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My Ghost Story
by David Arthur Walters
Honolulu, Hawaii
I don't envy people who have seen ghosts: I've seen only one, and that frightening experience was quite enough for me!

I was living in Keahou on the Big Island of Hawaii at the time, a brand new bachelor yet again with very few regrets given my circumstances: an elegant condominium on the water with schools of whales bounding by into glorious sunsets - that sort of thing. And there were swims in the pool, games of tennis, good books, daydreams of being a great movie director, an exotic music collection, plenty of time to write another one of my unusually brilliant and sophisticated essays.

It was a peaceful life alright. Visitors from the Mainland were suitably impressed and even envious. Of course there were a few disturbances such as the time my neighbor downstairs was raped and I did not come to her aid because I mistook her muffled screams for cries of pleasure. Sometimes the surf came up, swept into condominiums and carried their contents out to sea; but I was always spared because my perch was almost as high as my opinion of my writing abilities. Oh, yes, and there was the greatest disturbance of all: I saw a ghost!

You see, I did not have everything in Paradise: I was missing a female companion. So one night I strolled over to the Kona Lagoon Hotel to see if I might find one unattached around the piano bar. That was highly unlikely in those days - Keahou was the end of the world, at least for any single person in their right mind. But life has its unexpected ins and outs and its accidents even in Kona. There was always a slight chance some out-of-touch single woman, perhaps a recent divorcee, might show up on the advice of a bad travel agent.

And there she was, nursing a cocktail to the tune of "Tiny Bubbles." I walked right up to her and confidently delivered my line: I live next door at the Surf and Racquet Club, I am in the travel business, and so on. Our conversation led to my offer to escort her to a much finer hotel nearby, the Kona Surf, on the other side of the golf course - she accepted. We walked to my place next door to pick up my Lincoln Continental, then I proudly swung my lucky catch around the bend to show her the finer things in my neighborhood.

The Kona Surf Hotel faces the ocean; my new acquaintance and I wound up strolling the grounds alongside the bluff carved out over the centuries by the pounding surf. The moon was a slight sliver that night. The lights from the hotel provided us with barely enough light to illuminate our way. Playing my role as tour guide, I pointed out the dark trail of stones upon which the ancient Hawaiians had walked, and I told her about the menehunes seen there - they were like faeries, I explained. Suddenly, as we were about to return to the hotel, she let out a blood-curdling scream, then a piercing shriek; she pointed her finger and shouted:

"It's a ghost! It's a ghost! There! A ghost!"

I saw an apparition, a White Thing - I suppose most ghosts are white - rushing right at us. As you might suspect, real men do not scream: I did not scream because I was paralyzed with fear. In fact, I was in the extremity of fear, learning first-hand that fear is an animal-like feeling, and very contagious when one is caught completely off guard.

Anyway, the White Thing rushed by us. My companion was still screaming bloody murder. Then she began to run madly about. As I was regaining my ability to move, she fled onto a promontory as if she were about to throw herself off of it to certain death on the rocks or in the raging surf fifty feet below. The probable headline flashed across my mind:


I sprinted onto the promontory, waving my arms, yelling, "No, don't jump!" She saw me and ran in the opposite direction toward the hotel. When I caught up with her she was trapped inside of one of the hotel wings, running wildly up and down a corridor, bouncing off the walls and doors. I probably would have been doing the same thing myself if I hadn't been distracted by her hyserical behavior, for I was still nearly frightened out of my wits. It took every ounce of my will to try to control the situation - that is, after all, a man's job! I grabbed her and held her close, saying as assuredly and as firmly as I could, "Don't worry. You are safe. Nothing is going to hurt you."

She eventually calmed down long enough for me to convince her to go to the coffee shop with me to sit down for awhile. Then she told me she had dropped her purse on the promontory. I promised to retrieve it for her, providing she sit still, drink her coffee and eat her roll - agreed. I immediately found a security guard and told him everything. As we were walking out to the scene of the lost purse and ghost sighting, my hair stood on end. I said I did not know if I could continue, because I had seen a ghost. The young guard, a native Hawaiian, said:

"Do not be afraid of what you can't see, sir. Just be afraid what can hurt you, what you can see, like bad people. "

"But, I tell you, I saw it!"

"What you saw here will not hurt you," he insisted, knowingly, and I desperately wanted to believe him therefore I did - sort of.

We found the purse. I returned it to the tourist. She was still shaking. Since I did not want to drive her back to her hotel, I called a car for her and walked her upstairs to the lobby. The security guard stood nearby because I had previously asked him to accompany us. The stretch-limousine pulled around to pick her up. She let out a shriek and cried:

"Oh, my God! A hearse! I'm dead now! Oh, God, I'm going to my grave!" She began to cry hysterically.

The Hawaiian guard gave me a knowing look and waved me away as he approached her. I walked off and went directly home. Alone there, I was still in such a state of panic that I had to call a friend of mine, Brioni's wife Cheryl - who had experience in occult matters - to calm me down. After an hour or so on the phone with her, I had a semblance of my old macho composure back, hung up and went to sleep.

For months after that event, I could not approach that old Hawaiian trail, which also ran along the front of my own residence, without a shudder. May I never see a ghost again. I understand the woman was taken to the hospital and sedated. She soon recovered and continued on her tour. I'll bet she never wants to see a ghost again either.


Copyright 2002 David Arthur Walters
Email Address Below




Chinese Ghosts

Man has always had a keen interest in the possibility of life after death. Belief in life on another plane of existence after death was certainly natural and logical to our remotest ancestors. What we deem natural death today might have seemed unnatural to them after waking up every day, and they might have attributed natural death to the troublesome operations of spirits of people whose death was due to unnatural causes such as murder and accident.

However that may be, we humans have always regarded death with both fear and hope. Life would persist everywhere, but unlike other living beings, we know we shall die. And, given the possibility of life after death, we certainly want to go to a good place and be in good company there when we pass away. The possibilities of individual immortality appear to some people as ghosts, manifestations of good and evil spirits who apparently linger behind in this world or return to it from time to time. The good spirits obviously represent our hopes, while the bad ones represent our fears. Thus, the invisible world as well as the visible one is populated with family and friends, strangers and enemies.

For example, imagine that you are living in a small village in ancient China, surrounded by mutually hostile racial and ethnic groups. You may have kin in other villages, but the roads are filled with dangerous strangers: bandits and beggars. You are safe with your kin, you are in peril with strangers. And so it is with good and evil spiritual beings represented by ghosts. But in traditional China the good spirits (shen) are your gods and ancestors, and the evil spirits (kuei) are the ghosts, or "demons" and "devils." Therefore you worship your ancestors to continue your immortal line, but you also, for your own safety, make offerings to ghosts. In the meanwhile, the ruler usually takes care of the major gods and acts as the intermediary between Heaven and Earth.

Although popular tradition treats ghosts as beggars, bandits, malicious revenge seekers, avaricious officials, all ghosts are not evil. During his research of traditional Chinese religion ritual of the 19th and 20th centuries, Arthur P. Wolf encountered descriptions of ghosts as "a black thing", others as "a white thing." A ghost might be another person's ancestor trying to get back to her village.  However, during his interviews in the 1960's, Wolf was greeted with resistance to the idea that your ghost might be my ancestor:

He stated, "The crucial point is that the category 'ghosts' is always a relative one. Your ancestors are my ghosts, and my ancestors are your ghosts, just as your relatives are strangers to me, and my relatives strangers to you." However, "It is impossible for people to seriously consider the idea that what is an ancestor from one point of view is a ghost from another. The few informants on whom I tried such questions replied, "How could your ancestors be ghosts? Your ancestors are your own people and help you. Ghosts make you sick and cause trouble.'"

In any event, the popular custom treats ghosts as outcasts. Offerings are made at the back door or, on special occasions, food is piled up in front. Beer and cigarettes are offered because "They all smoke and drink."  Before the regular sacrifices to ancestors, offerings are made to ghosts in order to get rid of them, just as beggars are paid off at the cemetary. Mind you, one does not call a beggar a "beggar" to his face lest he be insulted, one does not call a ghost a "ghost."

Arthur Wolf quotes Rev. George MacKay's observations of a huge feast set up for ghosts in Tapei City during the 1860's. After the offerings were made to the ghosts, they were turned over to the destitute humans:

"It was a gruesome sight... Out of the night and the underworld the dead were given time to come and gorge themselves on the 'spiritual' part of the feast... Meanwhile, a very unspiritual mob - thousand and thousands of hungry beggars, tramps, blacklegs, desperados of all sorts, from the country towns, the city slums, or venturing under cover of night from their hiding places among the hills - surged and swelled in every part of the open space... At length the spirits were satisfied, and the gong was sounded.... That was the signal for the mob... In one wild scramble, groaning and yelling all the while, trampling on those who had lost their footing of were smothered by the falling cones, fighting and tearing one another like mad dogs, they all made for the coveted food."

Suffice it to say that in the popular religion and customs of traditional China there exists a definite and practical relationship between the material and spiritual worlds. Alongside that popular belief in the existence of ghosts, there has been the "intellectual" or literate opinion of highly educated people for thousands of years that ghosts, whether good or evil, ancestors or strangers, simply do not exist as things. But what of the ancestors? They are really ghosts, are they not? Maybe not. Ancestor worship served human needs in this world, here and now, and to that end sacrifices were meticulously made "as if" spiritual beings were present.

The sacred rites and their ritual ordering had the express original purpose of differentiating man from beast, setting him apart as a higher being. The Books of Rites (Li Ki) includes a book on the Rules of Propriety (Khu Li) that states: "If men were as beasts and without the principle of propriety, father and son might have the same mate. Therefore when the sages arose, they framed the rules of propriety in order to teach men, and cause them, by their possession of them, to make a distinction between themselves and the brutes." The objective of the teaching is the cultivation of good conduct. To that end several practices are set forth including the "proper sincerity and gravity in presenting offerings to spiritual Beings on occasions of supplication, thanksgiving, and the various sacrifices."

"Sincerity...spiritual Beings." Intellectuals obviously wrote the Chinese Classics. If they did not believe in spiritual beings, why would they make frequent reference to them and prescribe elaborate rituals that would only seem to invoke the supernatural and to console the living with the possibility of immortality? An "as-if" ritual hardly seems "sincere." And why did not Confucius ignore the oracular Book of Changes instead of faithfully edit it? He was also intimate with and may have edited the Great Record of Mourning Rites (Sang Ta Ki of the Li Ki) with its prescription for the "calling back of the soul": the mourners ascend to the roof, with a garment appropriate to the deceased's status; three calls are loudly made for the soul to come back, then the rolled-up garment is thrown down in front for the curator to pick up; by the way, the garment is not to be used for the covering of the corpse.

Perhaps wise men take the material at hand and fashion it to tame the savage beast. Then again, despite their wisdom, perhaps even wise men are not rid of their "superstitions" after all. Confucius, who devoted his life to passing down the ancient traditions to us, respectfully declined to speculate at length on supernatural phenomena and spiritual beings, saying that we must know how to serve the living before we can serve the dead, and that we must know what life is before we can speculate on death. Nevertheless, he also highly recommended sincerity in the sacrifices. Furthermore, the following statement attributed to him in 'The Doctrine of the Mean' is often quoted in support of his belief in spiritual beings:

"How abundantly do spiritual beings display the powers that belong to them! We look at them, but do not see them. We listen to them, but do not hear them. Yet, they enter all things, and there is nothing without them. They cause all the people in the kingdom to fast and purify themselves, and array themselves in their richest clothing, in order to attend their sacrifice. Then, like overflowing water, they seem to be above the heads and on the right and left of their worshippers."

It is as if we need spiritual beings, and if we do not have them, we must invent them. Or, once we become wiser and argue them away, we must reconstitute them. That is precisely what some of the Neo-Confucianists did. The "good" spirits, or gods and ancestors, and the "evil" spirits, or ghosts and demons, are traces of the positive and negative cosmic forces, yang and yin, the interaction of which creates diverse material existences. When the person dies, he or she does not continue as a human or a ghost, but the cosmic forces that once constituted him persist. If the worshipper is sincere, the ancestor can be reconstituted, then the ancestor is really present for that special occasion. Therefore the Neo-Confucianist Chu Hsi said there would be no use for sacrifice if no spirit were forthcoming; a spirit shall come if the sacrificer is sincere, but if one expects the spirit to ride up in a chariot he is thinking foolishly.

Now, then,  the foregoing may be food for thought, but it is not a suitable offering to ghosts or to ancestors, if there be a difference between the two. Nor should the reader consider it to be a true rendering of Chinese ghosts: we must consult the Chinese authorities for a better view. Yet with this crude Western sketch of Chinese ghosts in hand, we are better prepared to frame our questions to the authorities.


References Quoted:

The Sacred Books of  China, The Texts of Confucianism, Trans. James Legge, Oxford: Clarendon, 1899

Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society, Ed. Arthur P. Wolf, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974

Important Resource:

The Chinese Mind, Essentials of Chinese Philosophy and Culture, Ed. Charles A. Moore, Honolulu: UH Press, 1967

David Arthur Walters


Reflections In The Well

The Author's Reflections
on Postmodern Dance Pioneer, Deborah Hay

By, David Arthur Walters

                                   Paperback ISBN: 0-9731491-0-8
                                   Published by New Name Press, Canada
                                   Publication date: August 2002.

"A Cup of Cold Water In The Desert"

"A Chapbook Original. A special gift signed and numbered by the author. Each chapbook is unique. This is the First Edition, for collector's interest, lovers of dance, and anyone interested in the human spirit bound by matter, in the dance of life on Earth. A little gem." Original art by Poet Minerva Bloom. All rights reserved.

The author, David Arthur Walters is a prolific, eclectic and mystical writer. His writings, poetry, extensive research and essays on Existence, give us much food for thought. If you have any topic you want him to research, he is up to the job.

A Bit About The Author:

I have been influenced by many authors. My favorite authors during my formative years were Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Herman Melville, Feodore Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Gogol, and Theodore Dreiser.

Accomplishments: I will deeply appreciate personal references to publishers, editors, agents, and patrons. Thank You For Reading!

Email: David Arthur Walters