We usually think of Halloween as the time for getting spooked and telling ghost stories, but ghost stories weren’t always confined to October. Christmas, and the entire holiday season, used to be a time for gathering with family and sharing stories, and that included ghost stories.
That isn’t as much as part of our modern Christmas tradition – other than maybe the ghost of Jacob Marley and spirits of Christmas past, present, and future – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it a part of your Christmas. And a great place to start are podcasts. If, like me, you’re sometimes a little late to the game, podcasts are audio programs that you can download to your phone, laptop, or other digital device and listen to at your own leisure. They’re easy to find through various apps, like Google Podcasts (or any other number of options) on an Android device, or Apple Podcasts on your iPhone. I find they’re a great way to pass the time, especially on long drives when you’ve had enough Christmas music.
So, if you’re doing any traveling this holiday season, and you are looking for something to keep you entertained – and maybe a little spooked – on those long, late-night road trips, let me offer some suggestions from my favorite podcast programs.
Myths and Legends
Let’s start with something a little on the light side. Myths and Legends, by Jason and Carissa Weiser, shares stories from myths, legends and folklore that help define various cultures and eras. Sometimes, as narrator Jason points out at the beginning of each episode, those “are stories you know, or think you know,” but with his own unique twist. Other times they are stories that aren’t necessarily a part of our standard western canon, but are important to the cultures and time periods they hail from.
Weiser tells his stories with a generous heaping of irreverence and humor, while somehow always maintaining a sense of respect for his source material. If purposeful anachronisms and some liberties with tradition bother you, this may not be the podcast for you. But if you can enjoy that sort of thing, or at least take it in stride, Myths and Legends is worth your time. Whether it’s a one-off or the next entry in a multi-episode adventure, the new Myths and Legends is always something I look forward to. In addition to the main story, Weiser ends each episode with a “creature of the week” from different traditions, giving you a CliffsNotes-style condensed rundown of their looks, attitudes, and predilections.
Monsters Among Us
One of my recent favorites is Monsters Among Us. If you were ever a fan of the old Coast-to-Coast radio program with Art Bell, especially the call-in episodes with listener stories, then Monsters Among Us should be right up your alley. Every week host Derek Hayes curates a series of listener stories, submitted by telephone or email, from all across the U.S. and around the world. Hayes, whose voice you may recognize if you’ve ever watched the television program Paranormal Caught on Camera, provides some background and context for each call he presents. But while the stories in his show can provide a great jumping off point for deeper conversations, and Hayes provides plenty of info and links in his show notes, the show itself isn’t a deep dive into the world of Forteana.
What it is is a wonderful, spooky series of anecdotes, perfect for keeping you creeped out on those late night, backwoods, road trips to your granny’s farm.
If you are looking for a deep dive into the weird and unexplained, then what you are looking for is Astonishing Legends. Hosts Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess don’t bother editing their programs down to bite-sized, drive-time, background fare. With episodes that run two, three, or four hours or more each – and topics sometimes broken down across multiple episodes – they aren’t interested in brevity. (Their exploration of crop circles, for instance, is just over nine hours of material spread across three episodes, with the final episode more than four hours long.) What they are interested in is providing as much data and information as possible, examining as many interpretations of that data as possible, and generally leaving the listener with as many questions as they’ve answered. One thing is for sure, if you listen to Astonishing Legends, you’re likely going to come away with some new bit of info to look into.
This isn’t necessarily content for the neophyte. But if you’ve been reading or listening to programs on paranormal activity for a while, and you’re ready to consider the roots of the phenomenon, and the bigger questions it raises, Astonishing Legends is a great place to start.
Speaking of the roots and sources of legends and popular paranormal stories, Brian Dunning’s show, Skeptoid, is one of the best skeptical podcasts I’ve come across. While we all love spooky stories, a healthy dose of skepticism is important if you are going to spend any time doing research or studies in the paranormal field. But while so many skeptics can come off with a dismissive, almost arrogant, tone, Dunning approaches the stories he discusses with appropriate gravitas and consideration. Rather than just dismiss reports as “obvious” mistakes – or outright fabrications – he offers science-based alternatives and explanations for events and phenomenon that take on a supernatural veneer in the minds of witnesses.
If you ever find yourself wondering “how could someone possibly believe that?” Dunning’s program is a good place to begin looking for answers to that question.
These, of course, aren’t the only podcasts I listen to, or the only ones that focus on myths, legends, and folklore, but they are some of my top picks. If you find yourself hungry for more after listening to these, though, I also recommend Lore, from Aaron Mahnke. Like the eponymous television and book series, it looks at ghosts stories, historical true-crime, and related topics with a focus on how these stories, and how we tell them, shape our society.
Strange and Unexplained with Daisy Eagan is another fun romp through the Fortean. Eagan isn’t a folklorist or paranormal investigator – she’s a Tony Award winning actress and singer – but she brings keen insight and humorous observations to topics that can tend to take themselves a bit too seriously sometimes. I’ve listened to every episode released so far and I have no plans to stop.
If you’re looking for more skeptical takes, Monster Talk, from host Blake Smith, is also worth your time. While he usually sticks with cryptids and other monsters, Smith sometimes wanders into other Fortean territory, and always with a skeptical eye.
So, when you hit the road this holiday, or any other time, maybe check one of these out. I find them all worth the time spent.
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