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Paranormal articles done by our fellow paranormal investigators

Postmortem Photography - Memorial Portraiture, Post Mortem Practices - by Ashley Hall - February 8, 2013

Before the invention of the Daguerreotype, the first commercially successful form of photography, if someone wanted a visual family memento, the typical practice was to get a portrait painted. These were quite expensive and not very many families could afford to commission an artist.

Unfortunately that meant when someone passed it would be up to the memory of the deceased to hold the image of what that person looked like.

With the invention and commercialisation of the photographic process the situation changed somewhat. Now there was a way that an image could be captured and at a much more affordable price. Soon many middle class families were able to keep a lasting memento of their times.

This meant that although cheaper than a painted portrait, a family would still have to save their money for quite some time in order to afford it, and unfortunately that meant that someone was likely to die before the big day finally came around.

For the middle class this was ok, as they could gather up the monies needed to get that one last memorial of their deceased loved one.

The earliest post mortem photographs typically showed a close up of the deceased while they were in their coffin, before burial. This soon evolved to full body shots, the deceased dressed in their finest as they lay on a bed.

Before long the photography began to get elaborate. Families would crowd around the corpse to get that much sought after final family photo. This began with the family crowded around a bed, then moved to a seated position with the corpse propped up.

It was not too long before tools were developed to specifically aid post mortem photography. Special racks and stands were created, which allowed the body to stand. Extensions under the limbs allowed different poses to be struck, as the body took on a new, yet still, life.

Make up would be applied, to remove the grey pallor of death, and props, a favourite tool or accessory would be added in to further define their role in life.

Photos would be taken with the bodies eyes either opened or closed; sometimes a family will opt for both in separate shots. When the eyes were left opened, a curious effect happened, the living seem to look more dead than the deceased. This was due to the fact that during the long exposure, they may blink or the eyes may wander, creating a ghostly appearance whereas the corpse’s eyes stay dead still giving a cleaner image.

Children's photos became especially elaborate, as typically these photographs would become the only shots the family would have of them. Much of the time the photo would include the brother or sister of the deceased, no doubt quite an uncomfortable process for the still living siblings.

As time went on the photographs became less elaborate once again, usually depicting the body back in the coffin, stood up at an angle with the funeral attendees also in frame.

Although the practice that was once very popular in America, England and much of Europe has now pretty much ceased, it is still practiced at times, but is no longer seen as a 'necessity' for capturing and memorialising the dead.

Ashley Hall 2013.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary Urban Legends - by Ashley Hall - February 11, 2013

You go into a darkened bathroom with only candlelight to show your way.
You stand in front of the mirror, the golden light of the flame throwing your face and reflection into a strange visage.
You swallow with apprehension before speaking the words 'Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary'.
You then continue to focus into the mirror wishing your friends had not dared you to take part in such a ridiculous game... but is it ridiculous?

Bloody Mary is a traditional game/ritual enjoyed (well I say enjoyed) by youths all over the world, generally as part of a game of truth or dare. What is said to happen after the words are spoken varies from group to group, as much as the words used and how many times they are to be said to invoke the angry spirit.

She will appear in the mirror causing one to lose their mind, she will appear in the flesh to cause destruction to the chanters body, or she will step into a persons physical shell as a form of possession.

It is thought that the modern version of Bloody Mary began in the 60's and 70's. That was also when the popularity of horror movies increased, causing them to be mass produced in order to hit the late night cinema screens.

But who was 'Mary', why was she bloody and where did the idea of invoking her through a mirror come from?

Depending on your location and where you hear the story, there are several different “Mary's” the 'game/ritual' (I will stop calling it a game right here and start referring it to a ritual) connects with:

Queen Mary I of England. Queen Mary I of England was the first woman to successfully claim the royal throne of England, even though there were several competing claims and rights of ascension. Mary was given the nickname 'Bloody Mary' by her opponents due to the zealous executions of religious dissenters against Roman Catholicism (she had nearly 300 burned at the stake) and also the beheading of several royal dissenters.

Mary also had several phantom pregnancies, and possibly several miscarriages, and in the version of the Bloody Mary Ritual said to be aimed at her, the person or people chanting also add the phrase 'I/we have your baby' after each chant of 'Bloody Mary'.

Mary Worth: This version is very prevalent in rural US. Mary worth was a lady who utilised the older traditions of herbal healing and could mix up many concoctions for different maladies. However, as always,s it was also rumoured that she was a witch and soon she was burned at the stake (or executed in some other gruesome manner).

The thing is, Mary Worth seemed to live all over the country and her story was always 'about 100 years ago'. At her execution ,she cursed the land and the crops refused to grow. When called in this version, 'Bloody Mary' is swapped with 'Bloody Mary Worth' or just simply 'Mary Worth'.

The Hitch-hiking Stranger: This version seems to really wrap up two different urban legends into one; the phantom hitch-hiker and bloody Mary. The story goes a beautiful hitch-hiker was picked up, and subsequently raped and killed, her body left in a ditch on the side of the road. When you call to her she will appear and take out her anger on the living.

There are plenty other versions of who is being contacted, ranging from car crash victims to serial killers. Sometimes (rarely) the spirit is benevolent (kindly and charitable) - The Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene, but in most cases the spirit is said to be malevolent (evil and cruel) Bloody Mary or Mary Worth.

The tradition of young women attempting to make some sort of contact, or divining future events in a mirror, is older than the Bloody Mary ritual. In the early 1900's young women would perform a similar ritual (mainly on Halloween), but instead of contacting an angry spirit, the hope was to see the face of the man she would one day marry.

However, even back then there was a sinister side, for if a skull was seen instead of a (hoped to be) handsome man, it would mean the girl was destined to die before her marriage would take place.

The idea of a mirror or reflective surface being used to foretell an outcome of events, is certainly much older than the use by young ladies attempting to foresee their relationship status in years to come. The ancient Greeks and Romans used Catoptramancy (divination by using a mirror) of which Pausanius, a second century Greek traveller writes:

"Before the Temple of Ceres at Patras, there was a fountain, separated from the temple by a wall, and there was an oracle, very truthful, not for all events, but for the sick only. The sick person let down a mirror, suspended by a thread till its based touched the surface of the water, having first prayed to the goddess and offered incense. Then looking in the mirror, he saw the presage of death or recovery, according as the face appeared fresh and healthy, or of a ghastly aspect."

The use of mirrors and reflective pools as a tool for scrying/divination goes back much further still, but that is for another time.

So what is hoped to be gained from contacting Bloody Mary? Well it would seem disfigurement and death, or the loss of ones mind and/or body are the intended outcomes.

When used as a 'game', Bloody Mary is a test of courage. The participant knows what the outcome could be (the aforementioned disfigurement, death and loss of ones mind and/or body) and with no one in their right mind hoping to achieve those, the only hope is that it does not occur.

It is generally silly to think that muttering some words into a mirror could cause an angry spirit to come forth and wreak havoc. Most people count on that fact when taking part in the dare, but there is some small piece of doubt in their mind, and of course, whoever made the dare will have shared a story stating that a friend of a friend went crazy after taking part.

But can something bad take place when performing this 'party ritual'?

It all comes down to what you believe. There are many, many people who will say the intent of wanting to make contact with a dark spirit is all it takes to open the way for something sinister to come through. Whether you are sliding a glass over a ouija board or asking for Bloody Mary to make herself known in a mirror, it makes no real difference.

The intention is there and many people warn that that is all it takes for things to quickly go bad.

Ashley Hall 2012. All reference material can be made available on request