December 18, 2012

The Night Marchers of Hawaii

The Night Marchers of Hawaii
On certain nights at sunset and just before dawn, the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors, the night marchers or huakai-po, are said to rise from their burial sites and march through the Hawaiian countryside to battles long past or other sacred destinations. They may also appear during the day to escort a dying relative to the spirit world.

Should you happen across such a march, you will first hear drums in the distance and smell a rotten stench. Then you will hear a conch shell being blown, as an announcement of the deathly procession and a warning to get out of the way. You will see torches that get brighter and brighter as the marchers approach.

Legend says you must not look at the ghosts as they pass by, as seeing them and being seen by them spells death. Instead, you must lie down on your stomach and stare at the ground to avoid eye contact, be quiet and not move. If it is possible, the best thing to do is to simply leave the area before the procession comes close. However, if an ancestor of yours is among the marchers and they recognize you, you need not worry. He or she will call out “Na’u!” (“Mine!”), and none of the marchers will harm you.

The night marchers are the vanguard for a sacred chief whom commoners must never lay their eyes upon – to do so is to invite immediate death.

July 18, 2012

Skinwalker - Yee Naaldlooshii - He Who Walks on Four Legs

A skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshiiSkinwalkers are ancient Navajo monsters who use black magic to turn into animal form and use that ability for evil. They are men and rarely women who have gained supernatural power by breaking a cultural taboo.

A shaman gains the power of a skinwalker, or yee naaldlooshii in the Navajo language, by renouncing the traditional ways of Navajo magic and adopting the teachings of the Witchery Way. At the highest level of priesthood, he or she must then make the final sacrifice of murdering a blood relative: a parent, a sibling, or a child. With this destruction of their humanity, they have gained the evil power inherent to the yee naaldlooshii.

A skinwalker can take the form, speed and strength of any animal it wishes, depending on what abilities it needs. Many Navajo believe it can even steal the skin, or body, of a human being; locking eyes with a skinwalker allows it to immerse itself into your body.

Some say skinwalkers are easy to recognize in animal form, as they are unable to move entirely naturally, and some Navajo describe them as distorted and mutated forms of the animals they are emulating. Furthermore, a skinwalker’s eyes glow like an animal’s when in human form and appear human when in the form of an animal.

Many Navajo can tell stories of encounters with skinwalkers. They will sometimes try to break inside homes to attack the residents, and will often bang on the walls, climb onto the roofs and peer inside through windows in strange, animal-like forms. Skinwalkers are also known to attack cars and cause accidents. And that's not all; the yee naaldlooshii are also believed to be graverobbers and necrophiliacs.

The yee naaldlooshii can use magic to curse people and cause suffering and death. They use a mixture called corpse powder which they blow into their victim’s face. Soon after, the victim’s tongue turns black, they go into convulsions, and eventually die. They can also use spit, hair and old clothes to send a curse at a particular person. Because of this, many Navajo never spit and make sure to destroy any hair or nail clippings.

Skinwalkers are agile and fast enough to easily keep up with a speeding car. Some believe they can read thoughts and make any animal or human noise they want, using tricks like the cry of an infant to lure victims out of the safety of their homes.

Killing a skinwalker is very difficult due to their great power. Often people attempting to shoot one find their guns jammed, and if the rounds do fire, they have no effect. While the Navajo have magical protections against the yee naaldlooshii, there is only one certain way to defeat them: if you see a skinwalker and call it by its true name, it will die.

Skinwalker lore is no mere children’s tales to the Navajo people. The subject is not open to discussion, even today, and the Navajo are reluctant to talk about it to outsiders. After all, a stranger asking questions about skinwalkers just might be one himself.

July 3, 2012

Kuchisake Onna - The Slit-Mouth Woman

Kuchisake Onna, or the Slit-Mouth Woman
A long time ago in Japan, there lived a beautiful and vain woman who was married to a jealous and violent man, a samurai in most stories. The woman was unfaithful to her husband and, after discovering her infidelity, the man took a sword and slashed her mouth from ear to ear, asking “Who will think you are beautiful now?”

Now her vengeful spirit wanders the streets of Japan, hiding her mutilated face and seeking to take her misfortune out on anyone unlucky enough to come across her. So the legend of Kuchisake Onna, the slit-mouth woman, was born.

In the 1970s, stories began appearing in Japan about a woman with a surgical mask covering the lower half of her face (not uncommon in Japan) who appeared to people at night. She would ask the traveler if they thought she was beautiful (“Watashi kirei?”). If they answered in the negative, she would immediately kill them with a long pair of scissors.

Due to her unearthly beauty, the victim would usually say yes. The woman would then rip off her mask, revealing the horrible, gaping wounds marring her face. “How about now,” she would ask the horrified traveler.

Saying no resulted in death by scissors, as you would expect. However, the terrified victim would hardly want to offend this nightmarish creature, and most would assure her of her beauty. But it would not save them. The Kuchisake Onna would slit their mouth from ear to ear, making them look just like her.

The only way to be saved was to answer the second question with “so-so” or “average”. This would confuse the Kuchisake Onna, giving the victim time to escape while she was lost in thought. Trying to run without this distraction was pointless – the spirit would simply reappear in front of them.

Rumors and sightings of the Kuchisake Onna chasing children first began to spread in 1979, which caused real scares in many towns. Police patrols were increased in some places, and some schools began sending children home in groups escorted by teachers.

The legend seems to have a basis in reality. In 2007, a coroner found records about a woman with a torn mouth chasing children. She was hit by a car and killed during one such chase. This woman was likely the origin of the 1979 panic.

The legend of Kuchisake Onna has survived to the the 21st century, with many variations popping up in Japan and other countries. For example, in South Korea she appears with a blood red face mask.

The Kuchisake Onna appears in film in Carved aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman aka Kuchisake-onna (2007) and its prequel Carved 2 aka Kuchisake-Onna 2: The Scissors Massacre aka A Slit-Mouthed Woman 2 aka Kuchisake-onna 2 (2008).

Image by Netjeret

June 8, 2012

Domovoi, the Hairy Old House Spirit

Domovoi, the Russian house spirit
A Domovoi is a house spirit in Russian folklore, usually making its living place at the threshold under the entrance, under a stove or in the attic. It is usually said to resemble a tiny, hairy old man, though it can sometimes take the appearance of the current or the former owner of the house - there are stories of neighbours seeing the master of the house out on the yard tending to his land, when in reality he was asleep in his bed. The Domovoi can take on other forms as well, such as a cat, a dog or a snake.

Despite the vivid descriptions, a Domovoi rarely shows itself. Instead, it will announce its presence through bangs and knocks, as well as moving things around in a helpful or mischievous manner. In fact, legends say that seeing the Domovoi is a forewarning of death in the near future.

Russian peasants used to try and win their Domovoi’s favor by making offerings, such as leaving milk and biscuits or bread in the kitchen overnight. When moving to a new house, they would entice the Domovoi to move with them, as there are many benefits to its presence.

A happy Domovoi is a friendly Domovoi. A spirit that is satisfied and on good terms with the members of the household acts as the guardian of the house, helping with chores, feeding the animals and protecting the residence from robbers. Small messes will get cleaned up when you’re not looking, plants will stay healthy even if you forget to water them, and intruders will be in for some nasty surprises. A Domovoi also brings good fortune to the household in other, more subtle means.

However, if you are thinking Domovye sound rather like house-elves from Harry Potter, you would be wrong. Respect and keeping good care of the house are essential in maintaining good relations with the spirit; it will not tolerate lazy layabouts or rude loudmouths. Profane language and disrespectful behavior are surefire ways to get you in its bad books.

If you lose a Domovoi’s favor, it will make its displeasure known in nasty ways. Banging doors and throwing objects around all night long is just the beginning. The retaliation will soon escalate to blighting the crops and killing livestock, and even suffocating members of the family in their sleep.

Ignoring rules a Domovoi sets will also lead to vengeance. One story tells of woman whose Domovoi braided her hair every night and told her to never undo the braid. So, the woman went for thirty years without combing or washing her hair, until she finally decided to undo and clean it on her wedding night. This was a serious mistake. The Domovoi became so infuriated it strangled her to death with her own braid.

Today, the Domovoi, like other beings of folklore, has mostly faded into myth and legend, though it is possible people in some remote rural areas still pay tribute to the spirit of the house.

May 26, 2012

Mary Worth and the Origin of Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary - possibly a witch named Mary Worth
Many people in the US have played ”Bloody Mary”, a popular children’s game and a test of a courage in slumber parties around the country. The game involves locking yourself into a dark bathroom with nothing but a candle, standing in front of the mirror and calling out ”Bloody Mary” three times. In another version, one must whisper ”I believe in Mary Worth.” This ritual serves to summon the vengeful witch, Mary Worth, who will then rip out the summoner’s eyes or claw their face.

It is uncertain where the legend originates from, but one possibility is a witch named Mary Worth who, according to local tradition, lived on the Old Wagon Road in Chicago during the Civil War. It is said that she used to kidnap runaway slaves and keep them chained in her barn, doing who knows what to them in her dark rituals.

The locals eventually became furious enough to take the law into their own hands and burn Worth at the stake. The legend says her body was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Doubtful, since an infamous witch would have never been laid to rest in a Christian cemetery. Instead, she may have been buried on her farm, as one couple learned the hard way.

Many decades after Mary Worth’s execution, a farmer and his wife bought her former property and, fully aware of the place’s history, built their home on the very foundations of the barn in which Worth practiced her black arts. Apparently not one to be scared by old legends, the farmer set out to clear the land for an oat field.

During his work, he came across a square stone and moved it to the door of the house, figuring it to be a good stepping stone. This proved to be a mistake. Violent and often dangerous events immediately began to plague the couple, with the wife finding herself locked in the barn or the house on multiple occasions and plates crashing on the floor by themselves.

As the activity worsened, the farmer began to wonder if he had inadvertently disturbed Mary Worth’s real gravesite. He tried to return the stone to its original place in an attempt to end the disturbing phenomena, but he never could find the exact spot. After several years of torment, the house burned to the ground in 1986, supposedly due to arson.

There were later several failed attempts to build on the property. A developer managed to eventually raise a group of houses, but the one nearest to Mary Worth’s barn has since burned down once or even twice.

Image by Skyberry-13