This week’s CBC Web column…
Orange leaf bags with grinning jack-o’-lantern faces cover the lawns. The drugstore shelves are groaning under the weight of grinning skulls, leering witches, and dancing robot mummies, and you can hardly buy groceries without getting a dangling plastic bat caught in your hair.
That must mean Hallowe’en is just around the corner, and what better time to delve into some of the darker, spookier corners of the World Wide Web?
There are a deluge of devilish delights, a cornucopia of creepy confections and gobs of ghoulish goodness to be found online, if that sort of thing appeals to you. If, on the other hand, you’re put off by the merest mention of magic, monsters, the occult and “otherkin” (vampires, werewolves, the Fair Folk, etc., etc.), you might want to avoid following the links below…all except the very last one.;
Because there are so many sites, I decided to focus on “The Big Three” of Hallowe’en costumes: witches, vampires, and ghosts.
Since witches are probably most associated with Hallowe’en, I went wandering in search of witch websites, beginning with (naturally) http://www.witchcraft.org/. Which, I’m sorry to say, was a bit of a disappointment. It leads to a site called Children of Artemis, but if you’re looking for a bit of cackling and pointy black hats, you’ll be disappointed: aside from the black-and-purple color scheme, it looks like a million other sites you’ve visited.
You can buy T-shirts from “The Children of Artemis Witch Shop,” for instance. “We ship worldwide and accept a wide range of credit/debit cards and Paypal,” they note. You can subscribe to Witchcraft and Wicca Magazine, whose latest issue features articles on a “Cyber Witch,” and news about the 2007 Witchfest. And there’s a nice invitation to celebrate Samhain—the ancient pre-Christian festival which is supposed to have given rise to Hallowe’en–complete with a “fascinating introductory talk,” a Samhain ritual, and a potluck afterwards.
It’s all rather more Presbyterian than pagan in tone, if you ask me, which of course is the point: Wiccans bristle at the traditional associations with green-skinned cackling evil-eye casting broom-riders, and who can blame them?
Still, if you’d prefer to explore the older perceptions of witchcraft, you might want to delve into the Cornell University Library Witchcraft Collection, an online selection of titles from a much larger collection that documents the earliest and the latest manifestations of the belief in witchcraft as well as its geographical boundaries, “and elaborates this history with works on canon law, the Inquisition, torture, demonology, trial testimony, and narratives.”
You can also find a collection of “grimoires,” old texts outlining traditional Western ritual magic, at a fascinating site called the Internet Sacred Text Archive, which as you might guess from the name, covers a lot more ground than just manuals of magic. And if you’re curious about spellcasting as those who believe in it practice it today, you might want to check out the Online Spells Wizard: “your guide to magic: Spells, Potions, Charms & Amulets, Love Spells, Money Spells, White Magic, Black Magic, Fortune-telling, Cures & Curses…Spells for everything & everyone, Spells accessible from anywhere, Spells with full, easy to use instructions! Become a Spellcaster: join today…”
Maybe it’s just me, but somehow some of the mystery and appeal of magic seems to be lost with a come-on that sounds like a K-Tel commercial.
Having limited time, I moved on to vampires, which these days has apparently become just another alternative lifestyle. Take The Coven Organization, whose FAQ includes a definition of vampirism (“Vampirism is best described as as a lack of energy or an energy deficiencies”), explains that not all vampires are blood-drinkers (“the major types are: sanguinarian [blood drinking], psi [psychic] vampires, elementals, and hybrids [those who consider themselves to be more than one type]” and explains that “Hollywood has distorted the popular perception of the vampire into something not like us at all.”
At which point, if you’re like me, you think, “Whoa. Us?”
Why, yes: the author of the FAQ, you see, is a vampire: “We are just like you. We are normal people, with families, jobs, bills to pay, and real lives. We live just like you do, and just as long or short.”
Which, again, is about as Hallowe’eney as the witches’ Samhain potluck.
For something a bit creepier and certainly more historic, pay a visit to http://www.shroudeater.com/, where you’ll find a ton of information about the “old traditional undead corpse of the European mainland.”
And if you’re interested in the most famous fictional vampire of them all, Dracula…well, he has his own homepage, run by Dr. Elizabeth Miller from Toronto, a literature professor who is an internationally recognized expert on the book by Bram Stoker.
Dracula probably has a blog, too, and maybe a Facebook page, but I didn’t check.
If witches are having potlucks and vampires are busy paying the bills, what about ghosts? Has ghostliness become an alternative lifestyle, too?
Not yet! Although I suppose you could call it an alternative deathstyle. (Ha! I slay me! Er, so to speak…)
There are lots of ghost-related sites online, most of them focused on attempting to gather evidence for ghosts, a la the popular TV show Ghost Trackers (which my daughter occasionally watches on Discovery Kids, somewhat to my chagrin).
One typical site is Haunted Hamilton, “dedicated to the research and investigation of history and hauntings around the World, based in Hamilton, Ontario,” with the interesting twist that part of their mandate is also to promote the preservation of heritage buildings—the places where, after all, ghosts are often thought to hang out. They have a long list of reports of their investigations of various haunting in the Hamilton area that makes for interesting reading.
Want to do your own investigation? You might want to check out Ghostsamongus, a site that, among other things, hosts eight “ghost cams,” Webcams watching places where ghosts have been reported. Viewers who spot ghostly images can capture them and post them for everyone to see.
But I did not. See, although I like the idea of ghosts—in fact, I just had short ghost story published in The Book of Dark Wisdom, a horror magazine—I don’t believe in them. Nor do I believe in magic or vampires or werewolves or a bunch of other things I enjoy reading stories and legends about.
In fact, my one big fear in doing this column is that people might visit some of these sites and start taking the existence of ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night a little too seriously, so my last link this week is to a great antidote for all of that: it’s the Skeptic’s Dictionary, which provides “definitions, arguments, and essays on subjects supernatural, occult, paranormal, and pseudoscientific,” and is intended as “a Davidian counterbalance to the Goliath of occult literature.”
You might not want to visit it until after Hallowe’en, though. Nothing spoils good creepy fun like a hard dose of reality.