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Mary Nohl’s Whimsical Sculpture Garden

The Witch’s House is a Milwaukee landmark with an eerie legend, but the only magic Mary Nohl was conjuring was her yard full of strange sculptures.

There is a curious old home in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb of Fox Point, a cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, which has been the source of urban legend for decades. My dad drove me past it when I was a kid. The yard was filled with large concrete sculptures of giant heads and abstract figures. Humans, fish, and other water creatures all made with materials gathered from the beach.

Frightened whispers of countless curious visitors tell a story as chilling as the howling wind that blows in from the lake, the tragic tale of a reclusive old woman whose husband and son drowned in the turbulent waters just offshore from their home. In her grief, they say, the “Witch of Fox Point” constructed the bizarre sculptures to keep watch for her lost loved ones to return.

But Mary Nohl was never married, and had no children. She was an artist who conjured fantastical creations that transformed her home into her masterpiece – which continues to be a thorn in her neighbor’s sides to this day.

“Mary cared nothing about conforming, resisted the stereotypical roles for women of her generation,” Barbara Manger, author of Mary Nohl: Inside & Out, said in a 2009 interview. “She set her own direction and pursued creating regardless of the views of others.”

In that way, maybe Mary really was a witch – a strong, independent woman who lived the life she chose regardless of societal expectations.

And it seems she had a sense of humor about the legend, if the word “boo” formed by beach pebbles on her front step is any indication.

The home of Mary Nohl, known as the Milwaukee Witch's House

Mary was born to Leo and Emma Nohl in 1914. Leo was an attorney in Milwaukee. The Nohls bought the lot where the house stands now on North Beach Road and built a small prefab cottage as a summer retreat in 1924. It quickly became 10-year-old Mary’s favorite place. At the time, the road was little more than a dirt path and wasn’t plowed during the winter, so it wasn’t an ideal place to live year round.

That changed by the early 1940s, though, and the Nohl’s hired an architect to build an addition. There were some delays during construction as World War II caused a shortage in building materials, but the house was eventually completed in 1943. The Nohls sold their Milwaukee home and moved in.

Mary graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937. She taught art in Baltimore and Milwaukee until 1943, when she decided that making art was more enjoyable. She opened a pottery studio in Milwaukee and moved back in with her parents at the house on North Beach Road, where she would spend the rest of her life.

Mary’s parents died in the 1960s, leaving her a sizable inheritance. She didn’t have to work anymore, so she began filling the home where she now lived alone with her creations of concrete, scrollsawn wood, driftwood, glass, bone, and other found objects.

The spectacle soon attracted curious visitors, and with them, vandalism. But Mary didn’t let that hinder her creativity.

“I was awakened early one Sunday morning to the sound of a crackling fire,” she wrote about a particular incident, probably in one of her biannual mimeographed newsletters she sent to friends and family, “and relieved to find that the fire was burning a driftwood figure in the front yard – and not the house. This particular sculpture has been a target for the kids for years – about fifteen feet high and so encrusted with paint and so dried in the sun, that the burning was like a series of explosions. Called the poor, overworked police who sat in three squad cars outside the fence and watched it burn. Sass, Basil and I sat inside and watched from the front window with the aid of a beer. All that was left were two ten-foot pipes anchored in cement, and before the last sparks had drifted off I had plans for my largest cement animal. The two pipes conveniently became the two front legs of a less destructible cement creation.”

Sculptures by Mary Nohl

Mary died in 2001 at the age of 87. She left her home and sculptures to a philanthropic organization called the Kohler Foundation that works in the areas of art preservation, grants, scholarships, and performing arts. Her estate of over $11 million went to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to oversee the administration of the Mary Nohl Foundation and Mary Nohl Fellowship, providing arts education for children and scholarships for artists.

North Beach Road is a wealthy area, and to Mary’s neighbors, her home was an eyesore. They petitioned the city to have it demolished. Instead, the property was granted entries in the Wisconsin Registry of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places, and is now protected.

The Kohler Foundation wanted to open it to the public, but a decade-long struggle with residents and zoning laws proved unsuccessful. In 2014, a plan was announced to move the entire house and sculptures to a more accessible site in Sheboygan County, but it has since been cancelled because the art was deemed too fragile to move.

Sculptures by Mary Nohl, the Witch of Fox Point

Conservators have cataloged hundreds of individual works of art from inside and outside Mary’s home. In her master’s thesis on Nohl, Debra L. Brehmer categorized the yard sculptures into four distinct groups: monolithic heads, figures and groupings, mythic animals, and architectural ruins.

Records of Mary’s works include descriptions such as, “Man & Fish Conversing,” “Tall Horned Figure,” “Wall of Faces,” “Crowned Heads,” and “Mermaids.”

“To build these pieces,” Brehmer wrote, “Mary first develops a rough idea on paper. She then makes armatures out of metal rods, old pipes, fence wire or tin and fills in the forms with stones she collects by the beach in an old red wagon. She applies concrete in sections, from the ground up, allowing each to dry for two or three days before adding the next. She often combs or trowels a texture into the wet medium and adds subtle decorative flourishes, such as beach stone, marbles or reflector eyes and ornamental bits of pottery or tile.”

Among the various exhibitions of Mary’s work over the years was the “Greetings and Salutations and Boo” installation at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in 2017, which included Mary’s intricately embellished living room, carefully removed from her home and reconstructed for the exhibit.

Mary Nohl Art Environment

That may be the closest most of us will ever get, as the house itself remains a private residence for a caretaker from the Kohler Foundation.

The National Register of Historic Places record calls the Mary Nohl Art Environment “one of Wisconsin’s most original and outstanding works of art.”

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Occult

DNA and Genealogy Tests Reveal the Identity of a 19th Century Vampire

Imagine taking one of those genealogy tests which are so popular these days and finding out you’re a descendant of a vampire. You would undoubtedly deny it (or perhaps be proud of it) and seek to prove your point either way with a DNA test … only to find that your DNA matches up to the vampire. If your name is Barber and you have ancestors in New England, you may want to take notes and wear some extra sunblock at the beach this summer because researchers have identified a man buried as a vampire in 19th century Connecticut.

In 1990, an abandoned cemetery was found in Griswold, Connecticut. Researchers determined it to be the private cemetery of the Walton family, which owned and farmed the land from 1690 into at least the 1800s. The remains of 29 individuals were found – men, women and children – and most showed evidence of lives of hard labor. However, one stone-lined grave caught the attention of Paul S. Sledzik and Nicholas Bellantoni, who were doing research for their paper “Bioarcheological and Biocultural Evidence for the New England Vampire Folk Belief,” which was eventually published in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Why?

“Upon opening the grave, the skull and femora were found in a “skull and crossbones” orientation on top of the ribs and vertabrae, which were also found in disarray. On the coffin lid, an arrangement of tacks spelled the initials “JB-55”, presumably the initials and age at death of this individual.”

In their study of New England vampire beliefs, Sledzik and Bellantoni found that the descriptions of alleged vampires generally say that the person was wasting away and losing flesh despite leading an active and otherwise normal life. This led to the belief that vampires craved food and ultimately human flesh, which is why relatives of vampires seemed to eventually suffer from the same wasting away. These are also the symptoms of tuberculosis, which was called consumption in those days and ran rampant throughout the unsanitary farms of 18th and 19th century New England. While most cemeteries of that era showed many people suffering from and dying from consumption, only JB-55 had it in the Walton cemetery.

“Several years after the burial, one or more of his family members contracted tuberculosis. They attributed their disease to the fact that J.B. had returned from the dead to “feed” upon them. To stop the progress of their disease, the body of the consumptive J.B. was exhumed so that the heart could be burned. Upon opening the grave, the family saw that the heart had decomposed. With no heart to burn, the bones of the chest were disrupted and the skull femora placed in a “skull and crossbones” position.”

According to the paper, the New England way of dealing with suspected vampires was to burn their heart, especially if blood was found in it. In this case, the heart had decomposed, so instead the family rearranged the bones into a skull-and-crossbones formation – the next best thing since decapitation was also a way of keeping a vampire in its grave.

The case of JB-55 intrigued Charla Marshall, a forensic scientist with SNA International in Alexandria, Virginia, who participated in the DNA and geneaology analyses to identify JB-55. In a presentation given recently at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, the findings of Marshall and experts at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA laboratory in Dover, Delaware, were revealed.

“When modern tools were used – Y-chromosomal DNA profiling and surname prediction via genealogy data available on the Internet – the experts said they came up with a match for the last name: Barber.”

Barber! That made it easy for the forensic experts to check old cemetery and newspaper records. As the Washington Post reports:

“They discovered a newspaper notice mentioning the death there in 1826 of a 12-year-old boy named Nathan Barber, whose father was a John Barber. Researchers had found a grave near JB’s containing a coffin with the notation NB 13 similarly tacked on the lid.”

SO, JB-55 was not a vampire but a poor farmer and father named John Barber who lost his 12-year-old son and eventually wasted away from tuberculosis, only to be later suspected of vampirically rising from the grave and attacking his own relatives before they dispatched him forever by detaching his skull and rearranging his bones.

All you New England Barbers out there — you don’t do things like that anymore, right? RIGHT?

Source: Mysterious Universe

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Occult

Jin – Real Mythological Creature

The jinn (sometimes spelled djinn) are spiritual beings according to Islamic mythology. Even the Holy Quran mentions them. We in the West know them as genies.

Far from being like the funny cartoon character in Disney’s Aladdin, the jinn are considered to be creations of God along with angels and humans. So who exactly are the jinn?

HISTORY AND ORIGINS OF THE JINN

The word jinn itself is Arabic in origin and its root means “hidden or concealed.” It refers to a class of spirits below the angelic hierarchy.

These beings were known in ancient Middle Eastern times and often worshiped as benevolent and rewarding gods. Archeologists have even discovered stone carvings and inscriptions giving praise and thanks to them.

According to Islam, God created three categories of beings: angels who were created from light, the jinn who were formed from fire and humans made from earth or clay.

Along with humankind, God also bestowed free will upon the jinn, letting them live and do as they please. Yet they are subject to the same punishments and Day of Judgment as people.

There is even a story about one of the jinn, called Iblis who disobeyed Allah’s order to bow down to Adam. As punishment, Iblis was banished from Paradise and known as Shaitan or Satan, the adversary.

Finally the jinn were popularized due to the success of the book One Thousand and One Nights also known as Arabian Nights. Readers were introduced to stories of jinn that coexisted and communicated with humans.

TYPES OF JINN AND HUMAN INTERACTION

Like humans, the jinn also have male and female genders. And just like people, some are benign and some are malevolent, with many falling somewhere in-between.

They may or may not interact with us, just like any other spiritual being. According to some beliefs, each one of us is assigned a personal jinni called a qarin. For those unfortunate souls who have an evil qarin, they are likely to hear whisperings impelling them to do evil.

Although local legends and lore often have their own unique forms of jinn, the major types of jinn include: Ghul, Ifrit, Marid, Nasnas, Shaitan, Shiqq and Silat.

GHUL

The ghul or ghoul is a nocturnal zombie-like shape shifter that often haunts graveyards. It preys on human flesh and is capable of great evil.

According to Arabian lore, the most feared ghul is female, known as a ghula who can appear as a mortal woman and lure men into her clutches, turning them into her prey.

IFRIT

These jinn are cunning and extremely intelligent. Generally evil, they do have the ability to change and can become pious and saintly. The Holy Quran mentions the power that King Solomon had over the ifrit, making them do his bidding.

MARID

The marid are the genies we’ve come to know and love as wish granting spirits that live in oil lamps and bottles. They are actually considered the most powerful of the jinn.

Blessed with great knowledge and magical powers, they were originally known as sea-spirits and still spend a great deal of time near the water.

NASNAS

Nasnas are a lesser form of jinn with weaker powers. They often appear as human or animal-like hybrids. In the classic One Thousand and One Nights, nasnas appear as a half-bodied humans hopping around on one leg.

SHAITAN

As mentioned before, Shaitan was the name given to Iblis who disobeyed Allah. Shaitan also refers to any malevolent jinni that aligns with demonic forces.

SHIQQ

Like the nasnas, the shiqq are also a lower form of jinn and are only half-formed. They appear as hideous monsters, but have weak powers.

SILAT

Smartest of all the jinn, the silat are expert shape shifters and are the most interested in humans. They love to take on the human form and can do so with ease.

So if a magical stranger either helps you out or brings you trouble, it could be a silat.

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Churches combine forces in Rome to learn best exorcism practices because of rise in possession cases

Exorcism is going multi-denominational. Where once those competing for the souls of followers would burn each other as heretics and spur decades-long wars, different Christian denominations are now rallying together to battle a resurrected threat.

And that’s no less than Satan himself.

The Roman Catholic Church has for the first time opened up its annual exorcism class in Rome to representatives of all major Christian faiths. The Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum is a Vatican-affiliated university in Rome has been conducting the increasingly popular annual exorcism conventions for Catholic priests for the past 14 years.

But now the doors of the 14th Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course has been thrown open to groups once considered heretical and demon-infested only a few short centuries ago.

Now some 250 Catholics, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox and Protestant priests have assembled to arm themselves with the sword of the holy word to battle Satan amid the souls of their parishioners.

It is itself a dark art, born of a dark age.

The Catholic Church, however, insists demonic possession is on the rise.

In 2014, it formally recognised the ancient ritual of exorcism under Canon Law at gave official approval to the formal creation of the International Association of Exorcists.

It blames the secularisation of society (separation of religion and state) along with the increasing popularity of competing religions, tarot readings, astrology, the internet and atheism for opening the demonic floodgates.

And the best way to fix this, it believes, is to tackle the ‘possessed’ head-on.

Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course

© Pontifical University
The Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum’s Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation Course.

Sword of the Spirit

“We are called to fight against the Devil with all our might and determination,” keynote speaker and Catholic priest Jose Enrique Oyarzun addressed the assembled exorcists in Rome.

In this enlightened age, the practice sounds odd to many.

And that’s the problem, exorcists insist.

Speaking in lost tongues. Vomiting weird objects. Unexplained wounds. Writhing. Shaking. Shrieking abuse.

Supernatural strength.

While there is rarely evidence beyond the anecdotal, exorcism practitioners insist their behind-closed doors experiences are very real.

And it’s a threat Pope Francis himself has been keen to highlight, making regular references to the power of the Devil in his sermons.

“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan – if you do that, you’ll be lost,” the Pope recently told a Catholic news service.

Now, the Pope has a spiritual army of his own at his command.

The International Association of Exorcists counts some 400 priests among its members worldwide. And the death of its most famous demon hunter, Father Gabriele Amorth, in 2016 served only to inspire a surge of fresh applications.

But they’re not enough.

So the Catholic Church is seeking a source of fresh recruits.

A depiction of an exorcism from the Middle Ages.

A depiction of an exorcism from the Middle Ages.

Shield of Faith

When it comes to skewering Satan, there are problems of doctrine.

Not all the Christian faiths believe the same things. And they’ve put each other to the torch and started wars over such serious matters in the past.

Why not now?

“This is the first time that different denominations have come together to compare their experiences on exorcisms,” Spanish priest and theologian Pedro Barrajon, one of the convention’s organisers, told media in Rome.

“The idea is to help each other, to establish best practices if you will. The Catholic Church is most associated with exorcisms because of films like The Exorcist and The Rite, but we are not the only church that performs them. Expelling the devil goes back to the earliest origins of the Christian Church.”

It’s a spiritual battle winning secular attention.

The Italian government also apparently takes the alleged possession crisis seriously.

Its education ministry this year offered its teachers the option of attending an intensive 40-hour “exorcism and prayers of liberation” crash-course as a sideline to the convention in Rome. At the cost of 400 euros ($A640) each, every attending teacher was promised to be taught how the ancient rite should be “correctly practiced”.

The move attracted ire from the Italian opposition parties who insisted the education system had more to worry about than training teachers in magic.

“With all the problems in Italian schools, the ministry is trying to bring back the Dark Ages,” opposition, centre-Left MP said Laura Boldrini said.

“Schools need to prepare young people for the challenges of the future. And what does the education minister do? He promotes exorcism courses. (Meanwhile) schools are not safe, gyms are not fit to be used and teachers are not properly paid.”

course guide from the Pontifical University of Regina Apostolorum's Exorcism

© Pontifical University

Breastplate of Righteousness

Father Barrajon, 61, told the conference in Rome that non-Catholic denominations were less structured in their exorcism rituals. “Some of the other churches are more creative, they don’t use a precise format,” he said.

And that could present a problem: perhaps any harpies inhabiting a human body won’t be entirely evicted.

Which is why they want priests to attend demonology school.

Participants attending the conservative Legionaries of Christ religious order run university study such subjects as “The Symbology of Occult and Satanic Rituals” and “Angels and Demons in the Sacred Scripture”.

The need to get it right, according to the exorcists, is pressing.

Last year, exorcist Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio that there were some 500,000 cases of possession appearing in Italy each year.

But there are rising concerns about the validity of the priestly practice.

Some faith healers have been accused of sexually molesting their possessed patients.

One case in Palermo saw a priest and soldier arrested after using the pretext of “expelling demons’ to touch the genitalia of women.

In another Italian case, an underage girl was sexually abused by a 69-year-old practitioner, her boyfriend and her mother. “He convinced the girl she was the victim of strong ‘negative forces’ and consequently convinced her to undergo ‘purification rites’ consisting of sexual intercourse, sometimes in a group,” Italian police said at the time.

Pope Francis said shortly before the convention that priests entrusted with the “delicate and necessary ministry” of being an exorcist must be chosen with “great care and great prudence.”

Belt of Truth?

The broader Catholic Church admits to being dubious about most claims of possession.

Its officers publicly state the majority of such claimants are, in fact, mentally ill. Instead of priests, they should be seeking medical attention to address physical health issues.

But Pope Francis has recently adopted a more urgent tone.

In March, he reportedly told a group of priests they “should not hesitate’ to refer confession-box cases of possession to an exorcist.

“They could also have spiritual disturbances, whose nature should be submitted to careful discernment,” Pope Francis said, “taking into account all the existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural circumstances.”

The exorcism convention, however, concedes there may be complicating medical issues at hand and included talks on medical psychology, criminology, pedophilia and pornography.

Pope Francis himself has acknowledge that “epilepsy, for example, could easily be confused with demonic possession”.

But this, he wrote, should not lead to the conclusion “that all the cases related in the Gospel had to do with psychological disorders and hence that the devil does not exist or is not at work.”

So the worldwide Catholic Church continues to leave open the possibility that what its followers perceive to be Satanic possession may be the real supernatural deal.

During last year’s exorcism convention, Cardinal Ernest Simoni insisted Satan’s touch was unmistakeable. He had himself witnessed possession, he said.

“It’s important to differentiate between psychopathic illnesses, neurasthenia, pathologies,” the Cardinal said during a keynote address. “Satan you can recognize.”

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