Tag Archives: Afterlife

Haunted Hospital Stories Among Nurses

Informant Context:

Stella is a traveling ICU (intensive care unit) nurse who currently work in Atlanta, Georgia.

Transcript:

STELLA: Nurses believe their hospitals are haunted, oftentimes. 

INTERVIEWER: Really?

STELLA: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Do they believe that the hospital *you* work at is haunted? 

STELLA: I mean like, when I worked at a different hospital, like—there were certain rooms that like, had really weird, like—vibes. And like, people—nurses would be like, “Oh yeah, like, I worked in that room”. And like, you know, lights would flicker and like, things would be moved. I just, like—it was always cold like, I just felt really weird. And like, there were definitely times, like… like before they would even mention that to me, like—I would walk down to that side of the hallway or like, near the room and I would like… like I felt different and then they like, told me about it later and I was like, “that’s so weird, like—I like, felt that like… [kinda(?)] that way or there’s like certain rooms like, in ICU or something where like… the patients like, always do bad and like… it’s kinda like the “cursed room” sort of thing.

INTERVIEWER: Wow… that’s really interesting and really takes the form of ghost stories [laughs] kind of in—in general, the—

STELLA: Oh, yeah. I mean, I was like, working on like, a neuro ICU at night one time, and there was like… this like, curtain that just like—kept moving. And me nurse were just like, “what the heck? Like, what’s going on?” And there was like no draft in the room and like, there was no reason for there curtain to be moving, but it was just like, fluttering. And like, it was in like the “haunted corner”. You know, it’s just like… it’s like, super spooky. 

[…]

INTERVIEWER: Yeah, because of all places to be haunted—I hadn’t thought of hospital rooms. But it does make total sense now. Um—

STELLA: Oh, it’s a thing. Like, all these nurse Instagrams that I follow online like… especially around Halloween, like—people will send in their like, haunted like, nursing stories. And it’s like, ICU nurses and they like… will be like “Yeah, like—this like, hospital used to be like, a psych hospital, and patients would like, jump out the window. And it—you know, it’s—like, it’s haunted. Or like, they’ll have multiple patients in the same room like, see like, the same kid in the red dress. Or like, the same like, patient who like, died there tragically will be like “oh, like—the lady with like, the blue shoes.” And it’s like, multiple patients like, have… have like, said that they see this person and like, stuff like that.

Informant Commentary:

The informant seemed to relate beliefs in ghost stories among nurses to community. Shared experience is powerful, and the experiences Stella relates from her time travelling between units and hospitals served to bond her with her new, and ever changing, fellow medical professionals.

Analysis:

The prevalence of ghost stories among medical professionals might be explained by a common association of hospitals with death. Transience of people (coming-and-going) is also a factor, which might also explain the prevalence and proliferation of ghost stories among professionals in the hospitality industry (hotels, theme parks). One of Stella’s accounts also follows a common pattern seen among ghost stories: a person has a moment of discomfort or a brief paranormal encounter (without being told about any possible paranormal activity beforehand) which is later fleshed out by others who already know about the phenomenon. Perhaps the most interesting thing that Stella notes is the belief, not only in ghosts in the building, but in a supernatural force which acts upon the physical world, such as malevolent forces which cause a room to become “cursed”, and patients to “do bad” when assigned to them. This might suggest a search for comfort by members of the folk group, seeking to attribute unexplained medical tragedies to forces outside of their own control. There is a strong desire among medical professionals to exert control upon illness and suffering, thereby ending it with scientific means. When this fails for no clear reason, and seems to follow an uncanny trend, it makes sense for medical professionals to replace their own uncertainty with a conclusion which gestures towards the metaphysical, beyond science. 

Money for Ghosts

Description: On certain days, people will burn fake paper money next to the bonfire as a way to give the dead fortune in their afterlife.

Background: The ritual is something that the informants family frequently practices.

Transcript:

ML: So you know about the burning money for the dead right?

Me: Yes, but tell me how your family does it.

ML: I think most people do it in the same way. You go outdoors and they would usually have a metal basket thing that you light the fire in. Then your parents would give you paper and say that it’s money for people in the afterlife and stuff. Then you just burn the paper in the fire.

My thoughts:

This ritual is something that I know well. For my family, we would sometimes say prayers for the people in the afterlife, things like wishing them well and things like hoping they put the spirit money we give them to good use. The basket part is most likely for safety and cleanliness. I would assume ashes from a bonfire would be very harmful or at least a pain to clean without a container for it. The ritual is a way for people to both remember and come to terms with the loss of a loved one. There is also the component of wishing the departed well in the afterlife having belief in that there is an afterlife.

49 Days After One’s Death in Korean Buddhism

Main Piece : 

49 Days After One’s Death in Buddhism

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing how a Buddhist ancestral rites is done during 49 days after one’s death. She is identified as K, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : In Korean Buddhist belief, 49 days after one’s death is the most critical time after the funeral. Once someone dies, they do not go to heaven or hell but are kept in a ‘middle-zone’ between Earth and the heavens for 49 days and are sent to seven stages of hell to judge whether they have lived an honest life.

E : What does it mean by ‘honest’ life?

K : It means that they haven’t done any wrong doings. One must not lie, not kill someone, not trick someone, and stuff like those. Even telling a small lie to your friend also counts as wrongdoing. Each hell determines if you have committed a crime. One category of these hell judges a ‘crime you have committed with your words’. This would include speaking bad about your friends, hurting your parent’s feelings with words, or lying. Like this, the ‘crime’ itself doesn’t always need to be a serious offense such as murdering or deceiving multiple people for money. We might be committing a ‘crime’ even now as we talk. 

E : So it means that you must be aware of what action you take, I guess. 

K : Yes. This belief tells people that anyone can be an ‘offender’ in the afterworld and makes them cautious. After the 7 weeks and 7 trials, they are then determined what life they will be living in their next life. Depending on how you lived your previous life, you might be reborn as a human, an animal, or even a non-animal such as a rock. The better life you lived, the more human you will become. If you commit a big crime, you will be reborn as an animal such as a dog or a pig. If you didn’t commit any sort of crime and lived a very pure life, that’s when you get your chance to enter heaven. 

E : Does that mean it’s impossible since we all commit ‘crimes’?

K : It sounds like it, doesn’t it? But it’s described to be possible. That’s why Buddhist monks shave their head, live in the temple, and train to strengthen their mind and body. This is also related to why they don’t eat any kind of meat – it means that an animal must unnecessarily die for the monks for their meal. In order to stop the unnecessary death, they eat with vegan choices. They are the closest beings to heaven since they consciously try to prevent themselves from commiting wrongdoings. Also, know that during those 49 days, the family members of the recently deceased are recommended to not participate in any events that are enjoyable. This includes drinking alcohol, going to a party, or going on a trip. It’s not set as a strict rule, but you just need to do it to show respect. You also wear only dark-colored clothes such as black or dark grey. 

Analysis :

This proverb shows how the Korean society believes in the Karma system and the cycle of life. In Buddhism belief, when one dies, they don’t directly go to heaven or hell like Christianity but are judged for the next 48 days for how they have lived in their previous life and how many wrongdoings they have done. I think the fact that the trial of one’s death is continued on for a long time is also to give a sense of pressure to people to not commit wrongdoings when they are alive. It pressures people to only act nicely if they do not want to be suffering even after their death. 

For another version of this story, take a look at the film, “Along with the Gods”. This Korean movie was made in 2017 and was based on the comic by Ho-Min Ju. The movie is about what happens in one’s afterlife in Buddhist belief and gives a good summary of the informant’s piece. 

Significance of Incense

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing what an incense signifies in ancestral rites. She is identified as K and this piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

K : You know what incense is, right? It’s a stick you light it on fire like a candle and it produces smoke with a certain smell to it. Rather than smelling like something burning, it has a very organic smell to it. Maybe like burning wood. In Korean ancestral rites, burning an incense means that the person who burned the incense is calling the Gods and their ancestors from the sky. The smoke rises from the ground and when it reaches the sky, the God or the ancestor will know someone is calling them. If someone is only wishing for something, it is calling God to grant their dear wish. If someone is performing an ancestral rite, it means that they are calling their ancestors. 

Analysis : 

In our family, we burn incenses more than candles. Before listening to the meaning behind burning incenses, I only thought we do this for the smell of it or as a tradition; I was surprised that the smoke and the smell of the incense was meant to reach the sky. I think this aspect of burning incenses show the earnest wish of the user to see and meet the holistic figures. It should also be noted that not all incenses are meant for deep meanings like calling their God or ancestors, but a lot of people use it for its good smell. 

Bowing Down Twice

Context :

My informant is an adult female who was born in Seoul, South Korea. She received Korean education throughout her life and mainly speaks Korean. She believes in Buddhism and has been attending temple events for a long time. Her family also are Buddhist and follows the Buddhist way when it comes to events such as funerals and ancestral rites. Here, she is describing why bowing down only twice is important during a memorial rite or a funeral. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English.

She told me that to understand this piece, you need to understand the Yin and the Yang (negative and positive) culture of Asian countries. Yin, is the power that is believed to be dark and negative, while Yang is the positive power. 

In Korean funerals or memorial rites, people only bow down twice. It is believed that one’s first bow means the Yang power and the second bow means the Yin power. This means that the first bow is only meant for the people who are living and the second bow is for the people who are dead and no longer in this ‘living’ world. Thus, when you bow down to the families of the dead, you only bow once because they are alive, and you bow down twice to show respect to the dead. Events that require bowing down and related to death such as a funeral or an ancestral rite will require bowing down twice. 

My informant also highlighted that all bows should be performed with the utmost respect because this is a matter of living and the dead. 

Analysis :

When I was young and attended funerals, I remember peeking through my arm to see how many times my parents were bowing down. I was sometimes confused because they would bow down once in some situations and would bow down twice in some situations. This connection of Yin and Yang with the funeral culture show how Asian countries strongly believe in the ‘powers’ of negativity and positivity and its connection to Confucianism; you need to have detailed and precise actions even when you are showing respect to your ancestors.