Monday, January 19, 2009

Ghosts, Angels and Virgins

London Bridge is falling down,
falling down,
falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
my fair lady.

I took this picture of the bridge over the state highway in front of our farm. The image is of the first spring flood. No, the bridge is not falling down. Crews came and resurfaced the bridge the summer after this photo was taken. Armed with jack hammers, they ratta-tatt-tatted for five months. Working in the field that was closest to the bridge, I'd wear ear protection because of the whine from a jet engine mounted on a power vacuum truck. The bridge refinement may have been prompted by the bridge collapse on the interstate in Minneapolis.

Perusing Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody by Charles Panati, I learn the background of the famous child's song. Along with Itsy Bitsy Spider and Ring Around the Rosy, London Bridge was sung by every school kid in my age bracket. I have a 78 RPM record with songs and nursery rhymes. Panati writes:

When the first version of the bridge was constructed late in the twelfth century, the skeletal remains of a child virgin ( "my fair lady" of the rhyme) were incorporated into the pilings. The superstition then was that water gods did not take kindly to humans spanning and trampling across their domain and had to be appeased with the bones of a virgin-and one that did not die a violent death. The rumor that London Bridge was falling got started when it became known that the virgin had not died the natural death her parents alleged, but that she plummeted from a turret window of her family's weekend castle, pushed by unseen hands.

Refer to the picture above. At the right hand side of the bridge on the far end is a white dot. At that spot is a highway memorial to a young girl known in these parts as Angel. She died when a high school prankster she was riding with drove off the road, killing her at that spot. The prankster, so the story goes, was from a dysfunctional home situation. The man who rented the house to his parents had it demolished and burned after they moved out , rather than remodel the run down building. I'm guessing that was soon after the fatal crash. The memorial consists of a wire shaped heart, plastic flowers, an occasional Mylar balloon and notes to the departed one.

When we moved into the old schoolhouse, odd things start to happen. An outlet over the kitchen counter would turn on and off periodically. I replaced the outlet. It continued to malfunction. In our upstairs bedroom-we have four including one downstairs- a light switch would turn itself on. My upbringing was heavily infused with superstition. My foster mother was an old school Yugoslavian mystic. There's no room in this post for the mysterious things she performed. My Catholic upbringing in that family was loaded with mystical elements. I loved the copal incense, the Latin mass and some of the theology. At Christmas Santa came down our chimney. I could never figure out how he made it down an artificial fireplace. I'd look up over the electric logs at the cemented underside of the flue and wonder. My natural mother had a similarly superstitious background. This Christmas, I gave Dawn an expensive Sakuro chopping knife . I forgot to include the penny as the superstition requires. I always put my right shoe on first after reading about shoe superstitions in a fictional work about a shoemaker. Driving to the Amish, a flock of crows is feeding in the field across from the elk farm. When they take flight, I count the number of crows and recite the counting rhyme to see what comes next in my day. One crow sorrow, two crows mirth...

One of my teachers was a Native American Professor at the university. Along with other camp followers, we'd hang out with him at special places and gatherings off campus. One young lady came up to him and said, "I've been stung by a bee, sir. What does it mean? " His reply was, "Stay away from bees." His course on Native American Dreams and Visions debunked traditional woo-woo non-native applications of American Indian philosophy. The first two weeks of the course were investigations into quantum physics and the relation to Native spirituality. He was also, deeply superstitious. I organized a weekend tour called Let Nature Teach You. We stayed in the same motel room. The bed was placed such that when the occupant slept, their head was in the west. I helped him rearrange the bed that night. "Westing" is the Ojibwa term for death. Every house I have lived in since has the bed placed so that the heads of the sleepers are in the North, South or East. Those directions bring wisdom, nurturing or enlightenment.

Angel's ghost does not walk our floors at night. The outlet over counter is connected to another outlet closer to the stove. The microwave is plugged into that outlet. Moving the microwave one day, I learned the movement affects the haunted outlet. The connections in the microwave outlet were loose. The upstairs light switch? Again a faulty stuck switch. In a hurry, one can partially push the switch ( in our vernacular-shutting off the light) incompletely down. In that case , the switch will pop back up.

Friday the thirteenth and a thirteenth floor of a building? In Native American thought the number thirteen is a propitious number. There's a story about the thirteen moons on a turtle's back. I try not to, however, open an umbrella inside. I knock on wood occasionally when necessary and always, always, avoid stepping on cracks.

1 comment:

Laura Jayne said...

We always pick up heads up pennies but avoid the tails up one like the plague. I lick my thumb and touch it to my palm when I see a white horse (no idea at all where this little ritual came from) as it brings luck. Shoes on a table are bad luck (and again, no idea why I think this). Consider spiders lucky and thus never let hubby kill them, they must be moved outside gently (this may come from Charlotte's Web as a child). Oh, and the list goes on and on. And now I have to add this shoe putting on thing, which is a serious problem for me as I constantly get my left and right mixed up (faulty kindergarten teacher I am sure).