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5 Strange and Surreal Tales From British Folklore

Strange green siblings, a demon with a spring in his step and a talking mongoose called Gef. Whoever said British folklore was boring?



Photo: Public Domain via io9

The United States has Bigfoot and Roswell, Germany has the Pied Piper and Krampus, Japan has Jinmenken and Yamauba. Folklore is an inherent part of any culture. Passed down from one generation to the next, we can learn a lot about a community’s ideas and values from the tales that they tell. Britain has a rich history of such tales, tall or otherwise. Here are five of the strangest examples that we’ve found just for you.

5. The Green Children of Woolpit

The village of Woolpit in the English county of Suffolk derives its name from the large pits that it once used to keep dangerous wolves at bay. Legend has it that the very last wolf in England was caught in one of Woolpit’s traps. However, the village’s wolf pits are better known for capturing something else entirely.

At some point in the 12th Century, the villagers of Woolpit found two children – a brother and sister – at the mouth of one of their wolf pits. According to medieval writers, Ralph of Coggeshall and William of Newburgh, the children had green skin, wore strange clothing and spoke an unknown language. The children appeared to be starving, yet they refused to eat anything other than raw beans. The boy, who was the youngest of the two siblings, eventually became sick and died.

Photo: Unsplash

We thought eating your greens was supposed to be good for you

The surviving sibling gradually adapted to life in Woolpit, eating other foods and learning to speak English. She eventually lost her green colouring. She explained that she and her brother came from a land where everything was green and it was always twilight. The children had become lost while tending to their father’s cattle, having followed the herd into a cave. They followed the sound of bells out of the cave, but emerged in Woolpit rather than in their homeland.

Several explanations have been put forward for these strange accounts. The siblings may have been the children of persecuted Flemish immigrants, orphaned following the Battle of Fornham which occurred near to Woolpit. Their green-tinted skin could be attributed to malnutrition-induced chlorosis. A more sinister theory suggests that the green colouring was the result of arsenic poisoning, with the two children having been poisoned by their scheming uncle. Another unavoidable theory as to the pair’s origins has also been suggested: They were aliens.

Photo: Jonny Lindner

Uh oh, they know we’re on to them

4. The Owlman of Mawnan

The spring of 1976 was a particularly peculiar time in the English county of Cornwall. The weather fluctuated between extreme cold spells and extraordinary heat waves. Animals in the region exhibited bizarre behaviour, with packs of dogs, feral cats and birds terrorising the locals. Even dolphins were not immune to the insanity, allegedly attacking swimmers off the Cornish coastline. There was also an increase in the number of reported UFO sightings in the area. However, the strangest occurrence to be linked to these unearthly happenings took place in the Cornish village of Mawnan.

Photo: Claudia Beer

You wot mate?

Two young girls – June Melling, aged 12, and her sister, Vicky, aged 9 – were spending their Easter break in the small village, along with their parents. Enjoying a stroll through the woods one day, the sisters were struck with terror when they saw a large, feathered “bird man” hovering around Mawnan Church’s tower. The pair immediately ran to find their parents. Unable to properly communicate what they had seen to their bewildered parents, June drew a picture of the nightmarish creature. With the appearance of a feathered man with a head and wings not unlike those of an owl, the beast was soon dubbed “Owlman”. The children were so shaken by what they saw that their parents decided to cut their holiday short and take the girls home.

Photo: June Melling via Paranormal Encounters

We wouldn’t have stuck around either

The same creature was reportedly seen several times between 1976 and 1978, with later sightings occurring in 1989 and 1995. All of the sightings occurred near to the church where the Melling sisters first encountered the Owlman. The physical appearance of the creature remained fairly consistent in all accounts, being described as grey with glowing red eyes and black claws. The owl-like creature was also consistently said to have been as big as a man.

Explanations for the Owlman’s appearance in Mawnan range from the supernatural to the mundane. It has been suggested Mawnan Church sits upon a ley line – a straight line that links sites of geographical and historical significance – making it a hotspot for supernatural activity. Some have suggested that the beast may merely have been an escaped aviary bird, albeit a particularly large one. Others still have dismissed the chilling legend as an imaginative hoax.

3. The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui

With an elevation of 1,309 metres (4,295 feet), Ben MacDhui is the second highest mountain in the British Isles, bested only by Ben Nevis at 1,344 metres (4,409 feet). The mountain is a popular destination for climbers and hikers, attracting many visitors from all over the world. The mountain has long been said to be occupied by a mysterious presence known locally as Am Fear Liath Mòr, or the Big Grey Man.

Although the legend of the Big Grey Man dates back to at least the early 19th century, it was popularised in 1925 when the respected mountaineer, Professor Norman Collie, described an encounter he had with the ominous presence some decades prior:

“I was returning from a cairn on the summit in the mist when I began to think I heard something else other than my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me, but taking footsteps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself ‘this is all nonsense’. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist. As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it, I do not know, but there was something very queer at the top of Ben MacDhui and I will not go back there again by myself I know.”

Photo: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Professor Collie in happier times

There have been numerous other reported encounters since Professor Collie gave his account. Most describe an overwhelming feeling of panic, often accompanied by the sound of foreboding footsteps, and a desperate urge to flee. Physical descriptions of the Grey Man vary from a shadowy figure in the mist to a 20-foot-tall, Bigfoot-like creature.

While some have suggested that the mountain may actually be inhabited by a Bigfoot-like creature, others put forward the theory that purported encounters with the Big Grey Man are merely illusions. A phenomenon known as the ‘Brocken spectre’ has been observed on Ben MacDhui, whereby a specific set of atmospheric conditions result in an observer’s shadow being projected onto the clouds around them. This could explain the sightings of a shadowy figure in the mist. However, a far more poetic interpretation of the curious encounters puts forward the idea that the Big Grey Man is the manifestation of the spirit of Ben MacDhui itself.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Brocken spectre or not, this would still freak us out

2. Spring-heeled Jack

The streets of London were terrorised by the infamous Jack the Ripper during the latter part of the Victorian era. Everybody knows all about the gory Whitechapel murders. However, what most people don’t know is that the notorious Ripper was not the first Jack to have menaced London’s inhabitants during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Sightings of Spring-heeled Jack began in 1837 – the same year that Victoria came to the throne. The earliest encounters occurred in London, with a “Devil-like” figure leaping at young women and ripping their clothes before taking off into the darkness. The menacing miscreant was said to possess the ability to jump extraordinarily high, vaulting over rooftops with ease.

Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Terror of London executing a mediocre tuck jump

By 1838, Spring-heeled Jack sightings had been extensively covered by the British press. On 22nd February, the Morning Chronicle published the account of 18-year-old, Jane Alsop, who claimed to have been confronted by the frightening figure at her own front door. The young woman, hearing a disturbance outside her home, had opened the door to see what was going on. In the darkness was a man who claimed to be a police officer, who requested that Jane bring him a light, as he had caught Spring-heeled Jack. She fetched a candle as requested and handed it to the man who she now noticed was wearing a large black cloak. He threw off the cloak, revealing himself to have a “hideous and frightful appearance” and eyes that resembled “red balls of fire”. He “vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth” and proceeded to attack Jane, grabbing her and scratching her with his metallic claws. She managed to escape with the aid of her sister, and the attacker fled when the pair called out for help.

Photo: Public Domain via Boredom Therapy

Definitely hideous and frightful

Spring-heeled Jack has been sighted all over Britain since these early reports, frightening locals in the MidlandsLiverpool and Edinburgh. There are even reports of the frightening figure having been sighted on the other side of the Atlantic, first appearing in Louisville, Kentucky in 1880. The most recent sighting seems to have been in Surrey in 2012, when a dark figure was allegedly seen darting across a road and leaping more than 15 feet over a roadside bank.

1. Gef The Talking Mongoose

In 1932, James Irving, his wife, Margaret and their 13-year-old daughter, Voirrey had been disturbed by strange noises coming from the walls of their farmhouse on the Isle of Man. The scratching noises could easily have been attributed to a mouse that had made its nest within the walls. The barking, spitting and blowing noises, on the other hand, made such a simple explanation unlikely. The farmer and his family soon came to notice that whatever was behind their walls possessed an incredible knack for mimicry, repeating various animal sounds and even entire nursery rhymes.

Eventually, the Irvings’ houseguest revealed itself. Small, with yellow fur and a bushy tail, the creature told the family that he was “an extra extra clever mongoose” from India. Dubbed ‘Gef’ by James and his family, the clever mongoose became a permanent member of the Irving household, engaging his new companions in banal chitchat, gossiping about the neighbours and reminding James, Margaret and Voirrey when they had forgotten to do something.

Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns

Like a furry little Siri

The bizarre little creature, however, was not always friendly. In fact, Gef was said to possess a frighteningly nasty temper. He would swear, throw objects around the house and make violent threats. On one occasion, Gef took a disliking to a child whom he felt had doubted his existence, angrily threatening to “blow his brains out” if he ever visited the farmhouse. On another chilling occasion, he told the Irvings: “I could kill you all, but I won’t.”

Photo: OpenClipartVectors

At which point we would have fled in terror

Gef was popular tabloid fare in the 1930s, attracting many visitors to the Irvings’ home. From the beginning, there were doubts expressed as to the truthfulness of the family’s claims. It was often noted that the elusive mongoose’s voice seemed to come from wherever Voirrey happened to be. Analysis on a hair sample obtained by Voirrey cast further doubts on the Irvings’ assertions, with the hair being determined as belonging to the family dog. However, others have noted the similarities between Gef’s purported activity and the activities commonly associated with poltergeists.

Margaret and Voirrey left the farm following James’ death in 1945. The following year, the new owner of the farm claimed to have shot and killed Gef. Voirrey, however, was certain that the body displayed did not belong to the extra clever mongoose. Voirrey maintained that Gef was not a fabrication or a hoax throughout her life, before sadly passing away in 2005.

Could there be any truth to these tales? Let us know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to avoid missing out on new articles!

Chris is a pop culture nerd from London. He has a master's degree in Criminology and a pretty solid Pokémon card collection. His favourite Star Wars character is Jar Jar Binks, because he likes an underdog.

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How Long Have We Believed in Vampires?

The history of vampires is a disputed and uncertain one whatever your perspective.



Image: Pixabay

Vampires have a contested history. Some claim that the creatures are “as old as the world”. But more recent arguments suggest that our belief in vampires and the undead was born in the 18th century, when the first European accounts appear.

We do know that 1732 was the vampire’s annus mirabilis. There were 12 books and four dissertations on the subject published over that year, as well as the term’s first appearance in the English language, according to gothic expert Roger Luckhurst. But archaeological discoveries of deviant burials in Europe in the last few years have unearthed a belief in vampirism and revenants before 1500, much earlier than was previously understood by literary scholars.

The body of a 500-year-old “vampire”, for example, is currently on display in an ancient cemetery in the town of Kamien Pomorski, Poland. The vampire corpse, discovered two years ago, has been reported on widely in the world’s press. Archaeologists have confirmed that it has a stake through its leg (presumably to prevent it from leaving its coffin) and a rock in its mouth (to stop any unfinished blood sucking). Even older deviant burials have been discovered in villages in Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, the medieval remains of the first English vampires in Yorkshire’s village of Wharram Percy have reputedly been found. The inhabitants who fled the village in 1500 showed widespread belief in the undead returning as revenants or reanimated corpses. They fought back against the risk of vampire attacks and showed a medieval belief in an English zombie apocalypse, an episode that would not be out of place in a scene from The Walking Dead.

So some form of vampire was evidently believed in throughout much of Europe from the medieval period. But the seductive Romantic vampire does not leave his calling card in polite society in London until 1819, when the first fictional vampire, the satanic Lord Ruthven is born in a story by John Polidori. So how did our understanding of vampires transition from dishevelled peasants into alluring Byronic aristocrats? We must return the creature to its beginnings in early folk belief to fully understand its history.

Vampire, Vrykolakoi, Velku

In the first written accounts of European vampires, the creatures are understood as revenants or returners, often taking the form of a diseased family member who reappears in the unfortunate guise of a vampire. In such tales, “unfinished business”, even something as trivial as the want of clothing or shoes, is enough to make the dead return to the world of the living.

The number of words for “vampire” can frustrate scholars: Krvoijac, vukodlak, wilkolak, varcolac, vurvolak, liderc nadaly, liougat, kullkutha, moroii, strigoi, murony, streghoi, vrykolakoi, upir, dschuma, velku, dlaka, nachzehrer, zaloznye, nosferatu … the list goes on.

The Oxford English Dictionary takes seven pages to define a vampire, but the earliest entry, of 1734, is of most interest here:

These Vampyres are supposed to be the Bodies of deceased Persons, animated by evil Spirits, which come out of the Graves in the Night-time, suck the Blood of many of the Living and thereby destroy them.

There is evidently little appeal or attraction felt for these early revenant figures. Unlike the English aristocratic vampire, modelled on Lord Byron, these early folkloric vampires are peasants and tend to appear en mass like modern-day zombies.

Agnes Murgoci explored this folk belief further. She argued in 1926 that the journey from death to the afterlife is perilous – in Romanian belief it took 40 days for the soul of the deceased to enter paradise. In some cases, it was thought that it lingered for years, and during this time there are a myriad of ways that deceased family members can succumb to vampirism.

It was thought that dying unmarried, unforgiven by one’s parents, through suicide or being murdered could all lead to a person returning as a vampire. Events after death could also have the same effect – beware breezes blowing across corpses before burial, dogs or cats walking over coffins, or leaving a mirror (a soul trap) not turned to the wall at this precarious time.

Image: Public Domain

Entering Literary Spheres

It was a treatise written in 1746 by the French monk Antoine Augustin Calmet that famously gave British writers access to a number of encounters with vampires. Calmet took inspiration from Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a botanising man of science, who had earlier claimed to have come face to face with a plague of bloodsucking vampires in Mykonos in 1702. His account was still being read in 1741.

Three decades after Tournefort’s encounter, the London Journal of 1732 reported some enquiries into “vampyres” at Madreyga in Hungary (a story later referred to by John Polidori). Greece and Hungary feature prominently in these early accounts – and this is mirrored in Romantic literature: Lord Byron for example makes Greece the setting of his unfinished vampire story A Fragment (1819).

But it was Polidori who was responsible for the vampire’s English pedigree and its elevation of social rank. There seems never to have been an urban, nor an educated bourgeois bloodsucker prior to The Vampyre (1819). A predatory sexuality is also introduced. We see for the first time the vampire as rake or libertine, a real “lady killer” – a trend that metamorphosed into Bram Stoker’s Dracula and anticipated the arrival of vampire romance in the beautiful undead form of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

As this all reveals, the history of vampires is a disputed and uncertain one whatever your perspective, scientific or literary. But the “vampire” burials discovered by archaeologists of late do cohere with practices that are known to suggest a belief in vampirism (such as piercing the corpse, nailing down the tongue, putting a needle in the heart and placing small stones and incense in the mouth and under the finger nails to stop blood sucking and clawing). These “vampire” corpses do therefore go some way towards finding out how old our belief in vampires actually is.

But the history of vampires is still impossible to chart with any certainty, and we should probably take heed from British vampirologist Montague Summers (1880-1948) in our search for the lair of the original fiend. He referred to vampires as “citizens of the world”: to him, they existed beyond temporal or geographical boundaries.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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The Black Monk of Pontefract (Europe’s Most Violent Poltergeist)

Is 30 East Drive really haunted by the sinister spirit of a 16th-century monk or is it all just a trick of the mind?



Image: Pixabay

The Black Monk of Pontefract is one of the most notorious poltergeists in Europe.

Infamous for many reasons, the ghost’s reputation has been immortalised through its pranks, violent actions, and a 2012 horror film.

The History

One day young Diane Pritchard was minding her own business in her home at 30 East Drive, Pontefract, England. It was then that Pritchard’s long hair stood on its end. Without warning, something pulled Diane by her hair and dragged her up the stairs of her home, causing her to kick and scream for her life. Then it was over and all that was left of the event were finger marks on her neck and trauma on her psyche.

To anyone else, this occurrence would have been out of the ordinary. Though for the Pritchard family it wasn’t. Jean, Joe, Phillip, and Diane Pritchard knew they were living with a poltergeist since their move-in in August 1966. They named the entity Fred. What was strange about the event was the violent nature of Fred’s actions.

Prior to Fred dragging Diane up the stairs, Fred made his presence known in other ways. Witnesses saw chalk dust falling from head level, pools of water appearing and reappearing instantaneously after continuous cleanup, lights going on and off, the tea dispenser activating by itself, cupboard doors shaking, plant pots jumping out of their containers, items levitating, and photographs being slashed by some invisible blade.

Very little is known about Fred except that the poltergeist has a sense of humour and violent tendencies. Some theorise that Fred is the subject of a local legend. In the legend, it is said that a 16th-century monk was tried and executed for a heinous crime on the grounds the house is on. The monk’s body was disposed of in a well on the grounds too.

One fact that supports this theory is that when Fred does appear he takes the form of a dark shadowy figure in black monk’s robes. This image has earned him the title of “The Black Monk of Pontefract” and the “The Black Monk Poltergeist”.

The Movie

The 2012 horror movie When the Lights Went Out is loosely based on the events at 30 East Drive.  The house’s official website says the movie takes place in 1974 and is “the story of a down-to-earth Yorkshire family and the malevolent spirit who turns their existence upside down”.

The movie is directed by local Pontefract resident Pat Holden and produced by Bil Bungay, the current owner of 30 East Drive.

The movie’s premiere actually took place in the house! While brainstorming creative ways to promote the movie, Bungay realised there was no better place to hold the premiere than in the very location the story takes place.

Bungay would later reflect: “After completing the movie, I was looking for original ways of promoting When the Lights Went Out when I discovered that the actual house, where all these incredible events allegedly happened, was for sale – and it was…er, cheap – so I bought it!”

Bungay was sceptical of Fred’s residency and figured after 40 years, if there was a ghost, it would no longer be there. Bungay said he assumed wrong.

Over the next several months, the one-time sceptic became a firm believer when he witnessed unexplainable events in the house. Occurrences like a fully charged phone shutting off while taking a photo, reports of early morning bumps and bangs coming from the house, glowing blue balls of energy in the corridor, and the black shadow of a very tall entity coming through the wall into the neighbour’s house have all allegedly taken place.

The Present

While you can visit Fred at 30 East Drive, the owner does not recommend it.

That’s not surprising considering there have been 288 recent interactions with the demonic entity. From spirit balls floating around, doors opening and closing on their own, large black shadows, and scratches appearing on guests’ bodies, the recounts go on and on.

If you do visit, there is a list of rules to abide by. Visitors must also sign a release form relinquishing all legal rights in order to visit the house.

Image: 30 East Drive Ltd


30 East Drive has a long list of paranormal encounters to its name. Though some may think these occurrences are caused by something else rather than a ghost named Fred.

The power of expectation could be much more powerful than Fred ever will be. Visitors see the Black Monk of Pontefract at the house because they are looking for him.

Psychologists call this experience motivated perception. Based on what one witnesses, they pick and choose the information that will best support their bias and experience. Perception is malleable.

So, if you walk into a haunted house with the hopes of meeting a poltergeist, you are going to select moments from the experience that support your ideas.

That being said, the Pritchard family didn’t move into the house with the intention of living with a ghost.

Was their experience real because they weren’t looking for a poltergeist? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

What do you think? Is 30 East Drive really haunted by the spirit of a 16th-century monk? Let us know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to avoid missing out on new articles!

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Jinmenken: The Human-Faced Dogs of Japan

Could the Jinmenken from Japanese folklore be real? Could these mythical creatures have really existed and, more importantly, are they still around today?



Image: Yo-kai Watch © LEVEL-5 abby Inc

Could the Jinmenken from Japanese folklore be real? Could these mythical creatures have really existed and, more importantly, are they still around today?

The Jinmenken, or “The Human-Faced Dog”, was first reported back in the “Edo Era” from the early 1600s to the mid 1800s. They were often seen by locals and were so common that they were featured in some newspapers of that era. Many of the creepy critters that weave their way through Japanese mythology are purely imagined fantasies. They border between fact and fiction, thus blurring one’s perspective of what is reality and what is just pure fantasy.

But what if this bizarre creature is still among us today? Sighting locations of this strange animal can vary, from dark rural roads to bustling city streets, where they have reportedly been seen to rummage through rubbish bins for scraps of food.

Unlike most of the mythical creatures in Japanese folklore, it is said that the Jinmenken means you no harm. They are known to plead with those who have come in contact with them to leave them alone. Or in some rare cases, have held simple conversations with those who would choose to stay and listen.

These sad-eyed beasts are said to look like ordinary dogs from a distance, but have dirty, matted coats with their tails between their legs as if to cower or be submissive. To the observer, these pathetic creatures seem to be sad and scared.

Image: Pixabay

Jinmenken are said to look like ordinary dogs from a distance

It has been reported that Jinmenken were once used in “misemono” – the Japanese equivalent to a travelling sideshow. These exhibits would typically feature an assortment of exotic creatures, mummified monsters and mysterious artefacts of the strange and macabre.

After visiting a misemono, one noted zoologist of the time described his reaction to seeing a purported Jinmenken on display:

“There, cowering and whimpering in the corner of the display booth I saw the hunched over form of what I first took to be a typical Shiba Inu, although of a somewhat more pungent odour. Then the thing looked up with sad eyes and I could see clearly that it was the face of a human being, albeit with the empty, soulless gaze of an animal. I was eager to be on my way from such a ghastly abomination and the thing’s gaze left me with a deep unease long after I had left.”

The zoologist was not the only one to feel such unease. Foreboding feelings of dread and despair are common among those who claim to have encountered Jinmenken. There are even reports of observers being hypnotised by these peculiar creatures, which some say are omens of tragedy and misfortune.

But can there be a logical explanation for the bizarre beasts?

One theory is that these creatures are nothing more than Japanese macaques, or “snow monkeys”. These primates, the most northern inhabitants of the monkey world, can be found all over Japan and resemble a small dog from a distance. They also have human-like faces and have a varied range of vocal abilities that could easily be mistaken as speech buy the anxious observer.

Image: Pixabay

Could the Jinmenken be nothing more than Japanese macaques?

That leaves us the question, is the mystery of the Jinmenken just a myth? Or is there some truth to the stories that are still being told today? Could they just be the imaginations of a people steadfastly engrossed in the fables of their culture? Or are they just a misunderstood little monkey?

Look deep into your soul, could you have seen one of these creatures in your dreams? Did you recognise your own face on the body of a desperate animal? Could these mythical beasts be real?

We’ll leave that up to you to decide.

What do you think? Could the Jinmenken really exist? Let us know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to avoid missing out on new articles!

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