Author Archive
Legends

Ghostly revenge

In 2011 my informant published a the book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses. The book’s 260 photographs were gathered by Dr. Koudounaris over the course of five years, during which he traveled to 70 different locations around the world, studying, visiting, and photographing charnel houses.

Dr. Koudounaris’ travels took him to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini (the Catacombs of the Capuchin monastery) in Palermo, Italy. Part of his process of learning about the catacombs included talking to the various fruit and flower vendors who sold their goods across from the monastery. Because the fruit and flower vendors are directly across from the monastery, they know everything that went on there and were able to tell him a variety of ghost stories about the monastery.

“The fruit and flower vendors are an incredible source of information. It’s hard to understand if you live in our type of society. Ya know, a street vendor, in societies like this is a source of incredible information. The fruit and flower vendors are across from the monastery and they know everything that goes on in the monastery. And everyone goes—it’s not like they go to super markets, they go to these vendors—so they are an incredible source of information if you really want to know what goes on in societies like that.”

The story is as follows:

“It’s a very complex story. She was a young girl and had fallen in love with this circus strong man. She was supposed to be married to a guy in Naples. Her family had arranged for her a marriage to this wealthy Neapolitan family but she was—was she 15 or 16?—anyways she was in love with this circus strong man named Garibaldi so she went to her parents and told her, ya know, that she would not marry the guy from Naples because she was going to marry Garibaldi, and Garibaldi was 47 and she was like 15, and that she had already given her virginity to Garibaldi which made her worthless and so her parents disowned her and cast her out. So she went to Garibaldi and Garibaldi, it turned out his only interest in her was sexual which is obviously not a surprise and so he, he was a circus performer and he started this pervert circus and it featured his young bride cause he married her at that time and they had private shows where she would have sex with midgets and animals and so fourth for wealthy clients. Eventually after a couple of weeks of this she wound up dead. They believe she had been penetrated by a horse and suffered severe injuries and her body was dumped in this alley where they found it and, her parents, ya know of course they were mortified but by this time ya know, they took her body but by this time she was dead. And they wanted charges brought against Garibaldi but it was not possible because of course no one would testify because to testify would mean admitting that you were at one of these shows. Anyways, these were wealthy Sicilians, members of the upper class and they weren’t going to say that they paid a 1000 lira to watch a girl have sex with a horse. Ya know, no way. So Garibaldi was going to walk free except that her ghost started pursuing and tormenting him and um, Garibaldi had left Palermo and gone to Siracusa uh, but apparently the ghost followed him to Siracusa. He had gone to a priest and asked the priest if he would help him and try to exorcise the ghost and the priest said that he would only help him if Garibaldi would make a full confession of his own misdeeds regarding the girl and Garibaldi refused. But eventually whatever was happening had gotten so bad that he decided he was going to talk to the priest and confess and he had left—this was still in Seracusa—he had left to go to the church and the priest was late that day and when the priest got there around noon he found Garibaldi’s dead body in the confessional booth. And the theory is that he had gone to the church and gone into the confessional booth but it was not the priest on the other side of the booth but the ghost and she had killed him. And the reason they believe that is because a candelabra was found shoved up his ass and he had died of also these internal hemorrhaging. Her injuries her vaginal whereas his were anal but it’s the same type of thing, so it was believed that perhaps that is how the ghost had enacted her revenge, by sodomizing him to death.”

This legend is a classic revenge tale. The girl loved Garibaldi and had given herself to him, which as my informant stated made her worthless. Once she had given her virginity to Garibaldi, there was no way for her parents to marry her off to the man they had promised her to. Finding out that Garibaldi wanted nothing from her other than sex and then to be exploited in the way she was ultimately resulting in her death left her as some might call, a vengeful spirit. Certain ghost beliefs say that a person wronged in life cannot go onto the afterlife until their killer has been brought to justice–one may assume that this is the case in this legend.

Legends

Make sure you have good parenting

The following story was not told directly to my informant, but rather to her older brother. When she was eight years old, she was riding in the back seat of the car and overheard her dad telling her thirteen year old brother this story. Though it was not intended for her it stuck in her mind because of how bizarre it was.

“Um, apparently this guy, his mother never disciplined him so he grew up to be quite the… deviant person. Ended up getting arrested, going to jail, and having to be executed because of all the poor choices he made in life, and uh… then, before he was executed, when they asked what he would like as his last whatever… ya know, do you have any final requests. Anything you want before you bet executed tomorrow. And he said he wanted his mothers breast milk… of all the weird things. He wanted to have milk from his mother’s breast. So they’re like “ok…”, so they had his mom come in and rather than suckling her nipples and taking the milk out, he mauled her breasts until they came off and she bled to death. He murdered his mother and when he asked him why he did it he said because she never disciplined me and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.”

The purpose of the story was to emphasize to her brother the necessity of good parenting. As the story says, this boy would not have ended up on death row if his mother had properly disciplined him. Thus, any forms of discipline that may seem strict or unfair can be justified through the use of this tale.

general
Initiations
Legends

Downey Lane

The following legend is that of Downey Lane, a haunted road in Roseville, California.

“I come from a town called Roseville California. It’s been around for a really long time, it actually used to be a big railroad stop and so it became a really huge city based on the railroad. It’s small now cause the railroad isn’t running through anymore. But um… uh… there’s this one lane on the outskirts of town, like where the rural area kind of is—I actually live pretty close to it which scares the crap out of me, but it’s called Downey Lane. The legend is that back in civil war times, seven completely innocent black men were hung on the trees that line Downey Lane. And so one of the things that you are kind of obligated to do is to drive down Downey Lane with your headlights off. They say that the souls cursed the place. I had a friend who is really susceptible to psychic impulses—she was taken to the road and she walked just like a couple of steps down it and she started screaming, turned around, and ran. She said that she got a really really oppressive feeling. But it’s pretty scary and she went during the middle of the day.

Last year two of my friends, when I went back visiting home said, “you have to come with us and we’re driving you down Downey Lane.” I had never been down this road before. It’s out of the way and you usually don’t take it to go anywhere because it’s kind of in the farmland kind of area, so you don’t really need to go down the lane very often, especially in the dark. So they took me and it was actually pretty close to—well it was really late. It might have been like 10-11 o-clock. But we go down and roll down the windows and turn off the headlights and they are telling me these stories of how wild dogs will come and attack you and how people will run you off the road and as we were going down this road we noticed a car on the side of the road. And we were like, “okay this is really kind of creepy.” Just in case me and my friend, we ducked down cause we’re both girls and didn’t want to be seen, like if there’s any sketchy guys. And my friend’s boyfriend kept on driving, and so we kept driving for a little bit and I told them, “okay this is really spooky guys, can we just turn around soon and go,” and they were like, “no, just a little bit further.” And then we see headlights come up behind us, and we turn around and we think it’s the same car. They had the floodlights on—just as bright as it can go—and they start speeding up behind us. So we’re like, “crap!” We turn on the headlights and we start going faster, cause we’re like shit this person’s coming up really fast behind us and we speed up and they keep following us, speeding up more and more, and we’re tearing down the road at this point, cause we’re terrified that these are the people who go and drive people off the road. We eventually got around a corner, we turned our headlights off and were like ok, maybe—cause we had got far enough ahead of him that we could do that—we were like, ok, maybe they’ll just like stop and turn around. And they did stop, headlights still up, and we’re like ok… this road is basically almost like a one way road that just ends but uh… we didn’t want to go all the way around because it would have taken us a very long time to get back to the main street if we kept going the way we were and so we turned around, which I’m not sure if that was really a smart idea or not, cause, the car was still there with its brights still on. So we went back and were like ok they aren’t following us. Then the other car turned around and started following us a little bit more. One again we’re like, “oh my god, oh my god, we’re going to die” and then it stopped and started blinking its lights at us. By that point were just gassed it and drove off the road and went straight home.

There headlights were so bright that we couldn’t see who was driving and like, my friends were thinking it was probably just some gang members. They like to hide out here, run people off the road, and beat them for there stuff. But ya know… it was still really scary and creepy.”

My informant explained that her town has a troubled past with race relations, thus the legend of a haunted road as a result of past racism acts as a reminder of past misdeeds not to be repeated. While my informant does genuinely believe there is something haunted–or at least off about Downey Lane, she also thinks there there is likelihood that the legend might have been created as a reason to keep people away from what is a dangerous area. As her experience exemplifies, driving down the road at night has serious risks. The road is isolated, hard to get to, has no street lights, and is essentially the perfect place to get mugged. Furthermore, according to my informant, the wild dogs are actually a problem in the area.

“As my friend and her boyfriend were driving me down the road they were like, yeah, one of my friends who drove down this got—he was just driving down it and a wild dog just jumped hon the hood and started barking at him and he kept driving cause he’s like “ahhhh dog!”

As terrifying as the process of driving down Downey Lane was for my informant, she explained it as something everyone from her town has to do at least once. For the kids in her town, facing the terror that is Downey Lane is a coming of age ritual.

Humor

Occupy Jokes

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

My informant explained to me that during his involvement in Occupy Los Angeles, he and his friends would regularly come up with Occupy-related jokes.

Common jokes involved plays on the word “occupy” such as “I’m going to go and occupy the bathroom right now” or “I’m going to go home and occupy my bed.” Another theme brought up was the use of pie. “I remember, at a protest one time, a bunch of us were, we were getting arrested and um, this one guy, he takes this megaphone and starts asking the cops what their favorite pie is. Cause… ya know, occu-pie? It was weird, but it lightened to mood.” Some of the jokes were more widespread than others. He said using plays on any of the words of Occupy Wall Street was really common. Occupy Sesame Street was a popular one he said. “There were the occupy sesame street signs–It had… um, The Count on it right? “Count the ways we have been fucked over” or, uh there was the cookie monster one that said “1% of monsters are eating 99% of cookies””

These occupy jokes had a purpose much greater than being told just to make each other laugh. These jokes were used as a coping mechanism. My informant described being a regular occupier as incredibly stressful, “the whole thing–it turned my life upside down.” By making absurd jokes all the time, he and his friends were able to make light of what was often a stressful and difficult experience. “We had to deal with being torn down constantly, by the cops, city, the media, even our peers–so we had to keep laughing as a way to deal with it.”

general
Initiations

Burning Man Initiation

My informant is a regular attendee of the Burning Man Festival. Burning Man is a weeklong festival held in the Nevada desert. It caps at 50,000 participants and is governed by 10 principals: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. The name “burning man” comes from the ritual of burning a large wooden effigy of a man on the Saturday of the week-long festival.

My informant told me of an introduction ritual for first time “burners” (this is the name for individuals who attend Burning Man)

“It is a tradition at Burning Man, a festival in the middle of the Nevada desert, that all first timers to the festival must first ring a bell and roll around in the dirt. The bell is placed next to the ‘welcomers’ who welcome all burners upon entry into the festival. Next, and in my opinion the most important part– rolling around in the playa dust.”

This process symbolizes ones initiation into burning man. Because burning man takes place in the desert, the experience can be difficult if you are not prepared to deal with the harsh environment. One has to bring all of his or her own supplies to survive for that week as nothing is allowed to be sold there. Thus the action of rolling around in the dirt for first timers not only displays their courage but is done to prove their ability to handle the harsh desert environment.

 

Legends

Tok-Lore

My informant told me of various rumors circulating the USC campus about Folklore professor, Tok Thompson. There are many suspicions of Professor Thompson’s wild nature outside of the classroom. She stated that she has overheard some of her classmates talking about beliefs that he could be a vampire or a werewolf. Their suspicions seemed validated by his hatred for garlic. The dead giveaway though, as she explained is the red bull and coffee that he comes to class with everyday, without fail. She stated that he must be in need of a pick-me-up after being up all night prowling the streets. Furthermore, his knowledge of vampire and werewolf folklore is suspiciously extensive.

Her belief as to why this legend about professor Thompson is passed around is because of how unusual a professor he is. Students need an explanation for a Professor who has dedicated his life to the discipline of folklore.

Myths
Narrative

The Banshee

This story was collected by my informant from a man he was talking to in Dublin who said that he had encountered the banshee first hand. The banshee is one of the Irish Si spirits who whose wail is a signifier to whoever hears it that someone in their family, or perhaps even they themselves are about to die. Her wail is reminiscent of old-time funeral wails, but because, as my informant explained,“there is something slippery about time for the banshee”, rather than wailing at the funeral as was customary, she wails before the death even happens.

“Ban” means woman in Gaelic and “shee” means one of the Si spirits–the ancestral spirits associated with the megalithic mounds. Thus, encounters with the Si spirits or the Banshee usually occur around the megalithic mounds. My informant explained that there are multiple banshees. Sometimes there are regional ones and sometimes there will be one that follows certain families around.

“I remember one time I was in Dublin I was talking to this guy who was the husband of Elane Hulanon, who was a professor at Trinity, and I was talking to him about the banshee and he said “oh yeah, one time I heard the banshee” so he was telling me that one time he had heard the banshee and um, and in a rural area, and sure enough when he found out that sure enough, I forget who it was, I think it was his uncle who had just passed away. So I thought it was kind of interesting cause it was like totally classic banshee story but told by a very educated person. And he firmly believed in it because he said he had experienced it. I don’t remember the whole story but he did say that the classic thing that he was walking and he heard the banshee wail which is the classic way that you encounter her, and he was sure that’s what it was, he got really worried and he went back and um, then he found out that his uncle had just passed away. It was kind of cool because it’s still going on in Ireland and he believed in the banshee because he had experienced it.”

The belief of banshees is still around today in Ireland, and as my informant explained in this particular case, belief in the banshee is not limited to uneducated individuals as one might assume. My informant explained the a lot of individuals in Ireland don’t necessarily believe in the Si spirits, but they don’t disbelieve in them either.

Annotation:

  • The Real Ghostbusters “Banshee Bake a Cherry Pie?” Season 2, episode 34. Air date: 10/28/1987. In this episode of The Real Ghostbusters a banshee is masquerading as an Irish pop-singer and is attempting to use her voice to take over the world.
  • J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, July 8, 1999. When being taught how to fight boggarts (a mythical creature that can imitate whatever you are scared of), a boggart imitates a banshee when being fought by the Irish character, Seamus Finnegan.

 


general

When I was a ghost

The following ghost story was told to my informant by a friend of his. It is the story of when his friend was a ghost.

“I was asking him if he knew any good Irish ghost stories and he said “oh you mean like when I was a ghost” and I said “oh yeah well that sounds interesting, tell me” and so he was in the university and he had just decided to go home one weekend up in Donegal which is a ways away from Dublin, and so he was hitching, hitch hiking across, and he got this ride uh with this uh guy on a motorcycle, but they got into a wreck and he got thrown off the motorcycle and hit his head and went unconscious for a little while. Ya know, he woke up, everything was fine and he didn’t really say anything about it and he hitched the rest of the way home and he showed up at home and his sister ran up to the door and she was all worried and she said “you’re okay, you’re alive!” and he’s like “uh yeah why” and she said “well because uh, ya know I came down earlier and there was this vision of you just standing at the front porch but you, you weren’t talking, you weren’t saying anything, and then you disappeared. And then he figured out when she had seen that was when he had been knocked unconscious.”

In western tradition, this instance would be explained as an out of body experience–one can attribute the difference in definition to the fact that to be a ghost in Western tradition, you have to be dead. However in Irish tradition, the ghost, or “tannasg” can also mean apparition. Thus like the individual in this story, you can exist as a ghost while still being alive.

Myths

Sí houses

In traditional Irish folklore, there are countless tales of encounters with the Sí, or the fairy folk. The story my informant told me is a very common one. It generally involves a person who is walking home late at night and decides to take a shortcut. They find themselves in an area they are unfamiliar with and come across a house or some sort of game or activity. In most tales it’s a large house with the light on. The traveler sees the house and thinks to themselves “great, I’ll stop in and say hello”. Upon entering the house they are greeted warmly and encouraged to eat and drink with the inhabitants. However, once you start eating and drinking with them, you can’t escape. What they have stumbled upon is what is called a fairy house or a Sí house.

In some cases the traveler is able to figure out what is happening before they eat or drink anything given to them. This is either because they know the stories, or as is sometimes the case, they see someone who has already died at the party. Those who know enough to escape come back the next day to find nothing left but a pile of old rocks.

My informant explained that in the old days, it was the common belief that when you died, you went to the otherworld which is inhabited by the Sí. So perhaps, going to a Sí house is where you go when you die. For those who escape the Sí house it could be seen as a choice between living or dying–whether or not you want to stay with them. It is a tempting decision because it is presented as a great and wonderful party filled with merriment–in that sense death doesn’t really look all that bad.

Legends

The orange juice guy

“Apparently there’s a friend of a friend of a friend—it’s always a friend of a friend—I heard from this guy whose friend’s friend heard this—blablabla. It’s about this guy who did so much acid that now he’s in a mental institute and thinks that he is a tall glass or orange juice and he’s afraid of tipping over and he just stands there with his hands out because he’s scared of tipping over because he doesn’t want to spill.”

This story that my informant told me was one that she heard back in high school. It’s the classic cautionary tale (or “scarelore”) against doing drugs. “Don’t do acid kids because… orange juice guy.”

This legend is particularly haunting because unlike anti-drug cautionary tales that flat out tell you that you are going to die if you so much as touch drugs, this talks about the permanent psychological damage an overdose can do. To some, this may be considered a fate worse than death.

She spoke about it as if there was SOMEONE who knew this kid–as if it did happen sometime during her high school years. Out of my own curiosity I looked up this particular piece of lore and to my surprise, this legend has been circulating since the 1960’s. It varied from a guy who thinks he is an orange and thus decides that he has to peel himself and as a result peels off all of his clothes, to the one she described in which he thinks he is a glass or orange juice and is scared someone will tip him over or drink him.

I tracked the references of the orange juice guy back to a 1966 Los Angeles Times article by George Reasons that talks about the views doctors and scientists had about what had become an incredibly popular drug at the time. “Serious scientists, on the other hand, are alarmed by the spread in popular use and fearful LSD could be another thaldomide with hidden side effects capable of deforming a generation.” Various examples were given of youths who had bad reactions to the drug, and the account of orange juice guy was amongst these.

“One involves a heavy user who is convinced he is an orange. He won’t allow anyone to touch him for fear he will turn into orange juice.”

However, no actual name is given to orange juice guy, nor does the author of this article state what hospital he is in (if any) or where he even got his information. Thus, as is the nature of most legends, we can not be sure if this story is actually true, or if it was just created to scare a generation out of doing LSD.

Annotation:

Reasons, George. Los Angeles Times “LSD Ties With Happiness Declared Hokum” July 12, 1966

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