In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.

STEVEN PINKER, How the Mind Works

Friday, October 30, 2009

Walpurgis Night - The Other Halloween

There's a penetrating chill in the wind. The bright moon rises behind the shivering, nearly naked trees. A profound sense of foreboding permeates the darkness. This is the night, after all, when witches ride their broomsticks through the sky, and the natural world is forced to confront the powers of the supernatural.

No, it isn't October 31 and this is not Halloween. It's April 30 and it's Walpurgis Night.

Like Halloween, Walpurgis has its roots in ancient pagan customs, superstitions and festivals. At this time of year, the Vikings participated in a ritual that they hoped would hasten the arrival of Spring weather and ensure fertility for their crops and livestock. They would light huge bonfires in hopes of scaring away evil spirits.

But the name “Walpurgis” comes from a very different source. In the 8th Century, a woman named Valborg (other iterations of the name include Walpurgis, Wealdburg and Valderburger) founded the Catholic convent of Heidenheim in Wurtemburg, Germany. She herself later became a nun and was known for speaking out against witchcraft and sorcery. She was canonized a saint on May 1, 779. Since the celebration of her sainthood and the old Viking festival occurred around the same time, over the years the festivals and traditions intermingled until the hybrid pagan-Catholic celebration became known as Valborgsm√§ssoafton or Walpurgisnacht – Walpurgis Night.

The Other Halloween

Although not widely known in the US, this May-Eve night shares many of the traditions of Halloween and is, in fact, directly opposite Halloween on the calendar.

According to the ancient legends, this night was the last chance for witches and their nefarious cohorts to stir up trouble before Spring reawakened the land. They were said to congregate on Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains – a tradition that comes from Goethe's Faust. In the story, the demon Mephistopheles brings Faust to Brocken to consort with the coven of witches.

To ward off the witches’ evil, the citizenry would burn bonfires, sprinkle holy water and adorn their homes with talismans of blessed palm leaf. One of the best ways to keep evil at bay, they thought, was through noise. This is an idea that probably dates back to early man. On Walpurgis Night, the citizens would ring bells, bang drums, crack whips and beat blanks of wood onto the ground. As technology advanced, they would shoot firearms into the air.

Walpurgis Night even features its own version of Trick or Treat in some parts of Europe, especially Germany. In Bavaria, for example, where the celebration is known as a Freinacht or Drudennacht, the young might roam the neighborhoods pulling mischievous pranks, such as wrapping cars in toilet paper and smearing doorknobs with toothpaste. In Thueringen, Germany, some of the little girls dress up as witches, wearing paper hats and carrying sticks.

In Finland, where the holiday is called Vappu, the ordinarily reserved Finns run screaming through the streets wearing masks and carrying drinks.

Halloween-like scarecrows make an appearance, too. Life-size or smaller strawmen are created and ritually imbued with all the back luck and ill will of the past year. They are then tossed on the Walpurgis bonfires along with worn-out, burnable household items.

A Time of Magic

Some believe that Walpurgis, like Halloween, is more than a time of ritual spellcasting – that it is a time when the barrier between our world and the “supernatural” is more easily crossed.

Winifred Hodge writes in Waelburga and the Rites of May, “Since this is a turning-tide when the season is not quite one thing or another – a ‘between-time,’ it is very suitable for occult divination and spellcraft: a time to take advantage of the thinner veils between the worlds and the fact that our minds are temporarily focused away from everyday affairs and onto the magical energies of Nature's spring tides. This is a time for looking into that which is coming into being and which should be, for seeking deep roots of life-knowledge and life-mysteries, for love-magic and spells of growth and change, conception and birth – in fact, for almost all the elements of what is often called 'women's magic.'"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ouija Board - A Reflection In the Mirror

In the oft-misunderstood spirit of Halloween, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow darker, the cool winds of autumn pull at our coat tails and coloured leaves litter the streets. We revel in the excitement of our children, as visions of ghouls and ghosts become mixed with sugary notions of fun and costumed trickery.

October is the month of dying seasons, when our thoughts often turn to those people that have passed before us. In contrast to the historical idea of Samhain (commonly referred to in Wiccan circles as All Hallows Eve) and also known in Catholic traditions as All souls Day, most people these days take pains to celebrate this typically convoluted and commercialised holiday at the end of October, the vast majority having little idea of the real sentiment behind the celebration at all.

Mixed in with these month long advertising frenzies for plastic costumes, candy and a general condoning of impious attitudes toward the dead, is a yearly flood of interest in what may be the most misconstrued item of occult renown the world has ever known; the Ouija Board.

If you were to step out your door and ask any number of people you may run into on the street, what a Ouija Board is, there will be no mistaking the widespread familiarity people have with this lettered board and harmless planchette; people will expound on the creepy powers of Ouija, they will warn of the dangers and extol memories of past transgressions, usually at the mercy of some terrifying encounter with demonic influence, and most will relay the idea that the Ouija Board is an ancient practise of magical commune with the dead. Most would do this, though most would be completely wrong.

The Spirit Board, as the Ouija is generically referred, is by all accounts a very recent invention. In fact Ouija, a word whose etymology is entirely unknown and is widely believed to be completely made up, is a trademarked product name, owned by Hasbro. Yes, the toy company.

The Spirit board and each of its hundreds of various incarnations is, in all seriousness, a toy; though it didn’t necessarily start out that way. A man by the name of Charles Kennard, along with his attorney and associate Elijah Bond, made application to the US Patent office for a planchette and lettered board on May 28, 1890, and subsequently received US Patent #446,054 for what they termed ‘Psychographs, with sound producing numbers’. In the patent document, at the very top, the classification for the product is specified as “Toy or Game”.

In 1901, Kennard, through the ‘The Kennard Novelty Company’, handed production of the Spirit Board over to his employee William Fuld, who coined the term Ouija (most believe he fabricated the word from the French “oui” , meaning ‘yes’ and the German ‘ja’, also meaning ‘yes’). It was Fuld’s ingenious marketing of the product, hence forth known as the Ouija Board, that skyrocketed it’s popularity among both competitors in the Toy and Game making industry of the turn of the century, but also among the wildly growing Spiritualist movement of the same time.

During his reign as the worlds only Ouija manufacturer, Fuld was the complainant in many trademark and patent infringement lawsuits, against others who saw a financial opportunity in selling what may be the highest profiting entertainment device conceived of prior to modern electronics.

At the conclusion of Fuld’s life in 1927, he held exclusive rights to the use and manufacture of the game, though his estate brokered a deal with the budding toy manufacturer Hasbro in 1966, to have them purchase the rights to the Ouija franchise, and since that point, the Ouija Board has been manufactured and distributed by the Hasbro Toy Company exclusively.

This somewhat bland history of the Ouija Board -now also known by many other names, such as The Angel Board, The Spirit Communication Board, Planchette Ghost Board, Ghost Board, and a host of other such terms- says nothing about the game’s ability to either communicate with the dead, or to open gateways of spiritual commune, or to scare the bejesus out of kids and adults alike. It says nothing about the efficacy of the concept of Spirit Board communication as a tool for Ghost Hunting or spiritual research, and it says nothing about the legitimacy of the concept as anything more than a novelty.

The legendary ability of Ouija Boards to facilitate question and answer periods between educated paranormal investigators, or ignorant teenagers or even robe wearing psychic charlatans, and the dearly departed, is founded on nothing more than the glorified marketing of Mr. William Fuld at the height of western society’s most gullible period of development. This was a time when flimflam was a respectable profession among salesmen, when snake oil and mechanically aided s√©ance were rampantly offered to anyone with the means to afford the scam. (Though one wonders how far we’ve really come)

In your impromptu street survey (as suggested earlier), you would certainly have encountered a preponderance of expert advice for how to deal with the Ouija Board, and likely at least a few warnings to avoid the use of this toy, for fear of inviting such forces as demons, inter-dimensional creatures, evil spirits and even the devil himself, right into your home, or even your own soul (depending on the theistic beliefs of the advisor in question). Popular culture has simultaneously vilified and mystified the reputation of the Ouija Board; there is a general consensus that mistreating or disrespecting the so-called power of the Ouija Board is akin to taunting a violent bully when there’s no way to escape his inevitable wrath.

In fact, the government of Great Britain has banned the sale of Ouija board and the like since the 1970’s, though this legality is based more on the idiotic behaviour which people will partake in on their own accord, rather than any demonic or otherwise influence exerted by the board.

In reality, the Ouija Board, by that name or by any other, is a simple collection of cardboard, or wood, and plastic. There is no ritualistic practise in its manufacture or sale, there is nothing special about any part of it, except…the person who intends to use it.

And a great many people have criticised the intention of the people who would find themselves using such a toy for anything other than party tricks.

Dr. Jimmy Lowry has been outspoken about the fallacy of Ouija Boards, and of the mindset that fools regular people into believing that the simple act of placing your hands on a plastic planchette will somehow open a doorway to another realm. His theistic damnation of the toy does seem to be a bit much, but his point remains as poignant to the agnostic as to the devout parishioner.

So what is happening when a pair of would-be mediums tempts the spirits with the use of a Spirit Board?

The most popular theory, the Ideomotor effect or automatism -essentially this is the psychological process by which an idea or suggestion creates a subconscious action intended to complete the idea- is a fancy way of saying that the results achieved by users of Ouija Boards is entirely self-inflicted. Others suggest that there is an element of telekinesis involved, which might explain the vastly divergent results experienced by so many people; some experience immediate and dramatic response from the board (or from their own psyche, depending on which explanation you subscribe to), while others experience little to no response at all.

But throughout all of this we are faced with a truth, a truth that is ignored by so many people, in so many various positions and endeavours on spiritual fronts. In our world, our reality, which includes some of the strangest natural phenomena, some of the weirdest science and the oddest environmental influences conceivable by man, why do we jump to the conclusion that the effects shown to us (or by us) through the Ouija Board are the will of ghosts or demons? Is our obsession with death and the hereafter so compelling that we actively seek out ways to express our own hopes and fears in that regard through toys?

The answer to that last question is most definitely ‘yes’, though the first question is a little harder to satisfy. Of the possibilities, most significantly including the untapped powers of the human brain, we give credit for the awesome potential of mankind to the mysteriously safe entities of fantasy and dream. It’s a cop out…it’s an excuse and a way to avoid the ultimate culpability, to avoid the admission that we are all, ultimately accountable for our actions, our words and our thoughts. If we buy into the marketing of Fuld or his predecessor Kennard, and we accept that it is the influence of the hereafter that affects our fates, then we are no longer responsible for where that influence takes us.

In the end of it all there is no reason to fear the Ouija; it is not a demonic doorway, nor is it a tool for communicating with the dead…it remains a toy, and a fun house mirror of our own fears and fantasies. Though, in so much as there is no factual reason to avoid the game of fortune telling with a Spirit Board, there is also no reason to connect it to what should be a hallowed celebration of those people who have passed on before us.

(above taken from " Paranomal People ". )

Friday, October 16, 2009

Haunted Objects

Can a seemingly harmless and inanimate object such as an old watch or piece of furniture contain the psychic energy of its previous owners? Can everyday objects be haunted? In a recent visit to the popular auction site eBay I happened to find several supposedly haunted items being sold. Everything from old tools and photographs to dolls and jewellery, all of it purportedly haunted. There was even a haunted mansion for sale in Colorado. It seems that there is no shortage of haunted, cursed and generally spooky stuff for sale these days.

Some objects are said to be cursed, other seem to be animated by spirits. Other notoriously haunted objects are vehicle; phantom ships, ghost trains that steam through the night air on their old runs, even if the railway line has been long removed. Some famously haunted objects have fascinated the public consciousness for years. We have all heard about The Hope Diamond, the Flying Dutchman and King Tuts tomb, all of which are reportedly cursed or haunted items, which many feel retain the essence of long dead souls.

I have no doubt that the majority of so called haunted items being sold on online auction sites today are just plain old junk. Junk wrapped in a nifty, compelling and mysterious story and sold to novelty collectors. To each his own, I always say. I also have no doubt that much of the mystery surrounding famous objects such as King Tut’s tomb is the result of myth and legend. Tall tales which haven’t hurt Egypt’s tourism trade one tiny bit.

That being said, I do believe that some places and items can retain the energy of human beings. Our thoughts and emotions create energy, our lives create energy. It isn’t that much of a stretch for me to imagine that type of energy being stored in a house or other objects. The stronger the emotional energy attached to an object the more likely it will be to display paranormal behaviour.

Some have labelled this phenomenon a psychic echo; I prefer to think of it as residual psychic energy. The term psychic echo implies that energy has bounced off of an object; I feel that this is misleading since it seems that psychic energy is absorbed by the objects involved and not simply reflected.

While many of the items being touted today as genuinely haunted or possessed objects, the truth is that most of them are nothing but pure basement clutter. Be careful though when you are perusing the flea market stalls, thrift shop shelves and online auctions, because though quite rare, possessed objects are most certainly real.

(above taken from "Level Beyond,Jeffry R. Palmer ". )