Posts Tagged ‘cultures

29
Jul
20

Ghost Storytelling around the world

I learned something interesting the other day – something I kind of knew, but it inspired me to do a little more research.

Ghost storytelling around the world is very different!

I learned that now, mid-summer, is the most common time for ghost stories in Japan! Dating back to ancient times, it is believed that during summer the souls of the dead temporarily come back to this world. These spirits would include your ancestors, but also those who had no relatives praying for them as well as vengeful ghosts.

In some households the traditional custom of greeting your ancestors with a welcoming fire or altar is still practiced. Also during this summer season, ghost stories are told and plays are performed with themes developed from village folklore of unusual, other worldly stories.

The season is symbolized by these events used for interacting with the spirits of ancestors and taking pity on the unhappy souls. They say that telling the chilling tales also helps people to cool off in the summer heat.

This is similar to the Ghost Festival in China and some other East Asian countries. It is held on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The seventh month is generally regarded as the Ghost Month. At this time the deceased are thought to visit their living relatives.

Many cultural traditions are honored during the Ghost Festival. These can include preparing food offerings and having elaborate meals with empty seats for the visiting ghosts. Incense is burned to pay respects and sometimes paper boats or lanterns are released to guide any lost spirits.

Hawaiian culture also uses lunar phases to base their ghostly activities on. “Marchers of the Night,” spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors, appear at sunset during these specific times, usually around the new moon, and march from their burial sites to battlefields or other sacred areas.

The Nightwatchers arrival is announced with the beating of drums and blowing of conch shells. The warriors are carrying torches so they are usually seen from afar. Often fog, thunderstorms or high winds accompany them.

There are no festivals or celebrations surrounding the Nightwatchers; in fact, it is quite the opposite. No one should look at, or be seen by these warriors, according to Hawaiian legends. If a mortal should be accidently in the area, they should lie face down on the ground, motionless, to show proper respect and deference.

Hawaiian history, rich in mythology and folklore, is full of supernatural entities so the Nightwatchers are not the only ghosts of the islands.

I knew that in Victorian England, telling spooky stories around Christmas time was very common – I often hold some storytelling presentations during the holidays – but why is this?

The Winter Solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year occurs just days before Christmas and is a harbinger of the end, or death, of the year.

Many people focus on those no longer with us during the holidays and it makes sense to think that during this dark time of change to the new year that the dead might have a closer connection with the living.

Inuit stories are full of ghosts, monsters, shapeshifters and other paranormal entities. These tales are told year-round, day or night, by the elders of the community and are used as lessons for the children.

Also based on oral history, Jamaican Duppies often manifest in the form of a relative, and like Inuit folklore, are always present.

A Duppy may also manifest as a shadow, animal or material object so it is hard to know when one is present, though they only come at night. Here are a few ways to tell – if you smell food but there is none in the area, if you hear a stick break, if a dog whines or howls, if you have a spider web in your face.

Duppies are restless spirits and usually malevolent. They can be controlled in various ways which often involves using their grave dirt. They are said to live in bamboo thickets and the roots of cotton trees.

Here in the U.S., in spite of my line of work, telling ghost stories year-round, ghosts are generally thought of around Halloween, or All Hallows Eve.

The Halloween tradition stems from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival held during harvest when people would wear costumes and light bonfires to ward off ghosts.

Other All Hallows’ Eve traditions can include lighting candles on graves, attending church, lighting jack-o-lanterns and eating certain vegetarian foods such as apples, potato pancakes or soul cakes.

Over the years, Halloween has become a time for trick-or-treating, parties and telling ghost stories. It is only about 3 months away, in case you’re counting!

26
Oct
17

Candles

It’s my birthday week, so I thought this was a timely article to write –

Candles are romantic, candles are for birthdays, candles are for scent, candles are for religion and celebrations, candles have lots of different meanings for many of us – crossing cultures around the world.

The earliest candles may have been small torches – branches dipped in animal fat and lit for a slow burning, dependable light source.

In 3000 BC, Egyptians were using tallow (fat rendered from animals other than pigs) for candles and as time went on, other cultures began finding different sources to use. In India they found that a residue was left by melting cinnamon and it would burn (also smell nicer than tallow, I presume!). China was using whale fat and insects, while Japan extracted oil from tree nuts.

Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest found that fish called eulachon had a very high fat content during spawning, so they would dry them and use them as candles for lighting, thus the fish’s new name “candlefish.”

In more modern times, beeswax, bayberry wax and whale spermaceti were used. Spermaceti was made by crystalizing sperm whale oil which was a harder wax that didn’t melt in the summer, produced a brighter light and didn’t smell as badly as tallow.

In the early 19th century a French chemist discovered how to extract stearic acid from animal fatty acids, which lead to stearin wax, a wax that burned cleanly and was hard and durable. Later, paraffin wax, made by distilling coal, came into use.

Candles seem mystical – have you ever been mesmerized by watching a candle’s flame flickering? It’s easy to understand why/how certain superstitions got started. If a flame burns blue, supposedly a ghost is in the area and if there is a tall, straight flame it means a stranger will come. Burn a candle in the window to make sure a lover will return.

You should always light a candle with your right hand, otherwise, expect bad luck! Also, it’s bad luck to melt the base of a candle to make it set well in its base or to light it from a fire’s flame. I do hope, for your sake, that a candle that you light does not immediately go out – otherwise bad luck will follow! If it is difficult to light – rain is on the way.

The Irish used to have a superstition that 12 candles must be lit around a body at the wake as protection from evil spirts.

In 1700’s New England, a cultural tradition was begun using wax and oil of the bayberry plant added to their candles. They found the candles burned longer and gave off a wonderful scent. They presented these new candles to friends and neighbors at Christmas time, with the poem that indicated all good wishes would be lost in the smoke if they were blown out.

A Bayberry candle, burned to the socket

Brings joy to the home, and wealth to the pocket.

And now to the point of this whole article – birthdays! And of course, with birthdays, come candles on birthday cakes (or in my case birthday pies) and the tradition of blowing them out.

Apparently, the first birthday party was recorded in early Egypt, for a pharaoh on his coronation, which marked the moment he was “birthed” as a god. But the Greeks made cakes in offerings to some of their gods and eventually placed lit candles on some cakes as a way to symbolize the moon. It was believed that when the candles were blown out their prayers were carried up to the gods.

In the 1700’s in Germany, there were many accounts of cakes and candles used to celebrate children’s birthdays – a kinderfest. A record of a cake decorated with a candle for each year of life was in 1746, for Count Ludwig Von Zinzindorf.

Just when the belief of having to blow out all the candles to have your wish (or prayer) come true is unsure, but we still all make that important wish (prayer) annually, and send the wishes up to the heavens.




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