we didn’t see anything. Then we heard it again. We looked toward Ka-wai-hae side and then we saw it. It looked like a procession. At first we saw a line of torches in the distance. The procession was moving along the coastline. The conch shell blew again.

I took out my knife and Keoki got the rifle. We went seaward and laid down on the lava rock. We knew about night marchers from other fishermen. We knew you aren’t supposed to look upon the marchers and to lay on the ground face down. We did this. The marchers passed about fifty yards in front of us on the sand path. As they passed we could hear the sound of a drum pounding beat by beat. We didn’t look up until they were farther down the coast. All we could see now was the line of torches, and all we could hear was the far away sound of the conch shell. We didn’t know if they were going to come back that night, but we didn’t want to stick around and see.

Ms. Luomala recounts many such reports—from native islanders, tourists, European explorers—and places them within the context of Hawaiian belief. Like I said, a fascinating article.

I shouldn’t confess this, but I have a terrible addiction to junk TV. I saw a recent episode of Ghost Asylum, one of the stupider ghost hunter shows on the air. They did an investigation of the abandoned Coco Palms resort, reportedly built over one of the well-known pathways of the Night Marchers of Kaua’i. Many locals believe the resort was cursed from the start and is badly haunted. They won’t go there after dark, and say Night Marches are common on the property. It was destroyed by Hurrican Iniki in 1992 and never rebuilt. Some locals say this was a curse visited on them for the sacrilege of building on sacred land. But…developers are currently planning to tear down the Coco Palms and rebuild a new, grander resort. This would bring much needed jobs to the island, but local sentiment is mixed. It’s not for me to say whether development on a sacred site is a wise plan or just more developer hubris, but the investors have pledged to respect the land. They also brought in a shaman to do a blessing, just in case.

encounter

I have posted elsewhere about the sleep paralysis I experienced while living in an apartment in Venice, California. That was only one of the strange things that went on there, and my ex-roommates and I have often wondered what lay at the base of it all. One of our theories was that a ghost followed my friend, L., home from her mother’s house.

It all started when L’s grandmother Helen died. L’s parents, Jean and Vaughn, went back to Ohio to settle Helen’s estate. They spent a couple of weeks clearing out the house. The night before they returned home, they slept in Helen’s bed. Jean heard the closet door—which she’d firmly closed—squeak open. She said she’d never heard that door squeak before and it scared the hot holy hell out of her. She didn’t get out of bed to investigate because Vaughn was sound asleep and she didn’t want to disturb him, but she didn’t get much sleep after that, either.

As soon as it was daylight, she got out of bed and went to the closet. Looking inside, she noticed that part of the closet wall showed a gap that hadn’t been there before. When she peeked inside the crack, she saw it was a secret compartment with something inside. She pulled the compartment open and found some old letters and, more importantly, the picture of a little girl about ten or eleven. On the back of the picture was written “Velma” with birth and death dates. This girl turned out to be Vaughn’s older sister who had died at about the age shown in the photo and before Vaughn had been born. Helen was so distraught by her daughter’s passing that she wouldn’t let anyone talk about her and for years Vaughn hadn’t even known she’d existed. Jean and Vaughn were glad to find this picture. She said, “I guess Velma didn’t want to get left behind or Helen didn’t want us to forget her.”

So they took the picture back to California, framed it, and put it on a shelf in one of the bookcases they had in a small library alcove in their house. One day when Jean returned home and walked past the alcove, a bird was suddenly there, fluttering frantically about in panic. With great difficulty, Jean directed it across the room and out the sliding glass door. The alcove did have windows, but they weren’t open, and thin louvers even when they were, so it was a great mystery how the bird got in that out of the way alcove, of all places. Then one night they were sitting in the living room, about ten feet from the alcove, and Jean mentioned the bird incident. They heard an enormous thump on the floor and hurried into the library. A heavy book which had been shelved above Velma’s picture had somehow worked it’s way out of the bookcase and landed five or six feet away. The title of that book: The Myths and Superstitions of Great Britain.

There were other incidents regarding books in that alcove, but the coup de grace for L. was the day she visited her parents’ house to feed the cat. L. started thinking about Helen, and all of a sudden the room filled with the scent of Helen’s perfume. She fed the cat and got out the hell out of there real fast.

Eventually, Jean—who had felt closer to Helen than her own mother—got concerned that Helen (or maybe Velma) was earthbound. She hadn’t ever felt afraid of the presence in the house, but she didn’t want anyone to be stuck here. She said to the general cosmos inside her home, “I want you to know, Helen, that we’ll never forget you and we’ll never forget Velma. And it’s okay if you want to move on to wherever you need to go.” There really weren’t any more incidents after that.

But then L. started having weird things happen at her own apartment, and shortly after that we moved in together to yet another apartment. Weird things started happening there: keys or books or knick knacks went missing and wound up in odd places, strange noises and disembodied footsteps, a number of prankish things. We decided it might be Velma who had followed L. from place to place, for no other reason than that the things happening seemed childish in nature. I remember opening a cabinet door wide with the door flush against the wall. I dropped a plastic bottle on the floor, bent to pick it up, and when I raised up, the door had been moved to where my rising head smacked it hard. I yelled, “Velma! That really hurt! It’s not funny!” The pranks stopped after that.

But other, darker weirdness continued.

There was that sleep paralysis syndrome thing. It lasted through my tenancy in that apartment. I had one more incident within weeks after I moved—a farewell performance—and have never been troubled by it since, thank the gods.

None of us rested completely easy in that apartment. We all had troubled dreams and woke in terror. Heard things. Felt things. Saw things out the corners of our eyes and when first waking from sleep. Maybe there was something there.

Or maybe it was the power lines that ran directly over the roof of the apartment giving us EMF hallucinations. Maybe it was mold hidden in the walls poisoning the air we breathed and affecting our minds. Maybe it was psychic contagion—my roommates picking up on my nightmares and having their own—or an atmosphere of shared ghost stories seeping into the unconscious. All possible rational explanations.

But rational explanations are rarely as satisfying as the idea of Something There. That’s the thing about folklore and folktales. They satisfy some deep craving in human beings because they have a depth and resonance that science rarely achieves. After all, they come to us from the deep and dark archetypal chambers of the heart. All science has going for it is the sunlit mind of reason and sanity.

http://folklorelei.livejournal.com/9128.html

 

brownie-sm

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Monge

There’s always one in every crowd. You know, you’ve got a good thing going and that one guy or gal pushes things too far and ruins it for everyone. This is no less true when dealing with fairies.

I was reading R. Macdonald Robertson’s Selected Highland Folktales and he told the story of “The Fairies of Pennygown.” If any of the townsfolk of Pennygown needed help with a task, they brought the work of an evening to a certain nearby sithean, a lovely green fairy hill. By morning, the task would be nicely completed: spinning, weaving, repair, mending, you name it. One villager, though, kept leaving more and more difficult things, pushing it.

One night he left by their hillock a piece of driftwood which he had picked up on the sea-shore, with instructions that it was to be made into a ship’s mast. When the villagers came next morning to collect the property left overnight, they found none of the tasks executed. This last request had angered the fairies so much that they had left their hillock, in disgust, for good.

Any reasonable being would be put out by such oafish behavior, it’s true. But it’s also true that helpful fairies are a tricky lot. They can have goodwill towards humans, but it can also turn on a dime. If they’re insulted, they can get mischievous and mean. Some say poltergeists are fairies who’ve become insulted by a householder and take it out in spite.

They also have sometimes exacting standards of what constitutes insult. Brownies and hobs, for instance, will gladly help out with the housework, usually at night like the Pennygown folk. However, they don’t want to be seen, and don’t want payment, or even expressions of gratitude. They will, though, accept gifts, mostly in the form of food, especially porridge and honey. If a householder starts taking them for granted, openly thanks them, or considers the food “payment”—or if they try to get a glimpse of them—the brownies will forthwith abandon the house, never to be seen again or lend their help.

There are other European versions of such beings: tomte in Scandanavia, domovoi in Slavic countries, Heinzelmännchen in Germany, Haltija in Finland, many others. Some have even made the trip over the Atlantic to the Americas. But in my (admittedly limited) investigation of helpful fairy folk, I’ve only found one non-European example of work-helpful fairies, the koro-pok-guru of the Ainu people of the Northern Japanese islands.

These beings would hunt and fish for the Ainu in exchange for little gifts, leaving the goods overnight. Like the brownies, they hated being seen. Of course, one Ainu loser couldn’t leave well enough alone and blew the gig for everyone. The young man in question waited by the place where the gifts were left, determined to see a koro-pok-guru, and laid hands on the first one to appear. It was a beautiful koro-pok-guru maiden, but she and her people were so angered at this affrontery that they disappeared, never to help the Ainu or be seen again.

Very strong parallels with the European myths, but that isn’t entirely surprising. Ainu are racially distinct from the Japanese. Recent research suggests Okhotsk origins and there is still a small population of Ainu in Russia. They share that pan-European ancestry, so they share those ancient pan-European stories.

But as I said, I haven’t found anything else like it around the world. Good and bad spirits aplenty, but none who will pitch in to do the work for humans in exchange for small gifts. I am far from an expert on this, so if anyone knows of such a tradition in a non-European context, I would love to hear about it.

mansion from the street crop photo mansion from street crop_zpsmb1fonxb.jpg
It doesn’t look creepy from the street, nestled in the hills near the Greek Theatre, with a view of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Ennis House from its backyard, but there is a place here in Los Angeles steeped in madness, murder, and obsession. In truth, there are many places like that in L.A., but this one is especially eerie not just for what happened there but for the long, weird aftermath of what happened: a perfect petri dish for urban legends, ghostly tales, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. It’s known as the Los Feliz Murder Mansion and it’s gotten more than its share of byplay on the internet. Hardly a blogger of uncanny stuff in Los Angeles has been able to resist its siren call. Oh, and the Ennis House? You may remember that from the original Vincent Price version of House on Haunted Hill. It was used for the exterior shots. The movie was released the very same year that the Los Feliz Murder Mansion became infamous.

I suspect most people’s obsession with the place began with this article from 2009 by Bob Pool, writing for the Los Angeles Times. That’s certainly when mine began.

la times pix sm photo latimes pix sm_zpsjiscza0s.jpg
In a nutshell: in the early hours of December 6, 1959, Dr. Harold Perelson, a heart surgeon, bludgeoned his wife to death in her sleep with a balpeen hammer, then tried to do the same to his eighteen-year-old daughter, Judye. His daughter fought him off, screaming, and woke up the two younger children in the house who came running to find out what was going on. Dr. Perelman told them they were having a nightmare and to go back to sleep. They went back to their rooms, but the interlude allowed Judye to escape down the long, winding driveway of the mansion to a neighbor. By the time the police arrived, Dr. Perelson had drunk either poison or acid (reports vary) and killed himself. The two younger children were safe in their rooms.

A horrible tragedy, but one that would probably have faded with time because, unfortunately, this is a scenario that has been encountered in the news many times. But here’s where the obsession kicks in. You see, the house was bought at a probate sale in 1960 by a couple named Emily and Julian Enriquez. It’s said (though I no longer remember where I read this) that the family moved in with their son, Rudy, for a very brief time, and moved back out again suddenly, leaving all the Perelson furniture and possessions behind—and, it’s said, some of their own. Since then, for more than fifty years, the mansion has sat abandoned. The Enriquez family used it over the years to store things, but to this day you can peak into its windows and see covered mid-century modern furniture, 1950s-era newspapers and magazines, Christmas presents, board games, an ancient TV, and other bric-a-brac of life back then.

interior shots photo interior shots_zpsvbda7d0i.jpg
In 1994, Rudy Enriquez inherited the mansion from his mother. He has continued their non-use of the place, steadfastly refusing all offers to buy it. The house itself is now so derelict it’s probably a tear-down, but the real estate it sits upon is some of the priciest and most desirable in Los Angeles. Estimates of its value range up to 2.9 million. But he continues to let it rot, unless forced by the city or the neighbors to do something about the upkeep of the property—at least on the outside. The inside remains a freakish time capsule of murder and abandonment.

Of course, stories abound of the place being haunted and having a weird feel. Even the Times article couldn’t resist a spooky bit at the end, telling the story of a neighbor whose curiosity got the better of her. She briefly pushed open the mansion’s backdoor to snoop, but heard the burglar alarm and beat a hasty retreat. Her hand started to throb and a ugly red vein traveled up her arm. A visit to the ER confirmed that her brief foray into Breaking and Entering had left her with the bite of a black widow spider. Two nights later, the burglar alarm on her own backdoor kept going off, but when she looked, no one was there. “It was like the ghost was following us,” she said.

Rudy Enriquez himself claims, “The only spooky thing there is me. Tell people to say their prayers every morning and evening and they’ll be OK.” Which, I have to say, does nothing to alleviate the spookiness.

Since the publication of the Times article, looky loos have driven the neighbors crazy trespassing on the property and breaking into the mansion. Those same neighbors originally encouraged the article because prostitutes and other unsavory types had started breaking in to crash. That doesn’t happen anymore since the owner put in an alarm system, but the unexpected consequences of the neighborhood stirring up the public’s curiosity and obsession is clearly a case of be careful what you wish for.

If you want to know the depth of obsession out there, visit the Find-a-Death thread on it. But I warn you, if you visit that site and read through the entire thread, be prepared to spend hours.

I also fell into the rabbit hole of obsession about this place right after I read the Times article. When I saw that Dr. Harold Perelson had a medical practice in Inglewood, near to my own home, something deep and strange clicked inside me.

My backbrain insisted this information had personal significance, that I needed to find out where the practice had been located. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the doctor had once had an office in the old Inglewood medical building where my mother’s kidney specialist practiced. The building certainly seemed like it could date back to 1959. Who knew? Maybe his practice had been in the same office the nephrologists now occupied!

I became obsessed with finding out. I scoured the internet for online collections of street maps and phone books. There were many, but nothing online for Inglewood of that time period. I knew I would have to physically go to one of the libraries containing these holdings and look up the information, but my life was so frantic by then with being a full time caregiver and working full time that, well, time was the one thing I didn’t have. I couldn’t even take an afternoon off to go to a library.

I’d let it go for a while, but the obsession still gripped me. Every now and then, I’d revisit the online archives to see if the phone books, et al., had been uploaded, and I’d search out more articles and information on the case, finding the most obscure things to download to my mystery folder. I’d visit Find-a-Death, too, to see what they’d come up with.

Then I stopped being a caregiver through the inevitable way those things happen.

I didn’t immediately think of the Los Feliz Murder Mansion, but a month later while clearing out old files from my computer, I came across the folder where I kept my mystery stories. Los Feliz, being the most obsessional of them all, jumped out at me. Out of idle (okay, not so idle) curiosity I decided to head back to Google. My old “friends” at Find-a-Death (I’m not a member, although I have taken Scott Michaels’ tour) popped up so I visited the site. I went to the most recent page to work my way backward for the “newest” posts about this old mystery. People still post about it, the mansion is still abandoned, still owned by Rudy Enriquez, still a burden to its neighbors, still spooky as hell.

Several pages back from the last entry, a post from November 2014 gave the address of Dr. Perelson’s medical practice. The poster believed it was now a family dental clinic. I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time. It wasn’t the address for the building in which my mother’s doctors practiced. What the heck could my backbrain have been thinking? Clearly, not for the first time, I’d fallen prey to flights of morbid imagination.

But the address—3108 W. Imperial Highway—did have something of a personal connection, after all. You see, I’d driven along portions of Imperial Highway 3-4 (or more) times a week for the last five years. My mother’s dialysis clinic was on Imperial Highway. I didn’t think I was emotionally ready to make that drive again, so I looked up the address on Google street view. The building housing the family dental clinic was gone. That area has seen a vast revival, and a new mall exists where the office once stood. That’s why Google maps showed the address in the middle of an intersection. It doesn’t exist anymore.

But I knew that intersection, knew it well. I sat staring at it in shock a long, long time. Because, you see, I’d driven through it 3-4 (or more) times a week for the last five years. It was located approximately a half block from my mother’s dialysis center.

Click here to see pictures of that intersection.

Is my obsession gone? Once I’d made the personal connection it did fade. But old obsessions are hard to kill and I feel it grabbling for my attention even now. I think sometimes we prefer our mysteries unsolved so we can reside forever in the sweet tantalization of speculation. Certainly, I believe the scores of people doggedly pursuing this story will be disappointed once Rudy dies and the mansion invariably gets sold off and torn down.

But you never know. Maybe new mysteries will spring from its footprints. Ghosts are as hard to get rid of as obsessions and not always banished by the rational expediency of tear-down. For what are ghosts if not the stubborn obsessions of human souls unready and unbelieving in death, unable to give up their unfinished business, playing and replaying their moments of personal nightmare?

UPDATE, 3/31/16:

Rudy has passed away. The Murder Mansion is for sale: http://www.australianetworknews.com/want-to-stay-with-ghosts-murder-house-haunted-by-ghosts-for-sale-in-la/

men-an-tol

In a vaguely Halloween-themed way, I thought I’d share some quotations from my current reading.

Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing by Stephen Pollington

Another passage from Aelfric [Aelfric of Eynsham, c. 955-c.1010, a Christian homilist] includes the following aside:

Witches still travel to where roads meet and to heathen graves with their illusory skill and call out to the devil and he comes to them in the guise of the person who lies buried there, as if he would arise from the dead—but she cannot really make it happen, that the dead man should arise through her wizardry.

Because for Christians, there are no such things as ghosts, see? When a person dies, they either go to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Anything that sticks around in this realm must therefore be an evil spirit, bent on tricking the living into believing things that are not Christian doctrine and thereby condemning their souls.

More on crossroads:

The association of witchcraft with burial at crossroads is interesting for it was traditionally reserved for those whose presence might defile holy ground if buried in a churchyard, such as heathens, witches, and various classes of criminal. Aelfric deplored the practice of certain women who went to crossroads and “drew their children through the earth”, perhaps similar to the Cornish tradition of passing a child through a stone with a suitable hole in it, such as the famous Men-an-Tol alignment on the Penwith peninsular; a kind of re-absorption and rebirth seems to be implied by the practice….

[A. L.] Meaney [in Women, Witchcraft and Magic in Anglo-Saxon England] cites an East Anglian parallel, where a sick child was placed head-down in a hole cut into the ground and covered with the turf, and that of making the child crawl beneath a bramble which is rooted at both ends. Contact with the earth—and so possibly transference of the disease—seems to be the constant factor. Or is this symbolic rebirth, leaving the affliction behind in the putative womb?

To which I would add, “Eeeeyorgh!” Tough to be a sick child back in the day. Truly spooky.

Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power edited by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith

Or perhaps you’d like a Christian spell for protection against headless powers, because—Lord knows—that’s a common experience for all of us [Egyptian papyrus, 5th or 6th century]:

O angels, archangels, who guard the floodgates of heaven, who bring forth the light upon the whole earth: Because I am having a clash with a headless dog, seize him when he comes and release me through the power of the father and the son and the holy spirit, Amen.

AO, Sabaoth.

O mother of god, incorruptible, undefiled, unstained mother of Christ, remember that you have said these things. Again, heal her who wears this, Amen.

As for myself, I’m going to employ the following amulet, one to protect the entrance to a house from vermin [papyrus, 6th (?) century], that invokes Aphrodite, Horus, the Judeo-Christian deity, Yao Sabaoth Adonai, as well as the Christian St. Phocas, covering all the bases. It has nothing to do with ghosts and goggilies, but is personally appealing:

The door, Aphrodite,
Phrodite,
Rodite,
Odite,
Dite,
Ite,
Te,
Te,
E,

Hor Hor Phor Phor, Yao Sabaoth Adonai, I bind you, arte[m]isian scorpion. Free this house of every evil reptile [and] annoyance, at once, at once. St. Phocas is here. Phamenoth 13, third indication.

horse
 

Here’s another ancient oddity, taken from Pausanias (2nd c. AD). In his “travelogue” called Description of Greece (also known as Guide to Greece) he describes a phenomena which occurs at the chariot racing stadia of Olympia, Isthmos, and Nemea. The translation below is public domain, by W. H. S. Jones , 1918. It can be found in its entirety here. Mr. Jones talks about a type of ghost or demon called a Taraxippus. He doesn’t bother translating that, but Peter Levi who did a Penguin Classics edition in 1971, translates that as “horse-scarer,” and it’s been rendered “horse frighteners” in other places (Theoi.com encyclopedia).

[6.20.15] The race-course [at Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippus, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Consequently the charioteers offer sacrifice, and pray that Taraxippus may show himself propitious to them.

[6.20.16] The Greeks differ in their view of Taraxippus. Some hold that it is the tomb of an original inhabitant who was skilled in horsemanship; they call him Olenius, and say that after him was named the Olenian rock in the land of Elis. Others say that Dameon, son of Phlius, who took part in the expedition of Heracles against Augeas and the Eleans, was killed along with his charger by Cteatus the son of Actor, and that man and horse were buried in the same tomb.

[6.20.17] There is also a story that Pelops made here an empty mound in honor of Myrtilus, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound50 Taraxippus (Frightener of horses) because the mares of Oenomaus were frightened by the trick of Myrtilus. Some say that it is Oenomaus himself who harms the racers in the course. I have also heard some attach the blame to Alcathus, the son of Porthaon. Killed by Oenomaus because he wooed Hippodameia, Alcathus, they say, here got his portion of earth; having been unsuccessful on the course, he is a spiteful and hostile deity to chariot-drivers.

[6.20.18] A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon.

[6.20.19] There is another Taraxippus at the Isthmus, namely Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus. They say that he was killed by his horses, when Acastus held his contests in honor of his father. At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in color, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire. But the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses. On one turning-post is a bronze statue of Hippodameia carrying a ribbon, and about to crown Pelops with it for his victory.

What do Howard Hughes and the Gabrielino-Tongva Indians of Southern California have in common? It happens they shared a plot of land on the Westside of Los Angeles, separated by eons of time and circumstance. And they may also have shared a plot or two in the Otherworld.

While doing research on ghost hunting for a novel, I came across a book called Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Los Angeles by Jeff Dwyer. It’s part of a series, each set in a different city, and basically gives a brief overview of ghost hunting techniques and equipment followed by a long list of “haunted” locations.

Imagine my peaked interested when Playa Vista was listed, a stretch of land just down the hill from where I live, and part of the rampant development of the Ballona wetlands which once peacefully coexisted with the undeveloped runway of Hughes Aircraft. Howard Hughes refused to develop this land—the last piece of prime, “under-utilized” property on the desirable Westside of Los Angeles. At his death, the moneymen were wetting themselves in anticipation of the plunder. Because Hughes’s will situation was in chaos at the time of his death, it took many years, many lawsuits, and countersuits to get things squared away. The abandoned Hughes site contained old office buildings and engineering buildings, massive aircraft hangers (including the one where the Spruce Goose was assembled), and a runway. Movie companies were the only ones using this property for a long time, the empty hangers becoming sound stages. Parts of Titanic were filmed there, among other blockbusters. Raleigh Studios still retains these hangers, but the rest of the property has been highly developed.

hangers

Hughes Aircraft/Raleigh Studios hangers.

Enough strange things happened in these buildings that paranormal investigators came to check it out. Reportedly, the abandoned office buildings were especially active. A memorable episode of the paranormal T.V. show, Dead Famous, comes to mind, in which the intrepid investigators had many spooky adventures at the old Hughes complex. (I’m ashamed that I remember this—and so many other stupid-spooky shows—but I am a ghost show addict. I can’t help myself.) An anthropologist who worked on site reported the ghost of a small 1950s era white boy seen by many of the folk on the property. This little ghost even followed her home upon occasion. They also repeatedly saw “something colored bright white moving along just at the corner of their vision… For reasons that she was never quite clear on, she and the other workers came to the conclusion that the white shape seen moving in the lab was another spirit, specifically the ghost of Howard Hughes. As far as she knows, people on the project continue to see it.”

Finally, the lawyers and the moneymen stopped arguing and settled things in the courts. It was decided by the victors that the Hughes property would become a new live-work-play development (mixed residential, business, and entertainment) called Playa Vista. This was a massively controversial project from the start, as many wanted to protect the wetlands and the openness of the area, but the LA Board of Supervisors caved, as they always do when massive amounts of development money are involved. The Playa Vista project was bulldozed through the approval pipeline and the bulldozing of the Hughes property began.

Imagine everyone’s chagrin when the excavations uncovered human remains: what was left of a massive Gabrielino-Tongva Indian village and cemetery that had occupied the site for centuries (some say thousands of years) before Hughes got ahold of it. The developers were required by law to call in archaeologists, and tried to pass it off as a few paltry bones that they flung into a storage shed, treating them with great disrespect. It turned out this was a major archaeological site and around 411 bodies were recovered. The problem, as far as the Gabrielino-Tongva were concerned, is that their tribe is not federally recognized. This means they are not legally entitled to “repatriation”—that stipulation in U.S. Federal Law which requires Native American graves and artifacts to be treated with respect and reburied with tribal ritual after being disturbed. You can read about the whole sordid story in detail here and a more condensed version here.

Eventually, and with many years of pressure from Indian activists, the Playa Vista people agreed to set aside a memorial place where the bones could be shuttled out of the way of the development, out of sight of the rich folk, and reinterred. If this city blog can be believed, this took place on December 11, 2008. (I leave it to you to decide whether this memorial is cheesy.)

01_tongva

The Tongva Memorial

Now, as many a paranormal investigator will tell you, disturbed Indian gravesites are just asking for trouble. Some will say this attitude is racist, “blaming” the Indians for every weird quirk that happens on a property they once occupied. There are others who don’t look upon this as blaming the Indians, but perhaps as a matter of the disturbed dead seeking redress for the genocide visited upon them by Europeans. I probably fall into this latter camp, although it’s possible I am an unwitting racist. I would not be the first middle-class white girl reluctant to confess to that particular sin.

Regardless, Mr. Dwyer (you remember him from way up top at the start of this post?) states that, “Disturbance of these graves may be linked to strange mists that have been seen in the area. Small blue clouds float a foot off the ground and rise to a height of about four or five feet. At times they are stationary but sometime (sic) they move, slowly, against the wind.” Those pesky orbs so beloved of paranormal investigators have also been sighted and “there are reports of electrical and mechanical problems” at the construction site. “It is anticipated that occupants of several new homes and offices in this development will experience paranormal activity…”

I will confess that having lived in this area all my life and passed through that particular stretch of highway more times than I can count, “tooley” fog (aka tule fog) has always been prevalent on that road between the Westchester bluffs and La Ballona Creek (no more than a quarter mile north). This is one of the only places I know of on the Westside of LA where this fog happens and I’ve seen it many times, usually late at night. Although I don’t remember it ever being blue or moving against the wind. Mostly, it just sits like the spirit of malcontent, thick as dread, hugging the ground while ten feet off the earth the air is clear. The Ballona wetlands have always been an eerie place. Back in the day there were no streetlights, and at night that part of Lincoln Boulevard tended to be as dark as the heart of a developer, with nothing but empty fields, scattered and abandoned buildings, and that ground-hugging fog in the right weather. Driving through there late at night by myself really gave me the shivers. Not hard at all to imagine uneasy spirits even before they dug up those graves.

The development has civilized it somewhat, lifted the highway ten or fifteen feet (which was a good thing as it flooded rather badly when we actually had rain), put in streetlights and masses of butt-ugly buildings. The land west of Lincoln Boulevard was set aside as protected wetlands and a bird sanctuary, but Playa Vista continues to screw with the land and undercut the natural habitat of the wetlands. They have to be continuous monitored by environmentalists and activists. Besides all that, they ruined a perfectly good scary place and I will never forgive them for it, but I have to say, strange fogs are not particularly convincing to me as evidence of spirit activity.

ballona

Restored Ballona wetlands with southern range of butt ugly buildings.

butt ugly

Eastern reach of butt ugly buildings on the Hughes property.

Orbs spotted with the naked eye? Maybe. (On digital cameras—no, I don’t think so. Too many rational explanations.) Electrical and mechanical problems? Maybe. Or maybe not. Things flying around a Playa Vista apartment and horrid noises in the night? Now that I’d like to see—if anything like that had been reported. Which, as far as I know, it has not. And maybe that’s all the Playa Vista stories are at this point: resentful people like me who didn’t like to see that rapacious development and would enjoy casting a ray of darkness upon it for spoiling our fun.

But, aesthetic principles aside, I would not be caught dead living in one of those butt ugly buildings. Just in case.

old shoe

Shoes are magic. Many a woman will tell you that they have the power to ensorcell. Imelda Marcos, for instance, seemed to be the victim of a particularly strong shoe enchantment. But aside from the compulsion to buy these items, shoes have a traditional protective magic which seems just as strong.

I first learned of this aspect of shoe folklore when I read The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic by Ralph Merrifield, a wonderful survey of European (mostly British) folk magic and ritual from prehistoric to modern times. Shoes, as it turns out, were the most common protective magic for buildings, from at least the 14th century into the 20th. Generally they are found walled up in structures, sometimes pairs or new but usually an odd shoe and very worn, sometimes in groupings, but often solitary. These hiding places are usually spots where it’s unlikely they would have arrived accidentally: bricked up in chimneys, under well nailed down floorboards, behind pristine plastered or bricked walls and the like. This practice is found all over Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, and the USA—anywhere, I suppose, where the European diaspora happened. There may well be non-European examples of this belief.

It was apparently quite a secretive rite, considered bad luck to talk about. The last known examples of concealed shoes are from the early 20th century, but who knows? Given its secretive nature, the practice could still be going on. We can only speculate and piece together other superstitions to figure out what it may mean. Mr. Merrifield does an excellent job of this:

There are a few known superstitions about old shoes that may be relevant. There was a belief that a shoe thrown after someone setting out on a journey would ensure good luck and a safe return. This is a custom still observed when the bridal pair departs after a wedding…There is a strong association with fertility; we all know the fate of the old woman who lived in a shoe, and there used to be a custom in Lancashire of trying on the shoes of a woman who had just had a baby in order to conceive.

He also makes extensive use of the work of a paper written by June Swann, a pioneer in the study of shoe magic. (Thanks to the Apotropaios website for hosting a copy of this article.)

Concealed shoes might also be a magic device for containing evil spirits, a tradition at least dating back to the story of John Schorn, a 14th century priest in Buckinghamshire, who supposedly conjured the devil into a boot to trap him. This may be why shoes are often found near entryways to houses, so that they could contain evil spirits which might try to get in.

I can’t help wondering, and Mr. Merrifield also speculates about this, if it has something to do with a person’s soul being imprinted on items closely associated with them. Shoes and clothing were enormous expenses for people in centuries past and folks tended to wear things and repair them until they were in shreds, then repurpose parts thereof before actually discarding them. And if something has been worn that long and that extensively, might not a person leave some essence of themselves imprinted on the object? Might that essence bear some protective quality, some ability to guard and protect a building in the owner’s stead, a soul outside the soul?

I’m not sure I’d want to remove one of these shoes if I somehow found one in my walls. If tradition isn’t a strong enough motivator, the possibility of hauntings might give me pause.

There was an episode of Syfy Channel’s Haunted Collector featuring one of these concealed shoes—in this case, an old boot. (Episode 2.6 if this episode list from Wikipedia is correct.) Now, I think all paranormal T.V. shows should be taken with a grain of salt, sometimes an enormous boulder of salt. (And yet, I still watch them, a guilty pleasure.) But I found this episode genuinely fascinating because of my familiarity with the subject. John Zaffis, the curator of a Museum of the Paranormal, investigated a home from the 1800s in Lorain County, Ohio. The current owners reported that when they decided to renovate an old fireplace, they found various objects concealed within it, including an old boot. As soon as these objects were removed, they began experiencing paranormal activity. Zaffis determined that the shoe was the focus of the haunting (I can’t remember how), had it blessed in some way (memory fails me), and removed from the premises to his museum. According to the show, the paranormal activity ceased thereafter.

What’s interesting from a folklore perspective is that Merrified reports a similar haunting via June Swann:

Miss Swann is of the opinion that this is essentially a male superstition connected with the building trade, and understands that it is considered to be unlucky to remove the shoes from the house. There is even a story of an apparent haunting that began when a shoe was sent of the Museum of London for identification, and ceased completely when it was returned.

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe. Please pass the salt.

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