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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 – H is for Hanako-San

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – F is for Funayurei

Phantom ships and their spectral passengers are an integral part of world folklore. The Flying Dutchman is a famous example. Captained by a man condemned to sail the seas forevermore, The Flying Dutchman has terrorized seafaring folk for hundreds of years. Just one innocent sighting of the boat means your doom.

Another ghostly ship hails from colonial America. It sailed from New Haven, CT and didn’t return when expected. Months later, spectators on shore were delighted to see her on the horizon. But as she emerged from the mists, something strange happened. Right before the stunned eyes of New Haven’s people, the boat stopped moving and slowly fell apart, one plank at a time. In horror, the people on shore witnessed a ghostly reenactment of the ship’s demise. That was when they realized that the New Haven ship approached shore one last time to let loved ones know why its passengers would never come home again.

Japan has numerous legends about ships and drowned passengers who return in ghostly forms. “Funa” is the Japanese work for ship – “yurei” is the word for ghosts. And the funayurei are pretty scary when they come for a visit.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

A hishaku is a large spoon or ladle.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku….

This is a phrase you do not want to hear when you sail in the waters around Japan. It is almost better to meet the funayurei when they are clustered together on a phantom ship. Then it is all over quickly. Whirlpool. Sucked in. Finished.

But when you hear a sing-song chant on the salty wind –

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku
….

– look to the water. Wrapped in ghostly white kimonos, specters of dead sailors swim all around the boat. They seem to be everywhere. All at once they stop swimming and stare up at the boat. Then one by one, hundreds of ghostly hands reach up. Slowly, the specters rise, hovering over the water, their arms stretching toward the boat, toward you.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku

With their eerie words and plaintive gestures, the funayurei invite you to join them in the watery depths of death. Infesting the waters all around the boat, they prevent your ship from moving. Then, compelled by something you can’t explain, you find a hishaku and hand it over.

Once the funayurei receive that hishaku, they fill it with water. Then they pour ladleful after ladleful of water into your boat. Slowly the boat fills. Soon your boat sinks down, down, down to join the funayurei.

From that day forth, when boats sail near, you wear a white kimono, swim around the boat, and stretch out your lonely arms.

Hishaku, hishaku, lend us a hishaku
….

How’s that for a creepy boat ride? But take heart. Crafty sailors know how to stop the funayurei. They offer them ladles that have holes in them. While the funayurei are busy trying to fill those ladles, those crafty sailors quickly and quietly sail to safer waters.

I wonder if Harry Potter creator JK Rowling was inspired by the traditional imagery of funayurei. The scene at the cave when Harry and Dumbledore seek a horcrux reminds me of the funayurei legend. The instant Harry dips his cup in the water, swarms of undead creatures rise up to pull him down to the depths.

Hishaku, hiskaku, lend us a hishaku

Folkloric images are very powerful. Not only do they serve as fonts of inspiration (Richard Wagner wrote a whole opera called The Flying Dutchman), they can be terrifying. That’s why I will carry ladles with holes – heck I’ll even pack colanders – if I ever take a boat ride in Japan.

Do you know any phantom ship lore? Share your thoughts below!

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
Botkin, B.A. (1989). A Treasury of New England Folklore. American Legacy Press, NY
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen (2007). The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, 3rd Edition. Checkmark Books.
Rowling, JK. (2006). Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Scholastic, NY.
Wikipedia – funayurei
http://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/10/28/funa-yurei/

PHOTO CREDIT: By Illustrator Henry Austin (The Project Gutenberg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – E is for Engkanto

Some Engkantos are found in Balete trees.
This is the biggest one in the Philippines.

E is also for Encanto. It depends how you spell it. Either way, it spells enchantment, but not necessarily the kind one wants.

In the Philippines, Engkantos are elf-like beings who are often thought to be the spirits of dead ancestors. Religious scholar Francisco Demetrio characterizes them as mysterious, dreadful, and fascinating. They live in natural places, like trees or boulders. Sometimes they are considered benevolent, but mostly they are tricky.

In the first place, if Engkantos fall in love with you and you spurn their love, they can be malicious and spiteful. They throw rocks. They turn into balls of fire (even great balls of fire) and chase you – talk about being hot on your tail. Secondly, people who meet these creatures disappear for a period of time, possibly spirited away to the legendary land of Biringan. Finally and most notably, those who meet them often experience the sudden onset of madness or delirium.

That is why the enchantment of the Engkanto is not always so enchanting.

Engkantos are singular in appearance. They are tall with smooth, fair skin, even in the all the wrinkly places. Their facial structure differs from humans in that their noses have high bridges and they have no indentation on their upper lips (new word alert, that indentation is called a plectrum). And boy do they like to party! It is said that Engkantos who live inside trees, like the large Balete tree pictured above, live the high life. Their tree homes feature lavish furnishings, gorgeous food, and lots of other beautiful people. Sounds a bit like a Hollywood party, only more dangerous.

Are Engkantos like Irish fairies? Well, some say they are elementals or nature spirits, which is like Irish fairies. Yet there is a key difference. When people go to fairy realm, time doesn’t pass like it does here. Upon returning to the human world, they are generations older. In contrast, the return from Engkanto contact doesn’t affect the kidnapped person’s life timeline – but it does affect the person’s life.

Encounters with Engkantos can result in madness. In traditional Filipino culture, some of those who experience such madness become shamans. By connecting with the spirit world, people are called into a new role as healer and spiritual mentor.

Many cultures around the world share a similar process for how people become shamans. Francisco Demetrio explains that such calls to service typically involve a disappearance and sudden onset of madness. It is almost as if the future healer must endure death and resurrection in order to do healing work.

And then there is another view. The depiction of Engkantos corresponds to how indigenous people viewed Spaniards when they first arrived in the Phillipines. Think about it – lighter skinned people from another land who fall in love with natives, cause strange things to happen, and wield unusual powers…hmmm.

So. Did Engkanto lore serve as cautionary tales for indigenous Filipinnos about the Spanish? Did such tales preexist European travel? Are the Engkantos indigenous nature spirits that took on some European characteristics over time?

What do you think? Have you heard Engkanto stories? There is a little comment box far below, let’s chat it up!

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Copyright 2015 The Storyrafters. All right reserved.

SOURCES:
Demetrio, Francisco (1969). The Engkanto Belief: An Essay in Interpretation. Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 77-90.
philippinetales.weebly.com/claimed-encounters/category/engkanto20baa2a57e
Wikipedia – Engkanto

PHOTO CREDIT: By Ramon FVelasquez (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – C is for Churel

Old Man at Ravangla Market, India


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

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

That’s one powerful play date.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

PHOTO CREDIT: By Sukanto Debnath (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – A is for Adze

Summer Night Riverside Drive – painting by George Wesley Bellows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pleasant dreams.

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

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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Is Goldilocks Really Tired?

I got hooked on some Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde recently. A literate writer adept at wordplay, his narrative twinkles when he gives knowing nods to classic literature. These action-packed novels are engaging and intelligent. Curious about the author and his other work, I checked out his fun website.

On his overview page, my eyes were immediately drawn to “Nursery Crimes,” a detective series based on children’s nursery rhymes and stories: the first book investigates Humpty Dumpty’s suicide, the second probes the death of Goldilocks. Given my professional focus on quirky renditions of traditional folklore, I eagerly read on.

In describing that series, Fforde says that the books “manage to blend absurdity with satire, and have fun at the very tired genre from which they hail.”

And therein lies the rub.

Fforde is not the only one to accuse the classic folklore canon of being ‘tired.’ However, if it is so tired, why do these stories and rhymes inspire artists of all kinds? Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty and all the others are recycled again and again in visual, literary, and other forms of media. They are retold, updated, fractured, extended, quoted, and reworked to the delight of millions. Movies (Shrek, Tangled), television (Once Upon a Time, Grimm),musicals (Into the Woods), books (several by Gregory Maguire and Jasper Fforde, for instance), video games (World of Warcraft, Overlord: Dark Legends) are but a drop in the bucket of examples of narrative media that continue to embrace this “tired” material.  

The old stories are like veins of ore, and people perpetually dig beneath the surface to see what else they can find. Every new adaptation uncovers nuance and humor and unexpected themes in stories we all thought we knew. Those who create and recreate these pieces are mining for gold, for there really is gold them thar tales.  Then, they carefully polish the gold they dig up and find new areas of luster.

So how do we tell The Three Bears? Let me count the ways.  Goldilocks might get sleepy and nap in the story, but her story and other classic tales are surely not tired… how can they be when they are so chock full of inspiration?

More on this topic in future posts!

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Copyright 2013 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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