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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


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


Norway's Demon Wall

Atlas Obscura reveals the existence of a strange wall in Norway called The Demon Wall. Read this to understand its history:

The demons are tiny, and legion. Scowling, tongue-flicking devils, no bigger than a thumbnail, and strange animals pile together in a tangle of dog legs and rabbit ears, each smaller than the next. The lines of the painting are so fine that the tiniest figures seem to pull the viewer into an infinite Satanic menagerie.

The story of how the demonveggen, or demon wall, came to be is as strange and disturbing as the mural itself. It’s a tale of scandal, fraud, and possible madness that begins with Gerhard Gotaas, one of Norway’s leading conservators of the mid-20th century. His work preserving and restoring medieval church art was wide-ranging and respected. But in 1940, when he entered a small village church in Sauherad to restore centuries-old artwork, he saw demons. Researchers determined earlier this year that, instead of reviving a 17th-century painting, Gotaas actually spent two years creating a monstrous mural from his own imagination. That revelation is just part of the story, however. Scant and contradictory clues only deepen the mystery of what might have possessed him to create the hellish image.

“We couldn’t believe it. We were shocked by how much he really did,” says Susanne Kaun, a conservator at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (NIKU). Kaun undertook the demon wall investigation with her colleague, art historian Elisabeth Andersen. Through archival research and scientific analysis of the mural itself, the team discovered not only that Gotaas invented the demons, but also that he destroyed all remnants of the original art, painted more than 300 years earlier. “That’s really the most shocking thing, from a conservator point of view,” says Kaun. “He found something there that was old, and he painted over that. He changed what he found. He has to have known what he did.”