Although I wrote about the ghosts of “The Seven Hills” in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, due to technical issues I wasn’t able to illustrate it the way I would have wished, which is one of the reasons why this blog exists–to update and supplement the true ghost tales I have already related to you.
For those not native to Nashville, Tennessee, “The Seven Hills” does not refer to specific hills in the city (there are far more than seven) but to a cluster of suburban neighborhoods southwest of downtown which share similar names: Green Hills, Forest Hills, Hillsboro Village, etc. Although to the casual visitor they all seem pleasant affluent areas (they are) they also hide darker secrets as well: all possess their fair share of ghosts.
Most popular of the neighborhoods by far is Green Hills, and in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee I detail several hauntings there. One of the most interesting is at that mecca of Nashville fashionistas, Green Hills Mall. The mall has had repeated reports of hauntings. Other reports of hauntings in Green Hills come from the homes in the area as well.
Apparently some time back a shoe clerk at The Mall reported seeing an apparition wearing a tricorner hat on a number of occasions. It is thought that this spirit may have been a victim of an Indian attack during the frontier era, when raids and scalpings were commonplace in Nashville.
However, in these neighborhoods an even more common cause of the many reports of haunted homes is the fact that this part of Nashville is where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Battle of Nashville took place. In December of 1864, Green Hills and adjacent Forest Hills saw horrific bloodshed before the Confederate Army was finally defeated. The dead and dying lay everywhere after the battle.
While these days on cable television, ghost hunters claim able to not only identify who is haunting what house, but also what they had for breakfast the day they died, the reality is that most hauntings cannot really be pinned to any known person. Residents or owners will report uncanny happenings, mysterious sounds or, more rarely, actually seeing a visual presence. In truth, however, identifying the ghost as a particular individual is mostly speculation. The fact that right after the battle, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead Confederate were hastily thrown into mass graves in The Hills and never properly buried, is the most probable source of most of these continuing poltergeist activities. As in the movie “Poltergeist,” these subdivisions were often built over the mass graves of the dead without the graves being relocated.
One exception to the above rule of thumb, however, is Belmont Mansion. This grand old dame of antebellum architecture stands on a tall hill overlooking Hillsboro Village, a popular destination for both the college crowd and music industry executives. Today Belmont is the campus of a prestigious Christian school, Belmont University. During the Battle of Nashville it was headquarters for the Union Army’s Fourth Corps and the battle lines lay only a few blocks away. While it is thought several ghosts haunt Belmont Mansion, the one most commonly associated with it is Adelicia Acklen, a Southern belle possessed of beauty, brains and lots and lots of money. Despite all that, she suffered the loss of several of her children in the house and it is believed that that is why she still resides there.
Like Nashville, Memphis, Tennessee is famous for its music; while Nashville is renowned as the home of Country music, Memphis lays claim to being the home of the Blues and Rock ‘n Roll. While other places in Dixie have hoppin’ music scenes equally vibrant, it seems that Memphis has a long and venerable history on that score. So it should come as no surprise that along with its musical heritage come more than a few ghosts and haunts.
If there is one place in Memphis which epitomizes this dual heritage it is an old brick building which houses the “Best Dive in Memphis”—some claim its the best dive in the United States: a place called Ernestine and Hazel’s. Now you may not think being a dive is any claim to fame, but the regulars at E&H—living and deceased—would give you an argument on that score.
Built sometime before the end of World War I, the old two story brick building has had many previous lives before becoming a dive bar. It was originally a pharmacy; in fact some of the pharmacy drawers where old time drugs were kept are still intact behind the bar. According to some, this old drug store was where St. Joseph’s Aspirin for children was invented. Later on it became a dry goods store; then a seedy hotel/brothel, then finally a Blues night club.
After World War II, there grew up what was called “the Chitlin’ Circuit.” Because of segregation, black folks couldn’t go to white night clubs, so they frequented a series of black clubs where one could hear “race” music: the Blues. Ernestine and Hazel’s became one of the most famous of these night clubs and in its heyday one could listen to all the legendary bluesmen; by all accounts, this is also where Rock ‘n Roll was born. Upstairs from the club male patrons could also enjoy less reputable entertainment as well.
Although the night club closed as integration took hold in the 1960’s and both races could mingle and enjoy “race” music together, in recent years Ernestine and Hazel’s was reopened and has undergone a revival. In its heyday legends like Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf and others all visited its haunted hallowed halls and played or stayed there. So today, the spirit of the Blues is alive and well and rockin’ on in the same place. But the new owners and patrons of the old dive have found that some of the place’s long dead patrons have decided to hang around way past closing time.
For one thing, the old time juke box seems to have the uncanny ability to read people’s mental states and play the appropriate song. Although the songs are supposed to play in random order, more than one patron has found it playing a tune eerily in keeping with what their own thoughts are. Coincidence? Perhaps, but that’s not the only eerie thing that goes on there.
Male and female apparitions have been seen in the bar and on the stairs leading up to the old cat-house; one of the phantoms’ face has even been caught on film. The bar has also become a favorite haunt of ghost-hunters because the place is so psychically active and more than a few evp’s—ghost recordings—have been captured, although none of them were singing the Blues at the time.
There are various theories as to who haunts the old pharmacy turned flop house, turned night club, turned cat house and now legendary dive bar. But for the curious, perhaps a visit to the old haunts of the legendary bluesmen would be the best way to see for yourself whether Ernestine and Hazel’s is indeed as haunted as they say; and while you’re there, enjoy a “soul burger.”
For more on the haunted history of the legendary dive, read Chapter 25 of Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee; and if your radio starts playing an old Blues song for no apparent reason as your read—well, you were warned.
First off, let me reassure folks who go to Rugby: despite the title of this essay, there are no ghouls in Rugby, Tennessee, none. No flesh-eating beings of any sort–at least not any I know of–reside there.
That out of the way, let me assure all those in search of a paranormal encounter, there is a gaggle of ghosts that inhabit the place, more per square mile than any town I know of. So, while I can’t guarantee a ghostly good time, your chances are better here than anywhere.
As I chronicle in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, this quaint rural village has been called “The Most Haunted Town in America.” It may, in fact, be the most haunted town in the world, although proving either assertion would be difficult, since the census bureau does not keep record of such things.
Rugby,Tennessee, is located high in the Cumberland Mountains, a wild and scenic area that while by no means backward, has not been subject to the massive influx of commercialism and corporate tourist development that the equally scenic Smoky Mountains have.
The Cumberlands are located between Nashville and Knoxville: to go from one to the ‘tuther, one passes through this area; travelers rarely stay there for their vacation, however, and mostly just pause in the region long enough for a lunch or brunch at one of the many restaurants and rest stops just off the interstate. This is a pity, since they are missing quite a lot; untrammeled wilderness, scenic heights, clean air and not a few frights and sights at Rugby.
To give an idea of the difference between the two mountain regions of Tennessee, in the summer when one goes fishing in a beautiful mountain stream in the Smokies, one is generally doing so with dozens of other fishermen, all elbow to elbow enjoying the same stream. When you go fly fishing in the Cumberlands, you can cast your reel without worrying about snagging another anglers fishing hat in the process. In all likelihood, the only being within sight of you also fishing is the occasional black or brown bear–or maybe the rare Bigfoot (otherwise known as the Tennessee Stink Ape).
So while Rugby is not hard to get to, being about an hour and spare change from downtown Nashville and a similar distance from Knoxville, it is not a heavily traveled spot, which suits the ghosts just fine.
To recap from my chapter on the town, Rugby was founded by Thomas Hughes, the novelist famous for Tom Brown’s School Days. Hughes, who actually attended the English “public school” (in the US we call them private schools) named Rugby, was a high minded sort and his intent was to found a town to provide a haven and gainful employment for the younger sons of titled English nobility. In Victorian England, the family wealth and title of an aristocratic family went to the eldest brother, leaving his siblings dependent on handouts from the family patriarch; on the other hand they were prohibited by strict English social custom from seeking gainful employment on their own. So, with little to do except mooch off their eldest brother, these younger sons often whiled away their days drinking, gambling and whoring and hoping big brother would kick the bucket some time soon.
Hughes thought to provide in America a place where they could learn a trade and be productive members of society, so he funded the construction of this little Victorian English village in the Southern highlands. Unfortunately, while the village of Rugby perfectly served Hughes’ purpose, it turned out that the younger sons of English nobility actually preferred to drink, gamble and go wenching instead of soiling their soft hands with any sort of gainful employment. What this late nineteenth century social experiment left behind was a village of quaint and beautiful Victorian homes and a number of mostly English ghosts in the heart of Dixie.
One of the most famous haunts was the Tabard Inn, where a murder most foul took place in Room 13. Alas, one can not stay here, as the building went up in flames some years back. But I talked with Rugby Executive Director, Barbara Staggs, soon after Strange Tales was published, and she had interviewed eyewitnesses who testified that as the building burned, they could hear screams coming from the vacant Room 13. Some locals believed it was the ghost that haunted the hotel who set the fire herself.
Much of the Victorian furniture from the second hotel was salvaged from the fire however, and repurposed to homes throughout the town. Some say cursed furniture was the cause of supernatural phenomena spreading throughout the rest of the town. Others in Rugby disagree on this; but no one doubts that as towns go, Rugby has more haunts per capita than any other town in America.
More fortunate in its fate wasNewbury House. Its owner was an English gentleman of high esteem but low birth who found the town quite congenial and sent for his family from England. Sadly, he died before they came and now his ghost resides in Newbury House, still waiting for them to arrive.
Then there is the old Victorian library, which looks for all the world like something out of Harry Potter–if Harry was a book nerd. It has signed copies of Charles Dickens’ novels. No gnarly ghost of Jacob Marley though. Some call it the “Rip Van Winckle” library, because it seems as though when one enters it, one has entered a sort of time warp. Although there is a phantom librarian reported present there, its presence is mostly unseen. You, however, may have a different experience when you visit.
There are a number of homes in the town with ghosts, some more active than others and over the years eyewitnesses have reported encounters with them all. There is Kingston Lisle, Thomas Hughes’ sometime residence; there is Roslyn, a two story mansion with several spirits, including the wild carriage driver who thunders up to the front door in a black carriage and the tale of the “weeping girl” in the front yard. Then too, there is Twin Oaks, allegedly once home to a witch, although whether she was simply what the Irish call a “Wise Woman,” knowledgeable about healing herbs and such, or of the more wicked sort, we know not. Appalachia has had its fair share of both sorts.
Again, for more in depth accounts of Rugby’s many ghosts one is better off consulting the chapter in Strange Tales. Then after reading, you will be armed with enough knowledge to tackle Rugby for yourself. The living residents are friendly and helpful to visitors and the spectral residents are mostly harmless—even if the occasional encounter with them is a bit startling. By all means, if you visit Dixie in your travels, Rugby is worth the trip.
Downtown Knoxville, like the heart of many Southern cities, has a long history–and quite of few ghosts. Although Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee is mainly concerned ghosts and haunts, and a curse does not quite qualify as a haunting, it is in the realm of the paranormal nonetheless. In this case, the Curse of the White Mule was localized to a certain block of downtown Knoxville. It goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, when the Gypsy Circus once came to town. While the details of the story vary depending on who you listen to, the upshot was that the side-show’s prize display–a white mule–died unexpectedly while visiting Knoxville. The gypsies blamed the local folk for their the death of their valuable side-show freak; in revenge, they cursed the area and departed town in a huff.
Now people getting angry and cursing out certain people or places is not all that unusual; but when the curse comes true, it tends to get your attention. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, this area of downtown Knoxville had a series of uncanny fires break out, some quite severe. Since then, other weird disasters have happened which some say are also due to the Curse of the White Mule.
They say that libations will stave off the curse and in fact there is a tavern in the heart of downtown Knoxville where you may quaff a White Mule ale. Whether this will cure the curse I cannot say; but if you visit downtown Knoxville you may want to try. It couldn’t hurt.
In the part of Dixie Spirits dealing with Louisiana, I devote a chapter solely to loup garou—the Cajun version of the werewolf.
Before researching that chapter, I had assumed, like most folks, that the werewolf’s home turf was mainly England and Germany. After all, thanks to Hollywood, who doesn’t know about the werewolves of London and their Anglo-Saxon and Germanic kith and kin? Besides the fact that werewolves don’t eat beef chow mein, the truth is, like all else occult lore emanating from Hollywood, they have it all wrong.
While there are indeed credible tales of man-wolf encounters that come from the British Isles and Germany, the truth be told, the epicenter of lycanthropy—in the Old World at least—is France.
While in English we have but two terms for the werewolf, in France and its former colonies there are no fewer than sixty different names for the werewolf or related kith and kin. One variant one hears most in Louisiana, for example, is rou garou, who is the Cajun version of the beast.
Of course we are all familiar with the French fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast and Perault’s Little Red Riding Hood likewise centers on a wolf who can walk and talk like a human, and devours human flesh—although Perault also intimated that the carnal desires of the werewolf had sexual overtones as well. But as early as the Middle Ages, the French were penning romances involving werewolves, including one by poetess Marie de France. Obviously, when the French first colonized Louisiana, something not quite human came with them to settle in the swamps and bayous of the Delta.
The French, in fact, make an important distinction between genuine werewolves—skin changers who transform from man to wolf—and those persons who are mentally deranged and imagine themselves to be wolves. The delusion they call lupomanie—lupomania—while the term lycanthropy is reserved for the phenomena of true werewolfism. Even in English, someone who is disoriented or out of their senses is called “loopy.” Sigmund Freud treated a case of lupomania in late nineteenth century Vienna, although he confused the issue by calling it lycanthropy.
Another popular misconception perpetrated by the media is that werewolves (assuming there be such things) are cursed with this condition through no fault of their own, that it is a curse brought on by a cruel twist of fate. In fact, from accounts in the Middle Ages we know that those who practiced lycanthropy did so willingly, using a belt of wolf’s skin treated with a magic ointment to transform themselves. They were, in fact, considered sorcerers and assumed to be in league with the devil.
This last accusation—consorting with the devil—was disputed by at least one confessed werewolf. In 1692, in Livonia, on the Baltic Sea, one elderly lycanthrope named Theiss said that he and his confreres regularly fought the witches, who were in the service of the devil, and that he and his fellow lycans were in fact “god’s dogs.” I
n Italy there is a similar allegation; there the skinchangers–persons who went into trances and transformed into various animals, including wolves, who called themselves “benandanti” or “good walkers,” Entering into a trance state, leave their human bodies and assume the spirit body of a wolf, in which form they do battle with the Evil Ones.
In the case of Louisiana’s loup garou, my sense is that though it is much talked about in general terms and Cajun folk will gladly spin a yarn or two for you, when you try to pin them down to specifics—date, place, name—they clam up real quick. Cajuns—or at least the ones I have met—are garrulous and outgoing, but when it comes to loup garou and who and where they may be found, my experience was an extreme reluctance to divulge specifics. Whether this is because they genuinely don’t know or whether they do and are afraid to talk I can’t say for sure, although I think the latter is true. I go into depth on this subject in Chapter 15 of Dixie Spirits and for more on it see that book.
One curious fact I did uncover was that the loup garou of the bayou gather together and hold a ball or party on occasion and this fete du bete is alleged to occur near a small community in swamp country called Bayou Goula. Why there and exactly when the clans of werewolves gather to cavort and make merry remains a secret I have yet to plum. As with all else uncanny and unexplained, I often rely on the kindness of strangers to inform and enlighten me on such things. Therefore, any out there who know more than I have so far unearthed, I and other readers of this blog would love to hear from.
So while the loup garou may not be quite the evil monsters the media and the Inquisition have made them out to be, until we know more of this fey creature and his family, I would advise caution to the curious—especially when the moon is full.
Even in Charles Perault’s day the carnal proclivities of wolves, real and figurative, were well known and the French racontour added this wry moral to the end of his story:
From this short story easy we discern
What conduct all young people ought to learn.
But above all, young, growing misses fair,
Whose orient rosy blooms begin t’appear:
Who, beauties in the fragrant spring of age,
With pretty airs young hearts are apt t’engage.
Ill do they listen to all sorts of tongues,
Since some inchant and lure like Syrens’ songs.
No wonder therefore ’tis, if over-power’d,
So many of them has the Wolf devour’d.
The Wolf, I say, for Wolves too sure there are
Of every sort, and every character.
Some of them mild and gentle-humour’d be,
Of noise and gall, and rancour wholly free;
Who tame, familiar, full of complaisance
Ogle and leer, languish, cajole and glance;
With luring tongues, and language wond’rous sweet,
Follow young ladies as they walk the street,
Ev’n to their very houses, nay, bedside,
And, artful, tho’ their true designs they hide;
Yet ah! these simpering Wolves! Who does not see
Most dangerous of Wolves indeed they be?
In my very first book of all things weird, wondrous and wicked in the Mid-South, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, in addition to the traditional haints, haunts and boogers, UFO’s and other unexplained phenomena, one curious tale revolved around the northern Georgia Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga. In that chapter I chronicled several of the battlefield apparitions known to haunt the battlefield, but the one which was the most curious, to my mind, was Ol’ Green Eyes, sometimes also known as the Green Ghoul. Since publishing that account, I have run into a few folks who have had their own tales to tell about this particular spook, so this venue I judge to be a good place to update my readers until I can prevail on my publishers to let me do a revised edition of that classic book.
Anyone who has visited Chickamauga knows it is a brief run from downtown Chattanooga—a brief run, that is, if you are a Yankee soldier trying to flee from ten thousand Rebels with bayonets all yelling like a banshee. Otherwise, it is about ten miles or more. At any rate, between the eighteenth and twentieth of September, 1863, thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives fighting there, while thousands and thousands more suffered agonizing wounds.
It is not surprising, therefore, that quite a few ghost stories and reports of eerie encounters at Chickamauga have surfaced over the years. As I tell in my book, one version of Ol’ Green Eyes holds that he is a stone monument—dedicated to the Union brigade known Opdycke’s Tigers—that comes to life at night and stalks the countryside. I personally am dubious of that one—it has all the earmarks of a story invented around a campfire to scare gullible youths.
Another version holds that Green Eyes is a human looking ghoul, with top hat, gentleman’s cloak and long stringy hair; after the battle, it was said, this green eyed fellow went about munching on the bodies of the dead. It’s been a long time since that feast and he’s built up a powerful appetite since then. According to one source, this version was invented out of whole cloth by Park Ranger Ed Tinney some years back to entertain tourists.
While I can’t judge the veracity of the Tinney version, I do know that some park rangers go out of their way to deny any paranormal activity, in order to discourage people trespassing there at night. In all fairness, some self-appointed ghost hunters have vandalized historic sites in pursuit of nighttime thrills. The rangers at Chickamauga have been known to shut down all the secondary roads in the area at Halloween to keep out the thrill-seekers. So officials at Chickamauga National Battlefield have a rather strong motivation to deny accounts of Ol’ Green Eyes and other hauntings there, valid or not.
To my mind, the most credible accounts of Green Eyes are less specific; some have seen a green glowing light about Snodgrass Hill, while others describe a pair of eyes. Is it a ghoul, a ghost or a beast? Hard to say, but I have spoken to one man who had a close encounter.
Although Ed Tinney popularized Green Eyes, according to this local source, folks have known about the creature for generations; it’s just that in the old days you didn’t talk about such things, and certainly not to strangers.
After Strange Tales came out, I was doing a signing and this gentleman from Chattanooga, who bought a copy, told me of his experience.
It was some years back, when he was a hot blooded young teenager and since he had a few years on me, I am judging this was sometime back in the 1950’s. Well, he took a date out one Saturday night and after a little dinner and dancing they decided to park after dark; it was somewhere near Snodgrass Hill.
Then as now the park was closed to the public at night, but it was a favorite place for couples to go nonetheless. They were parked in his car with the top down, and he and his girlfriend were, shall we say, somewhat distracted at the time; that was until he felt the sensation of warm moist breath behind him. With a start he turned around to see two large green eyes glowing behind him.
The eyes were set apart, farther apart than any human pair of eyes could possibly be, and the creature was close enough to tell it was on the curved trunk of his car or close to it. Romance turned to terror in an instant; the teenager fumbled for the ignition, slammed his car into gear, and high-tailed it out of there as fast as his jalopy could go, just barely avoiding being Ol’ Green Eyes next meal.
There are those who scoff and those who deny, but for that mature gentleman at least, there is no denying that Ol’ Green Eyes is very, very, real—whatever it may be.
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.