The Folklore of the Night Marchers

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Ghost stories have always fascinated people, some flocking to distant locations just in hopes for a glimpse of an ethereal figure.  From the castles of Scotland to any major city, tours are always available for those who are curious about the other side. But what about the dead who walk?  What about processions of death walked by the souls of the departed? Every culture has some form of this, however today we will be looking at the Night Marchers of Hawaii.

Night Marchers, or Hukai’po, is the name of a group of ghostly beings who march to the beat of pounding drums.  It is believed that the Night Marchers are armed warriors — generally thought to be marching to or from battle — carrying weapons and wearing helmets and cloaks that are ancient in appearance.  Stories and speculations surround why the Night Marchers walk, including that they are looking for new members or for an entrance to the afterlife, and, of course, the most chilling possibility: they are looking for ways to avenge their deaths.  However, one historian — Nanette Napoleon — believes that these soldiers were just doing their job as it was believed that they escorted the ali’i, or rulers.

No matter their reasoning for walking the earth, it is said that the Night Marchers can often be recognized by their torches and chanting, sometimes even the blowing of conch shells as they march.  They tend to only appear at night, though there are stories of them showing themselves during the day. However, one thing that has been spoken about is the fact that after they pass through an area, footprints have been known to be spotted along their path.

Whether or not they appear during the night or day, one thing often remarked about is that their procession must not be interrupted. As well as not interrupting them, it is important to avert your eyes and never look at them directly as — according to legend — someone you know, or even you yourself, will befall a terrible fate soon after.  In fact, people are urged to “play dead” lest they attract the Night Marchers’ attentions.  The reason for this, according to story-teller Lopaka Kapanui, is that if we are to believe that the Night Marchers were escorts for the ali’i, then they would have proceeded someone who was considered to be sacred, almost godly.  Therefore, when they passed you would not be permitted to look at the ali’i they guarded, and if a commoner had glimpsed at or if the shadow of the ali’i they guarded fell on one of these commoners, they were to be put to death, which was why they tended to march at night.

The Night Marchers are still a group of ghastly spirits that can still be seen to this day.  Ghost tours are available in Hawaii to try to glimpse them, despite the terrible things that may happen if you do happen to see them.  Though not everyone has seen them, it is so common to glimpse the Night Marchers that a lot of locals report having seen or heard them at one point or another.  Either way, one thing is for certain: the Night Marchers remain a grim mystery.

 

For more reading on the Night Marchers (sources):

https://www.to-hawaii.com/legends/night-marchers.php

http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/27171113/exploring-the-legend-of-the-night-marchers

The Myth of the Manananggal

manananggal1Vampires.  The world has seen quite the evolution for the blood suckers in pop-culture, from Dracula to Interview with a Vampire all the way to Twilight, though one thing remains the same: they were humans turned into fanged, undead versions of themselves.  However, the idea that vampiric creatures exist has been a part of cultures around the world for centuries in different forms. From the Adanbosam of West African myth — with their long legs they dangle from trees to entrap their prey — to the Vetala of ancient India — ghouls who inhabit corpses and hang upside down from trees.  Today, however, we will be taking a look at the Manananggal.

The Manananggal is a vampiric creature that comes to us from the Philippines.  During the day, the Manananggal is a woman — said to be beautiful — who separates her body in half and preys upon pregnant women and their unborn children by night.  According to legend, the Manananggal will detach herself around the middle, hiding her lower half as bat wings grow from her back. She will take off in search of prey, perching on the roofs of houses and using her elongated tongue to suck the blood from sleeping pregnant women and their unborn children.

Though not much is known about the Manananggal, some people speculate that this creature of myth is based on an actual creature residing in the Philippines: Flying Foxes.  Flying Foxes are in fact fruit bats, and not only could Manananggal be seen as originating based on these creatures, but so can several other creatures in Philippine myth and legend according to Tammy Mildenstein of SOS — Save Our Species project Filipinos for Flying Foxes — who has encountered these stories as she works with their herbivorous cousins.  However, that is not to discount the people who actively believe these creatures to exist. In fact, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there have been multiple eyewitness accounts of people who claim to have seen the Manananggal still living in the Philippines to this day.

In any event, the Manananggal is simply a fearsome, vampiric creature who can blend in with humans by day, transforming herself by night.  The thought is quite terrifying — pregnant women and their unborn charges being attacked while asleep by a woman with half a body and a tongue that slips into their bellies.  One thing is for sure: if you ever see half a body abandoned somewhere, know that the Manananggal just might be nearby.

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Manananggal in popular culture: Although the Manananggal hasn’t officially made its debut in popular culture herself, it is definitely worth mentioning that in 2016 independent director Prime Cruz released a romantic/gore film in the Philippines titled “Ang manananggal sa unit 23B” — which won two awards at the QCinema International Film Festival in 2016 for best director and best supporting actress — in which he portrays the Manananggal as a protagonist rather than a villain.

 

For more reading on the Manananggal (sources):

https://pantheon.org/articles/m/manananggal.html

https://www.aswangproject.com/manananggal-wakwak/

https://www.iucn.org/content/flying-foxes-myths-more-bark-bite

The Folklore of Bone Structures

 

bone church 2Structures made of bones have been a topic of fascination for as long as they have been around.  From catacombs to religious structures to homes, bones have become a part of contstruction that we rarely hear about anymore, but still exist.

The idea that a church can be filled with folklore seems to be something overlooked and not commonly spoken of.  But, of course, there are always some interesting things to be found within.  In Poland, it is called Kaplica Czaszek.  However, this macabre place was originally based on Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins in Rome.  The one thing these, and several other churches around the world, have in common, of course, are that they are decorated in bones.

One of the most striking aspects of these bone churches are, of course their decor.  And, to look into the reasoning as to why, we can start with one of the first of them: Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins.  Of course, on the surface the church is quite normal, almost plain, however beneath the church lie five alcoves in which the skeletons of over 4,000 friars rest to this day.  What makes it even more interesting is that some of these bones are laid out still wearing their vestments.

bone churchIn 1631 the Capuchin Friars arrived in Rome with the remains of their deceased.  They interred their brethren beneath the church and, as time went on, others were brought via pilgrimage and laid to rest within as well.  Of course, that’s when they exhumed the remains of their earlier-buried brethren in order to place them on display within the five alcoves.  While this may seem a bit morbid to some, it actually makes sense within Christianity to become fascinated by what we have left behind, especially since the belief in the Resurrection shows that our time on Earth is fleeting.  In fact, a sign now greets visitors who flock to the church doors to this day, reading, “As you are, we once were.  As we are, you shall one day be.”  Though this was supposed to be a reminder as to what we leave behind, it is quite a sight to see the monks still in their habits, their skeletal faces gleaming beneath their hoods.

Similar churches and catacombs have been built much like this one, such as the Capella dos Ossos in Portugal — which is actually based on a church in Italy that was constructed back in the thirteenth century.  Here, the cemeteries were filling with their dead — a common theme amongst the beginnings of these structures — and, instead of condemning the older bones, the monks brought them within the chapel.

The monks then decided that, rather than inter the bones, they would place them on display in order to give the people of the society at this time a place to reflect on their values; a reminder that material objects do not transcend death.  And, since the town of Évora was known for its wealth during this time, it was inscribed above the chapel door, as a reminder to those who came to meditate: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones, are here, waiting for yours.”

Death seems to be a touchy subject with most, which is why many turn towards religion to look for answers or guidance.  Though, as we can see from these bone churches, death is also revered and respected, and should be talked about amongst the living rather than in hushed conversations and behind closed doors.  Whatever your beliefs, these places of death have been sought out by the living and are still open to the public to this day.

mammoth bone hut.jpgSome other places made of bones — though not necessarily human — include the catacombs in Paris (which houses the remains of over six million bodies), the prehistoric mammoth bone huts that were discovered near the Ukrainian village of Mezhyrich, cattle bone houses in Texas that have been constructed over the last fifteen years and are still being made (though not fully made of bones, they are used in the construction of homes), and the dinosaur bone house in Wyoming that was constructed in 1933 and made of 5,796 dinosaur bones (mortared together) in order to draw in business to the family’s gas station.

Bone structures in popular culture: We see many different ways in which structures are built using bones, from the movie As Above, So Below in which a group travels through the catacombs beneath Paris, all the way to the poem by Stephen King The Bone Church (which has actually just been picked up by Netflix for a mini-series).

For more about bone structures (sources):

https://inhabitat.com/6-creepy-churches-made-of-bones/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/san-bernardino-alle-ossa

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/portugals-chapel-bones

http://mentalfloss.com/article/55222/10-buildings-made-bones

The Folklore of Teeth

tooth fairyOver the course of history, teeth have played such a unique role in folklore and myth.  From the idea that a large gap between the teeth symbolizes luck in life to large teeth meaning physical strength, humanity has always had some form of obsession with teeth and, of course, what happens to them once they fall out.  But where did it come from?  How have we gone from a world in which our teeth symbolize something more than just a tool for eating to becoming part of popular customs such as leaving them beneath our pillows in hopes of being visited by the Tooth Fairy?

There are multiple traditions spanning across cultures that have been followed throughout the centuries, and they’re all so very different.   From England where children were instructed to burn their baby teeth in order to be saved from hardship in the afterlife, to the Scandanavian culture where strings of teeth belonging to children were worn around the neck in order to bring good luck in battle, all the way back to medieval Europe where the burning of teeth was a tradition in order to keep witches from having total and complete power over you, each culture brings something unique and different to the already expanding lore on teeth.

Though the biggest piece of lore revolves around – what would be eventually known as – the Tooth Fairy.  But where did the fairy come from?  She is seen as a more American myth rather than as a world tradition, however she is present in other forms in different cultures.  In Spanish and Hispanic American cultures, Ratoncito Pérez is a popular figure that originated in Madrid in 1894 in which a child places a tooth beneath their pillow so that Ratoncito Pérez may exchange it for a gift.  In Italy, his name is Topolino, in France and French-speaking Belgium his name is la petite souris, and from parts of Lowland Scotland he is simply known as “a white rat who purchases children’s teeth with coins.”  Even in some Asian cultures, such as India, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, when a child loses a tooth it is customary to either throw it onto the roof – if it came from the lower jaw – or into the space beneath the floor – if it came from the upper jaw – while shouting a request for the tooth to be replaced by the tooth of a mouse.  One thing seems to be a common theme and that is the fact that the Tooth Fairy is actually a mouse.

One of the most widely practiced rituals involving teeth – one that has been documented across the globe from Russia to New Zealand to Mexico – involves the offering of the lost tooth as a sacrifice to either a mouse or rat.  This ritual – generally accompanied by some form of prayer – is performed in the hopes that the child’s adult teeth will grow in as strong and sturdy as the rodent’s.  This concept is known to as a “wish for transference,” otherwise known as “sympathetic magic.”

It’s clear that teeth have become an object of mystery and magic, leaving different cultures to believe in different folklores around the globe – though the idea that a mouse or rat is associated with most of them is quite astonishing.  So tell us, what do you believe?

 

Tooth Fairy in popular culture – there have been several movies and books that have dealt with the folklore of the Tooth Fairy and teeth themselves, from the horror movie “Darkness Falls” to the Rock’s family comedy “Tooth Fairy,” she (or he) has appeared in various forms.  A couple of popular books featuring the Tooth Fairy is “What-the-Dickens: the Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy” by Gregory Maguire and of course you have “the Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor where teeth are currency and have their own sort of magic.

5069876   Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)

 

For more information about the Tooth Fairy and its folklore (sources):

https://www.frenchasyoulikeit.com/a-french-lesson-on-the-little-mouse/

https://enchantedamerica.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/the-tooth-fairy-museum-deerfield-il/

https://www.salon.com/2014/02/09/dont_tell_the_kids_the_real_history_of_the_tooth_fairy/