USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’

Legend: The Shadow

I discovered this legend when researching unique legends online. The following is the quoted legend from online.

“The Shadow”

“I didn’t know that’s what it was called until much later. I was living in a house in Laguna Beach that had been there since the 1920s. In it’s history, it had been a speakeasy, a brothel and a house for smuggling illegal immigrants.

One day, my new wife and I were having an argument. I can’t even recall what it was about. She walked down the block to get a cup of coffee and cool off, and I was alone in the house. The way the place was built was incredibly haphazard. There was a bedroom and living room on one side, then a bathroom with two entrances. On the other side of the bathroom was a hallway that had windows in one side and two bedrooms on the other. From my bedroom, I could look across the hall into the bathroom, then through the bathroom and down the other hall. I was standing at my dresser, and I just noticed movement out the corner of my eye, and looked down there. There was… and honest to god, this gives me goose bumps just typing it, 17 years later, a black figure. It was maybe three feet tall, and it was only vaguely humanoid. It looked like black scribbles, like someone had scribbled a human shape, but the scribbles moved, like electricity arcing, that’s the best way to describe it.

There was no sound that I could remember. I distinctly remember when I saw it I wasn’t afraid, just like, WTF? Then it noticed me looking at it. I can’t say it turned around, it just, focused on me I guess. THEN I was scared. I didn’t move, didn’t scream, nothing, I was just frozen, because it just fucking came at me, it RUSHED down the hall towards me. I have no idea what it intended, but as soon as it entered the bathroom, the door closest to me just SLAMMED shut on it. I screamed. I yelled for my wife. She wasn’t home. I went the fuck outside, into the daylight, and didn’t go back in until she got home about 10 minutes later.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe I saw something supernatural, but I know I saw something. I don’t know what it was.”


I found this legend especially interesting because I am from Laguna Beach and found personal interest in the ghost story taking place in my hometown. There is a similar styled home in my neighbor that is also rumored to be haunted. It is one of the oldest homes in Laguna Beach and has its own lighthouse and saltwater swimming pool that is embedded in the actual rocks. I visited this home once and immediately felt it had an eerie atmosphere. To this day, whenever I pass the home I still continually feel that strange, supernatural element to it. I therefore found this legend extremely relatable and am curious of its origins. It would be interesting to know if perhaps the teller of the legend lived in the same home I saw or a different one.

Website Citation: For other similar ghost legends, visit the following URL where this legend was originally published:

Tales /märchen

El Siblon: A Latin Tale

I discovered this tale while researching and reading about interesting Latin legends, myths, and tales. This one is titled “El Siblon,” which translates to “The Whistler.” Below is quoted material from the website, explaining the story and its few variations.


“The story always starts with a son killing his father. One version states that this son returning home one day found his father abusing his beautiful young wife. This so angered him he killed is father. Another, more disconcerting version states this son was a “spoiled brat” whose every wish was catered to by his parents. One afternoon he demands his father hunt for a deer—his favorite meat. But when the father does not find a deer and returns empty handed his son kills him and cuts out his heart and liver. He then has his mother cook them for dinner. The mother finding this meat is tough starts to suspect something amiss. She discovers these organs are her own husband’s innards and curses her son for eternity. At this point most versions of this story become similar. The mother fetches a male relative—in most versions the grandfather—and he ties the son to a tree—he then whips him—he finishes by rubbing lemon or hot peppers into the son’s wounds. The grandfather then unleashes a vicious dog and orders it to go after the grandson. This dog pursues the son relentlessly. His mother’s curse transforms the son into a ghost. He is condemned to wander the plains carrying a sack of bones on his back. Some versions state these are the bones of his father, other state these are the bones of his victims. His ghost is described as being disproportionally skinny and extremely tall. He towers over treetops with his bag of bones slung over his back. The vicious dog chases him constantly nipping at his heels. He wears a tattered white suit and a wide brimmed hat. It is said that few people who have seen him have lived to tell about it. His ghost is known as The Whistler because of a tune he is heard whistling—the basic seven notes, do, re, me, fa, so la, ti. He whistles these notes slowly and draws each one out. A warning given is his whistle is deceptive. It is said that when people hear his tune up close they are actually safe for this means he is far away but if they hear him from afar they best beware for he is actually close by. It is often mentioned his ghost hunts down cruel men who cheat on their wives. His ghost also attacks drunks when they are fast asleep. A gruesome detail shared states his ghost uncovers their belly buttons and then sucks until the alcohol comes out of them.”


This tale stood out to me because it was fascinating reading of the slight variations of the story, without knowing how or why these variations came to be. It is purely a folk tale because of this multiplicity and variation, ranging from both the most specific to the broadest change in the narrative. I think it is especially important with tales, myths, and legends, to understand and take note of these variations, seeing how the story has evolved over time and hypothesizing how it came to vary and multiply.

Website Citation: For a more thorough analysis of this specific tale, go to the URL:


Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Fireball Ghosts

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. Growing up, she told me tons and tons of stories from her time there. I was always particularly interested in their spiritual beliefs. Specifically, those regarding ghosts.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask her and my dad if they have any stories about the inexplicable that I could use for my folklore project. My mom starts:

In Japan in graveyards – because it’s… because everybody’s cremated it’s very common during typhoon season to see fireballs and whatnot. And that’s really because of the seepage of the rainwater into burial urns combining with the phosphorous of the bones and creating fireballs. But some people believe that they’re spirits and that the graveyards are haunted. So, yeah I guess. Some people believe it’s the spirits and other people believe it’s the phosphorous in the bones with the rainwater. It’s also very easy to imagine … you sort of feel different presences in Japan. Especially in subways in Tokyo. Because they’re very old, you can feel lots of spirits.”

This anecdote is particularly interesting, as it includes scientific explanation for a supernatural occurrence. Imagine walking home late one rainy night when you see fireball after fireball erupt out of a graveyard. That would be absolutely terrifying. Thankfully, my mother never told me this story as a kid, as it would have almost undoubtedly caused innumerable nightmares and late nights for her. Though she explains the fireballs, she still admits to feeling a very strong spiritual presence across the country as a whole. A presence no one can account for outright. Though some ghosts are easily explained, others are not.

Folk Beliefs

The Hantus in the Banyan Trees

Informant: There’s these things in Singapore, they’re called Hantus, they’re basically ghosts. So because Singapore was part of Malaysia at some point, a lot of our culture has to do with Malaysian culture. There’s this story about Hantus where, around Singapore, there’s a lot of these trees called Banyan Trees. These trees have huge stems, and are super wide. There are a ton of roots that hang from their canopies down.

Because of these roots, Banyan trees are very dark, especially at night. Their canopies are thick, so light can’t get through them, and the stems obscure everything else.

There’s this legend that when you go into the forest at night and you see all of these Banyan trees, you’re not supposed to shine light up into them, or like, if you have a flash, you’re not supposed to shine it into the top of the trees, and you can’t touch the hanging roots either. If you do, these ghost things, these Bantus, jump out of the trees and will “get” you.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US, but originally from Singapore. This legend was told to me by the informant in a college dorm room.

Background: The informant heard this belief from some of his friends, who also claimed to have seen the eyes of Hantus in the canopies of the Banyan trees. The informant doesn’t believe in this superstition, but he did mention that several people had gone missing among the Banyan trees around Singapore. To him, it’s simply a way to scare people and keep them from flashing lights around at the trees in the dark.

Analysis: I personally am not sure there are any supernatural forces at work. Like my informant said, this instead sounds like a common superstition, a classic superstition to make the native Banyan trees more mysterious, and also to dissuade people from harming them, in fear of such Hantus. What caught my attention was that this legend seems to be centered very specifically around Singapore, where Banyan trees are especially numerous, but it still heavily draws on elements of Malaysian superstition – Hantus. In this way, the use of both is a great symbolic representation of the shared cultural heritage between Singapore and Malaysia.


The Mean Ghost

The following informant is a stay at home mom from Upland. Here she is describing interactions her good friend had with a mean ghost in their home. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as KA and I am identified as K:

KA: Okay so my girlfriend is telling me about this ghost story that she lived in this house in Fontana and there was this ghost and he was like a mean ghost because he would like… it would be scary, you know, things would break and weird noises and stuff. and i think it was an old man that had died there, so she said that they got used to him, but it was not a nice ghost. and i think it was either in the garage or house, but he was there, and so they just lived with it

K: did they ever try to move or do anything about it?

KA: no they never tried nothing

K: do they think it was the previous owner?

KA: I think so, I think it was someone that probably lived there and died and he did not want to pass on to the other life so he stayed there . And she told me that and I was like what, no, but she said no we have a ghost. and I’m like okay

K: so did you believe her story?

KA: oh yeah, I believed her, I believe in ghosts, yeah most definitely they are out there. there are good ghosts and there are the ones that don’t want you in their… they feel like it’s their house, their ownership and you’re in their house so yeah

Context: The informant told me this story while we were sitting on her couch having a conversation at night, and as she was telling me the lights in her house actually started to flicker and make that buzzing noise.


I’ll be honest, I did not have much to say about this piece, frankly because I was little scared. She was telling this story at night and like her, I don’t necessarily believe wholeheartedly in ghosts, but as she tells me, the lights flickered and made noise, and I genuinely thought she brought that ghost into her house. It was a very strange experience, but it reminded me of the idea that you don’t have to fully believe in something to know something is not right. Like not believing a house is haunted but still not wanting to walk through it.

Folk Beliefs

Magnolia Elementary School – Haunted House

The following informant is a 20 year old college student from Upland. Here she is describing a haunted house that is behind her elementary school, Magnolia Elementary School. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as GA and I am identified as K:

GA: There is this haunted house at my school, um… by the playground, and some kids would be like talking about how there was someone who like died, who lived there, and like when it was like night at the school, it would be like haunted and stuff like that. You could hear weird noises and things would fall or move, things like that.

K: Did you ever go and explore the house?

GA: No I was too scared, but some of my friends went, we were in like 5th grade, and they heard and saw things. It was mostly kids in my grade wanting to explore and they told me about it because it was located right behind us/

K: Did anything happen to them?

GA: No, nothing bad, they just got really freaked out, maybe they did encounter the spirit of the guy that lived there

K: Did you believe what they told you about the house?

GA: Yes and no, I am always a little skeptical when it comes to ghost stories, but it did frighten me enough not to go to the house.

Context: She told me this while we were sitting at her dining room table one evening.


I too am similar to GA, in the sense that I can be a little skeptical of ghost stories and haunted houses, however I think it is important to point out that regardless of the fact that she did not fully believe the house was haunted she still avoided it, almost like better safe than sorry. She did not have to accept the supernatural to understand that something weird was going on.


Creepy Closet

The following informant is a manager at a large electric utility company in Southern California. Here he is describing a legend about ghost that inhabited a closet in a bedroom he shared as a child with his brother. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as T and I am identified as K:

T: When I was a child, maybe 8 or 9 years-old, my sister who was a little older told me and my brother about someone who had died in the house and that he lived in the attic above our bedroom. Because there was an opening in our closet to the attic, we always thought this ghost was trying to get in or out of the closet.

K: Did you believe your sister when she told you this story?

T: Heck yea, and from then on, we could never sleep with the closet door open.

K: Did you think closing the door would protect you?

T: Probably not, but it was better than leaving it open and waking up in the middle of the night to see a ghost in the closet.

K: What was the opening in your closet to the attic?

T: There was an opening in the ceiling of the attic that was closed with a lid. You could open the lid and gain access to the attic. One day, my brother and I gathered enough courage to climb up there and open the lid. Because I was older, I ended up opening the lid and looking but I didn’t see anything.

K: Did you ever actually see a ghost?

T: Never, but it didn’t matter. The thought of seeing a ghost was enough to instill fear for a long time. We did once have someone attempt to break into our house through our bedroom window at night and at first, I thought it was the ghost making noise. The robber got spooked and ran away. After that, I really couldn’t sleep thinking about a ghost in the closet and a robber at the window. I had some rough nights sleeping as a child.

K: Do you believe there is a ghost up there?

T: Definitely not, and I even recently went up there to take a look with a powerful flashlight. There was nothing up there except an attic. I did have my doubts as a child, but I always convinced myself that it wasn’t real. Regardless, I would always close the closet door.

Context: The informant told me this tale while we were sitting on his couch talking about scary stories as a child. He recalled this story and indicated he had forgotten all about the closet ghost until telling it now.


Similar to the informant, I don’t believe in ghosts, but it is important to note that he changed his behavior as a result of the folklore. Although he was adamant he did not believe in ghosts, he still closed the closet door. This precautionary action likely made him feel better and probably allowed him to sleep easier. It was interesting how a robber was initially mistaken for the ghost, and he used the term “spooked” to describe why the robber ran away. It felt like in an unusual way, this fictitious ghost may have provided protection in his mind and possibly create a benevolent aspect to the ghost.

Folk Beliefs

La Llorona

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

ZM: Any legends? Is there like a New Mexican legend that you…?

KM: Oh! Yes. Indeed. So, there’s this legend. I can’t pronounce it for the life of me.

ZM: Could you spell it?

KM: Yes. So, it’s “la,” like la and then space, “ll.” Actually…it’s on my phone. (laughs) lemme… Okay, so it’s “la,” space, “llorona,” like La Lallorona or something like that. They roll their r’s or something that I can’t do. So, basically there’s this um, legend that this woman, um, took her kids (chuckles) This is scary. So, uh she took her kids like from her house and like drowned them in the river. Yeah. So, and that like… her kids and were like screaming the whole night and like… OH NO NO no. I think it’s… Her kids were screaming so much that she like took them to the river and drowned them. So, the legend is when you… like um… The winds in New Mexico, in the spring, are like really bad, like they’re like fifty miles an hour. Like crazy. And so the legend is, when you hear the like really fast wind. Like the scream from the wind, it’s the scream of her kids. And um, stay away from rivers. So, like the whole thing is like if you’re near an arroyo, which is what we call a ditch…

ZM: (obviously lost)

KM: You know those ditches that like…

ZM: On the side of roads?

KM: Not really. They’re kind of like… um… They’re like where rain water goes, but they’re like pretty deep.

ZM: But they’re not on the side of roads?

KM: Sometimes they are, but not necessarily.

ZM: Are you talking about like natural ones?

KM: Yeah. Like natural ones.

ZM: I’m sorry. Florida doesn’t have much… variation in… (laughs)

KM: So, I have one behind my house and it’s basically like… it’s lower in elevation so all the water goes there and then it goes under the road. So, I guess it’s kind of near the road. And it like drains to like a river.

ZM: whaaaa. hunh

KM: So, it’s kind of like a stream, but it’s only when rain…

ZM: I feel like this is a language barrier. It’s like a land barrier. Like, I’m not exposed to these land forms.

KM: But anyway, so when you go to like an arroyo and you hear the wind scream. It’s like La Lallorona is coming for you and you have to like go in your house or she’s gonna kill you.

ZM: Is that just kids or is that everyone?

KM: It’s mostly just kids. Like, parents tell their kids these stories so they won’t be near the arroyo at night.


Context: This is from a conversation with KM about her New Mexican culture.


Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Analysis: I thought it was interesting that this version still contained the classic “Stay away from rivers” message, but also more specifically to stay away from arroyos at night. This is a geographic marker because arroyos are only found in arid and semi-arid climates.


Folk Beliefs

Ouija Board

When my friend Z was 13, she asked for a Ouija board for Christmas. An odd request, but her parents didn’t really believe in those sort of things so they got her one. Z had always used the Ouija board as a joke with her friends whenever they had sleepovers. All day they messed around, making up gibberish and pretending a “spirit” was talking to them. The family had a big laugh and when night fell everyone went to sleep.

That is except for Z. When she went to bed that night, she couldn’t fall asleep because when she got into bed there was a huge weight put on her legs, like someone was sitting on them. Once Z realized what was going on, she got out of bed, ran to her parents’ room frightened for her life. Her parents subsequently threw away the Ouija Board and that was the end of that.

Z told me that she stopped using Ouija Boards ever since because of the unforeseen consequences that it had. The Ouija Board was used by the Occult to speak to spirits who had passed on, and Z saw herself as disrespecting that mode of communication. The testy thing about Ouija Boards is that once it is used, any spirit can pass through. It’s like trying to open a door to a closet full of balloons just to grab the purple ones. It’s virtually impossible to do that.

When Z told me her experience with Ouija Boards, I actually believed her and never want to go near a Ouija Board. I’ve known for her for a bit and she’s a pretty rational individual. So if she was terrified by something she thought was a ghost, well then it probably was a ghost.

Folk Beliefs

My Brother’s Mom says Hi

This was a story I’ve heard from my parents and several relatives for years. So I have three older brothers because my dad was married twice before my mom and his second wife, M, unfortunately passed away when my brother R was 13. Eventually my father remarried and had me when my brother turned 20, but the wound left by his mom’s sudden death never left him.

Fast forward to his 23rd birthday. We were celebrating as a family in the backyard, playing music, about to cut the cake. A toddler (barely three or four) says that his mom says hi. Everyone took a double-take and told the toddler to explain. So he did:

There’s a belief that those who are really young and really old (so babies and senior citizens) can see into the paranormal world since they still have a close relationship with it. So the toddler says that he saw R’s mom in her funeral attire, looking the same as she did when she was healthy. R was taken aback by it and didn’t know what to say. I don’t think anyone did.

My mom believes this story wholeheartedly. She’s told it to me several times and so has my father and brother, yet I don’t remember it. Which is odd, because I was the toddler who saw her. I served as the medium for which she could connect to her son, who she could see was still mourning for her. And the fact that although I could barely articulate words, I was able to describe her perfectly is creepy.