When it comes to apparitions, spectres and ghosts, the only thing that is predictable is their unpredictability.
While creepy castles and gothic mansions make for suitably moody sets for Hollywood fiction, the truth is that paranormal encounters can happen almost anyplace and anytime. Sometimes it may be a one-time singular occurrence; at other times a ghost may make its presence known almost daily, like clockwork. Similarly, almost any place can be host to a haunting. Obviously, old buildings that have a long and dolorous history are likely candidates, but even a brand new home can be the site of a paranormal event or haunting.
Such was the case one Yuletide in the village of Monkton Heathfield, located outside the town of Taunton in Somerset, England. In was close to Christmas, 1923, when a certain Mr. Gardiner, a construction contractor was bedeviled by a series of unexplained incidents in his brand new home. Monkton is a small but venerable village, named after the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, whose estates the village once resided in.
The trouble began about a week before Christmas, when Gardiner heard a strange noise, quickly followed by a blow to the back of the head. The object which struck him was an orange, which moments before had been in a bowl on a nearby dresser. No one else was present to blame the assault on the contractor, which was peculiar, since oranges don’t have legs to move about with.
Soon other inanimate objects also started to become quite animated. A chair suddenly jumped from the floor onto a table. A watch-box sitting on a table in the kitchen rose into the air and came crashing down with a thud. Then a pair of boots emerged backwards from the cupboard where they were stored and several books flew from the bookshelf where they were lodged and flew across the room. Nor was mid-day supper exempt from such happenings; while seated for the repast Father and son saw their knives move from one end of the table to the other and the pepperbox did the cake-walk in front of them. The climax to these uncanny events occurred when, in front of a room full of witnesses, a lamp arose from the table and gracefully glide onto the kitchen floor.
The frequency and oddity of happenings inside the Gardener household became such that Mr. Gardener and his son were forced to move out of their household just before Christmas. Whatever spirit or entity was active in the new house was left in possession of the home for the holidays. Whether the Gardeners ever were able to reclaim their domicile from the unnamed poltergeist is not recorded.
It was the day after Christmas, which in England is referred to as Boxing Day, when the Acting Vicar of St. Mary’s, a stately old church in the small hamlet of East Rudham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, had a most unusual encounter. It was so singular that the divine saw fit to report it to the local newspaper at the time.
The Rev R. Brock, was serving as Acting Vicar while the regular Vicar of the parish, the Reverend Dr. Astley, was away on a trip to Algeria with his wife. It was about tea-time and the Reverend Brock was relaxing in the vicarage, steeping in the holiday spirit, no doubt, when the housekeeper rushed in, all in a huff.
“Come and see Dr. Astley!” she said.
“See Dr. Astley?” he said.
“Yes, see Dr. Astley!” she replied.
The housekeeper, obviously disturbed, led the acing vicar into the study and bade him look out the window. Reverend Brock scanned the lawn without and saw nothing unusual, at which the housekeeper exclaimed,
“You are looking in the wrong direction! Look there,” pointing over to a wall outside which contained an alcove.
Gazing over in that direction, the acting vicar did indeed see something, although at first the full import of it did not strike him. He saw a “full presentment” of a clergyman with a Cuddesdon collar gleaming white in the gathering gloom. Reverend Brock turned about to look behind, remarking to the housekeeper, “it must be a reflection of myself,” but no sooner had he said so than he realized that that was impossible, since there was no manner in which his image could have been so reflected outside.
The vision from outside the study window was of a clergyman sitting at a table or desk with books before him. The acting vicar also observed that the person sitting there had a gold chain across his waistcoat—exactly how the Reverend Astley was known to wear his watch and chain. The young divine looked through the window several times, but the presentiment (for that’s what he took it to be) did not move. Then he went outside to get a better look at the figure against the wall. As he did so, the housekeeper informed him that that spot was where Reverend Astley was want to reside and read in the summertime. Both the Acting Vicar and the housekeeper knew that the apparition they were witnessing could not possibly be the vicar—since Dr. Astley and his wife had left for Algeria on December 10th and were still there, to the best of anyone’s knowledge.
The mysterious vision finally disappeared, but the mystery of its appearance that Yuletide afternoon only deepened when the parish community learned some time later that the Vicar and his wife died in a railroad accident in Algeria just about the same time as the vision.
These days the hamlet of East Rudham is even smaller than in the late vicar’s day, the railroad line having long since ceased its service to the village. If there is any answer to be found to the singular Vicar’s Presentiment of 1908, perhaps the village elders who hold court daily at the Cat and Fiddle near the village green may provide some solution. It would, at least, provide worthy conversation on a winter’s day. Merry Christmas all ye Christmas spirits!
The venerable village of Calverley sits midway between Leeds and Bradford in England, a quaint and thoroughly unremarkable community, whose main claim to lesser fame is Calverley Hall. The village also boasts an ancient church with adjacent burial ground, graced with equally old yew trees, whose branches cast strange shadows on moonlit nights, and with a forsaken looking wood visible nearby and the Yorkshire Moors not far beyond.
Calverly Hall was at one time the residence of Sir Hugh Calverley, a gentleman of some distinction during the reign of good King James until, that is, his wife and two children were found most horribly murdered. The motive for the murders has long been lost to history; but suspicion of the crime immediately fell on Sir Hugh and he was taken to York, there to extract a confession from him.
Sir Hugh was locked up in York Castle and there the inquisitor sought to force him to admit his crime by pressing him. This manner of interrogation involved putting a board on one’s chest and then applying ever heavier stones on top, until the pain forced an admission of guilt. Sir Hugh never admitted to the crime. Instead he died under interrogation from the pressing.
Over the years since his execution, tales of sighting his ghost had come down to the folk of Calverley, but none had themselves seen his shade about the village in recent times. All thought the spectre of Sir Hugh was long put to rest. Until, that is, one night just before Christmas in 1904.
One Sunday night a man from the town of Horsforth was passing by the Calverley churchyard when he heard weird sounds coming from the direction of the church’s graveyard. Suddenly there was a flash of bright light, soon followed by a floating apparition, almost like a mist but having the distinct form of a man. It floated past the man and did him no harm; yet its mere sight was terrifying to behold. The man was on foot and had nowhere to run and stood frozen with shock. Then, as soon as it had begun, the apparition disappeared.
The next day the Horsforth man related his experience to a friend, who knew something of the lore of Calverley. It was only then that the man learned the tale of the ghost of Sir Hugh Calverley, whose shade could find no peace for the guilt of the crime laid on him.
Was Sir Hugh wandering with the load of his sins keeping him earthbound? Or was he innocent of the horrible crime and seeking some living soul to exonerate him after all those centuries? We may never know. Should you encounter his restless shade on some Yuletide night, perhaps you might inquire of his restless shade–if you dare.
As all no doubt are aware, telling ghost stories at Yuletide is an ancient tradition which we have inherited from England. The fact is that ghosts seem oft to make their presence felt at Christmas.
Some say it is because our thoughts harken back to loved ones no longer with us; others aver that it is because the holiday coincides with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year when the worlds of the living and the dead are closest. Or perhaps it is simply because, like old Uncle Scrooge, we all have had too much mince meat and hot toddies and our senses play tricks on us.
Regardless, ghosts do seem to cluster close around the season—perhaps even more so than at Halloween.
For example the Queen’s residence at Sandringham House in Norfolk, England, has long known to experience poltergeist activity that begins activity from Christmas Eve, as well as other fey encounters. The estate has been occupied since the Elizabethan era, but it was in 1771 that architect Cornish Henley cleared the site to build Sandringham Hall. The hall was modified during the 19th century by Charles Spencer Cowper, a stepson of Lord Palmerston, who added an elaborate porch and conservatory. Today it is the private domain of Queen Elizabeth II and not considered public Crown property, as many royal residences are.
The spectral activity at Sandringham House manifests strongly in the servants quarters and the unseen spirits would seem to have a particular dislike for Christmas cards. The cards are frequently scattered, thrown and generally moved around. In addition, blankets are pulled off of beds and something very creepy breathes down the necks of the maids who serve the royal family.
There are old parts of the mansion, little used, that nobody wishes to go alone in. According to one account, Prince Charles and his valet once went exploring in an old wing of the palatial building in search of old prints. They suddenly both felt very cold and had the feeling that somebody—or something—was following them. Neither saw anything, but the experience was quite unnerving.
The library of the House is regarded as one of the most haunted rooms of the rambling manse. A napping servant was once awakened to the sight of books flying off the shelves. The hands on an old clock in the room often move by themselves as well.
The chamber maids believe that the most frightening spot in the house is the Sergeant Footman’s corridor on the second floor. They are so terrified of this part of the palace that they only clean that area of Sandringham in pairs or groups. According to reports, light switches are turned on and off, footsteps are heard walking down the corridor, and doors are heard opening and closing. They also report hearing a terrifying noise like a wheezing sound that, “resembles a huge, grotesque lung breathing in and out.”
With as long a history as Sandringham House has had, it is believed a number of ghosts haunt the building at Christmas. Members of the royal family died there in the nineteenth century and more recently one of Queen Elizabeth’s loyal retainers, Tony Jarred, the Queen’s favorite steward, died there in the cellar in 1996. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has seen Jarred at Sandringham, although as usual with the Royal Family, no one will speak publicly about it. Nor is Jarred the only ghost Her Majesty has seen in her long life.
The haunting of Sandringham is reported to begin on Christmas Eve and endures for about six to seven weeks, after which the spirits seem to become dormant until the next Yuletide. This year should be especially interesting, since Kate Middleton will be spending her first Christmas at Sandringham House. Bonny Kate has been duly informed about the Christmas ghosts there and also been advised to not make any jokes about ghosts to the Queen, who apparently takes her royal hauntings quite seriously.
While We normally focus on strange doings below the Mason-Dixon Line, this go-round we are casting our net further afield and farther back in time.
As we all know–or should know–St. Nicholas, an orthodox Christian saint, has as his special domain is Yuletide and that in particular he is the patron saint of children.
How exactly did St. Nicholas became the patron of children? This is where the supernatural weirdness enters the tale.
The story goes (and who am I to question Holy Mother Church in matters of faith), that St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, in Lycia–an ancient kingdom in Anatolia (modern Turkey)–had a strong reputation for piety and good works. Like St. Valentine, he was known to give young unmarried girls money for their dowry, so they could get married instead of being sold to a brothel by their father (yes Virginia, times were tough back then and sometimes Daddy’s were not so nice to their girl-chiles). To this day on his feast in the East folk still give bags of chocolate wrapped in gold foil to children to make them look like money.
One day, news came of a terrible crime. Three young children had been murdered and their bodies were found pickled by a fiend named Garum, who bore a strange resemblance to Peter Lorrie in M. Why the killer pickled them is a mite obscure, but the general theory is that he pickled them to prepare their flesh for being turned into meat pies (or the Roman equivalent)—à la Sweeney Todd.
Arriving on the scene of the crime, Old Saint Nick was anything but jolly at what he found. The children were most thoroughly dead—some renditions of his life claim they had already been chopped into cutlets in preparation for cooking. Then Saint Nicholas did something no one expected. He reanimated the dead corpses of the three children and reunited them with their grieving parents.
According to the version told by Anatole France, an angel appeared to Nick and bade him lay his hands on the pickle vat:
The angel said:
“Nicolas, son of God, lay your hands on the salting-tub, and the three children will be resuscitated.”
The blessed Nicolas, filled with horror, pity, zeal, and hope, gave thanks to God, and when the innkeeper reappeared with a jug in either hand, the Saint said to him in a terrible voice:
“Garum, open the salting-tub!”
Whereupon, Garum, overcome by fear, dropped both his jugs and the saintly Bishop Nicolas stretched out his hands, and said:
At these words, the lid of the salting-tub was lifted up, and three young boys emerged.
“Children,” said the Bishop, “give thanks to God, who through me, has raised you from out the salting-tub.”
The murderous innkeeper ran screaming into the dark and stormy night and has not been seen since.
Saint Nicholas also performed other feats of magic/miracles. One time, while traveling at sea a terrible tempest arose and his sailing ship was in danger of sinking. Again Old Nick stretched forth his hands over the waters and the sea was immediately calmed. It is because of these aforementioned good works and miracles that St. Nicholas is not only the patron saint of children, but mariners, virgins and prostitutes. This is why you will see icons of St. Nicholas with a boat in his arms and sometimes with gold balls. The gold balls are a bit enigmatic, but either are analogs to the sack of coins he gives to virgins for their dowries or as rewards to his more shady female devotees for their devotion to him. The gold balls may also relate to him being the patron saint of pawnbrokers, although how he took them under his wing is beyond me.
The notion that St. Nick is always a “jolly old elf” has been promoted mostly by the corporate types using him as a marketing ploy to commercialize a season which should be celebrating the advent of Jesus and the triumph of light over dark. In fact, St. Nicholas had a bit of a temper if you got on his bad side. During one church council, the bishops and other church officials were hotly debating the Arian Heresy, at the time being actively spread by a priest name Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ. Well, the “debate” got so heated that “Jolly Old St. Nick” hauled off and punched Arius, knocking him down on the ground and out for the count. I’m surprised that St. Nicholas isn’t also the patron saint of prize fighters.
Now a person who raises the dead from the grave for any purpose is by definition a necromancer and is necromancy is considered the blackest of the Black Arts. That Jolly Old Saint Nicholas had the power (albeit God-given) to raise the dead speaks volumes about his spiritual (ie magical) abilities. He may well be a merry old soul, but he is also not someone to get on the bad side of.
One hint that there is a darker side to Old Saint Nick is his “helper” the Krampus. You never hear about Krampus in the U.S., but in Austria and Germany they know better. One night on the Jimmy Fallon Show, Christophe Waltz gave American audiences a short education about Krampus. While the “elf on a shelf” is merely a snitch for Santa, Krampus is his enforcer—kind of like what happens if you don’t pay the Mafia loan-shark what you owe him. The best way to describe Krampus is if Bigfoot had sex with the Devil and they had a child together, who took some really bad LSD, Krampus would be the result. This creature is seriously demented.
If Saint Nicholas comes with “praise and presents and wisdom,” Krampus comes with a stick and a bag and if you’re bad you get tossed in the bag and hit with a stick. Actually, that is the least that Santa’s not so jolly helper will do to you.
He is fond of pulling pretty girl’s golden braids and doing God knows what else to them when no one is looking, and there are even some hints that Krampus has cannibal tendencies, like the aforementioned innkeeper.
Although it is not widely mentioned, St. Nicholas the Necromancer is held in great awe among practitioners of Voodoo, where he is identified with the African entity Gran Solé or in the Santeria Cult, Gran Soler. In the Spanish speaking lands of the Caribbean, Gran Soler and San Nicolas del Sol are one and the same. Which brings us to why St. Nicholas is connected to Christmas in the first place. No one actually knows when Jesus was born, but the early Church fathers placed his birthday around the same time as the Winter Solstice–the pagan feast of Sol Invictus, the unconquered Sun. All fall, the days grow shorter and shorter, and the sun is “dying.” But with the Winter Solstice the dying ceases and the sun returns from the “dead.” St. Nicholas the Necromancer is closely tied with this annual miracle of nature.
That Nicholas of the Sun can raise the dead at will connects him closely with the Voodoo cult of the zombie as well. Imagine, if you will, that with St. Nicholas/Gran Solé’s help, at a wave of the hand you could summon an army of reanimated corpses back from the dead to do your will—what kind of power would you wield? Fortunately, that has not come to pass—yet.
So, let us hope you did not trample too many people on Black Friday, or run over too many pedestrians in your haste for a parking space. You better be good, you better be nice and better think twice–and forget about the sugar plums and spice–lest Krampus and St. Nicholas the Necromancer decide to teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.
In recent years, paranormal researchers have begun to take a closer look at the phenomena they call the BVM: the faithful refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Be one a believer or no, many serious researchers into unexplained phenomena are taking seriously the many sightings of this beatific female apparition. Today we take a closer look at one specific report of this Holy Ghost.
The arrival of the Magi—“we three kings from oriental”—who actually magicians or wizards and practitioners of the occult arts, came to pay homage to the birth of Christ, is celebrated in most Christian circles as the Feast of the Epiphany. It is traditionally dated to January 6, and in Merrie Oulde Englande it was called Little Christmas.
According to former custom, this was the actual day when gifts were exchanged, much as the Magi gave Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Epiphany was important because it was the first appearance of the Jewish Messiah to gentiles—the aforesaid non-Jewish sorcerers. Now anyone who wishes to celebrate the holiday properly can send this humble scrivener as much gold and incense for the Epiphany as they wish, although you can just go out and buy one or more of my books and get something in return for your generosity,
The Feast of the Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas according to our reckoning and a fit day to conclude the Twelve Ghosts of Christmas. In Anglo-Saxon England, Yuletide actually continued on through to February, with much wassail and ample quantities of ale; nowadays most of us have to get back to work and save the wassailing for Super Bowl Sunday; the ailing follows closely upon the hangover the next day. But I digress a bit here; for now, let us consider one last Christmastide apparition and then we shall close the book (or bell, book and candle) and hope the spirits rest in peace till next Yuletide.
Back to the BVM. There are many different sorts of apparitions, as we have amply seen. Some appear almost daily, as if they were on a loop of ghostly videotape set on infinite play; others occur just at certain times, as with most Christmas ghosts; but some apparitions appear just once or twice to deliver a message, then never again. Our last apparition is of that latter sort and while little known of in northern climes, it is widely celebrated further south.
In fact, this apparition occurred so far south that it was where folk didn’t speak English, and at the time it occurred, not even much Spanish. The spirit I refer to is Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe—the Virgin of Guadalupe. Today this particular spirit visitation is hailed as the patron saint of Mexico and indeed she is venerated as the patroness of the Americas as a whole.
The odds are, if you have ever been to an authentic Mexican restaurant here in the Northwards, an icon of her has been lurking somewhere on the walls. That she is wildly popular among Mexicans and those among us of Mexican heritage, goes without saying. Those among us who are not of that cultural heritage may be unaware of the unusual story behind this intense devotion. Even if you are not a believer in saints or religious miracles, the story of her apparition—haunting, if you will—is a curious, yet true, one.
It actually occurred not long after the Conquistadors conquered—some say plundered and raped—the native kingdoms of what is now Mexico. The Aztecs were a proud and warlike people, and the truth be told, no better than the Spaniards who defeated them. Among the other tribes and kingdoms of Mexico, the defeat of the Aztecs was greeted as something of a relief—until they began to experience Spanish rule. In the wake of these European conquerors followed missionaries who came seeking neither gold nor glory, but rather came to bestow on the natives Christianity.
One of these converts to Christianity was a lowly campesino named Juan Diego. Born Cuauhtlatoatzin—Talking Eagle—Juan was a member of the Chichimeca tribe and spoke only Nuahatl—the language of the Aztecs and the other tribes of Central Mexico.
This day—the 9th of December, 1531—Juan was trudging from his little village into the city of Tlatelolco (now a neighborhood of Mexico City) to attend mass and take religious instruction. Juan was an eager convert to the new religion of the conquerors, it was true; but the complexities of this new religion were sometimes bewildering and so he and the other peasants like him were trying hard to understand the ins and outs of their new faith. The notion of one god, versus the many they had worshipped, for example, was peculiar enough in itself; that this one god could also be born of a virgin was even more confusing. Nonetheless, Juan trudged the dusty miles to the mission on foot to learn more about his new religion several times a week.
Only ten years before, Mexico City proper had been the pyramided imperial city of Tenochtitlan. It was the grand capitol of the great Aztec Empire, ruled over by a fierce warrior tribe who demanded human sacrifices from all the surrounding tribes. The human hostages given over to the Azteca elite by the surrounding natives were dragged to the tops of their high stepped temples and there they would have their hearts cut out still beating to feed the demanding and fearful Aztec gods; the remainder of their victim’s flesh was used to feed the Azteca warriors themselves. Now the temples had been razed and Spanish-style buildings and churches were being erected to replace them.
As Juan was climbing the hill the natives called Tepeyac, he heard singing on the hill, like the songs of many precious birds. Bewildered, Juan stopped and looked around, thinking perhaps he was dreaming. Then Juan looked towards the top of the hill, in the direction from which the music flowed.
The singing stopped and then he heard a voice calling to him, saying “Beloved Juan, dearest Diego.”
Juan went in the direction of the voice, and as he did so, he suddenly became happy and contented within. When he reached the top of the hill he saw before him a Maiden standing there who beckoned him closer.
She looked to be a native, with dark hair, dark eyes and copper skin like him. The Maiden was young and beautiful to behold; the apparition seemed only about fifteen or sixteen and she wore around her a mantle of blue-green, and though her form seemed human, Juan knew she was no ordinary mortal.
Her clothing was shining like the sun, as if it were sending out waves of light and the stones and the crag on which she stood seemed to be giving out rays of light as well. The Maiden’s radiance was like many brilliant precious stones, as in an exquisite bracelet; the earth all around her seemed to shine with the brilliance of a rainbow in the mist, while emanating from her head came bright rays of light, like the spines of an agave cactus. Juan stood there speechless, entranced by the incredible spectacle.
Then she spoke to the bedazzled campesino in his own Nahuatl tongue: “Know, be sure, my dearest-and-youngest son, that I am the Prefect Ever Virgin Holy Mary, mother of the one great God of Truth who gives us life, the inventor and creator of people, the owner and Lord of the Sky, the owner of the earth. I want very much that they build my sacred little house here.” She then instructed Juan to go to the Spanish archbishop in the city and tell her of her wish that he build a house for her on that very hill.
In due course, Juan, the Indian peasant, went to the great residence of the Prince of the Church, the Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga, only recently arrived in this brave new world, and told him of the appearance of the Blessed Mother and her request.
Although the good bishop did not openly laugh at the native peasant’s bold request, he thought this simple farmer just some deluded Indian, and demanded proof of what he claimed. That, the good bishop thought, would end of the matter.
Returning to the hill of Tepeyac, Juan told the apparition of the Bishop’s request for proof and suggested to the Maiden that perhaps she should have someone of noble blood transmit her instructions to the Prince of the Church, the archbishop.
But with soothing words the Maiden reproved Juan, and again she bade him go to the bishop and tell him her will. This Juan did and was again rebuffed and told to provide proof.
Coming back to the same hill, again he told the Maiden of the bishop’s doubt and demand for proof, a sign that what he said was true. The Maiden told him to return on the morrow and that she would give him that sign.
Juan almost didn’t return, for that evening his Uncle became very very sick; so sick the uncle thought sure his end was near. At his uncle’s request, Juan headed to Tlatelolco to seek a priest to deliver last rites. However, although he tried to avoid the place where the apparition had appeared, on the way Juan again met the Maiden. Ashamed he had tried to avoid her, he explained to her about his dying uncle. Unfazed, she told him to fear not; his uncle was already cured. And on returning home, he found it was so.
Then, on the day of the Winter Solstice, Juan returned to the same place on the hill of Tepeyac, and again the Maiden appeared before him. She now instructed him to go to a certain place on the hill and pick the flowers there. Juan knew that at this time of year no flowers blossomed in the high plateau, in the land where he and his folk dwelt. Yet obedient to the lady’s wishes he went to the place she told him of. There, looking all about him he found a field of fragrant and beautiful flowers in all in full bloom.
Juan Diego picked the flowers, dazzling in their variety and beauty, gathering them up in the folds of his tilma, his homemade agave fiber poncho. He presented them to the Maiden, who gathered them up in her hands; she then put them back again into the tilma and folded it up and strictly enjoined Juan not to open his serape again until he came into the presence of the archbishop, the Spanish grandee.
Only with great difficulty was Juan able to obtain yet another audience with the archbishop. The great Prince of the Church’s servants were loathe to let this lowly Indian back in, thinking His Grace had been harassed by this crazy native more than enough. Still, Juan persisted and after waiting and waiting, he was finally was ushered into the bishop’s presence.
As instructed, Juan opened the tilma to show His Grace the fragrant flowers of the Maiden. On opening his poncho, out fell the flowers, all fragrant and beautiful, as if it were a sunny day in May and not the Winter Solstice. Yet these were not just any flowers but Castilian Roses, flowers which not only did not blossom in December, but which only grew in Spain and only in the province of Castile, from whence the Conqueror of Mexico, Hernan de Cortes himself had come. But even this was not the most remarkable thing the bishop witnessed; for on opening the folds of the tilma, the Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga and his by now bewildered and curious servants saw the very image of the Maiden that had repeatedly appeared to Juan. It was a perfect image, glowing in vivid colors, yet not painted by the hand of man.
This time it was the bishop’s turn to bow, bow before the peasant Juan Diego and his tilma. For although the archbishop was a proud man and of high birth and came from a family of great wealth in Spain, he was at heart also a man of great piety and faith. In the knowledge that he was in the presence of something otherworldly and miraculous, the bishop begged the forgiveness of the Lady of the hill for his cynicism and doubt.
In due course the “little house”—a grand cathedral—was built where she directed. Word of the apparition grew and of the messages the Maiden gave to Juan, until all the natives of Mexico came to venerate the tilma with the image of the Lady and honor her as their protector and patron. And centuries later, when the day at last came for the native folk of Mexico to throw off the yoke of their conqueror, they bore the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe before them to victory. In all things the folk of Mexico hold fast to their faith in The Maiden as their protectress and still believe in the miracle of the roses.
Since then, the usual cynics have tried to disprove or deny the apparition, claiming the image is a fake and merely painted on; yet to this date no one has been able to succeed in proving it is anything but what Juan Diego claimed that Winter Solstice day in 1531.
However, in all the various investigations and close analyses of that icon on that agave fiber poncho which have been conducted over the years, some curious facts have emerged. For one thing, in the pupils of the eyes of Our Lady on the cloth can be seen very small, almost microscopic, images of people; they seem to be images of the bishop and his servants present when the tilma was unfolded by Juan Diego, as reflected in Our Lady’s eye.
Another curious fact, and one only recently discovered, is about the stars that decorate the blue-green gown of the Lady of Guadalupe.
It had always been assumed that the stars were just a random decoration on the gown, in honor of her epithet of “Queen of Heaven.” However, a close analysis of those stars reveals the fact that they are not haphazard, but organized as actual constellations of the sky. Nor is the arrangement of those constellations random either, but in fact they are in the exact pattern they would have been in the sky in 1531, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the day when the tilma was presented to Archbishop Zumárraga.
The only difference is that the constellations are a mirror image of how we would see them from earth. Imagine if her gown were the mantle of heaven; we would be looking up at them from the inside; but an onlooker viewing the tilma is seeing her gown from the outside, from the direction of heaven—hence the reverse pattern of the stars.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beloved icon and the story behind it most unusual; to date, all attempts to discredit it have proved fruitless—not that the professional debunkers haven’t tried. If, as the cynics would have us believe, it is a man-made fabrication, it is of such skill, subtlety and complexity as to boggle the mind. No ordinary mortal, much less an untutored native peasant, could possibly have rendered it. Any attempt to debunk the apparition of Guadalupe must also explain who, how, and why it would have been made.
Not just the faithful, but objective modern paranormal researchers have studied this and similar female apparitions which have been identified with Mary, the mother of Christ. They refer to them collectively as “BVMs” (Blessed Virgin Marys) and have a somewhat different view than the religious faithful. While accepting their reality, and positing them as genuine supernatural phenomena, they have wondered if something else is not also going on with such apparitions beyond what orthodox Christians are willing to comfortably accept.
The celestial symbolism of the robe of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for one thing, seems to point to certain astrological connections. Going back to the Christmas narrative in the Bible and the Feast of the Epiphany, we may note that the Magi in some modern New Testament translations have also been rendered as “astrologers”—presumably a more palatable epithet than magician or sorcerer. Indeed, the appearance of the Nativity Star at the birth of Jesus also implies astrological connections. That Mary is frequently referred to as the “Morning Star” (Venus) in early Christian writings also points to occult celestial connections on the part of the Queen of Heaven. We may note in passing certain celestial alignments have also been pointed out with regard to her Feast of the Annunciation as well.
It is not our purpose here to argue any particular theology or spiritual belief—although Moslems also venerate Mary in addition to many Christians—but rather to simply point out, as Shakespeare so nobly said, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
For anyone wishing to investigate further these celestial connections with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the BVM, one can see for example the Immaculate Immigrant blog and regarding the Feast of the Annunciation (suspiciously close to the Vernal Equinox) see the dsdocnnor wordpress blog about the Pleiades and the BVM.
Many female devotees of the Late Unpleasantness are great admirers of the fictional heroine of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara. Her wilfulness, her ability to manipulate men and her all around bitchiness have made her a role model for generations of GRITS (Girls Raised In The South). Outside of Middle Tennessee, however, there are few who know that there was a real life Southern belle whose actual antics put the fictional Scarlet to shame. Her name was Adelicia Acklen, the Mistress of Belmont Mansion.
Not that Adelicia was at all unpleasant or, shall we say bitchy. Oh no; butter would not melt in her mouth; she was a godly woman and prolific progenetrix. And she was very, very wealthy.
Where once rows of magnolias blossomed, today stands Music Row; other vestiges of Adelicia’s estate have also gone with the wind (or kudzu as the case may be) but the mansion she once resided in, Belmont, remains and–at least at Christmastime–so does she.
Adelicia started off her career as a humble country girl in Sumner County, with several thousands of acres of prime farmland and a few dozen champion show horses to her name. Her father was a simple farmer whose wealth could only be counted by a handful of accountants working night and day. However, wealth begets more wealth, and the young and beautiful Adelicia married a prosperous doctor who amplified her estate and sired several children with her. Poor thing, his health was not so strong as her loins and he died prematurely, leaving her a wealthy widow.
However, beautiful Adelicia did not long remain a widow. She remarried, this time to a far wealthier man, Joseph Acklen, who owned large and profitable plantations on the lower Mississippi, all of which produced bountiful crops of cotton.
In due course, Adelicia bore Joseph a bountiful crop of several more children and he in turn built her the magnificent Italianate mansion of Belmont. Sitting on a long sloping hill, one approached Belmont in the old days as if one were ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods. Downton Abbey would have been a pauper’s hut compared to Belmont in its heyday. All went well, until the War.
In February, 1862, Nashville fell to the invading Yankee hordes and the miles between the Rock City and the Acklen cotton plantations in Louisiana were long indeed; for most of the war the area between the two waas a no man’s land in which the various armies marched and fought.
Not long into the conflict, husband Joseph headed south to look after their financial interests along the Mississippi, lest their family fortune be ruined. Adelicia remained home to look after her growing brood of children and her thoroughbred horses. She was devoted both to her children and her horses.
Then one fateful day came word that her beloved Joseph had died of a fever tending to their cotton (some say it was a carriage accident).
Adelicia sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, saying “What am I to do, what am I to do!” and then it struck her: what about the cotton? Where the hell was it; had it been harvested; was it ready to be shipped—and how?
Adelicia, for all her beauty, was not one to simply fan herself and stand idly by while her family fortune went up in flames. With no further ado, she piled a female cousin and two loyal servants in a carriage and headed into the hundreds of miles of lawless no-mans land, where deserters and robbers and guerillas on both sides would sooner kill you as look at you.
In the end Adelica saved the cotton. Through cajolery and charm, she shipped it abroad and sold it in England for premium prices, emerging even wealthier than before the war—a feat unique among Southern planters. In the postwar Dixie for many years she was the queen of Southern society and her evening parties and Christmas Balls were legendary. Belmont became the epicenter of the postwar South’s high society.
After she died, the aura of Belmont as a grand and elegant place continued on. It became an aristocratic girl’s finishing school, Ward-Belmont, and ultimately a well respected modern academic institution, Belmont University. But over the years, various alumni and staff have had odd encounters within its august halls, things that cannot be explained by natural causes.
No one has actually seen Adelicia roaming the halls; but on more than one occasion, student, faculty and staff have had fey and uncanny experiences in the mansion, especially at Christmastime, that make them believe she is indeed still inhabiting the old manse.
One of the annual Christmas celebrations at Belmont is called “Hanging of the Green” and the students stage an elaborate ritual revolving around a tall winding staircase. Over the years, students involved in the Yuletide ritual have reported feeling a female presence there, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Others hear the rustling of crinoline dresses, when no one is there. Other unexplained encounters also occur with uncanny frequency, especially around Christmas.
So, do Adelicia and other members of her ghostly clan really still inhabit the august halls of Belmont Mansion?
One of the most famous ghosts with a strong connection to Christmas is the “Brown Lady” of England’s Raynham Hall.
The Brown Lady was first seen on Christmas and it is at this time of year she is most often reported by witnesses. The story behind her haunting, however, hardly ranks of one of the merrier Christmas tales.
The lady in question was Dorothy Walpole, sister to the Prime Minister of England in the early 1700’s. She was a child of wealth and privilege and had almost anything she wanted—save the choice of a husband.
In fairness, Walton had a nefarious repute, the great English historian Macaulay described thus: “His mendacity and his effrontery passed into proverbs. Of all the liars of his time he was the most deliberate, the most inventive and the most circumstantial. What shame meant he did not seem to understand.” He was also known to be a lecher and a drunkard of the first order, breaking into a church once to relieve himself on the alter and pulpit.
While Townsend lavished presents on her, his hands were cold to the touch, and though it produced children, it was a loveless marriage.
It was not surprising, then, when Lord Townsend learned that his wife was having an affair with Lord Walton, his revenge was swift and terrible.
Townsend was notorious for his foul temper and rather than face the humiliation of a public divorce, he instead devised a more insidious punishment for his faithless wife. He imprisoned her in her room in Raynham Hall and kept apart from family, children and friends.
Officially, she died of smallpox a few years later, but there is some suspicion that her estranged husband speeded up her demise, putting out her eyes so that she should never set eyes on another man again.
The Brown Lady, so called because of the brown brocade dress she was seen in, was first seen by outsiders in 1835. Two two houseguests, Colonel Loftus and a man named Hawkins claimed that as they were going to bed at the end of a pleasant evening with the current Lord Townsend, they passed a ghostly lady in the hall, all dressed in brown, her face aglow.
What caught their eyes about the Brown Lady, however, was that she had none—just empty black sockets where her eyes should have been.
She continued to be sighted over the years by various folk—including royalty—and finally, in 1936, a curious reporter from Country Life Magazine decided to investigate the story of the Brown Lady for himself.
The reporter, Hubert Provand, had little luck tracking the elusive lady in brown and instead busied himself with taking photos of the interior for his magazine, so commoners could see how the other one percent lived. He had already taken one picture of the grand staircase, when his assistant saw a vapor forming at the top of the stairs, which started moving down the stairs. With his head still stuck under the black camera cloth, his assistant directed him to take another shot, not knowing what he was photographing. When the film was developed, Provand found he had the image of a gossamer-like female figure descending the stairs.
While the professional debunkers have parroted their usual accusation of fakery, all objective investigators of this photo have declared it authentic. If her phantom form is not quite the elegant figure that adorns the painting of Dorothy Walpole in her upstairs bedroom, there is little doubt at Raynham Hall that the Brown Lady was indeed captured on film on Christmas day. And who is to say that they are not right?
“Does anyone know where to love of God goes, when the gales of November come early?” —The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald,
The sad fact is that not only that ship, but many other vessels that ply the northern seas of the Great Lakes have fallen prey to the unpredictable weather that besets the great grey waters. No fate was more sad, nor more tragic, nor its aftermath more eerie, that the doom of the Christmas Tree Ship.
For many years it was a tradition on the northern waters that one or another schooner, or similar sailing craft, would sail north, cut a load of fragrant fresh evergreens and then sail southward to Chicago to eager families awaiting the ship’s arrival to put up a tree in their home. It was a long-standing tradition and the arrival of the Christmas Tree Ship came to be an annual ritual in Chicagoland, and its arrival always marked the beginning of the Christmas season there.
November of 1912 started off no different than any other year. The schooner Rouse Simmons that year made the journey to the northlands, where the crew cut the trees and hauled them onboard, ‘til the deck was stacked high with them. The skipper, Herman Schuenemann, was known locally as “Captain Santa:” a gruff old salt, he had a heart of gold and sold his trees direct to the people on the docks, even giving some free to the needy who had not the money to buy them.
That November was a particularly bountiful harvest. They say some worried deckhands asked the captain if they may have cut too many, to which he is said to have replied, “don’t worry boys, the folks waiting on the Clark Street docks will buy ‘em all!” They say some of the sailors, looking at the red sunset on the horizon, refused to take ship with Captain Santa and stayed behind.
On November 23, 1912 the good ship Rouse Simmons set sail, rounding the Upper Peninsula and making its way south towards Chicago. They were making good time, they say, when foul winter hit. It was one of those gales that Gordon Lightfoot warned about; high winds bearing cold, cold air and more snow and ice than you would expect at that time of the year. The rigging became encased in crystal sheaths and impossible to use, while the sails were torn to shreds by the howling icy winds. Top heavy with trees, the ship was listing to one side when folks along the shores of Lake Michigan caught sight of her.
Folk near Two Rivers, Wisconsin, could see the crew from shore, begging and pleading for help. Though it was worth a man’s life to try, the folks on shore launched a boat to rescue the crew. They caught a glimpse of the ship in the tossing seas, but then it became lost to view. Amidst the fog, the snow and the sleet, they couldn’t find the missing ship and returned to shore, lest they too share its doom.
Weighed down with ice-laden trees on deck, taking water and her sails in tatters, the Rouse Simmons went down off the coast of Wisconsin. But though she disappeared between the waves that year, that was not the last folk on the lakes saw of her. For weeks after the ship went down, the ship and its skipper kept being sighted on the lake, and well into December she was expected to land any day, simply delayed at some port, they thought. What those folk saw on the lake has never been explained, as the Rouse Simmons by that time was on the lake bottom with all her crew.
Like any good Flying Dutchman, however, there are continuing reports of an old three-masted schooner sighted on stormy nights, especially in late November; but the ship over the years has continued to send physical reminders as well.
For years afterwards, pieces of Christmas Trees would wash ashore or come up in fishermen’s nets on Lake Michigan. One time, a message in a bottle washed up ashore, supposedly the last message from Captain Santa. Another time, a local fishing boat hauled up in its nets the wallet of Captain Santa himself. Somehow, the good ship Rouse Simmons just would not go away.
True, divers did eventually find the wreck at the bottom of the lake, but no sign of the crew was found aboard, and reports of a ghostly sailing ship, tossed upon angry inland seas continue to be told. Who knows, perhaps some day, some way, the ghosts of Captain Santa and his crew will finally make it back to port in time for Christmas.
Down in London town, where the richer sort are known to cavort, lie the venerable halls of Hampton Court Palace.
Hampton Court actually started as a grange—or barn—for the Knights of St. John, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitallers. It was this order that, most famously, would give the Holy Roman Emperor a falcon every year–The Maltese Falcon. But that Medieval structure was replaced in Tudor times by Hampton Court, which itself has been added to and rebuilt many times over the centuries. The one constant about the grand building that all agree on is that it is most seriously haunted.
After various and sundry changes, it eventually became the palace of the famous cleric turned politician, Cardinal Wolsey. Cardinal Wolsey gifted the palace to Henry. But the cleric evidently liked the palace so much he continues to hang about, long after his demise. Over the centuries Wolsey has been sighted under one of the archways. His last documented appearance was in 1966 sighting by an audience member attending a show at the palace.
Today, Hampton Court is one of the many notable tourist attractions London has to offer. But when visitors aren’t looking, strange things happen at Hampton.
Especially around Yuletide, security guards at the palace will find doors, which have been closed firmly, strangely open but a short time later.
Finally, one Christmas, the cause of the strange occurrences was discovered. On closed circuit security cameras the heavy palace doors can be seen flying open. It happened one Christmas on three consecutive nights.
At first nothing is seen on screen, but soon the spooky cause appeared. A robed figure, materializing out of nowhere, was seen pulling the doors shut again.
Who the Christmas ghost or ghosts may be is not known; some say it may be Cardinal Wolsey, others Henry VIII himself. Still other former denizens of its haunted halls have been suggested.
Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was arrested in a hallway of the palace on suspicion of adultery.
It is said she broke away from her captors in an attempt to plead with her husband for mercy. But mercy was not to be had from her vindictive and suspicious spouse. Ever since, her arrest and execution, that part of the palace has been called “The Haunted Gallery.”
Visitors will feel a chill or have other odd sensations in the hallway.
On separate occasions women have fainted away on entering the passageway.
On another occasion, two American women became hysterical, escorted out of the hall screaming in terror, claiming to have seen the apparition of a headless woman in a dark gown walking down the Queen’s Gallery towards them.
Other parts of the palace are associated with other phenomena–and other ghosts. The Queen’s Staircase, which has had a number of reports of being haunted, is believed to be the abode of Lady Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife.
At one time a professor of psychology was brought in to try to “debunk” all the sightings, charting all the sightings by location and observer’s beliefs. Yet despite the best attempts of the professional debunkers, no one has yet explained away the presence of the Christmas ghosts in Hampton Court.