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264 – Coming Out of the Shadows: New Orleans Voodoo with Rory Schmitt and Rosary O’Neill

No other American cities have mysticism associated with them like New Orleans does with Voodoo. And that’s because, more than any other city, New Orleans is its own thing. It is firmly ensconced in American culture from jazz to football to Mardi Gras to the outporing of support after Hurricane Katrina and holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who has visited (I’m always looking forward to my next trip!)

And for paranormal fans, it’s where Anne Rice wrote her vampire series, it’s where Trent Reznor bought a house, Nicolas Cage bought a pyramid in the city’s most famous cemetery for God’s sake. It’s a city full of haunted history and vampire tours, rich with culture as a crossroads of French settler, African slave, American Indian, Carribbean and English culture have all collided into a gumbo (see what I did there?) of something completely unique. The place has something for everyone… Spring Breakers like Mardi Gras for the Girls Gone Wild aspect, paranormal lovers enjoy all of the legends and strangeness, music lovers can appreciate the one-of-a-kind Jazz, foodies can find a special cuisine, historians can enjoy one of America’s oldest cities, etc…)

Rory O’Neill Schmitt and her mother Rosary O’Neill are New Orleans natives who have taken a lifelong interest in voodoo and have written a book New Orleans Voodoo: A Cultural History. It’s a respectful and eye-opening exploration of a topic that is easily demonized. Voodoo isn’t the black magic of The Serpent And The Rainbow or Angel Heart, it’s not a religion practiced by the “other” that Hollywood can often make things out to be. It’s a normal way of seeing the world and finding spirituality in everyday life that has amalgamated from West African animism, Roman Catholicism, and New World neccessity.

When I read their book, it gave me an insight into Voodoo that I hadn’t seen before. It was more than just superstition and spells, but it provides some understanding of how the world’s oldest kind of spirituality (animism) can combine with more modern religion (Christianity) to create a cultural force that helps guide people’s lives. In this interview about New Orleans Voodoo, we learn about:

  • How did the practice of Voodoo come about, where do the ceremonies and the beliefs come from?
  • How slaves could use Voodoo to maintain a sense of control in a world where they were in chains
  • Who are the lwas?
  • What Catholic saints match up to which ancient African spirits and how they’re similar
  • Why is New Orleans such a unique place for this kind of spirituality?
  • What are some common misconceptions about Voodoo?
  • Rory and Rosary’s personal experiences with Voodoo practitioners

When I was reading the book, the idea of possession in a voodoo ceremony really struck me as something different and interesting to my religious upbringing. Instead of being possessed by the Holy Spirit like the Christians who speak in tongues, they get possessed by a variety of different lwas (a variety of spirits who act between humans and God), whether it’s a lord of the dead like Papa Gede, or Papa Legba, the Trickster of the Crossroads. In the ceremony, the participant becomes a vessel for the spirit to speak through and will often not remember it. That kind of surrender to the invisible powers of the world seems so dangerous to me, but it’s an exiciting idea. It’s exactly the type of thing that people who tell you you shouldn’t play with Ouija Boards would warn you against, but it’s also the kind of thing that seems like a powerful spiritual experience . “Possess Me” is our song inspired by the idea.

I walked with a zombie
somewhere on Bourbon Street
Coming out from the shadows
midnight on St. John’s Eve
So if you go go go
go see the queen
Please let her know know know
she’s gotta pray
she’s gotta pray for me

Ooh darling
I wanna bathe in your blue sea
When the mambo calls your name
I need you to possess me

Close your eyes and listen close
You can feel the Invisibles
flesh and blood, spectres and ghosts
some things aren’t divisible

So if you go go go
go see the queen
Please let her know know know
she’s gotta pray
she’s gotta pray for me

Ooh darling
I wanna bathe in your blue sea
When the mambo calls your name
I need you to possess me

Lorraine Warren: MATRIARCH of the Paranormal dies at 92

It’s a rich and storied life that is immortalized in popular film. I would consider myself lucky to one day be essentially sainted by the paranormal community and played onscreen by the likes of Vera Farmiga.

In reality no one is actually a saint and Lorraine Warren and her husband Ed, who died in 2006, certainly had their detractors. But no one can deny that the Warrens were trailblazers in the field for good or ill, or both, as is usually the view history.

Lorraine Warren died April 18th at her home in Connecticut at the age of 92. In life, she claimed to be both a clairvoyant and a trance medium. She and her husband Ed, a self-described demonologist, founded the New England Society for Psychical Research (N.E.S.P.R.) in 1952.

N.E.S.P.R., in contrast to other societies of psychical research, took a religious approach rather than a scientific one to their alleged 10,000 paranormal investigations. The Warrens believed that the entities responsible for hauntings were not “vaporous, indistinct phantoms”, but forces that “exist for the sheer purpose of opposing the works of God”.

They further claimed, according to their website, to have been repeatedly called in by “religious authorities . . . to control some of the most profane outbreaks of diabolical phenomena in the country”. However, it is unlikely that they actually worked with the Catholic Church, as they often claimed, at least in an official capacity.

Lorraine Warren had recently retired from active investigations and personal appearances. She still consulted for N.E.S.P.R., although she passed the directorship to her son-in-law, Tony Spera.

As paranormal personalities the Warrens undeniably led the way in developing opportunities for psychical researchers on the lecture circuit and in the media. In 1952, in addition to founding N.E.S.P.R., they opened the Warren’s Occult Museum. They went full-time paranormal in 1968. By 1974, the Warrens were employing a booking agent to find them paying gigs and writing a regular column about their adventures for a weekly tabloid, The Tattler.

Many claim that Lorraine and Ed lived to help those besieged by evil forces. Yet there also are many who have called the Warren’s credibility into question including at least one psychical researcher who didn’t appreciate them showing up to assist on his case uninvited. One thing is for certain the Warrens are among the most famous paranormal investigators in the world and how they are viewed influences how all other psychical researchers are perceived.

The Warren’s website advises “The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.” Unfortunately, for most of us in the paranormal, the path to credibility is seldom clear. Hopefully, we in the field, will learn everything there is to learn from both the light and the dark views of the lives of Lorraine and Ed Warren. Perhaps familiarizing ourselves with both sides of the story will lead us to a more balanced perspective and help us to more carefully select only the attributes we wish to emulate in their example.

Listen to our full episode on Ed and Lorraine Warren.
http://www.othersidepodcast.com/blog/2016/06/06/95-ed/

244 – N Is For Notre Dame: Ghosts And Legends of the World’s Most Famous Cathedral

One of Notre Dame’s notorious gargoyles stares into the void.

Although some claim the thoroughly modern French don’t believe in God or ghosts, let’s be real and face the truth.  Everybody believes in something at least bordering on supernatural, even if they don’t readily admit it.  The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, brutally ravaged by fire on April 15th, 2019, is a prime example.  There’s something in the folklore of Notre Dame Cathedral for everyone — ghosts, curses, holy relics, and miracles.

Not saying it was the candles, but they sure do have a lot of candles.

Ghosts

We discuss this ghost photo in our podcast episode above; click here for additional photo info.

Dozens and dozens of people have killed themselves at Notre Dame Cathedral, and many others have tried.  There seem to be two off-ing options repeated over and over — the classic leap off one of the towers or the showy spectacle of off-loading a pistol into your head at the altar in the middle of mass.  Although it’s no match for the Eiffel Tower, where literally hundreds of people have committed suicide, Notre Dame has its fair share of harrowing stories.  Although the gun to the face before a packed house might seem like the most dramatic choice, the leapers of Notre Dame, especially those of the female variety, take the prize for sheer horror and eerie echoes of detail.

The death of Marie Felix in 1882 is probably the most famous because it is the goriest.  The specifics are so graphic that in the week following Marie’s death, 25,000 Parisians visited the morgue per day just for the chance to view her mangled corpse.  Although her name is forgotten by most, her suicide is the reason most cited to explain any paranormal activity in the cathedral. 

Marie is described in the newspapers as a beautiful, young woman with extraordinarily long hair arranged into two thick braids which she wore rolled around her head. She was first noticed by the cathedral’s security staff one October morning as she impatiently paced about the cathedral for about two hours. Some say she was denied access to the towers without a chaperone, so she was most likely desperately seeking someone to accompany her. As it happened, she would finally meet an elderly lady that morning, whom she kindly invited to lunch.  After Marie provided the unnamed lady with a nice lunch at a local restaurant, they returned to the cathedral at 2 p.m., ostensibly to gaze upon Paris from the vantage point of the towers. However, an unexpectedly heavy downpour forced them to take shelter in the watchman’s sentry-box.  Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, Marie made a mad dash, and before anyone could stop her, she climbed the parapet, flinging herself forward. 

Marie immediately fell upon the spikes atop one of the railings, which sliced her body in half at the waist.  The lower half flew backward onto the flags of the porch while the upper half remained impaled.  Her body was broken “completely into pieces by the shock upon the stones of the Place du Paris”, according to another article.  Marie was later identified as the daughter of a local tradesman.  Her family attested that Marie had often threatened suicide and that her actions were not due to any recent disappointments.  The coroner’s post-mortem findings included lesions on the brain which were thought at the time to confirm that Marie suffered from “suicidal monomania” just as her relatives had claimed.

A similar incident in May of 1890, claimed the life of a lovelorn 21 year-old.  The unidentified woman also leapt from the towers and, according to the account, was “dashed to pieces in the street below”. More recently another pair of suicides claimed additional victims. 

In October of 1964, 21 year-old American tourist Veronica Mcconnell had just arrived at Notre Dame, her first sight-seeing spot of the day, when another woman climbed over the balustrade of the North Tower.  Only moments later she took the plunge, falling directly onto Veronica, killing them both.  An almost identical scenario would transpire in August of 1983.  Veronique Stalla-Bourdillon, 24, plummeted to the pavement killing herself and flattening Johanne Pelletier, 29, of Montreal, who had been standing at the doors to the cathedral unaware of her impending doom.  Perhaps this morbid history explains the most reported ghost experience at Notre Dame — encounters with female apparitions seen pacing among the towers, flitting between the gargoyles. 

Cursed Doors

(Not the actual Devil or the ironwork on the Cursed Doors, but this piece by artist Cyril Colnik still seems apropos.)

During the construction of Notre-Dame, a young artisan called Biscornet was tasked with the creation of elaborate ironwork to decorate the cathedral’s doors.  Biscornet soon realized his ambition has gotten the better of him, so he casually called on the Devil for help, as you do.  While Biscornet took a nap, a masterpiece of intricate ironwork magically materialized.  Once completed, the Devil snatched Biscornet’s soul of course.  Yet the doors could not be opened by normal means until they were christened with holy water.

Holy Relics and Miracles

Although many seem ready to deride relics and the miracles with which they are credited, dismissing such notions as magical thinking, there are many more who believe. Can holy objects bestow healing and grace upon the faithful? In the Catholic Church, there is a strong conviction that anything which has come into contact with Christ or the Saints is imbued with extraordinary powers. During WWI, Germans bombed Paris on October 12, 1914.  As bombs fell on and around the Notre Dame Cathedral for some reason they did not explode and the cathedral was undamaged.  Many might consider this a miracle. 

Notre Dame was home to many relics from the Crucifixion including a piece of the True Cross, a crucifixion nail, and, most notably, the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus.  A particular miracle attributed to the Crown of Thorns is called “The Miracle of the Thorn”.  Once every 70 years, when Good Friday coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation, the Crown of Thorns is said to once again drip with the blood of Christ.  This fragile relic is encased in a crystal ring, held together by clasps of gilded bronze. Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the Paris Fire Department, assisted by a human chain of volunteers, entered the burning cathedral to rescue the Crown of Thorns from the April 15th fire. The relic is currently being housed at the Louvre for safe keeping.

Here’s Mike’s original photo of the gold cross that survived the fire.
And here’s the iconic image of the cross after the fire.

In addition to the ghost stories and legends explored here, in this podcast episode, we uncover:

  • the real-life inspiration for the fictional Quasimodo
  • the pagan origins of the cathedral site
  • the derivation of the word “gargoyle”.

Plus we analyze the inevitable claim that Nostradamus predicted the blaze!

This is a grotesque, perhaps the most example at Notre Dame named Le Stryge. It’s a scary statue meant to warn away evil. A gargoyle, on the other hand, does double duty, repelling demons while also functioning as a rain gutter.

So many people shared our despair about the destruction of such a famous landmark, we decided to share a Sunspot oldie from our first demo tape, that eventually made on our album. Here’s a track about acceptance, when you just can’t fight anymore; it’s one of our saddest songs, “Defeated”.

Never look directly into the, 
heart of the sun, 
Never leave your battlefield, 
before your fight’s been won, 
and let the ghosts that haunt me, 
come visit me tonight, 
I want to join their midnight dance, 
I want to surrender under the moonlight. 

When will the war inside your heart ever end? 
Why must you fight it all alone? 
Can you fill your empty soul on your own? 

I lay defeated, 
torn and broken at your feet, 
Can I make you happy now? 
I lay defeated, you have brought me to my knees. 
I cannot fight you anymore. 

And I’ll try to hide the bitterness, 
that my heart holds, 
I’ll try to regain the innocence, 
that you bought and sold, 
And I’ll try to pick my broken pieces up off the ground, 
Will you care? 
No, you won’t care, 
when they fall back down. 

When will the war inside your heart ever end? 
Why must you fight it alone? 
I see the blood that’s on my hands is my own. 

I cannot fight you. 
I will not fight you. 
So why can’t I just walk away? 

Does he do the things I never did? 
Does he make you feel wanted? 
Tell him to make you happy the way I never could. 
Even though you’re standing next to me, 
you’re a million miles away. 

Your indifference has defeated me, 
adding insult to injury. 
Now that you have beaten me, 
now that you have victory, 
now that we are history, 
will you ever be happy? 

I lay defeated.

209 – Between Love And Hate: The Devil Is Real with John Eagan

Before John Eagan had a paranormal experience, he was most famous for writing a how-to book on how to pick up ladies in a nightclub. That book, How to Pick Up Beautiful Women in Nightclubs or Any Other Place: Secrets Every Man Should Know got John onto talk shows all over the country in 1993, from Howard Stern to Geraldo.

And in this day and age of The Game, (Neil Strauss’ work on picking up ladies) where romance is achieved through insults (“negging”) and wearing outrageous clothing (“peacocking”), John Eagan’s advice to wear clean clothes and how to quickly get over your fear of rejections seems quaint and old-school. The fact that his book is less about getting laid and more about creating relationships makes John’s advice seem of a different era.

And that’s the point, John Eagan thinks that the world of this era is changing to something dangerous and he was given a warning from the depths of Hell itself. That’s why he’s written a new book, Between Love and Hate: The Devil Is Real. John was born a nice Catholic boy in New York City and moved to New Jersey as a young man.

He got married, had a family, became a special education teacher and was a bartender on the side. It was in that bar is where he interviewed the thousands of ladies that would form the basis for his romance self-help book, but it’s also where he met many lost souls. People who would pass away and John promised that he would pray for their souls to go to Heaven because they didn’t have anyone else who would.

John Eagan and his wife and the bust of Jesus he made from recycled candles

And it’s because of those daily prayers for wayward souls that John thinks that he might have caught the attention of an entity from Hell, a creature who subsists on perverting humans to do evil things and to swallow their souls for eternity. That’s what his experience entails and John gives us all the gruesome details of the Poltergeist-like experiences in his home that were witnessed by his wife and son, and how it culminated in the appearance of a demon surrounded by blue flames in his own home.

The demon in blue fire that came to John and said “No More”

For the song this week, we wanted to go with the New Jersey-theme and bust out a track inspired by the one of the greatest horror-punk bands of all,    The Misfits. So, here’s a Sunspot take on a Misfits track, based on John Eagan’s paranormal experience with a quote directly from the demon itself, “No More” 

A world of souls under attack
the Gerasene demoniac

unclean
obscene

You get caught between love and hate
we’re tempting you to seal your fate

straight down to Hell
the infidel

Swallow your soul, the Devil’s ready,
My name is Legion for we are many

I cry no more

You don’t need to be possessed.
to be banned from all the blessed

I’ve got a fever
for the unbeliever

All the dybbuks and the demons
love to watch you die screaming

in a useless prayer
to a god that doesn’t care

Swallow your soul, the Devil’s ready,
My name is Legion for we are many

I cry no more

A world of souls under attack
the Gerasene demoniac

unclean
obscene

You get caught between love and hate
we’re tempting you to seal your fate

straight down to Hell
the infidel

Swallow your soul, the Devil’s ready,
My name is Legion for we are many

I cry no more
I cry no more
I cry no more
I cry no more

until I watch you die screaming

I cry no more



187 – Luck O’ The Irish: St. Patrick’s Day Traditions, Myths, and Legends

I don’t know when St. Patrick’s Day turned from a sweet celebration of a wonderful culture into an excuse for binge drinking  (a Guinness holiday instead of a Hallmark one?) , but I think it was at some point in my lifetime. Before it used to be just about wearing green, running in the almost Spring grass looking for four-leaf clovers, eating Lucky Charms, drinking Shamrock Shakes, and of course, watching wonderful family films like Leprechaun.

But seriously, St. Patrick’s Day is flush with weird legends and myths of the patron saint of Ireland. The story of St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland (metaphor for Pagans), Christianized the country, and he used the Shamrock to help explain the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Irish culture has plenty of fun superstitions, but luck of the Irish, pinching people on St. Patrick’s Day, and turning their rivers green aren’t any of them. Join us for a conversation on where all our silly St. Patrick’s Day traditions come from and some of the real history of St. Patrick’s Day as well as legends and myths about the Emerald Isle’s patron saint himself.

Our show on March 17th, 2007 at Bikini’s in Austin, TX. Still a, ahem,  personal favorite!

One of the strange stories we talk about in the show is this weird shadow that’s cast by Saint Patrick at this New Jersey church. Sure, it’s just a coincidence… OR IS IT?!

st. patrick's day
From St. Joseph’s Church in Keyport, NJ

It’s a good time as any to bring out one of our favorite Irish songs done by an amazing Irish band. Thin Lizzy wasn’t in love with getting famous through an Irish folk song, but their version of “Whiskey In The Jar” made it a Top 40 hit all over the world. We do an acoustic guitar and violin version of it that you can request at the next Sunspot Acoustic Duo show or See You On The Other Side live event!

As I was goin’ over
The Cork and Kerry Mountains
I saw Captain Farrell
And his money, he was countin’
I first produced my pistol
And then produced my rapier
I said, “Stand and deliver or the devil he may take ya”

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da
Whack for my daddy-o.
Whack for my daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar-o

I took all of his money
And it was a pretty penny
I took all of his money,
Yeah, and I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she loved me,
No, never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman,
Yeah, for you know she tricked me easy

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da
Whack for my daddy-o.
Whack for my daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Being drunk and weary
I went to Molly’s chamber
Takin’ Molly with me
But I never knew the danger
For about six or maybe seven,
Yeah, in walked Captain Farrell
I jumped up, fired my pistols
And I shot him with both barrels

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da
Whack for my daddy-o.
Whack for my daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Now some men like a fishin’
But some men like the fowlin’
Some men like to hear,
To hear the cannonball roarin’
Me, I like sleepin’,
‘Specially in my Molly’s chamber
But here I am in prison,
Here I am with a ball and chain, yeah

Mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da
Whack for my daddy-o.
Whack for my daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar-o

144 – The Secrets of Fatima: 100 Years of a Marian Mystery

On May 13th, 1917 three children from a small village in Portugal claimed to have an apparition of the Virgin Mary appear before them. They claimed that the Blessed Virgin revealed three secrets to them that they could reveal to no one, and in fact the Third Secret could not even be released until 1960 and not to anyone but the Pope himself. They weren’t believed in the beginning and the children were even temporarily jailed (and it’s claimed the local law enforcement even threatened to boil them in oil unless they told the truth!) But in the end, thousands of people witnessed a solar miracle in Fatima, Portugal and the children’s visions would have a big impact on the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century.

Our Lady of Fatima Children
The children behind Our Lady of Fatima

“Marian Apparitions” or visions of the Virgin Mary were pretty popular the end of the Nineteenth Century. The Church investigated many of them and determined a few “worthy of belief” (including one near Green Bay, Wisconsin, so we have our own Our Lady of Perpetual Packers Victory!) “Worthy of belief” means that they think that there’s  something to the vision, but as a Catholic you’re not required to believe it (like you are required to believe that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus is the Son of God and not just a wise carpenter who was endlessly quotable.)

Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the children
Our Lady of Fatima appearing to the children

The First Secret of Fatima was a vision of Hell that Mary showed the three childern. The Second Secret of Fatima had to do with the end of World War I and the prediction that another great war would come shortly after if Russia didn’t start turning back to religion from atheism. Those secrets came out in the 1940s when Sister Lucia (the only surviving child who originally was contacted by Our Lady of Fatima, she eventually became a nun) was forced by her bishop to share the secrets in case she got ill.

The Third Secret of Fatima was kept under lock and key until 1960 when the Pop was allowed to read it. It was said that the Pope cried when he read the secret and that was enough to freak everyone out. Was it the end of the world that he saw? This was a generation of schoolchildren who were growing up with nuclear war safety drills and people building underground bunkers in their backyards. Did the Pope see the end of the world by man’s own hand?

These secrets became of such fascination to Catholics, that in 1981 a former Trappist monk decided to hijack an Aer Lingus plane and demand that the Pope release the Third Secret of Fatima.

Totally sweet painting of the Third Secret of Fatima
Totally sweet painting of the Third Secret of Fatima

 

When the Third Secret of Fatima was finally revealed, it turned out to be kind of boring. It was a vision of the Pope being murdered by gunman and when the Vatican revealed it in the year 2000 (with a treatise written by the future Pope Benedict himself, Cardinal Ratzinger) it was really just about the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, so “Hey, no big deal everybody, on this thing we’ve been hiding for damn near a century.”

That really hasn’t been good enough for some people, who think that the secret actually revealed that there would be a Pope who leads the church into ruin, a so-called “Anti-Pope” and there are people who believe that “Cool Pope” Francis is one. Even though he was in Fatima on the 100th anniversary to canonize the original children and declare their Catholic Sainthood, his detractors say that his liberal and easygoing attitude is going to lead the Church straight to the Fires of Hell.

fatima ghost anti pope
The dude from the band Ghost is the only true Anti-Pope!

Well, whether that’s true or not, there’s a different interesting theory that the people of Fatima actually saw a UFO on that strange day they saw “The Miracle of the Sun”. No less than UFO expert  has posited that theory himself.

But a more sobering and sinister theory is that the Catholic Church was using these Marian Apparitions to influence world events, that Sister Lucia writing in 1941 that the Soviet Union must be consecrated back the Immaculate Heart of Mary and away from Atheism or the entire world would crumble was justification for the Nazi Invasion of Germany. The Church’s reputation during the Holocaust and the Second World War is often brought up as one of its less proud moments (the Vatican was completely surrounded by Fascist Italy, so there could be a good reason that they remained neutral, but still it’s an unfortunate history of silence.)

100 years later, Our Lady of Fatima still intrigues and mystifies people. But whether or not their claims were true, those three Portuguese shepherd children did something amazing, they changed the world with their story and affected millions of lives. The Sunspot song this week is in that same spirit, it’s called “Change The World”.

Did you read the news today,
did you listen to what it said?
It said our world was going to Hell,
and soon we’ll all be dead.
Don’t tell me about your apathy,
Don’t tell me you don’t wanna believe,
Don’t tell me that it’s not your problem,
Can’t you see… you’re not alone?

I want to change the world.
But I can’t do it by myself,
I need somebody else.

Wandering in the dark,
we’ve been living with blindfolds on.
Just thinking about ourselves for too damn long.
Don’t tell me that you don’t care,
Don’t tell me that the world’s not fair,
Don’t tell me there’s nothing you can do to help at all.
That’s no excuse.

I want to change the world.
But I can’t do it by myself.
I need somebody else.