Monday, February 1, 2021

Join me for Paranormal Pursuits, my new online course

You may have joined me on one of my historical ghost tours, or you may have spent an intimate evening with me with Messages from Beyond, and you may have even heard me do the Omnicast news. Now I want to invite our Ocademy readers into a journey into the supernatural and the arcane. I am offering six weeks into the weird you might say as we investigate together the world of ghosts, jinn, and demons.

Six weeks, six distinct topics to stir the mind and keep you up at night.

Week One: What is a ghost? A deep dive into various types of paranormal activity. We will go into what some say are the different types of haunts and give examples of them. From residuals to intelligent spirits, we will leave no tombstone unturned. Since this is the opening night of the lecture series, I would like to share some of my own personal experiences over the years.

Week Two: Ghost photos. Proof Positive or Pareidolia? Since the invention of photography there has been ghost photos. But is this proof of the paranormal, or are we simply seeing what we want to see? From obvious fakes to the ones that stumped people for years, we will look at the most famous ghost photos and break them down and discern whether they may be genuine evidence, or simply our mind filling gaps in our system of beliefs.

Week Three: What a Long Strange Trips It's Been: The history of Spiritualism and paranormal investigation. This week will cover he roots of the spiritualism movement up to modern day. We will also be looking at the history of paranormal investigation from the Victorians all the way to popular ghost investigation TV shows today.

Week Four: The Darkside of the Paranormal. Demons and dark spirits and Jinn, Oh My! This week we will look at the darker side of the paranormal that many do not like to explore, or pretend it isn’t even there. From Biblical demons and darker spirits to looking at how other cultures look at these entities. We will also look at the Jinn, which in itself may not be evil but has a reputation and mystery about it that scares people even today in the Middle East.

Week Five: So, you think you want to try an investigation? This week will cover modern paranormal investigation techniques. The technologies and the pitfalls. I will demonstrate how equipment is used in the field and how the information can be misinterpreted. The bridging between modern science and the occult.

Week Six: The paranormal in popular media. Movies and books have amplified the paranormal into the stuff of dreams and nightmares. We will look at the most popular incantations of popular media that have made us truly terrified of things that go bump in the night.

Visit this link to partake.

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Shakers

When one thinks of the Spiritualist movement in the early days, they usually think of the Fox Sisters or David Hume. If they are wanting to go even more obscure, they might even think of Swedenborg or Mesmer. But many misses one of the most important early influences, the Shakers. This is usually when someone says, “the furniture guys?” Yes, them. Known throughout the world for their fine craftsmanship and artistic skill, the Shaker community also helped set the stage for American Spiritualism. 

First off before we delve deeper, people sometimes confuse Shakers with Quakers. They are two completely different animals, though one of the main founders of the Shaker religion, Mother Ann Lee, was formerly a Quaker, and brought to her new faith some key principles of her former sect, including: simplicity, financial responsibility, work ethic, and the belief in the perfectibility of humankind. That is where their similarities end.

The Shakers started up in the mid-1700s in England and quickly made their way to the colonies. They were originally called the Shaking Quakers because of their ecstatic behavior during their worship services. The Shakers were one of the first egalitarian faiths, stressing an emphasis on equality for all, which included women leading in church positions, something unheard of at the time. In fact, three of their primary founders are women. Mother Ann Lee, who I mentioned briefly above, Jane Wardley and Lucy Wright. Officially, the church was called The United Society of Believers of Christ’s Second Appearing. But they took on the name Shakers wholeheartedly and sailed from Liverpool in 1774 and traveled to New York with a small retinue of fellow believers and by the beginning of the American Revolution were settled in Watervilet, NY. 

Sadly though, they would not swear an Oath of Allegiance and so were imprisoned for six months. This actually garnered sympathy for their beliefs by the local community and Mother Ann and the others went on a campaign shortly after sharing their new faith throughout the northern colonies.  Ann Lee was thought of as the Second coming of Christ in female form, and attracted many to their ranks. By the 1790s, they had several communities in the area and their new main headquarters was New Lebanon, New York. By the beginnings of the 1800s, Shaker missionaries were making their way to the southern states. The Shaker faith attempted a utopian style community based on hard work, strong ethics, and celibacy. Shaker communities separated men and women and sexual relations were forbidden. The only way children came into the community is if a woman was pregnant and then became a Shaker or the child was an orphan brought into the community. At the age of 21, children could officially join the community full time as a member of the faith, or go out into the world.

The Shaker religion really had its height from the 1820s to the 1860s, which puts it right into the beginning of American Spiritualism. It was known to the Shakers as the Era of Manifestations, alluding to the revelations of one of the founders, Mother Ann Lee. This was a time of what they called “spirit gifts” or messages. These would usually be in the form of dervish style dances and the young women bringing back messages from the now passed Mother Ann Lee or others from the spirit world. Or other times the “gifts” would manifest into beautiful pieces of art such as paintings known as “gift drawings”. Sometimes these messages from the Otherside didn’t go so well.  The messages might lead to a new order to their faith that would cause dissention. Some of the young women delivering these messages had minor celebrity status and were sought out by others in hopes of receiving a message from someone who has departed or from Mother Ann herself. In 1842, due to the huge amounts of messages allegedly being received, the Shakers barred the public from attending Shaker services.  Other revelations resulted in the publishing of an esoteric tome by Philemon Stewart, A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book. It was also during this time that the Shakers become known for their wonderful furniture making skill

The Civil War era was an interesting time for the Shakers for they were pacifists and even though they believed in many of the philosophies of the Union, such as the abolition of slavery, they housed and fed soldiers of both sides. President Lincoln exempted Shaker males from military service. After the war, the Shakers suffered from the postwar economy and could not compete with the industrialization of the world. Their numbers suffered tremendously and many left the faith. By the turn of the century, the faith was dying out and sadly all but dead. The communities they set up are dust and today the Shakers themselves are almost gone. Small communities still exist, but they are few and far between.

The Shaker faith brought many things to the New World. An artistic esthetic that is sought after even today and often imitated. But it also brought the beginnings of Spiritualism to the colonies in the form of communications from beyond the veil. Years before the Fox sisters came upon the scene, there were these women who saw themselves equal to their male counterparts, and they had a message to share with the world. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Christmas Ghost Story

  The planchette of the Ouija board moves, ever so subtly as, the dead use it to communicate with the living during a séance. Is this a Halloween show? No, it’s the Downton Abbey Christmas special. When people think of a time to tell a ghost story, they naturally go to Halloween, but what of Christmas? People think of Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, a time of family gatherings, bright lights, the exchanging of well wishes and of course presents. But what if I was to say that Christmas was a time that the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest and in the days leading up to Christmas and into the New Year, the days were at their shortest, the nights were long and cold, and people across Europe huddled near the fire and told stories of the undead.

After all, ghost stories and Christmas have gone hand in hand for many years. A Christmas Carol, published by Charles Dickens in 1843, is in essence a ghost story. Yes, of course Dickens was commenting on the plight of the poor in the Industrial Age, but the mechanism used is the ghosts of the Past, Present, and Future coming to the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, to right his wrongs and place him on the path of kindness through the spirit of Christmas. But there are other stories that deal with the supernatural are built around the holiday. For example, Henry James, in his famous ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, starts the gothic ghost story around the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The telling of these supernatural tales became so prevalent during the Victorian Age, that the humorist and British travel writer Jerome K. Jerome wrote in his anthology of ghost stories in 1891, Told After Supper:

“Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet ’round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about specters. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.”

But where did the telling of ghost stories at Christmas begin? Many historians point out that this phenomenon is older than Christmas itself. It goes back to the ancient Nordic holiday known as Yule. Yes, that Yule. As in Yuletide and Yule Log and other references, but many do not know to what it refers. Generally, the Yule took place in the mid-winter as a celebration that included feasts and yes, even sacrifice, to celebrate what is known at the Wild Hunt, which is a ghostly procession in the winter sky with Odin leading the hunt himself. It is believed that during the time of Yule paranormal activity is greatly increased as well as the presence of what the Norse called the “draugar”, the undead that walk the earth.  As Norway was Christianized by King Haakon I, in roughly 930 AD, Haakon wished the continuation of the Yule tradition but had it merge with Christianity and stated “"and at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted." 

As things merged together, as with many things, traditions of the past find a way to remain in the present. References of ghost stories being told at Christmas time in England during the Middle Ages can be found.  But it is of course the Victorians that we point to for the continuation of this darker part of the holiday. So why did it stop? Well Dickens and others stopped writing Christmas stories that involved ghosts (yes, he wrote more than one) and eventually it faded from popular culture and was replaced with the more jovial aspects of Christmas. Why did it not catch on in America? Edgar Allen Poe and Washington Irving tried, but Halloween was cemented into Americana by the late Victorian era. Even American horror master HP Lovecraft did his own take on Christmas in the short story The Festival. And so, we leave the telling of ghost stories during Halloween and embrace our friends and loved ones around the Evergreen tree at Christmas. Or do we? Lean forward, my friends, I have a terrible ghastly tale to tell…

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Ghosts of the South

    In keeping with the season, I am going to tell you a ghost story. A ghost story I originally found in a book by Colin Dickey called Ghostland, an amazing book from a well-rounded historian, and to him I give this credit. One of the best parts of this ghost story is that it is 100% true, and deeply disturbing.

   Attakapas Parish, Louisiana. The war had not long been ended and the South still licked their wounds of defeat. A freedman was awakened one night by the sound of a traveler who asked for some water. The man filled a bucket full of water and gave it to the stranger, who drank the entire bucket down and asked for another. After he drank the second bucket dry, and then a third, he thanked the man, telling him how thirsty he’d been, that he traveled more than a thousand miles in the last twenty-four hours, and that was the best drink of water he’d had since he was killed at Shiloh.  There were other stories, of ghosts that guarded over dilapidated plantations or speaking in guttural voices, telling all who asked where they met their demise. Many tell of these spectral soldiers even today, but some took advantage of the unquiet dead…

   One former slave would remember ghosts that approached him one night and told him, “they have come from Manassas Gap to see that the poor widows are not imposed upon. They also said that the rebels were not going to let the taxes be paid.” A man in South Carolina was awakened one night by the hammering at his door and voices demanding that he come outside. Shadowy figures came forth, wanting to know how he voted in the recent elections- whether for the radical Republicans or the Democrats- and when they told him he voted Republican, one ghost stuck a barrel under his chin and dragged him into the woods. There they demanded that he remove his shirt. “What do you want to whip me for,” he pleaded; “what have I done?” The figure replied, “Off with your shirt; if you don’t you shall go dead. We come from Manassas graveyard; and by Christ we want to get back to our graveyard and cover up before day, by Christ”. These ghosts then whipped him ten to fifteen times, by his recollection, before releasing him, telling him, “You must promise to vote the democratic ticket, or you will go dead before we leave you.” Then the specters shambled into the night, their victim must have thought back to their graves. But these men were not ghosts, they were something infinitely worse.

   What began as a prank in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a series of pranks- born when a few bored Confederate veterans formed a club whose only mandate was that its members “have fun, make mischief, play pranks on the public”- grew quickly into the nation’s first terrorist organization, focused chiefly on harassing recently freed slaves and the Northerners who empowered them. The six founders took their name from a gibberish distortion of the Greek word for “circle”, kuklos, adding the word “Klan” at the end to add emphasis to their Scottish heritage: the Ku Klux Klan, a name instantly mysterious, terrifying, what one founder described as the sounds of “bones rattling together”. 

   Sleep tight everyone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Mount Hope Cemetery Tour 2020

Greetings, all! On the 24th October, I am leading a tour at the Mount Hope Cemetery  in San Diego. 

It's FREE and I'd love to see you there. 

Details for it can be found on the Villa Montezuma website

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Vampires & Vampirism in history, literature, and cinema

 Don't miss this live online event!

THIS THURSDAY NIGHT! For centuries they have walked the earth. Not merely coming from remote European castles, but from many nations across the expanses of time. The Vetala, Strigoï, Vampire. The word itself creates terrors of the mind and makes the blood run cold. Eternal hunters of the night in search of victims to prey upon and to perhaps turn into one of their own. Join Haunted Orange Historian Charles Spratley as we explore the history of the Vampire through time and cultures and how it changed through popular media such as literature and film. 🧛‍♂️ ⚰️

Haunted Orange County LIVE returns with "Vampires & Vampirism," this Thursday Sept 24th at 8PM Pacific! LIVE ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Doing a bit of woodworking

Carving a bowl today