Thursday, July 25, 2019

La Malacosa -- A Texas Legend of High Strangeness

The journey of Cabeza de Vaca
Texas weirdness stretches from the latest UFO sighting to the most ancient of enigmas. One obscure account in particular, from nearly five centuries ago, still causes heads to scratch even now. Just what exactly visited one local tribe in the 16th Century? Was it man, demon, or something more out of this world?

According to chronicles published in 1542, Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his beleaguered retinue encountered Native Americans known as Avavares (a Caddoan people) living in South Texas who told him of a visit from a short, bearded entity they received 15 years prior to The Spaniard’s arrival in 1534 .

So vague was their impression of the being, the tribesmen weren't sure if it was even a man, a woman, or what. Sometimes the stranger would attend the tribe's ceremonies dressed as one of their men, and other times he wore women's garments. It was as if he either didn't know the distinction or simply didn't care. While at these festivals, the interloper neither ate nor drank anything. When asked where he came from, the odd man would simply point enigmatically to a hole in the ground and simply respond "from down below."

In Cabeza de Vaca's account, the entity is referred to as La Malacosa, a Spanish compound word for "the bad thing." It's not clear if the Spanish translated a local term as La Malacosa or if this was simply how they described this seemingly monstrous entity. And his actions can indeed be described as such.

The Avavares recounted how La Malacosa would visit their homes at night brandishing a hot firebrand, grab whomever he wished, and slice their sides open. He would then reach into the gaping wound and excise a section of entrails that he would then toss into the fire. He then made three cuts in one of their arms and then another elsewhere. He then dislocated the victims arm before resetting it once more. Strangest of all, when La Malacosa placed his hands on their wounds, the closed immediately. The stranger was also prone to sending their dwellings high into the air and letting them crash to the ground.

The Spaniards didn't believe this tale, brushing it all off as a folk legend. The tribal leader with whom they spoke though took them to others in the village who verified these events transpired just as described. Was La Malacosa a demon from the depths of hell or an alien from a subterranean base? Perhaps a time traveler? A traveler from elsewhere in the world who predated Spanish contact? Maybe La Malacosa was simply a strange encounter with an ordinary man that turned into a fantastic tale as it crossed barriers of language, culture, and time.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Strange Travels: Jamaica. The Roehampton Poltergeist.

While visiting the Island of Jamaica this week, I decided to dig into its dark past to bring you tales that might provide a bit of a chill on these hot Summer days. Enjoy!

The Caribbean island of Jamaica has seen much tumult over the centuries. It has been fought over by warring powers during the height of European colonization; it was a notorious haven for pirates and privateers; and it was, as many of these islands were, a stronghold of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, these are the broad strokes; this palm-fringed paradise has also been home to smaller, more mysterious conflicts that defy rational explanation and leave the denizens of Jamaica confused and afraid, as was the case with a tormented young girl over 80 years ago...

14 year old Muriel McDonald—a sensible, unimaginative girl, according to press reports—was living with the head mistress of her school, Miss C. E. Johnson, at the teacher's cottage in Roehampton, Jamaica in the spring of 1931 when peculiar things began to manifest. Stones would be hurled at the cottage by unseen hands, and once inside, would levitate and ricochet around the room under their own volition. Soon books, pots, and jars joined the kinetic maelstrom afflicting the small cottage.

Those in witness of these events quickly noted the strange phenomenon only occurred in Muriel's presence. However, despite taking the brunt of the physical assaults, the young girl seemed unperturbed by it. Miss Johnson, however, was never stuck by any of the stones or other objects. If any of the missiles came near her, they would suddenly drop to the floor. It was as if she had a force field around her. As for Muriel, people had to watch over her constantly to ensure her safety. In one instance, the girl had picked up a hammer only to find it ripped from her hands by this unseen force, fly high into the air, and come plummeting down with frightening speed. It would have struck her head had it not been for the interference of those around her. People began keeping a watch over the pair even as they slept, but it made no difference. Even while dreaming, the stones and other objects would hurl about.

The situation dragged on for weeks. June 6th, 7th, and 8th were among the worst days during the ordeal. Scores of men and women came to the cottage to witness the events and pray for those living therein, but bottles, bricks, and even tables were being violently tossed about the small cottage. A local boy, Martel Hurlock, picked up one of the many stones, wrote his name on it, and flung it out the door. In short order, the same autographed pebble shot back through a window, bounced off the ceiling, and hit the floor with incredible force. One wall of the house was being demolished by the force in order to use its materials as a greater source of projectiles. Eventually Miss Johnson was forced to leave for her sanity and safety.

Those in attendance spoke of other bizarre phenomena. In one instance, a lamp had been hurled through a small hole in a wall, but when an onlooker tried to pass it back through that same hole, it would not fit. A stone weighing roughly half a pound was thrown through a glass pane without damage. Occasionally, it was noticed, that some the stones manifested from the ceiling, leaving the plaster undamaged.

It seemed the consensus was that some sort of malevolent spirit (duppies, as they are known on Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean) was at work, a violent poltergeist. Muriel, in fact, claimed to see a ghostly agent at the heart of the activity, but no one else did. She stated that whenever she tried to draw their attention to him, the entity would indicate threateningly that she should keep quiet. She told how she saw these duppies all the time, but that she most frequently saw a man in white following her about. However, her descriptions don't sound particularly ghostly. She recounted how he spied on her from back of the house and intercepted her as she tried to go to the latrine. On several occasions, she was able to chase him away by throwing a rock or setting her dog on him. Still, she associated this man with the strange happenings at the cottage, indicating that he often slapped, pinched, and otherwise molested her. He would also knock things from her hands or hurl stones and masonry at her. Muriel further indicated that she only encountered the man and the phenomenon at Miss Johnson's cottage. While Muriel said that she was a bit afraid of these strange goings-on, she was nonetheless feeling all right. She added that she loved Miss Johnson and their life together at the cottage.

It should be noted that Muriel's encounter wasn't unique. Other, similar stone-throwing events had happened on the island around the time, including one investigated by Lord Sydney Olivier when he was governor of Jamaica. This case is peculiar in the annals of hauntings and poltergeists because it seems to combine elements of both when they are frequently unrelated phenomena. Parapsychologists and psychical researchers have shown over many decades of research that true poltergeist happenings follow a particular pattern that often includes an adolescent girl around whom these kinetic manifestations center. It is believed these spontaneous psychokinetic manifestations arise from a psyche in tumult as it teeters on the hormonal precipice of adulthood. Yet, for all accounts, Muriel was happy where she was. Still, one has to wonder about the circumstances surrounding her living situation.

No details were given in the reporting of the time to indicate why it was that Muriel was living with her teacher and not her family. Furthermore, there is an almost sadistically lecherous aspect to her encounters with the Man in White that cannot be overlooked. Could Muriel's powerful subconscious be acting out against a suppressed rage? That she would be the focus of the attacks isn't uncommon either. In many of these cases, the agent is the individual most tormented by the force. Some suspect this is tantamount to self-harm, a paranormal manifestation of low self-esteem.

Inexplicably, the spontaneous manifestation of hurtling stones (lithobolia) is a common thread among many of these. As are other aspects of Muriel's case. In fact, it is highly reminiscent of the Centrahoma Poltergeist as well as similar events in Guyra, Australia; Birmingham, England; and New Castle, New Hampshire.

Eventually, Muriel was persuaded to abandon the cottage, after which the stone throwing ceased. This is yet another example of that blurred line between ghostly happenings and psychic phenomena that surrounds this case. It would seem that Muriel’s departure coinciding with the cessation of activity is an indication that she was, indeed, the locus of the phenomenon. However, Muriel wasn’t plagued thereafter, by all accounts, by these strange stone throwing shenanigans, which indicates that these events were location-based.

No proper investigation was conducted by law enforcement, the press, or psychical investigators. Much of what the press reported at the time was tantamount to hearsay, if later investigations are to be believed. While it seems obvious that something happened at the Roehampton cottage, just how spectacular it truly was remains in dispute. Instances of lithobolia, as stated, are not uncommon in poltergeist cases, but as time marched on, the press was relaying increasingly incredible events. It could be these accounts were somewhat dressed up to keep a newspaper buying public interested.

Was there a hoax afoot? Such claims have been levied before against claimants of poltergeist phenomena. Again, the case lacked proper investigation, thus remaining a mystery that provides more questions that it can ever answer.

Much of what we know of this tale comes from Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica (1934), by Joseph J. Williams, professor of Cultural Anthropology at Boston College. In this tome, Williams also recounts how in 1917 he was visiting a ‘notorious obeah district’ (Obeah being a syncretic Afro-Caribbean belief system similar to Vodou, Santeria, and others) in the mountains of St. Mary’s Parish when he was asked by a man to come and bless his house. The man said his family was unable to eat because and Obeah curse had been placed on them all. Whenever they would try to place food in their mouths, it would be flung away by an unseen force. Williams thought it sounded far-fetched, but nonetheless ventured to the village where he was stuck by the general fervor in the air. Clearly something had the locals riled up. When he arrived at the man’s home, a small crowd was already in attendance, awaiting both more strange food-flinging antics and what ministrations Williams could bring to the tormented family. After talking to the locals, Williams came to the conclusion that whatever was going on, they truly believed it supernatural. Still, he saw nothing unusual himself, so he blessed the home and departed the village.

The Ashanti or Asante are a Twi-speaking people of present-day Ghana who ruled over a once rich and powerful empire several centuries ago. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, a large Diaspora of Ashanti arrived in Jamaica where their religion co-mingled with that of Christians. Among their beliefs is that of the mmoatia (sometimes referred to as chichiriga), or little people, a duppie that might best be described as something of an imp or fairy. They can be boons or banes, depending on their mood and how they are treated. Most people can't see them and is these that some say cause the poltergeist-like phenomena. It is said when they are mischievous they will throw stones that behave in ways that no stone should, such as passing through walls unscathed or hitting people with little to no effect.