Nighttime ghost taboos

Informant is a Korean international student at USC, majoring in accounting. She is 21 years old, and has lived in Korea until she finished high school. Her primary language is Korean. Her family consists of five members –her mom, her dad, younger brother, younger sister, and herself.

There are several nighttime taboos. These are not official, traditional taboos established by the Korean government. These were spread among young children in Korea through words of mouth and internet. The informant heard these in her elementary and middle school years. These stories didn’t have a particular time and space where they were told. There were told at random places, at random times, whenever the young school children felt like talking about scary stories.

1. Do not leave your chair untucked before going to sleep.

If you don’t, a ghost will sit there and stare at you through the night.

2. Do not leave the wardrobe door ajar.

A ghost will stare at you through the crevice from inside the wardrobe.

3. Do not pur your hair above your head when sleeping (applies only to girls).

A ghost will sit on your pillow and count your hairs one by one.

4. Do not put your feet outside the blanket.

A ghost will be tempted to grab it.


The informant was deeply affected by these stories. From the day she heard these taboos, she tucked in all chairs, closed the wardrobe doors, put hair down, and didn’t put her feet outside the blanket before going to sleep. She was so scared as a young child. Now, as a 21 years old, she doesn’t follow these taboos. However, she follows it whenever she can. It has become part of her habit.

Except for #4, I also have heard of these nighttime taboos. I heard these from my friends at school, when I was going to an elementary school. It would all start with one saying “Did you hear that? you shouldn’t blah blah blah” These stories would always exaggerate and change as it goes. However, I don’t think these specific taboos have changed much compared to common ghost stories. The informant and I went to different elementary schools (She went to the one in Seoul, and I went to the one in Suwon), but the taboos we knew were almost the same. The one thing I observed is that bad luck or taboos are related to the notion of being ‘unorganized,’ such as the messy room and the backward blanket. The act of trying to avoid the nighttime ghost taboos eventually make the room more organized. Even though this ghost time taboos are not traditional folklores, it can be related to Korean society’s willingness to teach discipline to the junior members.