Heather Greene at the Wild Hunt discusses legend-tripping, activities in which youths travel to locations alleged to be the sites of supernatural horrors as a test of bravery. After her own tales, we get to the idea that these activities take people to the edge of the normal, into kind of a liminal space, which is sort of where paganism and the occult exist.
What does legend-tripping have to do with Paganism? A whole lot. Most trips involve the seeking out of the paranormal or the Occult (e.g. The Blair Witch Project.) In many cases, the teens use what they imagine to be magic in order to intensify the experience. In Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live (2003), Bill Ellis explains that “teens often fabricate evidence of cult sacrifices, even to the extent of killing animals and leaving occult symbols behind at the site.” (Page 162) He includes legend-tripping examples such as this one from Ohio which “focuses [on five] small cemeteries [which] contain the graves of witches and therefore serve as a meeting place for black magic.” (p 223) These cemeteries reportedly form a geographical pentagram.
This teenage rite-of-passage grazes the “outer banks” of Paganism through its connection to the Occult. As such, we need to be aware of its practice. On the one hand, the legend-trip may be the first way a teen, as a genuine seeker, experiences the Craft. On the other hand, the Occult connection may perpetuate negative stereotypes about Witchcraft and associated Pagan religions.
There is yet one last relationship between Paganism and legend-tripping. This teenage activity is part of a broader anthropological concept called “ostention.” Gail de Vos defines ostension as “the process by which people act out themes or events found within folk narratives… The legends are believed and acted upon and then the new stories are told and retold to validate the original legends.”
When I was a kid, there was an abandoned house at the corner of a fairly busy commercial area. It was run down and boarded up, old, and surrounded enough by trees that while you could see it was there from the commercial area, you could still access it without being seen. Oh, and it was right next to a cemetery!
The story was that there had been some murders in the house, and that it was haunted, and that the hauntings had prompted the suicide, and somehow Satan worship was involved.
Some friends of mine and I went there once, parking at a nearby apartment and walking up through the cemetery. The house was built into a hill, and while the ground level entrances were boarded up, there was a window above a stairway that we were able to climb into. So there we were, a bunch of teenagers in an empty, abandoned house with occultish looking graffiti on the wall. And then the flashlight exploded.
Not like a huge “kaboom” with fire and whatnot, and the case didn’t fly apart. But the bulb in the flashlight suddenly popped for no apparent reason, and we freaked the hell out. Picture six teenagers trying to squeeze through a window that exited over an 8 foot drop over a stairway in a blind panic at night while trying to stay quiet enough not to draw undue attention. L. O. L.
It was one of my first real experiences with a liminal space, and whether that liminality was already present or created by our expectations and fear, it was still real. And it gave me a perspective into the weird, and affected how I viewed the world.
The house is gone now. Some kids were messing around in it and set a fire. My friends and I were scandalized and upset – I wouldn’t have thought of it as sacred space at the time, but it certainly was. We never verified the backstories, never confirmed the murders/suicides. But the story lives on.