ghosts

The Island of the Dead Dolls – La Isla de las Muñecas

How to visit this haunted Mexico City tourist attraction on the Xochimilco canals, and the tragic ghost story of a little girl’s spirit and the strange offerings to appease her.

Rent one of the colorfully painted canal boats on Xochimilco and make a stop at this strange attraction

Rent one of the colorfully painted canal boats on Xochimilco and make a stop at this strange attraction

She was just lying there on the sidewalk, scuffed up and abandoned, behind the massive Uptown Theatre. We knew we had to save her. So Duke and I picked up the dirty baby doll and took her home.

We knew that our sad little toy had a larger destiny: She’d become an offering to the ghost said to inhabit the Island of the Dead Dolls, or la Isla de las Muñecas, on our trip to Mexico City.

Everywhere you look, dolls fill your vision, like a nightmare come to life.

Most have been stripped of their clothing. Dirt and black mold cover their naked lifeless bodies, as if they’ve contracted some sinister plague.
Can’t you totally imagine this guy coming to life?!

Can’t you totally imagine this guy coming to life?!

Dolls lay damaged on the ground, like casualties of some horrific catastrophe

Dolls lay damaged on the ground, like casualties of some horrific catastrophe

These dolls have been nailed to a tree, creating a macabre tableau

These dolls have been nailed to a tree, creating a macabre tableau

The Legend of the Island of the Dead Dolls

Along the canals of Xochimilco (pronounced So-chee-meel-ko), a young girl drowned under mysterious circumstances. One day a man named Don Julián Santana Barrera left his wife and child, and moved into a tiny cabin on one of the small islands between the canals of Xochimilco to live out his life as a hermit.

Shortly thereafter, he made a gruesome discovery that would haunt him for the rest of his life: He found a girl floating face-down in the water. But, try as he might, he was unable to revive her.

Not long after, he saw a doll bobbing along nearby. He fished it out and tied it to a tree as a way of showing respect to the spirit of the drowned girl.

Off with her head!

Off with her head!

A fence with various offerings. Note Captain Sandro in the background

A fence with various offerings. Note Captain Sandro in the background

It didn’t work, though. The girl’s ghost haunted Julián. In an effort to appease this restless wraith, he continued to hang more and more dolls, now joined by mangy stuffed animals, plastic dinosaurs, action figures and even a likeness of Santa Claus. The offerings hang from branches, wires and fences, while others have been cruelly nailed right into tree trunks. A couple lay face-down in the dirt, as if they perished mid-crawl, trying to escape the horrors of la Isla de las Muñecas. Over time, the entire island became a bizarre shrine dedicated to this lost soul.

Fifty years later, in 2001, Julián drowned — in the exact spot where he had found the little girl’s body. Was it an accident? Did he commit suicide? Or did the little girl’s ghost finally claim her victim?

Dolls of all shapes and sizes hang in offering to the restless spirit

Dolls of all shapes and sizes hang in offering to the restless spirit

Ghost Hunters

The Island of the Dead Dolls is just the type of creepy, quirky destination that appeals to our warped sensibilities. We knew that we wanted to take a boat out on the Xochimilco canals, but once we saw pictures of the dolls loosely dangling from branches on la Isla de las Muñecas, that became my number-one priority.

Duke’s only pretending to be scared — he loved the Island of the Dead Dolls

Duke’s only pretending to be scared — he loved the Island of the Dead Dolls

Locals say that the dolls have lured them to the island. They swear they’ve seen the chubby limbs of the dolls move on their own, that the heads, with their dead, unseeing eyes, will turn slowly toward you. They even say that they’ve heard the dolls whisper to each other, momentarily possessed by the spirit of the doomed little girl. It’s easy to imagine the dolls coming to life at night and causing mischief.

I placed our doll on the steering wheel of a toy car. Looks like she’s in good company

I placed our doll on the steering wheel of a toy car. Looks like she’s in good company

Our Offering to the Ghost

While we were on the canals, I had a one-track mind: I wanted to make sure we’d get to see the Island of the Dead Dolls. Our boat captain, Sandro, consented and took us to the haunted isle. I grabbed the doll we had brought and scrambled off the boat onto the small jut of land.

No Pasar means Do Not Enter. As if!

No Pasar means Do Not Enter. As if!

Purposefully ignoring the “No Pasar” sign, we walked past a life-size doll that might or might not be Pee-wee Herman, its neck bent at a sickenly unnatural angle, as if it had been snapped. He hangs there at the base of the path, like a gruesome warning of the dangers ahead.

Is that Pee-wee Herman (with a snapped neck), greeting you to this creepy island?

Is that Pee-wee Herman (with a snapped neck), greeting you to this creepy island?

Everywhere you look, dolls fill your vision, like a nightmare come to life. Most have been stripped of their clothing. Dirt and black mold cover their naked lifeless bodies, as if they’ve contracted some sinister plague.

Disgustingly dirty dolls dangle from branches and wires all over the small isle

Disgustingly dirty dolls dangle from branches and wires all over the small isle

The island is steep and narrow, and we had to be careful not to lose our footing and topple into the canal. Duke and I wandered around, snapping photo after photo while our boat captain got stoned in a nearby field. It’s such a bizarre setting — you can’t really imagine it until you experience it firsthand. Dolls are creepy enough on their own. But they’re downright terrifying when you see a bunch of them, deformed, dirty, missing hair, limbs or heads after being exposed to the elements for decades.

How many dolls does it take to appease a little girl’s ghost?!

How many dolls does it take to appease a little girl’s ghost?!

A doll hangs, missing its head, its skin a grayish hue from years of sun and rain. Another’s eye has popped out. One has been defaced, with an arcane symbol scrawled upon its forehead and a dark smudge over one of its unblinking eyes.

We wouldn’t be surprised if this dolly was used in Satanic rituals

We wouldn’t be surprised if this dolly was used in Satanic rituals

Underneath a bower constructed of wood and dried leaves, I found a large red toy car with a giant dead-eyed, bloated Holly Hobby type doll behind the wheel. I decided this would be the new home for our dolly. I placed her on top of the steering wheel and offered her as a companion to appease the girl’s ghost.

Say hi to “la negrita en el carro” from Chicago when you visit the island

Say hi to “la negrita en el carro” from Chicago when you visit the island

Out front of the island, a couple offered quesadillas for sale. We got the impression that they stationed themselves there every day to catch the tourists. The man called out something to our driver, who in turn translated the query: Did we leave a doll on the island?

My first instinct was to lie, not sure that adding to the collection was encouraged. But I found myself saying, “Si.” I was relieved when this response delighted everybody. The questions came in a frenzy: Where’s the doll we left? Where are we from? Are we sure we didn’t want more quesadillas?

After I pointed out our offering, Captain Sandro exclaimed, “Es la negrita en el carro.” (“It’s the little black girl in the car.”)

He informed us that there are only two foreign dolls on the island: one from Argentina, and now ours, from Chicago. Duke and I beamed at each other. We hope we’ve become part of the legend of the Island of the Dead Dolls.

This man and his wife sell snacks by la Isla de las Muñecas

This man and his wife sell snacks by la Isla de las Muñecas

Wally thinks he saw a ghost!

Wally thinks he saw a ghost!

How to Get to la Isla de las Muñecas

There is apparently more than one of these creepy islands. We were told the original island is about a four-hour round trip if you leave from Embarcadero Cuemanco or Embarcadero Fernando Celada.

Be careful of the plants — and one-eyed dollies!

Be careful of the plants — and one-eyed dollies!

Luckily, there’s another version of the island that’s much closer if you hire a boat at Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas. Be sure to mention the island before you make a commitment to a particular captain.

And consider bringing a doll to help keep the spirit of the little girl at peace. –Wally

Dolls are creepy enough on their own. But they’re downright terrifying when you see a bunch of them, deformed, dirty, missing hair, limbs or heads after being exposed to the elements for decades.
Don’t pass by the Island of the Dead Dolls — if creepy attractions are your thing!

Don’t pass by the Island of the Dead Dolls — if creepy attractions are your thing!

Island of the Dead Dolls
La Isla de la Muñecas
Parque Ecológico de Xochimilco
16036 Mexico City, CDMX
Mexico

The Demon Lilith and the Ghost of Doc Benton

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 15 & 16 include Adam’s first wife and a Dartmouth urban legend.

To ensure his immortality, Doc Benton steals body parts from other people, and over the years has come to resemble Frankenstein’s monster

To ensure his immortality, Doc Benton steals body parts from other people, and over the years has come to resemble Frankenstein’s monster

S3E15: “Time Is on My Side”

Monster: Doc Benton

Where it’s from: Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, owned and operated by Dartmouth College

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in New Hampshire, where unsuspecting Dartmouth students stay — not knowing they could be the next victims of Doc Benton!

Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in New Hampshire, where unsuspecting Dartmouth students stay — not knowing they could be the next victims of Doc Benton!

Description: On the show, Doc Benton is cobbled together from various people’s body parts, like Frankenstein’s monster.

What it does: Doc Benton is the star of a ghost story used to scare freshmen. He was an insane recluse who kidnapped a girl named Mary. Benton threw her off a cliff, and when locals examined her corpse, they noticed a scratch behind her ear and a red dot on her head. Doc Benton became obsessed with the idea of living forever, and figured out a way to do so by stealing the vital organs of healthy young specimens (like Dartmouth freshmen, for instance). He has beaten death for centuries now, and can continue to commit his sick surgeries for eternity.

Doc Benton has been stitched up numerous times over the centuries. Don’t go near him if you want to keep that kidney!

Doc Benton has been stitched up numerous times over the centuries. Don’t go near him if you want to keep that kidney!

On Supernatural, a dead man’s fingerprints are all over a guy’s stomach, but only his liver was removed — surgically.

“Zombies do like the other other white meat,” Dean quips.

Another victim is missing his kidney. He’s sewn up with silk, which was used for sutures in the 18th century. And maggots are placed on the wound to eat infected tissue and leave the good — a startling practice still used today, if you can believe it.

The snarkiest of the Winchester Brothers, of course, has some great nicknames for Doc Benton: Slicey McHacky and Dr. Quinn, Zombie M.D.

Doc likes to set up shop in the middle of the woods near a river — a good place to dump intestines, fecal matter and whatnot.

Reading the mad doctor’s medical notes, the Winchester Brothers realize that he has discovered the secret to eternal life.

“Drink blood out of a baby’s skull?” Dean asks.

No black magic, Sam says. Just science.

Sammy gets kidnapped by Benton, who’s about to scoop out his eye with a Victorian-era melon baller. Eww!

How to defeat it: Doc Benton tells Dean and Sam that Daddy Winchester cut out his heart. “That was very inconvenient,” he adds.

You can’t run him over. And you can’t shoot him. “What part of immortality don’t you understand?” the phantom asks.

So they dip a knife in chloroform to knock out the not-so-good doctor and bury him alive.


This terra cotta carving from Mesopotamia is called  The Queen of the Night  and possibly depicts the demon Lilith

This terra cotta carving from Mesopotamia is called The Queen of the Night and possibly depicts the demon Lilith

S3E16: “No Rest for the Wicked”

Monster: Lilith

Description: On the show, Lilith takes the incarnation of a little girl. It’s a solid choice and scores high marks on the creepiness scale. Especially when her dress is covered in blood cuz her pet Freckles was mean to her — along with the babysitter lying dead nearby.

Where it’s from: The Near East, especially in what is now Iraq

What it does: Lilith has been described as the most notorious demon in Jewish tradition. She was the first woman and was Adam’s wife before Eve. Lilith is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and newborns, and her breasts are filled with poison instead of milk.

Lilith was Adam’s first wife in Jewish lore. When she refused to be subservient to him, she was demonized, and Eve was created to take her place

Lilith was Adam’s first wife in Jewish lore. When she refused to be subservient to him, she was demonized, and Eve was created to take her place

Her name means “Night,” and she embodies all that goes along with that: terror, sensuality and unbridled freedom.

The Babylonian Talmud says, “It is forbidden for a man to sleep alone in a house, lest Lilith get hold of him.” That’s because Lilith fertilizes herself with unsuspecting men’s sperm to give birth to other demons. Some of us might be demon baby daddies and not even know it!

How to defeat it: This demon is best avoided. She’s one badass bitch: “Lilith would have peeled the meat from your pretty, pretty faces,” the Winchesters are told. That would’ve been a shame; they do have such pretty, pretty faces.

Sam and Dean get the demon-killing knife from Ruby, but she warns them that to Lilith it would be a mere “pig sticker.”

Dean can see demons’ true forms as his time on Earth nears its end. But how are they going to convince others that the child is a powerful demon? It’s not like they can sneak in, grab a 10-year-old girl and give her a Colombian necktie (a slash across the throat and the resulting bloodbath).

Dean has a deadline: At midnight his time is up — and sure, enough, once the clock strikes 12, he gets torn apart by hellhounds. Bad doggies! –Wally


READ MORE SUPERNATURAL EPISODE RECAPS

The Crocotta and Other Monsters

The villains of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 12-14 include the old standbys demons and ghosts, as well as Thomas Edison’s spirit phone.

The crocotta, seen in this illustration from the  Aberdeen Bestiary,  lures its victims by sounding like someone they know in need of help

The crocotta, seen in this illustration from the Aberdeen Bestiary, lures its victims by sounding like someone they know in need of help

Rip out the crocotta’s crystal eyes, put them under your tongue — and you’ll be able to tell the future!
A demon found at Ostia, as depicted in  Demonology and Devil-Lore

A demon found at Ostia, as depicted in Demonology and Devil-Lore

S3E12: “Jus in Bello”

Monster: Demon

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: There’s something demonic in even the most appealing of gods, argues Moncure Daniel Conway, in his 1879 work Demonology and Devil-Lore. “Man found that in the earth good things came with difficulty, while thorns and weeds sprang up everywhere,” he writes. “The evil powers seemed to be the strongest. The best deity had a touch of the demon in him. The sun is the most beneficent, yet he bears the sunstroke along with the sunbeam, and withers the blooms he calls forth.” In fact, “deity and demon are from words once interchangeable,” Conway points out.

What it does: We’ve covered demons before, and their propensity for possessing people.

In this episode, demons are beelining for the Winchester boys, surrounding the sheriff’s office they’re in. “It’s like we got a contract on us,” Dean says, adding, “I think it’s ’cause we’re so awesome.”

How to defeat it: You can get matching pentagram sun tattoos, like Dean and Sam. They’re cheesy as hell, but hey: They keep you from being possessed.

A snouted demon, also from  Demonology and Devil-Lore

A snouted demon, also from Demonology and Devil-Lore

You can also use a rosary to make holy water in the toilet. And, of course, there’s good old salt. Which leads to this funny exchange with the FBI agent:

Henriksen: Fighting off monsters with condiments. So, turns out demons are real.

Dean: FYI, ghosts are real, too. So are werewolves, vampires, changelings, evil clowns that eat people.

Henriksen: Okay, then.

Dean: Makes you feel better, Bigfoot’s a hoax.

Henriksen: It doesn’t.

The boys learn about a “big new up-and-comer” named Lilith. “And she really, really wants Sam’s intestines on a stick.” Grilled sausage, anyone?

Dean and Sam contemplate a spell that will vaporize all demons in a square radius — but it requires the sacrifice of a “person of virtue,” which is just another way of saying “virgin.” Not up to cutting Nice Nancy’s heart out of her chest, the Winchester Brothers decide to fight their way out, with the help of an exorcism over the PA system.

Demon Ruby gives them black mojo bags to throw Lilith off their trail. For now…

Some ghosts are trapped in continuous loops that play out their deaths

Some ghosts are trapped in continuous loops that play out their deaths

S3E13: “Ghostfacers”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: Morton House, a haunted house possibly in Benton Harbor, Michigan

Description: This ghost looks remarkably lifelike.

What it does: The phantom returns every four years. Some call it the Leap Year Ghost. A crew of ghost hunters is filming an episode of their show Ghostfacers, and of course the Winchester boys show up masquerading as police to take on the evil spirit as well.

An apparition of a gangster gets gunned down. It’s a death echo, Dean explains. They seem to be an invention of the show, though there are plenty of reports of ghosts caught in neverending loops.

The  Ghostfacers  crew has some competition, including Josh Burger and Stan Maczek, shown using an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector

The Ghostfacers crew has some competition, including Josh Burger and Stan Maczek, shown using an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector

There are multiple death echoes, including a man hit by a train. These people didn’t die in Morton House, though. So why are their spirits trapped there?

Turns out the home’s last owner, Daggett, was a janitor at the hospital. He brought the bodies home “to play with them.”

Sam disappears. He and Corbett the intern are in some creepy kitchen while “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to” plays over and over. Poor Corbett, who was in love with Ed, one of the Ghostfacer crew, gets poked through the neck and dies.

Daggett is wearing a party hat. He gets lonely, you see. But Dean has no sympathy. “He’s never heard of a RealDoll?” he quips.

How to defeat it: “You gotta be gay for that poor dead intern,” the other Ghostfacer host tells Ed. He concedes and is able break Corbett out of the death echo and convince his spirit to take down Daggett. Remember, people, as Ed says, “Gay love can pierce through the veil of death and save the day.”

The crocotta looks like a big wolf-hyena hybrid, seen in the illuminated manuscript the  Rochester Bestiary

The crocotta looks like a big wolf-hyena hybrid, seen in the illuminated manuscript the Rochester Bestiary

S3E14: “Long-Distance Call”

Monster: Crocotta

Where it’s from: India and Ethiopia

Description: In folklore, the crocotta is a mishmash of animals, often described as a giant wolf-like hyena with cloven hooves. On the show, though, it’s a humanoid who lives in filth. In both versions, the monster has a unique means of luring its victims: It can mimic human speech and will call out someone’s name and other personal information, pretending to be someone in trouble. It then devours the poor suckers with the bone ridges it has instead of teeth.

Fun fact: Rip out its crystal eyes, put them under your tongue — and, by Merlin, you can tell the future!  

What it does: A man gets a call on the phone from a woman named Linda. She wants him to join her. They love each other. He pulls the phone out of the wall, but it still rings. “Okay, Linda, you win,” he says. And blows his brains out.

The man’s wife confesses that she picked up the phone during one of these calls — and she only heard static.

The caller ID on the phone reads, SHA33. It’s actually a phone number that’s over a century old. Ten different homes all got calls from that number in the past two weeks, including Dean, who spoke with what sounded like his dead dad.

Which leads us to a red herring — but a fascinating one nonetheless. The Winchester boys are in Milan, Ohio, the birthplace of Thomas Edison. The inventor told The American Magazine in 1920 that he had been working on a spirit phone, “building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us.” He thought that a scientific device could detect the “life units” that get scattered throughout the universe when we die.

Thomas Edison tried to invent the spirit phone, which would let us speak with the dead

Thomas Edison tried to invent the spirit phone, which would let us speak with the dead

The killings all turn out to be the work of a crocotta: in this case, a man at the phone company. He’s a bit of a Luddite, offering up this meditation on the modern condition: “You’re all so connected. But you’ve never been so alone.” Preach!

How to defeat it: Ramming its head into a metal hook will do the trick. –Wally

Vampires, Pagan Gods and a Ghost Ship

Belsnickel, the magical uses of meadowsweet and the Hand of Glory play a part in the monsters of Supernatural, Season 3, Episodes 6-8.

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

A fiery sunrise could mean a stormy day at sea

S3E6: “Red Sky at Morning”

Monster: Ghost ship

Where it’s from: All around the world, particularly England and the United States

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Ghost ships have been sighted for centuries

Description: This particular spectral ship is a three-masted clipper. There have been reports of ghost ships for centuries, including:

The S.S. Violet, a paddle steamer, ran aground crossing the English Channel in a snowstorm. She was sighted by a lookout at Goodwin Sands at the start of World War II. A lifeboat went out to investigate — but no ship was found.

The  Griffon ’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon’s maiden voyage was also her last. This ghost ship now haunts northern Lake Michigan

The Griffon, one of the first major vessels to sail the Great Lakes, which is said to haunt Lake Michigan. Her maiden voyage in 1679 was also her last. She went down during a storm…but has been seen on the northern part of the lake ever since.



The title of the ep comes from a nautical saying:

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.

Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning.

That is to say, that a red sunrise could mean a storm is coming.

What it does: The ghost ship of the Espírito Santo, a three-masted clipper (and an apparent invention of the show), appears every 37 years. Don’t look! If you happen to be one of the poor saps who sees the ship, you’ll end up drowning, like the woman in the shower and the man in the bathtub. The ghost ship will find a way to drown you — even if you’re just sitting in your car.

The Winchester Bros. start detecting a pattern: The ghost ship is targeting those who have spilled their family’s blood.

How to defeat it: There’s a gruesome but super helpful charm known as a Hand of Glory.

(Insert Dean joke here: “A Hand of Glory? I think I got one of those at the end of my Thai massage last week.”)

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

This desiccated body part is said to be a genuine Hand of Glory

The Hand of Glory has magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: It can open any lock and sometimes makes the holder invisible.

The Hand of Glory

A Hand of Glory is actually the hand (usually the right) of a hanged man who’s still swinging from the gallows — preferably during a lunar eclipse, but any ol’ night will work as well. You pickle it for 15 days, then dry it in the sun. It’s said to have magical properties that make it ideal for thieves: The Hand of Glory can open any lock and allows intruders to enter buildings undetected, sometimes making the holder invisible. The fingers burn as candles that never go out or hold a candle made from the fat of the hanged man in their grip. Once lit, it puts people to sleep or renders them motionless. In some tellings, the thief can only light a finger for each person asleep in the house; those that don’t light reveal that someone inside is awake. The lit fingers ensure that those sleeping won’t be able to be awakened.

Honestly, where can I get one of these for myself?

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

A Hand of Glory is a great magical item — especially if you’re a thief

To break the curse of the spectral ship, the fellas summon the ghost of the brother who killed the captain of the Espírito Santo. The two ghosts destroy each other in a watery sploosh.

On  Supernatural , vampirism is a blood-borne virus

On Supernatural, vampirism is a blood-borne virus

S3E7: “Fresh Blood”

Monster: Vampire

Where it’s from: Romania

Description: A girl named Lucy gets dosed with vampire blood at a club and turns into a vamp. In the Supernatural universe, vampirism is a virus; if you ingest a vampire’s blood, you become one.

Bright light hurts their eyes — though they do have infrared vision. And they can hear heartbeats from a block away.

What it does: The vampire has a type. He’s turning pretty blondes. He feels misunderstood, that he’s a victim. He even cries when his “daughters” get killed, fearful of facing eternity alone.



A fellow hunter, Gordon, thinks our boy Sam is the Antichrist. So it’s particularly satisfying that a legendary vampire hunter like him gets turned into one of the monsters he so despises. Serves him right, the jerk.

The Winchesters were going to kill Gordon back when he was a human, so it makes it easier on their consciences to off him now that he’s a vampire.

How to defeat it: A shot of dead man’s blood knocks a vampire out.

To kill them, try decapitation or a silver bullet. (Though the novelist Anne Rice, an expert on vampires, told Marketplace, “Vampires are not particularly affected by silver bullets. Traditionally what kills vampires is a wooden stake through the heart.”

 

S3E8: “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

Monster: Pagan gods

Where it’s from: Britain

Description: At first Sam thinks they’re dealing with an evil Santa: “There’s some version of the anti-Claus in every culture. You’ve got Belsnickel, Krampus, Black Peter. Whatever you want to call it, there’s all sorts of lore.”

He continues, “Santa's brother went rogue, and now he shows up around Christmas time. But instead of bringing presents, he punishes the wicked.”

I doubt there’s a demonic counterpart to Santa in every culture, but Sammy’s right that there are quite a few.



A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

A dark take on Santa Claus, Belsnickel rewards good children but comes up with bizarre punishments for those on the naughty list

Belsnickel, a Sinister Santa From Germany

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

Santa’s psychotic helper from Germany whips a bad little boy

This Christmas crazy wears a mask and often a wig, dresses in dark furs, lurks outside your house, and knocks on your door or window to announce his presence. He’s been known to give nuts, candy and small gifts to good children — but those who’ve been naughty get whipped and dragged into the woods. Belsnickel makes them pay for their bad behavior by dancing, doing tricks, singing or reciting poems for him.

It’s Sam that makes the connection to paganism.

Sam: Pretty much every Christmas tradition is pagan.

Dean: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.

Sam: No, Jesus’ birthday was probably in the fall. It was actually the Winter Solstice festival that was co-opted by the church and renamed Christmas. But I mean, the Yule log, the tree, even Santa’s red suit — that’s all remnants of pagan worship.

Dean: How do you know that? What are you gonna tell me next? Easter Bunny’s Jewish?

The Winchester boys come across wreaths made of meadowsweet. Sam explains it as a powerful pagan herb that’s basically chum for their gods. “Gods were drawn to it and they’d stop by and snack on whatever was the nearest human,” he explains.

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Use meadowsweet in spells for love and positivity — or to lure human-devouring pagan gods

Meadowsweet, though, once used to sweeten mead, is actually used in spells for love or creating a positive environment.

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Hold Nickar, the Celtic god of the Winter Solstice

Sam concludes they’re looking for Hold Nickar, the pagan god of the Winter Solstice, who grants clement weather. Ancient pagans (and Wiccans today) worship the Goddess, who takes the form of the Great Mother. She gives birth to the Sun King on Yule, symbolizing a beam of light in the dark of winter, promising renewed life and the return of the sun’s warmth and sustaining energy.

What it does: The Hardy Boys are the pagan gods’ newest tributes. The couple are sticklers for details and are gathering the ingredients they need for their ritual. That includes collecting blood from the Winchesters and prying off one of Sam’s fingernails. After this horrific exercise, we can only hope they’re done. But no: “Sweet Peter on a popsicle, I forgot the tooth!” the god exclaims, heading toward Dean’s mouth.

How to defeat it: Guess these gods aren’t so immortal: Wood stakes kill them…for now, that is. –Wally

Belsnickel wears a mask and wig, dresses in dark furs, and drags naughty kids into the woods, where he whips them.

Ghosts, Demons and Genies

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 2, Episodes 19-22 include a jinni and acheri.

Are you part of the 45% of the population who believes in ghosts?

Are you part of the 45% of the population who believes in ghosts?

S2E19: “Folsom Prison Blues”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: How can you tell if a ghost is around? “The clock stopped, the flickering lights, cold spot — I mean, he did everything but yell, ‘Boo,’” Dean says.

What it does: This ghost causes its victims to have a heart attack. Maybe this isn’t so farfetched. A 2012 YouGov poll found that 45% of respondents believe in ghosts, and about a third think that ghosts can harm or otherwise interact with the living.

How to defeat it: You know the drill: The all-powerful salt can dispel it, but burn her bones to get rid of it for good.

Jinn are mentioned in the Quran — in fact, Allah created them to worship Him

Jinn are mentioned in the Quran — in fact, Allah created them to worship Him

S2E20: “What Is and What Should Never Be”

Monster: Jinni (or as Dean says, “a frickin’ genie”). No one can seem to agree on the spelling: The plural is, alternately, jinn, jinns, djinn or djinns. I guess it’s like Hanukkah/Chanukah.

Where it’s from: the Middle East

Description: “My God, Barbara Eden was hot, wasn’t she?” Typical Dean line. Jinn can change shape at will. This one prefers to appear as a man with a shaved head and tattoos all over his body.

Jinn are supernatural tricksters from Arabian mythology that are below angels and devils in the hierarchy. They’re creatures of air or flame who dwell in inanimate objects. They delight in punishing humans for any harm done. If you know the right procedure, you can force a jinni to do your bidding.

Jinn are actually mentioned in the Quran. As this verse attests, they were created before mankind:

Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire. (Quran 15:26-27)

What’s a bit surprising is that Allah (as God is known to Muslims) created them to worship Him:

“I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Quran 51:56)

Jinn, or genies as most Americans know them, are powerful creatures who can change their shape and love to trick humans

Jinn, or genies as most Americans know them, are powerful creatures who can change their shape and love to trick humans

There are five types of jinn, according to Alif the Unseen:

  1. Marids: They’re the most powerful jinn, described as “the classic genies of folklore, often portrayed as barrel-chested men with booming voices.” They’re associated with water.

  2. Effrits: These fiery creatures possess spectacular magical powers and are quite cunning. In the Quran, King Solomon gained control over a tribe of effrits, who performed various tasks for him.

  3. Ghouls: Zombie-like, these undead creatures haunt graveyards and prey on human flesh.

  4. Sila: Most often portrayed as female, these talented shapeshifters are known to seduce their victims and are the most intelligent type of jinni.

  5. Vetalas: Vampiric creatures that possess human corpses, they can see the future, gain insight into the past and read thoughts.

What it does: The jinni has created an alternate world, where the Winchester boys’ mom wasn't attacked by a demon. Sam’s a sporty wuss studying law and is engaged to Jessica. And Dean gets to mow the lawn!

You can make a jinni do your bidding — but be warned: He’s not gonna like it!

You can make a jinni do your bidding — but be warned: He’s not gonna like it!

He’s also scored a dream girlfriend, prompting him to ask, “How’d I end up with such a cool chick?” His girlfriend is so freakin’ cool she’s got a wicked sense of humor. She replies, “I’ve just got low standards.”

There are hints that all is not as it should be, namely visions of a grimy girl in a dowdy dress.

If it all seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. The jinni can alter reality, shaping the past, present or future as it sees fit. The catch to this tempting alternate reality is that the Winchesters aren’t hunters, so all the cases they’ve solved never happened, and all those people weren’t saved.

“Why do I have to be some kind of hero?” Dean wants to know. “Why do we have to sacrifice everything?”

This jinni doesn't actually grant you a wish; it only makes you think it has: You're really tied up somewhere as it feeds upon your blood, slowly draining your life away.

How to defeat it: A silver knife dipped in lamb’s blood. Perhaps it has something to do with the most gruesome of God’s plagues during the time of Moses. Yahweh (the name God went by in the Old Testament) wanted to convince the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. So he sent a variety of plagues. But turning water into blood, frogs, lice, wild animals and flies, diseased livestock, boils, horrific hail, locusts and darkness for three days still wasn’t enough for Pharaoh to give up his free labor. So Yahweh decided He’d kill every Egyptian’s first-born son. So the Angel of Death knew which houses to pass over (hence Passover, get it?), the Israelites were told to smear lamb’s blood on the thresholds of their doors:

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

If you don’t have a sacrificial lamb handy, we can personally attest to this efficacy of this protective chant.

The acheri casts a shadow of death upon sleeping children so they can suffer a long, painful illness as it did

The acheri casts a shadow of death upon sleeping children so they can suffer a long, painful illness as it did

S2E21: “All Hell Breaks Loose: Part One”

Monster: Acheri

Where it’s from: North America

Description: There’s a demon that disguises itself as a little girl. She’s an acheri, the ghost of a girl who died a horrible, drawn-out death, often from sickness but sometimes the victim of abuse and murder. The monster comes from the folklore of the Chippewa tribe of North America. It returns from the spirit world to live in the hills and mountaintops, flying through the valleys at night to bring a plague of pestilence to sleeping children. No wonder kids get sick so much.

Its daytime guise is that of a frail, gray-skinned girl who’s so pitiful looking you just can’t help but feel sorry for her. But its true form is a hideous monster with a skeletal frame, demonic red eyes and long clawed fingers.

What it does: The acheri suffered a long, painful death, and it wants to inflict that same misery upon others. It doesn’t even need to touch children to pass on its trademark fatal respiratory disease — its shadow merely needs to pass over its victims.

The more lives it claims, the stronger the acheri becomes.

The acheri suffered a long, painful death, and it wants to inflict that same misery upon others.

In this episode, the psychic 23-year-olds all smell sulfur when they awake in the ghost town of Cold Oak, South Dakota, supposedly the most haunted town in the United States. The Yellow-Eyed Demon has gathered the “best and brightest” and wants soldiers in a demon war to bring on the apocalypse. Oops — he really just wants one soldier. A leader. So he’s set up this Hunger Games-like competition. The kids must off each other until only one is left standing.

We meet Lily, a new psychic who kills whoever she touches, including her girlfriend. She tries to leave…and ends up hanging in a noose from the rickety windmill, killed by the acheri.

Ol’ Yellow Eyes says he’s rooting for Sammy. In a high-def dream, he shows Sam the night his mom died. The demon stood over the crib, cut itself and bled into Sam’s mouth. “Better than mother’s milk,” he says. Eww.

How to defeat it: Salt, not surprisingly, is once again the miracle cure. But when a young woman named Ava breaks the protective salt barrier, she lets in the acheri, which tears open a hole in Andy’s chest.

Acheri are also vulnerable to the color red. Amulets, clothing and ribbons of red act as a ward against a visit from this evil demon. Parents would weave red necklaces for their children to wear for protection from the illness the acheri spreads.

Ava, who can control demons, declares herself the “undefeated heavyweight champ” and attempts to kill Sam. But superstrong Jake snaps her neck. She’s undefeated no more. Yet good old’ Sam can't bring himself to kill Jake — and is literally stabbed in the back. And…dies?! Thing is, there are like 18 more seasons, so I’m not too worried.

Being attacked by a demon is no fun at all

Being attacked by a demon is no fun at all

S2E22: “All Hell Breaks Loose: Part Two”

Monster: Demon

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: They’re perversions of nature, though the ones on Supernatural tend towards hot chicks for some reason.

What it does: Demonic omens include cattle deaths and lightning storms.

In this episode, Dean turns out to be a big softie after all; he’s willing to make a huge sacrifice to get Sam back.

Demons can’t resurrect people unless a pact is made. “I know, red tape,” the demon says.

He wants to make a deal with a demon with the trusty crossroads pact we covered here. He exchanges his soul after one more year of life for Sam to come back from the dead. If he tries to welch out of the deal, Sam will turn back to “rotten meat” and drop dead.

You’ve got to be careful, though: How sure are you that the Sam you brought back is 100% the old one? the Yellow-Eyed Demon asks.

Supernatural  likes its demons to be hot chicks, but most of the time they’re freaks of nature like these fellows

Supernatural likes its demons to be hot chicks, but most of the time they’re freaks of nature like these fellows

How to defeat it: If you’re not sure if someone’s possessed by a demon, make them do a shot of holy water. That’s what they make Ellen do. (They’re nice enough to follow it up with a shot of whiskey.)

Also consider the trusty Devil’s Trap. This one is supersized, constructed of iron lines (e.g., railways) and frontier churches built by Sam Colt, the guy who made that monster-killing gun. It’s all to protect a Devil’s Gate, “a damn door to Hell.”

Well, the gate opens, but the good news is that Daddy Winchester escapes Hell and battles the demon. Dean shoots it with the Colt, it dies, and their dad glows and disappears in a poof of smoke. It’s hard to imagine he didn’t head up to Heaven.

The bad news? The hunters have unleashed 100 to 200 demons. “The war has just begun.” Gulp. –Wally

Ghosts, Werewolves and Necromancy

The monsters of Supernatural, Season 2, Episodes 16-18: the Poltergeist curse, how to turn into a werewolf and rituals for summoning spirits.

More than four in 10 Americans believe in ghosts. Do  you ?

More than four in 10 Americans believe in ghosts. Do you?

S2E16: “Roadkill”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: A ghosts is the spiritual remains of a human who’s dead. They often appear much like the person they once were, though typically stripped of color and substance.

A perhaps surprisingly high number of people believe in ghosts: 42% of Americans, for instance, according to a 2013 Harris poll.

Apparently, there are eight different types of ghosts, as described by Roger Clarke in Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof.

You’re like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness.
— Dean Winchester, to his brother, Sam

This episode deals with the spirit of Jacob Greely, who haunts the road where he was killed on the anniversary of his death.

We learn that spirits are like wounded animals, lost, in pain. They remain because of their remains — or unfinished business, Sam says. Jacob is trapped in a loop, replaying the same tragedy over and over.

What it does: This one speaks through the radio, disappears in cloud of smoke and kills an innocent person in punishment.  

How to defeat it: Salt, again. “In most cultures, salt’s a symbol of purity, so it repels impure and unnatural things,” Sam says. “Same reason you throw it over your shoulder.”

So the boys are off to dig up another corpse and salt and burn it. They need a new hobby.

But there’s another option: Get the ghost to accept its fate and let go.

Fun fact: It’s an old country custom to plant a tree on a grave, Sam exclaims.

“You’re like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness,” Dean replies.

When a woman from Chesterville, Illinois spoke out against the conservative views of the Amish and Mennonite faith, she was accused of witchcraft and found dead. The townsfolk planted a tree over her grave to trap her spirit inside and prevent her from taking revenge, according to Mysterious Heartland.

Her ghost is said to haunt the area.

 

Lycanthropy, the fancy word for turning into a werewolf, happens during the full moon

Lycanthropy, the fancy word for turning into a werewolf, happens during the full moon

S2E17: “Heart”

Monster: Werewolf

Where it’s from: Many parts of the world, particularly Europe

Description: “I’m sorry, man, but what about a human by day, a freak animal killing machine by moonlight don’t you understand? I mean, werewolves are badass,” Dean says.

The ones on Supernatural tend to keep their human form (maybe for budgetary concerns) — just with more hair, longer nails and sharper teeth.

In some cultures, individuals born during a new moon or suffering from epilepsy were considered likely to be werewolves, according to an Imgur post.

That’s a good question. Have you been bitten by a werewolf lately? Eaten wolf brains? Made a deal with the Devil?

That’s a good question. Have you been bitten by a werewolf lately? Eaten wolf brains? Made a deal with the Devil?

There are various means to become a werewolf:

  • Getting bitten by a werewolf

  • Making a pact with the Devil

  • Suffering from a family curse

  • Drinking water from a wolf’s pawprint

  • Eating wolf brains

  • Wearing a wolfskin

What it does: On the week leading up to full moon, the werewolf mauls people to death, removing their heart. Then the werewolf wakes up as a human again, not remembering anything that happened the night before.

“Like a really hot Incredible Hulk?” Dean wants to know.

The connection between lycanthropy and the full moon goes back to the ancient Greeks, according to Werewolves.com:

They noticed the way that the weak gravitational pull of the moon affected the ocean tides and figured that since the human brain contains moisture that the moon could also screw up someone’s mind in the same way, which would cause savage feelings to come forth. The “civilized man” might be gradually transformed by the pull of the moon into a raging, irrational creature — a lunatic. Many of the well-known Greek scholars, such as Aristotle and Hippocrates, agreed with this theory. Then taking in account one of Greece’s moon goddesses, Selene, was often portrayed as a wild and unpredictable woman that would dance unrestrained in the woods, the Greeks felt that they had further proof the moon made people wild and crazed.

Turns out they were on to something. A study performed at the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital in Sydney, Australia stated that some of its emergency patients admitted with very violent and dangerous disturbances were similar to werewolf behavior. And a quarter of those happened during a full moon — double the number for the other phases of the moon, according to Leonie Calver, a clinical research nurse in toxicology.

This fellow won’t even remember this in the morning

This fellow won’t even remember this in the morning

How to defeat it: Tie them up — you can’t let them go on an all-you-can-eat buffet, as Dean says.

Lycanthropy might be cured if you can kill the werewolf who bit you. You can sever the bloodline. So posits Daddy Winchester’s theory.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t pan out. So a silver bullet to the heart it is.
 

Necromancy, which comes from the words for “dead divination,” is a fun, if dangerous, pastime

Necromancy, which comes from the words for “dead divination,” is a fun, if dangerous, pastime

S2E18: “Hollywood Babylon”

Monster: Spirits raised from the dead

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: Certain movie productions are said to be cursed or haunted.

As if the movie  Poltergeist  wasn’t scary enough — it’s also said to be cursed, with some of its stars suffering untimely deaths

As if the movie Poltergeist wasn’t scary enough — it’s also said to be cursed, with some of its stars suffering untimely deaths

There are some freak deaths associated with the Poltergeist series, for example, including one of the stars being strangled by her ex and the little girl who played Carol Anne succumbing to a sudden illness.

And there’s a famous shot in Three Men and a Baby in which you can make out an image of a young boy…who supposedly is a ghost. (It did give me the chills when I first saw it.)

Three Men and a Baby …and the ghost of a boy?!

Three Men and a Baby…and the ghost of a boy?!

In this ep, studio executives fake the death of a crewman to drum up publicity.

But then a black and white ghost lures a jerky producer up the scaffolding, puts a noose around his neck and throws him down to his death. It seems connected to a starlet from the ’30s. She was used by a studio exec and hanged herself from the rafters.

Then a ghost from the ’60s of an electrician who died on set caused the same thing to happen to a producer — he was sucked into a giant fan that chopped him up like a blender.

What it does: Turns out a screenwriter named Walter is pissed at the people who ruined his movie. He’s using a necromantic summoning ritual to call forth vengeful spirits.

You can try summoning a spirit to do your bidding — but it’ll attack you if you don’t have the proper protection

You can try summoning a spirit to do your bidding — but it’ll attack you if you don’t have the proper protection

Rituals to Summon the Dead

Here’s how you too can raise the dead to do your bidding, according to Rituals of Magic. (Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?) Perhaps it’s best that the ritual is all rather vague:

First, draw a series of concentric circles of power on the ground, on which you’ve inscribed crosses and other symbols, together with the holy names of God. The circle should be blessed and consecrated — be sure to stand in the center so you’re protected from danger. Then, with your wand in hand, call for the dead to rise, using names of power.

Some sorcerers like to strengthen the connection between the living and the dead by using a portrait of the deceased or offering a piece of bread for the ghost to consume. In this invocation, you call the dead by name — and, if it succeeds, you’ll be rewarded with a screaming ghost full of rage at having been forced against its will to return to the realm of the living. Sometimes the dead materialize as furious beasts threatening to tear you to pieces.

Necromancy is a serious business. The dead don’t want to be disturbed.

 

Here’s another invocation that sounds promising, from Encyclopedia Satanica (gulp):

Perform this ritual at midnight at the grave or crypt of the dead person you’d like to summon.

Burn asafoetida incense and use a “dagger of art” and black candle of summoning.

Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
I invoke thee, spirits of the flame!
I invoke thee, spirits of the air!
I invoke thee, spirits of the earth!
Hysorga! Teamon karazan!

Spirits of the earth,
Give up thy secrets,
Release them from the cold grasp of thy bosom!

I invoke thee, spirits of the earth!
Hysorga! Teamon karazan!

By the unholy name, I thus invoke!
From the grasp
Of the roots that choke.
By the name of the She Goat of the Wood,
Who hast a thousand young!
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!

Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Orkazonar
Zerlkktrayr
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!

Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee.
I now do call thee forth from the abyss.

Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee,
Come now to this place,
Into this circle I call thee.

Spirit of [dead person]
The name doth compel thee.
Come unto me, and show thy self.
For thou shalt answer fully and truthfully
And be compelled to do my bidding.
So it is!

Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Tananan Kr’razorda!
Ia! Orkazonar
Zerlkktrayr
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!

How to defeat it: You can create a magic talisman to protect yourself. As mentioned, the dead don’t like being anyone’s slave. Be sure you always have the talisman that controls them. Silly Walter breaks his, setting the spirits free — and they can’t wait to pounce on him and pummel him to death. –Wally

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 2, Episodes 13-15

Are angels real? Meet Archangel Michael, Archangel Raphael and Beelzebub as well as tricksters like Loki, Anansi, Hermes and Reynard the Fox.

Angels, like Raphael, aren’t typically depicted in artwork as badass and intimidating like the Bible describes them

S2E13: “Houses of the Holy”

Monster: Avenging angel

Where it’s from: Israel and other parts of the Middle East

Description: There’s no such thing as angels, Dean argues. But Sam points out that there’s more folklore about angels than anything else they hunt.

“You know what?” Dean responds. “There’s a ton of lore on unicorns, too. In fact, I hear that they ride on silver moonbeams and they shoot rainbows outta their ass!”

“You mean there’s no such things as unicorns?” Sam jokes. These two should take their comedy act on the road.

“There’s some legends you file under bullcrap,” Dean says.

Despite this contention, 72 percent of Americans said they believe in angels, in a 2016 Gallup poll. I don’t know why that high number surprises me: After all, most Americans think a woman who never had sex gave birth to a man who came back from the dead.

The angels known as seraphim actually have six wings

We have a conception of angels as humanlike creatures with large feathered wings sprouting out of their backs. But there are different orders of angels described in the Old Testament, with seraphim, “the Burning Ones,” at the top of the hierarchy. They’re often depicted as red-skinned and wielding flaming swords. Seraphim have six wings: two for flight, two to cover their faces (for even though they fly above the throne of Heaven, they can’t handle looking upon God’s face) and two to cover their feet (so they don’t step on holy ground — though some scholars think this might actually translate to “genitals”), according to whyangels?com.

This illuminated manuscript depicts a six-winged seraphim above the crucifixion of Christ

In another Bible verse, Daniel 10:5-6, the prophet describes an angel in this manner:

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

This doesn’t look like the cute little cherubs we’re used to!

And we know cherubim, or cherubs, as Cupid-esque chubby toddlers with wings. Turns out they’re actually powerful guardians that also carry flaming swords.

Angels are neither male nor female, though they always appear with men’s bodies and never women’s, according to What Christians Want to Know.

Dean’s not buying Sam’s claim that they’re hunting an angel. “You didn't see any fluffy white wing feathers?” the smartass asks.

Many angels, Raphael included, are God’s means of justice and punishment

What it does: When someone’s visited by the angel in Supernatural, the surroundings shake, and the person is filled with religious ecstasy. They’re then driven to kill because it’s “God’s will.”

That’s actually somewhat in keeping with biblical lore: Angels are God’s agents for “bringing punishment and displaying His holy wrath,” according to What Christians Want to Know.

Take that, Satan! The Archangel Michael defeats the Devil

How to defeat it: In the church, Sam points to a painting of Saint Michael, the slayer of demons. He’s almost always depicted in artwork as stepping on a cringing Devil.

In this episode, Father Gregory died a violent death, and the other priest didn’t get a chance to administer last rites.

Father Gregory’s grave is covered in wormwood, which we learn is a sign of a spirit not at rest. Wormwood is a bitter herb that’s a key ingredient in absinthe, which has been banned because it supposedly causes hallucinations. In witchcraft, it’s used to increase psychic powers and perform exorcisms.

If you want to communicate with spirits, a séance is the way to go

Sam performs a séance ritual based on early Christian rites that involves white candles and a large black candle. It’s in Latin, of course.

In the end, Dean just might be right: This isn’t an angel at all. It turns out to be a vengeful spirit that thinks it’s an angel.

Father Reynolds finally performs last rites and puts the spirit to rest. “I call upon the Archangel Raphael, Master of the Air, to make open the way,” the priest chants. “Let the fire of the Holy Spirit now descend, that this being might be awakened to the world beyond.”

Raphael’s name translates to “God Heals,” from the story in the apocryphal Book of Enoch (the apocrypha are the stories that for some reason didn’t jibe with those who chose what would go into the official Bible.) In Enoch, Raphael heals the Earth after it was defiled by the fallen angels, according to Catholic Online.

So maybe there really aren’t such things as angels. It’s still OK for me to believe in unicorns, though, right?

 

I’ve warned you that demons are usually horrifyingly disgusting

S2E14: “Born Under a Bad Sign”

Monster: Sam?! (Possessed by a demon)

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: Demons are powerful perversions of nature. We’ve covered them before here and here.

Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, spreads disease and rules Hell

One of the most famous demons in the Judeo-Christian tradition is Beelzebub. He’s usually depicted as a monstrous giant fly, which goes along with his title, Lord of the Flies. Because flies are nasty creatures that hang out on shit and corpses, it shouldn’t come as a shock that Beelzebub spreads disease.

He’s also associated with tempting people with the deadly sin of pride.

In the Gospel of Nicodemus, another apocryphal text, Jesus gave Beelzebub dominion over Hell because the demon freed Adam and other unbaptized saints, allowing them to go up to Heaven. Satan was not pleased.

What it does: Demons like to possess people, manipulating them like puppets. And while the Yellow-Eyed Demon doesn’t seem like much fun, some demons are better to be possessed by than others.

Even ol’ Beelzebub has been known to possess people now and them. Back in 1611, in Aix-en-Provence, France, a Father Louis Gaufridi was accused of making a pact with the Devil, in which a group of Ursuline nuns were possessed by Beelzebub.

The priest was burned at the stake. His executioners used bushes instead of logs because they burn slower and hotter. During the execution, onlookers said they saw flies rising from Father Gaufridi’s body.

How to defeat it: Holy water will burn that mofo. If you can slip it into a beer, all the better!

Watch out for a binding link scar. (The one Sam’s got looks a whole lot like a Q.) To break it, destroy the connection. You could try branding over it with a hot poker — just know it’s gonna hurt!

What’s the secret to fighting off a demonic possession? The answer is surprisingly simple: “If I told them to swing a black cat by its tail over their head at midnight, they would do that,” said Father Vincent Lampert, the designated exorcist for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana. “People think they have to do something extraordinary, but it is actually the very ordinary things that build up graces and offer protection. If a Catholic is praying, going to Mass and receiving the sacraments, then the Devil is already on the run,” he told the National Catholic Register.

Loki, the tricker god of Norse mythology as played by Tom Hiddleston, is one of the best villains in the Marvel universe

S2E15: “Tall Tales”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: All over the world

Hermes, the Greek god of travel and thieves, is also a trickster

Description: Religions and folktales all around the globe include a trickster deity. The Norse had Loki, while the Greeks worshiped Hermes. In West Africa, there was the spider Anansi. European folklore includes tales of the mischievous Reynard the Fox. And Native Americans tell stories of the Raven and Coyote.

The African trickster Anansi is the star of a well-known children’s book

“Almost all non-literate mythology has a trickster-hero of some kind,” the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell said in An Open Life. “And there’s a very special property in the trickster: He always breaks in, just as the unconscious does, to trip up the rational situation. He’s both a fool and someone who’s beyond the system. And the trickster represents all those possibilities of life that your mind hasn’t decided it wants to deal with. The mind structures a lifestyle, and the fool or trickster represents another whole range of possibilities. He doesn’t respect the values that you’ve set up for yourself, and smashes them.”

Sounds like they’re essentially rebels, eager to disrupt the social order. No wonder I’ve always had a soft spot for Hermes.

Reynard the Fox is surely up to no good, preaching to these birds

What it does: In this episode, urban legends are coming true. A girl’s ghost seduces a lecherous professor, then sends him out the window and down four stories to his death. A sexed-up ET abducts a hazing-crazed frat boy, who’s anally probed again and again. (“Some alien made you his bitch,” Dean says. But it got worse, the boy adds: It made him slow dance to “Lady in Red.”) A shiny watch down a drain lures a researcher who tests on animals to end up mauled to death by a crocodile in the sewers.

Thing is, it only happens to dicks who you could argue deserve punishment. The trickster is getting his ideas from Weekly World News. These deities thrive on chaos and mischief. And it played the boys like fiddles, fellow hunter Bobby tells them.

Loki, like many tricksters, is able to shapeshift

Tricksters are shapeshifters, sometimes taking human form. They can conjure anything out of thin air.

In a climactic final battle, lingerie-wearing vixens on a round bed with red silk sheets toss Dean around while Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” plays. Meanwhile, Sam and Bobby get attacked by chainsaw-wielding psychopaths like something out of a horror flick.

There goes Reynard the Fox, showing off again

How to defeat it: Try tricking the trickster. Sam and Dean fake a fight and then end up staking the trickster. The reality it has constructed fades away.

But this is only temporary. After all, tricksters, being gods, are immortal. –Wally

Meet the Tree Spirits of Thai Folklore

The Thai spirits of Nang Ta-khian and the Nariphon lure men to their deaths or entice them to have sex — with drastic consequences.

These ribbons and dresses are offerings to the Thai tree spirit, Nang Ta-khian, who can help you win the lottery, heal, help with a pregnancy — or lead you to your death

As Wally and I were following the trail that led to Mae Ya Waterfall, part of Doi Inthanon National Park, we stumbled upon a clearing with picnic tables and an impressive tree with lengths of colorful satin cloth tied around its trunk — complete with a small altar. I knew of the traditional belief of phi, or spirits, that inhabit trees, but was trying to process what the addition of vibrant jewel-toned silk women’s dresses was all about.

Nang Ta-khian sings mournful songs to beckon wandering men. Those who get too close are drawn into her powerful embrace, eventually subsumed by her branches.

Tree-hugging Wally is part of a long-standing worldwide tradition of worshiping trees

Tree Worship Around the World

Tree worship exists in many cultures and is often associated with fertility, longevity and rebirth. It’s not surprising, given that their roots reach down into the underworld while their branches extend to the skies. Many mythologies, from Greco-Roman to Celtic and Druid, stated that the gods themselves took the form of trees. In Buddhism, the bodhi tree is a sacred symbol for having provided shelter to the Buddha while he attained enlightenment.



Where Buddhism and Animism Meet

When the Thai adopted Buddhism as their national religion, they folded their ancient animistic beliefs (that every natural object, such as mountains, trees and animals, has a soul) into their practice of Buddhism.

I later learned that the brightly colored dresses and ribbons are part of a sanctuary shrine to Phi Nang Ta-khian, an ancient female spirit named for the takian tree. Found near rivers or streams, she can anthropomorphize, shifting her tree form into that of a slender, long-haired, beautiful young woman wearing a traditional pha tung, or long wraparound skirt.

 

The Sacred Takian Tree and the Legend of Nang Ta-khian

Takian trees are considered sacred and are rarely felled for lumber, since her spirit will become furious and curse whoever uses the wood. The only ones holy enough to cut down a takian are monks, and they must hold a ceremony requesting Nang Ta-khian’s permission first. She is considered a mostly benevolent spirit but can become malevolent, releasing a dreadful shriek that fills the air when proper homage is not paid to her.

In certain versions of the story, Nang Ta-khian is said to sing mournful songs to beckon wandering men. Those who get too close can be drawn into her powerful embrace, eventually subsumed by her limbs.

Devotees of Nang Ta-khian place traditional Thai silk dresses at the foot of the takian tree as an offering. Like the famous ghost Mae Nak, the spirit can be asked to protect those who are pregnant, provide safe passage to travelers and reveal winning lottery numbers for material gain. (Thais are obsessed with their lotteries.) Nang Ta-khian is also known to heal, and the resin from the takian tree is a popular medicinal styptic used to stanch bleeding and as an ointment for wounds. A takian growing near the bank of a river with its roots protruding above ground is to be avoided, for the spirit of that tree is a fierce one. Whoever relieves himself near the base of such a tree will suffer from ulcers.

The nareepol tree’s fruit turns into hot 16-year-old girls who tempt hermits to have sex with them

The Nareepol Tree’s Strange, Sexual Fruit

Equally intriguing was a discovery we made one evening while at the Anusam Night Market. I noticed a pair of tiny gray male and female figurines for sale. Of course I wanted to purchase them simply because they looked old and exotic, but was discouraged by Wally. (They were quite expensive — the vendor was asking 2,500 baht, or about  $75.) As I was researching Nang Ta-khian, I stumbled upon an interesting folk tale about these powerful talismans.

According to the Vessantara Jataka, the god Indra was afraid that his consort, Lady Phusati, would be attacked by lustful ruesi, forest-dwelling hermits. So he created a grove of nareepol trees bearing fruit in the shape of identical beautiful maidens in Phusati’s likeness known as nariphon to distract them.

If a man plucks a nariphon and has sex with her, he will become sterile. And if he had any magical abilities, those would also be lost to him. The nariphon are born as 16-year-old girls (sans bones) and have a short life, dying after only seven days. They then wither and shrink into themselves and become fertility amulets like those we saw at the market. –Duke

If a man plucks a nariphon fruit maiden and has sex with her, he’ll become sterile.

The Ghost of Mae Nak Phra Kanong

Thailand’s most popular ghost story tells the gruesome tale of a woman who dies in childbirth but returns to her unsuspecting husband.

The ghost of a mom and stillborn baby have caught the Thai imagination, as seen in this 2012 movie poster

Everyone loves a ghost story, and Thais are no exception. The country’s most enduring ghost story features the spirit of a woman named Mae Nak and her baby. Her tale is so popular it has been told in numerous films, comic books and even a musical.

According to Thai folklore, this tragic tale took place in the village of Phra Khanong during the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV). A beautiful young woman named Nang Nak was pregnant, when her husband, Nai Maak, was summoned to battle. Due to complications during labor, Nang Nak and her unborn child both perished.

He returned home to greet his wife and child — not realizing that they were both, in fact, ghosts!

Nai Maak, though, never heard this news. After a long period of absence, he returned home to greet his wife and child — not realizing that they were both, in fact, ghosts! Her powerful spirit had lingered and created the illusion that she and the baby were still alive. At this point, she became known as Mae Nak, with mae meaning “mother.”

A dead mother and her baby pretend to still be alive in the Mae Nak legend

Concerned neighbors who tried to warn her husband of the deception met untimely demises at the hands of the furious ghost.

One day, as the phantom Nak was preparing a meal, she absentmindedly dropped a lime. It slipped through the floorboards to the ground. In her haste, she extended her arm right through the floor to retrieve it. Maak witnessed this and finally realized that the woman he thought was his wife was actually a ghost.

The infamous ghosts haunt this 1959 movie as well

That evening, filled with a sense of dread, he wished with all his being that he could forget what he had seen. Heart racing, he excused himself to go to the bathroom, but instead ran to the safety of the nearby Mahabut Temple; he knew he’d be safe because a soulless spirit cannot enter consecrated ground.

Finding Maak gone, the ghost pursued him, and in her grief terrorized the village. However, a powerful forest-dwelling ruesi, or shaman, captured her spirit. He confined it to an earthen jug and tossed it into a canal.

Like any good story told in the oral tradition, there are actually several versions as to how Mae Nak was eventually captured. In addition to the ruesi tale, there’s one in which the venerated monk Somdet Phra Phutthachan performed an exorcism. He obtained a buckle-size piece of bone from the skull of the exhumed remains of Mae Nak. He then confined her spirit to the skull fragment, which he wore on his waistband until his death, when the relic was given to a member of the royal family.

Yet another film adaptation of Thailand’s fave ghost story

Mae Nok’s Shrine

A shrine dedicated to Mae Nak is located within Wat Mahabut in Bangkok, where she is worshipped as a benevolent mother goddess. Devotees make offerings of dresses and children’s toys in hopes of ensuring health and prosperity. Worshippers also pray to Mae Nak for winning lottery numbers, and in the days before the drawing, the shrine is active with ticket sellers, fortune tellers and merit-offering vendors.

Mae Nak’ s name is also commonly invoked as a boogeyman to make a child behave, as in, “Be quiet or Mae Nak will come and eat you!” –Duke

Be quiet or Mae Nak will come and eat you!

The Monsters of "Supernatural," Season 2, Episodes 7-9

What is a banshee? How can you make a deal with the Devil like Robert Johnson? Hellhounds (black dogs), Roanoke, goofer dust and death omens all get covered in this roundup.

An illustration from The English Dance of Death, drawn by William Combe. I’d say a skeleton lounging in front of your fireplace is a pretty strong death omen

S2E7: “The Usual Suspects”

Monster: Death omen

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: This particular figure is pale, with dark red eyes and a slit throat. In his typically eloquent fashion, Dean describes the death omen as “Casper the Bloodthirsty Ghost.”

La Belle Dame Sans Merci, or The Banshee by Henry Meynell Rheam, 1901

In Irish folklore, a banshee is a female spirit, and when people hear her horrific wail (one tradition holds that it can actually break glass), they know someone will soon die.

What it does: Like the banshee, death omens foretell that someone will perish in the near future.

I love black cats…but some cultures believe them to be harbingers of death — especially if one meows at midnight

Death Omens

In this episode, the printer keeps repeating the name Dana Schulps. That’s creepy, but here’s a shortened list of some famous death omens, according to Superstition Dictionary:

  • A black cat meowing at midnight
  • Bees swarming a rotten tree (there will be a death in the family owning or living on the property within a year)
  • A bird entering the bedroom of a sick person and landing on the bedpost
  • A pigeon flying against the window
  • A sparrow attacking another swallow and throwing it from its nest near a home (a son will be born and a daughter will die)
  • An owl hooting in a tree right above your head (a relative or friend of yours will die within a year)
  • A dog persistently howling under your window
  • A mouse running over your foot
  • A white rabbit crossing your path
  • A cow giving birth to twin calves
  • A cedar tree you have planted dying in your yard
  • A peach tree blooming early
  • A clock striking 13
  • A portrait falling off the wall
  • A rainbow over a house (sounds more gay than scary, to be honest)
  • Seeing your shadow without a head on New Year’s Eve

How to defeat it: At first the boys think this is a vengeful spirit. In true Winchester Brothers fashion, Sam says, “We have to salt and burn her bones. It’s the only way to put her spirit to rest.” To which guest star Linda Blair, famous for her head-turning performance in The Exorcist, replies, “Of course it is.”

Thing is, why would a vengeful spirit lead Blair to her remains? Turns out it’s not a vengeful spirit after all. As a death omen, she wants to warn people, and she’s finally at rest once the murderer is killed.

You certainly don’t want to be a victim of a hellhound attack

S2E8: “Crossroad Blues”

Monster: Black dog or hellhound

Where it’s from: England and Scotland

The Black Dog of Newgate has haunted the prison for 400 years, appearing before executions

Description: They’re larger than your average pooch and are covered in shaggy black fur, though some reports say they can have white, spotted or brown fur as well. Glowing red eyes, long fangs and saliva reeking of sulfur complete the look.

Sam describes them as “demonic pitbulls.”

“I bet they could hump the crap out of your leg,” Dean adds

What it does: Hellhounds collect souls that are due in payment for deals made with the Devil. One man wanted to be an overnight musical success. This calls to mind Robert Johnson, who is said to have made just such a deal. He supposedly came across Satan at a crossroads and offered to sell his soul in return for becoming an amazing bluesman. He went on to write and perform some popular songs, including “Cross Roads Blues,” “Me and the Devil Blues” and “Hellhound on My Trail.” But he died mysteriously, choking on his own blood, at age 27 (like Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and others) in 1938.

The blues musician Robert Johnson is one of the most famous people (Faust aside) to sell his soul to the Devil

With another person they’re investigating, Dean wants to know why the man made a pact with a demon: “What’d you ask for anyway, Evan? Never need Viagra? Bowl a perfect game?”

“My wife,’ Evan says.

“Gettin’ the girl,” Dean nods. “Well, that’s worth a trip to Hell for."

You can supposedly get your heart’s desire if you make a pact with the Devil — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea

How to Sell Your Soul to the Devil

If you’d like to make a deal with the Devil (and we really can’t recommend doing so), here’s how to do so.

Plant yarrow flowers in the corners of a crossroads to summon the Big Guy.

Get a tin box and fill with the bones of a black cat, graveyard dirt and a picture of yourself.

“That’s Deep South hoodoo stuff,” Dean says.

How to defeat it: Sam and Dean think one of the people they visit has grabbed the wrong shaker (those boys are completely obsessed with salt). But the man made no mistake. He’s keeping away demons with another hoodoo trick: goofer dust.

Be warned that the goofer dust will affect anyone who steps onto it. Victims will develop a chronic illness that may result in death.


Goofer Dust Recipe

This recipe comes from Raven Conspiracy:

  • Sulfur
  • Salt
  • Skin or head of a venomous snake, dried and ground
  • Black pepper
  • Graveyard dirt

Optional ingredients:

  • Red pepper
  • Ground bones
  • Ground insects
  • Sage
  • Mullein
  • Anvil dust

 

Here’s another version, this one from SpellsOfMagic.com:

  • Graveyard dirt
  • Black salt
  • Ground sulfur
  • Snake skin
  • Magnetic sand

Optional ingredients:

  • Dried pigeon feces
  • Ground insects
  • Powdered bones
  • Black pepper

Sounds like there’s some leeway with the recipe. Mix what ingredients you can find together. But be sure not to touch the powder after you’ve made it.

Sprinkle it in a place where you know your target will definitely walk onto it. Be warned that the goofer dust will affect anyone who steps onto it. Victims will develop a chronic illness that may result in death.

 

If you regret having made a satanic pact, use a Devil’s Trap to ensnare the demon or devil and strike a deal by threatening to exorcise it.

 

S2E9: “Croatoan”

Monster: Demonic virus

Where it’s from: the United States

Description: There’s a telltale sulfuric residue in the virus.

What it does: Those infected turn murderous. They’re also fond of spreading the love: The virus is passed by by blood to blood contact. The infected like to cut themselves and then slice open their victim so they can drip blood into the wound.

The boys find a reference to the Lost Colony of Roanoke (it was also a theme in American Horror Story: Roanoke). The colony was founded by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 in what is now North Carolina. Five years later, all 115 or so settlers had vanished mysteriously — the only clue being the word “Croatoan” carved into a fencepost. The Croatoan were an Indian tribe, though Daddy Winchester had a theory that it’s the name of a demon also known as Deva, or Resheph, associated with pestilence.

That’s Resheph off to the right, the personification of plague. He’s hanging out with his friends Min (the fertility god with the big boner) and Qetesh (the goddess of fertility and sexual ecstacy)

How to defeat it: You’ve got to kill those infected. Guns work. And Molotov cocktails would do the trick, too, one imagines, as the Winchester boys were planning.

It also helps to be immune, like Sam. –Wally

I bet they could hump the crap out of your leg.
— Dean Winchester