Background: MB has family in Filipino, Korea, Mexico, and US, and so he has heard cultural stories from many different parts of the world. Here he is explaining one belief that his Filipino grandfather told him. I contribute with a belief from my Indian culture. MB – informant. SD – interviewer
MB: My grandfather told me that if you keep a garland of garlic near your bed or somewhere where you spend a lot of time, it wards off witches and bad spirits. Does your family have a similar tradition?
SD: I know in Indian culture, it’s lemons and green chilis. Like when you do something big like open a new shop or get a new house, you tie a string that has one lemon and a few chilis strung through it on the front door of the establishment. This prevents evil from entering the home/shop. My family doesn’t do this but I have seen this in many places in India.
MB: Yea. I know people like sages here so there are many things to ward off evil I guess.
SD: Do you think the garlic garland has anything to do with vampires? (laughs)
MB: (laughing) Maybe!
Here we discuss the many different ways where people ward off evil spirits. The belief of evil spirits is present in almost all cultures and is probably tied to religious beliefs. It is often passed down through the generations, like in MB’s case. I have also noticed that the item that wards off the bad spirits is also a food item, which can be because it comes from nature and is available to everyone. In an institutional and religious context, spirits are warded off by holy water and other items that aren’t available everywhere, but from a folk belief standpoint, everyday items can be used by the masses to ward away evil spirits.
My grandmother enjoys telling us stories of Singapore when she was younger, one of the stories she most enjoys telling is that of the haunted art deco house at Woodneuk. This story came about during one of our conversations.
following is translated and transcribed from a story told by the interviewee.
“When you go behind Holland Road there’s the old mansion. Now everyone goes there and takes photos but last time no one went there because it was haunted. It’s still haunted, but nowadays no one cares, no one respects the place. It’s an old house build for the Sultan a hundred years ago. The house was very big for time, and it meant to be a beautiful place. The Sultan had a Scottish wife, but when she died, he left the place, and he never bothered to go back. So it just sat there. And the place is haunted, the wife never left the house because she loved it so much and never wanted to leave it. But now kids go there and take photos and they are disturbing the wife.”
This is a fairly common ghost story told in Singapore about the abandoned mansion. There aren’t many abandoned buildings in Singapore as it is a small city with limited space and the government is proactive in ensuring that all the space available is used. Thus, the very abandoned places like the mansion in Woodneuk have many myths and tales surrounding it. Historically, the story is accurate. There was a Sultan with a Scottish wife that build the mansion, though the story gets a little blurry with whether the wife died and why the Sultan left the house. I think in the case of the Woodneuk mansion, the ghost story was put in place to scare people away from visiting it. My grandmother was frustrated with children going there to take photos and felt that they should’ve just left the house alone. The architecture in the house is traditional and unique and it would stand that there are those that would hope to protect it. However, because the government does not protect the house and make it a cultural landmark, people have spread ghost stories in an attempt to keep people away. In the age of social media and with the new generations believing less and less in superstition, this no longer works effectively. And instead, the idea that the place is haunted actually drives people to go visit it.
My informant is the Lebanese father of my best friend. He grew up in the town of Yaroun, Lebanon before migrating to America. This story is a true story of an encounter his sister had in Lebanon.
My sister got married, and every time she delivered a baby they used to sometimes live one week, one month, one of them lived one year one time. And then they get sick, they get really sick. It was like a weird situation. the doctor checks on them and their face turned blue. They’re like suffocating. Like something is suffocating them. It is a true story, my sister. And they used to die. And when they used to take the kid to the hospital. The doctors were amazed. The doctor was one of the best doctors, got so like shocked that he couldn’t, that he didn’t know how diagnose them. He didn’t know what was wrong with them! And the end we found out that it was some bad spirit that was born with my sister. That she choked them to death. And so we didn’t know. There was one year where she had a boy like one year old and she delivered another boy and both of them died in the same week. I was like probably seven eight years old. At that age you remember. We were so sad. The oldest sister was very aware. Because the doctor said its not something medical. So automatically she knew it was something spiritual. So my sister what she did, even though she didn’t have a lot of money, she found money and went, she traveled all the way, we are next to Syrian and Iraq,. She went and she was looking and looking and traveled all through the Middle East. But at the end someone mentioned a lady. She lived closed to us, in the city called Teir. So my sister wen to there and the lady opened. She gathers the evil spirits … she has the way to gather them. She gathers them and talks to them and after asking my sister what her name and the mother name. Once she knew what her name and the mother name they could locate, they know who she is. They told her exactly that she was born with a bad spirit that kills children, we call it erini, it’s like a partner. This women I don’t what she did, but she wrote part of the Koran to ward of the spirit.
I gathered this piece from my informant in his house while he served me food.
The interesting part of this folklore, is that every so often he would emphasize that this was a true story. It always interesting to hear a person’s personal story with the supernatural. It was also interesting to see that the idea of a supernatural force at work only came after other more “legit” means were exhausted.