USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative
Narrative

Pele, Hawaiian Lava Queen

Informant:

Jordan was born and raised in Seattle until she was 10, then her family decided to move to Hawaii where she still resides when not attending school at University of Southern California.

Original Script: “Pele is the Hawaiian goddess (ghost?) of Lava, and I am from the big island which is one of the few with a current active volcano. Pele is well known on the Big Island (Kona) because it is said that she resides on the active volcano sites of Kona. Pele is known for her divine powers regarding lava and comes in three varying forms: an old woman, a really beautiful woman, or a white dog. The stories regarding Pele tend to involve a family driving through the mountains and seeing an old woman asking for help/hitchhiking and when the family ignores her plea for help the car then crashes. Additionally there is a specific form of lava rocks that are shaped very similarly to tears and the natives call them Pele’s tears or the Tears of Pele. One day my boyfriend’s mom found one and took it to a nearby pool and then her car broke down. The car wouldn’t start, even after being jumped. Then my boyfriend’s mom decided to put the tears of Pele back and the car began to work completely fine again, almost as if Pele didn’t want her tears to be taken by us. Pele is very respected because she is the goddess of lava and her powers are said to have formed all the Islands of Hawaii, but Pele is also feared due to the known ideology that if you cross Pele she is quick to avenge.”

Background information about the Piece by the informant: In Hawaii, Pele is well known, feared, and also loved by all. Jordan herself doesn’t necessarily believe in the evil powers of Pele, but she said that she also “doesn’t not believe” and that she herself would never do anything to make Pele angry.

 

Thoughts about the piece: This story reminds me a lot of the Irish and Celtic ghost stories that we studied in class due to similar spectrum of beliefs in both places. Jordan mentioned that across the state people tell stories of these different taboos and ghosts/gods/goddesses and while not everyone says they do full-heartedly believe in them, no one will admit that they don’t believe in them. This legend also resembles the stories told by Native Americans in that the main ghostly figure can appear in many different figures and even can appear as animals and if you treat the form it comes in wrong or take advantage of the gifts the figure gives, you will then be cursed.

Customs
Legends

Camp Basement

K is a freshman majoring in psychology who attended the same camp almost every summer before college. The campers were told this story in the basement where the events occurred at nighttime to explain why one wall is newer than the rest.

“The camp used to be a homestead, around 1812, and the family who lived there was part of the underground railroad. The escaped slaves were hidden in the basement of the house, and one night confederate soldiers showed up to confiscate the slaves and punish the family for helping. As soon as the father opened the door, he was shot in the face, and the soldiers continued to kill everyone else in the family. When they reached the basement, they decided not to kill the escaped slaves – a mother and child – but rather make them suffer. They barricaded the two in the basement behind a new wall. It’s said that at nighttime you can still hear the child scratching the wall.”

K’s story encompasses many ghost story motifs, such as the wrongful deaths of those involved and the liminal space of the basement. It is also a lesson to young campers, both not to go out at night and not to go in the basement, and helps them to feel more connected to camp through the knowledge of it’s history.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Negative Energy

Informant: Isabella Milkes was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. before 6th grade. Her immediate family does not follow a religion but they do believe in spirits; however, her mother’s side is very devoted Christians. Her aunts on her mother’s side live in Colombian and are leaders of their Church. Her ghostly experience takes place in her own home, where she later found out that before her family had moved in, there were already negative energy inside the house.

IM: “So what happened was that before New Years my mom likes to clean the apartment like really well to like start the year “fresh and new”, and so my mom was doing that and then she read something that if you want to clean all the negative energy in your home, you should clean everything with saltwater. So my mom did that and every since that happened, like weird things were happening to our apartment. For example, my brother would wake up around like 3am and open his eyes, but his body wouldn’t be able to move, and he would see a black shadowy figure with the outline of a human, or sometimes his bed would shake randomly during the middle of the night. Another thing strange that happened was that there were burnt cigarette spots on our carpet and it was freaky ‘cause NONE of us smoke and the burnt spots smelled like flavored cigarette. I also had an experience, where I woke up in the middle of the night and saw like a shadowy hand coming near me. Also my mom started getting really sick. So over summer, my mom went back to Colombia to visit her family and in Colombia, she and her family went to a one of those spiritual mediums who can contact the ghostly world. She told her that there was a stable bad energy in our apartment before our family moved in, and once my mom did the cleaning with salt water, it kind of awakened that energy and that negative energy needed to be released. She did some rituals and prayers during the religious cleanse in order to safely release the energy. And when that was over, and my mom came back to America, all the haunted things that were happening went away. My mom told us that apparently when you do those sort of cleanses, you have to shield yourself with something, like a prayer, before you do the cleanse, so that the bad energy doesn’t affect the person who is performing the cleanse.”

How did this experience impact you?

“Well, it didn’t really impact me in anyway. I mean me and my family don’t believe in ghosts, because we think of these things as negative energy. We also don’t believe in Western medicine. So, for example, when I’m sick, I don’t eat Tylenol or Advil, instead I drink homemade remedies my mom makes. If something is bothering us, such as something worrying us, or we’re not happy or stressed, then we do medication or therapy through a holistic credited psychologist, because we need to release the energy that’s making our body energy unbalanced.”

My thoughts:

This story scared me on multiple levels. Firstly, it makes me wonder what’s the difference between cleaning the house with bleach and salt water? Another thing I found scary about this story was the intensity of the presence of the ghost. The ghost affected her brother, mother’s health, her house, and herself. The ghost reminds me of the Japanese Gaki that are hurtful to or are seeking revenge on the living. Another aspect I found interesting was that usually one would see, hear, of feel ghosts, but in her story, the ghost gave off a smell from the cigarette spots. I also found it pretty amazing in that the rituals they performed in Colombia affected their home in America.

Legends
Narrative

Ghost Girl

Informant: K S is a junior at UCSB who is majoring in Political Science. He was born and raised in Japan, and has recently moved to the U.S. in 2016. Him and his family do believe in ghosts. His story takes place near his apartment complex in Japan. His apartment complex is also situated near a temple.

KS: “Well when I used to live in Japan, like before coming here for college, I lived with my family in a complex with three other families. I lived with my mom, dad, and little sister. The three other families were an elderly couple, a young single man, and another married couple with no kids. So one day I was walking back home from school and I saw a little girl standing in front of my house and waving at me. I thought it was my sister so I waved back. I was going to catch up with the girl but she walked inside the complex before I could say another word. When I got into the house looking for whom I’d thought to be my sister, I couldn’t find her. I asked my mom, who was cooking, where my sister was and she said that she hasn’t come home yet. So the girl just came into my house and disappeared, because when I asked the other people who lived in the same complex, they said they had never seen or heard a girl walk in. I have no idea who the girl was, or where she went, or why she was there. ”

Impact on KS:

“I don’t know, I mean it was pretty whatever. I’d just assumed the ghost girl used to live in my complex before she died. Although this is my only ghostly experience, I didn’t find it scary or shocking or anything. I told my family about it and everyone was like really casual about it. It’s actually really interesting how my friends here think seeing a ghost is scary, I mean not all ghosts are harmful or scary ya know.”

My thoughts:

His story reminds me of the stories discussed in class about the ghostly visitations seen by middle-aged New England women, because his encounter was harmless. Also when he was telling the story, he told it very casually as if seeing ghosts wasn’t something that occurred once of twice. What I found interesting was that, as discussed in class, cultural backgrounds could impact one’s ghost belief. KS and his family members are examples of how Eastern cultures have a higher belief in ghosts than Western cultures. In relation to his story, I think that maybe the ghost girl had something to do with the temple because the temple represents a spiritual place where people would pray to their dead ancestors.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Najar: The Evil Eye

“We were probably like – I was probably like 11, and [my sister] was probably 9-ish so it was kinda long ago, but I remember we were at my grandma’s house [in India], and she had three different stories. No one goes on the second story; it’s just like boarded up. And then the third story is a terrace. So, we go to the third story, and we’re just talking and my sister said something like ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ or something, like literally those words. And so I was like, ‘Oh my God, dad’s gonna get so mad at you, you said a bad word, blah blah blah.’ Usually she would be like, ‘ok stop, you’re not being funny,’ but like legitimately she was like, ‘oh my god, you’re so right,’ and she just starts bawling. She’s crying, she’s losing it, she’s like freaking out, like legitimately I thought she was going crazy. She was like ‘I have to tell dad I said it!’ and she’s like running everywhere and she’s like ‘when’s dad coming home, when’s dad coming home? I have to tell him, I have to tell him, he’s gonna be so mad at me.’ And like, she’s nine years old, so she’s old enough to where it’s like ‘ok you’re being weird.’ And so, like no one thought much of it, and then my dad comes home, and she’s like ‘dad, I said “dumb”’ or whatever the word was. And he was like, you know, like, ‘don’t say that word again’ and whatever, and she was like ‘I know, I’m SO sorry.’ She just starts crying and crying. And she was doing weird stuff like that for three or four days, and we were like ‘ok what’s going on?’

“[It started] since she was on the terrace, I guess – because – we had gone somewhere, we had like taken the train somewhere and it’s super common knowledge that the train stations are like  the most haunted places in India because people commit suicide and stuff; they jump off while the train is coming. And so, they think that she got some “bad air” – so like a ghost, like, spirit thing. Because they don’t – it’s not like a ghost possessed you, but it’s just like you picked up on some bad aura or like a bad spirit from the train station and it kinda like made her go crazy. So like, I was freaking out. I was like, ‘Get her away from me. I don’t want her in the same room. She can sleep outside!’

“But yeah, so we took her to the pandit, which is a priest, and he like, did all this like, fire smoke stuff, and like put it around her and stuff. And he like gave her this bracelet and was like ‘okay, after doing that, this bracelet will collect the bad spirit inside of her, and then you take off this bracelet and you like dispose of it.’ If you were in India, you would throw it in one of the holy rivers, but we were going back home [to the United States], so he was just like ‘just put it in a river anywhere.’ I honestly think we took it to the Trinity River, I’m being so serious. It sat in our garage for a while. But yeah, he put that bracelet on her, and a couple days later, she was like fine, like it immediately went away. So I don’t know if it worked or like she was doing it to herself, like a placebo-type thing. I don’t know, but she was just acting super weird for a couple of days, like freaking out about things that didn’t matter. She was like losing her mind over stuff, like she couldn’t get over it. So yeah, I think that she picked up on some…some sort of bad air.”

 

When I was researching Indian ghost belief, I came across the belief of “najar” which roughly translates to “evil eye.” I asked my Indian friend that I knew from Texas if she knew of or ever had an experience with “najar,” and this is the story that she gave me. I find it interesting that her sister never caught this evil eye while in the United States, but it was only a trip to India that spurred this occurrence. I asked her to elaborate more on “najar,” and she told me a bit more about how people typically act when they have new (cute) babies.

 

“If you have a child – and some babies are ugly, but some are super cute. So if you have a baby and everyone’s like, ‘Aw, your baby is so cute, blah, blah, blah,’ – my mom would like freak out. She hated that, she would not let people like – you know how sometimes you like see a cute baby at Walmart and you’re just like staring at it like ‘aw that baby is so cute!” and you just look at it? – she would not like that at all. She would like turn her kids, us, around. She always said that if people were staring over you, like gawking over you, they’re gonna get jealous because you have this cute baby. And that jealousy is like evil, you know? And so your child is going to catch that evil eye.”

 

My informant also told me a bit about the steps that mothers would take to protect their babies against the evil eye, other than just staying away from potentially jealous people.

 

“Babies will sometimes have black dots on their foreheads to protect them from the evil eye. I guess it’s just symbolic of evil, like evil is black. You [also] always have this silver bracelet with black beads; I’m pretty sure my mom still has all three of ours. Because like, you wear it for a long time, until you’re older. Because I guess as an infant, you’re more vulnerable to the evil eye because you’re younger.”

 

In conclusion this interview, my informant expressed uncertainty as to whether her sister was affected by a spirit or simply rattled from leaving home for a prolonged period of time.


“I don’t know if it was actually a ghost or if she was just like being weird, but she was acting really weird and spooked me out too. There’s so many things; it could’ve been like we’re home now and she’s calmer; we had been gone a while. Or it could’ve been like the ghost left her on the plane or something. But yeah, she was back to normal when we got back home.”

Childhood
Game
general
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Bloody Mary (All-Boys School in the Philippines)

Informant: Enrique is a 19-year-old boy, born and raised in Manila, Philippines who now attends college in California. South Ridge (the school in his story) is a Catholic all-boys school in Manila which he attended from kindergarten through until 7th grade.

 

Original script:

Informant: So when I went to South Ridge, [all boys school in Manila, Philippines] there was a super scary bathroom on the top floor of the school. No one ever used this bathroom because there was a rumor that someone had died inside the bathroom years ago. On special occasions, our classes would have sleep overs at school and during one of these sleep overs, one of the older batches went up to that bathroom in the middle of the night. The rumor goes that if you say Bloody Mary in front of the mirror in that bathroom four times, Bloody Mary actually shows up. So when one of the guys that decided to go into that bathroom did the ritual, she actually appeared and when he left the bathroom, he was covered in cuts and scratches.

 

Interviewer: Do you know what Bloody Mary has to do with the guy that had died in the bathroom?

 

Informant: She was apparently the one who killed him.

 

Thoughts about the piece: It is extremely interesting that the Bloody Mary ritual would occur at a local all-boys school in the Philippines. Especially considering the context that we discussed it in during class wherein we saw that the ritual is most popular among pre-pubescent girls usually in Western countries. We took this to be part of girls growing up as womanhood is bloody, thus, girls are basically looking into their future (by spinning and looking into the mirror) and trying to understand it by performing the ritual. I too attended school in the Philippines however it was an international school with many American and European students- here too I noticed that only girls would take part in the Bloody Mary ritual. Thus, it is intriguing that this would be such a big sensation (seeing as how no one wanted to use the bathroom because they all know what had happened there) at a local, Catholic all-boys school.

Something else that it interesting about this version of the story is that Bloody Mary actually physically harms the people that perform the ritual whereas usually, you are said to simply see an image of her in the mirror.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative
Old age

Great Grandmother from Across the Country

*The informant is a grandmother, a wife, has a degree in Art, and has heard, and been involved with, many ghost stories.

 

Informant: I was born in San Diego, California, and Mum’s family was living back here in Maine. Mum always thought that she was her grandmother’s favorite, although her grandmother probably didn’t have a favorite. In my parents bedroom there was a little alcove where they kept my crib so they could keep an eye on me to make sure I was alright. I remember as a toddler standing up in my crib and seeing this white figure of a older woman walk into the room and it was like she was glowing. She was white, but I could see she was an old woman, and she went to the bed and my mother sat up and they were talking to each other. As I got older I thought it was a dream that I had had, so I never really said anything about it. When I got to be an adult Mum told me about her grandmother that she had loved so much and how when we were in California she woke up one night an there was her grandmother standing by the side of the bed. Mum was talking to her and she said “Grammy, what are you doing here in California? You’re supposed to be in Maine.” And she said, “Well, I wanted to come and see you before I left so that you didn’t worry about me or be sad, and so I could say goodbye.” Then the next morning my parents got a phone call and my great grandmother had died that night– a little bit before Mum saw the figure and talked to her. Mum told me this story and described what she looked like and I went “OH MY GOD! [laughs] I thought that was a dream!”. I described what I thought she looked like and she was said “Well yeah, that was my Grandmother”.

Collector: Was your great-grandmother sick? Was her death expected at all?

Informant: She was quite elderly, but I don’t think she had a lingering illness or anything. We knew it was coming soon but it wasn’t expected. And Mum always thought she was the favorite so she wasn’t really surprised that her grandmother came to say goodbye.

 

Collector’s Thoughts: I’ve collected many interesting stories from this informant, and although it may not sound the most reliable as it was recorded as a young child, many believe that children are able to see and experience spirits more than adults can. The validation from her mother that this experience really happened helps make the story more believable. I’ve heard many other stories where spirits visit to say goodbye and the fact that her favorite grandchild was not able to say goodbye to her in person may be the reason why she returned- to tie up loose ends. Many ghost stories revolve around that idea of a ghost returning to do something they were unable to do while they were living.

Digital
Legends
Narrative

Cyber Ghost: Toads & Texts

Informant: Michael Davis is a sophomore at Cal Poly SLO and is currently majoring Business. He does not really believe in ghosts and thinks that going on ghost hunts with his friends is exciting. His story takes place in an abandoned home that may have been an asylum in San Jose.

MD: “Back at home, my friends and I went to check out this abandoned home, or maybe it used to be an asylum. There were four of us, and we pulled up in the driveway of the abandoned house. When we got out of the car, we saw in the distance that there was another car with its headlights on. We also saw a toad in the middle of the driveway and it started croaking. We walked up to the house and saw that it was blocked off by a “Do Not Enter” sign. We went inside anyways and saw that there were chains on the floor of the house. As we went into one of the rooms, we found another toad that started croaking. We just hung out in there, because it was kinds like a competition of who could stay in the longest. We went on exploring the place but suddenly heard chains rattling, but the chains we saw were still on the floor and there were none hanging anywhere. After a few more minutes inside the house, one of my friend’s phone starting buzzing and going crazy and then he started to get these text messages on his phone. It said something like “Why are you here”. We freaked out all walked out of the house. Right after we got out, my friend was like “I swear I heard some quiet, old, scary voice telling us to get out.” Then right outside, before getting into our car again, we saw another croaking toad. On the drive back to out house, my friend’s phone kept getting text messages saying stuff like “why were you in the house”, “I know what you did in there”, “I know what happened in the house”. We tried calling the number, but every time there would be the automated voice saying that “this number does not exist”, but it was clearly texting my friend! And what was even more freaky was that after a couple of months of visiting that house, the same number texted again and asked “why they were in that house”.

Impact: “This is not the first time I’d gone into a haunted place looking for ghosts. I like ghost hunting because of the adrenaline and thrill of it. But this experience was one of my more extreme ones, because usually there are some creaking doors or maybe shadows. It was scary ‘cause my friend got the same text even after the whole incident. I also went home that day and researched about the toads we kept on seeing in and around the house. Turns out, according to some websites, seeing a toad three times or something is representative of a ghost presence.”

My thoughts: I got goosebumps while hearing MD’s story because personally, everything I hear my phone buzz from getting a text messages, I would wonder which one of my friends would contact me. But I would be really scared if I got a text message from “nobody” because texting involves physically typing, so I don’t know how the ghost’s message got translated electronically.

 

Digital
general
Legends
Narrative

Cyber Ghost Story: SnapChat Picture Disappearance

Informant: Leah Suh’s cyber ghost story takes place in the old theater of Greystone Mansion and involves the use of an app called Snapchat on her iPhone. Greystone Mansion is a beautiful estate in the hills of Beverly Hills; however, the place is haunted and there have been many recounts from people hearing and seeing ghosts.

LS: “Okay so I don’t really call this a “ghost story” because I don’t believe in ghosts, but I this experience definitely felt supernatural to me, and is was hella scary. So in high school, for an extra credit assignment for my APUSH class, we went on a field trip to Greystone Mansion. During the tour, the tour guide was talking about all the haunted experiences he has had, and how other people have also seen or heard things such as gunshots or been pushed by something in the hallways. I didn’t feel like the place was haunted or anything until we walked into the old theater, and as soon as I walked in. I took a picture on my phone, using flash ‘cause it was real dark in there, and uploaded that image to SnapChat. A few minutes into the tour guide’s lecture, the lights in the theater went out and there was complete darkness. It was super quiet because no one expected it, like they weren’t purposely tryna scare us. Then I felt my phone in my jacket pocket buzz, and then my phone died. The lights came on again after some seconds, and the tour guide said “okay, let’s go to the bowling ally and get out of here.” As we began to head for the door, my phone buzzed again and turned itself back on, and it was weird because this whole my phone was basically fully charged. Because when it died in my pocket, I’d just assume it ran out of batteries, but when it turned back on, it was full ‘cause I’d charged it that morning. Anyways, after leaving the theater, I checked my SnapChat and the image of the theater I had uploaded was gone. This was the moment when I was like “maybe this place is really haunted and that ghosts are real?” After the tour, I kept thinking about the events of the day, and I got this feeling or urge to delete most of the pictures I had taken of Greystone Mansion from SnapChat. I do remembering leaving a picture of the beautiful courtyard.”

Impact on LS: “I’m Christian so I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts. As you can imagine, this experience impacted me because I used to be a firm non-believer in ghosts because of the Bible and my religion. But now, it’s like, I don’t know if I actually believe in ghosts, but I am more open to the idea of a person’s soul staying on Earth, rather than going to either Heaven or Hell.”

My thoughts: I was actually with LS when this event happened, but it was interesting to hear it from her perspective. For example, I did not know that she eventually deleted the rest of the pictures from that day. I find it scary in that these supernatural powers are powerful enough to erase things from the web and social media. One lesson from this story is to not disrespect ghosts, haunted places, or even allegedly haunted places.

Digital
Legends

Cyber Ghost: Queen Mary Ghost Detector

Informant: During Brittany Pedrosa’s senior year of high school, she was ASB president and had to pick a location for her school’s prom night. One of her choses was the Queen Mary ship, and in order to get a better look at the layout, her and her fellow student representatives went on a tour with a tour guide on the Queen Mary. Before going to the ship, she and her friends had heard that the ship was haunted and decided to download a ghost-hunting app on their iPhones. She does not remember the exact name of the app because she deleted it right after the tour.

BP “It’s not that scary, but it scared me. I went with my friends to check out the Queen Mary for our possible prom night location, and before I went I downloaded this thing called Ghost Tracker. It would show dots if there was an entity and words would also pop up. The words would be related to the ghost, like if someone drowned, it would say something like “pool” or “cold” or “breathe”. We went with a tour guide around the Queen Mary and I just kept my phone tracker on, not really looking at it. But when we went up to one of the rooms, my phone turned super bright and I could see it illuminating from my pocket. So I picked up my phone and saw that it had a dot and said “fire” and “smoke”. When the tour guide came up to that room, he told us that sometimes people would smell smoke because there was a guy who died in there from a fire, and he used to smoke a lot. That scared me because the app was accurate in detecting the ghost and some things about it.”

Impact on BP: “Honestly, this experience freaked me out ‘cause, it’s like even if there aren’t any actual solid evidence that ghosts exist, there certainly are signs that indicate there is some kind of invisible ghostly energy still lingering in this world. Like for me now, I just kinda avoid topics related ghosts and the supernatural, because I don’t really want to know if they exists or not, so I would say I don’t believe in ghosts, but I also believe that there are things out there that are supernatural.”

My thoughts: I found it interesting in that BP’s ghostly experience actually made her not want to believe in ghosts; whereas, I would usually guess seeing or getting signs of ghosts would make one believe in ghosts more. BP’s belief in ghosts reminds me of the discussions in class about what is means to believe in a “ghost”, because the definition varies among people. For example, some people would consider unsettling ghostly energy or an unsettling feeling as signifying the presence of a ghost; however, BP would not say that there is a ghost, just some supernatural energy that is undefined and unexplainable. BP’s story also makes me wonder how the app, or any ghost hunting apps/electronics, actually measure and detect ghost presence.

[geolocation]