I promise this is about Ghosts. So just keep reading.
So, I’m a mutt. My heritage is basically a strange amalgam of people whose branches started in Eastern Europe and what would become the United Kingdom. These people then screwed their way across a landmass until they found each other, then found an ocean to cross, then continued screwing away on the other side of it.
This means that Europe is where my inherent world views sprang from. It’s no one’s fault – it’s chance. I happened to be born from those branches of human culture. This means I carry the baggage that comes with it, culturally speaking. I grew up with European stories and mythologies. I learned about what the early European settlers carried with them and what grew out of it. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to The Fall of the House of Usher to the latest Stephen King novel have come to inform my reading and writing choices when it comes to horror and the supernatural. We get Faeries, Vampires, Valraven (this concept is as fascinating as it is gruesome), Ghouls (though technically these came from Arabia), and probably a hundred different kinds of ghosts.
As I’ve noted before, the idea of Ghosts has gripped me firmly since childhood. I have always been fascinated with both the idea of cheating death (who hasn’t, really) and the idea of the spirit lingering on in the world toward a singular purpose. Of course the stories aren’t all that way. Improper burial, desecration of grave sites, or committing brutal crimes in life could all get you sentenced to a maddening half-existence where you are present, but ineffectual at causing anything else but misery and fear.
But, the myths do leave some room for interpretation in Europe. Not all ghosts are necessarily evil. Some come to portent events that can be altered. Some reveal the nature of crimes done against them in life so that justice can be served. Others linger to protect loved ones. It’s all definitely creepy, but not all based on ill-intent.
Now, my girlfriend on the other hand, her cultural ghost interpretations are entirely different.
She comes from two cultures that pretty much define ghostly existence to be absolutely the worst thing that could happen for all parties concerned. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Japanese take on ghosts. Because they tend to go something like this:
These… are decidedly unfriendly ghosts. The concept of Casper doesn’t fly in Japan I’m told. Ghosts are there for one reason only: to torment the shit out of the living. I am led to believe that this impression, J-horror films aside, is not an outlier. This is straight up what ghosts do in Japanese folklore. Kami (the revered spirits of the Shinto religion) can be beneficial. But Yurei (a Japanese catch-all word for ghost) are straight up torture and murder machines. Take a look if you like. Ghosts are all about wrath or unfulfilled lust it would seem – the more the better. Certainly every portrayal of a Japanese ghost I’ve seen leads to at least one more dead body to add onto the pile.
The other side of my girlfriend’s heritage is that of Native North America, specifically the Lakota people. I’ve not had much experience with Lakota folklore and tales, but she assures me that generally speaking, Lakota culture is generally anti-ghost. Any spirit of the dead who is hanging around the living is manipulative at best, and is more likely to be angling for someone to follow them into the land of the dead with them. It is exceedingly rare that a dead human’s soul would hang around for any kind of good reason she tells me.
When I write about ghosts, I tend toward the cultural tones I see on my side of things – though it certainly benefits the craft when I expand the repertoire. It’s also why ghosts are such great subjects for stories, at least in my own opinion. given my interest in the topic, it sometimes puzzles me why I don’t write more stories about ghosts. It’s clearly something I love reading about.
I guess a part of it is simply being scared – not of the ghostly aspects of things. Clearly I’m okay with writing about horrifying things on occasion. But the fear I think comes from being able to fully live up to the stories from all of the cultures I know of. I rarely do it (though one of the preceding links contains a rare example where I do).
I think I ought to do it more.
I had an idea recently in the middle of the night – which is the perfect time to be thinking about ghosts – so maybe I sketch that out a bit more. See what falls out.