In the time of Minamoto no Yorimitsu, known as Raikō, strange things happened throughout the land. One of the strangest was the unexplained disappearance of many people from their own homes, in full view of friends and family. They didn’t leave the room, they didn’t fall down and die; they simply vanished, as if blotted out. No one could find out where they had gone, or how it had happened. Nor did they know how to stop it — all the land was in a great panic.
Yorimitsu called his advisors and diviners to investigate. They learned that in the days of the Emperor Saga Tennō, (about one hundred and fifty years earlier), there was a lady of the court, the daughter of a high official, who feared that she was losing her lover to another woman. This lady became so jealous that she secluded herself in the shrine of Kibune for seven days, and prayed to the kami of the shrine:
“Grant that I may be changed into an oni (demon), so that I can kill the woman who is stealing my lover.”
The kami pitied the woman, and granted her wish.
“If you wish to become an oni, you must change your appearance and bathe in the Uji River for three times seven days.”
Overjoyed, the lady returned home and hid herself away. The divided her long hair into five tresses, which she shaped into five horns. She reddened her face and body with vermilion, and on her head she placed a tripod with a torch attached to each leg. In her mouth she held another torch, flaming at both ends. In this attire she rushed south down the Yamato highway after dark. The poor people who saw her thought for sure that she was a demon — some of them were so terrified that they died from their fear.
The lady reached the Uji river and bathed there for three times seven days, and as the kami had promised, transformed living into an oni. She became known as Uji-no-Hashihime, or the Lady of Uji Bridge. As an oni, she killed not only her rival, but her lover as well, along with all of their relatives, rich and poor. When she wanted to kill a man, she would show herself as a woman, and when her intended victim was a woman, she would show herself as a man. All the people of the city were so terrified that they would shut themselves in their homes after the Hour of the Monkey (4 pm), neither going out nor allowing anyone in.
This is a story from the 1904 collection Philippine Folklore Stories, by John Maurice Miller. It features two sisters, one dark, the other blonde, which makes me think that the story postdates the start of the Spanish colonial period. Certainly, the idea of a beautiful, good sister, and an evil, proud sister is a familiar motif in Western fairy tales (shades of Cinderella, anyone?).
This story caught my eye because it reminds me of when I was a little girl, with my coloring books. At some point, I had one of those big boxes of Crayolas, the 64-count size; this was back in the days when Flesh was still a crayon color. Or not — Wikipedia tells me that Flesh was renamed Peach in 1962, which was certainly before my time — but I remember that there was a crayon that was supposed to be flesh-colored, except it wasn’t the color of my flesh… .
Image: Kurt Baty, Wikipedia
Coloring books (at least mine) usually tell a story, with heroes and heroines, good guys and bad guys. I would always color my favorite characters — the good guys, the princesses and their princes — with black hair and brown skin (Tan was the crayon I used, as I remember). The characters I liked the least, I colored with yellow hair and Flesh-colored skin (well, okay, maybe Peach). If I really disliked them, I used Apricot. And the characters I was neutral on had brown hair (different shades, if I was feeling nit-picky), or even red. Goldenrod-colored skin.
I know — it’s terrible. But in my defense, I was only four. I would be much more flexible about my crayon usage now.
Anyway, here’s the story, verbatim from Miller’s collection. I’m not sure, but I think the vegetation that he refers to might be kangkong, or swamp cabbage. It’s a tasty vegetable, if you can find it.
Mangita and Larina
This is a tale told in the lake district of Luzon. At times of rain or in winter the waters of the Laguna de Bai rise and detach from the banks a peculiar vegetation that resembles lettuce. These plants, which float for months down the Pasig River, gave rise, no doubt, to the story.
Many years ago there lived on the banks of the Laguna de Bai a poor fisherman whose wife had died, leaving him two beautiful daughters named Mangita and Larina.
Not too long ago, I posted a story that mentions how King Solomon froze two demons in the sky holding up a great pillar (the Milky Way). When the demons drop the pillar, the world will end. It’s a lovely tale, but I confess — I had to look at a photo of the Milky Way before the story really clicked for me.
Living in a city as I do, I can’t always appreciate how much the stars dominated the night sky for our ancestors. I don’t feel the visceral reality of the stories that they told: of sky-creatures and moon goddesses and gods who set star-crossed lovers as constellations in the heavens for eternity.
And then I came across The Mountain by Terje Sørgjerd: time-lapse photography from various sites on El Teide, the highest mountain in Spain. Through his lens, the clouds are a vast ocean (or maybe dust clouds from the riders of the Wild Hunt). The sun is a chariot that rides across the sky, and, yes, there really is a Great Pillar that wheels in the heavens above us.
And suddenly the stories make sense again.
Make sure to take note of the Milky Way as seen through a Sahara sandstorm, about 00:32.
A friend turned my husband and me on to Mishima’s Five Modern Noh Plays; I’ve read a couple of them now. I wasn’t familiar with Noh plays, other than the fact the Kurosawa borrowed some Noh stylings for Throne of Blood (the stylized, dance-like movements, and makeup made to look like Noh masks). Mishima’s adaptations have given me a place to start.
The two plays that I’ve read are both ghost stories (all five plays are supernatural). Sotoba Komachi is a karma fable about a beautiful woman who was cruel to her lover, and is now, as an old and homeless woman, being tormented by his spirit. Mishima’s retelling is fairly faithful to the original: the stupa that the old woman sits on is updated to a park bench; the priests, to a poet.
Sotoba Komachi was pretty good, but I liked the second play that I read even better: The Lady Aoi. The original play, Aoi No Uye, is itself taken from The Tale of Genji. The Lady Aoi of the title is Lord Genji’s wife; though her marriage to Genji hasn’t been all that great, the two have reconciled, and Lady Aoi has only recently won a little roadside battle with one of Genji’s former lovers, an older woman and former Crown Princess named Lady Rokujo (Aoi had Rokujo’s carriage driven off the road when it was in the way of her own carriage). Rokujo’s jealous spirit has already left her body once before, to kill Yugao, the woman who replaced her as Genji’s lover. Now, her spirit is tormenting Aoi.
Neither Aoi or Genji are in the play; it begins in Aoi’s sick room, with a folded red kimono placed onstage to represent Aoi. Aoi’s attendants have called in a witch to summon whatever evil spirit is tormenting Aoi. The witch succeeds in summoning Rokujo’s spirit, which pours out Rokujo’s jealousy and bile. She becomes so angry that she transforms herself into a demon and attacks Aoi.
Aoi’s attendants rush to fetch a priest, who confronts the Rokujo-demon. The priest’s prayers cause Rokujo to repent her ways. Aoi dies anyway.
Here’s a snippet from a traditional Noh performance of Aoi No Uye (the first 1:20 or so of the video). This is the scene where the Lady Rokujo turns into a demon, and then is exorcised by the priest. I think the foot stamp the priest makes at the end of the scene is the traditional signal that the ghost has disappeared.
The comedy play in the second half of the video (about two servants who have been tied up to keep them from drinking all the sake) looks fun, too.
Mishima’s adaptation starts with the original play, and takes it somewhere familiar, and yet so different.
… you’ll never see a man exactly six feet tall, because that was the height of the Lord Jesus.
I like non-canonical Christian folklore (meaning, folklore that’s not in the Old or New Testament). Growing up as I did, in a Catholic family, Bible stories never felt like “myth” in the same way that say, stories about the Roman or Greek or Hindu pantheons did. Bible stories felt (and still feel) more like “history” — they are the stories I grew up with, stories I’ve always known. From the inside, I don’t always appreciate the universe-explaining, myth-making capacity of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the same way I appreciate it in traditions that I didn’t grow up in. Stories and tidbits like Six-Foot Jesus, or the (very) old Irish story of Moses and the origin of Leprechauns put me back on the outside again. It’s good to be there once in a while.
I suspect that M.R. James, who by all accounts was a devout Christian, felt a little of what I feel. This is from the preface to his text Old Testament Legends (Being stories out of some of the less-known apocryphal books of the Old Testament):
Perhaps I have now said enough to show of what sort the tales are that are told in this book—some of them told for the first time in English. They are not true, but they are very old; some of them, I think, are beautiful, and all of them seem to me interesting.
The story that I retell below, of King Solomon and the demon Ephippas (with a bit of backstory), is originally from The Testament of Solomon. The text, which describes in the first person how King Solomon gained power over demons and forced them to build the temple in Jerusalem, dates back to somewhere between the first and fifth centuries CE. It is of Greek, probably Christian origin.
In addition to the translation (synopsis, really) in Old Testament Legends, Dr. James also wrote a couple of commentaries about The Testament of Solomon, available here and here. He also made use of the myth in “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. That’s where I first learned of it, and I always did wonder where it came from. Now I know.
Anyway. To the story. The quotes are taken from Old Testament Legends.
I was sorry to read this morning that Margaret Groening, Matt Groening’s mother, passed away last month. Didn’t she have a great smile?
Margaret’s son Matt is the author behind the old Life In Hell comic, and of course, the creator of The Simpsons. The Simpsons (their names, at least) were inspired by Matt’s real life family: parents Homer and Margaret (don’t call her Marge!), siblings Lisa and Maggie (as well as Patty and Mark, who may or may not be Bart, I suppose).
Someone posted this charming little film from 1969, by Homer Groening. Little Matt is telling his baby sister Maggie a story about Matt and Lisa’s adventures. It’s a chain tale: the kind where the action accumulates and repeats, like The Gingerbread Man, who gets chased first by a little old woman, then by a little old man who is in turn chased by the little old woman, and so on. Chain tales are a lot of fun for oral storytelling, if you can deliver them well.
And little Matt does. Enjoy.
Apologies for not having posted for a while. I hope to pick up the pace again, soon, but in the meantime here’s a short, sweet (and mysterious) food origin myth collected in Panay (one of the Visayan islands in the Philippines) in 1904.
Once upon a time lived a man and his wife who had no children. They desperately wanted a child, and so they prayed to their God, Diva:
“Please, Lord,” they prayed. “We want a son so badly. He doesn’t have to be perfect, we’ll gladly accept him however you see fit to give him to us. Even if he were nothing but a head, we would be so happy.”
Ask and you shall receive. Diva took pity on the couple, and he gave them a son — a son who was nothing but a head. His parents were as happy as they promised they would be, and took loving care of Head (that’s what they named him, apparently). Head grew up to be a good son to his parents.
One day the chief’s daughter passed the house where Head and his parents lived. Once Head laid eyes on her, he fell hopelessly in love, and thought of nothing but marrying her. He begged his mother to go to the chief and ask him for his daughter’s hand. Head’s mother refused.
“The chief would never let his daughter marry only a head.”
But Head gave his mother no peace. Finally, just to quiet him, Head’s mother went to the chief and told him of her son’s request. Of course, the chief refused. Head’s mother returned home with the news.
Heartbroken, Head went downstairs into the garden and began to sink into the ground.
“Head, come back up,” called his mother. “It’s time to eat.”
“Sink! sink! sink!” cried Head.
“Head, please, come back up,” called his mother again.
“Sink! sink! sink!” was all Head would say, and he continued to say it until he sank beneath the ground and disappeared. His mother rushed down to try to take him back up, but she couldn’t. Some days later a tree sprang up from where Head had disappeared; the tree eventually bore large round fruit almost as large as a boy’s head.
And that’s where oranges came from.
My retelling is based on a version collected by Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington and published in 1906 in The Journal of American Folklore. The article, Visayan Folk-Tales I, is available free from JSTOR, and contains several more stories.
I confess — I don’t really get this one. I suspect it’s an imperfectly remembered version of a more elaborate dema deity myth, but who knows. I found an interesting Ifugao story about coconuts having sprung from a buried head, but I want to do a little research on that one before I retell it… .
Wikipedia tells me that oranges probably originated in Southeast Asia, which I never knew; I tend to associate them with the Mediterranean.
I also can’t find anything about a Visayan deity named Diva, but diwatas are nature deities, like enkanto, who live in trees and give blessings to people who bring them offerings — and curses to people who disturb them or the trees that they live in. The term diwata probably comes from the term devata, which denotes a Hindu demi-god. Deva is the Sanskrit term for a deity.
Someday, I would like to seriously track down how the Hindu pantheon and mythology worked its way from India eastward into Indonesia and Malaysia and eventually to the Philippines. Someday….
This is the story that started my current mini-obsession with food origin myths: the story of Ogetsuhime, as mentioned in volume 13 of the horror manga The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Note that the panels read right to left (and so do the voice balloons).
Ogetsuhime is a Shinto goddess of food and grain, and is also associated with Inari (or Oinari), the goddess of rice. The story above is similar to the story of Dewi Sri, the Javanese rice goddess, that I posted a few days ago. Though the vomiting and defecating of the banquet food in the Japanese tale is… different.
There is an Indonesian tale (from the Molucca Islands) with the same motif: Hainuwele, the coconut girl.
I finally went and did it. Multo now tweets. Please follow me to get updates on the blog, as well as on whatever strangeness I happen to be reading at any given moment.
It will be a challenge to keep it all to 140 characters.
Another manifestation of my current fascination with food origin myths. Rice is a staple food in Indonesia and the rest of East and Southeast Asia, so a divine (if gory) origin isn’t surprising. The motifs in this tale have similarities to Indian folklore, as well.
Once upon a time, Lord Guru, the leader of all the gods, decided to build a new meetinghouse in heaven. He tasked all the lesser gods to help him. One god brought wood, another sand; one made tiles. Everyone pitched in.
Everyone, that is, except Anta (or Anantaboga), the snake god. Anta wanted very much to help — but how? He had no arms, no legs. He could neither carry anything, nor build. As Anta pondered his situation, he cried three tears. As the tears touched the ground, they turned into three large, beautiful eggs.