Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Fairy Thief of the Wilderness

The Johnson’s were second generation missionaries to Thailand.

Mrs. Johnsons’ parents were missionaries in the southern province of Chon Buri and although she spent most of her childhood away in boarding school, she felt a very real affinity for the country and its people. So she was thrilled after graduating Bible College in the late 1950s to be assigned with her husband to the northern province of Chiang Mai.

Mrs. Johnson had heard many strange stories while growing up with national children while on summer breaks. It seemed wherever there were jungle in Thailand there were strange stories of strange animals. This mystique of the unknown along with the unexplored in Thai jungles continues to this day but in the late 50s Mrs. Johnson relates that there seemed to be a much more romantic feel to such expeditions into the wilderness.

With their residence set up in a small village near the Ping river this mystique of the unknown must have been great indeed for they were almost 100 kilometers away from any other missionary and any western influence. But they preferred it that way since they could then immerse themselves in the surrounding culture while meeting the needs of the people. Mrs. Johnson was a nurse and Mr. Johnson busied himself with teaching and helping build permanent structures for those in need of shelter.

Sometimes odd things happen when you are hundreds of miles away from civilization. The Western mind almost automatically tries to categorize it in our rational way. But sometimes some things happen that just defies all known logic and previous experiences.

Mrs. Johnson was always eager to share these odd bits of the unexplained in her missionary talks while on furlough back in the states, and one of the more fascinating stories she told was of the Naang Maai Paa, or the little fairy of the wild forest.

The Naang Maai Paa lived deep in the forest and hated human beings. They looked like humans but were not, the villagers considered then to be spirits who took shape to guard the forest. They were as small as a child, but unlike our Western idea of fairies these spirit beings of the wilderness were little hairy people who lived in the earth underneath large trees.

Mrs. Johnson had always thought the creature a superstitious legend until a series of mysterious happenings in the early 60s.

In some of the new houses erected by her husband and other members of the local church, food began to disappear in the middle of the night. These houses were built in newly cleared land at the edge of the forest on a mountainside. The thieves never struck the same house twice in a row, but seemed to make a route going back and forth along the base of the mountain. It was not long after exchanging stories that they deduced the thieves pattern and set up a trap for the perpetrator. Mrs. Johnson’s husband joined them as they lay wait for the thief to make his move.

So they kept armed vigil around the house and waited. It was not until, morning was almost upon them that the criminal showed up. But curiously they did not see him enter the house, but only as he exited. It was a little Naang Maai Paa with it’s arms full of fruit and dried meat. It quickly waddled towards the woods when one of the national pastors, thinking it was a child jumped in front of it and raised his flashlight to its face.

From Mrs. Johnson’s account there were two screams heard by all the watchmen, that of the national pastor and the other of the fairy thief. When the others came to his aid the thief was gone, less some pieces of plunder to be sure, but he was long gone into the forest. However they found the pastor shaking on the ground, for he was sure he had seen a demon.

The three foot tall creature was covered in thick reddish fur and had black skin with yellow eyes. Its teeth were fangs and when it screamed there came a stench from its mouth that smelled like rotting flesh. The pastor was sure he had seen a Naang Maii Paa, and he was sure it was a demon from hell.

There were searches the next few days but they turned up nothing but some possible footprints that had been partially washed away by rain. The midnight food runs ceased from that point on however.

Mr. Johnson was sure that the pastor had seen a monkey of some kind, but the nationals were sure that it was a fairy of the wild forest. The stories of their trickery had been passed down from generation to generation, and every once in a while there would be a sighting when someone ventured deep into the wood.

What was the creature that raided those lonely houses almost half a century ago? Was it a monkey, demonic being, or something else? Whatever it was it had a definite taste for Western foods since almost all the perishables stolen were not normal Thai food.

The local Buddhists told the Christians it was the Naang Maii Paa demanding an offering for encroaching on its land.

Today the rainforests of Chaing Mai Province are vanishing at an alarming rate.

And what of the Naang Maii Paa?

Although retired from the mission field for many years she still keeps in contact with local friends she made long ago.

The forests are silent as they are burned into oblivion.

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Lake Erie 'Storm Hag', demonic siren of the Great Lakes

Since first explored in the 1600’s the Great Lakes have earned a reputation as being a treacherous and unforgiving waterway. Extremely violent storms seem to appear out of nowhere taking both vessel and crew to a watery grave.

In 1977 author Jay Gourley’s “The Great Lakes Triangle” proposed there were some sinister forces behind all of these mysterious disappearances. But many sailors on Lake Erie at least, have had a theory for centuries on the unexplainable storms and the shipwrecks that plague the fresh water lake.

The Storm Hag.

According to legend the Storm Hag lives at the bottom of the lake, close to Presque Isle Peninsula . She is a hideous she demon, her yellow eyes shine in the dark like those of a cat, her skin is a pale shade green. Her teeth are sharp and pointed as a shark, able to tear the skin off of her victims. They are also green, which gives her another less common name, Jenny Greenteeth. Her hands have long pointed nails like talons that have a poison with which she can paralyze a poor soul with just one small prick. Her arms are long and strong, and they wrap around her victims making it impossible for them to escape her flesh hungry attack.

The old legend tells that like a siren before she attacks she sings a quiet song over the waves that few have survived to retell. Traditionally the song she sings is:

“Come into the water, love,
Dance beneath the waves,
Where dwell the bones of sailor lads
Inside my saffron caves.”

And as soon as the seafarer hears this song the Storm Hag attacks. She calls up a violent storm that tosses the crew of the vessel around so she can lurch up from the water and grab them with her long arms. Others tell that she waits the storm out and when the sailors believe all is calm she rises from the waves, spitting lightning and winds with such force the entire vessel sinks in a few seconds.

Local history has it that on a fall evening in 1782 an owler ship was caught in a bad storm on the lake and desperately tried to make it back to port at Presque Isle. It was tossed to and fro violently for more than an hour and when it was in site of land the storm abruptly stopped.

The clouds dissipated and the moonlight from the full moon illuminated the water, and the sailors could see they were less than a mile from the northern edge of the Peninsula and home.

Without warning the water next to the boat foamed and the Storm Hag burst forth from the surface. She spewed venom and attacked the crew unleashing her fury upon them.

Within seconds the ship and its crew were taken beneath the waves to their doom.

Witnesses on shore apparently heard the screams of the sailors echoing across the lake just before the vessel disappeared.

To this day some of those who sail the lake near Presque Isle claim to hear phantom screams of the victims who were taken long ago.

Now these legends seem the work of over imaginative sailors until one looks at some very disturbing incidents documented within the last century...

Read the whole article on the Examiner here:

The Storm Hag in the 20th Century?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Weird Miracles

When approaching the topic of miracles

in a Christian context you are bombarded with stories of miraculous healings.

Aside from that you also get a fair share of miraculous intervention stories where angelic beings rescue an unfortunate soul from one dread fate or the other.

Once in a while you hear a very oddball story of the miraculous that the sheer oddness of it makes you stand up, take notice and wonder what type of medication the person has been taking. Yet the stories are delivered with such sincerity that you have to believe the teller, if not the tale itself.

This Easter season I thought I’d relay to you a few of the oddest I have heard.

Ben was a typical teenage farm boy of 1950s America. Corn fed, hard working and loyal to a fault. While school was on he dutifully did his chores before and after his classes and when summer rolled around he devoted himself whole heartedly to laboring hard all day on the family farm. He had a knack for mechanics and when others gave up on a broken down piece of machinery and designated it to the rust yard to be turned into salvage metal, Ben would inevitably spend some extra time with the malfunctioning unit and within a short time it seemed like he would breath back life into a forsaken piece of equipment. By the time he reached driving age neighboring farms would ask Ben’s father if they could borrow their son for a few evenings so he could work his mechanical magic on a few of their own broken down equipment. The neighbors were grateful for a few extra years on an old piece of equipment instead of spending a small fortune on a new model and rewarded Ben handsomely for his talents.

And of course as a family centered young lad of the times he gave his money to the family so that the cash flow between seasons was adequate enough to help the farm stay afloat.

It was on one of these nights that Ben was away working on a neighboring farm that a very odd experience happened to his mother.

Elsie was making pies out of self canned rhubarb and strawberries when the house dog became restless. Thinking it needed to go outside to relieve itself she wiped her hands off on her apron and opened the back door for the dog to go outside.

But the dog just stood there and whimpered.

Disturbed the mother closed the door and looked at the dogs food and water dish, and since both were full she shook her head and mumbling to the creature she went back to folding the dough for the pie crust.

But the dog’s anxiety grew stronger and stronger. It would rub against her legs, whimpering and when she shooed it away with a bump it would bark loudly, demanding her attention. After a few moments of this Elsie had enough and grabbing the dog by its collar she shoved it out the screen door to the backyard and was about to close the wooden inner door when the dog pressed its face hard against the screen and Elsie heard something that she swore to until her dying day.

“Ma, it’s Ben. He’s hurt and nobody knows. If we don’t get him to a doctor he will die”

She was the only one on the farm at the time. He husband was off with some friends and the other children were in town. But she heard the voice clear as day, a voice that was deep and gravely that she had never heard before.

And it seemed to have come from the dog.

It was not like she had seen the dogs lips form the human words, in fact she wasn’t even looking at the dog’s face when she heard the words. But to her there was no mistake no matter how incredible.

She slowly pulled the wooden door wide open and squatted down to look at the dog as the nervous animal continuted to press against the steel screen.

“Did you just say that?” She asked. The dog barked. Confused and thinking she was losing her mind she once again talked to the Old Joe the Golden Retriever that Ben had raised from a puppy, “Ben. Ben is hurt?” she asked. With that the dog barked frantically and popped a hole in the lower part of the screen door.

Standing dizzily up, Elsie opened the door and with a whimper the faithful dog loosed its head and ran inside the house. It ran to the wall that held the phone and stood on its hind legs as if it were trying to use the human device.

Then for Elsie everything was clear. She called to the neighboring farm where Ben was to work on an old harvesting device and asked if they could check on her son for she felt like something was wrong.

Within a few minutes the frantic voice of her neighbor’s daughter came back on the line. Ben had mangled his hand in the equipment and had lost a lot of blood. Her father and mother were rushing him to the hospital.

They made it to the hospital just in time; the doctors told Elsie and her husband when they arrived a short time later. Ben had lost a few fingers and his had was irreversibly mangled, but thanks to her curious call Ben was found before he had bled to death alone in the barn.

I know what you are thinking.

I thought it as well when I first heard the story over twenty years ago.

I just nodded with interest and listened in the narthex of the church where the story was told to me. The teller of the tale was Ben’s nephew, then a church Elder. I chocked it up as a tall tale until a few days after I met Ben. He was in his late forties at the time and he did have a mangled right hand. With curiosity and obviously no sensitivity whatsoever on my part I asked him about his crippled hand. It had been a farm accident. So with more cocky arrogance than inquisitiveness I told him with a chuckle the story his nephew had told me. He just said a simple folksy, “Yep.” Still not believing I asked him directly if he was pulling my leg. He told me with all sincerity, “It’s what Ma held to as truth till her deathbed. But old Joe never did talk to me none. Guess I never needed to listen.”

In reflection all I can think is if God can talk to a prophet through a donkey according to scripture, it seems more than right a boy’s dog could talk to his mother and save a life.

Personally, if my animals ever talk to me, I am sure they will be condescending.

Another odd ‘miracle’ story was also relayed to me by a Pastoral mentor of mine when I had just left Seminary and took my first church position.

The Denomination that I belonged to at the time, The Christian and Missionary Alliance to this day holds the old fashioned ‘tent revivals’ every summer in the form of camp meetings. Depending on the speaker and the music they can get quite lively, although at the time seeing even an acoustic guitar at one of these worship services was not only unique some of the older revivalists would have even considered it mildly heretical.

But if the music came from any other stringed instrument, piano or organ, then of course it could be used in all holiness.

After a ‘rousing’ period of praise and worship with century old hymns coming from an out of tune piano at the camp meeting, I bemoaned the archaic worship style to my mentor. He patiently listened and then encouraged me to appreciate the old fashioned music. For in the past God had worked miracles with this type of service.

At the turn of the 19th century during the charismatic outbreak within evangelical Christianity there were day long revivals where people would prostate themselves before God, pour out there hearts and souls and God would work miracles. Along with the common signs of the movement such as speaking in tongues and being ‘slain in the spirit’ there were numerous other miraculous instances as well.

People were healed of terminal illness, there were many prophecies spoken that inevitably came true, the deaf began to hear and the blind began to see. Oh, and there was a couple of instances of people floating around the altar in mid air.

Did you ever have a seminal experience in your life where you thought for an instant that the people you have looked up to and admired most in your life are absolutely bonkers?

For a few fleeting moments back then in 1992 that was me. I was a little dazed. Now I had experienced a multitude of unexplained and miraculous things first hand in a variety of churches. Sometimes people do get healing-dynamic and miraculous. But most of the time there are no dynamic interventions from God. People get sick and die. Miracles do not happen all the time, or else they would cease to be miraculous, they would be common place. I have met people who have claimed to have been once deaf or blind and God restored their sight or hearing. And I have heard some strange portents of the future exclaimed to only see it creepily come true with stunning exactness.

People floating in air? I had to have him repeat himself.

“Yes they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that there were actually documented instances in California of some people actually lifting off the ground.” He told me in a quiet hushed voice that warm July night. “The denomination does not like to talk about it anymore. Many of the leadership today believe that because of all the fasting and prayer people became delusional, but there are many folks today who swear this took place.”

And he later in the day introduced me to some others who had heard the same stories.

I still do not know what to make of it, but of course I’ve seen and heard of a lot more stranger things. And truly I do believe that nothing is impossible with God. But I never really did get why God would make his people float in the first place. And nobody could every tell me what the purpose was as well. It was just a strange experience of the unexplained.

So this Easter Sunday if you are the type that does go to church on this holiday, when the off tune organ or piano drones on and the choir crackles you out of your unconscious stupor that was induced by the ministers meandering message, just be reflect on the talking dog and the floating revivalists.

If it was not for the everyday mundane, such dramatic oddities would not be as so…well…weird!

Until Next Time,

Pastor Swope

From my Examiner Report:
Click to see Easter's Dark Secret