Storytelling Matters

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Archive for the category “Stories”

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

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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 – 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 – 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

Daily Ghost Post – N is for Nachzehrer

The more I read about ghosts, the more I understand the human fascination with them. Their diversity rivals the botanical richness of a rain forest.

Over the course of this Ghost Post series, I have touched on dark ghosts, sad ghosts, mischievous ghosts, even a desirable ghost. But today is a day for a nasty one – so N is for the Nasty Nachzehrer. This ghost takes the familiarity of family and friends a bit too far.

Normal ghosts are supposed to wander the world wreaking havoc. We expect to see them, hear them, or smell them. Sometimes we get to witness them in ghostly action.

That’s why I was surprised to learn about a ghost that can cause dire trouble without ever leaving the grave. Magical power must be its middle name because it causes serious trouble from six feet under.

Let’s pretend. Say you lived in Germany during the time of a plague, and you lost an uncle. You would be sad. You would be even sadder when his wife, your aunt, passed away soon afterward.

People would crowd around you, offering love and wishes. Tearfully you would say to them, “My aunt wasted away without my uncle.”

Well that would be wishful thinking.

According to German folklore, it is likely that your aunt did not waste away from grief. Your aunt was probably devoured by your uncle.

But to get to his wife, your dead uncle didn’t have to move heaven and earth (well earth). All he had to do was move his mouth and chew.

This ghostly character is called the Nachzehrer. According vampire expert J. Gordon Melton, his name means “he who devours after death” and he is one stubborn ghost. Actually a revenant (a recently dead spirit who stoutly refuses to leave its corpse), the Nachzehrer doesn’t bother leaving the coffin. With one eye open in the grave, he chews on his burial clothes.

As he nibbles, people at home get sick.

While he winks that ghastly wink, the Nachzehrer chomps his fingers, bites his palms, swallows his arms, and munches his toes.

And his relatives waste away.

Like a puppeteer from the dark side, the Nachzehrer is one powerful vampire. His unseen teeth chew on his flesh until his relatives’ flesh is incapable of supporting life. If you ask me, destroying oneself to destroy other family members sounds like family dysfunction at its most profound.

Some say that the Nachzehrer is a child born with a caul over its head (the caul is the amniotic sack). Others say that those who die by their own hands can become Nachzehrers too. But plagues are really the Nachzehrer’s plague-ground. Just about any health epidemic can spawn a Nachzehrer- the very first person to die from the illness becomes a Nachzehrer. It’s that simple.

So the next time you pass the cemetery down the street, take a good look around. Somewhere, under the innocent turf and hulking headstones, a Nachzehrer may quietly nibble its rotting flesh as it murders its family and neighbors.

And that, my friends, is multi-tasking at its most sinister.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Bunson, Matthew (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia. New York: Gramercy Books
Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd Edition. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, p. 283.
Wikipedia – Nachzehrer

PHOTO CREDIT: By Johnson, Helen Kendrik (Ed.) (?) / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – M is for Minnie Quay

Even if you have never heard of Minnie Quay, it is likely that you have heard about someone just like her. Similar legends haunt many places.

THE SETTING
Minnie Quay is famous in Michigan and beyond. She hails from Forester, which is located in a part of the state known as The Thumb. And why The Thumb? The town is situated on the thumb portion of a mitten-shaped peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. A lumber town at the time of the story, Forester was home to this classic tale of struggle between parents and their teenaged daughter.

THE TALE
Back in the 1870’s, John and Maryann Quay lived in a small but cozy home not far from the beach in the lumber town of Forester, Michigan. They had a small son and a teenaged daughter, Minnie. Minnie loved to walk the beaches near Lake Michigan, gazing out to the lake, looking for possibility. Everyone knew when she passed by, for she always left a pretty trail of jubilant footprints zig-zagging across the sand.

One day, possibility sailed right in to shore. When the boat docked at the pier, Minnie met a sailor. She was 15 years old, he was older. And the local people didn’t like him. They never liked it when their young women took up with the sailors. Minnie’s parents were no different. She was told that she mustn’t see him.

“My girl,” cried her mother, “I would rather see you dead than be with the likes of him!”

But young love is a powerful force, like storms at sea. Just who is strong enough to stop it?

Minnie managed to sneak out and see her sailor whenever his boat docked in town. Everyone knew she met him, because they saw two pairs of footprints zig-zagging across the sand.

One day in 1876, Minnie’s parents put their feet down and forbid her to leave the house. Well there was an angry storm in the Quay house. But it was not the only storm that day. A rainstorm with the power and force of young love carried her sailor’s boat and crew to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

When Minnie heard, she was distraught. She never got to say goodbye.

From that day on, Minnie Quay stopped walking on shore. She simply sat near the pier, gazing out at the lake, looking for possibility. And one day, she found it. Dressed in a white gown, Minnie Quay walked to the edge of the pier where she always met her love and jumped into the water to join him.

Though her body was buried in a local cemetery, her spirit is restless. Even today, people see her walking along the beach, gazing out to the lake, looking for possibility – the possibility that one day she might find him.

Oh the people know it is the ghost of Minnie Quay – she emerges from the mists wearing a white dress, zig-zags her way across shore, but leaves no footprints in the sand.

SOME THOUGHTS
The Minnie Quay story touches people to the core. How do I know this? It is a musical, a book, more than one ballad , and a beer. I mean when an artisan craft brewery in Massachusetts names a beer after a story from Michigan, it has almost reached meme status.

On a more serious note, this romantic tragedy encourages us to believe that sometimes love is strong enough to cross the forbidden bridge between life and death. Maybe that is the real reason why Minnie’s legend endures.

But then again, if people still see her ghost emerging from the mists, then that could surely explains why the legend endures.

Why do you think tales like this endure? Share your thoughts and let’s get chatting.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

RESOURCES
Dutcher, Denise (2014). Dead Reckoning: A Great Lakes Love Story.
http://rmr.hubpages.com/hub/Ghost-of-Forester-Michigan
Taylor, Troy. http://www.prairieghosts.com/minnie.htm
Wikipedia – Minnie Quay
http://sanilaccountynews.mihomepaper.com/news/2014-11-05/News/Local_womans_book_tells_story_of_Minnie_Quay.html

PHOTO CREDIT: By Royalbroil / CC BY-SA 3.O / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – L is for La Llorona

La Llorona is an enduring Mexican legend that is told in Latin American countries, the American Southwest, and beyond. Even my American teenaged son points to it as the most terrifying tale of his childhood.

There are other interesting tidbits about the tale, but first, the story.

THE LEGEND

There once was a woman called Maria. With long dark hair that hung like a bridal train, she caught the eye of many. But the one who caught her eye in return was a fine courtly gentleman. Maria fell deeply in love him and bore two children. But for the nobleman, Maria was a mere dalliance. His heart and plans lay with someone else, far away.

When he broke it off, Maria was devastated. Through her pain, she convinced herself that she lost him because of the children. So, one night, she put on a flowing white gown, possibly the one she hoped to wear for her wedding, and brought her children to the river. There, Maria drowned her babies. Then, she died at the water’s edge in utter grief for everything that happened. Some say she drowned herself in the river. I wonder if she drowned in her own tears of pain and regret.

When she approached the gates of heaven, Maria discovered that she was not allowed in until she could find her children’s lost souls. Condemned to exist in between the afterlife and the world of the living, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, still walks the earth.

Even today, she prowls the rivers and lakes in search of her babies. Crying and wailing, La Llorona wears white, her long hair wild in in wind, searching and searching through the night. If she sees any children near rivers or lakes, it is said that she reaches out and clutches them to her broken heart.

And they are never seen again.

DIGGING DEEPER

A friend who grew up in Mexico told me that even though La Llorona’s story is set by a river, his parents, like many others, used the story to keep their kids off the streets.

“They told us she could be anywhere at night. We were afraid she would take us by mistake. It was the perfect way for parents to get us home before dark.”

The legend is scary by itself. It is used almost like a bogeyman – well bogeywoman – story. But scratch a bit deeper and much more is revealed. La Llorona is a story that is probably rooted in folklore that predated the Spanish conquest.

That story was about a woman who lived ten years before Cortes and the Spanish arrived in 1519. Like La Llorona, that woman wandered at night through the streets of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City at the time of the Aztecs), crying and wailing about her children. But unlike La Llorona, her children were not dead.

She wept out of concern for what would become of them.

Those who study this story suggest that her wailing was a warning to the Aztec people. It foretold a future when their lives would be forever changed.

The tale doesn’t signify the loss of individual children as a literal interpretation might suggest. Instead, it bemoans the loss of a culture’s children. And so it came to pass that after the Spanish came, people intermarried and children were born of mixed races. On a deeper level, that wailing woman was wailing about the lost future of Mexico’s children.

The accuracy of this foretelling is as scary as the modern La Llorona story.

Scholars say that the woman was based on the goddesses Chihaucoatl, the serpent woman of Aztec mythology. Montezuma, king of the Aztec empire, and his priests believed that the wailing woman was Chihaucoatl herself. Since they believed that she could foretell future events, they prepared for the worst.

But Chihaucoatl is probably not the start of the legend’s journey. Some scholars argue that the Aztec tale was appropriated by the Aztecs from the previous Toltec civilization.

Hmmmm.

La Llorona is a gripping tale of life, loss, love, and more. It is also an example of the many ways that conquerors co-opt people – they steal so much more than land. The tale we hear now, tinged with European religion (going to the heavenly gates) and class overtones (the rich gentleman), is a colonial version of an indigenous story.

La Llorona scares children off the streets at night. It also scares me, yet again, about the pernicious power of conquest.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Perez, Dominio Renee (2008). There was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture. University of Texas Press.
Estes, Clarissa-Pinkola (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. New York: Ballantine Books.
http://www.inside-mexico.com/la-llorona-a-five-century-old-lamentation/
Romero, Rolando and Amanda Notacea Harris (editors, 2005). Feminism, Nation and Myth: La Malinche. Luis Leal’s work. Houston: Arte Publico Press.
Wikipedia – La Llorona

PHOTO CREDIT: By Rodtico21 / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – K is for Kinyamkela

Ghost stories can be many things – entertaining, frightening, spiritual – but they can serve other purposes as well.

In an old story from the Bantu people of South Africa, a ghost from the land of death teaches the living how to live.

One day two boys were out for a walk when they came upon a beautifully tended banana tree with a perfectly gorgeous bunch of golden bananas. The boys were hungry and the bananas were ripe. So they plucked the bunch, sat under the tree, and ate every last one.

Late that night, when they were tucked in bed, they heard rapping on the door to their hut. They heard rapping on the walls of their hut. They heard the rapping of their nervous, frightened hearts. When they opened their eyes, they saw a one-armed, one-legged ghost standing in the doorway.

It roared at them. “You have no right to eat my bananas. And now you must die!” So saying, the Kinyamkela hurled stones and bones at the boys and the walls.

The boys ran screaming out of the hut, but the ghost, the Kinyamkela, chased after them, hopping on its only leg and using its only arm to pelt them with stones, bones, and clumps of dirt.

According to Bantu lore, a Kinyamkela is the ghost of a dead child or kind adult. But in death it is not so sweet. Perhaps it has something to do with its deathly transformation. You see, the Kinyamkela is a perfect half of its former self, as if it were sliced right down the middle. It has one arm, one eye, half a nose, half a torso, and one leg. Being one half of its former self might make it touchy. Or maybe it carefully guards banana trees the way it wishes it guarded the other half of its body. Whatever the reason, the Kinyamkela has a sour temper.

All through the night, the boys were chased by the Kinyamkela. In the morning, a village doctor gathered up the boys and other villagers.

“I know what to do. Follow me,” he said.

He gathered a basket of food – rice, vegetables, and bananas – as an offering to the Kinyamkela. When he set the food down at the base of the tree he apologized on behalf of the boys and promised that the village would leave the tree alone.

“Don’t ever let it happen again,” whispered an invisible voice from somewhere near the tree.

That was that. Everything was calm and back to normal. The people lived happily and left the tree entirely alone as promised. But then another member of the village, a woodcarver, returned from a trip. He heard about the haunted tree.

“Such utter nonsense, there is no Kinyamkela in the banana tree! It must be something else.”

That night, he readied himself for a vigil, for he wanted to find the culprit. Armed with a loaded gun, he sat down under the tree.

He was there for just a moment when he was pelted with stones and smacked with bones. The ghost was invisible that night, but its weapons were clear as day. And so was the pain.

“Aaaah,” cried the woodcarver as he stumbled away. But the Kinyamkela chased him for the rest of the night.

The next night began as a storm of rocks and bones chased after the man. Then the Kinyamkela tormented other villagers as well. The night was filled with the percussive sounds of stones and bones smashing into huts, trees, and people. Screams of fright and cries of pain were a grim melody to the percussive accompaniment of terror.

And nothing stopped the attacks.

After four days of being assaulted with stones, bones, and tufts of earth, the people could bear it no longer. The entire village upped and moved far away where their nights were quiet and safe once more.

Since the villagers promised to leave the ghost alone, the Kinyamkela found a way to make sure that they honored their promise.

The Bantu aren’t the only people to have such an unusually shaped creature. Although not a ghost like the Kinyamkela, the Arabic Nasnas is a human-like and split down the middle. Like the Kinyamkela, it also has half a head and torso, one arm and one leg. In contrast to the Kinyamkela, which is the spirit of a human being, the Nasnas is a spirit that is part human and part demon.

So I wonder what we would get if we put two and two together (or one and one, or half and half) – Nasnas + Kinyamkela = I wouldn’t want it as a stuffed animal.

Do you know of any Kinyamkela stories? Do you know if such tales are still told in South Africa? I was able to find very limited information about this ghost (even the mighty Wikipedia has nothing to say on the matter), it is rarely reported on the web and not readily available books. I wonder if it remains an active ghost in the folk imagination or if it has gone the way of the other half of the kinyamkela’s body…

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Fee, Christopher (2011). Mythology of the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic and Might. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Werner, Alice (1933). Myths and Legends of the Bantu. London: Frank Cass and Company, Limited.
Mythology Dictionary http://www.mythologydictionary.com/nasnas-mythology.html

PHOTO CREDIT: By Abu Nayeem (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3] Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – J is for Jersey Devil

I married a New Jersey guy, devil that he is… though the Jersey Devil has little to do with him. I hope.

There is a forested region of southern New Jersey alternatively called the Pinelands, the Pines, or the Pine Barrens. In 1735, the Leeds family lived there. Full of fragrant pine trees and free of the rancor of colonial urban life, it was a perfect place for Mr. and Mrs. Leeds to raise their 12 children.

But life wasn’t exactly bucolic when Mother Leeds discovered that she was pregnant with her 13th child. She cried and screamed, “This one is surely a devil!”

It was a dark and stormy night when she went into labor. The winds howled. Mother Leeds howled. When the baby was finally born, it also howled. And when the Leeds baby’s crying died down, something just a bit out of the ordinary happened. The baby grew horns on its head. Its tiny body stretched and its arms became wings. Then it screeched and flew up the chimney, but not before it killed the midwife.

The Leeds Devil, or the Jersey Devil, has terrorized people, off and on, ever since. It has been said to slash the throats of animals and people, devour children, and can leap over a cranberry bog in a single bound. Books and newspaper stories document eyewitness accounts of the fleeting creature. The image and the story is so famous in New Jersey that businesses and sports teams carry its name.

The Leeds family’s experience is but one version of the origin story of a bat-winged, goat headed, cloven hoofed, kangaroo-like, cattle-killing beast that haunts the Pine Barrens. Another account suggests that the birth of the devil was a curse on Mrs. Leeds because she was rude to a preacher. (There are definite discrepancies about the look of the beast, for slightly different description, head here).

There is another Jersey Devil origin story that is of a more political nature. Dabbed with religious intrigue, it is a complicated tale that has one thing in common with the Mother Leeds tale – it is about a colonial family also named Leeds who also lived near Leeds Point. This Loyalist family tangled with the Patriots, Quakers, and Ben Franklin’s rapacious wit. Franklin referred to Titan Leeds, a rival Almanack publisher, as a ghost – this moniker was used for Leeds while he was living and after he died. Over time and through folk imagination, perhaps he was transformed into the Jersey Devil.

Sightings in the 19th century and a fabled string of sightings in 1909 suggest that the Devil was active in the past. But recent reported encounters with strange leaping beasts, unidentified screeches, and hoofed footprints (as documented by some folks who host a website devoted to Jersey Devil sightings) suggest that people currently believe that something is haunting the place. A gentleman names Fred Brown, interviewed for John McPhee’s late 20th century book, Pine Barrens, believed in the Jersey Devil with his whole heart.

It may be of interest to note that the Native American tribes of that region, the Lenape, identified the Pine Barrens as a place of dragons. Is that because they saw a dragon? A Jersey Devil? Or was “dragon” the way they described the local bird called the sandhill crane? No one knows for sure.

Whether it is an indigenous dragon, a cursed baby, the ghost of Titan Leeds, or a sandhill crane, there is something afoot in Southern New Jersey. Just ask Fred Brown.

Do you have a local, legendary creature that haunts or frightens people? I’d love to hear about it….so would other readers of the blog I suspect…. 🙂

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
McMahon, William (1987). Pine Barrens: Legends and Lore. Mid-Atlantic Press.
McPhee, John (1968). The Pine Barrens. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
Regal, Brian http://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_jersey_devil_the_real_story/
Wikipedia – New Jersey Devil

PHOTO CREDIT: By Philadelphia Newspaper (Philadelphia Papers in 1909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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