See You in 2018!


Thus ends the 2017 Halloween Season.

I leave you with some pictures of what Halloween is like in Ireland. On October 30th, we attended the Macnas Parade in Dublin, a beautiful, magical event that ushers out the light half of the year and welcomes in the dark half.

We spent October 31st itself at a bonfire on the Hill of Ward, where Samhain has been celebrated annually for over 5,000 years. There I felt the sacred history of the holiday more strongly than ever.

Thank you all for sharing some of your autumn with me! I look forward to seeing you again in Fall 2018.


Happy Halloween!!!

Well, everybody, Halloween is finally here! It’s always a bit sad to reach October 31, since it’s the final 24 hours of the season. But it’s also the Grand Finale! And I hope you all enjoy every second of the very best day of the year.

I’m in Ireland — birthplace of Samhain — as I write this, and I’m pleased to report that Halloween is a widely celebrated holiday here.

Here’s an Irish photographer I discovered yesterday in Dublin, Neil Armstrong Jude. His beautiful work captures the experience of being in this vibrant city.

Though my iPhone photos can’t possibly compare, you can view them on the Skeleton Key’s Tumblr page.

Yesterday I attended the Bram Stoker Festival Horror Expo, a conference that covered a variety of spooky topics and included a talk by David J. Skal, author of one of my favorite nonfiction books about Halloween, Death Makes a Holiday.

Here are some interesting things I learned:

-Goths don’t only wear black. Behold the “pastel goth” and the “guro Lolita,” Japanese fashion styles incorporating light shades and gory bloodstains.

-Bela Lugosi was buried in full Dracula costume and makeup (now that’s dedication!).

-It’s too late to buy a mask for tonight, but you can still marvel at the horrifying craftsmanship of Immortal Masks.

-Here’s a nifty list of defining horror films for each year since Psycho (1960).

And finally, even if, like me, you’re not in New York City right now, you can still enjoy this NYT gallery of revelers in their costumes.

Wishing you all a VERY happy October 31st!!

Sign Language

To paraphrase something I read online once: What if emoji use continues to become more and more popular, until it finally replaces alphabetic words and we all revert to hieroglyphs?

You never know; it could happen. I mean, Finland Instagram users are already using emoji characters for over 60% of their messages!

Emoji means “picture character” in Japanese, and it describes a graphic depiction of an object, animal, facial expression, weather condition, or other miscellany.

And people don’t always agree on what an emoji means. Take for example the by far most frequently used emoji of all — the “laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying” face (which won the Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” title in 2015): Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 8.02.01 AM

Many have mistaken even this popular symbol to mean its opposite: bawling tears of sadness.

The first Halloween-appropriate emojis were introduced in 2010 and include the pumpkin, the ghost, and the skull (sans crossbones). Newer additions include the spider, the coffin, and the bat.

The most frequently used of these (which is also in the top ten overall at the time of this post) is the skull: Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 8.02.23 AM

However, it’s impossible to predict how this and other emoji will be used in context. Just like words, emoji symbols are applied creatively to original ideas, so their exact meanings are constantly in flux. And the skull, at least recently, has often been used to mean “This kills me” (usually metaphorically) or general disapproval (placed after a description of a hated event or celebrity, for example), rather than with text related to Halloween.

The second-most-common Halloween Emoji is the “Japanese ogre,” which is a shout-out to Oni, a wicked demon that tricks and devours humans. (And I thought it was just a devil mask.)

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The classic jack-o-lantern Emoji is most likely to be tied directly to Halloween itself. It’s usually accompanied by “fall-centric” text and comments about pumpkin-related products (see: PSL).

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The ghost Emoji has been declared an all-around perfect multi-use symbol whose semantic reach extends far beyond October. It can be used for the slang term of endearment “Boo” or to signify the Modern Millennial’s Predicament of being “ghosted” by a would-be lover.

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 8.02.40 AM(Philosophical question: IS this actually a ghost, or a person in a ghost costume? Note the pink tongue, suggesting some kind of vitality.)

Regardless of emojis’ inherent semantic wiggle room, the “bloody syringe” will always be unambiguous, as this little New Girl clip can attest.

King of the North(ern European Retailer)

Throwing together a last-minute costume might not require standing in long lines at your local Spirit Halloween or Party City.

Instead, you can just head to IKEA.

An Esquire article states: “During a talk at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Michele Clapton, who designed the costumes for [Game of Thrones] Seasons One through Five and returned for this season, revealed the secret about the Night’s Watch furs. ‘These capes are actually IKEA rugs,’ she said, to applause. ‘We take anything we can. We cut, and then we shaved them, and then we added strong leather straps.’ ”

Yes, you read that right: Jon Snow’s famous fur comes from our favorite affordable Swedish furnishing store. And it only costs $14.99.

IKEA has even released instructions on how to put the look together. And, with only three steps total, it looks like their easiest assembly ever.

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Football Season

I don’t personally like sports, but I always notice that football starts up right around the time Halloween festivities are in full swing.

So, in honor of this fall sport, I’d like to share the following clever parody ad from SNL. It’s like a scene from The Stepford Wives, crossed with The Twilight Zone.

Make sure you watch the whole video (it’s short) until you reach the bizarre twist!

Heading for the Future

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-6-35-41-pmHe’s been called “Dr. Frankenstein” and dismissed as “out of his mind.” He has successfully created living two-headed mice, and fully expects to receive the Nobel Prize someday. He even published a book on seduction techniques in the 90s called Donne Scoperte (translation: Women Uncovered).

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Dr. Canavero.

Surgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero from Italy claims, perhaps overconfidently, that he will perform the world’s first head transplant in December of this year, despite a barrage of surgical, ethical, and financial hurdles.

According to the Observer, the procedure involves the following rather grisly steps:

“Dr. Canavero will begin his attempt by cooling the volunteer’s body to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and severing both his head and the brain-dead donor’s head from their respective bodies and spinal cords. Polyethylene glycol will be used to connect the volunteer’s head with the spinal cord of the donor’s body. The plan is to induce the volunteer into a coma for a month while blood and new nerve networks rebuild in hopes that the body doesn’t reject the head—an inherent type of risk in all transplant procedures. In addition to the spine, [the] head will also have to be reconnected to airways, the esophagus and blood vessels.”

The idea raises a host of interesting questions. First, in actuality, who is the “donor”? We tend to think of our identities as housed in our brains, but plenty of non-Western cultures think that the heart is our center of consciousness. Plus, burgeoning research proves that bacteria in our digestive system determines much of our mood and behavior.

Also, assuming the procedure is successful, if the surviving patient has a child, whose child will it actually be?

And, far in the future, if this “head transplant” thing actually catches on, where will we find all the bodies willing to be sacrificed to support our heads? (By the way, Dr. Canavero’s answer: “Cloning will come into play.”)

If all of this is starting to remind you of Re-Animator, you’re not alone. The majority of the scientific community is skeptical of Dr. Canavero’s project; his hospital in Italy even fired him back in 2015. But thus far, his trial experiments with animals have been successful. Most recently, he severed the spinal cords of 9 rats and fused them back together, and 8 of the rats survived and were able to move afterward without any side effects.

But can this be repeated with a human being? It certainly seems improbable, because of very real medical concerns, like keeping the severed head “alive” long enough and preventing the excruciating pain (which one critic predicted would be “worse than death”) that may result as the body adjusts to its foreign addition.

Nevertheless, Dr. Canavero still seems to be forging ahead (pun intended) with his ambitious plan.

Read more here and here. (And thanks to my friend and star neuroscientist Karen for first making me aware of this news!)


Interview with the (REAL) Vampire

Believe it or not, vampires are not just supernatural beings who sleep in coffins and morph into flying bats. Some humans report that they need blood or energy from other living sources to survive. These individuals are part of a subculture that is often misunderstood.

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The famous fictional monster Nosferatu.

Today the Skeleton Key presents an exclusive interview with an intriguing person named Merticus, an antique dealer who self-identifies as a vampire and was a founding member of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance. Read below for his thoughts on vampirism and his clarifications about what it really means to be a vampire.

What are “real vampires” like?

“Vampires aren’t always sulking around graveyards, attending Goth nightclubs, or feasting at blood orgies.  There are real vampire organizations who feed the homeless, volunteer in animal rescue groups, and who take up any number of social causes.  We’re actively involved in our local communities and are often not afraid to do so under the ‘vampire’ banner.  We recognize how ‘crazy’ it sounds when we refer to ourselves as ‘vampires’, however, at the end of the day after explaining to people that we are human beings who believe we must take the energy or blood from others and use it for ourselves, it ultimately comes back to the word ‘vampire’.  This is simultaneously the greatest inhibitor for us being understood by the general public while also serving as one of the greatest allures and even means to attract donors.”

From Merticus’s personal collection.

When did you first realize you were a vampire?

“I was aware at an early age of unexplained phenomena and underwent experiences some would deem paranormal or even disturbingly spiritual.  I recognized an innate ability to seemingly without effort bend persons or situations to my will.  I had a natural predilection to draw strength from charged situations — intensely ‘feeding,’ if you will, from conflict brought about by others.  I felt a pull to find others of like mind and experience.  This began as experimentation in feeding from ‘psychic’ or life energies and later progressed after research into the vampire community into feeding from small quantities of blood.  The more proficient I became, the more pronounced the hunger or urge to feed grew — finding a balance is something vampires struggle to cultivate over many years.

My first experience with blood feeding occurred within a relationship where my significant other was also my donor; both of us were in our mid-20’s.  Depending on the individual and their background, over the years these feedings have been ranged from highly ritualistic to being intertwined with sadomasochism — always performed privately, safely, and consensually.  It’s an intimate and private event shared between two persons who connect on the deepest of levels.  As I run my fingers over the body or draw breaths close to the skin, I can feel a connection or link being established that allows me to draw the energy to myself or cycle reciprocally.  A calming energetic vibration or tingling sensation fused with an intense heightening of virtually all of my senses envelops me when I’ve fed at a deep level with someone whose etheric body aligns with my own.  I generally identify as a tantric or sexual vampire but recognize blood is often more potent and has an undeniable psychological component.  My first blood feeding was performed with a tortoise shell lancet made by Evans London that I keep stored in an ornately engraved sterling silver lancet case from 1850.  I’m not a fan of pedestrian experiences — albeit vampiric, sexual, or life in general.  If we’re not continually refining all aspects of our lives as we age, then we’re not achieving our potential and wasting the gifts and time on this earth we’ve been given.  I married a non-vampire who is also my donor and our relationship couldn’t be stronger.”

More from his collection.

Describe the donor’s experience.

“The feeling of the donor after feeding may range from a state of euphoria to complete exhaustion and even confusion.  Proper aftercare for donors is important whether you are feeding from blood or from psychic energy and varies greatly depending on the individual.  It’s important to get to intimately know your donor, their medical history, emotional health, and even mental state.  Vampires also have to be cognizant of the connection that can form between a donor and vampire after feeding.  While this connection can be rewarding and mutually beneficial, it can also be psychologically unhealthy if manifested in the extreme.  Much of the appeal to vampirism lies in our adeptness at shielding, grounding, and centering energy as well as controlling emotional and sometimes behavioral situations.  Some of us are able to utilize healing techniques for ourselves and others, instinctually interpret empathic impressions, and many of us have an overall heightened perception or clarity of the world around us. I feel an intense and prolonged wave of energy wash over me when I feed — I’m at one with my surroundings while deeply entwined with the one I’m feeding from.

The relationship of a donor (sometimes known as a ‘black swan’) and vampire are not always romantic or based around sexual intimacy.  While it’s often ideal for a vampire to find someone who can satisfy the role of a significant other and a donor, this does not always work out.  Some vampires have blood donors, energy donors, and even tantric donors aside from their spouse or partner.  Some marriage rites between vampires include the exchange of blood in a chalice or mixed with wine.  Some vampires engage in polyamourous relationships where one or both cycle donors as needed.”

What is problematic about the “vampire” label?

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Image from Merticus’s website.

“Many eclectic spiritualists and chaos practitioners use the concept of the vampire as a powerful egregore in their beliefs and practices.  The true power of the vampire rests not in his proficiency at extinguishing life, but in his ability to transubstantiate our fears into enticing visions of lust, pleasure, and even pain.  Even though I’m not a fan of the ‘vampire’ label, if for no other reason than it often clouds people’s perception of who we are, I nevertheless choose to adopt the term.  Vampirism is fundamentally an extension of who I am on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level; a facet of everyday life and the lens through which I view the world. It’s as much a part of who I am as is one’s familial heritage, genetic makeup, mental aptitude, or even personality (INTJ by the way).  My association with vampirism arises not out of faith in something unseen or the need to distinguish myself from others, but from a peace in knowing that I have a certain awareness that others may or may not possess and it is to what end I use this awareness that defines me as an individual, not a label I choose to adopt or is given to me by society.”

What happens if a vampire does not obtain blood or energy?

“Many vampires complain of severe headaches, a sense of pain throughout their bodies, and extreme weakness.  Some complain of a craving or hunger that they can’t seem to satiate with food or drink.  Those who are fortunate find a donor to help them cope with these issues, while fewer learn to adapt their personal ‘vampirism’ into a powerful and corporeal force.  In 2010 I began examining the correlations of sanguinarian (blood drinking) and psychic vampires who responded to the Vampirism & Energy Work Research Study (VEWRS) I wrote back in 2006-2007 — nearly 1,000 individuals — specifically respondents with a significant comorbidity of asthma, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.  A far greater than normal prevalence rate (52% of respondents with one or more of the above diagnosed conditions) was observed with links to endocrine system and adrenal or pituitary dysfunction; serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine along with those who reported taking SNRIs.  When thyroid, migraines, and insomnia were included the percentage rose to 58% of all respondents reporting one or more of these ten diagnosed conditions.  This also corresponded with the age (teens) during which many reported psychic abilities or paranormal activities; a period of increased hormonal changes.  For some these abilities or perceptions abated and for others they persisted well into adulthood.  It’s those who claim these psychic abilities or a need to ‘feed’ off pranic/chi/subtle energies or blood well past puberty and into their 30’s-50’s that’s of particular interest and is an area I’d like to see genetic and other medical testing conducted in the future.”

Tell us about the groups you’ve been involved in.

“In 2005, four individuals and I founded the Atlanta Vampire Alliance as a local psychic and sanguinarian real vampire organization or ‘House’.  Today, we’re a relatively close-knit friend group of thirteen individuals representing an eclectic slice of the modern vampire community.  Most of us are in our thirties and forties and identify spiritually as everything from Christians, Agnostics, Luciferians, or Eclectic Neo-Pagans of our own stripe.  Our membership includes everyone from rocket scientists to nurses and our focus is largely academic and centered offline.  When we’re not writing 1,000 question research surveys or giving PowerPoint presentations on real vampirism, many of us enjoy social gatherings which range from upscale restaurants or coffee and dessert bars to the weekend Goth or Industrial club scene.

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One of the many publications to which Merticus has contributed.

The majority of our involvement among ourselves transpires offline but we’ve worked hard to maintain a visible online presence through our various websites/forums, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.  We’ve sponsored numerous offline gatherings, cultural events, club nights, and the Atlanta Vampire Meetup Group.  We’ve welcomed many individuals to dine and drink with us from other Houses and groups when they’ve visited Atlanta and collectively have met hundreds of people from the vampire community.  There are vibrant and organized vampire communities in cities and countries all over the world.”


Thank you, Merticus, for offering us a window into a very fascinating way of life!

Halloween Mix 2017

Looking for some music to enhance your Halloween celebrating? Relax; I got you. It’s time for the Skeleton Key’s officially sanctioned creepy playlist!

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Because I’ve made over a dozen unique Halloween Mixes in my day, the song choices in this compilation are more creative than ever. (“Monster Mash” and “Thriller” were played out long ago.) It includes some string instrumentals, a creepy video-game track, and even a song by that Ned Flanders band I told you about a few weeks ago, Okilly Dokilly (you might wanna wear earplugs for that one).

All of the songs are fun and eerie in some way or another and should make a nice soundtrack for carving pumpkins, hanging spider webs, or gorging yourself on candy (y’know, however you like to spend an October evening…).

I used YouTube to make this year’s playlist (instead of Spotify, which requires a sign-in).

Here’s how it works: Simply click HERE to access the playlist, and then select “Play All” to listen to all 17 songs in succession. Then you can just crank up your speakers and walk away (no need to watch the videos, since the clips were chosen for their audio tracks).

Enjoy the spooky tunes!


The Season of the Witch

Late last night I returned from my annual October trip to Salem, MA. As always, it was spellbinding.

(Check out this blog’s Tumblr page to see more of the photos I took on the trip.)

Our itinerary included taking a historic tour of the town, listening to ghost stories in the infamous Witch House, getting a Tarot reading, attending a performance of Poe classics by a talented Poe expert, watching actors depict scenes from Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables inside the titular house itself, and driving an hour north to visit Haunted Overload.

What a weekend! And there are too many other, unplanned details for me to describe (like running into William Ragsdale from 1985’s Fright Night), and quieter moments like stumbling outside one night to be enveloped by a thick fog, which made all of the town’s orange Halloween lights and neon signs bleed into the air.

One delightful surprise that I would be remiss not to mention is discovering the illustrations of Salem artist Bill Crisafi. I encountered just two of his prints at a little store called Witch City Wicks, and that was all it took to make me an immediate fan.

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His style is kind of like Edward Gorey’s, if Edward Gorey had disturbing visions and drew more adults.

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Here’s Bill’s website, which includes a shop. The hardest part is deciding what not to buy. So much witchy magic!

Tiny Rooms

Shadowbox artist Andy Acres creates highly detailed, three-dimensional scenes that capture both hyperrealism and an otherworldly spookiness.

I mean, doesn’t it feel like you can just step into this room?

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Hard to believe it’s a fabrication rather than an actual space.

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Here are a few other examples of Andy’s beautiful work.

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His scenes are made with wood, plastics, and even painted masking tape. Each box is backlit, has a glass front, and a stylish flip-switch on the side to operate the light.

Here’s his Etsy shop. The pieces are, understandably, expensive. (And if a rich person is reading this, I’m taking donations! 🙂 Haha.)

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