The Gift of Prophesy

“People say that when you die and come back, you receive a gift. Either you can heal people by laying hands on them, or you get the gift of prophesy. My father got prophesy.”

We were still sitting around the Christmas dinner table, with our after-dinner coffee. I’d coaxed some ghost stories and family legends from Mom and Dad, mostly ones I’d heard before, but a new one, too. Dad had just repeated the story of his father’s near-death experience. I’d always heard that Lolo was supposed to be psychic. Apparently, I was about to learn why.

“He could look at a person and tell them things about their past, and their future,” Dad said.

“At first, he told me, the visions were chaotic, and hard to make sense of. But then he started doing prayers and meditations to help him control the visions, to control when and how he got them, and to understand what he saw.”

As I write this now, I wonder where my grandfather learned these “prayers and meditations.” After all, he was a priest (with the Philippine Independent Church), and I doubt they teach this kind of thing in Seminary. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask at the time. I poured Dad another cup of coffee as he went on.

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Another Family Ghost Story

“Did your Daddy tell you about what happened to him in Vintar?” my mom asked me.

I’d been gently pumping my parents over Christmas dinner, hoping for more family ghost stories and such, of the kind that they told me (and which I posted) several years ago. Under my prodding, they pulled stories from their memories, most of which I’d heard before. That’s okay; the stories are always worth re-listening to, and it’s fun to note how the details change just a little every time I hear one. With my mom’s help, I got a couple more anecdotes out of my dad that were new to me. Here’s one. I think my dad must have been about eight years old, or so.

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The Maid of the Mill

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As we count down the days to Christmas, here’s another winter tale: a haunted house story by Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon. I found it in Tim Prasil’s interesting Chronology of early Ghost Hunter fiction. The story opens with a critique of the genre:

The only objection I have to ghost stories,” said young Sanford, “is from a literary point of view. They’re so badly done, you know.”

Specifically, young Sanford asks, how do all these people in haunted rooms get scared to death? Why doesn’t anybody ever rescue them? Why don’t they scream?

This sarcastic complaint is a bit too much for a stranger in the room.

“Do you suppose they don’t try to scream? Do you suppose they don’t think they’re screaming?”

And so the company learns the tale of a haunted mill, where manifestations occurred every Christmas Eve for nineteen years, and three separate ghost hunter parties were driven to madness while investigating. But, of course, there had to be a fourth attempt. It went about as well as you would expect. Continue reading

My Wife’s Promise

Today I feature my second winter tale from Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835 – 1915), a best-selling “sensation novelist” of the Victorian era, most famous today for the novel Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also founded Belgravia magazine in 1866, and edited it until 1876, when the magazine was sold.

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“My Wife’s Promise” first appeared in Belgravia Annual, 1868, and again in Braddon’s 1886 collection Under the Red Flag and Other Tales. A former Arctic explorer tries again and again to swear off his Arctic expeditions out of family duty and love for his wife, but the call of the North is strong.

I, Richard Dunrayne, was the elder son of a wealthy house, my father, a man of some influence in the political world, and there were few positions which need have been impossible for me had I aspired to the ordinary career affected by British youth. I had been indulged in my early passion for the sea, in my later rage for Arctic exploration; and it was hoped that, having satisfied these boyish fancies, I should now settle down to a pursuit more consonant with the views and wishes of my people. My mother wept over her restored treasure, and confessed how terrible had been her fears during my absence; my father congratulated me upon having ridden my hobby, and alighted therefrom without a broken neck; and my family anxiously awaited my choice of a profession.

Such a choice I found impossible. …

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Dark Christmas

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This next winter tale is a good old-fashioned, creepy haunted house story — but a modern one, by Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Passion.

I found it as one of five Christmas ghost stories (all excellent) published by the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2013. Each of the stories has its own strengths; I liked them all. I chose Ms. Winterson’s story because of the five, it feels the most traditional to me.

We had borrowed the house from a friend none of us seemed to know.

A lone narrator in a mysterious, isolated house; footsteps in empty rooms; bats; flakey electricity, and of course (that modern touch) a phone that gets no signal. Oh, and an incomplete Nativity scene. What more could you want for a Christmas ghost story?

Reading this called up a lot of my favorite ghost stories, like Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” and M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts” — not that this story resembles either of those. There are just passing moments in “Dark Christmas” that brought those other stories to my mind. A good thing, in my opinion.

You can read “Dark Christmas” at Jeanette Winterson’s website.

Enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Five modern Christmas ghost stories (including this one) from The Guardian.

The Trial for Murder

With A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens practically invented the modern notion of the Christmas season for Britain and much of the English-speaking world (along with Queen Victoria’s consort Albert, who brought German Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree to the UK). I shared Dickens’ “A Christmas Tree” for one of my early series of winter tales, but mostly I try to avoid the more obvious Christmas classics in favor of tales that you might not have read before.

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That said, Dickens wrote some fun ghost stories, and ’tis the season…. So today I’ll share a lesser-known Dickens Christmas tale, “The Trial for Murder,” originally titled “To be Taken with a Grain of Salt.” This story first appeared in the 1865 Extra Christmas number of All the Year Round. This issue is collectively known as Dr. Marigold’s Prescriptions — hence, each of the stories had a title with some variation of “To be taken with…”.

Though “The Trial for Murder” is generally credited to Dickens alone, Philip Allingham at The Victorian Web says the story is likely a collaboration with Charles Allston Collins, Dickens’ son-in-law and Wilkie Collins’ brother.

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Winter Tales Season: The Doll’s Ghost

Every year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I like to share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around. This year I’ll open with a lesser-known story from F. Marion Crawford.

Curtain design with doll

“The Doll’s Ghost” first appeared in the 1896 Christmas supplement of the Illustrated London News1, and again in Crawford’s posthumous 1911 collection Wandering Ghosts (Uncanny Tales in the UK). In his lifetime, Crawford was well known and well regarded for his historical novels and romances; today, he is mostly known for his supernatural tales, especially “The Upper Berth,” which M.R. James called a “horrid story” — in the positive sense of “full of horror” — in “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories.”

I picked “The Doll’s Ghost” to open up this year’s series because I like it, of course; also because the doll of the title shares my name, and Mr. Crawford and I share a birthday. It’s a “benign ghost” story, the kind M.R. James disapproved of, but it does have its creepy moments. For parents, it has genuinely scary moments. I think it’s good for the season. Continue reading

Nightmares and Hawaiian Stones

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In my last post I shared the legend of Pele’s curse: the belief that taking lava rocks or sand from volcanos in Hawaii (especially Kilauea) brings bad luck because of the goddess Pele’s anger. As I mentioned, this legend is a tourist legend, and not a part of traditional Hawaiian folklore or mythology. As far as I can tell, it’s not particularly believed by non-indigenous residents of Hawaii, either.

But I did find a fairly similar item in a collection of local-but-non-indigenous folk stories. This anecdote is interesting to me, for a few reasons. First, the story.

My mother told me. One day when a man was walking he kick a stone. The stone roll away [from] where it was. That night when the man was sleeping the stone came to him and started to smash him. The wife thought why he was struggling on so she asked him what he did today but the man said nothing. The second night it happen the same way but when the wife asked him the same question he said nothing. The third night the wife couldn’t stand it so she prayed. Then the man knew what he did so he went back to where he kick the stone and put it where it was. This stone was a stone which belong to the old Hawaiian.

Gwladys F. Hughes collected this story from a 14 year old, Kauai-born, ethnically Japanese girl in Waialua, Oahu, in the winter of 1946-1947. The girl was an eighth grader at Waialua High and Intermediate School.

This story caught my attention because it’s somewhat similar to the “take a rock, suffer bad luck” tourist legend that I had been researching: sort of the “locals’ version” of that belief. But then I realized it’s also similar to another piece of folklore that I explored before starting on the Pele legends: the Filipino stories of the batibat, and the phenomenon of bangugot.

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The Curse of Pele: A Tourist Legend

A followup to my #FolkloreThursday article on the Saga of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos and fire, and her sister Hiiaka.

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Some time in the early or mid 1980s, a package arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, containing lava sand taken from Black Sands Beach in 1969. The woman who took the sand evidently loved the Hawaiian islands a lot, as she and her husband returned frequently, despite the gradually escalating mishaps that struck them every time:

1st time-Cut my foot
2nd time-Scraped my arm at airport
3rd time-Lost my hearing and broke eardrum on crater in Maui
4th time-Sprained two toes on cement steps
5th time-Cut my finger
6th time-Husband had heart attack and I fell twice-1st time broke my left elbow; 2nd fall broke my kneecap in two places and crushed it.

Finally, in 1982, our two unlucky tourists saw a display at Volcano House, the historical hotel on the edge of Kilauea volcano, traditionally said to be Pele’s dwelling place. This display showcased letters from other tourists who had suffered the Curse of Pele: bad luck that struck them after they had taken lava rocks from Pele’s volcano. All these victims returned what they had taken, in hopes of lifting the curse. And so this couple did, too. I hope their future trips to the islands went better.

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The Saga of Pele and Hiiaka: New article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog

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I have another article on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This one tells the saga of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka.

This one especially struck me because I started the research soon after Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie came out. That movie was a big sensation among (especially) female action movie and comic fans: finally, we have a movie of our own! Everyone loved the strong portrayals of woman by Gal Godot, Robin Wright, and even (in a minor, but not completely fluff, role) Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy.

And then I started reading about Pele and Hiiaka and I realized — Hawaiian mythology has had this all along! The women in this saga — both major and minor characters — rule their own lives, with all the good and bad that this entails. It was a pleasure to discover it, and a joy to share it with other folklore aficionados.

A fiery-tempered, jealous deity; passionate friendship and love; brave warriors on a quest. These are elements of great myths and sagas from all over the world, but the saga of the volcano goddess Pele and her sister Hiiaka is special: it is a saga of powerful, self-actuated women. As John Charlot wrote, the Pele saga is “among the fullest, most interesting characterizations [of women] in world literature.”

In addition to the fascinating story, one of the best parts for me was discovering the hula and chant, Ke Ha`a Ala Puna, which commemorates one episode of the saga. I included a performance of the hula in the post.

Read about the saga here.

Enjoy!