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Eccentricities, true crime, macabre, lore

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Saint Athanasia

Those of you who have been following this site know that I’m a sucker for absurd, extreme stories. This one combines religious fanaticism, political power games, money, deceit, human idiocy, and all of those things that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. This is the true story of a modern “saint”, a woman who has been pulling all the right strings for the biggest part of her life, and debatable career. Prepare to lose some faith in humanity.

It was back in 1928, in a small village in the Peloponnese, when Athanasia was born. She was part of a large family, with far too many mouths to feed, and receiving a proper education, especially at this time, was out of the question. Athanasia followed the most appropriate life path for her and became a shepherd. The thing with shepherds, though, is that they have way too much free time on their hands, plus the lovely scenery to ponder and plot, and although Athanasia could barely read and write, she wasn’t stupid.

When she was 17, she came back to the village one day, claiming that she had seen Mary, the mother of God, in a vision. Apparently Mary liked hanging out in the fields of Peloponnese, because she kept on coming to meet Athanasia, and she soon started leaving marks of her presence in Athanasia’s chest. I don’t know why the mother of God would do such a thing, but I do know that Mary couldn’t spell properly.

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Hansel and Gretel, or Hanz and Grete?

Spring is finally here, the trees bloom, the birds are chirping, Easter candy is everywhere, and here I am, researching an old cannibalistic tale for you, because, well, that’s the kind of person I am! Put down the chocolate bar slowly, and follow me on this!

I guess you all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, but just in case you need to refresh your memory, this is the story of the two siblings who were abandoned by their parents, got lost in a forest and came across a house made out of candy. They started eating the roof (you have to start somewhere, don’t you?) until the evil witch who lived there felt the breeze, got out and caught them red-handed. She lured them inside by promising more food, and soon Hansel and Gretel realized they actually were the promised food. The witch tried to fatten Hansel by force-feeding him, and it worked, but Hansel was a clever little boy, who had noticed that the witch was almost blind, so he tricked her by giving her bones to feel. The witch decided that since Hansel wasn’t getting any fatter, a soup would also do, but she might as well put Gretel in the oven for an extra snack. Gretel was fast enough to push the witch inside the oven instead. They killed her – I don’t know if they also ate her, as I also don’t know if they ate the rest of the house too- and went back to their family where they lived happily ever after.

OK, this is a real mess. You have parents abandoning children in a forest, you have force-feeding, and cannibalism, all wrapped up in a lovely gingerbread house, like the ones people make for Christmas. Before you start accusing the German fantasy, keep in mind that this fairy tale was indeed conceived at the time of the Great Famine, which took place between 1315-1317. The brothers Grimm published the story in 1812.

Here’s the small twist though. Upon researching this, I came across a story, which, according to some is the real story behind the tale.

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The Chysafidis family

This following story is gruesome and macabre. It’s about an unsolved crime that shocked Greece back in the early 90’s. It’s also a crime that has affected me deeply, as I happened to be there when it was discovered. * harp music * – let the flashback begin.

It was June 25th, 1991. Athens was melting under a huge heat wave, and I was in a taxi, on my way to a friend’s house. On our way there, we had to cross a rich neighborhood, and by rich, I mean filthy rich, with beautiful villas, private streets, and practically no traffic – the Athenian Beverly Hills if you please. Suddenly we were caught in a huge traffic jam, where no vehicles could move in any direction. We were stopped in front of this wonderful house, and all around us were police cars and ambulances. It didn’t smell good… actually, it literally didn’t smell good. All jokes aside, this smell is something I will never forget. The driver asked me if I could understand what that smell was. I said no, and he calmly informed me that this is the smell of death.

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The curse of “The Omen”

There was a time, back in the late 60’s- early 70’s when, after the tremendous success of “Rosemary’s Baby”, the horror genre would flourish. While independent filmmakers were creating low-budget, gore, cult masterpieces, Hollywood preferred to deal with more “serious” religious themes. “Rosemary’s Baby” was followed by “The Exorcist”, and “The Omen” came shortly after. What do all those three films have in common? Huge success, screaming and fainting audiences, Satan, and fatal curses attached to them.

The main idea in the minds of the people of the time, was that Satan was displeased with Hollywood revealing his tactics to the public, and he was actively trying to stop, or punish all involved. I, on the other hand, don’t see why he wouldn’t want that, but it’s hard to get into the mind of someone you don’t believe exists in the first place. Anyway, that’s a different topic; moving on.

So, all of these films have weird deaths, happenings, and creepy coincidences connected to them, and although “Rosemary’s Baby” is worth an article of its own (for entirely different reasons), the series of eerie events connected to “The Omen” stands out. I will go through them, one by one, as they unfolded. Needless to say there will be spoilers, but on the other hand, have you seriously not seen “The Omen”?

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“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”

I wonder how many of you used to write letters to Santa Claus. You know, those awkward letters, with the cute handwriting, and the even cuter spelling mistakes? The ones where you tried to convince Santa – as if he didn’t know – that you were good kids and so much deserving of that gift. You would then put it in an envelope, write “Santa Claus, North Pole” and put it in the mailbox, and with it, all your hopes and wishes for Christmas. Ever wondered what happened to those letters? You do realize you are in Hiccups, and this will have a slight twist.

We are in New York, and the year is 1913. Throughout the states, and for decades upon decades, all those letters were answered by charitable organizations, but New York was a different story. Due to a series of bureaucratic problems that occurred in 1911, the city had no way of dealing with all those thousands of letters. They would eventually end up in the “Dead Letter Office”, aka “the office where undeliverable letters go to die”, aka “an office, I would love to visit if I ever find my way to New York”.

December of 1913 was no different. The letters would go straight to their resting place, and the city’s postmaster, Edward Morgan, had no way to deal with this. This is when our hero came along. His name was John Duval Gluck, Jr and he was a broker. Much to Edward’s relief, John had a perfect plan about those letters. He founded the Santa Claus Association which would be responsible for answering the children’s wishes. The idea was plain and functional. The citizens of the city could take one or more letters, and fulfill the child’s wish.

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Necessity

This time I will attempt to tackle a purely philosophical subject. It is inspired by some recent sad events in my personal life, and although I know it doesn’t really belong here, the need to write this (pun unintended) is really strong. Please bear with me, as I try to unfold a core philosophical concept of ancient Greece. Before I begin, let me just take a moment to thank my “silent helper” who wishes to remain anonymous.

The basic theological system of ancient Greece is known to most of you. Even if you are missing the details, the idea of almighty Zeus and his team of Gods and Goddesses is more or less familiar. What you might be missing, or didn’t ever think about, is that this intricate web of deities, which was created over a vast amount of time, was almost a living organism, always expanding by implementing deep philosophical concepts into its core. Of course, those concepts or ideas if you please, were godified/personified along the way adding to the pantheon. The key word here is “importance”. The higher the importance of a concept, the stronger the deity.

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Taurus

Taurus, Taurus… stable, strong, and powerful, but with a complicated story. Taurus has been a strong symbol in almost all ancient civilizations, up to the Roman Empire. The ancient Greeks added a romantic twist to it… wait, it’s not what you think! Ok, it is in a way, I give up.

As in most cases, there are many myths behind this sign, and no one can really prove which one is the most accurate. I will present you with three different versions, with the one I think makes sense, at the very end.

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Aries

… and we move on with the signs, this time doing Aries! The story is long, but not complicated (too many Greek names people- my apologies in advance), and it features an evil stepmother that can put the ones from the medieval fairy tales to shame! Let’s get started, shall we?

So, once upon a time, in an area of Greece called Boeotia, the good King Athamas was married to a nymph called Nephele. They had two children, the twins Phrixus and Helle. The marriage wasn’t meant to last long, and Athamas divorced his wife for a woman named Ino. Let’s just say that Ino wasn’t so happy with her stepchildren and decided to take action. Of course, it’s not so easy to get rid of the King’s children so easily, so she came up with a cunning plan.

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Pisces

Ah, Pisces… I don’t know where you stand, but it is a love/hate thing for me. Truth be told, this is again one of those signs where, story-wise, there isn’t enough to be said.

So, once upon a time in ancient Greece, Gods and monsters alike were walking the earth. There was one in particular, the almighty Typhon, who would put horror writers and directors to shame. The descriptions vary slightly, as I guess the image of Typhon had been a fantasy battleground for the writers and painters of the time. Although they disagree on some things, like the number of his hands with the estimation being between 100 and 200, they agree on other things. He had one hundred snake heads, all venomous and spitting poison, he was so tall that he could “brush the stars”, his legs were spitting poison, his snake tails were spitting poison, his eyes and hair were spitting fire, and all this monstrosity, was stomping, hissing, and yelling.

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The legend of Robin Hood

Although I knew what I was getting into when I started researching this, I wasn’t fully prepared for the amount of info out there. If I were a scholar, I could probably spend the rest of my career just researching this. If you are wondering why I’m going to attempt it, well, let’s just say that someone deserves a better answer than the one he initially got. Allow me to dissect Robin Hood!

First, a small disclaimer… It is my personal belief, that most legends have an actual starting point, that could vary from case to case. It can be an actual hero, whose achievements reached mythical proportions as they were spreading by word of mouth, or it could be a religious tradition/ritual that lost its meaning and transformed as it was delivered on from generation to generation. On many happy occasions, historians can trace back a legend to its origins, and reach a relatively safe conclusion. Robin Hood is not one of these cases…

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