Superstition and Folklore (i)

Superstition and folklore are part and parcel of any culture. The Irish have their banshees, leprechauns and changelings and their share of superstitions that get them through the day; the Scottish have their kelpies, selkies and their beloved Nessie as well as superstitions that declare that it is unlucky to have a black cat in a room where a wake is taking place or to see a funeral procession on one’s way to a wedding; the English have their boggarts, elves, dwarves, wyverns, dragons, ogres, goblins, witches, wizards and the list goes ever on, however, most of these have been taken from Celtic and Germanic sources.

When I was growing up I heard stories of soucouyants, lagahou, la jablesse, Papa Bois and duennes and duppies. Superstitions and folklore were a part of daily life. There was this one time, I must have been about ten as I hadn’t written my common entrance exams yet and I was at the back of the house brushing my teeth since we didn’t have indoor bathrooms at that time. There were a lot of bushes at the back partially blocking the view of the houses there. It must have been about nine o’clock and I was just washing up before bed time. Normally people burned dried rubbish; leaves and branches that they had piled up after cleaning the yard so seeing fire and smelling smoke wasn’t a novelty – except for this one time.

I was mid brush when there was a large wall of fire amongst the bushes. I say wall, because that’s what it looked like to me. This fire did not burn steadily. It did not lick at the bushes, nor did it set them alight. There was no smoke. The wall turned into a column before it disappeared amongst the bushes again. I dropped my toothbrush in the sink and sped inside. I had never seen fire behave like that before. I waited around in the kitchen as my mother cleaned up and packed away lunches for school next day. Perhaps she didn’t notice remnants of toothpasty spittle still around my mouth. My eyes were fixed on those bushes. The wind rustled them a little and they swayed – nothing unusual. It was only when mum called me from outside, asking why did I leave my toothbrush in the sink – then I went out.

I continued brushing my teeth as I kept one eye on the bushes and one eye on my mother to make sure she didn’t leave me outside. I must have looked like a brown gecko. Now from what I heard tell, this could have been a soucouyant. In Trini folklore, a soucouyant is an old woman who sheds her skin at night and puts it in a mortar, she then turns into a fiery ball and travels around, slipping into houses through cracks and crevices in the house where she will suck the blood of her victims. She is never seen during the day and the only evidence of her presence is a flaming ball of fire.

Well I didn’t see a flaming ball of fire – I saw a wall of fire. It didn’t matter, better be safe than dead. I remembered what my classmates and I talked about at school – well, they talked, I listened with the hair on my skin standing as straight as needles. Apparently if you put enough salt in her path, she would be unable to cross it before counting every single grain. The container of salt was almost empty. There was probably only a handful left for cooking a few times over. Mum would not have liked it if I emptied the rest on the floor. One cannot use salt after it’s been on the floor soucouyant or no soucouyant. So I just used very small pinches and flung it all over the place in the hope that the blood sucker would seek out every last grain, wherever it fell, before she pulled out her champagne glass and her straw and came at me.

I went to bed that night with all my senses tingling like Spider Man. Every time I felt that I was falling asleep, I would jolt myself awake. However, I was only a ten year old human and sleep claimed me for better or for worse. When I woke up I checked myself for blue black marks over my body – supposedly the tell tale signs of her dinner service which you, the poor victim unwittingly provided. I was glad, there were none. Mum made no mention of marks on my sisters or herself and my dad, well, if he had any, he kept them to himself. He was already revving the car before leaving for work.

Just a little note about our car – it could not move without ten to fifteen minutes of revving. Whenever we had to go anywhere, while we were getting dressed, dad would be outside in the car, in the hot sun revving the hell out of that vehicle and once it finally jerked out of place and rolled out of the yard, we knew it was time for us to lock up and meet him outside. This was done wherever we went. It would explain why we stopped driving to the drive in and ‘walked in’ instead. Oh the embarrassment. Still, that car took us from A to B and with a little coaxing and a lot of petrol, it even got us to Z……sometimes.

Anyway, enough about the ghastly car, let’s focus again on the ghastly old bat who was supposed to come and visit us that night. I never heard anything about the fire in the bushes because there was no fire. The bushes were as they had always been, lush and green – a fence provided by nature. They rustled in the wind acting as if nothing had happened, as if everything was as it should be. I thought no more of it until recently.

I don’t know what brought it to mind, perhaps because I never really told anyone. They wouldn’t have believed me anyway. I was ten and I had an imagination that always left me feeling more disconnected from the world in which I lived. There was no reason for anyone to believe me. But, I know what I saw.

You believe me….don’t you?

 

 Glossary

 

Lagahou – derived from the French le loup garou which means lycanthrope. A lycanthrope is what is commonly called – a werewolf. In Trini speak, a Lagahou (pronounced lagahoo or ligahoo – depending on who tells the story) can take the form of any animal – it is basically a shapeshifter. It roams the night with chains around its neck and has been said to leave a sickly sweet scent behind it which can be smelled for miles.

La Jablesse – derived from the Spanish La Diablesse which is literally translated as she-devil. She is described as a beautiful woman who lures men to her and once they get near they discover that she has a cloven hoof, by then it’s too late for them.

Papa Bois – A wood spirit. He lures poachers to their deaths by changing up pathways, disorienting them. They either go mad or die first.

Duennes – These are children who died before they were baptised and are thus fated to roam the forests. It is said that one must never call out the names of one’s children who have not yet been baptised for the Duennes will learn their names and lure the children into the forests where they will keep them forever.

Duppies – These are spirits that stay on Earth and haunt those who have wronged them.

Soucouyant(Pronounced soo-coo-ya) Read the story.

 

 


Superstition and Folklore (ii)

The Time of Spirits

Well it’s been a while. I’ve been, for the most part, uninspired. I took this time to do some reading and then it all started coming back. This one is being posted as part of the Superstition and Folklore Chronicles, however, it’s not exactly superstition, it’s more tradition and culture.

For Hindus, Pitr Paksh (the fortnight of ancestors) started last week. During this time, we pay homage to our ancestors. It is said that the souls of our ancestors, I believe it’s the three preceding generations reside in the realm between heaven and earth. This realm is called pitru-lok and is ruled by Yama, the God of death. During this fortnight, there is a connection with past loved ones as they are remembered and treated with honour. It’s much more complex than this and to explain it fully would require me to read and study the whole Garuda Puran. This is a book which breaks down, step by step, the journey of the soul from death to the unity with God.

I remember being at home back in Trinidad and hearing stories of past uncles, aunts, grandparents and even my father being present at the home. For Hindus, as far as I know and I’ve seen, when a body is brought back to the home, it is taken inside the house for the last time thus making the ancestral home the last earthly place the soul will ever be before it has to move on. I remember also the familiar scents of that person wafting before my nose, the footsteps, the creak on the floor boards, a sigh and the brush of a hand over my forehead as the curtains float above the floor with the wind.

Below is a poem that I’d written when I was seventeen, for want of something better to do. It must have been around this time too. It’s a more playful approach to the walking of spirits amongst the living.


Spirit Games

Night pushes the day away

And the stars wink and blink

The sleepiness out of their tiny eyes

The moon, she will not reveal her

Full beauty tonight

She’s a real tease

I daresay.

Fireflies glow bright

Like flying Christmas lights

While the mosquitoes

Buzz and bite away

I shall not stay outside

But go in and try to hide

From the spirits

That come out to play.

They blow out the candles

And turn the door handles

While making funny noises and sounds

And someone once said

They can wake up the dead

And imitate the cries of hounds

They rattle my windows

And tweak my dog’s nose

Making him bark like mad

But I still won’t go out

And quarrel or shout

At those spirits who are so very bad

I hear soft whispers and laughing

And whistling and tramping

All around the house

Knocks on the door

Creaks from the floor

I don’t think those were made

By a mouse!

And then it gets quiet

So very, very quiet

My heartbeat I’m sure I can hear

I uncover my head

And rise up from my bed

And take a deep breath to

Smother my fear

I pull the curtains aside

And open the windows wide

To see what they’re up to

But there was nothing I could see

But the half-naked moon, stars winking at me

And spirits that had nothing to do.

So bearing in mind

That the good Lord was kind

Enough to keep me from harm

I jumped back into bed

And slept like the dead

Until dawn wrapped me up

In its arm.