by Cathy Kigerl, author of "Those Demon Denims!", one of the 13 Stories in New Halem Tales Secrets: 13 Stories from 5 NW Authors.
In my story, "Those Demon Denims", Loc Pham is especially disturbed by what he believes is a ghost haunting Linny Jones’ farm. Vietnamese belief in ghosts is very real, even though attempts by government have tried to suppress it. Traditionally, in Vietnamese culture, to die far from home means to die a “bad death” compared with dying a “good death” in or near home. If a person dies far from home they are called wandering ghosts for they find themselves in a type of limbo between this life and a next. They are believed to wander aimlessly without a clear idea of how to return home. They can also become fearful demons. Families will go to great lengths to bring a family member’s remains home for a proper burial.
Buddhism—the primary religion in Vietnam—acknowledges what are called hungry ghosts. The hungry ghost realm is one of the Six Realms of Samsara into which a being can be reborn. Those who have died violent or untimely deaths, including suicides, are considered hungry ghosts. It is understood that such people, unable to go through preparatory stages prior to death, carry unresolved emotional and physical needs. People with addictions, excessive greed or obsessions can also become hungry ghosts upon death.
When Buddhism was brought to China from India, belief in ghosts and ancestor worship was already engrained in traditional Chinese culture. Neighboring Asian countries—where Buddhism traveled next, such as Vietnam and Japan—also had ghost/ancestor traditions. These cultures were thus compatible with the Buddhist recognition of the hungry ghost realm.
Hungry Ghost Festivals continue to take place in Buddhist temples around the world every year (usually in autumn). In this ceremony, hungry ghosts are made offerings of food, and other items to metaphorically draw them to the temple for a ritual blessing.
This explains why Loc Pham is adamant about wanting to settle Miss Linny’s denim-clad ghost!
Read “Those Demon Denims” in New Halem Tales Secrets: 13 Stories from 5 NW Authors. Two more of Cathy's stories, "The Parking Lot Prophet" and "Do Your Dream" are included in the book.
Mirsky, Jonathan. “Vietnam. Dead Souls.” A book review of: Ghosts of War in Vietnam by Heonik Kwan. Cambridge University Press. 2008. http://www.viet-studies.info/Mirsky_VN_books_NYRB.pdf
Photo. Hungry Ghost Ceremony Temple Altar. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Catherine Kigerl is the author of Stirring up the Water, a collection of poems (under the name Cat Ruiz). She is an online college instructor and is currently writing a second collection, The Water Settles. Watch for more of The Parking Lot Prophet, the quirky mystic from New Halem Tales Secrets in the Further Adventures of the Parking Lot Prophet. More about Catherine on her author page.