Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Halloween. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Real Ghost Stories

This summer I was told a ghoulish story after dark in an old Civil War-era cemetery.  

A group of friends and I had spent the afternoon out in the country in our friend Neal's uncle's pasture in south central Nebraska shooting pistols, shot guns and scope-rifles.  This was a new experience for many of us city folks.  We'd climbed into the back of Neal's pick-up - some of us hanging on in the back - and he took us over hills and ruts and around grazing, jaded cows to the place where he'd set up targets.  We plugged our ears, shot at Diet Coke cans with a scope-rifle, hit clay pigeons with a shot gun and generally had a good time as the sun went down and the full moon showed its face.

Neal told us the pasture we were shooting in was not far from the site of an Indian battlefield.  It turned out to be the prelude to the night's next activity.  He took us over dirt roads and onto a path that meandered down through and behind a corn field.  At the end of this road was the Farmers' Valley Cemetery - complete with the Nebraska marker - tucked away out of sight. 

I took this photo as we left.  It was about 11 or midnight. 

Among the graves were Civil War veterans and their families, some of the first settlers of in that area, children who had died young in skirmishes with the Sioux.  It was the quintessential prairie graveyard, small and understated, rich in history.  We walked around with flashlights, looking for names of the veterans, amazed that the stones were still legible even after 150 years.  Then, as the night breeze picked up and got chilly, Neal told us a chilling tale.

He and his brothers had been staying in a cabin not far from where we were standing one night several years ago when they heard the sound of hammering and incantations. Needless to say, they lay in terror that night.  The next morning, one of the flat stone-slab graves had been broken into and the body removed.  Later on, a group of satanists were arrested in connection to the theft.  Neal told us with a deadly-serious expression that these satanists had planned to smoke the bones.  When we saw the grave, the stone shards were patched, but the evidence of their task remained.  A chill traveled down my spine.  Something rustled far off in the trees,  or perhaps in the corn field.  My spine tingled.  We all shivered. 

It was hard to tell with Neal's expression if he was kidding us, or if he'd invited friends along to scare the living daylights out of us.  We saw no ghouls, living or otherwise, but I know I felt something... some awareness of the past that hadn't been there before.  The dark deeds of others can mark a place in ineffable ways.

I kept thinking about the story of the theft of bones and how the real mysteries of this world are the living ones. 

In August, just weeks after the group of us had been there, an eighteen year old was arrested for vandalizing over 50 tombstones in Farmers' Valley.  He was charged with criminal mischief, and the local community rallied together in September to begin repairing the damage.  A Journal Star article conveys the sense of loss this act created; the cemetery is history, personal history, and it must be guarded and cared for and visited.  I am so glad I saw it when I did.

I've found the Farmers' Valley Cemetery on Rootsweb, which tells the story of Marion Littlefield's death in battle with the Sioux, the arrival of Scottish settlers to the area, and the hard lives that were lived out here.  This little slice of history is just south west of Henderson, Nebraska in Hamilton Co.  Oh, the stories this ground can tell.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 50: el chupacabra (j)

Happy Halloween!  Today's spooky word is...

El chupacabra (noun) is an animal said to exist in parts of Latin America - particularly Puero Rico - where it supposedly attacks animals, especially goats and drains them of blood.  The word literally means "goat sucker" in Spanish. This was the "monster of the week" in the 4th season of The X-Files entitled "El Mundo Gira," and became a dry joke between Mulder and Scully in later episodes.   According to Ye Olde Wiky-paedia, this legend/mystery emerged in 1995 in PR, killing goats and sheep, and has been "seen" in random locations in the US ever since: about the size of a bear with spines along its back.  Some "witnesses" describe it similiarly to an alien in the movie Species.  It's existence (like Bigfoot and his contemporaries) has never been confirmed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 49: fell (j)

Today's Halloweenish word is...

Fell (an adjective) is a semi-archaic word that means fierce, cruel, terrible, sinister and malevolent.  It can also mean sharp or pungent (I'm assuming on terms of odors.)  I first heard this word when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring, only I didn't know it at the time.  The Fellowship attempts to climb the mountains over Moria, and Saruman is thwarting their progress by means of sorcery and chants.  Legolas percieves that something is amiss and says "There is a fell voice on the air."  Only at the time, I thought he said "There is a foul voice on the air," which seems just as appropriate.  I don't think I realized the different until I actually read the book. 

A fell is also a noun meaning a high barren field or moor, such as this one.  This picture was taken in North Yorkshire on Skipton Moor.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 48: bete noire (j)

Today's word is...

A bete noire (noun, meaning "black beast" in French) is a person or thing strongly disliked or feared.  It could be the candidate you don't want for President.  It could be the cat lurking around the corner, ready to pounce (in our house, we call this special kind of bete noire the "furtive beast").  It could be a thing of deeper nightmares. It is anything and everything that could possibly be out to get you, hold you down, giggling as you struggle.  Perhaps in that cornfield with the eyeshine.


Adventures in Logophilia Day 47: necropolis (j)

The word for day 47 is...

A necropolis (noun) is a fancy (possibily euphemistic) word for a cemetery, particularly a large cemetery in an ancient city.  I rather tend to compare the structure of this word to "metropolis" and "cosmopolis"... and "city of the dead" comes to mind.  Creepy because, if you think about it, that is exactly what a cemetery is: a community of dead people.  It makes me want to read The Graveyard Book again. Never has there been a more charming necropolis than in Neil Gaiman's book.

Adventures in Logophilia Day 46: moonset (j)

The word for day 46 is...

Moonset (noun) is the setting of the moon below the horizon.  Indicating that the ghosts, goblins and vampires have gone to bed. 

This word has particular poetry to it - a realization that it's not just the sun that rises and sets.  In the Doctor Who episode "Smith and Jones", the Doctor and Martha team up when the hospital they're in is transported inexplicably to the moon.  At one point the Doctor marvels; they are standing in the "earth light."  How beautiful a simple change of perspective can be.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 45: eyeshine (j)

Today's word is...

Eyeshine (noun) is the reflection of light from the inner surface of the eye through the pupil, giving the eye a luminous appearance, especially in cats.  This is an affect of something called the tapetum lucidum (meaning "bright tapestry" in the Latin), which is a layer of tissue found directly behind or sometimes within the retina.  Humans do not have eyeshine.  But wouldn't it be super creepy if they did?  So here's your warning - if when out in this most haunted of seasons trick-or-treating or wandering a cornfield and you happen to spot a human with glowing eyes... it's probably not human.  Run! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 44: golem (j)

Today's sort of creepy word is...

A golem is an element of Jewish folklore in which a clay figure is brought to life by magic.  According to Ye Olde Wiky-paedia, the first reference for a golem comes from Psalm 139:16 "my unshaped form."  Golems have been formed supposedly for defense or menial tasks, a creature made of mud with holy words etched into its forehead or around its neck, which once taken away will reduce the creature to dust.  I came across this term in two places: Sherlock and The X-Files.  In "Kaddish" an episode in the fourth season of The X-Files, Mulder and Scully investigate mysterious happenings in a Hasidic community, murders that can only be attributed to the golem-esque reincarnation of a dead man.    In the first series of Sherlock, "The Great Game" a serial killer - a giant of a man with laptodactylic features and superhuman strength - referred to as a "golem" is a component of Moriarty's web of crime.  Great name for a villain, huh?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 41: will-o'-the-wisp (j)

Today's word with a sort-of-All-Hallows tilt is...


Will-o'-the-wisp (noun) is a phosphorescent light that appears in the night over marshes and is thought to be due to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.  In other words, a ghostly light in a swamp.  Another name for it is ignis fatuus.  More metaphorically speaking, will-o'-the-wisp can refer to a goal or a person difficult to reach or catch.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, this is a 17th century word originally known as "will with the wisp", the wisp being a lighted torch.  This always puts to mind Tolkein's Dead Marshes from The Two Towers, as Frodo and Sam follow Gollum through the ghostly lights passed dead things in the water.  Freakiest passage ever.  Freakiest movie scene as well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 40: harpy (jillian)

Today's word is...


A harpy (noun) is a predatory monster from Greek mythology, which has a woman's head and a vulture's body.  A contemporary harpy would be a predatory person or a leech, and also a shrewish woman.  Not your average insult, eh?  More effective, too.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 38: chimera (jillian)

Today's word is...



A chimera (noun and sometimes capitalized) is a fire-breathing she-monster from Greek mythology with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail.  Chimera has come to describe any imaginary hybrid monster.  Chimera is also one of my favorite metaphors describing a illusion, vision or an unfathomable, soul-shaking nightmare.  In biology and genetics, the term refers to an individual made of unmatching genetic material; in theory what might happen if an embryo sometime in the early stages of division absorbs another "sibling" embryo. One also thinks of chimeras in regards to conjoined human twins or a cat born with two heads - phenomena stranger than fiction.  If that's not an image for Halloween, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 37: Lycanthropia (jillian)

Today's word is...


Lycanthropia (an archaic noun) refers to "a variety of melancholy in which the person believes himself to be changed into a wolf." (From Jeffrey Kacirk's Forgotten English) Therefore a lycanthrope is a werewolf - not someone who likes lichens.  That would be "lichenthrope."  According to Oxford Dictionaries lycanthrope is a 17th century term.  So... not medieval but a decidedly early modern paranoia.  It makes me wonder how the werewolf myth began in the first place.

As it is so close to Halloween, I should have put this word into spooky calligraphy, but alas, I ran out of time this morning. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories That Still Haunt Me (Jillian)

Walking by my favorite local used-and-rare-books shop this week, I noticed a chillingly familiar title on display in the window. Timely, as All Hallows fast approacheth, the book is Scary Stories To Read In The Dark, one of three in a series by Alvin Schwartz, that I devoured as a fourth grader. These stories were read aloud in class around Halloween , and then my curiosity lead me to read them all. Though why, I can't hardly tell you... except that mine was the generation of Bonechillers (also gave me nightmares), Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. Scary Stories was by far the most frightening. And yet I did read them. And remember them. And can't forget them. Yes, I am haunted.

Among my chilling recollections of these stories are a creeping thing that rises out of the local graveyard (visible only by its glowing green eyes) to devour other bodies and attack a girl in the town, a man who eats his neighbor's liver, a ghost family, baby spiders emerging en masse from a girl's face, dead people in a church...

I'm pretty sure I had nightmares about these stories, especially the thing-with-the-green-eyes story because I lived two blocks away from a cemetery, and could see it from my bedroom window. What amazes me, especially looking on the particularly grotesque artwork (see above... althought believe me, the original image I included here was worse), is that I kept reading them. And that years later, I would get a chill down my spine when I catch a glimpse of those books in a shop window.

The power of scary words is long-lasting - it lies dormant until something awakens it, that fear of the unknown, or what should never be... or a current obsession with the X-Files. Whatever it is, I am easily ensnared by the power of words. I am the cat Curiosity didn't kill but definitely did tease.

I won't be reliving the horror of the Scary Stories, anytime soon, mind - though I wonder if they are actually as malign as I remember. I'm not willing to resurrect the bad dreams of yesteryear. Instead, I will listen to my Autumn Playlist, write about an English autumn, and become Dana Scully for one night of mayhem.


I heard JS Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D Minor this afternoon (the Stokowski arrangement for full orchestra), and had chills. It is such a masterpiece. It is odd how it's opening notes, duh-uh-uh-DUH-uh-nuh-nuh-uhhh, have become synonymous with Halloween, haunted houses, and a vampire playing an organ. The entirety of the piece is so transcendent and hardly sepulchral.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Halloween Read - A Day Late (Michelle)

Last night, in honor of the occasion of All Hallow's Eve, I read Christina Rossetti's poem "The Goblin Market" for the first time, and I found it great fun. It draws on the tradition of fairies as dangerous, otherworldly creatures found in Sir Orfeo, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Little Big, Stardust, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Also, I think it's quoted in the Doctor Who episode "Midnight," to great creepy effect, so that's fun too. It has a nice eerie rhythm to it.

It only took about 20 minutes to read, and it was worth the time. Good old Victoriana. You can find a full text here at the wondrous, wondrous Gutenberg collection of public-domain works.

'We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?'

Sorry my posts are all a bit goblinny these days - the fairy tale reading kick has reasserted itself!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October: Images (Jillian)

I am reliving October to the fullest. I went walking at 6:30 tonight, which means I didn't not get back until 7:45. Just a typical walk, a little strip of peace inside our town I always enjoy. But tonight felt like October to me. I didn't return until dark was pretty much settled… which added to my autumn bliss. I was gone a little over an hour, but it felt timeless.

I have always loved this month - and not simply because my birthday is smack in the middle or because of Halloween, although the two do play a role in my enjoyment of the season. It is the time of transition that amazes me every time - the feeling of being precisely between summer and winter, and having the best of both. The mosquitoes are dying. The air is turning brisk, the leaves are turning colors, but a freeze has not killed off the growing plants… nor is it quite cold enough for a coat. The heavy humidity of summer is lifting. I can feel the days growing shorter… in a cozy sort of way.

As a writer, there are so many things that spark my imagination this time of year. So much beauty in the leaves, and the smell of them as they drop… the only dying thing that actually smells nice. The goldenness of the light. Sweaters and scarves. Candlelight - not in a pyromania sense but in a light-in-the-darkness sense. Cider. Chocolate and marzipan in the forefront of my memory from an Oxford October two years ago. Bonfires and secret identities. Really pretty gourds and squashes. The image pool runneth over.

Halloween is a tiny fraction of it. As a child, I appreciated it for the make-believe aspects - the idea that I literally transformed into a witch, or a nurse, or a dead Spanish dancer, or a fairy, or Luke Skywalker, or a summer nymph. The haunted-house monsters running with chainsaws, the display of severed body-parts and the ode to serial killers - the dark hints of the rotting, and the evil, and the macabre only scared me. Pumpkins in the night did not conjure images of Sleepy Hollow visits from the Headless Horseman - but faces smiling out into the dark. Glowing. It took me to other worlds… imagining that I truly was a new person riding into the unknown in the darkness. Candy seemed to be small consolation for it coming to an end, when the grease paint washed off and the fantasy drifted to November's calmness.

The fact that it is so historically rich grabs me nowadays. Neo-pagans may dance and conjure up a ritual to commemorate the passing of ancient Celtic Samhain… which involved human sacrifice, go fig. But I think back to the medieval fears of fairies and witches… the actual shaking belief that the dead did return. Halloween is a way to step back in their shoes, hear their stories and feel the chill come on after harvest. In a way, we are taken time-traveling this month, not to digress… but to open the possibilities… even if we get scared along the way.


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