By Smaragdfee – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28519642
Forget the winding cloth, forget the chains, the moaning, the walking through walls … the traditional ghost is just so passe`. If you’re so done with the traditional spook, take a minute to look over my list of weird ghosts … you might actually prefer to have that weird Confederate soldier spirit hanging out in your garage afterwards.
1. Keres (Ancient Greece): Remember that scene in the first Kung Fu Panda movie, when Po was exploring the Jade Palace and accidentally knocked over a vase containing the souls of a thousand slain warriors?
Well, if that had happened in Ancient Greece, he’d be dead now.
The Keres have a bit of a convoluted history, but a common belief was that the Kere was the spirit of a cremated person that escaped when their funerary urn was smashed. The Kere would then harass the person who broke the urn until the end of their days, or until a priest was able to shoo it on its way back to Hades.
Depending on your source material, the Keres would appear either as the phantoms of the dead person, zombie-like creatures, or zombie-like creatures wearing dog masks, or zombie-like creatures with the heads of dogs. While nobody seems to completely agree on what these things looked like, it was said that the very first Kere was the grain goddess Demeter herself; after she was chased down and raped by her brother, the sea god Poseidon, Demeter flew into an unholy rage and transformed into a giant, demonic, dog-headed monster, scary enough that it would give even Cthulhu pause. She then summoned an army of Keres to help avenge her, but apparently was calmed down by the other gods and called her dog-headed minions off (I’ve never found a complete version of the story.) Since then the Keres, whatever form they come in, have been associated with vengeance. In my book Nike, Part 1: The Demon Road, Nike and her friends are bedeviled by Keres called forth by an angry, magic-working woman. (YES, I KNOW, SHAMELESS PLUG. SUE ME.)
Ancient Greek cremation urn
By Юкатан – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9092656
2. Chindi (Navajo): A chindi can be called upon by a medicine man who then uses it to take revenge on people who have wronged him, siccing the spirit on his enemies which then wastes them away with ghost sickness. A famous story from the 1800s recounts how two brothers of the Long Salt family promised to pay a blind medicine man if he could cure their desperately sick brother of a spirit that was tormenting him. After a three day ceremony, the shaman was successfully and asked for five sheep in payment. The Long Salts had a huge herd of sheep, but the brothers, too lazy to slaughter any of them, decided to substitute five dead antelope instead, figuring that the blind man wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Unfortunately for them, the medicine man realized he had been cheated and sent a chindi after the Long Salts in revenge. The chindi killed several family members before the brothers realized what had happened and rushed to apologize, begging the medicine man to call off the spirit. The shaman said he need to think about it and would give them his answer the next day. To the family’s horror, he passed away that night, leaving no one to control the chindi.
By en:User:Cburnett – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1236077
Over the next decade, the chindi killed every member of the Long Salts. The last to die was Alice Long Salt in 1928; she and her guardians had spent years moving from place to place trying to outrun the chindi. After being snowbound in a cabin, the chindi finally caught up with her, and the curse was ended.
3. Preta (Asia): You know the saying: karma’s a bitch. And there’s a group of ghosts that would readily agree to that too.
The Preta are ghosts of people who were greedy and wicked in life, cursed now by karma to walk the earth as grotesque spirits with insatiable hunger. Though occasionally shown as balls of floating fire, they’re most commonly seen as emaciated humanoids with tiny mouths, pencil thin necks and swollen stomachs. The preta live in wastelands and are insatiably hungry, but, based on their punishments for their crimes in life, can never be satisfied; many have mouths and necks that are too small to pass food down to their stomachs. Other find their food explode into flames before they’re able to eat it. Still others just have a hard time finding food.
Largely, preta are more of a nuisance to human beings unless the preta are actively trying to harm people, such as trying to kill them to obtain their blood for nourishment. Preta are generally invisible, though some humans have the ability to see the, and preta are capable of using magic and try to disguise their hideous appearance from mortals. Buddhist monks frequently leave gifts of things such as flowers for the preta before sitting down to their own meals.
In Thailand, the ghosts are known as pret, and while still emaciated and eternally hungry, the Thai version are gigantic creatures that are depicted tormenting sinners. The Syfy show Destination Truth visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia in search of the pret after one was allegedly filmed by a tourist.
Photographer: Manfred Werner August 2001
4. Huaka’ipo “The Night Walkers” (Hawaii): Imagine you finally saved up all that money and are now taking that dream vacation in Hawaii. After a day of splashing in the surf, you decide to take in a refreshing nighttime walk along the beach or the hillsides.
But wait—you hear drums in the distance. A luau, maybe? No, the drums are getting louder, growing closer. As you pause to look, you see a procession of men, traditionally dressed as warriors, all armed and bearing flickering torches, moving single-file towards you. A conch shell horn blows, the warriors chant as they march, a foul smell wafts through the still air.
A feeling of dread seeps into you as you wonder what kind of parade this could be?
That’s not a parade; those are the legendary Huaka’ipo, or the Night Walkers, the ghosts of ancient native Hawaiian warriors felled in battle. Why they march this way is a mystery, but one thing’s for certain; they really don’t like it when mortals see them. If you see the Night Walkers before they notice you, or if you hear the drumbeats, throw yourself face first on the ground and don’t you dare look up until they have all passed. If they did notice you watching them, they will attack and kill you … unless you’re lucky enough to have an ancestor among the militarized dead. That ancestor will claim you as a member of their family, and the Night Walkers will move on.
The Night Walkers are usually seen at night; if they’re ever spotted during the day, that means one of their descendants has died and they have arrived to act as psychopomps (guides and guardians for the dead soul) to take them to the other side. The Night Walkers seem to follow set paths and never deter from them, despite what might be in their way; there have been stories of Night Walkers marching straight through people’s houses. The Syfy show Haunted Collector once investigated a house that was said to have been built on the path that the Night Walkers regularly used.
5. Dullahan (Ireland): What rides a coal-black horse, carries its own grinning head under one arm, and a whip made of human spine vertebrae in the opposite hand? Why, that would be the Dullahan, a spectre of death that rides through Irish county lanes around Sligo and Down at night. Likely born out of ancient fairy lore, the Dullahan (frequently male, though female versions are reported as well) is a horrifying sight to witness as it charges through the streets. Often it rides just a single horse, but it has been known to captain a horse-drawn funeral wagon made out of human bones and skin, with human skulls-turned-lanterns to light the way. Luckily, the Dullahan typically makes its hideous appearance only on certain days of the year.
On that chosen night, the Dullahan pulls its horse up sharply before the house where a person is ready to die and, holding its head aloft, shouts the soon-to-be-deceased’s name. As soon as it finishes speaking, that person dies, and the Dullahan rides off, cackling, to its next appointment. If a healthy mortal person is unfortunate enough to accidentally come across the Dullahan’s path, they will either go mad with terror or have their eyes lashed out by the Dullahan’s spine-whip. Sometimes it will throw a basin of blood on the human, marking them as the next to die.
Have no fear, there is at least one way to protect yourself from the Dullahan; if you find yourself cornered by the vile spirit and manage to keep your wits about you, thrust a piece of gold at it. Like garlic to a vampire, the Dullahan will rear back in panic and flee.
Yet another reason to buy that Rolex.
6. Bakezori (Japan): No ghost list would be complete without mentioning at least one weird ghost from the country that has a legion of weird ghosts. Today, I present to you the bakezori, or “ghost sandal.”
Yup, you read right—ghost sandal. A bakezori belongs to a special classification of ghosts called tsukumogami, which are pretty much any household item (umbrellas, clothes, appliances) that develops its own consciousness after being in disuse for 100 years. The bakezori isn’t so much frightening as it is creepy and annoying, especially when it’s bored. It likes to gallop around the house in the middle of the night, chanting over and over again, “Two eyes, three eyes, and two teeth! Two eyes, three eyes, and two teeth! Two eyes, three eyes, and two teeth!” (Apparently, this is supposed to be insulting to the more fashionable geta sandals in the house.) They’re known to party at night with other animated objects, and will trip humans up when they get bored enough.
There doesn’t seemed to be any prescribed way to get rid of the bakezori, but it’s common for them to get so fed up with the dullness of their home that they will run off on their own.
By Jippensha Ikku (十返舎一九, Japanese, *1765, †1831) (scanned from ISBN 4-7601-2092-0.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons