Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the category “in Culture”

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

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 – S is for Slender Man

And now for something completely different… Monty Python.

Every culture has ghost stories, and some ghosts are similar from place to place. But there is one culture that people all over the world share in common – digital culture. And like off-screen cultures, this one has a ghost of its own.

SLENDERMAN’S ROOTS
According to internet folklore, there is a being – an entity – that suddenly appears in cyberspace, like a ghostly apparation. It shows up in pictures, on your computer screen, or makes its presence known by interrupting the operation of your device. And also, according to the legend, it kills.

The being is called Slender Man. There is no definitive agreement about its gender, but as the name is Slender Man, I will use the conventional “he” as a pronoun even if it is not exactly accurate.

Slender Man is an internet and gaming sensation with his own mythos and Wikis, Youtube series, an academic book, and more. He is a huge deal.

Slender Man represents a cross between the oldest kind of storytelling and the newest: His meteoric rise from a comment thread in 2009 to an internet sensation happened in the old fashioned way – with stories being retold and embellished, one storyteller to another – via a new fashioned medium – the speedy, mixed media internet.

Talk about cross platform word of mouth.

Details from stories, fan fiction, and photos have been gathered together and culled into a coherent mythology. And since Slender Man was the creation of “Victor Surge” (whose real name is Eric Knudsen), these tales must be fiction… or are they? There are websites devoted to tracing Slender Man characters back in time and space across many cultures. Is it possible that he is a modern manifestation of an older folk character? Or are his folkloric roots not true folklore but fakelore? The Slender Man mythos is so deep and complex it is hard to disentangle the fiction from the meta-fiction upon which his story might be based.

THE SKINNY ON SLENDERMAN
So who and what is he? Slender Man represents the unknown. A scary being of an unspecified type, one of his defining characteristics is his lack of defining characteristics – he has no facial features. He always wears a black suit and his arms hang down or extend outward (sometimes there are tentacles, but there is dispute about that). Silent and stealthy, Slender Man behaves like a predator, stalking his prey, watching his targets.

A couple of last crucial bits about Slendy. According to the mythos, he steals children. Journalists who report about the abductions also disappear. That information comes from the origin stories. But here is the kicker – Slender Man has proxies, living human beings who do his bidding.

The idea of that is frightening by itself. But it isn’t just an idea. Last year, two 12 year old girls viciously stabbed another girl in a forest. One said that she did it to impress Slender Man, the other because she thought it might prevent him from causing harm to her family and to herself.

THOUGHTS
This entity or spirit or fictional character may not be a ghost in the way we traditionally think about ghosts, but he certainly carries some of their characteristics. He is a mysterious entity that appears and disappears and scares people. Isn’t that what many ghosts do? If his presence can “cause” people to commit violence, Slender Man parlays a frightening power beyond his comment thread origins. That is what makes him not just a scary ghost story or urban legend – his long black legs give him firm standing in horror.

Is this a bizarre twist on art imitating life or life imitating art? What do you think? What have you heard about him? Thoughts?

— Jeri

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Jones, Abigail – http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/22/girls-who-tried-kill-slender-man-264218.html
http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/The_Slender_Man
http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/slender-man
http://theslenderman.wikia.com/wiki/Slender_Man
http://theslenderman.wikia.com/wiki/
Wikipedia – Slender Man

Here’s an academic book I know about and can’t wait to get hold of:
Chess, Shira and Eric Newsome (2014). Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology. Palgrave Pivot.

PHOTO CREDIT: By LuxAmber (Own work) / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – R is for Rolling Calf

Outdoor life in the Caribbean is a dream come true. A walk at night is especially welcoming after the heat of the day is gone and the temperature plunges eight degrees to a balmy 77 degrees.

But night is also a time when ghosts lurk in the shadows. Jamaican ghosts are called duppies, and nightime in Jamaica is duppy time.

ROLLING CALF DUPPY STORY

There once was a Mom and her children who were walking home from their cousins’ house. It was a country road and the kids were gathering sticks as they walked, so it took awhile. Night suddenly came upon them. Darkness, the great motivator, caused the children to stop picking up sticks and to pick up their pace instead. As they approached the railway line, they raised up their hands to wave at the gatehouse watchman. But then they remembered that he died just a few week before. They felt sad, he was a friendly man.

They had only just passed the gatehouse when they heard rattling chains.

Ching-ching. Ching-ching.

“Run!” cried the mother. And they did. They didn’t have to be told twice.

CHING-CHING. CHING-CHING.

The rattling got louder and the ground behind felt like it was shaking. The kids turned to look, screamed, and ran faster. They had only heard the stories, they had never seen a Rolling Calf.

It was hot on their heels, and I mean literally. The cow was twice the size of any cow in Jamaica. Its eyes were burning red and flames flared from its nostrils. Although it was wrapped in chains, it still gained on them.

“Quick,” cried their mother, “drop those sticks on the ground!”

The children did exactly as their mother said. One by one they dropped the sticks. And the Rolling Calf stopped to count them.

One…two…three…four…

Afflicted with supernatural OCD, it is said that duppies are compelled to count objects. When the creature finished counting, the family was almost home.

Safe in their kitchen, the oldest daughter cried, “Wait! The man at the crossing! Wasn’t he a butcher?”

Everyone shuddered. It was true. The man was a butcher, and it is the butcher who is likely to come back as a Rolling Calf. The family’s harmless greeting was returned, in spades.

When they woke up the next day, there was donkey out in the yard wearing a chain around its neck.

Ching-ching.

But that wasn’t what chased them. No way.

OTHER ROLLING CALF LORE

Stories like this have been told in Jamaica, but the Rolling Calf is not confined to that island. In Barbados, a similar duppy is the Steel Donkey. And in the Cayman Islands, the Rolling Calf haunts the night. But so does the May Cow.

Cayman Brac (one of the three Cayman Islands) is where the May Cow legend is strong. My friend Lorna Bush remembers hearing about the May Cow when she was growing up. Everyone on the Brac was terrified of running into the May Cow.

But thankfully the May Cow only comes out to torture people in May.

Still, one of Lorna’s neighbors had a special grove of mangoes, and the May Cow was often hanging around there. Was it protecting the grove? Or did the produce farmer produce the tale way to keep people from raiding the grove?

Anything is possible.

I only tellin yu what I hear,
So don’t go an’ say I say.
– Paul Keens-Douglas

What beliefs do you have in your culture about creatures or other scary things that show up in the dark?

— Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Keens-Douglas, Paul. Jumbie, Duppy, and’ Spirit, in Talk that Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling, Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes, eds.1989, Simon and Schuster.
Tanna, Laura (1984). Jamaican Folk Tale and Oral Histories. Institue of Jamaca Publications Limited.
http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/sisterislands/A-Duppy-of-a-story/
http://www.real-jamaica-vacations.com/jamaican-folk-tales.html

PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – G is for Ghoul (or The Short History of a Creature with an Overused Name)

Real ghouls don’t raid graves.

This misrepresented creature of fright needs to be redeemed. “Ghoul” is a word that is associated with graveyard robbing, flesh-eating creatures that go bump in the night. It is time to disentangle their evil reputations from this horrible image.

This is their history in as few words as possible.

Ghouls originated with Arabic Bedouins. The bane of travelers, ghouls were renowned for getting people lost in the desert. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, ghouls could use their voices to lure unsuspecting travelers deep into the desert where they would be lost forever. Or eaten.

They appeared in other ways as well. Sometimes when an individual fought and killed an animal for supper, it suddenly transformed into a cloven featured creature on the way back to camp. Goodbye dinner, hello ghoul.

You see, traditional ghouls are accomplished shape shifters. Often depicted as women, ghouls are not the ghosts of departed souls – they arise from a very different place. Ghouls are the offspring of demons. With bonafide demonic DNA, they have a penchant for human flesh.

Here is Merriam Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word ghoul:

an evil creature in frightening stories that robs graves and eats dead bodies

As the definition suggests, Western culture depicts ghouls as grave opening, corpse eating monsters. A quick browser search will reveal that most definitions of “ghoul” include the graveyard aspect. Perhaps the more sensational version of the ghoul makes a more gripping story image, but it is not a correct one from a folkloric perspective.

The traditional Arabic ghoul is not that disrespectful.

This ghoulish, corpse-eating twist to the lore of “ghouldom” is attributed to Antoine Galland, a Frenchman who translated the Arabian Nights in the early 1700’s. One story, called The Story of Sidi Nouman, tells of a man who is married to a woman with such a small appetite that one grain of rice at a time was all she could manage. Though their marriage was happy as marriages go, he wondered about a couple of things – her appetite quirk and her strange habit of leaving home in the middle of the night. One evening, he quietly followed her when she stole out of the house. As he approached the graveyard where she had gone, he watched in silent horror as his wife dug up graves and devoured corpses. No wonder she ate like a bird all day. That was when he realized that he had married a ghoul who was adept at shape shifting into a beautiful woman.

According to folklorist Ahmed Al-Rawi, grave robbing and corpse gorging were either Galland’s invention or his mistaken representation of other Middle Eastern folklore as Arabic. Galland’s gruesome image was then perpetuated in literature, including popular Victorian writings. The new meaning fell into common language use and western popular culture. Now ghouls the all over the world pig out in cemeteries.

To put the folkloric record straight, that is not how they started their ghoulish business. The world’s first ghouls caused desert travelers to become lost in the sand, which put them inside a ghoul’s sandwich. In short, lost travelers became desert dessert.

Were the first ghouls nasty and hungry? Sure, look at their parentage. But the first ghouls didn’t defile the buried dead for food. That was going a bit too far.

What is a ghoul to you? Do you have favorite ones from literature, folklore, or film?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:

Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (2009) The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation. Folklore, 120:3, 291-306, DOI: 10.1080/00155870903219730

Encyclopedia Brittanica – Arabian Mythology – ghoul: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/232832/ghoul

Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, Third Edition. Visible Ink, Press.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: ghoul http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghoul

PHOTO CREDIT: By R. Smirke, Esq., R.A. Digitized by Google Books. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – E is for Engkanto

Some Engkantos are found in Balete trees.
This is the biggest one in the Philippines.

E is also for Encanto. It depends how you spell it. Either way, it spells enchantment, but not necessarily the kind one wants.

In the Philippines, Engkantos are elf-like beings who are often thought to be the spirits of dead ancestors. Religious scholar Francisco Demetrio characterizes them as mysterious, dreadful, and fascinating. They live in natural places, like trees or boulders. Sometimes they are considered benevolent, but mostly they are tricky.

In the first place, if Engkantos fall in love with you and you spurn their love, they can be malicious and spiteful. They throw rocks. They turn into balls of fire (even great balls of fire) and chase you – talk about being hot on your tail. Secondly, people who meet these creatures disappear for a period of time, possibly spirited away to the legendary land of Biringan. Finally and most notably, those who meet them often experience the sudden onset of madness or delirium.

That is why the enchantment of the Engkanto is not always so enchanting.

Engkantos are singular in appearance. They are tall with smooth, fair skin, even in the all the wrinkly places. Their facial structure differs from humans in that their noses have high bridges and they have no indentation on their upper lips (new word alert, that indentation is called a plectrum). And boy do they like to party! It is said that Engkantos who live inside trees, like the large Balete tree pictured above, live the high life. Their tree homes feature lavish furnishings, gorgeous food, and lots of other beautiful people. Sounds a bit like a Hollywood party, only more dangerous.

Are Engkantos like Irish fairies? Well, some say they are elementals or nature spirits, which is like Irish fairies. Yet there is a key difference. When people go to fairy realm, time doesn’t pass like it does here. Upon returning to the human world, they are generations older. In contrast, the return from Engkanto contact doesn’t affect the kidnapped person’s life timeline – but it does affect the person’s life.

Encounters with Engkantos can result in madness. In traditional Filipino culture, some of those who experience such madness become shamans. By connecting with the spirit world, people are called into a new role as healer and spiritual mentor.

Many cultures around the world share a similar process for how people become shamans. Francisco Demetrio explains that such calls to service typically involve a disappearance and sudden onset of madness. It is almost as if the future healer must endure death and resurrection in order to do healing work.

And then there is another view. The depiction of Engkantos corresponds to how indigenous people viewed Spaniards when they first arrived in the Phillipines. Think about it – lighter skinned people from another land who fall in love with natives, cause strange things to happen, and wield unusual powers…hmmm.

So. Did Engkanto lore serve as cautionary tales for indigenous Filipinnos about the Spanish? Did such tales preexist European travel? Are the Engkantos indigenous nature spirits that took on some European characteristics over time?

What do you think? Have you heard Engkanto stories? There is a little comment box far below, let’s chat it up!

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Copyright 2015 The Storyrafters. All right reserved.

SOURCES:
Demetrio, Francisco (1969). The Engkanto Belief: An Essay in Interpretation. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 77-90.
philippinetales.weebly.com/claimed-encounters/category/engkanto20baa2a57e
Wikipedia – Engkanto

PHOTO CREDIT: By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – B is for Black Dogs

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My mother says that my black cat is really a black dog. She insists on this because my kitty wags her tail and greets people at the door.

“That’s what dogs do,” Mom says triumphantly, “so she must really be a dog.”

But in the folkloric sense, that would make her a pretty scary critter. Halloween hype and folklore abounds about the dangers of black cats. And there are many folk legends about dangerous black dogs. So if my cat is both, then I guess I’m doomed.

So what does the black dog signify? Well, it depends.

According to Carol Rose, the black dog is often found at crossroads, bridges, and entrances “marking the transitions in people’s lives.” They can be guarding treasure or doorways to mythic or sacred locations. It is good to leave them be because black dogs can be vicious and nasty. One swipe of the creature’s paw can wield paralysis. Or death.

They also have an unearthly way of disappearing quite suddenly.

In some Latin American countries, the black dog is the embodiment of the devil. Careful if you take a stroll on a lonely road, for you just might encounter one. One variant of the black dog is El Cadejo, a shaggy hound who can appear in two colors. The black one portends evil and the white one offers protection from evil.

So, if you walk a lonely Latin American road and come across a white, shaggy dog with red eyes, it’s all good, right? Well, um, no. You see, in some locations, the color scheme is reversed and the white dog is the naughty one. Tricky, tricky! And to make matters worse, it is said that if you hear a strange howling in the night, listen closely. If the sound is right near you, you are safe because the phantom is at a great distance. But if it is a distant howling, then phantom red eyes are upon you, along with phantom teeth and big trouble.

In the state of Connecticut, the black dog can signify other things, as my retelling of a Connecticut tale suggests.

Connecticut Black Dog Legend

One day, the geologist W.H.C. Pynchon was hiking in the Hanging Hills of Connecticut when he saw a small, black dog. It seemed friendly and wagged its tail. But Pynchon noticed something strange. The pup didn’t leave any footprints.

Pynchon ignored that little detail, and hiked in the company of the friendly little fellow. Then he noticed something else. When the dog barked, it made no sound.

Pynchon ignored that too because the little dog brought him so much joy.

As they climbed back down toward town, the dog bounced out in front of Pynchon. And then, seemingly in mid-bounce, it wasn’t on or off the trail. That scruffy little dog had completely disappeared.

When he got to town, Pynchon went to the inn and told them that there was a lost little dog in the hills.

After hearing Pynchon’s description of the creature, the innkeeper shuddered and said, “That is no dog. It is a phantom.”

And then he told Pynchon what the locals knew about that black dog: “See it once, it brings joy. See it twice, it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.”

Sometime later, Pynchon went back to the Hanging Hills to work with a colleague, a gentleman by the name of Herbert Marshall. As they hiked up a particularly rocky stretch, Pynchon saw the black dog leaping among the rocks.

So did his friend.

See it once, it brings joy. See it twice it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.

Pynchon grew worried as this was his second sighting. His colleague said it was his third.

“But who believes in this childishness!” cried Mr. Marshall.

As they continued up the hill, the rocks beneath Marshall shuddered. He lost his footing and fell to his death far below.

Ever since then, people are pretty careful when they hike in the Hanging Hills. Herbert Marshall was not the last to die after seeing the pup. If Wikipedia is accurate, at least 6 other deaths have been associated with the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills.

So, if you see a black dog that makes no tracks or sounds, beware.

See it once, it brings joy. See it twice it brings woe. See it three times, it brings death.

Have you heard black dog lore? Share it below! Have you safely walked the Hanging Hills? Crow about it below!

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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Appleborne, Peter, Our Towns – And You Thought Black Cats Were Bad Luck. New York Times, Feb 19, 2006. Burchell, Simon (2007) Phantom Black Dogs in Latin America, Heart of Albion Press.
Philips, David E. (1995). Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State.
Rose, Carol. (2000). Giants, Monsters, and Dragons:An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. ABC-CLIO, Inc. p. 51.
Wikipedia entries: Black dog (ghost); Cadejo.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeri Burns, subject StellaLuna Marshall (no relation to the deceased geologist).

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