Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
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A Guide in the Graveyard

Interviewer: You once mentioned that most of your family believes in ghosts — do you remember any of the specific ghost stories that your family told you?

Informant: My mother and my father along with my grandparents believed in ghosts. Let me tell you a story about my grandfather.

Interviewer: Yes, go on.

Informant: This was in the 1930s, in China, when cars were not common, and it was most common to travel by foot. He was travelling to another town by foot to do business and trade. At night, it was also common to stay at a stranger’s home and for strangers to host each other when travelers were passing by. He was attempting to find a place to stay for the night or just any sort of lodging.

Interviewer: Right. Was he able to find a place to stay?

Informant: Not quite. It was pitch black at night and he continued to walk as he was trying to look for lights as an indication of a city or even just people living in the area. Finally, he was able to see a dim light or some sort of glowing in the distance. He tried to chase and follow the light, but he realized that he seemed to be going in circles, which was confusing, since a light should lead in one direction. He followed the light the entire night. He knew he was in some sort of trouble, since as he continued to walk towards the light, the light was always in front of him and never got any closer, but he still was going in circles. He was afraid to go in any other direction that wasn’t towards the light, since there was no moon out, and he couldn’t see anything else but that light. Once it was bright enough out, he realized that he had been wandering in a graveyard all night. His footsteps were all over the place, following a distant light that led him in circles in the graveyard.

Interviewer: Did he perceive the light as a ghost?

Informant: He perceived it as a ghost, especially because of the location.

 

Analysis

The informant does not believe it is a ghost, although the original narrator who experienced the story believes it is a ghost. The informant does not believe in ghosts, contrary from how ghost belief is quite prevalent in Asian cultures. The informant believes it could have been some sort of gas burning; however, that still does not explain why the informant’s grandfather had been walking in circles in a graveyard — that aspect of it still is unexplained.

As seen from this story, the reliability of the narrator is often questioned, because the narrator (informant’s grandfather) must have been very tired from a long day of travel. This story also portrays how we often use ghosts as a way to explain the unexplainable. It’s quite interesting how the narrator never reached his destination of the light, and how it was always just in reach, but unobtainable. The nature of the ghost in the story is unclear — the ghost didn’t seem to harm the man in any way, yet simply confused the man or was just having fun or teasing the man in a way. The ghost was not vocal or very corporal, and had more of a quiet presence. The ghost was also more of an anonymous ghost; it wasn’t clear if the original narrator had any relationship with the ghost. The environment this story is set in is very common for ghost stories — nighttime, on a moonless night, and in a graveyard, where the realm of the dead and living may be much closer together.

My opinion on the ghost story is that if everything stated is accurate and true, then it is believable as a ghost story. It’s extremely odd that a “light” would lead someone in circles. Once again, as mentioned earlier, the reliability of the narrator is what needs to be considered quite a bit. The fact that the original narrator had wandered around in circles throughout the entire night also could point to a spirit possession side to the story — it could be possible that the spirit was controlling him internally to wander in circles in the graveyard, rather than the spirit leading him in the direction to wander aimlessly in circles.

general

Three Knocks

Interviewer: Do you have any ghost stories from your family or any personal ones?

Informant: I do remember one. This took place during 1973 in China.

Informant: My father was raised by his grandmother for most of his childhood, and so he was very close to her. My mother was also close to her. One night, my father was out of town, and my mother heard a hard knocking of three times on the window late at night and saw a shadow appear. She yelled “Who is it?” No response. She went outside to see who it was, but no one was there.

Interviewer: Did she find out who it was?

Informant: In a way. The next morning, a messenger arrived at the home, and passed on the news that my father’s grandmother had passed away. To this day, my mother still believes that the knocking was the spirit of my father’s grandmother, to say goodbye or send a signal or warning.

 

Analysis 

The informant believes that there’s a possibility that the ghost of the grandmother is involved, but it’s not entirely impossible for all those events to happen by chance. If we pay attention to the details regarding the knock, we can find that the that the knock occurred three times, showing us that the original storyteller (informant’s mother) believed that it was a real knock, not something made up or just a random object that created the noise, compared to a knock that occurred only once or twice Clearly, we do not know for sure where the knock originated from, but this is just the experience of the informant’s mother. In addition, the fact that the grandmother had passed away was unknown to the informant’s mother makes the story seem more real. The “ghost” in this story also is not very corporal and was not seen visibly aside from the shadow; however, the ghost (the grandmother) is of someone that the narrator knows and was close with. Since she was familiar with the ghost, it can be assumed that the ghost is a “good ghost.” Seeing deceased family members is quite common, yet the unique part of this story is how the original narrator was not aware that the grandmother had passed away. This ghost story also shows prevalence of ancestral ghosts and the closeness of family ties. In Asian cultures, ghosts of family members and ancestors are quite common, especially due to beliefs in ancestral worship and influences from Confucianism.

I find this story believable because of the coincidental nature of certain events. For example, it’s such a coincidence that the knock occurred right before she was informed of the death of the grandmother. On top of that, the original narrator had checked to see who was knocking, yet no one was there, despite the appearance of a shadow. The possibility of all of this occurring together, with no other meaning or explanation to it does seem very low.

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