A Ghostly Lover tale from Southeast Asia

A tale told by Mark Seng Yang, who kindly allowed me to post it here.

800px Stilt house at Kalibo Aklan Philippines

Here’s a classic tale from SE Asia:

A man leaving to study abroad promised his lover he would return one day to marry her. Reluctantly, she agreed and waited for him. But as the years passed, her lover didn’t show and it was believed she died of a broken heart. A dilapidated house now stood where once a beautiful maiden waited for her knight.

As fate would have it, one day the man did come back and as he passed by his lover’s house, he could see her through the window combing her long, dark hair. Ecstatic as he was, the man decided to go home and clean up from the long journey. Imagine his surprise when his parents told him a peculiar thing.

“I’m told she’s dead and all that’s left is a ghost of her memory,” his parents said of his girlfriend.

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November Eve

I came across an interesting paper from Katharine Mary Briggs — it was her Presidential Address to the Folklore Society in 1970 — about the connection between fairies and the dead. As the person who shared this link wrote, “fairy” is short for “Fair Folk”, where “fair” perhaps means “pale” more than it does “beautiful”. Pale, like ghosts.

Anyway, Dr. Briggs’ address covers the connection (and perhaps interchangability) between fairies and ghosts, Fairyland and the Realm of the Dead, in early folk beliefs and various folktales of the British Isles. Among the many tales she references is one that’s especially appropriate for this time of the year. It’s called “November Eve”, by Oscar Wilde’s mother, Jane Francesca Agnes Wilde (or Lady Wilde, as she is known). All Hallow’s Eve, the evening before All Soul’s Day, is the night when the dead come back to visit — and according to this story, they celebrate with the fairies, too.



It is esteemed a very wrong thing amongst the islanders to be about on November Eve, minding any business, for the fairies have their flitting then, and do not like to be seen or watched; and all the spirits come to meet them and help them. But mortal people should keep at home, or they will suffer for it; for the souls of the dead have power over all things on that one night of the year; and they hold a festival with the fairies, and drink red wine from the fairy cups, and dance to fairy music till the moon goes down.

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My Most Re-watchable Ghost Movies

Mid-October: fall is here, winter is coming, the holiday season is soon to begin. It’s a good time to curl up on chilly evenings, with a good book or a good movie, preferably one that’s a little dark….

It’s also the season of lists, so here’s mine. Ten (plus one) ghost movies that I love, and re-watch. Tastes are subjective, so your mileage may vary. I’m missing a lot of the classics, of course; there’s only room for so many, and while these probably aren’t everyone’s picks, they’re movies I love. And the advantage of this is that maybe I’ve suggested something you haven’t seen yet, or wouldn’t mind seeing again.

Note: I’m more a fan of ghost stories than horror. While the two are related, they aren’t identical. A few of the movies I’ve listed might be considered horror, but many of them clearly aren’t. Some may give you a chill or a sense of unease, and some of them are just interesting movies that happen to feature ghosts.

Here we go, in no particular order:

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The Curse of La Llorona

To wrap up the Mexican Monstresses mini-series: a rather unusual version of the famous legend.

Once upon a time, there was a woman with three children: one was two, one was four, and the eldest was six. The woman’s husband had died, and she was lonely, so she took a lover.

But her lover got tired of her, and one day he left. The woman became angry and depressed. She blamed her children for her lover’s abandonment, and she stopped taking care of them. She wouldn’t kiss them, or hug them — or feed them, or bathe them. Her little children, frightened and confused at their mother’s anger and neglect, cried all the time. This made her angrier, and she would whip them and scold them, and scream at them:

“It’s all your fault that my life is so unhappy! Why did I ever have you?”

One day, enraged and out of her head, she picked up a butcher knife and hacked her poor children to death. She cut them up into little little pieces, and threw them into the river. The swift current swept the remains of her babies out to sea.

As she threw the last piece into the water, she suddenly realized what she had done.


She cried as she ran along the river’s edge, pulling her hair, tearing her clothes, weeping and wailing — but it was too late. Grieving, the woman dragged herself back home, calling her children’s names. The house met her with only emptiness and silence. Overcome, and not knowing how else to relieve the pain in her heart, the woman picked up the fatal knife and plunged it into her heart. Straight away, her spirit came out of her body and went to face God’s judgement.

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The Many Origins of La Llorona

To conclude my series on Mexican Monstresses, who better than La Llorona, possibly the most famous Mexican legend of all? In this installment, I’ll talk about the possible origins (and some variations of the story) of this legendary fearsome female.


A lone woman with long black hair, dressed in white, who walks along the water’s edge (or in more modern versions, along a highway). She weeps and wails as she walks, crying out for her children, whom she murdered. Some say that to hear her cry means death. Some say that she will steal your children, to make up for her own. Others say that she is a siren, who lures men to their deaths.

Siren, sorrowful mother, child-snatcher, harbinger of doom: you can see aspects of the La Llorona legend in several of the fearsome females that I’ve featured in this series.

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Reading Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost

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I’ve long been a fan of Zack Davisson’s Japanese folklore blog Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (named after the game of 100 Weird Tales), so I was eager to read his new book, Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost. It did not disappoint.

Davisson traces the origins of the yurei from their basis in Japan’s belief systems and traditions about the dead, starting with early animistic beliefs and their mixture with beliefs from Shintoism and Buddhism. The worlds of the living and the dead are perhaps nearer to each other in the Japanese conception than they are in Western belief systems. Your obligations to your ancestors continue past their deaths — and perhaps their interest in your life outlives their deaths, too. Becoming a ghost might be as simple as dying with something pressing on your mind — and moving on as easy as fulfilling the goal that keeps your ghost here.

The book also presents the literary history of the Japanese ghost story or weird tale (kaidan), beginning with the story behind Maruyama Ōkyo’s famous 18th century painting The Ghost of Oyuki. Oyuki is the prototype of the modern image of the yurei: pale, dressed in white, with no feet; she also graces the cover of the book. From there, we follow the weird tale through Japanese art, Japanese literature (and Chinese contributions to Japanese literature), Noh and Kabuki theater, and film. We learn about the three great yurei of Japan: the lovelorn Otsuya, the vengeful Oiwa, and the earth-bound (or maybe well-bound) Okiku. As with the Latino legends of La Llorona, there are many versions of the stories of Otsuya, Oiwa, and Okiku, and Davisson introduces us to several variations. He also shares other classic ghost tales and legends from Japanese and Buddhist mythology.

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The Tlahuelpuchi Epidemic

In this installment of my Mexican Monstresses series, folklore meets real life when the bloodsucking tlahuelpuchi strikes a small rural community.

800px MalincheMatlalcueitl

December 8, 1960: an unseasonably cold night in San Pedro Xolotla, a rural, primarily Nahuatl-speaking community beneath La Malintzi volcano in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala. Filemón and Francisca, a couple in their early thirties, were working late carding wool and making yarn; like most households in the community, they supported themselves with their weaving. They lived in one room of Filemón’s parents’ extended household with their four children: two boys and a girl between 5 and 14 years old, and a seven month old daughter, Cristina. Around midnight, Filemón’s older brother returned from Mexico City, where he had gone to deliver an order of sarapes. The three of them had coffee and chatted, then all retired for the night.

Filemón, exhausted, fell asleep immediately, but Francisca gave baby Cristina one last breastfeeding. Then she put Christina back on her petate (sleeping mat) before going to bed herself.

Two or three hours later, Francisca awoke and saw an intense light moving around outside the window. She tried to get up to investigate, but her body felt heavy and unresponsive, and she soon fell back asleep. A little later she half-awoke again. A strange mist filled the room, and out of it materialized a chicken-like creature, blue and red. Again she tried to get up, but the mist overcame her. That’s all she remembered.

At six AM Filemón awoke and noticed that the door to the room was partially open. Then he saw baby Cristina lying not in her petate, but on the floor some yards away. He got up to investigate. Francisca was still fast asleep.

It took several minutes for Filemón to wake Francisca from her deep slumber with the terrible news: Cristina was dead. The skin around her chest and neck was mottled and purplish, her chest covered in scratches. She had been sucked to death by that shapeshifting vampire known as the tlahuelpuchi.

And on that morning of December 9, six other mothers were shaken out of trance-like sleeps to a similar discovery: a still, tiny body, sometimes an open door. Seven dead babies. It was a tlahuelpuchi epidemic.

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Mexican Monstresses: La Matlalcihua

From Oaxaca, the latest installment of my mini-series, Mexican Monstresses, features la Matlalcihua or Matlalcihuatl (“the ensnaring woman”).

Is the Matlalcihua an evil woman, an evil couple, or a being that can be whatever it needs to be? Like La Mala Hora, la Matlalcihua has many descriptions, depending on whom you talk to.


Though she is primarily a Oaxacan legend, Hugo Nutini and John Pohl both describe a creature by that name in Tlaxcala: a spirit of the ravines that haunts drunkards and adulterers. This spirit seems to be an agent of karma, as well as one of the causes of murder and violence, even able to possess people and drive them to murder:

People believe that the killer was guided or compelled by an evil supernatural, the devil, a vengeful tetlachihuic, a matlalcihua, or other malevolent being to commit the deed, thus releasing him from responsibility for the act. On the other hand, neither is the victim completely blameless or innocent in his fate, but rather he is regarded as contributing to his own untimely demise. Again under the influence of some evil supernatural, the people believe, he did something to provoke the incident leading to his death. In acts of violence leading to death, there are no fully innocent or fully guilty parties.

— Nutini, Todos Santos in Rural Tlaxcala: A Syncretic, Expressive, and Symbolic Analysis of the Cult of the Dead

In Oaxaca, several descriptions abound. Manuel Martínez Gracida, writing in 1888, described la Matlacigua, or Gobezguia, as a being that can take the form of small child or of a giant, whose “destiny is to pervert and hurt” its victims, afterwards disappearing like a puff of air. It can also take the form of a beautiful woman to seduce men.

Marcia Trejo Silva collected several Oaxacan descriptions of a being or beings that lures its victims into the jungle, after which they are never seen again. Some say that she is a one-footed woman, who leaves a tell-tale trail when she drags her victims away. Some say she’s a beautiful woman in white who walks the streets at midnight, like La Mala Hora. When she comes across a romantically-minded man, she lures him away to his death. Still others say that the Matlalcihua is two people: an ordinary-looking couple. The man kidnaps female victims while the woman captures men. You can tell if a couple is Matlalcihua because they are blond and they chain-smoke.

And finally, some people say that the Matlalcihua is only one being, but it can appear as either a man or woman, depending on the victim. It takes the form of its victim’s beloved, to lure the victim into following it. The victim chases the apparition, losing their sense of direction, stumbling through the bushes and brambles, until they are completely lost. If they do manage to catch their “lover,” the shock of seeing that he or she is really a living skeleton (Whoops! Remember the tzitzimime and La Huesuda?), will drive the victim completely and permanently mad (and come to think of it, that sounds like the cihuateteo).

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Witches vs. Sorcerers: What’s the Difference?

For my Mexican Monstresses series, I’ve been reading a fascinating (but quite academic) book called Bloodsucking Witchcraft (Nutini and Roberts, 1993), about a type of Mexican “vampire” in central Mexico. I put vampire in quotes, because even though this creature sucks blood, both Nutini and Roberts, as well as sources on early Mexican folk belief all the way back to the sixteenth century, refer to it (“her” mostly) as a witch (brujo/a).

A bloodsucking shapeshifter is not what I think of as a witch.


Source: Wikipedia

And the European conception of a vampire (which is by definition a revenant — that is, the dead revived) isn’t a witch. But the definition that Nutini and Roberts use, and how they distinguish witch (brujo/a) from sorcerer (hechicero/a) calls out some differences I’d never thought about. Before, I’d always considered the terms somewhat interchangeable, and I think in common usage most people do. But the distinction is interesting, and useful.

Note that in the following discussion, I’m referring to witchcraft and sorcery in the folk belief sense of anthropomorphic supernatural beings, not in reference to Wicca or other modern Neopagan religions.

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Mexican Monstresses: La Mala Hora

Installment four of my mini-series, Mexican Monstresses features La Mala Hora (“the evil hour”). Is she a siren, a sheepskin, or a harbinger of death?


In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, they tell of La Mala Hora (or La Malora or La Malogra). She usually appears as a beautiful long-haired woman dressed in white, walking along the side of the road at night. Men who encounter her are so taken by her beauty and seductive ways that they follow her mindlessly, with no heed to where she’s leading them.

The lucky few who have met La Mala Hora and lived to tell the tale say that while following her, they lost their sense of direction. If they carried a lamp, it would suddenly stop working. Luckily, these fellows noticed that the lovely lady they were following floated, rather than walked. Or they noticed that her toes were backwards. Those poor victims who don’t look down at La Mala Hora’s feet will follow her to their doom, as she leads them over the edge of a ravine.

And if you see La Mala Hora on the road dressed in black, then look out! She is far more fierce and aggressive in her black-clad form.

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