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Bloodletting and Trepanation: A Tour of the International Museum of Surgical Science

12 fascinating, freaky facts about early medical science.

You can’t miss the strange statue in front of the International Museum of Surgical Science just north of the Magnificent Mile shopping district

You can’t miss the strange statue in front of the International Museum of Surgical Science just north of the Magnificent Mile shopping district

We had heard about the International Museum of Surgical Science’s spooky Halloween tours for years and had passed by the colossal figure holding a limp and seemingly lifeless body out front numerous times on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

So when something called Morbid Curiosities showed up as a suggested event in our Facebook feed, we couldn’t resist. The museum smartly offers tours year-round, though their Halloween event is legendary.

We were surprised to hear that George Washington died from bloodletting.

The reason this was prescribed? He had woken up with a sore throat.
The tour starts in the coolest room in the museum: the hall of statues of famous physicians

The tour starts in the coolest room in the museum: the hall of statues of famous physicians

Housed in a mansion built in 1917 near the shore of Lake Michigan, just north of downtown Chicago, the museum contains three floors of macabre medical paraphernalia. For this event, a guide walked us through the displays, calling out gruesome fun facts about the various medical techniques of the past.

Here are a dozen creepy cool things we learned on our tour.

Doctors swear to healing gods that they will obey certain ethical standards in the famous oath named for the Greek physician Hippocrates

Doctors swear to healing gods that they will obey certain ethical standards in the famous oath named for the Greek physician Hippocrates

1. Ancient doctors believed illnesses were attributable to an imbalance of the four humors.

This notion dates back to Ancient Greece and the teachings of Hippocrates. Often referred to as the Father of Medicine, his code of ethics, known as the Hippocratic Oath, is still used today. Hippocrates developed the theory of the four humors and their influence on the body and its emotions.

This woodcut from Leonhard Thurneysser’s  Quinta Essentia  (1574) shows the four humors

This woodcut from Leonhard Thurneysser’s Quinta Essentia (1574) shows the four humors

Humor: Black bile

Organ: Spleen

Trait: Melancholic


Humor: Phlegm

Organ: Brain

Trait: Phlegmatic


Humor: Yellow bile

Organ: Gallbladder

Trait: Choleric

Humor: Blood

Organ: Heart

Trait: Sanguine

Hippocrates believed that by paying attention to the balance of these four humors, we could maintain a healthy body and mind — and an imbalance could result in disease or death.

2. One of the best-regarded doctors of the Dark Ages recommended a medical bath involving the blood of blind puppies.

In Flowers of Bartholomew, written around 1375, the monk and doctor Johannes de Mirfield wrote:

Here is a bath which has proved to be of value. Take blind puppies, gut them and cut off the feet; then boil in water, and in this water let the patient bathe himself. Let him get in the bath for four hours after he has eaten, and whilst in the bath he should keep his head covered, and his chest completely covered with the skin of a goat, so he won’t catch a sudden chill.

If you decide to try it, let us know how it works! (Kidding, obviously.)

If you get poisoned, don’t expect the bezoar, which comes from a goat’s stomach, to be a miracle cure

If you get poisoned, don’t expect the bezoar, which comes from a goat’s stomach, to be a miracle cure

3. A stone that grows in a goat’s stomach was thought to be the ultimate antidote to any poison.

The bezoar comes from the Persian word for “counter poison.” And while the bezoar works miraculously in the world of Harry Potter, it doesn’t have quite the same power in real life. The French surgeon Ambroise Paré decided to put the bezoar’s antidotal properties to the test (with the help of an unwilling condemned criminal). The poor fellow was given sublimate of mercury, a nasty poison, to see if a bezoar would counteract it. Things didn’t work out too well. Paré wrote about the experiment in Apology and Treatise (1575):

An hour after, I found him on the ground on his hands and feet like an animal, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth, his eyes wild, vomiting, with blood pouring from his ears, nose and mouth. Eventually he died in great torment, seven hours after I gave him the poison.

Patients risked blindness (and suffered a lot of pain) during the earliest cataract surgeries in India

Patients risked blindness (and suffered a lot of pain) during the earliest cataract surgeries in India

4. Cataract surgery can be traced all the way back to the 5th century BCE in India.

I’m not sure what current cataract surgery involves, but its origins are downright disgusting. The procedure started out pleasant enough, with an oil massage and a hot bath. But that’s when things got icky. The patient was tied down because of the excruciating pain to come. A knife or needle would dislodge the cataract — you’d know when this had happened because you’d hear a pop and see a gush of water. Surgeons would seal the cut with breast milk and a salve of clarified butter. If the patient could see after, it was considered successful. Not surprisingly, this didn’t happen all that often.

The most infamous book bound in human skin,  Burke’s Skin Pocket Book,  put a serial killer to good use

The most infamous book bound in human skin, Burke’s Skin Pocket Book, put a serial killer to good use

5. There are books — mostly medical texts — that are bound in human skin.

The practice of binding books in human skin was once fairly common and has a fancy name: anthropodermic bibliopegy. The poor suckers whose epidermises have been cured to cover books were typically prisoners and other cadavers used for dissection. It’s tough to know if that leather-bound ancient tome is from a cow or a criminal.

How many books from the museum’s library are bound in human skin?

How many books from the museum’s library are bound in human skin?

A famous (and morbid) example is Burke’s Skin Pocket Book. William Burke and William Hare were serial killers who murdered 16 people and sold the cadavers for anatomical study and dissection.

Burke was found guilty and hanged. He received a just punishment: His corpse was dissected, and some of his skin was used to fashion a small book, now part of the collection of the Surgeon’s Hall Museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.

An early C-section in Latin America, where they actually gave woman pain relievers, unlike Westerners at the time, who thought childbirth was supposed to hurt like hell (thanks, Eve!)

An early C-section in Latin America, where they actually gave woman pain relievers, unlike Westerners at the time, who thought childbirth was supposed to hurt like hell (thanks, Eve!)

6. People didn’t think women should have anesthesia during childbirth because of a Bible passage.

Yes, there’s a lot of crazy shit in the Bible (read the story of Lot sometime, who offered up his daughters to be gang raped and was then seduced by them). In Genesis 3:16, God punishes Eve for her part in convincing Adam to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, declaring, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.”

Sorry, moms-to-be! Childbirth is gonna hurt — though a lot less than in the past

Sorry, moms-to-be! Childbirth is gonna hurt — though a lot less than in the past

In South America, at least, when a woman was to give birth, they’d use a sea sponge drenched in wine and mandrake root as anesthesia. It had one mild side effect, though: The woman would hallucinate and trip her balls off.

The first surgery ever was to create literal holes in the head, during a practice known as trepanning or trepanation

The first surgery ever was to create literal holes in the head, during a practice known as trepanning or trepanation

7. The first surgery involved poking holes into the skull.

This fun practice, known as trepanation, seems as necessary as a hole in the head — pun intended. It was performed by Incan priests to let out evil spirits. They’d chew coca (the same plant from which cocaine is derived) and spit it into the open wound. What’s most shocking is that more than half of the victims, er, patients survived.

A portrait of Vesalius from  De Humani Corporis Fabrica  (1543)

A portrait of Vesalius from De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543)

8. Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern anatomy, took to grave robbing for corpses to dissect.

Vesalius, who lived during the 1500s, used the bodies of convicted criminals to create his seminal works on human anatomy. But when that wasn’t enough, he started digging up bodies in graveyards. To be fair, many cemeteries were a mess at the time. Dogs would often be found gnawing away at the bodies piled up in mass graves, and Vesalius would have to fight them off for his prize.

Who’d’ve thunk a sore throat would lead to the death of the United States’ first president?!

Who’d’ve thunk a sore throat would lead to the death of the United States’ first president?!

9. Bloodletting was a popular practice — and led to the death of none other than George Washington!

For 3,000 years, surgeons have thought that blood gets old and stagnates, and that the best way to refresh it was to open a vein and start to drain. We were familiar with the practice of bloodletting but were surprised to hear that the first U.S. president died from complications of a bloodletting procedure in 1799, in which nearly 40% of his blood was drained. The reason this was prescribed? He had woken up with a sore throat.

10. Blood transfusions didn’t work so well in the past.

This surgical procedure had a high rate of mortality before blood groups were discovered by Karl Landsteiner in 1901. In fact, sometimes animal blood was used in transfusions because it was thought to be cleaner (in part because they don’t drink booze).

Dr. Liston, the Fastest Knife in the West End, was a master of amputation (though he had quite a few misfires as well)

Dr. Liston, the Fastest Knife in the West End, was a master of amputation (though he had quite a few misfires as well)

11. Amputation used to be the most common surgery because of infection.

There was even an amputation superhero: Robert Liston, who earned the nickname the Fastest Knife in the West End in the earlyish 1800s. The London surgeon proudly wore his bloody apron and could hack off a limb in 90 seconds flat. Fast was good, what with the lack of anesthesia.

Nice gams! Check out these early artificial limbs from the museum’s collection

Nice gams! Check out these early artificial limbs from the museum’s collection

Of course, the downside was that Liston had a high mortality rate. In fact, one of his surgeries killed three people: the patient, an assistant whose fingers were accidentally cut off and later became infected, and an elderly doctor watching the procedure whose coat was sliced in the excitement and died of a heart attack.

12. Maggots are still used to clean out wounds.

These disgusting little creepy-crawlies are actually really good at finding necrotic tissue and dissolving it. On top of that, they have antibacterial saliva. Maybe you should make out with a maggot next time you’re feeling sick? –Wally

If you’d like to learn the creepy origins of medicine, book a tour of the Chicago Surgical Museum

If you’d like to learn the creepy origins of medicine, book a tour of the Chicago Surgical Museum

International Museum of Surgical Science
1524 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60610
USA


More Strange Stuff

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

Altered Reality: Witchcraft, Lucid Dreaming and Mystery Spots

Supernatural Season 3, Episodes 9-11 cover the Malleus Maleficarum, African dream root, tricksters and hex bags.

Don’t sabbaths look fun?!  Hexen , or  Witches , by Hans Baldrung, 1508

Don’t sabbaths look fun?! Hexen, or Witches, by Hans Baldrung, 1508

S3E9: “Malleus Maleficarum”

Monster: Witch

Where it’s from: All over the world, including the Middle East, Europe and America

Description: While they sometimes are depicted as being hideous, with long, warty noses and greenish skin, witches are just ordinary people. In fact, many, if not most, of those accused of witchcraft during the medieval Inquisition in Europe were simply natural healers, who fell victim to the patriarchy’s refusal to allow women in influential roles.

Be careful what you wish for:  The Witch of Endor  by Martynov

Be careful what you wish for: The Witch of Endor by Martynov

One of the first mentions of a witch is the Witch of Endor, in 1 Samuel in the Bible, believed to have been written between 931 and 721 BCE, according to History. King Saul convinces the witch to call up the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel to help him defeat the Philistine army. She’s reluctant to help, as practicing witchcraft at the time was punishable by death. But Saul assures her she’s safe, so she performs her dark arts, and Samuel’s ghost appears.

Things don’t work out too well for Saul, though. Samuel is all doom and gloom, and sure enough, the next day Saul’s sons perish in the battle. Saul, in despair, commits suicide.

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks:  Saul and the Witch of Endor  by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

The trouble with predicting the future is that sometimes it sucks: Saul and the Witch of Endor by Edward Henry Corbould, 1860

Even though the Witch of Endor isn’t depicted as a villain — in fact, you could argue that she performs God’s work — there’s another Old Testament verse, Exodus 22:18, which decrees, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”  

The name of this episode of Supernatural refers to a medieval treatise, the Malleus Maleficarum (Latin for The Hammer of Witches) by Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer (and possibly Jacob Sprenger). Published in Germany in 1487, it instructed magistrates how to identify, interrogate and convict witches. The writers endorsed executing witches.

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

This book, which tells you how to identify and exterminate witches, was all the rage in medieval times

The book was a hit — it was the second-bestselling book, behind the Bible, for almost 200 years.

What it does: “I hate witches,” Dean whines. “They’re always spewing their bodily fluids everywhere.”

On Supernatural, a coven is masquerading as a book club. They cast some Arabic-sounding spells, cut their hand, drip blood onto a victim’s toothbrush — and her teeth fall out and she dies.

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies

Witches cast spells to get their way and curse their enemies



Hex bags are used to curse people. On the show, they’re relics of Old World black magic, containing bird bones, rabbit teeth and something the victim owned. Here are a couple of other versions:

How to Make a Hex Bag

Gather four symbolic items to include in the hex bag.

1. Intent: One ingredient that represents the purpose of the hex bag.

After the bag is created, you can “feed” more of these items to it to strengthen its power.

2. Spirit: Something that belongs to the possessor of the hex bag — and has never belonged to someone else.

3. Life: A plant, herb, seed or natural oil associated with the intended purpose of the bag. You can also use once-living items, like bone, hair, fur, antlers, claws or snake skin.

4. Sacrifice: One item that shows what you’re willing to offer to have the bag do its work.

Source: Sorcery and Shamanism

 

Black Magic Hex Bag

You’ll need:

  • Small black fabric bag

  • Pieces of dragon blood resin

  • Dried rue, basil, wormwood and nettle

  • A pentacle made of metal or wood

Focus on your target as you put the items into the bag.

Ideally, bury the hex bag outside their home, but if this isn’t possible, put it in their locker, desk or somewhere close to them.

Source: Spells of Magic

How to defeat it: Burning the hex bag negates its power.

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

This shaman might be dreamwalking, but he’s certainly tripping his balls off

S3E10: “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

Monster: Dreamwalker

Where it’s from: South Africa

Description: Xhosa shamans of the river valleys on the eastern cape of South Africa are said to possess the power to enter other people’s dreams.

Some shamans can take over your dreams

Some shamans can take over your dreams

What it does: The Winchester Brothers’ buddy Bobby is trapped in a dream. Someone’s entering people’s dreams (dreamwalking) and killing them. As the saying goes, if you die in your dream, you die in your sleep. It’s all very A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

The horror icon Freddy Krueger killed people in their dreams, and they died in real life

How does one dreamwalk? It can be surprisingly easy.

A white flower called undlela zimhlophe, which translates to “white paths,” grows in South Africa. Its blooms only open at night, emitting a mesmerizing aroma. The plant, more commonly known as African dream root (Silene capensis), induces psychedelic, prophetic dreams.

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

African dream room, which helps you lucid dream, is available for sale. Wally knows what he’s asking for Christmas!

For the Xhosa, dreams are seen as gifts from the ancestors, characterized as drifting white winds or ghosts, in which they impart healing guidance or other knowledge to their descendants, according to World of Lucid Dreaming.

“This dream root is some serious mojo,” Sam says. “You take enough of it, with practice, you can become a regular Freddy Krueger.”

So how do they find this homicidal Sandman? Dean wants to know.

To control someone’s dream, you need to drink part of their body. The boys put in some of Bobby’s hair. Eww.

Bobby’s being tormented by a woman in a white nightgown with holes in her chest — who turns out to be his wife. He had to kill her — she was possessed, rabid. This horrific experience is what got him into hunting.

The villain turns out to be Jeremy, one of the subjects of a medical experiment — he’s basically a god in the dream world.

How to defeat it: Enter the dream and confront the dreamwalker. Remember, he’s dreaming, too. Use his subconscious fears against him.

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

Mystery spots defy the laws of nature

S3E11: “Mystery Spot”

Monster: Trickster

Where it’s from: Various parts of the world, though the Greek god Hermes and the Norse deity Loki are two of the best known

Description: There’ve been some strange goings-on at the Broward County Mystery Spot.

What it does: These mystery spots are popular roadside attractions in the U.S. They’re said to defy the laws of physics, where gravity doesn’t work, and perspective is skewed.

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular  Titanic  pose

Next time you’re at the Oregon Vortex, try the popular Titanic pose

Dean’s not having any of it: “Sam, joints like this are only tourist traps, right? I mean, you know, balls rolling uphill, furniture nailed to the ceiling — they’re only dangerous to your wallet.”

But Sam thinks locations that bend space and time are a distinct possibility: “There are spots in the world where holes open up and swallow people.” He mentions the Bermuda Triangle, part of the Atlantic Ocean between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico, where dozens of ships and airplanes have disappeared, as well as the Oregon Vortex, one of the most famous mystery spots.

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

Numerous vessels have been lost forever in the Bermuda Triangle

What it does: Sam’s living his own personal Groundhog Day. Could you imagine a more frightening way to repeatedly start each day than your alarm going off to Asia’s “Heat of the Moment”?

Poor Dean keeps dying: He gets shot by the owner of the Mystery Spot; he’s run down at a crosswalk; then he’s smashed by a falling piano. And that’s just the start. This cycle goes on for over 100 days.

It turns out to be the work of a trickster. A man who recently disappeared didn’t believe in wormholes — so the naughty god thought it’d be fitting to throw him in one.

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow:  Mercury and Argos  by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Mischievous Mercury (the Roman equivalent of Hermes) lulls a watchman to sleep so he can steal a cow: Mercury and Argos by Abraham Hondius, late 1600s

Bobby says they’ll have to perform a summoning ritual. They’ll just need a gallon of human blood. Sam coldly agrees to kill someone for it — but then stakes Bobby. He knows his hunter buddy would never suggest such a bloodthirsty plan. And sure enough, the trickster god reveals himself.

How to defeat it: Beg. The trickster, in his sick and twisted way, is actually trying to get Sam to accept life without Dean. But Sam doesn’t want to imagine that (awww!), so the trickster lets Sam leave his virtual hell. –Wally

No Fooling: The History of April Fool’s Day and Poisson d’Avril

Learn the origin of April Fool’s pranks — and check out these bizarre vintage April Fool’s Day cards.

I’m not making this up: No one’s 100% sure how April Fool’s Day started, but it probably began when the New Year moved dates

I’m not making this up: No one’s 100% sure how April Fool’s Day started, but it probably began when the New Year moved dates

The flowers begin to bud, robins appear, and a few gorgeously warm days start to sneak their way in. Springtime in Chicago is wonderful — though Duke and I will never forget that early April trip we took to Switzerland, when they were harvesting the spaghetti from the trees. Our timing was perfect; one more week and the limp noodles hanging from the branches would no longer be al dente.

Coincidentally, Easter falls on April 1 this year, as it did in 1957, when the BBC aired a three-minute segment showing people plucking strands of spaghetti from trees. Some viewers even called the BBC, wanting to know where they could purchase their very own spaghetti tree. Of course, it was just an elaborate prank — the first televised April Fool’s Day hoax.

Because spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees, silly.

The Amusingly Mysterious Origins of April Fool’s Day

This isn’t a joke: No one’s completely sure where and when April Fool’s Day started, but they’ve got some pretty good ideas.

A favorite theory is that it has to do with the switch from the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar, to the Gregorian calendar, named for Pope Gregory XIII. The decision was made in 1563 at the Council of Trent. That meant the New Year shifted from the end of March to January 1.

A poisson d’avril symbolized an easily caught fish and, by extension, a gullible person.

Some years later, in 1582, the French made the calendar switch. Those who didn’t get the memo or refused to play by the new rules were poked fun at and had paper fish (poisson d’avril, or April fish) sneakily placed on their backs. A poisson d’avril symbolized an easily caught fish and, by extension, a gullible person.

It’s also thought that the ancient Greco-Roman festival known as Hilaria (the Day of Joy) is a precursor to April Fool’s Day. This pagan celebration began on March 25, shortly after the Vernal Equinox, to honor Cybele, Mother of the Gods, and the resurrection of her castrated lover (and in some tellings, her son!), Attis.

The festivities conclude on April 1, accompanied by feasts, games, masquerades and practical jokes — hence the association to April Fool’s Day.

Even the Indian holiday Holi, which takes place around this time of year, involves much mischief-making. Associated with the Hindu demoness, Holika, people celebrate the triumph of good over evil by throwing brightly colored powder on each other.

During the 18th century, April Fool’s Day caught on in Britain. The Scottish celebrated a two-day event that started with “hunting the gowk” (a word for the cuckoo, which represents a fool), during which people are sent on wild goose chases. This was followed by Tailie Day, where the butts of jokes had fake tails or Kick Me signs pinned to their backsides.

Have a laugh at these hilarious (and bizarre) vintage April Fool’s and poisson d’avril cards. –Wally

The Sea Pines Shell Ring Mystery

Hidden in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve on Hilton Head is a 3,500-year-old Native American archaeological treasure.

An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

An archeological team excavates the Sea Pines Shell Ring to better understand what it was used for thousands of years ago

Whenever we visit my parents on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, we like to explore the forest preserve. As we wander the trails, we cross boardwalks over pitch-black bogs covered in neon green flora. We’ll see a line of horseback riders plodding along on an excursion from nearby Lawton Stables. Families throw lines in the water in the hopes of catching a fish for dinner.

And if we head between Lake Joe and Lake Thomas, we’ll come upon the Indian Shell Ring, as we did one day a couple of years ago. It’s usually a quiet spot under the cover of trees — but on this day, we stumbled upon the midst of an archeological dig.

Our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.
— Matthew Sanger, Binghamton University, New York

The man in charge of the excavation is Matthew Sanger, assistant anthropology professor and co-director of the public archaeology program at Binghamton University in New York. He came right over and told us all about the mysterious shell ring. He obviously has a passion for the project.

Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

Matthew Sanger, a professor at Binghamton University in New York, leads the project

What first drew you to the Sea Pines Shell Ring?

I have worked at other shell rings located in Georgia and had heard about the one at Sea Pines. There are at least 50 known shell rings spread across the coast between South Carolina and through the Gulf Coast to Mississippi.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is well known for being one of the most accessible (others are often on uninhabited islands or well off the beaten path) and being one of the best preserved (many others are under parking lots, have been disturbed or destroyed by rising sea levels, etc.).

A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

A team of students gets hands-on experience unearthing artifacts at the Sea Pines Shell Ring

Tell us a bit about how the project works.

I bring a crew of students to Hilton Head every summer as well as occasionally during our other breaks (Winter and Spring Breaks are the most common). The crew works with me over a month or so as we excavate the site in search of clues to how the ring formed, who lived there, etc.

 

Where will the artifacts end up?

We bring all of the artifacts back to Binghamton with us at the end of the summer. We then spend the rest of the year processing and analyzing the artifacts. We will hold onto the artifacts for the next few years, but plan on ultimately transferring them to a local institution in South Carolina.

 

What’s the timeline?

We are currently planning on continuing to do excavations at the Sea Pines Shell Ring for the next two to four years, depending on funding and what we find.

 

Hurricanes Matthew and Irma caused Hilton Head Island to be evacuated in recent years. How did the hurricanes affect the project?

We were very lucky that the ring survived both hurricanes unscathed. We had some downed trees, but really almost no damage at all.

Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

Archeologists attempt to solve the mystery of the shell ring and the house that might have once been situated inside it

What’s your best guess about what the ring was used for?

So far, our best guess is that the ring was a place where people lived year-round and would occasionally hold large-scale gatherings in which they feasted on shellfish and other foods.

The Sea Pines Shell Ring is one of the smallest shell rings, so it may have been a year-round home to a small group of families — perhaps only four to six households.

But on occasion, the ring might have hosted events that brought together dozens, perhaps more than 100 people.

 

What type of people lived in this area at the time of the shell ring?

Roughly 3,500 years ago, when the Sea Pines Shell Ring was forming, the South Carolina coast was inhabited by Native Americans. It is impossible to characterize these Native Americans as belonging to a particular modern tribe, but their progeny likely includes members of a wide number of tribal groups, including the Yemessee, Escamacu, Edisto, Coosa, Pee Dee and Sewee, to name a few.

 

What was the biggest surprise you found on the dig?

Last summer we came across what looks to be the remains of a house inside of the ring. The evidence is very ephemeral — which is not surprising, considering that the house has been gone for more than 3,000 years. But we came across some stains in the soil that look like where a few walls might have been located as well as an area that looks like it could have been a floor. We are returning to further excavate this area this coming summer to see if this is indeed an ancient home.


Note: For the past couple of years, the Sea Pines Shell Ring has been off limits due to hurricane cleanup in the forest preserve. –Wally


Heading to Hilton Head?

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

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 2, Episodes 4-6

A zombie attack, hypnosis and H.H. Holmes all make appearances. Learn how to talk to the dead and prevent corpses from becoming revenants.

Not all zombies want to eat brains. Some go right for the guts

Not all zombies want to eat brains. Some go right for the guts

S2E4: “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things”

Monster: Zombie

Where it’s from: This type hails from Greece

Description: While there are zombie traditions from around the world, this episode deals with the Greek version. Sometimes called revenants, they’re people who have returned from the dead. They still inhabit their old bodies, so they’re often subject to decay.

What it does: The idea of Greek zombies might relate back to the Keres, female spirits of violent death. Their mother is Nyx, the goddess of darkness, and they’re aligned with the Fates, a trio of goddesses who determine people’s destinies (indeed, the Keres are sometimes referred to as the Death Fates).

“Murder Castle,” a massive boarding house, had labyrinthine hallways and secret rooms — including a gas chamber and a large kiln convenient for disposing of bodies.
Zombies are corpses come back from the dead — and they’re not the brightest of the undead

Zombies are corpses come back from the dead — and they’re not the brightest of the undead

This graphic description of a battlefield from Hesiod shows their mad fury for blood and gore, a key part of our modern takes on zombies (such as The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later):

The black Keres, clashing their white teeth, grim-faced, shaggy, blood-bespattered, dread, kept struggling for the fallen. They all wanted to drink black blood whom first they caught, lying or fallen newly wounded. Around him they threw their mighty talons, and the shade to Hades went, in icy Tartarus. Their hearts were glutted with human blood: They threw away the corpse, and back to the tumult and fighting rushed, in new desire.

You can tell a person has returned from the dead from the unholy ground around their grave, revealed by a circle of dead grass.

How to defeat it: Dean: We’ve got a full-on zombie running around. We have to figure out how to kill it.

Sam: Our lives are weird.

There are many reports on how to kill the walking dead — set them on fire, or Sam’s personal favorite: cut out the heart and feed it to a wild dog — but the Winchester Bros. decide to go with silver bullets. Trouble is, this hardly slowed her down: “Damn, that dead chick can run,” Dean says.

In the end, they go with nailing the undead creature back into its grave bed. This means of stopping zombies has been practiced for centuries.

“Ancient Greeks on the island of Sicily had a fear of revenants so dire they weighed bodies down with rocks and amphora pieces to keep them from rising from their graves to haunt the living,” Ancient Origins reports.

On Supernatural, a divination ritual brings the corpse back to life, but divination is really a way to predict the future.

Who hasn’t wanted to speak with the dead? Well, we’ve got just the ritual for you!

Who hasn’t wanted to speak with the dead? Well, we’ve got just the ritual for you!

Necromancy Divination Ritual to Speak With the Dead

Make a figure out of dough to represent the person you want to talk to. Dress it with a few bay leaves and some fennel.

Dig a ditch deep enough to stand in and surround it with incense. Pour in a mixture of wine, honey and milk. Then nick your finger and squeeze a few drops of blood into the mixture.

Work yourself into an ecstatic state (“a few cans of Red Bull will probably do the trick,” jokes the blog’s author) before finally speaking to the dead.

Source: Creating Weirdness on a Daily Basis…

 

Ever done something you regret? Blame it on mesmerism!

Ever done something you regret? Blame it on mesmerism!

S2E5: “Simon Said”

Monster: Mind control

Where it’s from: Germany

Description: This episode focuses on a young man with a strong power of suggestion (think about the famous Jedi line, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”). In fact, he doesn’t even have to speak — he can make you do something just by thinking it. Yikes. That’s quite a power, and would be easy to use for evil.

What it does: Mesmerism, the idea that a person could be healed via thought while they were in a trance, became all the rage in the late 1700s.

Franz Mesmer, for whom the practice is named, was a German physician who devoted his life to the study of energy transfers (or “artificial tides”) he called animal magnetism. It wasn’t until later that mesmerism focused on hypnosis.

Hypnotism is a powerful tool — just imagine getting people to do whatever you want!

Hypnotism is a powerful tool — just imagine getting people to do whatever you want!

How to defeat it: Perhaps the best way to steel your mind to hypnosis is to know how it works. Learn how to put people under your hypnotic spell from the Hypnosis Training Academy.

 

S2E6: “No Exit”

This charming gent is H.H. Holmes, one of the worst serial killers in history

This charming gent is H.H. Holmes, one of the worst serial killers in history

Monster: Spirit of H.H. Holmes, America’s first (and potentially most prolific) serial killer

Where’s it’s from: Holmes lived in Chicago in the late 1800s, during the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Description: This man was truly a monster. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, he went by numerous aliases. He’s infamous for having created what became known as “Murder Castle,” a massive boarding house with labyrinthine hallways and secret rooms — including a gas chamber and a large kiln convenient for disposing of bodies. He admitted to 27 murders, but the death toll could actually be in the hundreds. His gruesome tale is told in Devil in the White City, which is pretty much required reading for Chicagoans.

Holmes’ spirit leaves ectoplasm, which the Winchesters say is only generated by extremely angry spirits.

What it does: Why let death stop you from killing? Holmes’ murderous spirit captures and murders innocent victims.

A rare image of Holmes’ Murder Castle, a boarding house for single women on Chicago’s South Side — quite close to the Columbian Exhibition

A rare image of Holmes’ Murder Castle, a boarding house for single women on Chicago’s South Side — quite close to the Columbian Exhibition

How to defeat it: Stab him with a pure iron dagger to make his pervy hand disappear. And trap him in a circle of salt. It might be a good idea to entomb the spirit in concrete as well, even if that means “borrowing” a cement truck like Dean does. –Wally

Gambling Advice

Before you hit the casinos in Vegas, these gambling tips could improve your odds. We’d be willing to bet on it.

No matter what your game, we’ve got some tips to help you get started gambling — and they just might help you hit the jackpot

When in Rome…you drink wine and visit ancient ruins.

When in Vegas…you might as well try your hand at gambling. Brandon knows his way around a casino. It’s not all about luck. Here’s his advice.

If you want to win a jackpot, you’ll have to play max bet. And the higher the pull, the better the payout — but the more potential to lose your money quickly.


Brandon cruises the Strip like a badass — but he’s a high roller in the casinos

Start early.

Brandon has a routine that begins early every morning (10 a.m.is early in Vegas) with a trip to the sports bet. Because of the time zone difference, the games are played earlier in Vegas. So he gets his free Jack & Coke, sits at the sports book and places a few bets. He checks back after lunch to collect his winnings, which he’ll then use toward his gambling efforts in the evenings…

 

Remember: high risk, high reward.

For slots, you’ll want to bet between $2-$3 a pull so you don’t lose your money quickly, while still having the potential to win a decent pot.

If you want to win a jackpot, you’ll have to play max bet. And the higher the pull, the better the payout — but the more potential to lose your money quickly.

 

Don't go during prime time.

As for tables, they can be intimidating if you’re not usually a table player. Brandon recommends getting to the tables at an off-hour. That’s basically any time during the day, especially on weekdays. Sunday nights are good, too. Because the tables aren’t busy, the dealers are typically super nice and will show you how to play.

Brandon’s love affair with craps started one Sunday night at a table at the Wynn…

 

Booze it up.

And whenever you’re gambling, remember the drinks are free. While you don’t have to tip, if you leave your server a nice tip, she’ll usually be sure to find you and bring you drinks with better liquor.

 

Good luck — and if you still lose big, please don’t blame us. –Wally

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 1, Episodes 17-19

Meditation creates a golem-like tulpa from Tibet. A shtriga, a vampire witch from Albania, sucks out the souls of children. And a real-life haunted painting, The Hands Resist Him, leads to mysterious deaths. 

 

Christians, Muslims and Jews pray to God. Wiccans cast spells. Many people practice the power of positive thinking.

Personally, I believe that, for the most part, you get what you put out into the universe. That’s why I try to be as upbeat as possible and why I distance myself from too much negativity.

Is it possible that our thoughts could be so powerful that they become tangible objects? Some Tibetans think so. And if enough people believe that, could it make it actually happen? Will this cycle of belief and creation go on forever?!

Hopefully your brain doesn’t hurt as much as mine. Let’s just dive right into some Supernatural eps.

 

Perhaps these are tulpas, thought forms that have taken on a physical reality

S1E17: “Hell House”

Monster: Tulpa, a malevolent spirit

Where it’s from: Tibet

Description: It’s a thought that takes on a physical form.

What it does: “Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker’s control,” Alexandra David-Néel writes in Magic and Mystery in Tibet, published in 1932. “This, say Tibetan occultists, happens nearly mechanically, just as a child, when his body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother’s womb. Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son, and one hears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.”

Upon completing its task, instead of returning to the magician who constructed it, a tulpa sometimes pursues its own whims as a “half-conscious, dangerously mischievous puppet,” she writes.

The Tibetan explorer Alexandra David-Néel with her adopted son, Lama Aphur Yongden. David-Néel wrote about her creation of a tulpa that became more and more evil

Incidentally, David-Néel supposedly created a tulpa, in the form of a diminutive Friar Tuck-like monk that started out as jolly. Over time, it became thinner and took on a sinister demeanor. She eventually decided it had to be destroyed.

In this episode of Supernatural, the tulpa is created unintentionally — enough people believe the tales on a blog of a haunted house that they will the ghost into existence.

“The belief is not unlike more popular concepts of today like The Secret — belief in something gives it energy, which in turn helps to manifest it,” argues Psychic Universe. Some people bring about love; others, evil murderous ghosts.  

How to defeat it: Meditation is the place to begin when you have decided to destroy a tulpa, advises Psychic Universe. Sit in a quiet place with soft or dim lighting and go into a meditative state. You need to summon your tulpa to you by calling it in your mind. Depending on how strong it has become and how much of a mind of its own it has developed, this could prove difficult and may take a few attempts. Keep doing it though; remember, no matter how strong it gets, you’re still the creator and you’re still in charge.

Envision your tulpa surrounded by a force field of sorts — a field of white light. This light will protect you from its attempts to stop you. You can envision this light breaking down and reabsorbing the energy of the tulpa, which you can then absorb back into your own spiritual aura. Again, this can take a few sessions, but you’ll see your tulpa readily weakening.

Once you’ve dispersed and reabsorbed the energy, cleanse yourself to transform it into something more positive and get rid of the negative. Avoid thinking of your tulpa any further so you don’t accidentally re-create it; remember to keep your thoughts positive.

David-Néel said it took her six months of hard work to destroy her tulpa.
 

This vampiric witch from Albania, known as a shtriga, especially loves to feast upon the life essences of sleeping children

S1E18: “Something Wicked”

Monster: Shtriga

Where’s it’s from: Albania

Description: The witch in this episode looks like Emperor Palpatine — a dark-hooded figure with a pale, withered face. According to legend, shtrigas appear as old women during the day but have the power to morph into a bee, moth or fly. Some shtriga are also able to turn into owls.

What it does: The shtriga is a vampiric creature — she feeds off of the spiritus vitae (breath of life) or blood, particularly favoring children while they sleep.

How to defeat it: “A shtriga always vomits the blood she has sucked,” writes M. Edith Durham in High Albania and Its Customs in 1908. “You must secretly track a woman you suspect to be a shtriga when she goes out to vomit the blood. You must scrape some of it up on a silver coin and wear it, and then no shtriga can harm you.”

If you have been drained by a shtriga, the only cure is to have her spit into your mouth. Sounds pretty disgusting, but hey, if it works… Not sure how you’ll convince her to do this, though. Maybe French kissing would be enough?

If you happen to have a shtriga in a church, and it happens to be Easter Sunday, make a cross out of pig bones and hang it over the threshold. The shtriga will be unable to leave — and you’ve got one hell of an excuse not to go to church!

Dean and Sam discover that you can only defeat a shtriga if you catch her while she’s having a snack — that is, sucking the lifeforce out of someone. Fire her full of consecrated iron rounds. Just make sure you’ve got good aim.

 


S1E19: “Provenance”

Monster: Haunted painting

Description: This looks like a typical work of art — but suddenly you’ll notice one of the people in the painting have disappeared.

What it does: The spirit leaves the painting and commits murder.

The Hands Resist Him, a haunted painting tied to at least two deaths

It’s not the only haunted painting out there. There’s an infamous one titled The Hands Resist Him, painted by Bill Stoneham in 1974.

The owner of the gallery where the painting was first displayed and the art critic who reviewed the show died within a year of seeing the painting. And one seller on eBay wrote in the product description: “One morning our 4 1/2-year-old daughter claimed that the children in the picture were fighting and coming into the room during the night.”

Perception Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan bought The Hands Resist Him for $1,025. It now sits in storage.

How to defeat it: Pure iron has a long history of bringing about good luck and repelling evil. But in this case it’s not enough to banish the spirit of the haunted painting for good.

The Winchester boys use one of their go-to methods of destroying baddies: “Burn the bones,” as they like to say. Trouble is, that doesn’t work for them this time. That is, until they realize it’s not the father’s spirit committing the murders — it’s that of the little girl.

To kill the spirit, Sam and Dean had to destroy the doll that was made in the girl’s image because it had some of her hair. It was pretty creepy-looking anyway. –Wally

The Strange History of Valentine’s Day

From Lupercalia, where young men whipped eager women in the streets of ancient Rome, to St. Valentine’s secret weddings.

Valentine's Day wasn't always about cupids and hearts — or even love

Valentine’s Day is much more than just conversation hearts, boxes of chocolates, flowers and cards. There are some downright outlandish origins to this holiday.

After the flagellation ceremony, men would draw women’s names from an urn — and that would be their sexual partner for the year

Valentine’s Day dates back to a couple of Roman festivals.

The Romans celebrated two ritual festivals that formed the foundation for the holiday we know as Valentine’s Day. Februalia was a purification rite, which occurred on February 14 and gave the month of February its name. It was later combined with Lupercalia, which took place on February 15.

Valentine’s Day as we know it began with an unusual Roman fertility rite

The crazed men, nude save for a goatskin loincloth, would take the hides of slain animals cut into strips and flagellate the women of the village in hopes of bestowing fertility.

This someecard points out just how strange Lupercalia was

Lupercalia involved some bizarre practices, including beating women with animal pelts.

For this affair, young Roman men would congregate in the Lupercal, the sacred cave in the mountains where Romulus and Remus, the twins who suckled the she-wolf Lupa, were supposedly reared. Romulus would later found Rome and sacrifice Remus, but that’s another story.

The Luperci, the Brotherhood of the Wolf, would sacrifice a dog for purity and a goat for fertility.

Ancient Romans believed being whipped by blood-soaked animal skins would help you get knocked up

The crazed men, nude save for a goatskin loincloth, would take the hides of the slain animals that had been cut into strips and flagellate the women of the village in hopes of bestowing fertility.

 

Saint Valentine has become the patron saint of love

Valentine was also the patron saint of epileptics

Saint Valentine performed secret marriages when the institution was outlawed.

In this painting by David Teniers III, Valentine receives a rosary from the Virgin Mary

During the 3rd century CE, Roman Emperor Claudius II, wanting to increase the size and strength of his military empire, saw marriage as an obstacle. He believed that men were unwilling to fight due to their strong attachment to their wives and families. In an effort to circumvent this, he forbade all future marriages and engagements.

Whether Valentine was a bishop or priest has been lost to history, but he began performing clandestine ceremonies. He was soon discovered and imprisoned for his betrayal.

His legend is associated with having sent a note to his jailer’s daughter on the eve of his execution, signed, “From Your Valentine.” No historical evidence exists to back the authenticity of this myth, though.

Valentine was beheaded, died a martyr and in death was elevated to the patron saint of love.

The skull of Saint Valentine resides in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy

Pope Gelasius I used an ingenious sleight of hand, merging the pagan Lupercalia with the feast of Saint Valentine into a single holiday celebrated on February 14.

 

The Cadbury boys found a way to extract a delicious byproduct of cocoa — what we know know and love as chocolate

Cadbury created the first chocolate candies — and the first heart-shaped box of chocolates.

One of the first heart-shaped box of chocolates

In 1882, John Cadbury, an English proprietor and founder of the Cadbury candy empire, opened a tea and coffee shop in Bournville, Birmingham, England. His shop also sold drinking chocolate, which he prepared using a mortar and pestle. This was a luxury item even among the upper class. The resulting beverage was coarse and grainy but popular.

A vintage ad for Cadbury chocolate

Cadbury’s sons Richard and George visited the Van Houten factory in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which specialized in the manufacture of cocoa powder. The brothers integrated this method into their manufacturing facility. The process allowed them to extract pure cocoa butter from pressing cocoa beans and adding sugar, reducing its bitter taste. Cadbury used this byproduct to produce several varieties of “eating chocolates.”

The retail division of the business was passed on to Richard in 1861, who recognized a great marketing opportunity and revolutionized sales by packaging Cadbury chocolates in the world’s first heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day. The box could be kept and used to store mementos after the chocolates had been eaten.

 

Victorians began the tradition of sending valentines — some of which were downright cruel.

Do you remember making a mailbox to hold your cards and exchanging valentines with your classmates in elementary school, or perhaps receiving a pink or red carnation in high school? I did accrue a fair amount of cards through my formative years, though I do remember wishing I would get a carnation from a secret admirer.

Valentines pre-date Hallmark and were the preferred token to celebrate romantic love by the prudish 19th century Victorians in England. The first mass-market cards were introduced then, and the penny post made it possible to send them easily and inexpensively.

Plus, you could send notes anonymously, something the Victorians prized. This allowed them not only to exchange serious or humorous cards but downright mean-spirited ones as well, aptly called vinegar valentines.

“Senders would use the anonymity of the card to comment on the inappropriate behavior of a couple or the distasteful political views of a feminist friend,” Slate writes. “Women seemed to be the targets of many of the surviving examples, but balding men, pretentious artists and poets, and smelly fat guys made appearances as well.”

So the next time you send a valentine to a loved one, think about how whipped women, a beheaded saint and mean, anonymous cards are all part of this holiday. –Duke