Friday, June 5, 2009

The Old Lady on the Porch

When my grandmother was a kid, she lived in of Iquitos, a small town in Peru on the edge of the Amazon rain forest founded by Italian miners. One day, she was walking out to the rain forest, and when she passed the last house on the edge of the town, she saw an old woman sitting on the porch of the house. The old woman called her over, and when my grandmother came she was instructed to go and get adults from the town and have them enter the house.

My grandmother did as she was told, and when she brought the adults to the house, the old woman was no longer on the steps. They entered the house, and the old woman was lying in bed, dead. As it turns out, she had been dead for several days, but, having no family, nobody discovered this.

Once discovered, the woman was given a proper burial

Commentary: Yet another story from a coworker (when you tell people that you collect ghost stories, they tend to be more than happy to tell you theirs).

This story features a ghost trying to right a wrong, and see to it that her remains are correctly cared for. These sorts of stories are not unusual, though they usually take the form of urban legends (a friend of a friend told me) rather than being stories about specific people.

In addition to not being unusual, these sorts of stories are quite old. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer tells of a ghost of a murdered man leading the authorities to his murderer. Similar to the story considered here, the story of the Borley Rectory features a ghost attempting to have its remains properly buried. Greek paganism held that a person who was not properly buried would be forced to roam the Earth, never being able to find Hades. And outside of western cultures, it is a common belief that someone who is not properly buried will be unable to move on from this life.

This type of story speaks to how cultures view death. The proper disposal of human remains, whatever that may be in a particular culture, must be followed, or else a great ill will be visited either on the dead or on the survivors. Where this comes from is unknown, but even those who do not believe in a soul or afterlife tend to behave with extra special caution in seeing to it that a deceased person's wishes for disposal are carried out, indicating that this sort of impulse runs deep, either culturally or biologically, in humans.

Source: Personal Account

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