Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Alaskan Spirit Houses

For the Spirit

Caring for the dead in many cultures includes caring for the spirit that inhabited the body. Alaskan spirit houses are a common way for Alaskans to offer protection for those who have passed on. These colorful graveyard houses are seen as a form of shelter for the spirits and are designed to look similar to a dollhouse. This spirit box tradition at burial sites can be linked to both Russian Orthodox and Native American beliefs.

Where Can They Be Found?

A graveyard in Eklutna, Alaska has more than 100 burial sites that contain these special small lodgings. This historical gravesite has become so popular that it has even been labeled as a part of Eklutna Historical Park. Located about 25 miles from Anchorage, Alaska; home, more than 800 years ago, to Native American villages. The region now has both a Native American heritage and that of Russian Orthodox missionaries who first came in 1830.

The St. Nicholas Cemetery - built around the late 1830’s  and reconstructed around 1970 – is home to many graveyard houses that have been in use 150+ years.

Cremation Was Once Observed

Before burying the dead beneath the ground which was a common practice in Russian Orthodox culture, remains were cremated. Above ground spirit houses or boxes grew in popularity. Many believe they  provide warmth, comfort and protection.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Corpse Roads Folklore

Special Pathways for the Dead

Cemetery folklore would not be complete without corpse road superstitions. 

These pathways are supposed to ensure safe transportation of corpses from distant places to the cemeteries, churches or chapels where they will be interred. Also known as funeral pathways, burial roads, coffin roads, lych ways and corpse ways, they originated during medieval times.

The routes specifically connected churches to the burials sites owned by the churches. Over time, due to the rise in non-church burial grounds, many corpse roads were not kept up. Falling to disuse, they disappeared. In some areas funeral pathways still exist,but they are abandoned.

Winding Roadway Supersititons. 

It was believed that the spirits of the deceased always moved along special routes over various landscapes to reach the cemetery. Many thought they preferred straight paths because they were easy to navigate.
Superstition had it that non-linear roads (that zig-zagged like a maze or labyrinth) could hinder the movement of spirits. The winding nature of the pathway could help to deter them from reaching the graveyard.

On the other hand,  for those who wanted the spirits to follow the dead, not linger with the living, it was also believed that  a straight path that connected two places (free of walls, buildings and structures) would make it easier for the spirits to find the graveyard. To make sure they did not come back to haunt the family members of the deceased, different routes would be used for the return back to the church after the buriial.

It’s also interesting to note that the corpse roads in many cases did not cover farm land as it was thought that the spirits could hinder good crop yields. And yet, in other places the funeral pathways were bridges or stepping stones over water that reflected the idea that spirits could not travel across water.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Lunar New Year Traditions

Looking Towards Spring

The Chinese New Year or 'Spring Festival' is China's most important festivals and holiday time. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, this year – the year of the White Metal Rat - starts Saturday, January 25, 2020.

Each year is assigned to one of 12 specific animals, commonly referred to as the Chinese Zodiac.  The traits (signs) of each animal indicate the strengths and weaknesses of those born under the year of their sign.

The rat is a passionate and brilliant problem solver. Accepting and learning from failure is a challenge for this social animal. 

Within the Rat sign, there are many variations, including metal and wood.


Although it takes place in winter, it is called the Spring Festival because this is when people start looking forward to the coming spring.

The streets of Chinatowns and Chinese neighborhoods around the world are decorated with red lanterns, red banners, and other “lucky red” items.  Fireworks, parades, and dragon dances are also on public display during the 15 days of celebrations.

On the eve of the New Year is also when the most important meal of the year is served. The ‘Reunion Dinner’ brings families together to share deliciously prepared “lucky” dishes, such as noodles which represents a long life. It is believed to be bad luck will come to those who cut the noodles.

Another favorite is Jiaozi. When the dumplings are round they are meant to signify family unity. When shaped like crescent moons they are a symbol of wealth and prosperity because that particular shape resembles the shape of ancient Chinese money.

Along with sharing meals and visiting family friends and relatives, participants also exchange red gifts (clothing, jewelry, etc.) and/or red envelopes of money.

Chinese New Year Recipes

Monday, December 10, 2018

Rivers of Mercury and Immortality

Folk Belief: Immortality

Throughout ancient Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di’s massive tomb, thousands of lifelike clay statues of soldiers stand guard. They even once held real weapons to protect their leader in the afterlife. When the statues were first made in 208 BC, they would have been painted to look even more realistic.

Aside from the clay army, Qin's grave was filled with toxic pools of liquid mercury. During his time, the Chinese practiced alchemy, and mercury was thought to be the key to immortality. However, the huge amount of this poisonous substance has made it nearly impossible for modern archaeologists to properly excavate the site. Many sections still haven’t been explored.

In Mexico, Teotihuacan’s Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent was built to house the body of their emperor when he died. In 2016, archaeologists discovered that there was a pool of liquid mercury underneath the grave site. Some historians speculate that this may have some religious significance. Whether or not these ancient peoples intended it for that purpose, liquid mercury has become a very effective way to ensure that their dead leaders can rest in peace without being disturbed.

Rivers of Mercury

Ancient writings say the emperor created an entire underground kingdom and palace, complete with a ceiling mimicking the night sky, set with pearls as stars. Pits full of terracotta concubines have never been discovered, though experts predict they exist somewhere in the complex.

And Qin Shi Huang's tomb is also thought to be encircled with rivers of liquid mercury, which the ancient Chinese believed could bestow immortality.

Some archaeologists believe this may be the cause of his death. He was taking mercury pills because he wanted to live forever. Unfortunately, it killed him by the age of 39.

That moat of mercury also presents another reason why archaeologists are loath to explore the tomb just yet — doing so would likely be very dangerous, according to soil samples around the tomb, which indicate extremely high levels of mercury contamination.

In the end, scientists and historians must always weigh their desire to know more with the damage such inquiry would cause.

Archaeology, ultimately, is a destructive science,they report. Materials have to be destroyed in order to learn about them.

 Opulent Burial

When he died, Qin Shi Huang was buried in the most opulent tomb complex ever constructed in China, a sprawling, city-size collection of underground caverns containing everything the emperor would need for the afterlife. The ancient Chinese, along with many cultures including ancient Egyptians, believed that items and even people buried with a person could be taken with him to the afterlife.

But instead of burying his armies, concubines, administrators and servants with him, Qin came up with an alternative: clay reproductions.


Beliefs About Illness
Top Immortals

Monday, October 29, 2018

Global Beadwork

About Beads

They are often small, decorative objects formed in a variety of shapes and sizes. Materials include stone, bone, shell, glass, plastic, wood and pearls with small holes for threading or stringing. 

Curators at the Museum of International Folk Art call glass beads "the ultimate migrants.  Where they start out is seldom where they end up. " 

Considering how as they travel around the world, lending themselves to regional interpretation (and use), they continue to be a source of knowledge, cultural expression, and highly prized items of adornment.

Beadwork Adorns the World is a special museum exhibit that runs through February 3,2019 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The focus is about what happens to the beads when they do arrive at their final destination- Africa, Borneo, Burma, Mexico, etc.

What do people do with them? How do they make them into items of clothing, jewelry, and more. The results often reveal important information about the makers and users. 

Want to know more? Click here

Thursday, October 4, 2018

5th Mystery Writers in Mausoleum

Special Thanks To Talented Writers/Readers:

John Lynch, Linda Saldana, David Gonzalez, 
Linda Lau, and Rachel Mansfield. 

Santa Rosa Memorial Park hosted the fifth Mystery Writers in the Mausoleum evening Thursday, October 25. The free event took place in the park's 102+year-old Odd Fellows mausoleum that is still without electricity.
The juried selection of local mystery and suspense writers and playwrights made the evening spectacular. From flash fiction to short stories to plays to folk legends to dramatic theatrical readings, it was a spell-binding event.

“This is a great way to showcase some of the area’s local talent,” said Tim Maloney, General Manager, Santa Rosa Memorial Park. The mausoleum, he added, was be the perfect setting for spine tingling suspense.

This event is sponsored by FolkHeart Press, a Sonoma County boutique publisher of folklore-related material. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Mausoleum after Dark

We Are Seeking Submissions For


7 pm-8:30 pm Thursday, October 25, 2018

Themes include: Suspense, Who-Dun-It, Supernatural (vampires, goblins, ghosts, etc.)
Sonoma County writers are invited to submit short stories (including flash and micro-fiction), folktales (including ghost stories), or creative non-fiction for our annual reading. Designed for all ages, this October event, sponsored by FolkHeart Press and hosted by Santa Rosa Memorial Park  is held in the park’s Alaskan Marble Odd Fellows  Mausoleum located at 1900 Franklin Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA.

  • Work  should take up to but NO MORE than 8 minutes to read aloud .
  • Email submission as word document or pdf by September 28, 2018 to Folk@FolkHeartPress.com .
  • Selected writers will be notified by October 5, 2018.
  • If selected, please be prepared to provide author jpeg photo and brief bio (including website or Facebook link) for promotional purposes.
Lighting will be provided by kerosene lamp and/or LED lanterns.

Santa Rosa Memorial Park hosted the first Mystery Writers in the Mausoleum in 2013. The event, sponsored by FolkHeart Press, takes place  in the park’s then 105-year old mausoleum. Prior collaborations with Redwood Writers, Sisters in Crime NorCal, and other Sonoma County literary groups, this event has gained a loyal and well versed following.

Bright luminaries line the entrance and lighting inside the Alaskan marbled room creates a “mystic yet mysterious” feel. 

The readers are diverse in their story telling, ranging from reading of novel, short stories, original dirges and  dramatic readings of such classic works as Frankenstein and Tell Tale Heart.

As Santa Rosa Memorial Park's General Manager Timothy Mahoney noted,  this was a great way to showcase some of Sonoma County’s literary talent, and give a real Halloween spook to our fellow Sonoma County residents.