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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

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Daily Ghost Post – Q is for Queen Anne Boleyn’s Ghost

Tower of London Scaffold

Queen Anne Boleyn was executed at the Tower of London in 1536 and has haunted England ever since. It is not clear why she comes, but I have a guess…

THE BACK STORY
Anne Boleyn was the second of King Henry VIII’s luckless wives and the first to meet her end at the end of an executioner’s blade. Mother of beloved Queen Elizabeth I, she was unable to give Henry any sons in their short marriage. Henry was not patient. When he wanted something, he wanted it immediately. He was probably working on sons with soon-to-be next wife Jane Seymour when he accused his current wife, Anne Boleyn, of adultery. To make things even more juicy, she was accused of an adulterous liaison was with her brother, among others. These alleged, treasonous acts were probably malicious rumors started by her enemies. But they were incredibly convenient, so the King bought into them.

The trial was swift and her guilt was declared. Brought to the Tower of London to await her execution, Anne lived out her last days in prayer. Her death was easy, well easy as beheadings go.

Queen Anne Boleyn’s reign was significant because her marriage to King Henry VIII changed the course of English history. A very abridged version goes like this: When King Henry fell for Anne, he was already married to Catherine of Aragon. Since Cathy gave him no sons, he asked the Pope to annul his marriage.. The Pope declined. So Henry broke away from Catholicism and Rome. But while he was at it, he broke ALL of England away from Rome and started a brand new religion, the Church of England. Then his marriage to Catherine was annulled by the Church of England and he was free to marry Anne Boleyn.

Reviled by many for her liaison and marriage to Henry, Anne Boleyn was seen as a troublemaker who caused her country’s rift with the Church. Others considered her a gifted queen who forged important political connections with France. Later in history, she was viewed as a martyr. For good or ill, Queen Anne Boleyn was a powerful figure in England.

QUEEN ANNE’S GHOST
I don’t know when the first sighting of her ghost occurred, but it was seen in many places, many times. On the anniversary of her death, on May 19, Queen Anne’s ghost appears at Bickling Hall in Norfolk. She arrives in style in a carriage pulled by headless horses and driven by a headless driver. In keeping with the theme, she is also headless. She also is seen at the Tower of London. Once, a guard saw an intruder who wouldn’t stop when confronted, so he wielded his sword. Wasn’t he surprised when the weapon went right through her ghostly body. This Tower incident was not only reported by that guard, but witnessed by someone else – the ghost is thought to be Anne.

On Christmas Eve, Queen Anne Boleyn haunts Hever Castle, which was her childhood home. She also appears at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and other places of prominence.

THOUGHTS
Many cultures around the world have folklore that features women who return to haunt and sometimes harm. Typically, those ghosts were women who received poor treatment in life or died under questionable circumstances. The ones who cause harm are categorized as vengeful ghosts. The brutal historical record suggests that Anne Boleyn would fit right into that ghostly clique.

But Queen Anne’s ghost doesn’t do harm. She doesn’t toss her head and cry, “Catch!” She doesn’t even say boo. So, if she doesn’t return to avenge her death, what might she be doing instead?

I think that her specter returns to remind people about civility and justice. It strikes me as proper and right (and even a bit ironic) for someone who helped change the course of a nation’s spirituality to remind that same nation, through her spirit’s visits, about the consequences of hypocrisy and the abuse of power.

As I see it, the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn is a former head of state using her headless state for the public good.

Other famous ghosts who return to haunt…..? Comments….go!

— Jeri

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Jones, Richard and John Mason (2005). Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland. New Holland Publishers, Ltd.
http://great-castles.com/heverghost.php
http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/content/articles/2005/04/02/asop_blickling_hall_ghost_feature.shtml
Wikipedia – Anne Boleyn
http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/anne-boleyn/ghost-of-anne-boleyn-the-stories/

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

Daily Ghost Post – O is for Old Green Eyes

Nate has always been a history buff. Throughout his childhood, he and his parents visited every Revolutionary War historic site in New York and Massachussetts. Even historic site markers were exciting day trip destinations for his family.

Whenever they went down south to visit relatives, they would rack up visits to Civil War sites. One autumn they walked Gettysburg and Nate stood behind every single cannon (it was a long walk). One spring break they went to Antietam, where Nate educated the park rangers about the battle.

The summer Nate turned 17, they went to Chickamauga, near Chatanooga, TN. It was late evening when they arrived, but Nate couldn’t wait until morning. He had to get there. Quietly, he sat on a rock, gazing out at the field. As he reverently bowed his head, he remembered that the Battle at Chickamauga cost 35,000 casualties. Included in that huge number were 4,000 men who died in the very field where Nate sat.

When he looked up, he saw what he was hoping to see. Glowing, green lights were creeping across the field.

“Mom, Dad, didn’t I tell you? There they are! Those are lantern lights of the women who helped at the battle,” he told his parents.

But Nate was confused. He thought there would be more than two lights. When they went to the museum the next day, he found out why.

“Yep, some people say those lights are the women. But, if you saw only two lights…” and that’s when the docent told Nate and his parents about the Chickamauga haunting.

The Civil War Battle of Chickamauga took place some time after Gettysburg. It was a massive, two staged battle. The Confederates won the first stage, and in the second stage victory went to the Union soldiers. But who really wins any battle when there are so many casualties on both sides?

The dead and wounded lay on the field for days after the battle. Women came to seek their loved ones in a human carpet of gore. Their lantern lights still linger as it is said that they are patiently hunting to this day.

But the docent told them that there are more ghosts who haunt the place. The ghost of a headless horseman roams the woods nearby. Another Confederate soldier is there too. His head was blown off in battle.

“Yep, that’s Old Green Eyes,” said the docent. “His head was the only part of him that they buried. It roams the land even now. It cannot rest until it finds the rest of its body.”

His eyes are green, his beard hangs long. And there is nothing more to him than that. Old Green Eyes, a disembodied head, haunts the fields near the Chickamauga Creek, searching, searching.

“Yep,” said the docent, “Old Green Eyes is around. People still see him. Sometimes he causes car accidents. Sounds like you saw him last night.”

The docent never mentioned the beast however. Old Green Eyes may be a new name for an old ghostly beast that pre-dated the Civil War. The beast has glowing eyes and sports fangs. Perhaps it is the reason the Cherokee named the creek The Chickamauga, which means “River of Death.”

Like other history buffs, Nate still scours the past for details about the battles. He knows weaponry and battle strategy. But at Chickamauga he learned something about human nature. You see, it is profoundly human for people to go in search of themselves. We do it in many ways – by getting education, practicing arts, or meditating, for example. We are happy and whole when we find ourselves. But Old Green Eyes is much more literal his search. And when he finally finds himself, the rest of himself, that is when he will finally be at rest.

Do you know of any war-time ghosts? As always, I love to hear from you and will write and visit back!

— Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. New York: Checkmark Books.
http://themoonlitroad.com/green-eyes/

PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

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