These magical creatures where capable of both good and evil. They where similar to the fairies and gnomes of Europe. They are usually described as being knee-high or even smaller. Their name literally means ‘person of the wilderness’ and are considered to be spirits of the forest. In some traditions, they have a sweet smell and are associated with flowers.

Their stories come from Algonquian folklore. They are told throughout the northeastern United States, southeastern Canada, and the Great Lakes region but their stories differ between tribes. In the Ojibwe and other Great Lakes tribes, the pukwudgie (or bagwajinini) is considered a mischievous but basically good-natured creature who plays tricks on people but is not dangerous. In the Abenaki and other northeast Algonquian tribes, a pukwudgie (or bokwjimen) can be dangerous, but only to people who treat him with disrespect. In the Wampanoag and other tribes of southern New England, pukwudgies are capricious and dangerous creatures who may play harmless tricks or even help a human neighbor, but are just as likely to steal children or commit deadly acts of sabotage. According to some Wampanoag stories, pukwudgies were enemies of the culture hero Maushop and were even responsible for his death (or the deaths of his sons.) Pukwudgies have magical powers which vary from tribe to tribe but may include the ability to turn invisible, confuse people or make them forget things, shapeshift into cougars or other dangerous animals, or bring harm to people by staring at them


Unsinkable Sam the Cat

This cat allegedly survived not one or two sinkings but three. I am sure he used up a few of his 9 lives.

Originally named Oscar he saw service in both the Kriegsmarine and Royal Navy during the WWII. He was a black and white patched cat and had been owned by an unknown crewman of the German battleship Bismarck. He was on board the ship on May 18, 1941 when it set sail on Operation Rheinübung. Bismarck was sunk after a fierce sea-battle on May 27 , from which only 118 from its crew of over 2,200 survived. Hours later, Oscar was found floating on a board and picked from the water, the only survivor (alongside 114 others) to be rescued by the homeward-bound British destroyer HMS Cossack. This is were he picked up the name Oscar. He became the crew of Cossack’s new mascot.

The cat served on board Cossack for the next few months as the ship carried out convoy escort duties in the Mediterranean and north Atlantic. On October 24, 1941, Cossack was escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to Great Britain when it was severely damaged by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U-563. Crew were transferred to the destroyer HMS Legion, and an attempt was made to tow the the Cossack but this failed. The ship would end up sinking. The initial explosion had blown off one third of the forward section of the ship, killing 159 of the crew, but Oscar survived this too and was brought to the shore establishment in Gibraltar.

Now nicknamed “Unsinkable Sam”, he was soon transferred to the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, which coincidentally had been instrumental in the destruction of Bismarck. When returning from Malta on November 14, 1941, this ship too was torpedoed, this time by U-81. The carrier rolled over and sank 30 miles from Gibraltar. The slow rate at which the ship sank meant that all but one of the crew could be saved. The survivors, including Sam, who had been found clinging to a floating plank by a motor launch, was described as “angry but quite unharmed” was transferred to HMS Lightning and the same HMS Legion which had rescued the crew of Cossack. Legion would itself be sunk in 1942, and Lightning in 1943.

Sam’s shipborne career would come to an end when he was transferred first to the offices of the Governor in Gibraltar, and then sent back to the United Kingdom, where he saw out the remainder of the war living in a seaman’s home in Belfast called the “Home for Sailors”.

Sadly, Sam passed in 1955. In tribute a pastel portrait of Sam (titled “Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat”) by the artist Georgina Shaw-Baker was done and now is in the possession of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Some people question the validity of Sam’s story, classing it as a ‘sea story’. The sinking of the Bismarck, and rescue of a limited number of survivors, took place in desperate conditions; British ships were ordered not to stop as there was believed to be a U-boat in the area and many survivors were left to drown. There is also no mention of this incident in Ludovic Kennedy’s detailed account of the sinking.


The White Ship Disaster

On November 25, 1120 the newly refitted vessel the White Ship captained by Thomas FitzStephen White Ship sank in the English Channel near the Normandy coast off Barfleur. Only one of those aboard survived. William Adelin, the only legitimate son and heir of King Henry I of England, his half-sister Matilda, and his half-brother Richard would be one of many to drown. Adelin’s death would lead to a succession crisis and a period of civil war in England known as the Anarchy.

FitzStephen offered his ship to Henry I of England to use to return to England from Barfleur in Normandy. Henry had already made other arrangements, but allowed many in his party to take the White Ship, including his heir, William Adelin; his illegitimate son Richard of Lincoln; his illegitimate daughter Matilda FitzRoy, Countess of Perche; and many other nobles. According to chronicler Orderic Vitalis, the crew asked William Adelin for wine and he supplied it to them in great abundance. By the time the ship was ready to leave there were about 300 people on board although some had disembarked due to the excessive drinking before the ship sailed.

FitzStephen, was ordered by the revellers to overtake the king’s ship, which had already sailed. The White Ship was fast, of the best construction and had recently been fitted with new materials, which made the captain and crew confident they could reach England first. But when it set off in the dark, its port side struck a submerged rock called Quillebœuf, and the ship quickly capsized. William Adelin got into a small boat and could have escaped but turned back to try to rescue his half-sister, Matilda, when he heard her cries for help. His boat was swamped by others trying to save themselves, and William drowned along with them. According to Orderic Vitalis, only two survived by clinging to the rock that night. One was Berold (Beroldus or Berout), a butcher from Rouen; the second eventually drowned, Geoffrey, the son of Gilbert of Laigle. The chronicler further wrote that when Thomas FitzStephen came to the surface after the sinking and learned that William Adelin had not survived, he let himself drown rather than face the King. One legend holds that the ship was doomed because priests were not allowed to board it in the customary manner.

Approximately 250, including servants and marines. Of these, 140 were knights or noblemen and 18 were noblewomen. Over the next few days a few bodies found there way ashore, but William’s body was never found.


Yama God of Death

17309458_432827577059330_7756345657675019337_nYama or Yamarāja, also called Imra, is a god of death, the south direction and the underworld, belonging to an early stratum of Rigvedic Hindu deities. In Sanskrit, his name can be interpreted to mean “twin”. In the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, he is called “Yima”. According to the Vishnu Purana, his parents are the sun-god Surya and Sandhya. In Hinduism he is the twin brother of Yami, brother of Shraddhadeva_Manu and the step brother of Shani. He is sometimes depicted riding a buffalo.

In Hinduism, Yama is the lokapala (“Guardian of the Directions”) of the south and the son of Brahma. He has two dogs with four legs and wide nostrils guarding the road to his home. He wields a leash with which he seizes the lives of people who are about to die.

In the Vedas, Yama is said to have been the first mortal who died. By virtue of precedence, he became the ruler of the departed, and is called “Lord of the Pitrs”. Yama entered Buddhist mythology when he was mentioned in the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism. He is otherwise also called as “Dharmaraja”. He is said to judge the dead and preside over the Narakas (“Hells” or “Purgatories”) and the cycle of rebirth.

Naraka in Hinduism serves only as a temporary purgatory where the soul is purified of sin by its suffering. In Hindu mythology, Naraka holds many hells, and Yama directs departed souls to the appropriate one. He may also direct the soul to a Swarga (heaven) or return it to Bhoomi (earth). Good and bad deeds are not considered to cancel each other out, the same soul may spend time in both a hell and a heaven. The seven Swargas are: Bhuvas, Swas (governed by Indra), Tharus, Thaarus, Savithaa, Prapithaa, and Maha (governed by Brahma).


Götz of the Iron Hand

Gottfried “Götz” von Berlichingen was born around 1480 into the noble family of Berlichingen in modern-day Württemberg. In 1497, Gotz entered the service of Frederick I, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. In 1498, he fought in the armies of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, seeing action in Burgundy, Lorraine, and the Brabant, and in the Swabian War the following year. By 1500, he had left the service of Frederick, and formed a company of mercenaries, selling his services to various Dukes, Margraves, and Barons. In 1504, Gotz and his mercenaries fought for Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria. During the siege of the city of Landshut, a cannonball hit the knight’s sword, moving it with such force that it sliced off his hand. Instead of retiring he had two mechanical prosthetic iron replacements made.

The first of these was a simple device that consisted of a glove with a thumb and fingers attached to it, and is said to have been made by a village blacksmith and saddle maker. The fingers could be brought inward, hence allowing Gotz to grip his sword. Some aesthetic attention was paid to the prosthetic during the creation, as certain life-like details where found on it. For instance, sculpted fingernails and wrinkles at the knuckles can be seen on it.

The second device extended to the end of the knight’s forearm, and was held in place with a leather strap. Gotz decided to have joints on its fingers, which offered him a better grip of his weapon. Furthermore, spring-loaded mechanisms were placed within the hand, which allowed the fingers to be locked into place. With this prosthesis he was able to hold the reins of his horse, and even pick up a quill to write.

In 1512, near the town of Forchheim, due to a long running and bitter feud with Nuremberg he raided a group of Nuremberg merchants returning from the great fair at Leipzig. Emperor Maximilian placed Gotz under an Imperial ban. He was only released from this in 1514, when he paid the large sum of 14,000 gulden. In 1516, in a feud with the Principality of Mainz and its Prince-Archbishop, he and his company mounted a raid into Hesse, capturing Philip IV, Count of Waldeck, in the process. A ransom of 8,400 gulden was paid for the safe return of the count. For this action, he was again placed under the ban in 1518.17424836_432591543749600_2866582467839213019_n

In 1519, he signed up in the service of Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, who was at war with the Swabian League. He fought in the defence of Möckmühl, but eventually was forced to surrender the town, due to a lack of food and ammunition. In violation of the terms of surrender, he was held prisoner and handed over to the citizens of Heilbronn, a town he had raided several times. His fellow knights Georg von Frundsberg and Franz von Sickingen successfully argued for his release in 1522, but only after he paid a ransom of 2,000 gulden and swore not to take vengeance on the League.

In 1525, with the outbreak of the German Peasants’ War, he led the rebels in the district of Odenwald against the Ecclesiastical Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this, he claimed he was not a fervent supporter of their cause. He agreed to lead the rebels partly because he had no other way out. Despite his wishes to stop wanton violence, Gotz found himself powerless to control the rebels and after a month of leadership he deserted his command and returned to the Schloss Jagsthausen to sit out the rest of the rebellion.

After the Imperial victory, he was called before the Diet of Speyer to account for his actions. On October 17, 1526, he was acquitted by the Imperial chamber. Despite this, in November 1528 he was lured to Augsburg by the Swabian League, who were eager to settle old scores. After reaching Augsburg under promise of safe conduct, and while preparing to clear himself of the old charges against him made by the league, he was seized and made prisoner until 1530 when he was liberated, but only after repeating his oath of 1522 and agreeing to return to his Burg Hornberg and remain in that area. Gotz agreed to this, and remained near the Hornberg until Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, released him from his oath in 1540. He served under Charles in the 1542 campaign against the Ottoman Empire of Suleyman the Magnificent in Hungary, and in 1544 in the Imperial invasion of France under Francis I of France.

After the French campaign, he returned to the Hornberg and lived out the rest of his life. He married twice and had three daughters and seven sons. He died on July 23, 1562 in Hornberg Castle. He prosthetic arm is on display at the Jagsthausen Castle.