This is the sixth post in a series in which we profile people’s passion projects and let them explain their work in their own words. Learn more and see a list of all the projects profiled here.
Peter Muise is a Boston-based fan of legends and weird traditions. He has turned that interest into a blog: New England Folklore. Additionally, he has written a book, “Legends and Lore of the North Shore.”
What is New England Folklore? How did it come about?
New England folklore is the blog where I share my love for weird local legends and stories. I’ve been updating it weekly since 2008, so there is a lot of stuff there. It came about in the following way.
I grew up in the 1970s when popular culture was full of stories about Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, etc. It was the fallout from the 1960s’ fascination with the occult and paranormal. My brother was three years older than me and he was fascinated by Sasquatch and books by authors like Erich Von Daniken, who claimed that aliens had visited the ancient world and spurred technological advances. My parents always encouraged us to read and didn’t care if we read crazy books about Atlantis or alien abductions. I was also really interested in world mythology as a kid.
I majored in anthropology in college, and that allowed me to study mythology and popular culture in an academic sense. I even got a Master’s degree in the field, but at some point I realized I didn’t know much about the folklore of New England, where I have lived all my life. In the late 1990s I started to study the topic and haven’t stopped since. The blog is my way to share what I find.
What version(s) of Peter does New England Folklore bring out? In other words, how does New England Folklore allow you to express yourself?
The blog allows me to share the non-rational side of myself. Most of the time I am a productive citizen who works, pay taxes and care about global warming. But for a few hours a week I get to indulge my irrational side and write about things like Maine lumberjacks selling their souls to Satan or ghosts haunting college campuses. I feel like it’s better to consciously vent my irrational side or it might just erupt spontaneously on its own. Sometimes I also take road trips with my spouse Tony to various weird locations around New England, which is great.
How have you fostered those versions of yourself with pop culture?
I love horror movies. It’s one of the things my spouse and I bonded over when we met and we still watch them today. Obviously horror movies are fiction but I think they accurately portray a certain psychic landscape that we all stumble into now and then. Folk stories and legends portray that same landscape. It’s one where the world is imbued with meaning and connections, even if they aren’t immediately apparent. There’s a reason New England is the setting for so many horror movies. It’s full of old ghost-ridden houses and forests where the Devil gathered his witches. I am skeptical about the paranormal when the lights are on, but put me in the woods at night or in a dark movie theater and I become a true believer.
If New England Folklore had a theme song, what would it be?
I couldn’t choose just one. The first song that came to mind was “Roadrunner” by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, which evokes memories of driving around my hometown at night with my friends when I was young. I can remember visiting a haunted grave-site in a friend’s Camaro. It reminds me of those times.
Song number two: the Scooby Doo theme, for obvious reasons.
Finally, I would say “Nierika” by Dead Can Dance. It’s beautiful and a little spooky. It’s probably what the witches sang when they flew off to the Sabbath in the woods. Allegedly flew off to the Sabbath, I mean. They are just folk stories, right?
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