A Skeptical Law Student

AntoniodeTorquemada

Antonio de Torquemada.

In the “Garden of Curious Flowers (1570),” a hodgepodge work of miscellanies that had the proud distinction of being banned by the Inquisition, the Spanish author Antonio de Torquemada recounted a bizarre story that many people in Italy and Spain could supposedly vouch for. The tale concerned a student named Juan Vázquez de Ayola, who with two of his friends went to Bologna to study law.

While searching for a place to stay, the Spaniards asked some local men in the street if they knew any places friendly to foreigners. One of the men, smiling, pointed to a boarded-up house. His friends told the Spaniards that this was meant to be a good old-fashioned Bolognese joke; the house had been unavailable the past twelve years because it was haunted. Ayola, playing the straight man, asked if he could have the keys.

The owner of the house did his best to turn the students away. He told them all about the horrible things people had seen there, but the Spaniards laughed them off. They were modern 16th century college boys, dammit, and they didn’t believe in anything as silly as ghosts. So the owner coughed up the keys and the Spaniards got themselves a haunted house.

After moving in, the Spaniards had a hard time finding servants for their new home. They were able to hire one woman as a cook, but she refused to do her job inside the house. A month passed, and much to the astonishment of the Bolognese, the Spaniards were still living in the house without having seen or heard anything strange.

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How Gnomes Drove an Artist to Kill Herself

GhostTower

The Castle of La Boca, named after the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where it stands, is a big and beautiful representation of Catalan modernism. It’s also supposedly haunted, which is why many people call the building’s tower “The Ghost Tower.” The eponymous ghost of the tower is said to haunt the top floor, where people have heard anguished shouts and disembodied footsteps.

According to legend, the ghost is a painter named Clementina, a young art student who lived there a century ago. The story behind Clementina’s demise involves a nostalgic rancher, a noisy reporter, and a bunch of mischievous follets, a creature in Catalan folklore similar to gnomes.

The story begins with the estanciera (rancher) Maria Luisa Auvert Arnaud. Auvert owned a very profitable estancia, a rural estate like a ranch, making her one of the wealthiest people in Buenos Aires. In the early 20th century, Argentina was experiencing a great boom in immigration from Europe. Hoping to make some money off these new Argentinians, Auvert bought a plot of land in La Boca and planned to get into real estate.

Despite her French-sounding name, Auvert’s family had roots in Catalonia. On her new land, Auvert hired the Catalan architect Guillermo Alvarez to build a house that would remind her of her family’s homeland. To maximize the Catalan flavor, Auvert imported furniture and plants from the old country, including some mushrooms she put on the balconies.

When the construction was completed in 1908, Auvert was so happy with the final product that she dropped the idea of renting the building and took the house for herself. The Castle should have been her dream home, but Auvert quietly packed her bags after living there for only a year. Nobody knew why she moved so suddenly, though neighbors said they sometimes heard her and her servants yelling at something at night.

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A Warning Unheeded: A Victorian Account of Precognitive Dreams

unknown artist; Reverend Frederick George Lee (1832-1902)

Painting of Frederick George Lee.

Today’s article is an account from Frederick George Lee’s 1885 “Glimpses in the Twilight: Being Various Notes, Records, and Examples of the Supernatural.” Lee was an English priest who believed in ghosts and wrote several books about the supernatural. He recorded this story, verbatim,  from the member of a Buckinghamshire family called Hickman. Unfortunately, the narrator gives us no date, but I assume it happened in the earlier part of the century. 

My grandfather had a favourite daughter. She was his youngest child, had been born about ten years after the birth of his youngest son, and to her he was devotedly attached. The loss of his wife when his youngest daughter was about sixteen years of age, seemed to deepen and strengthen the affectionate attachment in question.

He himself is said to have been a very hard-headed, unromantic, anti-sentimental man, who had been largely influenced by the Scotch philosophers of the last century in rejecting the revealed religion of Christ; and during the latter part of his life, with a habit of sneering and cynicism, appears to have given up any belief in God, the soul, or immortality.

He was, however, reputed to have been a person of great integrity and good principles; living an upright life, respected by his friends, and a good friend as regards things temporal to his poorer neighbors.

The daughter in question, going with others to an outdoor party in one of the most beautiful parts of Buckinghamshire, not far from Wendover, rambling far from headquarters, was with several others overtaken by a storm, caught a severe cold, went home, took to her bed, and in less than ten days was buried in the village churchyard.

The young girl in question was very fair both in form and features; and friends who came to see her in her coffin said that she had never in all her life looked more beautiful. She was interred in the family vault amid the tears of her relations, and to the intense grief of her sorrowing parent.

Her father was inconsolable at his loss, the more so as he knew nothing of the consolations of religion, having long ago rejected them, and fretted much at what he looked upon as the stern decrees of Fate.

The night after the funeral he is said to have had a most vivid dream. He dreamt that his daughter was confined in a cold and narrow underground cell, and that two resolute jailers were slowly filling her mouth with small pieces of cotton wool, in order to forcibly suffocate her; but that in the greatest trouble and agony she continued to resist, and would not be suffocated.

The dream disturbed him considerably; but, on waking and thinking over it, he acknowledged that his recent loss had no doubt served to disorganize his stomach, to confuse his brain, and to give rise to such fantastic fancies of the night.

However, a similar dream was had on the following night, and a third to his great astonishment on the night succeeding. His mental anguish and stress became so great that, at sunrise on the third day he rose from his bed, and went off to the clergyman of the parish to narrate what had happened, and to ask his counsel.

The clergyman, who had not then risen, surprised at being roused so early, came downstairs, listened to the curious and affecting narrative, and at once advised the immediate opening of the vault. This was done at once, and the coffin examined.

Under further advice- that of a doctor from the country town, who was going his rounds to visit his patients- the coffin was opened, when, to the horror of all who witnessed what was then and there discovered, it seemed perfectly clear that the young girl had been buried alive.

It was obvious that she had been put into the coffin in a state of suspended animation or trance, and that since the burial (for the body was turned and twisted, the hands compressed, the nails being dug into their palms, and the face fearfully contorted), the poor creature had died of suffocation.

An inquiry which was held resulted in nothing that could either give consolation to the living or benefit to the dead. The bare and melancholy facts as here recorded were both undoubted and unquestioned. The father of the girl soon afterwards died of grief, wasted away from sorrowing; and, as some said, died of a broken heart.

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The Albino Ghost of Montebello Castle

ghost2

Azzurrina is the nickname of an albino ghost girl who’s said to haunt Italy’s Montebello Castle.

“Azzurrina”, an Italian word meaning “little blue”, is the nickname of a young girl who’s said to haunt the Castle of Montebello in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. According to legend, Azzurrina was born Guendalina Malatesta, the daughter of a 14th century nobleman. Unlike the rest of her dark-haired family, Guendalina was an albino who had white hair and pale skin. Since albinos were widely feared and hated during the time, Guendalina’s mother tried dyeing her daughter’s hair black. The herbs she used didn’t work very well, however, and instead gave Guendalina’s hair a bluish tint, hence her nickname Azzurrina.

Because of her condition, Azzurrina’s parents were very protective of her. They kept her in the castle at all times, where she was guarded by two men, Domenico and Ruggero. As the story goes, there was a big storm on June 21, 1375. That night, Azzurrina was playing with a rag ball in a room in the castle. While Domenico and Ruggero were standing off somewhere else, they suddenly heard Azzurrina let out a terrible scream. The two guards then rushed to her room, but found no trace of the girl or the ball. Although they searched all over the castle and its grounds, nobody ever found Azzurrina’s body. It was as though she had vanished into thin air.

dis

The area in Montebello Castle where Azzurrina disappeared.

 

One variant of the story says that Azzurrina had accidentally thrown her ball down into a open cellar where ice was stored. Another version claims that some invisible force grabbed the ball out of her hands and rolled it down into the cellar by itself. Regardless of what exactly happened, Azzurrina’s body and ball were never found. Her father, who was away in a battle during the time, had Domenico and Ruggero executed after he found out what happened. On the fifth anniversary of her disappearance, Azzurrina returned to the castle as a ghost. She has since re-appeared every five years.

Azzurrina’s bizarre story was passed down as an oral legend for more than 250 years before somebody decided to write it down. In 1620, it was recorded by a parish priest in a book about local legends and folklore. No copy of this book has survived to modern times, and some believe that the book might not exist at all. There is, in fact, no evidence that the story ever happened. Unless that priest’s book ever turns up, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to doubt that Azzurrina’s story originated as an authentic medieval legend either. Some have traced the appearance of the story only as far back as the 20th century.

monte

A picture of Montebello Castle.

Still, whatever its lack of authenticity, psychics and TV producers know a good ghost story when they hear one. On the anniversary of Azzurrina’s disappearance in 1990 and 1995, television crews allegedly captured the voice of a crying little girl  on their recording equipment. In 2000, the child’s voice was heard again, this time crying and possibly calling for her mamma. A 2005 recording captured a single voice saying the name “Alosio”, and a group of voices chanting an old Hebrew word for the devil, “belial”. Another investigation in 2010 apparently captured nothing.

I’m not sure whether anybody tried recording Azzurrina on June 21, 2015, but Rimini Today posted a pretty interesting article about the case the day before the anniversary that year. According to Leo Farinelli, a man who spent 20 years researching the story and contacting Azzurrina through psychics, Guendalina was actually born in 1375 to Uguccione Della Faggiola and Costanza Malatesta. She was not actually albino, but blonde-haired and Nordic-looking. This made Uguccione suspect that the girl wasn’t his. Although Costanza insisted that she never cheated on her husband, there was a blonde-haired French guard in the castle who resembled Azzurrina. At the age of 8, Azzurrina disappeared from the castle in December 1383.

If Farinelli’s research is correct, perhaps the story got twisted and spiced up a bit over the hundreds of years it was passed down. The albino element, which Farinelli claimed was added by the priest who allegedly wrote the story down in 1620, might have covered up the real cause of Azzurrina’s disappearance: murder. Some have suggested that the palace guard was Azzurrina’s real father, and Uguccione arranged for her to “disappear” to save himself embarrassment. For those curious enough to investigate the story themselves, Montebello Castle is open to visitors for a slight fee nearly all-year round.

 

The Massacre of the Albertis

The town of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

The town of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

Located in the southern Italian region of Calabria, Pentedattilo is a ghost town with a very interesting history. Its name, which means “five fingers”, refers to a mountain located around the town. Before an earthquake disfigured it in 1783, the mountain had five rock towers that resembled a human hand with fingers. Local legend held that the mountain, nicknamed the Devil’s Hand, would one day collapse and fall on mankind. This curse was said to have been cast by Lorenzo Alberti, one of the victims of an infamous historical incident known as The Massacre of the Albertis.

In 1686, Baron Bernardino Abenavoli fell in love with Antoinette Alberti, the daughter of the family that had owned the fiefdom of Pentedattilo since the late 16th century. The Abenavolis, the former lords of Pentedattilo, had been in a rivalry with the Alberti family ever since. Due to this feud, Antoinette had little interest in Bernardino. When it was announced in April that Antoinette would be marrying Don Petrillo Cortez, the son of the Viceroy of Naples, Bernardino was struck with rage.

Picture of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

Picture of Pentedattilo. (Image source/credit here.)

On the night of April 21, Bernardino carried out a horrific plan for revenge. After bribing one of the Alberti family’s servants, Bernardino was let inside their castle with a group of his followers. Their first victim was Lorenzo, Antoinette’s brother and the head of the Albertis. As he was sleeping in his bedroom, Lorenzo was ambushed by Bernardino and then shot and stabbed to death. With the exception of Antoinette, the Alberti family and most of their guests were all massacred, including Antoinette’s 9-year-old brother Simone, who had his head bashed against a rock.

Don Petrillo Cortez and his family were spared as well, but they were taken by Bernardino as hostages. On April 19, Bernardino married Antoinette.  Word of the massacre spread quickly, however, and Cortez’s father sent a military expedition to capture Bernardino and his collaborators a few days later.  Although 7 of Bernardino’s men were captured and beheaded, including the servant who let them into the Alberti castle, Bernardino managed to escape to Malta. He later joined the Austrian army, and died on the battlefield in 1692. Antoinette, filled with grief that she was the cause of the massacre, spent the rest of her life as a nun.

Ruins of the Alberti castle. (Image source/ credit here.)

Ruins of the Alberti castle. (Image source/ credit here.)

Now even though Lorenzo Alberti died in his castle, the town’s folklore says that he was killed near the rock walls of the mountain. As he laid dying, Lorenzo pushed his bloody hand against the walls, leaving a permanent imprint that glowed red when the sun went down. On some nights, his screams can be heard coming from the mountain. On the anniversary of the massacre, shadows of the victims are said to appear all over the town, running from other shadows that chase them with knives.

Another legend related to the massacre and the mountain’s disfigurement involves a secret treasure allegedly left behind by Bernardino Abenavoli. One night, a ghost told a knight who was passing by the mountain that the five fingers would collapse and reveal the Abenavoli treasure if somebody would run around the mountain five times. Many people tried running around the mountain, but it never collapsed. A knight from Sicily heard about the challenge and decided to give it a try. Right as he was about to finish his fifth lap, one of the fingers suddenly fell off the mountain and crushed him.

Following an earthquake in 1783, a lot of the townspeople left Pentedattilo for the town of Melito Porto Salvo. Pentedattilo was completely abandoned by the 1960s, although today it hosts the site of an annual international film festival.

Hoichi the Earless: A Classic Japanese Ghost Story

This story comes from “Kwaidan”, a classic collection of Japanese ghost stories written by Lafcadio Hearn in 1904. Hearn’s book in its entirety can be read here for free. 

A statue of Hoichi the Earless. Source: madeinmatsue.com

A statue of Hoichi the Earless. Source: madeinmatsue.com

More than seven hundred years ago, at Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of Shimonoseki, was fought the last battle of the long contest between the Heike, or Taira clan, and the Genji, or Minamoto clan. There the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant emperor likewise–now remembered as Antoku Tenno. And that sea and shore have been haunted for seven hundred years… Elsewhere I told you about the strange crabs found there, called Heike crabs, which have human faces on their backs, and are said to be the spirits of the Heike warriors. But there are many strange things to be seen and heard along that coast. On dark nights thousands of ghostly fires hover about the beach, or flit above the waves,–pale lights which the fishermen call Oni-bi, or demon-fires; and, whenever the winds are up, a sound of great shouting comes from that sea, like a clamor of battle.

Picture of onibi. Source: yokai.com.

Picture of onibi. Source: yokai.com.

In former years the Heike were much more restless than they now are. They would rise about ships passing in the night, and try to sink them; and at all times they would watch for swimmers, to pull them down. It was in order to appease those dead that the Buddhist temple, Amidaji, was built at Akamagaseki. A cemetery also was made close by, near the beach; and within it were set up monuments inscribed with the names of the drowned emperor and of his great vassals; and Buddhist services were regularly performed there, on behalf of the spirits of them. After the temple had been built, and the tombs erected, the Heike gave less trouble than before; but they continued to do queer things at intervals,–proving that they had not found the perfect peace.

Some centuries ago there lived at Akamagaseki a blind man named Hoichi, who was famed for his skill in recitation and in playing upon the biwa [A Japanese lute] From childhood he had been trained to recite and to play; and while yet a lad he had surpassed his teachers. As a professional biwa-hoshi he became famous chiefly by his recitations of the history of the Heike and the Genji; and it is said that when he sang the song of the battle of Dan-no-ura “even the goblins [kijin] could not refrain from tears.”

A biwa. Source:japanesestrings.com.

A biwa. Source:japanesestrings.com.

At the outset of his career, Hoichi was very poor; but he found a good friend to help him. The priest of the Amidaji was fond of poetry and music; and he often invited Hoichi to the temple, to play and recite. Afterwards, being much impressed by the wonderful skill of the lad, the priest proposed that Hoichi should make the temple his home; and this offer was gratefully accepted. Hoichi was given a room in the temple-building; and, in return for food and lodging, he was required only to gratify the priest with a musical performance on certain evenings, when otherwise disengaged.

One summer night the priest was called away, to perform a Buddhist service at the house of a dead parishioner; and he went there with his acolyte, leaving Hoichi alone in the temple. It was a hot night; and the blind man sought to cool himself on the verandah before his sleeping-room. The verandah overlooked a small garden in the rear of the Amidaji. There Hoichi waited for the priest’s return, and tried to relieve his solitude by practicing upon his biwa. Midnight passed; and the priest did not appear. But the atmosphere was still too warm for comfort within doors; and Hoichi remained outside. At last he heard steps approaching from the back gate. Somebody crossed the garden, advanced to the verandah, and halted directly in front of him–but it was not the priest. A deep voice called the blind man’s name–abruptly and unceremoniously, in the manner of a samurai summoning an inferior:–

“Hoichi!”

“Hai!” [Japanese word for “yes”] answered the blind man, frightened by the menace in the voice,–“I am blind!–I cannot know who calls!”

“There is nothing to fear,” the stranger exclaimed, speaking more gently. “I am stopping near this temple, and have been sent to you with a message. My present lord, a person of exceedingly high rank, is now staying in Akamagaseki, with many noble attendants. He wished to view the scene of the battle of Dan-no-ura; and to-day he visited that place. Having heard of your skill in reciting the story of the battle, he now desires to hear your performance: so you will take your biwa and come with me at once to the house where the august assembly is waiting.”

Woodcut of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Source: www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com

Woodcut of the Battle of Dan-no-Ura. Source: http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com

In those times, the order of a samurai was not to be lightly disobeyed. Hoichi donned his sandals, took his biwa, and went away with the stranger, who guided him deftly, but obliged him to walk very fast. The hand that guided was iron; and the clank of the warrior’s stride proved him fully armed,–probably some palace-guard on duty. Hoichi’s first alarm was over: he began to imagine himself in good luck;–for, remembering the retainer’s assurance about a “person of exceedingly high rank,” he thought that the lord who wished to hear the recitation could not be less than a daimyo of the first class. Presently the samurai halted; and Hoichi became aware that they had arrived at a large gateway;–and he wondered, for he could not remember any large gate in that part of the town, except the main gate of the Amidaji. “Kaimon!” the samurai called,–and there was a sound of unbarring; and the twain passed on. They traversed a space of garden, and halted again before some entrance; and the retainer cried in a loud voice, “Within there! I have brought Hoichi.” Then came sounds of feet hurrying, and screens sliding, and rain-doors opening, and voices of womeni n converse. By the language of the women Hoichi knew them to be domestics in some noble household; but he could not imagine to what place he had been conducted. Little time was allowed him for conjecture. After he had been helped to mount several stone steps, upon the last of which he was told to leave his sandals, a woman’s hand guided him along interminable reaches of polished planking, and round pillared angles too many to remember, and over widths amazing of matted floor,–into the middle of some vast apartment. There he thought that many great people were assembled: the sound of the rustling of silk was like the sound of leaves in a forest. He heard also a great humming of voices,–talking in undertones; and the speech was the speech of courts.

Hoichi was told to put himself at ease, and he found a kneeling-cushion ready for him. After having taken his place upon it, and tuned his instrument, the voice of a woman–whom he divined to be the Rojo, or matron in charge of the female service–addressed him, saying,–

“It is now required that the history of the Heike be recited, to the accompaniment of the biwa.”

Now the entire recital would have required a time of many nights: therefore Hoichi ventured a question:–

“As the whole of the story is not soon told, what portion is it augustly desired that I now recite?”

The woman’s voice made answer:–

“Recite the story of the battle at Dan-no-ura,–for the pity of it is the most deep.”

Then Hoichi lifted up his voice, and chanted the chant of the fight on the bitter sea,–wonderfully making his biwa to sound like the straining of oars and the rushing of ships, the whirr and the hissing of arrows, the shouting and trampling of men, the crashing of steel upon helmets, the plunging of slain in the flood. And to left and right of him, in the pauses of his playing, he could hear voices murmuring praise: “How marvelous an artist!”–“Never in our own province was playing heard like this!”–“Not in all the empire is there another singer like Hoichi!” Then fresh courage came to him, and he played and sang yet better than before; and a hush of wonder deepened about him. But when at last he came to tell the fate of the fair and helpless,–the piteous perishing of the women and children,–and the death-leap of Nii-no-Ama, with the imperial infant in her arms,–then all the listeners uttered together one long, long shuddering cry of anguish; and thereafter they wept and wailed so loudly and so wildly that the blind man was frightened by the violence and grief that he had made. For much time the sobbing and the wailing continued. But gradually the sounds of lamentation died away; and again, in the great stillness that followed, Hoichi heard the voice of the woman whom he supposed to be the Rojo.

Hoichi playing for his mysterious audience in a scene from the 1964 movie Kwaidan. Image source: uponobservingthis.wordpress.com

Hoichi playing for his mysterious audience in a scene from the 1964 movie Kwaidan. Image source: uponobservingthis.wordpress.com

She said:–

“Although we had been assured that you were a very skillful player upon the biwa, and without an equal in recitative, we did not know that any one could be so skillful as you have proved yourself to-night. Our lord has been pleased to say that he intends to bestow upon you a fitting reward. But he desires that you shall perform before him once every night for the next six nights–after which time he will probably make his august return-journey. To-morrow night, therefore, you are to come here at the same hour. The retainer who to-night conducted you will be sent for you… There is another matter about which I have been ordered to inform you. It is required that you shall speak to no one of your visits here, during the time of our lord’s august sojourn at Akamagaseki. As he is traveling incognito, [6] he commands that no mention of these things be made… You are now free to go back to your temple.”

After Hoichi had duly expressed his thanks, a woman’s hand conducted him to the entrance of the house, where the same retainer, who had before guided him, was waiting to take him home. The retainer led him to the verandah at the rear of the temple, and there bade him farewell.

It was almost dawn when Hoichi returned; but his absence from the temple had not been observed,–as the priest, coming back at a very late hour, had supposed him asleep. During the day Hoichi was able to take some rest; and he said nothing about his strange adventure. In the middle of the following night the samurai again came for him, and led him to the august assembly, where he gave another recitation with the same success that had attended his previous performance.

Image source: asiancinefest.blogspot.com

Image source:
asiancinefest.blogspot.com

But during this second visit his absence from the temple was accidentally discovered; and after his return in the morning he was summoned to the presence of the priest, who said to him, in a tone of kindly reproach:–

“We have been very anxious about you, friend Hoichi. To go out, blind and alone, at so late an hour, is dangerous. Why did you go without telling us? I could have ordered a servant to accompany you. And where have you been?”

Hoichi answered, evasively,–

“Pardon me kind friend! I had to attend to some private business; and I could not arrange the matter at any other hour.”

The priest was surprised, rather than pained, by Hoichi’s reticence: he felt it to be unnatural, and suspected something wrong. He feared that the blind lad had been bewitched or deluded by some evil spirits. He did not ask any more questions; but he privately instructed the men-servants of the temple to keep watch upon Hoichi’s movements, and to follow him in case that he should again leave the temple after dark. On the very next night, Hoichi was seen to leave the temple; and the servants immediately lighted their lanterns, and followed after him. But it was a rainy night, and very dark; and before the temple-folks could get to the roadway, Hoichi had disappeared. Evidently he had walked very fast,–a strange thing, considering his blindness; for the road was in a bad condition. The men hurried through the streets, making inquiries at every house which Hoichi was accustomed to visit; but nobody could give them any news of him. At last, as they were returning to the temple by way of the shore, they were startled by the sound of a biwa, furiously played, in the cemetery of the Amidaji. Except for some ghostly fires–such as usually flitted there on dark nights–all was blackness in that direction. But the men at once hastened to the cemetery; and there, by the help of their lanterns, they discovered Hoichi,–sitting alone in the rain before the memorial tomb of Antoku Tenno, making his biwa resound, and loudly chanting the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. And behind him, and about him, and everywhere above the tombs, the fires of the dead were burning, like candles. Never before had so great a host of Oni-bi appeared in the sight of mortal man…

“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!” the servants cried,–“you are bewitched!… Hoichi San!”

But the blind man did not seem to hear. Strenuously he made his biwa to rattle and ring and clang;–more and more wildly he chanted the chant of the battle of Dan-no-ura. They caught hold of him;–they shouted into his ear,–

“Hoichi San!–Hoichi San!–come home with us at once!”

Reprovingly he spoke to them:–

“To interrupt me in such a manner, before this august assembly, will not be tolerated.”

Whereat, in spite of the weirdness of the thing, the servants could not help laughing. Sure that he had been bewitched, they now seized him, and pulled him up on his feet, and by main force hurried him back to the temple,–where he was immediately relieved of his wet clothes, by order of the priest. Then the priest insisted upon a full explanation of his friend’s astonishing behavior.

Hoichi long hesitated to speak. But at last, finding that his conduct had really alarmed and angered the good priest, he decided to abandon his reserve; and he related everything that had happened from the time of first visit of the samurai.

The priest said:–

“Hoichi, my poor friend, you are now in great danger! How unfortunate that you did not tell me all this before! Your wonderful skill in music has indeed brought you into strange trouble. By this time you must be aware that you have not been visiting any house whatever, but have been passing your nights in the cemetery, among the tombs of the Heike;–and it was before the memorial-tomb of Antoku Tenno that our people to-night found you, sitting in the rain. All that you have been imagining was illusion–except the calling of the dead. By once obeying them, you have put yourself in their power. If you obey them again, after what has already occurred, they will tear you in pieces. But they would have destroyed you, sooner or later, in any event… Now I shall not be able to remain with you to-night: I am called away to perform another service. But, before I go, it will be necessary to protect your body by writing holy texts upon it.”

Image source: www.flickr.com

Image source: http://www.flickr.com

Before sundown the priest and his acolyte stripped Hoichi: then, with their writing-brushes, they traced upon his breast and back, head and face and neck, limbs and hands and feet,–even upon the soles of his feet, and upon all parts of his body,–the text of the holy sutra called Hannya-Shin-Kyo. When this had been done, the priest instructed Hoichi, saying:–

“To-night, as soon as I go away, you must seat yourself on the verandah, and wait. You will be called. But, whatever may happen, do not answer, and do not move. Say nothing and sit still–as if meditating. If you stir, or make any noise, you will be torn asunder. Do not get frightened; and do not think of calling for help–because no help could save you. If you do exactly as I tell you, the danger will pass, and you will have nothing more to fear.”

After dark the priest and the acolyte went away; and Hoichi seated himself on the verandah, according to the instructions given him. He laid his biwa on the planking beside him, and, assuming the attitude of meditation, remained quite still,–taking care not to cough, or to breathe audibly. For hours he stayed thus.

Then, from the roadway, he heard the steps coming. They passed the gate, crossed the garden, approached the verandah, stopped–directly in front of him.

“Hoichi!” the deep voice called. But the blind man held his breath, and sat motionless.

“Hoichi!” grimly called the voice a second time. Then a third time–savagely:–

“Hoichi!”

Hoichi remained as still as a stone,–and the voice grumbled:–

“No answer!–that won’t do!… Must see where the fellow is.”…

There was a noise of heavy feet mounting upon the verandah. The feet approached deliberately,–halted beside him. Then, for long minutes,–during which Hoichi felt his whole body shake to the beating of his heart,–there was dead silence.

At last the gruff voice muttered close to him:–

“Here is the biwa; but of the biwa-player I see–only two ears!… So that explains why he did not answer: he had no mouth to answer with–there is nothing left of him but his ears… Now to my lord those ears I will take–in proof that the august commands have been obeyed, so far as was possible”…

At that instant Hoichi felt his ears gripped by fingers of iron, and torn off! Great as the pain was, he gave no cry. The heavy footfalls receded along the verandah,–descended into the garden,–passed out to the roadway,–ceased. From either side of his head, the blind man felt a thick warm trickling; but he dared not lift his hands…

Before sunrise the priest came back. He hastened at once to the verandah in the rear, stepped and slipped upon something clammy, and uttered a cry of horror;–for he say, by the light of his lantern, that the clamminess was blood. But he perceived Hoichi sitting there, in the attitude of meditation–with the blood still oozing from his wounds.

“My poor Hoichi!” cried the startled priest,–“what is this?… You have been hurt?

At the sound of his friend’s voice, the blind man felt safe. He burst out sobbing, and tearfully told his adventure of the night.

“Poor, poor Hoichi!” the priest exclaimed,–“all my fault!–my very grievous fault!… Everywhere upon your body the holy texts had been written–except upon your ears! I trusted my acolyte to do that part of the work; and it was very, very wrong of me not to have made sure that he had done it!… Well, the matter cannot now be helped;–we can only try to heal your hurts as soon as possible… Cheer up, friend!–the danger is now well over. You will never again be troubled by those visitors.”

With the aid of a good doctor, Hoichi soon recovered from his injuries. The story of his strange adventure spread far and wide, and soon made him famous. Many noble persons went to Akamagaseki to hear him recite; and large presents of money were given to him,–so that he became a wealthy man… But from the time of his adventure, he was known only by the appellation of Mimi-nashi-Hoichi: “Hoichi-the-Earless.”

20 Classic Woodblock Prints of Japanese Ghosts and Monsters

This is a gallery of 20 Japanese woodblock prints depicting yūrei (ghosts) and yōkai (monsters). Most of these were made in the 19th century. The name of each artist is listed below the respective print.

20. “The Sailor Tokuso and the Sea Monster.” A sailor encountering an umibozu, a sea spirit that destroys and drowns any boat that it comes across. They are said to be the souls of drowned monks.

yokai

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

19. “The Ghost Oiwa.” A character from the kabuki play Yotsuya Kaidan. Oiwa committed suicide and then returned from the grave to haunt her husband.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

18. “The Ghosts of Togo and His Wife” shows the ghosts of two peasants harassing their samurai lord.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

17. “Various Yokai Flying out of Wicker Clothes Hamper.”

Omoi Tsuzura.

Omoi Tsuzura.

16. The Yuki-onna (Snow Woman) kills people who are stuck in snowstorms by freezing them to death with her icy breath.

Sawaki Suushi.

Sawaki Suushi.

15. “Ashinaga and Tenaga Fishing.” The yokai with the long arms is an Ashinaga-jin, and the one with the long legs is a Tenaga-jin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

14. “Okiku the Well Ghost.” Okiku was a servant girl who was thrown into a well by her master.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

13. The ghost of Kohada Koeiji, a man who was killed by his wife and her lover. In this scene, he is hiding in a mosquito netting while watching his killers get into bed.

Katsushika Hokusai.

Katsushika Hokusai.

12. “A Ghost Appears to Kingo Chunagon.” Encounter of a ghost by late 16th century samurai Kingo Chunagon.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

11. “Child’s Nightmare of Ghosts.”

Kitagawa Utamaro.

Kitagawa Utamaro.

10. “Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre.” Takiyasha was a 10th century princess whose rebellious father was killed by the emperor. In this scene, Takiyasha has summoned a giant skeleton to fight imperial officials.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

9. I’m not sure about the title of this one, but the man is the immortal sage Gama-Sennin. The giant toad is Gama’s companion, and they’re watching some other toads fight.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

Utagawa Yoshitora.

8. “Oiwa the Lantern Ghost.” Another depiction of the ghost featured in entry 19#.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

7. Print from Kuniyoshi’s “Bakemono Chunshingura” series, a monster adaptation of a popular play about the 47 Ronin.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

6. Depiction of a scene from the kabuki play “Ume no hara gojusan tsugi”.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

5. “The Priest Raigo of Mii Temple Transformed By Wicked Thoughts into a Rat.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

4. “The Woman Shizunome Oyaku.”

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

3. “The Ghost of Kamata Matahachi.” This is a scene from the 1855 kabuki play “True Record of the Famous Song for Hand-balls”. The male ghost is Kamata Matahachi, and the female ghost behind him is Kikuno. They had both heard about a love affair the main character Mari Yashiro had, so Yashiro killed them.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

2. A print of tengu and other demon masks.

Utagawa Kunisada.

Utagawa Kunisada.

1. “The Laughing Demon.”

Katsushike Hokusai.

Katsushike Hokusai.

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