November 13, 2012

The Cunning Folk

A curandero works at his craft.

Recently I was reading a book about both the history and modern practice of magic or witchcraft in its many forms. While there was much information in the book that was of interest to me, especially considering I'm writing a book about some witches, there was one thing that really stood out: the cunning folk.

For those of you who don't know, cunning folk are people who practice magic but don't identify themselves as witches. You could call them healers, midwives, etc. Many of them work full-time as a type of holistic medical practitioner, helping improve people's health through the use of natural remedies. It's likely you have been helped by one of these people at some point in your life, even if it was just your grandmother or neighbor telling you what type of herbal tea would help you through your latest bout with a cold.

One of the big differences between witches and cunning folk is that the cunning folk practice what is termed "low magic." Their magical abilities are limited to folk remedies for the most part, although some cunning folk (such as the curanderos--which I touch on in my book Shadow House) may mix in some "high magic" into their work. The high magic is highly ceremonial and formalized, such as witches reading spells word-for-word out of a book or mixing up a potion with carefully measured quantities of various ingredients.

The folk magic of the cunning folk is more intuitive in nature. Often, practitioners learn the craft from an elder such as their grandmother, uncle or neighbor. Some cunning folk, like some witches, even claim their ability is hereditary or was passed down through their family line. Most of the cures used by the cunning folk are not written down, but instead are kept in the practitioner's memory. There have been cases (both that I have read and have witnessed for myself) of cunning folk who claim to be able to see inside a person's body and detect disease or other ailments.

The cunning folk might use a variety of tools to perform their trade. Some rely heavily on deep meditation to help their patients, while others turn to devices such as divining rods, tea leaves or signs in the natural environment that surround them. We typically think of women falling into the cunning folk category, but men have also been known to be part of the ranks.

Sadly, during the witch trials in Europe (and the Salem trials in the U.S.) the cunning folk were often the ones executed for practicing witchcraft. While people respected their ability to heal with seemingly mysterious methods, this extraordinary capability also made people fearful of the cunning folk. Many concluded that if the cunning folk could use magic to heal someone, then they could also use it to harm people. For this reason, the cunning folk were often blamed for unexplained deaths, poor crops and any number of other calamities faced by the people. Sadly, most people fear what they don't understand, and that fear leads them to lash out in sometimes horrific ways. 

I guess some thought that was a fitting way to say thanks for the services the cunning folk rendered to the community.

November 9, 2012

Recent Bigfoot Sighting in Utah

If this is a hoax, it's much better than the Patterson Bigfoot

Some unidentified campers who were in the mountains near Provo, Utah videotaped what some are calling Bigfoot. While some people are shocked to hear of a potential Bigfoot sighting in Utah, I am not surprised in the least.

I'm not necessarily saying the video is authentic, but I will say that Bigfoot sightings are actually quite common in Utah. Sasquatch sightings have been reported in many parts of the state, with quite a concentration in the many rugged wilderness areas of the state. Bigfoot has also been reportedly sighted nearer to population centers in the state, including some motorists on busy I-15 saying they've almost struck a creature that walks upright and is as tall as truckers sitting in a semi.

This new video (see below) was posted by a user who simply goes by Beard Card on YouTube. I can only guess that the user is or at least was a BYU student, since the school requires a beard card for men who must grow facial hair for medical reasons. The user posted that he and some friends were camping in Provo Canyon, somewhere near Squaw Peak and Little Rock Canyon Overlook. While at their camp, the group saw some deer and decided to get closer and videotape them. They then saw what they assumed was a bear (this is where the video starts) until the creature stood up, looking like something much bigger.

As with any claimed paranormal evidence, there are people who are both applauding this video and tearing it apart. Critics are saying the creature really was a bear, someone in a fur coat or a friend in a bear suit who successfully scared the group. Others are claiming the video is not a hoax, pointing out that most hoaxes involve people hamming it up or acting overly dramatic for the camera. The people in the video are pretty quiet, like they are trying to not make noise and attract the wild animal they're seeing. If the person who posted this video is seeking fame and fortune with a hoax video, they're keeping their identity under wraps (which can indicated authenticity). Also, people are pointing out that the fact there isn't a crystal clear view of the creature actually discounts any hoax claims, since most hoaxes give viewers a rather clear view of the supposed Bigfoot.

I'm holding off judgement on this one. Even though there are many indicators pointing to the video's authenticity, it's also possible that whoever put the video together has studied what I and others have written about paranormal hoaxes, and so crafted this video to be more believable than most. I always maintain a healthy level of skepticism, even when I see things with my own eyes, let alone when I see a brief, dizzying video of a supposed cryptid.

Check out the Bigfoot video for yourself:

November 6, 2012

Why People Experience Hauntings

People experience hauntings or paranormal activity in their house, workplace or other places they frequent for a number of reasons. I'm not of the opinion that there is a one-size-fits-all answer or root cause for all hauntings, since I think a haunted location can be a highly complex and potentially impossible event to completely understand. The following is a list of some potential causes or reasons that a location is haunted, including why some people who frequent the location experience paranormal activity while others do not.

Some people just plain have an overactive imagination. I know there are paranormal skeptics out there. Sadly, I think skeptics are more right than wrong for questioning reported paranormal activity at a location. From my experience there are quite a few people who claim to have experienced a haunting, when in fact they just have an overactive imagination. I'll just leave that at that.

The past is playing itself out over and over. Some paranormal experts claim that all hauntings are the product of the past replaying itself over and over. The spirits the living see are not aware of the living because they are not sentient entities, but rather are just spiritual "energy" that is replaying the events of the past. If someone witnesses the same actions going on in a house at routine intervals, then this is a fairly likely cause of the activity.

It's a punishment. Some groups and individuals genuinely believe that people experience a haunting because they're being punished for a sin or wrong committed.I was actually told by someone I knew that the only time he experienced paranormal activity in his house was after he had viewed pornography. Many people think keeping playing cards in a house, drinking alcohol or any number of other activities they view as sinful are a surefire way to be punished with an aggressive and maybe even a violent haunting. The sinful behavior might open the door or cause a crack in the protective shield that kept these evil spirits out of a person's house, or some think a higher power actually sends the aggressive entities to terrorize the sinful until they see the err of their ways. The simple solution to such a problem is for a person to forsake the sinful activity and make amends for their wrongs, according to the religious system to which they belong.

Activity in the home has attracted spirit activity. Sometimes activities performed at a physical location can attract spiritual activity, even triggering a haunting. Performing ceremonies such as a seance, playing with an Ouija board and even taking EVPs can all create an attractant to spirits. It's similar to how sharks can smell blood in the water, some spirits are drawn to these activities like a moth to the flame.There's quite a bit of debate about which activities or devices attract ghosts the most, and what other factors might come into play that determine how many ghosts might be attracted, as well as what they do once they are in the house.

Strong emotions feed the paranormal. Many paranormal experts feel strongly that ghosts feed off people's emotions. Some theorize that negative entities actually gain strength through negative emotions like fear, greed, anger and frustration. This explains why so many people experience such powerful paranormal experiences when they are going through a particularly difficult time in their life, such as a divorce or a loved one suffering from health problems. Of course, the perceived paranormal phenomena could just be the manifestation of a person's stress, which is why independent measurement and documentation of the haunting becomes necessary to substantiate it.

Something attaches to a person. A demon possession would be a prime example of this. Basically a paranormal entity "attaches" itself to a person for any number of reasons (see above for a few potential reasons). If a person experiences the haunting in multiple locations, or if moving does not stop the paranormal activity, it is highly likely an entity has attached itself to a person. Exorcism or other extreme methods of spiritual expulsion or eviction might become necessary in such a situation. Another possible explanation is that the person is suffering from a psychiatric condition and needs professional help.

A spirit is attached to a building or piece of land. This theory has been around for a long time. Some people become very attached to the place where they lived or work, so much so that after they die they refuse to move on. Other spirits might become attached to a building because of the "energy" emanating from it (see the strong emotions explanation) or because activities in the house opened a portal of sorts that the spirits are attached to. We often think of ghosts being attached to an old building, but the fact of the matter is that they can also become attached to a piece of land, especially if an old structure that was standing on the land was demolished to make way for a new structure. 

Spirits are attracted to people who are "sensitive." I've written about this one before, so I won't go too in-depth. Some people are born with a sixth sense of sorts, something that allows them to perceive spiritual activity better than your average person. Whether it's a blessing or a curse, spirits are attracted to these people.

These are not all of the potential causes for hauntings,but they cover a good majority of them. Can any of you think of other potential causes?