Storytelling Matters

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Archive for the tag “ghosts”

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

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Daily Ghost Post – Y is for You Hun Ye Gui

There once was a widow whose son, Mulian, became a Buddhist monk. But his commitment to his faith kept him from her. Over time, she grew so angry and resentful that whenever monks asked for food or alms, she refused.

When she died, she was sent to the deepest Buddhist hell because of her stinginess. Not only was she tortured with difficult work, but her neck was narrow as a needle, making it impossible to swallow food.

She was a hungry ghost.

Mulian wondered how his mother was faring after death, so he journeyed into the underworld. After facing many trials and demons, he found the ghost of his hungry mother. She was desperate to eat, but when he offered her food, it burst into flames.

After seeking advice from the Buddha, Mulian asked 10 monks to pray and fast for his mother. Ironically, through the efforts of her son and other monks whom she spurned in life, Mulian’s mother was released from her torments and allowed, at last, to eat.

HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL AND THE YOU HUN YE GUI
From that time on, a Buddhist festival has been held throughout eastern Asia. On the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, hungry ghosts are freed from Buddhist hell and fed. During the festival, How Mulian Rescued His Mother is retold in families and other venues. People leave food offerings to feed the hungry ghosts and the ghost of their ancestors. Incense is burned, monks conduct rituals, and performers provide entertainment for everyone, including the ghosts. At many events, the front row of red chairs is reserved just for the ghosts. At the end of the festival, red lotus lanterns are placed in water. When the lantern flames die out, the spirits are back home.

There are many ghosts in the Chinese folklore. For example, ghosts who seek revenge for the nasty deeds they suffered in life are the Yuah Gui. Shui Gui are ghosts who died by drowning. In death, the Shui Gui seek a fresh, living body to take over.

And then there are the You Hun Ye Gui.

The You Hun Ye Gui are wandering, lost spirits. They died when they were far from home or were lost. Because the You Hun Ye Gui are wanderers without descendants to care for their spirits, it is feared that they will attach themselves to the living. That is why people do not marry or move into a new house during the Ghost Festival. It would not be a propitious start for a marriage or a home to have the You Hun Ye Gui sticking around. No need to add bad luck to the mix, as marriage and tending house are challenging enough.

Many cultures have festivals of the dead, like the Hungry Ghost Festival, Halloween, and Day of the Dead. What are some of your fond memories of these or other “dead fests” in your neck of the woods? Do you know of other festivals like this? Do tell….!!!

— Jeri
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COPYRIGHT 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Dupler, Michael (2013). Death Explained: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the Afterlife. Lulu.com
http://www.uiowa.edu/~c07p208h/ghost.html – a little of the Mulian story, some tradiitons, the lanterns
http://www.my-island-penang.com/Mu-Lian.html – more in depth version of the tale
Schirokauer, Conrad and Miranda Brown. (2013). A Brief History of Chinese Civiliation, 4th Edition. Boston: Wadsworth.
Wikipedia: List of Supernatural Beings in Chinese Foklore, Ghosts in Chinese Culture, Ghost Festival

PHOTO CREDIT: By Mike / Flicker / CC BY 2.0 / 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 – V is for Vazimba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – 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 – J is for Jersey Devil

I married a New Jersey guy, devil that he is… though the Jersey Devil has little to do with him. I hope.

There is a forested region of southern New Jersey alternatively called the Pinelands, the Pines, or the Pine Barrens. In 1735, the Leeds family lived there. Full of fragrant pine trees and free of the rancor of colonial urban life, it was a perfect place for Mr. and Mrs. Leeds to raise their 12 children.

But life wasn’t exactly bucolic when Mother Leeds discovered that she was pregnant with her 13th child. She cried and screamed, “This one is surely a devil!”

It was a dark and stormy night when she went into labor. The winds howled. Mother Leeds howled. When the baby was finally born, it also howled. And when the Leeds baby’s crying died down, something just a bit out of the ordinary happened. The baby grew horns on its head. Its tiny body stretched and its arms became wings. Then it screeched and flew up the chimney, but not before it killed the midwife.

The Leeds Devil, or the Jersey Devil, has terrorized people, off and on, ever since. It has been said to slash the throats of animals and people, devour children, and can leap over a cranberry bog in a single bound. Books and newspaper stories document eyewitness accounts of the fleeting creature. The image and the story is so famous in New Jersey that businesses and sports teams carry its name.

The Leeds family’s experience is but one version of the origin story of a bat-winged, goat headed, cloven hoofed, kangaroo-like, cattle-killing beast that haunts the Pine Barrens. Another account suggests that the birth of the devil was a curse on Mrs. Leeds because she was rude to a preacher. (There are definite discrepancies about the look of the beast, for slightly different description, head here).

There is another Jersey Devil origin story that is of a more political nature. Dabbed with religious intrigue, it is a complicated tale that has one thing in common with the Mother Leeds tale – it is about a colonial family also named Leeds who also lived near Leeds Point. This Loyalist family tangled with the Patriots, Quakers, and Ben Franklin’s rapacious wit. Franklin referred to Titan Leeds, a rival Almanack publisher, as a ghost – this moniker was used for Leeds while he was living and after he died. Over time and through folk imagination, perhaps he was transformed into the Jersey Devil.

Sightings in the 19th century and a fabled string of sightings in 1909 suggest that the Devil was active in the past. But recent reported encounters with strange leaping beasts, unidentified screeches, and hoofed footprints (as documented by some folks who host a website devoted to Jersey Devil sightings) suggest that people currently believe that something is haunting the place. A gentleman names Fred Brown, interviewed for John McPhee’s late 20th century book, Pine Barrens, believed in the Jersey Devil with his whole heart.

It may be of interest to note that the Native American tribes of that region, the Lenape, identified the Pine Barrens as a place of dragons. Is that because they saw a dragon? A Jersey Devil? Or was “dragon” the way they described the local bird called the sandhill crane? No one knows for sure.

Whether it is an indigenous dragon, a cursed baby, the ghost of Titan Leeds, or a sandhill crane, there is something afoot in Southern New Jersey. Just ask Fred Brown.

Do you have a local, legendary creature that haunts or frightens people? I’d love to hear about it….so would other readers of the blog I suspect…. 🙂

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:
McMahon, William (1987). Pine Barrens: Legends and Lore. Mid-Atlantic Press.
McPhee, John (1968). The Pine Barrens. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.
Regal, Brian http://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_jersey_devil_the_real_story/
Wikipedia – New Jersey Devil

PHOTO CREDIT: By Philadelphia Newspaper (Philadelphia Papers in 1909) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – I is for Ibbur

a to z badge letter i

If you have been following this blog series thus far, you could be wary of cute pets, nature, and the call of nature (plus the usual array of ghouls, vampires, and other everyday supernatural beings). But today, for a change of pace, I offer a nice little ghostie with an adorable name – the Ibbur.

I am tickled by this outside-the-box little ghost.

Other ghosts imply evil, incite fright, or are impish incarnations from a dark other world. But not the ibbur.

As far as possession goes, visions of spewing spittle and horror may dance in your head (okay revolve in your head and with your head, I’m talking about possession after all).

But the Ibbur does none of that either.

The Ibbur is a good guy among ghosts and I want one.

In his book, Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis, the renowned folklorist and scholar, Howard Schwartz, shares a Midrashic tale which he says is the precursor to the Ibbur in Jewish folklore. Here is my retelling, below.

Once there was a student who was forlorn because he could not remember his studies. No matter what he did, when it came time to remember information or apply what he learned, his mind went blank. His teacher, a kindly and wise rabbi, wanted to help him out.
So the rabbi visited the student in a dream.
“Toss a stone three times whenever you forget your studies,” he whispered, “and help will come your way.”
When the student woke in the morning, he went to visit a dream interpreter, as was the custom of the day.
“I don’t want to throw stones at the rabbi. Can you please help me understand what this dream means?” the student begged.
After carefully listening to the student’s dream, the interpreter gave him advice.
“Throwing stones means reciting the material three times.”
From that day onward, the student did just that. Whenever he forgot his material, he recited it three times. And when he did this, well what do you know, his memory was restored.

In this little parable, the spirit of the rabbi jumped into the body of the student and shared wisdom while the student slept. The process when spirits move into other bodies is called transmigration. Since the rabbi transmigrated, that’s what makes the rabbi a forebear of the Ibbur – transmigration is the Iburr’Is M.O. The big difference between the rabbi’s helpful visitation and one from an Ibbur is that the rabbi was alive and that Ibburs are dead.

The word “Ibbur” means impregnation. One might say that the rabbi “impregnated” the student’s dream just as Ibburs “impregnate” their hosts’ spiritual center.

Ibburs can be sages or rabbis or any good, old soul who wants to continue doing good work after death. Think of the Ibbur as a spiritual philanthropist. Sometimes its goal is to heal the planet. Sometimes its goal is to help guide a particular deserving someone on his or her path in life.

Although the host isn’t always aware of the presence of an Ibbur, there are those times when an Ibbur asks permission to gain access to a host’s body. Folklore deems either mode of access to be a form of possession. But ibbur possession does not require exorcism. The Ibbur’s presence is temporary, like a wanted, helpful guest who stays just the right amount of time. It helps wash the proverbial dishes, leaves some nice parting gifts to the host (its good deeds), and moves on. How lovely to have an Ibbur come along just when you need a helping hand. That’s why I want one.

It is important to add that the Ibbur is not the only ghost to possess Jewish people. Another one, called the Dybbuk, is a demonic version of the Ibbur. There are countless stories, plays, and books about trouble with Dybbuks.

But I don’t want one of those.

Do you know about any other nice, helpful ghosts? Other supernatural folklore (about fairies and their ilk) include helping beings…. but what about helping ghosts? Thoughts? Let ’em rip in the comments way below.

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Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES
Lanaham, Yonasson Gershom (2000). Jewish Tales of Reincarnation. Jason Aronson, Inc. 20000

Moreman, Christopher. Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions, page 48-9.

Schwartz, Howard (). Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/thebulletinbored/item/jewish_folklore_helping_you_keep_your_demons_ghosts_and_monsters_straight

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/d/dybbuk.html

Daily Ghost Post – 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

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