Tag Archives: house

Ghosts Can’t Cross Running Water

Background: The informant has lived in Durham, North Carolina his whole life. His whole extended family has also lived in North Carolina their entire lives.

TR: This is uh, this is kind of like a superstition that I remember, um, and it had to do with porches, remember and this is from a long time ago, but, so the superstition is that um, ghosts, ghosts can’t cross running water. Don’t ask me why ghosts can’t cross running water, I don’t know. Um, it doesn’t, um, you know, unless, unless it has to do with the fact that you know, once you’re across the river Styx, you can’t get back across without the boatman, so if you’re a ghost on that side you can’t get back, I don’t know. Anyway, that’s the superstition, and so, you know, because, maybe not so much now, but a lot of porches were painted blue for that reason. The whole thing was like blue is the color of water so that would protect your house from ghosts. Um, so that’s, you know, and I think it’s persisted a little bit like maybe there’s still like actual entryways like foyers in houses that maybe are painted blue and that could just be an unconscious, unknowing continuation of this practice, but, that’s something that’s like a very old like oooo ghosts can’t cross water, so um, porches would be painted blue for that reason.

Me: Do you remember who and when you first heard this from? Do you know if it’s a regional thing?

TR: Uh, it’s probably regional. Um, I remember it from my dad’s side of the family. This would be my great uncles and aunts, um we would go out to my great uncle’s farm and so we went out there quite a bit and he had this really old house, I mean old house, which, of course, when we told ghost stories about the house, so it was all, ghosts were just a popular thing. So that’s probably where, if I had to say I mean, I don’t have a memory of like oh this is you know, that’s when I first heard this story about ghosts can’t cross water.

Me: Have you ever thought about painting a deck blue? Like do you have any belief in it?

TR: Oh, no. absolutely not.

Context of the performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: This superstition about ghosts has been enacted into a practice. It relies on color meaning and symbolization for the connection to work. It works under the assumption that blue represents water and therefore the color is what is creating meaning, as the thing acting as a barrier between the ghosts and houses. The informants theory about the river Styx connects this superstition to myths to form a hypothesis about the meaning of the saying–the superstition–itself. This suggests that even though myths take place before, after, or outside the real world, people draw meaning from them and connect them to real life beliefs.

Bread and Salt for new homeowners

Main Piece:

What is the tradition?

“It’s Jewish tradition when someone has a new house to bring bread and salt. Actually, I don’t think that’s it’s a Jewish tradition, I think it’s just a housewarming tradition because that sounds very Christian, like bread for Jesus, and salt for demons… I don’t know (laughs). Bread is so… for you’ll never go hungry and salt is for you’ll always have flavor, and [jokingly] won’t die from lack of electrolytes. It’s become a thing amongst a lot of ethnic groups within the country.” 

Have you ever brought bread and salt as a housewarming gift?

“Yes! We brought some bread and some salt to, I don’t remember. Over the years, I’ve done it, maybe three times? A handful of times. Bring a thing of Morton’s salt and a loaf of bread, or maybe a sack of flour so it’s actually useful.”

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is was raised Conservative Jewish and has an Ashkenazi (Easter European) Jewish background. She has lived in America her entire life. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.

Analysis: 

I found it interesting that my informant couldn’t identify which religion this practice came from, and then decided that it didn’t matter. This highlights how engrained this tradition is in American housewarming culture. I thought that my informant’s alteration of bread to flour was very utilitarian. I’ve seen other alterations of this tradition, like a Trader Joe’s body scrub set that features one salt scrub and one sugar, bur bread themed, scrub. This tradition has become such a norm that even large commercial producers are adopting a version of it they can sell as housewarming gifts.

Washing One’s Hands After a Funeral

Main piece: There’s a tradition of washing your hands after a funeral so you don’t bring death into the house. If you’ve been near a dead body, you want to get the death off your hands. You don’t want to bring death into your house. Even after my dad’s funeral, friends of my mother, who had stayed back to help with the catering and the flowers, they put a pitcher outside. I was impressed by all that actually. It’s what you do. Some cemeteries have a water fountain. Outside Jewish funeral homes there’s a place to wash your hands. 

Background: My informant is a 51 year-old Jewish woman. The majority of the funerals she has attended have been in Jewish cemeteries with Jewish burial practices. She doesn’t remember where she learned the practice exactly, but she recalls vividly seeing the pitcher of water outside a Jewish funeral home at her aunt’s funeral when she was fourteen. The logic makes sense to her, and she has partaken in this ritual many times before. 

Context: I was talking to my informant about Jewish traditions, and this was the first one that occurred to her. 

Analysis: This practice makes a lot of sense. A funeral is a liminal space, as it is the final celebration of the life of someone who is now deceased. With that comes a lot of uncertainty, and fear that death can come for anyone else next. By washing your hands before entering a home, you don’t cross the doorway between a graveyard or a cemetery – a place of death, and your house – a place where you live/where life happens. This also promotes the idea that death can linger/cling to a live person, and having a ritualistic cleansing of death from your hands encourages a sense of protection, and that it won’t come for you next. 

The Haunted Art House in Woodneuk

Context

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.

———————————————————————————————

Performance

The 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.”

———————————————————————————————

Analysis

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.

Haunted House in Indiana- The Funny Man and the Woman with the Red Eyes: Sleep Paralysis and Two Traveling Ghosts, Cured by a Witchdoctor

I first heard this story when I asked the speaker if she had ever seen a ghost, but when she began telling her story I remembered that I had heard parts of this tale before. The speaker told her story in a very matter-of-fact tone and spoke first about her experiences with friendly and unfriendly ghosts. For another example of a ghost legend by this same speaker, search “Haunted Theaters and Ghost Lights” in the USC folklore archive.

*

When the speaker and her twin brother were three years old, they shared a room in Gary, Indiana in a house completely made of brick. “My mom came in [to the children’s bedroom], she had just put us to bed. And then she heard me and my brother laughing. And so she like came back into the room and she’s like, What’s going on here? She’s like, what’s happening? And we’re like, ‘The man, the man. He’s making a funny face.’ And there was nobody there.”

“Was I scared? No, because he was one of the friendly ones of the house,” the speaker said. “He was kind of just there for jokes and like to make children laugh, because apparently, um, his grandchildren died in the house. And he like, died out of grief. And he loved kids. So he would just play with my brother and I [sic] occasionally.”

The speaker said that there were also unfriendly ghosts, and that she had recently gotten rid of one of these malicious specters. ” “They moved with us to Florida. And at first, I didn’t notice because they didn’t approach me. At first, they would just stay in the corner. And I didn’t realize it would always be a really scary woman with two red eyes. And I didn’t know what she was. I thought she was just like, a spirit… But no, she turned out to be worse than I thought.”

The speaker said that she began to experience sleep paralysis and that “I would be screaming, and she’d be attacking me. And I couldn’t move. And I’d wake up with bruises on my arms and my legs because she was sitting on top of me.” She slept with her mother at age 17 because of these nightly attacks. When she returned to her bedroom, she said, ” “I was screaming to save my mom and my brother. But they couldn’t hear me. And then just the woman was just taking my family away from me. And I didn’t like I couldn’t do anything. I was just sitting there. And then again, my mom woke me up screaming, crying in real life. “

The speaker’s Puerto Rican grandfather, Julio, was a witch doctor. “We had to pin a square piece of black cloth underneath my pillow. I don’t know what it was to catch her something like that.” Soon after that she moved to Southern California to attend school, and she hasn’t seen either ghost since.

*

This story was told at night in the kitchen, and three college-age females were present. The speaker said that she was relieved to be rid of the ghosts, and that after her parents’ divorce, she rarely visited the Gary House. She also said that the house was torn apart after the divorce, and that her father would start projects that he wouldn’t complete (for example, fixing the bathroom tub). I think these ghosts may have something to do with the divorce, but I believe that this experience was very frightening for the speaker.

This speaker later scoffed at my mentioning that a friend received therapy when recovering from his parent’s divorce. Her response suggested that children do not need therapy for this life change.

For another example of ghosts stories indicating changes in property ownership or status quo, see the scholarly article “Ghostly Possession of Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore” by Ulo Valk (2006).

The concept of traveling ghosts is certainly frightening, and this story was welcome after a long day’s work.