Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ghost Trains and Ghouls: London's Haunted Underground.

Kevin Hackert, CC BY-NC 2.0
Recently, one of my best friends moved to London and, while I haven't been able to visit and much as I'd like, this means taking the train. I'm one of those people who quite enjoy a nice train ride. Once I've got my ticket, large coffee, and headphones on, with music or a podcast playing, I'm all set. Nothing left to do but watch the world speed past the window and make sure I don't get so distracted that I miss my stop. I find taking the London Underground at night is an interesting experience. When it's busy, it's okay. The need to catch your train, or get to your destination, distracts from your surroundings. But when quiet, the stations and tunnels take on an eerie quality. As you may have guessed, this fascinates me due to my love of all things spooky. Because London has a rich paranormal history, and its public transport isn't excluded from these hauntings. Let me introduce you to five of my favourite haunted Tube stations.

Bank Station
For some, the feeling of dread and sadness they feel at Bank Station is linked to them having to go back to the office after a weekend of rest and relaxation, but for some this might be a sign that they've encountered Sarah Whitehead. In the early 1800s, she lived in London with her brother Philip, who worked as a bank clerk for the Bank of England. Unbeknownst to his sister, Philip had gotten himself into debt through a series of financial misadventures and, desperate to get himself out of trouble, had resorted to forging cheques to bring in some extra cash. These days, if caught, you'd lose your job and spend some time in jail. But it was the 1800's when sentences for even the smallest of crimes was harsh, so when Philip was caught, he was sentenced to death by hanging. Horrifically, nobody told Sarah and, when she discovered the truth, she was driven mad by grief and came to believe that her brother was still alive. Still working at the bank. As a result she would go there daily, asking after him and loitering around outside until the bankers would take pity on her, giving her some money to get her to leave. This went on for decades, and Sarah's delusions and grief only got worse with age. Her demands to see her brother got more aggressive, and because she was used to the bankers giving her money, she now expected it. Death hasn't stopped Sarah from searching for her beloved brother. Dressed in her black dress and mourning veil, she has become the ghostly figure known as the Black Nun and has been seen in and around Bank Station and around the Bank of England. Interestingly, some sightings have also included direct interactions; Sarah has been known to wander up to unsuspecting commuters. She will often ask if they've seen her brother, though she will also ask for money.
Something else that can be experienced in the station is a ghastly smell, like rotting flesh. Allegedly a plague pit was disturbed while building the station. Many believe the unpleasant odour to be a ghostly manifestation of this. As well as the smell, commuters sometimes hear unseen people crying out in fear and pain. This could be linked to a tragedy that took place in WWII. During the Blitz, people would use the stations as makeshift bomb shelters. In January 1941, a German bomb hit the station and exploded. Around 50 people were killed, while many others were injured and trapped in the rubble. The sounds of distress and the terrible smell are possibly remnants of these events, snippets of history replaying themselves.

Holborn Station
A tube station haunted by the ghost of an Egyptian Priestess? Sounds like either a bad horror movie or another Mummy sequel, but the truth is stranger than fiction. This spirit initially haunted the now-closed British Museum Station, which shut in the 1930s. Clearly displeased about being on display in the British Museum and determined to voice their opinion about it, the ghost promptly moved to Holborn Station, where there have been many sightings of this mummified spirit as it stalks the station, moaning and shrieking. It's believed They are the spirit of a Priestess, dedicated to the God Amen-Ra. They've been linked to an artefact on display in the British Museum. This is a beautifully detailed sarcophagus lid of an un-named woman from 950-900 BC. Its original location, the body it contained, and what happened to the rest of the coffin remains unknown; it was donated to the museum from a private collection, and very little information was provided. Thanks to superstition, it has been nicknamed the Unlucky Mummy. It's been blamed for the death of a journalist investigating its history (1907) and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. An urban legend tells us about a secret tunnel leading to the British Museum from somewhere in the station, allowing the ghost to travel between the two. There's no truth to these claims, but they add an exciting element to this ghost story.

Covent Garden
Walking around Covent Garden tube station at night, you might be lucky enough to spot a handsome, well-dressed gentleman in Victorian-era clothing; a grey suit, cane and tophat. You might mistake him for a stray cosplayer if there's a convention on in London or just someone on their way to a fancy dress party, but this is actually the spirit of William Terriss. This actor was famous for the heroic roles he played on the stage but met his tragic end outside of the nearby Adelphi Theater in 1897. He was stabbed to death by out of work actor, and friend, Richard Archer Prince. You'd think he'd haunt the area where he died, and it's said that he does haunt the theatre, but it seems Willam also chose to go back to another place that had happy memories for him. Legend has it that he was very fond of a bakery that used to stand on the site where the station was built. Now, unable to pick up a pack of doughnuts and a coffee on his way home from work, he has taken to haunting the station instead. How do we know it's him? Photographs of him still exist, enabling witnesses to identify him. The last reported sighting of him was in 1972, but I've no doubt there have been some unreported sightings since then by people that never even realised that they were looking at a spirit.
For the morbidly curious among you, Terriss was buried in Brompton Cemetery, and a memorial plaque can be found for him outside of the stage door at the Adelphi Theater.

Liverpool Street
A hub for many of those leaving and arriving in London, Liverpool Street is one of the city's busiest stations. It's also built on the old Bedlam Burial Ground, a mass burial site estimated to have been used from 1569 to around 1738. The site was the resting place of thousands and included a 17th-century plague pit, most of which Archaeologists have excavated.
An unidentified man in white or light grey overalls walks the station. He's been spotted by many witnesses, sometimes in person but occasionally on CCTV. One such sighting was investigated by staff. A Line Controller, who was watching the security cameras, spotted the man wandering around the platform early one morning, at about 2:00am. This was a problem because the station was closed at the time, and the mystery man didn't appear to be a staff member. Concerned that they might have an intruder, the Line Controller quickly told the Station Supervisor, who decided that he would take a look for himself. He arrived at the platform to find it quite empty. The man in white had just vanished.
This has happened many times since, much to the annoyance of the station workers. But whoever this ghost is, he seems harmless enough. It's even possible that he might be waiting for a train, as he only seems to appear on the platform for the central line. Sadly, for the curious among you, you're unlikely to run into this spirit since he only appears when the station is closed. Personally, I'm curious about his identity. Who could he possibly be, and what happened to cause him to haunt the station? Could he have been one of the workers who helped build the place or its tunnels? Maybe one day we'll know for sure.

South Kensington
South Kensington Station doesn't just have a ghost, it has a ghost train. Like something from a gothic horror novel, it chugs slowly into the station as if it intends to stop and pick up passengers. An unknown figure in a peaked cap and coat can be seen clinging to the side of the engine for dear life, as if eager to get off. He doesn't get the chance though, as the train is off again with a shrill whistle, disappearing into the dark tunnel, vanishing without a trace.
This phantom locomotive was first spotted in the 1920s by a commuter waiting for the last train. To them, it wouldn't have seemed all that odd at first. It would have just looked like a typical steam train until it vanished into thin air. To add to the mystery, the train itself doesn't exist; there was no record of its name/serial number. And, even if there had been, it shouldn't have been there at that time. Whatever is going on here, it's not a regular occurrence, though there is an unsubstantiated report of another sighting in 2013. 

Photo by Joshua Brown, CC BY-SA 2.0

Disappointingly, I've never experienced anything paranormal on the London Underground. I'd love to though. These are just five of the ghosts that haunt the tubes, there are so many more, some more frightening than others. Who knows, maybe one day I'll witness something and, when I do, you'll be the first people to know about it. Have any of you guys seen anything paranormal at one of London's train stations? If you feel like sharing the story, please do! You can share your story in the comments box below or tag me in a Tweet on Twitter.

Friday, October 29, 2021

If You Go Down to the Woods Today: Epping Forest

Photo by L Wall.
Epping Forest, Oct 2021
There's no better spot for a good ghost story than a deep, dark forest. Something about them just seems to invite tales of the paranormal. Perhaps it's a sense of the unknown, that anything could be waiting in those deep woods or the fear of straying from the path and getting lost. One thing's for sure, no matter how pretty they are, forests can be downright spooky. For this post, we're taking a look at Epping Forest. I won't lie, I love this pretty forest, especially this time of year when the leaves are changing. There's plenty of places to park and grab a cup of tea and lots of lovely long walks. Perfect for a family outing this Halloween weekend. The fact that it's haunted is an added bonus. So let me introduce you to Epping Forests most well-known spooks.

Dick Turpin
Dick Turpin is one of the UK's most legendary historical figures, a highwayman who's often portrayed as a dashing and romantic rogue when he was little more than a violent thug. Turpin, and the gang he was involved with, used the forest as cover for their various nefarious activities. This gang started off as poachers, possibly using the butchers that Turpin owned at the time to get rid of the animals they killed. After a while, they got greedy and turned to highway robbery. They didn't just limit themselves to coaches and lone travellers. They were happy to rob local farms and houses, taking great delight in torturing those inhabitants who would not comply with his wishes. Turpin wasn't just limited to Epping Forest, he and the gang were active over most of the London area. He eventually moved to Yorkshire, where he would end up being tried and hung for stealing horses, in 1739.
There are a lot of places in the country that lay claim to the spirit of Dick Turpin, but why return to Epping Forest in death? Perhaps it's because he felt safe there. While using Epping Forest as their hiding spot, Turpin and his friends seemed untouchable. It was leaving the London area that got him killed. The spirit believed to be him has been spotted a lot over the decades, usually dressed in his riding cloak and tri-corn hat. Sometimes this spirit is spotted loitering among the trees or on the forests older roads. Other times it has been seen riding a ghostly black steed. The problem is that so many people have died in Epping Forest over the century, we've no actual proof that this spirit is that of Dick Turpin, even though it resembles him.

Photo by L Wall.
Epping Forest, Oct 2021

Hangman's Hill
If the name of this location alone isn't enough to send a chill down your spine, then the strange phenomenon that takes place here will. Leave your car in neutral at the bottom of the hill at night, and you may find it rolling uphill all on its own. Waiting for you at the top? The tree that gives the hill its name is reputed to be a hanging tree where the men killed were innocent of their crimes. Some say the tree is pulling cars towards it with a phantom noose, hungry for more victims. However, the truth is just as fascinating; it's an optical illusion known as a Gravity Hill. Your car is rolling downhill, but the surrounding landscape is laid out in such a way that it makes it look and feel like you're going uphill. Don't feel disappointed though, there are is some sort of paranormal activity going on in the area. Blood-curdling screams have been heard echoing through the woods at night, and concerned listeners have been known to call the police about the sounds on occasion.

Be very careful if you try this out for yourself. Remember, this is a road and there may be other vehicles around who won't see your car in the dark or you if you get out to look around. 

Photo by L Wall.
Epping Forest, Oct 2021

The Suicide Pool
You won't find Epping Forests Suicide Pool on a map, and that may be for the best. Who knows, this tragic place may have even dried up and vanished if it ever existed at all. Since it seems nobody currently knows where it is or isn't telling if they do, we will never know for sure. What we do know is the story behind it, which began around 300 years ago with a pair of star-crossed lovers. Their relationship was forbidden, but they would meet as often as possible by a pool in the forest. When the girl's father found out, he waited there and killed her in a fit of rage. He threw her body into the water, and when the boy found her there, he walked into the pool and drowned himself in an attempt to reunite with her in death. After this, the pool turned dark, nothing would grow there and the bodies of animals soon started to turn up on its banks. If true, this could just be the result of the water being contaminated by the bodies being left to rot in it. The story doesn't end there. Allegedly the pool is haunted by an angry spirit that lures people into the water to drown them. Among its reported victims are a young servant named Emma and her infant child, and later an unnamed woman in 1887.
In  1959, a competition was held by Essex Countryside Magazine in an attempt to find out where the pool was. Why they wanted to know is unclear, some places should be left alone, and one lady who wrote to the magazine seems to agree. In her letter, she told the magazine that she knew exactly where the pool was but would never tell them its location. She explained that it was a dark and evil place, with an "atmosphere unpleasant beyond description."

Photo by L Wall.
Epping Forest, Oct 202

Many other spirits call these woods home. Shadowy figures dart between the trees, and strange sounds float on the breeze. A phantom carriage has been heard rattling along the roads, drawn by equally spectral horses, though it's usually heard and not seen. There have even been reports of Poltergeist activity, with people being pushed or knocked to the ground by an unseen assailant.
Sadly, I've yet to experience anything paranormal in the forest. The most frightening encounter I've had was a run-in with a low hanging spider, but I'm ever hopeful. If I ever have a personal ghost story from Epping Forest, you will be the first to hear about it. Until then, if any readers have any spooky stories from Epping Forest, and are willing to share their story with me and the other readers, why not leave a comment below? Or, alternatively, tag me in a Tweet

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Types of Hauntings: a Who's Who of Spooks.

Premonition, by Henryk Weyssenhoff, approximately 1893.
Image is in the Public Domain.

The world is an extraordinary place; there are many strange things out there, both genuine and fake. If you're experiencing or investigating a haunting, or are just curious, it's nice to know exactly what you're dealing with, as no two hauntings are ever the same. So let's take a look at the types of hauntings that can be found out there.

The name says it all, intelligent hauntings are intelligent and, even if you haven't experienced one for yourself, you'll be familiar with this type of haunting as it pops up all the time in movies and shows. These spirits retained their intelligence and personality in death, making them interesting to interact with during investigations. However, interesting doesn't equal easy. These spooks are smart, they might share misleading information or just choose not to interact with you at all. But if you can get one to interact with you, then it's worth experimenting a bit with different equipment or by trying to get them to move things, make noises or show themselves. It's also worth noting that although they're aware of what's going on around them, the spirit might not even know that they're dead. The ones that are aware might not want to leave or may have some unfinished business to attend to before they do.

A Residual haunting can't be interacted with in the same way as an intelligent haunting, as the spirit isn't aware of anything and can only be witnessed. When a negative event occurs, it can leave an imprint of what happened on the energies of the environment around it, like a short recording or a stain. This snapshot in time will then replay itself repeatedly or, occasionally, on the anniversary of the traumatic event that caused it. Sometimes these types of haunting are visible, other times they manifest in the form of sounds and smells. One example of this type of haunting is the Battle of Culloden Moor. This historical battle was a massacre, which took place on the 16th of April 1746 and is said to repeat itself every year on that date, with witnesses having heard the sounds of battle echoing over the otherwise silent moorland. And that's only the residual part of the haunting. Since so many people were killed there, there are also instances of intelligent hauntings occurring in this area.

It would be easy to jump to conclusions and assume that this type of hauntings means demonic activity, but that's not always the case. Just because a spirit is inhuman, it doesn't mean it's demonic in nature. Inhuman hauntings can include animal spirits, shadow people, elementals and other spirits that have never existed in a human form. These spirits are often part of an intelligent haunting and, as a result, differ in temperament and personality. The downside is that sometimes this type of haunting can be unpleasant, more so than a hostile intelligent haunting, leading to their demonic reputation. An excellent example of an unpleasant inhuman haunting would be the one that occurred at Berkeley Square. A much more friendly instance of this type of ghost would be Gef the talking Mongoose.

Everyone will be familiar with this iconic, noisy spirit. Experts are torn on what Poltergeists actually are, with some believing them to be a type of spirit. In contrast, others consider them a form of energy inadvertently caused by a troubled household member. Think of it as a type of stress-related psychic activity. Some Poltergeists seem happy just to make a ruckus, but most will attach themselves to and actively target a member of the household they are haunting. 
Poltergeist activity often starts slowly, building up to a crescendo before suddenly stopping. The sudden lack of action doesn't always mean that the haunting is over. Sometimes it restarts at a later date. Activity often includes loud noises, disembodied voices, objects appearing from thin air, and objects being moved or flung around. Unfortunately, in some cases, the things being thrown around are the people being haunted. Examples of Poltergeist activity include the Enfield Poltergeist, the haunting of Borley Rectory and the Mackenzie Poltergeist.

The Library of Combermere Abbey, taken by Sybell Corbet, 1891.
Image is in the Public Domain

What are your theories on hauntings? Are you a believer, or do you think it's all rubbish? Heard any good ghost stories lately and just want to share them with other readers and me? Leave a comment below or tag me in a Tweet!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

August Blog Update

It's been a funny old month here at Strange Ways HQ, dear readers. As a result, I'm sorry to say there won't be a blog post this month. Don't worry though, I'll be back in September with a monster of a blog! Until then, why not check out some of my older posts, reread some old favourites or discover some new ones.
Hang in there, readers, and stay spooky.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Mystery of the Coffin Dolls

Our story begins like a folk-horror novel. It's the summer of 1836 and a small group of boys are roaming the slopes of Arthur's Seat outside of Edinburgh. They're hunting for rabbits but somehow discover something much more interesting when they stumble upon a small, well-hidden cave. It was here that an unknown person had hidden away seventeen tiny coffins, each one containing a wooden doll, shrouded in cotton and lovingly carved. They had been stacked in three tiers, with eight dolls on both of the bottom rows and one lone one on the top. Combined with the coffins, they each measured just under 4 inches. They were in various states of decay, with the bottom row being in the worst condition. The ones on the second row were in a much better shape, but the one on the top was so well preserved that it could have been placed there quite recently. It's clear a lot of care had been put into their creation, but they really are eerie to look at.
Whoever it was that hid these detailed little effigies had clearly expected them to remain a secret, as the cave had been carefully camouflaged behind a loose piece of stone. Still, they didn't take into account the unstoppable curiosity of children on an adventure. Only eight remain today. Some were destroyed by the boys, and others have just fallen apart over the years due to improper care. However, the ones that remained were reported on in an edition of The Scotsman newspaper (July 16th of that same year.), drawing attention to the find. They earned the nickname of the Fairy Coffins, and there was much speculation as to what was going on. Some of the ideas put forward are more likely than others, but let's take a look at them.

National Museums of Scotland

Thanks to superstition, people are often quick to point a finger at the supernatural whenever anything weird or creepy is found. But the fact remains that dolls, some similar to these, have been used in magical rituals all over the world for thousands of years. They're still used to this day and serve many purposes, from healing to harm. When the dolls were found, witchcraft was actually illegal in the UK and claiming to be a witch or have supernatural abilities could potentially land you in jail. That didn't mean that the craft had died out. It just meant that those involved had to be very careful about how they went about it. The lonely, windswept crags of Arthur's Seat would have been a perfect location to whip up a ritual or two. A lot of people at the time were concerned that that was the case, and even The Scotsman seemed to support this theory in their article, which did nothing to calm those convinced that witches were stalking the hills with ill intent. The use of witchcraft and charms actually ties into our subsequent two theories.

Sailors Charms
Some believed the coffins were placed there by sailors or their family members as a charm designed to keep them safe while out at sea. Sailors tended to be quite superstitious, so the use of charms and the consultation of local cunning folk was not uncommon.
Others believed that the dolls had been made to represent the men who had tragically drowned and were an attempt to give them a burial of sorts since their bodies could not be retrieved. Though land burials for those lost at sea do exist, there's a possibility these were performed by those too poor to afford one.
The "Daft Man"
The dolls would appear in the newspapers again in 1906, this time as part of a much more chilling tale. A woman had come forward with a story that she felt was directly linked to the dolls. A person she described as a "Daft Man," who seemed to be both deaf and mute, would sometimes visit her father at his place of work. He showed her father a picture he'd drawn of three coffins on one such visit, each one with a date written under it, 1837, 1838 and 1840. After sharing this cryptic message, he left. Following this, her Father lost one family member on each of those years; a close relative in 1837, a cousin in 1838 and his brother in 1840. The "Daft Man" wasn't seen again until after the brothers funeral, when he walked into the Father's workplace to glower at the poor man before leaving, never to be seen again. The woman believed that her Father had encountered the creator of the Coffin Dolls, that the "Daft Man" was enraged by their discovery but was blaming her Father for it for some reason.

A Hidden War Memorial
In 1820 an event occurred that would go on to be known as The Radical War. Artisans and workers took to protesting and strikes as they sought reforms that would include safer working conditions and better pay. Sadly, the authorities were having none of it. The "War" was brutally stamped out, with some of the ring leaders being sent to the gallows, whilst other supporters were split between transportation to Australia and hard labour in Scotland. Those forced into hard labour were put to work building a new footpath that curved around Arthur's Seat and was named Radical Road, seemingly to mock those tasked with its creation. It's still there today and is a popular hiking trail, although not everyone knows about its sad history. It's hypothesised that the dolls were hidden by the workers as a memorial to the executed leaders and an odd sign of hope to those who wanted to see the cause continued.

Discarded Playthings 
Where they were just toys? Creepy, oddly well-detailed toys that had been forgotten by those who used to play with them. Handmade toys were more common in those days because the big toy-making factories we have today just didn't exist. There are some unusual and flat out disturbing ones out there, including Frozen Charlotte; a jointless, porcelain doll originally meant as a bath toy for young children, but one that would occasionally come with accessories such as a miniature coffin. They really sound familiar, don't they? Frozen Charlotte was first mass-produced in Germany in the 1850s, but it's possible there could have been similar toys around before her and that the ones found in that cave are an example of that. The cave itself seems to have been a small one, so it would have made an excellent den for a child, or small group of children, to play house in. Eventually these children would have grown up, moved away or died, due to the high mortality rate in children of this era. The dolls could have just been forgotten.

Burke and Hare's victims
You might not know what they did, but I bet you've heard of them. In a time when body snatching was rife, William Burke and William Hare became masters of their trade and real-life boogeymen. Local anatomy schools would pay a pretty penny for a fresh corpse, and many poor people turned to grave robbery as a way to pay their rent. But for these two men, digging up the recently deceased wasn't good enough, as the death of one of Hare's lodgers made them realise that they could acquire fresher merchandise by making it themselves. And the fresher the corpse was, the more doctors and medical schools were willing to pay for it. After selling the body of the first lodger, they started to kill, slaughtering 16 people in a period of about 10 months between 1827 to 1828. They were only caught when another lodger became suspicious of their shifty behaviour and stumbled upon the poorly hidden body of their last victim.
Some experts and historians believe the dolls represent these victims, with the dolls on the first two rows being the bodies of those murdered and the one on the top being the lodger who died of natural causes. 

National Museums of Scotland
Will the mystery of the Coffin Dolls or whoever tucked them away in their little tomb ever be solved? Probably not. Maybe, sometime in the future, another stash of dolls will be found and give us more clues. Sadly the way in which the surviving dolls were discovered means we'll get no hint from them since they were found by bored children and not Archaeologists. I'm no expert either, but I favour two theories; Witchcraft and the memorial for Burke and Hare's victims. As I've previously stated, the area would have been perfect for a witch to practice their craft. It was quiet and, for the most part, offered the privacy they would have wanted to do whatever it was they were doing. But I also like the idea that someone out there wanted to honour the poor souls cut down by Burke and Hares greed, even if no one else would ever know about the memorial.
If you want to see the dolls for yourself, then you're in luck because you can! They're on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which is now open again. Depending on Lockdown rules and if you're able to safely travel, then why not stop by and pay them a visit? 

While you're here, why not head down to the comments and share any stories you might have about these dolls or similar ones? What theory do you think is most likely? Or, if you want, tag me in a Tweet and let me know there. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Sleep Paralysis: Science vs Supernatural

You wake up, but something's wrong. You're snug in your bed, surrounded by the silence and darkness of the night, unable to tell whether it's very early or very late. You're wondering why you woke up when you realise that you can't move. Try as hard as you can, you can't even twitch a finger. Then, out of the corner of your eye, a shadowy figure starts to stalk across the room towards you, and fear starts to kick in.
While this sounds like the start of a horror movie, many people experience this in real life on a nightly basis. Reading this, you yourself might be personally acquainted with this phenomenon.
But what's happening here?

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781, public domain

This is Sleep Paralysis 
This sleep disorder is so common that it's recognised by most medical bodies. It's featured in movies and books. It's been scaring people for centuries but these days, thanks to the internet and social media, more and more people share their experiences with it and are helping each other to cope. It's an unpleasant thing to suffer from, especially for those unfortunate folks who experience it on a near-nightly basis.
A Sleep Paralysis attack usually starts with its namesake, paralysis. A victim will wake up but find themselves unable to move. This is scary enough on its own, but it often comes with the feeling of being touched in some way, plus various visual and audio hallucinations. People have seen shadow figures, aliens, monsters, ghosts and a hag-like figure, to name a few. Audio hallucinations include static and other electrical noises, hissing, indistinct whispering, growling, screaming and sometimes clear voices. Pressure is often felt on the body, commonly on the chest, and is associated with something sitting on the victim. These experiences, combined with the inability to produce sound, to call for help, add up to a truly nightmarish situation. Thankfully, scientists and medical experts have done quite a bit of research into the subject, giving us an explanation for what's happening.

The Scientific Explanation 
Sleep Paralysis is classed as a type of Parasomnia. Your body is completely relaxed in sleep, so you don't move around too much or act out your dreams while in the REM stage of your sleep cycle. Think of it as a built-in failsafe; your body slips into a harmless form of temporary paralysis to protect you. But when the brain and body slip out of sync, Sleep Paralysis can occur. The brain wakes up early, becoming conscious while the body is still relaxed. Unfortunately, this often happens while the brain is still transitioning to or from REM sleep, resulting in audio and visual hallucinations. Sleep paralysis can occur as you're waking up, but also as you're falling asleep.
Sleep Paralysis is frightening, but harmless, and can last anywhere from seconds to a minute or so. An exact cause has yet to be discovered. Still, studies have shown many possible causes for this, including but not limited to sleeping on your back, poor sleeping patterns, food or drink consumed before bed, insomnia, anxiety and PTSD.

Sleep Paralysis and the Paranormal
Sleep Paralysis has been recorded for thousands of years, but we didn't always have science to explain what was happening. This has lead to it being blamed on things that go bump in the night and explains why some people refer to it as Old Hag. In the past it was believed that the pressure some sufferers feel on their chest was caused by a witch as she sat there, attempting to suffocate her victim or harm them through magic. This belief mostly appears in Europe and America, and some still believe it today. But if you think the spooky side of Sleep Paralysis beliefs and folklore is limited to witches, then you're wrong. Historically, in some countries, it was also seen as a sign of a vampire attack. Ghosts, spirits, demons, and Shadow People have often been seen as possible causes in many cultures. People believe them to be the cause and blame the whole thing on possession or attempted possession. In alleged encounters with Aliens, Sleep Paralysis is very common, with the victims believing Sleep Paralysis is the precursor to a visit or even part of an abduction.

Thankfully science has solved this spooky medical mystery for us, revealing anything experienced just to be a waking dream, but it's still a fascinating subject. My own experiences stemmed from anxiety, combined with an appalling sleep schedule and a nasty habit of sleeping on my back. As a teen I found it terrifying, as I had no idea what was happening, but as an adult I understand what's going on and what caused it. When having an attack, I'm prone to auditory hallucinations. I tend to close my eyes as tightly as possible when I realise what's happening and try to move my fingers, as I find that can snap me out of it. And while I'm working on that, I have to put up with whispering voices, the sound of movement in my room and a feeling of static. I've felt what felt like someone leaning on me, but that's rare. Rarer still, for me, are visual hallucinations. I've only had that happen to me once, and it happened at the worse possible time because I wasn't even in my own home; I was sharing a hotel room with a friend at a convention. Everything was fine at first, the room lit by the streetlights outside and myself just lying there trying to move my fingers. But, for whatever reason, this time around I didn't bother keeping my eyes closed and got to see a shadow figure come crawling out of the bathroom. It dragged itself across the room, between our beds and paused for one all-to-long moment before crawling under my hotel bed. Then I managed to move my pinky finger and I was up in a flash, and everything was normal again. The only reason I didn't check under my bed was that it was one of those solid block beds, and it didn't have anything to check. Yup, my first and (thankfully) only visual experience left me shaken, and I've got a lot of respect for those who suffer from visuals regularly.

I haven't included any treatment or coping advice because I am not a medical professional or an expert. This post is simply meant to be informative. I can only encourage you to do your own research into that or to contact a doctor. While there may be no magic cure for Sleep Paralysis, with help it can be got under control. 
The NHS website dedicated to the subject suggests seeing your doctor if you've become scared to sleep because of your Sleep Paralysis attacks, are experiencing anxiety because of it, or suffering from tiredness due to lack of sleep.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Cryptid Corner: The Owlman of Mawnan

 For thousands of years, people have been recording sightings of mysterious creatures. Some of these critters may be survivors of a bygone age or even species yet to be properly discovered and named. Others are just mind-bogglingly weird, unexplainable or flat out terrifying like the subject of this blog post.
America has the Mothman. We have...THE OWLMAN OF MAWNAN.

The Story
The beast stood like a man and was as tall as one too, with dark feathers, sharp talons, glowing red eyes and a gaping maw of a mouth. Its appearances were accompanied by spine-tingling hissing and screaming noises, as well as loud hoots while it soared through the sky. While it sounds like a monster from a bad B movie, this potential cryptid caused quite a stir when it was first sighted. 
It was spotted in April 1976 by June and Vicky Melling, who were on holiday in the area with their parents. The two children were exploring on their own and decided to investigate Mawnan Church. As they approached they started to hear weird noises and, looking up, spotted a huge creature flying around the steeple. It appeared to be half-man half-bird, with dark feathers and fearsome glowing red eyes. Terrified, they ran back to the campsite to tell their parents, who were so unnerved by this story that they called off the holiday, going home three days early. The girls' father, Don, would later approach Tony "Doc" Shiels, a local paranormal researcher and magician. While Don was unwilling to allow Shiels to interview the girls, he was eager to share their story and a picture drawn by June. Fascinated by the tale, Shiels would investigate the sighting. The story would be included in a small pamphlet written by Anthony Mawnan-Peller, which was mostly sold locally and was titled Morgawr: The Monster of Falmouth Bay.
The next sighting happened in the July of the same year. Two teens, Barbara Perry and Sally Chapman, were camping in the area and had the shock of their lives when they encountered the creature. It was the eerie hissing noises that drew their attention to the Owlman, which stood not too far from their campsite and was apparently unimpressed by their presence there. Probably because they were laughing at it; Barbara and Sally were aware of the Owlman story and were convinced it was someone in a costume until it took off into the air with a hiss and a screech, flying off over the woods. The shocked girls huddled in their tent for safety and reported what they'd seen the following morning. What they described was near identical to what June and Vicky had seen, but with the addition of pincer-like talons. Like Don Melling, they would go to Tony Shiels with their story.
Sightings have continued over the years, in 1978, 1989, 1995, the 2000s and the most recent sighting was in 2019, by a couple of paranormal investigators.
The Owlman isn't the only thing haunting the location, as there have been quite a few reports of glowing orbs being sighted around the churchyard. Whether these are corpse lights or spirits remains to be seen.

 Mawnan Church - Photo by Tim Green.
CC BY 2.0

The Theories

The Paranormal
It's been suggested that the Owlman is a creature linked to the occult rather than some kind of naturally occurring entity. Some have pointed fingers at artist Max Ernst, who visited the area in the 1930s with a small group of friends and performed summoning rituals there. One of the things allegedly summoned was said to be part nightjar, part human. While there's no real evidence of this creature, Ernst would become fascinated with birds, to the point that his own artistic alter ego was a humanoid bird named Loplop, and it has been said (though not by Ernst.) that these are linked to the Owlman. This fascination with bird creatures would be shared by artist Leonora Carrington, who was dating Ernst at the time of his visit to Mawnan and was believed to be one of the party members there with him. Her works have also included dark bird-like figures, though not as much as Ernsts. Curiously though, by some strange coincidence, the first 1976 Owlman sighting took place around two weeks after the death of Max Ernst. Many people believe that this and Ernst and Carrington's avian fascination are proof that they summoned the Owlman. Whether or not there is a link, the two artists remain synonymous with the Owlman, even after their deaths.
Other theories have suggested that the Church and its grounds lay directly over a leyline. These mysterious and fascinating energy lines have been linked to many hauntings and creature sightings over the years, so if this is true then it's no surprise that paranormal events have occurred there. Another popular paranormal theory is that the creature is of extraterrestrial origins, as Cornwall was a hotspot for UFO sightings throughout the 1970s.

The Hoax
This theory claims that it was all faked by Tony "Doc" Shiels. But with so many people involved, this theory can't be proven. It seems to be based on the fact that he was the only one investigating the sightings at the time. While he may have known some of the witnesses, there's no way he knew all of them, as some were tourists from outside of the UK. Thanks to the pamphlet that was published, anyone living in or visiting the area could have read the story and claimed that they had seen the creature. Take Barbara and Sally, for example. Both of the girls are known to have read about the Owlman. With this in mind and the common knowledge that if you saw something then Shiels was the man to go to, then surely any potential false claims lay with the witnesses, not the investigator.

The Mistaken Identity
It could have been an owl. To be exact, a Eurasian Eagle Owl. 
These birds aren't native to the UK and are one of the largest owl species out there. With a wingspan of 6ft (7ft in some rare cases.), an owl of this breed would look massive while airborne.  They also make a lot of different noises, including hisses, screeches and hoots. Sound familiar? The only difference is that they don't have glowing red eyes, gaping holes where their mouths should be and aren't as tall as a man. However, if seen by those unfamiliar with them or at dusk, it's possible that the eyes could be deceived. It's been theorised that the Owlman was nothing more than an escaped pet, perhaps looking for a place to roost, which would explain why it was so interested in the steeple of the church.

So is the story of Cornwall's Owlman over? Very probably not, but only time will tell when, or if, it will be seen again. Thankfully, if this beast is seen, it isn't a sign of ill omen, unlike its moth-like counterpart in West Virginia. The Mothman seems to have been the herald of disaster. The Owlman is just a jerk who likes scaring people. 
But does it exist? Bird/Human hybrids are common in folklore and appear worldwide in myths, legends and even religious beliefs. It's no surprise that one should appear in the UK. As someone who loves a good folktale or urban legend, I'd love to think it exists, but the sceptic in me wants more proof before I believe in it. What about you, dear readers? What's your opinion on the Owlman of Mawnan? Fact or fiction? Let me know in the comments below, or tag me in a Tweet!