Monday, June 22, 2015

Spirit Guide: Will-O-The Wisps


Class VII Corporeal Entity

Also known as False Fire, Friar’s Lantern, Jack o Lantern, Hobby Lantern, Hinkypunk

Will-o-the wisps, also known as Ignis Fatuus (from the Medieval Latin: Foolish Fire) are a series of flickering lights that have been known to appear over swamps, bogs, and other treacherous locations.  

There is some debate as to the origins of these spirits, but most theories fall into a few widely separated camps. The first of these is that a soul who was particularly wicked in life was somehow able to trick the Devil out of taking his soul. However, as the Devil will always have his due, the sinner was doomed to walk the earth forever with a single coal for light and warmth. According to the Irish tradition, this individual (by the name of Jack) placed his coal in a hollowed out turnip, therefore being responsible for the Jack O Lantern. Similar accounts have also been reported in Scotland, England, Wales, the United States, and Canada.

A second school of thought is that the wisps somehow mark the location of a treasure that has been buried beneath the earth. Similar tales of this are told in Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, and Mexico (where they are known as luces del testoro.)

Another camp believed that these lights are in fact some form of salamander, or non-human fire entity. It is unknown whether or not this type of spirit is harmful, but all precautions should be taken. These reports have come in from locales as varied as Australia (where they are known as min min lights), Pakistan (chir batti), Germany (the Weiss frauen), and Brazil (the boi-tata, which appears in the form of a giant serpent if one unwitting comes too close.)

The final and most likely explanation of will-o-the-wisps is that they are the spirits of the dead, condemned to walk the earth for either being unbaptized or improperly buried, or for some misdeeds in life as a form of penance and punishment. These accounts have been reported throughout the world, including America, Sweden, Bengal (aleya), Japan (Hitodama), and Argentina (Luz mala.)

It should be noted that while in some situations the spirit appears to be leading the individual to treasure, or to offer help, the vast majority of the accounts show the wisps to be overwhelmingly harmful, especially in the cases of the aleya, Luz mala, boi-tata, as well as a majority of the accounts from Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England. In many situations, the wisps have been exposed attempting to lead travelers away from safe paths to chasms, bogs, quicksand, and the edges of rivers, leaving them there in the darkness in dangerous terrain.

There have been two methods used by the people of Guernsey and Cornwall for several generations to flummox and eradicate the ignus fatuus, or faeu Boulanger. If a villager finds themselves being followed by one of the spirits, they learn from a young age to quickly turn their caps and jackets inside out. This confuses the spirit, and it departs in favor of another pursuit. In order to eliminate one of these spirits, a knife is buried with the blade uppermost. When a spirit then gives chase, it impales itself upon the blade. It has also been shown that the use of iron, in the form of talismans or tools is effective in repelling these forms of spirit, thus eliminating any potential threat.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thrift Shop Finds: South Side Goodwill

It was a bit ago, before everything became quite busy, that I was able to make a fast trip to the Goodwill on the South Side of Pittsburgh. Here is what I managed to find:

3 books in a the Sharpe's series by Bernard Cornwell, and a medium sized case, which I picked up largely due to the fact that it is embossed with "MARVEL" on the case. I was surprised when I opened it up to find:

A complete game set for a Spiderman and Friends matching game, dating back to 2005, back when Marvel was still a relatively weak player in entertainment. By far my favorites in this set are:

The Thing, Spiderman, and the Hulk. 

These were my notable purchases, and hopefully I will be able to have some of the uploads from a quick adventure to Williamsburg up soon.

Until next time,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spirit Guide: The Headless Horseman


Class IIX Corporeal Entity

Also know as: The Horseman, The Galloping Hessian, The Hessian

The Headless Horseman is a malevolent spirit originating in the town of Sleepy Hollow, in upstate New York. He was first reported in the mid 1790’s. This account was later fictionalized in order to spread the knowledge of the Horseman further by Washington Irving, resulting in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

During a battle in the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow in the mid 1770’s, an unnamed Hessian was decapitated, according to legend by a cannonball, but in greater likelihood by a sword. As the forces of Great Britain lost that battle, his remains were taken from the field by his comrades as they withdrew. Due to their haste, however, they were unable to find his head. He was quickly buried, but later was exhumed and his remains re-interred in the churchyard of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow proper.

There is an apocryphal legend that when the British forces withdrew, a Colonial militiaman found the head, and kept it as a souvenir. Otherwise the location of the Hessian’s head remains unknown.

Since his re-burial at Old Dutch Church, the Horseman has been known to rise and ride out into the surrounding countryside in search of his missing head. He is most often seen riding a black charger; with some accounts describing that the horse’s eyes can be seen burning like coals in the darkness.

The Horseman himself often appears garbed in the typical uniform for a Hessian officer in the period, that being black knee length boots, crème colored breeches and an undershirt, and a dark blue coat with red facings. This is often topped by a dark blue cape with a red silk lining. This would indicate his high status, as well as wealth while he was alive.

Some accounts also have the Horseman either wearing or carrying a jack-o-lantern in place of his head; however this is also unknown whether or not this is part of his regular appearance.

Should the Hessian be unable to find his own head, it is also known that he has taken the heads of others with a large cavalry sword.  As a result, he should be considered exceptionally dangerous.

At this time, there is no solid known defense against the Horseman. Therefore, if the specter is encountered it is highly suggested that the individual should flee in great haste. Some evidence suggests that possibly places of refuge include churchyards (due to being sanctified ground) as well as crossing over the covered bridge that leads into the town limits of Sleepy Hollow (This may be due to the inability of spirits to cross running water.)

In regards to actually stopping the spirit, there has been some progress made with silver bullets, as well as using torches to keep the Horseman at bay, but at this point there is no known way of putting the spirit down permanently.  It has been conjectured that whoever owns the skull of the Horseman can maintain some level of control of the specter, although this may most likely only be done through some form of dark magic. It is also believed that by reuniting the head of the Hessian with his body, one may finally put the spirit of the Horseman, along with his rampage, to rest. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Spirit Guide: Allegheny Arsenal


Class IIX Physical Location

First designed in 1814, the Allegheny Arsenal was conceived as a major supply depot for the United States Army on what was then the Western frontier of the country, in the city of Pittsburgh. As borders were pushed back and the industrial strength of the city began to develop, the original goal of the arsenal moved from being a simple supply depot to a full scale weapons manufacturing facility. The most notable products from this area were saddles and tack for the cavalry units, as well as a large number of cartridges and other explosive ordinance.

During the brief presidency of William Henry Harrison, he issued an executive order to begin construction and fund a high security weapons laboratory. It was originally unspecified what threat the President wished to guard against, but his death (under suspicious circumstances) approximately one month after taking office and issuing the order seems to confirm that there was a credible threat. Later investigation of the presidents’ wartime papers (As he had fought Native Americans in the Ohio Territory) show that he had been involved with a fight against a Wendigo during the campaign, and was therefore extremely aware of both  spirits and their weaknesses. 

Following the death of the president, the War Department began construction of the laboratory in 1841, finishing it in just six months.  Further events proved the doomed president rather prophetic.
The laboratory began to grow at a pace to match the Arsenal, so that by the time of the American Civil War, many of the cutting edge advancements were being tested, especially in the realms of dealing with the paranormal. It was at this laboratory that scientists discovered the weakness of vampires to silver. With such paranormal research taking place under the building, as well as the rest of the war effort in the industrial city, the entire area became a hotbed of espionage.

As the Civil War became more heated, the Union’s Anaconda Plan called for a complete encirclement of the South, which was achieved on April 28, 1862 with the capture of the port of New Orleans. Unfortunately for the Union, this resulted in the New Court of vampires declaring war on the United States. Soon after, using research generated at the Allegheny Arsenal, General Benjamin Butler ordered the confiscation of all of the silverware that could be found. This was then melted down for ammunition to quell the vampire uprising. 

At the news that the vampires had declared war, their ancient foes, the Great Pack of werewolves (operating mostly from the Maine wilderness), allied with the United States and effectively sealed the Canadian border to any sympathetic vampires in the New Court’s base in Quebec. Unfortunately, they were unable to accomplish this before a small ring of agents made their way into New York.
After committing some minor vandalism and sabotage in New York City, the vampires decided to destroy the laboratory and munitions factory that was aiding the cause, and proceeded to Pittsburgh. Once there, they integrated themselves in the community surrounding the Arsenal by masquerading as merchants looking to invest in the region. They then began sending intelligence through established espionage lines to Baltimore, where such information was quickly dispatched to Richmond. It is believed that the attack on the Arsenal took place as a direct reprisal to the arming of the occupying forces in New Orleans with the confiscated silver.

At approximately 2 p.m. on September 17, 1862, a series of three explosions originating in the Arsenal almost completely leveled the building, as well as several of the surrounding houses. Contemporary reports had the explosion being heard as far away as two miles. The official list of casualties shows 78 deaths, however this does not include an unknown number of scientists who were in the laboratory at the time.

Immediately following the explosion, a band of men under the command of Colonel John Symington formed a plan to capture the spies, and bring them to justice. Having deducted which of the merchants were involved, Symington and his men sealed the vampires in their abodes using salt, holy water, and other religious icons. The following day, when they had retreated to their coffins, Symington’s men broke in, seized the vampires themselves, and tied them to stakes using rope infused with a silver thread (another innovation of the Allegheny Arsenal.) This allowed the men to dig the post holes in the back yard of the Colonel’s residence, and when day was breaking on the 20th, the vampire’s stakes were placed in those holes, and the vampires were burned as the sun rose. A small vial of the ashes was sent to Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, and another to Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institution.

Efforts to rebuild the Arsenal were successful, with it being back in operation at full capacity within one year. It continued to operate up through the Spanish-American War, when it was finally decommissioned. The original powder magazine, as well as its tunnel to the Allegheny River (which somehow survived the explosion) may be seen to today. 

The efforts to rebuild the laboratory were not as successful, and in 1863 Stanton and Langley decided to move the operations of the paranormal research to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remains to this day. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spirit Guide: Zedekiah Spengler


Class VII Magical Practitioner

Also known as The Black Sheep

Zedekiah Spengler (1683?-1772?) was a wizard and practitioner of alchemy in the Massachusetts town of Nass Burg in the early to mid 18th century. He is most noted for his contributions to research on musical notation in regards to the alchemical sciences, especially in regards to summoning of spirits.

It is unknown where exactly Zedekiah received his training in the magical arts, but it is known that he had achieved some measure of proficiency by the early 1730’s. Due to his religious nature, it has been conjectured that he may have been involved in some sort of Talmudic of Kabalistic practices.  At this same time he also honed his musical abilities on the lute.

Both of these skill sets came into use in the spring of 1742 when the village well of Nass Burg ran dry. In an attempt to remedy the situation, Zedekiah wrote a spell to refill the well using a musically based incantation. The incantation worked, however not in the way that he intended, as instead of the well refilling, Zedekiah was able to conjure the Genius Loci (literally translated from the Latin as “Spirit of the Place”) from the vicinity. The Loci in this instance took the form of a winged dragon with green scales, as well as a horn. The dragon also featured a crest of spikes, as well as possessed an ability to spontaneously create fire by breathing.  According to Spengler’s journals, when the dragon was first summoned it was approximately the size of a horse.

It may be noted that despite the spirits fierce appearance, it actually had a personality akin more closely to that of a small child. This is noted in the journals when the spirit began to journey to neighboring farms, bringing pigs and goats to Spengler as gifts. This did not sit well with Zedekiah’s neighbors, and as a result he determined that it was necessary to return the Loci to its original plane.

It took several unsuccessful methods, but he was finally able to complete the task by re-arranging the notes of the original incantation, putting the dragon into a form of suspended animation. Once that was accomplished, he put the spirit down in the base of the well, capping it with a stone that read “Here lieth the Dragon, banished to sleep forever sayeth the conjurer Zedekiah Spengler A.D. 1742." Further research and excavations have shown that the spirit has indeed continued to grow in the time since it was entombed.

Following the incident with the Genius Loci, the details of Zedekiah Spengler’s life are mostly lost. It is known that he had three children with his wife, and that the majority of his descendants became involved in either the scientific or paranormal fields.  His journals, containing both his account of the encounter with the Genius Loci, as well as any other magical discoveries that he may have made, are held under lock and key at the Spengler family archive, with strict orders that the archive is to be destroyed following the death of the last member of the Spengler family line. Zedekiah Spengler is believed to be buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Nass Burg.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spirit Guide: 9 Circles of Hell (According to Dante)

HELL (as described by Dante)

CLASS IXII Physical Location

The entrance to the Christian hell was uncovered by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the year 1300 A.D. His account of his journey and the exploration of the netherworld was the subject of his epic The Divine Comedy.

In the text, Dante describes the number of levels of hell, along with the punishments each level receives. It appears that the type of punishment each soul receives is in some way connected with their sins in life. If one is able to locate the entrance to Hell, one must use extreme caution and avoid entering at all costs, for fear they may be unable to exit once they have entered the underworld.

Dante never gives an exact location for the entrance to the Netherworld in his work; however it is described as being in a dark wood near a mountain. Over the entrance to hell is an inscription which reads "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" (Abandon all hope ye who enter here.) Due to the description of the beasts he is chased by (a lion, a leopard, and a wolf) it is conjectured that he was somewhere in Africa when he made his discovery.

Once inside the entrance, Dante first encountered a vestibule full of people chasing after a banner, while being constantly stung by hornets. It appears that most of the spirits on this initial level of the Underworld were found guilty of being uncommitted to any cause in their life. Immediately after passing through the vestibule, Dante was granted passage over the river Acheron to encounter the first true level of Hell, Limbo.

Compared to the rest of the levels of Hell, Limbo might be considered the most pleasant, with fields described as a verdant green and a castle with seven gates. Dante encountered several notable shades on his journey in this vicinity including Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Euclid, Cicero, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, and Saladin. It appears that those sentenced to this level were “the unbaptized and virtuous pagans.” As Dante attempted to descend further, he was initially blocked by one of the judges of the dead, Minos, a man with the tail of a snake. It was the duty of Minos to assign each sinner to their punishment, which he did so by wrapping his tail around himself to indicate how far the condemned should go.

After bypassing Minos, Dante encountered a plane where spirits were swept back and forth by a monumental storm, unable to rest. On this plane Dante was stopped by the notable shades of Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Achilles, Paris, and Tristan, who were condemned for their lust in life.
The next circle, those sinners condemned for gluttony, was guarded by Cerberus, a beast which took the form of a giant dog with three heads. In this plane, the prisoners were forced to lie is slush created by an icy rain.

Further on, Dante encountered the ruler of the Fourth Circle, Pluto. He watched over two sets of prisoners, the miserly and the prodigal, who were condemned to this level for sins related to greed. Here the two groups were chained with heavy weights. It may be noted that additional evidence was gained on the prisoners for this level of Hell by Ebenezer Scrooge, as his account of Jacob Marley’s shade is eerily similar.

The fifth circle of Hell is composed of the river Styx, which also serves to punish those guilty of the sins of anger. In the river, the spirits try to seize each other in order to bring themselves to the top of the surface. Immediately on the other edge of the river are the city walls of Dis, which holds the rest of the levels of Hell. The walls of the city are guarded by fallen angels, while the gatekeepers themselves are the Furies (Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone) and Medusa. The only way of opening the gate without their permission is through the use of a religious relic.

The sixth circle of Hell is full of heat and smoke generated by flaming tombs. In each of these coffins spirits guilty of heresy are sealed for eternity.

The next level of Hell is composed of three separate regions, the fiery river of Phlegethon, a region of thorn bushes, populated by the Harpies, and a desert of flaming sand, which is regularly wracked by storms of burning brimstone. Each of the souls who are sentenced to this circle of Hell was guilty of the sin of violence. Those who are residing within the river are condemned for violence against people and property, while the thorn bushes of the second region were the transfigured souls of those guilty of suicide. Finally, those specters who reside in the desert are the violent against God and nature.

As Dante descended further down a steep rock face, he found himself in the Eighth Circle, also known as Malebolge (from the Latin “Evil Pockets”.) This area composed of ten stone ditches, with bridges between them, each ditch containing sinners who were guilty of some form of fraud. They are as follows:

Bolgia 1- Panderers and Seducers are forced to march by whip wielding demons for eternity.   
Bolgia 2- Flatterers are steeped in human excrement.
Bolgia 3- Those guilty of simony are placed head first into holes in the rock, with flames applied to their feet.
      Bolgia 4-Sorcerers, astrologers, and false prophets have their heads twisted around from their bodies and are forced to walk backward
      Bolgia 5-Corrupt politicians are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch.
      Bolgia 6-Hypocrites are forced to wear gilded cloaks made of lead to weigh them down.
 Bolgia 7-Thieves are pursued by snakes, and when the thieves are bitten, they are forced to go painful transfigurations.
Bolgia 8- Fraudulent or corrupt advisors are consumed by individual bonfires.
Bolgia 9- Those guilty of promoting violence and strife are hacked apart by sword wielding demons, only to heal and repeat the process through eternity.
Bolgia 10- Alchemists, counterfeiters, and imposters are inflicted with various diseases, such as fever and madness.

After descending another rock face, Dante entered into the deepest circle of hell, that of the icy lake known as the Cocytus. There were four separate regions, each named for a certain type of betrayal:
Caina-Those treacherous to kin are encased in ice up to their chests
Atenora- Those who betrayed their community are encased in ice up to the neck.
Ptolomaea- Those guilty of betraying guests are laid out in the ice with only their faces uncovered.
Judecca- Those treacherous against the people that they swore loyalty to are completely encased in the ice.

After passing through all nine levels, Dante encountered Satan himself, frozen in the ice up to his waist. He was seen to have three heads, each head devouring a sinner convicted of high treason. Those particular specters are believed to be those of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot. 

In order to escape Hell, Dante was forced to descend even further, where he discovered a hidden passageway that led through the earth to end in Purgatory. From there, he was then able to make his eventual escape to the surface.

Due to the excessive number of dangers, it is not recommended that one seek out the Nine Circles for exploration. If one must do so, it is highly recommended to have complete faith, a myriad of relics on hand, as well as the foreknowledge that it may very well be one’s last exploration.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spirit Guide: Jacob Marley


Class VII Corporeal Entity

Jacob Marley (1764-December 24, 1836) was a spirit who appeared to Ebenezer Scrooge in order to warn him of his three impending encounters with The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on December 24, 1842. Scrooge’s account was told to his good friend, the author Charles Dickens, who then fictionalized the experience into the best-selling novella A Christmas Carol.

In particular, he belongs to a particular class know as Presages.  These entities essentially serve as spiritual carriers, either conveying a particular message, or serving as a herald to more powerful spirits to announce their impending arrival. Another particularly well known example of this type of spirit is the Irish Banshee.

His appearance was more or less similar to his appearance in life, though with the addition of a kerchief tied around his face as though he had a toothache. However, this actually served to keep Marley’s jaw in place in accordance with standard British burial procedures at the time. Aside from the kerchief, Marley also dragged an exceptionally long chain of moneyboxes with him wherever he went as a form of punishment.  We know that this particular form of eternal punishment was tailored to the specter, as Marley remarked to Scrooge that his chain would be longer than the Ghost’s considering he had worked on it for more years.

In regards to physical manifestations and his ability to interact with his environment, Jacob Marley had a myriad of abilities. He could float, as most spirits, but he could also physically move objects, such as bells and door knobs. In addition, he could influence the shape of physical objects temporarily, as he was able to momentarily shape the door knocker of Scrooge’s lodgings to resemble his face.

It appears that a major weakness of Marley’s ghost was the physical limitations placed upon him by his punishment. These include the confinement in chains to limit his movement. Given that there are no further known reports of the specter, it may be the case that spirits in this situation may only appear to those who knew them intimately. This is a somewhat disturbing thought considering that a spirit may be in the immediate vicinity of an individual, but still be unable to interact due to the inability to communicate. It may also be noted that Marley was only able to appear to Scrooge for a short interval. It may be that the energy required for a spirit to make their presence know is simply too much to bring about except under special circumstances.

The case between Scrooge and Marley is also notable as it is one of the first times modern investigative techniques were applied to a haunting. In particular, Scrooge eliminated a number of variables before determining that it was indeed a ghost he was dealing with. Due to the weak nature of the ghost, he should be considered relatively harmless, although care should be taken, as is the case with all presages, to pay attention to the warning that they offer.