Tag Archives: ghost

Use Your passport While You Can


It is a curious factor of ghost lore that they are geographically limited. After our spirit is freed from the confines of its fleshly vehicle one might imagine that we would enjoy the liberty, the new found flying ability and ineffectiveness of walls, fences and other impediments to movement. I can readily imagine that one might undertake a lengthy world tour to catch all the sights missed during a life too busy and financially restricted to have involved the Taj Mahal and so forth. It would not surprise me at all to find myself in the company of several other freshly released souls, breezing lightly past the queues and gaily wafting through turnstiles. But no, it appears that those of us who stay on this earth after our physical demise remain quite specifically restricted by the boundaries of the material world.

Although there are one or two ghosts that are seen in coaches or on horses (usually headless) riding about on the roads, they don’t seem to make use of the extensive connectivity of the road system, their nocturnal journeys being proscribed, like spectral trams, to a specific route. The odd deceased monarch is inclined to show up at more than one of their previous homes, though they seem to manage without haunting the transport systems in between. The great majority of ghosts very rarely roam beyond the confines of a single house, in fact their spatial limitation is often to a solitary room or even a specific spot in one room. Some don’t even get a room but are doomed to an eternity in a corridor, which probably explains the moaning.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. In japan you can be anywhere in the country and still encounter Kuchisake-onna, the Slit-Mouthed Woman. She waits for lone pedestrians in dark and narrow alleyways then steps in front of them and asks the rather forward question
“Am I beautiful?”
She will have her mouth covered, back in medieval times she used a fan or a scarf but nowadays she hides her face with a surgical mask like those worn by many health conscious occupants of modern Japanese cities. Regardless of the answer she will then reveal her jaws, along with the gruesome mouth-to-ear gashes from which she gets her name, and ask what you think now. If you answer yes she will produce a butchers knife or a pair of scissors and cut your cheeks to match hers. If you answer no she will walk away but secretly follow you home and stab you in your sleep.

The story is that her samurai husband found out she had a lover and used his sword to cut her face in to its hideous grin asking “who will find you beautiful now?” Then he decapitated her but was soon filled with remorse and turned his sword on himself.

Quite why Kuchisake-onna is not subject to the laws of locus that bind so many other spooks I do not know. Thankfully, whilst she can waft at will around the Land Of The Rising Sun she doesn’t appear to have found her way beyond its shores. Maybe she is restricted to a location after all, just a very big one. So visit this world while you can because it seems that when we don’t move on completely we don’t move at all.

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Filed under Ghost stories, Uncategorized

Who becomes a ghost? Nobody!


You can’t beat a ghost, literally. You can try, but since a ghost is an NCB (Non Corporeal Being), it has no physical body and does not respond to being whacked with weapons. Now if people come back from the dead in their own body, that is a different matter. It is also a different thing, not a ghost but a… any guesses? No? You know me too well!

If you have come back from your grave it may well be that you were buried alive. With the dubious medical practices of the past, live burial was not entirely uncommon. To offer a last chance to those who were not only at Death’s door but had been neatly nailed in a box and delivered to his lobby, it was standard practice to place a string in the deceased’s hand and attach the end to a bell on a stand above the grave. In this manner, if you did come round in a wooden overcoat under several feet of earth, it was possible to be “saved by the bell” and become a “dead ringer”. It also made you a “revenant”. A revenant is someone who has “come back”, from the French “revenir”: “to come back”, and was particularly used for those who had come back from the dead. A significant feature of a revenant is that they have come back to life; they are alive, unlike vampires.

Far from being handsome or sparkly, the original folkloric vampire of eastern Europe was a fat, fetid, dead person with matted hair and dark or purple skin, wearing a shroud, that rose from the graveyard to feed on the living. These it seems, were largely the result of hysterical fear of the dead combined with confusion over the stages of decomposition. Someone would have a bad dream or a fevered vision and the most recently deceased person would get the blame. On being exhumed to see if they were leaving their grave in the night, their body would be found plumper than when they died, possibly gurgling, and with fresh blood dripping from their mouth. Clear signs that they were wandering about and drinking blood! That these symptoms are pretty much what one would expect as bacteria fill the dead body with gasses and this forces “purge fluids” from any openings, wasn’t well known to your rural communities at the time. The classic methods of dispatching these foul creatures, A stake in the chest or decapitation, are both good ways to deflate a gaseous, bloated corpse.

In 1819 a bloke called John Polidori wrote his book “The Vampyre”, a while later Bram Stoker nicked his ideas and wrote a slightly more famous book. Thus the newly pale, cultured, attractive and un-dead vampires put on evening wear and took over stately homes, conveniently leaving an empty space in our graveyards, and our fears of walking corpses, for the zombies to move in. Zombies (you knew they’d turn up eventually) entered our language, and our imagination, from Africa and the Caribbean in the 19th century. These post life perambulators are corpses re-animated by witchcraft, a meat puppet, and as such are still technically dead. A zombie is in some ways the exact opposite of a ghost, in that it is a body with no spirit.

Revenants are rarely heard of these days, Vampires are getting ever more glamorous and even the zombie-come-latelies are not the shambling foot draggers they used to be. Ghosts, however, remain ghosts. Unchanged by the years, the disembodied spirits of the dead still float around the sites of their demise, moaning and groaning, or unwittingly repeating some long-finished task, unable or unwilling to pass over to the other side. In these uncertain times it’s nice to know there is someone you can rely on, even if there is actually no body there.

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Filed under Death

Let’s Talk About Ghosts!


Well, there is not much I can tell you about the festival of Samhain or Halloween that you won’t hear or read elsewhere, in much greater depth than I have space for, over the coming month. There will be programs on the TV about it’s pre-christian origins as a time of remembrance, its Celtic status as the new year celebration, and more besides. The old argument that trick or treat is an American abomination will be (erroneously) trotted out again while a pitiful few of us will staunchly shun the transatlantic pumpkin in favour of our native swedes and turnips (the adventurous might even attempt a parsnip lantern, their long, tapering shape is very effective). However you chose to celebrate it, summer is gone, the nights grow cold and long, the mists rise and the veil between the worlds grows thin…

Let us talk about ghosts.

It’s a funny thing but if you take an average room full of people and ask “do you believe in ghosts?” only a few will say yes. Take the same room full of people and instead tell your story of strange, inexplicable noises in an empty house then one by one the majority will recount their own personal experiences with the not-so-departed.

Oh yes, we’ve pretty much all had at least one brush with the supernatural, or know someone who has. Here in Devon we purportedly have more ghosts per square mile than the rest of the country; a country which has more ghosts per square mile than the rest of the world! If you live down this way and haven’t met one yet I suspect it can only be a matter of time…

The problem for a storyteller is that the vast majority of these spectral interludes boil down to the same two stories:

“We saw a ghost… then we heard someone had died!”

and

“Someone died… now there’s a GHOST!

Frustratingly, nothing else happens. Searching for a ghost story with some action in it, an event worth expounding to an audience as more than conversation (or evidence in the case for the existence of solidity-challenged persons), is a long and repetitive process.

Thankfully some of the folk tales featuring post corporeal people have a bit more to them and, as ever, come with advice for those who care to listen.

The Dauntless Girl* earns her name by taking on a bet to retrieve a “skull bone” from the dead house in the middle of the night. Despite a disembodied voice repeatedly telling her to leave the skulls alone as they are it’s relatives, she achieves her goal, blows out the candle and locks the voice in, before returning to the warmth and light of the farmhouse where she claims her winnings.  The voice, it turns out, was the verger, bribed to scare the girl off, now dead from fear having been shut in with the bones in the dark.

Which brings us neatly to our first piece of advice should you meet with the physically disenfranchised:

1/ Do not be afraid.

Those that expire in ghost stories usually do so as a result of their own fear, not any action on the part of the previously deceased.   As the Dauntless Girl says to the shade of her master’s mother in the next bit of her story “Why should I be afraid of you? You’re dead and I’m alive”. (but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ahem.)

Having proved her worth, the Dauntless Girl is now hired by a rich man whose mother, despite her recent relocation to a subterranean residence very close to the church, is still turning up at the house and frightening away the servants. Since the girl shows no fear, the phantom matriarch can at last reveal the whereabouts of the savings she wishes her son to take possession of and move permanently to the next plane of existence; and the Dauntless Girl gets to keep a share of the booty!

Which marvellously illustrates my second piece of advice:

2/ Ask them what they want.

Frankly, I’m surprised more people don’t do this. It’s obvious the spook is hanging around for a reason so why not find out what it is? At the worst you may find yourself listening to the chilling tale of their horrible murder but you never know, perhaps, if you dare follow the apparition in to the cold, dark cellar with nought but their unearthly glow to light the way, you may be shown their hidden store of gold. Either way, you are going to have a better ghost story to tell than anyone else next time the subject comes up at a party.

Speaking of parties, should you go to one around the 31st October, remember that part of it’s original purpose was to contact the ancestors, making use of the thinning of the veil to glean wisdom from those that have gone before. But be aware: there is a sub set of travelling ghosts, such as the husband murdering Lady Howard who turns up in a coach of bones complete with headless driver, these non permanent residents of the netherworld seem to have a free pass at the gates of Hades and should you climb in to their carriage you will surely be whisked away to an eternity of torment.

So so my last piece of advice for the spooky season:

3/ Do not accept a lift from a dead person.

This may seem to contradict Advice No.1  but there is a line between fearlessness and stupidity, and this is where it is!

*Found in the comprehensive Penguin Book of English Folktales Excellently annotated by Neil Philip

http://openlibrary.org/books/OL9797884M/The_Penguin_Book_of_English_Folktales

http://www.neilphilip.com/Neil%20Philip.html

The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk

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Filed under Autumn, Folk Tale, Ghost stories, Halloween, October, Samhain, Spooky