The Twelve Ghosts of Christmas, Part I Christmas among the Spirits

 

St. Nicholas is real; originally a Christian Bishop known for his generosity, he is the patron saint of children and his spirit serves as their protector. Sailors have also adopted him as their patron as well.13th Century icon from St. Caherine's Monestary.
Originally a Christian Bishop known for his generosity, he is the patron saint of children in both the Eastern and Western churches. His spirit serves as their protector. By the way, Sailors have also adopted him as their patron as well. (13th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery).

 Before the Yuletide Season fades away, just bit about Christmas Spirits–I mean REAL spirits–apparitions, ghosts and assorted paranormal encounters associated with Christmas and the Solstice season.

First on the list?  Why Santa Claus of course! He goes by many names: Americans know him as Santa Claus, but also goes by Father Christmas, Papai Noel, Sinter Klaas, Babbo Natale, Pere Noel and a whole slew more monikers around the world.

Foremost among the Spirits of Christmas is St. Nicholas himself.

I know: you don’t think of Jolly Old Saint Nick as a ghost. .  While you may not think of him as a ghost per se, the truth is he is a spirit, and at one time was a living, breathing person who walked the earth.

So, to paraphrase the famous essay in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  That, after centuries he is overlain with rich myth and legend and his duties have grown exponentially, is understandable; but he is very real.

St. Nicholas was born in Anatolia (modern Turkey) about 350 miles northwest of Bethlehem, in Patara, sometime around AD 270.  He was at one time bishop of Myra, another town in Asia Minor and he is first and foremost the patron saint of children.

For those unversed in Orthodox beliefs and practices, Christian saints are generally referred to in the present tense, for although their physical form is no more, their spirit continues to dwell among as, much as any ghost or spirit may. they are known to appear at various times and perform miracles–it’s what they do, after all.

Another thing about saintly apparitions: they can appear at two places at the same time. Given that knack, visiting every home where children reside in one night if you have no physical form is not so difficult a trick .

Even in ancient times St. Nick was known for his generosity. One story told of him was that, on hearing that three maidens were too poor to afford a dowry and therefore couldn’t get married, he anonymously threw a bags of gold through the window into their home.

After first two girls were married their father became curious as to whom he mysterious benefactor was and tried to watch out for him; so when the third was due to wed, to prevent his identity being found out, St. Nicholas threw the bag of gold down the chimney.

So, girls, if you’re very, very good, perhaps jolly old Saint Nick will throw a bag of gold down your chimney–wouldn’t that be better than a Barbie?

Of course, like the Blessed Mother (more about her and the BVM phenomena another time), Saint Nicholas adapts his clothing and customs to the particular country he’s in.

Our vision of him borrows a lot from German notions about Christmas, and some of his iconic imagery has more to do with Norse Mythology than Christianity. In more recent years, sadly, the formerly slender Jolly Old Elf seems to have gained way too much weight and seems to be doing a lot of commercial appearances for large corporations.

Nevertheless, despite all the naysaying and negativity about him these days, Santa is as real as any other saint.

So to all those cynics out there who scoff at ghosts and such things and would have you doubt Saint Nicholas as well; may you all get lumps of coal this Christmas.  Ho, ho ho!

For more authentic ghosts stories and true accounts of apparitions, go grab a copy or three of  Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground or Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Staring at the Backside of the Beyond

What is Behind the Beyond?

Let’s take a break, if we may, from trampling through decaying mansions in search of restless spirits, rotting swamps filled with things not quite dead, yet not really alive, graveyards that give one the heebie -jeebies even in broad daylight and morbid mountain hollows where ancient curses still have power to bewitch the unwary passerby, and reflect on the state of the OTHER SIDE in this day and age.

First, while I firmly believe there are many paranormal phenomena which science cannot explain, and I continue to collect accounts of uncanny events and weird doings, I have begun to believe that our collective quest to explore THE UNEXPLAINED may have gone a bit too far. Or rather, that the innate human curiosity to seek answers to the mysteries of the universe that motivates most of us, has been hijacked by many who are only interested in exploiting what has gone from an esoteric endeavor to become a popular pastime and cash in on it by any means possible.

The explosion in “professional” ghost hunting in particular I find a bit much.  There are all manner of self-anointed experts these days who conduct very expensive classes in ghost-hunting, “cleansing” or various and sundry other paranormal practices. It is all well and good to go to sites that have a reputation for being haunted and investigate them for yourself or even to help calm folk uncomfortable with the possibility that they are not alone in the old home.

But bringing along truckloads of seemingly high-tech paraphernalia and putting on airs of being “scientific” is not any more valid qualitatively than someone who investigates a site by their “gut feeling.” Sometimes one can divine the truth by what seems to be an entirely subjective and undocumented experience. And one person’s authentic paranormal experience may not be able to be duplicated no matter how many tri-quarter readings you take.

As Shakespeare phrased it, “by the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”

Please don’t put me in the category of the professional debunkers who, while pretending to investigate paranormal incidents objectively in reality approach every occurrence with the same closed mind, and simply seek to validate their predetermined opinions and present it as “proof” that it is all bunkum. I have read  some ghost hunting groups’ accounts that I personally find quite impressive; but I also know that insofar as the scientific community goes, their evidence will not convince any academic investigator.

The flurry of paranormal Cable TV shows in particular yank my chain.  Some, admittedly, are worse than others; a bunch of idiots running around an abandoned sanitarium with flashlights attached to their faces and scaring themselves is not only a waste of time, it’s just plain silly.

Likewise some dude on tv daring a spirit to “come out come out wherever you are” is  an exercise in the moronic. Moreover, if they are treading on territory where they are dealing, not with the deceased, but with the demonic, they may even stir up something they are unprepared to handle. Genuine cases of demonic possession are very, very rare–fortunately–but they do exist and, as the saying goes, don’t go kicking a nest of hornets unless you want to get stung.

The latest scam is some of these celebrity ghost-busters offering–for money–certification to people as ghost hunters.  Of course, if any of these media mediums read this criticism, I doubt they will be much dismayed–they are crying all the way to the bank as I speak.

Of course, charlatans exploiting a popular movement relating to the paranormal is nothing new.  In my book, The Paranormal Presidency, I document the birth of Spiritualism and the story of its suppressed relationship with President Abraham Lincoln.


PP LINCOLN 01
President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

In the book I tried to maintain a certain objectivity about this subject. The truth is that, at that time and since, there have been many sincere people involved in Spiritualism, psychics, medium-ship, and also those involved in partaking in seances. In some instances these earnest explorers of the beyond may even have had genuine psychic experiences.

Hall 1
Abraham Lincoln attended one séance where–allegedly–a young female medium was able to make the grand piano “dance.” Did it happen? Two eyewitnesses claimed it did and swear there was no trickery involved. Psycho-kinesis is rare, but real. 

But the truth is that there has also been a chronic problem with phonies and fakes who pretended to be psychic and have bilked gullible people over and over again over the years.  Moreover, with the advent of cable TV these charlatans have gotten a mass media following.

Unlike the professional debunkers, the Joe Nickols of the world, I refuse to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater.  Paranormal phenomena are real; I know of many people who have genuine experiences, even if only once in their lifetime.  Similarly, I have met a few people whom I believe to be genuinely psychic. I think that everyone has that potential, at the very least.

But there are also those only too willing to exploit popular interest in the subject for a fast buck.  The truth is, that some people want to tell us what is behind the beyond, when they don’t even know what is beyond their behind!

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency is a biographical analysis of President Lincoln’s beliefs about the paranormal and his involvement with Spiritualism, as well as prophecy, omens and voodoo.

Halloween Hauntings Part 2: OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Halloween Hauntings 2:

OLD HICKORY & THE BELL WITCH

Andrew Jackson visits the witch.
Andrew Jackson attempted to solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, but even he was no match for the Mysterious Spirit.

“A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted.”

—–Albert Goodpasture, 1886

John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the
John Bell, patriarch of the Bell clan, who were bedeviled by the “Mysterious Spirit”

Much has been written about the supernatural doings between 1818 and 1820 in Adams, Tennessee.  In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I devoted two full chapters to the Bell Witch, and in my latest effort, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I discuss her along with other Tennessee witches.  Although referred to as the Bell Witch, it was neither a witch, nor did it belong to the Bell family, although they were the ones mainly bedeviled by it.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground chronicles true stories of unexplained phenomena in the Mid South.

It began innocently enough; knockings and scrapings at night; then strange creatures were sighted in broad daylight.  John Bell, the patriarch of the family, at first thought it was just some local youths playing pranks on his family.  But soon it became clear to him and his family that no humans were causing the sounds and other physical phenomena.  Then one night it began to attack members of the family—notably John Bell and his beautiful daughter Betsy.  Quilts were pulled from the bed in the dark of the night, and Betsy and the others were violently assaulted by unseen hands; scratching and slapping and biting.  Yet there was nothing and no one to be seen.

At first the Bells only discussed the incidents among themselves, calling it “Our Family Troubles.”  Eventually word got out about the malevolent poltergeist haunting their home.  First their neighbors visted to see what was up; then the curious came from farther away came to see it for themselves.  Fame of the Mysterious Spirit spread far and wide.

At times the spirit was just mischievous and amusing; but it could turn vicious at a whim.  Moreover, it seemed to be aware of goings on over the whole community, traversing great distances unseen.

This image is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.
This old engraving is the closest we have as to what the Bell Witch may have looked like. Here she is terrorizing the Bell children.

The unearthly phenomenon even attracted the attention of the famous General Jackson, who mounted an expedition to get to the bottom of the haunting.  He arrived with a wagon and an entourage of skeptics.  First Jackson’s wagon became frozen on the road–until he acknowledged the Witch’s reality.  Then that night, one of Jackson’s entourage thought he could outsmart the invisible spirit–instead the would be witch-slayer became the object of the entity’s wrath and was driven out of the house.  Although Jackson was all for staying, his followers decided to flee for the safety of Nashville–the first time General Jackson was ever forced to retreat!

Many of the disturbances focused on the beautiful, buxom Betsy Bell, and the spirit—by now called The Bell Witch—took a personal interest in the girl, to the point of telling her to break up with her fiancée, and threatening violence if she didn’t.

Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was beset by paranormal events in Mississippi.
Betsy Bell, called the Queen of the Haunted Dell; even after she married and moved away, rumor has it she was bedeviled by paranormal events in Mississippi.

Ultimately Betsy married the local schoolteacher and moved to Mississippi with him.  As for her father, it was said he was poisoned by the witch; but who the witch really was, no one could say.

It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.
It is alleged that the Mysterious Spirit murdered John Bell by poisoning.

A local matron of common birth but ample girth, Kate Batts, was named by some as the culprit.  While Kate Batts had a number of personal oddities in her behavior, for all of that she was a God-fearing woman and no one dared accuse her to her face. Indeed, her modern descendants I have talked to say she was more sinned against than sinning by John Bell. The Bell family today has a different story, needless to say.

Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church.
Kate Batts, accused of witchcraft, was a god-fearing woman, shown here going to church with her entourage.

Still, when Kate died, cats howled around her grave in a most uncanny way and such a dread fell on her resting place that no one dared approach it.  Her grave became overgrown and forgotten and to this day its location is not known.

As the historian Goodpasture declared, a book could be written about the Bell bewitchment—and have.  In fact, quite a number of books, plus two plays and an opera at last count.  Still, no one has fully plumbed the mystery—nor can it be said that the Bell Witch has ever truly gone away from Adams.

This frontier home where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and is allegedly still haunted.
This frontier home was where most of the poltergeist activity took place. The Bell homestead near modern Adams, Tennessee is gone, but the Bell Witch Cave is open to the public and still haunted–so they say.

This brief post cannot hope to tell you all you need to know before you go to Adams; for further reading see, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and my more recent Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Go there, if you dare, and see for yourself

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South. Witches, Haints, Strange Lights & Sights, Uncanny Creatures; and where to go to experience them.

Sumner Spirits, Halloween Hauntings, Part 8

Halloween Hauntings, Part 8:

Sumner Spirits

“And all we see and all we seem/Is but a dream within a dream”  EDGAR ALLEN POE

There are those who say that ghost are just a figment of the imagination, or delusion of the masses; that those who see such things are hallucinating or having a “waking dream.” 

Then there are those like Mark Twain, who said “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m still skeered of ’em.”  Perhaps such doubting Thomases may want to take a day trip to Sumner County some October eve, just a few miles north of Downtown Nashville.

Gallatin, Tennessee, the most haunted town square in the state.

Downtown Gallatin, Tennessee, is home to several resident ghosts, all of which are fully documented in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee

Crossing over Mansker’s Creek, the first place you come to is Monthaven–the old Fite place.  It used to sit in splendid isolation on a hill overlooking the creek, where Gallatin Pike and Centerpoint Road meet.  Nowadays it has a cluster of apartments and condos nestled all about it.

During the Civil War, the mansion was the site of a dust-up between General Morgan’s Rebel raiders and some Yankees, and the mansion was used as a temporary field hospital. Moaning in pain and begging for some laudanum or whiskey, wounded soldiers were carried upstairs to a room where a door panel had been converted into an operating table and their limbs were sawed off to the sounds of them shrieking in pain. Several of the soldiers died there and their ghosts still haunt the place.

Monthaven, the old haunted Fite House in Hendersonville
Monthaven,  otherwise known as The Fite House, sits on land which dates back to frontier days. It was also used as a temporary hospital after a cavalry skirmish during the Civil War and some of the casualties still haunt the house.

A little farther up the buffalo trail that is now Route 31E is Hazel Path.  Like Monthaven, this old antebellum home used to sit alone on a hill; now it is the center of an office complex and not lived in–but the dead still reside there and in the adjacent school built over the old pioneer cemetery there.

Edging up several miles more, just before Gallatin proper, is the entrance to what they now call “The Last Plantation.”  At one time, Fairvue Plantation would have put Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara to shame.  It was once the home of the fabled Adelicia Acklen–the original Steel Magnolia.  Opulently wealthy and stunningly beautiful, Adelicia knew how to wrap men around her dainty fingers.  She went through three husband, bore  a number of children and managed to come out of the Civil War richer than when she went in, despite the depredations of the Yankees.  While today a gaggle of upscale homes cluster around Fairvue, the old manse still stands–and is haunted by multiple ghosts,

Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision--but not so exclusive that ghosts don't haunt it still.
Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision–but not so exclusive that ghosts don’t haunt it still.

We would be remiss not to mention the old downtown of Gallatin itself–alleged to be the most haunted town square in Tennessee.  Surrounding the county courthouse are a cluster of old buildings, some dating back to before the war.  Some of them are occupied by law offices, others by retail stores, some are vacant; but all are occupied by ghosts of one description or other.

In this short space I cannot begin to list all the spooky spirits of Sumner: for a more complete accounting of the unaccountable, I refer you to the chapter in my Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee by the same name as this blog, where more details are available.  In the meantime–good haunting!

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee offers all things spooky in the Mid South and covers the favorite haunts of downtown Gallatin plus other Country spooks.

The Thirteen Halloween Hauntings, Part 1

 

Black Cats are Lucky
In Wales black cats are considered good luck

The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Part I

In honor of that spookiest day of the year—October 31—I am penning thirteen blogs daily, now through fright night.

Why thirteen?  Well, we have the twelve days of Christmas—or at least we used to.  Yuletide should run from December 25 through January 6 by rights, although lately it seems folks want to get the holiday season over with early on December 26.  I am among that obstinate minority who prefer to enjoy Yuletide for as long as possible–and that means quaffing flagons of Yuletide Cheer from big Christmas to Little Christmas. Moreover, in Wales, not only are black cats considered lucky, so is the number 13. Ultimately, for no particular reason other than it sounds good, I chose thirteen for Halloween.

DRAGON WITH A FLAGON BY OMAR RAYYAL C 2016
The Dragon with the flagon holds the brew that is true. Happy Halloween!

Black Cats and Thirteen anything–what could be more Halloweenish? Of course, the Welsh being Celts, they have a strong contrary streak and so whatever superstition their English neighbors adhere to, one can almost guarantee the Welsh will tend to believe just the opposite. My black cat, Enoch, was certainly lucky: he got to sleep all day, ate when he wanted, and pretty much did as he pleased (which was not much). And if cats normally have nine lives, Enoch was blessed with at least double that amount.

Speaking of superstitions, one Southern superstition that Yankees north of the Mason-Dixon Line may not have heard of is enshrined in the expression “jumping the broom.”  Among folks in Dixie, to “jump the broom” is another way to say getting married.  It comes from the belief that if newlyweds place a broom across the threshold to their new home, witches can’t follow them in and put a hex on the marriage. Although in Appalachia they don’t call it hex, they call it “spelt.”

In the old days, couples literally did put a broom across the entrance to their cabin on wedding day and then physically jumped across it.  Brides and grooms who jumped the broom were believed to enjoy a more harmonious and fruitful marriage, and to judge by the number of children they had in the old days, this seems to have been true.

The Mid-South abounds in uncanny and unexplained phenomena, from professors who suddenly burst into flame, to sightings of strange craft over the Tennessee Valley in the days when no such craft existed, to the numerous “Spook Lights” found in almost every state of Dixie. This is in addition to the many ante-bellum manse’s that each is a Gothic horror show in itself. Of course, what would Appalachia be without it’s “Wise Women” and whether you regard them as a bane or a boon, you best not get on their bad side in any case.

For more about Tennessee witches and witchcraft–and how avoid being spelt or to counter their curse if you are–see my original accounts in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. And while you’re at it, also check out Dixie Spirits a sampler of all things uncanny in the Southland.

Halloween marks the beginning of the season when all life dies away–to the eye–not to be truly revived until its sister holiday, April 30. The ancient Celts called the two festivals Semaine and Beltaine and the period in between was a time when one gathered round the hearth and told tales to enchant young and old. Beltaine is also known as the Witches’ Sabbath when, like Halloween, all manor of spirits, uncanny creatures and other fey folk are abroad in the dark. On Halloween we have the additional bane of evil beings such as politicians roaming the land seeking votes.

Fear not, however, we shall limit our discussion only to the supernatural and similar things and while we won’t limit these thirteen entries just to the South, there are more than man can ken in the region to venture farther afield in search of the uncanny. So curl up with your favorite flagon–or favorite dragon–stoke the hearth (even if it’s just a video loop on Roku) and enjoy stories to curl your toes and give you goosebumps!

If you want to know more of things that go bump in the night, you can do no better than curl up with a copy or three of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee or Dixie Spirits–after which this blog is named.

open-uri20150930-11-1wp63v
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills and Valleys of Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True tales of the Volunteer State, from the Hag Infested Hollows of East Tennessee to the Paranormal Madness of Memphis with a few side trips to the Haunted Honkey-Tonks of Nashville.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dixie Spirits via Sourcebooks
Dixie Spirits: true tales of the Strange and Supernatural south of the Mason-Dixon Line.