martes, 25 de septiembre de 2012

An Autumn Discovery

lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows

The Fantasy and Folklore of All Hallows 

Halloween had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. The date marked the beginning of winter. Since they were pastoral people, it was a time when cattle and sheep had to be moved to closer pastures and all livestock had to be secured for the winter months. Crops were harvested and stored. The date marked both an ending and a beginning in an eternal cycle. 

The festival observed at this time was called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living, because at Samhain the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People gathered to sacrifice animals, fruits, and vegetables. They also lit bonfires in honor of the dead, to aid them on their journey, and to keep them away from the living. On that day all manner of beings were abroad: ghosts, fairies, and demons--all part of the dark and dread.
Samhain became the Halloween we are familiar with when Christian missionaries attempted to change the religious practices of the Celtic people. In the early centuries of the first millennium A.D., before missionaries such as St. Patrick and St. Columcille converted them to Christianity, the Celts practiced an elaborate religion through their priestly caste, the Druids, who were priests, poets, scientists and scholars all at once. As religious leaders, ritual specialists, and bearers of learning, the Druids were not unlike the very missionaries and monks who were to Christianize their people and brand them evil devil worshippers. 

As a result of their efforts to wipe out "pagan" holidays, such as Samhain, the Christians succeeded in effecting major transformations in it. In 601 A.D. Pope Gregory the First issued a now famous edict to his missionaries concerning the native beliefs and customs of the peoples he hoped to convert. Rather than try to obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, the pope instructed his missionaries to use them: if a group of people worshipped a tree, rather than cut it down, he advised them to consecrate it to Christ and allow its continued worship.
In terms of spreading Christianity, this was a brilliant concept and it became a basic approach used in Catholic missionary work. Church holy days were purposely set to coincide with native holy days. 

Christmas, for instance, was assigned the arbitrary date of December 25th because it corresponded with the mid-winter celebration of many peoples. Likewise, St. John's Day was set on the summer solstice.
Samhain, with its emphasis on the supernatural, was decidedly pagan. While missionaries identified their holy days with those observed by the Celts, they branded the earlier religion's supernatural deities as evil, and associated them with the devil. As representatives of the rival religion, Druids were considered evil worshippers of devilish or demonic gods and spirits. The Celtic underworld inevitably became identified with the Christian Hell.
The effects of this policy were to diminish but not totally eradicate the beliefs in the traditional gods. Celtic belief in supernatural creatures persisted, while the church made deliberate attempts to define them as being not merely dangerous, but malicious. Followers of the old religion went into hiding and were branded as witches. 

The Christian feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1st. The day honored every Christian saint, especially those that did not otherwise have a special day devoted to them. This feast day was meant to substitute for Samhain, to draw the devotion of the Celtic peoples, and, finally, to replace it forever. That did not happen, but the traditional Celtic deities diminished in status, becoming fairies or leprechauns of more recent traditions.
The old beliefs associated with Samhain never died out entirely. The powerful symbolism of the traveling dead was too strong, and perhaps too basic to the human psyche, to be satisfied with the new, more abstract Catholic feast honoring saints. Recognizing that something that would subsume the original energy of Samhain was necessary, the church tried again to supplant it with a Christian feast day in the 9th century. This time it established November 2nd as All Souls Day--a day when the living prayed for the souls of all the dead. But, once again, the practice of retaining traditional customs while attempting to redefine them had a sustaining effect: the traditional beliefs and customs lived on, in new guises. 

All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows (hallowed means sanctified or holy), continued the ancient Celtic traditions. The evening prior to the day was the time of the most intense activity, both human and supernatural. People continued to celebrate All Hallows Eve as a time of the wandering dead, but the supernatural beings were now thought to be evil. The folk continued to propitiate those spirits (and their masked impersonators) by setting out gifts of food and drink. Subsequently, All Hallows Eve became Hallow Evening, which became Hallowe'en--an ancient Celtic, pre-Christian New Year's Day in contemporary dress.
Many supernatural creatures became associated with All Hallows. In Ireland fairies were numbered among the legendary creatures who roamed on Halloween. An old folk ballad called "Allison Gross" tells the story of how the fairy queen saved a man from a witch's spell on Halloween. 

O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tower
the ugliest witch int he North Country...
She's turned me into an ugly worm
and gard me toddle around a tree...

But as it fell out last Hallow even
When the seely [fairy] court was riding by,
the Queen lighted down on a gowany bank
Not far from the tree where I wont to lie...
She's change me again to my own proper shape
And I no more toddle about the tree.

In old England cakes were made for the wandering souls, and people went "a' soulin'" for these "soul cakes." Halloween, a time of magic, also became a day of divination, with a host of magical beliefs: for instance, if persons hold a mirror on Halloween and walk backwards down the stairs to the basement, the face that appears in the mirror will be their next lover. 

Samhain Bonfire

Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day. 

Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o'lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.
September 1982 

Source Jack Santino

viernes, 21 de septiembre de 2012

Blessed Mabon

On this day of equal light and darkness, may you find balance, may you be blessed with abundance of many kinds, and may you be surrounded by those who love you.

Happy Mabon, everyone!!

"Equal dark, equal light
Flow in Circle, deep insight
Blessed Be, Blessed Be
The transformation of energy!
So it flows, out it goes
Three-fold back it shall be
Blessed Be, Blessed Be
The transformation of energy!"

-   Night An'Fey, Transformation of Energy

jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

The Story of the Stone Child of Sens.

A lithopaedion, or stone-child, is a dead fetus, usually the result of a primary or secondary abdominal pregnancy, that  has been retained by the mother and subsequently calcified. This is the story of the earliest known case of this
phenomenon. It was discovered in 1582, at the autopsy of a 68-year-old woman in the French city of Sens, and described in a thesis by the physician Jean d'Ailleboust. The woman had carried her lithopaedion for 28 years. The ultimate fate of the lithopaedion specimen, which was widely traded throughout Europe in the 1600s before finally ending up in
Copenhagen, is traced.

On May 16 1582, in the city of Sens, the 68-year-old Madame Colombe Chatri breathed her last. She was the wife of Loys Carita, a tailor, described as being of small stature, but otherwise 'bien forme & corpulent'. Twenty-eight years earlier, Madame Chatri had, for the first time, shown signs of pregnancy.

 Her menstruations ceased, her breasts swelled, her stomach increased in size, and she could even feel the child move within her. Some time before her birth was due,
Colombe Chatri was seized by violent labour pains. A great quantity of amniotic fluid, tinged with blood, was passed.
In spite of the predictions of the Sens midwives,

however, there was no childbirth; instead, her labour pains ceased, the movements of the child could no longer be felt, and her breasts diminished in size. Afterwards, Madame Chatri felt quite unwell, and she had to remain in bed for three full years. She could feel a hard tumour of considerable size, situated in the lower abdomen. Until the end of her life, she complained of tiredness, abdominal pains and loss of appetite. Only by means of provoking the appetite with herbs and vinegar sauces could she eat anything at all. When
gossiping with her neighbours in the street, they talked about her strange obstetrical mishap, and there was much speculation that she still had a fetus within her, and that it would kill her one day. Madame Chatri and her husband
consulted several physicians and surgeons, but none of them
could suggest a cure.

In 1582, at the age of 68, Madame Chatri was described as being broken down by disease and old age. She died that year, and since there had been much gossip about her mysterious pregnancy many years ago, her husband requested that her body was to be dissected by two skilful surgeons, Claude le Noir and Iehan Couttas.
They cut through the stomach and peritoneum, and viewed the prodigious growth, which was wrinkled and formed like a turkey's crest. It was hard and brittle like a shell, and covered with what seemed like scales. The surgeons
'plunged their razors into it', but without being able to penetrate the hard shell. After wearing out the edge of their knives on the hard tumour, they fetched mauls and a drill, and finally succeeded to break it. They felt the head and right shoulder of the lithopaedion, but it was not until they had broken off a large portion of the covering shell, and seen the wonderful sight inside, that they understood what they were dealing with.
They ran to fetch some physicians, Jean d'Ailleboust among them. He could see a glimpse of the lithopaedion, which was covered by detritus and the remains of its inner membranes, and was as astonished as his surgical colleagues.
All the time, curious townsmen came running in to see this prodigy. The surgeons were busy telling the story, and to demonstrate the infant more clearly, they grasped the opening in the calcified shell with their iron hooks to tear it apart. After tearing with all their force, they broke it open,
and took out the lithopaedion, which they set out to dissect further. This was done with great haste, and Jean d'Ailleboust deplored that they had made it impossible to study closer the anatomy of the calcified shell and the nourishing vessels. The shape of the lithopaedion was roughly that of its rounded, calcified shell. The knees were bent, and the legs drawn up towards the chest. The feet and lower legs were fused by the calcific deposits. It could clearly be seen that the fetus was of the female sex. The head was lightly tilted to the right, and supported by the left arm.
The right arm extended down towards the navel: its hand had been broken off through carelessness when the lithopaedion was extracted. The bones of the head were transparent, and the fontanelles were not closed. The skin of the head was partially covered with hair. The lithopaedion had one sole tooth, situated in the lower jaw.

Not long after it had been delivered, the stone-child of Sens became one of the foremost curiosities of France. People traveled hundreds of miles to see and admire it. Jean d'Ailleboust needed no encouragement to write a thorough
Latin pamphlet about it, detailing the case history of Madame Chatri as well as the autopsy findings1. It was published in 1582, by the Sens printer Jean Sauvine, and soon became a medical best seller.

He also supplied a curious drawing (Figure 1) of the lithopaedion and its 'mother'. It is believed to depict the corpse of Columba Chatri lying on a richly padded bed, her abdomen dissected to show the lithopaedion in situ within its
calcified shell. Beside the bed, the lithopaedion is laid out on a pillow.  This practice was not unknown at the time:

 Although Jean d'Ailleboust was very unwilling to part from his great treasure, it is recorded that, in the late 1500s, it was purchased by a wealthy merchant, Monsieur Prestesiegle, who put it in his famous private museum of curiosities in Paris. It was examined there by Madame Louise Bourgeouis, the leading French midwife of her time5. Later, the lithopaedion was purchased by Etienne Carteron, a wealthy Paris goldsmith. He sold it, in 1628, to Gillebert
Bodey, a jewel merchant of Venice.  In the early 1650s, King Frederick III of Denmark was building up a large cabinet of curiosities at his castle in Copenhagen. In 1653, Frederick III bought the stone-child from its owner.

 The document of sale and certificate signed in 1628 were also turned over to the King, as well as a hand written copy of Jean d'Ailleboust's autopsy report, with a slightly different illustration (Figure 3): they are still kept in the
Royal Library of Copenhagen (Gl kgl Saml No. 1641). The sum paid was a well-kept secret, but it is unlikely that the Franco-Italian merchant let the King have it cheaply, particularly since he had himself paid a very high price for it.  A few years later, Thomas Bartholin described the lithopaedion closer in one of his collections of anatomical anecdotes9. By this time, it had become much the worse for wear, and it is likely that during its years in private hands, the lithopaedion had not always been treated with the reverence due to its age and fragility. Both arms were now broken off, the jaw was injured, and the skin
lacerated (Figure 2b). 

In the illustration (Figure 2c), the miserable-looking specimen is depicted sitting lopsidedly on a box. Part of the missing arm had been refastened, but otherwise, the lithopaedion was unchanged since it was described by Thomas Bartholin. In Jacobsen's 1710 catalogue10, it was more thoroughly described. The skin was now missing in large parts, and where it remained, it was quite black, giving the lithopaedion a strange aspect, as if it had been partly

In the 1820s, the Danish government decided to dissolve the Royal museum, and many preparations were scrapped or sold by public auction. Many bizarre pieces changed hands under these circumstances; among them the hand of a mermaid, solemnly described by Thomas Bartholin 170 years earlier, and an egg allegedly laid by a Norwegian peasant woman12. The lithopaedion was not among the preparations sold or thrown away, probably because it was still considered valuable. In 1826, it was transferred to the Danish Museum of Natural History, along with several other human, animal and vegetable specimens. In the late nineteenth century, the remaining exhibits from the Danish Museum of Natural History were transferred to the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen University, and a good many zoological specimens are still there. However, the lithopaedion had disappeared somewhere along the way,
together with the other medical curiosities from King Frederick's museum, among them a dicephalic child preserved in spirits, and a minute fetus, alleged to be one of the 365 children of the prolific Dutch countess Margaret
of Henneberg. It may well be that the lithopaedion of Sens was scrapped at this time, along with the other older medical specimens, of which no trace remains. An extensive search for them in the existing Danish museums has been fruitless.

A beautiful Latin poem was written by Jean d'Ailleboust in 1582 to celebrate the lithopaedion of Sens. He recalled the classical myth that after the Flood, the world was repopulated by the two survivors, Deucalion and Pyrrha, who walked the earth, throwing stones behind them, which, on striking the ground, became living people:

Pinxit Deucalion saxis post terga repulsis
Ex duro nostrum marmore molle genus:
Qui fit ut infantis, mutata sorte, tenellum
Nunc corpus saxis proxima membra gerat!

From the rocks Deucalion had dropped behind,
was fashioned the living flesh of humankind:
How was it then done, that a tender babe well formed

Information via:

"The earliest known case of a lithopaedion"
Jan Bondeson MD LicSc
J R Soc Med 1996;89:13-18

martes, 18 de septiembre de 2012

On the Black Sabbat

"I am that spawn of witch and demon
By time's mad prophets long foretold:
The unnamed fear of king and freeman,
I roam the lawless outland wold,
Couching amid the weeds and mould
With dire Alecto for my leman.
I am that hidden piper, playing
The Pan-like strains of malefice
That lure the lonely traveller, straying
Upon the crumbling precipice:
To filmed morass or blind abyss
His feet must follow, never staying.

I am that swart, unseen pursuer
Whose lust begets a changeling breed:
All women know me for their wooer:
Mine is the whisper the maidens heed
At twilight; mine the spells that lead
The matron to the nighted moor.

I am that messenger whose call
Convenes dark mage and banished lord
And branded witch and whip-flayed thrall,
To plot, amid the madness poured
On the black Sabbat's frothing horde,
The bale of realms, the planet's fall."

- Clark Ashton Smith/Cambion

Image from: Liber Chronicarum

lunes, 17 de septiembre de 2012

Stone People: living statues.

In the 17th century the French physician Patin described the case of a local woman who had ‘turned to wood’. This ‘wood’ was actually bone and the woman possessed an incredibly rare condition that caused her muscles to be slowly turned to bone.

The earliest and most well documented case of fetal ossification dates back to 1582 when Mme Colombe Chatri died at the age of sixty-eight, and a twenty-eight year old fetus was removed from her womb. The "Stone-Child of Sens" should have been born in 1554; however, labor came and went with no delivery and in the resulting decades the fetus calcified and ossified within the womb, which actually formed a shell. Mme Chatri seemed to have lived a normal life, with the exception of regular abdominal pains. There will be more on the Stone Child in a subsequent post!

Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva or FOP, as the condition is know by today, affects 1 of 2 million people with varied severity. The condition is a genetic mutation in which the bodies of those affected cannot switch off the mechanism that grows the skeleton in the womb. Also, any small injury to connective tissue - muscles, ligaments, and tendons - results in the formation of hard bone around the damaged site. As it is a spontaneous genetic mutation, a FOB child can be born of normal parents – however persons with the condition have a 50% chance of passing the traits on to their offspring. As the hereotopic (extra) bone growth only becomes painfully obvious after a few years – 10 being the average - the only sign of the condition observable in an infant is malformed big toes. It is not until the second skeleton begins to form and mobility becomes severely restricted that the condition becomes evident.

Persons with FOP have been involved in sideshow and curio displays for centuries. Those with the condition were commonly called ‘ossified men’ or ‘stone men’, ‘The Ossified Man’ became a popular attraction. An ossified woman named Miss Emma Shaler once even shared billing with Harry Houdini in 1894. Strangely enough the ossified individual became quite a common attraction – likely due to the fact that it was a Marvel easily faked.

For those with the condition, life was far from easy. Movement was severely hampered and, in many cases, movement involved little more than lips and inner workings. The money these ossified men and women earned while on display paid for much needed medical attention. Many were often attended to during display by hired nurses. Few were able to eat anything, and their jaws became fused, and many had to sustain themselves on liquid diets. Thus many individual with the condition appeared incredibly gaunt and sickly. Most died quite young of pneumonia or other ailments that fed upon the sickly.

Harry Raymond Eastlack (pictured above) was born in the early 1930’s and was one of the last modern ossified men presented as a curiosity. He died of pneumonia in 1973, and his case is particularly notable because shortly before his death, he made it known that he wanted to donate his body to science. The gesture was in the hopes that in death he would be able to help find a cure for this rare and somewhat cruel disease. As per his wishes, his preserved skeleton now resides in The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Mr. Eastlack remains the best documented Stone Man in history.

Another FOP skeleton, belonging to a veteran Peter Cluckey, lives at the National Museum of Health and Medicine on the Walter Reed campus in Washington.

From public affairs officer Steven Solomon and my friends at the Kircher Society:

Peter Cluckey was born in 1882, enlisted in the Army at age 17 just after the Spanish-American War, retired from the service after 3 years, and rejoined in 1904. Two months after his second enlistment he experienced joint pain and stiffness after a horseback mounted drill held in cold rain. 

After several medical examinations he was diagnosed with “rheumatism chronic, articular, affecting both hips, knees, and ankle joints, and the right elbow.” Over the next 20 years his condition worsened to the point where every joint in his body became fused. Cluckey was moved into a sitting position so that he could be placed in a chair or on his side in bed to sleep. His front teeth were removed so that he could be fed soft foods. In his will, Cluckey donated his body to the museum and his skeleton has been on display seated in a wooden chair in the museum since his death in 1925.

We invite you to visit this fascinating specimen in person. Admission and parking are free.

Steven Solomon

Public Affairs Officer

National Museum of Health and Medicine


martes, 11 de septiembre de 2012


Oostduinkerke, a beautiful but busy town on the Belgian coast. 100 years ago it looked like this : a fishermen's village 2 km inland and a dirt road leading to the sea. Shrimp fishermen would travel down this road on their horses and walk up and down the breakers pulling nets. The beauty of the area attracted tourists. Villas were built on the dunes, along with two large hotels, in1900. One of them was the "Grand Hôtel des Dunes".

The Grand Hotel went out of business shortly thereafter. In 1907, the village baker, Honoré Gauquié, bought the place and baptized it the "Grand Hôtel Gauquié".

The hotel has remained almost unchanged, until now. It is a beautiful white building on the corner of the main street; a landmark for Oostduinkerke-beach.
Demolition will begin in November.

domingo, 9 de septiembre de 2012

Oh Lord, I pray thee

Oh Lord, I pray thee do not let me die
In a bed with sheets and blankets piled upon
And with dripping noses about me.

Nay, smite me someday without warning,
That headlong I fall into the forest some place

Where no one will come around nosing.

I well know the forest, I am it's son,
It will not deny my humble request
To die on its cranberry bog.

Thus will I give back without word of complaint
My mighty cadaver to it's creatures all,
To the crows, the rats, and the flies. 

-Knut Hamsun

viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2012

The Cursed Iceman

The Cursed Iceman

Oetzi, or the Iceman as he is known, was discovered in the Alps between Austria and Italy back in 1991. In the 13 years that followed, seven people associated with his discovery died. In some cases, the deaths seem like your standard, run-of-the-mill demises, but four of them are creepily violent or odd enough to make the other three seem like maybe the 5,300 year old leather hunter may have a bone to pick with the people who unearthed him and then played Operation with his remains.

Oetzi: made of evil. And Beef Jerky.


The first death occurred in 1992 when Rainer Henn, the forensic pathologist who put Oetzi in a body bag with his bare hands, was killed in a car crash on his way to a world conference to discuss the Iceman. Next, Kurt Fritz, the mountain guide who lead Henn to Oetzi, and subsequently uncovered Oetzi's face, died in an avalanche. Guy number three, the man who filmed the recovery of Oetzi, died of a brain tumor.

These gentlemen are presumably boned as well

The list gets creepier: Helmut Simon, who with his wife was the person who actually found the Iceman in the first place, went missing for 8 days in 2004. When his body was found he was laying face down in a stream, where he had landed after falling off a 300 foot cliff. Dieter Warnecke, the head of the rescue team that found Helmut, dropped dead of a heart attack an hour after Helmut's funeral.
Dead guy number six, Konrad Spindler, bit the dust from complications arising from having Multiple Sclerosis six months after he was quoted as saying "I think it's a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next."

While he may not believe in curses, Konrad would probably agree that irony is a scientific fact.

The seventh and final death (so far) was in 2005: Tom Loy, a scientist who discovered human blood on Oetzi's clothes and weapons, died of a hereditary blood disease. This would normally be considered nothing more than a natural death if it weren't for the fact that his condition was diagnosed in 1992, the year he started working with the Iceman. By all accounts you may be endangering yourself just by reading this article.
Evidence shows that the Iceman met with a violent end himself, having been shot with an arrow before having his head bashed in. So basically Oetzi was an ancient murder victim left in the mountains to mummify in an unmarked grave. We're pretty sure that if curses are real, that's the kind of shit that causes them.

Article via

jueves, 6 de septiembre de 2012

Midori Harima

These are a few of Midori Harima’s installations, made with Xeroxed images from a variety of sources, including magazines, books, and the Internet, which she crafted by sculpting the printed media on hollow structures, to create this eerie, flat, “3Dvs.2D” effect.