Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the category “Stories”

Daily Ghost Post – I is for Ibbur

a to z badge letter i

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

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

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

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

But the Ibbur does none of that either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I don’t want one of those.

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

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – F is for Funayurei

Phantom ships and their spectral passengers are an integral part of world folklore. The Flying Dutchman is a famous example. Captained by a man condemned to sail the seas forevermore, The Flying Dutchman has terrorized seafaring folk for hundreds of years. Just one innocent sighting of the boat means your doom.

Another ghostly ship hails from colonial America. It sailed from New Haven, CT and didn’t return when expected. Months later, spectators on shore were delighted to see her on the horizon. But as she emerged from the mists, something strange happened. Right before the stunned eyes of New Haven’s people, the boat stopped moving and slowly fell apart, one plank at a time. In horror, the people on shore witnessed a ghostly reenactment of the ship’s demise. That was when they realized that the New Haven ship approached shore one last time to let loved ones know why its passengers would never come home again.

Japan has numerous legends about ships and drowned passengers who return in ghostly forms. “Funa” is the Japanese work for ship – “yurei” is the word for ghosts. And the funayurei are pretty scary when they come for a visit.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

A hishaku is a large spoon or ladle.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

This is a phrase you do not want to hear when you sail in the waters around Japan. It is almost better to meet the funayurei when they are clustered together on a phantom ship. Then it is all over quickly. Whirlpool. Sucked in. Finished.

But when you hear a sing-song chant on the salty wind –

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku

– look to the water. Wrapped in ghostly white kimonos, specters of dead sailors swim all around the boat. They seem to be everywhere. All at once they stop swimming and stare up at the boat. Then one by one, hundreds of ghostly hands reach up. Slowly, the specters rise, hovering over the water, their arms stretching toward the boat, toward you.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku

With their eerie words and plaintive gestures, the funayurei invite you to join them in the watery depths of death. Infesting the waters all around the boat, they prevent your ship from moving. Then, compelled by something you can’t explain, you find a hishaku and hand it over.

Once the funayurei receive that hishaku, they fill it with water. Then they pour ladleful after ladleful of water into your boat. Slowly the boat fills. Soon your boat sinks down, down, down to join the funayurei.

From that day forth, when boats sail near, you wear a white kimono, swim around the boat, and stretch out your lonely arms.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku

How’s that for a creepy boat ride? But take heart. Crafty sailors know how to stop the funayurei. They offer them ladles that have holes in them. While the funayurei are busy trying to fill those ladles, those crafty sailors quickly and quietly sail to safer waters.

I wonder if Harry Potter creator JK Rowling was inspired by the traditional imagery of funayurei. The scene at the cave when Harry and Dumbledore seek a horcrux reminds me of the funayurei legend. The instant Harry dips his cup in the water, swarms of undead creatures rise up to pull him down to the depths.

Hishaku, hiskaku, lend us a hishaku

Folkloric images are very powerful. Not only do they serve as fonts of inspiration (Richard Wagner wrote a whole opera called The Flying Dutchman), they can be terrifying. That’s why I will carry ladles with holes – heck I’ll even pack colanders – if I ever take a boat ride in Japan.

Do you know any phantom ship lore? Share your thoughts below!


Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Botkin, B.A. (1989). A Treasury of New England Folklore. American Legacy Press, NY
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. Checkmark Books.
Rowling, JK. (2006). Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Scholastic, NY.
Wikipedia – funayurei

PHOTO CREDIT: By Illustrator Henry Austin (The Project Gutenberg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – D is for Draugr

Viking burial mounds.

Burial practices have a way of coming back to haunt us.

Nowadays we say you can’t take it with you. But in times of old, people took it with them everywhere they went, including the grave. In Egypt, pharaohs were buried with their organs in jars, plus food and furnishings to enjoy in the afterlife. One Chinese emperor was buried with a clay army of thousands to protect him in his post-life future. And in Scandinavia, it was common practice to bury Vikings with their treasure. And boats.

Not all Viking dead like to stay dead. But Viking hauntings were (are?) different from you might expect. Viking ghosts weren’t disembodied spirits returned from Valhalla. No. Viking ghosts came in the form of reanimated corpses called draugrs.

Norse scholar Hilda Roderick Ellis says,

…the haunting is done by the actual dead body itself, which leaves its grave-mound and is possessed of superhuman strength and unlimited malice. (Ellis, page 100, full reference below)

Draugrs are big, strong, mean walking dead.

It is thanks to the Viking sagas that we know what these creatures were like. Grettir’s Saga (also called Grettir the Strong) tells of a physically strong (and also rather headstrong) red-headed Icelandic man called Grettir Asmundson (strength is a definite theme here). One of Grettir’s notable adventures was when he bravely chose to battle a draugr named Glamr, a horror show who was terrorizing the countryside. Every night, the local people trembled in their beds as Glamr marauded over their thatched roofs. Every morning they woke to find dead farm animals, every bone in their bodies broken. And not always animals.

When Grettir finally had his chance to do battle, he met Glamr inside a farmhouse.

Now meeting a draugr is a drag. Literally. They are extremely heavy and can drag you down. Draugrs can crush you, which is one of their favorite ways to kill. Not wispy, wimpy ghosts, they are undead corpses who have been reinvigorated with enough life spirit and unearthly bloating to make them larger than “unlife.” They can even expand at will.

Glamr must have undergone some serious expansion because when he and Grettir fought, they tumbled out of the house together. And Glamr was so big that he broke down the front door and the roof.

At the same time.

Ellis suggests that draugrs wield control over nature because they can bring light or darkness to the sky. They possess other eerie powers as well. Just before he was killed, Glamr foretold that Grettir would become an outlaw, get no stronger, and that his fortunes would go steadily downhill.

Glamr was right on all counts.

As powerful as draugrs sound, they are not all-powerful. Draugrs can be killed. After hearing his unfortunate fortune, Grettir cut Glamr’s head clean off. What a way to respond to bad news.

But the good news is that when the draugr is killed, so is its power. Phew.

After Grettir sliced off Glamr’s head, he burned the corpse and head to ash. Now, killing a draugr seems like a superhero victory – but in actuality it poses grave danger to the victor. You see, it is not clear if a draugr’s prophecy is a foretelling or a curse.

The draugr’s fortune cookie is one I would not like to open. That’s one reason why you won’t catch me hanging out near burial mounds.

So… is this a supernatural parallel to the Egyptian curse over tombs? I mean it is a gross violation to bother the dead, and draugrs come to “unlife” when someone, even an animal, lurks near their mounds. Maybe draugrs are undead security guards protecting their stuff. But doesn’t it seem like they overreact? What do you think? Other comments and thoughts so appreciated!


Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Ellis, Hilda Rderick (1968).Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature by Hilda Roderick Ellis, Ph.D. Greenwood Press, NY. p. 100 (quote).
Grettir’s Saga
Wikipedia – Draugr

PHOTO CREDIT: By Kevin Wells from Halifax, Canada, upload by Herrick (Viking Burial Mounds in Gamla Uppsala) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – B is for Black Dogs


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!


COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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).

Two Ways Storytelling and Yoga are Alike

Blogger Tresca Weinstein wonders why she can’t do her yoga practice at home. In a thoughtful gem of an article, she examines this question. Her intriguing insights about yoga are also super relevant to the power of storytelling.

With over 20 years of yoga classes under her agile belt, Tresca finds that the group class experience is starkly different from solo practice. Whenever she tries to practice at home, she feels empty and unengaged. But in group classes, Tresca feels the buzz – she bends and twists into vibrant shapes with more power and ease than she can at home. One might say that when she is in yoga class, her stretching is, well, stretched.

She explains it this way:

…yogis have known forever that something magical happens when people move, breathe, or meditate in sync. It’s an effect sometimes called entraining—when a group’s energy aligns, heightening the focus and awareness in the room. (A yoga teacher might call it “raising the vibration.”)

I love her explanation. It parallels how storytelling works. Magic really does happen when stories are told live in groups. The community of listeners is aligned in their emotional response to the story being told. Heightened awareness of other listeners and the emotional resonance impacts the way the story is told and heard. Listening to a story together raises the vibration of the storytelling experience.

It is not the same experience to listen to stories alone on headphones or to watch stories online. Even if the experience of online or digital storytelling is creative, interactive, and gorgeously artistic, it is different from listening live with others.

Imagine sitting by yourself at a table in a cafe watching a video on your phone or taking in a multimedia narrative on your computer. Imagine sucking in your breath at a tense or surprising moment in that digital story. Remember, you are the only one in that cafe experiencing that story – although there are other people in real space all around you, you are alone in that story world. Because of your solitary experience of the story, you are not as likely to suck in that breath as you might be if everyone else in the cafe were involved along with you.

So what happens if you bravely suck in your breath anyway? The resonance of that “sucking in moment” will be diminished because you are the only one doing it.

In an audience of one there is no one else to raise the vibration.

Tresca interviews a yoga teacher, and together, they share this meaty tidbit:

Among the “three jewels” of Buddhist mindfulness teachings—buddha (awakening), dharma (the path, or teachings), and sangha (a community of like-minded practitioners)—“the Buddha taught that the most important was sangha,” she said. “We’re part of a 2,500-year-old tradition of gathering together to practice.”

Storytelling, like yoga, is an old tradition built on gathering together. The “sangha” of storytelling – experiencing a story in the same time and space as others – is an experience that elevates narrative and community. I mean if the Buddha thinks this is important…

So does this mean that solitary consumption of online storytelling is no good? No way! Human beings want and need stories in all forms and forums. The creative doorways that technology have opened for us are groundbreaking and brilliant. We can and should embrace narrative online, onscreen, on paper, and wherever else we find it – including onstage or in the living room, with a storyteller and other listeners.

If you haven’t done it lately, jump into an audience and listen to stories told live. Remind yourself how it feels to raise the vibration and revel in the sangha of storytelling.

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Photo Attribution: By Jessmcintyre (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

Reimagining Beauty – R is for Resilience

Blogging A to Z

If you are new to this blog, welcome!

For my Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I am writing about how storytellers, writers, parents, teachers (in other words, just about anyone) can reimagine beauty to be more inclusive. That way, people with disabilities, varying body types and racial backgrounds, etc. (in other words, anyone) can feel and be recognized by the world as the beauties they truly are.

Reimagining Beauty – R is for Resilience

Did you ever see the Roadrunner cartoons? Roadrunner was regularly attacked by a villain called Wile E. Coyote. The story formula hardly varied from episode to episode – the coyote unveiled a new scheme to catch the bird, executed it, and it backfired onto him. Instant karma.

Sometimes he blew himself up. Other times, he plunged over the edge of cliffs. But he always survived. Bedraggled and smoky, he left each scene of the crime. Lights up on a completely normal and unchanged W. E. Coyote, ready to try again.

Talk about resilience!

There is an old fable about a proud and mighty oak tree who watched as a tall bunch of reeds swayed in the breeze. He giggled when they twisted out of the way of flying birds. He laughed outright when the reeds bent over in the wind.

“How silly you are to bend and sway in the face of challenges. Be like me. Stand strong against them!”

But when a hurricane came, the reeds waved and bent in the strengthening breezes. The oak stood firm.

The wind blew harder. The reeds flattened to the ground. The oak stood firmer, clenching the earth with his roots.

The winds galed and the tree became so stiff and brittle that the force of a gust snapped his trunk. As the tree fell, the winds died away. From the ground, he watched the reeds straighten up and dance gently in the breeze. That was when he understood. Flexibility in the face of challenges is not only smart, it’s beautiful.

If the coyote is ridiculous, the reeds are sublime. And both demonstrate resilience.

Every life has challenges. Bouncing back from challenges is what keeps us happy and healthy. People who acknowledge the difficulties in life, move through them without resentment, and return as their “good old selves” ready for the next adventure, are blessed with a quality that not only makes them gorgeous, but fosters beauty in their own lives and in the lives of others.

In addition to fictional or historical characters in stories, resilience is found in people who inhabit our memories and our day to day lives. Honor their willingness to dive into adventure in spite of past hurts. Resilience is beautiful.

The return of light, the reclamation of joy, the ability to dance after darkness is the beauty of resilience. Instead of desperate diets and fruitless attempts to make real life skin look airbrushed, use the power of words to help others to see that resilience is beauty worth emulating.

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

Blogging A to Z

Hey, I’m doing something neat next month! A group of bloggers (nearly 1500 as I write this post) will blog every day in April, except Sundays. Starting on April 1 with the letter A and going forward to the end of the month with the letter Z at the end of April 30, bloggers will write daily posts on the same letter. Over the month it will be like savoring alphabet soup, one noodle at a time. People say it is great fun, so I’m raring to go.

You can read more about it here.

Many bloggers who do this challenge orient their blogs to a theme. And today is the big Theme Reveal.

My theme is Reimagining Beauty.

One of the most beautiful children I have ever seen is a little girl. She was born with a genetic syndrome that among other things, alters the way she looks. It got me to thinking about the images of beauty that she will encounter in her life. Will she feel excluded? My recent blog posts have touched on this and other related issues, and there are more to come.

But when the A to Z Challenge came my way, I thought that it would be great opportunity to really dig down into this issue. So I decided to focus on how anyone – storytellers, writers, people in everyday conversation, parents – anyone has the power to describe beauty inclusively, regardless of cultural background, body type, age, abilities, or what their physical appearance has or “lacks” in terms of media driven imagery. Because that stuff is not what matters or makes one beautiful. At least that’s my take on it.

Storytellers know that words have great power to change mood and mind. My blog series on Reimagining Beauty will focus on the words we can choose to redefine and reimagine beauty in ways that are inclusive of anyone.

It will be one fun roller-coaster ride through the month of April.


Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters All rights reserved

A Vietnamese New Year’s Legend

Long ago in Vietnam, there was a prince named An-Tiem. He lived his life by dancing to his own heartbeat. At first, his stern father valued this quality in his son. But as An-Tiem grew older, the king was angered by his child’s singular way of living. The tides of favor finally turned against the young man when he violated one of his father’s decrees. An-Tiem was banished from his homeland.

The prince was sent to live all alone on a deserted island. He was given nothing for his survival except for crude tools.

Surrounded by sea and solitude, his spirit wasn’t dampened. He built a shelter. He found a freshwater spring for water. An-Tiem hunted and fished. Somehow, he survived the first season of exile.

But when the hot season came, the tides once again turned against him. The freshwater spring ran to a trickle. He was careful to drink only a little everyday so that the animals on the island might also survive.

One sweltering day, he came upon a great, green object on a vine. It was a plant he had never seen before. Ever curious, An-Tiem broke it in two. When he saw what was inside, he instinctively dropped it and jumped back. The flesh of the wet fruit was bright red. Red meant anger. Red meant poison.

But the sun’s heat pressed hard upon him. The spring was almost dry. An-Tiem’s heart and mind whispered, “You are not likely to survive the season, what can you lose?” So he picked up one half of the fruit and bit into it.

The wonderful fruit was sweeter than any he had ever tasted. Juice ran down his chin and moistened his parched throat. For the first time in his life, An-Tiem tasted watermelon.

He found other plants just like it. All through that season, he ate the fruit and planted its seeds. He survived.

In time, fisherman found his island. They traded with him for the strange, new fruit. Soon, his watermelons were sold on other islands. The fruit grew in popularity in his home country. By farming watermelons and trading with fishermen, An-Tiem began to prosper.

One day, An-Tiem carved his name into a watermelon and tossed it out to sea. It washed up in Vietnam and was immediately brought to the King.

The King had grown to love the sweetness of the strange fruit. So singular. So unique. So like his lost son. As he gazed at the name in the carved melon, he learned that his son was a young man with the heart and wits to not only survive, but to thrive.

This knowledge changed the King’s heart. He welcomed An-Tiem back home and immediately passed the crown to him. That is how An-Tiem became King Hung Vuong VI. It is said that he ruled Vietnam with the sweetness and resolve that comes from following both heart and mind.

Ever since that time, the watermelon has been considered a good luck symbol in Vietnam and is often given as a New Year’s gift. Please accept this watermelon story as my New Year’s gift: May your new year be filled with sweetness, luck, and the resolve to live your life while dancing to your own heartbeat.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: