Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Witching Hour

(Recently I discovered that more than 30,000 people had viewed this post from years ago on my blog The 3:15 Club, so I decided to repost it here.)

According to an old Pagan belief, the time between midnight and 3:00 A.M. on the night of the full moon is the “Witching Hour.” During this period, the veil between the spirit world and earth supposedly thins, allowing entities from other realms to visit us humans.

Some Christians call 3:00 A.M. the “Devil’s Hour.” Based on the idea that Jesus died at 3:00 P.M., this theory proposes that the opposite point on the clock belongs to the dark side, i.e., demonic forces whose power is strongest at this time.

Visitations from the Other Side

Regardless of whether you subscribe to either of these concepts, you may experience unusual or inexplicable occurrences between three and four in the morning. Many people report hearing sounds or smelling aromas that have no discernable source. Others say they sense the presence of nonphysical beings––angels, spirit guides, deceased loved ones––when they wake during this eerie hour. One summer night several years ago, when my sister slipped into a coma unexpectedly, I awoke to the tinkling of tiny bells and the scent of her perfume. She died a few days later.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00 and 4:00 am.” Researchers suggest that we reach the deepest levels of sleep between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M., and that the most vivid dreams of the night are likely to occur at this time. During this stage, our awareness may expand beyond the normal range, enabling us to perceive other levels of reality––and entities who inhabit those realms. If we’re fearful, or conditioned to believe that evil lurks in the shadows, we might interpret our early morning experiences as demonic rather than instructive.

A Time for Introspection

Yet many of us find ourselves wide awake at, say, 3:15 in the morning. This is the time when I often do my best thinking. With nothing to distract me, I can look more deeply at issues I’ve pushed aside during the daytime’s busyness. In the still of the night, my subconscious finally feels free to offer up insights I might otherwise block or reject, giving me a chance to explore them at length.

I must admit, though, I often feel alone and vulnerable in the darkest hours of the night. Problems sometimes look scarier, bleaker, more formidable and beyond my control. Perhaps that’s the real meaning of the “Devil’s Hour”––when we come face to face with our own Shadows (as Jung called the repressed part of the psyche), the personal demons that lurk in our inner darkness.

Do angels or demons visit you at night? Do you find the early hours of the morning serene or sinister? I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fascinating Fairies

What image comes to mind when you think about fairies? Dainty female figures with gossamer wings, long flowing hair, and gauzy dresses? Maybe waving magic wands or flinging sparkly pixie dust around? Most likely they’re tiny enough to perch on flower petals, but regardless of size these magical creatures are always dazzlingly gorgeous––and sometimes sexy, in an ephemeral sort of way. Of course, they’re also sweet, fun-loving beings, just the sort of playmates you’d like your kids to hang out with.

Nice, but not true––unless you’re in Disneyland, that is.

Until the last century or so, fairies came in a wide assortment of sizes, shapes, and colors––with a variety of temperaments to match. Yes indeed, some were exquisitely beautiful, but others could star in your worst nightmare. And when it came to their behavior, parental guidance was definitely advised.

Fairies, Fairies Everywhere

Wherever you go on this planet you’ll hear fairy tales of magical and mysterious beings, some no bigger than your hand and some taller than the redwoods. They fly through the air, tunnel deep into the earth, splash about in the seas, even flicker in candle flames. These awesome creatures have played a prominent role in the lives and legends of mortals since the beginning of time, and they still do.

Although flying fairies dominate the scene today, they didn’t really become popular until the Victorian era. Instead, early legends in Europe, Britain, and Ireland tended to focus on these fairy folk: pixies, elves, dwarfs, trolls, hags, leprechauns, goblins, and the sidhe. Other cultures had their fairies too. The ancient Greeks, for instance, believed in all sorts of nymphs who occupied the waterways. The Persians had their beautiful peris. Deep in Russia’s immense forests woodland fairies called leshiye ruled supreme; they could shapeshift to appear as tall as trees or as tiny as mice.

Many folklorists say fairies descended from ancient gods and goddesses. For thousands of years, these deities had dominion over the earth, the heavens, and all the inhabitants therein. They governed day and night, land and water, the seasons, the growth of plants, wild and domestic animals—just about everything. Basically, fairies can be grouped into two categories: those who guard and guide the natural world, and those who deal with destiny and the fate of humankind.

Usually, fairies stay out of sight of humans, going about their business without fanfare. But if you detour off the beaten track and into the peaceful, unspoiled places on our planet, you may get lucky and enjoy a close encounter with these nature spirits. Just be careful not to get too close or to fall for their ruses—you might never come back from the fairy realm!

Fairy Power

Myths and legends tell us that fairies have an arsenal of supernatural powers that they can use for good or ill—and mere mortals are no match for them. Throughout history, friendly fairies have helped humans by protecting crops and livestock, healing the sick and delivering babies, granting wishes and bringing good luck. Angry spirits, on the other hand, reportedly stir up storms, wither crops, conjure plagues, cast curses that last for eternity, and turn humans into toads, stones, or worse. So obviously, you want to stay in the fairies’ good graces.

Here are some characteristics fairies possess:
  • Fairies live practically forever––at least ten times as long as humans, maybe more.     
  • Fairies are stronger than they look––Hawaiian mythology tells of small spirits called the menehuene who supposedly created amazing stone dams and walls on the island of Kauai, and Arabic myths say fairies known as the jinn built the pyramids.
  • ·      Fairies can foretell the future––“The Sight” (clairvoyance) is natural to them.
  • ·      Fairies can make themselves invisible––you’ll only see a fairy if she wants you to.

 Friend or Foe?

Fairies don’t feel emotions the way humans do, nor do they share our sense of ethics—although they have their own codes, which can be quite rigid. At best, fairies could be considered amoral. Our ancestors sought to understand the ways of the fey, in order to win the fairies’ favor and avoid incurring their wrath. You might want to do the same, because although modern media depict these spirits as pretty innocuous, they have a long tradition of being anything but.

Friendly Fairies:

  • ·      Scottish brownies assist people with domestic chores, cleaning the house, or plowing the fields after everyone else has gone to bed.
  • ·      Native American spirit animals guard and guide humans.
  • ·      The Incan huacas protect crops and livestock.
  • ·      Irish merrows are known for their gentle and cheerful natures.

Scary Fairies:
  • ·      Goblins roam in packs, terrorizing humans and ruining property.
  • ·      In Hindu mythology, cannibalistic rakshasas eat holy men and cause leprosy.
  • ·      England’s spriggans steal children, rob homes, and damage crops.
  • ·      India’s troublemaking mumiai torment people of the lower castes by attacking them and destroying their belongings and gardens.
  • ·      The Russian rusalki charm human men, then drown them.
  • ·      Japanese tengu herald death and war.

Many legends describe fairies as tricksters who like to tease and torment humans. Irish leprechauns are notorious for playing tricks on people, especially those who want to grab the fairies' gold. Pixie confuse travelers, causing them to veer off track and get lost. Britain's bogles sneak into people's houses and mess things up, make strange noises, and generally annoy the occupants.

Some fairies are known to steal humans’ belongings. It seems they do this either for their own amusement or to get our attention, because if you ask politely they usually give the objects back. So the next time you lose your keys or glasses, ask the fairies to please return them.

How to Win a Fairy’s Favor or Avoid a Fairy’s Curse

Want to attract friendly fairies? Put out food and drink for them. Many of them like milk, honey, wine, fruit, and bread. Gifts of clothing, coins, and shiny trinkets also appeal to some fairies. In return, they might offer you treasure or healing benefits. In the Brothers Grimm’s story “The Three Little Men in the Wood,” fairies give a little girl gold in exchange for a bit of bread.

You might try these things to win their favor too:

  1. ·      Build a fairy house for them to live in.
  2. ·      Sing and dance, and invite the fairies to join you.
  3. ·      Play a flute or ring wind chimes.
  4. ·      Respect nature and animals.
  5. ·      Support causes that protect nature and wildlife.
  6. ·      Plant a garden (no pesticides, please).

Not everyone wants fairies hanging around, however. If you’d rather these unpredictable spirits kept their distance, you could try the tactics our ancestors used:
  1. Display iron objects.
  2. ·      Sprinkle salt around.
  3. ·      Hang up garlic.
  4. ·      Hang a rowan branch above your door.
  5. ·      Make loud noises.
  6. ·      Ring church bells.

Probably the best advice for dealing with fairies is to err on the side of caution. Let them make the first move. Be courteous, but not solicitous. Don’t invite them into your life or try to insert yourself into theirs. If you meet a fairy or if one gives you a gift, keep that secret between you and the fairy. If fairies want to stop by at midnight and wash your dishes or muck out the stables, fine. But if they invite you to dinner or offer to babysit your kids, beware.

(Excerpted from my my book Fairies: The Myths, Legends, & Lore)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Why We Love Unicorns

“Of all the legendary animals of art, folklore and literature, the Unicorn is the one with the greatest hold on our imaginations.” –– Nancy Hathaway, The Unicorn

Strong yet gentle, innocent yet wise, beautiful beyond imagination, unicorns have fascinated us since the dawn of time. Prehistoric artists painted them on cave walls 15,000 years ago. Alexander the Great claimed to have ridden one. England’s Queen Elizabeth I owned two of their horns, worth about $20 million in today’s money. What is it about these mysterious and magical creatures that continues to captivate people around the world, even after all these years?

The Unicorn’s Mystique

We’ve always admired unicorns’ power and majesty. These awe-inspiring creatures might lay their heads in the laps of young ladies and allow children to pat them, yet they retain their properties of strength, intelligence, intuition, and independence. No human can trap a unicorn unless the beast allows it to happen. Its wildness and freedom are part of what entices us; we may be just a bit envious of the unicorn’s ability to exist beyond the limitations of our humdrum, everyday world.

Unicorns represent peace and harmony and a compassionate way of living. They teach us that those who possess true power, self-confidence, and wisdom tread gently in the world and care for the innocent and vulnerable. If necessary, unicorns will defend themselves and their kind––but they never do so unless they’re attacked first.

Nor do unicorns stoop to lies, chicanery, or stupidity. Instead, they possess the traits of all great heroes: honesty, devotion, respect, inner strength, wisdom, and courage. They can’t be bought or manipulated. What’s more, they go about their business with genuine modesty, even though they know that they are the most exquisite creatures ever to set foot on Planet Earth.

In short, they give us hope. If we let them, they’ll guide us toward a more enlightened existence. What’s not to love?

The Genesis of the Unicorn

One creation tale, recounted in De Historia et Veritate Unicornis, says that the unicorn descended to earth on a cloud. The first-born creature, he was called Asallam. His role was that of the light-bearer and guide, the one who would drive away darkness from the face of the earth, for his horn itself was a beacon formed of spiraling light. With that laser-like horn he speared a rock and brought forth life-giving water to produce the most magnificent garden ever known.

Soon after, the Holy One breathed man into the garden. The unicorn was the first animal the man beheld. At first sight, the unicorn loved the man and knelt before him––and from that day forth, Fate has bound the two beings together for eternity. 

The Unicorn’s Magical Horn

Undoubtedly its most distinctive feature, the unicorn’s horn is also its most magical. The spiral shape symbolizes the spiraling pattern of life energy, what yogis refer to as the kundalini. Spiritually, the spiral signifies movement from the secret depths of your center outward into the world at large and back again. It also suggests the soul’s movement from earthly existence upward toward the higher levels of consciousness. We see the symbol echoed in Native American petroglyphs, Celtic art, and Zen gardens.

The unicorn can plunge his long spiraled horn into poisoned waters and cleanse them, so that all earth’s creatures can drink safely and be nourished. His purity is so profound that it affects whatever he touches––no taint or corruption or illness or evil can stand up to the unicorn’s righteousness. Like the Christ (with whom Christian mythology links the unicorn), the unicorn’s purity neutralizes the poisons that afflict the world.

During the medieval period in Europe, as the unicorn myth was gaining popularity among the aristocracy, so was poisoning as a way to rid oneself of one’s enemies. In reaction to the widespread intrigue and murderousness of the times, the unicorn’s horn became recognized as an antidote to evil. The royal classes––and anyone else who could afford to do so––purchased cups supposedly made of unicorn horn, which they believed would safeguard them against the omnipresent threat of poisoning. Most of the “unicorn” horns, however, were actually the spiral-shaped tusks of small Arctic whales known as narwhals.

The noted seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, in his Complete Herbal, recommended using unicorn horn in cordials to promote health and healing. As late as 1741, London’s apothecaries sold a powdered form of the horn to sprinkle in your drink for medicinal purposes.

The Lady and the Unicorn 

According to mythology, only a virgin can enchant the unicorn. Medieval troubadours, Renaissance painters, and modern-day novelists incorporated this theme into art and literature. Christianity even chose the unicorn as a symbol for Christ and the virgin as his mother, Mary.

Around the end of the eleventh century or so, the unicorn became linked with the concept of Amour courtois or courtly love. This highly structured, formalized code of behavior stated that a male suitor must worship and serve his lady––a woman who, by the way, was usually not his wife. At the time, marriages among the royalty and nobility were arranged for political reasons, and love rarely factored into these matches. Therefore, a man’s passion and erotic love were diverted to another source: a lady of the court whom he promised to honor, obey, and pledge himself. Such idealized romances, however, weren’t supposed to be consummated, as the church considered infidelity a mortal sin. Poets, musicians, and artists began linking the courtly lover with the unicorn and his lady with the virgin to whom the beast is drawn.

A series of tapestries known as “The Unicorn Tapestries” provide the most famous depictions of the myth. Believed to have been woven in Bruges, Belgium between 1495 and 1505, they now hang in the Cloisters of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art––a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1937. Some sources suggest that the tapestries were originally commissioned to mark the wedding of Anne of Brittany to Louis XII, the king of France. The seven ornate panels––twelve feet wide and up to fourteen feet high––depict men hunting the unicorn, much as European aristocrats might have hunted deer in real life, and contain allegorical imagery from both pagan and Christian mythology.

Denaturing the Unicorn 

Today, however, the unicorn has been stripped of its wild, independent, and sometimes fierce nature. Its form has become cutsified, so that it looks like a darling little horse with big eyes and a colorful horn that couldn’t pierce butter. Its animalistic nature has disappeared, along with the lion’s tail and goatish beard it sported in earlier times. Although the unicorns of yesteryear were usually male, females seem to have cornered today’s toy market (even though folklore tells us female unicorns don’t have horns). In short, the unicorn has been tamed––not by legendary virgins, but by the likes of Hasbro and Disney.

The 1940 landmark animated film Fantasia gave us the model for modern-day unicorns. Disney’s adorable creatures frolic across the screen, decked out in bright yellow horns and coats of pink, blue, and lavender. The toy manufacturer Hasbro helped create a huge market for darling little unicorns via its My Little Pony series, plush toys, games, play stations, TV shows, and more.

 Yet the mystical unicorn continues to be a most enchanting and beloved entity in the minds of young and old alike. We still love unicorns, and even though they no longer represent power and independence, we value their purity, beauty, and gentleness. Little girls who may know nothing of the old story of the virgin winning over the wild, freedom-loving beast are still drawn to the unicorn, perhaps because, as Nina Shen Rastogi proposed in an article for National Public Radio’s website, “I think for many young girls, there’s a fantasy that someday you will be recognized as the secretly beautiful, magical thing that you are. The unicorn will be attracted to something ineffable about you, secret from the rest of the world.” And as Terry Brooks points out in The Black Unicorn, “After all there has to be some belief in magic––however small––for any world to survive.”

Adapted from Skye Alexander’s book Unicorns: The Myths, Legends, & Lore. Skye is the author of more than 30 fiction and nonfiction books, many on metaphysical subjects. Visit her website

Monday, March 28, 2016

Twin-Tailed Mermaids: Lusty Ladies of the Deep

What’s sexy about a fishtail? The mermaid’s tail is one of her most obvious and intriguing symbols, one that’s rich with implications. In The Republic of Love, Carol Shields describes it as “a sealed vessel enclosing either sexual temptation or sexual virtue, or some paradoxical and potent mixture of the two.” In fact, part of the mermaid’s appeal may be her sexual unattainability—we always want what we can’t have. She’s the ultimate tease––a gorgeous babe with the breasts of a Playboy bunny, the face of an angel, and the long, flowing hair of a supermodel. But no man can consummate a relationship with her because her tail prevents access to her “lady parts.”
However, the mermaid’s tail didn’t always look the way it does now. She wasn’t always so constrained. Medieval depictions of mermaids often showed them with two tails or a tail split down the middle, suggesting that these aquatic beauties could take on human lovers after all. Dating back to ancient times, dual-tailed mermaids turn up in the art and mythology of many countries, and recall the old matriarchal belief systems that predated the patriarchal religions of today.

The split-tailed siren is a cross between the early Celtic fertility goddess Sheila-na-gig, who squats and suggestively shows off her feminine secrets, and the more typical mermaid. This sexy seductress blatantly separates her fishtail into two parts, revealing her genitalia as a symbol of feminine power and creativity.

Starbucks’ Twin-Tailed Temptress
Back in 1971, when Starbucks started selling coffee beans in Seattle, Washington, the company chose a mermaid for its logo. That half-naked beauty was of the two-tailed variety and she provocatively parted her tails, holding them up on either side of her bare torso, enticing customers with her charms.

Over time, Starbucks modified the mermaid to make her less naughty. In 1987, logo designers covered up her breasts with her long, wavy hair. When Starbucks became a publicly traded company in 1992, the logo underwent yet another change, this time obscuring the mermaid’s lower body so that only a hint of her split-tail remained in the stylized, sanitized version. To commemorate its fortieth anniversary in 2011, Starbucks refined the logo once again, eliminating the familiar lifesaver-like circle around the mermaid.

Sexy Spiritual Sirens
Despite her blatant sexuality, the two-tailed seductress decorates medieval churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, the British Isles, and Ireland. Often rendered in wood, stone, or mosaic, she graces the French churches Notre Dame de Cunault, the Basilique St. Julien de Brioude, St. Pierre de la Bouisse, and St. Pierre Bessu√©jouls. She also turns up in Italian churches, including San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, Pavia, Santa Croce in Parma, and Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunciata in Puglia. England, too, has twin-tailed mermaids in the Church of St. George in Hertfordshire and Lancashire’s Cartmel Priory Church.
Mermaids of the usual, single-tailed variety also appear in plenty of churches in Europe and the British Isles. In times when most of the populace was illiterate, pictures conveyed themes and taught morals to the pious. Christianity connected fish with Jesus, the “fisher of men,” and with Christians in general. Mermaids symbolized the sins of vanity and lust. When churchgoers saw mermaids swimming with schools of fish on the walls of their chapels, they recognized it as a message to avoid temptation that would lead them to fall into the treacherous mermaid’s clutches.
Of course, the church fathers played up stories of the mermaid’s penchant for bashing sailors’ ships onto rocks during storms, drowning men who succumbed to her wiles. Nevertheless, these sexy sirens served as artful adornments that may have distracted or delighted many a bored parishioner over the centuries.
One of the most intriguing examples of double-tailed mermaid sculpture dominates the Piazza Nettuno in Bologna, Italy. This erotic fountain features mermaids suggestively spreading their tails while enticingly squeezing water from the nipples of their shapely breasts. Commissioned to celebrate Pope Pius IV’s election in 1559 and sculpted by artist Giambologna, the bronze Fontana di Nettuno—which also depicts Neptune in all his naked glory—raised a good deal of controversy when it was unveiled. But the Pope gave the fountain his blessing, saying, “For Bologna it is alright.”
            Nothing stays the same forever, and that goes for the mermaid’s image as well. Today’s mermaids are fun-loving and friendly––lighthearted playmates who delight little girls instead of driving men mad with desire. The blatantly bawdy and awe-inspiring sirens of the past have been ousted. In the process, the split-tailed seductress has vanished, her connection with the powerful, early fertility goddesses erased by cocooning her lower body in a chaste, single tail.

Adapted from my book Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, & Lore.