Myth Monday: Hecate, the Witch Goddess (Greek Mythology)

Myth Monday: Hecate, the Witch Goddess (Greek Mythology)

By Kara Newcastle




The gods of ancient Greece were numerous and powerful, but there was one deity they all trembled before; she was Hecate, the dark goddess of magic, ghosts, animals and the night, a goddess still worshipped to this day. She was one of the oldest and one of the most powerful deities in the pantheon—some say she was second to Zeus in power. Hecate, a chthonic (subterranean) and liminal (straddling the border between dimensions) goddess, was so regarded that a portion of every temple was set aside for her, even if the temple was dedicated to a totally different god.

Naturally, there are dozens of variations of the myth, but generally, Hecate was said to be a Titaness, one of the original rulers of Olympus and the Earth before Zeus and his squabbling family members took over. Hecate (“she who works her will from afar”) was the only child of the Titan Perses (destruction) and his wife, the Titaness Asteria (nocturnal oracles and falling stars), and had the power to control magic. When it was clear that Zeus would win his war against the Titans, Hecate sided with him. When the Gigantes attacked Mount Olympus, Hecate killed the giant Clytius with a pair of flaming torches and, as a reward, Zeus allowed her to keep her place as a goddess, though she was not awarded a throne.


Hecate about to slay Clytius. Gigantomachy frieze of Pergamon Altar. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta


As it turns out, Hecate was something of a wanderer anyways, traveling frequently at night. She was linked to the phases of the moon, which also symbolized the menstrual cycle of mortal women (the full moon rises every twenty-eight days, a woman has her period every twenty-eight days.) In time, Hecate was seen as a goddess of childbirth and midwives and the frog, often used as a symbol for an unborn baby, became one of her totem animals (this is a reason why frogs and witches are often shown together. Remember how in Macbeth, one of the witches remarks that her frog is calling for her?)

Since Hecate was a guardian of menstruation, she was often shown as a three-fold or triad goddess—in other words, she could appear in three forms: a young girl, an adult woman, and an aged crone—representing each stage in a woman’s life. The rising of Hecate’s moon saw the stage of the young girl or maiden, the apex was the stage of the woman and mother, and then the setting of the moon was the old woman descending into the Underworld, which we’ll get into a bit later.

In artwork Hecate is frequently shown with three faces or as three women, all staring out in three directions. Statues of Hecate were set up at crossroads, each face staring down one of the roads, serving as a protective entity for travelers (both on the road and in life.) Food and offerings for her were left at the point where the roads met.

Because Hecate was the goddess of menstruation, she was also seen as a fertility goddess and goddess of animals. She was frequently depicted as the older version of Artemis, the maiden goddess of the hunt and of the moon and was thought to control the population of wild animals that the Greeks hunted.

Hecate’s role as an underworld goddess and goddess of magic likely predates all the recorded myths we have of her, but it is the most prominent feature. As I said before, the ancient people who worshiped Hecate saw the setting of the moon as Hecate descending into the Underworld. There she reigns as queen and has the power to release vengeful ghosts into the world if she so chooses, and if all the dogs in town howled, the Greeks knew Hecate and her ghoulish entourage were near. The thought of this terrified the ancients, and they hung images of her three-faces above their doors and the gates to their cities, begging her through prayers to spare them from angry spirits. Every new moon the Greeks dedicated the evening meal to her and her ghostly followers. A slightly more complicated version of how Hecate came to be queen of the Underworld states that, after helping a woman give birth, Hecate went to bathe in the river Acheron, which carried her down to the Underworld where she then married Hades.

Occasionally, Hecate was also shown with the head of a dog, horse and a snake, lion or a boar, all animals sacred to her and that were believed to have magical ties to the underworld. Dogs were guardians of the home, but were often seen scavenging dead bodies after a battle, so it was believed that they had come to take the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Early Greeks and some of their neighboring countries sacrificed horses so that their dead relatives and friends could ride into the afterlife—plus horses and dogs were associated with the goddess Demeter, who was a goddess of destruction as well as crops. Snakes traveled to the underworld and back, so they knew all the secrets the fortune-telling ghosts revealed. Boars and lions terrified the ancient Greeks and were responsible for many deaths and might have been seen scavenging among the dead as well.

Hecate largely shunned the company of the Olympian gods, preferring to spend time with her dogs and puppies, but she did have a close friendship with the fertility goddess Demeter. After Demeter’s daughter Persephone was kidnapped, Hecate heard the rumor and went to Demeter straightaway. Hecate lit her two torches and she and Demeter searched the earth for the missing girl. During this time, Demeter was attacked and raped by her brother, the sea god Poseidon, and Hecate took away the daughter that was born afterwards, raising her in secret and teaching her magic. Later, when it was discovered that Persephone had married Hades, the god of the Underworld, Hecate joined the young goddess during her six-month stay there, being her confidant and attendant, as well as a guard at the gates of the Underworld. It was there that Hecate cast a spell on the three-headed monster dog Cerberus and created aconite from its saliva.


Hecate with her torches stands beside Persephone


Hecate could be cold and fearsome, and when she walked the earth she was trailed by her huge, snarling black hounds. But Hecate wasn’t totally unfeeling; when Hercules was about to be born, Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, was sent by Hera to prevent the birth. The midwife Galinthias realized who she was and tricked her into allowing Hercules to be born. Eilitheyia was so furious that she turned Galinthias into a polecat (a kind of weasel), and Hecate felt sorry for the poor creature and adopted her as one of her sacred animals (another variation was that the witch Gale so disgusted Hecate with her incontinence and sexual deviations that the goddess turned her into a polecat, and then adopted her.) After the sack of Troy, the Trojan queen Hecuba was turned into a black dog and, again, Hecate adopted her out of pity.

Most stories state that Hecate had no children and remained a virgin goddess, but some others have suggested that she was the mother of the nymph-turned-monster Scylla, fathered by the primordial sea god Phorcys, and Circe, Medea and Aegialeus by King Aeetes of Colchis. Circe and Medea were Hecate’s most skilled and devoted followers, powerful witches that upended the lives of heroes such as Odysseus and Jason, respectively. They often used potions made of belladonna, mandrake, aconite and dittany—along with garlic, plants sacred to Hecate—and used wands made of yew wood, a tree holy to Hecate as well.

Worship of Hecate continued well through the Roman era up until the Medieval period, when the horrific Burning Times took place. Megalomaniacal Christian European clergy, undereducated, misogynistic men and monarchs fearful of losing their power began to blame all the ills of the time on witches and witchcraft. They cited Hecate as a queen of Hell, the queen of witches, the infernal three-fold goddess (girl, woman, crone) that was the polar opposite of the three-fold Christ (father, son, Holy Spirit), and anyone that revered her was a heretic and witch. Unfortunately, their definition was pretty broad, and hundreds of midwives and female healers were rounded up, convicted and burned at the stake for witchcraft. The prosecution forced the worship of Hecate and other pagan religions deep underground.

In recent years, witchcraft and other pagan religions have emerged from hiding and Hecate is being worshipped again. Certain Wiccan groups celebrate “Hecate suppers,” where, much like in antiquity, they feast in her honor, but this time trade secrets and tips on magic-working. Leftover food from the feasts are left outside as an offering to Hecate and her hounds.



Drachma,_Stratonikeia,_Caria,_1st_century_BC-AD Cassical Numismatic Group Inc
Carian coin, By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. AND LOOK WHO’S ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE!!!!




Feminist Friday: Witch Prophetess: Mother Shipton

Witch Prophetess: Mother Shipton

By Kara Newcastle




You know that traditional image of a witch, the one you always see at Halloween? The old hag with stringy hairy, craggy face, hooked nose, wearing a tall pointed hat? Well, it might interest (or unnerve) you to know that the image of the pointy-hatted, ugly witch is actually based on a real woman—Mother Shipton, an illiterate English witch renowned for her incredible ability to foresee the future.

As the story goes, Ursula Southeil (sometimes called Sountheil, Southill, or Soothtell) was born near the magical petrifying Dropping Well, in a cave in Knaresborough, Yorkshire, sometime around 1488. Her unmarried, teenage mother, Agatha (or Agnes), was already reputed to be a witch who could control the weather, heal people and predict the future. Her father … well, no one knew who Ursula’s father was. Most of the townsfolk believed that it had to be the Devil either because witches were associated with the Devil, or because Ursula was said to be astoundingly ugly. However, Gardnerian witch and writer Doreen Valiente has since pointed out that male leaders of witch covens were often been referred to as the Devil by non-pagans, so it’s possible that Ursula’s father was her mother’s coven’s high priest.


800px-MotherShipton'sCave copyright chris
Mother Shipton’s Cave, by chris,


It’s unclear what happened to Ursula’s mother; some accounts say that she died in childbirth making “strange and terrible noises,” while others say that Agatha abandoned her daughter and fled to a convent. Either way, Ursula, said to be horribly ugly even as a child, was taken in by a local village woman. However, the kindly lady came to regret adopting Ursula, as bizarre things happened in the house whenever the girl was present, such as furniture moving of its own accord, and food mysteriously vanishing off plates.

One story recounts how the frightened woman ran from her home, leaving little Ursula alone, and returned with her neighbors to show them the activity. As soon as they entered the house, the neighbor’s wife was yanked off her feet by an invisible force, flipped upside down and made to hang by her toes to a pole that floated in midair. Her horrified husband was then grabbed, levitated, and had his neck yoked to the other end of the pole.

Other stories claim that if young Ursula was angry at the local village women, she’d cast a spell to make them dance around in circles uncontrollably. If they tried to stop, Ursula’s familiar (a demon servant in the shape of an animal, in this case, a monkey) would pinch them painfully. The village children would antagonize her about her ugliness, so little Ursula would fight back with harmful spells. As a young woman, Ursula once bewitched guests at a breakfast party, prompting them to laugh hysterically and be chased out of the house by demons.


Ursula’s spellcasting and demon-summoning became such a problem that after enchanting the breakfast guests she was summoned to court on charges of witchcraft. Unimpressed with the judge’s accusations, Ursula threatened to do a hell of a lot worse to him and the townsfolk if they tried to prosecute her. As the unnerved crowd watched, Ursula then shouted, “Updrax! Call Stygician Hellenei!” A winged dragon magically manifested before the terrified people. Ursula calmly climbed onto its back, and the infernal reptile flew her away from the courthouse.

Despite her terrifying power and breathtaking ugliness, at the age of twenty-four, Ursula married Tobias Shipton, a local carpenter. Neighbors were stunned, whispering that Ursula, must have cast a love spell on Tobias in order to get him to marry her. However, Tobias disappears from town records not long after, and a now apparently widowed Ursula, now known as Mother Shipton, moved from town and back into the cave where she was born, living there well into her 70s.

If Mother Shipton moved to the cave to get away from her nosy neighbors, it didn’t work; rumors of her powers spread far and wide, and Mother Shipton soon found all manner of people coming to her for spells and prophesies, some traveling for miles to see her. Probably because of the rumor that she had captured her husband with a love spell, young women came to Mother Shipton seeking love potions. Many came seeking hexes to use against their enemies, and some came searching for cures to illnesses and wounds. In time, Mother Shipton became most famous for seeing into the future.


What did Mother Shipton predict? Cars, phones, the telegraph, iron-hulled boats, airplanes, the English Civil War, the Great London Fire in 1666, the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1561, the discovery of the New World and the potatoes and tobacco found there, World War 2, the radio, women wearing pants, the women’s liberation movement, the death of Cardinal Wolsey in 1530, and said the Apocalypse would occur in 1881 (this caused people to panic that year, abandoning their homes and spending the whole night praying in fields and churches.) Samuel Pepys, the administrator of the English navy during the reign of Charles II, wrote in his diaries that following the Great Fire the royal family spoke of Mother Shipton’s foretelling of the disaster.

Mother Shipton predicted so many things that ultimately came true that she became known as the English Nostradamus … except that these “prophecies” weren’t revealed until almost eighty years after her death. Her supposed predictions appeared in a book written by Richard Heard, which was published in 1667, then in a pamphlet called The Strange and Wonderful History of Mother Shipton, by an anonymous writer in 1668, and again in 1871 by some guy named Charles Hindley. The biggest giveaway that some of these prophecies were written much later is that they are written using language and structure not used in the 15th and 16th centuries, prompting Hindley to admit that he made it all up. Later reprints of The Strange and Wonderful History of Mother Shipton moved the end-of-the-world dates to 1989, and then 1991, casting even more doubt of the veracity of the predictions.


We don’t really know what Mother Shipton foretold, but it must have been impressive enough to keep her legend alive after so many centuries.

After many years of prophesizing and spellcasting, Mother Shipton died around the year 1561. A memorial has been set up by her cave, now known as Mother Shipton’s Cave, and is a popular tourist spot (and has been since 1630, making the oldest admission-charging attraction in England.) If you go, you can see a collection of items that people have dipped in the Dropping Well. The waters contain large amounts of sulfate and carbonate, which hardens as it dries, making the items look as though they have been frozen in stone. There are two pubs named after Mother Shipton (one in Knaresborough and another in Portsmouth,) and in 2017 a statue of the famous witch was erected in Knaresborough Market Square.

In addition, the Callistege mi moth, classified in 1759, is also known as the Mother Shipton moth. If you look closely at the pattern on its wings, you can clearly see the profile of a craggy, long-nosed witch’s face!


Mother Shipton. Callistege mi, by gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K






Mother Shipton works referenced:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca & Witchcraft, by Denise Zimmerman et al

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, by Judika Illes

The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, by Judika Illes

The Witch Book, by Raymond Buckland

Witches and Magic Makers, by Douglas Arthur Hill et al

Witches and Wiccans, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley



Writing Wednesday: When They Think That Writing is Pointless or Stupid

Writing Wednesday: When They Think That Writing is Pointless or Stupid

By Kara Newcastle



The Artist’s Wife, by Henry Herbert La Thangue




“Why do you want to be a writer?”

There’s a good chance that you either have heard or will hear these obnoxious eight words, or some variation of them. Usually, they come from either somebody important in your life (quite frequently it’s a nervous relative), or from somebody you know who is utterly clueless. Actually, that last part can apply to everybody, but let’s start with why people get so incredulous when you mention your desire to write.

“Professional” jobs are jobs that are always in demand, with no real periods of low sales or business; lawyers, dentists, doctors, teachers, law enforcement, veterinarians, these are jobs that are constantly operating. There’s never a lack of clients, no slow moments in business through the year. Most of these jobs pull in a high income, and are seen as “professional”, “real”, “established”, “respectable.”

Careers in the arts—such as writing—aren’t looked at with the same kind of respect. For non-writers (that is, people who have never harbored any interest in writing), there are really two kinds of writers: those whose readily recognizable names are emblazoned in huge letters across their newest bestseller, and those who are bussing tables at Uno’s. Non-writers basically see the established authors as being naturally talented and then there’s … you. They look at it as you’re either predestined to become a successful writer, or you’re not. In the end, they think that writing is a pointless, stupid endeavor.

They don’t get how it works, and they don’t really care. They also likely don’t realize how much this hurts and confuses you. You might want to ask them why they feel that way, but don’t bother—you’ll probably be hurt even more. Instead, scroll through my list of reasons why people wrinkle their noses at writing. It might make you feel a bit better to understand why people are such jerks.


  1. They’re worried about how you’ll support yourself: Okay, this is a legitimate fear; writing is a hit-or-miss career most of the time. If you get a piece published, great! But will it be enough to pay the rent or buy groceries? Can you guarantee that you’ll be published again and again and again, or will there be long stretches of time in between successes? They really don’t want to be supporting your butt for the rest of their lives.
  2. They think you’re being lazy: It’s true that there are people out there who say that they’re going to make a living off of their writing, so they don’t get any other job and are currently living in their parents’ basement, contributing nothing to the household. Maybe you’re one of the wiser people, working a real job and writing in your free time because you know that you still need to support yourself, but your family might assume you’re one of the loafers who use writing as an excuse to not get a real 9-to-5.
  3. They don’t see writing as a legitimate career: Professionals and people who don’t appreciate books tend to view writing as a joke. Think about it; many writers are self-taught, whereas an attorney has to go to law school, intern for many years, get hired by a firm and maybe work their way towards their own practice. Same thing with doctors, teachers, veterinarians, dentists, executives, police officers, computer programmers and more—these are people who have to train, study, be graded, apprentice or intern, and have a way to timeline and show their progress. Their efforts are visible and quantifiable … writing doesn’t really have that same aspect. These are the people who will tell you, “Oh, I’d love to just sit around writing all day,” “I wanted to write when I was younger, but now I have a real job,” and “You can make money doing that?” Because there is no VISIBLE effort being put into writing, they don’t see it as a legitimate or respectable career.
  4. They’re jealous: This is always a fun one: there are people who wanted to be writers, but for whatever reason, they gave up their dream and went a different route. Often they find themselves unhappy with their choice, and when they hear that you’re a writer, they get jealous. It irritates the hell out of them that you’re doing what they would so desperately love to do but can’t or don’t. The hurtful things they say may be deliberate, but usually it is said unconsciously. Best to let it slide, but if they’re really pushing it, feel free to let the air out of their tires.
  5. They’re worried about you getting hurt: It’s no secret that writing is one of the toughest careers to take on because of the emotional toll of rejection. You may have your story rejected by every magazine you submit to. Editors and agents can be brutal in their analysis of your work. Professional reviewers make insult an artform, and the general public … let’s face it, people are assholes. Having to deal with this kind of “feedback” can take a serious toll on your mental health, and your family and friends might be scared about what it would do to you. They think they’re saving you from pain by dissuading you from writing.
  6. They resent that you pay attention to your work and not them: This is something I had to/have to deal with a lot; my mom HATED that I would spend time writing. Now, I had chores around the house and I would get them done, but somehow, whenever I sat down to write, she would come running up to be with some new errand or crisis that needed immediate attending to. Do you know how many times I had to plug in the damned printer for her? IT WAS A LOT!! It got so much worse when I got jobs and had less time to write. I was still trying to make time to help out my parents because they were getting older, but Mom redoubled her efforts to keep me away from my computer and doing something for her. I don’t know if she just liked having me around or just liked to use me as a free maid service (more the latter), but I finally told her that I had enough. We haven’t spoken in a while but hey, I have more time to write.
  7. They think you’re deluding yourself: Hey, it happens—there may be people in your life that have no confidence in you. Maybe they don’t recognize your talent, or they don’t think you have a chance at success, so they try to sabotage your efforts by pressuring you to give it up. Sometimes these people think they’re doing you a favor, other times they’re just bastards who don’t think you can do it.
  8. They don’t think there’s any money in writing: Not the same thing as being successful; there are people who think that authors don’t make a lot of money off their work. This is semi-true; published authors usually don’t make a lot of money the first year because most of the sales profits go to the publishing services. However, magazines tend to pay well for stories (anywhere from 1 cent up to 25 cents a word, or a fixed dollar amount), and self-published authors earn a bigger profit because there are no agents, editors or distributors to pay. Self-published authors aren’t necessarily as successful as traditionally published authors, but it’s not unheard of for a self-published author to market their book and sell thousands of copies either.
  9. They’re afraid you’ll get ripped off: Okay, this has been known to happen: you publish your work, then the publisher or the agent steals your money, or has written in their contract that they can keep your work and fire you, or somebody accuses you of plagiarizing, etc., etc. etc. It does happen, but not as often as it used to, and the best way to protect yourself from this happening is to thoroughly do your homework on the people you’re submitting your work to. Keep copies of all your material and copyright the hell out of everything. If you get a contract, it’s a good idea to have your agent or a lawyer go over the fine print with you to make sure that you understand what’s in the clause, and that nobody tried to sneak anything in there. Some magazines will have a clause saying that you can only publish that story with them and can never republish it in any other magazine or collection (sometimes the limit is a year, occasionally it’s forever), while others will buy it from you and republish it as often as they want without you ever seeing another dime. Do your research.
  10. They’re afraid of being embarrassed: Hell yeah, this one’s great; if you have particularly neurotic relatives or friends, they might worry that you’re going to write something nasty about them … or just write something nasty. It’s no secret that many authors have based characters on people they hated, be they parents, teachers or ex-boyfriends (JK Rowling based Gilderoy Lockheart on an ex-boyfriend) as a means of revenge, so people who have been mean to you might fear you’ll do the same (word to the wise: don’t use anybody’s real name lest you incur the wrath of the defamation lawsuits.) On the other hand, you might not have any intention of basing your characters on actual people, but those in your life might have such fragile egos they assume the worst anyway. Furthermore, writers with straitlaced family members might take major offense to anything related to sex, violence, drugs, religion, etc., so if they get an inkling that you’re writing something that they don’t like or think will make the family look bad to the rest of the world, they’ll freak out (my mom turned inside out when she found out I had a story published in Playgirl years ago … not that anybody would know that it was written by her daughter, because they didn’t use my last name.)

So, now that you’ve read the reasons why people look down on writing, you may have a better understanding of their reasons, but ignore them all the same. It’s none of their business. Find support elsewhere, like a writer’s workshop or online forum. Keep writing.

Myth Monday: Vampire Pumpkins and Watermelons—When Good Food Goes Bad

Myth Monday: Vampire Pumpkins and Watermelons—When Good Food Goes Bad

By Kara Newcastle




According to the Balkan Romani (Gypsies for those of you outside the caravan), there’s a very good reason to get rid of your pumpkins after they start go bad … there’s a real possibility that they could turn into vampires!

Now there’s a vamp Buffy never came across.

No, I’m not making this up. For hundreds of years, the Gypsies believed that if you left any kind of pumpkin or a watermelon (or anything inanimate, really) outside in the light of a full moon as it starts to decay or ten days after Christmas, you could wake up the next morning to find a very pissed off fruit huddled by your door. How can you tell if your pumpkin or watermelon has turned into a vampire? Well, if the loud growling doesn’t give it away, then the beads of blood forming on the rind will.

Why exactly a pumpkin or watermelon would turn into a vampire is unclear, but you shouldn’t worry too much about it trying to suck your blood; they’re more annoying than anything. The undead gourd will roll itself across the ground following you, doing its best to trip you up. They don’t have teeth to bite people with, but they’ll drive you to distraction with their growls of “brrrl, brrrl, brrrl!” as they trundle through your house.


Should you be unlucky enough to discover a cranky, blood-sweating pumpkin or watermelon in your garden, take the offending fruit and plunge it into boiling water. Remove the pumpkin or watermelon from the water, pour out the water, then give the pumpkin a good scrubbing with a broom. Once you’re finished, you must throw the pumpkin away and burn the broom. (I guess you scrub the vampire essence off the pumpkin, and once it’s stuck in the broom bristles you burn it? Hey, I told you before, I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it.)

An additional note: pumpkins and watermelons have been known to battle it out over turf, and this often results in them turning into vampires. If I grew watermelons and pumpkins in my garden and they started duking it out, I’d probably sell tickets to that show before channeling my inner Van Helsing and dispatching the offending plants.


Myth Monday: The Chiang-Shih (Chinese Foltale)

The Chiang-Shih

By Kara Newcastle


“How much further?”

“Not much.”

“Chen, you said that over an hour ago.”

“It’s not that far! Trust me, we’re almost there.”

Liang paused at the base of the hill, uttering a deliberately loud, disbelieving grunt. He smirked as his three friends ahead of him stopped and looked at him, and Chen’s expression was decidedly not pleased. He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed as Liang gestured to their friend Wing, standing between them. “Wing’s right, you said we’d be there an hour ago. Well, an hour’s gone by and we still haven’t found any inn. Are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Chen glared at Liang as Wing turned away quickly, hiding his chuckle behind his hand. “Yes, I know where I’m going. I grew up around here, I should know!”

Qiao arched an eyebrow at that. “I thought you said that you lived in a ritzy town? What are we doing out here in the wilderness?”

“Would you quit complaining and start walking?” Chen snapped, flinging his long braid over his shoulder so fast it whipped a pair of small leaves off the sapling behind him. “I know where I’m going.”

Wing sighed resignedly. “All right,” he said as he fell in strep behind Chen. “But if I’m late for this wedding my sister is going to kill me.”

“For the—just follow me and be quiet, please?”

 Grinning at Chen’s tensed back, Liang and Qiao sprinted after them.


While not quite as close as Chen had promised, once the four scholars had cleared the top of the hill they could make out the sprawling old inn ahead of them in a wide clearing, smoke belching from the chimneys and the faint cluck and caw of chickens echoing through the trees around them. Relieved, Wing couldn’t help but laugh, Qiao threw his head back and praised the Seven Immortals, and Liang’s grin grew wider as he clapped Chen hard on the back.

Chen couldn’t suppress the satisfied smirk on his face. “Told you.”

Liang, Wing and Qiao were so happy just to see the damned inn that they let the remark slide. At this point, they didn’t care anymore. Just seeing the inn after three days of traveling from their university in Peking—raft, foot, ox cart and foot again!—the four young scholars were happy to see anything with a roof on it.

“You know what they’re all going to be asking us when we get to my house tomorrow?” Wing sighed as they trudged on, the inn growing incrementally larger as they approached. “About all those foreigners. They’re all going to talk about them like they’re devils.”

“They are devils,” Qiao fumed, glaring briefly at Wing. “Pale skin, yellow hair and round eyes—coming into China as if they have the right, demanding that we grow opium for them, and give them our treasures!”

“I didn’t think they’d keep coming like this,” Liang admitted, shrugging. “Nobody wants them here … I heard a rumor that Wong Fei Hung was training his students to get ready to fight them.”

Qiao frowned. “I don’t know about that. What kind of kung fu do they do again?”

“Drunken boxing. Impressive stuff.”

Chen nodded eagerly. “Yes, I’ve seen them—aw, dammit!”

Chen stopped short just at the edge of the inn’s courtyard, biting back a a curse as Qiao, Wing and Liang all collided into him, nearly bowling him over.

“Blast it all!” Groaning, Chen pointed to the caravan of mules lined up in the courtyard and the number of horses penned up behind the rambling inn itself. Dozens of people were scattered around the courtyard, and if the noise coming from the inside was anything to judge by, the place was packed.

Disgusted, Liang threw his arms up in the air. “Well, that’s just perfect. With all the caravans here, there probably isn’t a place available for us.”

Wing’s face paled. “My sister and mother are going to kill me for sure now.”

“Now hold on,” Chen said quickly, spinning around to face his friends. “They couldn’t have possibly filled up every space here. I’ll bet they have something we can spend the night in—the gods know that I’m not about to spend another night sleeping in a haystack again!”

“Me neither,” Qiao agreed. “I’ll take anything they have, as long as it has a roof. Walls too, but I’m not that picky.”

“Maybe they have a storage area we could use,” Chen added, already striding across the courtyard. “Just something to get us out of the elements, you know?”

Sighing, Liang shrugged and fell in step behind his friend. “Yeah, let’s ask.”

Despite the herd of people milling about, it was easy to find the innkeeper. He was a small, older man dressed in impressively expensive clothes. He was standing beside the single willow tree standing in the center of the courtyard, smiling and thanking a merchant who had just passed him a handful of coins.

“Greetings, young sirs!” the innkeeper said jovially as they approached. “Ah, I can tell by your clothes that you gentlemen are students.”

Chen grinned. “Good eye,” he said as the innkeeper waved over an older woman carrying a tray of cups and wine. “We were hoping we could spend the night here.”

The twinkle in the older man’s eye faded a bit. “I would love to host you, but, as you can see, we’re quite packed right now. We don’t have any rooms.”

“Oh, it’s all right,” Chen said quickly, nodding politely as the innkeeper’s wife came up to him and handed him a cup of wine. “We don’t mind not having a room. We just want a place that’s not out in the open.”

Qiao patted his shirt, rattling the pouch of coins tucked inside. “We’ll pay you.”

The man’s face brightened at the sound of the coins. “Hm. Well, I do have some space in the storage room, if that’s all right with you?”

At the mention of the room, the man’s wife stiffened, her eyes widening. She spun around, nearly flinging the bottle of wine off her tray. “Husband …!” she gasped.

Smiling mildly, the innkeeper waved a knobby hand. “Oh, it’ll be fine. Just don’t bother with the supplies behind the curtain, boys, and you’re welcomed to the space. Now, about the rate …”


Liang woke up. He wasn’t sure what woke him—judging by the darkness of the storeroom, morning was still hours off, so it hadn’t been the sun …

He felt the breeze whispering past the back of his head and he shivered. That must have been it. The room had a draft. It didn’t surprise him, as the room was basically like an oversized closet, not meant for habitation. It had been stuffed with boxes and baskets and jars, and made smaller by the white sheet hanging across one-third of the space. He, Chen, Wing, and Qiao had pretty much thrown down their sleeping rolls wherever they could fit and made the best of it.

At least they weren’t outside—the draft felt could.

Sighing to himself, Liang pulled his blanket up higher over his shoulder and rolled over on the pallet. He glanced over in the direction of the draft, wondering how—

Everything inside of him froze.

Liang’s eyes widened. He blinked hard and looked again; the light in the store room was faint, the moonbeams streaming in through one narrow window, so he wasn’t sure he really saw what he was looking at. The curtain that had divided the room had been pulled aside … and there was something silhouetted in front of it.

The thing was hunched over Chen, its long, dark hair curtaining its face, clawed hands planted on either side of the sleeping man. It made a hissing noise. Liang felt the air move … no, wait … it was the thing. The thing, the creature, was breathing in, inhaling deeply, so deeply it was pulling the air around them.

Liang saw something faint, glittering softly, trickle out of Chen’s slackening mouth. It wafted up like a cloud of dust, pulled away from Chen, disappearing into the creature as it inhaled. As the sparkling motes vanished behind the thing’s long hair, the faint green glow around its crouched body grew incrementally brighter.

Chen never stirred. He never made a sound. His body seemed to sag down, growing looser, as the creature inhaled. The last speck of light left Chen’s lips and disappeared into the monster.

The creature stopped. The air in the room stilled.

Liang’s heart slammed itself against his chest as he watched the creature ease back off of the unmoving Chen. It sat back on its heels, its long hair sliding back, unveiling the softly gleaming face of …

 Aiya! It was a woman?!

The woman’s eyes were turned down to Chen below her, but when she lifted her head, Liang could see that both her eyes glowed as bright and red as coals. Choking back a scream, Liang slammed his own eyes shut, fighting to stay as still as possible though he was sure his heart was hammering so badly he must be shaking with each beat. He held his breath, his wild mind first praying that the thing would leave, then rapidly changing, telling him that he had to have been dreaming, then saying to himself that it must have been a girl from the inn, she must have gotten drunk and lost and was looking for her bed and thought Chen was her husband.

But the red eyes, the green glow—her hands were clawed, weren’t they? And the way she breathed in—the glowing substance that came out of Chen … no, Liang had to have been dreaming.

Swallowing hard, Liang opened his eyes slowly, cracking them open just enough to see. His fingers involuntarily clamped down more tightly on his blanket as he found the faintly glowing woman still there, poised over Chen. Not seeming to notice Liang, the woman pivoted, casting her blazing red eyes to the shape between the still Chen and Liang. It was Wing, flopped down on his stomach, a barely audible snore winding out of him.

Turning silently on the balls of her clawed feet, the woman placed her hands on the floor before her and propelled forward, hopping towards Wing. Coming up beside him, she lowered her face closer to his.

His eyes wide open now, Liang looked back at Chen. His friend laid motionless on the pallet, no rise or fall of his chest. Tilting his head as much as he dared, Liang looked over to Qiao. Cold fear burned through Liang as he saw the bigger student laying on his back, his eyes half-open, staring at nothing.

They were dead.

The air began to stir, and Liang, unable to stop himself, snapped back around in time to see the terrifying woman open her mouth wide over the sleeping Wing’s face and inhale. Again, Liang saw the glittering motes flittering out of Wing’s mouth, floating up into the woman’s parted lips.

It was then Liang realized what he was seeing; the glittering motes, it was chi, life energy. The woman—the red-eyed, glowing, clawed, hopping woman—was sucking the life out of Wing. She had done it to Chen, she had done it to Qiao.

She would do it to Liang.

And that’s when Liang finally recalled the name of the demon before him.

Chiang-shih. The life stealer.


The realization roared through Liang like a lightning bolt and, screaming, Liang ripped his blanket off and shot to his feet. Racing almost blindly, Liang tripped over the dead Qiao’s feet as he ran, slamming nearly face-first into the storeroom door. He heard the monstrous, enraged shriek of the chiang-shih behind him as his hands scrabbled for the handle, wrenching the door open. Liang threw himself outside, barely managing to keep his hold on the door to slam it shut.

No sooner did the door thunder closed than something rammed into it, buckling the wood with screeching cracks. Liang screamed and ducked, tearing forward into the inn’s courtyard as the chiang-shih battered the storeroom door down, her claws shredding through the wood.

“Somebody help me!” Liang shrieked as the chiang-shih plowed through the last of the wood. Unable to stop himself, Liang looked back as he ran, seeing the flaming red eyes staring hatefully back at him.

The chiang-shih snarled, and a long, pointed tongue darted out past her pointed teeth. She crouched down like a hunting cat and sprang forward, clearing a dozen feet in one bound. She hit the ground and lunged forward again, roaring.

Crazed with terror, Liang wrenched back around to run—and cried out in agony as his ankle twisted beneath him, flinging him to the flagstones at the base of the tree. His feet skidded out in the leaves as he pushed himself upright and he staggered wildly forward, colliding hard with the base of the tree.

Hearing the chiang-shih’s feet hit the ground behind him, Liang whipped himself over just in time to see the demon woman leap into the air again, her mouth gaping wide, her clawed hands flung high over her head. Liang screamed in helpless fear, squeezing his eyes shut and throwing his arms over his face.

Something hit the tree above him, and Liang heard a “whuff” of surprise, followed by the thudding of two feet on either side of him. Terrified, he curled himself into a ball, bracing himself to feel the chiang-shih dig her claws into him …

Nothing happened.

An eternity seemed to pass. Heaving for breath, Liang slowly opened his eyes, but kept his arms over his face. For an eon longer, he didn’t dare to move—he was sure he felt the chiang-shih standing over him.

Why wasn’t she attacking him?

Praying that he had been spared, Liang slowly lowered his arms and looked up.

The chiang-shih stood above him, her head bowed, her eyes closed. Her arms were extended straight out before her, above Liang’s head. Her claws were buried in the tree’s trunk, right up to the tips.

She was stuck!

Amazed, Liang stared at the spectacle. He propped himself up on an elbow—

Her flaming eyes shooting open, the chiang-shih screamed and lashed her head forward, her jaws snapping shut just inches from Liang’s face. The demon screamed again in rage and thrashed insanely, jerking back on her claws so hard that the entire tree shook. The wood refused to release its hold on the beast’s claws and she stood there, howling with fury.

It was too much for Liang to take. Darkness slipped over his eyes and he slumped to the flagstones, fainting away.


“How did this happen? How could this have happened?!”

The voice roused Liang. His eyelids felt heavy and resistant as he worked them open, his vision struggling to adjust in the early morning light. He saw dozens of feet rushing back and forth before him, heard gasps and cries of a dozen unfamiliar voices. Grimacing, Liang rolled over onto his back—

And came nose to nose with a corpse.

Recognizing the woman, Liang shrieked and scrambled back, away from the chiang-shih, still hanging by her claws in the tree. Her knees had buckled and she had been hovering over Liang as he laid there, unconscious.

“Aiya, he’s alive!”

Hands grabbed Liang under the arms and he screamed again, lashing insanely out at whatever had caught him. The things dragged him away from the dead creature, out into the sunlight, and it took several minutes of them holding his fists steady and yelling at him before Liang broke out of his shock enough to recognize the innkeeper, grasping his left hand. A young man with a distraught expression clutched his right, and the innkeeper’s wife stood before Liang, weeping into a handkerchief. Nearby, guests from the inn clustered around the dead woman, whispering in shock and fear.

“It’s all right, my boy, you’re safe now,” the innkeeper said, thumping Liang hard on the back. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

It took Liang a moment to work any sound through his dry throat. “What … what happened?”

“The sun came up.” The innkeeper glanced back at the dead woman. “They don’t come out during the day.”

“Where did it come from?”

Guilt seeped into the innkeeper’s face. He looked apologetically at the younger man at Liang’s right. “She is … she was my daughter-in-law. She died yesterday morning, and we were keeping her body in the storage room until an auspicious time to bury her—”

“You mean until you weren’t so busy!” the younger man cried bitterly. “You were so overcome with your greed with all these travelers, you couldn’t spend a moment to bury my wife while I was away!”

Ashamed, the old innkeeper hung his head. “It is true. I am sorry.”

“Wait—you said the storage room.” Realizing what the old mean meant, Liang pointed a shaking finger back to the storeroom where he and his friends had bedded. “You told us not to go behind the curtain—she was back there? You put me and my friends in a room with a dead body?!”

“I didn’t think anything would happen!”

“My friends are all dead!” Liang shouted. Tears welled in his eyes, blurring the stricken man’s face. “My friends are dead because of you! I could have been killed by that thing!”

“I’m—I’m so sorry …” The innkeeper’s voice cracked.

Wiping her own tears away, the old man’s wife swatted at him with her sodden handkerchief. “You thick-headed idiot! Quickly, get this poor man inside and get him fed. The priest will be here soon.”

Liang had no appetite, but he allowed the innkeeper and his grief-stricken son to help him get to his feet and stagger into the inn. The maids wrapped him in blankets and heaped tea and wine and hot food before him as the family went back out to greet the Taoist priest, called in from town. They took down the dead woman’s body from the tree, and the priest said binding prayers over the corpse as it was swiftly taken away. Liang couldn’t bear to watch as each of his friends were carried out of the storage room and brought to the cemetery to be cremated along with the thing that had killed them. It was the best way to keep them from returning as chiang-shih as well.

The innkeeper paid for Liang to return to the academy in a fine carriage, but Liang returned a changed man. He gave up his law studies and feverishly devoted himself to the study of the chiang-shih and how to defeat them. He remained fearful, and could only sleep at night with posted guards and his bed surrounded by talismans and weapons. Many people approached him for advice for fighting the chiang-shih, but Liang never encountered another one again.

Writing Wednesday: When People Tell You You Can’t/Shouldn’t Write What You Want to Write

Writing Wednesday: When People Tell You You Can’t/Shouldn’t Write What You Want to Write

By Kara Newcastle



The Letter Writer Surprised by Gabriel Metsu



About two or so years before I published Nike, Part 1: The Demon Road, I was sitting in my parents’ kitchen, the rough draft of my book laying on the counter before me. I was going through the book line by line with a read pen, circling mistakes, writing notes in the margins, doing general editing on my manuscript. My mother walked in to start dinner and, seeing the huge binder and the red pen in my hand, asked me what I was doing.

“Just editing Nike,” I said, not looking up from the page I was working on. “Sometimes looking at it all printed out helps me find mistakes I would have missed on the computer.”

I couldn’t see so much as sense my mother hesitating as she placed a pot on the stove. She cocked her head a me a bit, then said slowly, “Kara … do you think this is a good idea?”

“What is?”

“Writing a fantasy book.”

Bewildered, I glanced up at her. “What do you mean?”

“There’s no money in fantasy books. Shouldn’t you write like a biography instead?”

My jaw dropped for a number of reasons, none of which I could articulate as I stared at my mother, speechless, shocked and hurt. Finally, I spluttered, “Did—did you just say that I shouldn’t be writing fantasy novels because there’s no money in it?”

My mom half shrugged and nodded. “Nobody buys fantasy books. You’re not going to make a lot of money that way.”

I felt a flare of anger shot through me as I snapped back, “Well, what about J.K. Rowling? And J.R.R. Tolkien?”

My mother wrinkled her nose at the names. “That’s not the same thing.”

Well, I’ll spare you the details of the “conversation” that took place after that. I’m sure my mother thought that she was looking out for me, but I knew she didn’t really know what she was talking about (she rarely reads, and if she does, it’s only biographies and memoirs, so it’s the only genre she’s familiar with.) That didn’t stop it from hurting … and it wasn’t the first or last time I had relatives, friends, teachers, boyfriends, relatives of friends, relatives of boyfriends, and total strangers try to talk me out of writing genre fiction, saying either that it wasn’t popular or wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Remember, when I first started writing I was thirteen years old, so people were impressed but unsurprised that I wrote about things like Amazons, witches, demon hunters, dragons, aliens and the like—it was expected of a young girl with a vibrant imagination. If I received any kind of criticism about it at the time, it was more along the lines of, “Eh, that’s not really my thing,” than an out-and-out lambasting of my stories.

That changed when I was a junior in high school and still writing fantasy, scifi and horror stories. Suddenly, I saw a decrease in support, particularly amongst adults. My writing and English teachers enjoyed my stuff, but other instructors, other adults, they started to complain. They started saying that I shouldn’t spend so much time writing about fantastical things because that was for “kids.” They rolled their eyes when I told them I wanted to write novels, saying that if I was so determined to write about fantasy things, then I should instead write children’s books, because only small children would like that sort of thing. No self-respecting adult would be caught reading a fantasy or scifi novel.

No, I’m serious, this all happened.

For a while, I was angry at the response, but initially ignored them, telling myself that they didn’t know what they were talking about, that if they actually liked genre fiction then maybe they’d feel differently about it.

But it wore on me; if so many people that I respected thought that genre fiction was a waste of time, that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a writer, then maybe I should give things like literary fiction or historical fiction a shot. I tried to write a novel about the Prohibition era, but quickly lost interest. My attention kept wandering back to what I wanted to write, so I decided to keep writing fantasy, scifi and the like—I just wouldn’t tell anybody.

I had a little bit of an ego boost when I started posting fanfic online and got some generally good reviews, but I was still kind of embarrassed that I was 17, 18, 19, 20+ years old and writing this stuff. It wasn’t until I got my mitts on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I really started to get excited about writing fantasy again. I mean, here was a book that was not only a major bestseller, it was also insanely popular among children and adults—that flew in the face of everything that I had been told before about fantasy writing being a waste of time.

And yet, there were still issues. In my senior year of college, I FINALLY got into the Creative Writing class, and, for my first assignment—because we were just told to write a story, no other guidelines given—I wrote a fantasy story. I remember my stomach twisting a tiny bit as we went around our big U-shaped group, talking about our stories and then reading segments out loud. Everybody had written something from real life: one wrote a story about a character who was addicted to heroin, another wrote a story about homelessness, I think. Then, of course, they get to me, and I remember reluctantly saying out loud to the whole room, “Uh … Actually, I wrote a fantasy story.”

God, I’ll never forget the look on my professor’s face when I said that. If I had said that I had summoned up Mephisto and sold my soul in exchange for writing a story, I don’t think she would have looked half as stunned. Meanwhile, I was startled to hear my classmates around me say things like, “Oooh, cool!”, “Really? We can do that?”, “Aw, I should have written one!”

And here’s the funniest part; when we met the following week with our new stories, almost everyone had written a fantasy!

Was that cool? To me, yes, but my professor came across as exasperated, and it didn’t do too much to impress some of my other instructors; I was bitterly hurt when, after telling one of my favorite professors about Nike, he gave me a puzzled look and said, “Don’t you think that’s kind of intensive stuff for a kid’s book?”

Luckily, I had two instructors who were over the moon with my Nike idea and even allowed me to work on the first novel as a part of my thesis. The others … not so much.

Praise and derision continued to be a part of my writing life (and still is) for years afterwards. When I went to job interviews, the interviewer would ask me what I like to do in my spare time. I would tell them that I was writing a book, and they would perk up and ask for more details. I’d tell them about Nike, and they’d lose interest. Relatives would encourage me to write more serious fiction, because that’s what they would like to read. Mom told me flat out that they had no interest in reading anything of mine so long as it had anything to do with fantasy and/or scifi, and Dad said he had no interest in it other than me making a lot of money off of it. One ex-asshole’s—oops, sorry, was that out loud? I meant ex-boyfriend’s—father was very dismissive of my fantasy writing and would pile books by Salmin Rushdie and similar writers on top of me, saying, “This is what you should be aiming for.”

And yet, while all these people are telling me that fantasy writing is not popular, eight freaking Harry Potter movies come out, Game of Thrones is a massive hit in both the literary and televised world, there’s a massive resurgence in the popularity of Star Wars, X-Files and Buffy are huge hits, Star Trek comes back to theaters, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies are blockbusters, James Cameron’s Avatar destroys records while Nickelodeon’s Avatar; The Last Air Bender attracts kids and adults alike, comic book movies have taken over, Neil Gaiman reaches nearly godhood status, The Legend of Zelda franchise shows no signs of fading away, ComicCon is wildly popular, and there are only a few billion websites dedicated to every effing fandom imaginable.


So, if and when you encounter people who turn their noses up at genre fiction, saying that it’s juvenile, not serious fiction, best for children, whatever—and you will—do this: smile derisively, and ignore them. You may want to argue why you want to write fantasy, scifi, horror, etc., but don’t bother because they won’t listen. Mark Twain summoned it up best: “Don’t argue with idiots. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” And it’s true; people who look down on genre fiction will stand by their opinion and make you feel terrible about your interests, and you’ll never win. Ignore them, all of them, even if they’re important people in your life, and keep writing. Don’t let anyone derail you.

Myth Monday: The Old Hag Syndrome (World Legend)

Myth Monday: The Old Hag Syndrome

By Kara Newcastle


Meiga_Gallega_5234161461 Andrés Nieto Porras from Palma de Mallorca, España
Andrés Nieto Porras from Palma de Mallorca, España


As a child being tucked in by your parents at night, you likely heard them say, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!” The Gullah (descendants of freed slaves living along the coast in the Southeastern United States) had a similar saying when they went to bed: “Don’t let de Boo Hag ride ya.”

So you’re probably saying to yourself right now, “What in the hell is a Boo Hag?” Well, the Boo Hag is one of a species of ghost or demon, most commonly referred to as the Old Hag or Night Hag, known to attack people at night … and there’s a fair chance that somebody reading this has encountered it at least once in their lives.

Myself included. We’ll get to that later.

The Old Hag is a creature that creeps up on sleeping people and either press down or sits on their chest, making it difficult to breathe. People who are unfortunate enough to have a visit from the sinister senior citizen often report that they see or vividly dream of a hideous old woman looming over them. She is incredibly ugly (many victims say that she looks like a witch), with a craggy face, wasted body, stringy hair, fingers that are gnarled and claw-like, with jagged, rotting teeth and glaring eyes. Despite her bony frame, she is incredibly strong and heavy, pressing down on the victim with such strength that even the swollest (is that a word?) man in the world couldn’t lift her off of him. Nearly all victims report that she paralyzes them, stopping their breathing and drawing away their energy.

Victims usually snap out of it and sit bolt right up in their beds in terror, not seeing anyone there but sometimes feeling as though there is still an invisible presence in the room. Typically, people don’t any physical signs of an attack, save for a temporary shortness of breath.


The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli. Note the black horse or “night mare” in the background.

The Old Hag is known all over the world and throughout history, and descriptions of the spirit or the attack are often strikingly similar:

  • In Germany, it is known as the nacht mare (nacht “night”, mare “woman”, which where we get the term “nightmare”) and is described as either an ugly old woman or a beautiful, evil woman who sits on people’s chests.
  • The Filipino Batibat (fans of Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may recognize this one) is described as a fat, ugly old woman who lives in a tree by day and comes down at night to sit on sleeping people’s chests.
  • The Yoruba believe that the Old Hag is the “spiritual” spouse of the victim (i.e. a human man has a human wife and a spirit wife), and that the spirit spouse is taking out their jealousy on the victim.
  • In the Middle East, a jinn (genie) is often blamed for crushing people in their sleep. Interestingly, these jinn wear hats, and if the victim is able to swipe it away, the jinn will become their slave.
  • The Boo Hag of the Gullah people of the United States is a withered old crone that perches on top of sleeping people and slowly draws their vitality away, with the end goal of stealing their skins once they die. Victims of the Boo Hag are said to be “hag-ridden,” a term that dates back to Medieval England.
  • The ancient Hebrews and some modern Orthodox Jews believe that the Old Hag is actually Lilith, the queen of demons and mother of vampires.
  • The Chinese and Koreans believe that it is a ghost attempting to press a person to death, and the Chinese refer to it as “ghost oppression.”
  • The Hungarians believe that the Old Hag is a witch, demon, or even a fairy
  • In Newfoundland, where the term “Old Hag” was basically coined and the locals suffer an unusual preponderance of attacks, it’s believed that the Old Hag can be repelled by reciting the Lord’s Prayer backward.

And that’s just for starters.

In addition, attacks made by the Old Hag on certain victims have been known to have repercussions throughout the wider community; during the Salem witch trials of 1692, Bridget Bishop, was accused of sending her spirit to visit men in their beds and press down on their chests, suffocating them. Bridget had no way to defend herself against the claims and was found guilty and hung.


Two hundred years later in Exeter, Rhode Island, the deceased Mercy Brown was exhumed from her grave after her tuberculosis-stricken brother claimed that she came to him at night and tried to crush his chest. To the gathered crowd’s shock, Mercy Brown’s corpse seemed unaffected by decay, despite the fact that she had been dead for two months (never mind the fact that she had been entombed during the winter, as the local doctor had desperately tried to point out.) The witnesses deemed Mercy Brown to be a vampire and so pulled out her heart, burnt it, and fed the ashes to her dying brother to cure him of his wasting illness. He died anyway.


Reports of the Old Hag and Old Hag-type attacks were frequent enough to attract the medical world. Doctors studied the victims and the pattern of attacks and came to believe that it all could be explained by a simple diagnosis: sleep paralysis. Or, if you prefer a flashier name, the Old Hag Syndrome.

Essentially, the common factor in all these reports was that the victim/patient was only partially asleep when the events occurred. In this partial sleep state, one half of your brain is basically unconscious and shuts down your body so you don’t do something stupid, like get up in the middle of the night and go jogging down the middle of the interstate, or order $500 worth of food from GrubHub. (Yes, I know, this doesn’t always work—sometimes the “awake” part of your brain takes over and makes you get up and do things, i.e. sleepwalk. More on that in a minute.)

So while part of your brain is asleep and your body is still, the part of your brain that is still somewhat awake starts working overtime. It starts to hallucinate things, and when it starts to wonder why it’s semi-conscious, why your body is responding, it starts to panic. The semi-conscious brain, unable to fully come to, starts sending signals to your sleeping half that something is wrong. You can’t move, therefore something is holding you down. Your brain gets scared, and it tries to put a face to the thing that is pinning you in place.

Hence the very vivid “dreams” of an old hag or other creature attacking you.

But what would cause half your brain to refuse to shut down? It seems that there’s a myriad of reasons, the top one being stress: if you’re exhausted but so stressed out at the same time, part of your mind will try to stay awake to try to solve the problems in your life. Another reason is health: if you have breathing or heart problems, they may become exacerbated at night while you’re laying down (interestingly, people living in the Appalachian and Ozark mountains believed that you should never sleep on your back because it would encourage the Old Hag to attack.) If you’re having trouble breathing, you may have dreams of being suffocated. You might also feel as though you are floating, being dragged out of bed, have an out-of-body type sensation, hear strange noises or whispering. Luckily, this can all be solved with medication and therapy.

Now, I mentioned earlier that I experienced an Old Hag attack. It was actually about two months ago after I had just gotten slammed with a sudden case of the flu. My nose was running like a faucet, and I struggled to sleep because no matter which way I laid down, that crap would run down my throat and choke me. Between that and my fever, I wasn’t getting any rest.

Early one morning I opened my eyes. I found myself propped up in bed, and I could see just enough sunlight coming in through my windows to know the sun had come up. As I laid there, wishing to go back to sleep, my bedroom door swung open. I didn’t have any time to react before the old woman shambled into my room.

She was tall, maybe close to six feet, but it was hard to be certain because she was partially stooped over. She had long white, dry hair that hung straight down in parted sections. Her skin was a grayish-white, with bruise-like marks mottling her neck, arms, chest, and bare feet. She had long, bony arms, stick-like fingers that ended in white, wedge-shaped nails. Strangely, she wore an ivory white satin dress, sort of like a sheathe-type cocktail dress, but the way it hung off of her I could see that she had almost nothing in the way of flesh on her ribs or hips.

Her face was deeply lined. Her almost-lipless mouth was drawn in tight. Her eyes were bulbous and yellow, the iris just solid black dots. Her expression? I can only describe it as pure hate.

She minced her way to my bedside, and all I could do was lay there and stare in mounting horror … but me being me, I knew what I was looking at, even in the dream. I said something like, “Wait … I know what you are,” but she didn’t stop. She came up beside me and laid her cold, spidery hand on my chest.

That’s when I yelled, “Oh no you don’t!”, shot up and took a swing at her head.

Of course, by then I was fully awake, sitting up in bed with my fist out in front of me, completely alone in my room as it gradually began to brighten.

Luckily, I was a tiny bit shaken, but not so traumatized—turns out reading about this crap actually came in handy.

However, there is one aspect of the Old Hag syndrome that I haven’t found a satisfactory answer to: why is the creature almost always an old woman? And just so you know, I tried to find out, but I abandoned the search … the stories were just way too creepy.

Now I have to go watch some cartoons to calm down.