Happy Halloween! To celebrate Halloween I offer you some of the odd and scary things I have found in my travels from legendary monsters to the monsters who built concentration camps.
Tomorrow, November 1st is considered All Saints Day – it is a day when the good and righteous come back to life and assist those who are still alive. It’s an older holiday than Halloween. In ancient days, the night before this was considered an inauspicious time – the night before the saints, all manner of things dark and creepy came to haunt the earth and look for victims – especially children. To hide the children from these monsters and spirits, parents would dress them up to hide them in plain site. But that wasn’t all- the spirits and ghoulies would wander the earth looking for victims and sometimes would appear at a door – to appease them, the residents would offer treats and thus avoid the tricks of the wicked (since we all know that the wicked generally have a sweet tooth) – since the kids were disguised as goblins and ghosts too – they began to ask for the treat to avoid the trick too – thus Trick or Treat!
To celebrate Halloween, here is another monster story, but this one with a twist – it’s a mummy love story. I first shared this back in 2011. Enjoy!
When you travel the world you come across wonderful things, but some of them touch you more than others. The story of an ancient Korean mummy and his heartbroken wife hit me hard as I traveled and thought of my wife at home, pregnant with our first child. My own journey here was very random as I had come to Andong with no idea of what to do or see and when the bus passed by Andong National University, I figured it was a good place to wander around since Universities tend to have free libraries, galleries, cheap food, and interesting people who speak English.
It was my good luck to find the free archeology museum where the Andong mummy lives so that I could discover this story. It’s a famous story by now, but maybe you haven’t heard of it yet. Everyone in Korea knows it though and when the mummy was found and the letter with it was read, it touched hearts around the world. On this day, it touched my own.
The 16th century mummy was found by archeologists in Andong City and identified by researchers at the Andong National University as Eung-tae, a member of the very ancient Goseong Yi Clan. Eung-tae was in a wooden coffin in a earth hardened tomb. The archeologists were very excited to have found a male mummy, not a common thing in South Korea. His beard and clothing were still preserved and they found that he was fairly tall at five feet nine inches, which even today in Korea would put him above the average. On his chest, much to their surprise, they found a letter from his wife, which is actually how his identity was revealed.
The letter was heart-breaking and over the next few years led to novels, films, and even an opera. Here is the text of the letter translated to English:
To Won’s Father
June 1, 1586
You always said, “Darling, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live without you? How could you die before of me?
How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and die ahead of me?
I cannot live without you. I want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where can I put my heart now and how can I live with your child missing you?
Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. I want to listen to your words in detail in my dreams and so I write this letter and put it in with you. Look closely and talk to me.
When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.
You are in another place, and not in such deep grief as I. There is no limit and end to my sorrows and so I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say but I stop here.
The letter and the mummy made me suddenly aware of the risks I was taking by traveling and being away from my wife and the child she carries. It was at that moment, that I just wanted to go home, to be with her. From there forward, my journey held no joy for me. Certainly I met wonderful people, saw interesting things, and yes, I enjoyed myself, but my heart was no longer in it. I just kept thinking of this woman, weeping upon learning the death of her husband, weeping as her child was born, and struggling through life as a single mom and without the man she had come to depend on.
Perhaps it was for this reason that I didn’t have a desire to take any great risks, to test the limits of my endurance, or to push the limits of my already very limited budget. It would be several months before I would be able to permanently be at home with my wife and our unborn child, but upon meeting the mummy, I made a promise that I would make certain to be there for them. And so, from Andong to Busan, back to Seoul, back to Kuala Lumpur, to Singapore, Jakarta, and back to Turkey I walked carefully and kept in mind that there were two people waiting for me and relying on me. And now, I am home- back in Morocco with my wife and our child will be coming in a month or so. Suddenly, I can relax and much of the tension I felt while away has melted since I know that my wife and child have me with them at this very important time.
Hawaiian moms have been known to threaten to leave their children out for the night marchers if they don’t behave. While this threat may not sound terrifying to those who have never heard of the huaki’ po, these death dealing ghosts are among the most terrifying of the ghosts and ghouls in Hawaiian myth and legend.
The stories describe the night marchers as a gang of ghosts roaming with both gods and goddesses – they come down from the mountains and march to the sounds of ancient chants, drums, and the spooky conch shell horns. This sort of procession wouldn’t be too different from a chief’s visit in ancient Hawaii to a town or village – except for the fact that all members of the night marchers party are among the unliving.
The stories are ancient but the first written account was by Captain Cook, the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. He claimed to have seen processions of ghosts on the Big Island of Hawaii. Sightings have continued from then until now. Many locals claim that these stories are much more than legend – they are real…so imagine the terror of being threatened by them!
The processions are usually spotted as a line of torches moving down the mountains – sometimes through areas where there are cliffs or impossible obstacles – they leave no trace and any who might see them are taken with them and never seen again. This is why there are dire warnings to never cross the paths of the night marchers. Those foolish enough to have built homes or gardens in the paths of the night marchers should not be surprised to have them destroyed, burned, or left unusable.
If you are in Hawaii and you hear or see signs of a night marcher procession, there is only one thing to do, run and hide and whatever you do, do not make eye contact. If they are close, lie face down on the ground and do not look up!
Many locals claim that the paths of the night marchers are set and wind from heiau (temple) to heiau, through the caves and sacred burial spots of the ali’i (Hawaiian Chiefs). On Oahu, most reports come from Kaena Point, Kahana Valley, Yokohama Bay, and Waimanalo. The new moon is said to be when they are most likely to be seen – accompanying the spirits of the dead to the westernmost point on the island where the souls will be cast into the ocean joining the hamakua (ancestral spirits).
Beware the night marchers! And do your chores kids!
When I was a little guy reading big fat Sci-fi and Fantasy books, I used to hide out in my Oregon tree fort and read for hours every day. The amount of time I spent reading must have doubled when I found A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.
In the Xanth series, Anthony introduced me to Centaurs and creatures of Greek myth and I was hooked, entranced, and spending far too much time in my teens reading Piers Anthony’s other books when I should have been out chasing girls.
That geeky kid never disappeared from within me so it was with a huge amount of excitement that I set out for the Gulf of Volos in Greece. You may be asking what the connection is – don’t worry, I’m about to tell you.
The Gulf of Volos is where the Greek Argonaut, Jason set out with his argonaut crew to recover the Golden Fleece and his crown. It was in this very body of water that Jason learned to sail the Argo.
Here is the legend in brief:
Pelias (Aeson’s half-brother) was very power-hungry, and he wished to gain dominion over all of Thessaly. Pelias was the product of a union between their shared mother, Tyro (“high born Tyro”) the daughter of Salmoneus, and allegedly the sea god Poseidon. In a bitter feud, he overthrew Aeson (the rightful king), killing all the descendants of Aeson that he could. He spared his half-brother for unknown reasons. Alcimede I (wife of Aeson) already had an infant son named Jason whom she saved from being killed by Pelias, by having women cluster around the newborn and cry as if he were still-born. Alcimede sent her son to the centaur Chiron for education, for fear that Pelias would kill him — she claimed that she had been having an affair with him all along. Pelias, still fearful that he would one day be overthrown, consulted an oracle which warned him to beware of a man with one sandal.
Many years later, Pelias was holding games in honor of the sea god and his alleged father, Poseidon, when Jason arrived in Iolcus and lost one of his sandals in the river Anauros (“wintry Anauros”), while helping an old woman to cross (the Goddess Hera in disguise). She blessed him for she knew, as goddesses do, what Pelias had up his sleeve. When Jason entered Iolcus (modern-day city of Volos), he was announced as a man wearing one sandal. Jason, knowing that he was the rightful king, told Pelias that and Pelias said, “To take my throne, which you shall, you must go on a quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Jason happily accepted the quest.
Mt Pelias which sits above the Gulf of Volos was the home to the original centaurs, including Chiron who educated Jason and later Achilles in the arts of sailing and swordplay. I was going to be sailing and eating and drinking on the same body of water as the ancient heroes and centaurs.
The Gulf of Volos, it turns out, is a fantastic place for a novice sailor such as myself. With winds that usually stay below F3 and not a whole slew of hazards that can catch you by surprise. Called the Pagasitikos Gulf, this is a place that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, yachts, or development. While you can go to most of Greece and find thousands of people on holiday, the Gulf of Volos has just a few – some days we saw no other yachts and just a couple of fishing boats!
We found crystal clear waters and a good wind provided by the ‘Meltemi’ blowing from the NE, quiet bays and fishing villages, history to investigate and many islands to explore. The whole area is known as Magnesia – which I might add has the same name as the region I lived in Turkey though the Turks have allowed the name to become Manisa!
The story of the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia is a cautionary tale about power and rebellion. It is called Cela Kula in Serbian which means…”Skull Tower”.
The Serbs were far from happy being in the Ottoman Empire and they had began a rebellion in Nis which sits on the Constantinople Road running through Sofia, Bulgaria to modern day Istanbul. The 1809 rebellion was put down and the skulls of the rebels were used to build a tower as a reminder to anyone else who wanted to rise up against the Ottomans and Sultan Mahmud II.
Here is some of the history from Wikipidia:
On May 31, 1809 on Cegar Hill a few kilometers northeast of Niš, Serbian insurrectionists suffered their greatest defeat in the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804-1813). The insurrectionists’ advance towards Niš was stopped here and, when the far stronger Turkish forces attacked, the battle was ended by the Serbian commander Stevan Sineli, who sacrificially fired at his gunpowder depot in order to avoid surrendering to the Turks, killing himself, the rest of his men, and the advancing Turks.
After the retreat of the Serbian rebel army, the Turkish commander of Niš, Hursid Pasha, ordered that the heads of the killed Serbs were to be mounted on a tower to serve as a warning to whoever opposed the Ottoman Empire. In all, 952 skulls were included, with the skull of Sin?eli? placed at the top. The scalps from the skulls were stuffed with cotton and sent to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) as proof for Sultan Mahmud II.
The tower stood in the open air until the liberation of Niš in 1878. By that time, much of the tower had deteriorated from weather conditions or from the removal of skulls for burial by relatives of killed rebels. In 1892, with donations gathered from all over Serbia, a chapel designed by the Belgrade architect Dimitrije T. Leko was built to enclose what was left of the tower. Today, only 58 skulls remain, including that of Sineli.
In front of the chapel stands the monument to Sineli, and a small relief depicting the battle, both from 1937. The monument commemorating the battle in the form of a guard tower was built in 1927 on Cegar Hill by Julian Djupon. The lower part is made out of stone from the Niš fortress.
Skull Tower was declared Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1979, and it is protected by Republic of Serbia.
Like much of Serbia, I found the Skull Tower to be creepy and lacking any sort of contextual explanation – I had to search for that later. To get there I had to walk about two kilometers from the center of Nis. The ever present dog turds and tagging were constant while the sidewalks were not.
Along the way, I stopped to eat the Serbian delicacy Borek, basically a filo dough pastry stuffed with cheese or meat. It was a bit greasy, but overall pretty delicious. I bought a yogurt to wash it down while sitting in a grungy little park with some senior citizens who had no idea what to think of me joining them as they ate their boxed lunches.
At the tower, there was no signage. I walked around it, took some pictures of the external chapel, but the doors were all locked so I couldn’t get inside. By this time, the borek and yogurt had caused my bowels to become a bit upset and I needed to find a toilet so despite my desire to see the tower of skulls, I went towards a dirty little bus station nearby to see if I could find a toilet. At the bus station, the lady asked me if I wanted to see the tower. I explained that I needed a toilet first, but yes, I wanted to see it.
A tiny little dwarf of a woman came out and led me to the very dirty bathroom (which I was very happy to have access to) and after I paid her the very reasonable entrance fee of 100 Serbian Dinar, she led me to the chapel where she pulled out her huge ring of keys and unlocked three locks to let me in. She watched curiously as I snapped some photos and tried to ‘feel’ the place. It felt like I expected, creepy.
When 19th century traveler Alphonse de Lemartine visited Nis in 1833, this was his experience.
“ My eyes and my heart greeted the remains of those brave men whose cut-off heads made the cornerstone of the independence of their homeland. May the Serbs keep this monument! It will always teach their children the value of the independence of a people, showing them the real price their fathers had to pay for it. ”
It made me think of something – which has caused more than a few people to claim I was being disrespectful, but which was, after all, what it made me think of. The Tower of Skulls is a powerful symbol of Serbian Independence – but since I’m a child of 1970s America – the entire time I was there, I was thinking of this….
In honor of Halloween, I present to you the only legendary monster story I was able to unearth in Turkey – the monster of Lake Van
You would think a country with as much history as Turkey would be chock (cok) full of legendary beasts and monsters. After all the Greeks and Romans were here and they had tons of monsters, the country is filled with tombs and ruins, so you would expect some ghosts, and the landscape is eerie in places like Kula or Cappadoccia. However, in asking my students about monsters, ghosts, and ghouls – I usually get the answer “We don’t have them in Turkey.” Which just strikes me as pretty weird.
One of my advanced students told me that people don’t like to talk about the supernatural and that may be the cause. This is quite different from Morocco where stories such as Aisha Kondeisha, a ghost Djinn that kills soldiers and lures men from their families are used to scare children.
The only story, thus far that I’ve been able to pry out of my close-mouthed students is that there is apparently some sort of sea monster that lives in Lake Van, a mineral water lake in the far East of Turkey.
Situated at 1719 meters above sea level it receives a few short streams but has no outlet. That is why its waters are unusually rich in sodium carbonate and other salts extracted by evaporation and used as detergents. Swimming in these brackish, “soda” waters, where the only surviving fish is the herring, may result as an original experience, indeed.
Due to the annual inflow, higher than evaporation, the lake level continues to rise: several peninsulas have become islands during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1986-1995 time period a dramatic 2.16 m rise in water level occurred.
There is little left from the original dense wood along its shores. The only remains of ancient woods are in a very small region on the southwestern shore. The intensive pasture of huge Kurdish herds and deforestation for firewood erased even the memory.
So, that is Lake Van, but what about the monster?
I found this story on CNN about the creature.
Sightings of the Lake Van monster were first reported about two years ago, but further evidence was offered on Tuesday: bad quality amateur pictures of something long and dark moving in the middle of the lake.
After each sighting, professional camera crews have rented boats to try to capture the alleged beast clearly on film, but were unsuccessful each time.
The subject became an obsession for 26-year-old Unal Kozak, a Van University teaching assistant who has been talking to eyewitnesses since the first sightings.
Stationing himself at spots where most of the sightings were reported, Kozak says he saw and filmed the so-called monster on three occasions. Kozak also wrote a book on the creature, including drawings of the monster based on the descriptions of some 1,000 witnesses.
He says the creature is about 15 meters (49.5 feet) long. Public opinion is divided over whether the Lake Van monster is a clever hoax to attract visitors to a region that could use some tourist revenue.
The city of Van is in an underdeveloped area of eastern Turkey that for years has lost out to holiday resorts in the west of the country.
The pictures have been sent to Cambridge University for examination, and Jacques Cousteau, the world-famous marine biologist, is expected to visit and examine the lake.
Finally, here is the video footage of the monster.
I have to say, I’m fairly disappointed not to find any kind of legends of tiny people like the Menehune of Hawaii, of creatures like Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, like the Pine Tar Creature of New Jersey, or the many ghosts and demons that haunt the UK or surround Lake Toba in Indonesia. I’ll keep searching, but it seems that either Turks won’t talk about their monsters or they are just too practical a people to have such stories.
In any event, I can see why Halloween has a 0% zero impact on Turkey. Most of my students have never even heard of it. However, if you are looking for monsters on your holiday to Turkey, head to Lake Van.
The small Southern town of Lynchburg, Virginia is steeped in rich history. Much of that history can be revealed by visiting the Old City Cemetery which is located in the very heart of Lynchburg. I sense some eye rolling out there and a sarcastic note or two of “Really…?” is ringing in my ears. I know. Cemeteries are considered by many to be eerie places, full of ghosts and bad memories, but I find them sort of fascinating – especially the ones that are loved and supported by the local community. By reading old grave markers, you can find out so much about family lineage and how old or young people were when they passed away, or even how a society tended to treat its citizens.
Some people make a hobby out of visiting graves. I am not one, but I can see their point. They’re called gravers. A graver is someone who visits cemeteries for fun. The graving hobby encompasses a range of activities. There are tombstone tourists who plan vacations around the resting places of Hollywood stars and military gravers who track down Civil War soldiers. Genealogical gravers fill blank spots in their family tree with information collected from headstones. Preservationist gravers use special compounds to clean moss from 100-year-old markers. Many gravers just like to hang out in cemeteries and look at the stones.
On a recent trip, I came to explore the emerging Virginia wine scene, but left fascinated with the dearly departed. I didn’t purposely set out to immerse myself in cemetery matters, but I did and I am better for it.
My visit was to the Old City Cemetery. Not so long ago the Old City Cemetery was totally overgrown. But through the efforts of the Southern Memorial Association under the direction of Jane White combined with the efforts of the dedicated volunteers and the Lynchburg Public Works department it has been reclaimed as a well-kept park honoring the lives of the people buried there and those that keep the flame alive.
The Old City Cemetery is a registered historic landmark opened in 1806 as a public burying ground. It is the oldest public cemetery in Virginia still in use today. It has been estimated that over 90% of Lynchburg’s enslaved and free African American population are buried in the Old City Cemetery, the primary burial site for African Americans from 1806 to 1865. Since 1806, Lynchburg’s indigent citizens have also been buried in the Cemetery. An area known as Old Potters’ Field was used from 1960 to 1994 and is now enclosed as a memorial. In another part of the cemetery a distinctive bottle tree is part of a display created at the Cemetery to interpret centuries-old African burial customs.
The 26-acre site features more than 2000 historic gravestones, monuments, and ironwork enclosures; Butterfly Garden & Lotus Pond; garden of 19th-century shrubs and local architectural relics; Pest House Medical Museum, depicting conditions in a Civil War quarantine hospital; Cemetery Center, housing an office and small museum of mourning customs; Hearse House & Caretakers’ Museum, featuring an original 1900 horse-drawn hearse and grave markers exhibit; Station House Museum–an 1898 C&O Railway depot that interprets local railroad history; and Confederate Section containing 2200 graves of Civil War soldiers from 14 states.
It can be a bit much to take in if you have just experienced the loss of a loved one, but all in all this cemetery celebrates the lives of those who came before us and those that are just starting out in life. The Old Cemetery keeps up with the times by offering space for meetings, recitals, lectures, and weddings. All occasions are easily accommodated in the charming little Chapel at the Old City Cemetery. Small groups of 50 adults can be seated in the 100-year-old handmade pews. The Chapel is also the perfect setting for a traditional wedding ceremony.
One of the things I especially enjoyed about this special place is how it engages the community and visitors. The 26-acre site is an arboretum of 19th-century trees, shrubs, and flowers. Before you visit, plan ahead. You can plan by Seasons in the Cemetery. Peak of bloom for antique roses is the last two weeks of May. The peak of bloom for the Lotus Pond is July and August. And especially impressive is the peak of Fall Foliage the last two weeks of October. The peak of the bird population is the first week of June. The peak of the butterfly population is August.
Of particular note are the hundreds of antique roses which reach their peak of bloom in mid-May. If you plan to visit in May think about attending the Annual Antique Rose Festival where you can enjoy the Cemetery’s famous antique rose collection near its peak of bloom. Quite a sight. There is also a special free Mother’s Day Rose Walk. Or if you’re a history buff check out the Confederate Memorial Day Ceremony (“Decoration Day), an annual Lynchburg tradition since 1866.
Fall brings its own unique opportunities to interact with the Cemetery. The Bawdy Ladies of 19th-Century Lynchburg is held in late September. Historian Nancy Weiland leads a tour to the graves of some of Lynchburg’s famous “sporting ladies.” It’s Free. Candlelight Tours in October is always SOLD OUT, so call ahead and book early. I am told tickets go it a matter of a couple of hours. However, you can call or visit the Cemetery office after 9:00 a.m. on the morning of each performance night to check for extra tickets. If the weather forecast is good, extra tickets will be made available for each tour that night. Actors in period costume portray true stories of Cemetery residents. Six tours each night begin at 6:10. Tickets must be purchased in advance, at the Cemetery office, by phone (434-847-1465), or online: www.lynchburgtickets.com/candlelight.
Perhaps one of the most touching events is held in December. Wreaths Across America begins with a
brief ceremony where attendees lay evergreen wreaths on hundreds of veterans’ graves in the Cemetery. Visit http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ for more information.
Family fun can be found just prior to Christmas. The Holiday Open House encourages locals and visitors to stop by the Cemetery Center for hot cider and cookies and last-minute gifts before going to the Chapel for a special holiday concert.
I suggest you consider including a tour of the Old City Cemetery in your tourist plans when visiting Lynchburg Virginia. Expect to see the grounds filled with people of all ages and interests – from the Civil War Buff to the antique flower enthusiast to school children on a history field trip. Plan an hour or two to stroll around the property. A guided tour or attending an event will make your time there even more memorable. And while you’re there, stop by the gift shop and pick up a copy of the award-winning cookbook, Food to Die For: A book of funeral food, tips and tales. Talk about a unique souvenir.
Way back in 2009, I was geeking out on Tarot cards and trying to find my way in life – at the same time I was living in Morocco and suddenly steeped in the mysticism, legends, monsters, and stories of daily Moroccan life. That was when I wrote this while sitting in the blue depths of my first apartment in Morocco buried deep within the Casbah of Sefrou:
An old hermit walked around the village and the area day and night, and even in daylight still carried a lit lantern. One day the villagers had enough curiosity to ask him “Sir, why do you carry your lantern lit in daylight?” He said, “Because I’m searching for an honest man.”
The Hermit has internalized the lessons of life to the point that he is the lesson.
There are two major ways this card can be interpreted:
* First, the need to withdraw from society to become comfortable with himself.
* Second, the need to come out of isolation to share his knowledge with others.
I understand why this card is speaking to me so heavily these days.
Some say that The Hermit represents the time we learn our true names; who we really are. The Greek philosopher Thales is reported to have been asked, “What is the most difficult of all things?” To which he is said to have answered “To know yourself.” The Hermit is given time to obey the Delphic Oracle’s demand: know thyself.
In Islam, a Djinn (also jinn, genie) is a supernatural creature which occupies a parallel world to that of mankind, and together with humans and angels makes up the three sentient creations of Allah. Possessing free will, Djinn can be either good or evil. The Djinn are mentioned frequently in the Qur’an, and there is a Surah entitled Al-Jinn. While Christianity maintains that Lucifer was an angel that rebelled against God’s orders, Islam maintains that Iblis was a Djinn who had been granted special privilege to live among angels prior to his rebellion.Although some scholars have ruled that it is apostasy to disbelieve in one of God’s creations; the belief in Jinn has fallen comparably to the belief in Angels in other Ibrahamic traditions.
Aisha Kondeshia may have fallen in love with me. I am warned about her often by my new Moroccan friends.
Her name is Aicha Kandisha and she was a beautiful enchantress and voracious JINIYA
(she-devil) she has the power to bewitch both men and women. She is helpless against her own wicked power. Her victims are driven beyond madness or mental derangement…some become paralyzed,their blood into ice, others are left insane for ever.
The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies which include heated rhythms, frenzied dancing, self-flagellation.Some say she was a freedom combatant against the Portuguese in the region of El Jadida she used her beauty to attract the soldiers then kill them, some say it’s a woman who was hurt by a man…but the common point with all these stories is that she appears to people in secluded places, abandoned houses or empty roads at night.
This was originally posted in August of 2011 – as Halloween approaches, it seems appropriate to repost.
I’m not sure why, but I’m fascinated by ethnographic monsters. I visit a country and I ask “What kind of monsters do they have?” I’m a big fan of legendary monster stories. In Turkey, I heard about the story of the Lake Van monster and in Morocco, I revel in the stories of jin and Aisha Kandisha. In Bulgaria, I heard about a few new ones. One old guy I asked simply replied “The only monsters we have here are the criminals” – fair enough, but that wasn’t what I was looking for. Another old man on the bus told me about the Loch Ness Monster of Bulgaria which is known as the ‘Water Bull’.
The water bull lives in a Lake Rabisha near Belogradchik, a small picturesque town in the Bulgarian Northwest. You might have actually heard of the town since the now famous Belogradchik Rocks did pretty well in the competition for the New Seven Wonders of the World or because of the Magurata Cave with its prehistoric paintings.
The legend says that a bull-man lives in the lake which was once thought to be bottomless but now is known to be about 40 meters deep. The head of a bull, the body of a man – yes D &D friends – it’s a Minotaur. The story goes that they used to kill off the most beautiful girl to keep the monster at bay. They would row her out in a boat and throw her off of it. Eventually, the most beautiful girl in the world was born there and taken out in the lake where the water bull fell in love with her and they lived happily ever after. It’s a crap ending to a story that includes Bull and a word that sounds a lot like Rubbish, but at least it’s a monster story.
My friends Tim and Peppy in Sofia, told me about Baba Marta. Baba Marta, an old lady with the touch of death. She is like Jack Frost but an angry old woman and if she doesn’t get treated right, the cold Bulgarian winter just keeps on. The sun only comes out when she is happy. Snow is sometimes referred to as the feathers from her mattress.
Each spring Bulgarian girls make ribbons and when they see the first signs of spring they put them on trees or under rocks. This is all to make Baba Marta happy and bring a nice year.
The monster which sounded the most interesting to me was a tribe of ghouls called Karakoncolos or Kurkeri who stalk people in the dark and then they jump on the victim’s back, causing them to lose their way home. There are annual festivals where people dress up as these monsters and dance.
And finally there was Torbalan who carries kids away in his pack if they don’t do what their parents tell them to.