Field Guide Friday – Crystal Skulls

An excerpt from the fabulous Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith Joyce:

Superficially, the topic of crystal skulls seems straightforward. Crystal skulls are detailed replicas of human skulls carved from quartz crystal. That description, however, is the only straightforward thing about them. Crystal skulls are the subject of much fascination and heated debate because of the many mysteries surrounding them.

• Who carved these skulls?
• How old are they?
• What was their original purpose?
• How were they carved?
• Do these skulls possess paranormal powers?

With the exception of the last one, these questions may seem academic, but they are not. Although we can date the crystal from which these skulls are carved, precisely when they were carved remains a mystery. Nor in many cases can we determine conclusively what types of tools were used.

Most crystal skulls are generally believed to be Meso-American—either Aztec or Mayan—and to date from pre-Columbian times, meaning that they were carved before Columbus and other Europeans arrived in the Americas. (There are also Peruvian crystals skulls and Chinese jade skulls that are believed to possess paranormal powers.) This remains unverified and experts who have examined some skulls suggest that they were carved in Europe in the mid 19th century.

One thing is sure, however. These skulls were not created by primitive carving tools. Increasingly sophisticated testing methods suggest that at least some were created using modern technology, leading to yet another mystery. Who had access to this technology so long before the testing existed to identify it?

Part of the mystery is that, regardless of how ancient they may be, crystal skulls were unknown before the 19th and 20th centuries. If they existed before that, then they were carefully protected mystic secrets. The provenance of most crystal skulls is murky. They do not figure in surviving Meso-American myth or folklore, but the key word there is surviving. Vast quantities of information and artifacts were destroyed following the advent of the conquistadors and Christianity, and huge historical gaps now exist. Was information about crystal skulls destroyed? We may never know. Skulls certainly do play a significant role in traditional Central and South American spirituality, with vestiges preserved in modern Mexican Day of the Dead paraphernalia like sugar skulls and life-sized papier mâché skulls.

Many of the earliest crystal skulls brought to public attention arrived courtesy of French antiquarian and archaeologist Eugène Boban (1834-1908). Boban, an expert on Mexican art, spent much of his life in Mexico and spoke fluent Spanish and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Did he find his skulls in Mexico as he claimed, or did he secretly commission European carvers to create them so that he could sell them as rare and expensive Mexican antiques?

Other more exotic origins for crystal skulls have also been suggested—for example, that they were rescued from Atlantis prior to its destruction or that they are extraterrestrial in origin, meaning that, regardless of where they were found on Earth, they originally came from outer space.

Crystal skulls range in size from as small as a bead to a few inches to life-sized to larger-than-life, but fascination tends to be with those that are at least life-sized. Quartz is a key component in many modern technologies, including computers and  telecommunication devices. Quartz makes it possible to program a computer, store memory, and retrieve information. A miniscule quartz chip holds massive quantities of information, including thousands of images, songs, photographs, videos, and other data. What then is the information-storing capacity of a life-sized quartz-crystal skull? Were ancient people aware of the information-storage capacity of crystal? Did they create crystal skulls to store, record, and  transmit data?

According to one legend, thirteen crystal skulls were distributed throughout what is now Latin America. (Numbers vary, with different versions of the legend suggesting more than fifty skulls.) The skulls are purportedly the equivalent of a multi-volume encyclopedia, each one a separate volume. At a pivotal moment, the skulls will be reunited so that they can re-activate the knowledge they contain and guide a new age. Some  believe that this pivotal moment will be in 2012.

Regardless of origin or initial purpose, crystal skulls have developed modern New Age and occult uses. They serve as divination tools, similar to traditional crystal balls. Some crystal skulls are believed to have the power to enhance or activate human psychic abilities. They are considered receivers and transmitters of energy. Some crystal skulls allegedly possess healing properties, including the power to heal serious diseases like cancer. Even modern crystal skulls may manifest these powers. Contemporary skulls are allegedly activated by bringing them to sacred places or into contact with other skulls, especially ancient ones.

Several crystal skulls are owned by the Smithsonian Museum, the British Museum, and the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris. Crystal skulls are featured in the 2008 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which is based on the legend of the thirteen skulls, as well as in many other movies, novels, and video games.

For More Information:

re. the Mitchell-Hedges Skull

re. archaeological history of the skulls & pop culture in Archaeology Magazine

re. the crystal skull in the British Museum

Field Guide Friday – Shadow People

Dark Energy makes up 70% of the Universe – Dark Matter makes up 25% – that means that only 5% of everything that exists in the whole Universe is perceptible to humans! Now how freaky is that? An Ankh could lose some serious sleep over this sort of information!

Tangentially (it’s a bit of a stretch, I know) – the fastest growing paranormal phenomenon is the spooky sighting of Shadow People. Here’s what Deena Budd’s has to say about it in her fascinating non-fiction The Weiser Field Guide to Cryptozoology:

Shadow People

Shadow people is a relatively new paranormal term, but I have been hearing it more often lately, as reported sightings have been increasing worldwide. The entities are also called shadow folk, shadow men, and shadow beings.

Evidently, Art Bell, former host of the late night talk show Coast to Coast AM, is responsible for the recent resurgence of the term. The phrase appeared many years earlier, also in radio as the title of a 1953 drama on Chicago’s WGN-AM Hall of Fantasy about “malignant entities born of the darkness.”

Heidi Hollis, researcher of shadow people, has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM several times. Hollis believes that shadow people have always been here, and they are a negative influence. Possibly pockets of negative psychic energy that have accumulated in areas of traumatic events, they gorge themselves on fear and sadness.

Some believe that shadow people are ghosts or spirits, seen in varying stages of their ghostly development by people with different degrees of receptive abilities; much like the reception of a television or radio, which can provide a clear picture or not, depending on atmospheric conditions.

Members of the International Ghost Hunters Society believe that shadow people could be ghosts that don’t have the energy or ability to manifest themselves into a more favorable or familiar shape. The society claims to have more than two minutes of videotape from Shaniko, Oregon, of a large group of shadow people ghost children “dancing across the wall of the old abandoned school building basement.”

Some shadow people may be humanoid in form, but without defined features or resemblance to actual people. many times, the shadow appears as two-dimensional or diaphanous. They often move very quickly, in a disjointed manner, but have also been observed to move slowly and fluidly. Normally, the shadow people appear just at the edge of your vision, caught out of the corner of your eye, or as a wisp through a mirror. They are able to quickly disintegrate into a wall or mirror. Occasionally, reports describe glowing red or yellow eyes. They have been seen as child-sized and also very tall and wearing a hat.

The tall shadow man called “Hat Man” is likely to be evil, according to Hollis. Hat Man appears in a much more solid and clearly defined state, wearing “a fedora hat, trench coat and three-piece suit.” Hollis suggests the possibility that these negative entities might be attempting to “recruit people to the dark side.”

They are reported to have many diverse personalities, ranging from shy to aggressive, and a few witnesses hold the opinion that they are guardian angels present to warn of imminent danger, much like the Mothman of West Virginia.

Most feel that shadow people are accompanied by a feeling of apprehension, and some observers get the impression that they are the “essence of pure evil.” There have been reports of people being chased, attacked, and even raped by menacing shadow people.

The shadow people are sometimes compared to the Raven Mocker, an evil witch known in Native American Cherokee mythology, said to sometimes appear as a shadowlike phantom and to steal souls. It has also been suggested that there is a link between the Jinn of Islamic belief, which are made by Allah from black smoke, and the shadow people.

Although the possibilities appear to be endless – half-formed ghosts, demons, interdimensional beings, blobs of negative thoughts, and more – it is clear that shadow people are becoming one of the most regularly reported types of phenomena observed in recent times.

Rather than attempting to draw these creatures to you, it might be prudent to drive them away instead. I have received several requests for help in this situation at my paranormal website,

According to Hollis, the number-one effective defense is to let go of your fear. These creatures feed on your terror. Stand strong!

For more, brain-bending information on Dark Matter, head on over to NASA!

Field Guide Friday – Dead Celebrities Get Their Haunt On

From gentleman Raymond Buckland’s essential volume – The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts

Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball died in 1969, at age seventy-seven. She had lived at 100 North Roxbury Drive, in Beverly Hills, and there have been reports that she is still there… as a ghost. Objects, including large items of furniture, are moved about the room when no one is present. Voices – hers being easily recognized – are heard coming from the empty attic. Windows are opened and closed; doors are locked and unlocked. Windows have also been broken. All of this may be due to the fact that the house was virtually rebuilt after Lucille’s death, with walls taken out and the whole floor plan rearranged.

James Dean

Since James Dean died such a violent death (in a head-on crash between his Porsche 550 Spyder and a 1950 Ford Tudor), it’s not surprising that his ghost hangs around. The accident occurred in September 1955 near the crossing of California State Routes 466 and 41, a few miles from Blackwell’s Corner. His ghost has been seen at the Fairmount Cemetery in Indiana, where his body lies, as well as at the site of the deadly crash.

Redd Foxx

The star of the popular television series Sanford and Son died of a heart attack in 1991 on Stage 31 at Paramount Studios. His Las Vegas home, on Eastern Avenue and Rawhide Street, has changed hands a number of times, and each of the owners has claimed that the late comedian still appears there, usually pulling pranks. The first owner of the house was plagued by a sliding glass door that would repeatedly open by itself, so he had it replaced…The new door did the same thing! Another owner, who had a real estate business, reported that the computers would turn on and off by themselves and files would disappear.

John LennonJohn Lennon was shot to death at the Dakota Building, 1 West 72nd Street, New York, in 1980. (When alive, John claimed to have seen what he termed “The Crying Lady Ghost” in the building.) Since his death, John’s ghost has been seen many times. In 1983, a musician named Harrow saw the figure in a Dakota entranceway. Amanda Moores, a writer who was with Harrow, also saw the apparition. Other people, including Yoko Ono, have seen Lennon inside the building.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose of sleeping pills on August 4, 1962, at a house in Brentwood. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is a place she often stayed when at the height of her fame, and her ghost is said to haunt that place on a regular basis, as well as the Brentwood home. An apparition of her has also been seen at her grave, at Westwood Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles, on Glendon Avenue. Several people have also seen Marilyn’s apparition at the Cal-Neva Lodge on Crystal Bay at Lake Tahoe. The lodge was owned, in 1960, by Frank Sinatra, and he and his longtime friend Marilyn often stayed there. She always stayed in cabin #3, close to a tunnel that was a secret passageway during Prohibition. A security guard one time went to see if he could help a beautiful blonde woman who was standing in the tunnel crying. As he approached her, she turned away and walked through the wall.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley’s ghost not only haunts Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee (where he died in 1977), but also hangs around the Las Vegas Hilton, where he performed for so many years. His apparition has also been seen in a building off Nashville’s Music Row, where Elvis recorded Heartbreak Hotel. Although the building is no longer a recording studio for RCA, it does house a television production studio. It’s said that if anyone mentions Presley’s name, all manner of strange things occur – lights blow out, ladders fall down, noises come onto the sound tracks. A year after Presley’s death, investigator Hans Holzer held a séance at the Drake Hotel in Manhattan, with Dee Presley, Elvis’s stepmother. During the sitting, Elvis came through and, among other things, made jokes about Colonel Tom Parker.

George Reeves

Some say that George Reeves was frustrated at being typecast in his role of Superman, and that he became despondent enough to commit suicide, in 1959, just days before his planned marriage. However, all the evidence seems to point toward homicide, involving a jealous ex-lover, her even more jealous husband, and others who wanted Reeves dead. It has been said that Reeves’s ghost appears in his old bedroom in Benedict Canyon Drive, dressed in his Superman costume. He stays for a while and then gradually fades away into nothing. Certainly realtors did try to sell his house after his death, to settle his estate, but buyers always claimed that they heard strange noises in the upstairs bedroom where George had been killed. On examination it would sometimes be found that the bedding had been ripped away, clothes were strewn about the floor, an there was an odor of gunpowder in the room. Buyers and tenants came and went rapidly, especially when they saw the apparition of Reeves. There were police reports of flashing lights, of gunshots, and of strange noises; none of it could be explained. In the 1980’s the house was being used for a television show and the cast and crew saw an apparition of Reeves, which appeared and then abruptly vanished. Such reports have continued through to the present.

Rudolph Valentino

Rudoph Valentino was a great believer in the occult and in spirit communication. Speaking of death, he once said, “Why call it Death? If we give it the name Death, why surround it with dark fears and sick imaginings? I am not afraid of the unknown.” He died in 1926 at the age of thirty-one, from peritonitis, but he didn’t leave his home. His ghost still haunts the grounds of Falcon Lair, 6776 Wedgewood Place, in the Whitley Heights section of Beverly Hills. He has been seen in the hallways, bedrooms, at a second floor window, and in the stables. He has also been seen at his old beach house in Oxnard and at the Santa Maria Inn  in Santa Maria. At the inn he frequently knocks on a door, and his phantom figure has been seen reclining on a bed. Valentino’s ghost is extremely active, also being seen near his burial site at the Cathedral Mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Park and at various locations at Paramount Studios.

Just a few of the terrific true-life tales in this book!

Mommy, am I a Vampire? – Field Guide Friday/Vampire Weekend

No – not the band (although they are very much fun) – this is for those of you who have asked yourself at some point, “Am I a vampire?” …and I mean, really, who hasn’t? Given Ankhie’s aversion to sunlight and nocturnal habits, most members of my family are convinced that I spend my work days in a darkened room, fielding phone calls and tapping on a keyboard while I hang by my feet from the webby rafters.  But I digress…

If you think you may be a vamp ( be it of the energy or blood variety) , J.M. Dixon has all the advice and info you need in The Weiser Field Guide to Vampires. The following is an excerpt on vampiric “Hunger” the mysterious process known as “The Awakening”:

As the spirit begins to starve, a vampire gets his first taste of what it truly is to know the Hunger. At first, it feels like any other craving for sustenance. Like a deep want of food or water, this ravenous need comes on slowly and builds in strength over several years. As in his childhood, the young vampire will attempt to eat and drink to fill the need, but nothing will help. As in the cult classic movie The Hunger made clear, no human food can relieve this need.

Instinctively, the vampire will begin to seek high-energy situations. Arguments with friends or family members, difficult and often stressful relationships, and even unhealthy group environments all become arenas for the vampire’s early, unconscious attempts to feed. At this point, the young vampire will still be far from truly understanding why these difficult settings may partially sate his need, even bringing on a sense of calm amid the distress and chaos. But on some level his conscious mind will already be opening up to the possibility that he may somehow be very different from those around him, that there may be something fundamentally puzzling within him.

Searching for an answer to the Hunger, many young vampires will seek the help of medical practitioners, only to be eventually turned away, conventional tests and knowledge having revealed absolutely nothing. Many more will seek out metaphysical writings or prowl through the Internet for answers to the half-formed questions rising in the backs of their minds. It becomes a search for the self and for community, driven forward by a subtle feeling that the vampire needs to know something about himself, and, perhaps more important, whether he is alone.

Eventually, answers are found. Whether from a book, from a computer screen, or even from the lips of another, these answers often come in the form of terms like the Hunger and Human Living Vampire, – which provide both understanding and the comfort that others have been through this before. This simple revelation begins a process of deeper understanding and a reevaluation of previous mind-sets and philosophies – a process that since ancient times has been known as the Awakening.

The Awakening

The first recorded use of the vampiric term Awakening is in the epic Celtic tale of the Second Battle of Mag Tuired. In line eighty-three of the tale, as translated by Elizabeth A. Gray, Lug, the hero of the Tuatha De Danaan, an unbeatable champion sired by a Fomoire king, is instructed by the goddess Morrigan to “awake.” The remainder of the passage, the part that most likely explained how Lug was to awaken his Sidhe nature and talents so that he could win the upcoming battle, was supposedly untranslatable.

There are many forms of Awakening, and all mean relatively the same thing: opening one’s mind to the wider reality, often to the reality of energy and the spiritual world. For human magickal practitioners, an Awakening occurs when they first realize that their desires can be focused to create change in the world around them; for the psychically gifted, an Awakening occurs when they open themselves to the concept that the things they see and hear in their minds may be not only real, but very useful in their daily lives; and for a vampire, an Awakening is the realization that she is, in fact, undeniably a vampire. Awakening begins when a vampire first considers that she might not be entirely human. It continues as she learns what she is and finally fully accepts it. The process never truly ends. A vampire is always learning about what she is, because her survival depends on her continued education into what she is, what she needs, and what she can do.


A change in sensory perception often comes first leaving the newly Awakened with overly sensitive vision or hearing, which will take them time to learn to cope with. A particular sensitivity to the smell of blood is quite common, due to its rather unique aroma, and on occasion, those with no previously notable psychic abilities will suddenly begin to see, feel, or otherwise sense energy flows and auras.

These and other changes are all a result of the vampire simply getting more in touch with her spirit, actively using its power for the first time and becoming hypersensitive to its needs. The vampire will need time to get used to these expanded senses and sensitivities but will eventually find the right internal balance to cope with them.

Finding this internal balance plays a major part in the vampire’s ability to sense and manipulate energy; whether the vampire feeds on blood or energy makes little difference. This ability will grow, resulting in what vampires often see as their trademark, the disruption or destruction of electrical equipment – yet another change those Awakening must learn to incorporate into their lives…

Oh there’s so much more! But I will leave you with that, my dark ones! Happy weekend!

Everything I Know About Pele I Learned from The Brady Bunch

Not entirely true, but the Hawaiian episode was my favorite. Black sand beaches,  a cursed tiki idol and Vincent Price? C’mon!

Pele, goddess of fire and lightning, is believed to make her home in the crater of The Kilauea Volcano. There are several myths regarding her ties to the Hawaiian Islands (all wild and worthy),  yet despite these supernatural origins she is often “seen” in the guise of a mortal woman, wandering. Treat her well, and her favor is yours in abundance. Scorn her (or worse) take from her beloved Kilauea,  and you will wish that you were part of a fictional TV family dodging falling wall art and tarantulas!

You know who knows a little something about Pele (and just about anything else)? Raymond Buckland! Here’s what he has to say about the tempestuous goddess in The Weiser Field Guide to Ghosts:

Pele – or “Madame Pele” – is Hawaii’s goddess of fire, lightning, dance, volcanoes, and violence. There are various myths about her origins, but she is mainly associated with Hawaii’s volcanoes…

Pepe is very beautiful “with a back straight as a cliff and breasts rounded like the moon.” She has many lovers. Her apparition appears as a young and beautiful woman, frequently dressed in a bright red muumuu and most often seen in the early morning hours, walking along a deserted road. You should stop to offer her a lift, otherwise she will become extremely angry, and her wrath is to be avoided at all costs!

Photographs of fiery eruptions have included what looked like the face of Pele. She is well respected by Christians, Buddhists, Shinto, and others. Since 1983 she has destroyed more than a hundred structures on the Big Island and has added more than seventy acres of land to the island’s southeastern coastline.

Pele has been encountered by drivers who think they are picking up and old woman dressed all in white, usually accompanied by a little dog, on roads in Kilauea National Park. But then they look in the rearview mirror to find that the backseat is empty.

Kilauea has been erupting spectacularly of late, so keep on your toes.

Oh – and if you happen to have a little lava laying around the house that you swiped for a souvenir – do yourself a favor and send it back!

Tarot: the Bad-Ass, Buxom Comic Book Witch – Field Guide Friday

One of the things that I love about Judika Illes is that she is an author (and individual) equally at home with both the arcane and the comic. She can wax poetic on medieval occult practices that only the most dedicated esoteric historian has ever heard of – then squee delightedly at what a blast she had at Comic-Con with her kids. She’s my kind of people.

It was Judika who told me about Jim Balent and his saucy, adult-only comic series Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose. Oh my!

For the uninitiated, here is an excerpt on the character Tarot from Judika Ille’s The Weiser Field Guide to Witches:

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose

Making her comic book debut in 2000. Tarot is the star of the Broadsword Comics series named in her honor. The very first issue of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose was dedicated to the witches of the world. Tarot’s identity as a witch is crucial to the series and its plot.

Tarot stems from a long line of hereditary witches, some of whom were burned at the stake because, in Tarot’s words, “they were proud enough to call themselves witches.” Tarot, a member of the Black Rose coven, lives in Salem. She is a card-reading, spell-casting witch with a winged, black goblin-cat familiar named Pooka. Tarot is a beautiful, buxom redhead who is usually very scantily clad. The comic series is targeted for mature audiences, not children.

I repeat… Oh my!

Automatic Writing: Medium or Muse? – Field Guide Friday

Ankhie, back in the days of her idealistic youth, wrote a lot of angsty poetry – serious business full of magickal metaphor and mythological references. Awful, really – but those were high times – good friends, great mentors, unrealistic expectations. Ah to be young again…. but I digress…

Every workshop I ever attended encouraged “free writing” as a way to warm up the wordy bits of the brain. What this amounted to was writing without thinking, rereading or editing for 15 minutes straight. It’s harder than it sounds. And the results are often surprising. Things you didn’t know you thought – words, that by virtue of their repetition, take on strange new meaning and significance – nonsense that morphs from funny to frightening. I encourage all of you to take 15 minutes out of your day right now and try it! Seriously. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

…Bizarre, yes? If not, if it just seems dull, try it again later – I promise you, the weird stuff will come out. Which brings me to the best poetic advice I ever got. One of my instructors (a poet whose work I deeply admired and whose face haunted my dreams) told me to look for the places in my writing where “…things got weird. Throw everything else away and start again with that, and let go.” So I did. The result was something that seemed to have been written by someone else. People in the group connected with it, loved it even (which was surprising – poets are a competitive lot), but what they read and what I remembered writing were completely different things. Even odder, once it was pointed out to me,  I heard what they heard, saw what they saw. It was if the poems had been channeled. I wrote them, but in some creepy way, I wrote them as someone else.

If I’d had a copy of Judith Joyce’s The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, the following excerpt might have helped me to make sense of the situation :

Automatic Writing

Have you ever written or typed words that you didn’t intend to write or type? Then you have engaged in automatic writing, among the most  common paranormal phenomena. Many do it accidentally on occasion, but some are able to harness this skill in order to communicate with spirits or probe their own subconscious.

Automatic writing occurs without using the conscious mind. In other words, your mind does not control the actions of your hands. Automatic  writing may be produced while in a trance or in a conscious state or any place in between. Hypnotism is sometimes used to facilitate automatic  writing. Usually pen and paper are used, but automatic writing may also be done with chalk and slate, or even with a typewriter, a computer, or any device that involves writing.

With automatic writing, something guides the human hand to produce words, but what is it? Depending on circumstances and the person doing  the writing, automatic writing may have different sources. The impetus toward automatic writing may come from within the hidden human  psyche, or it may be derived externally. Spirits, for instance, may use a human body to deliver messages.

Automatic writing enables subconscious knowledge to break through the barriers of consciousness. Words produced automatically may  express either the subconscious or the intuitive self. Sit quietly with pen and paper. Hold the pen poised over the paper but do not consciously write. It may take a little while, but eventually you may be surprised to discover that, without knowing it, you have written something on the paper.

Automatic writing is considered a form of channeling or mediumship. Spirits “speak” through a person’s hands rather than through the mouth.  Automatic writing may be quite different from a person’s regular writing. It may produce unfamiliar handwriting and may be done at great  speed without pause for thought. Famed Boston medium Lenore Piper was able to write with both hands while simultaneously carrying on a  conversation. Each of the three was completely distinct, her two hands and her mouth acting independently of each other.

Often, information conveyed via automatic writing is beyond the knowledge or even comprehension of the person doing the writing. People  may write in alphabets or languages that they don’t know. This art of writing in a language not consciously known is called Xenoglossy. Some  believe this to be indicative of spirit communications—an English speaking medium may channel the words of a Croatian speaking ghost, for  instance— while others believe that this reveals otherwise repressed past-life memories. In this life, you may only understand English, but in a  previous one, perhaps you spoke Russian and somewhere in the deepest recesses of your mind still do. Automatic writing allows these memories to surface.

Automatic writing harnesses the act of writing to communicate with other realms. Contactee Frances Swan claimed to channel telepathic  communications from the commanders of two alien spaceships in automatic writing sessions that lasted from one to five hours each.

An  example of automatic writing appears in the 1980 film, The Changeling.


Field Guide Friday – Fairy Lights and Forest Temple: a Look at Lily Dale

A few years ago, Ankhie and her besties roadtripped through New York for a weekend at the renowned spiritualist camp,  Lily Dale.  Located an hour south of Buffalo and a short drive from the shores of Lake Erie, Lily Dale is a world away from the rest of Western New York’s Rust Belt.  Victorian cottages,  fairy lights, and an overwhelming sense that one has stepped back in time – it is, truly, an enchanted place, no matter what you may think about spiritualism and mediumship.

While we were there we enrolled in a workshop on demonology, another on haunted objects, and then enjoyed a fabulous Victorian séance – complete with period entertainment, refreshment and costume. It was a blast! It was there that I first met a very dapper and charming Raymond Buckland (little did I know that a few years later I’d be working with him!) and saw first hand the famous and incredibly creepy precipitated spirit paintings.  At first glance they seem like any other Victorian era portraits, but the longer and closer you look at them, the more unnerving they become. Now, Ankhie here was an art history major – so I’ve looked closely at a lot of paintings, and I cannot for the life of me explain how these portraits were done or why they are so disturbing. You can look at them online or in Ron Nagy’s fabulous book (see link below) but the reproductions do not begin to convey the effect that they have “in person.”  Honestly, I’m getting a little freaked out just thinking about them now.

Here’s what the wise and wondrous Judith Joyce (aka Judika Illes) has to say about Precipitated Spirit Paintings and the enchanted Dale of Lily in The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal:

Lily Dale
Sixty miles south of Buffalo, New York is Lily Dale, the largest Spiritualist community on Earth. It is also the oldest Spiritualist community in  the United States and, most probably, in the world. The village of Lily Dale was established on the shores of Lake Cassadaga in 1879 as a summer camp for Spiritualists. At one time, there may have been as many as sixteen Spiritualist summer camps throughout the United States. In  addition to Lily Dale, only a few now survive, including Indiana’s Camp Chesterfield, Wisconsin’s Camp Wonewoc, and Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp in Central Florida.

Lily Dale evolved into and remains a Spiritualist Mecca. Originally nicknamed the City of Light because it was among the first regions of New  York State to have electricity, the moniker eventually came to imply inner light. Many of the most prominent mediums were in residence in  Lily Dale at one time or another, including the Bangs sisters and the Campbell brothers.

Thousands visit Lily Dale every summer during its annual tourist season, which runs from late June until the last Sunday of August. An  extensive schedule of lectures, workshops, and other activities featuring renowned authors, Spiritualist leaders, and paranormal researchers is available. Healing services are offered, as are demonstrations of mediumship. Hotels sell out quickly and must be booked well in advance.  Accommodations are also available in guest houses and campgrounds.

Lily Dale can be extremely cold in the winter, which is why summer is its high season. However, Lily Dale is a year-round residential community of Spiritualist teachers and mediums. An increasing number of activities are available off-season as well.

The residents of Lily Dale are spiritually dynamic, but the very land is also considered to emanate tremendous mystical power. According to legend, Lily Dale was built over a site held sacred by local Native Americans. Many mediums suggest that the veil between realms is especially sheer in Lily Dale, thus facilitating psychic activity and mediumship. Many claim to have witnessed fairies and elemental spirits in Lily Dale’s forests.

The Lily Dale Museum, housed in a one-room 1890 schoolhouse, displays items from the Fox family, including their family bible. In April 1916,  the Fox’s Hydesville cottage was dismantled and relocated to Lily Dale, where it was destroyed by fire in 1955. The peddler’s pack found behind the false partition was rescued from the fire and remains on display in the Lily Dale Museum. The museum also houses an extensive collection of
Spiritualist magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets, as well as precipitated spirit paintings.

Precipitated Spirit Paintings
Also known as precipitated spirit portraits and precipitated spirit art, these portraits of the deceased were produced by spirits facilitated by  human mediums, but without the use of human hands. In other words, precipitated paintings were created by artists who did not actually
touch the canvas. Spirits did more than just guide the medium’s hands, however, as with automatic painting. In precipitated spirit paintings, spirits actually produced the images. A precipitated spirit portrait just manifested.

Precipitated spirit paintings tended to be large, even life-sized, portraits of someone who was no longer living, although other types do exist. In most, the subject’s eyes gaze out at the viewer. The first recorded demonstration of this phenomenon was by the Bangs sisters in 1894.
Many Spiritualists consider the Bangs sisters and the Campbell brothers to have been the foremost practitioners and masters of this form of mediumship. Although no one is currently creating new precipitated spirit portraits—or at least not bringing them to public attention—the surviving examples remain among the most intriguing and mysterious of the paranormal arts, subject to intense study by researchers.

The process of creating a precipitated spirit portrait was considered a type of séance. A blank, clean canvas or paper was stretched over a wooden frame by the medium. A pot of oil paint was usually present, but no paintbrushes were permitted in the room. Since human hands allegedly did not create these paintings, no brushes were necessary. Present in the room was the medium who facilitated the process, the person requesting the portrait (known as a “sitter”), and possibly other observers. All participants may have rested their hands or fingers on the canvas in the same manner that hands are rested on a spirit board.

The sitter mentally focused on the deceased person they wished to contact, whose identity may or may not have been revealed to the medium. Since spirits hypothetically created the image, it was not important for the medium to know the identity or appearance of the subject of the  hoped-for portrait. The precipitated portrait gradually began to appear on the canvas orpaper, in a manner similar to the gradual development of a Polaroid picture. It usually took between fifteen minutes to an hour for the image to appear fully.

Needless to say, precipitated spirit portraits were extremely controversial. Were the mediums who created them avaricious hoaxers intent on  exploiting the grieving, or were they sincere Spiritualists who sought only to comfort the living and prove the continuity of life? Can spirits  create portraits? Were paintings created in advance and canvases switched using sleight of hand?

Although many assume that precipitated spirit portraits must have been fakes, it wasn’t that easy to fake them. In most of the existing cases,  although not all, no prior photograph of the subject existed. Often, clients desired precipitated spirit portraits specifically because they lacked photographs of loved ones and wished to retain an image. Although lights may have been dimmed, rooms in which the paintings were created were never completely dark. All eyes—and sometimes hands—were inevitably on the canvas.

Whether or not these portraits were crafted by spirits, they are unusual works of art that confound art experts, who have been unable to  determine what medium was used in their creation. Although a pot of oil paints was usually present during the séance, precipitated spirit portraits resemble pastels, or modern airbrush paintings. They closely resemble color photographs, but the most famous of them were created before color photography existed. (Commercial color film was not available until 1907) In general, no brush strokes are visible. Spirit portraits often display a powdery texture described as resembling the powder on butterfly wings. Images sometimes appear to be embedded in the canvas.

Many precipitated spirit portraits radiate a magical quality. Sometimes eyes that first appear closed spontaneously open later. Because most famous precipitated spirit portraits are hauntingly beautiful, many people are captivated and fascinated by them as works of art, whether or not they accept them as authentic spirit paintings. There are precipitated spirit paintings in the collection of the Lily Dale Museum, as well as at Camp Chesterfield, Indiana. Because these portraits were created for individuals, many most likely remain in private collections.

The most famous precipitated spirit portrait preceded modern Spiritualism by centuries. In the mid 16th century, the image of Mexico’s Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared on an agave-fiber tilma, a type of indigenous cloak, belonging to a man named Juan Diego. The Vatican has confirmed the authenticity of this miracle.

Scientific analysis indicates that there was some embellishment of the image on the tilma, but the main portion of the image cannot be explained satisfactorily. No signs of human creation appear to exist. The blue pigment used cannot be identified or reproduced. Furthermore, an agave-fiber tilma should have a life expectancy of approximately a decade before it disintegrates. Yet the cloak with its image survives and is currently on display in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. For more information, see Ron Nagy’s Precipitated Spirit Paintings (Galde Press, 2006), which includes reproductions of many precipitated portraits by the Bangs sisters and Campbell brothers. Nagy also discusses interesting findings regarding images found within the eyes on some paintings.

from The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal, by Judith Joyce

Other resources:

Lily Dale: The True Story of the Town that Talks to the Dead, by Christine Wicker (a great read!)

Lily Dale Assembly

National Spiritualist Association of Churches

Open Door Policies and the Dead – Field Guide Friday

Ankhie’s affection for all forms of divination are well documented here. Crystal balls? My house looks like a metaphysical bowling alley. Tarot cards? A deck on every desk. Runes? Don’t even get me started! The one thing you will not find at Chez Ankhie  is a spirit board. Not that I don’t find them fascinating – they are cool beyond compare (if you doubt, go immediately to The Museum of Talking Boards and feast your eyes!) – but I have a bit of a history with them. Nothing terrible, but sobering.

When I was but a wee Ankh – an only Ankh I might add and more than a little lonely – I spent a lot of time alone in my room with a Ouija Board. I was (surprise) one of those kids who was fascinated by the occult and read everything I could get my hands on at our small town library. Then I got a Ouija Board for Christmas. It was the perfect combination of cool and creepy and, best of all, I didn’t need anyone to play it with me! I sat cross-legged on the floor of my attic bedroom with the board in front of me. Nothing happened.  I tried again later, concentrating harder. Still nothing. This went on for days. I read and reread the instructions. I focused. I gave up. The board sat under my bed for a couple of weeks before I tried again, with little or no expectations. It was a rainy winter day in the 1970’s and there was nothing else to do.  I sighed (feeling a little foolish) shook out my hands, let my fingers rest lightly on the planchette and closed my eyes. Then it moved. It moved and it wasn’t me that moved it.

So it began – hours of questions and answers and although I know that what or who I was communicating with had a name, I can’t for the life of me remember it.  But I do remember how excited I was – how I couldn’t sleep – how I wanted to tell everyone but didn’t. Eventually my parents started to wonder why I was spending so much time in my room. I told them about my new friend, and watched their expressions change from curious to concerned (they had seen The Exorcist, after all)  and shortly thereafter said goodbye to my Ouiji Board. They kept it in the house – and we even used it (for better or worse – see my post on 10/22/10) as a family – but I was never allowed to have it to myself again.

Spirit Boards are sold commercially as games, but they are much, much more. Unlike other forms of divination, they lack discriminating factors. They require no study, no special skills or training. Anyone can use them, and anyone (or anything) can come through. Without the symbolic references that clarify the meanings of runes and tarot cards, or the imagery that personalizes and identifies the source of scrying visions, there is no telling who or what is speaking.  A trained occultist has nothing to fear – armed with the means of psychic self-defense and a comprehensive knowledge of the invisible world, but for most, the open door policy of spirit communication is risky.

Ankhie loves spirit boards, but I won’t have one in my house. Even after all these years I know the temptation. My “friend”, whoever I was speaking to all those years ago is still there, waiting for me to open the door. And I have a feeling that I forgot his name for good reason.

Judith Joyce knows more about the world of the paranormal than most of us would hope to forget. Here’s an excerpt on spirit boards from her new book, The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal:

Spirit Board
A spirit board is a portal that allegedly allows living people to communicate with beings from other dimensions— most famously spirits of the  dead, although other types of spirits may also be contacted. Some of the earliest contactees claim to have used spirit boards to converse with  extraterrestrials. Spirit boards are also known as talking boards or witch boards but the most famous spirit board is the trademarked Ouija board (pronounced wee-jee). For many, it is the only familiar type of spirit board. Ouija has become synonymous with an entire genre of occult  tools—just as the term “Scotch tape” is used to refer to any clear adhesive tape regardless of manufacturer. An example of a non-Ouija spirit board is featured on the television series Charmed.

The concept of communicating with spirits is eternal, however the industrial age changed the way people considered communication tools and  devices. Samuel Morse’s telegraph went into operation in 1844. A spirit board can be understood as the equivalent of a spiritual telegraph  system. The spirit board made its American debut in 1880. Although most boards are now mass produced, the earliest models were home-made. Between 1890 and 1950, dozens of different manufacturers produced variations of the spirit board, with the Ouija board dominating the market.

Most spirit boards involve two pieces: the board itself and an accompanying planchette. The standard spirit board is a smooth, flat, usually  rectangular board with the alphabet arranged across it, usually in two curving lines. Below the letters are the numbers from one through nine  and zero. Entire words may also be featured on the board—usually “yes,” “no,” and “goodbye,” but there may be variations.

The planchette is a small rolling pointer that slides easily across the board. It features a hole or window through which the letters and numbers  can be read. Planchette literally means “little plank” and is named after a forerunner to the spirit board, a once popular device used for similar  spirit-communication purposes. The modern planchette that accompanies a spirit board is a miniature version of the original device. Some people prefer a pendulum to the traditional planchette when using a spirit board.

To use the board, two people usually sit facing each other with the board between them, either on their knees or on a table. They place the  planchette in its starting position in the center of the board and lightly rest their fingertips on it. Ideally, the planchette then begins to glide over  the board, stopping and starting. As it stops over words, letters, and numbers, messages may form, either spontaneously or in response to questions.

The planchette allegedly moves of its own volition, not because either of the participants is pushing it—or at least not consciously. Unconscious movement may be a mediumistic act, similar to automatic writing or channeling.

A standard opening question might be something like: “Is any spirit here?” If the answer is affirmative, then attempts are made to identify the  spirit’s identity. Messages may be received from loved ones, or strange, unknown spirits may manifest. Although sold in toy stores alongside board games, spirit boards are genuine medium’s tools and should not be treated casually. Those who use them to taunt spirits or who mockingly summon demons often find that what they have really summoned is trouble—sometimes, trouble that may require a paranormal professional to  remedy and clean up. Mediums and psychics who use spirit boards usually utilize protective rituals or devices to ensure safety, including  protective circles, incense, amulets, or wards. Sometimes they ask protective spirits to serve as gatekeepers, ensuring that only benevolent  spirits are permitted entry.

Any spirit that suggests causing harm to anyone— including yourself—is by definition a harmful spirit and should be banished. Deceased loved  ones may mean well, but may not be any wiser in the afterlife than when they were alive. In other words, if Grandma Sue’s career advice over the telephone was lousy when she was living, it may not be any better now that she is dead and communicating through a spirit board. Just because  advice or information comes via a spirit board doesn’t mean that it must be followed. If something scary manifests through the spirit board, the  easiest way to close the portal is to put the board away.

For more information, go to The Museum of Talking Boards (

For more information on Ouija boards, go to

The Dogon and the Dog Star – Field Guide Friday

Happy Friday Everyone!

Please enjoy this fascinating excerpt from The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal by Judith Joyce (aka Judika Illes)!

The Dogon are an ethnic group living in Mali, approximately
300 miles south of Timbuktu in West Africa.
They claim to possess information received from visitors
from Sirius, a star that is 8.7 light years
from Earth. Sirius, the brightest star in the
night sky, is also known as the Dog Star.

The Dogon claim that Sirius has a dense
and extremely heavy dark companion that
is invisible to the naked eye. In fact, this is
correct: Sirius does have a dark companion,
now called Sirius B. The existence of Sirius
B, first suspected by Western astronomers
in the mid 19th century, was first observed
in 1862, but not described in detail until the 1920s. It
was only in 1928 that British astrophysicist Sir Arthur
Eddington proposed the theory of white dwarfs—stars
whose atoms have collapsed inward so that a pea-sized
piece may weigh half a ton. Sirius B is roughly the size
of Earth, but weighs as much as our Sun. It moves in
an elliptical fifty-year orbit.

Dogon stargazing was first revealed to the West
by two French anthropologists, Marcel Griaule and
Germaine Dieterlen, in a paper entitled “A Sudanese
Sirius System,” published in 1950 in the Journal de la
Société des Africainistes. (Sudanese was once used to
indicate all of sub-Saharan Africa, not just the modern
nation of Sudan.) Griaule and Dieterlen had lived among the Dogon since 1931. In 1946, Griaule was
initiated into a Dogon religious society and so became
privy to spiritual secrets.

According to Dogon lore, extraterrestrial fish-like
creatures called the Nommo traveled to Earth for the
purpose of civilizing humanity. They arrived in an ark,
which landed to the northwest of present Dogon territory,
the region from which the Dogon originate. Their
description of the ark has led many to associate it with
alien spacecraft. The ark created a dust storm as it skidded
to a landing. A visible flame was extinguished after
the ark touched ground.

The Dogon say that the Nommo came from a celestial
body that, like Sirius B, rotates around Sirius, but
whose weight is only a quarter of Sirius B’s. To date, this
planet, dubbed Sirius C, remains undiscovered. Sirius
is 3.5 times as hot and bright as our Sun, so scientists
theorize that any planet in its solar system must be in its
far reaches in order for life to survive there. This would
almost certainly make it invisible to current telescopes.
In fact, the only reason that Sirius B was discovered was
because its weight affected the orbit of Sirius itself.

When Griaule arrived, the Dogon were an extremely
isolated people, living in villages built along a
sandstone escarpment in Mali’s central plateau. They
had chosen to live in this tremendously remote locale in
the 15th century in an attempt to avoid forced Islamic
conversions and also to prevent being sold into slavery
as punishment for refusing to convert.

The Dogon possessed extraordinarily detailed,
sophisticated, and accurate knowledge of the solar
system. They knew that the planets revolved around
the Sun. They described the terrain of the Moon as “dry
and dead.” They were aware of Jupiter’s moons, first
seen in the West through a telescope by Galileo. The
Dogon drew pictures of Saturn with a ring around it,
also only visible through a telescope. When the Dogon
drew the elliptical orbit of Sirius B, they showed the
star off-center, not in the orbit’s center.

How did these isolated people who lacked astronomical
equipment gain planetary information that is
invisible to the unassisted human eye? How were people
who resided in the middle of nowhere and lacked
what the West considers education and technology able
to discuss sophisticated concepts like planetary weight?
The Dogon lacked even rudimentary telescopes. How
did they do it?

There are at least three different theories of how
the Dogon acquired their knowledge. First, we can
take the Dogon at their word. Perhaps they did learn
celestial secrets from benevolent aliens. Second, skeptics
suggest that Griaule and Dieterlen, who went to
live among the Dogon three years after Eddington
first postulated his theory of white dwarfs, may have
brought this theory with them, inspiring the Dogon
tale. A third theory suggests that the ancestors of the
Dogon may be refugees from ancient Egypt or had
early contact with Egyptians.

from The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal by Judith Joyce