; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Friday, October 21, 2011

Witch Legends and Real-Life Encounters

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, I have found a few interesting 'witchy' posts from the past years. Though this is only a small sample, I hope you'll enjoy reading:

Bell Witch Story: Missing Grave Marker Returns After 40 Years

11/5/08 - The latest chapter of Middle Tennessee's famed Bell Witch story could be titled "The Tale of the Homesick Headstone."

It begins in 1860, when the 22-year-old great-granddaughter of John Bell died and was buried in the family cemetery, her rest undisturbed until the headstone disappeared about a century later.

It ends earlier this month, when the missing marker turned up in Nashville, upside down and broken in two.

"The stone was found in Madison," said Tim Henson, a local historian and curator of the Adams Museum in the Robertson County town. "It was used as a stepping stone in someone's yard for at least 41 years."

Now the marker is in its rightful place. Getting it there had its spooky moments, which seems fitting for a member of the family at the center of one of the South's most celebrated ghost stories.

Story begins in 1817

In 1817, an angry spirit took up residence on the Bell farm in Adams, about an hour's drive northwest of Nashville. Some people identified her as Kate Batts, an eccentric woman who believed John Bell had cheated her in a land deal.

She tormented the family, slapping, pinching and pulling the children's hair. She sang hymns, preached and plagued their father, who fell into recurring bouts of illness until he died in December 1820, a terrible smell on his lips and a mysterious bottle of black liquid nearby.

The tale has been the subject of books and movies, including An American Haunting (2006). And townspeople and tourists say Kate still haunts today, throwing salad spoons and blue balls in the air.

The supernatural Bell mystique may extend to the headstone of Mary Allen Bell Coke, if the story its finder tells is any indication.

The marker had made its way to a trash bin in Madison, where a homeowner found it years ago and added it to the lawn.

"A contractor from Springfield, working on that house, brought it home," Henson said. The contractor, Janie Hudgens, was intrigued and went online to research the dead woman. That led to funeral director and Bell descendant Bob Bell in Springfield, who called Henson.

Hudgens said that after she and husband Sparky found the stone, she made it her mission to find out where it came from.

"I'm from Alabama, and we respect the dead there," Hudgens said.

"When we found the headstone, that bothered me. For three nights straight, I was on the computer till 3 or 4 in the morning looking for where the tombstone belonged."

The night before they were to give Henson the marker, they were in bed with the room dark when the screen came to life, static crossing its screen. Not long after she turned it off, "it came on again, and it was on the page about the Bell family."

Then there was the wind, which she said "blew the deadbolt-locked door open."

As she told Henson, "I think this stone wants to get home."

Henson recently took it to the cemetery and placed it on the grave, but that was just for a brief visit. It'll remain in storage until it can be safely and securely displayed.

"We just want to place it back in the Bell cemetery that it belongs in," he said. "We know within a foot or two where it's supposed to go. We want to put it back so that it can't be taken away again."

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting

The Bell Witch : The Full Account


The Witches of Canewdon St. Nicholas Church

Click for video

Haunted Earth visits Canewdon Church, famous for it`s alleged connection with witches and witchcraft.

Here Chris investigates local history as well as connecting with the spiritual presences of this grave yard.

Historical Background

Canewdon is a village in the Rochford District of Essex in England.

The origin of the name is unclear. It is believed by some to come from Canute the Great. The village is on a hill, and locally is claimed to be the site of an ancient camp used by Canute, during a battle during his invasion of Essex in 1013.

The 14th century church of St. Nicholas, with its 15th century tower and porch, stands on a hill 128 feet above the marshes. The oldest part of the church is the outside wall of the north aisle which contains many Roman bricks, presumably from an earlier building.

There is much superstition around the village, believed to be a centre of witchcraft. Legend has it that while the church tower stands, there will always remain six witches in Canewdon. Local folklore also has it that if you walk around the church seven times (anticlockwise) on Halloween you will see a witch, and thirteen times you will disappear. Both these stories can make the village a popular destination on Halloween, to the extent that the police have been known to seal off the village to non-residents.

Whilst the church of St Nicholas stands full on Beacon Hill, Canewdon, it is said that there will be as many witches in silk as in cotton.

A lot of the folklore probably came from George Pickingill who, living in the village during the late 19th century, still apparently practised pagan rituals in the church grounds. The idea that something magical can happen from running about the church is probably an exaggeration of what scared locals saw the witch master and his nymphs doing 'walking the circle' as it is known in paganism.

Most of the village was built in the mid-Sixties, much to the old locals' dismay, and until recently there has been an "us and them" situation.

There are many ghost stories within the village, most again central to the church. The most famous ghost is the grey lady who reportedly floats down from the church's west gate towards the river Crouch. These stories often attract ghost-hunters and young curious people who can prove a nuisance to the village.

The image was captured at Canewdon St. Nicholas Church. Famous for its tales of witches and witchcraft. The police normally seal off the church at Halloween due to so many people trying to access the graveyard. The image was taken with no external lighting... there have been tales of a fire elemental at the graveyard.

The Witches' Craft: The Roots of Witchcraft & Magical Transformation

The Word: Welsh Witchcraft, The Grail of Immortality And The Sacred Keys


Film Crew 'Possessed' During Seance at Pendle Hill

4/11/09 - A film crew got a little more than they bargained for when making a documentary about the Pendle witches.

As part of Pendle’s Paranormal Road Map, presented by Clitheroe-based TV historian Simon Entwistle, the crew bravely ventured into a barn on Pendle Hill to conduct a seance in the hope of contacting the spirits of the witches.

According to Simon, the team got a fright when three of them ‘became possessed’, causing them to turn ‘distressed and violently ill’.

Simon described the material, which also includes a dramatic reconstruction, as the best he had ever seen.

And he is convinced the witches’ 400-year-old story is worthy of a place on the silver screen.

The 11-strong film crew, with a stunt man and 20 actors in 17th Century attire, descended on Pendle Hill to make the documentary.

But it was not long before the ‘spooky’ aspect of the setting became apparent.

An elaborate stunt had to be cancelled when a seemingly fit horse involved went lame, according to Simon.

The first part of the film deals with the history of the Pendle witch trials and what is now considered an appalling miscarriage of justice.

Members of re-enactment group, 17th Century Life and Times, were on hand to ensure complete historical accuracy.

Simon said they did a “fantastic job.” He added: “For me personally, it’s the best material I have ever seen relating to the Pendle witches.

“It’s the best story in East Lancashire. In America they have a huge museum in Salem and quite proud of the story.

“People come from all over for the Pendle witch tours. If Steven Spielberg got his teeth into it I’m sure he’d do a fantastic job.”

The latter part of the material features the seance, co-ordinated by renowned ghost hunter Roy Basnett and the Pathfinder PI team.

Director Mark Howard, whose previous credits include Roddy Smythe Investigates with Peter Kay, said: “Almost 400 years on from the actual event, here we are, with actors in clothing from the period, possibly walking in the very same tracks trodden by the original protagonists. Bit of a weird feeling really.”

The tour around the hill, described by the crew as “informative and unsettling,” also features Liverpool actress and radio presenter Margi Clarke and BBC radio presenter Alanna Rice.

It was produced by Manchester-based independent company GCH Entertainment and filming took place on Sunday April 5.

The Lancashire Witches: A Romance of Pendle Forest.

History of the Pendle Witches and Their Magic


Abducted By Witches, Woman Recalls Her Shocking Life in the Coven

4/24/09 - At the age of 15, Nikki Russo checked into a California hospital for treatment of an eating disorder. It was in this hospital that she was eventually abducted by a nurse, initiated into a coven of witches and thrown into a dark world filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse and intimidation.

Today, Russo’s story and struggle to recovery is chronicled in the new book The Pomegranate Seed: Nikki Russo's Sojourn Through Institutional Failure And The World Of The Occult

The book, published by iUniverse, is written by veteran Gulf Coast Newspaper staff writer Bob Morgan, who first interviewed Russo in October 2007 and wrote an article regarding her story.

Why come forward with such a painful book now?

“Timing is everything,” Russo, now 37, said this week. “It’s a means of survival. You can only keep the memories down to a certain point. It gets to the point that more or less you have to deal with it.

“I hope that people walk away with the knowledge of what is out there and what can happen,” Russo said. “I hope this book can open people’s eyes.”

Morgan, who has won 20 Alabama and Mississippi press awards, said Russo’s story is the most compelling he has personally encountered during his years in journalism.

“Two things I would say about Nikki’s story. First, anybody who has a loved one needs to hear Nikki’s story and confront the reality of what can potentially happen when people turn to societal institutions that should be trustworthy. And second, the amount of courage it took for Nikki to come forward and tell this story is beyond question. The book is not only shocking, but intensely personal.”

According to Morgan, the tone of The Pomegranate Seed was set by two considerations. The 2007 newspaper article, once it hit the Internet, was scrutinized by many Wiccans or witchcraft practitioners, some of whom dismissed Russo’s story as so-called “Satanic panic.” Thus, Morgan said the book was written with an eye to dates, court documents and depositions that leave no doubt that Russo’s story happened in the real world.

The other consideration was Russo herself and the personal pain and trauma she continues to go through after nearly 20 years. Going over the events that occurred from 1988-90 during interviews for the book often pushed Russo to her limits, Morgan said. He adds that on some occasions Russo had to take a week off before delving into the material again.

“You and I might take a day for granted but Nikki does not,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, he got the idea for the book title from a poem of Homer, the ancient Greek writer. The “Hymn to Demeter” tells the story of a maiden who was forced to live her life partially in the light and partially in the dark because she ate pomegranate seed in the Underworld.

It was through this process and release of the book that Russo hoped she would find the closure she has so desperately sought. For Russo, unfortunately, the release of the book has not brought that closure.

“When stuff like this happens, you can’t walk away from it, it stays with you.” she said. “I’ll never get back what was taken. I’ll never be able to get away from the memories.”

Some of the frustrations that Russo encountered almost 20 years ago in dealing with the State of California, she continues to experience today in connection with what she calls the “victim-witness” program.

In the same way that Russo had to change her name years ago to escape threats from coven members, she knows today that the person they abducted no longer exists. At the same time however, she is comfortable with the person she is today.

After she left the “Brotherhood,” the coven of witches in which she was initiated, a deprogrammer told Russo she had two choices: She could either go into a padded room or try and function and contribute to society.

“The padded room was really not that appealing,” Russo said.

The Pomegranate Seed: Nikki Russo?s Sojourn Through Institutional Failure And The World Of The Occult


Grace Sherwood: The Witch of Pungo

6/3/09 - More than 300 years ago, a series of strange events struck old Princess Anne County, Va. farmers.

Cotton plants withered. Cows' milk dried up. Husbands' eyes wandered from their wives.

Who was to blame? According to the local women, Grace Sherwood.

The farmer's wife knew a little too much about herbs, was a little too pretty and wore clothing that was a little too tight, according to local historians. So they accused her of witchcraft.

A judge ordered Sherwood to be tried by ducking. So on July 10, 1706, with her thumbs tied to her big toes, Sherwood was ducked in the Lynnhaven River.

The street leading to her ducking spot now carries her legend as Witchduck Road.

"It's named after Grace Sherwood's ducking," said local historian Deni Norred, who co- wrote "Ghosts, Witches and Weird Tales of Virginia Beach." "She was the first person tried by water in Virginia for witchcraft."

Sherwood escaped her bonds and swam to safety, which the court considered proof of her devilish dealings. The day's wisdom dictated that an innocent woman would have sunk, Norred said.

Sherwood served several years in jail before returning to her three sons. She lived to be nearly 80 and died at her farm in Pungo around 1740.

Witchduck Road isn't the only landmark named after Sherwood or her trial. There's also Witch Duck Bay, Witch Duck Point, Witch Point Trail and Sherwood Lane.

Three years ago, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine exonerated Sherwood. A bronze statue at Sentara Bayside Hospital, located on the corner of Independence Boulevard and North Witchduck Road, honors her legend.

But according to local stories, that legend isn't quite over. Some say Sherwood returns to visit her ducking spot every July and can be seen as a spot of light dancing on Witch Duck Bay.


Grace Sherwood's Story

Early court records tell the tale of Grace Sherwood, who was tried in 1706 as Virginia Beach's first witch. Unfortunately, there are no existing images of Grace. Her story is perhaps the most fascinating of the folklore in the history of Tidewater. Witchcraft was a very serious and real thing to the colonists. The cult was believed to be a threat to the Christian Church, and everyone during the early 1700's was on the lookout for witches, who could be recognized by so-called unusual or mysterious behaviors.

Grace lived her entire life in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach (named for Indian chief Machiopungo), and married James Sherwood with whom she had three sons. She was said to be strikingly attractive, string-willed, and a non-conformist by nature. These traits were resented by her neighbors, who began spreading rumors about her witch-like behavior. She was accused of blighting gardens, causing livestock to die, and influencing the weather.

After eight years of constant slander and bickering by her neighbors, Grace was formally charged with suspicions of witchcraft. A jury of women were ordered to search her body for suspicious or unusual markings, thought to be brands of the devil himself, and naturally the jury found, "marks not like theirs or like those of any other women." However, neither the local court nor the Attorney General in Williamsburg, would pass judgment on declaring her a witch. It was finally decided that Grace, "by her own consent, be tried in the water by Ducking, (dunking)." Water was considered to be the purest element and the theory was that it would reject anything of an evil nature. Based on this theory, the accused was tied up and thrown into the water. If the person drowned, he was declared innocent of witchcraft; if he could stay afloat until he could free himself, he was declared a witch.

On July 10, 1706, Grace was marched from the jail (which located near the present day site of Old Donation Church) down the dirt road (now Witch Duck Road) to the Lynnhaven River. This portion of the river has since been named Witch Duck Bay in memory of the occasion. This being a big event, hoards of people from all over the colony flocked to the scene as news of the Ducking had spread throughout the Commonwealth.

Grace Sherwood was tied crossbound with the thumb of her right hand to the big toe of her left foot, and the thumb of her left hand to the big toe of her right foot, and thrown into the water. As predicted by her accusers, Grace managed to stay afloat until she could free herself and swim to shore. She was jailed and awaiting trial for witchcraft for nearly eight years, when the charges against her were dropped due to the softening of her accusers hearts, and she was set free. She moved back to her Pungo home and lived there until her death at the age of 80.

Many stories have been told and retold over the years about this most remarkable woman. One of the many tall tales that have been handed down from generation to generation has to do with the day of her ducking. When they led Grace Sherwood through the crowd that had turned out to see her put into the water she told them, "All right, all of you po' white trash, you've worn out your shoes traipsin' here to see me ducked, but before you'll get back home again you are goin' to get the duckin' of your life." When they put Grace into the water the sky was as bright blue as a bird's wing, but immediately afterward it grew pitch black, the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed all across the heavens. The terrified people started for home, only to be washed off the roads and into the ditches by a regular cloudburst.

Witchcraft Myths in American Culture

Mysteries and Legends of Virginia: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained (Myths and Mysteries Series)

The Witch of Pungo and other historical stories of the early colonies