Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “Storytelling”

Daily Ghost Post – O is for Old Green Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Jeri
**********************
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – N is for Nachzehrer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well that would be wishful thinking.

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

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

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

As he nibbles, people at home get sick.

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

And his relatives waste away.

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

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

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

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

**************************
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 – 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.

****************************
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…

******************************
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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

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

Daily Ghost Post – 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…. 🙂

***************************

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.

*****************************************
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 – 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…

***********************
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 – G is for Ghoul (or The Short History of a Creature with an Overused Name)

Real ghouls don’t raid graves.

This misrepresented creature of fright needs to be redeemed. “Ghoul” is a word that is associated with graveyard robbing, flesh-eating creatures that go bump in the night. It is time to disentangle their evil reputations from this horrible image.

This is their history in as few words as possible.

Ghouls originated with Arabic Bedouins. The bane of travelers, ghouls were renowned for getting people lost in the desert. Like the Sirens of Greek mythology, ghouls could use their voices to lure unsuspecting travelers deep into the desert where they would be lost forever. Or eaten.

They appeared in other ways as well. Sometimes when an individual fought and killed an animal for supper, it suddenly transformed into a cloven featured creature on the way back to camp. Goodbye dinner, hello ghoul.

You see, traditional ghouls are accomplished shape shifters. Often depicted as women, ghouls are not the ghosts of departed souls – they arise from a very different place. Ghouls are the offspring of demons. With bonafide demonic DNA, they have a penchant for human flesh.

Here is Merriam Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word ghoul:

an evil creature in frightening stories that robs graves and eats dead bodies

As the definition suggests, Western culture depicts ghouls as grave opening, corpse eating monsters. A quick browser search will reveal that most definitions of “ghoul” include the graveyard aspect. Perhaps the more sensational version of the ghoul makes a more gripping story image, but it is not a correct one from a folkloric perspective.

The traditional Arabic ghoul is not that disrespectful.

This ghoulish, corpse-eating twist to the lore of “ghouldom” is attributed to Antoine Galland, a Frenchman who translated the Arabian Nights in the early 1700’s. One story, called The Story of Sidi Nouman, tells of a man who is married to a woman with such a small appetite that one grain of rice at a time was all she could manage. Though their marriage was happy as marriages go, he wondered about a couple of things – her appetite quirk and her strange habit of leaving home in the middle of the night. One evening, he quietly followed her when she stole out of the house. As he approached the graveyard where she had gone, he watched in silent horror as his wife dug up graves and devoured corpses. No wonder she ate like a bird all day. That was when he realized that he had married a ghoul who was adept at shape shifting into a beautiful woman.

According to folklorist Ahmed Al-Rawi, grave robbing and corpse gorging were either Galland’s invention or his mistaken representation of other Middle Eastern folklore as Arabic. Galland’s gruesome image was then perpetuated in literature, including popular Victorian writings. The new meaning fell into common language use and western popular culture. Now ghouls the all over the world pig out in cemeteries.

To put the folkloric record straight, that is not how they started their ghoulish business. The world’s first ghouls caused desert travelers to become lost in the sand, which put them inside a ghoul’s sandwich. In short, lost travelers became desert dessert.

Were the first ghouls nasty and hungry? Sure, look at their parentage. But the first ghouls didn’t defile the buried dead for food. That was going a bit too far.

What is a ghoul to you? Do you have favorite ones from literature, folklore, or film?

********************************

Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

SOURCES:

Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (2009) The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation. Folklore, 120:3, 291-306, DOI: 10.1080/00155870903219730

Encyclopedia Brittanica – Arabian Mythology – ghoul: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/232832/ghoul

Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, Third Edition. Visible Ink, Press.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: ghoul http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghoul

PHOTO CREDIT: By R. Smirke, Esq., R.A. Digitized by Google Books. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Ghost Post – 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!

*****************************

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!

**********************

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

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: