The last of my three-part series, Stories my Parents Tell Me, is up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! In “The Soul that Swam,” my parents recount some family stories of near-death experiences and after-death visitations.
This may sound more like Forteana than the usual type of folklore that I share, but they are tales that my family tells, if only to each other. I think that counts. I even experience a bit of “folktale mutation.”
“Your [grandfather] came home late one night, after sitting with a sick parishioner. As he arrived home, a large black moth flew at him. He killed it. Then he finished up for the day, and went to bed.
“When he fell asleep, he dreamt that he died.
“He dreamt that his soul rose up out of his body, so he could see himself lying in his bed. And then he felt himself being pulled away. But he didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to his brother and his friends.”
He dreamt that he died. Or was it a dream?
It’s no surprise that black moths/butterflies are associated with death in Filipino and other cultures. For comparison, here’s a woman whose family owns a funeral home in the Philippines discussing black butterflies and other death-related superstitions that she’s encountered. And here’s a thread from a Hawaiian discussion board about black moths — the prevalent belief among the posters is that a black moth is a deceased person come back to visit you. My dad has a way of subtly weaving little folkloric things into his stories, details so tiny they hardly seem relevant, and yet….
You can read “The Soul that Swam” here.
Image: Papilio helenus nicconicolens (Red Helen), in Aichi pref., Japan. Photo by Alpsdake. Source: Wikimedia
The second of my three-part series, Stories my Parents Tell Me, is up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This piece is called “Laughter from Empty Rooms.” My parents tell me more family stories, this time about haunted houses. But what haunts a house? Ghosts, or fairies?
“How do you know [Uncle Pepito] wasn’t just making things up again?” I said.
Mom thought about it.
“Oh, he could have been, but you know… later, your [grandfather] sent him out to the country, to our great-grandfather’s house in Baao …. At first, Pepito was glad to go, but after a few months, he begged to come back home. He said there were multo [ghosts] in the house. Poltergeists.”
Poltergeists? My dad has a different theory.
You can read “Laughter from Empty Rooms” here.
Image: Old house, Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Elmer nev valenzuela. Source: Wikimedia
I have a new series of three articles going up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! The series is called Stories my Parents Tell Me, and the first piece, “Bars of Flaming Swords,” is up now.
If you’ve been reading Multo for a while, the articles may seem familiar: I’ve based them on several posts from my Stories my Parents Tell Me category. I’m excited to be sharing my parents’ stories with the larger #FolkloreThursday audience.
“Mom, what do you know about the aswang?”
My parents never told me much about Filipino folklore when I was growing up. As professionals with advanced degrees, maybe they felt that old folktales and superstitions weren’t the kind of thing to share with their American-born daughters. Or maybe they just never thought about it. It wasn’t until much later that I got curious. So on a sunny Boxing Day morning a few years ago, I decided to ask.
Read “Bars of Flaming Swords” here.
Image: Mt. Isarog at the ricefields of Kinalansan, San Jose, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Geopoet. Source: Wikimedia
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.
It started as a quote in Maximo Ramos’ The Aswang Complex in Philippine Folklore. Ramos was explaining how rural Filipinos often prefer to sleep on the edge of the room, rather than the middle, for protection against the viscera sucking version of the aswang — the kind who climbs on the house and drops its tongue down between the chinks of the roof to suck out its victims innards.
Sleep towards the edge of the room, Ramos warned, but not too near a post:
for the posts may harbor a tree-dwelling mythical demon like the bangugot or batibat. This is a nightmare-inducing, insanity-causing creature resembling the genii of the Near East. It is said to have refused to leave its tree when it was felled and stubbornly to have gone on living in a crevice of cavity in the wood, emerging to sit on a tenant’s chest and suffocate him by plugging his mouth with its phallus and his nostrils with its testicles.
Huh. That deserves more investigation, I thought.
Buried in the pages of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for 1896 is a dry-sounding article called “Cagayan Sulu, its Customs, Legends, and Superstitions,” by one Ethelbert Forbes Skertchly. It starts out as a typical amateur (for I assume Mr. Skertchly was an amateur) anthropologist’s paper of the time would, with a physical description of Cagayan Sulu — now known as Mapun — an island in the southern Philippines, about eighty miles from Borneo, closer to Malaysia than to most of the rest of the Philippines. The paper meanders on, through descriptions of the flora and of the fauna, of the people, their dress, their customs, their industry. Mr. Skertchly gives us a couple of short folktales, including a charming one about a crocodile spirit covered in diamonds. I imagine a typical Asiatic Society member of the time perusing the paper after dinner, the journal in one hand, a brandy or perhaps a pipe in the other, perfectly relaxed. Nothing new here.
But then Mr. Skertchly veers off into a first-person narrative that would be right at home in a collection of classic English ghost stories: the tale of the Berbalangs of Cagayan Sulu.
Once upon a time, there were no men and women, only people. This is how the difference came to be.
Before there were people, there was the Supreme Deity, Melu. Melu had two assistants, Fiu Weh (the good spirit) and Tasu Weh (the evil spirit). Fiu Weh and Tasu Weh served as sort of the yin and yang of creation.
When Melu decided to create people, he assigned the job to Tasu Weh. Tasu Weh created people out of clay, and he gave them sex organs. But rather than split the sex organs fifty-fifty among his creations, he gave everyone both. The penis he put on one knee, and the vagina on the other.
When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions.
When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.
One of the things I did over the long Memorial Day weekend was read all the Trese comic books I could get my hands on (since I’m in the U.S., that isn’t very many). Alexandra Trese is a mysterious woman who owns a nightclub called The Diabolical and investigates supernatural crime in Manila. Budjette Tan has been writing the series since (I believe) 2005. It’s tremendously popular, and I can see why.
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.
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.