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Alexander the Great: 8 WTF Facts About His Early Life

Young, bisexual, clever and brave: How this military genius was supposedly responsible for the destruction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, solved the Gordian knot, succeeded King Philip II of Macedon and almost died in his first battle against the Persian Empire.

This young man accomplished so much in his short time on Earth

This young man accomplished so much in his short time on Earth

Only the chosen few historical figures merit an epithet. But no one should begrudge Alexander being called the Great. In fact, “Great” doesn’t seem to do this military genius justice. 

I recently cruised through Philip Freeman’s highly entertaining history book, Alexander the Great. It helps that this ancient conqueror’s life, which was all too short, was nonetheless packed with dramatic moments. That’s not to diminish the author’s talent, though. Alexander the Great is as close to a novel as any history book could be.

Attalus proceeded to rape Pausanias, and then invited all of his guests to do likewise.

After they were done, he was brought to the stables for the mule drivers, the lowliest of servants, to have their way with the unconscious young man as well.

Here are eight surprising stories I learned about Alexander the Great’s early life.

What woman could resist seduction by Zeus, this sexy beast — even in the form of a lightning bolt? Certainly not Alexander’s mom!

What woman could resist seduction by Zeus, this sexy beast — even in the form of a lightning bolt? Certainly not Alexander’s mom!

1. His mother claimed he was the son of Zeus.

Alexander’s mother, Olympias, an intense woman who wasn’t afraid to fight for what she wanted, told him that he was wasn’t actually the son of King Philip II of Macedonia. Instead, he was the offspring of the king of the gods, Zeus, who seduced her in the form of a lightning bolt. How shocking! This revelation surely spurred on her son’s hubris as he set off with the humble goal of conquering the world. 

Alexander, who was born in 356 BCE, had been brought up believing he had divine ancestors on both sides: His mother was said to have been a relative of Achilles, the son of Thetis the nereid, a minor goddess of the sea. And his father Philip could trace his lineage back to Herakles (better known to us by his Roman name, Hercules), a demigod who was also the son of Zeus.

The Building of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus  by Hendrik van Cleve III. Do we have Alexander the Great to blame for its loss?

The Building of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus by Hendrik van Cleve III. Do we have Alexander the Great to blame for its loss?

2. His birth became part of a legend about the destruction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Helping lend import to the birth of this astounding conqueror was a story that spread, claiming he was the cause of the complete annihilation of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The goddess, you see, was out of town, attending Alexander’s birth, distracted while her temple burned to the ground. 

“The Persians priests known as Magi who were resident in Ephesus reportedly ran madly about the ruins of the temple beating their faces and declaring that one who would bring calamity on Asia had been born that day,” Freeman says. “Other writers more soberly pointed out that the highly flammable temple had been burned down repeatedly in the past and on this occasion had been set ablaze by a mentally disturbed man.”

Never let the truth get in the way of some good propaganda.

Alexander the Great much preferred battles to the bedroom

Alexander the Great much preferred battles to the bedroom

3. Alexander didn’t like sex or sleeping.

I’ve always thought of Alexander the Great as a gay superhero of sorts, but he had sexual relations with both males and females. He had three sons from various women, though he did seem to prefer boys, even from an early age. In fact, his overbearing mother, Olympias, was worried about his lack of interest in the ladies and went so far as to hire the hottest prostitute around, a Thracian beauty named Callixeina, to seduce her son. It didn’t work. 

“It seems that the unrestrained passion and subsequent weariness of lovemaking deeply troubled the young man,” Freeman writes. “As Alexander would confess years later, sex and sleep more than anything else reminded him that he was mortal.”

This handsome gent is King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Hell hath no fury like a gay guy scorned: One of his ex-lovers assassinated him

This handsome gent is King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Hell hath no fury like a gay guy scorned: One of his ex-lovers assassinated him

4. The assassin of his father, Philip II, partly blamed the king for his being gang-raped.

A noble page named Pausanias was quite the looker, and Philip took him as a lover. But once Pausanias was no longer an adolescent, Philip lost interest, the perv. Another royal courtier also named Pausanias (it must’ve been the Chris of Ancient Macedonia) became the king’s boy toy, and the first P was cast aside. L’il P, perhaps in part because his rival had spread rumors about him being a hermaphrodite slut, died in a battle against the Illyrians, trying to prove his manliness.

A general named Attalus was upset at the loss of one of his favorites and plotted revenge on the first Pausanias. He invited the young man to a feast, and instead of diluting the wine like usual, he plowed him with full-strength booze. Soon P had passed out on the couch. Attalus proceeded to rape him, and then invited all of his guests to do likewise. After they were done, P was brought to the stables for the mule drivers, the lowliest of servants, to have their way with the unconscious young man as well.

When he awoke the next day (sore, I’m sure), he found himself the laughing stock of the Macedonian court. As time went by, Pausanias decided to avenge himself. General Attalus had left to command troops in Asia, but King Philip was around. On the morning of the marriage of Philip’s daughter Cleopatra, Pausanias rushed the ruler and stabbed him in the chest, killing him. 

Pausanias’ conspirators betrayed him, the assassin was caught and killed, and his corpse was hung on a cross like a slave.

Sure, she looks sweet on this coin. But Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was anything but

Sure, she looks sweet on this coin. But Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was anything but

5. Alexander’s mother was a baby-burning monster.

In the months after the king’s death, Olympias performed some horrific acts while Alexander was away. She forced Philip’s young widow, another Cleopatra, to watch as her infant daughter was roasted alive. Olympias then presented Cleopatra with three “gifts”: a rope, a dagger and poison, letting her choose her means of suicide. 

Alexander’s mother, Olympias, oversees the crucifixion of Pausanias, who murdered the king. She also ordered the death of a child and forced her rival to commit suicide (looks like she chose the rope)

Alexander’s mother, Olympias, oversees the crucifixion of Pausanias, who murdered the king. She also ordered the death of a child and forced her rival to commit suicide (looks like she chose the rope)

“Alexander was reportedly shocked by his mother’s behavior, but he did not punish her,” Freeman writes.

Alexander Consulting the Oracle of Apollo  by Louis Jean François Lagrenée. When you fancy yourself conqueror of the world, you don’t care if the Oracle at Delphi says she’s busy

Alexander Consulting the Oracle of Apollo by Louis Jean François Lagrenée. When you fancy yourself conqueror of the world, you don’t care if the Oracle at Delphi says she’s busy

6. Oracles helped bolster Alexander’s claim to divinity and predicted his success.

I’ve always wished we still had oracles — something about these mysterious priestesses who act as vessels for the gods, answering queries in nebulous riddles, has always appealed to me.

Alexander, too, was fascinated by oracles, as were many people at the time. So when he got to the famous Oracle of Delphi and learned that the priestess was in religious seclusion, not to be disturbed, Alexander barged into her lodgings and dragged her to the shrine. When the woman shouted, “You are invincible!” it must have been music to his ears.

Later, once he reached Egypt, Alexander marched his troops on a grueling trek through the desert to the oasis of Siwa, where another oracle resided, this one to the chief deity of the Egyptian pantheon, Amun. 

The priest, who had a thick accent while speaking Greek, greeted Alexander with a slight slip of the tongue. Instead of saying, “O my child,” it came out “O child of the god.” That was all Alexander needed to hear to cement his divine parentage. 

A slip of the tongue by a priest — and you could fancy yourself a demigod, like Alexander the Great did

A slip of the tongue by a priest — and you could fancy yourself a demigod, like Alexander the Great did

It might seem strange to us to think that someone could actually believe they were born of a god. But keep in mind that Alexander was in Egypt, a land where the pharaohs who ruled over it had long claimed divine parentage; it was a large part of what legitimized their claim to the throne.

Alexander ended the session with the oracle by asking if he was destined to be master of all the world. 

The oracle nodded. It must have been a welcome surprise, as oracles are known for their frustratingly cryptic responses, which could interpreted in contradictory ways. But there’s not much to doubt from a nod of assent. 

Alexander’s mother presented her rival with three “gifts”: a rope, a dagger and poison, letting her choose her means of suicide. 

7. Alexander almost died in his first battle against the Persians.

Imagine how different things would have been if this mighty king had fallen so early in his campaign. During a melee packed with aristocrats at the Granicus River in 334 BCE, Alexander stabbed a man named Mithridates, the son-in-law of the Great King of Persia, right in the face, killing him. Distracted by this battle, Alexander didn’t notice another Persian nobleman, Rhoesaces, who struck a blow on his head so hard it broke his helmet in two. Alexander recovered enough to skewer Rhoesaces with his lance. As this was happening, the satrap, or provincial governor, raised his sword to kill Alexander. A veteran Macedonian soldier known as Black Cleitus rushed forward and cleanly sliced off the man’s arm at the shoulder, right as it hovered in its death blow above Alexander.

I told you: There’s no shortage of drama in this tale.

Sometimes it’s best to take the easy way out — if you can exploit a loophole like Alexander did when faced with a seemingly impossible task

Sometimes it’s best to take the easy way out — if you can exploit a loophole like Alexander did when faced with a seemingly impossible task

8. Alexander had a controversial way of solving the challenge of the Gordian knot.

It was the stuff of legends: A knot attached to the yoke of a wagon at the temple of Zeus in the land of Phrygia was so complex, all those who tried to undo it failed. And plenty tried, for it was said that whoever could do so would rule all of Asia. 

That’s just the sort of challenge Alexander couldn’t resist. The knot was made of rough bark with no visible ends. Not wanting to lose face, Alexander took one look at the complex jumble, whipped out his sword and cut the knot in two.

That always felt a bit cheaty to me when I heard this tale — though you’ve got to respect the guy for so cleverly exploiting a loophole. –Wally

Christmas Around the World

Learn strange Christmas traditions from other countries.

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

Why are these people in blackface? It’s just one of the quirky Dutch Christmas traditions!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes. But in many parts of the world, it’s one of the strangest times of the year as well.

Americans have their share of kooky Christmas traditions, including the belief that a misfit reindeer with a glowing red nose named Rudolph flies through the sky, helping pull a fat man’s sleigh. Not to mention that said fat man somehow fits all the presents for every kid onto this sleigh and makes it around the world, slipping down chimneys, all in a single night.
But that’s nothing compared to some of the holiday traditions in other parts of the world.

People in the Netherlands dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface.

For example, Christmas takes on a strangely scatalogical bent in Catalonia, a region of Spain. People place the figurine of a guy in the act of deficating in their nativity scenes as well as beat a log until it poops out treats for kids.

And in Austria and other parts of Europe, if you’re a naughty child, a devil named Krampus will kidnap you, beat you savagely with a stick and drag you to Hell.

Here are some of the more bizarre ways to celebrate the holidays in other parts of the world.

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

The Dutch version of Santa Claus has a helper named Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter

Go in blackface as Santa’s helper in the Netherlands.

Sinterklaas, as Santa Claus is known to the Dutch people, travels with his servant. But instead of diminutive elves, Sinterklaas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter. Today people dress as Black Peter, a Moor, by putting on blackface. Not very PC — it’s amazing this tradition still exists. It wouldn’t in the United States, I’ll tell ya that.

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

Someone’s been naughty and needs to get stuffed into a sack and sent off to Spain!

It’s these fellows who keep tabs on who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The good kids get presents, while the bad ones are shoved into a sack and taken off to Spain for a year of reform school.

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Spiderweb decorations are common in Ukraine and Poland

Decorate the tree with spiderweb ornaments in Ukraine and Poland.

Spiderweb ornaments might sound more Halloween than Christmas, but there’s a story behind them. A poor Ukrainian widow lived with her children in a hut. The kids saw a majestic evergreen outside and wanted it to be their Christmas tree. Trouble was, they didn’t have any ornaments and couldn’t afford them.

So the woman cried herself to sleep that night. The hut’s spiders heard her sobs and decorated the tree in intricate webs overnight. In the morning, the sunrise caught the webs and made them glisten like metal. And everyone lived happily ever after, as they tend to do in these fairy tales.

In Poland, they also decorate Christmas trees with spiderwebs, but there’s a different tale behind this tradition. They believe a spider wove a blanket for baby Jesus. I’m sure it wasn’t warm and was annoyingly sticky, but I suppose they appreciated the sentiment.  

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

If a witch can’t find a broom in your house, Norwegians think she’ll leave you alone

Hide brooms from the witches in Norway.

Apparently witches and evil spirits like to come out to play on Christmas Eve. So Norwegians, to keep them at bay, hide their brooms, which we all know is a witch’s favorite means of travel. To thwart the witches and evil spirits, men will also fire three shots from their rifles into the air.

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

These nuns in Venezuela were off to celebrate Christmas mass on roller skates

Roller skate to church in Venezuela.

Amid the explosions of firecrackers, entire Venezuelan families in Caracas don roller skates and head off to Catholic mass. As tradition has it, children go to bed with a piece of string tied around their toe with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters roll past, they give the string a tug, and children know that it’s time to put their own skates on. It’s such a popular tradition that the government took to closing entire streets to traffic so families could skate together in safety. This has gotta be the only time church feels like a disco club. All that’s missing is the mirror ball.

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Grab your horse skull! It’s time to go wassailing in Wales!

Carol (and beg for booze) with a dead horse in Wales.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song that begins, “Here we come a-wassailing.” This is the Welsh version of caroling. Wassail is an old England word for “cheers” and can also refer to the boozy beverages the carolers are begging for: ale or mulled wine.

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The old Mari Lwyd just ain’t what she used to be

The tradition, known as Mari Lwyd, translates to the Gray Mare, involves people going from house to house, singing and challenging the families inside to a battle of rhyming insults until they get a boozy beverage. What makes this creepy is that one person dresses up like a horse, donning a white sheet topped with an actual horse skull adorned with ears and eyes.

Take me to church

Take me to church

Bring a rooster to mass in Bolivia.

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), the midnight service on Christmas Eve, by bringing along a rooster. It must get quite boisterous. But what’s with all the cocks? It’s to honor the creature that is believed to be the first to have announced the birth of baby Jesus.

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Dark-haired men, come on in! Blonde and red-haired women, stay the heck away!

Hope for a dark-haired man to visit you on Christmas in Estonia and Ireland.

Your first Christmas visitor (the first-footer) can determine if your household will have a good year or not — at least that’s what the Estonians believe. If you’re a woman, blonde or red-haired, just stay home, though, please. It’s really only dark-haired gents who bring good luck.

Ireland has the same tradition, though they light a candle and, at the last stroke of midnight, throw open their front doors to welcome in the New Year. Women will beat the door with a loaf of bread, while hoping for a dark-haired gentleman to darken their doorway.

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

People in Finland buy small tin horseshoes to melt on New Year’s Eve as part of a fortune-telling ritual

Melt tin and predict the future in Finland.

You might need a book of symbols and their meanings for this tradition. On New Year’s Eve, Finns purchase small tin horseshoes to melt and ladles. The molten tin is dropped  into a bucket of snow or ice-cold water. Once it hardens, they hold the blob up to the light to see what shape its shadow casts. If it looks like a hill, for example, there will be obstacles ahead. If it looks like a coin, you’ll be coming into some money.

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Pesky Greek goblins called the kallikantzari take a break from trying to cut down the World Tree to cause mischief on the 12 days of Christmas

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Kallikantzari like to scare humans — and poop in their food

Watch out for goblins in Greece.

According to Greek legend, the hobgoblins called kallikantzari come up from their underground homes on Christmas Day to play tricks on humans until Ephiphany, January 6. They’re particularly fond of sneaking down the chimney like Santa to hide in your home and jump out and scare you. The kallikantzari also rearrange the furniture and, shudder, take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

Grab a colander — it’s one of the best ways to get rid of these Greek goblins

If you want to avoid goblin crap on your cookies, burn logs or old shoes, or hang sausages or sweetmeats in the chimney. In addition, many Greeks put a colander on their doorsteps because the goblins will be compelled to count the holes. They don’t make much headway, though, according to A Scary Little Christmas, because the dim-witted creatures can only count to two.

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did  he  ever do to hurt anyone?

They’re burning Mickey Mouse?! What did he ever do to hurt anyone?

Burn effigies in Ecuador.

In their own version of Guy Fawkes Day, Ecuadorians celebrate La Quema de los Años Viejos, the Burning of the Old Years. They make life-size dolls that resemble someone they dislike — maybe a local politician or the ever-popular Osama bin Laden. (I’m going to guess that Trump is a new fave.) People write notes explaining why the dolls should be burned and what changes they’d like to see in the coming year.

The effigies are proudly displayed on balconies or in windows until New Year's Eve, when they’re burned in a bonfire in the street. People jump over the fires for good luck.

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Don’t be late on the winter solstice — you’ll be the Thomas Donkey and will end up the butt of jokes all day

Try not to become a donkey in Germany.

Don’t be an ass! In Germany, the Winter Solstice is also known as St. Thomas Day. It’s not a good day to be tardy. In parts of the Sauerland region, if you sleep in or get to work late, you’re given a cardboard donkey. called the Thomas Donkey and you’ll be the butt of jokes all day.

At least you’re rewarded at the end of the day with Thomasplitzchen, iced currant buns.

The Greek goblins known as the kallikantzari like to take dumps in any open containers of food they find.

Put on your skates and grab your cock before hitting midnight mass! Maybe you can incorporate some of these traditions into your Yuletide celebrations! –Wally

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 2, Episodes 10-12

Predictions from sibyls, psychics and the Oracle at Delphi. Hoodoo practices, including quincunx and voodoo doll spells. Plus, how to kill a werewolf.

 

One of the first recorded psychics in the world was the Oracle at Delphi, whose cryptic messages were much sought after

One of the first recorded psychics in the world was the Oracle at Delphi, whose cryptic messages were much sought after

S2E10: “Hunted”

Monster: Psychics

Someone's hunting the psychic young men and women whom the yellow-eyed demon is enlisting as soldiers in the coming war. Sam’s one, as is Ava, his new acquaintance, who has seen a horrific vision of things to come.

Are all the “special children” ticking timebombs, sure to turn evil at some point? Ava’s financé lying in a pool of blood with his throat slit seems to point to “yes.”

Where it’s from: Cultures from all around the world have believed in psychics, but perhaps the first mention are the sibyls of Ancient Greece.

The sibyl at Delphi sitting upon her tripod and inhaling those potentially hallucinatory fumes

The sibyl at Delphi sitting upon her tripod and inhaling those potentially hallucinatory fumes

Description: Only a woman could be born a sibyl, which translates to “prophetess.” As a kid, I dreamed of what it would be like to visit the most famous, the Oracle at Delphi on Mount Parnassus.

The temple of the Oracle at Delphi in its heyday

The temple of the Oracle at Delphi in its heyday

What it does: These psychics would work themselves up into an ecstatic frenzy. There’s some debate as to whether or not the priestesses were helped along by natural gas emissions in their cave (think of them as the first huffers!).

Either way, once in this altered state, the sibyl would become a conduit for a deity and would speak a somewhat cryptic response to a petitioner’s question.

Emperor Nero was one of the many who visited the Oracle at Delphi, stopping by in 67 CE, when he was 30 years old. Even at that relatively young age, he’d already ticked some things off his bucket list, including having his own mother killed. The sibyl’s unforgiving prophecy went:

“Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!”

Needless to say, Nero wasn’t too pleased and had the poor woman burned alive. He assumed he’d live to the ripe old age of 73 — but there’s typically some ambiguity in these psychics’ predictions. Instead, the emperor was defeated during a revolt by a man named Galba…who happened to be 73 at the time. Nero then committed suicide.

When the original Oracle at Delphi died, legend has it she became a disembodied voice that would wander the world, whispering prophecies. I’m sure you’re happy to learn the reason behind the voices in your head.

How to defeat it: They’re still humans. Killing them just because they might go bad one day — or because you don’t like their predictions — seems extreme. (Though the trail of corpses left behind on Supernatural might speak otherwise.)

 

Would you stay at an inn that had a murderous spirit?

Would you stay at an inn that had a murderous spirit?

S2E11: “Playthings”

Monster: Spirit

Where it’s from: All over the world

Description: A little girl named Tyler lives at an inn, where she plays with her “imaginary friend” Maggie. Turns out this friend isn’t so imaginary after all; she’s the spirit of her great aunt, Margaret, who drowned in the pool when she was young. Maggie haunts the inn and prevents it from being sold so she doesn’t have to lose her playmate, Tyler.

What it does: There’s a giant dollhouse that’s a scale model of the inn, and the position of the dolls, which seemingly move on their own, reveals a death as it happens. The first to go is a property appraiser who is found hanging in his room.

When Dean sees all the dolls in the house they’re investigating, he says, unconvincingly, “They’re not super creepy at all.”

A quincunx symbol can connect a spell to a place and make it stronger

A quincunx symbol can connect a spell to a place and make it stronger

How to defeat it: Take some cues from the innkeeper’s Creole nanny, who used some hoodoo tricks to protect the B&B and its inhabitants, including the quincunx, or five spot symbol. It looks like the five you’re familiar with from dice: four dots in each corner of a square, with one in the middle. This is a technique to fix a spell to a specific location and empower it.

On the show, a quincunx amulet filled with bloodweed becomes a powerful way to ward off evil, Sam tells us.

You can also bind a spirit with a poppet. (I did one on President Trump, but it really doesn’t seem to have done much good.) You can find the spell in this previous Supernatural post.)

If you’re more inclined to curses or bodily harm, there’s the option of using a voodoo doll on your enemy.

I’d hate to think what someone did to get this voodoo doll treatment!

I’d hate to think what someone did to get this voodoo doll treatment!

Voodoo Doll Ritual

Take some sort of doll (you can buy them all over New Orleans, make one out of wax or cloth, or even borrow someone’s Barbie for these nefarious purposes).

You’ll need some part of your victim, ideally a strand of hair or a fingernail clipping — though a photograph will work in a pinch.

Create a magic circle. Take your voodoo doll and chant, “I command you; I control you” four times. Then: “Hear my voice! The pain you have caused me I shall cause you!”

Here’s where you can get creative with your punishments. Take a needle, candle or something else to poke, prod, burn or create general mayhem upon your doll. Note that you won’t kill your victim, but they should feel the pain, stinging, burning, cold or whatever you’ve subjected the doll to.

Repeat if necessary.

(Adapted from SpellsOfMagic.com)

When all else fails, you could try striking a deal with the spirit. In this case, Grandma Rose offers her life to spend eternity playing dollies with her dead sister. Who says there’s no such thing as Heaven?

 

A Werewolf in Geneva , 1580

A Werewolf in Geneva, 1580

S2E12: “Nightshifter”

Monster: Not a mandroid! It’s a shapeshifter

Where it's from: Europe

Death of the Werewolf.  I hope that arrow has a silver tip on it!

Death of the Werewolf. I hope that arrow has a silver tip on it!

Description: The Winchester boys tell us werewolf stories come from these shapeshifters, even though their methods don’t match up.

Believe it or not, there were stories of werewolves even before Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books.

A werewolf attacks a village in this woodcut from around 1512

A werewolf attacks a village in this woodcut from around 1512

Werewolves are humans who morph into the shape of a wolf during the full moon. The inflicted don’t remember what they’ve done during their wolf phase — which is probably a good thing, since it tends to involve mauling people to death.

One of the first written accounts of werewolves comes from Herodotus in 440 BCE, who described a tribe in Scythia who seem to have gotten stoned out of their gourds and transformed into wolves once a year.

A werewolf enjoys a tasty treat — but it’ll probably regret it in the morning

A werewolf enjoys a tasty treat — but it’ll probably regret it in the morning

In her book Giants, Monsters and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend and Myth, Carol Rose writes, “In ancient Greece it was believed that a person could be transformed by eating the meat of a wolf that had been mixed with that of a human and that the condition was irreversible.”

Centuries later, the methods said to create werewolves expanded colorfully to include “being cursed, or by being conceived under a new moon, or by having eaten certain herbs, or by sleeping under the full moon on Friday, or by drinking water that has been touched by a wolf.”

What it does: You never know who to trust. The Supernatural shapeshifter sheds its skin in a goopy mess and keeps jumping bodies.

“God, it’s like playing the shell game,” Dean exclaims. “It could be anybody. Again.”

How to defeat it: It makes sense that silver, associated with the moon, seems to be the only thing that can end a werewolf’s life. (On a somewhat silly side note, if werewolves were to travel to the moon or touch a moon rock, it’d be even more harmful than silver — at least according to Ask Mystic Investigations, that is. The same site insists that silver can kill werewolves “due to cleansing away the demonic DNA that dwells in them.”) Ruff life. –Wally

 

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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

The Monsters of “Supernatural,” Season 1, Episodes 10-12

Learn witchcraft spells to protect yourself from ghosts, pagan gods demanding human sacrifice and Death itself.

It really is kind of effed-up what English teachers sic upon impressionable young minds. I read Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” when I was 15, and it has stuck with me ever since. I was intrigued by the idea of a modern town ritually sacrificing one of its members, based on a pagan tradition so far in the past they’ve simply ceased to question it. And the final scene, where even the poor woman’s own son is given pebbles to help stone his mother to death, shook me to the core.

There’s a similar type situation in this roundup of Supernatural monsters. And we’ll also meet Death himself.

Symptoms of ghostly possession can include oily skin, rashes, feeling like your eyes are being pulled inside, migraines, the sensation of being strangled, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), tics and miscarriages.

There were only two people posing for this pic!

Apparently, ghostly possession is way more common than we think

S1 E10: “Asylum”

Monster: Ghost

Where it’s from: All over the world. About 30% of the world’s population is possessed by ghosts, according to the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, which I’m sure is totally legit.

Description: This particular spirit possesses people and feeds off their rage.

Encountering a ghost? Don’t panic — we’ve got you covered

What it does: Symptoms of ghostly possession can include oily skin, rashes, feeling like your eyes are being pulled inside, migraines, the sensation of being strangled, loss of appetite (or increased appetite), tics and miscarriages. In this particular case, those possessed turn murderous and then suicidal.

How to defeat it: A rifle loaded with rock salt can repel the ghost. Salt has a long history of protective properties.

To fully destroy the ghost and restore those who are possessed to themselves, Dean and Sam Winchester have to find the original corpse and burn it.

 

That scarecrow could come to life with the murderous spirit of a pagan god

That scarecrow could come to life with the murderous spirit of a pagan god

S1 E11: “Scarecrow”

Monster: Vanir, a pagan Norse god

Where it’s from: Northern Germany and Scandinavia

Freya is the goddess of beauty (and a bit of a slut, turns out)

Freya is also the goddess of war and death

Description: This branch of the Norse gods holds in its ranks Freya, goddess of love, beauty, sex, gold, war and death (busy gal), accused by Loki of having slept with all the elves and gods, including her brothers.

Pagans would offer sacrifices to Freyr, the Norse god of fertility

Freyr’s power over fertility is symbolized by his giant phallus, as depicted in this idol

Speaking of which, her brother Freyr, god of fertility, was a popular guy. People’s well-being and prosperity depended upon him, including bountiful harvests. This was apparently symbolized by his “enormous, erect phallus.”

What it does: Freyr was a frequent recipient of sacrifices, including the celebration of a harvest. Instead of offering up the traditional sacrifice of his favored animal, the boar, the townsfolk in the episode lured one male and one female to their deaths. With the sacrifice, the town assures a good harvest and general happiness.

The personification of this Vanir takes on the form of a living scarecrow, which actually has more of a connection to the Celts and their wicker man.

Julius Caesar wrote about the Gallic practice of burning humans alive in a giant wicker man

This sick ritual was described by none other than Julius Caesar in Book Six of The Gallic War:

“The whole Gallic race is addicted to religious ritual; consequently those suffering from serious maladies or subject to the perils of battle sacrifice human victims. … Some weave huge figures of wicker and fill their limbs with humans, who are then burned to death when the figures are set afire. They suppose that the gods prefer this execution to be applied to thieves, robbers and other malefactors taken in the act, but in default of such they resort to the execution of the innocent.”

How to defeat it: In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the mythical tree that connects the nine worlds, which include Asgard, where Thor and his relations live, and Midgard, their term for Earth.

In Norse mythology, the sacred tree Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds

In this episode, there’s a sacred tree that’s tied to the Vanir. Once the Winchester Brothers chopped it down, the god — and his blessings — abandon the village.

Our personification of death as the Grim Reaper began in Ancient Greece


S1 E12: "Faith"

Monster: Reaper

Where it’s from: All over the world, especially the United States and Europe

An old tarot Death card from Germany depicts a reaper

An old tarot Death card from Germany depicts a reaper

The reaper uses its scythe to chop up bodies

Description: The Grim Reaper is the personification of death. He’s most often depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a black hooded robe and carrying a large scythe. In some parts of Europe, his robe is white.

Ancient Greeks worshiped Thanatos, or Death, who was portrayed as an attractive, bearded man with wings and an extinguished flame (what vivid symbolism!). Departed souls had to pay the ferryman Charon to get across the River Styx into the underworld. Some sources described Charon as a skeletal figure much like today’s Grim Reaper.

What it does: On the show, reapers can stop time — and only their victims can see them coming for them.

How to defeat it: As the altar Sam discovers attests, you can gain control over a reaper with a binding spell.

 

Poppet Binding Spell

This spell is best worked on a waning or dark moon.

Cut two layers of black cloth in the rough shape of the person or creature you wish to bind and sew together to create a small poppet. Leave part of the head unstitched.

Fill the poppet with earth, a smoky quartz and an amethyst. Also include hair or nail clippings, or a photograph or sample of handwriting of the person you wish to bind.

Create a sacred circle, then take an altar candle and a black candle. Hold the poppet out in front of you and say:

Creature of cloth thou art,

Now creature of flesh and blood you be.

I name you [name of the person or creature you are binding].

No more shall you do me harm,

No more shall you spread false tales,

No more shall you interfere in my life,

Nor in the lives of my loved ones.

By the power of the gods and by my will,

So mote it be.

Draw an invoking pentagram over the poppet.

Now take some black ribbon or wool and begin to wrap the poppet like a mummy, leaving no space unwrapped and say:

I bind your feet from bringing you to harm me.

I bind your hands from reaching out to harm me.

I bind your mouth from spreading tales to harm me.

I bind your mind from sending energy to harm me.

If you continue to do so, let all negative energy be cast directly back at you!

Tie off the ribbon and hold the poppet in front of you. Visualize all the negative energy this person has sent you being cast back at them.

Wrap the poppet in a piece of black cloth and tie with a black ribbon. Say:

Great Mother, I have bound this person

From harming me and my loved ones.

By the powers of three times three,

By Earth and Fire, Air and Sea,

I fix this spell, then set it free,

’Twill give no harm to return on me,

As I will, so mote it be!

Let the candle burn out while the poppet sits at its base.

Then take the poppet and the remains of the candle and bury them in the ground or toss them in the ocean. Walk away without looking back.

 

Now, it’s not always possible to get nail clippings and the like from your enemy (does Death even have fingernails?!), so this spell from Free Witchcraft Spells might work better. It takes some time; so hopefully you can avoid the reaper in the meantime!

 

Black Candle Binding Spell

Anoint a black candle with sandalwood oil while you concentrate on the person or creature you want to get out of your life.

Wrap a piece of black thread around the candle until you use the whole length, then tie it tightly.

Repeat this, with a piece of black yarn. Then, on top of that, wind around a piece of rough twine of the same length. The exact lengths of the cords don’t matter — just use the same for all three. About 18 inches works well.

Light the candle, and let it burn out completely. Try to do this spell in the evening, letting the candle burn down overnight. Keep it somewhere safe and flameproof because the strings might catch fire as the candle burns down. I’ll burn candles in a small cauldron for my peace of mind.

You can try, but there really is no escaping death


Give it a go, but let’s face it: If your time has come, Death will find you. Have the Final Destination movies taught us nothing? –Wally

Travel Karma

Some trips are blessed, some cursed.

We are all connected, as this detail from a Jain temple in Rajasthan, India shows

My son’s friend went off a cliff on a defective scooter on the Greek island of Poros. He had to be flown to Athens on the orders of the local doctor whose limited English had him explain, “I can see his mind.” In other words, a big gash in the head.

My rented jeep was confiscated when the owner saw a wrecked scooter in the back. My son’s scooter was confiscated when he rode through town during siesta looking for help. Bad travel karma.

We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. They did not speak for the rest of the trip.


My two friends and I met Ahmed on the train in Morocco from Rabat to Fès. Ahmed was middle-aged, skinny, snaggle-toothed — too much sugar in the mint tea — and extremely talkative. He was a nice man and we had three hours to kill. We heard about his nine siblings and his extended family of 45, who prevent him from selling his father’s riad since he can’t get everyone to sign the papers. Ahmed worked for the leather cooperative.

He wasn’t pushy but he gave us his number. When we called, he sent Abdul, who guided us to the tannery and gave us a tour of the medina, two hours, more than five miles, much of it uphill. He led us through the rat’s maze of streets and the crush of people and didn’t seem to mind that, although we bought leather, we didn’t buy anything else. A nice guy showing people his hometown. Good travel karma.


Bad travel karma can haunt you for years.

We were told by the guide in Zimbabwe that if charged by a lion, we must not run and we must not panic. We set off on foot through Matusadona on Lake Kariba. A female lion crossed the dry riverbed we were walking down. We stopped. She disappeared into the bush. We went on. She charged when we came even with her and her two cubs.

A charging lion makes a noise that shakes the earth, a growl that starts in the soles of your feet and travels to the back of your neck like a lightning striking. We all froze. The guide raised his gun but did not cock it. We stared at her. She stared at us. The guide whispered, “Back up.” We all put one foot slowly behind the other, except for a newlywed groom who turned and ran, knocking his bride to the ground without ever breaking stride. The guide scooped her up with one hand while still aiming at the lioness. The bride and groom did not speak for the rest of the trip. Bad travel karma is a bad start to a marriage.



Good travel karma can be accrued.

In Turkey, Egypt and Morocco, taxis are often shared. You give the driver your destination, but if there’s room, he may stop and pick up somebody else. Sometimes even if there’s not room. Cabs never use their meters and never have change. Pay it forward. How much for the lady in the front seat with the two gallons of olive oil?

A little global goodwill goes a long way, and you may earn so much good travel karma that your Airbnb host serves a lunch of tagine with fresh sardines and warm bread.

 

How to Accrue Good Travel Karma

  • Don’t give money to beggar children; give pencils.
  • Always give away leftovers.
  • Pack used clothes to trade at street markets in sub-Saharan Africa. They can be worn or sold. Used jeans, and you’re royalty for a day.
  • Pose for pictures with people. I am in the family albums of more Indian families than I can count, often with their children in my lap.

Karma goes around and it comes around, the original global energy. –Rebecca