Museum of the Paranormal

Archive-of-the-afterlifeAtlasObscura reports the following:

The Archive of the Afterlife in Moundsville, West Virginia bills itself as the “National Museum of the Paranormal.” It’s packed with oddities that are historical, and in some cases, allegedly haunted or cursed. 

You’ll find relics from the former West Virginia State Penitentiary, such as what the museum claims is the the lost execution cap to the electric chair “Old Sparky.” There are also battle-damaged artifacts from European battlefields from World War II.

A majority of the room is filled with supposedly haunted items from residential paranormal cases and collected from here and there. Some say a few of these items seem to be more “charged” than others, such as the Annie portrait, the mutilated effigy doll, and the aforementioned execution cap. 

The rest of the room harbors funerary and mortuary items, which includes two embalming tables, one embalming pump, and two service display caskets. One casket is for adults and the other is for infants. The funerary items are accompanied by an array of funeral home advertising and signage.

The museum is located on the second floor of the Sanford Community Building, which is formally known as the Sanford School or the 3rd Street School. 

Know Before You Go

Seasonal hours (April 1 to November 30): Tuesday to Saturday, 1-6 pm. Off-season hours (December 1 to March 31): Friday to Saturday, 1-6 p.m. $5 per person. It's located on the second floor in room #202. Keep in mind that the museum is geared at not only entertaining its guests, but also having some information for educational purposes. All ages are welcomed, but there may be some content that the guardian(s) may want to be wary of for their little one(s). Added, the museum's personnel stresses that each person enters at their own risk and that they are not responsible for any physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual harm that may be experienced by each individual guest.


Makeshift Subway Shrine to Mercury

Subway-shrine-nyc-untapped-new-york1Mercury, the planet of communication is also one for travelers. Now during the pandemic, a shrine to Mercury has been spotted in Brooklyn in a subway station. Let's hope this helps us get to our destimations safely and on time.

Untapped City reports -

When you are running late and waiting for the subway, you may find yourself praying for it to arrive quickly. Well, it looks like one subway rider has taken their plea for timely service to the next level by creating a cardboard subway shrine. This makeshift ode to the god Mercury was spotted by straphanger Russel Jacobs in the Utica Avenue A/C stop in Brooklyn.

 


Get Yourself a Ghost

GhostmakersLooking to buy a ghost? check out Atlas Obscura's coverage of York, England's Ghostmakers:

 

Messrs Bloodworth, and McArthur, members of the Sorrowful Guild of Master Ghostmakers, opened this shop on York’s famous Shambles street in 2019, with the intention of selling original York Ghosts.

With the city considered one of the most haunted in the world (occasionally nicknamed The City of One Thousand Ghosts), it would make sense that many souvenirs contain phantasmagorical features. The York Ghost designs favor the more playful “bedsheet with two holes” depictions of ghosts. This tongue in cheek seriousness permeates not only the small ghost sculptures, but the entire store. 

The building currently occupied by the York Ghost Merchants dates to 1780, with the ground floor acting as the sales space. Here, around 1,000 ghosts can be found at one time, surrounded by ghostly images hidden in the furniture and plasterwork. There are other fun features around the shop such as a miniature train that is sometimes used to deliver ghosts to their new living companions. The upper floors are where the workshops used to create these spectral beings are located.

The ghosts are small sculptures made of a material considered a trade secret by Bloodworth and McArthur. The material can feature several colors and most of the ghosts sculptures contain psychedelic patterns. There are also special edition creations that have become collector’s items. All York Ghosts feature the makers’ mark of two torches alit, crossed and upside down, a throwback to Victorian symbolism.

Know Before You Go

Per their official website, opening times are Monday — Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. 


Spirit Homes in Thailand

 Hannah Beech writes for the New York Times about Thailand's spirit homes:

IMG_5277In Every Corner of Bangkok, Spirits Need a Home and Maybe a Strawberry Fanta

BANGKOK — These spirits were not wearing face masks. They appeared well fed, untroubled by the hunger pangs that have afflicted some Thais during the lean times of a pandemic.

But despite the spirits being so coddled — or perhaps because of it — the spiritual adviser accompanying them looked nervous.

These spirits, or at least the pair of figurines representing them, were too tubby to fit through the door to their new spirit house at the Baan Pitak condominium in Bangkok.

For the next hour or so, incense and incantations swirled. A gong pierced the steamy air of Bangkok.

Then, holding his breath just a little, Kitsana Phattharasirisap, the spiritual adviser, rose to his tiptoes and nudged the statues through the intricately carved entry to their new abode. Magically, they fit. A diet of prayers had slimmed them down in under 60 minutes, he said.

“If you don’t believe,” Mr. Kitsana said, “then it won’t work.”

Many Thais do believe in such spirits, and Mr. Kitsana, 47, thinks this may help explain why the coronavirus pandemic has so far largely bypassed the country. Thailand, a nation of 70 million people, has recorded only about 3,130 cases of the virus, with 58 deaths, despite having had the first confirmed case outside of China.

“Thai people respect ghosts and spirits,” he said. “Every day we pray and, you will notice, our country has not had many cases of coronavirus. The spirits listen to our prayers.”

In every crowded corner of Bangkok, whether by a tin-roofed shack, a glass-plated skyscraper or a marble-pillared government hall, there are said to be spirits who need placating. A coronavirus lockdown is no excuse.

The spirits also require spirit houses, which look like dollhouses mounted on pedestals. These range from a few pieces of plywood hammered together to create a miniature bungalow to gilded structures with ornate spires that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The figurines, sized to live inside, typically fit easily in the palm of a hand.

Spirit houses are common throughout Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, although the architecture differs by country. While not everyone believes, the practice is widely respected and the houses are an ordinary and integrated part of Bangkok’s cityscape, like church spires in an American town.

All these spirits expect sustenance, like a bunch of bananas, a cooling coconut or a mound of sticky rice. The offerings are usually placed at the front of the spirit houses in the morning by homeowners or building staff members, along with incense and garlands of marigolds and jasmine. Ants or rats may raid in the afternoon.

The spirits are not unreasonable, said Nongrak Puwasawadi, a self-employed spirit communicator, who enters a trance and advises people on the spirits’ druthers. In times of economic crisis, they will scale back their expectations.

“Like now, with the coronavirus, they will be happy with a glass of water for refreshment,” said Ms. Nongrak, 75. “But if it’s a more fortunate time, Kuman Thong would like a remote-controlled car.”

Kuman Thong, a young boy with a topknot and pantaloons, is one of the more popular spirits. Today, he is represented in spirit houses and on family altars by plastic dolls with cherubic features.

In an earlier era, his worship used to involve the preservation of stillborn babies with layers of lacquer. The practice of using fetuses in rituals has been outlawed but has still been seen in recent years.

Like many spirits, Kuman Thong favors certain brands, and he is especially fond of strawberry Fanta, according to Ms. Nongrak.

“Red is a nicer color than the brown of Pepsi,” she said.

In their houses, many spirit figurines come with entourages of servants, dancers and bestiary. There are the elephants and tigers that are native to Thailand, but also zebras. No one seems to know for certain why zebras, although some theorize it has to do with the safety associated with zebra-striped pedestrian crossings.

There are spirits that organize other spirits, and there are spirits that are standoffish. There are spirits that are evil, and it’s worth ensuring that the good spirits are on your side.

Some spirits live in trees, and the mightiest ficus trees are wrapped in multicolored sashes, with incense and sweetmeats placed among the roots.

The cosmology of spirits in Thailand — a Buddhist-majority nation with crosscurrents of Hinduism, Chinese ancestor worship and animism — is vast. Some spirits are family forebears. Others are demigods in the Hindu pantheon. Still others come with the land and stay on the land.

And this shared occupancy is something that developers and homeowners must contend with each time they build on the land.

It was early this year, as construction progressed, when the spirits of the Baan Pitak condominium made their unhappiness known. The former owners of the land — the human ones, that is — had built spirit houses. But they were, frankly, a bit plain. And they faced in the wrong direction.

The construction workers, who were living on-site, began receiving nightly visitations, they said. Two of them got sick and were convinced the spirits were to blame. The workers talked to the forewoman, the forewoman talked to the building manager, and the building manager talked to the landowners.

“I don’t believe in this stuff but my wife does,” said Pitak Nopprapun, who owns the land with his wife. “I listen to my wife.”

The $1,100 ceremony to sanctify the new spirit houses took place on a particularly sticky day in late May. Most everyone was dressed in white, even the spirits, although one spirit overlord figurine was decked out in gold, clutching his usual sword and pouch of money.

The spread laid out for the spirits, to ease their transition from one set of houses to the others, was sumptuous: papayas, bananas, tangerines, pineapples, watermelons, mangoes, coconuts, corn, taro, sweet potatoes, rose apples and, at the center of it all, a pair of pig faces.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

After the ceremony, the pigs’ faces were given to the construction workers to eat, minus a chunk of one ear, which was sliced for an offering.

“I believe in science,” said Nutthikan Bunthanalaksamee, 29, the building manager, who was recording the ceremony with her cellphone. “But I respect people who have their beliefs.”

Mr. Kitsana, the master of ceremonies, is a one-stop spirit shop. In addition to communing with the spirits, he sells spirit real estate. His priciest cement spirit houses cost more than $12,200 in a country where the average yearly income is about $8,000.

“Young people have forgotten about the spirits but maybe with the coronavirus they will slow down and worship more often,” he said.

Their obsession with social media, all that careful tending of virtual spaces, he said, came at the expense of nurturing the spiritual realm.

“If you take care of the spirits,” Mr. Puvisit said, “they will take care of you.”


Find Your Astrological Demon

Hakim Bashara writes in Hyperallergic about a book on Persian Mysticism located in Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. It is an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology from Iran that includes 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels.

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

An early 20-century depiction of a demon from the Persian manuscript Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Images courtesy of Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections; all images are from Princeton Islamic MSS 3rd. Series No. 349)

Demons, genies, and evil spirits permeate ancient occult traditions in Iran and neighboring countries. An early 20th-century Persian manuscript on magic and astrology held at Princeton’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections provides a glimpse into this mystical world with dozens of watercolor illustrations of demonic, otherworldly creatures.

Dated to 1921, Kitāb-i ʻAjāʾib-i makhlūqāt (Wonders of Creation) includes an illustrated manuscript on magic and astrology, a book of spells listing incantation and talismans, and 56 painted illustrations of demons and angels. Several texts accompanying the illustrations in Arabic and Farsi are dated from 1911 to 1921.

A closing line at the end of the book suggests that it is composed of two main texts. It reads, “The book of the ‘Wonders of Creation’ and ‘The Seventy Two Demons’ have been completed.” It is not entirely clear which text is which, but Ali Karjoo-Ravary, an assistant professor at the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, tells Hyperallergic that the illustrated book of demons is most likely the second.

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“This text describes the different demons associated with each zodiac sign and the ailments associated with each and some remedies,” Karjoo-Ravary, who published a blog post about the manuscript in 2017, says.

The zodiac demons are introduced as a series of menacing (although somewhat endearing) beasts, some multi-headed. Each is depicted with cuffs on its clawed or hoofed limbs, suggesting that these creatures had been bound or confined.

Other illustrations show the monstrous demons in action, attempting to inflict harm on humans with inscriptions of spells and incantations in Farsi. These latter drawings, according to Karjoo-Ravary, describe ailments and the demons associated with them, together with instructions on how to exorcise them. For instance, one inscription instructs sorcerers to take a handful of soil from underneath the feet of the possessed person and repeat the following sentence seven times: “God of the heavens and the earth, hurry, hurry, bring back, bring back, bring back the love for virtue.”

By contrast, the manuscript also includes illustrations of winged angels like Michael and Gabriel, who are summoned to expel demons and malign spirits.

The author of the demonology book attributes his knowledge to the court of Biblical King Solomon, who was believed to possess power over demons and spirits. However, the author’s identity remains a mystery. “We don’t know much about this figure other than the fact that he wrote this book, that he had some artistic skill,” Karjoo-Ravary says.

The author signs the book as “Rammālbāshī, the son of Ja’far.” However, “Rammālbāshī” is not a name, but rather a profession derived from the Farsi word rammāl (healer, sorcerer).

“A rammāl was a type of occult expert to whom people would frequently turn in the event that they had problems that couldn’t be solved by normal means, such as sicknesses that appeared incurable,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “They could do many things, primarily divination (which their name alludes to), types of magic, breaking spells, exorcisms, spirit summoning.”

Persian demonology has a long tradition that predates Islam. The Shahnameh (“Book of Kings”), a 50,000 verse epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, is teeming with descriptions of battles between humans, devils, and demons.

Practicing rammāls still exist in Iran, typically performing palm-reading, faith-healing, and exorcism, but they have been outcast to the fringes of society.

“Rammāls are ridiculed by a good chunk of society,” says Karjoo-Ravary. “The official clerical establishment is mostly against them and magic, and even recently conservative critics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [former president of Iran] accused him of associating with rammāls and magicians.”

In his book, The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny, Islamic studies scholar Alireza Doostdar writes that secularizing officials and intellectuals in Iran of the early 20th-century disparaged rammāls as charlatans, and blamed them for Iran’s “backwardness” in comparison to the developed West on superstitious beliefs.

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This negative attitude towards rammāls continued throughout the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Shi‘i clerics found the sorcerers’ use of the Islamic notions of the “world of the unseen” (Gheyb) and of genies (Jinn) as a threat to their spiritual hegemony.

And yet, these occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in neighboring countries, according to Karjoo-Ravary. “Magic, the world of the jinn, demons, and exorcism are still around in most Muslim and other societies, even if they’ve been pushed into the peripheries by polite society.”

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Inscriptions in Farsi include instructions to cast out the demons
Occult practices continue to thrive not just in Iran, but also in other societies