Windham Life and Times – November 9, 2018

New England Fairies

Native American and Northern Irish Traditions

Maura Dionne’s horseshoe found in her yard in Windham.

So, for all of you folks who think that all of this business about fairies and other supernatural occurrences is nonsense and superstition, listen up. I had a nice note from Maura Dionne who lives near Haskell Pond, right here in Windham. She was in her yard planting spring bulbs. As she turned the soil and dug the holes her shovel hit something metallic, so she continued to dig it up. To her surprise, she found a horseshoe buried there.  While that doesn’t rise to the level of a supernatural occurrence, what happened next does. After she finished planting her bulbs, she went to collect her mail. Maura is not a regular subscriber to the Windham News, she normally reads it in the library. That very day she received a complimentary copy in the mail. She relates that, “as I walked to my mailbox intrigued by my find – I coincidently opened up the Windham Independent to your article.” It was the very issue in which my column discussed the tradition of lucky horseshoes.  The physicists tell us that most of the entire universe that surrounds us is empty space, and that there are multiple universes on which we can possibly travel. If that is true, the visualization of a lucky horse shoe, sent out into the multiverses, could certainly materialize, in a yard in Windham! Just a coincidence or the luck of the Irish?

As most of you know, the settlers of these parts of New Hampshire were the Scotch-Irish. Even today, in Northern Ireland, the belief in fairies runs strong. We learn on in January of this year that the BBC, in 1952, ran a series about “Northern Ireland’s fascination with the wee folk.”

“Only a few months ago we heard the Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae claiming that the dip in the motorway located in Kerry existed due to the presence of fairy forts disturbing the area.[1] Fairies were frequently blamed in Irish culture for events out of the ordinary or scenarios that were difficult to explain. An interest, curiosity, and belief in the fairies also holds an association with Irish cultural identity. Fairy belief is certainly associated with place and the natural environment. Jane Talbot cites her fascination of tree lore as the inspiration for her book ‘The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories’, basing this on the local fairy thorn tree on the farm where she lives with her husband in Ballymoney.[2] The MAC theatre in Belfast even decided to showcase a play based on Talbot’s book of stories on fairy lore. You may find it curious then that 2017 has actually much in common with the year of 1952. Of course, we have the Irish Folklore Commission collecting oral testimony and the British Broadcasting Corporation dedicated time to the collection of fairy lore in Northern Ireland, leading to a five-part series titled Fairy Faith in 1952.”

A Fairy Thorn tree along a hedge-row in Northern Ireland.

A Fairy Thorn tree in Ballymoney led a local woman to write a book about fairies? That’s interesting! The Dinsmores, lived in Ballymoney and most of the Scotch-Irish, who migrated to America in 1718 lived thereabouts. Did the legend of Tseinetto the fairy originate with the Scotch-Irish in Derry? The BBC program Fairy Faith salvaged the oral testimony of fairy belief surviving in Northern Ireland in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The program’s producer, Sam Hanna Bell, and folklorist, Michael J Murphy, recorded local people recalling their stories of fairy belief.[3] Murphy was the ethnographer who searched for first person testimonials across Northern Ireland and then Bell recorded these afterwards without interfering with scripting and re-recording the participants’ stories. They drew inspiration from the rural areas tracing folk stories and folklife.” So if the BBC felt it important to record for posterity, the fairy beliefs of Northern Ireland, there must have been very heart felt belief or folk memory among the residents there.

In a 2015 story, the BBC reported on the fairy tree in Annacloy, Northern Ireland. “When civil engineers removed a thorn tree blocking a new road between Downpatrick and Ballynahinch, it caused consternation among the residents of Annacloy who believed it to be the home of fairies. In our archive report from 1964, locals talk about the fate that will befall those who have disrespected fairy traditions.” You can find the link to this BBC interview from 1964 on my blog.


So what exactly is a fairy thorn tree? The site states that, “Throughout the Northern Ireland countryside, there is a special tree – not one tree, but many, – standing alone, unharmed through generations, guarding its special place. It is the Fairy Thorn. Most are hawthorn, the white thorn with its May blossom… Fairy thorns may be associated with archaeological sites, such as the Neolithic chambered graves and wedge tombs. They may stand beside wells and springs, places known to early man and sometimes adopted by Christianity as Church sites or Holy Wells. In some rural sites there may be no apparent built artefact beside a fairy thorn, but the tree may guard a small rise in the ground – a fairy hill, place of entry to the under or other world of the fairy folk…Such special trees have a remarkable power about them. A gnarled thorn, often growing in harsh rocky ground, survivor of wind, weather, grazing, and many generations of man, has its own special strength. Stories still abound of misfortunes visited on those who risked disturbing such trees.”



Windham Life and Times – November 2, 2018

New England Fairies

Native American and Northern Irish Traditions

The fairy version of the story of Tsienneto, raises the question of where this legend, and other legends of New England fairies began. The legend of the fairy “Neto” has two possible origins; the Native Americans and the Scotch-Irish who both have long held traditions about the wee people that inhabit the wood.  Perhaps, the story of “Neto” combines both Native American and Northern Irish traditions.

Frances Jenkins Olcott is a well known children’s author who adapted many Native American legends into a children’s book called, The Red Indian Fairy Book. It was first published in 1917.

How The Fairies Came, is a short children’s story,  based on and old Algonquin legend “Osseo, the Son of the Evening Star” which was published in the book, The Indian Fairy Book, From the Original Legends, written by Cornelius Mathews and published in  1889.

“In the country of the Wabanaki, ten sisters once lived in their father’s lodge. Each was more beautiful than any other maiden in the land, and the youngest was the most beautiful of all.”

“Mandy handsome braves laid their gifts before the lodge door. So nine of the sisters married and went to live with their mothers-in-law. But the youngest refused all suitors, and stayed in her father’s lodge.”

“One day an old man named Osseo came to woo the youngest. His eyes were bright and his thoughts keen and he sang softly before her door. And as the maiden was willing the marriage feast was held.”

“The nine sisters came with their handsome husbands, and they laughed and jeered at the bride, because her husband was so old. But she only said: ‘Wait and see!’ Soon you shall know who has chosen most wisely.”

“After the marriage feast was over, Osseo led his bride toward his lodge in the distant forest. The nine sisters and their husbands went with them along the path. Presently they passed a hollow log. Then Osseo gave a loud call, and leaving the side of his bride, dashed into the log. Immediately he came out the other end, no longer old and wrinkled, but younger and handsomer than the husbands of the nine sisters. He then led the party forward with a step as light as the Reindeer’s.”

“Soon they reached a splendid lodge, and entered it. A delicious feast was spread in wooden dishes, and the sisters and their husbands sat down. ‘The food you see set before you is magic food,’ said Osseo; ‘eat it and receive a gift from the Evening Star, whose lodge this is.’ And as they all ate, sweet music like the voices of birds fell from the Sky. The lodge began to rise in the air. Higher it rose through the trees, and as it did so, it changed into a wonderful cage. Its poles became glittering silver wires, and its covering was of the shining wings of blue, green, and yellow insects.”

“And as the silver cage passed above the tree-tops, the wooden dishes became scarlet shells, and the nine sisters and their husbands were transformed into birds. Some became Bluebirds, others Red Breasted Robins, still others Golden Orioles, and birds with scarlet wings. Immediately they all began to hop about the cage showing their bright feathers and singing songs sweeter than those sung in the woodland.”

“ As for Osseo’s bride, she grew more lovely than ever, so that she shone like a star. Her garments were shimmering green, and in her hair was a silver feather.

“Higher rose the cage until it reached the Evening Star.”

“ ‘Welcome, my son,’ said he to Osseo. ‘Bring in your lovely bride, but hang the cage of colored birds at the door. Because the nine sisters laughed at the bride, they must stay outside.”

“Be careful that you never open the cage, nor let the ray of light from the little Star dwelling near us, fall upon you. For the ray of light is the little Star’s bow and arrow, and if it touches you, your wife and the birds will become enchanted.’ So Osseo hung up the cage of colored birds at the door of the lodge; and he and his wife lived there in happiness.  In time a son was born to them, who was brighter than the starlight. And when he grew older, Osseo made for him a little bow and arrows.”

“One day to please the child who wished to shoot something, Osseo opened the door of the silver cage, and let the colored birds go free, and they flew singing to Earth. The little boy shot an arrow after them, and immediately a ray of light struck Osseo. Then the little boy began to float downward through the Sky. Soon he passed the soft white clouds, and felt gently upon a green island in the middle of a wide blue lake. The colored birds came flying to him with songs of joy.”

“As for the silver cage, it descended after, its glittering insect wings fluttering from its sides. And in it were Osseo and his wife. As the cage touched the green island, it became a shining lodge, and Osseo and his wife, the little boy, and all the colored birds, were changed into bright and joyous Fairies.”

‘And ever since that day, on Summer starlit nights, the little Fairies join hands, and dance around. Their shining lodge may still be seen when the Moon’s beams light the green island. And by night the Indian fisher-boys, on the blue lake, hear the sweet voices of the Fairy dancers.”

Olcott’s book contains other tales about fairies  based on Native American legends. There is a story about the Native American hero, Glooskap and The Summer Fairies, and Leelinau the Fairy Girl.   Osseo, Son of the Evening Star,  was published in The Indian Fairy Book, From the Original Legends, by author Cornelius Mathews, first published in 1889. It is still available in reprint from Amazon and other sources.

“There once lived an Indian in the north who had ten daughters, all of whom grew up to womanhood. They were noted for their beauty, especially Oweenee, the youngest, who was very independent in her way of thinking. She was a great admirer of romantic places, and spent much of her time with the flowers and winds and clouds in the open air. Though the flower were homely, if it was fragrant—though the wind were rough, if it was healthful—and though the cloud were dark, if it embosomed the fruitful rain, she knew how, in spite of appearances, to acknowledge the good qualities concealed from the eye. She paid very little attention to the many handsome young men who came to her father’s lodge for the purpose of seeing her.”

“Her elder sisters were all sought in marriage, and one after the other they went off to dwell in the lodges of their husbands; but Oweenee was deaf to all proposals of the kind. At last she married an old man called Osseo, who was scarcely able to walk, and who was too poor to have things like others. The only property he owned in the world was the walking-staff which he carried in his hand. Though thus poor and homely, Osseo was a devout and good man; faithful in all his duties, and obedient in all things to the Good Spirit. Of course they jeered and laughed at Oweenee on all sides, but she seemed to be quite happy, and said to them, “It is my choice and you will see in the end who has acted the wisest.”

“They made a special mock of the walking-staff, and scarcely an hour in the day passed that they had not some disparaging reference to it. Among themselves they spoke of Osseo of the walking-staff, in derision, as the owner of the big woods, or the great timber-man.”

“True,” said Oweenee, “it is but a simple stick; but as it supports the steps of my husband, it is more precious to me than all the forests of the north.”

“A time came when the sisters, and their husbands, and their parents were all invited to a feast. As the distance was considerable, they doubted whether Osseo, so aged and feeble, would be able to undertake the journey; but in spite of their friendly doubts, he joined them, and set out with a good heart.”

“As they walked along the path they could not  help pitying their young and handsome sister who had such an unsuitable mate. She, however, smiled upon Osseo, and kept with him by the way the same as if he had been the comeliest bridegroom in all the company. Osseo often stopped and gazed upward; but they could perceive nothing in the direction in which he looked, unless it was the faint glimmering of the evening star. They heard him muttering to himself as they went along, and one of the elder sisters caught the words, “Pity me, my father!”

” ‘Poor old man,’ said she; ‘he is talking to his father. What a pity it is that he would not fall and break his neck, that our sister might have a young husband.’ ”

“Presently as they came to a great rock where Osseo had been used to breathe his morning and his evening prayer, the star emitted a brighter ray, which shone directly in his face. Osseo, with a sharp cry, fell trembling to the earth, where the others would have left him, but his good wife raised him up, and he sprang forward on the path, and with steps light as the reindeer he led the party, no longer decrepit and infirm, but a beautiful young man. On turning around to look for his wife, behold she had become changed, at the same moment, into an aged and feeble woman, bent almost double, and walking with the staff which he had cast aside”

“Osseo immediately joined her, and with looks of fondness and the tenderest regard, bestowed on her every endearing attention, and constantly addressed her by the term of ne-ne-moosh-a, or my sweetheart.”

“As they walked along, whenever they were not gazing fondly in each other’s face, they bent their looks on heaven, and a light, as if of far-off stars, was in their eyes.”

“On arriving at the lodge of the hunter with whom they were to feast, they found the banquet ready, and as soon as their entertainer had finished his harangue—in which he told them his feasting was in honor of the Evening or Woman’s Star—they began to partake of the portion dealt out, according to age and character, to each one of the guests. The food was very delicious, and they were all happy but Osseo, who looked at his wife, and then gazed upward, as if he was looking into the substance of the sky. Sounds were soon heard, as if from far-off voices in the air, and they became plainer and plainer, till he could clearly distinguish some of the words.”

“‘My son, my son,’ said the voice; ‘I have seen your afflictions, and pity your wants. I come to call you away from a scene that is stained with blood and tears. The earth is full of sorrows. Wicked spirits, the enemies of mankind, walk abroad, and lie in wait to ensnare the children of the sky. Every night they are lifting their voices to the Power of Evil, and every day they make themselves busy in casting mischief in the hunter’s path. You have long been their victim, but you shall be their victim no more. The spell you were under is broken. Your evil genius is overcome. I have cast him down by my superior strength, and it is this strength I now exert for your happiness. Ascend, my son; ascend into the skies, and partake of the feast I have prepared for you in the stars, and bring with you those you love.’ ”

” ‘The food set before you is enchanted and blessed. Fear not to partake of it. It is endowed with magic power to give immortality to mortals, and to change men to spirits. Your bowls and kettles shall no longer be wood and earth. The one shall become silver, and the other pure gold. They shall shine like fire, and glisten like the most beautiful scarlet. Every female shall also change her state and looks, and no longer be doomed to laborious tasks. She shall put on the beauty of the star-light, and become a shining bird of the air. She shall dance, and not work. She shall sing, and not cry.’ ”

” ‘My beams,’ continued the voice, ‘shine faintly on your lodge, but they have power to transform it into the lightness of the skies, and decorate it with the colors of the clouds. Come, Osseo, my son, and dwell no longer on earth. Think strongly on my words, and look steadfastly at my beams. My power is now at its height. Doubt not, delay not. It is the voice of the Spirit of the Stars that calls you away to happiness and celestial rest.’ ”

“The words were intelligible to Osseo, but his companions thought them some far-off sounds of music, or birds singing in the woods. Very soon the lodge began to shake and tremble, and they felt it rising into the air. It was too late to run out, for they were already as high as the tops of the trees. Osseo looked around him as the lodge passed through the topmost boughs, and behold! their wooden dishes were changed into shells of a scarlet color, the poles of the lodge to glittering rods of silver, and the bark that covered them into the gorgeous wings of insects.”

“A moment more and his brothers and sisters, and their parents and friends, were transformed into birds of various plumage. Some were jays, some partridges and pigeons, and others gay singing birds, who hopped about, displaying their many-colored feathers, and singing songs of cheerful note.”

“But his wife, Oweenee, still kept her earthly garb, and exhibited all the indications of extreme old age. He again cast his eyes in the direction of the clouds, and uttered the peculiar cry which had given him the victory at the rock. In a moment the youth and beauty of his wife returned; her dingy garments assumed the shining appearance of green silk, and her staff was changed into a silver feather.”

“The lodge again shook and trembled, for they were now passing through the uppermost clouds, and they immediately after found themselves in the Evening Star, the residence of Osseo’s father.”

” ‘My son,’ said the old man, ‘hang that cage of birds which you have brought along in your hand at the door, and I will inform you why you and your wife have been sent for.’ Osseo obeyed, and then took his seat in the lodge.”

” ‘Pity was shown to you,’ resumed the King of the Star, ‘on account of the contempt of your wife’s sister, who laughed at her ill fortune, and ridiculed you while you were under the power of that wicked spirit whom you overcame at the rock. That spirit lives in the next lodge, being the small star you see on the left of mine, and he has always felt envious of my family because we had greater power, and especially that we had committed to us the care of the female world. He failed in many attempts to destroy your brothers and sisters-in-law, but succeeded at last in transforming yourself and your wife into decrepid old persons. You must be careful and not let the light of his beams fall on you, while you are here, for therein lies the power of his enchantment. A ray of light is the bow and arrow he uses.’ ”

“Osseo lived happy and contented in the parental lodge, and in due time his wife presented him with a son, who grew up rapidly, and in the very likeness of Osseo himself. He was very quick and ready in learning every thing that was done in his grandfather’s dominions, but he wished also to learn the art of hunting, for he had heard that this was a favorite pursuit below. To gratify him, his father made him a bow and arrows, and he then let the birds out of the cage that he might practice in shooting. In this pastime he soon became expert, and the very first day he brought down a bird; but when he went to pick it up, to his amazement it was a beautiful young woman, with the arrow sticking in her breast. It was one of his younger aunts.”

“The moment her blood fell upon the surface of that pure and spotless planet, the charm was dissolved. The boy immediately found himself sinking, although he was partly upheld by something like wings until he passed through the lower clouds, and he then suddenly dropped upon a high, breezy island in a large lake. He was pleased, on looking up, to see all his aunts and uncles following him in the form of birds, and he soon discovered the silver lodge, with his father and mother, descending, with its waving tassels fluttering like so many insects’ gilded wings. It rested on the loftiest cliffs of the island, and there they fixed their residence. They all resumed their natural shapes, but they were diminished to the size of fairies; and as a mark of homage to the King of the Evening Star, they never failed on every pleasant evening during the summer season to join hands and dance upon the top of the rocks. These rocks were quickly observed by the Indians to be covered, in moonlight evenings, with a larger sort of Ininees, or little men, and were called Mish-in-e-mok-in-ok-ong, or Little Spirits, and the island is named from them to this day.”

“Their shining lodge can be seen in the summer evenings, when the moon beams strongly on the pinnacles of the rocks; and the fishermen who go near those high cliffs at night, have even heard the voices of the happy little dancers. And Osseo and his wife, as fondly attached to each other as ever, always lead the dance.”




Windham Life and Times – October 26, 2018

Hannah Duston and the Fairy

“Tsienneto” booklet contains the legend of the Indian Tsienneto

New Hampshire Folk-Tales and Beyond

So what are we to think about Hannah Duston in the “enlightened” year of 2018. On the one hand she treated indigenous people very terribly (murdering them), and should be loathed for it, but…those indigenous people were alpha males, so they should have been killed anyway, and since it is a tale of woman’s power and strength in the face of calamity, I probably am still allowed to publicly write about her without sending people scurrying to their safe places. On the other hand, people may not like this old folk tale, because it takes the glory from a stoic, powerful, woman and gives the glory to a wood sprite or fairy,  whose magical powers save the day.

First, lets recap the story of Hannah Duston. Stories of New Hampshire under The Indomitable Hannah Dustin says that, “At the beginning of the history of New Hampshire women were important, yet few acquired fame. The first heroine of the state was Hannah Duston (The early spelling of her name), famous throughout the nation because she possessed the courage to kill ten Indians to save her life. Hannah was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 23, 1657, the daughter of Michael and Hannah (Webster) Emerson. Hannah Webster Emerson distinguished these names long before Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson were born.”

“Haverhill was a forested area in 1635, when only a few families were scattered in the south section of the present city…she married Thomas Duston, December 3, 1677, at the time King Philip (an Indian) was killing the English because they were destroying his hunting grounds and food supply.”

“The couple had seven children and Hannah was recovering seven days after baby Martha was born when on the morning of March 15, 1697, Indians were approaching the home. Hannah urged Thomas to save the children. He told the seven to run into the woods toward the garrison house of Onesiphorus Marsh near the bank of the Merrimack River while he mounted his horse and fought the Indians.”

“Meanwhile the Indians killed the baby and captured Mrs. Duston and her nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff, and compelled them to leave the house that was pillaged immediately. (For you Windham folks, Mary Neff was a Corliss, and related to the Corliss family of Windham who occupied one of the earliest homesteads in town.) The March wind must have been cold and the river at flood, yet it is believed that the Indians, with their captives, paddled up the stream to an island at Penacook, New Hampshire. The story is related that while in camp, Hannah cooked a soup that the Indians ate heartily, then they fell soundly asleep. It is believed that Hannah added the roots of a plant possessing soporific (induces sleep) power.”

While the Indians slept soundly, Hannah and a captive boy killed ten Indians with tomahawks, took their scalps, and then the three captives fled down the river in a canoe, safely to Haverhill.” Quite the heroine, but did Hannah have a little magical help?

In The Legend of Tsienneto, The Fairy we learn the following: “Fairy tales also claim their share of mystery among former settlers. Beaver Lake in Nutfield, now Derry, was supposed by the Indians to be the abode of a Fairy Queen named “Tsienneto, abbreviated to Neto in the legend of Hannah Dustin. Seen or unseen by mortals, Neto was able to perform deeds of friendly service to those in distress.”

“When the Indians brought Mrs. Dustin and their other captives from Haverhill, their first-night encampment was on the shore of Beaver Lake where Queen Neto saw and befriended Mrs. Dustin, promising to accompany her unseen by her captors and to supply all her needs.”

“After the party arrived on the island in the Merrimack River near Penacook, Neto cast a spell over the Indians so that they soundly slept while Mrs. Dustin and her boy companion moved about with the Indians tomahawks, killing all their enemies and escaping down river. It was Neto who guided them in safety to their home and family as this good fairy always was known to do, and thus the Scotch-Irish of Derry explain the miraculous escape of Hannah Dustin.”

How this legend arose is a mystery to historians in both Derry and Londonderry, since it was not written down previously to its being published in New Hampshire Folk Tales in 1932.  There was a source for another legend of Tsienneto in a small guidebook published by R.N. Richardson in 1907. However, there is no confirmation in this publication as to the Hannah Duston legend. It instead tells the rather poetic tale of Tsienneto, an Indian prophet, who predicted the demise of the red man as related by a local fairy. “Tsienneto was seized and taken before  a council of Chiefs and great men. There he prophesized that a great misfortune would come to the tribes in the region of the Beaver. ‘A peculiar people,’ he said, ‘with pale-hued faces, shall come from beyond the big water. They will devastate the forests, and dwell unmolested in the places thus desolated. The deer shall leave the near country, the beaver cease their craft in the waters of that region, and your campfires shall be forever out. Yonder isle shall disappear, and fishes prowl where now stands my lodge. In the days of the third forest the deer shall return, but the beaver—never.’ ‘And all the great men assembled were afraid, for they had heard the power of Tsienneto. A sign! A sign! Prove thy power they cried. On the eastern end of the island stood a great pine, large enough for what was called  in the latter days a King’s tree. In the time of Tsienneto it was called the Guardian of the Isle of Great Enchantment.” To prove his power, and the truth of his prophecy, Tsienneto hurled a huge boulder a half mile across the lake and destroyed the tree. With its destruction, the island sank, and the spiritual protection of the tree to the Indians was lost.

So was Tsienneto a wise Native American prophet or a small Native American fairy that protected Hannah Duston? I’ll let you decide for yourselves.


Windham Life and Times – October 19, 2018

Witches and Witchcraft

New Hampshire Fold Tales and Beyond

Today our modern minds scoff at the idea of witches, ghosts and paranormal specters. We feel that we are above such nonsense, that once held the minds of the early residents of New England captive.  But before you feel to superior, ask yourself this question. How would you ever see such phenomenon today? You drive a very fast car, there are harsh lights blaring, everywhere, all night long and you can’t even see the stars; how on earth would you ever detect, a witch, a ghost, or a Will-O-Wisp under such conditions. In the day when these things were reported, the night-time was pitch black, and you either walked, rode or were drawn by a very slow moving horse, fully exposed to your surroundings. Men walked in the vast woodlands. Many people today, never venture very far outside at night. So what do you really know of your surroundings, walled off as you are by modernity.

Our first folk tale about witches comes from Morrison’s History of Windham: “Old Rif was a colored man, and slave of Robert Smith’s. One day, while out gunning with George Simpson, they became lost. They thought they knew every inch of ground. The sun was fast sinking behind the western hills, and they came to a halt. At that moment they saw a rabbit standing upon its hind legs, looking at them; they tried to frighten it away, but it would not go away at their bidding. Old Rif  knew that the rabbit was bewitched, and he had heard that to shoot silver sleeve-buttons at a rabbit would destroy the witch. So he loaded his gun, putting in his silver sleeve-buttons, and shot the rabbit. The witch was instantly killed, their minds immediately became clear, the ground at once became familiar, the pathway was plain before them, and they readily and quickly found their way home. Old Rif  was said to be the last slave in New Hampshire, and died not far from 1842.”

The next tale is of Granny Ober of Salem, NH.  “About the time of the Revolution, there lived in the northeastern part of town an old woman called Granny Ober. She used to frequently go to John Wheeler’s house for milk, passing along a path known as Ober’s Path at the east end of Captain’s Pond.”

“One day, Mrs. Wheeler told her there was no milk to be spared. The old woman, very angry, muttered, ‘You’ll be sorry for this,’ and departed. The next morning when Mrs. Wheeler went to milk she found her cow on her back and superstitious fears began to find a place in her mind and were communicated to the neighbors who came to help her rescue her cow. When on the third morning she found the cow in a like position, Mrs. Wheeler was convinced that Granny had bewitched the animal.”

“To break the spell, Mrs. Wheeler took a carving knife and cut off part of the cow’s tail and ears, and put them in the fire where they sputtered and burned angrily. Only a brief time elapsed before Abner Wheeler, calling at the house on an errand asked, ‘Have you heard about Granny Ober?’ ‘No’ said Mrs. Wheeler with quickened breath, ‘what has she done now?’ ‘Granny got out into the bush and was terribly scratched up and then some how or other she got herself afire and burned to death. Her ears were burned off!’ What better proof would anyone of that day ask that Granny was a witch whose witchcraft had been only to thoroughly exercised by Mrs. Wheeler!”

Again from New Hampshire Folk Tales we learn of witches in Peterborough.

“We do not know if Peterborough burned any witches but the early settlers had queer ideas. They firmly believed in the bodily manifestations of the  devil, in the existence of witches and the appearances of ghosts. John Hopkins Morison, in his address at the Centennial of Peterborough, October 24, 1839 told the following incidents: A small, lean, aged woman by the name of Stinson was uniformly regarded as a witch. A cat somewhere in town was observed to act strangely; hot water was thrown upon her and straightway Mrs. Stinson’s back was dreadfully afflicted with St. Anthony’s fire (erysipelas). On another occasion a good man near Sharon shot at a crow many times, but the bird only flew around and laughed at him. He at last took off his silver sleeve button and with it broke the crow’s wing; immediately Mrs. Stinson was found to have broken her arm. At her funeral, which was about 1780, though she was hardly more than a skeleton, the strong men who bore her to the grave were almost crushed to the earth by the weight and sin and their shoulders remained for weeks black and blue.”

“There was a young woman, Hannah Scott by name, who supposed herself bewitched by an old woman named Aspy, near Hancock. The girl lay for more than a month without the power of opening her eyes, but while in this state she could tell exactly who was passing, how he looked, what he had with him, and what was going on in different houses, and in different parts of town. She always said that if old Aspy would come and bless her she would recover. The witch came and passing her hands over her forehead with the words ‘Your God bless you and my God bless you’ ended the charm’ ”

“Old Baker Moore, the village fiddler, to his dying hour firmly believed that he had twice been honored with a personal interview with the devil. Another man, William M’Nee, had horseshoe nails driven into the horns of all of his cattle, to save them from the witches. It was generally believed that horseshoes, witch hazel rods and silver were effectual securities against their influences.”

At this point you may have noticed that “silver bullets” are seen as effective against witches.  Wikipedia notes that “In folklore, a bullet cast from silver is often the only weapon that is effective against a werewolf, witch, or other monsters. The term is also a metaphor for a simple, seemingly magical, solution to a difficult problem: for example, penicillin was a silver bullet that cured many bacterial infections.” The horseshoe as a talisman dates back to a Irish blacksmith named Dunstan. He became Arch-Bishop of Canterbury in 959. It is said that he nailed horseshoes to the feet of the devil and made him promise that he would never enter a home with one over the door. During the middle ages when the belief in witches was rampant it was believed that they feared horseshoes because they were made of iron. Horse-shoes were actually nailed to the coffins of suspected witches to keep them from resurrecting into a new life. Even further back, the horseshoe’s crescent shape was reminiscent of the symbol which represented the moon goddess who brought protection and good luck. Ready to hang a horseshoe over your door? Its important that the opening faces up so that your luck is held in and does not flow outward.




Windham Life and Times – October 12, 2018

Jack-O-Lanterns and Will-O-the Wisps

New Hampshire Folk Tales and Beyond

New Hampshire Folk Tales is a compilation of old stories complied by the New Hampshire Federation of Woman’s Clubs in 1932. Since we are approaching Halloween, I thought I would start with this folk-tale found in the chapter on Witchcraft in New Hampshire.

“… Joseph Gage, the father of Betsy, had been working one day for somebody who lived on the back road. On his way home after dusk he saw what appeared to be two balls of fire in the road in front of him. He had in his hand an edged carpenter’s tool, called a draw-shave, which he held up and said, ‘Stand off!’ He went home unmolested. What he saw might have been inflammable marsh gas, or Jack-o-Lanterns, as they are sometimes called…”

Whoa, wait a minute, fiery Jack-O-Lanterns; what the heck is this all about? This isn’t the cute Jack-O-Lantern I’ve grown to know and love.

Centuries ago in a village in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as “Stingy Jack”. “Jack was known throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, Satan overheard the tale of Jack’s evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumors, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation. Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night when he came upon a body on his cobblestone path. The body with an eerie grimace on its face turned out to be Satan. Jack realized somberly this was his end; Satan had finally come to collect his malevolent soul. Jack made a last request: he asked Satan to let him drink ale before he departed to Hades. Finding no reason not to acquiesce the request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic drinks. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked Satan to pay the tab on the ale, to Satan’s surprise. Jack convinced Satan to metamorphose into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender (impressed upon by Jack’s unyielding nefarious tactics). Shrewdly, Jack stuck the now transmogrified Satan (coin) into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix’s presence kept Satan from escaping his form. This coerced Satan to agree to Jack’s demand: in exchange for Satan’s freedom, he had to spare Jack’s soul for ten years.

“Ten years later to the date when Jack originally struck his deal, he found himself once again in Satan’s presence. Jack happened upon Satan in the same setting as before and seemingly accepted it was his time to go to Hades for good. As Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly Satan once again agreed to this request. As Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Satan, frustrated at the fact that he been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by Satan into Hades. Satan agreed and was set free. Eventually the drinking took its toll on Jack and he died. Jack’s soul prepared to enter heaven through the gates of St. Peter, but he was stopped. And Jack was told by God that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness and drinking, he was not allowed into Heaven. Jack then went down to the Gates of Hell and begged for commission into the underworld. Satan, fulfilling his obligation to Jack, could not take his soul. To warn others, he gave Jack an ember, marking him a denizen of the netherworld. From that day on until eternity’s end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside a hollowed turnip  (“turnip” actually referring to a large rutabaga) to light his way.” One of many versions as told in Wikipedia.

In Ireland, people would carve out root vegetables and place them by their doors to ward of evil spirits. Once in America, the huge pumpkin became the vegetable of choice.  By now you may have guessed that there is much more to this Jack-O-Lantern story, hidden in the deep, dark, recesses of ancient history.

   Here’s more, as related at Gnostic “In my last article on the mythology of the hidden meaning of the Jack-o-lantern I explained how this was really an ancient gnostic story that was developed by the Phoenician-Hebrew Druids who were known biblically as the children of Jacob (Jack). It is a tale of the, as within as without gnosis, in which Jack roams the dark countryside with a lantern in search of his soul with the light of his spirit.”

“It was in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and other countries where the Druids had observed during the dark autumn nights a mysterious phenomenon of lights shooting from the swamps and marshes. These lights burned blue and gave the appearance of spirits rising from the swamps into the air where they would roam and disappear.

“There is also a mysterious science behind these gnostic myths that may indicate to us exactly why the Druids had developed this story of the Jack-o’-lantern. After all, the Druids were the sacred science keepers and priests of Europe who had valued knowledge and truth above all other worldly attributes.”

“To them, knowledge was not just power, but a key to the underworld and their immortality. The science of the Jack-o-lantern is centered around what is called swamp gas, which is also known by several other names such as ignis fatuus, marsh gas,  will-o’-the-wisp, corpse candles, and a jack-o’-lantern. They are also called spook-lights, orbs, and ghost-lights that can be seen in graveyards and are known as ‘ghost candles.’ The will-o’-the-wisp and graveyard ghost candles are the basis of the myth that brought us our holiday of All Hallows Eve that is now known as Halloween, and the symbol of the  Jack-o-lantern.”

In Fireballs: A History of Meteors and other Atmospheric Phenomena, Craig Hipkin states, “The ignis fatuus or will-o-the wisp is know by many other names around the world. In Ireland, England and Scotland and many Scandinavian countries it is sometimes referred to as ‘Jack-with-a-Lantern…’ In Japan these mysterious balls of fire are known as ‘Hitodama’ which translated into English means ‘human soul.’ They are believed to be the lost souls of the dead searching for a passageway into the spirit world…” So there you have it, you now can tell the tale of Stingy Jack, the Will-O-the Wisps and flaming orbs at pumpkin carving time.

New Hampshire Folk Tales, Mrs. Guy Spear, New Hampshire Federation of Woman’s Clubs, 1932

Windham Life and Times – October 5, 2018

The Scotch-Irish and the Potato

Harvesting Potatoes on the Campbell Farm in Windham NH

When I was a kid in the seventies, I used to drive up Route 28 in Derry, past an ancient looking farmhouse that had a large sign in front of it facing the road. It declared that the Scotch-Irish settlers had brought the potato to America and that they were first grown at this farm. As a lover of French fries, back in the day when they were fried correctly, (in the “bad” stuff) and tasted delicious, this was an intriguing boast.

It wasn’t until I started writing today, that I found that the potato in fact did not originate in Ireland. This tuber is in fact a native plant of the Americas. According to, “In the ancient ruins of Peru and Chile, archaeologists have found potato remains that date back to 500 B.C.  The Incas grew and ate them and also worshipped them.  They even buried potatoes with their dead, they stashed potatoes in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine, they dried them, and carried them on long journeys to eat on the way (dried or soaked in stew).  Ancient Inca potatoes had dark purplish skins and yellow flesh.” In the sixteenth century, (1500’s) the Spanish conquistadors encountered potatoes being grown by the natives and began to return with them to Spain. “The potato was carried on to Italy and England about 1585, to Belgium and Germany by 1587, to Austria about 1588, and to France around 1600.  Wherever the potato was introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous, and downright evil. In France and elsewhere, the potato was accused of causing not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scrofula, early death, sterility, and rampant sexuality, and of destroying the soil where it grew.” Some historians state that the explorer Walter Raleigh brought the potato to Ireland in 1589 and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland. The Irish, never wanting to give credit to an Englishman, say that the potatoes came to Ireland via a shipwreck of the Spanish Amada off the Irish coast in 1588.

The potato and the Scotch-Irish have a very long history.   Rev. A.L. Perry states, in The Scotch-Irish in New England that, “First of the European countries, the potato had been found by Ireland, to which it had been brought from Virginia by slave-trader Hawkins in 1565; an invaluable resource of food for the poor; and each and every company of Scotch-Irish brought with them to New England, as part of the indispensable outfit, some tubers of this esculent, which they prized beyond price.” So how did the potato get to Ireland? states that, “Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins, have all been credited with introducing the potato into Ireland. Indeed, the early history of the potato is obscured by often contradictory stories, many of which can be relegated to the sphere of romance.” A.L. Perry says, “The pine lands of New England, which are always sandy, are adapted to the potato; and if there were no suffering from hunger in those large families during the first years of their sojourn, it should doubtless be put to the credit of the easily cultivated, much-multiplying potato.”

Edward Parker in his History of Londonderry, talks about the potato. “They (the Scotch-Irish) introduced the culture of the potato, which they brought with them from Ireland. Until their arrival, this valuable vegetable, now regarded as one of the necessities of life, if not wholly unknown, was not cultivated in New England. To them belongs the credit of its introduction to general use. Although highly prized by this company of settlers, it was for a long time little regarded by their English neighbors: a barrel or two being considered a supply for a family. But its value as food for man and for beast became at length more generally known, and who can now estimate the full advantage of its cultivation to this country! The following well-authenticated fact will show how little known to the community at large the potato must have been.”

During the first winter of 1718-19 with no place to settle, some of the company of Scotch-Irish were taken in by residents of Andover MA. Upon leaving the place and in appreciation of the hospitality of their hosts, the Scotch-Irish left a few potatoes with them for seed.  “The potatoes were accordingly planted; came up and flourished well; blossomed and produced balls, which the family supposed was the fruit to be eaten, They cooked the balls in various ways, but could not make them palatable, and pronounced them unfit for food. The next spring, while ploughing their garden, the plough passed through where the potatoes had grown, and turned out some of great size, by which means they discovered their mistake.”


Windham Life and Times September 28, 2018

Commuter Bus Crash

Route 28 Windham. September 25, 1961

9-25-61-WINDHAM NH– Smoke pours from fiery wreckage of a passengerless commuter bus and a truck that collided and burst into flames. Driver of the bus, Albert Trombly, 22, son of the owner of Trombly Motor Coach Lines, died instantly. Driver of the truck was hospitalized for shock, The vehicles collided on Route 28, Windham.” This bus route was established with the end of passenger service on the B&M railroad. In a related story published in the Union Leader in January 15, 1936 Windham was protesting the proposed bus line route. “Town Left Off Route; Will Meet B&M Official on Thursday. A group of interested citizens, led by Town Clerk John E. Cochran, has finally succeeded in having a representative of the Boston and Maine meet with the people in town to discuss grievances against the railroad in the proposed removal of passenger service on the Manchester-Lawrence branch of the Boston and Maine line. The meeting is to be held in the Town Hall Thursday, January 15, at 2:30. The present intention of the railroad is to omit Windham entirely in making out the new bus schedule to supplant the train service. The proposed router is along Rockingham Road, which will take  in every depot along the line except Windham. The group which will meet with Mr. Pearson, the representative of the railroad, wishes to have the bus leave the present route at City Point, pass through Windham Depot, and thence via Indian Rock Road to Canobie Lake Depot. This will benefit the residents of Windham much more. All citizens interested in such change in route are requested to be present at the mass meeting on Wednesday.” It appears from the crash location that the bus route remained on Route 28 rather than traveling on Indian Rock Road.