America

The Mothman of West Virginia by Amy Van De Casteele

From 12 November 1966 to 15 December 1967 the small West Virginia town of Point Pleasant and the surrounding area was plagued by terrifying supernatural phenomenon – mainly centred around the appearance of a large, winged creature with blazing red eyes which came to be known as “Mothman”.

First sighted by five grave-diggers working in a cemetery near the town of Clendenin, the creature appeared as a black man-sized shape skimming above the trees. Days later, on 16 November, the headline in the Point Pleasant Register ran: “Couples See Man-sized Bird…Creature…Something”. The article recounted how, at around midnight of the previous night, Steve Mallette, Roger Scarberry and their partners (Mary and Linda respectively) had been driving away from the “TNT area” – a decommissioned WWII explosives factory – when they encountered a terrifying being. Standing six or seven feet tall, it resembled “a man with wings” and had bright red eyes that shone eerily in the darkness. It glided over their car, following them as they drove away but seeming to shun the headlights of the vehicle, averse to the bright light.

The frightening being followed them as they drove back towards town but eventually disappeared. Shocked but intrigued they turned the car around and headed back to the TNT area, only to find the creature seemingly waiting for them.

The day after their encounter the couples were ashen-faced and weary, but fascinated by their experiences. They surmised that the creature must be living in one of the empty munitions factory’s massive boilers, Steve Mallette commenting that no pigeons roosted in the building where they believed it to live. He went on to say that the creature “doesn’t have an explanation to it” and that it was “like nothing I’ve ever seen before”. He also vowed that he would go out to look for it again.

Hauntingly, they were not the only people to see the creature that night. At 10:30 on the night of the 15th, a building contractor in Salem called Newell Partridge was quietly watching television when the screen suddenly went black and an unnatural whining noise started up outside. His German Shepherd dog Bandit was on the front porch and began howling, prompting Partridge to hurry outside and see what was happening. When he emerged from his front door he saw Bandit staring towards the hay barn and aimed the beam of his torch in that direction. Two red eyes glowed in the bright light and at the same moment Bandit launched himself towards the hay barn, unheeding of Partridge’s voice as he tried vainly to call him back.

Bandit was never seen again and the next morning Partridge read about the sighting of the Mothman by the two couples, and how during their encounter they had seen the body of a dog lying beside the road towards town…When they returned minutes later it was gone. No one knows what happened to Bandit; his disappearance is just one of many mysteries surrounding the Mothman.

The greatest mystery is, of course, that of the Mothman’s identity. What was this strange winged creature that the Mallettes and the Scarberrys saw, which flew through the air at 100 mph and stood as tall as a man? We may never really know but one thing is certain – its unsettling legacy will not be forgotten anytime soon. That eerie creature which emerged from the TNT area would go on to become a local phenomenon, appearing a number of times over the coming months and sparking a West Virginia legend which would become immortalized in its own Museum, statue and movie – 2002’s ‘The Mothman Prophecies’, starring Richard Gere.

Renowned sceptic Joe Nickell said that he believed the Mothman to be nothing more than sightings of a large bird and a series of pranks and hoaxes; this statement was backed up by Dr. Robert L. Smith, a wildlife biologist at West Virginia University, who believed the creature to be the Sandhill crane – a tall bird which has a 7-foot wingspan and red markings around the eyes.

John Keel, a prominent Ufologist who penned the New York Times bestselling book ‘The Mothman Prophecies’ had his own beliefs about the creature. In the book he recounts a number of stories about these flying entities, tales which hail not only from the US but from far flung countries such as England and Vietnam. For example, in 1961 a New York pilot saw a massive flying creature “bigger than an eagle” as he flew over the Hudson River Valley. Two years later, on November 16 1963, four Kentish teens witnessed a “tall, dark figure” with “big bat wings”, while a woman driving with her father near Chief Cornstalk Hunting Grounds in Mason County, West Virginia witnessed “a big gray figure” with wings which took off straight into the air and vanished from sight.

Keel states that “these great Garudas” {a mythical bird from Hindu and Buddhist mythology} “and winged beings are closely associated with luminous phenomena. They tend to appear in areas where UFOs have been active and, like UFOs, they tend to linger for days or even weeks in the same specific area”. Keel goes on to call 1966 “The Year of the Garuda”, but it wasn’t only the Mothman that was troubling West Virginia that year. UFOs were witnessed by a number of people in the state while others were harassed by unnatural men in black and strange lights were seen in the sky. On November 17 a music teacher named Mrs Grose was roused at quarter to five in the morning by the frantic barking of her little dog. Looking out the window she saw a large circular UFO hovering over a field on the other side of the road. As she looked on in astonishment it “made a zig-zag motion” and vanished from view.

The next day, in the TNT area, Mothman was seen again, this time by two firemen. They stated that it was a bird but “was huge” and added that they’d “never seen anything like it”. Two days after that five teenagers encountered the creature in the woods around Campbells Creek and an elderly Point Pleasant resident found Mothman standing brazenly on his front lawn. The sight of the looming grey figure with its burning red eyes was so terrifying that when the creature suddenly flew off and he staggered back into his home he looked so pale and stricken that his wife thought he was having a heart attack.

More than 100 people saw Mothman, during that year 1966-67 but a young woman named Connie Carpenter was particularly traumatized by her experiences. As well as encountering the creature on a number of occasions, she was also plagued by unexplained beeping noises coming from outside her bedroom window and was once almost abducted on her way to school by a strange young man with thick black hair. She managed to free herself but the next day a note was pushed under her front door; it read: “Be careful, girl. I can get you yet”.

Was this intimidating young man just a passing lunatic – or one of the strange men in black that had begun to appear around the same time as the Mothman? Was there a connection between Connie’s experiences with the Mothman and her near-abduction?

Recommended reading:

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

Mothman and Other Curious Encounters by L. Coleman

The Silver Bridge: The Classic Mothman Tale by Gray Barker

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Africa

Haunted Africa II by Amy Van De Casteele

Welcome to the second part of the Haunted Africa feature, as we journey once more deep into the heart of African mythology and spirituality. The first supernatural entity we will encounter this time is one of the most well-known of Africa’s haunts – the continent’s very own version of the bogey man. His name is the Tokoloshe and according to Zulu beliefs he can take the form of a wicked dwarf-like creature, although he has other appearances and can even become invisible upon inserting a pebble into his mouth. A Tokoloshe can cause all kinds of mischief, from the relatively benign to the truly terrible. He tries to steal away children, assaults women and has even been known to cause death to those he visits.

Sightings of the Tokoloshe have been recorded for years, orally and, more recently, on television and in newspapers. In one awful case from recent years an Umlazi medicine man in South Africa brutally murdered a child because he believed it was a Tokoloshe. The belief in – and fear of – these supernatural creatures is incredibly powerful, undoubtedly because of the negative connotations that surround it. There is a steadfast belief that the Tokoloshe can be summoned by witches and by those who use black magic and that they can use the sprite to visit sickness and harm on people they hold a grudge against. In return the Tokoloshe receives gifts of food and milk to drink, and is even used as a sexual servant by his witch mistresses because of his prodigious genitalia which he carries draped over one shoulder.

The Tokoloshe has been featured in novels, films and comics; notable examples include “Gem Squash Tokoloshe” by Rachel Zadok and “Tales of the Tokoloshe” by Pieter Scholtz. In Zadok’s novel she mentions one of the well-documented ways in which people protect themselves from this wicked spirit – by raising of their beds on bricks so that the Tokoloshe cannot reach them. If unfortunate victims are still troubled by the creature, however, then the only recourse is to call in a medicine man, known as a N’anga, who can banish the Tokoloshe using specially devised magic (‘muti’).

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Another of Africa’s dangerous legendary creatures is the Kongamato (“breaker of boats”) which has been spotted in Zambia, Congo and Angola. Believed to be a surviving member of the Pterosaur species, the Kongamato has been seen by locals and foreign explorers alike and is described as having fearsome teeth, leathery wings and an elongated head. It is reddish-black in colour. No photographs or videos have been taken of this terrifying creature but it has been described in the 1923 book “In Witchbound Africa” by Frank Melland as being a danger to small boats and anyone who dared to venture through its territory.

Two famous sightings occurred in Fort Roseberry in Zambia. At dusk an engineer saw two prehistoric-looking birds flying through the sky over the fort. A year later a man turned up at the hospital with a bloody gash in his chest and said that it had been inflicted by massive bird – he drew a picture of the creature, but sadly the drawing has been lost and cannot be used as evidence.

While scepticism may be rife about the existence of a modern-day winged dinosaur, the fact remains that natives from the African countries where it was seen reacted with terror when they were shown images of pterosaurs and identified them as being Kongamato. The same people were unfamiliar with any other prehistoric creature however and did not react in the same way when shown pictures of other dinosaurs. Members of the Kaonde tribe even carried amulets to protect themselves from the Kongamato. As recently as 2010 a research team from Genesis Park plunged into the Bangweulu Swamps to search for the creature – sadly there were no sightings on that particular trip, but the idea that a pterosaur might still soar above the African plains is undoubtedly a compelling one.

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Stories of vampires – those evil bloodsuckers of the night – have been recorded by cultures from all over the world, and the African countries are no different, although their vampire takes a slightly different form to the one we are familiar with in Europe. The Adze, or firefly vampire, is a mythological product of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It takes human form except during feeding, when it morphs into a firefly or some other small winged insect in order to suck blood from its victims. This trait it shares with European vampires, but unlike its northern cousins the Adze is more selective about the sources of its blood, preferring it to come solely from children. The Adze will not often kill its victim, needing only a little blood at a time – but if it has gone without food for many days it becomes insatiable – and deadly.

As well as being a bloodsucker the Adze poses another threat to the human population, as it has been known to possess hapless mortals, usually those who practise magic of some kind. Once a person has been possessed they will become a vampire themselves until the spirit of the Adze is caught and destroyed.

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We will round off our tour of Haunted Africa with another look at some of its ghosts. In a barren canyon in the scrubby desert lands of Namibia you can supposedly still hear the footsteps of the German soldiers who fought there during WWII. A grim-looking man dressed in black and a little Victorian boy haunt the Old Parsonage Museum in Somerset East in South Africa and the town of Kimberley is surely the most haunted in the country, home to nearly 160 haunted buildings such as the 19th century stately home of Dunluce and Rudd House. The latter is home to a number of spectral occupants including a mournful lady in white and a baby, which manifests itself as the sound of disembodied crying echoing through the old nursery room.

Meanwhile, in Kenya, there have been stories of schools targeted by wicked and aggressive spirits and Egypt is said to be home to several haunted sites, such as Khufu’s Pyramid at Giza, Baron Castle in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings itself – hardly surprising really, when you consider all of the bodies that have been interred there. Supposedly, if you sit in the Valley at midnight you will see the apparition of a horse and chariot being driven by a man in Ancient Egyptian garb…Just one of many reasons to visit this incredible historical site!

That brings us to the end of our Haunted Africa feature – next time you pay a visit to this vast and fascinating continent, be on the lookout for more than just lions, elephants and herds of wildebeest!

Africa

Haunted Africa Part One – by Amy Van De Casteele

The vast continent of Africa has always held a wild fascination for Europeans, with its spectacular landscapes, vibrant cultures and often brutal history of tribal warfare, sectarian violence and colonialism. Home to many nations, religions and ways of life, it comes as no surprise that Africa has more than its fair share of gods, demons and spirits that prowl over the grassy plains and creep through the hot darkness with flashing eyes and grasping hands. Some of these spirits are good, some evil, some indifferent – but belief in them remains widespread today, despite the prevalence of Christianity and Islam which abhor such ‘superstitions’.

I grew up in Southern Africa, spending the first ten years of my life there, and when you drive through the majestic volcanic mountains of Lesotho or across the sprawling South African plains it is not hard to imagine that all manner of dark and mysterious beings lurk out there in the wilds. In Botswana, the land of my birth, locals believe that the Legaga la ga Kobokwe – or the Kobokwe Cave – is haunted by evil spirits which take the form of gigantic snakes. Their belief is so deeply engrained that even though the Scottish missionary and famous explorer David Livingstone spent a night in the cave with a tribal king and emerged unscathed the next morning, they still maintain that the cave is haunted. At night they often see these mighty snakes moving about and supposedly any travellers who pass the cave are waylaid by spirits. Now the only locals to visit the cave are witch doctors and other spiritual personages, though foreign visitors enter quite regularly.

Further south, the rugged landscape of South Africa is said to be populated by all manner of spooks and spirits. One of the most famous is the apparition of The Flying Dutchman, which has inspired novelists, filmmakers and composers and was brought to life in the highly popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Originally The Flying Dutchman was a majestic ship captained by Hendrik Van Der Decken who swore an oath to sail around the Cape of Good Hope even if it took him until Doomsday. This is the most popular variation of the story, although of course there are others, and some sources cite his name as being Van Falkenberg or Van Straaten. Apparently, if all of the reports are to be believed, the stubborn captain failed in his mission and is still trying to complete it even in death. One of the original versions of the tale records that the ship encountered a violent storm and amid the lashing rain and frothing waves the Captain refused to find a safe port; instead he dared God to sink his ship.

A shining figure swiftly appeared on the deck of The Flying Dutchman, but instead of treating this divine messenger with respect the Captain fired at it with his pistol. Enraged, the holy apparition condemned Van Der Decken and his crew to sail for all eternity and serve as a curse to all those who laid eyes on them.

This is just one of the fascinating legends surrounding this notorious vessel. No one really knows what happened to the ship – the only certain thing is that it did not complete its journey but foundered in the treacherous seas around the Cape. Many sightings of it have since been recorded by steamers, freighters, the Royal Navy and even U-boats sailing during WWII. A sighting of the ship is said to be a bad omen; even worse is if you allow the doomed crew to pass you letters. To accept these missives means certain death.

The Flying Dutchman is not the only ghost ship to sail off the South African coast. Another vessel, the Libera Nos, also haunts these waters. Captained by Bernard Fokke, this phantom ship’s crew are supposedly skeletons. Libera Nos has sometimes been mistaken for The Flying Dutchman – though surely sighting either one is not a good omen for ocean travellers.

The Cape of Good Hope is not only haunted by ghost ships. Its castle, Goede Hoop, is also rumoured to be home to several ghostly entities – among them the merciless former governor Pieter Gijsbert Noodt who stalks through the castle grounds cursing his condemned fate. Construction work on the castle began in 1666; since then it has served a few different purposes, functioning as a centre of colonial power, a prison and now as a museum. Several of its rooms and corridors are haunted by spirits. Lady Anne Bernard, a former noble resident, haunts the ballroom and has even been seen to join in the various festivities once held there, while another female apparition garbed all in grey has also been spotted in the castle and was even glimpsed by Princess Margaret during the royal tour which took place in 1947.

There have also been other paranormal phenomena recorded in the castle. A spectral black hound – reminiscent of Norfolk’s Devil Dog – has been seen and even leaps at castle visitors, though it vanishes before it touches them. Unexplained noises have also been heard, including footsteps and voices arguing, and an invisible hand taps people on the shoulder.

Another famous South African attraction which is supposedly haunted is Kruger National Park – a favourite of mine, where I spent several happy holidays (thankfully undisturbed by the paranormal, although lions, an angry elephant and disgruntled rhino provided some scary moments). If you’re a fan of the Sleepy Hollow story you’ll be pleased to hear that Kruger is home to its own version of this haunted locale. There is a densely wooded part of the Lebombo Hills known as Crook’s Corner because it was frequented by smugglers and poachers. An Englishman who ventured into the Hills on a hunting trip shot seven elephants in these woods one day. He spent that night in camp and then rode into the trees the following morning to collect his precious ivory.

He never returned to the camp and was not seen alive again. His white horse emerged from the trees some hours later but fell prey to illness – perhaps African Horse Sickness or the fatal bite of a tsetse fly – and perished. After his mysterious disappearance people who ventured into the trees began to report sightings of a ghostly rider upon a white horse and hunters soon refused to set foot in those cursed woods.

Near the rest camp of Punda Maria stands Gumbandevu Hill, where sacrifices of live goats were made to the rain gods during times of drought. The doomed bleats of the goats supposedly attracted evil spirits to the hill and now locals refuse to venture onto its slopes. Despite this, the sound of drumming and singing has still been heard from the hilltop – even though rituals have not been held there for many years.

The Park is also said to be haunted by other strange spirits – such as the monstrous serpent known as muhlambela, which sneaks up on unwary victims and bites them in the back of the skull. The Park’s baobab trees are haunted too, serving as homes for devils and other wicked things.

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This brings us to the conclusion of the first part of the Haunted Africa feature. These apparitions and folk tales which I have just recounted for you are just a tiny sample of Africa’s many spirits… In Haunted Africa Part II prepare yourself to be introduced to the infamous tokoloshe, the flying Kongamato and the “Adze” vampire of Togo and Ghana, to name but a few!

England

The Ghost Dogs of Norfolk, England – by Amy Van De Casteele

When you take a drive through the tranquil farmland and lush green countryside of rural Norfolk, you would find it hard to believe that this quiet county could possibly be haunted by monstrous spectres with flaming eyes and a hellish reputation. But you’d be wrong. Norfolk and its neighbouring counties of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex are supposedly home to the notorious Black Shuck and a horde of other ghostly hounds. Spectral black dogs which roam the coastlines, forests, graveyards and byways of East Anglia, these ‘shucks’ have been documented on numerous occasions throughout the centuries and, depending on which one you encounter, bad luck will supposedly befall you soon after.

Of course the most famous is Black Shuck himself. An ancient legend, some say his name derives from the old Anglo Saxon word ‘scucca’, meaning demon, but others say he is an English version of the old Viking war hound Shukir. Wherever he came from, whatever he is, Black Shuck strikes terror into the hearts of many, even today, and no one can forget an encounter with this huge black hound. I should know – my own grandparents and my aunt witnessed the beast, many years ago, while driving home from a party. My grandmother spotted what she thought was a black calf standing in the hedge on the side of the road and pointed him out to her husband but when she looked back it had vanished. My aunt, however, who was then just a young girl, saw him for what he was – a massive black dog with huge glowing eyes. Even now she can still remember the abject terror she felt when she saw him, and the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
Her fear was understandable. Supposedly, if you see Black Shuck, you will meet your death within a year. Obviously this isn’t always true, as my family survived to tell the tale, and others who have seen him throughout the years haven’t met such an unfortunate fate. But the fear of seeing him never fails to leave an indelible mark – and you never know when you might encounter him, as there have been sightings all over Norfolk, from Wisbech to Sheringham, Great Yarmouth and Cromer (he obviously prefers the coast).
There are many terrifying stories about this devil dog which have sprung up over the centuries. A boy was driven into the icy waves of the North Sea by a massive black dog; a huge evil hound killed members of a congregation in Blythburgh, Suffolk and made a similar terrifying appearance at a church in Bungay. Shuck is also said to roam the lanes of Blakeney as he journeys between Wells and Sheringham, and a woman thought she heard him one night in 1968 as she walked past Cley Hill late one night, on her way home to the village of the same name.
If the reports are anything to go by, however, Black Shuck is just one of a multitude of spectral hounds which roam the highways and byways of this county. A headless dog is supposed to haunt the area around Coltishall, another wanders along the cliff paths at Cromer – perhaps searching for his master, who drowned out at sea – while yet another ‘shuck’ stalked local man John Harries as he cycled from East Dereham towards RAF Swanton Morley in 1945. A much less imposing ghost dog is also rumoured to haunt Raynham Hall; a spectral spaniel, he is never seen but is heard and ‘felt’ wandering up and down the corridors of the stately home.
There is a well-known theory doing the rounds which suggests that many of these ghost dogs are the guardians of ‘ley lines’ – or ‘corpse ways’ as they are rather morbidly known – which are found in churchyards and barrows. Supposedly the spectral hounds guard these corpse ways, along which the spirits of the dead travel from graveyard to graveyard.
Of course, these spirit dogs are by no means confined to Norfolk. A black dog has haunted Newgate Prison for more than 400 years; the benign figure of the ‘Gurt Dog’ is said to guard playing children and people who travel alone through the county of Somerset; and Devon’s yeth hound is a headless spirit, supposedly of an unbaptized child, which haunts the county’s woodlands. There is also the notorious Barghest, a terrifying hound which stalks the inhabitants of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the black dog known as Hairy Jack has been sighted many times in Lincolnshire.
But Norfolk is where Black Shuck famously roams, and I can’t help feeling a twinge of strange pride at his legend, despite the whispers of death and danger that surround him. Maybe it’s just that as a devoted dog lover I find it impossible to think the worse of any dog – even if he is massive and black, with flaming eyes, and rumoured to be a hell hound…
England

The Ancient Ram Inn, Wooton-Under-Edge, Gloucester, England – by Amy Van De Casteel

If you’re a fan of ghosts and the supernatural then the story of the Ram Inn is an irresistible one, if a little terrifying. Built on the site of an ancient pagan burial ground where ritual sacrifices were supposedly carried out, the Ram Inn dates from the 12th century and once served as a lodging house for priests, before settling into its final incarnation as a pub and private home. Over the years there have been reports of numerous hauntings inside the inn and the atmosphere within the building’s dark low-ceilinged rooms has been described as “oppressive”, “dark” and “awful”.

The pub’s sole inhabitant now is the rather eccentric – but remarkably stout-hearted – John Humphries, who has learnt to make peace with the building’s spectral residents, despite being attacked on his very first night in the inn by a demon (supposedly a succubus), which seized him bodily and flung him out of his bed. It is John’s fervent desire that the pub be preserved for posterity, not torn down or condemned. It would certainly be a shame to lose the ghostly legacy of the Ram Inn, despite the fact that it seems cursed to lodge the spirits of many restless dead.

One of the most terrifying rooms in the Inn is, undoubtedly, the Bishop’s Room on the first floor of the building. When sleeping alone in the pub, late at night, John Humphries has heard a violent banging coming from the room, as if someone were inside trying to get out – although, of course, no one is there. Meanwhile, three paranormal investigators who spent time in the room saw the wattle-and-daub walls shake violently while they were inside, and spectral monks have been glimpsed walking across the room and vanishing through the wall where there used to be a door. The figure of a cavalier has also been seen, and lustful demons are said to inhabit the four walls as well. Hardly surprising, then, that anyone who walks into the Bishop’s Room is struck at once by the heavy, brooding atmosphere and the ominous sense of danger. John himself has devised a special ritual which he enacts before entering the room – taking a wooden crook he will bang on the door three times and ask “Is anybody in there?” If there is no answer, supposedly it is safe to enter.

Another of the pub’s spooky rooms is the one belonging to the Witch and her ghostly cat. Known, simply, as the Witch’s Room, it supposedly has a ley line running directly through it, which would probably account for many of the scary happenings, as ley lines are also called ‘corpse ways’ and are the paths that spirits use when they move from graveyard to graveyard. The witch herself appears by the bed of anyone brave enough to sleep in the room and there is a stain on the bed where her cat is said to mark its territory. The witch is not the only ghostly inhabitant of the room, however – a little girl has also been seen in there, and has been spotted by passers-by standing by the window gazing out through the thick glass and waving.

Another terrifying part of the inn is the Men’s Kitchen, where John slept on that first night when he was attacked by the succubus. An ancient grave was discovered in that very room, containing the bones of a woman and child interspersed with shards of a ceremonial dagger probably used to dispatch them both. A woman was also supposedly murdered by highwaymen in that room, many years ago, and electrical equipment often fails within those walls, batteries draining themselves of energy and going dead. Besides that, the atmosphere is cold and forbidding.

The pub is filled with many more haunts and strange phenomena, including orbs, ghostly faces, spectral dogs and other apparitions. John has heard footsteps and banging coming from upstairs when no one was there; people who have spent time in the pub have had to be exorcised afterwards, and unexplained mists have appeared on photographs taken inside the inn. Investigators have been pushed, patted, stroked and tugged at; objects have been thrown; and a woman who was standing in the kitchen, which supposedly lies on top of a well, felt a strange chill creeping up her legs, while diviners have reported two bodies and a wicked spirit dwelling in or below that room.

Of course there always skeptics who will try and find rational explanations for the events inside the pub. But whether you believe or not, it can’t be disputed that the Inn has earned its fame and the aura of whispered respect which surrounds it. The Ancient Ram is certainly a fascinating place, steeped in history, melancholy and darkness. Who knows what awful events have taken place within those old walls? For fans of spooks and the paranormal in general, it is definitely one of the best places in Britain to visit if you want to get up close and personal with the world of the dead. However, despite my own fascination with ghosts and hauntings, I know I personally wouldn’t go within half a mile of the place, as just watching it on the television made me want to sleep huddled up beneath the covers. It’s certainly not a location for the faint of heart and I take my proverbial hat off to John Humphries and wish him every success with his noble quest to save the spooky old pub for future generations to explore and enjoy…

Great British Ghosts Feature on the Ancient Ram Inn:


Middle East

Tales of the Jinn – by Amy Van De Casteele

Most people – if not all – will be familiar with the concept of jinn, or genies, as they are known in the West. Our knowledge of them comes predominantly from the colourful tales of the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ (Alf Layla wa Layla in Arabic) or the larger-than-life portrayal by Robin Williams of the famous genie in the Disney movie “Aladdin”. However stories of genies – or jinn, to give the Arabic term – have been around for a lot longer than we might think and these haunting, enigmatic beings are still as feared by the inhabitants of modern-day Arabia as they were by the Arab tribes who lived hundreds of years ago.

The Qur’an itself mentions jinn on many occasions, even devoting a whole chapter (Surat al-Jinn) to this frightening creature, which the holy book cites as being composed of “the smokeless flame of fire”. The jinn of the Qur’an are similar to humans in that they have religions, marry and reproduce; they also have powers of intellect and reasoning and are conscious of right and wrong. Some of these jinn are evil (such as the powerful afreet and the shayatin, of which the Devil is one) some are good, and others merely benign. According to the Prophet Muhammed himself, they can manifest themselves as spirits which fly through the sky, as dogs or snakes, or as an earthly creature which resides in one locale or wanders from place to place. These jinn are said to inhabit the wild open spaces of the desert but also choose residences close to people, even inhabiting bathrooms, graveyards and dunghills. Believers should invoke the name of Allah before entering their home, so that the jinn will not follow them in, and evil eye amulets can be worn to protect against the hexing glare of this supernatural creature.

As I have already mentioned, there is still a healthy – and perhaps unsurprising – fear for the jinn among modern-day Arabs, even the young trendy adults of cosmopolitan cities like Dubai. An example of this apprehension springs to mind – an Emirati friend of mine took me ‘dune-bashing’ in the Arabian desert late one night. There were plenty of other young people there as this is a popular Dubai pastime; young dark-skinned men in jeans and t-shirts or crisp white kanduras were gunning their motors as their Hummers and Jeeps slid and slewed down the massive face of the dunes, and we laughed and pretended to scream as my friend’s little black Wrangler competed with their vehicles. After a while, however, we decided to drive away from the others, deeper into the desert to explore under the benevolent gaze of the moon. The Jeep bumped and skipped over the dunes, startling some camels which switched their tails in irritation as they lumbered away into the darkness.

Eventually we came to a stand-still in a picturesque little valley between some dunes and sat there quietly, gazing around us at the quiet beauty of the desert at night. It was absolutely silent and eerily lovely, and yet I didn’t feel at all afraid. But my Emirati companion – a brave and ebullient member of the UAE military – suddenly became restless and uneasy, muttering that he was frightened and we must leave. Before I could respond he was already gunning the engine and setting his sights on the massive dune where the other young people were still racing. I was surprised and confused at his sudden panic; only later did I realize what it was that he was so afraid of – the jinn, which are said to roam out there in the windswept expanses of the desert.

Several months later, remembering this incident, I asked my Syrian boyfriend to tell me more about the jinn. He described how he and his friends had been driving out in the desert one night when one of their cars broke down. They all jumped out to fix it, but saw a strange light approaching across the desert, like a will-o-the-wisp. Panicked, they all piled into the remaining car and drove away as fast as they could, abandoning the broken down vehicle by the side of the road.

My Syrian partner had another interesting tale to tell, this one even more disturbing. His aunt, so he said, was a well-known fortune teller and healer; she could use Turkish coffee grounds to tell your future, and knew all sorts of inscriptions and prayers for curing illnesses and even finding love. One of the reasons she could do all this was that, supposedly, she had a jinn helper, which sat on her shoulder and whispered predictions into her ear. While this might sound strange to us, in the Arab world it is not such an uncommon thing. Throughout Muslim history there have been instances of fortune-tellers using jinn to help them foresee events and make prophecies about people’s lives. Supposedly the jinni confers with the ‘qareen’, the jinn companion assigned to each individual, and whispers the information to the fortune-teller, who then relates it to the person consulting him. Besides this, the fortune-tellers’ jinn can travel great distances almost at once, recovering hidden artefacts, stories and scraps of information.

Islam condemns the use of jinn and the practise of fortune telling in general but it seems that modern-day Arab mystics and soothsayers still turn to these mystical creatures for help, although they do so at their own risk, as to associate with such creatures could mean accusations of being in league with the Devil himself. In the case of my partner’s aunt, however, there were no such accusations and people who know of her skills come to visit her, sometimes from many miles away, asking for help and predictions of the future.

This example demonstrates how inextricably jinn are woven into the fabric of Arab and Muslim life. While to most Westerners they remain mere figments of the imagination, garish genies that spring from tarnished old lamps and grant wishes, to the people who live in the vast arid loneliness of the Middle Eastern countryside jinn are still something to be whispered about with fear, and guarded against. There are many reports of jinn possession, even now, and sheikhs are called to the homes of the possessed to read from the Qur’an and expel the devilish spirit. Believing Muslims speak the name of Allah before they eat or drink, so that the jinn cannot partake from their table, and before they undress, so the jinn will not be able to witness their nakedness.

In short, jinn are much more than Disney sprites and monstrous entities from the Arabian Nights. So the next time you journey to the Middle East, think twice before venturing into the desert late at night, and purchase an evil eye amulet from one of the jewellery souks, because you never know how close you might be to one of the jinn, the creatures of “smokeless fire” which live among the dunes and in the dark or unclean areas of villages, towns and cities.

Philippines

Balete Drive, Manila, The Philippines

Balete Drive in Quezion City, Manila, is home to some very intriguing tales. From haunted houses, supernatural things in trees and it’s famous White Lady Legend, it gives many a local a few things to think about if they have to go near it at night. Balete Drive, which connects East Rodriguez and North Domingo Avenues, gets its name from the Balete trees which line it’s route. The Balete tree is particularly significant in Filipino folklore. It is regarded as a haunting area for evil spirits. Other entities which are meant to inhabit it include Philippine elves (dwende), smoking giants (Kapre) and other fairies. The trees are also believed to conceal hidden kingdoms invisible to humans.

Engkantos, environmental spirits able to take on human form and associated with ancestors, are believed to dwell in Balete trees by Filipinos. The advice regarding Engkantos is as follows:

“Filipino beliefs say that engkantos dwell at the famous Balete tree. Never say anything if you hear music coming from a Balete tree for the engkantadas are having a party. Don’t laugh or point to a Balete tree for there live fairies and enchantresses. If you cut a Balete tree, you will be meted death as a punishment for you have destroyed the place where the fairies and the enchantresses dwell. If a person was taken by an engkanto, drum beatings near Balete trees are done to recover lost persons.” (Source The Manila Bulletin Online Balete Drive)

The first Balete Drive ghost story relates to three haunted houses which were located in the area. These were mansions reputedly haunted by their former owners who refused to bequeath them to succeeding generations of their families in case the heir married someone from a poor background. The owners didn’t want their homes to fall into the hands of poor people. As a result, the houses were left empty. Another weird tale is that taxi drivers driving alone in the area at night have reported repeatedly seeing the same house and then driving along the same road for an hour. The only way to break it would be by making the sign of the cross and saying prayers.

A famous ghost encounter in Balete Drive involves a boxer called Marcelo Nonan (ring name King Tut) who witnessed a ghost trying to stop a Coca Cola truck at the corner of Sampaguita Street and Balete Drive before vanishing. Nonan stopped and got out of his car to find no one was there, though he and his friends reported seeing a banana stalk move in the still air.
But it is the legend of the White Lady that has captured imaginations (and nerve endings) for the last few decades. It is a story with very complex origins. One variation has it linked with a large Balete tree which used to stand in the middle of the Drive. Here a taxi driver is supposed to have attacked a young woman on her way home, and it is her ghost that is the White Lady.  Another variation has it that she appears at midnight between Bougainvilla and Mabdo Streets, though she has also been seen at 3AM. This was where the body of a female student at the University of the Philippines was supposed to have been dumped after she was raped and killed by a taxi driver on her way home. She arguably appears to taxi drivers because she is seeking to avenge her death, although it’s been claimed she stopped appearing because her killer died.
A story also involving taxi drivers, though it is unclear if it is part of the White Lady legend, features taxi drivers who pick up a pretty young girl asking to be dropped off close to Morate Avenue. As they drove along the road, she would tell her sad love story. When the driver asked what became of the boy in the story, they noticed that her image started to fade in the rear view mirror. Upon looking in the back seat, they would find she had vanished.
Another similar story definitely associated with the White Lady, has been passed around by taxi drivers, in which they also pick her up.  She is often described as wearing a white gown. Drivers would notice her face changing while she sat in the back seat. Either it would become half skeletal or would be half covered. After experiencing this, those cabbies would refuse any fares wanting to go to Balete Drive. The White Lady has also been reported as appearing a bloody figure to taxi drivers.
Another origin of the White Lady story is that she is the spirit of a young Filipino woman who was raped and murdered by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Whatever version you take, the legend has become a major part of Manila folklore and is so pervasive that it was turned into a horror film by Peque Gallaga in 1988 called Hiwaga sa Balete Drive.
 
The two different ways in how the White Lady story came about are also interesting. One theory is that the story was cooked up by a newspaper reporter circa 1953 when there were no interesting news stories. Another is that it was the basis of a school project by university students wanting to see how quickly rumours spread. Either way, the story quickly spread, and more and more people came forward seeing they had seen the ghost. The story of the young rape and murder victim might have a basis in reality, though that is unclear.
The story caused a huge stir when it first broke, and it eventually became Manila’s most famous ghost story. One source states that Quezon City authorities sent police to Balete Drive every night at the behest of local residents who said they were being attacked by noisy ghost hunters arriving in the area. However, police officers also came forward reporting that they too had seen the White Lady!  A woman, believed to have been the ‘ghost’ was eventually caught and found to be mentally ill, after which the police closed the case.

Nonetheless, motorists are advised to take alternates to Balete Drive at night. If they can’t do that, then they should make sure they have a full complement of passengers in the back seat and not to look in their vehicle’s mirrors…

Sources

http://www.philippinesinsider.com/myths-folklore-superstition/myths-surrounding-balete-drive/

http://www.mb.com.ph/node/131412 Manila Bulletin “Balete Drive”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1koJnmF21Lo “True Stories of Horror – The Philippines”

http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-501786 “The White Lady of Balete Drive”