Author Archives: cjharper

Witch Doctor

Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.

A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”

While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.

“My history teacher, I’m 100% sure he was serious about it. He’s from Mexico… he has a lot of family there. His family lives in this pretty small village, and his grandma was one of those witch doctors. There was this lady in the village who was this really big girl. I don’t know what was going on with her but she was doing really bad, I think she was homeless, like not doing well. My teacher said they were at their grandma’s house one day. His aunts were also there and he was young at the time, but him and his siblings snuck out into the back yard, they weren’t supposed, they were supposed to stay in at night. When they went back there they saw his grandma completely passed out on a chair. And in front of her was the other lady on the chair, and the four of his aunts were lifting the chair up on a finger, like really high up. He asked her about it and they were doing some healing thing.”

The patient was not healthy, and to lift her would either suggest that the aunts had extreme strength for the moment, or she became extremely light for the moment. The latter suggests the aunts were using homeopathic magic to making her lose weight. A.G. thought his teacher’s story was genuine, and shows some belief in the supernatural.

Alien Almost-Abduction

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and set up this interview. L.P. has spent some time in NYC over the past several years. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

After sharing several ghost stories, L.P. casually adds “one time I almost got abducted by aliens.”

L.P.: “I was in New York at aunts apartment asleep and this Alien screamed into my ear really loud, and I woke up & saw a white flash but my eyes were closed. I felt light inside of my brain but nothing was there. Then my Aunt came into the room all freaked out and told me I screamed, and I didn’t even know.”

I suggest this sounds like sleep paralysis

L.P.: “I had a mark on my arm, it was red & had dots in it.”

While the alien abduction was likely a memorate from a severe instance of sleep paralysis, L.P. firmly believes in the supernatural from ghosts to aliens, and enjoys the thrill of firsthand experience. In my findings, people who believe in, and actively search for these mysterious entities are the most likely to encounter them in one form or another.

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.

Haunted Banana Tree

Informant (J.B.) is a 19 year old Los Angeles native. J.B.’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, and his father is an immigrant from Guatemala. J.B. speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, some Spanish. J.B. and I grew up in the same neighborhood, with mutual friends. One afternoon while overhearing another collection I was conducting, J.B. offered to share a story about his mother.

J.B.: “Back when my mom was a kid she lived in this house that went through a complete change, like renovation. It used to be… a funeral home, but then they turned it into the house. My grandpa bought it without knowing what it used to be, so there would be a lot of weird shit that would happen. Like my mom would wake up by a banana tree, and they would always trip out. A lot of weird shit would happen and they thought it was because it was a death house or whatever. One day she had a really bad fever and she heard a woman crying from out by the banana tree, and she was tripping out. I don’t know what happened after that, she was praying and freaking out and it went away. Nobody else was in the house.”

J.B. is interested in his mother’s ghost story, as it provides a sliver of insight into her youth. J.B. is open to the idea of the supernatural, as both of his parents have witnessed inexplicable experiences which have ultimately become such paranormal memorates.

For children it is common to see or even chase ghosts. I interpret this phenomenon to be not only due to a looser definition for reality, but also the thrill of the unknown (in this case being a banana tree outside the safety of her home).

Metta -Lovingkindness

Informant (J.H.), my mother, is a 50 year old Buddhist meditation teacher from Los Angeles. J.H. identifies as biracial, with both African and Southern European heritage. I interviewed her after stopping by for dinner one Monday evening. J.H. had a traditional roman Catholic upbringing, and has been studying meditation for 15 years. J.H. shared one of her favorite Buddhist stories, which explains the origin of a meditative chant that she teaches. Our story takes place during the Buddha’s lifetime.

J.H.: “There were 500 monks and nuns, who were sent into the forest to meditate for the rains retreats, which lasted for three months in the winter. Within days, they came running back to the Buddha saying that evil visions and sounds and smells were haunting them and they were too scared to stay in the forest, but the Buddha sent them back. Again, they came running back to him, terrified. Little did they know, that the tree spirits in that forest didn’t want them there, so they were doing anything they could to scare them off. So the Buddha sent them back a third time, but this time he sent them back with messages of love for the forest deities. These messages were; may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be safe, may you be free. So when these monks went back into the forest, spreading love to these deities, it melted their hearts and they welcomed them. This is called ‘Metta,’ and one would use this when dealing with their own internal fear, or pain, or sadness, or when wanting to send compassion or care to others’ fear, pain or sadness, or suffering. We still use the ‘Metta practice.’ It is a traditional Buddhist practice for emanating kindness and care.”

While J.H.’s story stands on its own, Metta, or lovingkindness, is also a central part of the Buddhist tradition. Such stories in Buddhism are common, and often walk the line between myth and legend. While they are myths to Agnostic-Buddhists such as J.H., who teaches them strictly as metaphors for a greater lesson, these stories can be considered legends by the more traditional Buddhists who do not question their literal truth. Further, this particular Buddhist folk story does not leave the timeline of human existence like most religious mythologies, as from my experience Buddhism traditionally discusses life on earth rather than any divine being or beings. Metta is a very popular form of Buddhist meditation, always using some variation of the quote the monks told the tree spirits in J.H.’s performance.