This week’s continent is Europe, and I’m going to take a look at European stories dating back far as the first century.
Pliny the Younger (Greece): Pliny the Younger recorded one of the first known ghost stories in history. In one of his letters, he described the ghost of an old man wearing chains that haunted a large house in Athens. Residents couldn’t sleep at night due to the loud sound of rattling chains. After being terrorized by the ghost, the house became deserted, and the philosopher Athenodorus moved in. The philosopher tried to keep himself busy, to prevent to so-called ghost from getting to him. Suddenly, he heard rattling, and the noise got louder and louder. Athenodorus looked up to see the ghost with a long beard and chains standing above him. He followed the ghost, which vanished, and the philosopher marked the spot with some pieces of grass. The next day, the grass was removed from the marked spot, and a skeleton with chains laid below it. The ghost was not seen ever since.
When I read this story, I didn’t think it sounded particularly interesting. However, there are two fascinating parts to this story. First of all, those who read the actual letter say it was written with an extensive amount of vivid detail (I just read a translation), and secondly it is one of the first recorded stories of its kind. Although the belief in ghosts had existed long before the story was recorded, Pliny the Younger was one of the first to write about an encounter with one. It’s also interesting that the ghost was lost, or maybe never had a proper burial, which ties back to many of the ancient beliefs discussed in the first posting. Across several ancient cultures, it was believed that one reason for a ghost to return was that it was not properly buried, or that it was restless and had unfinished business on Earth.
Tower of London: This famous castle, located in central London, was built in 1078. Several of the towers were used to contain or torture prisoners. Tower Green and Tower Hill are famous even today as famous execution sites where prominent figures were sentenced to death. Even almost a thousand years later, the castle remains standing and is known as the location for several hundred executions. Of course, it’s no surprise that the Tower of London is considered to be one of the most haunted places in Europe. One of the most well-known ghost legends is that of Anne Boleyn (the second wife of King Henry VIII), and throughout history there have been several tales of encounters with her headless ghost. Over the past nine-hundred years, countless ghost encounters have piled up, including tales of Sir Walter Raleigh, Lady Salisbury, Lady Jane Grey, and Guy Fawkes, all of whom can be traced back to this castle.
I found this haunted site particularly interesting, because I was actually at the Tower of London only four months ago! When I was there, I saw a sign for ghost tours, but never got the chance to go. Of course, I knew about all the executions that took place there, but had no idea that it was considered to be one of the most haunted locations in Europe. However, it makes perfect sense, since the castle is absolutely breathtaking, combined with the fact that it marks the spot of so many famous deaths. When I was at the Tower of London, certain parts felt very eerie. I got to stand right in front of Tower Hill and Tower Green. The area was flooded with tourists, and it was creepy to think that hundreds of years ago, that same area was crowded for a very different reason (to see the executions).
Baba Yaga: The ugly, scrawny old witch who lives in a house with enchanted chicken legs is a well-known figure originating from Slavic mythology. She has a very long nose, and instead of using a broomstick, flies on a mortar. Baba Yaga is somewhat of a confusing character – sometimes portrayed as a villain, and sometimes as a wise helping figure to heroes of old folk tales. She is known for assigning difficult tasks, and if the individual fails to complete her request, it is said that she will cook and eat them. In her free time, Baba Yaga often makes food and tends to nature.
I think that what makes Baba Yaga so interesting is her unusual nature. Although she shares some traits with the stereotypical modern witch (skinny, very long nose, can fly, lives in the woods), she’s also very unusual in that she lives in a house with magical chicken legs and flies on a mortar. Furthermore, in many folk tales it is unclear whether she is good or bad. In one story, a girl’s father gets married to a terrible woman who makes the girl do an excessive amount of chores. After she completes tasks for Baba Yaga, the witch helps the girl find a way to incinerate her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, and the story has a happy ending. Although Baba Yaga helps the girl end up somewhere happier, she also seems to believe that the ends justify the means. She’s an interesting combination of good, bad, creepy, and strange, and I think that this unusual blend of traits has made her intriguing enough to stick around in mythology for hundreds of years.
“History of Ghost Stories.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2015.
Silver, Carly. “Ghost Stories.” About.com Ancient/Classical History. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2015.
Parkinson, Daniel. “The Tower of London.” Ghost Stories & Ghoulish Tales From The Haunted Tower Of London. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Stone, Ryan. “Baba Yaga, The Confounding Crone of Slavic Folklore.”Ancient Origins. N.p., 29 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.