Eclipses- Historical Harbingers

Total solar eclipse Photo Credit- By I, Luc Viatour

If you’ve been anywhere near the news, you would have seen that a solar eclipse happened in the continental United States yesterday.  I have to admit it was a pretty amazing experience as I was lucky enough to be in the path of totality.  As the sky went dark and the crickets started chirping, I thought about what it must have been like for those in the past.  They didn’t have the benefit of NASA and other scientists telling us that this was normal, the Sun would come back and to wear protective glasses.  How did people through the ages deal with eclipses?

One of the first references we have of an eclipse is from a series of circular and spiral shaped petroglyphs at the Loughcrew Megalithic Monument in County Meath, Ireland.  This is near the passage tomb of New Grange, which is also from around the same time.  (For more on New Grange, please see this post )  These date back to around 3340 BCE, and scientists have calculated that a solar eclipse occurred on November 30, 3340 BCE.  According to Irish archaeoastronomer Paul Griffin, the monument was in the path of totality, meaning the entire solar disc was obscured.  Decoding the carvings on the rock, Griffin was able to deduce they were recording the eclipse, making it one of the first records of such an event.  Inside the monument, the charred remains of 48 humans were found.  It has been hypothesized this was a human sacrifice to “bring back” the Sun from the underworld.  

The Chinese and Babylonian cultures began to predict eclipses with high accuracy.  The Babylonians believed an eclipse was an evil omen for the ruler.  The Chinese believed the Sun was being eaten by a large dragon during an eclipse.  An ancient book of documents called the Shu Ching, described the eclipse in October 22, 2134 BCE.  The emperor charged two astronomers, Hsi and Ho, to predict the eclipse so archers could be stationed to defend the Sun from the dragon.  Unfortunately for Hsi and Ho, they got massively drunk and failed to alert the warriors and were beheaded for dereliction of duty.  Similar mythology describing the Sun as being stolen is found around the world, but it was not always a dragon to blame.  The Vietnamese people believed the Sun was being eaten by a giant frog, and the Norse people blamed a wolf.  In Korea, they believed dogs were stealing the Sun.  Because of this, many cultures gathered together to bang drums or even pots and pans to scare away whatever was trying to steal or eat the Sun.

On the other side of the world, the Inuits believed the Sun goddess Malina walked away after a fight with her brother Anningan, the Moon god.  An eclipse happened when Annigan caught up with his sister.  The Pomo, another Native American tribe, believed a bear got into a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. The bear was apparently hungry and went on to take a bite out of the moon two weeks later, explaining why there is a lunar eclipse usually two weeks after a solar one.  In the Africa, the Batammaliba tribe in Benin and Togo, believed the Sun and the moon were at war and the only way to keep them from permanently damaging each other was to end human conflicts.

Eclipse Icon at Loughcrew 3340 BCE Photo Credit-

The ancient Greeks also believed that an eclipse was an omen of evil tidings.  Historian Herodotus tells of an eclipse on May 28, 585 BCE that prompted a cease fire between the Lydians and the Medes.   In the middle of the Battle of Halys, the sky turned dark and the battling armies took this as a sign the gods wanted them to stop.  A truce was negotiated and the battle was renamed the Battle of the Eclipse.  Another eclipse changed the course of Greek history.  At the height of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, and eclipse occurred on August 27, 413 BCE.  At that time, the Athenians were attempting to dislodge the Syracusans from Sicily.  Their commander, Nicias, was extremely superstitious and postponed the fleet’s departure because of the eclipse.  This gave the Syracusans enough time to stage another attack in which the Athenians were defeated.  This marks the beginning of the decline of Athenian dominance in the region.

The Christian gospels tell of the sky darkening during the day at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Some archaeoastronomers believe that Jesus’ death coincided with a solar eclipse and have tried to use this to pinpoint the exact date.  There are historical records of solar eclipses in the year 29 and 32, but no one has proof of which date is correct.  Following along with the bad omen belief, another solar eclipse affected the life of Louis the Pious.  He was the third son of Charlemagne and inherited the Holy Roman Empire.  It is reported he witnessed the eclipse on May 5, 840 and was convinced it was a warning of impending punishment from God and died of fright soon after.  This plunged the kingdom into civil war for three years.  There was also said to be an eclipse right before the death of Henry I of England on August 2, 1133, which reinforced the superstition that eclipses were bad omens for rulers.  The solar eclipses on January 8, 1777 and again on June 24, 1778 was bad news for George III.  The one in 1777 proceeded the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, and the one in 1778 proceeded the victory of the Americans at the Battle of Monmouth.

Despite the beliefs and myths, the ancients were able to use information about eclipses to further scientific knowledge.  Aristotle observed the shadow of the Earth on the moon was curved and hypothesized the Earth was round.  Another Greek astronomer named Aristarchus used a lunar eclipse to estimate the distance of the Moon and Sun from the Earth.  Yet other astronomers observed the existence of the Sun’s corona during a total solar eclipse.  Astronomers Liu Hsiang, Plutarch and Leo Diaconus were pioneers in eclipse data.  However, it was not until 1605 that Johannes Kepler gave a scientific description of a total solar eclipse.  The first In modern times, Sir Arthur Eddington tested Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  During the May 29, 19191 solar eclipse he confirmed that starlight bent around the Sun by measuring the position of certain stars.  This was predicted by Einstein’s theory that massive objects caused distortions in space and time.

We no longer have the same superstitions about eclipses, but it is thought to be a time of change.  A nice way to put it is ending patterns that do not serve and beginning new healthy ones.  Enjoy the skies in good health and good spirits!


Pingyang and the Army of the Lady

Princess Pingyang Photo Credit- Epoch Times

Pingyang was born in 600 to Li Yuan, a peasant who had risen through the army to become a commander.  She was the only daughter to him and his second wife Duchess Dou.  She did have two older sisters from Li Yuan’s first marriage, however, Pingyang spent more time with her four brothers.  As was customary, she was given in marriage when she was quite young.  Her chosen husband was Cai Shao, the son of the Duke of Julu.  By all reports, Pingyang was a dutiful and loving daughter, sister and wife.  However, her loyalty was put to the test when everything went sideways.

During this time, China was ruled by the Sui dynasty emperor, Yangdi.  Yangdi has gone down in history as a paranoid man who was one of China’s greatest villains.  He murdered his father to get to the throne and squandered China’s wealth on failed foreign exploits, of which he lost all of them.  Then Yangdi decided on an extensive building program, which had an extraordinary death toll.  He put men to work rebuilding the Great Wall, and 6 million were killed.  He put men to work building the Grand Canal, and there was a 40-50% death rate.  He raised taxes and no one could pay them because there was no one left to work the farms.  Yangdi had conscripted all the able bodied men into the army.  People chafed under this burden and began rebellions, which were put down with excess force.   Yangdi grew more and more suspicious of everyone.  Then in 615 a popular street balad went around that the next emperor would be named Li.  This this is kind of like saying the next president will be named Smith as it is an extremely common name.  However, Yangdi was already suspicious of Li Yuan.  He was a wildly popular general who had risen from the peasantry.  Plus he was rumored to have a birthmark in the shape of a dragon under his left armpit, which obviously meant he was destined to be emperor.  Who can argue with the armpit, right?  He ordered Li Yuan arrested and executed as a threat to the Empire.  Just for fun, he also accused Li Yuan of having sex with two of the emperor’s favorite concubines.

Li Yuan had no wish to become a rebel leader, but it was that or be killed on trumped up charges.  So,  he put together of more than 30,000 aided by the neighboring Turks, who admired him enough to forge a truce with him not to attack Chinese lands as long as he was in charge while he was still general.  Then he sent secret messages to his four sons and Pingyang’s husband to aid him.  Unfortunately, Cai Shao was the head of the palace guard and the family was living in the palace.  They were sitting ducks for the emperor’s rage.  Cai Shao and Pingyang discussed what to do.  Cai Shao wanted to join his father in law, but didn’t want to leave Pingyang in a prime spot to be kidnapped, ransomed, killed or all three.  However, Pingyang could take care of herself.  Her husband escaped to join the army and Pingyang escaped as well and went to the family’s estates in the province of Hu.  When she arrived in Hu, PingYang found everything in a mess.  People were starving because of a severe drought on top of the fighting that seemed to be everywhere.  To aid her people, Pingyang opened her personal food stores to them.  It was something they didn’t forget.

From Hu, Pingyang watched her father, husband and brothers’ forces fight tooth and nail with emperor’s army.  They fought hard and bravely, but they were outnumbered.  Pingyang wasn’t the kind of woman to sit around and wait while she watched her family destroyed.  She took action.  Going to the families she had just saved from starvation, she began recruiting her own army.  She even convinced a local highwayman and his men to join.  With this start of 10,000 men, Pingyang began convincing imperial allies to desert.  This was an amazing accomplishment for a woman not yet twenty in ancient China.  Women did not command armies, and certainly did not issue orders to men.  However, she was able to both command and train an army worthy of battle.  In a few months, Pingyang was able to raise more than 70,000 troops and the marched to take the capital of Hu under the banner of the “Army of the Lady”.  In a genius public relations move, Pingyang decreed there was to be no looting, raping and plundering in conquered lands.  In fact, she would distribute fresh water and food to the inhabitants.  This gesture of goodwill swelled her army even more.

Yangdi was not pleased with this turn of events and diverted troops from his fight with Li Yuan to take care of this troublesome woman.  He immediately got his behind handed to him.  She was able to link her army with her father’s and together, they marched on the imperial palace in Daxingcheng.  Emperor Yangdi fled south and was killed in 618, ignobly strangled by his own advisors in a bathhouse.  Li Yuan was now the first emperor of the Tang dynasty, taking the name Emperor Gaozu.  He promoted his daughter, Pingyang, to marshal, which came with a military staff.  All of this along with the new honor of being Princess Zhao of the Tang dynasty.

Sadly, Pingyang died two years later at the age of 23 of unknown causes.  Her father buried her with full military honors.  Some people in court questioned why a mere woman would deserve such honors.  Emperor Gaozu simply said, “She was no ordinary woman.”


The Lost Roman Legion of Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus was one of the richest men in the Roman World and part of the First Triumvirate with notables such as Pompeius Magnus and Julius Caesar.  He had made his money through picking up the property of those killed in Sulla’s proscriptions at firesale prices.  Indeed, he was accused of adding the name of a particularly rich man just so he could pick up his property at bargain basement prices.  Combine that through slave trafficking and silver mines, gave Crassus a fortune estimated by Pliny at 200 million sestertii, or about 8.5 billion in today’s dollars.  If his name sounds familiar, you may have heard in the old movie “Spartacus” about the slave rebellion led by the slave of the same name.  Crassus eventually had it put down in 71 BCE, although Pompey took a lot of the credit.  By the time of the First Triumvirate in 59 BCE, Crassus was in his sixties and hard of hearing, but still craving military glory.  As governor of Syria, he could see first hand the riches of Partia over the Euphrates.  Taking down this rich empire would resolve two of his needs-  glory and more money.


Except that it all went wrong.  The initial omens were horrible-  Crassus dropped the entrails of a sacrificial animal as he was handing it to the haruspex, he wore a black on the day of the battle instead of purple, he ordered a meal of lentils and salt completely oblivious to the fact this was a traditional funeral meal.  More practically, Crassus refused to listen to his veteran advisors, listening only an ally who had unbeknownst to him had already turned his coat.  Predictably, Crassus’ legions were conquered at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE by Parthian force of lesser number.  When Crassus men demanded he parley, there was a fight at the meeting point that left Crassus dead.  Legend had it the Parthians beheaded him and used his severed head as a prop in a performance of the Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae.  They also said they poured molten gold in his mouth to represent his greed.  That was that for Crassus.  20,000 Romans died in the battle.  But what happened to the men who survived?


The ones who escaped, headed back to Italy.  However, there were 10,000 legionnaires captured as prisoner by the Parthians.  In 20 BCE, peace was negotiated with the Parthians by Augustus, and as part of the treaty he requested the prisoners from the Battle of Carrhae.  The Parthians claimed there weren’t any left.  Where did they go?  According to historians, Parthian practice was to shift prisoners to the East to defend their borders This theory is upheld by reports by Roman historian Plinius.  In that case, they may accepted their lot in life and fought and died as mercenaries.  However, in 1955 Homer Hasenpflug Dubs set out a theory that these men survived and founded a city in China.  His speech entitled, “A Roman City in Ancient China” outlined reports from the Han dynasty that sound much like a Roman legion.


The chronicles found by Dub describe the capture of a Mongol city by the Chinese army under Chen Tang in 36 BCE named Zhizhi in modern day Kazakhstan.  Zhizhi had a palisade of tree trunks and the warriors defending the city used a “fish scale formation” the Chinese had never seen.  Their description matches that of a testudo, in which soldiers form a cover of overlapping shields in front of their bodies in the first row and over the heads of the additional rows.  Although the eventually lost the town, the Chinese were so impressed with the defenders they gave them land for another town guarding the border between China and Tibet.  The named the place Li-Jien, which was pronounced “legion”.  This became known as the village of Liquan in modern times.


Is it true?  No one knows for sure.  Many historians believe this theory is nothing but conjecture.  There is 17 year gap between the Parthians taking the Roman prisoners and the appearance of the brave warriors using the testudo at Zhizhi.  It is plausible that the remaining legionnaires may have been sold to the Mongols as mercenaries or captured.  DNA samples from villagers in Liquan have shown over 50% of them have Caucasian ancestry.  This includes green and blue eyes, increased average height and Roman noses.  Contact between the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire did happen, albeit indirectly, through the Silk Road, which Liquan is near.  Without direct evidence we will never know, but the possibility is tantalizing.



Empress Wu Zetian


A 17th-century Chinese depiction of Wu, from Empress Wu of the Zhou, published c.1690. No contemporary image of the empress exists.

In the East as in the West, female rulers were not the norm.  In China, the famous philosopher Confucius is reported to have said a woman ruling was as unnatural as a “hen crow like a rooster at daybreak.”  Huh.  A regular John Knox, that guy.  Well cock-a-doodle-doo, Confucius, because this is the story of Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang dynasty, the only female emperor in Chinese history.  Originally, named Wu Zhao she was given the name Zetian, which means “emulator of heaven”, after death.  Sources about Wu Zetian’s life are a hodgepodge, which some condemning her as the devil himself and others testifying she was an absolute angel.  As we know, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Wu Zetian is believed to have been born in Wenshi County, Shanxi Province around 624 CE.  She was born to a wealthy family as her father was Wu Shihuo, a chancellor of the Tang Dynasty.  Her father encouraged her education and Wu Zetian learned to play music, read the classics, write poetry and the art of oration.  These were traditionally male only skills.  However, the Tang dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women as they were not required to live as submissively as women in other time periods in Chinese history.  On top of being witty and smart, Wu Zetian was also strikingly beautiful.  It was no surprise when she was selected as a concubine for Emperor Taizong at age 14.  One source says she caught Taizong’s eye when she attempted to tame the emperor’s horse.  No one had been able to do it, but Wu Zetian asked to try armed with an iron whip, an iron mace and a dagger.  The story claims she said she would first whip the horse and if that didn’t work she would hit it in the head.  If even that didn’t work, she’d slit its throat with the dagger.  Damn.   Apparently, Taizong liked her moxy and scooped her up.

Concubines were not just playthings of the emperor, but actually had court jobs to do.  Wu Zetian was put in charge of the laundry.  Supposedly, she engaged the emperor in a discussion about Chinese history while changing his bed sheets. He was stunned by her education and intelligence.  He had her moved from the laundry to the position of his private secretary.  He gave her the pet name of “Mei-Niang” meaning “beautiful girl” and she was his favorite concubine.  From this position, she met all the notables of court including the heir to the throne, Prince Li Zhi, Taizong’s son.  Li Zhi fell hard for Wu Zetian despite the fact he was married to someone else and she belonged to his father.  The two began a torrid affair.  When Taizong died, their idyll was supposed to have been over.  Wu Zetian was sent to Ganye temple to become a nun like the rest of Taizong’s concubines after his death.  Li Zhi was proclaimed Emperor Gaozong, but he didn’t forget his love.  Gaozong broke all the rules and sent for Wu Zetian as one of his first official acts as emperor.  She became the first of his concubines despite the jealousy of Gaozong’s wife, Lady Wang, and his former first concubine, Lady Xiao.  These two were going to be trouble as the actively conspired against Wu Zetian.  They did not know who they were dealing with.

Wu Zetian recounts how she got rid of these rivals, in a brilliant yet brutally ruthless fashion.  Lady Wang had not children, but Lady Xia had a son and two daughters.  Wu Zetian gave birth to two sons in quick succession, Li Hong and Li Xian.  The birth of two sons made Wu Zetian rise higher in Gaozong’s favor and made Lady Xia and Lady Wang ready to spit nails.  So when Wu Zetian’s daughter born in 654 CE was found strangled in her crib, Wu Zetian blamed Lady Wang.  She was the last person seen in the nursery and had no alibi.  The story grew that Lady Wang and her mother had formed a coven of witches which included, surprise surprise, Lady Xian.  Lady Wang got divorced, they all got exiled, and any children were disowned.  Wu Zetian was raised to empress of china and her sons designated as heirs to the throne.  The part that makes this horrifying?  Some sources claim that Wu Zetian strangled her own infant daughter to make this happen.  Wu Zetian’s account blames Lady Wang, but later Chinese historians paint Wu Zetian as a ruthless killer and blame her for her daughter’s death.  There is no way to know what exactly happened.  

With her rivals out of the way, Wu Zetian and Gaozong began what could be considered a joint rule.  She played the part of a respectable wife, but anyone at court with a pair of eyes knew she was the power behind the throne.  Gaozong was often in ill health and developed a debilitating eye disease in 660. During those times Wu Zetian publically took the reigns of government.  Even sources that were biased against her begrudgingly admitted she ruled well, rooting out corruption and helping the common people.  She and Gaozong were referred to as the Two Sages.  She challenged the Confucian beliefs against female rule by having histories written about famous women.  She also replaced Daoism with Buddhism as the state religion.  However, several sources indicate she was ruthless in rooting out her enemies at court as well and was not afraid to use treachery or torture.  The lives of her sister, her elder brothers and her mother are all added to her murder total.

In 683, Emperor Gaozong died of what is believed to be a stroke.  The reigns of power did not change much when her eldest son took the throne as Emperor Zhongzong.  However, Zhongzong and his wife Lady Wei were not going to play nice with mom.  They tried to take too much power for Wu Zetian’s liking and Lady Wei was openly disrespectful.  When Zhongzong refused to discipline her, Wu Zetian had him charged with treason and the two of them were banished.  She had her younger son crowned as Emperor Ruizong and kept him under house arrest.  She claimed Ruizong had a severe speech impediment and Wu Zetian was forced to issue decrees for him.  Soon even this was not enough and Ruizong and his wife were forced to abdicate in 693 on trumped up charges of witchcraft.  Wu Zetian took the throne in her own right, and thus begins the period of time known as the “reign of terror”.

As can be expected, many members of the court and government were not happy with this arrangement.  A coup was mounted and was put down, but it was now open season on traitors at court.  According to one source, she eradicated fifteen family lines that were not loyal to her.  The methods were brutal and included false treason charges, executions and enforced suicides in which she made them kill themselves in front of her.  Her secret police and spy networks from her days under Gaozong were still active, and became that much more powerful.

Not every change was a bad one, however.  Wu Zetian reformed the government to reduce spending and efficiency.  She hired her officials on a merit based system instead of through family connections as before.  She also instituted a “suggestion box” system for reforms.  It was also brilliant to anonymously rat out enemies.  The system is described by historian Kelly Carlton as follows, “Wu had a petition box made, which originally contained four slots: one for men to recommend themselves as officials; one where citizens might openly and anonymously criticize court decisions; one to report the supernatural, strange omens, and secret plots, and one to file accusations and grievances”.  To emphasize her difference from her husband’s regime, she changed the dynasty name from Tang to Zhou and called her reign Tianzhou, or “granted by heaven”.  She also proclaimed herself an incarnation of the Maitreya Buddha.  Chinese Buddhism was at its height under her rule, so this was a smart move.  Under her rule education improved and the Silk Road was reopened improving trade.

However, it couldn’t last.  After so many years of fighting to stay in power, Wu Zetian began to get distracted.  She began spending less time governing and more time with her young lovers, the Zhang Brothers.  Court was scandalized as Wu Zetian was in her eighties and they were in their twenties.  This was perfectly fine when emperors did this, but for a woman?  Scandal.  Unfortunately, she also began to get paranoid and ordered a purge of the government.  Court officials could no longer take this behavior, and in 704 CE forced Wu Zetian to abdicate and her favorites the Zhang Brothers were murdered.  Former emperor Zhongzong were brought back and installed as Emperor of China.

After Wu Zetian’s death, she was buried next to Gaozong.  However, the stele erected outside the tomb to record her accomplishments were left blank.  Much like the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut (For more on her, please see this post: ), her name was blackened and her accomplishments were attempted to be blotted out.  After a power struggle, Zhongzong was deposed by his brother Ruizong with the help of his sister Princess Taiping.  Then Ruizong abdicated and his son Li Longji succeed him.  Taiping tried to rule her nephew the way her mother ruled her father and brothers, but it did not work.  She committed suicide, and Li Longji decreed no member of Wu Zetian’s family would be able to hold office again.  However, he kept up all Wu Zetian’s reforms.  That is her true legacy.


Ancient Ghost Stories- Eastern Style

The Hungry Ghost Festival Photo Credit- Original image by Mister Bijou. Uploaded by Karen Barrett-Wilt, published on 30 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.
The Hungry Ghost Festival Photo Credit- Original image by Mister Bijou. Uploaded by Karen Barrett-Wilt, published on 30 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

We have discussed the similarities of how the afterlife and ghosts are viewed in the Western World in our previous post. There are also similarities that run through how these subjects are addressed in Eastern cultures, however, there are a few twists that mark them out as different.

As in the West, the ghosts of ancestors could appear to their descendants to give warnings or advice. However, in China this was taken to another level as ancestor worship was widely practiced. The Chinese afterlife was a journey for the soul to cross a bridge over an abyss. There the soul was judged and if it was found worthy, it drank something called Mengpo Soup, which caused it to forget its former life. Some traditions said the soul then went to heaven, others said the soul was then reincarnated. If the soul was judged unworthy, it went to Hell and was not expected to return except on the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Hungry Ghost Festival is held on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the year. It is thought the veil between the world of the living and the dead is the thinnest at this time and the dead can easily cross over. People leave food and gifts for the ghosts so they will return to their own realm and not trouble the living. Unless the ghost was the spirit of an ancestor appearing in a dream, the Chinese believed some evil force must be involved.

There are generally considered to be five types Chinese ghosts and they are directly related to how the person lived and how they died.

Ba Jioa Gui are the spirits of those connected somehow to gambling debts, either through suicide or murder. These spirits appear under a banana tree and are wailing and sometimes carrying a baby. There is a tradition of tying a red string around a banana tree trunk to ask for lottery numbers, but if they get them and do not fulfill the promise to the ghost they will die a horrible death.

If a person committed a sin of killing, theft, and sexual-misconduct, they become an E Gui or hungry ghost. This ghost is condemned to a perpetual state of hunger, but its mouth is too small to ingest food. It’s skin is green or gray. It is also said that if people forgot their duties of respect for a spirit or the victims of murders who had not been caught, those spirits also became E Gui. They could torment the mind of the living or generally behave like a poltergeist.

Nu Gui are female ghosts, and are most represented in modern day Japanese and Hong Kong movies. This is the ghost of a vengeful and angry woman, who has committed suicide or been raped. She returns to take her revenge on the living and appears as a beautiful girl to seduce her victims like a succubus.

Yuan Gui are also ghosts who have been wronged, usually through wrongful death, but they do not have the drive for revenge of the Nu Gui. They are troubled souls who cannot pass onto the next life, but roam the world of the living in constant depression and restlessness. If they are able to communicate with one of the living, and that person can clear their honor then the Yuan Gui can move on.

The Japanese add a few more specific types of ghosts. One is the Shui Gui, or spirits of the drowned. Since their bodies cannot be found and they cannot receive funeral rites, they are unable to find peace. They live at the bottom of lakes or rivers and drag swimmers down to their doom. There is also the Wu Tou Gui or ghosts of those who received the sentence of being beheaded, and Ying Ling, the ghosts of unborn children who died. Stories also tell of the Ri Ben Gui Bing, who are the spirits of Japanese soldiers who invaded China during the World Wars. They are in uniform and carry guns or katanas.

Ghosts in India most closely resemble the E Gui or hungry ghosts of China. They were known as Bhoots and appeared as shapeshifters who appeared with backward feet. The feet are thought to appear backward to show that something has gone wrong. Bhoots appear when a person dies before their appointed time on earth, and because they were cheated of their allotted time try to possess another body. A woman who died in childbirth became a bhoot called a churail. This ghost inhabited the crossroads, much like the Roman Hecate, and tried to either steal children, possess the body of a woman or seduce and kill a man. Once the bhoot reached their allotted time on earth, they had to leave and become reincarnated.


Sources available on request