Monday, 7 April 2014

F is for Favourite phantom

The concept of a ghost is based on the view that a person’s spirit exists separately from his or her body, and that it may continue to exist after that person dies. An early example of this can be located in Sumerian mythology by Edimmu, which are ghosts that result from the improper burial of the dead. Thus, it has been proposed that funeral rituals evolved as a way of ensuring that the spirits of the dead would not return to 'haunt' the living. As we've all heard about ghosts, what of the remaining legions of supernatural beings which exist in global folklore? The extensive list of legendary creatures highlights the prevalence of supernatural beliefs from around the world. There is, however, significant redundancy and overlap through parallel derivations of similar tales, but with alternative names for the supernatural being or spirit involved, demonstrated between cultures. Hence, as our current callout aims to produce a collection of spooky stories written in the style of nineteenth century ghost story authors, it seems appropriate to list some alternative phantoms from global folklore which may prove inspirational. The following offers some brief details; I've kept my favourite for last! (A few further spirits are considered in other posts in this series (B & R).

The Ankou represents the personification of death in Cornish, Norman and Breton folklore. Depictions from folklore describe the Ankou as either a man or a skeleton that resides in cemeteries wearing a cloak and hat, carrying a lantern and wielding a scythe. Descriptions of the Ankou also often include a cart which the Ankou uses for collecting the dead. Probably the best source for legends of the Ankou come from 'The Legend of Death' by Anatole Le Braz, a Breton compiler of legends and folklore who claims that the Ankou protects cemeteries and the souls of those contained within. As the Ankou collects souls throughout the year, folklore advises against speaking the name of the Ankou aloud lest you attract his attention.

The doppelgänger is derived from German folklore where the doppelgänger represents a ghostly double of an individual. Typically, visualisation of a doppelgänger is perceived as a harbinger of bad fortune or an omen of death. Notably, the Wikipedia page cites a number of documented doppelgänger experiences including Abraham Lincoln, Percy Shelley and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Similar spirits exist in global folklore including the Fetch in Irish folklore, the ka in Egyptian mythology and the vardøger from Norse mythology.  Although neurologists have suggested that 'out of body' experiences may result from aberrant neural stimulation (1), this can't explain third party observances of doppelgängers and most crucially, we feel any scientific explanation is far less intriguing than a spiritual explanation! 

The Emere is a spirit which misrepresents death as life, desiring the best of both heaven and earth. Manifesting as a child which can travel between the spiritual and physical world at will, the emere is a malignant spirit which will typically return to the spiritual world, depriving the family of a loved one often on a particular day of celebration such as at the birth of a child, a graduation, or on a wedding day. Believed to be even more powerful than a witch, emere are often extremely attractive with mystical powers of seduction.

Chinese ghosts:
Chinese beliefs offers a rich array of ghosts to choose from, but only the Gu Hun Ye Gui and the Er Gui will be discussed in this blog.

Gu Hun Ye Gui:
From Chinese beliefs, the Gu Hun Ye Gui can arise as wandering ghosts, resulting from individuals who may have died far from home; or perhaps they have no family and therefore no home to return to. As a result, the ghost remains where the individual died waiting for the kindness of a living person to help them return home. The Gu Hun Ye Gui may also return as vengeful spirits or playful ghosts.

Er Gui:
The Er Gui are the hungry ghost of Chinese culture with similar variants described in Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. The Er Gui are thought to be responsible for disturbances occurring during the hungry ghost festival (hyperlink to D). Hungry ghosts are thought to represent the spirits of those who led a sinful existence during life and as a result suffer the punishment of experiencing hunger after death.  Hence there remains a tradition of leaving food for the ghosts during the ghost month. It is believed that the ghosts consume the essential matter of the food, so although the food may not appear to be consumed by the Er Gui, what remains is thought to be devoid of nutritional value.

So which spirit is my personal favourite? Although I have found all of the above quite intriguing, you'll need to return on (Monday April 21st) when we post R for Revenant which is my favourite ghostly spirit; I feel it deserves it's own blog!

Weblinks and references:

1. 2006, Brain electrodes conjure up ghostly visions, Nature, doi:10.1038/news060918-4

'The Legend of Death' by Anatole Le Braz


This blog post was written in the spirit of the April 2014 A-Z Challenge whereby a post is written every day during the month of April (with the exception of Sunday). The theme of each post is meant to correspond with a letter of the alphabet in sequential order. Tomorrow's post will be on G. For details and to visit the A-Z Challenge website, click here.

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