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Archive for the tag “a to z challenge”

Daily Ghost Post – X is for Xunantunich

Xunantunich – Maya Ruins, Belize

Pronounced “shoo-nahn-too-nitch,” these ruins in Belize remind me of Indiana Jones movies. But instead of a writhing pit of snakes, exploding statues, and a swashbuckling Harrison Ford leaping and flying about, there is a ghost who gently haunts this site.

An early sighting of the ghost occurred in the later 19th century. One fine day, a gentleman was out walking near Xunantunich when he saw a woman he’d never seen before. Dressed in a beautiful, white, Maya dress, she approached the ruins. He followed after her. When she turned to look at him, he was startled to that her eyes were fiery red. The mysterious lady walked up the stairs to the highest part of the ruins, El Castillo, and slipped into a cavern. The gentleman raced to the village to get assistance. But when he came back, he discovered that no human could ever hope to go where he saw her enter. It was not a cavern, but solid wall.

He was not the first person to see her, and not the last either.

Is she the ghost of someone who was climbing to witness a ritual Maya execution? Was she a relative of a sacrificed person? Or does her spirit perpetually re-enact the moments before her own execution? No one knows.

Xunantunich is not the original name of this ancient Maya community. Like the civilization, the name is lost in time. But once the previously lost site was excavated in the later 19th century, the ghost sightings began.

Because she was seen among the stone ruins, she has been given the nickname “Stone Maiden” and “Maiden of the Rock.” A local legend, she is remembered by people who have seen her, and by those who see her still. She is also remembered in the name of the ruins, for Xunantunich means ‘Stone Maiden.’

What’s in a name? A great deal.

Place names often come with a story. Are there any locales or sites near you with a story attached to its name? Do tell!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
http://www.belizeinthesun.com/xunantunich.html
http://www.duplooys.com/mayansites/xunantunich.php
http://nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/xunantunich.html
http://www.paranormala.com/the-ghost-of-xunantunich/
Wikipedia – Xunantunich

PHOTO CREDIT: By Thomas Shahan /CC BY 2.0 / Wikimedia Commons

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Daily Ghost Post – R is for Rolling Calf

Outdoor life in the Caribbean is a dream come true. A walk at night is especially welcoming after the heat of the day is gone and the temperature plunges eight degrees to a balmy 77 degrees.

But night is also a time when ghosts lurk in the shadows. Jamaican ghosts are called duppies, and nightime in Jamaica is duppy time.

ROLLING CALF DUPPY STORY

There once was a Mom and her children who were walking home from their cousins’ house. It was a country road and the kids were gathering sticks as they walked, so it took awhile. Night suddenly came upon them. Darkness, the great motivator, caused the children to stop picking up sticks and to pick up their pace instead. As they approached the railway line, they raised up their hands to wave at the gatehouse watchman. But then they remembered that he died just a few week before. They felt sad, he was a friendly man.

They had only just passed the gatehouse when they heard rattling chains.

Ching-ching. Ching-ching.

“Run!” cried the mother. And they did. They didn’t have to be told twice.

CHING-CHING. CHING-CHING.

The rattling got louder and the ground behind felt like it was shaking. The kids turned to look, screamed, and ran faster. They had only heard the stories, they had never seen a Rolling Calf.

It was hot on their heels, and I mean literally. The cow was twice the size of any cow in Jamaica. Its eyes were burning red and flames flared from its nostrils. Although it was wrapped in chains, it still gained on them.

“Quick,” cried their mother, “drop those sticks on the ground!”

The children did exactly as their mother said. One by one they dropped the sticks. And the Rolling Calf stopped to count them.

One…two…three…four…

Afflicted with supernatural OCD, it is said that duppies are compelled to count objects. When the creature finished counting, the family was almost home.

Safe in their kitchen, the oldest daughter cried, “Wait! The man at the crossing! Wasn’t he a butcher?”

Everyone shuddered. It was true. The man was a butcher, and it is the butcher who is likely to come back as a Rolling Calf. The family’s harmless greeting was returned, in spades.

When they woke up the next day, there was donkey out in the yard wearing a chain around its neck.

Ching-ching.

But that wasn’t what chased them. No way.

OTHER ROLLING CALF LORE

Stories like this have been told in Jamaica, but the Rolling Calf is not confined to that island. In Barbados, a similar duppy is the Steel Donkey. And in the Cayman Islands, the Rolling Calf haunts the night. But so does the May Cow.

Cayman Brac (one of the three Cayman Islands) is where the May Cow legend is strong. My friend Lorna Bush remembers hearing about the May Cow when she was growing up. Everyone on the Brac was terrified of running into the May Cow.

But thankfully the May Cow only comes out to torture people in May.

Still, one of Lorna’s neighbors had a special grove of mangoes, and the May Cow was often hanging around there. Was it protecting the grove? Or did the produce farmer produce the tale way to keep people from raiding the grove?

Anything is possible.

I only tellin yu what I hear,
So don’t go an’ say I say.
– Paul Keens-Douglas

What beliefs do you have in your culture about creatures or other scary things that show up in the dark?

— Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Keens-Douglas, Paul. Jumbie, Duppy, and’ Spirit, in Talk that Talk: An Anthology of African-American Storytelling, Linda Goss and Marian E. Barnes, eds.1989, Simon and Schuster.
Tanna, Laura (1984). Jamaican Folk Tale and Oral Histories. Institue of Jamaca Publications Limited.
http://www.compasscayman.com/caycompass/sisterislands/A-Duppy-of-a-story/
http://www.real-jamaica-vacations.com/jamaican-folk-tales.html

PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

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

Tower of London Scaffold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeri

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – O is for Old Green Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeri
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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – N is for Nachzehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that would be wishful thinking.

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

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

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

As he nibbles, people at home get sick.

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

And his relatives waste away.

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – K is for Kinyamkela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And nothing stopped the attacks.

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – 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

Reimagining Beauty – Y is for YES!

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 – Y is for YES!

My friend Meg suffers from cancer. Thankfully, she will be fine, but to get to that state she must make a dramatic journey through the trials of chemo, invasive surgery, and recuperation.

In spite of her suffering, her outlook is positive, happy, bright, and optimistic. She makes sunshine dim.

You see, each and every step of her journey has been punctuated with a resounding “YES!”

YES! We caught it in time.

YES! My friends and family love me.

YES! I have complaints and fears (who wouldn’t?) but I talk about them so I can clear the decks and bring my YES! on.

YES! I can withstand this.

YES! I have confidence in my doctors.

YES! I will survive.

With all her hardships, she remembers her blessings. She blogs about gratitude on CaringBridge. Though her course of treatment makes daily blogging impossible, she remembers the good and shouts it out in cyberspace.

YES and yowza, she is beautiful.

YES people, as Barbara Fredrickson’s research is now confirming, are more likely to be healthier than their pessimistic counterparts. In their recent reviews of research, both James Clear of the Huffington Post and Emily Esfahani Smith of the Atlantic Monthly agree that optimism yields actual benefits to brain and body. In my view, this suggests that the power of positive thinking is a good and beautiful thing.

There are many ways that people sparkle with the beauty of optimism. When they challenge themselves, try new things, start, take risks, and look for the promise of roses instead of shadows around the next corner, they are doing the YES thing. Maybe they meditate, maybe they write, but whenever they are optimistic and effervescent, they nourish themselves and are inspiring to others.

Say YES! to a more inclusive definition of beauty. Say YES! to people who might not feel beautiful because popular culture defines and proliferates a limited range of images of beauty. Give everyone models of gorgeous optimism in stories, writings, and in what you say.

Say YES! to beautiful, positive thinking so that negative thoughts about beauty can fly away just like Meg’s illness will.

What do you think? Is optimism a beautiful thing?
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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

Reimagining Beauty – K is for Know-How

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 – K is for Know-How

Widespread on social media and in the oral tradition, here is one of my favorite light bulb jokes.

– How many stage managers does it take to change a…

– Done.

If you have been part of a theatrical production with a really good stage manager, you are fortunate. That means you have been in the holy presence of blissful know-how.

Stage managers are the can-do people of the theater. They are the air flight controllers of live productions that can teeter on the brink of chaos if anything goes amiss. Seeing a need before others can express it, they take care of it, and voila no problem or need. It’s not a question of whether it can be done, but rather, that it will, somehow, get done.

The technical skills required to put on theatrical productions are vast. But when stage managers integrate the vast technical tools of the theater, their personal skills and knowledge, and then make on the fly decisions that work, well that’s entertainment (not to mention sheer beauty).

Very young children look up to their all-powerful parents as they drive cars, make food, fix broken toys or craft new ones. To them, parents are magicians. They gawk at the beautiful, caring know-how of their mothers and fathers. (True, this changes for some of them as they get older, but then they have stage managers to worship forever after).

Young children and those who see stage managers in action instinctively know that know-how is a great and beautiful thing. Who in your life displays such a quality? What characters in stories that you already tell or ones your want to write could be valued as beautiful because of such a quality?

Although good stage managers might be the quintessence of know-how, there are people around the neighborhood, in the writer’s imagination, and on the storyteller’s tongue who have that quality too. Why not hold those characters up to the spotlight? The efficacious way that the bread gets sliced because of know-how is simply beautiful and deserves the final bow.

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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