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Bodies of Water Bewitched by Female Ghosts


Delicate and terrible, water is home to hundreds of female ghosts.

“Humans share a natural attraction to water”, said Herman Melville in Moby Dick. “All men’s roads lead to water. Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.”

All civilizations with large bodies of water, or even any region with a pond or a well, will be bewitched by the liquid and will organize its life around it ––Which is why there are thousands of legends and stories about haunted waterways. Lagoons, swamps, vast lakes (such as the feared Loch Ness) or treacherous seas that are home to ever so delicate, ancient beasts, as old as the Earth, that awaken with the slightest touch, rumor or movement.

Manchac seems like one of the hundreds of swamps in Louisiana. But legend has it that there are creatures within it that are much scarier than alligators. It is also home to Julie White, a voodoo princess who, when she was alive, used to sit on her porch and predict the destruction of nearby villages, singing: “One day I will die and I’ll take you all with me.” On the day of her funeral in 1915, a hurricane actually slammed into the region and wiped out three villages. To this day, people still embark on nocturnal strolls around Manchac to disturb White’s ghost, like someone who prods a fierce and beautiful sleeping animal.

For reasons that one can only sense without knowing the answer (or without wanting to know it?), almost all aquatic ghosts are feminine. Water is a veil but also a monster, so delicate and so terrible.

In Humeji castle there is a maze and a well. In the well lives one of Japan’s most famous ghosts (a real Yuurimi, the kind of ghost that wears a white dress, has black hair and dismembered feet or hands). Okiku was a servant who worked for many years in one of Humeji’s dungeons. Her job was to guard ten expensive gold plaques for her master, samurai Tessan Aoyama. When he fell in love with her and secretly asked her to marry him, and she honorably declined, the samurai decided to hide one of the gold plaques. Okiku noticed that one had gone missing and began looking for it. And that is when Tessan went to her and told her that if she would not agree to be his lover he would blame her for the robbery of the plaque, and she would be tortured and then executed. Okiku, who didn’t want to spend time with Tessan, jumped into the castle well and drowned. To conceal the motive for the suicide, her master kept the plaque hidden and blamed Oriku.

Every night since her death, Okiku climbs out of the well, walks to the mansion and checks the plaques. The ghost counts them one by one and, when she reaches nine and can’t find the tenth, her spirit howls and laments unnaturally. The sight of this, which drove Tessan Aoyama mad and made him flee the castle, continues to this day, albeit less frequently and with less persistence.

Death by water, enveloped in that peaceful horror (such as a still well whose bottom is dark and infinite) combines with the feminine to create the perfect ghost. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard said that "for some souls, water is the matter of despair. It transmits a reverie whose horror is slow and tranquil […] The horror that smiles with the tender smile of a disconsolate mother. Death in still water has maternal characteristics. Peaceful horror is “dissolved in the water that makes the living seed light.”

The story of ‘the lady of the lake’ is one of the best known in the US. The typical encounter with this woman is recounted as such: a man is driving after dark along one of the roads that encircle the lake when, in front of him, on the road, he sees something strange: a young, lonesome woman dripping with water wearing a 1920s evening dress.

The man stops and asks the woman if she needs help. She asks him to take her to a nearby house and he agrees. The woman sits beside him in silence. When they arrive at the address that she had given him, the man asks the woman where she wants him to drop her, and is shocked to see that she has disappeared… She silently vanished, leaving just a wet stain on the car seat.

We have come across these drowned lives in all cultures and it would seem that all the maidens of water, apart from being under the influence of extreme melancholy, become the essence of water ––The stuff of nightmares, whose horror is slow and tranquil… perhaps exactly like a a wet stain on the car seat.

Author’s Twitter: @luciaomr

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