When we think as of someone being superstitious, we think of someone having phobias of luck, such as not walking under a ladder, or breaking a mirror. Superstition comes from the word supernatural; the term first used about 1520-1530 AD, and relates to anything not subject to the laws of physics, or that which exists above and beyond nature. We better know this area as Spirituality, in which the world of Gods, angels, demons, and monsters exists. Ghosts do not fall under this category; they are paranormal beings.
Beliefs in the supernatural first began in the Paleolithic era, where prehistoric man performed rituals to affect the gods and powers running their lives. Belief in gods began where natural events couldn’t be explained; such as storms, earthquakes and other not so common disasters took place. Ancient Egyptians believed dreams could predict the future, ancient Romans, Druids and Greeks used charms, spells, and sacrifices in ceremonies to appease the gods.
All supernatural beings are based on the premise of good and evil. There are those that mean to help and those that mean to harm. In Islamic and Arabic Culture, the Jinn possess the ability the transform from a smokeless and scorching fire into physical form. Unlike angels, they possess free will and make their own decision whether they are good or evil. They are mentioned frequently throughout the Quran.
Never is the idea of good and evil more prevalent than in The Old and New Testament of the Holy Bible. In the book of Genesis, where evil originated in the form of sin, to Job’s test of faith with Satan, where is still an angel free to go from heaven and Earth, evil has always been a theme of the scriptures. Satan is first introduced as an angel who wanted to be greater than God. Satan’s name is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “adversary.” In gnostic beliefs, such as the book of Enoch, the angels lead a revolt against God, and Satan is banished to roam the earth and inflict evil upon the world. These angels, the seraphim, were both good and bad and said to have chosen human brides, thus creating abominations.
Demons are Satan’s supernatural followers, and can appear as a number of different beings, from dragons to sheep, to humans. Some famous demons in the bible are Beezlebub, mentioned in the gospels, to Azazel in the old testament, as well as Behemoth and Leviathan. Legion is a number of demons combined, and is also mentioned in the New Testament, as Jesus performs an exorcism. Although in the Torah, there is no mention of hell as an actual place, it is more predominant in the New Testament. “Shoal,” as it is described in The Torah, had more to do with death, than with an actual place of torment. Our modern version of Hell was sensationalized by Dante’s Inferno. During his time, occurrences that couldn’t be explained were either the work of angels or demons. Demonic possession is universal is most cultures; in Japanese culture, it was once believed throwing beans would drive evil spirits from a home. Why didn’t they just eat them? They would have drove them out faster!
The area of the supernatural is not just reserved to Gods, angels and demons, however. It includes witchcraft and magic, and mythical beasts that possess good and evil traits as well, such as vampires, harpies, werewolves, and shapeshifters. All this week we will investigate these areas. Tomorrow, we will look at Magic and witchcraft, which many think has to do with the devil, but does not. Until then, here are today’s links:
ABRACADABRA AND HOCUS POCUS
When we think of the world of magic, we think of disappearing objects, card tricks, and sawing a person in half. But Magic itself has origins in spiritual beginnings. It is derived from the Greek word “Majei”, named after Persian priests called “Magosh” that performed ritual acts, using herbs and incense to conjure up spells and good and bad spirits. The Persians used magic to supposedly cure ailments, and to repel evil Gin associated with misfortune. Magic carpets were said to levitate humans into the sky. The Cups and balls trick was used as far back as Ancient Rome, where they used stones and small vinegar cups.
From 400 AD to 1500 AD, magic was mostly associated with witchcraft, and the work of the devil. The first book of magic tricks appeared in 1584, and debunked magic as an illusion, showing how most tricks were easily performed with out supernatural assistance.
During the end of the 1800’s, large magic shows dominated the stage of big theater venues and county fairs. Stage magicians performed illusions of seemingly impossible and supernatural means. Many magic tricks involve: making objects appear and disappear, transforming one object into another, escape from restraining devices, levitation, and predictions. Jeanne Eugene Robert is the pioneer of modern magical entertainment, and the inspiration for Houdini’s stage name. Houdouni was double jointed, which allowed him to easily escape from restraints. He also kept several keys on his person, allowing him to unlock locks.
Magic is as ancient as the Wiccan religion, which witchcraft is based on. There were other pagan cultures at the time that practiced magic and spells; but Wiccans were the most prominent. Formed as a religion by the ancient Druids, it was the belief and practice of magical skills and abilities possessed by persons with the necessary secret knowledge of the Gods and spirits. They don’t believe in the devil or Hell. It is believed that cosmic energy gives the individual power to cast spells. Wiccans do use brooms, but they were used to purify an area from lingering energies. Candles, chalices, and cauldrons are also often used in ceremonies. Wands represent fire and the life force of a witch.
Despite what people believe, the pentacle, or pentagram is used more often by Wiccans than devil worshipers. The circle represents the god and goddess that allow the energy to be focused, and the points represent earth, fire, water, air, and spirit.
In the old and new testament, any work of evil forces is described as sorcery. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees dismiss his actions as the work of sorcery, and not divine intervention. The concept of witches as agents of the devil was prevalent from 1200-1700 AD. In 1692, in Salem, Mass., witch trials led to the death of 20 women, who were burned at the stake. Two young girls were having convulsions and screaming, and the local clergy diagnosed it as the work of the devil. Most historians agree, however, that the girls were under some form of hysteria; or even ergot poisoning.
Witches are now considered to be associated with Wiccan beliefs, and not demonic beliefs. Voodoo is similar, but uses white and black magic. They have been popularized in movies and television, such as Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Blair Witch Project, Warlock, The Serpent and the Rainbow and others. Warlocks and voodoo priests are male witches; my favorite one would have to be Paul Lynne’s Uncle Arthur, a practical joker who is always causing problems with the Stevens’ family.
Tomorrow, we will dwell into the world of shapeshifters; those who can change their physical appearance at will. Until tomorrow, here are today’s links:
THE ANIMAL INSTINCT
Stories about people who can transform into animals goes back to neolithic times. Therianthropy, or the ability to change into an animal and back, is the most common from of shapeshifting. In mythology and folklore, it is the process in which one entity physically transforms into another being or form. It is usually achieved by divine intervention, the use of magic spells, and talismans. During ancient ritual dances, such as in the American Southwest, humans could be possessed by animal spirits.
Many cultures around the world have legends and folklore that are about shapeshifting beings. In Norse mythology, Loki changed into female form to taunt Odin; the Selkie is a form of mermaid, able to change into human form on dry land, and a seal in the water. In Greek mythology, Zeus transformed Lycaon into a wolf as punishment for killing his children, and Athena changed Arachne into a spider. In Ancient Egypt, the cobra and the cat were objects of worship, and the incarnation of the gods themselves. Harpies in Greek mythology, are women that turn into bat like creatures, similar to vampires. Some African legends speak of potions able to transform people into animals. Native Americans talk about skin walkers that can turn into any animal they desire. To do so, they would have to first wear the pelt of the selected animal. In Canada, Wendigos are blood thirsty spirits that possess the body of a man, and change into an animal to kill unaware victims. Spiritual or metaphysical transformations into energy are called shimmers.
Shapeshifters can change into almost every kind of animal possible, from birds to bears, and anything in between. They have been the topic of movies and television shows for years. Shows like “The X Files”, “Fringe”, Charmed and “Supernatural” have sensationalized the concept. Mystique, the sexy, blue shapeshifter in the X-Men series can even change her voice to the person she is imitating. There is even belief in the ufology field that reptilian shapeshifting aliens are living amongst us now.
Tomorrow, we will investigate the most common of these beings-werewolves and vampires. Until then, here are today’s links:
FUR, FANGS, BEASTS & BLOODSUCKERS
Werewolves and vampires have placed terror in the minds of people since ancient times. Lycaon, as we stated earlier, became what we know know as a werewolf. They are mythical humans with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf, or wolf-like creature. Although stories vary from culture to culture; they have some similarities as well. Some cultures depict a man who transforms to a wolf and cannot change back. Lycanthropy can be brought upon the victim either by a curse, or via a bite or scratch from another werewolf. It is a widespread concept in European folklore, and then also spread to the new world with colonialism.
The case of Peter Strumpp, (1589 ), led to a significant peak in interest and persecution of supposed werewolves. The phenomena lasted longest in Bavaria and Austria until 1650, with the final cases in the early 18th century. Literary stories of werewolves began in the 18th century, and have since become a staple of modern horror stories. In France, stories of wolf-like creatures called the Loup-Garou occurred during the 16th century.
Symptoms of photo sensitivity, reddish teeth and Psychosis led some early medical researchers to believe werewolf behavior was a medical condition, such as rabies. Indeed, there are some people with excessive hair growth, even on their face, who have a disease called Hypertrichosis. The origin of the full moon theory can be traced back to Italy, France, and Germany, where it was said that a man or woman could turn into a wolf is she or he, on a certain Wednesday or Friday, slept outside on a summer night with the full moon shining on their face.
Werewolves were sometimes associated as familiars for witches, or products of Satanic possession. They were killed by decapitating their head and throwing it in a river. In Medevial Europe, there were three methods to cure the disease; medicinally with wolvesbane, surgery, or exorcism. The idea of werewolves being killed by silver goes back to 19th century German folklore. The story of “The Beast of Gevauldon” being shot with a sliver bullet was introduced by novelists.
The first movies of werewolves were “Werewolf of London” in 1935, and the American film “The Wolf Man”, starring Lon Channey Jr. in 1941. Werewolves were often portrayed as ruthless killers, but there are some such as; “An American Werewolf in London”, “The Howling”, and “Underworld” who show a more compassionate side.
Tomorrow, we will finish our series of the supernatural with the other half of the most feared shapeshifters, and perhaps the most intriguing, vampires. Until then, here are today’s links:
FUR, FANGS,BEASTS & BLOODSUCKERS PART 2
They are the most feared of all shapeshifters, almost as much as the devil himself. They are mythical undead beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence of living creatures, often associated with evil. Vampires entities have been recorded in most cultures, but the term “vampire” wasn’t popularized until the early 18th century in Western Europe, in areas such as the Balkans, Romania and Greece. Early folkloric beliefs can be attributed to ignorance of anatomy, decomposition, and consumption. Premature burial, contagion, porphyria, and rabies have all been reasons to have fueled vampire myths. Although in folklore, vampires were said to be nocturnal, they were generally not vulnerable to sunlight.
The general method for killing a vampire was a stake through the heart. Drowning , holy water and decapitation were also popular methods. Garlic, wild roses, and mustard seeds were used to keep them away as well as; crucifix, rosary, or holy water. They were said to be unable to walk on holy ground, or in churches, or to face a mirror where the door was facing outward. Their absence of a reflection is said to constitute their lack of soul. Vampire bats were only introduced into legends after their discovery in South America in the 16th century. The were named after the vampire legend, not the other way around.
The first literary work of vampires was the 1819 “The Vampyre” by John Pililori, however, it is Bram Stoker’s 1897 “Dracula” which has become the inspiration for modern vampire stories, loosely based on the real Dracula, Prince Vlad Temps, better known as Vlad The Impaler. It was said that he would invite guests to stay at his palace, and then he would have them impaled with long wooden stakes. One woodcut even shows him drinking the blood of his victims.
In the story “Dracula”, vampirism is seen as a disease of contagious, demonic possession. During Victorian Europe, tuberculosis and syphilis were common. Although Stoker had never visited Transylvania, he read several works about vampire legends in their native lands. From a friend he heard the story about Vlad Temps, and immediately incorporated it into his story. The role of Dracula in cinema has been played by several actors, ranging from Bela Legosi, to Christopher Lee, Lon Chaney Jr. , Jack Palace, Frank Langella, and finally Gary Oldman.
Other popular vampire series and films include “Dark Shadows”, Blacula, Salem’s Lot, and Underworld. In the literary genre, Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” was a highly popular series, in which two films, “Interview With A Vampire” and “Queen of The Damned” were made. One of the most famous real cases of vampirism is the case of Countess Elizabeth Bathory abducted several women and killed them, draining their blood and bathing in it to give her the gift of youth. There are several cults in present day who believe that drinking blood can give them supernatural powers.
Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, these stories ultimately send shivers up your spine. Most people believe in good spiritual forces, such as Jesus and God, but neglect to believe in the power of the devil. My take on that is, you can’t have one without the other, and all you have to do to look for evil is watch the daily news. It’s real, it’s out there, and even if your an athesist, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
Monday I will return with a brand new series. I am still looking for topics to discuss, so if you would like to submit an idea, please do so in the comments section. Until then, have a great weekend. Here are today’s links: