Tag Archives: folktale

Grandmother’s Goodbye

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


“My dad once told me a story about an experience he had with a ghost. My dad was really close with his grandparents; he spent a lot of time over at their house when he was younger and as a child, he had these really weird dreams where his grandmother would appear to him. In the dreams, she was just sitting on a stool beside his bed and talking to him.

“When I was around ten years old, my great-grandmother, his grandmother, passed away. But my dad told me he had one of those dreams the night she died: in his dream, he was a child again as he was looking at her, and just as she always did in the dreams, she was sitting on a stool and talking to him. But he had a feeling that this dream was different. Although he doesn’t remember the details of the conversation he had in the dream, when he woke up, he felt a visceral change and later discovered that that was the night she passed away.”


“My great-grandparents on my dad’s side, around when I was ten years old or so, were dying of Alzheimer’s and they needed a caretaker. It was a really big burden on my family, and I remember my dad talking about them a lot during that time because he had a really deep connection with his grandparents. He spent a lot of time with them growing up, and he even ended up remodeling their house and turning it into his parents’ house, which is where my grandparents live now. I think my dad’s dreaming of them was a representation of the deep emotional connection they shared. I think he really felt a change in that connection the night his grandmother died, and I like to think of that dream as her way of saying goodbye.”


Although I am skeptical about the idea of a truly prophetic dream, I think this is an example of how dreams can sometimes help someone process an ongoing trauma or complicated emotions. The informant explained that his great-grandparents were dying of Alzheimer’s, which is a slow end. It is possible that the informant’s father dreamed about conversations with his grandmother as a way of processing this difficult mental condition, and only after hearing news of his grandmother’s death did he feel that, at the time of the dream, he felt that he knew she had died at the time. Memories are notoriously faulty and dreams even more so, which is why I personally believe that this was not a ghost the informant’s father envisioned the night his grandmother died, but merely a way of his brain processing the difficulty of losing a loved one.

Another idea to consider is the fact that the informant’s paternal family is Mexican. Ghosts are prevalent in Mexican culture, particularly the ghosts of loved ones (as seen in holidays such as Día de los Muertos). It is possible that this cultural background influenced the informant’s father to be more inclined to believe in a supernatural explanation for his dream/ghost rather than a scientific one.

Haunted Clock Scary Folktale

Nationality: American
Primary language: English
Age: 18
Occupation: Canvasser
Residence: Echo Park, CA


A little boy with a sister, two parents, and a dog just won a sports game. His parents take him out to get a gift to celebrate. They’re trying to pick out a toy for him to get at a toy store. The boy sees a doll with a clock in its stomach. It seems to wave, all five of its fingers up. The boy is strangely drawn to it, loving it, and wants it immediately. His parents ask him if he’s sure–it’s kind of creepy–but let the boy get it. The cashier warns them not to buy it because they’ll regret it, and the boy insists and asks why he can’t get it. The cashier says he can’t tell the boy why, but warns him again. The boy gets it anyway. He hangs the clock over his bed.
He goes to sleep each night for five nights, and each morning when he wakes, one member of his family is gone.
The first morning, his dog is missing. When the boy complains of this, his parents are confused: “What do you mean? We never had a dog.” When he looks at the clock, it only has four fingers up.
The second morning, his sister disappears. When the boy complains of this, his parents are confused: “What do you mean? You don’t have a sister.” When he looks at the clock, it only has three fingers up.
The third morning, his dad disappears. When the boy complains of this, his mom is confused: “What do you mean? I’m a single mom.” When he looks at the clock, it only has two fingers up.
The fourth morning, his mom disappears. When he looks at the clock, it only has one finger left.
The next morning, the boy is gone forever, and the clock has no fingers up.


MM first heard this story at a summer camp when he was between 8 and 9 years old. He was a little scared of the story, but mostly enjoyed it, immediately thinking that it was “a really good, fun, spooky story.” He really enjoyed telling this story and did so numerous times at camp. He notes that he heard and shared different versions over the years: the little boy was sometimes a little girl; the order of the disappearance of family members changed sometimes; the boy’s actions each day after finding a member of his family missing were different, including days where he missed school or days where he tried to get rid of the clock and it mysteriously returned; and there was a version where the shopkeeper wanted to get rid of the clock and recommended that the boy take it. MM analyzes this as being a representation of a kid’s worst fear: being alone without their family. “It’s a little uniquely terrifying to be wiped from existence instead of dying.” He notes that “there’s also a perversion of the familiar–a toy (kids love toys) that kills your family.


I classify this as a folktale because, while it’s somewhat grounded in the real world, its truth value doesn’t appear to be up to date. There’s no piece of this in which “the clock is still out there,” or anything to imply that this might be a true story. Instead, it appears to be a scary folktale for children. Beyond its basic entertainment value, this story could mean several things. I’m inclined to agree with MM’s analysis that this folktale represents a child’s fear of being left alone without their family and of death. This view is supported through a psychoanalytical lens, which often views the subtext of a folk belief or narrative as a subconscious desire or fear. This story could be viewed in both lights. The fact that the boy in MM’s version of the tale ignored the warning of the shopkeeper (an adult) and got the toy he wanted anyway, then faced the consequences (his family disappearing), marks this as a potentially cautionary tale. Its moral might be, “children should listen to adults.” Of course, children fear being alone, but they also sometimes desire it. This story, scary as it may be, could also be a representation of the child’s subconscious desire to be rid of their parents. After all, the little boy is subconsciously drawn to the clock immediately. Perhaps he really does want his family gone so that he can have more independence, but the consequence of this is that he disappears, too. Either way, this story’s deeper meanings are fascinating through a psychoanalytical lens.

Lake Victoria’s Guardian Spirit – Myth

Text: Long ago lake Victoria was a barren land devoid of life. A god was relaxing one day recognized the humans and animals of the land needed an oasis to survive. Taking such pity on the creatures the god began to cry and his tears formed a beautiful. Humans and animals from all over came to the lake and the god swore it would bless them for generations to come.

Context: “This is another story I heard growing up in Kenya. A woman who used to take care of me would tell me this story as a bed time story. A lot of older people where I’m from believe that the lake is a blessing from heaven so there’s a lot of similar stories.”

Analysis: The myth of Lake Victoria’s origin and its guardian are an interesting example of how natural phenomena can become divine. Since so many people and animals rely on lake Victoria it makes sense that its impact could be akin to a gods blessing. Oftentimes people will make something holy or a divine figure to give it a more physical form to give thanks to. The divinity of nature is typically humanity’s way of showing thanks.

Nightwalkers – Legend

Text: Throughout Kenyan villages there are legends of nightwalkers causing turmoil throughout the night. These nightwalkers are believed to be ordinary people who become possessed by spirits or spirits of people who have passed. The nightwalkers typically try to scare people by making noises and throwing objects.

Context: “I heard about nightwalkers when I was still a kid living in Kenya. The kids in my village would tell stories of nightwalkers yelling in the night. I remember my sister would joke and say she’d throw me to the nightwalkers if I was bad.”

Analysis: The legend of the nightwalkers is similar to the western belief in ghosts. It’s likely that the nightwalkers are an explanation for people attempting to play pranks or acting strangely. Despite this the nightwalkers may have some legitimacy as ghosts and possession are seen throughout various cultures and folklore. Regardless of if the legend is true the nightwalkers serve their purpose of providing an interesting story and a ward from children playing at night.

Baba Yaga as the Bogeyman

Context: The informant is a 22 year old USC student and the daughter of two Bulgarian immigrants. She told me that when she visited her grandparents, they would often tell her stories about Baba Yaga.

In C’s words: “[A]s a kid, my grandmother would bring up the story of Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is this old witch who lives in a house deep in the forest. She lurks there, skulking the countryside, looking for naughty children to abduct. The only visible sign of her witchcraft is how her house moves around on its own two skinny chicken feet”

Analysis: C told me afterwards that her grandmother told her these stories in order to scare her into behaving, with Baba Yaga functioning much in the same way the Bogeyman would. Here, Baba Yaga is treated as a legend, with C’s grandmother purposefully attempting to make it seem as if being kidnapped by her is a genuine possibility; this is a common tactic to get children to behave.

Interestingly, this version of the story doesn’t emphasize that Baba Yaga is terribly ugly or scary in any way physically — the only way to tell that she’s a witch is to see her cottage, at which point it would be too late for a potential victim. This makes it easier for Baba Yaga’s story to function as a legend, as she could essentially be anyone around you, making it easier to think that she’s real. It seems that because there’s no popular hero/villain story with Baba Yaga’s defeat in it, it’s almost easier to transition her from a fairy-tale creature to what could be considered a legend. In comparison to, say, the Big Bad Wolf, who also seems to function as a manifestation of the consequences of one’s behavior, Baba Yaga is much more believable as a real and present fear because she isn’t clearly associated with a narrative in which she is killed. By this, I mean that saying that the Big Bad Wolf might come after you doesn’t work as well partially because the most popular version of Red Riding Hood today ends with his death.

Part of the associated fear seems almost as if it’s due to an inversion of the grandmother stereotype/figure/character; rather than being maternal, Baba Yaga steals children. As mothers or grandmothers would typically be the ones telling these stories, it would only further that feeling of discomfort due to some sort of transgression upon the traditional concept of an older maternal figure.