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Native Ghosts and the Supernatural

Dennis Zitogh of The Smithsonian writes about a new book, “Living Ghosts and Mysterious Monsters,” where a Native storyteller shares ancient and contemporary scary stories.

Here is an excerpt of the article.

"Stories of the unknown come in many shapes and forms that tell of unexplainable—sometimes horrible—things. Some are about demons or evil spirits," says writer and storyteller Dan SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca). 

"Others are about inanimate objects, like glowing orbs, apparitions, or even dolls that take on the breath of life. In this book, I have divided the world of American Indian ghosts into five categories: “Ghosts,” “Spirits,” “Witches,” “Monsters,” and “The Supernatural,” to give a clearer, more defined picture of what you may encounter—from an unseen noise to a hideous face to maybe something no one else has ever experienced." 

The supernatural aspects of American Indians are not normally shared with the outside world. Superstition and tribal protocols keep many stories from becoming public domain. Recently, I read a book that picked up where my grandparent’s scary stories left off: of Native tricksters; shape shifters, skin-walkers and entities that thrive in the shadows of darkness. In Living Ghosts and Mysterious Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories (Scholastic Press, 166 pp., $26.99 and $12.99) Dan SaSuWeh Jones (Ponca Nation) writer and storyteller, and Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva) illustrator, weave ancient and contemporary scary stories from tribal groups from Canada, the United States and Mexico. Thirty-two short stories are told in chilling vivid detail and collected from the thriving tradition of telling Native ghost stories. Tribal definitions and their meanings are explained to help give the reader valuable information to preface each story.

Stories of the unknown come in many shapes and forms that tell of unexplainable—sometimes horrible—things.

In a time when the internet, social media and cell phones were not the principal means of communication, Native people looked forward to sharing good stories. Winter was especially chosen as the primary storytelling season as tribal communal groups were not traveling and had to remain inside for long periods during inclement weather.

In the Western Hemisphere trading stories is an integral part of Native culture, a norm that is still carried on by modern Native peoples. At the end of this book, the writer gives credit in detail of how each of his stories was obtained. As a Native writer this consideration made me feel good that these stories were obtained and are being passed on “in a good way.” With this being said … wait until nightfall, pick up the book and prepare to enter the world of Native ghosts and the supernatural.

The Washington Post Digital Access


Occultism in America - May 5 at 1pm - Free Program

YIVO is offering a free lecture on May 5 at 1pm on B. Rivkin  on Occultism in America. You can register here.

“WHAT DOES YOUR DREAM TELL YOU?”: B. RIVKIN AND YIDDISH OCCULTISM IN AMERICA

The writer B. Rivkin (Borukh Avrom Weinrebe, 1883–1945) is known to scholars today as an important anarchist thinker. Less known is that Rivkin was also a firm believer in the occult who attended spiritualist séances and speculated about the possibility of telepathic communication. Over the three decades of his literary career in the United States, Rivkin published hundreds of articles on occult topics, edited a short-lived Yiddish journal devoted to the development of latent inner powers, and published a weekly psychic dream interpretation column in the newspaper Der tog in the early 1940s that analyzed dreams submitted by readers. In this talk, Sam Glauber-Zimra will uncover this forgotten side of Rivkin’s literary career. Utilizing materials preserved in Rivkin’s archive at YIVO, he will trace the significance of the occult for Rivkin and his Yiddish-speaking immigrant readers as they navigated religious change and the crisis of the Holocaust.


About the Speaker

Samuel Glauber-Zimra is a PhD candidate in the Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His dissertation, “Occult Modernities: Hidden Realities in East European Jewish Culture, 1880–1939,” examines the various expressions of modern occultism within the popular culture and religious thought of Eastern European Jewry and its diaspora in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His most recent article, “Writings on Spiritualism from the Archive of R. Eliyahu Mordekhai Halevy Wolkowsky” appears in the journal Kabbalah, and he is the co-editor of Hillel Zeitlin, In the Secret Place of the Soul: Three Essays (Jerusalem: Blima, 2020) [Hebrew]. He is the 2021-2022 recipient of the The Rose and Isidore Drench Memorial Fellowship and the Dora and Mayer Tendler Endowed Fellowship in American Jewish Studies.

 


Pardoning Witches in Scotland

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Scotland is considering pardoning those who perished during the witch hunts in Scotland in the early years. It would be an effort to right a passed wrong.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Advocates are calling on leaders to exonerate the thousands of women and men targeted in witch hunts during the 16th through 18th centuries

Officials have moved one step closer to pardoning the nearly 4,000 people accused of witchcraft in Scotland between the 16th and 18th centuries, reports Paul English for the London Times.

Witch hunts swept across much of Europe between roughly 1450 and 1750. Fear of the devil, social unrest and mass hysteria contributed to the frenzy of accusations and trials, which often arose from local disputes and typically targeted unmarried or widowed women, per the National Galleries of Scotland.

Scotland in particular was a hotbed of supposed “witchcraft” during the early modern era, writes James Hookway for the Wall Street Journal. A 2003 University of Edinburgh report found that at least 3,837 people were accused of witchcraft in the country between 1563 and 1735—the years in which the Scottish Witchcraft Act was passed and repealed, respectively. Around 84 percent of those accused were women, and more than half were over the age of 40. Five large-scale witch hunts took place in Scotland between 1590 and 1662 alone—a much higher rate than in England, according to the British Library.

Speaking with the Times, lawyer Claire Mitchell, who leads Witches of Scotland alongside schoolteacher Zoe Venditozzi, notes that “[p]er capita, during the period between the 16th and 18th century, [Scotland] executed five times as many people as elsewhere in Europe, the vast majority of them women.”

One of Scotland’s first major witch hunts broke out in the coastal town of North Berwick in 1590. As Caroline Davies explains for the Guardian, James VI of Scotland believed that the town’s residents had used witchcraft to summon storms that delayed the ship carrying his Danish bride, Anne. Sixty or so people were accused over several months, including the servant Geillis Duncan.

In 1597, James himself wrote a treatise, Daemonologie, about demons and magic more broadly. He identified several signs of witchcraft, including the presence of a devil’s mark, interpreted loosely as any “marke upon some secreit place of their bodie.” The text amounted to a passionate defense for the punishment and persecution of witches, per the British Library.

James’ treatise became a bestseller. It even inspired playwright William Shakespeare to incorporate details from the North Berwick trials into his play Macbeth, which debuted shortly after the king was crowned James I of England and Ireland in 1603. Colloquially known as the “Scottish play,” Macbeth’s opening acts feature three witches who make prophecies, control the weather and incite powerful storms. As the Royal Shakespeare Company notes, the play was most likely performed for the first time in James’ court in August or December 1606.

The North Berwick trials took place almost a century before the infamous Salem Witch Trials broke out in colonial Massachusetts. The worst mass hysteria event in early American history, the trials resulted in some 150 accusations and 25 deaths.


Haunted Lighthouses


What it Takes to be a Medium in Lily Dale

Ghosts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Durn writes all about Lily Dale for Altas Obscura:

From the outside, this small, rural community in upstate New York looks like many others in the state. Victorian cottages cozy up to one another in various shades of green, white, and yellow. Large red oaks dot sidewalks, stretching their long limbs into a vibrant canopy. But look a bit closer and you’ll start to see the “Medium Open” signs or stumble upon the Healing Temple or the community’s pet cemetery. Welcome to Lily Dale, America’s oldest Spiritualist community.

Lily Dale was founded in 1879 basically as an adult Spiritualism summer camp. People would come, set up tents, and then wait for the dead to arrive. Seances, message services, and classes followed. Back in the late 19th century, Spiritualism was flourishing, with more than a million followers. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, actress Mae West, even Thomas Edison (maybe) all joined in. The basic tenet of the religion is that “life is continuous—in other words, we never die, we just change states of being. As a science, Spiritualism is committed to proving the continuity of life by communicating with spirits who have passed on,” writes Lily Dale medium Janice Dreshman.

What began as that tented summer commune now is a small hamlet, with about 250 permanent and semipermanent residents, many of whom are registered mediums. For about $80 to $100, you can sit down with a Lily Dale medium as he or she relays messages from family members and friends who’ve passed on, at least until your half-hour is up.

All Lily Dale mediums are members of what’s called the Lily Dale Assembly, made up of members from around the world. And while all members are Spiritualists, not all members are mediums. Some members live and work in Lily Dale. Others don’t. All members can vote on Lily Dale building decisions, community matters, and who is elected to the Assembly’s Board of Directors.

The Board doesn’t allow just anyone to waltz in and start giving readings, though. Lily Dale requires all mediums to go through a rigorous testing process to be registered and allowed to set up shop. Today, there are 36 registered mediums at Lily Dale. Some, such as Gretchen Clark, have grown up in the community. Most, though, have bought homes and moved in. Regardless, all the mediums at Lily Dale had to hone their skills and pass numerous tests before they were allowed to charge visitors for readings.

In the early days of Lily Dale in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, becoming a registered medium “was based totally on competency,” says Elaine Thomas, a registered Lily Dale medium for 37 years. If you could talk to dead people, you were in. To become a medium today though, “there’s a lot of volunteerism,” says Dreshman, who’s been a registered medium since 2005. Many of the programs on offer at Lily Dale are only possible because community members donate their time.

Read more here.

Maybe this is the year to try it yourself --The Spiritualists' Handbook: A concise and extensive guide to Spiritualism and all its practices