Saturday, December 10, 2016
It’s sort of like the evil eye, but in reverse: the good eye, brought on by an application of lead-based kohl makeup that was unknowingly poisonous to ancient Egyptians but also had anti-microbial properties. Plus there was the magical aspect of invoking the gods Horus and Ra with an application of the black makeup and further protective properties.
In ancient Egypt, as modern archaeologists and Egyptologists can tell you, people from all classes, from laborers to royalty, applied kohl to their eyes. But this phenomenon of thick, black makeup has been known worldwide, and people still apply it in North Africa and Central Asia, says an article about the practice on Discovery.com.
The components of kohl in Egypt were many and some quite rare and expensive, Discovery says. The main ingredient was galena or lead sulfide, a metallic mineral. Presumably for the rich it also had ground, precious gems, including rubies, emeralds and pearls. It also contained silver and gold, coral and the substance known today primarily as an incense, frankincense (see this story on Ancient Origins for an exploration of the euphoric and ritual properties of frankincense). It also contained medicinal herbs of neem, saffron and fennel.
The ancients then diluted all these substances with liquids that made them more applicable to the eye, including water, milk, animal fats and oil.
Since the dawn of mankind and its numerous religions there have been many that feature some form of Hell or underworld, typically portrayed as a place of eternal punishment, torment, suffering, and despair, but depending on the culture and religion can also be an intermediary period between incarnations or simply a dreary land of the dead. The various versions of Hell can be another dimension or plane of existence, or an actual place in our own physical reality located deep in the bowels of the earth. While there is much debate on whether any of the many incarnations of Hell is a literal place, there have always been persistent stories that it not only exists in some form, but that it can also be accessed from the land of the living via tunnels, gateways, doorways, or portals. Here we will look at various mysterious locations around the world that, despite being just plain creepy, are said to be actual entrances to Hell itself.
One of the more well-known such portals to Hell is located exactly where one might expect to find one, if they exist at all; a spooky looking bleak cemetery. Tucked away in a rural area of the US state of Kansas lies a sinister patch of land called Stull Cemetery. Its eerie, quiet atmosphere and rural setting have perhaps understandably bred many dark legends and stories, and the intense paranormal activity and hauntings associated with it has earned it the nickname “America’s Most Evil Graveyard.” Here is a place also long associated with Satanic cults, witchcraft, and shadowy figures carrying out bizarre rituals and human sacrifice by moonlight. Oh, and it supposedly has its own doorway to Hell.
Friday, December 9, 2016
Humans have always sought to unlock the mysteries of the future. Since the dawn of time, we have looked for signs and symbols in the world around us that might tell us our fortunes or help us avoid trouble. Here are 10 of the strangest items used for fortune-telling throughout history.
Divination By Birds
The ancient Romans loved their bird fortunes. People at all levels of society would divine their fortunes by studying the species, calls, and flight patterns of birds in the sky.
In particular, chickens were used to predict the outcomes of battles. Priests scattered grain in front of specially raised chickens, and the enthusiasm with which the birds ate was said to correspond to the degree of success that the Roman forces would enjoy that day. It sounds bizarre, but it worked really well in at least one famous case.
During the First Punic War with Carthage, Roman consul Publius Claudius Pulcher was in charge of the Roman navy. He consulted the chickens on what he thought would be a perfect day to attack the Carthaginian fleet.
But the chickens were less than excited by his battle plan and refused to eat anything. Pulcher had the chickens thrown overboard, saying, “If they won’t eat, let them drink!” He ordered his ships into battle and suffered a crushing defeat.
Pulcher was recalled to Rome and put on trial—not for losing the battle but for the sacrilege of killing the sacred chickens. He was sentenced to exile and died soon after.
Divination By Bones
Bones are among the most widespread tools for fortune-telling. The Zulu nation of Africa used the patterns of scattered bones to tell fortunes. In ancient China, questions were carved or painted onto bones or turtle shells, which were then heated until they cracked. The seer interpreted the pattern and size of these cracks to find their answer.
The early inhabitants of Scotland used a version of osteomancy called slinneanachd in which the shoulder bone of a cooked animal was consulted. But first, the querent faced a challenge. They had to pick all the animal’s flesh away from the bones without ever touching the bone with iron (aka a fork or knife).
I wonder if other readers of The Union are bothered by your publication’s frequent uncritical presentation of scientifically-dubious claims in articles and advertisements. The most recent example was entitled “Haunted Nevada County”, comprised of nearly two full pages of credulous pseudoscientific pronouncements promoting the existence of ghosts and paranormal phenomena. Did anyone else find it as laughable as I?
If ghosts are real then:
1. Being non-physical spirit matter, how can we see them? Vision is based upon light reflected off of material objects and entering our eyes. Since spirits are not material, light could not reflect off of them and they would of necessity be invisible.
2. How could a living person hear a ghost speak? The sound of speech is produced by vocal cords vibrating in the atmosphere producing sound waves that enter our ears. But spirit vocal cords would have no mass, so they couldn’t produce sound waves. Ghosts would naturally be mute.
The 9th and 10th centuries AD were turbulent years for the papacy of Rome. Caught up in the political machinations of Europe, the Vatican saw a rapid succession of popes come and go. The situation reached the peak of absurdity with the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Pope Formosus in January 897, an event commonly referred to as the Cadaver Synod or the Cadaver Trial. Nine months after Formosus died, his body was exhumed and made to sit on a throne so that he could face the charges levied against him by the then Pope Stephen VI. Dressed in all the fineries of papal vestments, Formosus faced accusations of perjury, coveting the papacy as a layman, and violating church canons while he was pope. Defended by a mere deacon and obviously incapable of defending himself, the dead Pope was found guilty on all counts.
Formosus was born around 816 AD in the papal state of Ostia. Given the deplorable record keeping of those days, little is known about his life before becoming a Cardinal Bishop in 864. For the next decade or so, he worked as a missionary in Bulgaria and France. In 872, he was considered for the papacy but did not obtain the position. He was then asked by the Bulgarians to be the Archbishop of Bulgaria but he was denied this post by Pope Nicholas I. Sick of the all the politics of Rome, Formosus decided to leave the city for good. Before he left, he convinced Pope John VIII to have the King of the Franks, Charles the Bald, crowned the Holy Roman Emperor. (Charles II, as he became, ruled for two years in an ill-fated venture against the Saracens).
Merriam-Webster defines eschatology as “a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind,” and as “a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically: any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment.” In 1991, a Lincoln, Nebraska priest named Ray Boeche met with a pair of Department of Defense physicists. They were working on a top secret program to contact – and even make deals with – allegedly demonic things they termed Non-Human Entities, or NHEs, and which presented themselves as ETs. Boeche’s is a very strange, eschatology-driven, story that is told in my book, Final Events.
Boeche’s informants had their own views on not just what these entities were/are – namely demons masquerading as aliens – but also on what they thought might be looming large. Much of it was of an eschatological nature. Boeche says of his DoD sources: “They didn’t just think that this was a spiritual deception, but that it was possibly something leading to a final deception. In their view – which, theologically, I don’t particularly hold – they viewed things much more like that of [Tim] LaHaye and [Jerry B.] Jenkins in the Left Behind book-series: the Antichrist will appear, then we are fooled, and Armageddon will then be triggered. That seemed to be their personal feeling about the whole scenario.”
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Quick: Pick one of these colours. Just the first one that catches your eye, don’t overthink it. Now pick a number between zero and nine.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet you picked blue and seven.
Not everyone makes those choices, but enough people do that it’s a bona-fide psychological phenomenon. It’s even got its own name: the blue-seven phenomenon (Psychologists are a literal bunch).
Study after study since the 1970s has shown that people across cultures and time tend to disproportionately prefer blue and seven when asked to pick at random.
Red tends to be a second favourite colour, as well as white in East Asia. When people don’t pick seven, they still tend to go with an odd number, like one, three, or five.
There isn’t a good universal explanation for why exactly people tend to choose these colours, but researchers have some guesses.
Fall is a mysterious time of the year around the Bay Area. As the night steadily encroaches on the day, the clouds swirling around the impending storm, and the temperature steadily begins to drop it seems the ghouls come out in force. Some believe this is because of resonant energy thins the veil between our worlds allowing spirits to pass through, others believe the ghosts and spirits have always been there but because of the time of year we, as people, are more attune to their presence but either way fall seems to not only harken the coming winter but also to bring out the supernatural.
It is during this time of year that people tell stories of a slightly creepier vain then normal. Ghost stories morph from the typical something bumping in the night to the scarier or even more profane. Our hearts pounding as we listen intently, and our minds racing as we consider the possibilities – is the story true?
Our story has a long and sorted history for this particular ghoul has been seen numerous times and I have heard whispers of it throughout the years, but this particular story comes to us from Mysterious Universe in a wonderful article written by Jason Offutt and is about Charlotte, a lone traveler on BART who had a brush with the unknown.
Witch trials are amongst some of the cruelest events in European history. Thousands of innocent women were murdered by fake accusations. In England, one of the most famous trials took place in 1612, during the reign of King James (1566 – 1625).
When driven by fear of the unknown, some people have always reacted with irrational and cruel actions. Witches were viewed as dangerous creatures to closed-minded people who identified them with evil spirits. Although they never tried to convert the whole world to one religion, witches were seen as a danger to religious doctrines.
Witchcraft was viewed as fascinating but scary during the reign of the Tudors. When Elizabeth I ruled, witches were punished very harshly. However, one of the most famous English witch trials took place a few years after her death, when the crown was in the hands of King James. The trial is famous not only for what happened, but also because of the thorough descriptions by Thomas Potts. Potts documented the confessions and details of the event. He published that information in “The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster”.
The Power of Gossip
The trials took place near Pendle Hill in Lancashire. They were the result of the mysterious murders of ten people. Uneducated people who were driven by religion wanted to see the power of the devil behind those crimes.
Twelve women were accused of being a group of witches whose magic spells caused the deaths. In 1612, Roger Nowell, the local Justice of the Peace, was hired to compile a list of possible killers and to accuse them. In the meantime, a Halifax peddler named John Law claimed a criminal offense against Alizon Device of Pendle. He accused her of using witchcraft to cause a stroke.
Since the dawn of recorded history there have been persistent stories, myths and legends throughout cultures of people turning into beasts or half-beasts. The most widely known and famous is the werewolf, yet wolves are by no means the only animal to be linked to mysterious stories of shapeshifting. From traditions far and wide we have accounts and tales of those who could transform into a veritable menageries of wild creatures, and at times the werewolf seems absolutely tame in comparison. In the weird world of were-creatures, the wolf may have achieved the most notorious and popular status, but as we will see it is by no means the only such creature out there.
One mighty animal that has perhaps not surprisingly long been connected to shapeshifting is the bear. Like wolves, bears have perhaps understandably entrenched themselves as supremely powerful creatures of lore in many cultures, and it is this rich history of worshipping them and coveting their strength that has also caused them to be featured as objects of shapeshifting. In Finland the bear was long worshipped by pagan religions since from long before Christianity was even a thing, and it was revered as an all powerful supernatural being. The spirit of the bear was said to reside within its skull, and was referred to as kallohonka. If a bear died, its spirit was said to be able to move on to another animal, object, or even a person, where it would wait and bide its time until it was ready to be reborn as another bear. If the new vessel was a human, that person was said to take on the attributes and strength of a bear, and to this end some shamans kept bear skulls for the purpose of inviting the spirit held within into them to gain this immense power. These shamans or witch doctors would also make use of special clothing made of bearskin that could supposedly transform them into a bear. These articles were called ber serkr, from the Norse word ber-, meaning “bear,” and serkr, meaning “shirt,” giving us the modern English word “berserk.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
A group of cemetery workers clearing a graveyard in Thailand near the Laos border were shocked to excavate the corpse of a man whose skin had been preserved, as if by magic. In fact, some people have said the skin was preserved by black magic. The skin had black magic tattoos with a spell to make his skin impenetrable. Ironically, experts believe that the man possibly died from appendicitis simply because his skin was too hard to cut through.
Yantra Tattoos: Thai Amulets for the Skin
Thai tattoos, also known as Yantra tattoos, have been popular in that area since ancient times. Like in other native Southeast Asian civilizations, animistic tattooing for luck and protection was common in Tai tribes. Over the years, the tradition expanded across what is now Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.
Despite the tradition originating from indigenous tribal animism, it slowly but surely became tied to the Hindu-Buddhist concept of Yantra, with mystical geometric patterns used during meditation. Such tattoos were thought to have magic powers as well.
“There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right” ― Edward Abbey
I’ve come to the conclusion that the skeptic community as they relate to strange phenomena has trouble listening. Active listening, that is. Like when you’re girlfriend tells you she’s feeling unappreciated, or your boss suggests that you might have a time management problem. One is telling you she’s going to leave you for somebody who plays less videogames, and the other is suggesting you’re likely to fired, sooner rather than later. The modus operandi of the devoted skeptic is to tell you how what you’re pretty sure you just experienced or the theoretical connections you’ve drawn cannot possibly be so. I’m not suggesting that we should validate every experience. Plenty of people are stoned. Plenty of people are crazy. Plenty of people need to put food on the table. The mistake is to take the current paradigm and reconstitute it as the explanation for everything strange that has ever happened in this absurd universe, taking a page from (perish the thought) their favorite whipping boy of Ancient Aliens.
What we refer to monolithically as history is a misnomer. We engage in “historiography”, or more succinctly a method of viewing the past, and historiography is inseparable from the time and culture in which it looks backwards from, much as “science” is actually philosophical empiricism in the context of currently accepted truths. If you think I’m kidding, consider how many articles were published in the last few days that talk about “debunking” Einstein (trust me, do a Google search – it will make your skin crawl). That’s some brass balls if you ask me. In the context of classical physics, Einstein started a revolution, but with a century of development in physics, our perspective on the universe has been continuously refined, and our paradigms are shifting.
Yet the species seem to be enthralled by these “gotcha” moments that highlight the flavor of the month, and not simply empirically disprove, but fundamentally invalidate the knowledge of the past. It’s as if we could have gotten to our current accepted truth, without the accepted truths of the past. Both history and science are exercises in the present despite pretensions towards timelessness and universality, which is what every religion has done for time immemorial. Don’t get all bee’d up in your bonnet. I’m not suggesting science and history are religions, just that we socially construct, and then socially reconstruct our standards for “truth” from generation to generation, which allows us to smugly “debunk” the knowledge of the previous generation, when in fact what we are doing is an exercise in refinement under a new set of axioms. This is the reason we have nice clear divisions between science (what we can prove in a lab), history (what we can discern from documents), and folklore (the shit people say).