Author Archives: Rylan Daniels

Ghosts of the Mind

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Context

While ghosts and other supernatural forces are often the centerpiece of creation stories, what if there was a creation story for ghosts themselves? Two related stories from two different cultures––Voodoo and Native American traditions––are explored here, portraying the mysterious mind as an influential character that interacts with ghosts. The Voodoo story shows how just with a certain thought, your ghost or spirit overcomes certain perils that would have otherwise killed a human, reinforcing the idea that “if we believe in ghosts, we give them power.” The Native American story shows a similar interpolation of the human mind into the “ghost mind,” how the outcome of the ghost story is chosen by the human mind. This is metaphorized by the legend of the good and the bad wolf. 

Story – Voodoo

“It could be that we make the ghosts. We make the things that go bump in the night. 

That’s what Voodoo was all about. Voodoo is convincing people of the reality of something to the extent that they make it. They make it happen to them and other people. If we have such a connection with the matter in our body, that we can walk on coals of fire and not bother us just because of the way we’re thinking, that means we’re controlling matter with the thoughts we have. The shamans, the ancients, all do this. It can be used for good or for ill. That’s what Voodoo does, is use it for ill. You can convince a person to die and they do. You can convince a person that if you put a pin in a doll they will feel that and they do. The mind is a powerful thing. Ghosts could either be something created by the mind, or perhaps a real spirit of something that’s happened in the past. If we do have this duality of having matter and the spirit working together.”

“We choose whether to believe them or not believe them. If we choose to believe them we give them power.”

Story — The Wolf

“This goes back to one of the American Indian legends about the wolf. Two wolves. One of the wolves is an evil wolf and causes havoc. The other wolf is a benign wolf, more like a dog. The question is who wins the battle. Each of us has this duality. Who wins the battle is the one who you feed. Do you feed the good wolf or do you feed the bad wolf? Either one can win. Depends on how much energy you give them, in your own thinking.”

“Ghost stories are surreal and take you out of your normal way of thinking.”

Thoughts

The ghosts in these stories were given great power by believing in them. This power controlled the fate of the ghosts’ corresponding human souls. 

One point of significance of these ghostly mind stories in a more modern perspective was presented in this way:

“We are living in a holographic universe that we have basically created. Sort of like the Matrix, only we’re creating it. We’re in a simulation. Who knows what the reason for this simulation is.”

This “spooky science” shows that, analogous to a computer simulation which can be recoded, the real world can also be recoded, where are thoughts are the code, and our ghosts are our spiritual tools that inform this new code onto our own minds, and ultimately the universe.

Looking back at Freud and his psychology, the mind and the spirit were two separate entities. But my perspective after hearing these ghost stories of the mind is different. I now see that the mind and the spirit are in fact one cohesive whole that is not just in one of us, but in all humans, and even animals. 

In the Native American story of the wolf, we see how animals, like the wolves, indeed have souls, as they are ghosts representing the fate of the human intertwined with the good and the bad wolf. The two wolves symbolize a sort of afterlife in which your ghost’s life after death is determined by the actions of the ghosts’ corresponding human mind during life.  

I combined the Voodoo and Native American stories because, for me, they show two similar perspectives of the same ghost story. When interacting with your own ghost––your own fate––your mind must choose how to deal with your ghost. Either you feed the good wolf, and survive the ordeal of the burning coals, or feed the bad wolf and face the fate of the Voodoo doll. Your mind controls your relationship with your ghost, and ultimately your destiny. 

The Golden Arm

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Context

The story of The Golden Arm is a folktale dating back 200 years, originally conceived to discourage greediness. Mark Twain famously performed this ghost story, sometimes didactically as a way to teach the skill of storytelling. Importantly, the legend of The Golden Arm is an orally-told story. It is performed theatrically via word-of-mouth and with some scream sound effects, rather than being read from a traditional book. The Golden Arm story in particular is designed to provoke intense emotional reactions and thrills out of the audience. 

The Story

“As a child, we would tell ghost stories around the campfire, in the woods. The one that I remember the most is The Man with the Golden Arm. This person had his golden arm stolen. He was searching all over the place for the golden arm. He’d always come back and his voice would say, 

‘I waaaant my goooolden aaaaarm…’

And then you get another kid around the campfire that the audience couldn’t see to say while you’re telling the story,

‘I waaaant my goooolden aaaaarm…’

Oh my goodness, he’s here! Did you hear that? In the end, you get them so excited and then you grab them—there it is! It scares them. That was always a trick we liked to play. And I had it played on me too, so I was one of the victims.”

Thoughts

As in the excerpt above, the story of The Golden Arm was told as a kid at summer camp around the campfire in the middle of the woods. The titular man’s artificial golden arm has been stolen after his death, so he returns as a ghost to get his golden arm back. The nature of the man with the golden arm is described in this way: 

“When the body stops working, the spirit keeps going. It’s like putting your hand into a glove, where your hand is animating the glove. Your hand is your spirit and the glove is your body. If you take your hand out of the glove, the glove doesn’t move anymore, but the spirit, the hand, still does in the spirit world. “

Like the glove and the hand, the golden arm is like an everlasting spirit––a ghostly possession with a life after death.

I really liked this story. It sparks the question of whether artificial objects like artificial limbs can be haunted? Notably, the golden arm retains its monetary value even after its owner is no longer living, inciting the motive of theft. Therefore, it is possible that the golden arm itself is actually the “ghost” of the man, since the golden arm preserves the man’s life, and has maintained social and economic contexts from which to engage with and trigger ghostly haunting, namely the arm’s robbing.