“PHANTOM LIONS OF NORTH AMERICA” and More Freaky True Tales! #WeirdDarkness

PHANTOM LIONS OF NORTH AMERICA” and More Freaky True Tales! #WeirdDarkness

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Listen to ““PHANTOM LIONS OF NORTH AMERICA” and More Freaky True Tales! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.

IN THIS EPISODE: Reports have been coming in from people claiming to see full-sized African lions not in the Savannah or in the wilderness – but in North America. But is there any truth to the their claims? (Phantom Lions of North America) *** 
Headline: “Exciting Wake!” When you see the words “exciting” and “wake” in the same headline, you can make a guess that someone is not resting in peace! (Exciting Wake) *** Claiming to audibly hear from God either makes you crazy, or a prophet – and only time can tell which is true. If you claim things are going to happen because God says they will – and then they don’t happen – that means you’re cray cray, and a false prophet. That also makes your followers a bunch of dupes. Sadly, the 19th and 20th centuries were full of crazy false prophets with mindless sheep worshipping them. (Creating False Prophets) *** The terrifying Aswang is the most feared creature of Philippine folklore—and with good reason. I’ll tell you why. (The Deadly Aswang)

TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE…
Find a full or partial transcript at the bottom of this blog post

LINKS, EPISODES, AND PAGES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE…
BOOK: “Mysterious America” by Loren Coleman: https://amzn.to/3lZIviB
BOOK: “Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology”: https://amzn.to/3m2Re3k
DOCUMENTARY: “The Aswang Phenomenon”: https://amzn.to/3jQrNjC
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The Church of the Undead: http://TheChurchOfTheUndead.com

STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“Creating False Prophets” by Dr. Romeo Vitelli for Providentia: https://tinyurl.com/y5bqt97p,https://tinyurl.com/y26vpmga, https://tinyurl.com/y6tgpcl3, https://tinyurl.com/y2jy3eqf
“Phantom Lions of North America” by Brent Swancer for MysteriousUniverse.com: https://tinyurl.com/yygdg3eh
“Exciting Wake” from the Huntington, IN “Daily Democrat”, reposted on the Strange Company website: https://tinyurl.com/y5cy4ksa
“The Deadly Aswang” by Professor Geller for Mythology.net: https://tinyurl.com/yxhcrcxc
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music, varying by episode, provided by Alibi Music, EpidemicSound and/or AudioBlocks with paid license. Music from Shadows Symphony (https://tinyurl.com/yyrv987t), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), Kevin MacLeod (https://tinyurl.com/y2v7fgbu), Tony Longworth (https://tinyurl.com/y2nhnbt7), and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://tinyurl.com/lnqpfs8) is used with permission.

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TRANSCRIPT:

Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and is intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.

Nature has a strange way of giving us surprises. Just when we think we have it all figured out there can be mysteries and anomalies that come speeding out from beyond to leave us startled and baffled. One such enigma is the phenomenon of out of place animals, where all manners of wildlife have popped up in the last place where one expect, and certainly ranking high up among these are the various reports of what can only be described as full African lions roaming about North America.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.

Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode…

Headline: “Exciting Wake!” When you see the words “exciting” and “wake” in the same headline, you can make a guess that someone is not resting in peace!

Claiming to audibly hear from God either makes you crazy, or a prophet – and only time can tell which is true. If you claim things are going to happen because God says they will – and then they don’t happen – that means you’re cray cray, and a false prophet. That also makes your followers a bunch of dupes. Sadly, the 19th and 20th centuries were full of crazy false prophets with mindless sheep worshipping them.

The terrifying Aswang is the most feared creature of Philippine folklore—and with good reason. I’ll tell you why.

Reports have been coming in from people claiming to see full-sized African lions not in the Savannah or in the wilderness – but in North America. But is there any truth to the their claims?

While you’re listening, you might want to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can sign up for the newsletter, find transcripts of the episodes, paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, watch old horror movies, find my other podcast – “The Church of the Undead”, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

By the way, Weird Darkness is in the running to be voted “Best Horror and Crime Podcast” by Podcast Magazine – but I need your votes to make that happen! I have a link below in the show notes to take you to the voting page, and you can vote as often as you’d like, so please come back every day and vote again! And thanks in advance for doing so! Maybe we can make Weird Darkness an award winning podcast in 2020!

Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, grab a mug of Weird DarkRoast Coffee, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!

What has come to be mostly known as the “American Maned Lion,” is more often than not described as being a large, cream or golden-colored cat measuring around 5 to 8 feet in length and approximately 3 feet high at the shoulder, with shaggy hair and a very noticeable mane, and the cat will sometimes even be described as having spots or stripes. Reports of some sort of large, maned mystery cat in America go back well into history. In 1797, a man named Peter Pentz allegedly shot and killed a large cat of some type at Bald Eagle Mountain, Pennsylvania, which had a matted mane and was very much like an African lion. In this case, the mysterious big cat had been blamed for a killing spree of cattle in the area, and its bloody reign was only brought to an end with its apparent extermination. It is unclear just what happened to the carcass after this, and we are left to wonder.

Another of these supposed “lions” was shot and killed in 1868, near Lake County, California. Hunter Archie McMath apparently tracked the animal down and took it out of the picture after it had terrorized the region, and it was reported as measuring around 11 feet long, possessing black stripes along its shoulders. In the late 19th century there was also a spate of sightings of some sort of maned big cat, possibly a lion, in parts of North Carolina, which was referred to as the Santer. The cat was typically described as being about the size of a very large puma, with a beige coat that was sometimes said to be striped lengthwise down the body. Whatever it was, it stopped being sighted in the area after the 1890s, going off to who knows where.

In 1917 a lioness and cub were apparently sighted in the state of Georgia, and in August of 1919 there was a report from the Syracuse Daily Journal, which told of farmers near an area called Union Springs, New York, spotting a mysterious large cat with a “head like a lion” prowling about their properties and terrorizing the livestock. One farmer by the name of John Redman claimed that the mystery beast had attacked and bit the tail off one of his cattle. Although the farmers got together to try and hunt the creature down, they never did find it.

Throughout the 1940s to the 1950s there were reports as well. In 1948 there was a maned lion seen prowling about with, oddly enough, a partner in the form of a mysterious black panther near the town of Elkhorn Falls, Indiana. In 1954 a farmer named Arnold Neujahr apparently spotted an “African lion” in Surprise, Nebraska, and other sightings would follow, sparking a full-blown hunt for the creature. It was never found. Another lion was supposedly seen farther north near Kapuskasing, Ontario, in 1960, when a farmer named Leo Paul Dallaire watched one prowl about his farm, complete with a bushy tip to its tail. In that same year a farmer in the state of Georgia claimed to have shot and killed a lion that had been terrorizing and killing his livestock, although it is unclear just what happened to the body there is supposedly a photo of it… somewhere.

The following year would see a minor hysteria break out in the area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in February of 1961, when there was a deluge of reports to police of people seeing a very large wild cat of some type prowling about. What would go on to be known as the Milwaukee Lion was seen by numerous respectable, reliable witnesses, and was even sighted by several police officers, and there were plaster casts apparently made of its prints. The cat seemed to favor the western suburbs, and startled many homeowners as it crossed yards, leapt fences, and apparently sometimes let out a loud yelp or squeal.

Police searched for the phantom cat but were unsuccessful, the only evidence those tracks left behind. There was some speculation that this was a large mountain lion being seen, but these animals are no more native to the area than African lions. One taxidermist named Walter Pelzer believed it to be a misidentified large dog, and would say, “It’s just like the flying saucer bit. The possibility of a mountain lion roaming the greater Milwaukee area is about as remote as finding the abominable snowman on Holy Hill.”

Whatever it was did not seem to bother any pets or livestock in the area, and sightings abruptly stopped as suddenly as they had started. Moving into the 1970s, in 1979 sightings continued when what was described as a large male African lion was witnessed to roam about in the Coyote Hills Regional Park, near Fremont, California. In later years still we have a series of sightings of a maned cat near Mentor, Ohio, in 1992, which was rather hilariously written off by authorities as being a misidentified golden retriever dog, despite witnesses being adamant that it was a maned lion and no dog. In June of 1996 there was a sighting of an apparent lion near Spokane, Washington, at a place called Canyon Drive. Witness Belen Grabb claimed that she had been driving through when she saw what he described as a large African lion casually stroll across a nearby golf course. She stopped her car to watch it and said that it was a dark beige in color with a full brown mane. The sighting prompted an intense search for the beast by authorities, but no trace was found.

Sightings of large, lion-like cats in America have persisted well into the 2000s as well. 2002 saw maned mystery cat sightings pop up all over the place. In Niles, Michigan a whole family, the Youngs, spotted a massive, cream-colored cat with a long tail wandering about right outside of their home. They immediately went to a neighbor who was a hunter, after which they examined the area to find the pugmarks of some large cat. More similar reports would come in from throughout the area, but no cat was ever found, and it is unknown if this was a lion, an out-of-place cougar, or what.

Also from September of 2002 was a series of sightings near Quitman, Arkansas, which ended in four large maned lions being allegedly shot and killed, although no DNA analysis was done on them and the bodies were apparently promptly destroyed. It was speculated that the cats had been escapees from a nearby safari park called Safari Unlimited, but the park denied having lost any animals. Later that very same month two witnesses named Troy Guy and Ashley Clawson would claim to have spotted a maned big cat as they drove along Poga Road in Carter County, Tennessee. Another witness named Evelyn Cable also saw the beast standing by the side of the road while driving along Highway 321, and described it as an African lion with a thick mane.

In July of 2008 there were sightings of something similar in El Paso County, Colorado, near Colorado Springs. Three separate witnesses came forward claiming to have seen a lion with a red mane and a long, tufted tail, and one of them even claimed to have photographed it chasing dogs. There would be two additional cell-phone photos presented by a witness named Sharon Harding Shaw, as well as tracks found, which convinced authorities that the animal was definitely not a cougar, but rather what appeared to be an actual African lion, although where it could have possibly come from is a mystery. A nearby big cat sanctuary called the Serenity Springs and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, as well as three other animal sanctuaries, all claimed to not be missing any big cats. An official investigation and search was undertaken but no big cat could be located.

Most recently of all we come back to the old stomping grounds of the Milwaukee Lion of the 1960s, where yet another mysterious maned big cat was widely sighted in 2015, which would captivate the nation and lead police on a wild goose chase all over the city. Sightings began on July 20, when authorities received 14 calls from frightened locals claiming to have seen the animal roaming around right out in the open on city streets. Over the coming week the cat would be seen by numerous other witnesses, as well as police officers, and there was cellphone video footage of the mystery cat presented as well. One witness named Herbert Ball said of his own scary sighting: “She was walking down the hill sideways, putting her feet crossways. She was snooping down with her head, like she was fixing to attack somebody. The people over there were having a cookout … and I ran over there to tell them there’s a cat coming their way. But what the cat did is change her mind — she went under the bridge and relaxed.”

This particular sighting prompted a massive police response, with officers setting up a dragnet on a bridge overlooking a ravine and positioning snipers around to take the potentially dangerous animal down if need be. Two of the officers even said they saw the cat pass through, but it was gone into thick brush before a proper response could be mounted. Indeed, the cat was very good at evading all attempts to capture or find it, eluding several checkpoints set up by heavily armed officers trying to capture it and even foiling K-9 units. It was also exceptionally good at not being photographed, except for a single grainy video, leading to skepticism on whether there was really anything out there at all, but police were certain that something was indeed causing the sightings, leading to speculation as to where it had come from.

One idea was that it was a cougar, while another idea was that it was an escaped African lion, either from a zoo or someone’s private exotic animal collection. This would not be so far-fetched, as Wisconsin is one of the only states that does not prohibit the importation of lions. However, all wildlife sanctuaries in the area, including the Milwaukee zoo, reported that they had no missing animals, and if this was a privately owned big cat the owner had not reported it. One official would make a plea to the public for the potential owner to come forward, saying: “Whoever this cat belongs to, this is for real. If you don’t want the cat, you should have called the zoo, even Animal Control. You didn’t have to let the cat run free in the city. You’ve got innocent people walking the street in Milwaukee.”

The prospect of a very dangerous animal wandering about such an urban area did not seem to deter droves of onlookers traipsing about trying to get a glimpse of the “lion,” despite warnings from police to stay away. The animal would go on to be widely seen by both civilians, animal control officers, and law enforcement personnel, causing quite a media sensation, and despite numerous searches, dragnets, and stakeouts set out the wiley big cat was never found or captured. What was this mystery big cat and where did it go? No one knows.

When looking at the sheer number of supposed maned lion sightings from all over the United States we are left with a lot of questions. Where did they come from? What are they? Where did they go? The most common idea is that these are escaped exotic pets, and in some cases this might be the case, but there seems to rarely be any evidence of anyone missing such a large cat. Other ideas are that they are misidentified mountain lions or even large dogs.

Perhaps the most intriguing theory has been postulated by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, who wrote a whole chapter on American mystery lions in his book Mysterious America (which I’ve placed a link to in the show notes). In this theory some of the sightings are perhaps of a relic population of an ancient, thought-to-be-extinct big cat from the Pleistocene called Panthera atrox. These predators roamed all over North and South America around 9,000 years ago, and were around 25% larger on average than an adult African lion. Could some cases be surviving specimens of this formidable species? No one knows. Wherever the explanation lies, whether it be a long lost species, exotic escapees, or mere misidentifications, there is definitely a phenomenon with large mystery cats of the maned variety running around. Perhaps the answers will be clear at some point, but for now we just don’t know, and are left to speculate on the mysteries this world of ours has.

BREAK==========

When Weird Darkness returns…

The 19th and 20th centuries were full of people who claimed to speak for God – and failed miserably… sometimes with disastrous results. We’ll look at three self-proclaimed prophets who turned out false, and one who failed so quickly, she was called a witch. That story is up next.

 

 

STORY==========

CREATING FALSE PROPHETS

We may never know for sure what first inspired Richard Brothers to declare himself “Prince of the Hebrews” but his strange career as a prophet, and the followers who believed in him, make for quite a story.

He was born in Placentia, Newfoundland in 1757 (on Christmas Day of course) and his father, an English soldier stationed there during the Seven Years’ War, arranged for his son to be educated in England.  After graduating from the naval school at Woolwich, Brothers embarked on a naval career and was promoted to Lieutenant before retiring in 1783.  Serving in the merchant marines, he traveled across Europe before settling down and marrying in 1786.  The marriage didn’t last long and they quickly separated when he learned about his wife’s infidelity.  Whether it was due to his marital breakdown or growing religious fervor, Richard Brothers began to question whether his oath of loyalty to the British government was consistent with his religious beliefs.  This refusal to swear the oath cost him his military pension.

During this same period, he began an intense reading of the Bible as well as various other religious works (including the mystical writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg).  Losing his pension meant that he had no money to pay his rent and he was forced into a workhouse to support himself (this was mandatory due to the UK’s Poor Law system).  For whatever reason, Brothers began to experience religious visions during the six months he spent in the workhouse, most of them focusing on the role that the British people would play in the reclaiming of Palestine and his own unique role as a prophet.  In one of these visions, Brothers heard the voice of an angel proclaiming the fall of London (which the angel called Babylon the Great).  After Brothers pleaded with the angel for mercy towards the city, God reportedly agreed to spare London for a time.  Brothers also reported that a “heavenly lady” would eventually descend from Heaven to shower him with the love and happiness that his religious views convinced him he deserved.

By 1782, Richard Brothers had a new mission.  In addition to being a prophet of the Lord, he also had the gift of healing.  Although large crowds dutifully gathered, his spiritual gifts were never all that spectacular and his “miracles” tended not to impress too many skeptics. For that reason, the doubters were hardly convinced when Brothers announced that he had been chosen as an apostle of a new religion.  As the new Prince of the Hebrews, it was Brothers’ responsibility to lead the Jews back to Palestine and reclaim God’s kingdom.  As a descendant of the House of David and “Nephew of the Almighty”,  it was Brothers who would identify the “hidden Jews” among the people of England ignorant of their true heritage.  Armed with a rod of rosewood that he had carved himself, the new Prince announced that he would use it to work miracles much as Moses had done before.

A pamphlet that Brothers published in 1794 was titled, A REVEALED KNOWLEDGE OF THE PROPHECIES AND TIMES, Book the First, wrote [sic] under the direction of the LORD GOD and published by His Sacred Command, it being the first sign of Warning for the benefit of All Nations; Containing with other great and remarkable things not revealed to any other Person on Earth, the Restoration of the Hebrews to Jerusalem by the year of 1798 under their revealed Prince and Prophet (i.e., Richard Brothers). In his work, Brothers declared that the people of Western Europe (and especially the British people) were the descendants of the ten Lost Tribes of Israel and that the “hidden Jews” of England would be part of the new Kingdom of God on Earth.  While he wasn’t the only prophet preaching the notion of Anglo-Israelism, Brothers was definitely the most flamboyant.  He actually attracted a quite a following for a while, including  prominent clergymen, politicians, and writers.

Richard Brothers’ crusade was sabotaged by his own lack of good judgment.  Not only did he prophesy the death of King George III, he also denounced the war against France as “many men fighting against the Spirit of God”.  After declaring that “God will break the Empire in pieces” due to British colonialism, Richard Brothers was charged with “fond and fantastical prophecies”.  He was quickly declared to be criminally insane in 1795 but the intervention of one of his disciples (who also happened to be a member of Parliament) led to his being sent to a private asylum in Islington instead of Bedlam.  Brothers kept on writing pamphlets and made numerous predictions relating to world events.  He also spent the last thirty years of his life designing palaces, government buildings, and uniforms for the New Jerusalem that would arise after he was revealed as Prince of the Hebrews and Ruler of the World on November 19, 1795.  Suffice it to say, this particular prophecy didn’t pan out.

In writing about his imprisonment in the asylum, Brothers wrote, “”No man must be deemed insane who is inoffensive in his actions, and is civil in his actions, and is civil in his language, who is able to work at any kind of employment for a livelihood, to receive or give instructions, or to take proper care of himself. All men are not born with the same faculties for learning, teaching, inventing or executing; and wisely has God ordered it so, to make the diversity of properties in the mind appear, by the greater variety of ways and improvements for the general good of all.”  The fact that he and his followers were considered to be lunatics weighed heavily on him but he never recanted his crusade.

Richard Brothers was finally released from the asylum in 1806 but his followers had largely abandoned him by then.  He died in the home of his last follower, John Finlayson in 1824.  Even after Brothers’ death, Finlayson continued writing pamphlets and manifestos describing the new Christian kingdom and generally trying to keep Brothers’ crusade going.  Despite Finlayson’s efforts, Richard Brothers was quickly forgotten although other prophets with a similar message developed followings of their own.

If the English government had hoped that imprisoning Richard Brothers in an asylum would end his millenarian movement, they were sadly mistaken.   Those followers who became disillusioned with Brothers and his prophecies quickly found a new prophet to take his place.

Or rather, a prophetess.

Born in Devonshire on April 4, 1750, Joanna Southcott was the fourth daughter of William and Hannah Southcott and showed no sign in her early childhood of her remarkable destiny.  Although her family had once been very prosperous, Joanna grew up on a small farm and with very little education.  She had little choice but to go into domestic service in the Devonshire area.  Her employers would later describe her as being honest but prone to episodes of “melancholy” (depression).   In her own writings, she would state that the “Spirit of Truth” first descended on her when she was eighteen but her mission in life didn’t really begin until Joanna was forty-two.

There’s no way to tell what her employers thought when Joanna announced to them that she was a “prophetess” and that the Lord had appeared to her to “warn her of what was coming upon the whole earth”.  As far as she was concerned, “higher powers” were using her to spread their divine word and Joanna began writing an elaborate series of prophecies, usually centered around war and destruction.  Bundles of her prophecies were sent off to various clergymen and bishops who were urged to examine them.  While most of the clergy ignored Joanna and her warnings, she attracted the interest of one vicar, James Pomeroy. As a successful preacher in Cornwall, Pomeroy seemed to give Southcott the attention that she craved.  From 1796 to 1801, she besieged Pomeroy with her prophecies and demanded that he get her work examined by a clerical committee.  Eventually, Pomeroy broke off the association when he realized that his involvement with her was exposing him to ridicule.

Since Pomeroy refused to deal with her any further and no other clerics had any interest in her prophecies, Joanna decided to publish her prophecies instead.  In February, 1801, the first installment of her book, The Strange Effects of Faith was published with five additional installments being added over the next year.  On the first page of the book, she issued the following challenge: “If any five ministers who are worthy and good men, will prove that these writings come from the Devil I will refrain from further printing. If they cannot I will go on.”  Her followers would trumpet that same challenge long after her death.

Although the five ministers she asked for didn’t come forward, Joanna Southcott certainly attracted a diverse group of followers.  After Richard Brothers was incarcerated, his disillusioned believers were quick to turn to this new religious leader.  Among them were included three ministers and other prosperous members of society.  After these followers took her existing prophecies with them to London, Joanna Southcott decided to safeguard her new prophecies in a way that added to her mystique.  She decided to “seal” her prophecies with a special seal (including the initials “I.C” with two stars) and place them in a special container that was kept in the care of one of her followers.  The legends surrounding the “Great Box” that contained her prophecies quickly took on a life of their own.

Her prophecies had a surprisingly feminist tone for that era.  As a “daughter of Eve”, she would challenge the Devil to mortal combat and “cast back upon him the guilt which women originally incurred by transmitting his temptation to man in Eden”.   As the chosen instrument for destroying Satan, Joanna would be the “Bride of the Lamb” who would usher in a new kingdom on Earth.  By 1802, she began “sealing” her followers to be among the select few who would be saved.  When one of her wealthy followers, Elias Carpenter, brought her a ream of paper from his mill, Southcott cut it into squares and inscribed each piece with a circle.  Inside each circle, she wrote “The sealed of the Lord, the elect and precious, man’s redemption to inherit the tree of life, to be made heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.”  By 1807, she had distributed 14,000 of these squares to be among the 144,000 to be saved according to the Book of Revelation.

Her crusade continued for the rest of her life with continued challenges to the Church of England to examine her prophecies in detail.  The sealing ensured that her followers stayed loyal to her despite other “prophets” launching similar crusades.  This loyalty was put to the test in 1814 when 65-year old Joanna Southcott announced that she was pregnant “by the power of the Most High”.   According to one final vision, she had been chosen for a “virgin birth” and that her son would be “the Shiloh” who would redeem the world.

Although newspapers quickly denounced her as a “deluded, elderly virgin”, her followers enthusiastically waited for the miraculous birth.  They presented Joanna with an expensive crib made of satin wood and gold.  When a team of physicians confirmed her pregnancy, she married one of her followers to avoid the scandal of being an unwed mother (James Pomeroy declined the honour).  In December of that same year, Joanna reluctantly called her supporters to her bedside and confessed that “it all appears delusion”.  Her followers were devastated and rumours began that her son had been “snatched up into Heaven” to escape the dragon of Revelation.  Joanna Southcott went into decline afterward and died on December 27.

Four days after Joanna Southcott’s death, a team of physicians met for a post-mortem examination.  Aside from gallstones, they found no evidence of medical problems or other abnormalities.  In a signed statement, the doctors concluded that “We the undersigned, present at the dissection of Mrs. Joanna Southcott, do certify that no unnatural appearances were visible, and no part exhibited any appearance of disease sufficient to have occasioned her death, nor was there any appearance of her ever having been pregnant”.

Despite her death, Joanna Southcott’s movement lingered on.  Although the number of her followers dwindled, legends of Joanna’s “Great Box” and the hidden prophecies that she left behind were still common.  She left instructions that the Box should only be opened in times of “national crisis” with a full gathering of the Church of England’s bishops in attendance.   After attempts by her followers to have the Church open the Box during the Crimean War and World War I, it was finally opened in 1927 (only one prelate agreed to attend).   The only contents of the Box were some “oddments and unimportant papers” including a lottery ticket.  That didn’t deter some of the followers though (they insisted it was the wrong box).

While rumours of the Great Box still crop up in the news from time to time, most of Joanna Southcott’s prophecies are available online.  Among them is a memorable prediction that the world would end in 2004 (Sadly, she didn’t see the 2012 movement coming.  If she had added another eight years to her prophecy, she might have earned herself a new generation of believers).   Her story continues to be a fascinating example of religious mania and the persistence of belief.

England was in full religious ferment during the first few years of the 19th century.  Joanna Southcott was leading a messianic crusade with countless followers revering her as “the Lamb” who would bring them to salvation.  Other prophets like Richard Brothers had their own crusades  promising the imminent coming of God’s kingdom on Earth (the English were considered to be God’s chosen people).  Tales of signs and wonders proclaiming the impending Second Coming spread widely.

Which brings us to Mary Bateman (a.k.a. “The Yorkshire Witch”)…

Born Mary Harker on a small farm in North Yorkshire in 1768, Mary had few choices but to go into service (much as Joanna Southcott did).  Unfortunately, Mary was not a particularly good servant and quickly acquired a reputation for petty thieving which got her fired.  As a compulsive liar, thief, confidence artist, and all-around crook, Mary never managed to hold any job for long.  She was a very good actress however and managed to impress people with her claims of supernatural powers.  By 1788, she had set herself up in Leeds as a dressmaker and part-time fortune teller.  Her marriage to John Bateman nearly ended when her husband discovered his wife’s criminal past.  On one occasion, she tricked him into going to his home town to see his father who was supposedly ill.  While he was away, Mary sold her husband’s clothes to pay off a debt and avoid prison. He eventually joined the militia to get away from his treacherous wife but  later returned.   The two of them then settled down into a larcenous life together (they had four children and Mary was the main supporter of the entire family).

With no other source of income, Mary became a full-time fortune teller and con artist.  Posing as “Mrs. Moore”, a seventh child of a seventh child, Mary carried out elaborate schemes to trick victims into handing over their savings to her.  She developed quite a reputation as a local miracle worker who could accomplish amazing things with her powers.  She was also a keen observer of new trends and always trying to find ways to exploit them for her own profit.  When Joanna Southcott began “sealing” her followers in 1802 (giving them a special token to mark them as being among the 144,000 to be saved according to the Book of Revelation), Mary managed to get one of the markers herself.  It was then that she began one of her most notorious (and profitable) schemes.

Although her reputation as a fortune-teller had begun to suffer (too many of her victims complained), Mary played on her status as one of Southcott’s “sealed” to make an amazing announcement. Like many other country women of her time, she kept several hens to supply her with fresh eggs and she claimed that one of them had laid an egg with the inscription “Crist is coming.”  Mary announced that she had been granted a vision which told her that her hen would lay fourteen special eggs and that the last one would mark the beginning of the Apocalypse.  As word of this marvel began to spread, more eggs bearing religious inscriptions were laid and crowds quickly gathered (she charged them a penny each to seen her marvelous hens). Not only did the eggs proclaim Christ’s coming, but they announced that it would happen very soon which added to the growing hysteria.  Along with making money from displaying the chickens, Mary also began providing pilgrims with special “seals” (a piece of paper bearing the initials “JC”) which would guarantee its bearer admission into Heaven following the Apocalypse.  Thousands of visitors came to be saved.

It’s hard to say how long this would have gone on but a skeptical doctor managed to examine one of the eggs and found that the inscription had been written in ink.  When authorities were notified, they staged a raid on the tavern where Mary lived with her chickens.  They caught her red-handed (so to speak) inserting one of her special eggs up the chicken’s egg duct so it could be “laid” later.  Mary was arrested and the resulting scandal forced Joanna Southcott to stop sealing her own followers because of the stigma.

A little thing like public exposure didn’t stop Mary Bateman for long.  She simply switched to becoming a practitioner of folk remedies (as well as being an abortionist).  Her services were in high enough demand that the inevitable rumours about the people buying her “medicines” didn’t deter other customers.    Two Quaker sisters named Kitchen sought out her services until one of them sickened and died after taking “medicine” that Mary had provided.  When the mother of the two women arrived to deal with her daughter’s death, she ended up sickening and dying as well along with her surviving daughter.  All three of them were buried in the same grave.  Although Mary insisted that all three of the Kitchen women had died of the plague, authorities quickly became suspicious.   After their creditors investigated what property was remaining, they found scarcely any furniture or belongings left in the Kitchen sisters’ house.

Amazingly, Mary was able to continue with her frauds despite the suspicion that she had crossed the line from theft to murder.  The previous death of another woman, Rebecca Perigo, was also being investigated after her husband complained to authorities in 1808.  It was the husband, still being fleeced by Mary two years after his wife’s death, who arranged for a meeting at which she was arrested by two officers.  A search of Mary Bateman’s house turned up items that had belonged to Rebecca Perigo and the Kitchen sisters.  The various ingredients that went into her “remedies” were also found, including poison.  After going on trial at York in 1809, Mary was quickly found guilty of murder despite her repeated claims of innocence.  Desperate to escape hanging, Mary even tried “pleading her belly” (claiming to be pregnant) although a medical examination proved otherwise.

With all her legal options exhausted, Mary Bateman went to the gallows on March 20, 1809.  More than five thousand people turned out for the hanging including many who still believed in her supernatural powers and were convinced that the “Yorkshire witch” would somehow save herself from death.  As the Annals of Yorkshire later described the hanging, Mary “was launched into eternity with a lie upon her lips having denied her guilt to the last”.   As was the common practice of the time for executed murderers, her body was turned over to the local medical school for dissection.  There was enough public interest in Mary’s corpse for the local hospital to charge money to see the body (more than 2500 people paid threepence each).  Her skin was also tanned and cut into pieces so they could be sold as souvenirs.  Believers in the powers of the “Yorkshire Witch“ used the skin pieces as talismans (it would have galled Mary to know that she wasn`t making any money from her corpse).

Mary Bateman`s skeleton is still on display at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds, England.  Visitors seeing her there can appreciate her presence as a strange sort of testimonial to the power of human gullibility and how easily it can be exploited.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Jamaica was a stunning contrast of natural beauty and stark poverty.  The twin legacies of slavery and colonialism left the island with a population consisting primarily of former slaves, people of mixed race (“coloured”), and white colonists who, despite being a small minority, owned most of the land and resources.  While formal independence from the U.K. would come in the 20th century, life in 19th century Jamaica was often harsh for the freed slaves and their descendants.

It hardly seems surprising that religion would be a major influence among the island’s inhabitants.  Not only with the various branches of Christianity, but also more exotic religions based on traditions imported from Africa.  Obeah and Myalism were widely practiced despite attempts at suppression by the  authorities.  These traditions were often incorporated into more mainstream religions and helped fuel the Christian revivalist movement.  The 19th century was marked by religious clashes and spiritual missions that quickly attracted believers.

Which brings us to Alexander Bedward.

He was born in southeastern Jamaica in 1848 into extreme poverty.  While his father is unknown, his mother had a local reputation as a healer.  Alexander Bedward never learned to write and had minimal reading.  Given his family’s poverty, he had little choice but to work on one of the big sugar plantations in Colon, Panama.

Whatever future he may have planned changed after a massive fire swept through Kingston, Jamaica in 1882.  Following the fire, Bedward began to have disturbing dreams and erratic behaviour that so frightened his family that they tried to have him put away for lunacy.  He insisted that the dreams meant that God had chosen him for a divine mission.  By 1889, Bedward was formally installed as one of the 24 elders of August Town’s Native Baptist church and his religious crusade began.

And what a crusade it was!  By October 1891, Bedward had resigned from his plantation job to launch his healing mission.  Using water from a spring on his property near Jamaica’s Hope River, he conducted healing ceremonies based on a divine vision that told him that “the water of the Hope River would be miraculously converted into medicine for soul and body”.  Along with his healing, Bedward delivered sermons on a large rock overlooking the river and thousands of people gathered every Wednesday to hear him.

The descriptions of Bedward’s crusade were closely followed by reporters from Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner.  Although the newspaper dismissed Bedward as “an ignorant black man living somewhere in the Long Mountain”, his movement certainly made news.  In one less-than-complimentary account, Bedward’s crusade was described as “one of the most painful and saddening [phenomena] that could possibly be witnessed by anyone of ordinary intelligence, who has his country’s good at heart …. [T]he seething mass of ignorance … congregates in the vicinity without a blush of shame at the credulity and infatuation which is [sic] on every side exhibited”.  Not only did Bedward’s followers gather to hear him speak, they also brought bottles, jugs, and anything else capable of holding the precious spring water to bring back to their homes.  There were also the invalids who came hoping for divine healing including “lepers, people with running sores, the crippled and deformed, blind, consumptive, asthmatic and in fact every complaint known in the medical world”.

The local authorities and clergy were especially outraged by the healing sessions featuring nude men and women bathing together by the thousands. Medical doctors denounced Bedward for his outlandish claims and the false hope he gave patients.  Stung by his numerous critics, Bedward continued his Wednesday sessions and people still gathered at the river for healing.  The Daily Gleaner gave regular editorials denouncing the “Bedward craze” and unsavory hints at his family’s previous attempts at having him committed began to surface.  Meanwhile, the “Bedwardites” (as they were being called) were making arrangements to build a temple to honour their prophet.  Colonial authorities were increasingly worried by Bedward’s sermons directed against the upper-class Jamaicans who “grabbed the substance of the poor”.

On January 16, 1895, Alexander Bedward gave a sermon denouncing the white minority and predicted the end of the world in which the wicked would be punished and the faithful rewarded.  He railed against the government and the Clergy as “vagabonds, thieves, robbers and liars” and called on his followers to drive out the white population.  That was enough for the government to lay a charge of seditious language against him and Bedward was quickly arrested. His subsequent trial in April of that same year (with an all-white jury) returned a verdict of Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.  Although Bedward was sent to a local asylum, he was released a few weeks later after a successful appeal.  Bedward returned to his mission and the healing sessions went on as before (though he eventually insisted that his followers be fully clothed when they bathed in the river).

Although skeptics claimed that Bedwardism would eventually “run its course”, the movement continued into the early years of the 20th century.  By 1910, Bedward and his followers had built an impressive compound in August Town complete with a chapel.  While Alexander Bedward was still seen as a threat by the colonial authorities, he had enough support to prevent any attempt at arresting him again.  It’s hard to say how  far the movement might have gone if Bedward hadn’t had one final vision…

In 1920, believing that the millennium was at hand, Alexander Bedward announced to this followers that he would ascend into heaven on December 31, 1920. As you might expect, the Gleaner scoffed at this revelation but thousands of his followers gathered at the compound in hope of being “saved”.  Many of these followers sold all their possessions and the tailor shop on site provided simple white gowns for them to wear for the big event.  Due to fear of rioting (and a possible black uprising), a military regiment was sent in to maintain order.  Throughout the day, Bedward’s followers were repeatedly told that his ascension was postponed (he had originally promised that it would happen at ten in the morning).  By late afternoon, the followers were told that the ascension would be “spiritual” rather than physical and, by evening, most of the followers went home disappointed.

Although this event broke up much of Bedward’s support, he was still able to rally six hundred followers for a “manifestation” in Kingston that following year.  Police took no chances and promptly arrested him and many of his followers.  Once again, he was declared Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity but there was no release this time.  Up until his death in 1930, Alexander Bedward was held in Jamaica’s Bellevue Asylum.

Much like Richard Brothers and Joanna Southcott before him, Bedward’s supporters slowly drifted away following his imprisonment and death.  Many of these followers later became part of Marcus Garvey‘s Pan-African movement as well as the growing Rastafarian religion.  In some circles, Bedward is still considered a martyr and an early leader in Jamaican nationalism.  Leaving aside questions surrrounding whether he was mentally ill, his religious crusade inspired tens of thousands of people at the peak of his popularity.

Although I have focused on four very different prophets in this story, the similarities among their movements and the people who believed in them seem apparent enough.  So why do some religious leaders launch major movements that continue after their death while others sink into obscurity?  Heaven only knows.

Coming up…

I’ll tell you about the Aswang – the most feared creature of Philippine folklore; not only because it devours human flesh, but because it could possibly be a neighbor or even a family member, and you would never even know it until it was too late.

But first, if the newspaper headline reads “Exciting Wake” you know something kept that funeral from being boring. Like… maybe… an exploding coffin! That story is up next on Weird Darkness.

 

 

Headline: “Exciting Wake!” When you see the words “exciting” and “wake” in the same headline, you can make a guess that someone is not resting in peace. Fortunately, funeral services, however weird, seldom get as ghastly as the following tale. From the (Huntington, Indiana) “Daily Democrat,” July 21, 1890:

[Sedalia, Mo., July 21.– A burial which was performed under the most peculiar and weird circumstances took place at Springfork, fifteen miles from this city, at an early hour.
Among the early settlers of Pettis county were a young German by the name of John Peterson and his bride. On Thursday Mrs. Peterson died of dropsy. When a girl Mrs. Peterson was slim and supple, but as years passed on she grew very fleshy, and at the time of her death was a remarkably large woman, weighing nearly three hundred pounds.
Immediately after Mrs. Peterson’s death arrangements were made for the funeral. The largest casket that could be procured in the city was the exact measure required at the time of her death, but as it was not delivered until Friday morning the corpse had swollen so much that it was crowded into the narrow case with difficulty. The lid was screwed down and the remains left in that condition for burial.
The funeral services were set for Saturday afternoon, and, as is customary, a number of neighbors acted as watchers on Friday night. Just as the stillness of midnight was approaching, the watchers were startled by a loud report in the parlor, where the coffin was placed. The women screamed and ran out of the house. but the men plucked up enough courage to go into the parlor.
The sight presented was a most horrible one. The gases of the body had accumulated in the casket until their force burst the glass over the face and bosom of Mrs. Peterson. So terrific was the explosion that the body was shot forward and upward, the head protruding from the coffin. A vapor cloud, laden with the rankest of putrid odors, filled the room.
The men sent for Mr. Peterson, who, after dressing himself, went down stairs. A consultation was held and it was decided that, owing to the advanced state of decomposition of the remains of the deceased, the burial should take place at once. Half a dozen of the male watchers agreed to dig a grave in the garden near the house while the others attended to other details of the burial. The grave having been prepared, the coffin was carried to the grave, and strong ropes were placed under the casket. Just as the coffin was lowered one of the assistants let go of the rope. This threw the weight to the head of the coffin and the ropes were jerked from the hands of the men stationed there. The coffin fell with great force head downward and was burst to pieces. It was decided to fill the grave at once without waiting for another casket, and the remains were thus interred.]

Cremation has a lot to be said for it.

The terrifying Aswang is the most feared creature of Philippine folklore—and with good reason. Stalking its prey in the small, rural towns of the Philippines, this deadly monster nocturnally hunts for a meal of human flesh and blood.

The Aswang is a flesh-eating, shapeshifting monster. During the day, Aswangs appear as regular townspeople, though they may be observed by others to have reclusive habits or magical abilities. At night, Aswangs shift into eerie predatory forms and go hunting for human prey, preferring to feast on children and pregnant women above all else.

Varying horrible descriptions have been given of the Aswang’s appearance, but some recurrent traits stand out among all the different descriptions. Usually, the Aswang is a woman during the day. At night, however, it may appear as a bird, a pig, or a dog.

No matter which animal form it takes, an Aswang will differ from a regular animal in various disturbing ways. Most Aswangs have long, proboscis-like tongues, and are frequently described as walking with their feet backward. They have also been depicted as being so thin that they can hide behind bamboo posts.

The Aswang’s most fearsome ability is its knack for blending in with its victims. During the day, Aswangs look and act just like regular people. Although they are generally shy and somewhat reclusive, they can have jobs, friends, and even families.

During the night, Aswangs shift into a form that is better suited to hunting. Different regional versions of the creature are said to take different forms. The tik-tik and wak-wak become large birds, while the zegben (sometimes described simply as a companion of the monster) takes on the form of a Tasmanian devil. Aswangs have also been reported shifting into pigs and dogs.

In addition to shapeshifting, Aswangs also have the ability to transform the appearance of other objects. It’s common for an Aswang to transform plant material into a doppelganger of one of its victims, in order to hide the evidence of its feeding habits from locals. These doppelgangers might replace corpses, which Aswangs often consume, or they might replace living people. If the doppelganger replaces a living person, it will return to the person’s home, get sick, and quickly die.

Another tactic Aswangs use to disguise themselves is to use sinister vocal tricks. As the fearsome predator gets closer to its victim, its call gets quieter and quieter, so its victim is tricked into thinking the monster is actually getting further away.

The Aswang’s hunting prowess is almost as frightening as its ability to hide itself in plain sight. Aswangs like to dine on corpses, fetuses, and small children. They often appear at funeral wakes or at the bedside of pregnant women to eat. The Aswang uses its proboscis like tongue to suck blood from its victims or suck a fetus from a pregnant woman’s womb. They also have superhuman strength during the nighttime.

A person transforms into this deadly predator by tying a fertilized chicken egg to his or her stomach. After some time, the chick passes from the egg into the stomach. Once this has happened, the remaining eggshell is buried in a bamboo tube, along with coconut oil and chicken dung. The person now has the powers of an Aswang.

A dying Aswang can also pass its powers along to someone else if it wishes. The Aswang holds its mouth close to a chosen person, and the chick inside the monster’s stomach hops into the mouth of the new person.

The first step towards ridding a town of this deadly assailant is identifying the monster. There are several ways in which you can do this. Aswangs generally have bloodshot eyes, since they have been awake hunting all night. In addition, it is said that if you look directly into an Aswang’s eyes, your reflection will appear upside-down. The most common method of detecting Aswangs, however, involves using albularyos oil, a special oil made of coconuts and holy plants. This oil is said to boil whenever an Aswang is near.

Aswangs are repelled by garlic and religious artifacts and are at their weakest during the day, when they are in human form. They can be killed by decapitation or by being struck with a whip made from a sting ray’s tail.

The Aswang has a lot in common with western vampires, but there is no evidence to show that either creature inspired the creation of the other. Stories of the Filipino monster and of vampires probably evolved separately.

Other monsters in Philippine folklore are more likely to be related to the Aswang.

Both the wak-wak version of the Aswang and the manananggals, a different monster, leave behind half of their human torso when they transform into a predatory form during the night.

Aswangs also have connections to witchcraft in the Philippines, and are generally described as women. They are also sometimes said to have magical powers during the day. While they are generally to be feared, they are sometimes said to provide healing potions or to cast spells for local people.

The Aswang was born out of Philippine folklore, with stories of this terrifying creature dating back to at least the 16th century, when Spanish explorers created the first written record of monster. The explorers noted that of all the monsters in their folklore, the Aswang was the most feared by native people.

The creature’s name comes from the Sanskrit word “asura,” which means demon. This terrifying monster is also sometimes called the tik-tik or the wak-wak. These names come from the sinister sounds the monster is said to make while hunting.

Despite the fact that belief in this terrifying creature has spread throughout the Philippines, there aren’t many well-known individual stories. Instead, the Aswang’s fame is built on a collection of firsthand encounters, and almost everyone who claims to have seen this fabled creature has a slightly different report.

Aswang mythology was formalized in the 1960s, when Maximo Ramos included a description of the monster in a book titled “Creatures of Philippine Lower Mythology” which I’ve linked to in the show notes.

Drawings of the Aswang have populated Philippine folk art for centuries. Since its introduction to western culture, the creature has also begun to make appearances in western art.

“The Aswang Inquiry”, an illustrated book by Gilda Cordero-Fernando, contains many paintings of the Aswang. Stage plays have also brought the mythology surrounding this creature into the spotlight, with “Luna: an Aswang Romance” and “Tiktik: the Aswang Chronicles” both showcasing the monster.

Most recently, a documentary called “The Aswang Phenomenon” explored the evolution of the related mythology and the culture behind the myths. I’ve placed a link to this documentary in the show notes as well.

As fantastic as stories of the Aswang might seem, they may actually have been inspired by real life events.

One theory is that native wildlife was the inspiration for the legends. The “tik tik” and “wak wak” hunting calls the monster is said to make are probably the calls of nocturnal birds. Bats, Tasmanian devils, and kagwang, an endangered species of flying lemur, have all been killed because they have been suspected of being Aswang in a transformed state.

Another possible explanation of Aswang mythology is the presence of a rare genetic disease called XDP, which almost exclusively affects Filipino men. XDP causes patients to have Parkinsonian and dystonic symptoms; the patient is afflicted with uncontrollable muscle spasms, contortions, and tremors. Images of Aswangs during transformation are strikingly similar to photographs of a patient experiencing XDP symptoms. The highest concentration of XDP occurrences is in the Capiz region, which is rumored to be the original home of the Aswang.

Finally, the Aswang legend may be used to explain away horrendous, unsolved crimes in the Philippines. When a person disappears or is brutally murdered, it may be easier for local people to attribute the crime to a demon rather than to one of their fellow humans. Tabloids often attribute crimes to the Aswang, which adds fuel to the mythology.

Thanks for listening. If you like the podcast, please – tell someone about it. Recommend Weird Darkness to your friends, family, and co-workers who love the paranormal, horror stories, or true crime like you do! Every time you share the podcast with someone new, it helps spread the word about the show – and a growing audience makes it possible for me to keep doing the podcast. Plus, telling others about Weird Darkness also helps get the word out about resources that are available for those who suffer from depression. So please share the podcast with someone today.

Be sure to join me for a new sermon every Sunday at my other podcast, “The Church of the Undead”, also found at WeirdDarkness.com. Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.

All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.

“Creating False Prophets” by Dr. Romeo Vitelli for Providentia

“Phantom Lions of North America” by Brent Swancer for MysteriousUniverse.com

“Exciting Wake” from the Huntington, IN “Daily Democrat”, reposted on the Strange Company website

“The Deadly Aswang” by Professor Geller for Mythology.net

Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.

WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.

If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.

Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes.’” — Deuteronomy 1:29-30

And a final thought… “Don’t make excuses for why you can’t get it done. Focus on all the reasons why you must make it happen.” – Ralph Marston

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.

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