Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Daily Ghost Post – I is for Ibbur

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If you have been following this blog series thus far, you could be wary of cute pets, nature, and the call of nature (plus the usual array of ghouls, vampires, and other everyday supernatural beings). But today, for a change of pace, I offer a nice little ghostie with an adorable name – the Ibbur.

I am tickled by this outside-the-box little ghost.

Other ghosts imply evil, incite fright, or are impish incarnations from a dark other world. But not the ibbur.

As far as possession goes, visions of spewing spittle and horror may dance in your head (okay revolve in your head and with your head, I’m talking about possession after all).

But the Ibbur does none of that either.

The Ibbur is a good guy among ghosts and I want one.

In his book, Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, the renowned folklorist and scholar, Howard Schwartz, shares a Midrashic tale which he says is the precursor to the Ibbur in Jewish folklore. Here is my retelling, below.

Once there was a student who was forlorn because he could not remember his studies. No matter what he did, when it came time to remember information or apply what he learned, his mind went blank. His teacher, a kindly and wise rabbi, wanted to help him out.
So the rabbi visited the student in a dream.
“Toss a stone three times whenever you forget your studies,” he whispered, “and help will come your way.”
When the student woke in the morning, he went to visit a dream interpreter, as was the custom of the day.
“I don’t want to throw stones at the rabbi. Can you please help me understand what this dream means?” the student begged.
After carefully listening to the student’s dream, the interpreter gave him advice.
“Throwing stones means reciting the material three times.”
From that day onward, the student did just that. Whenever he forgot his material, he recited it three times. And when he did this, well what do you know, his memory was restored.

In this little parable, the spirit of the rabbi jumped into the body of the student and shared wisdom while the student slept. The process when spirits move into other bodies is called transmigration. Since the rabbi transmigrated, that’s what makes the rabbi a forebear of the Ibbur – transmigration is the Iburr’Is M.O. The big difference between the rabbi’s helpful visitation and one from an Ibbur is that the rabbi was alive and that Ibburs are dead.

The word “Ibbur” means impregnation. One might say that the rabbi “impregnated” the student’s dream just as Ibburs “impregnate” their hosts’ spiritual center.

Ibburs can be sages or rabbis or any good, old soul who wants to continue doing good work after death. Think of the Ibbur as a spiritual philanthropist. Sometimes its goal is to heal the planet. Sometimes its goal is to help guide a particular deserving someone on his or her path in life.

Although the host isn’t always aware of the presence of an Ibbur, there are those times when an Ibbur asks permission to gain access to a host’s body. Folklore deems either mode of access to be a form of possession. But ibbur possession does not require exorcism. The Ibbur’s presence is temporary, like a wanted, helpful guest who stays just the right amount of time. It helps wash the proverbial dishes, leaves some nice parting gifts to the host (its good deeds), and moves on. How lovely to have an Ibbur come along just when you need a helping hand. That’s why I want one.

It is important to add that the Ibbur is not the only ghost to possess Jewish people. Another one, called the Dybbuk, is a demonic version of the Ibbur. There are countless stories, plays, and books about trouble with Dybbuks.

But I don’t want one of those.

Do you know about any other nice, helpful ghosts? Other supernatural folklore (about fairies and their ilk) include helping beings…. but what about helping ghosts? Thoughts? Let ’em rip in the comments way below.

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Lanaham, Yonasson Gershom (2000). Jewish Tales of Reincarnation. Jason Aronson, Inc. 20000

Moreman, Christopher. Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions, page 48-9.

Schwartz, Howard (). Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis.

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20 thoughts on “Daily Ghost Post – I is for Ibbur

  1. It sounds like a cute ghost!

  2. storycrossings on said:

    “Spiritual philanthropist” – I like it! 🙂
    As I was reading this…unbidden, my head got filled with the memory-image from the movie “Ghost” (with Patrick Swayzee, Whoopie Goldberg, Demi Moore), when one of the visiting dead people jumped into Whoopie’s medium character – ha! t

  3. Didn’t know about this. Now I want one too 🙂

  4. That is an interesting find. I’ll take an Ibbur when needed.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee’s Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  5. I remember a ghost story from Newfoundland or Nova Scotia where a boat shipwrecked off a rocky coast. Many rowed to help save lives when one boat was overwhelmed sailors climbed in from the sea to help row. When the small boat was in safe waters they slipped back into the sea. By description some were recognized as sailors that had been previously lost in a shipwreck.

    • Wow, that’s a great story Carolyn! This is almost a reverse version of the Funayurei (post from letter F day)!! Wow – I love it! Do you have any idea where you picked that up? Thanks for sharing it.

  6. How charming. I’ve never heard this story before.

  7. I might be using this little tale with some of my special needs children – it is always good to know that through the centuries some have struggled to keep up with their peers in their studies and there are practical ways to help. I also think many of us receive inspiration in our dreams so maybe there are more Ibburs out there than we think?? Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

    • Yay, glad you can use that tale to make some good in the world. I’m all about that! And there may be more ibburs or other kind-spirited spirits out there – I wonder if guardian angels count?

  8. I think this is the first time I’ve heard of a helpful ghost. And I like the name, “Ibbur.” Sounds cute. It makes me think of an animal between a rabbit and… I don’t know, a hedgehog or something. You know, cute. 😉

  9. I want one too! Who wouldn’t want a friendly ghost! Gee I wish I was as lucky as the student in the story when it came to tests when I was in college… although I often applied the reciting three (or ten lol) times method… another great ghost post!

  10. It’s nice to hear about a beneficial spirit after all these scary ones. 🙂

  11. The ghost in our house tried to be helpful once. We had a friend staying and every time she left her phone out on the side it ended up back in her handbag – we reckon Rose didn’t want her to lose it 🙂 I like the sound of the ibbur.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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