Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Hungry Ghost Festival!

Belief in ghosts is one of those universal archetypes that Carl Jung found across all cultures.   From India, to the Philippines, to Africa and back ghosts haunt dark roads and old stories.   Many cultures have entire holidays dedicated to ghosts.  In China, the Hungry Ghost Festival or the Ullambana Festival of Buddhism is more typically called the "Ghost Festival".  Ghost Festival is celebrated throughout Asia and called by many different names.  It is celebrated during the fifteenth day of every 7th Lunar Month.  This would typically be July but Lunar months aren't calender months so this year Ghost Festival falls on August 31st.   In Hong Kong and Taiwan, Ghost Festival is celebrated for the entire month.

In Chinese folklore, the people believe that the 7th month is a time for ghosts.   It is believed that the gates of the underworld are thrown open and hungry ghosts roam the earth looking for food.  Ghost festival is deeply tied to traditions of ancestor worship and people leave items out for the ghosts of their ancestors.   Some people light lanterns by the roadsides to help the ghosts and other provide shoes for the ghosts.  One of the most beautiful costumes associated with this festival is the lighting of lanterns and setting them adrift in the water.  These lanterns serve as guiding lights for the lost and wandering ghosts.   Other traditions call for the burning of offerings such as paper and incense and the leaving of food for the hungry ghosts.  In Hong Kong and Taiwan, Ghost festival is celebrated by a month of operas and performances to honor the dead.

The origins of the ghost festival can be found in Buddhist scriptures.  "In Buddhist culture, "Ullam" means "hanging upside down" in Sanskrit; "bana" means "a vessel for holding offerings of food". Buddhists hold that the vessel is capable of removing the extreme suffering of one's deceased parents in purgatory. This originates from the story of "Monk Mulian Saving His Mother" in Buddhist sutras. Buddhist disciples set Ullambana all over the place, symbolizing food provision for the people, adding fortune and longevity to their living parents and releasing deceased parents from sufferings.".. Cultural

Ghost Festival reminds  me of the Catholic tradition of lighting candles for the dead.   It is a way to remember and honor those who have gone before us.  I thought we'd put together a little ghost festival in our house this year.  We've lost quite a few people and helping the spirits of those we've lost seems appropriate.  Mooncakes are typically offered to spirits in china.  We don't have mooncakes so we will cupcakes.   My son has made origami animals to burn with the incense and we will light lanterns on the back patio to guide our family's ghosts home.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Ghost of the Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle is a beautiful building. Washington DC is a stunning city whose classic architecture makes a traveler feel like they have been transported back to ancient Rome. Doric and Corinthian Columns grace the facades of elegant white buildings and the unity of architecture makes me imagine that this is what the great white city must have looked like. The Smithsonian Castle, however, is utterly different. Built in 1855 by the renowned architect James Renwick, this redbrick, Gothic beauty stands apart from all the classic buildings it is surrounded by. It looks more like a medieval castle than a Roman ruin and its haunting beauty draw in the eyes like a light in the dark. 
The Smithsonian Castle is a corner stone of the mall in Washington DC.   It is the founding museum in the sprawling Smithsonian Museum complex which is spread out over Washington DC and now occupies over 30 museums and houses millions of artifacts, paintings, and other items of scientific, anthropological, and historical significance.  The castle is the most striking of the Smithsonian buildings not only because it was the first of the Smithsonian buildings and represents the birth of the largest museum complex in the nation, but also because it is the most haunted.
The museum is said to be haunted by James Smithson.  Smithson was a British chemist and mineralogist and the illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland.  He was born in 1765 and dedicated his life to chemistry and mineralogy.  He traveled Europe studying and publishing papers on his findings.  When he died, he left his entire fortune to the founding of the Smithsonian Institute and he was the founding donor of the institute.  Ironically, James Smithson never visited the United States and never saw the massive building that would bare his name.  However, his body was transported to the United States and his remains grace the first room in the Smithsonian Castle.   The urn below is where he now rests.   It is not surprising that his ghost has been seen throughout the castle.   Visitors and employees alike have reported seeing him wandering the halls of the beautiful red building that bares his names and the halls seem to whisper his name as you walk through them. 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Photographic Journey Through Piere Lachaise

Piere Lachaise is one of the most beautiful places on earth. This necropolis sprawls through downtown Paris with monuments of such exquisite beauty it is easy to forget you are in a cemetery. Wandering this cemetery is one of my favorite things to do in Paris. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of this otherworldly cemetery.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Voodoo and Ghosts in Bayou Myth

I don't do many book reviews here, so you know when I do a book review it is because it is particularly ghostly and because I really thought the book was interesting and worth reading.  Both of these things are true of  Mary Ann Loesch's Bayou Myth.  Bayou Myth is the story of a young woman, Joan, who is descended from the infamous voodoo queen Marie Laveau.  Our young heroine is not only descended from Marie Laveau, but she is haunted by her dead "grandmere's" ghost.  Marie Laveau knows her granddaughter is heir to her voodoo powers and is guiding her in their proper use.  The tragedy of it all is that the young Joan doesn't want these powers.  She just wants to be an ordinary girl.  I loved the haunting, voodoo elements of this book.  I also thought Ms. Loesch does a brilliant job of conveying Joan's voice.  The voice feels authentic and captures the reader immediately.  It pulls you into the mystery of the novel and makes you long for more. The only thing I felt was a weak about this book was the writing style not involved with Joan's voice.  Sometimes it lacked a certain poetry I enjoy in my novels.  However, Joan's voice and the story more than make up for this small weakness and I would definitely pick up this piece of haunting, voodoo literature before Halloween.  Below you'll find a post by Ms. Loesch describing her voodoo inspiration and an expert from the novel.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :).
The Voodoo of Bayou Myth
 I have always been fascinated by other religions--especially the more "out there" ones. I was brought up Episcopalian which is basically just Diet Catholic--all of the sin, but no need for the confession! While my parents were pretty open minded, we didn't talk a lot about religion around the dinner table. It wasn't until I was in high school, about the same age as my heroine Joan from my young adult novel Bayou Myth that I even began to really think about religions outside my own.
 I guess that's natural since the teenage years are when you start to question everything!
 About that time I saw the movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow. It's basically about this scientist who travels to Haiti to learn about a man who died and then came back as a zombie. While he's there, he learns a lot about Haitian voodoo and goes a little crazy. Okay. I admit that it wasn't the greatest horror movie I'd ever seen, it did get me interested in voodoo. Everything I'd ever seen or read about voodoo had made me think it was just a crazy cult thing, but the movie indicated that the story of The Serpent and the Rainbow was based on true events.
 Curious, I did some research and discovered that voodoo was much more than some spooky blood smeared rituals meant to frighten people. It's actually a blend of Haitian and Catholic beliefs. Yes, there are some elements that are supernaturally charged, (the creation of zombies is one example) but the intentions of voodoo--to love and be true to oneself--is essentially the same as other faiths.
 Now, New Orleans voodoo does have a slightly different feel to it. That's because in Louisiana voodoo really is like a spicy pot of gumbo--it’s a blend of a little bit of everything! There, you have voodoo priestess who can make you love potions, create spells meant to get rid of an enemy, or make a gris gris bag to bring you good luck. This is the voodoo that Hollywood likes to show the world and  that's probably why it has such a confusing reputation.
 When I set out to create a young adult tale that featured voodoo, I wanted to be respectful. So I did my best to include information about voodoo that is both authentic and a bit on the spooky side, too. But you can't write about New Orleans voodoo and not include one of the most famous voodoo priestess of all time either--Marie Laveau. Marie was the woman who really brought voodoo to the forefront of the New Orleans world. She is still revered--and a little bit feared--to this day!
 So, of course I had to put her in Bayou Myth, too. In fact, she is the great, great, grandmother of my heroine, Joan Renault. She tends to guide Joan in the realm of voodoo, teaching her the customs and rites that will one day make Joan a powerful voodoo priestess. But like lots of teenagers, Joan isn't exactly willing to be bossed around by a lady who's been dead for almost two hundred years!
 The really fun part of writing Bayou Myth was combining my research on voodoo with the Greek myths that so many of us are familiar with. You may recognize some Greek tales that now have just a little voodoo twist to them!
 Hopefully, I've got you curious about my latest novel. Here's a teaser to wet your appetite a little more….
 As a sixteen year old voodoo queen in the making, Joan Renault just wants to be like all the other girls in the small town of Monte Parish, Louisiana—obsessed with boys and swamped with social lives. If the other kids would quit calling her “hoodoo hag,” she might have a small shot at normality. It would also help if Joan’s weekend outings with her secret crush, Dave, weren’t always being interrupted by her dead Grandmere, the legendary Marie Laveau. After all, it’s hard to make out with your best friend when your grandmother is watching! But when you come from a long line of voodoo priestesses with dried gator heads decorating the wall of their huts, normal doesn’t come easily.

When Joan witnesses the brutal sacrifice of a child to a tree Druid, she learns her Grandmere’s scandalous past has come back to haunt those living in the present. Hera, a vengeful voodoo priestess, is determined to use the residual energy of Pandora’s Box to revive a sleeping voodoo god and declare war on the descendants of Marie Laveau, especially Joan. Suddenly, Greek myths are being re-enacted all over town, and Joan has her hands full trying to sort it all out. With the approach of Samedi’s Day—the voodoo day of resurrection—Joan must learn to accept her destiny in order to stop the approaching threat to her family and friends.

 Mary Ann Loesch is an award winning fiction writer from Texas. Her urban fantasy, Nephilim, was published in July 2011 by Lyrical Press Inc.  An avid blogger for All Things Writing ( and Loesch’s Muse (, Mary Ann has also contributed stories in the horror anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. Her latest book, Bayou Myth, was released in June 2012. While she loves dirty martinis and cuddling with her dachshund, she loves fan mail even more! Contact her through her website at


Short excerpt for Bayou Myth

A teenage girl stood in the hazy glow. Unlike the other spirits, her form held solid. I got the sense that she drew energy from the surrounding spirits. Her lowered head made it so I couldn’t see her face, but the style of dress she wore dated back at least a century. Not surprising, really. Monte Parish could trash its roots to the late 1700’s.

The ghost lifted her head. Her eyes were empty sockets and rotted flesh hung from her face revealing bone. She watched me, and the hatred pumping from her aura sucked my breath away. Her head moved as if she were looking at Dave. A sly smile formed on what remained of her lips, and the hatred crawling in the air multiplied. She moved towards us with an unsteady gait. The closer she got, the sicker to my stomach I felt.

She meant to harm Dave. But not because he’d done anything to her. It was because he belonged to me. Though she never said a word, her intentions spilt off her and my psychic conduit picked it up. 

“Let’s go. We need to leave right now.”

“What’s wrong?” Dave asked, but he complied with my request and closed up the tailgate.

The girl continued our direction. She raised a hand, and the sleeve of her dress slid back. Even from the distance we were at, the long white scar on her arm could be seen clearly in the moonlight. She pointed a finger at me.

You saw…the words hissed across the cemetery, raising goose bumps on my arms.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

When The Dead Speak

When I first heard about Searcy State Psychiatric Hospital in Mt. Vernon, Alabama I was more than intrigued.  The hospital had such an amazing history and this history spoke to me.  What was most amazing to me is that this history seemed to be entirely forgotten.  It was as if no even knew the history had happened.  I had to dig to find the facts buried behind the white walls of the old hospital and I am still learning about its history.

I wrote Circe because I felt like there was a story waiting inside the hospital that had to be told.  There were hungry ghosts that wanted their voices heard.  As it turns out, many of these ghosts are figurative not literal.  The ghosts that haunt Searcy are the figurative ghosts of all those who have suffered and died there and been erased without any justice or recognition.  They are the memories of loved ones who died and their ghosts do speak.  Their ghosts speak through the family they have left behind who are still searching for them.

Over the last few weeks, I have gotten a series of emails that have broken my heart and made me look at the reality of what happened at Searcy.  I've gotten two emails from women wondering if I had any information on family members that were admitted to Searcy and were never heard from again.  Their families never knew what happened to their loved ones.  One of these people was just a child when they vanished into Searcy's arms.    I got another email from a very knowledgeable woman who told me about a family member who she believes was murdered there.  The emails keep coming with people who have questions and no one to answer them.  I wish I had more answers.  My knowledge of the history of Searcy is what I found while I was there.   I am not a historian and I have no access to the records that these people are looking for, but these emails were an awakening for me.  Behind every ghost story, there are real families that have been hurt by real tragedy.  Behind the hospital that entranced me with its dark history are real families that lost their loved ones to the inhumane treatment that occurred at Searcy during its early years.  I wish I could dedicate or acknowledge these people in my book.  I can't go back and do that, but I can acknowledge them now and I can dedicate my book to them now.  I hope all of them eventually find the answers they are looking for.

For those of you who have not read about Searcy's history before on this blog and are wondering about it.  Here is a link to find information on the hospital:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wandering in the Shadows Mounds State Park

Mounds State Park is located in a tiny corner of Indiana by Indianapolis.  It is easy to drive by.  I would have passed this park by a thousand times over if it hadn't have been for the legend of the pudwudgies. I went to Mounds State Park searching  for the legend of the pudwudgies.  The folklore associated with Mounds State Park is more than just oral history, sighting of the legendary beings that haunt this state park persist to this day. Creature from Native America Folklore called pudwudgies are seen on a regular basis around this site. Pudwudgies are 2 or 3 ft high with large noses, fingers, and ears. They are grey and are sometimes said to glow. They are dangerous creatures that can transform into animals and are said to enjoy mischief and destruction and sometimes have been known to lure people to their deaths.  Interestingly, Pudwudgies are said to be able to control the ghosts of those they have murdered. Thus they can use their army of ghosts to create more mischief and cause more death. Regular sitings of the Pudwudgies and their ghosts are reported at the Mound State Park and I can't wait to visit and see if I can catch a glimpse of these mischief makers myself. 

I wandered through Mounds State Park looking for ghosts and legends, but what I found was soft grassy mounds and old growth trees that cast long shadows on soft grass.  I found a quiet place off the beaten path that hid behind bubbling streams and whispering woods.  The Great Mound was beautiful and quiet and it was easy to understand how the natives gave it religious significance.  The gently whisper of the breeze through the trees and the smell of the foliage lent a peace to the place that was completely otherworldly.  I wandered for a while looking for ghosts and pudwudgies in dark places.  My children chased fireflies in the dark, but we found nothing but the natural beauty of a lovely park.