Sunday, 21 August 2016

Chasing the Ghost of Grossman House - Maitland

Last weekend I held a ghost tour at Grossman and Brough Houses on Church Street Maitland.
Originally Maitland consisted of three separate towns which arose roughly all around the same time. West Maitland, now just Maitland, was a privately founded town which grew because of its proximity to the Hunter river and which today is the commercial centre of the city.

The other areas were East Maitland, which was established by the colonial New South Wales government, and Morpeth, another private town founded by Lieutenant Close, a Peninsular War veteran.
Each town functioned as if they were separate municipalities.

I was born in Maitland and lived there with my parents until 1976 when my father lost his job and was forced to look for part time work in Newcastle to make ends meet.
We moved to Wallsend, Newcastle and I have lived in that city ever since.

To be honest I really didnt like Maitland when I was growing up. In fact many of the areas scared me to death.
As I grew older things changed and what seemed scary to me when I was small now intrigued me.
By the time I was a teenager my head was constantly in books and  I used to do a lot of walking and exploring on the weekends.
I was pretty much a geek from early on - not into sports or social gatherings but I loved to look at the old buildings around Horseshoe Bend, Lorn and inner Maitland.
I used to go with my parents when they visited their friends.They would sit for hours on the weekends over coffees and cake and  I would go for walks and wonder what and who lived inside some of those grand old buildings.


 But, back to the houses.

Isaac Beckett and Samuel Owen were born in Sheffield England in 1810 and 1811 respectively. They grew up together and were firm friends.
They came to Maitland in 1838 and set up their own general store in the commercial centre of Maitland. The store was proclaimed as ‘General Merchants, Tailors, and Wool Brokers, Wine Spirit and Tobacco Merchants’ and sold everything that settlers might need. The merchandise ranged from candlesticks to firearms. Over the years their business prospered.

                                                                                                 The Store in Maitland

Their harmonious relationship in business extended to their personal and family relationships and resulted in their building the two adjoining homes in Church Street in a flood free area and almost opposite the Church of St Mary the Virgin.
This was the most prestigious address in Maitland.

The homes were built in the early 1870s on an elevated block of land which had been part of the estate of the late George Yeomans. William White was employed as the architect to design and supervise the construction of their two family homes.

Entcliffe (now known as Grossman House) was built for Isaac Beckett and Brough House for Samuel Owen. They were designed as mirror images of each other which further reflected the close ties that existed between the two families. The principal entrance of each residence was located on the outer side wall. This afforded a degree of privacy. Both residences shared a common laundry.

Isaac Beckett died in 1888 and Samuel Owen in 1884. Their properties were left to their children. Entcliffe was sold to Mr James Downs Prentice in 1890. Samuel Owen Jr lived in Brough House until he died in 1904. Brough House was then sold to John Rigney who occupied it until his death in 1918.

In 1893 the Beckett’s home, Entcliffe, was resumed by the then Department of Public Instruction as the new home for Maitland Girls’ High School which had been flooded out from the Manse in Free Church Street by the disastrous 1893 flood. It was purchased for 4,709 pounds.
In total 50 pupils with their headmistress Janette Grossman moved into the new premises.

                                                                                                     Janette Grossman

Janette Grossman remained as headmistress until 1914 when she was transferred to North Sydney Girls’ High School. Her period as headmistress became part of the school legend. Under her strong leadership the school became one of the most respected institutions in the community.

Entcliffe became known as “Grossmann House” in 1935 when a name plaque was donated by the Sydney Branch of the Old Girls’ Union. The building served as Maitland Girls’ High School until 1964 when the school was relocated to larger premises at East Maitland.

In 1918 the Department of Education purchased Brough House to use as a hostel for the many country students attending Maitland Girls’ High School.

In 1964 the Department of Education granted permissive occupancy of the house to the Hunter Regional Trust to develop it into a house museum of the Victorian period. The building was opened to the public on the 4 June 1966. Today an extensive collection of nineteenth century costumes and textiles are held there, reflecting the lifestyle and industry of the region. Internally the house accurately reflects the lives and lifestyle of its inhabitants and generates a prosperous Victorian ambience.

Our tour started with everyone just taking time to explore the two houses with no information given to them.
Two houses to investigate, so very different as they are, is quite something to behold!
A dream situation for any ghost hunter to be in.
I could feel everybody's excitement.

People began to sense things in the buildings as they discovered the houses for themselves.
We then got back together for a chat about what everyone had experienced and their thoughts on the families that had lived there.
Then something amazing happened.
As we stood talking I could hear the distinct sound of footsteps above us.
To me, it sounded like a few people were walking around upstairs.
The floors are wooden and not carpeted. The footsteps were being made by heeled shoes connecting with timber flooring.

I looked at one of my volunteers for the night, Anne, and she at me.
She was also hearing what I was and without a word between us she immediately took off out the door.
After her, another volunteer bolted.

My concern was that someone was upstairs and may have entered the building without our knowledge.
Or maybe one of the participants was still upstairs?

Upon coming down to the room they both said that they looked everywhere and found no one.
So I decided then to ask if anyone else had heard anything while I had been talking.

About 10 from the group had also heard footsteps.
I assured them that no one was upstairs - we had just checked it thoroughly.

Could it have been paranormal?
I certainly think so!
It was very exciting - and primed us all to head back out to investigate some more.

The rest of the evening was made up of everyone doing their own thing and coming together for some experiments. A few of the groups did some EVP sessions in different areas of both houses.
We felt we had just begun and it was already time to leave.

Feedback from the evening has been very positive and we cannot wait to head back in October.
I think that the ghosts are just beginning to warm to us.
There is more to come for sure.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Chasing Ghosts in New Zealand - Book review


I received one of Mark's new books Talking to Shadows at Paracon 2016 a few weeks ago and have been busily reading it ever since.

                                                                                  Mark Wallbank - founder Haunted Auckland

Mark is the founder of New Zealand based paranormal and research group HAUNTED AUCKLAND
(find them here:

Mark and his team have been working within the realms of the paranormal in their country for many years and have investigated historic and significant sites as well as numerous private investigations that they have been called to helping those experiencing a haunting.

Mark is, amongst other things, a collector of haunted objects, a researcher,a public speaker, an author, also writing articles and reviews for print and online magazines.

He is passionate about proper research and going in with a clarity of mind when called out to investigate.
His team is a committed group of individuals that work together to seek the truth. They are also open to allowing interested people to join them at some of their investigations and endeavor to give them a real experience.

His webpage says, "From time to time the Haunted Auckland team will take members of the public on tours of haunted locations. We like to educate the public on what we do on investigations and help to raise awareness of the paranormal."

Talking to Shadows is Mark's most recent book - almost 400 pages of stories, in depth investigative procedures and photos from some of his cases.

It also contains viewpoints from some of his team members, and other investigators, on subjects including what happens when we die and whether science and the paranormal will ever be able to work hand in hand.

                                                                                   Waitomo Caves Hotel - photo: Haunted Auckland

Mark's in depth analysis of cases is an insight to how he and his team approach cases and how they work from beginning to end.
Some stories have a conclusion and some...well some cases cannot be proven as being paranormal and Mark isnt afraid to say so.
With the others....well he hopes he can return to to do more research.

                                                                               Hard to Find Bookshop - from Haunted Auckland

He includes investigation tips, tells how he investigates, what tech equipment his uses and the results he gets.
Its also interesting to hear about the history of some of the sites as often delving into the past can reveal a lot of important information about who or why a site many be haunted.

I thoroughly recommend Talking to Shadows as a great read of real investigative processes.
Talking to Shadows is not a book that is filled with horror stories made to creep you out or thrill you - they are real stories of experiences and proper investigations that sometimes get to the bottom of the truth and sometimes discover that not all things can be easily explained.

Talking to Shadows can be purchased here:
can be bought from amazon here... or by contacting

Sunday, 5 June 2016

PARACON 2016 - An amazing experience for anyone passionate about the paranormal in Australia

Now that Paracon 2016 is over, and I have recovered from all the excitement, I can give a little report on my experiences at this amazing event.

I think a recovery period is needed for it all to sink in! What an event!
Firstly, its the meeting up with people that you may only get to see once a year, then there is the meeting and listening to great overseas guests, also staying in the Blue Mountains and enjoying the company of like minded people who all have come together to have a great time. What's not to like?!

There was a slight chill in the air in the mountains but The Carrington Hotel is such an iconic place to have a conference that the cold didnt matter - we all just took in the brilliant scenery and atmosphere.

Alex Cayas the creator of PARACON and master and commander of his team of "Spirit Guides" whose dedication in looking after all of the guest speakers, including myself, was faultless, can be proud in knowing that all of the overseas guests spoke very highly of the whole event calling it the best organised conference they had ever attended.

Yes...there was plenty of shenanigans - it wasn't all serious!
We started with a speaker's dinner with a special guest at each table. We got to know each other quite well and it was a great start to what was going to be a fabulous weekend.

Friday was a free day with many of the overseas guests, and those that had arrived early, heading off on adventures around the Blue Mountains while the Paracon team prepared the rooms for workshops and meetups.
Friday night was a 'meet and greet' and just a fun night.
I got to meet up with all of my Newcastle peeps - we had loads of laughs and they ended up chasing us out at the end of the night.

Saturday we started at 9am with a few workshops and talks happening at once - the only problem was that I wanted to be AT THEM ALL! the only problem I had was that I could not split myself into three so I could see it all.
And so it went on... all day, both Saturday and Sunday, with a break for lunch and a chance to meet the boys from Ghost Stop, Shawn and Paul, and Brian from the Haunted Collector and Calvin Von Crush with his very weird collection of haunted objects and Karen Rontowski who kept it all light and funny with her down to earth humor and beautiful heart and comedy.
All different subjects were covered, including UFOs, big cats, the Tassie tiger, Bigfoot, Yowies, children and hauntings, paralosophy, protection when investigating with the wonderful Bill Tabone, the role a medium can play in paranormal investigations, haunted objects, technical talk with the Ghost Stop guys, Paul talked about his time on Ghost Hunters International.
We had screenings of "Desolate" by Moonlark Media and "Australien Skies" by Don Meers - two intensely riveting and brilliant features created, filmed, directed by talented Aussies.

We even had a very talented artist who did a few caricatures which were often a little to close to reality!! That's me and Anne Rzechowicz (my spirit guide for the duration of Paracon) on the bottom far left!

Saturday night there were 'after hour' events including an investigation at Woodford Academy with Paul, Shawn and Brian and a workshop on physical mediumship including ouija boards, table turning, dowsing rods, tarot cards and more with Karen and Calvin.

On Sunday afternoon a little sadness started to come over all of us as we knew that Paracon was coming to an end.
It was time to think about getting back to reality  - no one wanted to.
We would have been happy to stay another few days in the mountains and enjoy the vibe.

If you were thinking about coming but were not sure if you would have enjoyed it - let me tell you that you don't even need to consider that.
You WILL enjoy it.

I believe that there is always an opportunity to learn from everybody.
You can never know everything and this year's line up of overseas guests, just as last year's, were so very generous with their time. They posed for photo after photo and answered everyone's questions and made sure to spread themselves around.

Their comments were that they felt so welcomed and made to feel as though they were surrounded by friends.
Karen Rontowski wrote on her facebook page that she had Paracon withdrawals, and I think Brian fell in love with Newcastle (we hosted him here for two days) Paul loved Sydney Harbour and ventured to Adelaide for a few more tours with Haunted Horizon's and Shawn loved Sydney and his adventures at Q Station and Parramatta Gaol.

                                     Karen Rontowski and Brian Cano (photo by Darrin Langbien Photography)

I am sure that Alex Cayas is already organising next year's event. That's usually the way. An event like this takes a full year to get right.
It wouldn't happen without the team that helped him throughout - just for the love of it and to see it be a success. Certainly not for any financial gain.

And that is why everyone of us, who loves the paranormal and all things, should get behind this wonderful event and support it.

We have a thriving and growing paranormal community here in Australia and we are so lucky to have dedicated people in every state that work really hard to bring the best tours, investigations and events with the best guests visiting and sharing their knowledge - what a great time to be a GHOST HUNTER!

See you at PARACON in 2017 - I'll certainly be there.

- Renata Daniel

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Chasing the Ghosts of Burnima Homestead

In the first weekend of March this year I had the amazing opportunity to invite a group of ghost hunters to explore the magnificent BURNIMA HOMSTEAD at Bombala, a small township in south eastern NSW, about 80 kms from Cooma.

It hard to imagine what this township could have been when, at one time, it was considered for the capital of Australia (now at Canberra) as it sits, distance wise,  almost perfectly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne.

Bombala was proposed in 1903 by King O'Malley as the site of the parliamentary seat of Australia. It was considered as a location because it was half way between the two cities of Sydney and Melbourne. The proposal was ultimately rejected in favour of Canberra. The town lies on the banks of the Bombala River. (wikipedia)

About 5 minutes before you reach the township is Burnima Homestead which was our destination for an overnight stay and ghost hunt.

I had heard about the homestead from an article I read last year regarding its history and some of the stories about paranormal activities at the homestead,

Burnima was built by Fredrick Young of Queanbeyan following the completion of the Governer-General’s house Yarralumla, for Henry Tollemache Edwards, or HT as Mr Steve Rickett ( the homestead's owner, custodian and tour guide) calls him.
HT’s eldest daughter Miss Edith Edwards, was the last of the family to reside there, and did so in Victorian grandeur up until 1952.
There are 10 bedrooms, formal sitting rooms, dining room, drawing room, smoking and billiard room and servants’ quarters. Around the grounds are examples of early farm machinery, engines, carriages, black smith shop and various out buildings, orchard and fishpond.

With a small army of hired help, Burnima was once a self sufficient mini metropolis on the Monaro. The floor plan reflects the Victorian era, servants used separate doors to tend the family and guests and slept on different levels of the house according to their stature. At least five servants were needed just to keep the house running and it was a full time job to tend the 14 fireplaces, especially when it snowed.

One of the many projects Steve Ricketts, the new owner, has undertaken since he bought Burnima in 2002 is to track down furniture and items sold after Burnima left the family in the 1950s. These precious pieces are intermingled with his own heirloom collection and each room has been completely restored with period pieces, books, clothing,  photographs and paintings. One of the most stunning pieces is the gold filigree ceiling at the top of the grand old staircase. (see below)

The gardens surrounding the homestead were once massive but now only a portion  remains but is filled with some of the original trees that were planted by the family that original built this Gothic masterpiece.

Steve met us in the gardens and took us for a long and fascinating journey through the house and its history.
We heard about the years that the occupants ran the house in a high Victorian style.

From some of the quirky family members and their exploits to the obvious distinctions between masters and servants we walked through the house peeking into rooms and being astounded by the sheer mass of work that Steve has done in the short time he has been the owner to bring back the grand old dame back to her former glory.

But we were interested in looking at any paranormal activity that may be happening at the house.
As far as that was concerned the whole atmosphere of the house, its decor and some of the stories lent themselves, and our imaginations, to create apparitions in every room! certainly osme of the rooms felt as though their inhabitants were still lingering about.

Steve told us about the servant girl who fell pregnant and then mysteriously disappeared one night with all fingers pointing to a member of the family having had a liaison that would have led to a very unwanted scandal.
Was this poor young girl really pushed down the property well?

We tried to contact her using a very Victorian style of communication with spirit - table tilting.
This proved more than difficult with little or no connection to begin with - yet eventually leading to a few of very loud and distinct knocks or raps as it used to be called emanating from was sounded like the bottom of the table.

Here you see a few of the ladies trying to connect with some of the spiritual inhabitants of the house.

We also tried some EVP work using voice recorders and a piece of kit called an SB11.
Many of the crew staked out spots where ghosts had been seen or felt as we did our initial walk through.

Steve talked about one particular room where he had his own sighting one night waking to see a young girl standing over him - she looked frightened and anguished. We considered if it may have been the young servant girl appearing there that one time, making herself known to him.
Steve told us that he never slept in that room again.

We spent a few hours with some of the participants seeing dark shadows, feeling chills in some of the areas passing through and also a general feeling that we were all being watched quite carefully.

Certainly upon arrival as we all stood looking at the house from out in the garden I felt as though I spied a lady in a long light coloured dress silently glide across the top verandah - just for a moment. She stood and looked down at us, checking us all out just for a second and then she disappeared. Later I found out that I was not the only one to see her up there - she was seen by another person as well.

I was lucky to take one of the room for the night with two other friends - whilst the rest of our ghost hunters either took the long ride home or stayed in accommodation in town in the two pubs in the main street.
I slept well, but one of the other ladies occupying the room swears to me that she head the wire coat hangers jangling a number of times in the huge wooden wardrobe that stood in the walk in dressing room that was next to where we were sleeping.

We knew that there was no one else in the house - except for us.
Or was there?
Maybe the ladies of the house were wandering about?

Maybe they were just waiting for us to leave and all of our poking about was all rather rude to them.

After a morning walk around the house, listening to the birds in the garden and dreaming about what it would be like to own such a home it was time for us to leave.
Some of us are still reviewing recordings and checking out our photos - maybe someone has captured something?

We are still to hear.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Chasing Ghosts in Tasmania - Port Arthur

I am always looking for new experiences, places that I can stretch my psychic muscles and feel the paranormal.
Therefore I was really looking forward to my visit to Tasmania - not only to see a very good friend who has moved there but to head back to a place I have visited once before, Port Arthur.

Port Arthur was named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land. The settlement started as a timber station in 1830, but it is best known for being a penal colony.
From 1833, until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent here, a quite undesirable punishment. In addition Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.(wikipedia)

Port Arthur has a similar history to that of Newcastle, as it started as a Penal settlement, although unlike Newcastle, the site has become a top tourist destination having retained many of its original buildings.
How I wish that Newcastle still had at least some of our original buildings from that convict era! What a sight it would be!
But anyway...

There dozens of stories of visitors to the site having encounters with the ghosts that still seem to linger at this dreadful place. I did not want to do the ghost tour, I didn't have time to stay back until the evening, but neither did I really want to to be truthful.
I was seeing and feeling enough during the day thank you very much!

I went up for a walk to where the Broad Arrow Cafe once stood.

What is left is a grim reminder of the Massacre that happened there in 1996 when a man killed 35 people and wounded 23 others and the site gained another horrifying chapter to its history.

Martin Bryant, a 28-year-old from New Town, a suburb of Hobart, was found guilty and given 35 life sentences without possibility of parole. Following the incident, it emerged in the media that Bryant had significant intellectual disabilities. He is now imprisoned in the Wilfred Lopes Centre near the Risdon Prison Complex.
The Port Arthur massacre remains one of the deadliest shootings worldwide committed by a single person. Following the spree, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, introduced strict gun control laws within Australia and formulated the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996, restricting the private ownership of high capacity semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. (wikipedia)

As I walked around this very small space I imagined the fear of those inside. In my mind I could feel the panic and the terror of those facing Bryant that day.
The area is now secluded behind high bushes, so that if you wish to go and see it, you can but it is not in full view - a very respectful way of doing it.

I visited the Governor's Cottage where I came across the spirit of a young girl I felt her walking around and playing hide and seek with the visitors. I also met a gentleman, in spirit outside of the cottage. I didn't really make out who he might be, but we later found out that a convict was buried close by. Was it this fellow that I felt tapping me on the back of my head earlier?

The Parsonage has a long history of ghostly sightings with many different stories which will bring chills to anyone reading about them. But for me on my visit, the place was devoid of any feeling.
Cold actually.
Maybe I needed the cover of nightfall to experience some of the things others have on this spot?

The Isle of the Dead was a fascinating tour although I wish I had more time there to really experience the site. A short trip by catamaran took us out to a small dot of land where the military had pride of place on top of the hill with magnificent headstones and memorials whilst the convict population were buried in unmarked graves around the lower areas - their sites now merging with the island invisible to the naked eye.

Our tour guide told us some of the stories, both convict and military, of those buried on the island. Sad, sad stories of people whose hopes and dreams were painfully worn away and whose identities were lost in the trauma of colonisation.

I would have been happy to be left wandering for an hour or two but we were whisked off after 45 minutes to allow for the next group of tourists to hear the same stories we had just heard.
That's the way it goes.

Port Arthur does require the better part of a day to see it all.
Its a site where , if you allow yourself to immerse into it - it will talk to you.
It is not just a site filled with empty and decaying buildings.
It is much more.
How anyone survived is a wonder.
I totally recommend a visit to this unique site that tells such a story of the early years of Tasmania's history.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Chasing the Ghost of Frankenstein

In my recent research into the beginnings of love for modern ghost tales I hit upon the story surrounding the birth of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein".
Here we have the cauldron that conjured and stirred the great ghostly stories of our time.
The night and circumstances themselves would make a brilliant story!

                                                                                                  Frankenstein (courtesy

The circumstances that gave birth to Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein (1818) read like something from a Gothic story in themselves. Mary’s unconventional life up to the summer of 1816 (when she was still only 18), along with the company in which she found herself in June of that year - and even the unusual weather conditions at the time - all contributed to the book’s genesis. 
The vital spark that gave the novel life however was Lord Byron’s suggestion one evening at the Villa Diodati, as candlelight flickered within the house and lightning flashed across the surface of the lake outside, that those present should turn their hands to the writing of ghost stories. It was a casual ploy to while away a few hours in an atmosphere of delicious fear, but it resulted in two iconic tales: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a story of scientific transgression and a cautionary warning about the need to take responsibility for one’s actions; and John Polidori’s The Vampyre, a tale which influenced Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

                                                                                          Mary Shelly ( courtesy

The weather in the summer of 1816 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The eruption of Mount Tamboro in Indonesia in April 1815 sent clouds of volcanic ash billowing into the upper atmosphere. The sun was obscured; levels of rainfall increased and temperatures fell. 
The summer of the following year was thus dismal and damp, with low temperatures and torrential rain causing disastrous crop failures throughout North America, Europe and Asia. For many living on the other side of the world to the eruption, the reason for the disturbances in the weather would have been a mystery, but one that lent a sinister and perhaps even a supernatural quality to the need to light candles at midday as darkness descended, and the sight of birds settling down to roost at noon. 

The discovery by scientists of large dark spots on the sun in the same year added to the growing sense of unease and impending doom, as reflected in Lord Byron’s apocalyptic poem Darkness, written in Geneva in July 1816. Here are the first few lines...


I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:

‘The year without a summer’, as 1816 became known, provided the perfect backdrop to the telling of bleak, macabre and doom-laden Gothic tales and it seems that from this point the rest of the world became compulsively drawn to the tar side of what men and women could conjure in their minds.

Certainly Frankenstein gave birth to all sorts of creatures and unnatural forces that captured people's imaginations and the delight of losing oneself in this unreal world lead to the Gothic undertones that were so prevalent during Victorian England and their obsession with death.

                                                                                           Lord Byron (courtesy

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Chasing the Ghosts of my past - Selling your soul to the Devil

My heritage is Polish.

My pagan roots have always fascinated me and that is where I feel most comfortable.
Back, far back, before Christianity was thrust upon the Poles as part of a deal not to destroy them Poland was pagan.

Here I find beautiful folk and legends that bring everything to life and give it a soul.
The forests are alive with fairies and sprites that keep everything in balance.
There is good and there is evil.
We would do best to recognise both.

Here is one legend that I remember from my childhood about a man who falls for one of the seven deadly sins.
That of greed.
I hope you enjoy it.

Twardowski: The Pole Who Sold His Soul

Normally on Christmas Eve I like to watch some version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. This past Christmas Eve, though, I broke tradition and watched an old Polish film from 1936 called Pan Twardowski.
Known as the Polish Faust, Pan Twardowski is an old Polish legend about a man who sells his soul to the devil to obtain all the riches and pleasures of the world. Only at the end does he realize that these earthly goods are not worth losing his soul over and barely escapes eternal damnation by praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The legend  dates to 16th century Poland where it is believed that a man named Jan Twardowski actually existed and dabbled in the dark arts. One of the most famous stories is that King Sigismund August II hired him to summon the spirit of the dead queen, Barbara Radziwill. Supposedly, Twardowski used an enchanted mirror to bring the spirit into the room for the king. Barabara’s spirit quickly disappeared, however, and the devil’s face appeared in the mirror. Since then, the mirror has been cursed.

Twardowski’s mirror in Węgrów. Legend says if you look into it, you will see your future.

If you look into the mirror, you’re supposed to see the future. In 1812, when Napoleon was leading his army across Poland into Russia, he stopped in a small town called Węgrów where Twardowski’s mirror had turned up. According to legend, Napoleon looked into the mirror and foresaw his defeat in Russia, which did come to pass. For decades, tourists have been visiting Węgrów to look into this magic mirror, which is on display at the church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Peter and Paul. Many claim to see odd images or their futures in the mirror.

Another legend is that Twardowski wrote a manuscript inspired by his black magic. Kept at the University of Kraków, the “Twardowski Book” contains a black spot which is said to be the hand print of the devil himself (although experts say it’s an ink spot).

In all the legends, Twardowski tries to trick the devil by including a contractual clause that he will only give up his soul in Rome.  Twardowski, who never plans on visiting Rome, believes he is safe until the devil tricks him back, luring him into a tavern called “Rome.” As Twardowski is dragged into hell, he begs Mary for help. Although Mary saves Twardowski from the devil, he is left suspended in a type of limbo on the moon, where he supposedly remains to this day for his sins.

Twardowski summoning Barbara’s spirit for the Polish king.

It’s a very interesting story that has taken numerous forms throughout the years. In one version, Twardowski rides in the sky on a rooster and throws gold coins to the poor people below because he wants to help the world. In another story, Twardowski tells the devil that he will go to hell, but only if the devil spends a year with Twardowski’s wife. The devil doesn’t last long.

Whether the legend is true or not, it conveys a great message. Ultimately, it’s a story about avoiding greed and empty material desires lest you figuratively “lose” your soul and a piece of your humanity. Any kind of extreme is bound to be a liability to our ultimate health and happiness.