If you have been following this blog series thus far, you could be wary of cute pets, nature, and the call of nature (plus the usual array of ghouls, vampires, and other everyday supernatural beings). But today, for a change of pace, I offer a nice little ghostie with an adorable name – the Ibbur.
I am tickled by this outside-the-box little ghost.
Other ghosts imply evil, incite fright, or are impish incarnations from a dark other world. But not the ibbur.
As far as possession goes, visions of spewing spittle and horror may dance in your head (okay revolve in your head and with your head, I’m talking about possession after all).
But the Ibbur does none of that either.
The Ibbur is a good guy among ghosts and I want one.
In his book, Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, the renowned folklorist and scholar, Howard Schwartz, shares a Midrashic tale which he says is the precursor to the Ibbur in Jewish folklore. Here is my retelling, below.
Once there was a student who was forlorn because he could not remember his studies. No matter what he did, when it came time to remember information or apply what he learned, his mind went blank. His teacher, a kindly and wise rabbi, wanted to help him out.
So the rabbi visited the student in a dream.
“Toss a stone three times whenever you forget your studies,” he whispered, “and help will come your way.”
When the student woke in the morning, he went to visit a dream interpreter, as was the custom of the day.
“I don’t want to throw stones at the rabbi. Can you please help me understand what this dream means?” the student begged.
After carefully listening to the student’s dream, the interpreter gave him advice.
“Throwing stones means reciting the material three times.”
From that day onward, the student did just that. Whenever he forgot his material, he recited it three times. And when he did this, well what do you know, his memory was restored.
In this little parable, the spirit of the rabbi jumped into the body of the student and shared wisdom while the student slept. The process when spirits move into other bodies is called transmigration. Since the rabbi transmigrated, that’s what makes the rabbi a forebear of the Ibbur – transmigration is the Iburr’Is M.O. The big difference between the rabbi’s helpful visitation and one from an Ibbur is that the rabbi was alive and that Ibburs are dead.
The word “Ibbur” means impregnation. One might say that the rabbi “impregnated” the student’s dream just as Ibburs “impregnate” their hosts’ spiritual center.
Ibburs can be sages or rabbis or any good, old soul who wants to continue doing good work after death. Think of the Ibbur as a spiritual philanthropist. Sometimes its goal is to heal the planet. Sometimes its goal is to help guide a particular deserving someone on his or her path in life.
Although the host isn’t always aware of the presence of an Ibbur, there are those times when an Ibbur asks permission to gain access to a host’s body. Folklore deems either mode of access to be a form of possession. But ibbur possession does not require exorcism. The Ibbur’s presence is temporary, like a wanted, helpful guest who stays just the right amount of time. It helps wash the proverbial dishes, leaves some nice parting gifts to the host (its good deeds), and moves on. How lovely to have an Ibbur come along just when you need a helping hand. That’s why I want one.
It is important to add that the Ibbur is not the only ghost to possess Jewish people. Another one, called the Dybbuk, is a demonic version of the Ibbur. There are countless stories, plays, and books about trouble with Dybbuks.
But I don’t want one of those.
Do you know about any other nice, helpful ghosts? Other supernatural folklore (about fairies and their ilk) include helping beings…. but what about helping ghosts? Thoughts? Let ’em rip in the comments way below.
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.
Lanaham, Yonasson Gershom (2000). Jewish Tales of Reincarnation. Jason Aronson, Inc. 20000
Moreman, Christopher. Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions, page 48-9.
Schwartz, Howard (). Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis.