28 Feb An Introduction to American Lore
For a comparatively young country, the USA brims with mysticism and mythology. From the arcane knowledge of the Native American Indians to the Spiritualism movement founded by the Fox sisters, it has an unusually vivid tapestry of beliefs. Add to that some of the most creative, innovative folklore in the world, and it’s no surprise that the “New World” is such a rewarding subject of study!
Where to start? American folklore has an unparalleled cast of characters. Consider Bigfoot, the apelike creature periodically sighted in various locations; though most of these have been dismissed as fake, the universality of the legend suggests there’s some truth to it. For an even more curious visitor, there’s the Jersey Devil, believed to live in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. Few mythological beasts can be as bizarre, with the head of a goat, the body of a kangaroo and leathery bat like wings! A no less terrifying figure is the Mothman, originally seen in West Virginia in 1966 and memorably described as a “Man Sized Bird… Creature … Something.”
In comparison, the large number of white ladies who appear in the records are reassuringly ordinary. The most celebrated is probably the White Lady of Acra, who is said to have haunted the Hollywood sign ever since she committed suicide by jumping off the H. Another, who haunts Palmetto Flats by Highway 22, is known as the “Silk Lady”; her distinctive feature is that she ‘cackles like a banshee’.
Native American Religion
Contrary to common belief, Native American religion is extremely diverse. One branch may be practised only by a certain clan, while others have been adopted by various clans, the most obvious example being the Native American Church.
Native American religions all share the following characteristics: animism (that animals, plants and even inanimate objects have a spiritual essence), a firm belief in visions and “medicine people” (their preferred term- Westerners tend to use the phrase ‘shaman’). Although their religion is communal, they tend to regard it as a personal experience- institutionalised religion as we know it is very strange to them.
Despite an international presence, you may be surprised to learn that Spiritualism as we know today was founded by Kate and Margaret Fox, a pair of sisters from New York, on March 31st 1848. They were witnessed communing with a spirit, who had made its presence known by rapping noises. Since the occasion was seen by respectable witnesses, it created a sensation.
From that moment forward, Spiritualism was hugely popular. Largely practised by women, they also supported important issues of the day, such as women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery.
To this day it is practised through denominational churches in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an outspoken supporter of Spiritualism; his journey from scepticism to belief was echoed by Professor Challenger, one of his most famous characters, in the story The Land of Mist.
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