Myth Monday: Nu Wa, the Snake Mother (Chinese Myth)

May 13, 2019

Kara Newcastle


In the beginning, only two beings lived upon the newly formed Earth; the half-human, half-snake god Fu Xi, and his sister-wife, the half-human, half-snake goddess Nu Wa. Together they created the plants and the animals, and Nu Wa herself created ten gods from her own organs … but Nu Wa found herself to be strangely lonely. Feeling that she would feel better with a child, Nu Wa and Fu Xi attempted to create one, but their attempts only resulted in a formless lump of flesh. Nu Wa became so frustrated with her loneliness and inability to create life with her husband that she decided to travel the world to take her mind off of things … only to grow more lonely because the world was so empty.

One day, Nu Wa paused to rest beneath a tree beside the great Yellow River. Glancing down into the waters, she saw her own reflection and smiled at the pretty sight. After a moment, her eyes trailed down to the river’s banks, and she noticed the rich clay that had gathered there, deposited by the river’s currents. Her curiosity piqued, Nu Wa reached down and gathered up a handful of clay, kneading it between her fingers, working it into various shapes.

Looking back down to her reflection, Nu Wa studied her appearance, her human form as it was from the waist up.

“I wonder,” she said, turning back to the clay in her hands, “if I could shape this into a living being? Then I could have someone to talk to, and I wouldn’t feel so alone.”

Curiosity turned to excitement, and Nu Wa gathered more clay, working the formless lump into a figure, modeling its top half after her own appearance. As she moved below the figure’s hips, Nu Wa considered forming the bottom half into a serpent’s tail, much like her own, but then decided against it. She rolled out two appendages, things she called legs, then pinched the ends over, creating feet.

Delighted with her creation, Nu Wa set the figure on to the riverbank and sat back to admire it. As she smiled lovingly down on the figure, it slowly opened its eyes. It blinked, then took a deep, uncertain breath. Raising its head up, the new being saw Nu Wa. It smiled and held its arms out to her.

“Mother!” it joyously cried.

Jubilant with her success, Nu Wa scooped up more and more clay, fashioning more and more of the creatures—the first humans—as rapidly as she could. She created women and men, girls and boys, made some tall, some short, some thin, some large, gave them various features and different voices. Each of these humans adored Nu Wa, and she loved them all as her children.

In time, Nu Wa realized that she was beginning to tire. She had formed hundreds of these humans out of clay, and she was nearly overwhelmed with the need to make more, but the process was becoming more and more tedious. Still, it hurt her to not finish, to not make more children. She wanted more.

“Perhaps there’s a faster way to make them,” Nu Wa mused. Pivoting around atop her sinuous snake body, Nu Wa scanned the riverbank around her and her new children, searching for something that could assist her. Seeing a vine twisting its way around the tree she sat beneath, Nu Wa reached out and pulled it down. Dipping one end into the clay, Nu Wa then whipped the vine in the air over her head, spraying clay everywhere. Wherever the drops landed, new human beings sprouted. These humans became peasants, while the ones that Nu Wa created by hand became nobles.

Even this proved to be exhausting, and, lowering the vine, Nu Wa was struck with an incredible idea; instead of creating more humans herself, she would have her new creations make them for her! Nu Wa granted her new humans the ability to copulate and give birth, and taught her human children the institution of marriage, so that their children would grow safely and honorably.

Nu Wa remained in her children’s lives for many years, protecting them from the Yellow River’s floods, and teaching them how to build dams and irrigate their fields. She and her husband Fu Xi ruled the humans as queen and king, and after Fu Xi passed away, Nu Wa ruled on her own for many years longer, successfully defending her children from the malicious Kung Kung when he sought to overthrow her, and then using the five stones of the elements to repair a hole in the sky left by a bad-tempered dragon. When her time on Earth was complete, Nu Wa climbed a ladder into the Heavens and disappeared from sight, but she continues to watch over her human children, and the humans of China have never forgotten their beloved Snake Mother.

Myth Monday: Vampires from Around the World (World Mythology)

October 31, 2018

By Kara Newcastle



Everybody knows about the traditional European vampire: thin, pale, red lips, piercing eyes, sleeps in a coffin, survives on blood drawn from a victim’s throat which has been punctured by a pair of fangs, blah blah blah. Fortunately, that’s not the only kind of vampire out there—there are hoards of them all over the world, each more unique (or weirder) than the last. Take a look, and keep the garlic handy!

Oh, and fair warning … some of these can be a little gross.

  1. Bakeneko (Japan): Before the arrival of Europeans, Japanese people believed in vampires, but their versions weren’t reanimated human corpses out looking for blood; typically, a Japanese vampire was an everyday, run-of-the-mill animal that had developed nefarious powers. One famous story tells of how a bakeneko (ghost cat) sought revenge for the unfair death of her owner’s son by Nabeshima Mitsushige, a local daimyo (feudal lord.) The bakeneko killed Mitsushige’s favorite concubine and then took on her appearance so that she could drain the life from him at night. After noticing how Mitsushige seemed well during the day but increasingly weak and frail after spending the night with his concubine, the daimyo’s retainer Komori Hanzaemon hid in their bedchambers one night and caught the bakeneko attacking the prince. He drew his sword and slew the blood-drinking cat vampire.

  2. Chiang-shih/jiangshi (China): The Chinese vampire is one of the more unique reanimated human bloodsuckers in mythology. Why? Because it gets around by hopping! Long ago if a person died far from their home, their grieving relatives would hire a Taoist priest to bring the body home. The priest would go to the corpse, bind its arms and legs together, then attach a magic spell to its forehead to make it stand up and hop its way home—naturally, it only moved along at night when the roads were deserted, since the sight of a corpse bouncing along a road would surely give living witnesses heart attacks. In time the myth evolved, and a chiang-shih was thought to be the reanimated  or demon-possessed body of a dead person who had not been buried properly. They grew fangs and claws and attacked people for blood—all while still hopping around. If a chiang-shih was not disposed of quickly, it would move through seven stages of evolution (sort of like the worst Pokemon imaginable), growing increasingly more mobile, more powerful, and eventually gaining the ability to fly and transform into wolves. They were almost impossible to kill at that point. Salt, garlic and iron were effective tools against a chiang-shih.

  3. Chupacabra (North and South America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean): The most modern of all vampires, the Chupacabra (“goat sucker”) is a creature that apparently comes in two different species: the half-ape-half-reptile-kangaroo-like-usually-fairly-large-and-may-or-may-not-be-winged variety most often reported in Mexico, South and Central American and certain places in the Caribbean, or the hairless, blue-eyed dog-like creature seen (and killed and taxidermized!) in the Southwest United States. The reptilian version gained notoriety in the early 1990s, particularly in Puerto Rico, when an unexplained rash of pet and livestock killings occurred. The animals—particularly goats, hence the name—were found dead and largely intact, save that they appeared to have been completely drained of blood. Sightings of the fanged kangaroo-lizard-monkey thing quickly followed, giving rise to a new legend. More recently, similar livestock deaths in the United States, particularly Texas, have been blamed on a highly unusual-looking canine-like animal seen lurking around. The dog thing is gray, hairless, has front legs shorter than the back, weird knobs on its hind end, only two mammary glands (unlike a dog’s typical six), piercing blue eyes and long white fangs. The animal has been sighted by hundreds of witnesses, including a sheriff’s deputy who caught it on her dashboard camera. Several have been shot and killed, and the body of one that was hit and killed by a car was rescued by Dr. Phylis Canion, who had it stuffed and mounted. DNA tests suggest that it’s probably a mix of coyote and wolf, but it sure is weird looking. See it here!

  4. Langsuyar and Pontianak (Indonesia): The langsuyar is a woman died either while pregnant or during childbirth, and a Pontianak is a baby that was stillborn (though some other regions believe that pontianak is an even more vicious version of the langsuyar.) The langsuyar appears as a beautiful woman with ankle length black hair (though sometimes she can be a detached head), long claw-like nails, hands that drag down by her feet, and wearing green robes. She hunts infants and especially likes the blood of newborn boys. The langsuyar can be recognized by a hole in the base of her neck, and she can be cured of her vampirism if you cut off all of her hair and fingernails and stuff them into the hole—good luck with that. To prevent the creation of either a langsuyar or a Pontianak, the mouths of the corpses must be filled with beads to keep them from screeching, eggs must be placed under their arms and needles in their hands to keep them from flying. As recently as 2013, villagers in Kelantan, Malaysia, reported a langsuyar flying over their houses, cackling.

  5. Leanan Sidhe (Ireland): Interestingly, while most of Europe west of Romania had never heard of the blood-drinking vampire, Ireland had a wealth of tales about fairies that would feast on the blood or life energies of human beings. One such fairy vampire was the beautiful leanan sidhe, who was highly attracted to poets and artists. If a leanan sidhe found and fell in love with a poet or artist, she would act a as their muse, granting them inspiration to created fabulous works of literature or art. However, there was a cost; the poet may gain inspiration, but he would slowly wither and die as the leanan sidhe fed off of his energy. Once the victim had passed away, the leanan sidhe would move on to find new prey.

  6. Manananggal and Aswang (Philippines): Perhaps the grossest of all the vampires, the manananggal is a woman who can either detach her head from her body or her upper torso from her lower torso (depends on the story). The detached part of her body then flies through the air, trailing its intestines behind it. The manananggal loves to prey on pregnant women and, upon finding one, will perch on the roof of the woman’s house and lower its needle-like tongue down inside. The tongue pierces the woman’s stomach through her bellybutton and sucks out the heart of the baby, resulting in a stillborn child. The manananggal can be defeated if the lower part of its body is found and filled with salt or garlic, preventing the upper half from rejoining the rest of its body, and then dying in the rising sunlight. Another way to defeat the manananggal is to cut its tongue; one popular story (I might be getting it confused with another similar vampire) tells of an expectant mother who was sitting in a chair sewing, and noticed a long dark thread on her lap. Annoyed that she couldn’t find the end of it, she snipped the thread with her scissors, then jumped in fright as she heard something yelp, fall off her roof and crash into her yard. The next morning a dead manananggal was found in her yard, and was recognized as a local woman. A similar creature, called the aswang, is male, doesn’t detach any part of his body but can shapeshift into an animal, and is impervious to sunlight. It feeds on babies and small children, but would never harm anyone in its village and can actually be a good friend. They are driven off by salt, garlic and holy items and can be killed by decapitation. In the 1950s, the CIA helped to curb an uprising in the Philippines by killing a rebel soldier and staging his body to look like he had been killed by an aswang (it worked—the rebels fled the area.) An episode of Destination Truth featured a hunt for an aswang near a mosque in the Philippines.

  7. Obayifo (West Africa): Here’s a interesting vampire for you: the Dahomey and Ashanti people of West Africa believed in a creature called an obayifo, a black-magic user who was so constantly hungry that they were known to steal children to eat (hence the Ashanti word obayifo, “child-snatcher”) and not only sucked blood out of living people but also the juice out of fruits and vegetables. They appeared as ordinary human men or women, and sometimes could leave their bodies and travel as balls of light. In their human forms, they were pretty easily identified as vampires: they glowed from their armpits and anuses.

  8. Penanggalan (Malaysia): Much like the manananggal, the penanggalan is a woman who detaches her head from her body and flies around at night with her organs trailing behind her like the world’s most disgusting kite tail. How the woman becomes a penanggalan varies from story to story, though frequently she’s cited as being a woman who died in childbirth or a midwife who has made a pact with the devil. When she needs to return to her body, she soaks her entrails in vinegar to shrink them down for easier insertion (hey, I don’t make this crap up, I just report it.) The penanggalan uses her long tongue to feed on the blood of pregnant women and infants, all of whom die from a wasting disease. She can be deterred by wrapping thorny branches around windows or planting prickly pineapples beneath the stilt legs of the woman’s house, where the penanggalan will be snagged and can be hacked to death with a machete. If the body is found it can be burned or filled with crushed glass, preventing the head from rejoining. The head will then be killed by sunlight.

  9. Rakshasas (India): Most often described as being infernally beautiful women, rakshasas are blood-thirsty demons that haunt Indian cemeteries and crematoriums, and are known to follow in the wake of Kali, the goddess of destruction. Travelling by night, these fanged beasts liked to prey on pregnant women and infants, and a hero who could kill a rakshasa was a powerful warrior indeed. Like many vampires, rakshasas could be killed with fire.

  10. Red caps (Scotland): Red caps are hard to miss; they’re Scottish dwarves that tramp through the roads and fields at night, brandishing axes and halberds as they go. The second they spy a human being, the chase the hapless person, hack him to death, and then soak their caps in his blood. No, they don’t drink the blood—they just like the color of it. That’s all.

  11. Sasasabonsam (West Africa): A freaky vampire, this thing had iron teeth and hooks for toes. It would sit in tree branches that extended over a trail and dangle their legs down, waiting for someone to pass by. When a human made to mistake of crossing under their tree, the sasasabonsam would grab them with their hook toes, haul them up into the tree and drain them dry.

  12. Soucouyant/loogaroo (Caribbean, United States): A soucouyant (often known as a loogaroo in the United States) is an old, black magic-wielding hag who peels off her skin at night, hides it, transforms into a fireball and then flies through the air seeking victims. She worms her way through a gap in a person’s house and then proceed to drink their blood from their limbs. If she drinks too much, her victim will die and possibly become a soucouyant as well. Like many vampires, the soucouyant is very OCD, and if you scatter rice around your bedroom, around the outside of your home or at a crossroads, she has to stop and count every single grain; if she doesn’t complete the task before dawn, the sunlight will burn her and she’ll rush screaming back to her skin. If you should find the soucouyant’s skin, you should coat the insides with salt and put it back in its hiding place. When the soucouyant tries to put the skin back on, the salt will burn and kill her.

  13. Tlahuelpuchi (Mexico): An interesting and unusual vampire from ancient Mesoamerican myth, the tlahuelpuchi is a person, most often a woman, who is cursed to become a vampire when they reach puberty. They feed largely on the blood of infants, and if they don’t consume blood once a month they will die of starvation. Tlahuelpuchi maintain their own hunting territories apart from one another, though the are in communication with other supernatural entities and magic workers. The tlahuelpuchi hunt by leaving their legs behind in their home, transform into a turkey or a vulture, then fly in a cross pattern above the house of their intended victim as part of a ritual (north to south, then east to west.) When a tlahuelpuchi is discovered, they have to be destroyed immediately, though if a family member kills them the curse can pass on to them. Garlic, certain metals and onions can protect people against the tlahuelpuchi.

  14. Vrykolakas (Greece, Bulgaria, Slavic folklore): Ever had a hard time deciding if you want to be a vampire or a werewolf? Well, you’re in luck, because if you’re a vrykolakas, you can be both! A vrykolakas is a person who lived a sinful life, was excommunicated, ate the meat of an animal killed by a wolf or was a werewolf in life. When this person dies, they can return to life as a vampire. The vrykolakas then roams through their hometown, killing villagers, spreading disease and terrorizing their surviving family members. Burning or dismembering the body, piling rocks atop the body, decapitation and staking were effective ways at killing the vrykolakas. Like a surprising number of vampires throughout the world, vrykolakas are obsessive-compulsive, so if you spread seeds of grains of sand over the grave, the vampire is compelled to count each grain—at a rate of one grain a year, so you’ll be pretty safe.

  15. Yara-ma-yha-who (Australian Aboriginal legend): Among the weirdest of vampires, this one takes the cake: the yara-ma-yha-who is a frog-like humanoid with red hair that sits in fig trees, waiting for humans to stop by. When a human does pause at the tree, the yara-ma-yha-who drops out of the tree and attaches its fingers—each tip of which has a sucker on it—to the victim, draining them of blood. Once the human is dead, the yara-ma-yha-who swallows them whole, drinks some water, sleeps for a little while, then spits the person back out. The victim is alive, but a little shorter than before, and their skin now has a red tint. The yara-ma-yha-who does this over and over again until their victim is turned into a yara-ma-yha-who. Interesting, the yara-ma-yha-who hunts exclusively during the daytime and will only go after living prey, so if you see one coming at you, drop to the ground and play dead until sunset; once it gets dark the yara-ma-yha-who will return to its tree and you can make a run for it.

Myth Monday: A Few of My Favorite (True) Ghost Stories (Paranormal)

October 22, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

Interestingly, I’ve discovered that when reading about things like mythology and folklore, you are inevitably drawn into the world of the supernatural. So many things—like ghosts, for example—that are discussed in mythology crop up again in the modern day, which just adds proof that maybe ghosts are real. You might not believe in ghosts and you’re entitled to your beliefs/non-beliefs, but there are just so many stories that it’s hard to deny that something is going on, and while I have a wealth of examples, I picked just a few of them for this Halloween. Enjoy!

The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln: One of the most haunted buildings in the United States, is, believe it or not, the White House in Washington, D.C. It’s so rife with a variety of spirits (including presidents and first ladies), that even former president and skeptic Harry S Truman once wrote to his wife Bess, “The damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’.”

The most famous and frequently seen ghost is that of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. Not only is he frequently seen around the White House, he has been known to interact with the living as well. One of my all-time favorite stories hails from the 1940s or thereabouts, during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt’s guest at the time was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and, as an honored guest, she was given the Lincoln bedroom suite.

Late one night as she readied for bed, the queen heard a knock at the bedroom door. Queen Wilhelmina opened it and saw a very tall, thin, bearded man standing there, wearing a frock coat and tall stove pipe hat, smiling. He inclined his head and said, “Good evening, madam.” This all would have seemed like a polite gesture from a member of the White House to the royal guest, but the queen didn’t see it that way. She recognized the man in front of her as none other than Abraham Lincoln! She screamed and slammed the door shut, causing several Secret Service agents to coming rushing to her room, finding her in a dead faint. As the men helped her come to her senses, Queen Wilhelmina looked up and saw a bathrobed FDR frantically wheeling his way down the hall to see if she was all right. The queen told the president what she saw … and he wasn’t at all surprised.

The other story I absolutely love is that of when English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was staying in the Lincoln bedroom. One night he emerged from his bath wrapped only in a towel. He glanced up and stopped dead, seeing Abraham Lincoln sitting on the edge of his bed, watching him. Never at a loss for words, Churchill summoned his nerve and said, “Good evening, Mr. President … you seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

Always appreciative of a ready wit, Lincoln smiled, then vanished.

The Ghost at Little Round Top: In 1981, two Civil War reenactors (naturally, I can’t find their names, but I’ve seen them on TV), were sitting on Little Round Top Hill, taking a break from the faux battle when they noticed a man dressed as a Federal soldier trudging wearily through the brush towards them. He stopped to rest, and they chatted a bit until he seemed to summon up his strength. Standing, the stranger handed them two cartridges containing live ammunition—musket balls—then turned and tromped back down the way he came, vanishing into the undergrowth. The two reenactors were alarmed when they realized that the rounds the stranger gave them were live (meaning they were actual bullets, not blanks), since the use of live ammo was strictly prohibited during reenactments. At the end of the reenactment, they couldn’t find the stranger to ask him about the cartridges, which made them uneasy. They had the cartridges examined, and were astonished when they were told that the bullets were actual ammunition from the Civil War. The stranger was never seen again.

The Gray Man: Not all ghosts are scary. Some are actually very benevolent, and they actively look out for the safety of the living. One famous example is the Gray Man of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Since approximately 1822, this ghost of a man in gray clothing has been seen walking along the beach prior to the arrival of fierce hurricanes. Many people have encountered this odd but solid looking specter, and while he often walks by without a word, sometimes he will acknowledge the humans he meets. The locals know that if they see the Gray Man on the beach, they have to clear out and fast. Interestingly, those that have seen the Gray Man and fled the area before the arrival of the hurricane come home to find that their home is standing completely intact, while their neighbors’ houses are all smashed to kindling.

Why would the Gray Man want to protect the living? Well, the story goes that in life he was a handsome and rich young man (thought to be possibly the island’s namesake Percival Pawley, or early resident Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston, though some have suggested Edward Teach, a.k.a. the pirate Blackbeard) with a beautiful fiancée that he loved very much. One year he traveled to Europe for business, and when he returned home he was so impatient to see his beloved that he rode heedlessly out into the woodlands towards her house, not realizing that recent storms had badly saturated the land. His horse skidded in the mud and threw him into a pool of quicksand, where he drowned as his slave looked on helplessly.

His fiancée was utterly devastated. One day while walking on the beach, mourning, the woman looked up and saw her fiancé standing there before her, wearing the gray suit he had been wearing when he died. Overjoyed, she started to rush to him, but he threw his hands out, begging her to stop. He warns her that a monstrous storm was barreling towards their town, and that she and their families had to flee. Believing him, the woman rushed home to warn their families, and while they were dubious that she had seen her lover’s ghost, they agreed to leave. When they returned home, they were shocked to see their town destroyed … but their houses were unscathed.

Though well known locally, the Gray Man gained national and international notoriety when the show Unsolved Mysteries (bring it baaaaack!) interviewed Jim and Clara Moore, a married couple who encountered and recognized the Gray Man shortly before Hurricane Hugo hit the coast. Their house was miraculously spared in the devastation. More recently, the Gray Man was seen just before the arrival of Hurricane Florence.

The Charles Haskell: Here’s an interesting twist—instead of a haunted house, it’s a haunted ship. The Charles Haskell was a schooner built in a Massachusetts sea port in 1869. It was scheduled to be purchased for cod fishing, but before it ever left port, a deck hand fell from the rigging, broke his neck and died. Seeing this as a bad omen, the captain refused to buy the ship, and the Charles Haskell sat at port for several years before it was finally purchased by Captain Curtis of Gloucester.

Curtis and his crew didn’t experience any real difficulties at first, but that first winter asea, a beastly hurricane roared in, overtaking the Charles Haskell and a dozen other fishing boats in the same area. The crew of the Charles Haskell struggled to maintain control, but the huge schooner veered sharply and slammed straight into another fishing boat, essentially sawing it in half. The vessel went down so quickly no one had time to see which ship it was, and there was no chance to save any of the twenty-six men on board.

Captain Curtis and his crew were heartbroken at the loss of life, but there was nothing that could be done. They attempted to find out where the ship was from, but three similar ships had been lost that night: two from Gloucester, and one from Salem. There was no way to determine which ship it had been, so, with heavy hearts, the crew set sail again in the spring on 1870.

The Charles Haskell wasn’t at sea long before something extraordinary—extraordinarily freaky—occurred. One night as most of the crew slept, the night watchmen were manning the helm when they noticed several dark shapes moving around the stern of the boat. To their utter horror, twenty-six men—a full crew—climbed up the sides of their ship! Silent, hollow-eyed and faintly glowing, these inhuman men moved about the ship, seemingly tightening sails and rigging, tossing out fishing lines … doing all the work that a living crew of seamen would do. The watchmen were too terrified to raise the alarm, but the noise of the ghosts working roused Captain Curtis, who came out of his cabin to see what was going on. He froze in shock at the sight, and by then much of the crew had rushed up below deck, woken by the noise. The crew began to panic, but the ghosts continued their work, apparently not noticing the living cowering nearby. After a while, the spirit fishermen finished their work, climbed over the sides of the Charles Haskell, and dropped back into the sea. The living crew immediately demanded to return home, and Captain Curtis was quick to agree.

The very next night as the Charles Haskell approached Cape Cod Bay, the ghost fishermen returned. The living crew of the ship was frantic, desperate to get home but frightened of having to work near these specters. Again, the dead continued to ignore the living as they had done before, but as the cursed ship drew within sight of land, the phantom fishers suddenly ceased their work. Standing up, the twenty-six spirits climbed over the sides of the ship again, but instead of disappearing into the waves, the ghosts marched single file atop the black salt water in the direction of Salem.

As soon as the Charles Haskell got to port, Captain Curtis and his crew abandoned it. The haunted ship rotted away in port, eventually sinking to the bottom of the sea.

My story: Luckily, I’ve only had a handful of experiences that made me go, “???” You’d think that with all my research on ghosts and such that I’d be eager to have a paranormal experience. HELL no! Books and the nimrods on Ghost Adventures are as close to the preternatural world as I’d like to get, thank you very much. Honestly, I’ll be very happy to not ever encounter anything. Ev-er.

But like I said, I have experienced a few things I couldn’t explain. There is one time I saw … I don’t know what … in a room packed with people. And a few of them saw it too.

Many Halloweens ago, my college invited some ghost hunters in to do a little talk—a fun event in the “spirit” of the season. I won’t say who the ghost hunters were, only because I don’t want to see any, “OMG, that guy?!?! He is such a fake!” clogging up my response sections and/or inbox, but I will say that they were both mediums and psychics and are famous. I went because I was interested in what they had, but I’ll admit, I have reservations about people who claim that they can speak to the dead; more often than not, they can’t, and they’ll bilk grieving people out of a lot of money just for the chance to communicate with their loved one one last time.

So it was a decent turnout, maybe close to fifty students showed up. I sat near the middle by myself (none of my friends were interested), and if I turned I had a good view of the reception room from all angles. I could see the ghost hunters up in the front, a woman and a man, and while they seemed like very nice people, I readied myself for any tricks or open-ended questions to the audience, like, “Who here lost somebody recently? He used to wear a hat?” That would have been a major tip-off to me that these two were hucksters.

Surprisingly, neither one of them made any statements like that. Instead they talked about what ghosts were, the investigations they had done, spirits they had talked to, and even played some EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon—voices and sounds that are picked up on recording equipment that aren’t heard by human ears at the time of the recording) that were particularly messed up. Towards the end, some students had some questions, and while I don’t remember exactly what they were saying, I remember the lady investigator stopping, glancing up towards the ceiling, hesitating, then lifting a hand to point.“I didn’t want to say anything before,” she said slowly, “but there have been two spirits hovering around the whole time we’ve been in here.”

Of course, about two dozen girls screamed in terror and I saw a mob of them make like they were about to dive for cover. Smirking, I glanced up in the direction the lady was pointing in, not expecting to see anything …

That smirk vanished, and I felt my eyes widen and my mouth slowly drop open as my eyes focused on a large, dark oval … spot, I guess … moving in a smooth, even speed overhead, about eight feet up (we had high ceilings, and this thing was about two feet below it.) I jerked, then blinked, squeezing my eyes hard. No, no no, that was just one of those light spots you get after you’ve had a bright light shine in your eyes … it’d change, it’d go away …

Except that it didn’t. It never changed shape or size, maintaining a football-like shape at about a little under a foot long and maybe six inches high. It looked solid, though the color seemed to flash from black to a dark gray with a blurry haze around it and a sort of pale yellow ripple running through it.

As I watched it approach along the wall across from me, a second, much smaller and brighter object zipped up behind it, moving speedily along until it caught up with the first spot and then slowing down, lagging a bit behind but still matching the bigger thing’s speed. This thing was perfectly round, hazy like the first, but more see-through, save that it seemed to flash a kind of alternating yellow and white light. By now I knew I was seeing something and my heart started to pound a little as I ran through what these things could be: smoke? Bugs? Birds? Balloons? Light from a projector? Shadows? Reflection?

But then the weird thing happened; as these two shapes drew closer to the ghost hunters and their equipment, the big spot vanished—not really fading away, it was just gone—and the little spot kind of just winked out. I could not believe what I had just seen, and by then everybody was in a ruckus, with some saying that they had or thought they had seen something, and others looking around going, “Where? WHERE?!?!” The ghost hunters assured us that these were really just curious spirits drawn to our collected energy and they weren’t anything to be worried about. That calmed some of the students down.

I did speak to the lady investigator briefly afterwards. I cautiously described a little of what I thought I saw, which she confirmed. I was still on the fence about it—it was weird, sure, but I couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for it. It was just too strange. She also recommended that I try to hone my psychic abilities. I thanked her but in my head I was thinking, “Nooooo freakin’ way.”

The lady investigator lamented that she and her partner didn’t have enough time to do a proper ghost hunt with us that night, but I assured her that it was okay; I, for one, had more than enough spectral creepiness that night.

Myth Monday: The Foot-Biting Vampire (Armenian Folktale)

October 15, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Many, many years ago, a vast area of Armenia was unexplored. There were hundreds of hills and valleys in this region. No human knew exactly how many there were or what they all contained, because anyone who ventured into these valleys but didn’t leave before nightfall would die a horrific death; a vampire called a Dakhanavar haunted this land, and he was so territorial that he would kill any human he discovered there. Not only was he evil and vicious, he was also a little strange … he liked to suck the blood of his victims not from their necks, but instead from their feet.

One day two young men were determined to map the valleys and, ignoring the pleas of their fearful neighbors warning them of Dakhanavar, they struck out for the wilderness. They traveled for miles, keeping count of all the valleys they traveled through, but soon the sun set, and they were no where close to reaching the end. Finding a cave, they placed their packs on the ground and looked at each other worriedly.

“What’ll we do?” one of the explorers asked. “It’s getting too dark to make it back home in time. We’re going to have to stay here.”

Frowning, his friend glanced around them, hoping to find a solution. His eyes falling down to their backpacks and bedrolls, he blinked, then grinned.“I have a great idea!” he said excitedly, stooping down to pull a blanket out of his bag. “You know how Dakhanavar drinks blood from people’s feet?”

“Yeah …?”

“Well, he can’t drink from our feet if we don’t have any.” Sitting down on the ground, the traveler stretched his legs out in front of him, then threw his blanket over them, hiding his feet. “See? If we sleep with your feet under my head and my feet under yours, Dakhanavar won’t be able to drink our blood. It’ll look like we have two heads and no feet.”

His friend looked at him in disbelief. “Really? You think that will work?”

The traveler shrugged. “Got any better ideas?”

Knowing that he didn’t, the young man sighed and sat down, placing his feet up under his friend’s head and pulling the blanket over their bodies. Both men laid down and, overcome with exhaustion from their hike, soon fell asleep.

No sooner did the sun vanish behind the horizon than Dakhanavar emerged from his hiding place in one of the valleys. He set out immediately, his legs moving at monstrous speeds as he raced over hill and dale, sniffing the air, searching for intruders. It wasn’t long before he picked up the scent of two humans in his lands and, baring his fangs in anger and hunger, Dakhanavar raced to the cave where the explorers slept.

Peeking into the cave, Dakhanavar’s supernaturally acute eyes spotted the sleeping lump of a human just inside the opening. Grinning maliciously, Dakhanavar slithered inside, running a pale, flat tongue over his gleaming fangs. Struggling not to giggle, he scuttled down to the man’s legs …

Stunned, Dakhanavar stopped short. He blinked, squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, sure he was seeing things. Blinking, he squinted and inched forward, taking a closer look. His jaw dropped open and he stared in disbelief.


Horrified, Dakhanavar jerked back, hesitated, then leaned in for another look. No, he had been right; this thing in front of him had one long body with two human heads at either end, but it had no feet. Clapping a clawed hand to the top of his own head, Dakhanavar scuttled to the other side, wondering if maybe this … human—two headed human … thing … had even a small foot dangling out at the side, but there was nothing there. Gulping, Dakhanavar circled around the sleeping creature, searching, shaking his head, not believing what he was seeing.

“What is this?” he whispered to himself. “What am I looking at?”

Convinced he was seeing things, Dakhavanar paced around and around the sleeping two headed human, confusion and frustration building inside of him as he struggled to understand what laid before him. He began to doubt what he was seeing, doubt that he was seeing it, doubt that he was even sane, until at last he snapped and screeched, “Well, I have gone the whole 366 valleys of these mountains and have sucked the blood of people without end, but never did I find one with two heads AND NO FEET!”

Overcome with the horror, Dakhavanar spun around and tore out of the cave, racing out of the valleys and vanishing into the night. From that day on, the people of Armenia knew that they possessed 366 valleys, and the Dakhanavar was never seen or heard from again.

Myth Monday: The Flying Head Monster (Iroquois Legend)

October 9, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Hundreds of years ago in what we now call upstate New York, the people of the Iroquois Confederacy—the tribes of the Seneca, the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Cayuga, and the Onondaga—were terrorized by a horrific assortment of monsters, demons and giants, all seeking to hunt down and devour the humans. Perhaps the worst of these creatures was the one called Flying Head. Flying Head was a huge, bodiless head that flew through the air at night on a pair of black bat wings, seeking out its human prey. Its face was dark black and green, ragged and putrid, the skin drawn back and shriveled like a corpse, the nose a collapsed black pit in the center. Its mouth was ringed in spear-like fangs, and its enormous bulging eyes, though clouded like those of a dead man, blazed with an infernal red glow. It moved as rapidly as a bird in flight, and nothing—not the palisade walls, not the war clubs and arrows of the warriors—nothing could stop Flying Head once it set out to hunt.

The Iroquois lived in constant fear of Flying Head. There was no way to fight the monster, so guards were placed to keep watch. Once the demon was seen in the distance, the guards alerted their villages, and all within fled into the woodland as fast as they could, leaping into canoes and paddling for their lives.

Those that could not flee were devoured, eaten alive, and their anguished screams rang out through the night, filling the survivors with despair.

One day as dusk fell, the silhouette of Flying Head was seen on the horizon, and the guards raised the alarm. As the people prepared to flee, one young woman, cradling her infant child, walked back into her longhouse and sat resolutely down by the central fire.

Frightened, her husband ran in to the longhouse after her. “What are you doing?” he cried. “Flying Head is coming. We have to leave now!”

Setting her jaw, the young woman tossed a handful of kindling onto the growling fire. “I’m not running,” she said, her voice firm. “This thing has eaten my parents and grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my brothers and sisters. I will avenge their deaths.”

“How? No weapon can stop this thing!”

“I don’t need a weapon.” Seeing the terror on her husband’s face, the woman smiled gently. “Go now, before you run out of time.”

Too overcome with fear to protest, the man turned and ran, his hear breaking, certain he would never see his wife and child again. His wife watched her husband run for his life, and, for a moment, a pang of doubt sprang inside of her, cold and sharp as an icicle.

Could she really defeat Flying Head?

Shaking herself off, the woman turned back to her fire, throwing more kindling on top, adding logs once the flames grew hot enough. She poked and prodded the burning wood until it crumbled into piles of glowing red coals. When she had a pile big enough, she picked up a small, forked twig and waited.

The woman didn’t have to wait long. Clutching her baby tighter, the woman shivered as she heard Flying Head swoop down over the tall spiked logs ringing her village, roaring in anger as it smashed through one longhouse and then another, furious that it couldn’t find any humans within to eat.

Hearing the monster drawing closer, the woman slid the forked twig under a blazing coal and lifted up. Bracing herself, she lifted the coal up towards her face.

With a scream of rage, Flying Head crashed into the front entrance of the woman’s longhouse, shattering the bark walls and the log struts. Its gray teeth scythed through the air as it growled, thrashing its head back and forth to knock the walls and ceiling down.

“Hah!” it snarled, the withered face splitting into a jagged grin. Its pointed, blistered, blue-purple tongue slid out past its cracked lips, licking them hungrily. “Found you! Though you’re hardly enough to satisfy me, you’ll do well enough as a snack!”

Fighting to keep her hand from shaking, the woman nodded solemnly. “All right,” she said, astounded by how steady her voice sounded. “Just let me finish my dinner first.”

Tilting her head back, the woman opened her mouth wide and lifted the coal up. Holding the forked twig near her mouth, the woman, knowing Flying Head couldn’t see from the angle where it hovered, let the coal slide past her face, dropping harmlessly to the ground behind her. She pretended to chew and reached out to scoop up another hot coal.

Flying Head looked at the fire curiously. “What could you be eating that could be so good that it would keep you from running away from me?”

The woman tipped her head back, opened her mouth, and allowed another coal to fall safely behind her. “Roasted acorns,” she answered, pretending to speak through a full mouth.

Flying Head’s mouth dropped open. “Roasted acorns? You knew I was coming, but you stayed to eat roasted acorns?”

Much as the sight of the demon disgusted her, the woman shot Flying Head a disdainful glare. “Why not? They’re the best!”

“They are not.”

Snorting derisively, the woman gestured to the coals. “Try them for yourself. You’ll see.”

“All right, I will!” Opening its hideous mouth wide, the Flying Head shot forward, swooping down on the coals and scooping every last one in its mouth.

Instantly, Flying Head’s eyes bugged out and it shrieked, smoke pouring from its mouth as the coals burned through its desiccated flesh. Screaming in agony, Flying Head whipped around and blasted out of the ruined longhouse, its ugly bat wings flapping as hard as they could as it fled into the forest.

The next morning, the Iroquois cautiously crept back into their village, fearing the destruction they would find there. Instead, to their amazement, delight and pride, they found the young mother sitting outside her wrecked longhouse, happily playing with her baby.

And Flying Head was never seen again.

Myth Monday: Pele, Fiery Volcano Goddess (Hawaiian Myth)

September 24, 2018

Kara Newcastle



I had wanted to write about Pele months ago, but, given what had happened in Hawaii, it just didn’t seem to be in the best taste at the time. Now that things have calmed down (somewhat/for now), I think it might be safe to discuss this explosive goddess now. Who knows? Maybe this blog will make her happy and she’ll be cool with everybody again.

Pele was born to the sky god Kane Hoalani and Haumea the fertility goddess somewhere near Bora Bora. When she opened her eyes for the first time, flames danced in her pupils and her uncle, the fire god, realized that the student he had been waiting years for had finally arrived. He took young Pele under his wing and taught her all the secrets of fire.

However, not everyone was thrilled; mysterious fires would spring up out of nowhere, bedeviling the gods. Pele was also quite fiery in spirit, and she regularly bickered with her older sister, the goddess of the sea Namaka. In time, the bickering turned into blows, and the two sisters battled, with Pele lobbing fireballs at her sister’s massive sea waves. Finally, their father became so fed up with their fighting he ordered Pele to leave their home and seek her own land.

Boarding a huge canoe with nine of her siblings, Pele and her family paddled across the ocean, visiting various islands and atolls throughout Oceania, but not finding anything big enough to serve them. Finally, Pele drew out her dowsing rod and held it over the blue water, summoning land to rise out of the sea. These islands became Hawaii. The volcano Kilauea was the first to emerge, and Pele took the Halemaumau crater at the top as her home, fleeing there after another older sister, one of the four snow goddesses, fought her and cooled her lava flows until they turned to stone.

Eventually humans arrived on Hawaii, and Pele took interest in these mortals. One day she challenged Chief Kahawalito a sled race down the side of Kilauea, but when he won, Pele flew into such an explosive rage that the chief had to flee by boat. The Hawaiian people were so fearful of Pele’s unpredictable rages that they took pains to keep her happy, honoring her with dances, food, drink, and sacrifices of her favorite berries, flowers, and white birds, all tossed into the volcanic crater. Some say that humans were also thrown in as well, but there is no evidence that this ever occurred.

Pele was also extremely attracted to Hawaiian men. Once she had been married to a man, but he left her for another woman. But that betrayal didn’t sour Pele’s need for love—and sex. One night as she slept in her volcano, Pele heard wonderful music from the valleys below. Her spirit detached itself from her body and traveled down to a nearby village, where the mortals were throwing a raucous festival. There, Pele saw among the dancers the devastatingly handsome Chief Lohiau and fell instantly in love. She went to him, and for three days they made love, until Pele realized that she had to return her spirit to her body, or her sacred fires would die out. She promised to send for Lohiau when she was ready for him, then returned to Kilauea.

Unable to leave her volcano, Pele asked her favorite sister Hi’iaka the cloud goddess (who had been born from an egg that Pele had kept safe in her armpit) to go and bring back Lohiau for her, and Hi’iaka agreed so long as Pele tended to her gardens. Hi’iaka traveled down to the mortals’ village, encountering many monsters and trials that slowed her progress. Upon reaching the village, Hi’iaka was shocked to learn that Lohiau had died of a broken heart just before she arrived. Determined to bring Lohiau back to her beloved sister, Hi’iaka caught Lohiau ’s departing soul and pushed it back into his body, bringing him back to life.

Upon awaking, Lohiau saw Hi’iaka and fell hopelessly in love with her. Hi’iaka, though charmed and finding the chief extremely handsome, had no interest in his affections and good-naturedly rebuffed his advances as she led him back to Kilauea. Unfortunately, they took so long getting back that Pele began to worry that the two were having an affair behind her back. In rage, Pele burned all Hi’iaka’s beautiful gardens. When Hi’iaka learned what Pele had done, she took Lohiau to the edge of Pele’s crater had sex with him in full view of her sister.

Beside herself with jealous fury, Pele threw lava at the pair, drenching and killing Lohiau instantly. Hi’iaka was horrified and, realizing that she was in love with Lohiau after all, traveled down to the Underworld to rescue him yet again. Pele saw the lengths that he sister had gone to save the man they both loved and, chastened, she relinquished her claim over Lohiau and allowed him to marry Hi’iaka. Since then, Pele has been viewed as a goddess of love and sex as well as a creator and destroyer and goddess of fire.

But Pele didn’t give up chasing men, and eventually she began a torrid love affair with Kamapua’a the Hog-man, an agriculture god who could shape-shift from a man to a pig or a fish. Their love-making can be destructive, and when Pele’s fires prove to be too hot for Kamapua’a to handle, he whips up thick fogs to cool her down.

Pele is one of the most powerful of all the Hawaiian pantheon (if not the most powerful), and her strength has held up against even Christianity. In 1828, Chieftess Kapiolani who had converted to Christianity challenged Pele’s power as a way to convince her people to convert as well. Her people stood by and watched in terror as she picked Pele’s sacred berries without asking permission first, then went up to the top of Kilauea and flung rocks down into the pit, all while shouting that Pele had no power, that Jehovah was greater. In 1881, Mount Kilauea erupted violently, with rivers of lava rushing down to the town of Hilo below. Desperate to stop the flow of death coming down on them, Hawaiian princess Ruth Keelioani, who still clung to the old religion, rushed out the lava flow and offered Pele gifts of colorful silk scarves and brandy if she would stop her eruptions—all done within sight of a church. Amazingly, the lava ceased flowing at the edge of town.

To this day, Pele is still seen and felt in Hilo, especially around Mount Kilauea. She doesn’t like when people steal rocks and obsidian from her lava fields and will curse the thieves with misfortune (the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park regularly receives about two thousand pounds of rocks in the mail from frantic tourists who had taken the rocks as souvenirs and later regretted it), but she does show concern for the mortals who live there. She is said to appear before humans looking either as a beautiful young Hawaiian woman in a red dress or, quite frequently, as a haggard old, fiery-eyed woman in a white dress, with both forms often accompanied by a small white dog. As a young woman, Pele can be seen dancing along the volcanic crater, and she may approach people in various areas around the big island, sometimes asking for a ride and a cigarette, which she will then light with a flame from her fingertips before disappearing. As an old woman, she may flag down a passing driver or just be seen hobbling along the side of the road with her dog, and both forms are known to give the mortals she meets good advice that spares them from fatal accidents. Woe be to the drivers that don’t offer Pele a ride—stories abound of bad luck and accidents trailing them afterwards.

Since it was Mount Kilauea that erupted this summer, I can’t help but wonder what caused Pele to become so angry this time … though mostly, I’m dying to hear who many people saw her before the eruptions started!

Check out my Youtube page (Kara Newcastle) for videos of Pele sightings under the Mythology playlist! (Please bear with the jumbled-ness of it all, I’ve been working on categorizing stuff.) And here’s a good creepy one: The Man Who Met Pele.

Myth Monday: Attack of the Killer Sea Globsters! (Cryptids)

September 17, 2018

By Kara Newcastle



It came from the briny deep! More specifically, this time it emerged out of the Bering Sea, washing up on the shores of Siberia—a large, lumpy, white, furry formless mound of … something … with a tentacle-like appendage stretching out beside it. It didn’t look like the remains of any animal known to man, with no discernible shape, no flippers, no tail, no apparent head, and covered in white fur—and not to mention stinking to high hell. It was clearly a dead animal, but what was it? Could it be a giant octopus? A colossal squid? The decaying corpse of a fuzzy sea serpent?


The thing found in Siberia on August 15, 2018 is just one in a long line of globsters—a term coined in 1962 by famous cryptozoologist Ivan T. Sanderson to describe any large lump of flesh that washes up out of the ocean that has no obvious resemblance to any known animal (also known as blobsters.) These unidentified sea-going carcasses are usually first discovered by an average person (that is, somebody who isn’t educated in marine biology) who is out for a stroll on the beach. The discoverer understandably has no idea what the formless, often huge mass of flesh is and, more often than not, they soon come to the conclusion that they are looking at the dead body of some kind of sea serpent.


Hate to break it to everybody, but of the globsters that have been found, recorded and tested since the early 1800s or so, not a single one of them has proven to be a sea monster … or, at least, that’s what they want you to believe, but that’s a topic for another blog. Anyway, almost every globster that has been discovered has been proven to be the blubber from a decaying whale, the remains of a dead shark (often a basking shark), and, on occasion, parts from a dead giant octopus or squid. Sometimes the globsters will still have jaws, beaks or flippers attached, but the subsequent rotting of the animal’s flesh alters the appearance, leading witnesses to believe—and quite stubbornly so—that what they’re looking at is not the body of a dead porpoise, it’s the body of a dead sea monster.

Here’s a case in point: on April 25, 1977, off the coast of New Zealand, the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyo Maru snagged something big in one of their nets. Unsure of what it was, the crew pulled the thing up onto the deck and were beside themselves with shock when they saw it: it looked like the rotting body of a dead plesiosaur! The crew managed to take a few pictures of the thing and obtained a few samples, but it smelled so ungodly that they were forced to throw it back rather than have it contaminate their fish. Now, when I first saw those pictures when I was like ten or so years old, I was 100% certain that this thing was an honest-to-God sea monster. I mean, look at it (here, because it’s copyrighted and I don’t have permission)! It looks just like the sea serpents you would see in books in movies. How could it not be?

Well, there’s like a 99.99999% chance that it’s not a sea monster. Without a body to examine to be absolutely sure, there will always be some doubt, but what you’re looking at in this picture is very likely the remains of a dead basking shark. Weirdly, when basking sharks and similar animals die and decay, they tend to break down in a similar way, leaving their bodies to look as though they were long-necked sea serpents in life. It’s highly likely that the discovery of these corpses back in ancient and medieval times prompted people to believe that there were long-necked sea monsters out there, waiting for them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ruling the possibility of sea monsters out entirely, but we have to look at the facts before we jump to conclusions.


But what about the reports of white fur? Well, I’m not a biologist and I haven’t seen a “real live” globster up close and in person, but my guess is that it’s just the fraying remains of blubber or fat, coming apart due to a combination of rot and scavenging sea animals—hey, these bodies have probably been floating around for weeks before coming ashore, it’s not like a bunch of fish, sharks and seagulls are going to pass up the opportunity for a floating buffet. Also, newborn whales and dolphins are born with fur, but they lose it shortly after birth. Maybe it’s possible that every now and again a cetacean grows up still retaining its fur, but it’s highly unlikely.

But then again … there have been sightings of unidentified sea-going creatures that appear to have fur, the most famous likely being Trunko.


The creature known as Trunko was sighted off the coast of South Africa in October of 1924 and reported in London’s Daily Mail the following December. Witnesses claimed to see a furry, snow-white whale-like creature with an elephantine trunk fighting with two killer whales for about three hours, using its tail to fend them off and apparently raising itself about twenty feet out of the water. One of the witnesses, a farmer named Hugh Ballance, said it looked like a “giant polar bear” … except for, you know, the trunk. (And I know what you’re thinking, NO, it WASN’T Tuunbaq from The Terror.)

Apparently, the beast succumbed to injuries from the battle and washed ashore, where it laid for about ten days but was never examined by researchers. About four photos were taken of the thing, but it seems they weren’t discovered until September 2010. Furthermore, the body was left on the beach so long that the tide eventually carried it back out sea, and nothing like it has been reported since. People who saw the body have differed on their accounts a bit, with some saying it had a trunk, others saying that it had a pig nose, and a few claiming it had a tail like a lobster. There were disagreements on the actual date of the orca vs. sea monster battle as well, though the recovered photographs were dated as being taken in July 1925. Karl Shuker, another big name in cryptozoology and apparently the guy who actually christened the creature “Trunko,” examined the photographs and concluded that the globster in question was just whale blubber, and suggested what the witnesses had actually seen was just two orcas maowing down on a dead whale.

One thing’s for certain, whether the globsters are known animals or not, they’re appearing with increasing frequency all over the world. This past August it was Siberia. In 2017 globsters appeared in two different places in the Philippines and on Seram Island. In 2003 a globster appeared in Chile, one showed up in Newfoundland in 2001, and from 1990 to 1997 four different globsters washed up in Scotland, Bermuda, Nantucket and Tasmania. Maybe we should be less concerned with what these things are and more concerned with what’s going on with our oceans.

Writing Wednesday: Doesn’t Matter Where You Get Your Inspiration, as Long as You Come Home for Dinner

August 23, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. 

–Jim Jarmusch

In the Top Five Most Frequently Asked Question Posted to Writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” usually ranks first or second. When I was fifteen or so and really getting into writing, I squirmed when the question was asked, but now I tell everybody: I get it from where ever I can, and that’s usually from other people’s works.

No, it’s not plagiarism, though for a little while I used to wonder if it was. I was afraid to tell people that I’d get my ideas from books and movies and things like that, because I thought that meant I wasn’t original as a writer. Then I found out that just about everybody and their grandma steals their ideas from somebody else. People are inspired by, steal and recycle ideas all the time.

No, I’m serious! Look, remember the movie Clueless? That’s just a modern update of Emma. Dietland was inspired by Fight Club. The Lion King is Hamlet. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou were inspired by The Odyssey. Bram Stoker was heavily inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s story “Camilla” when he was writing Dracula. West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet, which Shakespeare himself stole from the poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. And that’s just for starters!

Honestly, a vast majority of my characters and story ideas have been inspired by other people’s books, TV shows, movies and mythology. My idea for the demon hunter Savannah Rain came from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer guide that featured a picture of an actual demon hunter’s field kit, and I got the idea for Savannah’s ancestor Fiona Rain while watching Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a movie about the Salem witch trials. Noel Ruthven was a fan character for The X-Files, Awen was a fan character for Gargoyles, and I got the idea for the knight Faustine while watching Willow. And as I’ve stated before, my 1996 version of Nike was just mostly a collection of rewritten Xena, Warrior Princess episodes. Oh, and I got an idea for a short story about a mermaid while watching the Ghost Adventures episode about Poveglia while simultaneously reading books about mermaids. And there’s more where that came from.

So, a lot of my work has been inspired by other’s people work. Am I embarrassed by that? Hell no! I’ve come up with some great ideas that way, if I do say so myself. What would be embarrassing would be if I directly plagiarized the other person’s work, i.e. took the plot of The Matrix and changed a few details (like names) but generally kept everything the same (oh, and The Matrix was inspired in part by the anime Ghost in the Shell, dontchya know.)

And you don’t have to get your ideas just from books and TV. It could be a painting, a talk show, a poem, a song, a cartoon, comic book, a character, whatever—anything that lights that creative spark in you is good, just so long as you make the idea yours. And if you’re still unsure, check out Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon … the whole book is about how you can get your inspirations, and why it’s perfectly okay to draw on other works for help. (And it has LOTS of examples of famous people admitting to being inspired by other people’s works. LOTS.)

You’re not a hack. Go write.

Myth Monday: Why the Cat and the Rat Hate Each Other (Chinese Folktale)

August 21, 2018

By Kara Newcastle


Several thousand years ago, the cat and the rat used to be the best of friends. They were totally inseparable, playing together, sleeping snuggled side by side, sharing their food—where ever one went, the other was always with him.

One day, the Jade Emperor announced that he would assign twelve animals to represent a year of the zodiac, and that anyone born in that year would gain the qualities of that animal. However, the Jade Emperor decreed that he would not pick the animals himself—there would be a great race among them, and the first twelve that reached the finish line would be the winners.

The cat and the rat were ecstatic—what an honor, to represent an entire year in the zodiac! Knowing that they were small and swift, they were both sure that they could get ahead of the bigger animals and set out together. They made excellent time and were having great fun until they came to the banks of a wide, roiling river. The finish line was on the other side of the river, and though both the cat and the rat were decent swimmers, they could see that the current was too strong for either one of them to make it easily across.

As they sat on the shore wondering what to do, the cat noticed the ox unhesitatingly striding into the river. “Look!” said the cat to the rat, “The ox will be able to get across the river with no problem. If we got a ride on his back, we’ll be able to get across the river.”

“Great idea!” the rat squeaked, and together the two friends raced up to the ox. Gently taking the rat’s scruff in his mouth, the cat sprang up onto the ox’s back, and the two friends settled comfortably on the great beast’s back as it moved deeper into the water.

As the ox began to swim, the river water rose higher around its body, forcing the cat and the rat to move from the ox’s back to its shoulders, then its neck, then finally to the top of its head. Even then, the water continued to inch its way up, splashing threatening around the cat and the rat’s feet.

Worried, the cat looked down at the roiling brown water. “Wow. The water’s getting really high.”

The rat winced. “Yeah. We’re going to run out of room.”

“What will we do?” the cat asked worriedly as water splashed up on his whiskers. “If the water gets higher, there won’t be enough room for both of us. We’ll be swept off, and then we’ll never get to the finish line.”

Glancing at the cat, the rat slowly nodded. “Yeah … you’re right.”

And with that, the rat planted his grubby little hands against his best friend’s body and pushed, shoving the horrified cat off of the ox’s head and into the water! The cat hit the water with a yowl, plunging under, and was carried off by the strong current. The river dragged the poor cat several hundred yards downstream until the gasping, shocked creature was able to pull itself out on the bank from which he came.

By the time the cat recovered and found his way across the river, the race was over … and not only was the race over, but the rat had won first place! The remaining twelve positions had been filled by the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig, leaving no room for the heartbroken cat.

The cat swore revenge, and ever since that day, cats and rats have hated each other.