If you missed part I of this series click here:

Sarah Ellen was described as beautiful and infatuated with ritual magic. According to the inscription on her tombstone, she was born in Blackburn, England in 1872 and died in 1913. There are several contradictory versions of the story, but the likeliest one posits that she died while her seafaring husband – one J. Roberts – was in Perú on business. On her deathbed, Sarah cursed the neighbors who accused her of being a witch, saying she would come back from the afterlife in eighty years to exact revenge. Not taking any chances, her body was shipped to her husband in Pisco, where it was buried. Another less gothic account states Sarah was the wife of a sea captain; she took ill when his ship pulled into the port of Pisco, died and was buried. Among the remedies she consumed to treat an unspecified malady was a red liquid — interpreted by some as a regular dose of blood.

Fact and fancy, thus intertwined, nested in the minds of the residents of the Peruvian city, passed along through generations until the year 1993, the predicted year of her resurrection. Crowds gathered in fear and excitement, wondering if the alleged vampire would come to life, and the authorities found it prudent to post extra security just in case. It was rumored that the slab covering the tomb had made a creaking sound, but the vampires did not emerge. This, too, was attributed to the fact that pilgrims and shamans had periodically come to pray at her tomb, in hopes of keeping the prophecy from coming to pass.

We shall end this section on a somewhat lighthearted note.

Cuban folklorist Gerardo Chavez’s Imaginario Popular: Mitología Cubana, a scholarly work, deals with the urban folklore of Havana and the legends that surround that city. One of them involved a 19th century grande dame who would have been considered a vampire by many, driven around the cobblestoned streets of Havana in a dark carriage, resembling a horse-drawn hearse, dressed in black. Described as a “pale and haggard woman who appeared to be on the verge of death”, her slim, veiled figure nonetheless projected an aura of unearthly mystery that men found alluring. The accoutrements of her colonial mansion were more proper to a funeral home.

Gerardo Chavez writes: “In this coffin-shaped bed she practiced the oldest trade in the world with the greatest discretion and skill for the high-ranking gentlemen of Havana. It is said that she was found well and truly dead one morning in her, apparently strangled by a client while playing at being lifeless, and was formally declared deceased.”

A 16th Century Poltergeist?

Anyone with a passing interest in the paranormal will remember “Gef the Talking Mongoose” – one of the strangest cases on record – involving an entity in the Isle of Man that held long conversations with the members of a household between 1931 and 1937. Around this same period of time, the Spanish city of Zaragoza was enthralled by its own “duende” (imp or goblin) that spoke to a family from the depths of a kitchen stove in 1934, becoming well known to readers of the local press and even overseas, as the London Times also carried stories of the unusual poltergeist.

A similar entity filled the chronicles of the Spanish settlers of the city of Valladolid in the year 1560, a scant thirty-five years after the destruction of the Aztec Empire.

Pedro Sánchez de Aguilar had been born five years before the first manifestations of the paranormal phenomenon. His grandfather had been among the first Spanish settlers in the Yucatan Peninsula and his siblings were “encomenderos” (land grant holders). As the youngest brother and landless, Pedro became a priest, rising to become a curate, the dean of the Mérida Cathedral, and hold other important posts. His writings on Mayan language and customs are still read today, but these are hardly as compelling as the story of the Duende de Valladolid, which appeared in Informe contra los adoradores de ídolos del obispado de Yucatán. (Barcelona: Linkgua 2007).

“The talking demon or goblin,” he writes, “would converse with anyone willing to do so between eight and ten o’clock at night, with all the candles out and in pitch darkness. The goblin spoke in the manner of a parrot, answering all questions posed by a noble Conquistador, Juan López de Mena, and yet another, Martín Ruiz de Arce. This goblin would speak and converse at these homes more than others, where he was asked to play the vihuela (a plucked string instrument), and it did so with great skill. It enjoyed doing this and laughed, but was not seen, nor did it allow itself to be seen.”

These displays of an amiable nature, however, were deceitful. “One cannot believe a demon,” cautioned Sanchez de Aguilar, “as they are the fathers of lies, untruths and seeders of discord. At times it would speak poorly of certain damsels, saying of one she had been mistreated by her stepfather. When asked who he was, he said he was a Christian, native of Old Castille, and would pray the Our Father and other prayers.”

Traditional poltergeist behavior was also part of its stock in trade, such as casting stones against walls and windows without causing any damage, and making noise on rooftops. A local cleric, writes the chronicler, tried to exorcise the spirit by visiting one of the homes where it normally made its presence felt. To this end, he concealed the preparations for the banishing ritual under his cloak, but the goblin did not materialize. After the priest departed, the entity laughed in the darkness and told those who remained: “The priest would like to seize me, but he will not. A surprise awaits him on his supper table.”

Apports – articles that appear or are transferred out of nowhere, produced by unseen entities – are common to poltergeist phenomena and were no exception here: when the priest returned home, he found plates of food on his table covered “with excrement from his mule” and the flagon of drink “filled with old mule piss.”

Artemio del Valle Arizpe, who included his own version of the story in his Obras Completas (Mexico: Libreros Mexicanos Unidos, 1959), describes the worsening of conditions following the incident with the priest. “The entire world lost the quiet enjoyment of its peace. The entire population was at a loss, and no saint in heaven would aid them. The goblin’s terrors and pranks became increasingly worse, sharpening his tongue against persons of good reputation.”

Sánchez de Aguilar’s original confirms this. “The Bishop, hearing of the lies of this goblin and the abuse directed at some, commanded that none should speak to [the entity] or make reply. Obeying these instructions, people ceased to address it, and this demon or goblin took to weeping and railing against the Bishop, making sharper noises and louder reports, astounding people and causing them to lose sleep. He then took to setting fires [unexplained fires being commonplace in poltergeist activity] to houses, which were largely made of straw and palm fronds. So the people asked the priest to find them a patron saint by drawing lots, promising to celebrate his feast with a procession to a convent.”

Picking up the story centuries later, Valle Arizpe writes that the chosen saint was Saint Clement, and that a carver of holy images “carved a statue of Saint Clement holding in his hand a chain to which a hideous demon was fastened, its mouth muzzled, covered in gold leaf.” The townspeople, however, failed in their promise to join the procession, and the priest took the statue to the convent alone.

“This goblin fell silent for over thirty or forty years,” writes Sánchez de Aguilar, “until the year 1596, when I was a priest in that town…it set fires to the huts of the poor Indians, and I was summed by devout Indians to conjure it and banish it from their village [Yalcoba], where it would enter at noon or one o’clock without fail in a whirlwind, kicking up a dust with a noise of storm and stone.”

Religious ceremonies seemed to offer only temporary relief against the entity, which ceased its activity in Yalcoba only to return to Valladolid, continuing its fire-starting activity. The Spanish settlers, notes the chronicler, believed that the cause was to be found in the native sorcerers and enchanters that filled the area. “This is a veracious and well-grounded belief,” he says, “as I myself kept a prisoner from the town of Tecoc, a great idolater, enchanter who would seize a viper or rattlesnake with certain gentle words to invoke the prince of darkness. I wrote them down out of curiosity, and they are not worthy of pen or paper.”


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