Ghostly Lover: from the Sioux and from Japan

While flipping through my copy of American Indian Myths and Legends yesterday morning, I stumbled upon this gem, collected in 1970 from a Brulé Sioux informant at Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It’s a terrific ghost story all on its own, but it caught my eye for another reason as well. Before I give you the reason, though — the story:

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RSS: Sometimes Old School is Best

I went back to using RSS to follow blogs and other websites recently; I don’t know why I ever stopped. My email doesn’t get clogged by notifications anymore, and I don’t lose blog updates in the ever-flowing stream of Twitter or Facebook or the WordPress reader. I can follow any blog on any platform as long as they have an RSS feed, and I don’t need to have accounts on every possible platform, either, just Feedly (and not even that, if I didn’t want to sync between devices).

It also occurred to me that RSS is really the best medium for following small-scale amateur bloggers like me, especially ones who are social-network introverts. I don’t blog on an absolutely regular schedule, and my tweets and facebook updates tend to get lost amongst others who status-update or tweet (or in the case of WordPress reader, simply post) more frequently than I do.

So I’ve added a “Follow me on Feedly” button to the side of my blog; if you use another RSS reader, like Bloglovin or NetNewsWire, there is a generic RSS widget, as well. Even if you follow me other places – Twitter, WordPress, or Google+(*) — please do consider also following me (and other bloggers you love) via RSS, so you will be sure to never miss my blog updates. Thanks!

(*) I’m on Facebook, too, but it’s my personal account, not a Multo page. Strictly speaking, the Google+ account is also a personal account, but I only use it to announce blog posts.

Floods, Tides and Crabs: More Folktales


Yesterday, I shared a flood story from the Igorot, a mountain people from the northern Philippines. Today, I have a short flood story from the Bukidnon, an indigenous people from the southern Philippines (Mindanao). According to this story, the flood wasn’t caused by any angry or careless deity (or the deity’s sons) — but by a crab.

This is verbatim, from Mabel Cook Cole’s Philippine Folk Tales (1916).

A long time ago there was a very big crab which crawled into the sea. And when he went in he crowded the water out so that it ran all over the earth and covered all the land.

Now about one moon before this happened, a wise man had told the people that they must build a large raft. They did as he commanded and cut many large trees, until they had enough to make three layers. These they bound tightly together, and when it was done they fastened the raft with a long rattan cord to a big pole in the earth.

Soon after this the floods came. White water poured out of the hills, and the sea rose and covered even the highest mountains. The people and animals on the raft were safe, but all the others drowned.

When the waters went down and the raft was again on the ground, it was near their old home, for the rattan cord had held.

But these were the only people left on the whole earth.

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Fire and Flood: An Igorot Folktale

A recent discussion about the new movie Noah started me thinking about flood myths from around the world. Here’s a version from the Igorot people, mountain dwellers from the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines (Luzon). It’s not only a flood story, but also tells the origin of fire.


Once upon a time, the world was flat, and had no mountains. One day the two sons of Lumawig, the Great Spirit, wanted to go hunting for wild pig and deer. In order to drive the prey into their traps, the older brother had the idea to cover the earth with water. This would cause the mountains to rise up, driving the deer and the boar to the highlands, where they would be easier to catch.

So the brothers caused the water to flow all over the earth, and after it was covered they used their head-basket [supposedly where headhunters keep the heads of their victims; also used as a traveling basket] to set a trap for their prey. They succeeded not only in catching many wild pigs and deer, but people, too (I suppose the people became, umm, head-hunting trophies).

Meanwhile, Lumawig looked down from the sky and saw that all the earth had been covered in water, and almost all the people had drowned. Only one spot on earth had been left dry — Mount Polis — and on that dry spot were the last two people on earth: a man named Fatanga and his sister Fukan.

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The Venus of Ille

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This is from the opening of “The Coffin Man” by Mike Mignola, art by Fabio Moon. The story is included in the Hellboy 20th Anniversary Sampler being given away for free at my local comic book store (It’s fun! Go find it!). The piece is set during Hellboy’s “Mexico period” some time in the 1950s; the anecdote that Hellboy is telling in these panels is just a tale he’s telling in a bar, and has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

But it smells like something out of 19th century weird fiction, don’t you think? Perhaps it’s a story that’s already been told somewhere in the last two decades of the Hellboy series, but if so, I don’t remember it. I got curious and tried to look for it, but some casual web searching hasn’t turned up anything yet. Do any of you know where this might be from?

Fortunately for this blog, the four panels above reminded me of another great example of 19th century weirdness: Prosper Merimee’s “The Venus of Ille” (1837).

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Twenty-five Views of the Alhambra

Many of you are familiar with the (multiple) series of Japanese woodblock prints known as Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji; Hokusai produced a series of that name, and so did Hiroshige. You may also be familiar with Henri Riviere’s homage to Hokusai and Hiroshige: Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower (video of all 36 prints; link to a book of the prints).  This is my contribution to the genre.

In the blockprint series, the monument in question isn’t always the focal point of the images. Riviere’s images are especially subtle; I still can’t find the Eiffel Tower in several of  the scenes. My photos aren’t always so subtle; I was in full-blown tourist mode, after all. Still, the Alhambra dominates the older section of Granada in such a way that when I looked through my snapshots, I discovered its distinctive towers peeping out from unexpected corners. I’m especially proud of my photo of the Alhambra through the windows of the Generalife. I hope you enjoy.

The Divided Child: An Ifugao Folktale


Búgan was the only child of the god Hinumbían and his wife Dakáue. They lived in Luktán, the highest level of the Sky World. Búgan’s parents wanted her to get married, but she wasn’t interested in any of the available bachelors in Luktán. So her parents sent her down to a lower sky region, but there was no one there she wanted to marry, either. Then they sent her down to the lowest sky region, Kabúnian, which is the level just above the earth, and tried to set her up with Bagílat, the god of lightning.

Nothing doing, said Búgan.

“That Bagílat, he’s always running all over the Sky World, from the north to the south, from the east to the west, sending lightning bolts down to earth and destroying the plants and the trees. Why would I want to marry him?”

“In that case,” said Bagílat’s father, “maybe you should just go back home, to Luktán.”

But Búgan didn’t want to go home. Instead she went down to earth, to a place called Pangagauan, where she saw a young Ifugao man named Kinggauan, digging pits to catch deer and other game in. He was a poor man, so poor that he’d worn out his only clout [loincloth] and had to go about naked. He must have been handsome, too, because when Búgan saw him, she was filled with pity and decided that she wanted to marry him.

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The Spectre Girl

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Tim Prasil recently passed me a story called “The Spectre Girl” from the May 18, 1833 edition of The Dublin Weekly Journal; it had come to him because it was allegedly an occult detective story. It’s not, at all — but it is an interesting variation on the White Lady folktale.

The White Lady is a mysterious woman in white often spotted near roadways. She tends to be the ghost of a woman who died a tragic death, sometimes murder, sometimes suicide. Many white ladies (like this one) are also variations of the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend; though phantom hitchhikers in general aren’t always in white, or even always female. La Llorona, who drowned her children, then killed herself in remorse, is another white lady variation.

This particular white lady is unusual, in that she is a frequent (though not liked) customer of the regular stagecoach service:

“Here’s a young lady,” said the conductor, “who will not take up much room;” and a small figure in white appeared upon the steps. “She will not trouble you much, for she is deaf and dumb. I know her, and have already taken her to Lyons. The devil be with her!” said he, in an under tone; “she has always brought me bad luck…”

Though they behave as if she is an ordinary (that is, living) person, the locals have nicknamed this mysterious girl the “little dead woman,” and there are definite hints that she is indeed dead: her skeletal appearance, the unaccountable chill in the stagecoach after she enters. What’s she up to? Where is she going? The author never spells it out definitively, but the outcome is telegraphed quite strongly. Anyone who reads ghost stories can guess what’s going to happen.

But that’s the nature of a classic urban legend or campfire horror story, isn’t it? The tale is a translation of La Fille Spectre, originally published anonymously in the 1833 French collection Le Salmigondis: Contes De Toutes Les Couleurs, or Hodgepodge: Tales of All Colors. The term contes is often used to refer to fairy tales (contes de fées) or other folktales that were traditionally transmitted orally, but published in a more polished literary form.

A little digging around revealed the tale’s author: Agathe-Pauline Caylac de Ceylan, comtesse de Bradi (1782-1847), who was known for her historical novels, set in Corsica. She was an admirer of Walter Scott — hence her regional historical novels — so it’s not surprising that she would write a few folktale-influenced stories, too.

You can read “The Spectre Girl” at Google Books.

The image above is La Mort: C’est moi qui te rends sérieuse; enlaçons-nous (Death: It is I who makes you serious; let us embrace) by Odilon Redon, 1896. Sourced from WikiPaintings.

Grief, Spirits, and Storytelling

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Detail from Nissaka man receiving a child from a ghost, Utagawa Kuniyoshi
Image: Wikipaintings

I read an interesting essay from the London Review of Books not too long ago: “Ghosts of the Tsunami,” by Richard Lloyd Parry. The essay tells of spirit visitations — and spirit possessions — reported by many people in the northern parts of Japan, the region struck by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

Haltingly, apologetically, then with increasing fluency, the survivors spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. The experiences ranged from eerie dreams and feelings of vague unease to cases, like that of Takeshi Ono, of outright possession. [...]

Priests – Christian and Shinto, as well as Buddhist – found themselves called on repeatedly to quell unhappy spirits. A Buddhist monk wrote an article in a learned journal about ‘the ghost problem’, and academics at Tohoku University began to catalogue the stories. ‘So many people are having these experiences,’ Kaneda told me. ‘It’s impossible to identify who and where they all are. But there are countless such people, and I think that their number is going to increase. And all we do is treat the symptoms.’

Parry links this phenomenon to Japanese beliefs and customs around ancestor veneration, and to the idea of muenbotoke: wandering souls, those who die without family or kin to pray for them and help them move on. If a tsunami wipes out your entire town, all your family, all your friends — who is left to pray for you? Anyone you can haunt or possess, apparently.

One of the people featured in the article is Masashi Hijikata, a publisher living in Tohoku (a region rich in supernatural folklore). In the aftermath of the disaster, Mr. Hijikata revived the tradition of kaidankai, or gatherings for the tellings of ghost stories. These kaidankai were organized to provide support to survivors of the disaster, those who were not finding their necessary emotional and mental support from traditional counseling or religion. They were places for people to share their disaster-related supernatural experiences with fellow survivors.

Interestingly, Mr. Hijikata doesn’t believe in spirits. But he did believe — because of where he is, because of who the people of his community are — that people would begin to see them, in great numbers. And he was right.

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For a glance…

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Por una mirada, un mundo;
por una sonrisa, un cielo;
por un beso… ¡Yo no sé
qué te diera por un beso!

– Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-1870)

For a glance, the world;
for a smile, the heavens;
for a kiss… I don’t know
what I would give you for a kiss!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Image: Kiss, Vsevolod Maksymovych (1913). Sourced from WikiPaintings.