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OK everyone, I am very sorry that I have been missing so much lately. I was working on my show and I have been working on my next big project which involves animated drawings. I PROMISE I will get back to regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow (I have some angry things to say about fisheries and the derelict state of our nation in general right now), but for tonight, here is a teaser of my next big project. This is an animation of an oracular priestess turning into a dove and a ghost. The hard part was the Roman-style mosaic flounder in the background (which you hopefully noticed). With any luck wordpress will allow GIFS, but if not, I guess you can look at each broken tile in the flounder. As always let me know what you think and thanks for your patience and kind attention.

Donut in the Northern Gloom (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Color Pencil and Ink)

Donut in the Northern Gloom (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Color Pencil and Ink)

As I promised, here are some sketches from my little book which I carry around with me and draw in.  The first one, above, is another one of my enigmatic donuts.  This one seems to exist in the gloomy darkness of evening.  A fire burns on the horizon as a grub-man calls out to a woman with a scientific apparatus.  The reindeer seems largely unconcerned, by these human doings.  In the picture immediately below, an orchid-like flower blooms by some industrial docks. Inside the pedals it offers rows of cryptic symbols to the viewer.

Fragmipedium (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Fragmipedium (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Here is a quick sketch of Manhattan’s San Gennaro festival.  I walked to the corner of the street to draw the lights, wile my roommate got her fortune read by a jocular and likable (yet ingeniously avaricious) fortune teller located in an alcove just to the right of the composition!

San Gennaro in Little Italy (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

San Gennaro in Little Italy (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

I sketched a cornucopia with some invertebrates while I was waiting in line at the post office (there was only one clerk who had to deal with a vast line of Wall Street characters sending elaborate registered packages around the world). It was not an ordeal for me–I had my sketch book, and was getting paid to wait in line!  The guy beside me stopped playing with his infernal phone-thingy to watch me draw.  Note the multiple mollusks which flourish in the painting.  I think the ammonite has real personality

Cornu, cornus (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Cornu, cornus (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Last is a seasonal composition which I really like (maybe because I used my new brown pen, which thought I had lost).  A lovable land whale cavorts among autumn plants as monstrous invaders monopolize a cemetery.  For some unknowable reason there is also a bottle gourd.  The ghosts and bats are part of the October theme.  As ever I appreciate your comments!  Also I still have have some sketches (and general observations) from my weekend trip to Kingston, New York.

Autumn Land Whale and Miscellaneous Others (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Autumn Land Whale and Miscellaneous Others (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

As mentioned in last year’s post concerning pumpkins, the original Irish jack o’lanterns were not carved from the familiar orange gourds (which only made their way to Europe after the discovery of the Americas), but rather were cut from turnips, swedes, or mangelwurzels.   I have illustrated this post with a little gallery of turnip lanterns.   I was hoping to find a mangelwurzel to carve up for an original photo, but it seems like the hurricane has prevented adequate supplies of these medieval vegetables from reaching the city—so that will have to wait till next year.  In the meantime, here is a folktale about how jack o’lanterns originated.

The story of the origin of the jack o’lantern is a stirring tale of greed, guile, and the restless undead.  Jack was a trickster, a fraud, and an unrepentant sinner who roamed around Ireland scamming honest folks and selling mortgage-backed securities & other poorly structured equities.  One day, Jack was running from a mob of creditors (which should immediately recommend the story to contemporary American mores) when he encountered the devil traveling along the bog road.  Jack convinced Satan that it would be to the latter’s advantage to infiltrate society in a more subtle form than that of scary red guy with horns.

Jack’s plan was that the devil should pretend to be a golden coin.  Jack could present this to the angry mob, who would then begin to argue and fight over the coin thus leading them inexorably into the devil’s clutches.  The devil shapeshifted into coin form and presto, Jack grabbed him and stuffed him into a purse with a cross sewn on it (which he had probably stolen from a clergyman or a church-run orphanage).  The devil was unable to escape Jack’s clutches. In order to get out of this predicament, Lucifer had to promise Jack never to collect his soul and take it to hell.

After many financial shenanigans and dodgy schemes, Jack eventually died–as all men must.  His spirit wandered the gray earth in a dark fog, unable to find any succor or happiness in the lands of the living.  At length he made his way to the gates of heaven but he was not wanted there and was chased off by saints and angels.  Jack drifted through different realms but could never escape the chill of death and the inchoate miseries of the grave.  Finally, defeated, he went to hell and begged for entrance.

Turnip lantern by Nathan deGargoyle.

But the devil remembered his promise (and was pleased by Jack’s misery).  Satan barred Jack from hell and sent him on his way, but first he mockingly threw the specter a blazing coal from the inferno–which can never be extinguished.   Jack tried to clutch the red ember and it burned and seared his flesh even though that flesh was ghostly and insubstantial.  Yet the coal was better than nothing, so Jack carried it in his hands even though it caused him agony. Finally in a flash of inspiration, the con-man snatched a turnip from a garden and carved it into a little lamp to hold the coal.

Jack never could find peace–his spirit still roams to this day, but over the different eras his lamp has become an enduring symbol of the Halloween season.  The devil, however, greatly appreciated Jack’s plan to infiltrate society in the form of money and he made many bold innovations in this direction (while being always watchful to steer clear of churches and cleric’s purses).  He’s probably lurking somewhere in my bank balance and in yours too.

Happy Halloween!

Ghosts and the disquieted dead abound in China and, as elsewhere, these manifold specters hold up a dark mirror to society as a whole.  Chinese folklore features hungry ghosts, hanged ghosts, sexually abused ghosts, and happy, helpful servant ghosts.  There are the wrongfully dead ghosts who were denied justice by merciless bureaucrats and there are drowned ghosts who always lurk in the water grabbing at things.  There are ghost brides, ghost thieves, and ghost hunters.  All of this is in addition to the countless fiends, demons, nature spirits, immortals, monsters, gods, and supernatural animals which make up the endlessly invigorating Chinese pantheon.    Yet out of all the many sorts of ghosts and revenants, one particular category of Chinese apparition stands out as an exemplary type specimen of the undead.   These are the jiāng shī, the hopping reanimated corpses which are analogous to the vampires and mummies of western horror.  In English such undead beings are called hopping ghosts or Chinese vampires.

Here’s a diagram?

Like vampires, jiāng shī feed off of the life energy of the living and command supernatural powers, but there are some big differences.  Jiāng shī are created in many different supernatural ways when the po, an aspect of the soul, is returned to the body (this often involves a shock of yin energy from cats or the moon), but they are essentially of two varieties:  1) recently dead souls who died far from home and literally hop back to where they are from sometimes with the help of a Taoist sorcerers, and sometimes through pure homesickness ; and 2) ancient corpses which have gone so long without decaying that they become reanimated by dark yin magic.  The Chinese name means “stiff corpse” and the undead monsters are literally stiff from rigor mortis.  Because of this handicap, jiāng shī have a hard time with mobility and their movements are often unnatural and erratic—hence they are believed to move by means of hopping (although some of the more powerful and ancient ones are also reputed to fly).   Unfortunately their lack of agility is more than made up for by superhuman strength.

They are not ladies’ men like western vampires and–hey! What’s going on here?

Contemporary hopping ghosts look like contemporary corpses–except for the fact that they are animated and are hopping violently and quickly towards you to suck out your qi energy (oh and they have long sharp fingernails).  Ancient jiāng shī, however, have a very distinctive and operatic look:  they are dressed in Qing dynasty graveclothes and they have pale green skin and white hair (as well as claws and fangs).  Both sorts of hopping ghosts bear an overwhelming smell of putrefaction with them—which is so appalling that it is occasionally fatal.  They feed on qi energy which they strangle/gouge out of their victims, either manually or by hopping on top of the heads of sleepers.

If you are having trouble with hopping ghosts, there are several ways of dealing with them.  The animated corpses are driven off by Taoist mirrors, brooms made with real straw, rice, or fresh chicken blood.  Sometimes applying a yellow and red Chinese death blessing to their forehead will give the jiāng shī peace (although this should be attempted only in extreme circumstances!).  They cannot abide the light of the sun.  In the end though there is only one sovereign remedy to permanently get rid of jiāng shī, and it is the ultimate solution to any undead problems.  If you burn a jiāng shī and all of its accessories (creepy funeral suit, coffin, etc.) you will be permanently rid of the monster.

Good old fire!

Statue of Molly Malone (Jeanne Rynhart, 1988, Bronze)

One of my favorite mawkish songs is “Cockles and Mussels.”  Not only is it a stirring melodramatic ballad concerning the sad death of a young Irishwoman, it is probably the only known song to feature ghost mollusks!  Let’s review the lyrics:

In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
“Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh”,
Crying “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”.
She was a fishmonger,
But sure ’twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they each wheeled their barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
(chorus)
She died of a fever,
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!

That seems pretty clear—the cockles and mussels travel beyond the grave with Molly and her ghost is left trying to sell their spirits in the variously sized thoroughfares of Ireland’s capital (even to me, that sounds like a futile business plan—who is the projected customer base here?).  The harrowing supernatural drama reminds me that I need to add posts about cockles (which are tiny edible saltwater clams found on sandy beaches worldwide) and mussels to Ferrebeekeeper’s mollusk category.

Beyond her working connection to the vast phylum of mollusks, her sweetness, and her death, little is known concerning Molly Malone.  This is ironic since the longstanding international success of the song has made her an unofficial mascot of Dublin and a mainstay of tourism there.  Various amateur historians have unsuccessfully tried to link the song with a historical personage to no avail.  It seems the ditty was created from imagination by a Scottish balladeer late in the nineteenth century and it was first published in the 1880s in America!

A clean line illustration of Molly for Waltons' Sheet Music to the Song

However the paucity of information has not stopped artists from portraying Molly (as is evident from the pictures dotted through this post).   Even if the song was an invention there is a real sense of futility, heartbreak and loss to it.  And just think of the poor ghostly shellfish spending eternity being hawked in the in-between neverworld of Dublintown.

The cover of "Sweet Molly Malone" by Mel Fisher and Dave Orchard

Once upon a time Chinese society emerged from an era of civil war, natural disaster, and economic calamity into an age of wealth and prosperity.  The Kang-Qian (Golden Age) of the Quing dynasty lasted during the reign of the emperors Kangxi (reigned 1662-1722), Yongzheng (r. 1722-36) and Qianlong (r. 1736-99). China grew phenomenally rich from its trade in textiles and tea.  Unchained from the shackles of long convention (and buoyed up by wealth and new foreign influences), Chinese painting took flight into bold new forms.

Detail from "Ghost Amusement" (Luo Ping, ca. 1766)

At the forefront of this art movement were the eight eccentrics of Yangzhou, a coterie of expressive and individualistic stylists from China’s trade center, Yangzhou.  The youngest (and perhaps the most eccentric) was a painter named Luo Ping who claimed to be able to see ghosts.  To quote the Metropolitan Museum’s website, “Luo Ping’s contemporary and enduring fame as an artist rests largely on his depictions of supernatural beings. The most celebrated work on the subject is the Ghost Amusement scroll. Painted around 1766, it instantly created a sensation…”

Detail from "Ghost Amusement" (Luo Ping, ca. 1766)

Luo Ping was a devout Buddhist who called himself by the sobriquet  ‘Monk of the Temple of Flowers’ (although when he was nineteen he fell in love with and married the poet Fang Wanyi).  The two frequently collaborated (which makes more sense in Chinese artistic culture where poetry, calligraphy,  and painting are all combined).  Although Luo Ping was greatly admired in his time, he refused proffered government posts (officialdom was the only road to greater wealth) and continued to make his living as an impoverished painter.  By the end of his life, however, he had moved his family  to Beijing, the center of imperial authority and he had returned its style to a more traditional one as imperial taste began to shift back to more conservative aesthetics of China’s past (and as the central authority began cracking down on what is saw as the decadence of merchants).

The Sword Terrace (Luo Ping, dated 1794, ink and color on paper)

The Sword Terrace (detail), dated 1794

I kept tropical aquariums as a child and, out of misplaced love, I killed ever so many poor little fish (I still have frequent anxiety dreams about my past mistakes).  My favorite of those hapless fish friends was a black ghost knife fish (Apteronotus albifrons).  Here’s a picture, but it doesn’t do the fish justice (because it’s hard to photograph things that are all black):

My black ghost knife fish, Ripley, was a fascinating character who would freeze into the shape of sword plant leaves and sway in the current to fool prey.  Ripley was an uncommonly gregarious fish who would always swim up to the front and show off for his (her?) favorite people when they entered the room.  During feeding time, Ripley would eat out of my hand and even lie across my palm.  He also liked to play in the bubble stream from the aerator and “surf” the water stream from the filter.

According to the redoubtable ichthyologist, Herbert Axelrod, Amazon tribal people believe ghost knife fish to be returned spirits of  dead ancestors and do not molest the fish.   Although I never heard a tribesman confirm this,  the fish do indeed look most ethereal.  Ghost knife fish hunt by reading/sensing electrical fields and they can emit an electric shock to fish who nip at their vermiform tail.  Because their almost vestigial eyes are not their foremost sense (and thanks to the remarkable fin which stretches down the length of their body), they like to swim backwards.

Although these fish can be bred in captivity, successful pairings are very rare.  Evidently Ripley was captured in the Amazon basin and shipped to the pet store where my little sister purchased him as a birthday present!  He lived in my community tank and one day I was trying to heal another fish’s fin rot so that it wouldn’t spread to Ripley.  But the medicine killed him.  Gah!  Rest ye in peace Ripley! You were the most likable fish I have ever known…

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