Ghosts!1 The word alone creates images of translucent and flowing spirits, spirits that have either failed to realize that they are no longer physically alive or who intend to exact revenge from those left living. Ghosts are feared the world over, and have been since humans began to recognize realities and dimensions outside of the present one. Are they creations of our own minds?
Native American lore is filled with legends about ghosts and the Other-world that they inhabit. Native Americans are intimately linked with nature and the world of spirit — including those beings that reside in the spirit world. To the plains Indian, however, the interaction between humans, ghosts and spirits is considered "a normal part of life on this earth."2 Sickness is not the result of a virus or bacteria but more likely than not, the result of "ghost illnesses" caused intentionally by a malignant spirit of a departed individual. Ghosts most often appear in dreams rather than in the physical world, although physical manifestations such as footprints and sounds are also part of their calling cards.
Ideally, if such spirits want to continue their existence they should stay in the "underworld" and live a parallel existence, unaware of and inaccessible to those still living in the physical world. But folklore has may models for exceptions to this plan. The owl was considered one of the manifestations of an evil spirit, a vengeful spirit. To see an owl at night meant that a spirit had
1. The word "ghost" is a derivative of the Middle English "goste" and the German "geist," both meaning "breath". The breath leaving the body at the time of death was believed to be the soul.
2. St. Pierre, Mark and Tilda Long Soldier. Walking in the Sacred Manner. New York: Touchstone Books 1995, 108.
announced an evil intent. To the Chiricahua Apache, "the bad ones go right into the owl, at death, at once. The others who were good through life go to the underworld."3
The image of the ghost appearing as a white amorphous shape is common the world over — including among Native Americans. Opler related one such sighting by an Apache man:
"One day, after I was married, I was riding my mule back from White-tail..We got lost in the woods and could not get out before dark. We got into a canyon neither of us knew. And up among the trees I saw something white. I didn't think anything of it, but in a few minutes I saw it again."4
This sighting affected the man so much that he was incapacitated for some time after he was able to return to his home.
Ghosts appear in dreams usually with the same intent — to draw the person into death. There was a belief even during the early part of the twentieth century that to see the ghost of an Indian was fatal but to see the ghost of a white man would only bring sickness.5
The Lakota Sioux believed that to see a ghost would not result in harm, but "if they hear a ghost, bad luck will follow. If they hear a ghost mourning, then someone of the family will die soon."6 To the Lakota the ghost may signify a future event, either success of a war party, or its failure. According to Walker, "if they sing the song of victory the party will succeed, but if they mourn, then the party had better go home."7
Ghosts were believed to inhabit abandoned camps and tipis, and sacrifices were often made to them before a war party set out to ensure the aid of the ghosts.
Ghosts are primarily interested in securing the deaths of people they knew in life; however, they also did other types of mischief, such as causing children to spill hot soup or coffee at meals.
To the Lakota the spirit is not what constitutes life; rather it is the ghost that defines life. "His ghost is his breath",8 they say. The good spirit goes to the spirit world which is "at the other end of the spirit way," where it is never cold and hunger no longer exists and work is no longer necessary. The bad spirit does not go on to this land but stays behind in its ghost form.
Among the Oglala Sioux, ghosts are understood to attempt to entice the living to join them — only because they grieve for them and want to be with them once again. This is especially true in the period immediately after death. According to anthropologist William Powers, the loved ones of the deceased
3. Opler, Morris Edward. An Apache Life-Way: The Economic, Social, and Religious Institutions of the Chiricahua Indians. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1941, 230.
6. Walker, James R. Lakota Belief and Ritual. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1991, 104.
will attempt to appease the ghost by "keeping" it for one year. This is done by "feeding"9 the ghost spirit. After a year the ghost is fed for the last time and it departs along the "ghost road," which is the Milky Way. It is said, "the aura of the Milky Way is caused by their campfires."10
The purpose of this ghost keeping is, according to Powers, "so that by the proper rites it will be assured a return to its origin, and because the lingering ghost will help people to be mindful of death."11
One of the requirements of the Oglala Sioux after the Wounded Knee massacre at Pine Ridge in 1890 was for, "all Oglalas who were currently ghost keeping to release their souls on an appointed day."12
The contrast between the Apache, the Lakota Sioux and the Oglala Sioux is striking. The Apache fear the ghosts, which they believe to cause death, while the Sioux "keep" them for a time to stay near their loved ones, who will help the spirit find its way along the ghost road to the spirit world.
Ghosts were also greatly feared by the Navajo. "Ghosts are," wrote anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, "the witches of the world of the dead, a shadowy impalpable world altogether beyond the control of the living."13
Only those who die of old age, the stillborn, or infants who die before they are able to utter a sound do not become ghosts in Navajo belief. Ghosts are, according to the Navajo, the "malignant" parts of the human spirit. While they may shape-shift into animal forms, such as coyotes, owls, fire, mice or even whirlwinds, they normally appear as black or very dark shapes. "Whistling in the dark," wrote Clyde Kluckhohn, "is always evidence that a ghost is near."14 (It occurs to me that whistling, a fairly penetrating sound, is quite a natural way for humans to announce their presence — which is generally a far safer practice than surprising a wild animal in the dark! It certainly seems to be a common reaction in response to the instinctive fear that sometimes attends a walk in the dark.)
To the Cheyenne, ghosts originate with the dead but they are not spirits of particular individuals. According to anthropologist E. Adamson Hoebel, they are more poltergeist than spirit. "They make their presence known by whistling and making weird noises; in very dark places, especially in the woods, they tug at one's robe; they tap and scratch on lodge coverings. In other words, they are the night noises and sensations that make even the most skeptical of us a bit jumpy."15
9. "Feeding" was done by placing food in a hole in the ground near the body.
10. Powers, William K. Oglala Religion. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1982, 53.
13. Kluckhohn, Clyde and Dorothea Leighton. The Navaho. Garden City: Anchor Books/ The American Museum of Natural History 1962, 184.
15. Hoebel, E. Adamson. The Cheyennes: Indians of the Great Plains. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology 1960, 86.
However, the Cheyenne do believe in individual spirits. Or rather, they believe in individual souls. Everyone dwells in a heaven after the spirit separates from the body according to Cheyenne belief. The soul, the tasoom, is the very nature, the very essence of the body and death is simply the next existence.
Illnesses have long been thought to be caused by vengeful ghosts. In ancient Mesopotamia, according to Thomsen, "The reason for a ghost to appear was mostly assumed to be irregularities during funerary rites or the cessation of the offerings to the dead The ghost of someone who had died in an accident, of a criminal who might have been sentenced to death or of someone who had not been buried at all was especially likely to persecute the living."16
A cause and effect relationship between dissatisfied ghosts and the illness and death of an individual was a universal concept — from Native American society to ancient Mesopotamia, Rome and Greece. This belief was also present among the tribes of Tierra Del Fuego according to early 20th century ethnologist John Cooper. Cooper noted that malevolent spirits who reside in "forest caves send sickness or death".17 Likewise, the rituals used to rid the land of the living of these maligned ghosts were similar. It was important to sooth the ill feelings of the ghost, to rectify the wrongs. For some spirits, this was not possible given their characteristics during life. Cooper wrote "The dead are feared, especially witch-doctors, who have power even after their death."18 One of the Tierra del Fuego tribes, the Yahgans, "believe the soul remains near the grave or wanders over the woods and mountains, especially at night, happy or unhappy, according to moral conduct in life."19 Other tribes in the area who also feared the ghost of the "witch-doctor," or shaman shared this belief. "The dead know what is taking place on earth," wrote Cooper, "but take no active part in human affairs, except dead witch-doctors."20 However, the spirits of some of these feared shamans were consulted during times of need because it was believed that they still maintained power over the elements.
Ghosts in other cultural settings even played an important role in a nation's leadership:
"According to a native account," wrote Sir James Frazer, "the origin of the power of Melanesian chiefs lies entirely in the belief that they have
16. Thomsen, Marie-Louise. "Witchcraft and Magic in Ancient Mesopotamia" in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Biblical and Pagan Societies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2001, 79.
17. Cooper, John M. Analytical and Critical Bibliography of the Tribes of Tierra del Fuego and Adjacent Territory. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 63, 1917, 148.
communication with mighty ghosts, and wield that supernatural power whereby they can bring the influence of the ghosts to bear."21
It was the fear of these ghosts, however, that gave the chief his authority and enforcement abilities. Once the people began to doubt the existence of such authority based in ghostly creatures the chief's ability to rule began to crumble.
In Celtic society people were often buried under trees after they died and it was believed that the tree "embodied the ghost of the person buried under it."22 However, as MacCulloch wonders, how then did the ghost differentiate itself from a tree spirit? It was MacCulloch's belief that trees became objects of worship because they were believed to be the embodiments of ghosts — not because they were in themselves deities. Likewise fairies may be ghosts of the dead, which is why they have so many of the same characteristics such as appearing as hovering lights, haunting certain tumuli and midnight dances. MacCulloch wrote, "generally the family ghost has become a brownie, lutin, or pooka, haunting the hearth and doing the household work. Fairy corresponds in all respects to old ancestral ghost, and the one has succeeded to the place of the other, while the fairy is even said to be the ghost of a dead person."23 MacCulloch footnotes this statement by offering a comparison: "The mischievous brownie who overturns furniture and smashes crockery is an exact reproduction of the Poltergeist."24
To MacCulloch and others the ghost is the true fairy and the various nature spirits that have so much influence over individuals worldwide. While this is an attractive theory and one that does explain some of the similarities of the folklore of ghosts and fairies, it does not account for all of them. Many of the stories concerning nature spirits speak of certain "themes" or core elements of how these particular spirits, be they of the water, air, stone, forests or mountains, act. They do not seem to deviate very far from these core elements regardless of where they are found around the world. Ghosts, on the other hand, behave either as the dead individuals did in life or as some representative of an evil underworld god or as souls waiting to be reborn into this world once again. While they may have common attributes of description, they do not have common behaviors.
To MacCulloch the ghosts of the dead were the origins for most of the fertility and nature spirits. "[I]n Scandinavia, they may have been held to have an influence on fertility, as an extension of the belief that certain slain persons represented spirits of fertility, or because trees and plants growing on the barrows of the dead were thought to be tenanted by their spirits."25
21. Frazer, Sir James. The Golden Bough: A study in magic and religion. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions 1993, 84.
22. MacCulloch, J. A. The Religion of the Ancient Celts. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc. 2003, 202.
To Native American people, this fairy-spirit-ghost tie may also make sense. According to David Whitley, an expert on rock art in the American West, "Throughout far-western North America, whirlwinds were believed to contain ghosts, a particular kind of supernatural spirit."26 We must be cautious, however, in our assignment of terms. Did/do the Native Americans believe these spirits to be ghosts or ghostly spirits? We cannot always assume that we have accurate translations of abstract terms or concepts.
The ancient Greeks believed that ghosts and werewolves were closely associated. In fact, an early second century CE tale of Pausanias ("Euthy-mus of Loci drives a werewolf into the sea") appears to make werewolves a sub-category of ghosts.27 Contrary to MacCulloch's views, the Greeks felt that a ghost is a supernatural being that may alter its shape but they did not believe that it is a nature spirit. The history and lore of the werewolf will be discussed in the next chapter.
Most of our fears of ghosts, regardless of where or when we live, come from the belief that they are somehow bad, evil, wont to cause the living to suffer. Do we assume then that ghosts are inherently bad souls? According to 19th century Celtic scholar James Bonwick, "The Irish, like the ancient Jews, held that bad men, especially, could walk this earth after death."28
In Hindu culture, ghosts are also considered the vengeful spirits of the dead. Pregnant women, suicides, those who have been murdered or drowned, those who have been struck by lightning and those who died hating someone are likely candidates to become ghosts. These ghosts are, as one anthropologist writes, "difficult to handle...but some of them have been tamed and are thus in the service of some persons."29
However, not all "ghosts" are necessarily bad. To the West African people known as the Ashanti, pregnancy is caused by the mixing of a male spirit with the woman's blood. For the first eight days after delivery, the baby is considered a "ghost child." "It is believed that a ghost mother in the spirit world has lost this child and will make an effort to get it back,"30 wrote anthropologist Elman Service. During these eight days it is unknown if the baby will live or die but upon the eighth day a ceremony is held to formally accept the child as a human child and it is named and its patrilineal lineage established.
26. Whitley, David S. A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company 1996, 75.
27. Ogden, Daniel. Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002, 175.
28. Bonwick, James. Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions. New York: Barnes & Noble Books 1986, 98. A reprint of the 1894 edition.
29. Service, Elman R. Profiles in Ethnography. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers 1963, 479
The Vampire in Legend and Lore
Vampires are surprisingly common in folklore. They are perhaps one of the oldest supernatural creatures and one of the most widespread throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Vampires are described as ghosts, ghosts that take their sustenance from warm-blooded living creatures either by drinking their blood or through cannibalistic feedings. An ancient account of the vampire comes to us from philostratus who, in 217 CE, wrote of a female vampire whose "practice [was] to feed upon beautiful young bodies, since their blood was pure."31 The "Empusa," the vampire in Philostratus's tale, is unlike the modern image of the cloaked, dashing count. This vampire has donkey's hoofs. Similar hoofed vampires, called Boabhan Sith, or "Wicked Woman Fairy," reportedly inhabited the Scottish highlands.
That the origins of the vampire legend date far back into antiquity is beyond doubt. Spence notes that even in ancient Egypt the vampire was a threat. "We do not find the vampire in any concrete form," Spence wrote, "but figured as a ghost — indeed, as the wicked or spiteful dead so common in Hindu, Burmese, and Malay mythology."32 Egyptologist E.A. Wallis Budge elaborated on the subject in his 1883 book, Babylonian Life and History:
The chief objects of all...pious acts was to benefit the dead, but underneath it all was the fervent desire of the living to keep the dead in the Underworld Wiedemann has proved that in all ages men have believed in the existence of Vampires, and he has described the various methods which were employed in ancient and modern times to keep the dead in their graves. To this desire, he believes, is due the care that the Egyptians took to bury their dead in tombs deep in the ground and in the sides of mountains. The massive stone and wooden sarcophagi, the bandages of the mummy, the double and triple coffins, the walled-up doors of the tomb, the long shaft filled with earth and stones, etc., all were devised with the idea of making it impossible for the dead to reappear upon the earth. In very early times the body was decapitated and the limbs were hacked asunder, and in later times the viscera were removed from the body and placed in hermetically sealed jars.33
The vampire's most sought out victim was sleeping children whom it would kill by sucking out its breath. The most effective charm to prevent these attacks was, strangely enough, "a wreath of garlic, a plant the vampire is known to detest."34 This charm was widely used in the Balkan countries as well to ward off the same threat — as illustrated in the many movies made over the years. Vampires also figure in Chaldean and Assyrian records that
31. Ogden, Daniel. "Apollonius unmasks and defeats a female 'vampire'", in Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002, 65.
32. Spence, Lewis. Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1990, 272. A reprint of the 1915 edition published as Myths & Legends of Ancient Egypt, published by George G. Harrap & Company, London.
33. Budge, E.A. Wallis. Babylonian Life and History. New York: Barnes & Noble Books 2005, 142-143. A reprint of the 1883 publication.
speak of these creatures not as mythic beings but as a matter of fact. However, they give little information as to their origin.35
Vampires seem to appear differently depending on where they are located. The Transylvanian variety matches our concept of the vampire from the horror films. It is gaunt and pale, with full red lips, pointed teeth, long fingernails, a hypnotic gaze and, horror of horrors, eyebrows that meet and hair on its palms. The Russian version has a purple face, the Bulgarian has but one nostril,36 the Albanian vampire wears high-heeled shoes and the vampire from Moravia attacks its victims in the nude.37 And, not to be outdone, the Mexican vampire is recognized by its fleshless skull.
The most effective way to kill a vampire was not a stake through the heart but through fire or decapitation. Knowlson wrote that the vampire legend is notably absent in cultures, such as India, that burn their dead, however, vampire lore is particularly more common in areas where burial is the way of disposing of the dead.38 The infamous stake was primarily used "to hold the unquiet corpse in its grave".39 Nineteenth-century symbologist Thomas Inman agrees, writing, "When vampires were discovered by the acumen of any observer, they were, we are told, ignominiously killed, by a stake driven through the body; but experience showed them to have such tenacity of life that they rose again, and again, notwithstanding renewed impalement, and were not ultimately laid to rest till wholly burnt."40 Frazer noted that the very many fire festivals popularly held around Europe were sometimes intended to keep the vampire away from herds of cattle. The "need-fire," according to Frazer, was "unmistakably nothing but a means of protecting man and beast against the attacks of maleficent creatures, whom the peasant thinks to burn or scare by the heat of the fire, just as he might burn or scare wild animals."41 Some scholars have suggested that "the revival of cremation in Europe in mediaeval and modern times [is due to the desire] to get rid of vampires."42 "Bodies of persons whose ghosts had become vampires," wrote Donald Mackenzie, "which attacked sleepers and sucked life-blood from
35. Knowlson, T. Sharper. The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs. London: Senate 1994, 212. A reprint of the 1930 edition published by T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London.
36. This peculiar physical "defect" also appears on the Fairies in Mull, Ireland. It was through this characteristic that allowed them to be detected, according to 19th century writer John Campbell.
37. Anon. Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Pleasantville: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc. 1976, 432.
39. Jordan, Katy. The Haunted Landscape: Folklore, ghosts & legends ofWiltshire. Bradford on Avon: Ex Libris Press 2000, 118.
40. Inman, Thomas. Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism. New York: Cosimo Classics 2005, xvi. A reprint of the 1869 edition.
41. Frazer, Sir James. The Golden Bough: A study in magic and religion. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. 1993, 649.
42. Mackenzie, Donald A. Crete & Pre-Hellenic Myths and Legends. London: Senate 1995, xlii. A reprint of the 1917 edition of Crete & Pre-Hellenic Europe published by The Gresham Publishing Company, London.
their veins, were taken from tombs and publicly burned. The vampires were thus prevented from doing further harm."43
Vampirism may have been used as a smoke screen to draw attention to the dead rather than to the living who were accused of witchcraft during the Burning Times. According to Robin Briggs, "There appears to be no earlier analogue for one spectacular Hungarian trend, also found in some other areas of eastern Europe after 1700, which was for magical aggression to be attributed to vampires, recently deceased persons who emerge from their graves to suck the blood of the living. This conveniently displaced blame so that it fell on the dead, with action being taken against their corpses; this new form of counter-magic may in part be seen as a response to the growing hostility of the Habsburg state to witchcraft trials."44
Vampires stories are rare in England although "a veritable epidemic in mediaeval times" occurred at Berwick on Tweed.45 Evidently, suicides were thought to be prime candidates for vampirism and they were staked out in crossroads to ensure that they remained quietly dead. While rare, the vampire was recorded in England as far back as the 12th century by William of Newburgh. According to an account by Simpson and Roud:
It appeared at Alnwick (Northumberland) in 1196, emerging nightly from its grave to roam the streets, corrupting the air with "pestiferous breath," so that plague broke out and many died. When two bold men decided to "dig up this baneful pest and burn it with fire," they found the corpse much closer to the surface than they had expected; it had swollen to a horrifying size, its face was "turgid and suffused with blood," and its shroud in tatters. They gave it a sharp blow with a spade; from the wound gushed "such a stream of blood that it might have been taken for a leech. filled with the blood of many people." So they tore the heart out, dragged the body away and burned it; this put an end to the plague.46
While rare in the British Isles and elsewhere there are other vampiris-tic creatures in existence. Franklin tells of fairies that have such tendencies. One of these is Anchanchu, a "vampire fairy" known to the Aymara Indians of Peru. "He travels in whirlwinds," writes Franklin "and seduces his victims with pleasant smiles before draining their strength and blood."47 The Anchanchu are not regarded as vampires among the Bolivian Aymara but rather as "evil place spirits usually associated with caves."48 However, certain Aymara people, called Karisiris, believed to possess supernatural powers,
44. Briggs, Robin. Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft. New York: Viking Penguin 1996, 123-124.
46. Simpson, Jacqueline and Steve Roud. Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, 374.
47. Franklin, Anna. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies. London: Paper Tiger/Chrysalis Books 2002, 14.
48. Buechler, Hans S. and Judith-Maria Buechler. The Bolivian Aymara. Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. 1971, 91.
do exhibit vampire-like characteristics. According to anthropologist Hans Buechler, these people "rob children of their fat during sleep."49
There is, of course, a Jungian explanation for the many tales of vampires. According to the psychoanalytical theory, the human psyche is dualistic and many of the "inferior or bad" aspects of human behavior is kept hidden in an unconscious "Shadow." "Lived unconsciously," noted O'Connell and Airey, "the Shadow appears as bad or evil figures in dreams or myths Vampires are an image of the Shadow. Having a human appearance, they live in the darkness, with hidden desires, feeding on the blood of the living, and drawing power from what we call 'normality'."50
While the vampire may be a ghost or a shadow of our subconscious, it is only regionally found in its traditional vampire form, for it is absent in most other non-European countries, although there is anecdotal information for vampires in Mexico, China, Brazil and in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. The vampire is also present in Hebrew mythology. One interesting bit of folklore trivia reported by Montague Summers is that "in Germany, Serbia, and modern Greece it is believed that a werewolf is doomed to be a vampire after death."51 Summers does caution however that the two should be evaluated on their own merits as "a vampire need not once have been a werewolf They are entirely different, separate, and apart."52
This leads us to the next chapter, where we discuss the werewolf in more detail.
50. O'Connell, Mark and Raje Airey. The Complete Encyclopedia of Signs & Symbols. London: Hermes House 2005, 52.
51. Summers, Montague. The Werewolf in Lore and Legend. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc. 2003, 189. A reprint of the 1933 edition published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. London.
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