Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. Okay, something is stuck in my head and has been for a while. It’s a scene from the comedy Scary Movie 2. It’s a pretty fun comedy beat! But it’s also slanderous to a horror icon. The scene where one character berates another for being afraid of a skeleton, and then they clown on the poor spook. So with this inexplicably getting under my skin, I wanted to find folklore from around the world that proves skeleton based fiends are in fact both scary AND spooky, and should be respected as well as feared. Well, I also have The Skeleton Dance stuck in my head on a regular basis. That’s also a reason I’m doing this. We’ve actually covered a lot of folklore that could fit the theme on the show already when you look back on it. Wendigo are frequently depicted a skeletal, the nuckelavee being skinless tends to get assortedly described and drawn pretty bones out, strigoi can rot away to basically the bare bones with not much else, plus we had screaming skulls featured in some British location episodes. The topic is far from used up yet, however. Our enduring remains carry a lot of cultural weight and I’ve got some great stories today. This cultural cachet is both universal and pretty obvious when you think about it, as imagery of bones inherently remind of us of our own mortality. Skeletons belong on the inside, and we only generally get to see one once the outside is long gone. More than just death being the cessation of life, to be left with only a skeleton is to be long dead and gone. I can’t help but wonder if everyone is so eager to joke about the idea of being haunted by something skeletal, because there are some underlying nerves to making light of the subject? SECTION BREAK – They’re Big, And They’re Hungry A lot of people hearing this theme who know their Yokai are going to be expecting this one, so let’s not disappoint and dive right on in. If you want scary skeleton folklore, Japan has the Gashadokuro. The Gashadokuro is a Yokai born of malice, pain, and human remains. Plural. Very plural! Anywhere a whole load of dead bodies are left to lie, the people having suffered terribly and been abandoned with no proper burials can give rise to the conditions needed for a Gashadokuro. Famine, plague, and especially open warfare. Either a mass grave, or even just left where they fell, all the resentment of these miserable deaths festers spiritually as much as that of the physical flesh which rots away. Eventually all that remains are the skeletons, and the hatred. That’s when it happens. All the skulls will combine together, and reshape into a giant humanlike skeleton. Humanlike, because this is very much a supernatural monster that has been unleashed! The Gashadokuro, or “starving skeleton”. Thankfully only active at night, but worryingly enormous. Also, being an otherworldy monster created by death and suffering, it doesn’t have the nicest of dispositions. The more skulls of the dead that formed it, the bigger a Gashadokuro is. Although it can get bigger still! You see, it knows where to find more skulls to add to its mass, and how to distress the owner enough to make it fit spiritually. The Gashadokuro hunts people at night, and is very happy to eat anyone it finds alive. These massive abominations stomp around the countryside with their teeth chattering, haunting the remote lifeless areas that led to their creation for the most part, but as terrifying as hearing them may be that’s not actually a bad thing. This is the Gashadokuro just stomping about the place bored. When they spot some prey, they go completely silent, and begin creeping. It’s the silence you need to fear. The “gachi gachi” chattering of teeth and rattling of bones, the shaking of the ground as this immense creature strides along, these are signs they have not spotted anyone to eat. It’s the unnatural quiet that means you’re in trouble. All the wildlife has fled or frozen in fear. There’s nothing but the wind making so much as a whisper. You need to look around you, look BEHIND you, and hope you don’t see a giant starving skeleton creeping along the ground on all fours, holding its gleeful malice in check as it glides through the darkness until you are close enough to grab up and bite down upon… Technically, the Gashadokuro doesn’t need any sustenance. It isn’t alive, and doesn’t eat to keep going. It can get a little bigger by spreading some terror followed by going on a skull gobbling rampage, but this Yokai is fuelled by the misery that originally made it. This negative energy will eventually burn away, causing the unnatural fiend to crumble away to nothingness. Which is great in theory, but has some drawbacks. For as long as it is carried along by this Ju-on, the collective grudge of the miserable dead that formed it, it is as far as anyone has dared to find out invincible. It cannot be fought by any known means, by any number of people massed against it. An army cannot so much as scratch the damned thing, just give it a smorgasbord of yummy fresh skulls to tuck into. There are at least some saving graces here. They’re only active at night, Shinto charms can repel them, and most thankful of all is that the conditions needed to create one are rare in more modern and prosperous times. For a large enough mass death to go unnoticed and left to fester is incredibly unlikely. In the age of communication, at the very least a wide scale tragedy should at least be noticed and all the remains laid to rest properly. But I wouldn’t like to be out in the countryside at night, feeling the ground shake, hearing the rattling of bones, the chattering of giant unnatural teeth, and having the sinking feeling that somewhere an old mass grave has been disturbed and collectively gotten extremely angry about that. SECTION BREAK – A Test of Bravery This is a fun bit of American folklore from New Mexico involving a brave young man, the mischievous dead, and a moral lesson with quite the pay off. A boy in hard times had travelled far and wide looking for work, not only to no avail but both too far and too wide as he was caught out at night with nowhere to go. With no choice, they do their best to look for shelter, and happened across an empty dilapidated old house. He was at least fortunate enough to have a candle on him, and seeing that the house was better than nothing he settled down to sleep hoping for better fortune in the morning. Come the dead of night, there came a loud thump on the roof, startling the boy awake from a deep sleep. Confused, he lit his candle and looked about. At first, he saw nothing, until a voice called out from above: “I’m falling down!” The boy scrambled out of the way, just narrowly avoiding a skeletal arm dropping to the floor. The voice called out again: “I’m falling down!” Another arm fell down. Then a leg. Then a whole rib cage and spine, followed by the other leg, then the skull. Before the count of ten, the whole skeleton had not only fallen down from the roof, it had reassembled itself and stood up. It faced the poor boy empty socket to eyes, grinning madly. Determined not to show the fear he quite rightly felt, the boy grinned back, much to the delight of the skeleton. “You have courage, son. Are you brave enough to wrestle me?” The boy was terrified. Terrified enough to not refuse the gruesome apparition challenging him, so he accepted the challenge. A lack of flesh didn’t hinder the skeleton one bit, so the boy wrestled the bizarre opponent back and forth across the room of the ruined home. He remembered a trick his older brother had taught him, twisting suddenly to throw the skeleton to the ground flat on its bony back. This only seemed to delight the skeleton further! “You’ve won! Such courage deserves a reward. Come, I will give you my treasure.” This startled the boy. What treasure could there be, in a ruined old house with such a strange example of the restless dead. “Pick me up and carry me on your back to the next room. Don’t forget your candle.” Going along with the strange request, and after coming this far why not at this point, the boy grabbed his candle then picked up the skeleton to carry it piggyback. As they passed the threshold to the next room, the skeleton blew out the candle. The boy relit the candle, and the skeleton blew it right out again. Annoyed enough to not even be afraid, nor to question quite how a skeleton lacking in both lungs and lips managed to blow out a candle, the boy yelled at the it to stop that. This caused the skeleton to cackle with glee, so the boy warned it if the candle is blown out again he’s dropping it. So he lights the candle a third time, and the skeleton blows it right back out again. As promised, the skeleton is thrown on the floor, and forgetting all his fear at the uncanny he yells at the skeleton he’ll break all of its bones. At this, the skeleton was impressed at the spirit of the boy. “You are so courageous and strong, I will let you see my treasure.” The boy lit his candle once more, and looking around saw piles of gold and silver and jewels. A fortune beyond his wildest dreams! The skeleton spoke up. “I want you to promise me something.” He tore his eyes away from the piles of treasure to look at the skeleton, whose tone had turned serious. “I want you to promise me that you will gather all the poor people you can find in one day and give them each a bag of money. The rest you can keep for yourself.” The boy agreed without hesitation. To share this with the needy would obviously be a good thing, it didn’t even cross his mind to lie or else covet everything for himself. The skeleton gave a happy laugh and disappeared piece by piece before the boy’s eyes. The young man did exactly as promised, sharing as much of the treasure as possible before taking what was left home to his family. More than enough of it to live in comfort for the rest of his days. I really like this one. It has a bit of everything really, the macabre, adventure, then a reward for being pure of heart and following through on generosity. I can’t help but think it would have had a very different ending if the boy had gotten greedy, however. Probably best not to break a promise to the dead. All’s well that ends well, however! SECTION BREAK – In All Fairness Time for the first fairytale performance of 2023, and it’s one that Discworld fans will appreciate with the Grim Reaper getting a starring role. Godfather Death
Tale collected and retold by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
A poor man had twelve children and had to work day and night in order just to feed them. Thus when the thirteenth came into the world, not knowing what to do in his need, he ran out into the highway, intending to ask the first person whom he met to be the godfather.
The first person who came his way was our dear God, who already knew what was in his heart, and God said to him, "Poor man, I pity you. I will hold your child at his baptism, and care for him, and make him happy on earth."
The man said, "Who are you?"
"I am God."
"Then I do not wish to have you for a godfather," said the man. "You give to the rich, and let the poor starve."
Thus spoke the man, for he did not know how wisely God divides out wealth and poverty. Then he turned away from the Lord, and went on his way.
Then the devil came to him and said, "What are you looking for? If you will take me as your child's godfather, I will give him an abundance of gold and all the joys of the world as well."
The man asked, "Who are you?"
"I am the devil."
"Then I do not wish to have you for a godfather," said the man. You deceive mankind and lead them astray."
He went on his way, and then Death, on his withered legs, came walking toward him, and said, "Take me as your child's godfather."
The man asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Death, who makes everyone equal."
Then the man said, "You are the right one. You take away the rich as well as the poor, without distinction. You shall be my child's godfather.
Death answered, "I will make your child rich and famous, for he who has me for a friend cannot fail."
The man said, "Next Sunday is the baptism. Be there on time."
Death appeared as he had promised, and served as godfather in an orderly manner.
After the boy came of age his godfather appeared to him one day and asked him to go with him. He took him out into the woods and showed him an herb that grew there, saying, "Now you shall receive your godfather's present. I will turn you into a famous physician. Whenever you are called to a sick person I will appear to you. If I stand at the sick person's head, you may say with confidence that you can make him well again; then give him some of this herb, and he will recover. But if I stand at the sick person's feet, he is mine, and you must say that he is beyond help, and that no physician in the world could save him. But beware of using this herb against my will, or something very bad will happen to you."
It was not long before the young man had become the most famous physician in the whole world. People said of him, "He only needs to look at the sick in order to immediately know their condition, whether they will regain their health, or are doomed to die."
And people came to him from far and wide, taking him to their sick, and giving him so much money that he soon became a wealthy man.
Now it came to pass that the king became ill. The physician was summoned and was told to say if a recovery were possible. However, when he approached the bed, Death was standing at the sick man's feet, and so no herb on earth would be able to help him.
"If I could only deceive death for once," thought the physician. "He will be angry, of course, but because I am his godson he will shut one eye. I will risk it." He therefore took hold of the sick man and laid him the other way around, so that Death was now standing at his head. Then he gave the king some of the herb, and he recovered and became healthy again.
However, Death came to the physician, made a dark and angry face, threatened him with his finger, and said, "You have betrayed me. I will overlook it this time because you are my godson, but if you dare to do it again, it will cost you your neck, for I will take you yourself away with me."
Soon afterward the king's daughter became seriously ill. She was his only child, and he cried day and night until his eyes were going blind. Then he proclaimed that whosoever rescued her from death should become her husband and inherit the crown.
When the physician came to the sick girl's bed he saw Death at her feet. He should have remembered his godfather's warning, but he was so infatuated by the princess's great beauty and the prospect of becoming her husband that he threw all thought to the winds. He did not see that Death was looking at him angrily, lifting his hand into the air, and threatening him with his withered fist. He lifted up the sick girl and placed her head where her feet had been. Then he gave her some of the herb, and her cheeks immediately turned red, and life stirred in her once again.
Death, seeing that he had been cheated out of his property for a second time, approached the physician with long strides and said, "You are finished. Now it is your turn."
Then Death seized him so firmly with his ice-cold hand that he could not resist, and led him into an underground cavern. There the physician saw how thousands and thousands of candles were burning in endless rows, some large, others medium-sized, others small. Every instant some died out, and others were relit, so that the little flames seemed to be jumping about in constant change.
"See," said Death, "these are the life-lights of mankind. The large ones belong to children, the medium-sized ones to married people in their best years, and the little ones to old people. However, even children and young people often have only a tiny candle."
"Show me my life-light," said the physician, thinking that it still would be very large.
Death pointed to a little stump that was just threatening to go out, and said, "See, there it is."
"Oh, dear godfather," said the horrified physician, "light a new one for me. Do it as a favor to me, so that I can enjoy my life, and become king and the husband of the beautiful princess."
"I cannot," answered Death. "One must go out before a new one is lighted."
"Then set the old one onto a new one that will go on burning after the old one is finished," begged the physician.
Death pretended that he was going to fulfill this wish and took hold of a large new candle, but, desiring revenge, he purposely made a mistake in relighting it, and the little piece fell down and went out. The physician immediately fell to the ground, and he too was now in the hands of Death.
SECTION BREAK In summary? Skeletons are awesome, we should respect them more as spooky content instead of dunking on them for cheap laughs. Incidentally, your own skeleton is wet. Right now. Every bit of it is moist. You enjoy that final thought. LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the general show email email@example.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. If you want to support the show directly check out our Patreon at Patreon.com/ghoststoryguys. We do have LukeLore merchandise available at the Ghost Story Guys online store, feel very free to show off any you get online! We have an ongoing push to promote LukeLore more, and the dedicated Facebook group for the show is now live if you want to come join us over there.
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