Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ghosts Along the Silk Road (and Beyond)

By Eilis Flynn

With my friend and workshop copresenter Jacquie Rogers, I present a series of workshops looking at familiar myths and legends and how they change as we look at them around the world. I was an anthropology major and write fantasy and paranormal, so this works well into what I’m interested in. But as I was doing the research for the latest, on ghost stories around the world, I realized something interesting. Most of the time I’ve been doing the research, it’s been more or less an academic interest I’ve had, research for the sake of research. But in the case of ghosts, there’s more than a smidgen of belief.

Everyone’s got a personal ghost story, whether they’re believers or not. It’s that something that can’t be explained, something that no matter how much rationalization goes into it, remains a bit—off, somehow. Everyone, every culture has a belief about ghosts. Whether it’s a message from an ancestor or an odd vibe in a place that turns out to have had a dark past, ghosts are everywhere, in more ways than you can imagine.

Well, maybe you can imagine it. Jacquie and I have gone through many forms of mythological creatures in our journeys along the Silk Road, and it wasn’t that surprising that sometimes we wouldn’t be able to find a true example. We found that stories about vampires are scarce in China (the hopping vampire was the best of it), while werewolves couldn’t be found in native form a lot outside of Europe, faeries were thin on the ground also out of Europe (but then there were plenty under other names), and dragons in variations, but ghosts … ghost mythologies can be found anywhere and everywhere. Where there is death, there is a ghost myth. There are feetless ghosts in Japan and hungry ghosts in China (complete with a festival to go with it), a friendy ghost named Casper in American kiddie entertainment, séances in any number of variations in every culture that has a ghost legend in order for the living to speak with the dead.

Intrigued by ghosts? Of course you are. We all are. Some of us are terrified, but we are still drawn by them. Before there were myths and legends about dragons and faeries or werewolves or vampires, there were stories about ghosts. As I mentioned before, ghosts—or more precisely, stories about and the presence of deceased ancestors or others no longer on this mortal plain—have been around since humankind itself has been around. As long as there have been people of one kind or another, people who have experienced death among their kind or against another, there have been ghost stories.

It’s not hard to say why ghost stories have been around for so long. Death and speculation about what lies beyond death have been the source of fascination for humans from the time that humans started to develop their own cultures. Was it that odd feeling of being watched when there was no one else around, or some sign that a recently deceased relative was somehow, inconceivably, sending a message from beyond? While there are many variations of how ghosts are perceived, one thing remains the same, whether as a source of comfort or terror: They are with us, unseen. Sometimes they indicate their presence, sometimes they are mute, sometimes the manifestation is human in form, sometimes when something is simply moved—the variations seem endless. As long as mankind has been sentient, there has been a ghost story waiting to be told.

Come along and check out what kind of ghosts you can find all over the world. Let us take you on a walk around the world to examine those myths, and see how they shift, change, and evolve as we travel. We’re with the Carolina Romance Writers for the next couple of weeks starting on May 13, looking at ghosts all around the world.

Eilis Flynn spends a lot of her time doing research, which is more fun than you can imagine! She writes various things under various names, but mostly fantasy romance. She lives in Seattle with her patient husband and ghosts of spoiled rotten cats. Find out more at 

1 comment:

  1. Your class sounds interesting. I'd like to take it sometime.