Saturday, April 13, 2013

Things that go bump in the night

This article is from The Star newspaper dated 14 April 2013.

It’s striking sometimes how similar the supernatural creatures and lores of cultures that seem far apart from each other are. 

VARIOUS cultures around the world, especially those centred upon, or derived from, animism have beliefs in the supernatural, of things and events incomprehensible to the human mind. It is a cultural universal, and we are all familiar with frightening stories of things that go bump in the night.

Whether we choose to believe in them or not, we are always surrounded by tales of the supernatural, in literature or movies, or from personal accounts of friends and families.

This fascination with the unknown gave rise to the subculture of ghost hunting and the camping tradition of telling ghost stories.

Some cultures even celebrate the dead (and the undead), like the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, the Mexican Day of the Dead and, of course, Halloween. In Japanese folklore, every year, ghouls and ghosts take to the streets during the summer nights. It is known as Hyakki Yagy (Night Parade of 100 Demons).

Hyakki Yagy is a famous theme in Japanese art. On these days, the ghouls and ghosts come out to play, and supernatural occurrences are at their peak. Recently, I picked up Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide for a fun read, and interestingly, I can’t help but make comparisons to our own versions of yokai, the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore. One of them is the zashiki warashi, a child poltergeist who haunts and inhabits houses. Although it loves to play pranks on people, it is considered harmless. The Japanese believe that a zashiki warashi brings good fortune to the house it inhabits and that the family will prosper as long as it stays.

But if the house is neglected, then the child spirit will leave, and that’s when the real problem comes. As it leaves the house, so does the good fortune and the family will be left in ruins – bankruptcy, disaster, domestic strife.

Zashiki warashi is very much like our toyol. The toyol is a child-like ghoul believed to be a manifestation of an unborn child. It is kept by its master to do his or her bidding, usually stealing or other petty crimes. It’s commonly rumoured that whenever someone becomes rich that the person is keeping a toyol. The toyol, like the zashiki warashi, loves to play pranks on people but is considered harmless.

Nuke kubi is a female creature who can fully detach her head from her body. She looks like a normal woman during the day but turns into nuke kubi at night, with her head flying off in search of human prey. Because of her appearance as a woman during the day, it is thought that the nuke kubi may have human spouses.

To kill a nuke kubi, one needs to find her immobile body and move it somewhere else. The nuke kubi will die if she cannot reconnect with her body by sunrise.

Again the nuke kubi is strikingly similar to our penanggalan, a flying head with its intestines attached. It is believed that the penanggalan is a woman who practices black magic. The woman is able to detach her head, along with her intestines, from her body, and flies in the dead of the night in search of blood, preferably from an infant or a woman giving birth.

To kill a penanggalan, one needs to find her headless body, fill it with broken glass and nails so that when she tries to reattach to her body, her intestines will be severed by the sharp objects.

Penanggalan has many other variations in other South-East Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Sceptics and non-believers usually apply logic and common sense to brush aside beliefs in the supernatural. Perhaps there are certain explanations for these happenings, like sleep paralysis where our mind is aware but our body shuts down. It’s logical for those who have experienced it to claim that they have been held down by a spirit while sleeping.

And often in fear, our mind plays tricks and we may conjure images or shadows that would further intensify our own fears. Often stories like this would end with the person praying and the spirit going away, but praying is a form of meditation and helps calm the body down, hence “releasing” the spirit.

Some stories of ghosts are lessons or advice to children, like the hantu kopek who preys on children at night. It’s probably so children are encouraged to come home by dusk or else risk being kidnapped by this creature.

Or like the Japanese kappa, a water yokai who drowns children lest they swim too far out. Both these stories are intended to scare children for their own safety.

But I’d like to think that we’re not the only beings living in this world, or worlds. The human eye is limited and there is still so much more that humans do not know about this world. Do we brush aside the possibility of the otherworldly just because we can’t see, or refuse to see?

Friday, April 05, 2013

The Origin of Qing Ming

Qīng Míng Jié (literally “Clear, Bright Festival”) is said to originate from Hánshí (寒食 - cold meal) Festival, which dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period in China (722 - 481 B.C.). Qing Ming falls on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox). This year Qing Ming falls on 4th April 2013.

The day commemorates a man called Jie Zitui, who was a loyal follower of Duke Wen during the Jin State. Unfortunately, due the turmoil of the state at the time, Duke Wen (who was not yet a Duke at that point) was exiled and spent the next 19 years living nomadically with Jie, scraping by on nothing but the bare minimum of life’s necessities.

At one point, the Duke became so close to the point of starvation that Jie cut a piece of flesh from his thigh to make a soup for Wen. The soup ended up saving Wen’s life, and the Duke was so touched at Jie's sacrifice that he promised to reward Jie later on.

Eventually, Wen reclaimed his position on the throne and became the Duke of Jin State. He proceeded to reward all those who assisted him in reclaiming his position, however, for some reason he left out Jie. When reminded of the life-saving soup Jie made for him in dire need, the Duke became regretful and went out in search of Jie to reward him. It was at that time that the Duke had learned Jie had moved to some remote forest with his mother.

Unable to locate Jie himself, he ordered his men to set the forest on fire in attempt to force Jie out so that he could reward Jie and rid his own feelings of guilt. The fire, however, ended up doing just the opposite and burned Jie, along with his mother, alive.

Realizing the error of his ways and feeling remorseful over the loss of Jie, Duke Wen from there on order 3 days of the year to be held without fire (Hanshi Festival) in order to commemorate Jie Zitui’s death.

Today, Hanshi Festival has been combined with Qing Ming Festival, whereby not only Jie Zitui is remembered, but all ancestors in general. It is a holiday for families to honor their ancestors at their grave sites, hence the English translation of the term “Tomb Sweeping Holiday”.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How to avoid ghosts in hotel rooms

Ok, here are some beliefs of the hoteliers...

There is at least one permanent room which should be left vacant at all times. No matter how full the hotel is, they are not to sell that room(s) to any guest. It is said that the special room is 'reserved' for those 'special visitors'.

So, if you plan to stay in some hotel, always book in advance. Try to avoid walk-ins. If the receptionist tells you there's no more room available, do not insist to get one anymore or try to bribe them to give you a room. If you do that, most of the time the room you have will be that 'special room'.

Sometimes those 'special visitors' might go to other rooms also, so here's some tips on how to protect yourself.

Before entering your room, always knock on the door first, even if you know the room is vacant.

After you enter the room, if you feel very cold suddenly and have 'chicken spore', leave the room quietly immediately and go to the reception to request to change room. Most of the time, the receptionist will understand what's happening.

After you enter the room, immediately switch on all of the lights, and open the curtain to let the sunlight in.

Before you go to bed, arrange your shoes so that one of them is upside down. Some say this represents yin and yang to protect you while you're asleep.

Always leave at least a lamp on while you're sleeping, preferably the toilet lamp.

If you' re staying alone and they have give you a twin bed, do not sleep with the other bed vacant, try to put your things like luggage, on the other bed before you sleep.

When you enter your hotel room, look for the Bible. Most hotels place the Bible inside a drawer, however, if upon entering, you see the Bible on the table, DON'T STAY IN THAT ROOM. It means 'special visitors' are there.

If you see the Bible opened up on the table, LEAVE THAT ROOM IMMEDIATELY and request for a change of room! It means the 'special visitor' is really creating trouble in that room!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Boy and the Magic Stone

Muhammad Ponari, a 9-year-old boy from Jombang, East Java, Indonesia had been playing in the rain in his front yard when he was hit by a thunderbolt. When he came to, he found a stone the size of an egg. He had reportedly placed the stone in a glass of water, which was later gulped down by his cousin. The cousin, who had been ill for quite sometime, was then cured of his raging high fever.

Then another neighbour approached him - a woman in her 30s who had suffered from a depressive condition for 15 years. She, too, was healed.

The miracles, large and small, kept coming, said Nila Retno, the local village chief.

"My arm was sprained. The water touched by stone was given to me and I applied the water to my sprained arm. Suddenly, I was OK again," she said.

The district police commissioner, Sutikno, a devout Muslim who will be making the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca this year, told of his experience.

"I was inside the house talking to the boy and his family. Together with me in the house was a boy of his age who had not spoken for five years," he said.

"Ponari shook him. The boy reacted and they started fighting, like wrestling and pulling each other's hair. Then, a few moments after the fighting, the boy started to talk."

What did he say? "He said 'I'm scared' in Javanese — but he talked."

The tales of miraculous healings spread. Within a week of the lightning strike, hundreds of villagers were lining up outside Ponari's modest home.

A week later, the ailing, the lame and the curious were coming from as far afield as Malaysia. Thousands queued each day in lines stretching for kilometres, carrying plastic bags of water ready to be transformed into an elixir by the magical stone.

Stampedes erupted on at least three occasions, resulting in the deaths of three people and injuries to dozens more.

The public disorder forced police to remove the boy to an undisclosed location. Ponari has stopped administering his miracle cures this week after tending to tens of thousands of patients.

Even so, as much as 1 billion rupiah ($A120,000) has been raised through a charity box outside his home. This, many adherents to mysticism believe, was poor form indeed. Dukuns (or shamans) are not supposed to profit from their activities.

According to village chief Retno, Ponari himself said he had been "scolded" by the stone for accepting cash. "He said he felt that his whole body was whipped," she said.

Is this a hoax, a miracle or just the power of the mind?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More people believe in Aliens and Ghosts than in God

This article is from Yahoo! News:
More people believe in aliens and ghosts than in God, a new survey finds, according to a British newspaper.

The survey, however, was done by a marketing firm in conjunction with the release of an X-Files DVD, and details of how the poll was conducted were not reported in the Daily Mail. Survey questions, depending on how they are written, can greatly skew results, along with how subjects are sampled.

That said, the poll of 3,000 people found that 58 percent believe in the supernatural, including paranormal encounters, while 54 percent believe God exists. Women were more likely than men to believe in the supernatural and were also more likely to visit a medium.

Indeed, humans are prone to believing in things they can neither see nor find logical evidence for.

A survey of U.S. college students done in 2006 found 23 percent of freshmen had a general belief in paranormal concepts - from astrology to communicating with the dead. Interestingly, the number jumped to 31 percent among seniors and 34 percent among graduate students.

Researchers who have compared various human belief systems say our tendency to believe is deeply rooted.

"While it is difficult to know for certain, the tendency to believe in the paranormal appears to be there from the beginning," said Christopher Bader, a Baylor University sociologist. "What changes is the content of the paranormal. For example, very few people believe in faeries and elves these days. But as belief in faeries faded, other beliefs, such as belief in UFOs, emerged to take their place."

Religion and belief in the paranormal are not linked as one might imagine. A handful of surveys show just the opposite, in fact.

"Paranormal beliefs are very strongly negatively related to religious belief," said Rod Stark, another Baylor researcher. Some scientists think this is so because religions tend to discourage paranormal beliefs, and indeed most devout practitioners of a religion have been shown to be the least likely to believe in Bigfoot, ghosts or aliens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'Ghost' Bride

What is a 'ghost' bride?

In the days dating back to before the Han dynasty, when a single man passes away, custom calls for him to be married posthumously to a deceased single woman so that he will not be alone in the afterlife. It was believed that if the deceased man is unmarried, he can come back to haunt their living relatives and cause misfortune.

The tradition is still in practice today. In 1998, a farmer was caught stealing female corpses from their graves, mostly freshly upon their death. He sold the bodies for less than 4,000 yuan each to traffickers, who passed them to intermediaries, known as matchmakers for ghosts, who marked them up more than three times for the final customers.

Female corpses have become comparatively rare due to the substantial gender imbalance brought on by China’s one-child policy.

In January this year, the tradition took a heinous turn when police in northern China detained 3 men for the killings of two women whose corpses were then sold as "ghost brides". Yang Donghai, a 35-year-old farmer in western China's Shaanxi province, confessed to killing a woman bought from a poor family for 12,000 yuan last year. She thought she was being sold into an arranged marriage, but Yang killed her and sold her corpse for 16,000 yuan. He and two accomplices then killed a prostitute and sold her for 8,000 yuan (£523) before police caught them.

The corpses were apparently being sold to Li Longsheng, an undertaker who police said specialized in buying and selling of dead women for "ghost weddings".

The Hungry Ghost Festival

The Hungry Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated around Asia every year. The Festival is celebrated in the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

The Chinese believe that in this month ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower world to visit earth. Some of the activities include preparing ritualistic offering food, and burning hell money and bags containing cloth to please the visiting ghosts and spirits of the ancestors. Chinese Opera and Puppet Shows are put together for audiences - both living and non-living alike, at certain suburban areas prior to the big day

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to the theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween.

The following is a legend on how the festival came to be:

A long time ago there lived a young man, Mu Lian and his widowed mother. His mother was a very wicked woman and she liked to laugh at the poor and their dirty clothes. She often turned away those beggars who came to her door asking for donation or food. The only person she cared was herself......

Mu Lian on the other hand was a kind soul. He was a gentle person and always willing to help anybody in need. One day he decided to become a monk and this did not please his mother. She scowled at him for being such a useless son; she wanted him to go out and work to earn more money for her. Wealth and materialistic things meant more to her than anything else.

When she saw that she could not dissuade her son, a plan began to hatch in her mind. She decided to play a trick on the monks just to get back at them for taking away her son. Mu Lian's mother thought it was silly that these monks did not eat meat. One day she got her chance and offered food to some monks and slipped in some non-vegetarian food without them knowing it.

When the wicked woman died, her soul was sent to 18th level of hell, the very bottom of hell, to be punished. All souls who are punished to the 18th level of hell will become hungry ghosts which mean they will have no chance of reborn on earth.

Mu Lian wanted to save his mother's soul because he knew her soul was suffering. He set out and ventured deep into the bowels of hell. Soon he came upon his mother and he saw that she was sitting a bed of very sharp pointy stakes and was holding on to a basin of blood.

Mu Lian tried feeding her some food but the food would either turn into fire or blood. It was hopeless: he couldn't do anything for her so he left. He returned home and started to pray.

It is said that Buddha heard Mu Lian's prayers and was touched by Mu Lian's compassion. Thus Buddha decreed that once a year, the gates of hell be opened so that the lost souls will be able to roam the earth and be fed. This is why every year on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, the Chinese celebrate the festival of the hungry ghost.