Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cats and Christmas...they go waaay back

"Madonna of the Cat" 1523 by Guilio Romano
(cat beside Mary's foot)
Ever look closely at the markings on a tabby cat's forehead? In nearly every case, you will find a capital letter "M" prominently displayed above their lovely feline eyes. Legend has it, this distinctive marking stands for "Madonna" or "Mary," as in Mary, the Madonna, the mother of Jesus. Here's the story, just in time for Christmas. I guarantee you'll never look at a tabby cat, again, without seeing the "M" and remembering the tale.

"Madonna with the Cat" 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci
On the night Jesus was born in a Bethlehem stable, Mary-- like most new mothers-- found herself with a fretful baby unable to settle him down to sleep. Among the animals sharing the space was a little tabby cat that, seeing Mary's distress, lept into the manger and snuggled up beside the baby. Purring softly, the cat lulled Jesus to sleep thus earning Mary's maternal and eternal gratitude. To thank the kitty and memorialize such kindness, she placed her mark, an "M," on the cat's forehead. To this day, every tabby cat bears the Madonna's initial.

"Hide and Seek" photo by K L Wood
There is another legend that a mother cat, nestled below the manger in which Jesus was placed, gave birth to a litter of kittens just as Mary, herself, gave birth.

Cats and Christmas. Who knew?

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! And a very Merry Christmas to all!


Photo of Tabby Legend ornament created by K L Wood

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Santa's Evil Twin...Krampus

"Greetings from Krampus!" 1900s Greeting Card
In North America children look forward to the coming of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and his wonderful toys for "good little girls and boys." But what of the not-so-good children? Traditionally they are left bereft of gifts, with only a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. Kind of sad, that. But it's nothing compared to the attention those children receive in Austria and other Alpine countries from a dark being who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his rounds on December 5th, the eve of the St. Nicholas Festival.

A truly horrific-looking creature--horned, cloven-hooved, wildly hairy, with a long pointed tongue lolling from his mouth-- this is Krampus. He usually carries a bundle of switches with which to strike ill-behaved children. In modern renditions, he just rattles the bundle in a menacing way but the threat of physical punishment for those more naughty than nice is loud and clear. He often carries a big sack, or even a wash tub, on his back for collecting wicked kiddies to carry back to his abode. We won't even talk about what he might do when he gets them home, but...they never come back...
"St. Nicholas and Krampus" 1896, Austrian newspaper illustration

So children, if you've made the naughty list this year, you can count your lucky stars you live in the USA.  A lump of coal left by Santa is a lot better than a lump on the head doled out by Krampus but, just to be on the safe side, it doesn't hurt to be extra nice these last few days before Christmas!

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And remember, "he knows if you've been bad or good...")


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving matter what

Detail from "The First Thanksgiving" by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1914

I beg your indulgence as I take a blogging break and simply reflect upon all of which I have to be thankful. 

Like most folks I, too often, let minor things annoy me and do my share of grumbling. But then...I drive past the large fortress of a prison up the road a ways and give thanks neither I nor a loved one is in residence there. I observe a severely disabled woman laboriously crossing the street and give thanks my minor aches and pains are reminders I am able to walk about on my own two feet. I see a man riding his ramshackle bicycle in the pouring rain and give thanks for the expensive gasoline I can pump into my car. I pass by a cemetery where a graveside service is underway and give thanks for the dirt my husband tracks into the house.

Everywhere I look, whether in my own neighborhood or across the world via TV and the Internet, I am reminded of just how fortunate I am. It really is all a matter of perspective and Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to remember that universal fact. 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! (And keep counting your blessings.)


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Witch Way to Enter the House...and where to store your broom

"Witches Hut" photo by Sunblade 1500 via Wikimedia Commons
Today I am writing this post to the sound of workers installing a new front entry door on our old house. Since most everything about our century-plus-old Buttercup Cottage is just a wee bit crooked and out of plumb, installing a twenty-first century door is like pounding the proverbial square peg into the round hole. It can be done but it takes a lot of time, creativity, and a fair dose of stubborn willpower. So...drawing from this inspiration, I researched the role of doors in legend, lore, and superstition. I ran across a wonderful resource in the form of a book you can read online: 
The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore-- Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. Duke University Press, 1964.

Read and heed these important rules relating to home doorways. There is a surprising number of rules involving witches. Apparently North Carolina witches are a particularly wicked group. Not one word about witches bringing good luck or granting wishes. 
"Broom" photo by Schmidti via Wikimedia Commons

Hang onto your hats. Here we go!

--"If you want to keep witches away, lay a straw broom in the doorway."
     -Don't leave a broom propped up beside the door because a witch might take it to ride on.
     -If you have a witch in your house, lay a broom in the doorway and she can't budge.
     -Apparently, witches can enter your house by stepping over the broom so if you visit a neighbor and see a broom in the doorway, don't step over it or you might be accused of witchcraft. (Yes, it seems to negate the whole witch-barring-doorway-broom thing to me too.)
    -Along those contradictory lines: if you are bewitched, lay a broomstick in the doorway and the first person to pick it up and enter is your witch.

--"If anybody comes to your house and acts crazy, go out to your front door and scatter salt, for he's a witch and it will keep the charm away."
    -If you sprinkle salt in front of your door, a witch cannot enter.

--"By hanging a sieve on the door of your home you could be assured a witch could not enter while you were asleep, because she had to go through every hole in the sieve."
    - If you fill the sieve with dirt, it makes it even harder for the witch!

"Clitheroe Museum Lucky Horse Shoe" photo by 
Clem Rutter via Wikimedia Commons
--"If you are shown a piece of hair near the door and you do not pick it up, the witches will overtake you soon."

--"If you find a horseshoe in the road, cover it with tin foil and hang it over your door. This will ward off witches."

--"If a door opens of itself, a ghost is the operator."

--"If a rooster comes up to the front door and crows five times, it is a sign of death in the family."
"Cockadoodledoo!!" by Steve Selby via Wikimedia Commons
     -There are many variations on this theme and it doesn't seem to matter whether the rooster crows at the front door or the back door, head in or head out, once or many times. Anyway you look at it, a rooster at your door is ominous!

--"If you make a window out of a door, one of your family will die." (Doesn't appear to be a time limit for this one so it's probably true. Might just take a while...)

--"If someone dies in the family, it is bad luck for everyone to go off and close the front door." (There are many rules about leaving doors and windows open following a death at home so the deceased person's spirit is free to leave the house.)

I know there are many more superstitions and "rules" regarding doors but I think this is enough to keep me and my new door busy. (Now...if you hear me complaining because I can't find the sieve to strain the tea, just remind me to check the front door.)

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stingy Jack...the Jack O' Lantern's spooky history

Photo by By Petar Milošević (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
So, does your Jack O' Lantern sport a Happy face? Creepy face? Goofy face? Donald Trump (or other presidential candidate of choice?) Harvest scene? Broom-riding Witch? Owl? Bats? Or, as we did for our daughter's October wedding thirteen years ago--Hearts? Bride and Groom? Monogram? Anyway you carve it, a Jack O' Lantern is an integral part of any Halloween celebration in most parts of America. Over the years, the simple, classic, snaggletoothed grin has transformed into complicated but often amazing vegetable art. BUT...Where did it all begin? When? And Who is Jack?

Where--- Ireland (well, of course.)
When-- Long ago (hundreds of years per my research.)  
Who-- Stingy Jack. 
By Toby Ord (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Seems there was this Irish fellow named Jack who spent a few years consorting with the Devil without paying the Devil his due. It all began when he invited Satan to a pub to share a pint and a bit of unholy camaraderie. At the end of the evening Jack turned out his pockets, empty except for a small silver cross, and showed his companion he had no way to pay the bill. The Devil wasn't in the habit of carrying around currency so Jack proposed that His Lowness could use some supernatural power and turn himself into a coin to pay the barman. And he did. But, instead of paying for the drinks, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket and exited the public house. Not sure how he got away with that, but perhaps the pub's owner recognized Jack's drinking buddy and decided not to press the issue. Jack was careful to put the demonic coin into the pocket holding the cross so, of course, the Devil could not return to his original form and escape. Jack made a deal with the Devil that he would release him under the condition he would not bother Jack for one year and he would not steal his soul when he died. Deal. Devil released.
"Our Scary Tree" photo by Terry Wood (author's brother)

By Bodrugan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
A year passed and the Devil once more shared a day with our Jack. This time Jack tricked him into climbing a tree to retrieve a piece of fruit. Perhaps Satan was tempted by the memory of Eden's Forbidden Fruit. While the Devil climbed into the tree's branches, Jack carved a cross into its trunk preventing the Horned One's escape until he promised not to bother Jack for ten more years. Deal. Devil released. (It's not clear how he removed the sign of the cross, trickier than just taking a cross out of one's pocket, but perhaps he added a few more marks rendering the cross into something less holy.)

As with all mortal beings Jack died and, true to his word, the Devil did not steal his soul and take him to Hell. But because of his previous lifestyle consorting with Satan, neither was he allowed into Heaven. Jack returned to the Devil for help but was merely given a lump of burning coal to light his way as he wandered eternally and aimlessly across the Earth. 

Seeing this unfortunate and creepy soul 
By Wyscan, via Wikimedia Commons
haunting the countryside, the Irish began calling him Jack of the lantern. Jack O' Lantern. Kind of like O'Brien or O'Malley. To keep spooky Mr. O'Lantern as well as evil spirits away from their doors especially on All Hallow's Eve, they carved out lanterns from turnips, gourds, rutabagas, and beets. The weird carved faces were meant to scare the spirits away. When Irish immigrants reached American shores and discovered pumpkins, they were able to carve out even more effective lanterns using those larger gourds.

By MANSOUR DE TOTH  (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Happy pumpkin carving, my friends, and Happy Halloween! (Watch out for Jack though. Centuries of aimless wandering can make for a pretty testy spirit I think.)

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Under the skin...Navajo Skinwalkers

"Navajo American Indian" The New Student's Reference Work (1914)
 via Wikimedia Commons
In Navajo legend, there are people who have the ability to transform themselves into any animal of their choosing. These are the Skinwalkers (Yee Naaldlooshi in the Navajo language.) Before you think of them in potentially cuddly terms of transformations into kittens and bunnies or romantic notions of deer running through the forests or eagles soaring majestically above the clouds, be aware they turn themselves into animals for evil purposes in order to inflict harm upon other people. The animal of choice is often an owl, crow, coyote, wolf, or fox. Not sure why these are all thought of as capable of evil but they do all have a high degree of intelligence and can be thought of as cunning. Perhaps that is why they make the Skinwalker's list of most popular creatures.

"Stalking Coyote" photo by KL Wood
Who are the Skinwalkers? They are men and, more rarely, women who have reached the highest level of supernatural powers. (Not to be confused with Medicine Men who are benevolent people. And unlike werewolves of European legend, Skinwalkers are not victims of circumstance or the lunar calendar. They turn into animals whenever they please.) In order to attain the ability to transform into animals they have to perform the most heinous of acts: killing members of their own families in order to capture their souls and destroy their own humanity. In order to make the transformation--under the cover of night--it is thought they must wear the pelt of the animal of choice. (Perhaps they wear the feathers of the birds.) For that reason, the Navajo do not wear animal skins except for ceremonial purposes in which they may wear the skins of sheep or deer. 
"Stygian Owl" photo by By Hector Bottai via Wikimedia Commons

Skinwalkers are not allowed into your home unless you invite them inside but they use devious means to lure their victims outside the safety of those walls. They will tap on the windows, bang on the walls, mimic the cry of a child, and even vocalize perfect imitations of the victim's loved ones. They are also said to be able to read your thoughts, another weapon in their arsenal of ways to get inside your head and do you harm. Sometimes a Skinwalker is injured while in his animal form and you may see a man nursing a similar injury. Stay away and keep your thoughts to youself! The Navajo avoid speaking of Skinwalkers for fear of evil retribution. According to Navajo legend, Skinwalkers are very cruel and vindictive and do not take kindly to being talked about. 

"Denali Fox" photo by KL Wood
So, if you are travelling in Navajo country, accidentally clip an animal running in front of your car and see it limp off with a hurt leg, be on the lookout for a man limping toward you the next day. Don't mention your suspicions unless you also find out his full name and announce it aloud. Once his full name is pronounced along with the exposure of his Skinwalker identity, he becomes sick and dies from the harm he has inflicted upon others. Hmmm...there was some other guy who didn't want you to guess his name and "skin" was part of it. Oh yeah--Rumplestiltskin

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Throw the Salt...and blind the devil

"At the Cafe La Mie" by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1891
Having just baked a Muscadine pie in celebration of the Full/Harvest/Super/Lunar Eclipsing Moon, I got to thinking about the legend and lore of the foods we eat. Something so much a part of our everyday lives is bound to get tied up in our tangle of hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows. Perhaps that is one of the things that marks us as 'human." I mean, after all, what other creature stops to ponder which way to eat the food before them. They just eat! On second thought, I know plenty of people who never spend a moment on culinary contemplation-- they just dive in. But, if you want to be on the safe side, read this compilation of a few food related superstitions. There just might be a "kernel" of truth hidden there!

Salt: Spilling salt is bad luck. (Perhaps this began in the days of yore when salt was a very
"Salt Shaker" photo by Garitzco via Wikimedia Commons
expensive and treasured commodity, not only for flavor enhancement but for longterm food preservation.) Once you've spilled the salt, to prevent the devil from stealing your soul--bad luck in anyone's book--you must take some salt in your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder. This effectively blinds the devil and thwarts his soul-stealing plans.

Bread: The devil shows up here as well. This time he sits on top of your unbaked bread as you put it in the oven preventing it from rising properly. The solution? Cut a cross into the top before baking and that pesky kitchen-dwelling demon has nowhere to sit. Hot Cross Buns, anyone?

"Carton of Eggs" photo by By Gisela Francisco via Wikimedia Commons
Eggs: An obvious symbol of fertility. Broken eggs are a normal part of farm life but don't just toss them on the compost pile, scatter them in your fields to encourage an abundant crop. If you crack open an egg and find you are blessed with a double-yoker, it means either someone you know is going to get married...or have twins...or both. And once you've cracked that illustrious shell (any egg, not just the double-yoker) be sure and completely crush the shell so a witch cannot gather up the pieces, make them into a boat and sail out onto the sea with the intent of stirring up terrible storms.

Rice: Another symbol of fertility and the reason for tossing it at the happy newlyweds as they leave the wedding celebration. Better than throwing eggs at them.

Noodles: In China, long noodles represent a long life so cutting them cuts your life short. Remember when you were a kid and got those hard looks from your mother when you delighted in sucking up your spaghetti noodle in one long, uninterrupted slurp? Well, little did you know you were preventing premature death! Now, that's using your noodle.
"Pouring Tea" by William Worcester Churchill (1858-1926)

Tea: It's bad luck to have more than one person pour tea from the pot. Perhaps that's the origin of the quaint British custom of asking "Shall I be Mother?" when offering to serve the tea.

Coffee: If you find bubbles in your brew, catch them on a spoon and eat them so you will come into money. (How do you eat a bubble?)

"Black-eye Peas and Collard Greens" photo by Leslie Seaton
 via Wikimedia commons
Black-eyed Peas and Collard Greens: This one, I grew up with here in the South. Eating black-eyed peas and collards on New Year's Day brings you wealth all through the year. Peas represent coins and collards represent the folding stuff. Of course with inflation, you have to eat a heck of a lot of peas and collards these days.

Apples: Cut open an apple and count the seeds. That's how many children you'll have!

Onions: To keep evil spirits out of your house, stick pins into a small onion and set it on your windowsill.

Pie: Bake a pie made with Muscadine grapes on the day of the full Harvest Moon in
"Kate's Good Luck Muscadine Pie" photo by KL Wood
September and you will have good luck for the rest of the season. Eat all of it the day you bake it and you will have good luck for the rest of the year. OK...I confess...I made that one up. But, hey, superstitions have to get started somewhere and it's a good excuse to eat pie. Some might even say having pie is the result of good luck. Hmmm...which came first, the chicken or the egg? Better just bake your pie and eat it too.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ogopogo...Canada's Nessie

"Late Winter Sunrise, Lake Okanagan" photo by Extemporalist (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons
If you're exploring British Columbia, Canada and someone looks at you with wide eyes, pointing toward Lake Okanagan and crying, "Ogopogo!" they probably don't mean "Oh, go pogo," as in a grab the nearest pogo stick and hop around. They are, more than likely, alerting you to the fact that a lake monster has made an appearance and you best skidaddle or...grab your camera. Ogopogo is Canada's version of Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster.

Just an hour's drive north of Oroville, Washington, the British Columbian town of Penticton anchors the southern end of Lake Okanagan an impressive  body of water snaking its way 135 kilometers (83 miles) north toward Vernon. As is common among many of the lakes harboring the world's legendary water monsters, Lake Okanagan is very deep--800 meters (2,624 feet.) The lake sits among the magnificent natural beauty of glacial mountains as well as miles of beaches and parks lining its shores.

Unlike Scotland's monster which goes by the affectionate pet name of "Nessie" and is thought of as a
Photo of Lake Okanagan First Nations People (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
shy, benevolent creature, Ogopogo is the stuff of fearsome legend and nightmares. The native population of Canada, its First Nations people, have long told stories of attacks by Ogopogo. An account from 1860 tells of a First Nations person who lost his horses to the ravenous monster.  He was walking them along the lakeshore when Ogopogo (which First Nations people call Naitaka--Lake Demon) suddenly emerged from the water and snatched his horses away. Because of that incident, First Nations people often kept a small live animal in their boats when crossing the lake so they could throw it overboard to appease the monster if it were to rear its terrifying head.
"Rattlesnake Island" photo by Extemporalist (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons

Ogopogo has been described as resembling a giant log, about 15 meters (50 feet) long, or a finned, round-headed whale. With possible footprints found on its surface, a small island due east of Peachland, British Columbia is thought to be the monster's terrestrial home. It's name is Rattlesnake Island but is known locally as Monster Island.

1990 Canadian Postage Stamp
The fact that Lake Okanagan's monster lacks Nessie's cuddly perception does not keep Canada from honoring it. An artist's portrayal of Ogopogo was featured on a 1990 postage stamp. I wonder what kind of letters those stamps graced. Probably not Christmas cards or Valentines!

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Following in Big Footsteps...Big Foot Legend and Lore

"Peyto Lake" photo by KLWood
When my husband and I spent several months wandering around in the wilds of the far north and west--Canada, Alaska, Washington, Oregon--it was easy to imagine all kinds of creatures prowling about unseen, watching us and our two little dogs. Usually we were on the lookout for mountain lions, wolves, moose, black bears and grizzly bears (all of which we encountered in the wild except for the mountain lions. We only saw mountain lion warning signs along a trail in Washington where one had recently been spotted.) We spent a fair share of our time alone on back trails singing at the
"Wrangel-St Elias Moose" photo by KL Wood
tops of our lungs so as not to surprise one of these lovely large beasts. The one critter of which we saw neither hide nor hair was Big Foot AKA Sasquatch. In my recent research I have discovered that Big Foot isn't just the product of overactive imaginations of backwoodsmen perhaps out on the trail a little too long. There is a long history and tradition of tales of big, hairy man-like creatures throughout the cultures of Native American and First Nation Peoples of the northwest. 
Native American tribes all over the continent have stories of wild, hairy people of the woods and plains but those outside the northwest tend to be the opposite in stature and known as Little People.

"Alaskan Grizzly" photo by KLWood
The Big Foot (Big Feet?) as described by natives of the northwest pretty much match the classical image we have of the creature--hairy, smelly, six to nine feet tall, strong, reclusive, elusive and night-foraging. The Athabaskan people of Alaska know of a creature called Wood Man/Woodsman. Wood Man is usually a solitary being who sneaks around quietly, remaining hidden from humans and does no real harm although he can be mischievous, stealing items from the villages. They have even been known to come to the aide of their stronger-brained but weaker-bodied human neighbors. In some tribes he is known to be more aggressive, stealing children and attempting to mate with humans. Depending on local tradition, he is either one immortal being, as believed by the Ahtna people, or is part of a larger community of male and female Wood Men. None are considered in any way sophisticated and communicate only with whistles, grunts, and sign-language. 

The Author and Big Foot (photo by the author's husband, Bill Ahearn)
The creatures are known by many different native-language names as well as Wood Man, Hairy Man, and the more violent varieties known as Bush Indians and Stick Indians.

Whatever you call them, I think you might not want to surprise or startle them anymore than you would a bear or a moose. So, I invite you to take a page from our backcountry hiking songbook and when you find yourself alone in the deep, dark northern wilderness fill your lungs with the fresh, wild air and SING! Our song of choice? "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine." Worked wonders.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feeling Hawkish...the hawk in Native American lore

"Red Tailed Hawk" photo by KL Wood
On August 15, 2015, my husband, mother, and I attended the Nansemond Pow Wow held on tribal land recently returned to the Nansemond people by the city of Suffolk, Virginia. We were invited to experience this amazing event by the head male dancer whom we met at our home this summer in Edenton, North Carolina. The drumming and singing and dancing were spectacular and touched a deep-seated connection within me. Although we know nothing about her, family lore has it that my great-great grandmother was Native American. Physical connection, or not, I certainly felt a spiritual one, especially with their relationship to the natural world and its deeper other-worldly relation with animals. One of the highlights of the day, for me, was the opportunity to pose for photos with a gorgeous, female red-tailed hawk. As she was held aloft behind me, the wind from her beating wings wafted against my head stirring my hair in her avian breeze. I loved it!

"Male Dancers" photo by KL Wood
The hawk is an important symbol of many Native American tribes across the continent. It is seen as a protector in the skies and associated with the elements of rain, wind, lightning and thunder, known by some as the Thunderer. Iroquois tradition has the Thunderer armed with a bow and flaming arrows as it fights a continuous battle against the forces of evil.

The author's Power Animal for the day.
 The feathers of the red-tailed hawk are considered sacred by many and used in religious rituals and ceremonies. They are worn as an honored part of Native American regalia. (One of the things I learned at the Pow Wow is that the appropriate name for the traditional clothing worn at such an event is never "costume," but always "regalia"--a costume being an outfit one wears when pretending to be something they are not.)

The hawk is a "Power Animal" or "Spirit Animal." The best definition of Power Animal I have found is at . Here is a quote from the website: "Power Animals are strongly associated with the Native American Indian belief in Animism that is a belief based on the spiritual idea that the universe, and all natural objects within the universe, have souls or spirits.  Power Animals are believed to be a supernatural power that embodies, attaches or conveys influence empowering a person with the powerful traits and characteristics of the animal. The doctrine of this belief is that everything is alive, and possesses an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animals represent a person's connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power. Power Animals are  regarded as guides who appear in dreams or Vision Quests in the form of an animal. Power Animals, or spirit guides, walk through different stages of life with a person, teaching and guiding them,
"Pow Wow Dancers" photo by KL Wood
and in some instances protecting them."

As a Power Animal, the hawk is a Messenger and represents Guardianship, Far-Sightedness, and Strength. Coming into such close contact with the beautiful red-tailed hawk, I could feel how she would symbolize all those qualities.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Close Encounters of the Wolfish Kind...Amarok of the North

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ever since I stroked the thick, coarse hair of a wolf in "goodwill ambassador's clothing," I have had a fascination with wolves. Many years back in my college days at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting wolves brought a pair to campus for a hands-on experience. They also showed us an informative and heartrending film about the plight of the wolf in the wild--how it was hunted down for its coat or for its undeserved reputation as a savage killer. I would like to think such actions are now a thing of the past but, having recently encountered a man in Alaska who bragged about how many wolf pelts he bagged on a regular basis, I am disheartened to know such exploitation still exists. OK. Now that I've gotten that particularly bitter pill out of my system, I will share the Inuit mythology of Amarok, the Wolf God. 

Amarok is a wolf-being of enormous stature, far larger than normal wolves. It is thought the
By Scott Flaherty [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
basis for Amarok may be in the real life interaction between the Inuit people and now-extinct animals, particularly the Dire Wolf, a formidable predator that prowled the northern landscape until the end of the Ice Age. It was about 25% heavier than the largest of modern wolves. Skeletal remains put them in at about five feet in length, from head to tail, and between 150 and 200 lbs. 

Unlike ordinary wolves, Amarok does not hunt in a pack but is the quintessential "Lone Wolf." It is said he is quick to kill anyone who is foolish enough to hunt alone in the dark of night. Perhaps he is just culling the herd as real-life wolves do when they kill the weak and sick, an action that increases the health and strength of the herding animals. Instead of pulling out the weak caribou, he is eliminating the weak-minded humans! (And, of course, I mean weak-minded in the sense of foolish--not mentally challenged.) 

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Although Amarok is known as a fearsome deity, there is at least one story told of his kindness. There was a young Inuit boy who was chided and bullied by people of his village due to his stunted growth and subsequent frailty. In frustration he called out to the Lord of Strength to help him. Amarok appeared and wrestled the boy, easily pinning him down with his heavy tail. In the struggle, several small bones fell from the boy's body--bones which, Amarok explained, were prohibiting his growth. He told the boy to return each day and he would wrestle with him to build up his strength. The boy trained with Amarok until he was so strong he overcame three large bears with his own hands. That duly impressed the other villagers who then held him in highest regard.

Although I did not get to see a wolf, myself, on our journey through Alaska, my husband
Wolf Print by Copper River, Alaska by KL Wood (author)
encountered one at dusk while walking our two small dogs. We were the lone campers by the Copper River near Wrangell St. Elias National Park and I was busy inside our little travel trailer making us cups of tea. Bill burst through the door and practically threw the dogs in ahead of himself. He had seen what at first appeared to be a very large dog closely monitoring their progress but, when it disappeared into a ditch and then reappeared ghost-like much closer to them, he realized it was a wolf. Tawny and gray, with intent, intelligent eyes focused on our little, black shaggy pups. The next morning, I saw and photographed large canine-type paw prints just a few yards from our trailer. When the larger of our dogs, Betsy--weighing in at 25 lbs, stepped on the ground, she barely made any indentation at all. As you can see from my photo, the wolf's 4-inch long prints made a very visible impression. Wow.

Lessons learned? Don't go out hunting...or walking your dogs...alone at night (or at dusk) in the northern wilderness. Unless, of course, you are that wolf-killer I mentioned earlier, then...go ahead, make my day. All Hail Amarok! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Real Tickle Monster...not so funny!

 "A-maze-ing Laughter" by Yue Minjun, Vancouver, British Columbia-
photographed  by Antony Stanley via Wikimedia Commons
As we swelter in the deadening heat of summer, my thoughts return again to the colder regions of the far north-- Canada and Alaska (although I hear it's been a long, relatively hot summer up there as well this year!) In researching Inuit legend and lore, I ran across a particularly diabolical creature aptly named "Mahaha."

Why aptly named? Well, because Mahaha tickles his prey to death. Literally! Any of us who have ever fallen victim to aggressive ticklers who were unrelenting, even when we gasped for breath and begged them to stop, can imagine the unique horror of being tickled into twitching oblivion. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it. Those murdered by malicious Mahaha are usually found with agonized, twisted smiles contorting their faces. 

So, as a public service announcement to those of you lucky enough to go wandering the cooler lands up North, this summer, I am posting this all points bulletin, below.

Perpetrator's Name: Mahaha
Perp's Warning Sound: Giggling (usually from behind the victim)
Perp's Build: Scrawny with long bony fingers and razor sharp nails
Perp's Skin: Blue and icy cold
Perp's Eye Color: White
Perp's Hair: Long and Stringy, hanging over his face
Perp's Clothing: Nearly none and always barefoot
Perp's Strength: Powerful muscles
Perp's Weakness: Easily tricked
Last seen: Being swept away downstream in a strong current after his intended victim invited him to lean over for a drink of water and then pushed him in. 
Author and Husband, Kenai Fjords, Alaska, 2011

Enjoy your respite from the heat, fortunate northern adventurer, but be on alert. That giggle you hear sneaking up behind you just may be the excited delirium of Mahaha, the real Tickle Monster! 

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Now You See Them, Now You Don't...Shadow People of the Inuit

"Shadow Person" photographic illustration by K.L. Wood
What was that? Did you just see something flicker beside you but when you turned your head…it was gone? Optical illusion? Ghostly apparition?

The native Inuit people of the far northern climes of Canada and Alaska might say it was one of the shadow people. Among their many legends is that of the tarriassuit, the shadow people, who live alongside the Inuit in a kind of parallel universe. The origin of the tarriassuit is said to be of Inuit who strayed too far north on hunting trips and found themselves in a strange land halfway between the living and the dead. They could not leave this odd plane of existence and became beings with one foot in the visible and one foot in the invisible world.

The tarriassuit cannot usually be seen by humans but can sometimes be glimpsed from the corner of one’s eye. When they are, somehow, visible they are said to look and act just like contemporary Inuit…same clothing, hairstyles, hunting equipment and modes of
Map of Inuit Dialects per Wikimedia Commons
transportation. (That means snowmobiles in the 21st century.) Some Inuit say you can only see their shadows, hence the name shadow people, but can sometimes hear their footsteps and voices. There are Inuit legends that claim the amorphous creatures become visible when they die.

Although rare, it is said that sometimes humans can cross over into the land of the tarriassuit and even marry shadow people. There is the story of a woman who was wed to a shadow man but after some time she became frustrated with her inability to see her husband clearly. She grabbed a hunting knife and plunged it into the place she thought he stood. The shadow man fell dead to the ground, materializing into a handsome young man.
"Eskimo Figure, near Wrangell St. Elias Ntl Park, Alaska" photograph by Wm. Ahearn

The tarriassuit are thought of as kind, gentle, and helpful beings. The ending to the story of the murdered shadow husband is that, although the tarriassuit felt the need to seek revenge, they restrained themselves, believing it unfair to attack people who could not see them to fight back. This concept of benevolence is in sharp contrast to the tales of fear and horror associated with sightings of what current American ghost hunters call shadow people. I see the difference as how one society accepts and venerates that which is beyond our five senses versus another society (ours) that pushes other-worldly experiences into the realm of superstition and fear.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now! 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Hills are Alive...with the Little People

Emerald Green Forest, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood. 
Spending this week hiking the beautiful wooded trails of the North Carolina and Tennessee mountains, it's easy to imagine otherworldly beings hiding among the craggy rocks and moss covered trees. Walking the paths through the natural rhododendron gardens and emerald green forests of
Roan Mountain State Park, my mother described them as "enchanted" and "fairy land." Seems most civilizations have their own legends involving fairies, dwarves, elves, pixies, leprechauns, etc. The Cherokee, some of whom still live in the mountains of North Carolina, have their own race of lilliputian forest dwellers, the Yunwi Tsunsdi  (pronounced: yun-wee joon-stee,) translated as "Little People."
Rhododendron, Roan Mountain, photo by K. L. Wood

The Yunwi Tsundi are considered benign most cases. They are usually helpful to humans but do not suffer fools gladly especially if they treat the Yunwi Tsundi with disrespect. If you find a knife or trinket in the woods, you must say something like, "Little People, I would like to take this," (since it may belong to them) or you might feel stones being thrown at you all the way home. They like to be left alone and if you hear drums far off in a lonely stretch of forest, do not follow the sound for it may lead you to the Yunwi Tsundi's home. If they discover you on their land they may throw a spell over you to
Young Cherokee Woman Pointing to Smoky Mountains, NC, 1942, AP
disorient you and if you do manage to find your way back home, you will feel dazed for the rest of your life. 

They are said to love music and dancing and resemble handsome Cherokee men and beautiful women and are either black, white, or have the golden skin of the natives. They stand about eighteen inches tall and have hair so long it nearly brushes the ground. The Yunwi Tsundi are divided into three groups: the Laurel People, the Rock People, and the Dogwood People. 

The Laurel People are fun-loving and enjoy playing little harmless tricks on humans. It is said that if you are fishing and feel a strong tug on your line, sure that it is a huge fish, only
Mountain Laurel, North Carolina, photo by K. L. Wood
to reel in a stick, it is the Laurel People pulling your leg and having a laugh. Their hope is that you will laugh, too, and not take life so seriously. The Cherokee say that if children are laughing in their sleep, it's the Laurel People at work (or play, that is.)

The Rock People are considered the mean-spirited ones, even to the point of stealing human children. They are expert at "getting even" but are said to be that way because their space has been invaded. They are the manifestation of what can happen to you if you do not treat others with kindness and respect.

The Dogwood People are the kind and helpful ones. If you wake one morning to go to work in your fields but find your crop has already been harvested and stacked in your barn, it must have been the Dogwood People spreading their goodwill. They like to remain anonymous, however, so you mustn't go out and watch the Yunwi Tsundi at work because the price for such a sight may be death.

So, what do we learn from these Little People? Live life joyfully--always ready to laugh at yourself-- treat others with respect because "what goes around, comes around," and treat others kindly and generously, never looking for recognition of your good works.

Have a good couple weeks, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now!