Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “folklore”

When the World is Crying

When the world is crying, what do storytellers do?

We tell stories.

We tell tales to heal hurts. We tell stories to empathize and to teach empathy. We tell tales to illuminate the paths that build caring communities.

Mostly, we tell stories to remember our humanity.

Telling stories matters, especially when the world is crying.

The events of the shooting at the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina this June stole lives and tore souls apart. It was yet another chink in the heavy curtain of pain that our nation wears, pain wrought from hatred, violence, and racism.

But out of all the turmoil in Charleston, a particular glimmer of hope caught me up. On Sunday evening, walkers gathered on Charleston’s Arthur Ravenel Bridge to stand together in the face of crisis. It was a show of unity, not division. This important, historical moment brought an old, traditional story to mind, an important one for any time, but especially important in times of splintering divides.

There once was an elderly man who was at death’s door. He lay in his bed, day and night, too weak to walk or care for himself.

Every day, one of his three sons came to the house to tend to his needs. His boys took turns. They never came at the same time because his sons did did not get along.

But it hadn’t always been that way. As children, the boys played and laughed. They shared one pizza and divided eight slices evenly when the youngest got old enough to want more. “Wanna wrestle?” they cried to their Dad as they tumbled like wolf puppies around the living room. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, they argued and fought like other brothers and sisters everywhere. Still, they loved and supported each other.

As they grew older, they stopped playing. They didn’t spend time together. Their life paths diverged and they argued about politics, about money, and about all the things with the power to destroy relationships. Their arguments came between them so deeply that they would never visit their father at the same time.

It pained their father to see how intent they were on avoiding each other.

As his illness grew worse, he realized that he had to try something. One day, he called each of them on the phone and said that none of the others could come on Wednesday afternoon of the next week. So it happened that all three arrived at the same time that day to take care of their Dad. When they entered his room, their stiff silence was punctured with a gasp.

Their father was sitting up in bed. It was the first time in months that he sat up on his own. And on his lap was an old, tin box.

“Boys, I need to ask you to do me a favor. Go outside, each of you, and bring back two strong sticks.”

Silently, they left the room. When they returned, their father said, “Now boys, each of you break one of the sticks.”

It was easy. Each stick snapped in two.

“Now, pass me your other stick.”

When their father held one of the other sticks in his hand, he said, “We have choices in how we live. When we stand divided, the weight of the world breaks us like old, dry sticks.”

Then he placed all three sticks together in a little bundle.. “But when we stand united, what happens?”

He passed the bundle to each of his sons in turn. “Break them,” he commanded.

They pressed and strained on the old wood. Though the bundle bent and flexed, the sticks held strong.

“My sons, when we stand alone, we can snap at life’s challenges like old, brittle sticks. But when we stand together, with others, we can more easily bear the weight of life and its problems. Though we might bend under the pressure, we won’t break.”

The tension in the room eased a bit, like carbonation escaping from a slowly opened bottle. The old man packed that bundle of sticks into the tin box. When he closed the lid with a snap, each young man looked up, as if waking from a dream.

“This is for you, my sons.”

The three young men took turns caring for their father until he died. After that, they took turns caring for their father’s old, tin box. They passed it from one to the other. They started to talk again. Slowly, they learned to overlook their differences to see the good in each other. And best of all, whenever any of them faced trouble, they remembered their father’s bundle of sticks. They drew together and drew strength from each other.

Strength in unity.

The people of Charleston came together for one night to show their unified outrage at senseless shootings. They banded together, like a bundle of sticks.

Stories, old and new, are like the old man’s tin box. They carry wisdom for living life. That is why storytellers tell stories when the world is crying.

What stories do you tell in times of crisis?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters All rights reserved.

We retold “The Bundle of Sticks”  from “A Father and His Sons”, an Aesop’s fable.

Photo Credit: תמר הירדני / Wikimedia Commons

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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 – 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

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 – 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 – P is for Phi Am

Things that go bump in the night are bad enough, but THIS?

By now, readers of the Daily Ghost Post have come face to face with evil encased in innocence, revenge of revenants, and ghostly “let’s keep up with the Jones’ and kill you off too” experiences. But this one is in a category all by itself.

Bedtime is supposed to signify peaceful comfort. A bed is a place of pillows and blankies, coziness and relaxation. Pull the sweet covers up to your chin, sink your sleepy head into an imaginary pillow, and close your eyes. You can go there. You do it every night.

Deep sleep is a glorious respite from the ache of exhaustion and the stresses of life. Sometimes we dream, sometimes our sleep is blissfully blank.

But one night, in the middle of your deepest dreams, you feel your mind opening up like a flower. You ready yourself to soak up the sunlight of wakefulness. Slowly, your sleepy self creeps up from the rabbit hole of dreamland. You are not quite there though – you are still in that dreamy place between sleep and up. You feel the covers snuggled around you, your skin luxuriates in the sheets and softness. As your mind emerges from the depths, you notice something else. It isn’t snuggly. It isn’t soft. It isn’t comfortable. Not. At. All.

Pressing down on your chest is a heaviness so profound you cannot move. You find it hard to breathe. The heaviness envelopes you head to toe.

Your bedding feels like it has transformed from angel softness to heavy steel, sheathing you in an invisible, weighted, strait jacket. Betrayed by your bedding, you are desperate to scream but cannot open your mouth.

It lasts for hours.

In Thailand, they say that if you experience this, then you have been visited by a Phi Am. The Phi Am is a ghost that likes to sits on hapless sleepers. The weight of the ghost is so intense that it can leave bruises.

But the Phi Am doesn’t stay forever. Come morning it leaves the home and seeks another victim.

Just reading about this ghost flips me out. In my research about the Phi Am, I have been unable to discover why the ghost does this. I don’t know if it is for revenge, for fun, or just because it is tired and needs a place to rest before continuing its ghostly night hike.

But the Thai people aren’t the only people to know this ghost. Brazilians have been sat upon. Many other cultures have been sat upon too. Sometimes the ghost is called a Night Hag. And for the scientific among us, the Night Hag and the Phi Am may be the ghostly manifestation of an illness called sleep paralysis.

Let me just state here and now, I don’t care if it is a ghost or medical condition. They both terrify me equally. Just writing about this ghost scares me stiff (yes, pun completely intended, I had to insert a bit of levity before I have a heart attack).

Seriously, I find this impeccably frightening, and that is why I send my heartfelt sympathy and good wishes out to all those who suffer visitations like these. May such ghosts or maladies leave you and everyone else alone.

No bedding betrayals, pleeeeaase!

What night time ghosts frighten you most?

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Lloyd, Doris. (2014). Sleep Paralysis: 65 Success Secrets. Emereo Publishing.
http://www.thaiworldview.com/bouddha/animism5.htm
http://baanajarn.com/living-in-thailand/spirits-and-ghosts-in-thailand/
Wikipedia: Night Hag

PHOTO CREDIT: “In the Bed” painting by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec / 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 – M is for Minnie Quay

Even if you have never heard of Minnie Quay, it is likely that you have heard about someone just like her. Similar legends haunt many places.

THE SETTING
Minnie Quay is famous in Michigan and beyond. She hails from Forester, which is located in a part of the state known as The Thumb. And why The Thumb? The town is situated on the thumb portion of a mitten-shaped peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. A lumber town at the time of the story, Forester was home to this classic tale of struggle between parents and their teenaged daughter.

THE TALE
Back in the 1870’s, John and Maryann Quay lived in a small but cozy home not far from the beach in the lumber town of Forester, Michigan. They had a small son and a teenaged daughter, Minnie. Minnie loved to walk the beaches near Lake Michigan, gazing out to the lake, looking for possibility. Everyone knew when she passed by, for she always left a pretty trail of jubilant footprints zig-zagging across the sand.

One day, possibility sailed right in to shore. When the boat docked at the pier, Minnie met a sailor. She was 15 years old, he was older. And the local people didn’t like him. They never liked it when their young women took up with the sailors. Minnie’s parents were no different. She was told that she mustn’t see him.

“My girl,” cried her mother, “I would rather see you dead than be with the likes of him!”

But young love is a powerful force, like storms at sea. Just who is strong enough to stop it?

Minnie managed to sneak out and see her sailor whenever his boat docked in town. Everyone knew she met him, because they saw two pairs of footprints zig-zagging across the sand.

One day in 1876, Minnie’s parents put their feet down and forbid her to leave the house. Well there was an angry storm in the Quay house. But it was not the only storm that day. A rainstorm with the power and force of young love carried her sailor’s boat and crew to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

When Minnie heard, she was distraught. She never got to say goodbye.

From that day on, Minnie Quay stopped walking on shore. She simply sat near the pier, gazing out at the lake, looking for possibility. And one day, she found it. Dressed in a white gown, Minnie Quay walked to the edge of the pier where she always met her love and jumped into the water to join him.

Though her body was buried in a local cemetery, her spirit is restless. Even today, people see her walking along the beach, gazing out to the lake, looking for possibility – the possibility that one day she might find him.

Oh the people know it is the ghost of Minnie Quay – she emerges from the mists wearing a white dress, zig-zags her way across shore, but leaves no footprints in the sand.

SOME THOUGHTS
The Minnie Quay story touches people to the core. How do I know this? It is a musical, a book, more than one ballad , and a beer. I mean when an artisan craft brewery in Massachusetts names a beer after a story from Michigan, it has almost reached meme status.

On a more serious note, this romantic tragedy encourages us to believe that sometimes love is strong enough to cross the forbidden bridge between life and death. Maybe that is the real reason why Minnie’s legend endures.

But then again, if people still see her ghost emerging from the mists, then that could surely explains why the legend endures.

Why do you think tales like this endure? Share your thoughts and let’s get chatting.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

RESOURCES
Dutcher, Denise (2014). Dead Reckoning: A Great Lakes Love Story.
http://rmr.hubpages.com/hub/Ghost-of-Forester-Michigan
Taylor, Troy. http://www.prairieghosts.com/minnie.htm
Wikipedia – Minnie Quay
http://sanilaccountynews.mihomepaper.com/news/2014-11-05/News/Local_womans_book_tells_story_of_Minnie_Quay.html

PHOTO CREDIT: By Royalbroil / CC BY-SA 3.O / 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 – 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

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