Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

When the World is Crying

When the world is crying, what do storytellers do?

We tell stories.

We tell tales to heal hurts. We tell stories to empathize and to teach empathy. We tell tales to illuminate the paths that build caring communities.

Mostly, we tell stories to remember our humanity.

Telling stories matters, especially when the world is crying.

The events of the shooting at the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina this June stole lives and tore souls apart. It was yet another chink in the heavy curtain of pain that our nation wears, pain wrought from hatred, violence, and racism.

But out of all the turmoil in Charleston, a particular glimmer of hope caught me up. On Sunday evening, walkers gathered on Charleston’s Arthur Ravenel Bridge to stand together in the face of crisis. It was a show of unity, not division. This important, historical moment brought an old, traditional story to mind, an important one for any time, but especially important in times of splintering divides.

There once was an elderly man who was at death’s door. He lay in his bed, day and night, too weak to walk or care for himself.

Every day, one of his three sons came to the house to tend to his needs. His boys took turns. They never came at the same time because his sons did did not get along.

But it hadn’t always been that way. As children, the boys played and laughed. They shared one pizza and divided eight slices evenly when the youngest got old enough to want more. “Wanna wrestle?” they cried to their Dad as they tumbled like wolf puppies around the living room. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, they argued and fought like other brothers and sisters everywhere. Still, they loved and supported each other.

As they grew older, they stopped playing. They didn’t spend time together. Their life paths diverged and they argued about politics, about money, and about all the things with the power to destroy relationships. Their arguments came between them so deeply that they would never visit their father at the same time.

It pained their father to see how intent they were on avoiding each other.

As his illness grew worse, he realized that he had to try something. One day, he called each of them on the phone and said that none of the others could come on Wednesday afternoon of the next week. So it happened that all three arrived at the same time that day to take care of their Dad. When they entered his room, their stiff silence was punctured with a gasp.

Their father was sitting up in bed. It was the first time in months that he sat up on his own. And on his lap was an old, tin box.

“Boys, I need to ask you to do me a favor. Go outside, each of you, and bring back two strong sticks.”

Silently, they left the room. When they returned, their father said, “Now boys, each of you break one of the sticks.”

It was easy. Each stick snapped in two.

“Now, pass me your other stick.”

When their father held one of the other sticks in his hand, he said, “We have choices in how we live. When we stand divided, the weight of the world breaks us like old, dry sticks.”

Then he placed all three sticks together in a little bundle.. “But when we stand united, what happens?”

He passed the bundle to each of his sons in turn. “Break them,” he commanded.

They pressed and strained on the old wood. Though the bundle bent and flexed, the sticks held strong.

“My sons, when we stand alone, we can snap at life’s challenges like old, brittle sticks. But when we stand together, with others, we can more easily bear the weight of life and its problems. Though we might bend under the pressure, we won’t break.”

The tension in the room eased a bit, like carbonation escaping from a slowly opened bottle. The old man packed that bundle of sticks into the tin box. When he closed the lid with a snap, each young man looked up, as if waking from a dream.

“This is for you, my sons.”

The three young men took turns caring for their father until he died. After that, they took turns caring for their father’s old, tin box. They passed it from one to the other. They started to talk again. Slowly, they learned to overlook their differences to see the good in each other. And best of all, whenever any of them faced trouble, they remembered their father’s bundle of sticks. They drew together and drew strength from each other.

Strength in unity.

The people of Charleston came together for one night to show their unified outrage at senseless shootings. They banded together, like a bundle of sticks.

Stories, old and new, are like the old man’s tin box. They carry wisdom for living life. That is why storytellers tell stories when the world is crying.

What stories do you tell in times of crisis?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters All rights reserved.

We retold “The Bundle of Sticks”  from “A Father and His Sons”, an Aesop’s fable.

Photo Credit: תמר הירדני / Wikimedia Commons

To Edit or Not to Edit, That is the Question

Words matter. Writers and storytellers live and love them. And when we write, we choose words carefully because we want to craft expressive phrases and images that are, to quote Goldilocks, “just right.”

Every time that sought-after “just right” word clicks into place, it’s as satisfying as popping a non-dairy chocolate chip. A really productive day is metaphorically fattening and worth every bite.

The art of writing expresses meaning, catches mood, and matches words and image. It is also about getting rid of the passive voice and all of those inefficient extra terms and bulky word orders that make phrases really awkward and that unnecessarily increase the word count.

Editing is important.

But at what point does the editing process change from editing to perseverating?

In my work, I usually stop editing when I can read the piece all the way through without a desire to alter text. Sometimes that happens quickly, and other times, well…

When do you stop editing and call it done? How do you stop yourself from spinning around on the hamster wheel of “cut and paste” and “Control-Z” and finally, finally call it a wrap?

— Jeri

Photo Credit: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

A to Z Reflections 2015 – 6 Plus 1 Thoughts

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - Lg

For this year’s A to Z, I decided to curate, research, and retell world ghost stories. I thought my theme would allow me to whip out short, informative posts quickly, leaving plenty of time to visit lots of blogs.

Nope.

I got caught in a research and analysis web. Don’t get me wrong, I love going down the rabbit hole of research threads, learning more, analyzing. But it took more time than I expected, meaning less time for visiting other blogs. The extra thought and research was stimulating to me and commenters, so it was great for content, great for my storytelling work, and served to help me develop relationships with some bloggers (YAY). The downside was that it stole precious time for even more community building during the A to Z frenzy.

THE GOOD
1. The organization of the A to Z is really lovely, as are A to Z-inspired opportunities for connecting with others. The Twitter chat is a great place to share and connect. Thanks to all minions and coordinators for doing SO MUCH work to make this online community work so well.

2. Pre-writing posts really helps me. My hope, if life allows, is to pre-write the entire month next year so I can devote more time to reading, commenting, and exploring during April. Part of my time crunch came because only six or seven were pre-written.

3. The After Party is great, as I have been using it to check out blogs I missed. Lovely idea to have people choose which of their posts to post there. Maybe I should have posted there as well, but at the time I was more interested in seeing other folks’ blogs.

4. Other bloggers who ‘get’ the community aspect of this make all the difference. Visiting back cross-pollinates the comments, builds blogger relationships, and opens doors to new blogs. It even fertilizes the content. Blogger comments influenced some of my later writing choices since they were a definite part of my audience – I wanted to meet them when I could. There were blogs I visited often or daily, and I always visited commenters when they left their sites as calling cards. Even when things got rough at the end of the challenge, I did my best to visit commenters at the very least.

5. The Linky list is great for finding blogs, but it is overwhelming for me. I am an indecisive person, so choosing was hard. And even if I quickly chose a random set of consecutive blogs to visit, it didn’t always work out. If I couldn’t authentically comment or ‘like’ a blog, then I felt like I didn’t really do a blog visit. And the random approach often yielded that. Since I have internet speed that is more tortoise than hare, getting to blogs is a commitment! So here’s my workaround… I found new blogs by reading the comments on blogs I liked and was already visiting. Interesting comments by bloggers were the nectar that drew me to their blogs. I found great gems that way, even with themes I would have overlooked, like mathematics….

6. The Best Thing! I enticed a three-dimensional local friend into A to Z, one who I regularly see at the theater where we both work. One night we passed each other near the rehearsal rooms. He took one look at me and said, “Oh, no…. Q.” Then he ran off to draft his post. It was so much fun chatting about the A to Z process with him in person, and then going online and having chats with other bloggers and him. Made it ‘thicker’ somehow. I highly recommend this to others if you can possible make it happen in your life.

WHAT WOULD BE NICE
7. A page or two on the A to Z website that has step-by-step instructions for how to set up cross platform communication. I walked someone through the process for commenting on a WordPress blog from her Blogspot. If I didn’t do that, I don’t know if she would have ever commented on other blogs because she didn’t know that she could or how she could.

I know there are several “following” options that reach across platforms (Networked Blogs, for instance), but they all have different ways of signing up – and procedures for getting them to work on your site. I suspect there are differences if you are on WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org vs. Blogger, etc. – even if there can’t be a step by step set of instructions, it would be a treat to have a list of all possible ways people can interconnect. And if there are suggestions for which ones work easier on Blogspot vs WordPress.com, etc., that would be a lovely bonus. (If this info is there on the A to Z website somewhere already, then someone please share the link in the comments!).

Thanks to everyone for making April such a rich month. If only such community and deadlines existed for all my writing projects…. whimsical sigh…🙂.

– Jeri

Daily Ghost Post – Z is for Zduhac

The inner essence of a person is called many things, such as spirit, soul, or personality. It is that core part of friends and family that we love best. And when loved ones die, it is their essence that we miss most.

Mythology and ghost stories tell us that sometimes deceased spirits leave the world of death to visit the world of the living. Sometimes the spirit or essence manifests in an unseen manner. At other times, there is a physical manifestation of their earthly form, which I call for fun their “phosphor-essence.”

When corpses unleash their restless spirits to return to the land of the living, they are called ghosts. But when living people send their spirits on a visit or quest, does that make them ghosts in life?

MEET THE ZDUHAC

The Zduhac is a superhero from Serbian folklore. Although he lives among regular villagers, like Superman, he has a super secret.

The person destined to become a Zduhac was typically born with a caul (amniotic sack). Moms would save the caul and then attach it to articles of clothing to protect the Zduhac in his dangerous work. Although the piece of caul was not as big as a cape, it was thought to offer cape-like protection to the wearer. In addition to the birth caul, another identifying mark of the Zduhac is tufts of red hair on his body. But these are not the only characteristics of this supernatural being. Solemn, wise, quiet people of stature in the community who also happen to be heavy sleepers might be among the Zduhaci (the plural of Zduhac). And although women and children were sometimes Zduhaci, more often than not, they were men, hence my choice of pronoun in this article.

A Zduhac’s spirit leaves its sleeping body at night to protect the village or region from bad weather. After making its bodily exit (sometimes in the form of a fly), the spirit of the Zduhac whisks off into the sky to fight the bad weather demons. Serbian lore suggests that sometimes they fight in teams against other evil Zduhaci bands. On one level, this sounds like a prototype for The Avengers comic and movie franchise.

But on another level, there could be something profound embedded in this folklore. In battles with winds that destroy crops, the Zduhac (or Zduhaci band) would fight the whirling weather and redirect it to another part of the landscape, to another region. For the local people, the Zduhac was a hero, a protector, a savior of grave import and value. One way I like to think of the the Zduhac is that he was a weather knight doing thrilling community service.

But what about the other places which suffered the ravages of the redirected winds?

If Wikipedia is accurate, different bands of Zduhaci fought against one another – the Zduhaci bands hailed from places like Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro. In an effort to protect their own, they had stormy, airborne tug-of-wars with wind. I find it incredibly interesting that these very same ethnic groups have experienced serious unrest in recent historic times. Does history repeat itself? Is the future based on the past? Are myths based in facts? Might a little of all of the above apply?

Books of traditional stories from folklore and mythology are not located in the fiction section of the library. Insights like this provide a clue as to why that is, no?

Thoughts? And what do you think about the Zduhac’s ability to transmigrate? Does its temporarily body-free essence, fighting in the windy skies, make it count as a ghost?

— Jeri

P.S. Thanks to those who enriched this A-Z series and whose work I enjoyed as well. It has been a pleasure, I look forward to continuing our “blogmunity” over time!

P.P.S. I have not yet found a way to properly notate the word Zduhac. There should be an accent over the letter “c” – an accent that looks like this: ‘

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
http://www.reportingpoint.net/57b927dcaa4059bd.html
Wikipedia – zduhac

PHOTO CREDIT: By Warrenlead69 (Own work) / CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – Y is for You Hun Ye Gui

There once was a widow whose son, Mulian, became a Buddhist monk. But his commitment to his faith kept him from her. Over time, she grew so angry and resentful that whenever monks asked for food or alms, she refused.

When she died, she was sent to the deepest Buddhist hell because of her stinginess. Not only was she tortured with difficult work, but her neck was narrow as a needle, making it impossible to swallow food.

She was a hungry ghost.

Mulian wondered how his mother was faring after death, so he journeyed into the underworld. After facing many trials and demons, he found the ghost of his hungry mother. She was desperate to eat, but when he offered her food, it burst into flames.

After seeking advice from the Buddha, Mulian asked 10 monks to pray and fast for his mother. Ironically, through the efforts of her son and other monks whom she spurned in life, Mulian’s mother was released from her torments and allowed, at last, to eat.

HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL AND THE YOU HUN YE GUI
From that time on, a Buddhist festival has been held throughout eastern Asia. On the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, hungry ghosts are freed from Buddhist hell and fed. During the festival, How Mulian Rescued His Mother is retold in families and other venues. People leave food offerings to feed the hungry ghosts and the ghost of their ancestors. Incense is burned, monks conduct rituals, and performers provide entertainment for everyone, including the ghosts. At many events, the front row of red chairs is reserved just for the ghosts. At the end of the festival, red lotus lanterns are placed in water. When the lantern flames die out, the spirits are back home.

There are many ghosts in the Chinese folklore. For example, ghosts who seek revenge for the nasty deeds they suffered in life are the Yuah Gui. Shui Gui are ghosts who died by drowning. In death, the Shui Gui seek a fresh, living body to take over.

And then there are the You Hun Ye Gui.

The You Hun Ye Gui are wandering, lost spirits. They died when they were far from home or were lost. Because the You Hun Ye Gui are wanderers without descendants to care for their spirits, it is feared that they will attach themselves to the living. That is why people do not marry or move into a new house during the Ghost Festival. It would not be a propitious start for a marriage or a home to have the You Hun Ye Gui sticking around. No need to add bad luck to the mix, as marriage and tending house are challenging enough.

Many cultures have festivals of the dead, like the Hungry Ghost Festival, Halloween, and Day of the Dead. What are some of your fond memories of these or other “dead fests” in your neck of the woods? Do you know of other festivals like this? Do tell….!!!

— Jeri
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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Dupler, Michael (2013). Death Explained: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the Afterlife. Lulu.com
http://www.uiowa.edu/~c07p208h/ghost.html – a little of the Mulian story, some tradiitons, the lanterns
http://www.my-island-penang.com/Mu-Lian.html – more in depth version of the tale
Schirokauer, Conrad and Miranda Brown. (2013). A Brief History of Chinese Civiliation, 4th Edition. Boston: Wadsworth.
Wikipedia: List of Supernatural Beings in Chinese Foklore, Ghosts in Chinese Culture, Ghost Festival

PHOTO CREDIT: By Mike / Flicker / CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – X is for Xunantunich

Xunantunich – Maya Ruins, Belize

Pronounced “shoo-nahn-too-nitch,” these ruins in Belize remind me of Indiana Jones movies. But instead of a writhing pit of snakes, exploding statues, and a swashbuckling Harrison Ford leaping and flying about, there is a ghost who gently haunts this site.

An early sighting of the ghost occurred in the later 19th century. One fine day, a gentleman was out walking near Xunantunich when he saw a woman he’d never seen before. Dressed in a beautiful, white, Maya dress, she approached the ruins. He followed after her. When she turned to look at him, he was startled to that her eyes were fiery red. The mysterious lady walked up the stairs to the highest part of the ruins, El Castillo, and slipped into a cavern. The gentleman raced to the village to get assistance. But when he came back, he discovered that no human could ever hope to go where he saw her enter. It was not a cavern, but solid wall.

He was not the first person to see her, and not the last either.

Is she the ghost of someone who was climbing to witness a ritual Maya execution? Was she a relative of a sacrificed person? Or does her spirit perpetually re-enact the moments before her own execution? No one knows.

Xunantunich is not the original name of this ancient Maya community. Like the civilization, the name is lost in time. But once the previously lost site was excavated in the later 19th century, the ghost sightings began.

Because she was seen among the stone ruins, she has been given the nickname “Stone Maiden” and “Maiden of the Rock.” A local legend, she is remembered by people who have seen her, and by those who see her still. She is also remembered in the name of the ruins, for Xunantunich means ‘Stone Maiden.’

What’s in a name? A great deal.

Place names often come with a story. Are there any locales or sites near you with a story attached to its name? Do tell!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
http://www.belizeinthesun.com/xunantunich.html
http://www.duplooys.com/mayansites/xunantunich.php
http://nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/xunantunich.html
http://www.paranormala.com/the-ghost-of-xunantunich/
Wikipedia – Xunantunich

PHOTO CREDIT: By Thomas Shahan /CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – W is for Will-o’-the-Wisp

tinkerbell

Do you see the mysterious, glowing light in the picture? That’s me!

Well, sort of…

Like a puppeteer of luminescence, I got to work the Tinkerbell light in a community theater production of Peter Pan. I caused Tink to torment Wendy, flirt with Peter, and bounce around the stage with giddy glee. Although Tinkerbell, a fairy, might count as a will-o’-the-wisp in only certain cultures, she shares something in common with will-o’-the-wisps all over the world – they are mysterious and mischievous spirits embodied in flashes of light.

THE WHO, WHAT, AND WHERE OF WILL-O’-THE-WISPS
Will-o’-the-wisps usually show up in nature, not on community theater stages. They tend to appear in the countryside, often in boggy, wetland locations. In South America, they feature brilliantly (yes, pun intended) on the dry grasslands called the Pampas. But if you see them, beware, for when they appear it is usually to either foretell your death or lead you astray and get you lost, lost, lost.

Sometimes the lights are static, like floating orbs just inches above the ground. Sometimes they fly away due to sound or movement. But these eerie lights are also known to travel at high speed when they rush madly toward a lonely traveler (I am curbing the temptation to say they go ‘at the speed of light’).

So who are they? Well it depends where you live. In Sweden, they are the ghosts of unbaptized children who want to lead you to water so they can remedy their situation. In Germany, they are some form of a forest spirit on a walkabout with an unseen funeral procession. Uruguayan lore suggests that such lights can be the ghosts of dead cows. In America and the UK they are the souls of the not so dearly departed whose lifetime of evil antics cost them admission to heaven and hell (you’ve got to be pretty naughty if the devil doesn’t want you). Since they cannot get into the ever after, they are condemned to walk around in the in-between, carrying hellfire in a lantern, forevermore. Oh, and the lost soul is often called Jack, so if you ever wondered where the term jack-o-lantern came from…

A WISP BY ANY OTHER NAME AND OTHER COOL INFO
Will-o’-the-wisp is not the only term that describes this ghostly phenomenon. Like plants, it has common names and a Latin name. Some of its common names are so delicious they would earn A’s in a college English class – ghost candles, hinky punk, witchfire, Joan-in the-Wad, and fire demon are only just a few of them. The Latin name, ignis fatuus, which means “the foolish fire,” could have been a Hogwarts spell (or maybe it was, HP fandom, get commenting).

So, if you follow the ignis fatuus, you are a fool, right? But then again….

In certain parts of South America, these creatures are called La Luz Mala, or the Evil Light. In Argentina, they are color coded. A white light is a good omen. You can follow it to find gold. Yay. But if you see a red light, it is the devil, out doing nasty business. And it is more likely to do nasty business on August 24th, St. Bartholomew’s Day. That could be a good thing to know.

In Uruguay you can prepare yourself for an encounter with La Luz Mala. First, say a prayer. Next, bite your knife case (I really don’t know if I translated that one properly or if it is idiomatic, but I do so love the image). Third, if worse comes to worse, you can confront it with a steel blade. I’m not sure what you do with it, perhaps just displaying it works wonders, like crosses and vampires.

WISPY SCIENCE
Science has weighed on this too. One theory is that the lights are marsh gas, another that they are electromagnetic events. But scientists have also been attempting to recreate them in labs in order to understand what causes them. Chemical cocktails have been mixed to produce hot, gaseous lights. But ignis fatuus are cool lights. Further experiments have yielded cold lights, but they end up being the wrong color. Scientists, persistent as Goldilocks, still strive to get it ‘just right.’

Alas, my Tinkerbell light cannot be part of this luminous group of will-o’-the-wispies. Ignis fatuus can be blue, white, gold, red… but never, ever green. That puts Tink and me in a category all by ourselves.🙂

Ignis fatuus lore is often told urban legend style, “This happened to a friend of a friend…” Have you heard such tales from a friend of a friend? What does your culture call these lights?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Briggs, Katherine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. New York, Checkmark Books.
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/10/06/latin-america-lore-ghosts-demons-and-frights/#
Wikipedia – will-o’-the-wisp

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeri Burns

Daily Ghost Post – V is for Vazimba

Little did I realize that my foray into the world of ghosts would lead to strong political reactions, academic questions, and time spent poring through books about exorcism rites. What was I thinking? Actually it’s so much fun I can hardly stand it.

The Vazimba are believed to be the first settlers in Madagascar. Ruled by queens (!!!), they were an agricultural people who were considered primitive by the next wave of settlers in Madagascar. That is because the Vazimba did not use or know metal. To the newer settlers, it was almost as if the Vazimba lived in a different age.

Why the Vazimba people disappeared is a bit of a quandary. Oral history suggests that their kingdoms (queendoms!!) were conquered by other colonial groups. It is also thought that they succumbed to acculturation. Whatever the process, there is no disagreement about the end result: the Vazimba people and their culture died out. It is an unfortunate and true historical story that often plays out when new settlers come to stay.

Although the Vazimba died out, legends and lore suggest that their spirits didn’t go away. Some say the Vazimba haunt grave sites, others say they are found in caves in their historical homeland. According to scholar Hans Austnaberg, they are evil spirits associated with places where people fall ill.

Yeah, this is complicated for many reasons, not the least of which is that the people of Madagascar – the Malagasy – have a strong connection to the spirit world.

THE WORLD OF SPIRITS
The subject of spirits and ghosts in Madagascar is a very complex, so I will just graze the surface here. If you are interested in more, check out the resources below for more information.

In Madagascar, there is reverence for the dead and rituals for how to treat them. For example, it has been reported that people go so far as to re-wrap and re-bury their dead to make them more comfortable in the afterlife.

Ancestral spirits provide protection if they are treated well. Spirits of the non-ancestral dead tend to cause harm. Called kinoly, they are associated with grave sites. Because of the kinoly’s penchant for causing harm, people take grave care when near cemeteries (pun definitely intended). Taboos, such as not making noise near graves, are practiced to avoid bothering the kinoly. The last thing you want to do is irritate a kinoly because it will be the last thing you do. The kinoly like to tear out livers and other organs.

So how do the Vazimba figure into the world of the spirits? In two ways.

First, if the Vazimba were conquered or assimilated into other cultures, their descendants probably lost track of where they were buried. In that case, the people could not have kept up with their ritual care-giving. Perhaps that explains why there is a belief among some Malagasy that Vazimba spirits are very angry. That would make them perfect ghostly trouble makers, like those who cause illness.

Second, over time, the memory of the Vazimba, a long ago people of Madagascar, may have eroded and changed in the popular imagination. If Wikipedia is accurate on this, they are now sometimes viewed as monsters. Described as looking different and/or being of different stature, it is also said that they might not have been human at all.

To many Malagasy, the Vazimba ghosts are true and real. They are intertwined in the long-held beliefs in the world of the spirits. A deep part of Malagasy spiritual life, they represent pure, cultural belief.

But on a metaphorical level, the Vazimba ghosts can provide a useful, jumping off place for consideration of a broader topic.

There is a common human tendency to view people of distant times or cultures as different. From there, it is an easy next step is to call them monsters or evil spirits. It is an unfortunate human universal that things unfamiliar are tagged as troublesome, that people with different world views or opinions become ‘scapeghosts.’

That human tendency to accuse and label is darker than any ghost story, and one that I hope will finally stop haunting the world’s people.

What are your thoughts about this? In what ways does society label the unfamiliar as evil?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES

Austnaberg, Hans. (2008). Shepherds and Demons: A Study of Exorcism as Practised and Understood by Shepherds in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Sharp, Leslie (1994). The Possessed and the Dispossessed. Spirits, Identity and Power in a Madagascar Migrant Town. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Tyson, Peter http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/croccaves/legends.html
Wikipedia – Vazimba

PHOTO CREDIT: By Hans-Peter Scholz Ulenspiegel / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – U is for Underworld Ghosts

Somewhere, down below our feet or beyond the horizon, lies a place where spirits dwell. Many world mythologies have stories that say that spirits go to the underworld after death. With names like Niflheim (Norse) or Xibalba (Mayan), the general underworld idea is similar across cultures. Typically, the departed pass into the underworld, sometimes undergoing tests to determine eligibility. Once they enter, they hang out in the underword, eating dirt or floating, depending on which mythology you consult. The dead are supposed to linger there for eternity. And living people are supposed to stay out.

But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

Most of us are familiar with the Greek underworld, staffed by Hades and his wife Persephone. We also know about Orpheus’ failed attempt to rescue his love Euridyce from there. Underworld stories go back farther than ancient Greece however. In Mesopotamia, Innana (also called Ishtar) went down to the underworld to dethrone her sister, Ereshkigal, from the underworld throne. Things didn’t go as planned. Innana was killed and was later released back to the land of the living when her husband took her place. What a guy!

The idea of the underworld pervades many cultures. If Wikipedia is accurate, a minimum of 44 world mythologies have an underworld. Among those cultures is at least one with a belief that the dead can be restored to life.

In a traditional Hawaiian variant of the Orpheus and Euridyce myth, Hiku went to the underworld to bring Kawelu back to life.

THE STORY OF HIKU AND KAWELU
One day, in ancient times, Hiku of the Forest shot his arrow. It landed at the home of Kawelu of the Sea. One thing led to another and Hiku stayed there for almost a week. But their love wasn’t consummated, so Hiku left in a bit of a huff. When Kawelu went in search of him, he played hard to get. Seriously hard to get. He built a blockade of vines that kept her from him. Hurt by this rather showy rebuff, she hung herself from a vine. (I am repeatedly struck by people’s strong reactions in myths, but I digress).

Kawelu’s spirit descended to the Hawaiian underworld, ruled by Milu, the king of the ghosts. When Hiku heard about Kawelu’s death, he decided to bring her back from Milu. [To make things nice and confusing yet parallel to Greece, the Hawaiian underworld and the underworld head of state share the same name.]

After consulting with kahunas – Hawaiian shamans – Hiku learned what he had to do. He headed out to the place where the horizon and sea met and dropped a vine down into the water (third vine’s the charm). Then he climbed down and dangled, overlooking the underworld.

It didn’t look half bad.

That is because Milu, the ghost king, is more like a camp director than a grim, deathly monarch. Under his underworldly oversight, there are sports, betting, games, feasts, cliff diving, and swimming activites for ghosts to enjoy. Eternity never sounded so good.

Hiku dangled over the ghosts to entice them to swing on the vine for sport. It wasn’t long before Kawelu gave it a go. When things were just right, Hiku captured her spirit in a coconut shell, swiftly climbed up the vine, and found his way back to her dead body. He opened the shell and pushed her spirit back in through her feet, the traditional Hawaiian way to bring the dead back to life. When Kawelu felt well enough, she and Hiku tied the knot (but not with a vine).

Now for some bonus details. Hiku and Kawelu were predestined to marry. With godly parentage, they also happened to be half brother and half sister. But that is another tale for another time.

As for this one, let’s say that they lived happily ever after in life and are now happily dead in the ever after, cliff diving with other underworld ghosts.

Have you noticed that women in ghost stories frequently take their lives when they lose ther loves? What ghost stories do you know where men do this?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Westervelt, W. D. (1916). Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods. Boston: Ellis Press.
http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Tr-Wa/Underworld.html
Wikipedia – Underworld

PHOTO CREDIT: By Dave Herholz / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – T is for Types of Ghosts

Here is a short and handy definition guide to help you keep ghosts and ghouls straight…you never know when you will need to be able to distinguish a phantom from a zombie.

This is not meant to be a fancy, formal, encyclopedic presentation of a detailed, research project with footnotes, pages of references, and experimental variables. It represents bits of knowledge gleaned over the course of my preparation for this blog series.

Apparition – this is an image of a ghost – it shows up and then goes away.
Elemental – these guys are nature spirits, like fairies. Technically, elementals are not in the same category of supernatural beings as ghosts are. But because some nature spirits are the spirits of dead people – like the Filipino Engkanto – I included them here.
Ghost – soul of a deceased person that returns from the dead.
Ghoul – demonic sort who eats flesh. Western definitions of the ghoul gave it the penchant for grave-robbing.
Jinni (or djinni)– supernatural spirit that exists in our world and beyond. It is not a the spirit of a departed human and can be evil, neutral, or benevolent. “Djinn beings between angels and man. As powerful as an angel with the free will of a human.” That came from a blogger commenter: http://djinniaandtheenglishlanguage.blogspot.com/
Monster – creature that doesn’t fit neatly into any ghost category (like Nessy, werewolves, or yetis).
Phantom – ghost who lurks on lonely roads or secluded hikes.
Poltergeist – a house ghost that throws things, makes noise and mischief. One might say it is kind of like an invisible estranged spouse.
Revenant – ghostly spirit in the early days of death.
Spectre – synonym for ghost.
Spirit – the inner being of a living or supernatural entity.
Supernatural being – non-human being who dwells anywhere. A dead human being who returns to the living world is also a supernatural critter. Ghosts are but one type of supernatural entity.
Vampire – a dead person who returns to feast on the blood or body parts of the living.
Wraith – a ghostly image of someone, right before or right after they die.
Zombie – a reanimated corpse with a little help from its friends (or enemies). The traditional zombie is of Haitian origins and is under the control or spell of a sorcerer.

Who did I forget? What needs to be added to the definitions? Let’s wiki this one up!

– Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Kunstkai / CC BY 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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