Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Folklore of Missing Children
By Anthony Servante
A Norinko Hanasaki Research Case

Part Four

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

From "The Stolen Child"
By William Butler Yeats.

The disappearance of children throughout history around the world has been depicted in folklore as magically manipulated events. Whether parents use these tales of lost children to scare their own sons and daughters to stay close to home or to manufacture accounts to explain the mysterious disappearance of a child in the community, the folk stories have come to capture both a child's and a parent's basic fear: Leaving familiar surroundings and entering unfamiliar places. For the parent who wakes to find their child missing, it's a fear of loss and helplessness, a lack of control over the child; for the youngster, it's a fear of waking in a strange land with no means to return home, no mother and father to care for them. In either case, there are forces at work that religious folk can only explain with supernatural culpability. It wasn't a kidnapper who took my child; it was fairy or troll. 

Let’s consider a few folklore legends as examples. We’ll begin with Yeats. 

In Irish tradition, the Changeling is blamed for missing children and problem kids as well. The typical version has the Twileth Teg replace an infant in the crib with a fairy in baby form. When the child cries day and night and eats incessantly, the husband suspects the creature in the crib behaves like a fairy; however, the wife still believes the child to be her own and continues to feed it. When the pantry begins to dwindle to nothing, the wife seeks counsel from the wise old woman of the village, who teaches her to trick the fairy into revealing itself. The deception works and the infant speaks like a grisly old man. The wife tosses the child into the fireplace, and the changeling turns to smoke and flies out the chimney. The real child returns to the crib. Though, during the years, the story has changed with the child never being returned, even after the changeling is discovered and expelled.

The infant transforms into the Changling

The two ways we can discern the evolution of the tale is that originally parents who provide discipline to a troublesome child will be rewarded with a obedient youngster. This disciplinary method would reward parents who follow the rule of "spare the rod, spoil the child". It wasn't so much a changeling in the crib, but a spoiled child who needed "tough love". In this sense, the "devil" was beaten out of the child, leaving only his "good" side. The second way concerns events that were closer to fact. When parents lost a child to kidnappers, to plague, or to the labyrinths of the forest, in most cases the youngster was murdered, died, or was never heard from again. The evolution of the tale stretched from religious hope to the cruel reality of the era.

In a variation of the Irish Changeling, fairies do not switch babies for one of their own; instead, they wait at the edge of a forest for passing or wandering children and tempt them to accompany them into the woods. It is unclear what the fairies want with the youngsters, but there are a few possibilities. For one, they may seek to adopt the kids and raise them as their own. On the other hand, they may seek to wreak worry on irresponsible parents. In extreme cases, the children may be eaten. It was easy to blame "the forest" and its inhabitants on the disappearance of the youngsters since many people did not venture into the woods  for fear of getting lost or falling prey to predatory creatures that found smaller visitors, such as kids, easy to kill. Rather than admit that they were not taking care of their children, negligent mothers and fathers were quick to blame "fairies", bears, or child abductors.

Merrow take the children to sea.

“'In 'The Vanishing People', author and fairy expert Katharine Briggs said God cast these angels from heaven. Those that landed on Earth became woodland fairies; those that landed in the water became mermaids and other sea creatures. These fairies remained trapped between heaven and Earth until Judgment Day.” The existence of the fairy creatures represented the notion of a religious Purgatory, a waiting room between Heaven and Hell. It was the job of the fairies and Merrows to select their victims for Hades, or allow the victims to escape or to return the children to their parents for their form of heaven.

Note: We often think of supernatural creatures like demons ("The Exorcist", for one, namely Pazuzu) to come from Hell. The priest acts an a conduit between the powers of God and the magnetic pull of Satan's power. In this sense, the "Church" is Purgatory; neither heaven or hell. But just as the fairy's role is like a pagan guide between heaven and hell, according to Briggs, so, too, is the role of the religion a pagan choice between good and evil. And not just demons. Consider the vampire as a metaphor for eternal Purgatory, where one is neither in heaven or hell.

Typical headline for its time.

In England, the child abductors were the "gypsies". “Generations of British parents have warned their kids about Gypsy bogeymen lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch incautious children. The idea even crept into lullabies:”

‘Hush nae, hush nae, dinna fret ye
The black Tinkler (Gypsy) winna get ye.’

Still, gypsies were convenient villains to blame by mothers and fathers with poor parenting skills. As fairies became less believable in the new age, the dark bohemians made for good suspects as kidnappers, child molesters, and ransomers. One only has to think of Laurel & Hardy's film, "Bohemian Girl", where gypsies kidnap the daughter of the king. The two old bachelors raise the girl until one day she comes to the castle where she grew up to find her true father. From the king's point of view, however, the story is not so Romantic. He lost his child, who disappeared from the castle grounds and was thought dead. The happy ending is just a band-aid for the loss of his daughter; he missed her childhood years. She returns to him as a young lady. What thoughts crossed the king's mind all those years?! Gypsy kidnappers? Fairies? Someone or something must be blamed.

Yama-Uba taking a baby.

In Japanese folklore, the Yama-Uba tells the story of the "Mountain Nurse." "Legend says she catches little children and nurses them for awhile, and then devours them. The Yama-Uba did not clutch at us, because her hands were occupied with a nice little boy, whom she was just going to eat. The child had been made wonderfully pretty to heighten the effect. The spectre, hovering in the air above a tomb at some distance ... had no eyes; its long hair hung loose; its white robe floated light as smoke. I thought of a statement in a composition by one of my pupils about ghosts: "'Their greatest peculiarity is that they have no feet.'" Then I jumped again, for the thing, quite soundlessly, but very swiftly, made through the air at me."
Source: Steve Berman's short story, “A Troll on a Mountain with a Girl”.

The Yama-Uba represents the cruel side of life for the family. As we saw with the Changeling, the fairy represented a problem child or unmasked the shortcomings of bad parents. Here the Japanese spinster is the abomination of motherhood. She nurses the young that she abducts and fattens them for consumption in three days. This interpretation, however, comes from the Western influence of witches in the forest who consume children. Traditionally, the Yama-Uba is a mountain witch who the Japanese believe brings wealth to the homes she haunts. She is protective of the places she inhabits. In Berman's description (Westernized version), the witch's ghostly features are exaggerated (no eyes, no feet); in Japanese Noh Drama, "Yamauba is the fairy of the mountains, which have been under her care since the world began. She decks them with snow in winter, with blossoms in spring ... She has grown very old. Wild white hair hangs down her shoulders; her face is very thin" (Yamauba, Dame of the Mountain, Konparu Zenchiku). She exemplifies the Winter, its harsh climate, but also its beauty of Nature. The Westerners turned her into a figure with which to scare children from disobeying their parents. 

In German folklore, the Pied Piper of Hamlin tale is perhaps its most well known. It not only contains the elements of a traditional folk story, but also the remnants of historical events throughout the generations of its telling. The story most familiar to Western readers concerns the town of Hamlin that is overrun by rats. The Mayor and the townsfolk agree to hire the "Pied Piper" to rid the streets of the vermin for a fee. The Piper lures the rats from the town with the alluring music from his pipe. Hamlin is free of the beady-eyed creatures. But then the Mayor reneges on his promise to pay the piper. The musical exterminator thus uses the charms of his pipe to lure the children out of the town while the citizens are in church. Three children, deaf, blind, and disabled, cannot keep up with the rest of the children following the Pied Piper out of town and tell the church-goers about the piper's misdeed. The children are never found and never heard from again. A later version has the children being returned once his payment is received. The former telling coincides with the Westernized version used to warn kids away from strangers. But there are other versions that researchers say may be closer to the truth behind the fantastic event.

Pied Piper by Jiri Barta

"William Manchester's 'A World Lit Only by Fire' places the events in 1484, 100 years after the written mention in the town chronicles that 'It is 100 years since our children left', and further proposes that the Pied Piper was a psychopathic pedophile" (1992 Printing). The American historian surmises that that a child molester murderer was killing children and that over time the number of kids killed was embellished as modern influences added to the story. One such influence was the outbreak of plague that killed mostly children. In this case, the Pied Piper plays the role of the "angel of death", the guide in Purgatory who decides who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. "In her essay 'Pied Piper Revisited', Sheila Harty states that surnames from the region settled are similar to those from Hamlin and that selling off illegitimate children, orphans or other children the town could not support is the more likely explanation: (Wiki). Both Manchester and Harty fail to account for the sheer number of children who disappear in the story. If the Piper tale were a condensed version of decades of history, perhaps the historical views would bear a ring of truth, but our folktale here is presented over a few days and the disappearance of 134 youngsters would not stand up to closer scrutiny. It is more likely that our Pied Piper simply evolved into another bogeyman to scare the kids into being obedient little children.

Alaskan folklore has the "Qalupalik, a creature of Inuit legend described as being human-like and having green skin with long hair and very long fingernails. She lives in the sea, hums to entice children to come closer to the water and wears an amautik; she takes the children and raises them as her own under the sea" (Wiki). In Irish folklore, the Merrow lurked along the coastline to lure youngsters into the sea to raise as their own; fairies of the woods waited on the edge of the forest to trick the kids into following them into the deep darkness of the trees. This creature follows the tradition of Westernized thinking: Obedient children do not disappear into the unknown (whether forest, ocean, mountain, or big city). It is not difficult to imagine parents warning children not to play by the seaside for fear the Qalupalik would take them into the water.

The Qalupalik

In Carribean folklore, the Douen are creatures with large blue circles around their eyes, razor sharp talons for feet, that are backwards, and hands with sharp nails, and needle-like fangs; they appear and re-appear in different locations like a will-o-the-wisp that flickers in one spot, goes off, and lights up in another. They are believed to be the spirits of children who were victims of previous Douen. They lure children from their homes with a siren-like call that is both song and laughter; the kids venture into the forest or jungle, abandoning their real families. "Douen are masters of deception and can steal away 'even the most protected child.' They are particularly good at misleading search parties and their victims are never found" (Wiki).

Douen enchanting a child from home.

Douen spirits (note the backward feet).

Note the commonalities of the Douen, Qalupalik (and to some extent, the Pied Piper), and woodland fairy, who live in areas usually forbidden to children ("don't go too deep in the ocean water", "don't wander too far into the forest", and "don't go into the jungle"). While some folktales revolve around the activities of the folk creature, others depend on the habitat of the mythical beast or sprite. Some creatures steal the kids outright, but the enchanters lure the young victims to their lair for various reasons (to raise them as their own, to kill them, or to eat them). For the parents, this allows them to use the legend to scare the child not only to be obedient (or the monster will take you) or not to wander too far from home (or the monster will take you away forever). Although some folktales tell of the child being returned, the Westernization versions always have the children becoming victims or captives or food.

In Mexico, La Llorona (aka The Weeping Woman or literally, The Weeper) also steals children who wander too far from home. She is a spirit caught between Heaven and Hell, doomed to wander the Purgatory of Earth for her crime of prolicide, the killing of one's own children; she drowns her kids to punish her unfaithful husband, then wanders the streets at night weeping and searching for her children. As the tale goes, Maria, a beautiful woman of pride and self-confidence, marries a handsome man; they have three children. Her husband turns out to be a womanizer and a drunk, a side that materializes as Maria takes on the role of mother and housewife. When she discovers that her husband is cheating on her with a younger woman, her proud and confident spirit is broken. She falls into a deep depression and devises a means of vengeance. The only weakness she can find to attack her unfaithful spouse is his love for the children. Maria takes the three kids to the river and drowns them. When she realizes what evil jealousy has driven her to, she drowns herself as well. She is neither welcome in Heaven or Hell and wanders the Earth seeking her children, who, in her madness, yet live. Whenever she comes upon any youngsters playing on their own far from home, she mistakes them for her own children and steals them away to the nearby hills. Only after she realizes that these are not her children does she leave them to starvation or for the coyotes to feed on and returns to her search for her own kids.

La Llorona (as envisioned for Halloween Nights)

All the elements of our Westernization of the modern telling of folktales are evident here: La Llorona will take you if you stay out late at night or wander too far from home. Even your humble author here grew up with this warning night after night and spent many a late night looking over his shoulder. The new element that I wasn't aware of till my research on The Weeper was this rejection by Heaven AND Hell, and her exile to wander Earth. Perhaps her stealing and killing of children was beneficial to the Devil, so they refused her entrance, but why would Heaven refuse her without any means of redemption? In the version I grew up with, La Llorona didn't kill herself; she went mad when she saw her drowned kids flowing down the river. She tried to follow them, but the current was too fast, and she soon lost sight of their little bodies. From then on, she wanders up and down the river and searches towns by rivers, looking for her children. Even for the pathetic concrete riverbed that the Los Angeles River makes, it was still the stuff for parents to use to scare their kids to stay close to home.

In Scandinavia, the Trolls were much like Changelings but also used enchantment to lure children into the mountains to hold captive for years or for food (as evidenced in the pre-Westernization of the troll tales). As such, these folktale creatures parallel the creatures we've described earlier. But there is a darker side to these tales I want to cover. The Scandinavian folktales are perhaps the most cruel in their history. Children were sacrificed to thwart off famine, plague, and bad luck. The Scandinavians also believed in Trolls (Changelings). If they believed that a such a creature had been exchanged for their baby, they had no problem with killing the Changeling by putting it in the oven and burning it to death for the return of their child. Often, though, it was their child that they were killing simply because the child would not stop crying or because the child was very sick, but these were the signs, they believed, of Troll behavior. They also practiced the torture of the Changeling until their child was returned to them. In extreme cases, the child was buried alive in order to prolong its death, giving the Trolls more than enough time to bring back the real baby.

Troll Changeling

But these are the extremes of the oldest form of the tales, when fact and fiction were seamless. To the modern world, especially the Western world, we see a primitive community killing its own children. In reality, however, for its time and place, these parents were wisely dealing with trickster trolls who had stolen their child and left behind a Changeling disguised as a baby. Still, it is difficult not to feel some aversion to the entire practice of child sacrifice, no matter the age or time.

Lastly, we look at the folklore of the Chinese. When we discuss the disappearance of children, one must be aware of the likely place the child will be taken to, and not just the child, but all humans, both dead and alive. This place is called Diyu. It would be naive to call it Hell, for it is more than that; it is more a waiting room, a Purgatory between life and death, death and reincarnation, not Heaven and Hell. Let's look at the three main reasons for Diyu. One, it serves as a place to decide the length of time a person will serve there before being reincarnated; the length of time is important because that is the amount of time it will require to wash away the sins of this person. Two, it serves as a place of torture; the degree of torture will depend of the nature of the sinner (was he a murderer, a thief, etc). Three, it serves as a place for the two types of person who do not fit One or Two: For instance, there is a place for "innocents" called Huhuva, where sinless spirits still must wait for reincarnation, but live in relative comfort during their stay; and there is a place called Avici, where the sins of the person are so great that he can never leave and will be subject to torture forever.

Diyu: the level of torture by fire.

Diyu: the level of torture by dismemberment.

Diyu has eighteen levels of torture. Each level unique to the length and degree of the punishment to be inflicted in the name of cleansing for a proper return to Earth via reincarnation. Each level is called a Naraka, which consists of Ice or Fire (except in the case of Avici, which utilizes all forms of torture for eternity, and Huhuva, where the Innocents await return to Earth).

Note: There are two types of person in Huhuva: One, the Innocent who died sinless; he will be held till there is an opening (the birth of a newborn baby) who fits his profile; and two, the Innocent who yet lives (on an operating table, buried alive, etc) and must await return to Earth either in their own body once it is repaired on Earth or reincarnated in a new body to begin life anew. This last position is tricky because if the person goes into a coma on Earth, he is basically trapped in Diyu, snacking on grape leaves and hummus till he awakes; he cannot be sent back as a baby because he is not dead. Should he wake from the coma, he is returned to his body with a healing spirit that will help his injured body heal all the more quickly. However, the memory of Diyu remains until the body is completely healed and returns to normal. Keep in mind, even in Huhuva, the Innocents can still see the other levels of torture. In a strange way, I guess, it's their reality TV.

One of the Narakas

Each Naraka is overseen by one of the Ten Yama Kings of the Ten Courts, each court responsible for the length and degree of torture. These kings supervise the Demons of Diyu. Each demon has a specialty of torture. Note in the drawings of Diyu above the demons appear as blue figures, some with spears, others with instruments of their craft in hand. When "wandering spirits" enter Diyu, they are not placed in any one Naraka and allowed to roam between Narakas for eternity. They are even allowed in Avici and Huhuva. A wandering spirit is one who did not receive a proper burial (a Chinese fear that we have discussed in the previous parts of the Norinko Research cases). With a proper burial, the spirits qualify for reincarnation and a room with a view in Huhuva.

For our purposes here in this article, I'd like to end with the folklore of missing children connection. For the Chinese, there is no bogeyman, there is no threat by strange creatures who will steal you away; they believe that missing children are in Diyu, looked after for their innocence. It is a rare child who is sinful. Even curiosity is not a sin. Should one of the Yama Kings appear to collect a spirit for the Narakas, sometimes the doorway to Diyu opens for a second. And sometimes a child may wander in to see what all the fire and ice is about, to find the source of the cries and screams. Then it is the Yama King's duty to place the child in Huhuva and perhaps to scold the child politely as a Shaolin Priest would scold a student. Only in the Chinese Diyu can such extremes exist together: Heaven and Hell, redemption and torture.

In each of the countries we have visited, we have found their folklore of missing children both familiar and strange. There were many commonalities among them, especially the plight of parenting and the mischief of children (and its consequences). We found that each country has developed sinister creatures and monsters to stand as representatives for the fears of both parent and child, but also the common fear of the community when dealing with threats such as plague or hardships such as crop failure and drought. Except for the Chinese folklore, I found very little hope in the tales. In olden times, the folktales told of the return of the child, but as Westernization influenced the stories and perhaps the Puritanical elements crept into the folklore, the children in the tales were doomed never to return, condemned to be eaten for wandering too far from home or being disobedient to their mothers and fathers. So I end the article with a little hope that lost children may find their way to Huhuva and avoid the trolls, the douen, the fairies, and La Llorona. 

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