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.


A. F. Stewart said...

A great post, I love those folklore tales.

Laura B. said...

Fascinating post. I loved the bits about the animals and the bones and hearing about some of my favorite folk tales.

Teresa Robeson said...

I've always found The Red Shoes to be very haunting. I'll check out Specter Spectacular...sounds pretty cool.

Lissa said...

Thanks for this well researched series, Kristina and Kate! It was perfect for the lead up to Halloween.