I recently took some pictures in an old cemetery and found the statuary both beautiful and sad. I preferred the grave statuary to blocky tombstones.
A tombstone is a fitting symbol for death. It is an impersonal, abstract representation of death. The angular shape suggests annihilation and oblivion. Gravestones are rock, and stone is similar to bone. Stones could be called the bones of the earth. Rock is an apt symbol for the skeleton. Both rock and death are permanent.
Statues in cemeteries bring the illusion of life to stone. A statue seems to say death is not oblivion. Giving human form to stone hints we endure beyond death. It is a more hopeful symbol then just a square block marking the deceased’s location. Statuary suggests the immortality of the human personality. Statues are an act of creativity that endures beyond death. I prefer that symbolism!
In this cemetery I noticed statues of female angels, mourning women and children. I did not see statues of adult male figures. What could this mean? I’d guess society thinks the female is considered more emotional then the male and is a better symbol for mourning. Men are not supposed to cry, and a statue of a man mourning might be considered an uncomfortable symbol of weakness. It is curious how culture influences even grave statuary.
I was checking out an old non-denominational cemetery looking for unusual gravestones and symbols on tombstones. Always of interest are the Masonic symbols. This cemetery has numerous headstones etched with them. One symbol might take a bystander aback, like the gravestone pictured above. Some stones have pentagrams!
Pentagrams are widely recognized as occult, Wiccan or pagan symbols. When the upper point is aimed upward, it is considered positive. If it is used as a symbol of diabolic intent, then the point is aimed downwards. On some stones are these downward pointed pentagrams. To the casual observer, there would appear to be satanic symbols in the cemetery.
However, all is not as it might first appear. Around this pentagram are the letters OES. This stands for the Order of the Eastern Star. It is a Masonic fraternal organization where both men and woman may join. This is apparent in the tombstone pictured above, where both spouses have their own symbol. The husband has the traditional Masonic symbol of the compass and level. The wife has the pentagram with the letters O E S in the rays of the pentagram. Unlike the diabolic inverse pentagram, this pentagram symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, the “star in the east” which appeared at the birth of Christ. Here the ray points down towards the birth site of the Christ child in Bethlehem.
Another intriguing tombstone (pictured below) has the same Masonic symbols representing the husband and wife. But underneath is a rare sight. It is a plaque stating “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES”. The meaning is “with your standard you shall have victory”. It shows a cross tilted in a crown. This symbol is associated with the Knights Templar Freemason organization. This organization differed from most other Masonic associations in that they required belief in Christianity and not just a Supreme Being.
Images of pentagrams and Knights Templar conspiracy theories give some religious folk reason to scorn Masons. I think this comes from a misunderstanding of what they are all about. Or more likely, some religion people don’t want any competition from any fraternal organization that is non-denominational. Such institutions might encourage people to think for themselves and we can’t have that happening, can we?
In 1888 the United Ancient Order of Druids (U.A.O.D.), a fraternal order, erected a monument in the Forest Home Cemetery outside Chicago. This cemetery, in the past know as German Waldheim Cemetery, was one of the few non-denominational cemeteries in the Chicago area, attracting an eclectic mix of graves sites, including masons, gypsies, radicals and atheists. I revisited the UAOD monument for a closer look, wanting to examine the symbolism of the monument.
The picture above was taken from a rear view; all photos I have seen of this monument are from the face view of the druid at the top of the pillar. You can see the concentric rings in the form of stone logs surrounding the monument. Within the rings are gravestones, which I assume were members or family of members of the fraternity. Several stones around the monument have Masonic symbols on it, as pictured below.
Mason Gravestone Symbols
Druid Monument All Seeing Eye
There is an image on the pillar (pictured left), of an eye in an upside down triangle, sort of the reverse of the image of the great seal on our dollar bill, the All Seeing Eye. Looking at the details of the druid atop the pillar, I’m not sure what the symbolism stands for. The druid has a sickle over his right shoulder, and holds a staff with the head of a cherub at the tip. He stands with a foot on four stacked stones. The druid’s expression is curious…sort of melancholy. Perhaps the druid, in empathy, is expressing the emotions of those who will visit their departed loved ones here.
Looking at the dates of the gravestones circling the druid, nobody has been interred here for a long time. This curious monument is a part of a history long past, an organization that may have in time become forgotten, except for this monument as a reminder. A dramatic monument is a good way to keep their history alive when all their members are gone. After all, I am writing about this in 2010, 122 years after it was erected.
I took many pictures of the monument with the hope a few would turn out well. It was an intensely hot and sunny day. In one photo below, I captured an orb. It is a photo of the statue from the shaded side, and at first I did not notice it. But then it caught my eye. Orbs are almost always captured as the result of a camera’s flash reflecting off of dust or raindrops. In the sunlight a flash was not happening. Daylight orbs are pretty rare. For sure it could just be an optical affect. Yet we have bright purple orb in the shadow of the druid. The romantic in me likes to imagine there is still a spiritual energy around this wonderful monument, and I caught a glimpse of it.
In the Chicago area we had the horrible story about a local cemetery named Burr Oak. The people running the place allegedly dug up the dead to make room for new graves, for a profit. Is this a rare occurrence? We assume our deceased loved ones are resting undisturbed. But…how do we know?
Below is an article from the Chicago Sun-Times about the discovery of a human bone in another cemetery outside Chicago at Mount Glenwood cemetery. After the tragedy at Burr Oak Cemetery, people are wondering if their deceased loved ones are safe. Some of the comments in response to this online story are very interesting. They include ghostly stuff!
A single human bone was discovered in this cemetery. That might not seem very significant, but where did a human bone come from? Human bones are not exactly something we find laying around. If there is even one bone, it means it had to come from an entire skeleton.
I wonder if grave robbing is more common then we imagine. Is there a criminal enterprise we are unaware of in our cemeteries? Is someone digging up the dead? If not to resell the same plot for a profit, then perhaps for their grave goods. Could someone who does not fear the dead seek any jewelry left behind with the deceased? That is a chilling thought. How do we know?
There are cemeteries that are in bad shape, abandoned or nearly abandoned. I had a friend tell me about a cemetery where the homeless sleep at night, with trash scattered about. In such places, anything can happen. Who is roaming such places at night?
The threat of grave robbing might be a good reason to visit our deceased loved ones regularly. If we often leave flowers behind, maybe a grave robber would likely leave that site alone. There are plenty of graves that haven’t been visited in years, or decades. This is what happened at Burr Oak Cemetery…the criminals victimized the graves nobody visited. We all need to visit our deceased ones and lay flowers for them. It really is the only protection we can offer them.
In the news has been the historic Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip IL, a cemetery outside of Chicago. It is the scene of a gruesome and unsettling series of cemetery crimes. Four cemetery workers allegedly dug up existing graves and dumped the bones in a mass grave to make space for others to be buried. This was grave robbing for profit. I know someone who has relatives buried there, I just talked with him. He told me that since the cemetery has been closed, he does not know the status of his relatives’ graves. I wished him good luck with this. What a terrible thing, who would have imagined such a thing could ever happen?
I will approach this ghoulish story from a different perspective. Can a cemetery’s desecration cause it to become haunted? There is a belief that by ruining a cemetery the spirits of the dead will become unsettled leading to a haunted environment. A prime example is the infamous Bachelor’s Grove, an old cemetery that has long been abandoned. It suffered terrible desecration over the decades and developed a reputation for multiple hauntings experienced by first-hand witnesses.
Will the dark deeds at Burr Oak Cemetery give it a similar dark reputation in the future? Shall it become the source of ghostly legends years from now? Will Burr Oak Cemetery become haunted?
I’d suggest that the idea of a haunted cemetery is misunderstood. A cemetery is actually the last place we’d expect to encounter the ghost of a deceased human. Ghosts behave as we would in life, but often act as if they are trapped in a dreamlike state, with varying levels of consciousness. A ghost is most likely to be present at the source of the trauma that resulted in their unwillingness to disconnect from the physical world. Ghosts frequent places they were intimately familiar with in life. Just like you or I would not want to roam a cemetery, neither would a ghost. Once a ghost truly “dies” and leaves this world, they leave it permanently and don’t come back. Outside of human criminals, Burr Oak Cemetery is safe.
However, there is another side to the concept of the haunted cemetery. A handful of cemeteries are actually haunted. What is going on with those? Bachelor’s Grove is a perfect example. In these situations, I believe we are not dealing with human ghosts, but with non-human negative entitles. Cemeteries that suffer from desecration are usually abandoned. What happens with these abandoned cemeteries is they attract the attention of those who wish to use the cemetery for their own purposes. This includes practices such as necromancy and the darker visions of sorcery. If an abandoned cemetery is frequently used as a location for the evocation of the demonic, it could eventually create something like a portal where negative entities will linger. The same idea could apply to some other locations like a “haunted” house where an imprint, a stain was left behind.
The state is taking over Burr Oak and it will not be abandoned. The authorities will make sure the cemetery is properly managed. The grave robbing crimes at Burr Oak are terrible and disturbing, but in themselves won’t awaken the dead, nor cause a gateway to lower spiritual entities. Unless the criminals responsible also practiced necromancy or even worse over the years. Then we might have a problem. I wonder if there is more to this story then meets the eye.
I talked with my friend Brad. His mom and other relations are buried in Burr Oak, and he has no idea what is going on. He is really disturbed. He is getting calls form his relatives from out-of-state asking, “What the hell is going on in Chicago?” He has no answer. He is watching the situation in the news, but the cemetery is closed now. Here is a video that someone took before the cemetery was closed. It shows how important we value our deceased loved ones.
Vampires exist. Of course this reality is based on how we define “vampire”. The vampire of fiction, a walking, blood-sucking sexy corpse, is not real. However the vampire of folklore actually did exist, if only in people’s beliefs. People actually believed in them enough to act on that belief. In past centuries villagers would go through the trouble to dig up a grave, sometimes entire graveyards, exhuming the buried in search of corpses that did not decay properly. When such a corpse was found, it was killed a second time to make sure it was dead. It could be staked to keep it “down”, or it would be cremated by fire. The goal was to make sure the dead stayed dead. It was believed that the dead could truly be undead.
There was a recent story about the discovery of such a “vampire”. Check out these links below, they include images:
The source of this superstition seems to have emerged from people’s lack of understanding concerning the process of decay. There are factors that can slow down decomposition. Temperature, soil conditions, lack of oxygen in a grave and so forth. In the past people were not familiar with such things and if they encountered a grave where a corpse had not decayed but looked “fresh”, they logically assumed it was somehow still “alive” in some fashion and called it a vampire. The best look at the source of this folklore would be Paul Barber’s book “Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality”. He explores the causes behind the vampire folklore. It is the definitive word on the topic and highly recommended for anyone interested in the topic.
However, there remains a mystery. Why would people feel the need to dig up the dead in the first place? What could motivate people to such extreme action? It was an action taken when a community experienced sudden, unexplained illnesses accompanied by haunting phenomena. People back then felt the dead could be a source of menace to society…the vampire.
There was a belief that someone was not truly dead until the skeleton’s bones were bare and decomposition was complete. It was felt that the soul could linger as long as there remained cellular activity continuing on the body. A corpse is still alive in many respects…the process of decay is filled with microorganisms breaking down the body. The soul could remain connected to their body until nothing was left but the bones. This explained the need to kill a corpse a second time.
The vampire was sometimes mistakenly thought of as a walking corpse. However if we examine the folklore carefully, we see is that the vampire’s physical body did NOT leave his grave, only his or her spirit did. What people reported seeing was a predatory ghost that would feed off the life of the living, not sucking blood but one’s life, their chi or ka, causing illness. This ghost still had a connection to their physical corpse and it was thought to return to its body in the grave after feeding. These life-consuming spirits needed to feed to continue their halfway existence. This supposedly prevented the corpse from disintegrating into bones.
In spiritualist and occult theory, there is thought to be an intermediate stage between physical death and the point of permanently leaving the world of time and space. This intermediate stage is commonly referred to as our ghost. A ghost can still interact with the physical world in a subtle way. At death, the path to our final destination is usually swift and our ghost lingers only minutes. But it is possible for our soul to linger far longer for different reasons. Often a tragic death can shock a soul into remaining at the site of the tragedy, attached to it. Or a spirit may become attached to a place they knew in life. A soul may also remain attached to their physical body after death. When a spirit continues this attachment to their body after death, it becomes a vampire…a different and more dangerous type of ghost.
In my next post I will go into further detail about what spiritualism has to say about the nature of the vampire spirit. Ghosts are common, but vampire spirits extremely rare. Why? The answer next.
I like cemeteries…old cemeteries, not modern ones. Modern cemeteries are sad and sterile places. They serve their purpose, but they are not a place to visit outside of paying our respects to the deceased. However, old cemeteries can be interesting places to visit, trying to find the oldest tombstone at a site. Some people like to make paper rubbings of old or exceptional tombstones. There is artistry in the stones and statuary found in older graveyards. Some cemeteries really are places to visit just for site seeing.
My favorite cemetery around where I live is Forest Home-German Waldheim Cemetery outside of Chicago. It was started in the 1876, has 288 acres and nearly 200,000 people are buried there. A major reason this cemetery is so interesting is because it was the only non-denominational cemetery around Chicago back then. It was open to any ethnicity and faith, or no faith at all. Along with local folk both famous and anonymous, buried here are American Indians, masons, gypsies, evangelists, druids, atheists and famed labor activists. This mixture of beliefs has created a wide variety of fascinating things to see at every turn.
United Order of Druids
Most famous would be the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument that was designated as a Historic Landmark. It commemorates the workers slain in the Haymarket labor riot in 1886. Labor activists from around the world come to visit this monument. The gypsy graves are of special interest as an example of their unique culture. There is a monument for the United Ancient Order of Druids. It really is striking and unique, with a druid on a pillar, the ground surrounded by stone circles carved like wood. Ancient burial grounds were discovered here containing mastodon bones and tusks and the Potawatomi Indians had burial mounds at these grounds. It is definitely a place to visit if anyone is in the vicinity.
In a previous post I wrote about a visit to the abandoned cemetery Bachelor’s Grove, joined by some other ghost enthusiasts. I did a tarot card reading on a tombstone, attempting to communicate with any entities in the infamous graveyard. Not really a good idea. Afterwards I experienced a bout of bad luck, and I alluded to the idea that something might have followed me home. http://occultview.com/2009/01/11/tarot-reading-at-bachelors-grove/
A couple of months after my visit to the graveyard, I had an unnerving experience. I was asleep in my bed when I was awakened by a sound…a growling sound, loud enough to stir me from my sleep. It sounded like there was a growling dog in my bedroom and close to my bed. I don’t own pets. I became wide-awake; it was not a lucid dream or anything like that. I laid face away from the sound, and I did not move…I stayed perfectly still and listened to this low growl. I was afraid to turn and look at what was in my room. Instead I said a mental prayer for God to protect me from whatever was there and send it away. After the prayer…the growling just…stopped. Yet I still did not turn to see what could have been there. Afterwards, I wondered what I might have seen had I turned around…anything? Or maybe I’d be discovered the next day in my bed, dead from a failed heart.
I know someone who had her own personal encounter with a growling ghost. Once, seemingly from nowhere, this lady’s home began to experience a haunting. She knew of nothing that would have provoked this to happen. But she said, there came strange sounds like footsteps on the stairway. Her daughter caught a brief glimpse of someone in the house, who then disappeared. Her microwave oven would turn itself on spontaneously. The final straw was after an incident with the microwave oven in the kitchen, she heard a loud growling outside her open kitchen window. She went to the window to look outside…and there was absolutely nothing out there. She had enough. Being a Catholic, she lit candles every night for a week and prayed to God that whatever was in her home would leave. After a week of this…she never experienced any sign of a haunting again.
What to make of this growling ghost? Ghosts don’t growl. Ghosts are deceased human beings and a ghost of a human is still human and humans don’t growl. These growling ghosts are not ghosts, but inhuman spirits.
There is the folklore of the Black Dog, or Barghest. This spectral hound with glowing eyes is said to prowl cemeteries at night. It is considered an evil omen to see one, an omen of death, and is said to be associated with the Devil. There are many legends concerning these Hell Hounds who haunt the graveyards. They are not considered to be the ghosts of men or even dogs. But the spirits of something inhuman. To encounter one is to bring doom. According to demonology, demons cannot take human form, but appear as grotesques, human/animal hybrids and monstrosities.
When I visited Bachelor’s Grove, maybe a “black dog” of that sad, haunted cemetery did follow me home. Maybe the Black Dog is not only folklore. Beware of the Growling Ghost.