Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mary in the Mirror

You recite the spell once at a party, hold your breath, and then… nothing.
Nervous laughter.
She never comes when others are around.
Years later you pass a mirror in the dark, see yourself in eclipse, and you remember. Maybe you smile. It’s then that you don’t say the name. You only think it, and that is so much worse.
She doesn't appear right behind you in the glass, a woman in a bridal dress, eyes torn out of their sockets, nails rimmed red. That’s not how she works. That’s not how she kills you.
Instead you might stiffen. You might hear breathing in your ear. Someone’s strange thoughts in your head. But they’re easy to dismiss. Once again you forget about Mary.
And for weeks after you walk across busy streets. You drive your car. You handle knives, razors, electrical wires. You cook oil in a pan until you can smell the meat sizzle. Every time you’re careful, of course. Isn’t everyone careful?
It isn’t a ghost, or a voice, or a seizure. It’s so much simpler. A nudge. A slip. A forgetful moment. When the truck is close. When the pan is hot. A single terrible movement of the wrist, and the screams bring them right to your door.
You scream alone, but there are thousands like you. And no one ever knows.

Bloody Mary

Here is a near-perfect film version of the urban legend. I think it demonstrates that this tale still stands the test of time. Like all good horror it is ancient and simple and brutal.

Just go into the bathroom and say the words... and see what happens.

The Slit-Mouth Woman

Also called the Severed Mouth Woman, this is a Japanese urban legend that is childish and crude and utterly disturbing. Read more about it (and other urban legends from that country) here. The Wikipedia page on the SMW is here. Below is a clip that supposedly features the real woman's reconstructed head. True? I suspect not. But it will give you nightmares.

Japanese Urban Legend - Slit Mouth Woman

Friday, November 7, 2008

Your Worst Fear

The Wall Street Journal reports on a 73-year-old Brazilian man who has built a crypt with features to help him survive and call for aid in case he's buried alive:

Inside the crypt, there's a TV, also a water pitcher and a fruit pantry. Fresh outdoor air flows in through four vents from the chapel roof. Within reach of the coffin are two makeshift megaphones -- plastic cones attached to tubes running out through the wall.

They included a clip of the place.

As the article points out, the horror of premature burial is an old one. It peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries because plagues and primitive medical techniques made it a real possibility:

Such was his anxiety about waking up 6 feet under that George Washington left instructions that his body was not to be buried for three days after his passing, just to be safe. On foreign travels, the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen would leave a sign near his hotel bed reading "I am not dead" to make sure strangers didn't get the wrong idea.

Of course horror writers have mined this stuff for years. Poe's classic tale, "The Premature Burial" is over at But my favorite story is about a party, a case of fine spirits, and sweet, sweet revenge. Rest in peace, Fortunato my friend. Rest in peace.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Old Lighthouse

One of the most historically significant lighthouses in the nation stands at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, not far from my home. Commissioned by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 and completed the following year, the Old Cape Henry lighthouse was partly made of sandstone collected from the same quarries that provided material for the US Capitol and the White House. George Washington approved the first keeper, and the structure is the third oldest lighthouse in the country.

Throughout the 18th century colonists lit a makeshift beacon fire on this spot to guide ships to safety. But robbers would often seize this light and bring it further south to lead vessels into treacherously shallow waters, where they would break up and become stolen booty. After workers finished the octagonal 90-foot structure, its first keeper was Laban Goffigan, a man from Norfolk who used fish oil to light the lamp. It was replaced by a new light at the end of the 19th century. However, when the sun shines behind it at the end of the day it seems like the keepers are still climbing the stairs with oil to keep the dark seas safe. Click here for an entire collection of shots of both this light and the new one, which stands next to it.

You can read more about the lighthouse here and here. And the book Ghosts, Witches & Weird Tales of Virginia Beach has stories about the light and surrounding area, including some sightings of a ghostly soldier and a fictional tale of a keeper who failed his duty one fateful night and now wails from the lighthouse on the anniversary of a shipwreck he caused.

But maybe you're interested in solid history... and possibly treasure. Shipwrecks do abound in these waters, and some have not been emptied of loot. The Atlas of Shipwrecks and Treasure by Nigel Pickford lists two interesting sites. The Merida, now located 55 miles off the coast of Cape Charles (the opposite coast of Cape Henry) went down in 1911 with a cargo of almost 30,000 lbs. of silver. Salvage crews went over the wreck once in the 1930's and once in the 1980's, but Pickford notes that it's unclear how much they extracted. Another wreck, further out, is the Samoa, which sank in 1918 with a cargo of silver. The atlas does not record the amount or any salvage. For additional wreck information, sonar images, and GPS data you should check out the blog of writer and TV producer Jim Baugh. Happy hunting.

Bellarmine Jugs and Witch-Bottles

The scary item above is known as a Bellarmine Jug (or greybeard), and you can see more of them here. They were allegedly named in mockery of St. Robert Bellarmine, an infamous Catholic inquisitor, and one of the principal officials involved in prosecuting Galileo. However, "The origins of the jugs is still a mystery and the connection to St. Bellarmine is also questioned," according to the historical note on the webpage of Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Bellarmine's entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is here. Also, the Internet Archive has an online copy of a book he authored, "The Art of Dying Well," if you're interested in brushing up.
"They are almost always salt-glazed, vary in height between about 4 inches and about 22 inches, and were chiefly used in taverns as decanters between the cask and the table, though their use as domestic storage jugs for acids, vinegar, oil and even mercury, is also attested," according to Anthony Thwaite. "The smaller ones were probably drinking mugs." But not all of them were used for downing booze.
More than half of the 200 English witch-bottles that have been found are Bellarmines, according to Brian Hoggard's website Apotropaios. As we discussed in the last post, a witch-bottle is one of the items people commonly buried somewhere in a house to ward off evil.
"The contents of these bottles are fascinating and appear to constitute a kind of spell," according to Hoggard's site. More details:
Of the contents which are identifiable, by far the most common was iron pins or nails (95%). The second most common was human hair (25%). Another ingredient which is very difficult to test for if the bottle has leaked at any point is urine. Roughly 25% of those with contents have been tested for the presence of urine and all proved positive. So, we have iron, urine and hair as the most common ingredients. Other ingredients such as small bones, thorns, pieces of wood and, in a few cases, pieces of fabric cut into the shape of a heart are sometimes found.

A good source on Cornish witch-bottles is here, and an article on them in a modern pagan forum is here. This modern article gives an insight into why urine and hair were common ingredients:

Your bodily fluids are intended to symbolize yourself, they are part of your essence and are traditionally used in magick. Instead of having the negative energies hitting you, they hit your "representative" in the Witch-bottle, the part of your essence.

Many of my posts -- and many of our most primal fears -- are about avoiding evil in our homes. The essence of much good horror is that you are never safe, not even where you feel most comfortable. The walls, the thresholds, and the basement crawlspace all hold secrets. Don't ask what's in them. You don't want to know.

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