The age old practice of witchcraft has seen an explosive resurgence over the last few decades. In the past it provoked wild and insane persecutions that led to ridiculous witch hunts in which thousands died. The criteria for conviction were often based on hearsay and poor evidence, and the penalties were cruel and unwarranted. Most of the madness subsided by the 19th century, having been nearly eradicated in the west by that centuries’ end. However, the hysteria surfaced again briefly during the second world war. In the midst of war, madness rules the day and invariably comes home, infecting legal matters. Few wartime cases in the courts of Britain are as bizarre as the 1944 witchcraft trial of Helen Duncan. It happened just before D-Day.
Helen Duncan – a medium that unfortunately got it right.
Helen Duncan was a spiritualist and medium from Scotland who traveled the UK during the war performing seances. Her customers are reputed to have included George VI and Winston Churchill, and she was one of the most widely known mediums of the day. Channeling for the parents of a missing sailor in 1941, she revealed that he had died when his ship HMS Barham had been sunk by the Germans. The ship had indeed sunk with a loss of 861 men, but the admiralty had kept the affair secret to mislead the Germans who weren’t aware that the ship had gone down. The cover-up made sense, since the germans would invariably spend resources on trying to track a ship that no longer existed. Plus it prevented an unnecessary blow to British public morale during the infamous blitz.The Germans found out in 1942 and the whole thing became public, but the fact remained that Helen Duncan had known about the sinking, allegedly through channeling the dead sailor, and had revealed information that could have been potentially damaging for the Admiralty’s coverup. Nothing came of it at the time, and Helen Duncan continued her seances.
Some years ago a scientist by the name of Richard Muller formulated a controversial theory regarding the possibility of a second star that may orbit our sun in the outer reaches of the solar system. Formulated in 1983, the theory was designed in part to explain a seemingly regular interval of 26 million years between mass extinctions on earth. Its now widely accepted that these extinctions do occur, one of them killed the dinosaurs, and were normally the result of asteroid or comet impacts. But what sent these objects careening toward earth every 26 million years? Muller believed it might just be due to a second star.
We’ve all heard the accounts of strange things falling from the skies. Everything from squid, fish, frogs, cows, and blood have been reported. Recently a woman saw worms falling in Louisiana, and in India, blood red rain was seen. Most of these incidents can be explained, usually by a waterspout or tornado. In the case of the cows, a Russian aircraft was blamed, and the ‘blood’ turned out to be water colored by a micro-organism.
Even the bible gets in on the game, relating plagues of frogs and brimstone falling from the heavens to punish Pharoah. Brimstone, thought to be sulfur, raining down as part of God’s wrath has been lacking since biblical times. But something akin to it may have fallen in New Jersey in 1833. But it wasn’t sulfur, it was Jelly. In the town of Rahway people saw what they described as firey rain falling, and on the ground were lumps of a gelatinous substance. By afternoon the jelly had dissappeared, leaving in its place white particles.
You can’t ever completely escape it. It influences you every moment of your life from birth to death and without it you wouldn’t have evolved. Gravity. After centuries of study, you’d think we would understand it by now. Not so, gravity remains the most mysterious force in the universe today, and this seemingly mundane fact of existance is a surprisingly fruitful breeding ground for the unexplained.
In September of 1931 in a small farm house on the Isle of Man, the Irving family began hearing odd sounds coming from the attic of the home. Initially, they sounded like a wild animal moving around, but after a time the ‘animal’ began making sounds reportedly similar to those of a baby learning how to speak. It then began to mimic words spoken by the Irvings, much in the fashion of a parrot.
Within months, the creature, which the family apparently hadn’t yet seen directly, began speaking increasingly fluent English, relating to the Irvings that it had been born in New Delhi, India on June 7, 1852. No explanation was given as to how the animal got to Britain. Other paranormal activity began happening around the house, such as objects flying across the room inexplicably. The voice of the creature began spying on the neighbors and reporting back to the Irvings, and shortly after the creature revealed itself to be a mongoose, or something similar and even allowed itself to be petted by Margaret Irving.
Lying in the Cathedral of Oviedo, Spain in relative obscurity compared to its more famous cousin, the Sudarium presents a better provenance and history than the Shroud and may be the sole surviving relic of the crucifixion that has made it to modern times. Measuring 34″ by 21″, the Sudarium is a bloodstained cloth purported to have covered the head of Jesus of Nazareth after his burial. The cloth is mentioned to have been in the tomb in John 20:6-7 described as a cloth separate from the shroud. It isn’t mentioned again until 570 A.D. when it was being kept by monks in a cave near Jerusalem. In 614, just before the Sasanian King of Persia Khusru II conquered Jerusalem, the cloth was taken to Alexandria, and within just a few years made its way to Spain through North Africa. Its been there ever since.
Among the oddest criminal cases in history is that of Spring-Heeled Jack. Starting in 1837, with a sighting as recent as 1987, this paranormal creature was said to be capable of very high leaps reminiscent of someone bouncing on springs, wore a tight fitting helmet and skin-tight clothing described as something like an oil skin, and was claimed to exhale blue flame and complete with red glowing eyes. Often dismissed as a folktale, there was a very disturbing aspect to the creature that could only be taken as attempted sexual assault. In October of 1837 Mary Stevens, who worked as a servant girl, was walking near Clapham common, a 200 acre grassy area in south London. The creature leapt at her, grabbed her by the arms, and began kissing her and ripping her clothing off. She began screaming, caught the attention of others nearby and the creature fled. This is not typical of Victorian period romanticized folktales, which generally contain just about everything except sex.
The twin fields of cryptozoology and crypto-botany are bursting with tales of strange and unusual plants and animals. While the public at large is generally aware of such cryptid superstars as the Loch Ness Monster and the Sasquatch, few have ever heard of the Man-Eating Trees of Madagascar, or the Mongolian Death worms.
In 1881 a magazine called the South Australian Register ran a story by a traveler called Carle Liche. He tells us that while travelling through Madagascar, he was horrified to watch the native Mdoko tribe sacrifice a woman to a man-eating tree. He stated that the places the woman near the tree, and after laying there for a few seconds, the tree’s tendrils took the woman by the neck and strangled her, before apparently engulfing the body. In his 1924 book “Madagascar, land of the man-eating tree” former Michigan Governor Chase Osborn recounted Liche’s tale, and mentioned that missionaries and locals in Madagascar all knew of the deadly tree. Unfortunately, Liche’s accounts may have been an exaggeration, as both the Mdoko tribe nor the man-eating tree have ever been found, and the governor may simply have been embellishing a little bit more to make for good reading.