Tag Archives: smell

Spirits using Smells to Contact the Living (Memorates)


Informant 1 (son): “I will have experiences where if I’m at a deep state of indecision I’m or if I’m doing something that may not be right. I can smell [my Nana]. A smell will come to me and it smells like a mix of cigarettes and perfume. And I know that it’s her. Or if like I need to be doing something or calling someone or just doing something I can smell it. And it’s a very distinct smell like nothing I own smells like that.”

Informant 2 (mother): “When my Mom first left, she was a smoker, so I’d be driving, and all of a sudden I could smell smoke in my car. You just kind of know. [My son, Informant 1] snuck out one night and he left and then he called us. He was like: ‘Don’t get mad, I was going to a party but I started smelling smoke in the car, I knew it was Nana so I’m turning around.’”

Collector: “So the spirits can use specific smells? To communicate or make their presence known?”

Informant 2: “Yes. The spirits have to figure out how to get your attention.”


Both Informants are related. Informant 2 is the mother of Informant 1 (Male, 26 years old). I conducted two separate interviews asking the Informants to share memorates, and both mentioned the ability to smell the deceased. This smell came from the same deceased family member they refer to as Nana (Informant #1’s Grandma and Informant 2’s Mother). 


In both stories, a ghost contacts the living in moments of internal conflict or bad behavior. The Deceased’s unique smell signaled their “spiritual presence” which helped guide the Informants into making the right decisions. Almost like an Angel sent to protect the living from danger. Informant 1’s spiritual encounter while sneaking out reminded me of a quote from Ülo Valk’s article, “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate.” The author writes that perceived interactions with spirits, “are sometimes caused by fears related to the breaking of behavioral norms.” (Valk 34) The son’s conscience knew sneaking out was wrong. When the smell appeared, he perceived the dead as present, the spirit of a family member was watching over his actions. The “fear” of disappointing the dead swayed Informant 1 into “turning around” to obey the “behavioral norms” set forth by his parents.


Data was collected in a noisy classroom near the end of a discussion session. Dr. Mayfield was my TA, and had told me the previous week that she had witnessed a “strange occurrence,” which she was willing to share with me for the folklore archives.

This memorate was recalled from a trip in 2013 in Wisconsin Dells, a vacation spot around Lake Michigan. The informate grew up in Chicago, then moved to Tennessee at the age of 8, where she was told about Bigfoot – or the “skunk ape” or “swamp ape” – by other children in middle school. She first heard about it at a camp sleepover in the woods, and since then, heard about it many times.
“I saw Bigfoot. I smelled Bigfoot, actually. Yeah I think I may have smelled Bigfoot. So we were in Wisconsin, um, Wisconsin Dells. Um, and I was sitting outside, uhhm, smoking a cigarette, which is why I was outside by myself at like 3 o’clock in the morning, and I thought I saw somebody walking around? And then I smelled this terrible, terrible smell. And then I heard a noise I’d never heard that sounded kind of like gurgling and yelling at the same time? And kind of howling, but it definitely wasn’t a dog, and it wasn’t a bear. And then I heard it lumber off…. But I definitely saw the shadow of something, like, on the other side of a tree that was… I guess it could’ve been a bear on its hind legs, but it definitely, to me, looked like, like a, a really hairy Chewbacca. It was a full moon – and it was a full moon. So I could see pretty well. It was probably about 50 to 60 feet away from me. But it smelled different than I’ve ever – that was the other thing, is it… it smelled like…. Like a ho-, like [smacks licks, thinking]… a horse barn that had never been cleaned out. Like hay and mold and it was the weirdest thing. There was a like, super strong smell. Um, again, I guess it could’ve been a bear, but it really did not look like that to me. So that’s, that’s my story, but… I definitely have no idea what it was. It, there are bears in that area, but they’re also smaller bears, probably 7 to 9 feet tall… I don’t know if other people have seen Bigfoot, or have smelled Bigfoot. I would say that the biggest that was different was I smelled it, and I grew up in the country for at least part of the time, and I’d never heard anything like that, and I’d never smelled anything like that. Um, but it definitely, um, it had a different… if it was a bear, it was almost like its voicebox was messed up or something, cause it definitely did not sound like that… The only thing that I ever smelled like it, just to kinda add to the story, is, I’d been living in Tucson for a while, I actually commute, and, um, they have wild pigs there, and they have a similar smell. So you don’t, you don’t see them, but you start to smell them, and you’re like, ‘Okay there’s these, these wild pigs around.’ So that’s the only thing that at all has smelled like anything like I smelled. Which sounds like the weirdest thing, you would think it would be seeing it, but there was this smell. I guess I was downwind, which is probably good if it was a sasquatch [laughs]. It didn’t come get me.”
This is not the only account of (what people assume is) Bigfoot having a distinct smell. According to the Animal Planet show Finding Bigfoot, “about 10 or 15 percent of witnesses report some sort of smell associated with sasquatches. A lot of times it’s described as ‘rotting meat.’” (https://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/finding-bigfoot/videos/the-smell-of-death-is-in-the-air)