October 29, 2012

Haunted Folklore (Part Five): Animals, Objects and Other Oddities, By Kristina Wojtaszek

Editor's note: Here is the last in Kristina Wojtaszek's "Haunted Folklore" series, which EC has been proud to present this month. With her story, "Cinder," Kristina was one of the authors who contributed to to Specter Spectatcular, published by World Weaver Press. Links to both Kristina's blog and the book can be found below.

Many thanks to Kristina or her fun and informational series.


Though widely varied in appearance and cultural affiliation, most of the ghosts of folklore take on a rather human shape; but such is not always the case. In African and Native American folklore, legends of animals and ghosts abound, but the two are not often one and the same. Still, there are cases of animal ghosts in folklore. Frightening fairy dogs can be found roaming the streets of Ireland, while in Europe headless horses ride the skies in the Wild Hunt, or are ridden by headless horsemen--and what about that spooky head of the horse in "The Goose Girl"? There are talking fish bones, phantom birds and even incorporeal cows (was that boo or moo?). In the Scottish version of "Cinderella," "Rushen Coatie," the girl's mother returns as a cow to provide nourishment for her child, following which the cow's bones act in the same manner as the haunted fish bones in the older, Chinese tale. Departed humans whose spirits return in animal form are not all that uncommon. Selkies, creatures of lore who can change shape from seal to human, may be the powerful spirits of those who have drowned. In "The White Trout," a betrothed woman is murdered, and her body dumped into the river. She later returns in the form of a white fish to haunt the waters while waiting for her lover. In the gruesome tale "The Juniper Tree" a murdered stepson takes the form of a sparrow after his sister lovingly lays his bones beneath the tree. He then goes to various townsfolk to sing of his death at the hands of his stepmother.

The motif of bones stirring to life to sing of injustice is also shown in the many variations of "The Singing Bone." During a contest to find a special object appointed by the king, or father, of two children, one is successful and stands to inherit the throne, or family property, until the unsuccessful sibling decides to murder them. One of the victim's bones is later found and turned into a flute that sings their song of betrayal and death, for which the murderer is punished if still alive.

Another tale of convicted guilt is that of "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Andersen. A young girl is so prideful of her new, red shoes that she can't help showing them off, even at inappropriate times. For this she is cursed to dance ceaselessly in her shoes until her feet are cut off, still in the shoes she couldn't remove. They continue to haunt her however, her dismembered feet dancing before her every time she tries to enter a church. Other strange objects that haunt include spectral ships (the ghosts of those vessels destroyed at sea), phantom paintings, mirrors, spooky bells or other self-playing instruments, and in modern lore, items such as radios and televisions. Another strange sight are the spectral lights of swamps and deep forests, often said to recede when followed, leading one ever farther from home. Both the Jack-o'-lantern and Will-o'-the-wisp are references to legendary lost souls (named Jack or Will, respectively) cursed to wander the night with only the aid of a torch, a candle, or a piece of burning coal (hence the light).

Bremen Town Musicians, by L. Leslie Brooke
Aside from haunted animals and objects, another oddity of folklore is the tale of humor that often centers around a mistaken spook. In one such tale, "The Town Musicians of Bremen," an odd group of animals scare the daylights out of a gang of robbers who only think they are ghosts (due to the awful "music" they make in the middle of the night). Some of the entertaining Native American folktales also speak of false hauntings, like "How Raccoon Got His Mask" (how did he? By disguising himself as a ghost, or course!).

Whether you enjoy tails of terror, humorous hauntings, unnatural romance, or favorite fables, you're sure to find what you're looking for and more within the vaults of folklore. And for 13 of the newest twists on tales of spooks, check out Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales from World Weaver Press. Go ahead, take a good look around; the dead are everywhere. Just don't forget to take a lantern and scatter a few stones to mark your way home.

Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. She currently resides in the high desert country of Wyoming with her husband and two small children. She is fascinated by fairy tales and fantasy and her favorite haunts are libraries and cemeteries. Follow her @KristinaWojtasz  or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.

October 23, 2012

Font Differences

Hey EC Readers:
If you notice some differences in font size (from post to post), I suspect it's because of the labels I posted for students at the right. It's not, in other words, because no one is paying attention. Sometimes wacky things happen on Blogger.

When students get a current assignment done, I'll move the labels and investigate further. Font size should be uniform and usually is!

Kate Wolford
Editor and Publisher, Enchanted Conversation

Haunted Folklore (Part Four): Phantom Fatale, By Kristina Wojtaszek

Editor's note: Here' the fourth of Kristina Wojtaszek's intriguing and informative series on folklore and ghosts and other spooky types. Kristina's short story, "Cinder" is featured in Specter Spectacular: 13 Ghostly Tales. For a look at "Cinder," click here.

The fifth and final installment of this series is next week, so don't miss the final spooky folklore update.

Mysterious, seductive, suppressed and sometimes vengeful, the presence of women abound in legend. Often portrayed as specters untamed by man or death, the hidden powers of the feminine spirit, and the ways of Mother Earth herself, are often explored in folklore. Perhaps the most powerful expression of femininity is that of motherly love, so it's no surprise that this nurturing continues beyond the grave in tales of old. From the Brothers Grimm come several such stories, including mothers who return to nurse or provide for their children, looking out for those whose stepparents deal a cruel hand. “The Brother and Sister,” “Cinderella,” and “The Goose Girl”    are a few. Conversely, a living mother might grieve so relentlessly for her deceased child that the child's spirit returns to comfort her, and set him free, as is seen in “The Little Shroud.” The Ubume of Japan is the ghost of a woman holding a baby after death in childbirth. If the child was never removed from her body and placed in her arms, she comes back to haunt by asking those she encounters to hold her child to give her a rest. Occasionally, this ends in doom for those who dare it. In stark contrast to such devotion, the mother in some versions of “La Llorona” purposefully drowns her children in order to gain a new husband. When this doesn't win the man over, she drowns herself, but is then forced to spend eternity as a specter in white weeping and searching for her children in the river.

Dawn Visitation, by Harold Hitchcock
Women in white are a common motif in folklore, even persisting in legends today. In European countries, the women in white may appear near caves or guarding bridges, where they require men to dance with them or kneel before them in order to pass. For this reason, some folklorists believe them to have come from the domestic guardian goddesses called Matres (meaning mothers). Others believe the white women from Germanic folklore to be descended from Hulda who lives in the bottom of a well, and keeps the souls of infants who die. Also known as Dame Holle, she is occasionally seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt or the Spectral Army, whose phantom soldiers cross the European skies.

Another goddess associated with both war and death is the Norse Freyja, who is said to receive half the souls of those slain in battle. The female spirits who choose who live and who die in battle are called the valkyries, specters who might be seen with ravens or horses to forewarn death. The Morrigan, the phantom queen of Ireland, may appear as a crow and her sighting is a sign of death to come. Another group of death bringers are the Kumakatok who knock on doors in the dead of night in the Philippines. There are three, and beneath their hoods, two appear as elderly while one is a strikingly young woman. There is also a skeletal female version of the Grim Reaper in Poland called Śmierć who escorts the dead. Norway's personification of Death is Pesta, an old hag named after the Black Plague. If her apparition appears with a rake in hand, some of the townsfolk will survive the sickness; but be it a broom instead and all are doomed. 

There are countless female deities to spirit away the dead, but most are considered benevolent escorts. The more harrowing spectral women are the seductresses and those who seek vengeance. The Onryō of Japan are usually the returned spirits of women who cause mischief by cursing kimonos, tormenting neglectful husbands, and even beheading the wives that replace them. The Rusalki of Russia are often said to be the spirits of women who drowned themselves or were murdered. Some were young girls who sought to end their lives after an unwanted pregnancy was discovered. They often dance or sing, luring men to follow them into the water, to their death. Many female specters are succubi, seductresses who drain the life from men. Examples include the Kitsune (fox spirits of Japan); the legend of Otsuyu, the phantom woman whose lover is found in the death clutch of a skeleton; and Lauretta Baldusi of “The Ghostly Concert,” who removes her betrothed's femur to form into a guitar.

First called “Conte de fees” in French, fairy tales may have even been named after the feminine spirit, as taboo women were often considered to be fairies. Even the three Fates who controlled not only men, but gods, by the simple domestic task of spinning, measuring, and cutting the yarns of our lives, are just little old ladies.

Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. She currently resides in the high desert country of Wyoming with her husband and two small children. She is fascinated by fairy tales and fantasy and her favorite haunts are libraries and cemeteries. Follow her @KristinaWojtasz  or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.

October 11, 2012

Haunted Folklore (Part Two): Spectral Celebrations, by Kristina Wojtaszek

Editor's note: Here's part two of Kristina Wojtaszek's darkly (well) detailed series on macabre traditions all over the world. Honoring the dead is in the spotlight this time, and Kristina takes readers all over the nether world in this post. 

Kristina's short story, "Cinder," is one of 13 in an anthology recently published by World Weaver Press called Specter Spectacular: Thirteen Ghostly Tales. For a peek at Kristina's tale, which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, click here.

Several rows of "empty" chairs are placed before live performances in China during the Hungry Ghost Festival. These are reserved for the dead, who return through the open gates of the underworld--with an appetite. Some of the spirits have necks stretched thin and pine for food, as well as every other part of a life left behind. Once burned in offering, Joss paper (made from bamboo or rice) can be used as money or objects in the afterlife. Joss paper can be formed into everything from toothbrushes to sports cars. At the end of this month-long festival, lotus-shaped paper lanterns are set to float away, leading the ghosts back to their former realms.

Every culture, every country, has its stories and traditions gathered around ghosts. Even in the skeptical U.S. we take part in holidays that have pagan roots in paranormal legends. Halloween is in fact a remnant of the Gaelic harvest festival Samhain, celebrated on the last day of autumn, during which the world of spirits was believed to be closer to the physical earth than at any other time of year. Mexico's Day of the Dead is probably the most well known spectral celebration that persists today. The day before All Souls' Day (celebrated on November 2 by Roman Catholics) Mexican families gather together to welcome home their deceased relatives, who settle in the mountain pines in the guise of monarchs. Baron Samedi, the god of death in Haitian culture, receives offerings of spiced alcohol after loud music is played to awaken him during the holiday of Ghede, which also occurs in conjunction with All Souls' Day.

Saint Giles--His Bells, by Charles Altamont Doyle

Much like the Day of the Dead, the Obon or Bon Festival in Japan is a Buddhist holiday during which families assemble to clean and care for grave sites, and the spirits of the departed are expected at the family alter. During Pitru Paksha in India, prayers and food offerings are made to the last three generations of lost loved ones in order to help them cross over to heaven. Rather than butterflies, their departed are said to appear as crows to except their offerings. In Nepal, ghosts are lead to the afterlife by cows in the Gai Jatra. After this somber procession comes a time for merriment with costumes and satire. Rather than dressing up themselves, during Bolivia's Festival of Skulls it is the skulls that are decorated and given gifts, such as cigars tucked between their teeth. In return, the dead reward their relatives with blessings. Wrestling matches are often a part of the celebrations in Korea's Chuseok festival. Celebrated during the fall, offerings of the harvest are made to the dead in thanksgiving for a bountiful year. In Sicily, the children who pray for the souls of the departed leave their shoes out, hoping for sweets and toys left by the ‘muorti’ (the dead), helping them to hold onto memories of lost loved ones.

Even more universal than fear, it seems that celebration, dance and offerings are in order to honor the dead. As the medieval Dance of Death showed to celebrants each year, death is undeterred by belief, class or culture; death unites all.

Kristina Wojtaszek grew up as a woodland sprite and mermaid, playing around the shores of Lake Michigan. At any given time she could be found with live snakes tangled in her hair and worn out shoes filled with sand. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management as an excuse to spend her days lost in the woods with a book in hand. She currently resides in the high desert country of Wyoming with her husband and two small children. She is fascinated by fairy tales and fantasy and her favorite haunts are libraries and cemeteries. Follow her @KristinaWojtasz  or on her blog, Twice Upon a Time.

October 6, 2012

The Talking Fountain, By Diana Părpăriţă

Editor's note: The second winner for September provides a disarming look at "Beauty and the Beast." For those of us who have always viewed Beauty's father with a jaundiced eye, this tale will prove especially satisfying.

Daddy sold me. He sold me to pay for something he'd stolen. He's a monster and a thief. That's what the beast keeps telling me.

But that can't be. Daddy's a good man. He would never steal. He'd never hurt anyone. He'd never hurt me.

It's the beast that's evil. It's the beast who wanted to kill Daddy. Daddy did nothing wrong, he told me so himself. He took an apple from a tree, just one apple, and he didn't even know the tree belonged to anyone. It's the beast who wanted a life in return for a single apple. It's the beast who's a monster.

And it's not true that Daddy sold me. I wanted to be the beast's prisoner in his place. How could I let the beast hurt him? He's my Daddy! He raised me, worked our land by my side, brought home wool for me to spin and weave so I can make new clothes, pretty new clothes to wear at mass. My Daddy is the best daddy in the world. We were so happy together.

It's the beast who's evil. He doesn't let me go to mass, doesn't let me see Daddy. And he does horrible things to me. He locks me in my room at night, a room high up in the tower, with bars at the window so I can't run away. And he yells at me when I talk about Daddy, yells and screams and growls and scares me out of my wits. He's evil.

I tried to run away once. I snuck into the garden. There's a fountain there that speaks, with a real, human voice, but it says nothing but lies. And there's a bird made of fire that doesn't burn, and a tree that makes apples of pure gold, and a white horse with wings and something like a spear on its head that shines in the dark, but I didn't stop to look at any of them. I only had eyes for the tall, dark garden wall that stood between me and my freedom and Daddy.

And then I heard the beast's breath behind me. I didn't turn to look. I just ran as fast as I could, and I heard the twigs break and the pebbles screech under his paws, closer and closer. Then I felt his claws close around my arm and he yanked me back so hard I though my arm would break. He spun me round and put his arms around my shoulders and pressed me against his chest until I couldn't breathe. I chocked on his fur and I screamed, but there was no one to hear me. I could feel the beast's breath in my hair, his head lowered over mine and something warm dripping down from above and I thought it was drool and I thought it was gross, but when it dripped on my cheek it felt like rainwater. The fountain says it didn't rain that day, but the fountain says nothing but lies. It says Daddy stole the beast's gold.


"I have a daughter," the man said. "She's the most beautiful, most obedient little thing. And she'd do anything for her Daddy, anything."

He gave a look at the gold apple he'd dropped and licked his lips.

"What d'you say? You can use a good woman. Deep down, you're a man, aren't you? Just like the rest of us. And every man needs a woman, at least one."

He gave a short, raucous laugh.

"So, what d'you say? One gold apple. She's worth more than that, you know. But for you, because you're so persuasive…"

He pointed at the claws closing around his neck.

"Is she worth more than your miserable life?"

"It's not for me. I've had other offers. I'll have to give their money back, unless you want her used. And you deserve the best, and you deserve to be first, but it's a lot of money. And I don't have it anymore, I swear."

I should have wrung his neck. The fountain said he deserved it, and the fountain speaks the truth, always. But I thought of the girl. I let go of his throat and kicked the apple to his feet.

"Take it. And send me the girl. If she isn't here by nightfall, unharmed, I will hunt you down and kill you."

He picked it up, wiped it on his coat and bit it to make sure it was real gold.

"Send her back when you're bored of her," he said. "Daddy can always find some use for his little girl."

"She's mine for life," I growled, and he smiled a wicked smile and nodded and went away.

"She will hate you!" the fountain screamed. "She will miss him. She'll want to run back to him. She'll be miserable here. She'll ask me about him and she won't believe me and she'll throw rocks at me and curse you."

"But will she be safe here?"

The fountain gurgled and spluttered.

"She will hate you. She will hate me. She will hurt us."

"But will she be safe?"

"She will be."

I haven't asked if she'll ever be happy here, if she'll ever stop hating me. I already know the answer, I don't need to hear it. I am her jailer, not her guardian. I'm the beast that keeps her away from her father, that's all I'll ever be to her. But I can never let her go back. I'll always keep her here, keep her safe, for as long as I live.

Diana Părpăriţă lives in Bucharest, Romania.

October 5, 2012

No Harm in Tears, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Still catching up with winning entries to EC's contests. This story, by Lissa Sloan, is sad, touching, and beautiful--and features a lot of plants, so naturally, I love it. Read on for an enchanting take on "Rapunzel."

You were always a restless child. When you were a baby you were never content to lie curled in my arms. You writhed and struggled until I carried you to the window and held you upright so you could look out over my shoulder. I would hold you there, for hours at a time, my back to the window. I tried not to think of the garden you looked out on. I tried not to picture the neat rows of vegetables, the trellised beans and peas, the apples and pears, trained against the wall. That place had brought me nothing but trouble.

Trouble I had begged and pleaded for. I could not resist my neighbor's rampion. It seemed like such a little thing at the time. The first time your father went over the wall to get me some, it even seemed a bit of a joke. He came back laughing, flushed with his success. And I ate every last bit of it, too. Leaves, roots, even the flowers.

Fruit and Flowers, by Edmund Blair Leighton
But one bunch was not enough. I had to have more the next week, and soon it was every day. And it was wonderful. Raw with vinegar and pepper, cooked with butter and garlic, chopped into a thick vegetable stew. Sometimes I could hardly be bothered to brush the dirt off. I never even noticed the slump to his shoulders when he handed it over, his weak attempt at a smile.

It was months before he told me. I was sitting by the fire, licking my fingers. He sat on the floor and put his arms around my knees and his head in my lap. "She caught me," he whispered.

I sat up straight. "No more rampion?"

"You can have as much as you like," he said dully. I relaxed back into the chair, sighing contentedly. "But I 
have to tell you," he put his hand on my rounded belly, confessing to you too. "I have to tell you now."

"What?" I said, not all that concerned anymore. Nothing could be worse than no more rampion.

He told me. And now I knew the price for all the rampion I could eat, I sickened at the very thought of it. I haven't touched so much as a leaf since that day. But it was too late of course. Our neighbor would come for you one day, and we must give you up.

"We mustn't get attached," your father told me, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand after putting you in your cradle. "It will only make things worse." I knew he was right. But it made no difference. I tried to hold you while I could, but you always wanted to be free. When I fed you, you would arch your back and turn away. Sometimes I wondered if it was because of the tears. I cried so much in those days I feared the salt tears would seep into my milk and make you bitter.

But all those tears did you no harm. You were not bitter. You were only restless. Even after she took you. I watched you, you see, taking your first steps in that garden, climbing trees and looking out over the wall. It gave me a little satisfaction. You would not be content with her either.

"Come away from the window," your father would say. "She isn't ours any more." He couldn't stand to watch you. I couldn't stand not to.

I tried to meet you once, when I thought she was out. I scaled the wall and hid in the branches of the pear tree below, hoping you would come outside. You did, but you were barely through the door before I heard her voice. "Rampion!" she snapped, and her hand grabbed your arm and pulled you back inside. I climbed back over the wall and sat with my back against it, my heart thudding in my ears.

I don't know how she knew I was there, but somehow, she did. She took you away that very night, after sunset. After that she was gone for several hours every day. I tried to follow her, to find out where you were, but she always eluded me. One moment she was there on the path before me, and the next she was gone, almost like magic.

But I knew she was seeing you. Some days she would come home happy, some days annoyed, just as when you were still living there. How I envied her, even her frustration or anger, because it was from you. As I had once watched you in the garden, I now watched her when she came home, and wondered how her time with you had been. Had you pouted when she tried to comb the tangles out of your hair? Had you thrown your arms around her in delight when she gave you the dress she had spent weeks making? I was hungry for any scrap of you I could get.

Then one day she came home, and she sat down in her garden and cried. She cried as if her heart would break. What could make her cry like that, I wondered. Watching her, I felt a knot in my stomach, a catch in my throat. I had cried like that too--once, on the day she took you. The day you were lost to me. Were you lost to her now too?

You might think I hated her, and maybe I did, for a while, back when I could see her touch your hair, feel your smooth cheek on her wrinkled one. But on that day, all I felt was pity. I found myself thinking she could use some chamomile. I thought she might have trouble sleeping that night, and chamomile tea is good for that--I know. I also know that in her garden, with all its fruit trees and well tended herbs and roots, she grows no chamomile.

But I do. I have taken to growing a few things in a little patch outside my window. Nothing like her garden, of course. No carrots or leeks, no turnips or cabbages. No rampion. Just a few things I like to have on hand. Mint for a sour stomach, lavender to freshen the bedclothes, chives to put in soup.

And the chamomile. I had plenty to spare, so that night, I crept over the wall and left some on her threshold. I knew she needed it, because I could hear her pacing behind the door. In the morning it was gone.

I think I must have been right, about her losing you somehow. She does not make her daily trip anymore. I have stopped trying to follow her. What would be the point? But I do leave her more chamomile from time to time. She gives me a nod these days, if we ever see each other, out in our gardens or at the market. Once, I even dared to go to her front door, carrying a pot of tea. I thought she might not let me in. But she did. We sat in silence a while, sipping our tea.

"Do you ever hear from her?" I asked at last. She shook her head. "Do you think she's alright?" She shrugged. Then she stood and turned her back to me. It was time for me to go. I gathered up my tea things and went to the door. She held it open for me, her eyes bright with tears she refused to let fall. "There's no harm in tears, you know." I said.

She turned her head away. "There's no good in them either." I left then, the door standing open between us.

Perhaps she is right, perhaps there is no good in tears. But these days I wonder. I have heard fantastic tales in the village lately. Tales of the king's son, blinded by thorns and separated from his love, wandering for years as a beggar. Tales of how he returned to the palace, his love and their children by his side, his eyesight healed by her tears alone. It is only a story, so it makes no difference to me I suppose. 
So, from either side of the garden wall we still wonder, my neighbor and I, what has become of our Rampion. Are you free, as you always wished to be? I hope so. I imagine you are, as I work in my little garden. And if I cry into the occasional midnight cup of chamomile tea, it does me no harm.

Lissa has contributed a story, poems and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation. She loves to plant her garden, but hates to weed it.