I have had the distinct good fortune of traveling to twenty-three countries and have, as I mentioned in prior posts, engaged in various ghost-hunting activities in more than a few of them.
But honestly, these expeditions are largely tourist-driven and aimed mainly at US and British travelers, which makes total sense. We started as a British colony so it follows that what scares the crap out of them would have translated across the pond to us.
But what about elsewhere in the world?
That got me to thinking about what scares people from other cultures and what, if anything, do those spooks have in common with ours? So I reached out to the many friends I have made along the way to ask them what haunts they grew up with.
Cairo, Egypt’s Residual Hauntings
Though ghosts have no place in the Islamic religions, and practicing Muslims reject the very idea of spirits hanging around after death, it hasn’t stopped local folklore from creating many haunted locations around the city. My friend Medo, who works for the Cairo Museum, reminded me of two of my favorites which I visited personally:
The famous step pyramid of Egypt was built by the Pharaoh Khnum-Khufu who was equally famous for his ruthlessness and cruelty. The ghost of Khufu has been reported coming out of his pyramid at the stroke of midnight dressed in traditional Egyptian armor, sometimes visiting nearby towns and ordering inhabitants off his land. Further proof that Egyptian parents are capable of utilizing the same persuasion techniques as American parents (“Eat your vegetables or Khufu will get you.”)
Dahshur is a royal necropolis located in the desert on the west bank of the Nile approximately 25 miles south of Cairo. It is known chiefly for several pyramids, two of which are among the oldest, largest and best preserved in Egypt. Nowadays it is also home to a basic training facility for the military. Late at night recruits have reported the sounds of ancient combat taking place in the desert near the Bent Pyramid, and some have actually seen the pharaoh’s warriors waging battle in the moonlight.
Tokyo, Japan’s Haunted House
On the outskirts of the city lies haunted Himuro mansion, the basis for the game Fatal Frame where 80 years ago, seven people were reported murdered in a grisly manner.
Many inexplicable phenomena have been reported on the property, such as bloody handprints splattered all over the walls, and spirits have been spotted on the premises even in broad daylight.
Folklore states that several thrill-seekers have broken into the mansion, only to be found later with their bodies broken and rope marks around their wrists, and the locals believe that those who live near the mansion are forever cursed.
If a game creator had made this up he couldn’t have done a better job, which is why I was skeptical, but my co-worker from Japan swears it is local legend and that the Himuro family has stopped allowing visitors on the property. Apparently the neighbors attempted to burn the place down to purge the evil spirits residing there.
Amsterdam, Netherlands’ Restless Spirit
When visiting Anne Frank’s “Secret Annex,” tourists and employees alike have reported cold spots in certain areas of Anne’s room. Walking around the back of the building after dark reveals the figure of a young girl (believed to be Anne herself) gazing out the window, motionless. Some have reported hearing a loud sort of rumbling down the stairway leading to the basement, which dates back to an event that occurred while Anne was still living; a sack of uncooked beans was accidentally spilled down the stairs.
Though I wasn’t aware of these stories when I visited the Secret Annex some years ago, the heavy sadness that settled on me when I entered it was unmistakable. My friend Wilbert from Utrecht said he’s heard these stories since he was a boy and now his children pass along the same tales. Apparently, the residents of Amsterdam don’t feel it is a bad haunting in any case, just the leftover heartbreak of a life cut too short.
The bottom line is that ghosts and hauntings are part of our collective consciousness, wherever you grew up and these stories could be equally at home in any city in the world.
That being said, is it likely that a phenomenon reported in all cultures and at all points in history is actually impossible, or just highly improbable? Is it that we still long to explain the unexplainable, or that we seek assurance that “this” is not all there is?
What do you think?