Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

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

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.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
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.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/thebulletinbored/item/jewish_folklore_helping_you_keep_your_demons_ghosts_and_monsters_straight

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/d/dybbuk.html

Daily Ghost Post – H is for Hanako-San

Being an on-the-road performer, I find myself in many exotic places – cars, cafetoriums, and rest stops. We drive so much that we have favorite rest areas, like the first one in West Virginia on I-70 West. It has shady outdoor picnic tables and decent bathrooms.

But no matter how decent a public bathroom is, even if it is a fancy toilette, I always enter with trepidation. You see, my overactive teenaged imagination once conjured a horror story that involved a corpse and an innocent tourist who happen to meet in an out of the way, grimy bathroom stall. With that image permanently emblazoned on my brain, I still open every bathroom stall door cautiously, half dreading the discovery of a bloated corpse sitting on the toilet in deathly contemplation.

So it tickled me greatly to learn that I am not alone in my fear of bathroom stalls. There is a traditional, albeit contemporary, Japanese urban legend about a bathroom ghost -and I don’t mean JK Rowling’s Moaning Myrtle. Her name is Hanako-San.

Hanako-San is a totally modern ghost. Popular in anime, manga, film, video games, and schoolyard urban legends, she conjures up courage and fear. The legend was probably born mid-20th century, sometime after she died in a bathroom.

But unlike other ghosts who haunt the exact place of their deaths, Hanako-San doesn’t remain in one bathroom. Any Japanese elementary school girls’ bathroom can host her.

Hanako-San is always found in the third stall. Depending on which version of the story one hears, she is helpful and will protect you from other bathroom ghosts lurking in the toilets, pipes, and cabinets. But I ask you, just what is it about ghosts and their bathroom hauntings? I mean, aren’t there nicer places to spend eternity?. The darker Hanako-San stories say that she is no protector, but can cut you to bits or pull you down into the toilet. What a way to go!

Her origin is a bit of a mystery. It is possible that she committed suicide after being bullied – it is also possible that she got caught in the bathroom during World War II bombing raids. No matter how she died, she is the ghost of a little girl who died in and around a toilet in the third stall of a bathroom somewhere in Japan. And she wears a red skirt.

The brave among us can invite a visitation from Hanako-San. Knock three times on the stall three door, call her name, and she may be there to greet you when you enter. It is not surprising, then, that children dare each other to go into the bathroom and call her name. (Going into girls’ bathrooms is scary enough, but this?).

The story and the schoolyard ‘dares’ that are associated with it are reminiscent of an American urban legend with the power to ruin sleepovers – Bloody Mary. She is the scary woman who lives in a mirror and can predict your future. Or snatch at you with her bloody grip.

The next time I am at a rest stop or working in an elementary school, if all the bathroom stalls are closed, I won’t knock on them. You never know if Hanako-San has made an overseas crossing. I’m patient. I’ll wait for a safe door to open by a living human, thank you.

Do you know bathroom ghost lore? Have you participated in sleepover ghost dares? What happened? Do tell…

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Sources:
Gail de Vos, What Happens Next? Contemporary Urban Legends and Popular Culture
wikipedia – Hanako-San; Japanese urban legends
www. matthewmeyer.net/blog/2010/10/27/a-yokai-a-day-hanako-san-or-hanako-of-the-toilet/

Photo Credit: By Pete unseth (Own work)/ CC BY-SA 3.0 /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 – 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!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
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
http://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/10/28/funa-yurei/

PHOTO CREDIT: By Illustrator Henry Austin (The Project Gutenberg) [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 – 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!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
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 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/347/347-h/347-h.htm#link2HCH0035
http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/ghosts.shtml
Wikipedia – Draugr

PHOTO CREDIT: By Kevin Wells from Halifax, Canada, upload by Herrick (Viking Burial Mounds in Gamla Uppsala) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – C is for Churel

Old Man at Ravangla Market, India


The churel is a supernatural badass. A female ghost, the churel can slap back at those who wronged her in life.

In India, it is said that if a woman is treated badly by her family or dies under unnatural circumstances, then she can return after death to settle up. A bit of a vampire now, she can turn the blood of the men in her family to powder. A churel can also suck the youth out of people. According to vampire expert J. Gordon Melton, if she offers a young man some food and he takes it, then he is hers for the night. When he returns to his own life the next day, he will be a withered, old man.

That’s one powerful play date.

Although she can trick her quarry into believing she is a regular everyday woman, her actual physical appearance is hideous – thick black tongue, long dangling breasts, pointy teeth, slimy mouth – you know, your basic monster. Some sources indicate that churels are the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. Rosemary Ellen Guiley indicates that a churail (note different spelling) could have been either pregnant or menstruating when she died. With so many ways to spell her name and so many variants in what she is capable of, there is agreement on at least two points: 1. that she is a ghostly vampire woman known in India, and; 2. you don’t want to meet her in a dark or day lit alley.

This ghost fascinates me for several reasons. The first reason is that the churel is empowered in death. This is in contrast to whatever situations in life wronged her. Like the closing of a circle, the churel represents cosmic justice. I also wonder if the existence of the churel offers spiritual hope to those who suffer in life.

Another reason for my churel fascination is that her actions and their consequences are somewhat parallel to those of the Irish fairies. The risks of accepting food from the fairy folk is well known in Irish lore. Those who do are whisked off to the fairy world. Because time passes differently there, a homesick inter-world traveler may pine to return to the land of living humans. If he or she returns, hundreds of years may have passed. Once that person sets ancient foot on earth, his or her body cycles through the years until it reaches its actual age and finally crumbles to dust (you can read a version of such a legend here).

Parallels abound in world folklore, and the similarity of churel and fairy consequences are fun to note even if they are completely and totally unrelated.

The final reason why the churel intrigues me is that she robs her quarry of two things that humans hold dear – youth and the future. To be killed outright is punishing in and of itself. But wouldn’t it be even worse to go to sleep full of youthful fire and promise and wake up the next morning barely able to function, and living, albeit not for long, with the knowledge that your most of your life was stolen?

But you can avoid the churel’s trouble, as far as I understand it, by being observant of those around you. You see, the churel has an unmistakable characteristic that gives her away – her feet are completely backwards. So if a woman approaches you heel first, you might want to turn on your heels and hoof it in the other direction.

What do you think about the churel? Do you know of parallel spirits in other cultures? Can you add more information about churels? I’d love to hear from you and will write back!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2011). The Encyclopedia of Vampires and Werewolves, 2nd Edition. Facts on File, Inc. Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd Edition. Visible Ink Press.
Wikipedia – Churel entry.

PHOTO CREDIT: By Sukanto Debnath (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%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).

Daily Ghost Post – A is for Adze

Summer Night Riverside Drive – painting by George Wesley Bellows

A is for Adze. And I don’t mean the carpenter’s tool.

In Ghana and Togo, there a folkloric creature called the Adze. It is nothing short of a vampire. And it could ruin the joys of summer if you let it.

Ah summer. One of its great delights are the delicious summer evenings. Sometimes they are so perfect that they lure you out of your home. Sitting outside in your yard or a park, it is easy to smile when a gentle evening breeze brushes your cheek. The scent of green foliage is as rich as dessert. Blissfully soft, the summer evening is just right for the companionship of friends and margaritas. Or blessed silence (and margaritas).

The cherry on that summer evening cake is the moment when you see the playful, blinking lights of fireflies in nearby bushes. The firefly light ignites your inner child, so you jump up, hands cupped like shells, and chase them. All you want to do is to see the little creature up close and watch it make your palms glow.

The moment you catch one, your heart leaps. Quickly, you glance down to see the gentle light inside your hands. But at the exact same moment, your hands are forced apart by a tremendous weight. And there, standing before you, is a hideous creature whose head thrusts forward, right toward your face! Before you can open your mouth to scream, it opens its mouth and sinks its sharp teeth into your neck and sucks your blood.

From that moment on, the creature causes you and your family a world of misery. You see, once it bites, the Adze is in charge of your very existence.

If you try to possess the Adze, the Adze will possess you.

According to African folklore, the Adze is a vampire spirit that can live in a firefly. Perhaps such stories are told as cautionary tales – it is cruel to catch and imprison creatures in your hands or jars, so leave them be and all should be well and summer is safe. It only makes sense, right? Trouble is, even if you don’t catch an Adze, it can still bite you. Yup. In its original firefly form, the Adze can squeeze in under doors or through holes in window screens and suck your blood while you sleep. That’s some good night kiss.

Pleasant dreams.

Have you heard of this creature? Have I ruined fireflies for you as I have for me? Please comment below!

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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

PHOTO CREDIT: George Bellows [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

SOURCES
Bunson, Matthew (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia. Grammercy Books.
Wikipedia – Adze_(folklore)
http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/12818/11-legendary-monsters-africa

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