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Archive for the tag “a to z blogging challenge”

A to Z Reflections 2015 – 6 Plus 1 Thoughts

A-to-Z Reflection [2015] - Lg

For this year’s A to Z, I decided to curate, research, and retell world ghost stories. I thought my theme would allow me to whip out short, informative posts quickly, leaving plenty of time to visit lots of blogs.

Nope.

I got caught in a research and analysis web. Don’t get me wrong, I love going down the rabbit hole of research threads, learning more, analyzing. But it took more time than I expected, meaning less time for visiting other blogs. The extra thought and research was stimulating to me and commenters, so it was great for content, great for my storytelling work, and served to help me develop relationships with some bloggers (YAY). The downside was that it stole precious time for even more community building during the A to Z frenzy.

THE GOOD
1. The organization of the A to Z is really lovely, as are A to Z-inspired opportunities for connecting with others. The Twitter chat is a great place to share and connect. Thanks to all minions and coordinators for doing SO MUCH work to make this online community work so well.

2. Pre-writing posts really helps me. My hope, if life allows, is to pre-write the entire month next year so I can devote more time to reading, commenting, and exploring during April. Part of my time crunch came because only six or seven were pre-written.

3. The After Party is great, as I have been using it to check out blogs I missed. Lovely idea to have people choose which of their posts to post there. Maybe I should have posted there as well, but at the time I was more interested in seeing other folks’ blogs.

4. Other bloggers who ‘get’ the community aspect of this make all the difference. Visiting back cross-pollinates the comments, builds blogger relationships, and opens doors to new blogs. It even fertilizes the content. Blogger comments influenced some of my later writing choices since they were a definite part of my audience – I wanted to meet them when I could. There were blogs I visited often or daily, and I always visited commenters when they left their sites as calling cards. Even when things got rough at the end of the challenge, I did my best to visit commenters at the very least.

5. The Linky list is great for finding blogs, but it is overwhelming for me. I am an indecisive person, so choosing was hard. And even if I quickly chose a random set of consecutive blogs to visit, it didn’t always work out. If I couldn’t authentically comment or ‘like’ a blog, then I felt like I didn’t really do a blog visit. And the random approach often yielded that. Since I have internet speed that is more tortoise than hare, getting to blogs is a commitment! So here’s my workaround… I found new blogs by reading the comments on blogs I liked and was already visiting. Interesting comments by bloggers were the nectar that drew me to their blogs. I found great gems that way, even with themes I would have overlooked, like mathematics….

6. The Best Thing! I enticed a three-dimensional local friend into A to Z, one who I regularly see at the theater where we both work. One night we passed each other near the rehearsal rooms. He took one look at me and said, “Oh, no…. Q.” Then he ran off to draft his post. It was so much fun chatting about the A to Z process with him in person, and then going online and having chats with other bloggers and him. Made it ‘thicker’ somehow. I highly recommend this to others if you can possible make it happen in your life.

WHAT WOULD BE NICE
7. A page or two on the A to Z website that has step-by-step instructions for how to set up cross platform communication. I walked someone through the process for commenting on a WordPress blog from her Blogspot. If I didn’t do that, I don’t know if she would have ever commented on other blogs because she didn’t know that she could or how she could.

I know there are several “following” options that reach across platforms (Networked Blogs, for instance), but they all have different ways of signing up – and procedures for getting them to work on your site. I suspect there are differences if you are on WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org vs. Blogger, etc. – even if there can’t be a step by step set of instructions, it would be a treat to have a list of all possible ways people can interconnect. And if there are suggestions for which ones work easier on Blogspot vs WordPress.com, etc., that would be a lovely bonus. (If this info is there on the A to Z website somewhere already, then someone please share the link in the comments!).

Thanks to everyone for making April such a rich month. If only such community and deadlines existed for all my writing projects…. whimsical sigh… :).

– Jeri

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Daily Ghost Post – Z is for Zduhac

The inner essence of a person is called many things, such as spirit, soul, or personality. It is that core part of friends and family that we love best. And when loved ones die, it is their essence that we miss most.

Mythology and ghost stories tell us that sometimes deceased spirits leave the world of death to visit the world of the living. Sometimes the spirit or essence manifests in an unseen manner. At other times, there is a physical manifestation of their earthly form, which I call for fun their “phosphor-essence.”

When corpses unleash their restless spirits to return to the land of the living, they are called ghosts. But when living people send their spirits on a visit or quest, does that make them ghosts in life?

MEET THE ZDUHAC

The Zduhac is a superhero from Serbian folklore. Although he lives among regular villagers, like Superman, he has a super secret.

The person destined to become a Zduhac was typically born with a caul (amniotic sack). Moms would save the caul and then attach it to articles of clothing to protect the Zduhac in his dangerous work. Although the piece of caul was not as big as a cape, it was thought to offer cape-like protection to the wearer. In addition to the birth caul, another identifying mark of the Zduhac is tufts of red hair on his body. But these are not the only characteristics of this supernatural being. Solemn, wise, quiet people of stature in the community who also happen to be heavy sleepers might be among the Zduhaci (the plural of Zduhac). And although women and children were sometimes Zduhaci, more often than not, they were men, hence my choice of pronoun in this article.

A Zduhac’s spirit leaves its sleeping body at night to protect the village or region from bad weather. After making its bodily exit (sometimes in the form of a fly), the spirit of the Zduhac whisks off into the sky to fight the bad weather demons. Serbian lore suggests that sometimes they fight in teams against other evil Zduhaci bands. On one level, this sounds like a prototype for The Avengers comic and movie franchise.

But on another level, there could be something profound embedded in this folklore. In battles with winds that destroy crops, the Zduhac (or Zduhaci band) would fight the whirling weather and redirect it to another part of the landscape, to another region. For the local people, the Zduhac was a hero, a protector, a savior of grave import and value. One way I like to think of the the Zduhac is that he was a weather knight doing thrilling community service.

But what about the other places which suffered the ravages of the redirected winds?

If Wikipedia is accurate, different bands of Zduhaci fought against one another – the Zduhaci bands hailed from places like Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro. In an effort to protect their own, they had stormy, airborne tug-of-wars with wind. I find it incredibly interesting that these very same ethnic groups have experienced serious unrest in recent historic times. Does history repeat itself? Is the future based on the past? Are myths based in facts? Might a little of all of the above apply?

Books of traditional stories from folklore and mythology are not located in the fiction section of the library. Insights like this provide a clue as to why that is, no?

Thoughts? And what do you think about the Zduhac’s ability to transmigrate? Does its temporarily body-free essence, fighting in the windy skies, make it count as a ghost?

— Jeri

P.S. Thanks to those who enriched this A-Z series and whose work I enjoyed as well. It has been a pleasure, I look forward to continuing our “blogmunity” over time!

P.P.S. I have not yet found a way to properly notate the word Zduhac. There should be an accent over the letter “c” – an accent that looks like this: ‘

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
http://www.reportingpoint.net/57b927dcaa4059bd.html
Wikipedia – zduhac

PHOTO CREDIT: By Warrenlead69 (Own work) / CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – W is for Will-o’-the-Wisp

tinkerbell

Do you see the mysterious, glowing light in the picture? That’s me!

Well, sort of…

Like a puppeteer of luminescence, I got to work the Tinkerbell light in a community theater production of Peter Pan. I caused Tink to torment Wendy, flirt with Peter, and bounce around the stage with giddy glee. Although Tinkerbell, a fairy, might count as a will-o’-the-wisp in only certain cultures, she shares something in common with will-o’-the-wisps all over the world – they are mysterious and mischievous spirits embodied in flashes of light.

THE WHO, WHAT, AND WHERE OF WILL-O’-THE-WISPS
Will-o’-the-wisps usually show up in nature, not on community theater stages. They tend to appear in the countryside, often in boggy, wetland locations. In South America, they feature brilliantly (yes, pun intended) on the dry grasslands called the Pampas. But if you see them, beware, for when they appear it is usually to either foretell your death or lead you astray and get you lost, lost, lost.

Sometimes the lights are static, like floating orbs just inches above the ground. Sometimes they fly away due to sound or movement. But these eerie lights are also known to travel at high speed when they rush madly toward a lonely traveler (I am curbing the temptation to say they go ‘at the speed of light’).

So who are they? Well it depends where you live. In Sweden, they are the ghosts of unbaptized children who want to lead you to water so they can remedy their situation. In Germany, they are some form of a forest spirit on a walkabout with an unseen funeral procession. Uruguayan lore suggests that such lights can be the ghosts of dead cows. In America and the UK they are the souls of the not so dearly departed whose lifetime of evil antics cost them admission to heaven and hell (you’ve got to be pretty naughty if the devil doesn’t want you). Since they cannot get into the ever after, they are condemned to walk around in the in-between, carrying hellfire in a lantern, forevermore. Oh, and the lost soul is often called Jack, so if you ever wondered where the term jack-o-lantern came from…

A WISP BY ANY OTHER NAME AND OTHER COOL INFO
Will-o’-the-wisp is not the only term that describes this ghostly phenomenon. Like plants, it has common names and a Latin name. Some of its common names are so delicious they would earn A’s in a college English class – ghost candles, hinky punk, witchfire, Joan-in the-Wad, and fire demon are only just a few of them. The Latin name, ignis fatuus, which means “the foolish fire,” could have been a Hogwarts spell (or maybe it was, HP fandom, get commenting).

So, if you follow the ignis fatuus, you are a fool, right? But then again….

In certain parts of South America, these creatures are called La Luz Mala, or the Evil Light. In Argentina, they are color coded. A white light is a good omen. You can follow it to find gold. Yay. But if you see a red light, it is the devil, out doing nasty business. And it is more likely to do nasty business on August 24th, St. Bartholomew’s Day. That could be a good thing to know.

In Uruguay you can prepare yourself for an encounter with La Luz Mala. First, say a prayer. Next, bite your knife case (I really don’t know if I translated that one properly or if it is idiomatic, but I do so love the image). Third, if worse comes to worse, you can confront it with a steel blade. I’m not sure what you do with it, perhaps just displaying it works wonders, like crosses and vampires.

WISPY SCIENCE
Science has weighed on this too. One theory is that the lights are marsh gas, another that they are electromagnetic events. But scientists have also been attempting to recreate them in labs in order to understand what causes them. Chemical cocktails have been mixed to produce hot, gaseous lights. But ignis fatuus are cool lights. Further experiments have yielded cold lights, but they end up being the wrong color. Scientists, persistent as Goldilocks, still strive to get it ‘just right.’

Alas, my Tinkerbell light cannot be part of this luminous group of will-o’-the-wispies. Ignis fatuus can be blue, white, gold, red… but never, ever green. That puts Tink and me in a category all by ourselves. 🙂

Ignis fatuus lore is often told urban legend style, “This happened to a friend of a friend…” Have you heard such tales from a friend of a friend? What does your culture call these lights?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Briggs, Katherine (1976). An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. New York, Checkmark Books.
https://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/10/06/latin-america-lore-ghosts-demons-and-frights/#
Wikipedia – will-o’-the-wisp

PHOTO CREDIT: Jeri Burns

Daily Ghost Post – V is for Vazimba

Little did I realize that my foray into the world of ghosts would lead to strong political reactions, academic questions, and time spent poring through books about exorcism rites. What was I thinking? Actually it’s so much fun I can hardly stand it.

The Vazimba are believed to be the first settlers in Madagascar. Ruled by queens (!!!), they were an agricultural people who were considered primitive by the next wave of settlers in Madagascar. That is because the Vazimba did not use or know metal. To the newer settlers, it was almost as if the Vazimba lived in a different age.

Why the Vazimba people disappeared is a bit of a quandary. Oral history suggests that their kingdoms (queendoms!!) were conquered by other colonial groups. It is also thought that they succumbed to acculturation. Whatever the process, there is no disagreement about the end result: the Vazimba people and their culture died out. It is an unfortunate and true historical story that often plays out when new settlers come to stay.

Although the Vazimba died out, legends and lore suggest that their spirits didn’t go away. Some say the Vazimba haunt grave sites, others say they are found in caves in their historical homeland. According to scholar Hans Austnaberg, they are evil spirits associated with places where people fall ill.

Yeah, this is complicated for many reasons, not the least of which is that the people of Madagascar – the Malagasy – have a strong connection to the spirit world.

THE WORLD OF SPIRITS
The subject of spirits and ghosts in Madagascar is a very complex, so I will just graze the surface here. If you are interested in more, check out the resources below for more information.

In Madagascar, there is reverence for the dead and rituals for how to treat them. For example, it has been reported that people go so far as to re-wrap and re-bury their dead to make them more comfortable in the afterlife.

Ancestral spirits provide protection if they are treated well. Spirits of the non-ancestral dead tend to cause harm. Called kinoly, they are associated with grave sites. Because of the kinoly’s penchant for causing harm, people take grave care when near cemeteries (pun definitely intended). Taboos, such as not making noise near graves, are practiced to avoid bothering the kinoly. The last thing you want to do is irritate a kinoly because it will be the last thing you do. The kinoly like to tear out livers and other organs.

So how do the Vazimba figure into the world of the spirits? In two ways.

First, if the Vazimba were conquered or assimilated into other cultures, their descendants probably lost track of where they were buried. In that case, the people could not have kept up with their ritual care-giving. Perhaps that explains why there is a belief among some Malagasy that Vazimba spirits are very angry. That would make them perfect ghostly trouble makers, like those who cause illness.

Second, over time, the memory of the Vazimba, a long ago people of Madagascar, may have eroded and changed in the popular imagination. If Wikipedia is accurate on this, they are now sometimes viewed as monsters. Described as looking different and/or being of different stature, it is also said that they might not have been human at all.

To many Malagasy, the Vazimba ghosts are true and real. They are intertwined in the long-held beliefs in the world of the spirits. A deep part of Malagasy spiritual life, they represent pure, cultural belief.

But on a metaphorical level, the Vazimba ghosts can provide a useful, jumping off place for consideration of a broader topic.

There is a common human tendency to view people of distant times or cultures as different. From there, it is an easy next step is to call them monsters or evil spirits. It is an unfortunate human universal that things unfamiliar are tagged as troublesome, that people with different world views or opinions become ‘scapeghosts.’

That human tendency to accuse and label is darker than any ghost story, and one that I hope will finally stop haunting the world’s people.

What are your thoughts about this? In what ways does society label the unfamiliar as evil?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES

Austnaberg, Hans. (2008). Shepherds and Demons: A Study of Exorcism as Practised and Understood by Shepherds in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Sharp, Leslie (1994). The Possessed and the Dispossessed. Spirits, Identity and Power in a Madagascar Migrant Town. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.
Tyson, Peter http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/croccaves/legends.html
Wikipedia – Vazimba

PHOTO CREDIT: By Hans-Peter Scholz Ulenspiegel / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – S is for Slender Man

And now for something completely different… Monty Python.

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about cross platform word of mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeri

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – 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 – 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

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015 Theme

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Ready, get set, and almost…… Go!

It is time once again for April’s A to Z Blogging Challenge! This year, my theme is Ghosts From Around the World and Around the Corner – or, Daily Ghost Post, for short. So starting April 1 with the letter A and finishing on April 30 with the letter Z, I will share folklore and stories and more. I hope you will join me for this foray into the world of supernatural folklore.

In thinking about what to write for this year’s A to Z, it occurred to me that I would have a blast researching ghosts. Barry and I love to tell ghost stories, and it is always a treat to learn more about them. My friend Donna Cleary posts a daily photo of an undead monster every day during October. So I thought, “Maybe it would it be fun to do a narrative, ghost-focused variant of Donna Cleary’s ‘fiend of the day’ on my blog!” The series will include ghosts and phantoms, maybe a few fiends, and definitely an undead or two.

You see, the ghost story genre embraces more than just the invisible spirits of the dead…

Barry and I actually enjoy thinking about ghostly creatures. But when it comes to our storytelling work, we chew on the metaphorical undercoating of ghostly characters. (Metaphorically speaking of course). I plan to do some chewing here and hope that you will chew too by commenting and sharing your tales and views.

Some of these spooks are ones I’ve known (not personally, thankfully), and others are brand new to me. I am very excited to share them with you.

Here’s hoping that my daily posts inspire your creativity and imagination as much as they inspire mine.

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