folklorelei: (the siren)
In 2014 I read an absolutely riveting article from the London Review of Books, “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by Richard Lloyd Parry. In it, Parry discusses the paranormal experiences had by people after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. He speaks a lot about the difference between “contained” ancestral spirits and the wild or “hungry ghosts” unleashed by natural disaster and also by having their ancestral shrine anchors destroyed by natural disaster. He writes about spirit-ridden people and a spirit-ridden society, survivors guilt, paranormal experiences, and exorcisms. It’s a long article but absolutely worth the read. Very, very moving.

It also reminded me of something I’d read somewhere a long time ago about the hungry ghosts created after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I couldn’t find the specific reference, but I did find a passage in Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. He speaks of how many of the survivors of the A-bomb blasts were haunted—whether psychologically or spiritually—by hungry ghosts, a literalization of survivors’ guilt. He writes:

“Japanese Buddhist tradition has stressed ‘quick separation of souls from physical bodies’ so that they ‘became ancestral souls, gradually became calm, settled in dwellings in high mountains, and came down to their children’s homes and rice fields on certain occasions.’ These calm and appropriately placed ancestral souls are the antithesis of the homeless dead—of the ‘wild souls’ and ‘hungry ghosts’ whose way of dying, or neglect by survivors, caused them to be denied proper separation from, and continuity with, these same survivors. Significantly, at the annual Bon Festival, the time when visits from ancestral souls are expected, special offerings of food are also put out for anonymous ‘hungry ghosts’ who, it is thought, might otherwise have no one to provide for them—another expression of survivors’ sense of responsibility for their ‘homelessness…’ For the survivor must reject the dead (particularly the newly dead) until he can place them safely within a mode of immortality: in Japanese tradition, permit them to become ancestor souls (or gods); in Christian tradition, immortal souls.”

Similar things were reported in the aftermath of the horrific tsunami which hit Thailand and other spots in the Indian Ocean in 2004. The fear of hungry ghosts kept many Asian tourists away from these spots. Maybe it still is.

(On hearing tapes of spontaneously-generated “spirit
voices,” so-called EVPs: Electronic Voice Phenomenon)

The mumbling dead
speak non-sequiturs
as if they have forgotten
language, that thing
which made them most human.

“I came up with Betty;”
“I went to see the war”—
one-phrase grooves
clicking on and off
with ancient preoccupations.

Sometimes what they say
freezes in my heart
and turns my lungs cold.
“The soul stays down here,”
says the voice from the crypt,
and I cannot catch my breath.

Are the souls of the dead
crowding round us even now,
like ekimmu out of Babylon,
jealous of the air we breathe,
hungry for the touch of flesh
they cannot possess?

Then give me oblivion.

If not the golden light,
if not even the fires below,
then I want nothing, nothing.
Anything but wandering feet
which cannot feel the road.

—PJ Thompson

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales