And a Tale or Two.
Jack Beats the Devil,
The Strange Figure in the Window,
"La Tierra de La Brujaria."
By Raymond A. Hall
Saturday, October 27, 2001.
DATELINE: Conway, Arkansas
Special to corndancer.com
My earliest knowledge of Halloween came from the Catholic school system in the 1950s in Indianapolis, Indiana. Around this time of the year the Nuns would always reinforce the idea that Halloween or "All Hallows Eve," was associated with "All Saints Day." This was a day for honoring the saints and as such we should view it with much reverence. During the month of October all events in the school were based on a religious motif and the secular tradition of Trick or Treat, associated with Halloween was to be endured as a matter of national tradition.
In this day and age Halloween as a national tradition has been researched by various sources which claim that it is derived from the ancient Celts and their festival to celebrate the end of summer. The idea of devils and witches coming out in force on this particular night may also have its source in the Celtic belief system. Though the Celts did not believe in devils and witches, they did believe in fairies or The Wee People who were seen as being very hostile toward man. Henry Glassie has edited a book entitled, Irish Folk tales, in which he discusses the folklore connected to these fairies. He observes that "the folk belief of people in Ireland today see the fairies as being indifferent to humans unless they venture too close to their dwelling places. It is then that all sorts of misfortune can befall the trespasser."
One source has attributed the tradition of Halloween as coming to the United States with "Irish immigrants in the 1900s who were fleeing the potato famine in their country." Whether this is true or not, there seems to be a lot of material giving credit to Irish influence of the tradition of Halloween.
The Jack-o-Lantern is also thought to have its origin in Irish folklore. The short version is that Jack is a worthless cad who makes a deal with the devil to spare his life for a certain period of time. Each time the deadline arrives Jack finds a way to trick the devil into an extension but eventually it is time for Jack to pay the bill. The devil being vengeful decides to condemn Jack to walk eternally in the dark halls of purgatory. Jack carves out a turnip in which he places a candle to light his way. When and if this tradition came to the United States with the Irish the turnip may have been replaced with the pumpkin.
This tale type, (Jack beats the devil, the devil gets even,) is very common in many cultures. In African American folklore this is a very popular tale type and Jack or John always seems to be the name of the protagonist. As a folklorist I would be interested in seeing a group of my students undertake a project based on Jack and his exploits with the devil as it appears in different cultures.
The Ghost in 420 S. Anderson,
At the beginning of the school year I was one of the faculty who had been assigned to the old security building converted to an office building at 420 S. Anderson. On the first day of classes I arrived at 7:00 a.m and parked in one of the parking spaces at the back of the building. As I got out of my car I had the sensation that someone was watching me, so I turned and for some reason looked to the upstairs window at the back of the building. I could just make out the shape of a person standing there watching me. I waved and the figure immediately moved back from the window. I figured this was one of the workers who had come to renovate the building and dismissed the incident.
For an hour or so I was the only one in the building except for the worker who I thought was upstairs. This I was sure of because every now and then I would hear a loud bump or the sound of shuffling feet. Eventually one of the workers arrived and as a joke and a way of making conversation I asked him if he had locked one of his helpers upstairs last night. He assured me that he was the first to arrive and was working alone. I dropped the incident and said nothing to my colleagues when they began to arrive.
It was not until I had noticed the figure in the window early in the morning on a couple of other occasions that I finally said something to one of my colleagues about the strange figure in the window. It was then that I was told that the security people had made references to the building being haunted. I am not saying it is or isn't, but as a folklorist all of this has whetted my interest in 420 S. Anderson.
In Coatzintla Veracruz, Mexico
The state of Veracruz, Mexico has a reputation among the people of Mexico as being, "La Tierra de La Brujaria," land of witchcraft. This attitude is directly associated with the fact that the port of Veracruz was a main entry point for many of the slaves brought from Africa during Mexico's colonial period. With them they brought a belief system that the Europeans mistakenly believed to be founded on devil worship and witchcraft. Even today there is a strong belief that many strange and unusual events take place in this area of Mexico. It is in this setting that my story takes place twenty years ago around Halloween.
I was living in the town of Coatzintla, Veracruz, and teaching at a high school in Poza Rica Veracruz about five mile away. At that time the area in between the two towns was still pretty much dense woods and jungle with a local cemetery right in the middle of the forest. One of my friends in Coatzintla was an old lady thought by the people of the town to be a bruja (witch). She would often come by my house and bring me little gifts of food that I ate while we talked. She would often tell me that because I was a two-head (a person born with a veil or the placenta over their face) I was very vulnerable to danger from the supernatural world. What she meant is that because I could see them I was a threat.
Some days I would take a bus to school and the ride took me around the edges of the forest. In the evenings I would often take the trail through the forest that led past the cemetery. A few days before Halloween one of my friends was killed in a car wreck while on her way back from a visit to the mountains. In this area of Mexico the body is usually put into the ground within twenty-four hours after death and they don't practice the art of embalming.
Three days after my friend was buried, I was on my way to school when the Bruja showed up at my door and told me that I must not under any circumstances cut through the woods for the next three days. These were her only words and then she turned and walked away.
I thought it was an odd request but thought no more about it. After leaving my evening class I decided to take the route through the woods because it was faster than the bus with all of its stops. When I first entered the woods I could hear all the sounds of the little animals as they scurried about on their nocturnal ventures. Nearing the cemetery I suddenly noticed that the air had become very still and there were no more sounds from the animals. At this point I remembered the warning from the bruja earlier that morning and a chill went down my spine.
Soon I was passing the gate to the cemetery and all of a sudden I heard a voice calling me that sounded like that of my deceased friend. Looking into the cemetery I noticed a figure standing under a tree that sat atop a small hill deep inside the cemetery. My first instinct was to run but something drew me inside toward the figure. The closer I got the more the figure resembled my friend, but I could not see the face clearly. When I was finally about thirty feet away it became apparent that this was not a creature of this world, but something which resembled a rotting body, although not animated. I tried to turn and run, but my feet would not move. It was as if an unseen force was holding me to the spot and all the while this thing was moving closer to me with out stretched rotted arms.
Just before the thing was able to touch me, my feet became unstuck and I turned and ran, but as I looked back I could see this thing chasing me and getting closer. As I reached the entrance the rotted arm finally grabbed me by the shoulder as I went through the gate. The portion of the arm that went through the gate with me suddenly caught fire and I noticed that the thing did not follow me out of the gate. I never stopped running until I reached my house and inside I found the old bruja huddled over a bowl that seemed to contain bones and rocks. She looked up and said that she knew I would not take her advice and would cut through the woods on this night. She said it was only by her magic that I had escaped the GEE-GEE, the thing that had pursued me.
The old lady went on to tell me that when a person is cursed, which must have happened to my friend, they must remain in the graveyard for six days before they can leave to terrorize people. Leaving before that time would cause the body to burn up. Another important point is that my having been the first person to see the GEE-GEE that it would forever be after me. This especially because I was a two-head. She said I was not to worry because she was going to give me something that would protect me during my most vulnerable time. That time is "All Hallows Eve" and since that time I have seen or heard that GEE-GEE at times during Halloween, but have always had my protection.
Believe It or Not....
Dr. Raymond A. Hall Ph.D.
Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures University of Central Arkansas
As a young boy I loved to read and one of my favorite authors was Jack London because the things he wrote were always so full of adventure. What really captivated me about Jack London was the idea that his stories were derived from his real life experiences. Not only was he an adventurer, he was also a scholar. Early in life I had decided that I would not be an empty dreamer, but one who lives his dreams, and those have all been filled with adventure. Because of my life experiences I was drawn to the field of folklore. In folklore I have a Ph.D but also hold a Master's in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and a Bachelor's in Spanish.
As an underwater researcher I have had a boat sink while our dive team was on the bottom of the ocean in Florida Gulf far from shore. On another project in the Caribbean we were capsized in shark infested waters and spent five hours floating around until we could be rescued. As a researcher I have also conducted projects in areas where no person of color such as me would spend a day, not to mention weeks. Because of my love of folklore I have more often than not been a participant observer in many of the rituals practiced by indigenous people in Mexico. To be at the University of Central Arkansas teaching Spanish and courses in culture is proving to be an enjoyable adventure.
Raymond A. Hall
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