Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ghosts and stories

copyrigh kerry dexterHalloween is coming up, and it is certainly a time of year when imagination, shared or individual, plays a part.

Someone asked me the other day if I knew any songs about ghosts.

There are whole genres of ghost lover songs in folk traditions, no doubt at least in part a consequence of times not that long past when a person would set out on a journey -- down the road or across the sea -- and never be heard from again. The Bay of Biscay and She Moved Through The Fair come to mind. There are other ghosts in song too, usually of folk who have come to a bad end at some one else’s hand.

There are ghost trains and ghost ships, not to mention ghost cattle herds. The spookiest song with ghosts in it, to me, is called Greenwood Side, also known as Cruel Mother. Details vary through the traditions and I'll let you seek out the story on your own if you've a mind to, but the last verse of the way I learned it always got to me as a kid because of the years of things the woman in the song had to face as punishment for murder (the ghosts of those she murdered were the ones who let her in on this stuff, too). As an adult I’ve thought, on a more hopeful note, that this woman has great faith in the power of forgiveness.

The verse goes

...I’ll be seven years a bird in the wood
seven years a fish in the flood
seven years the tongue in the warning bell
and God save me from the flames of hell.

Update: Gretchen Peters has released a fine version of the song mentioned above. I learned it first from from the singing of Ian and Sylvia Tyson.

Then there's the story told in Wind And Rain (a fine way to hear it is sung in Gaelic and English by Julie Fowlis and Eddi Reader on Julie's album Uam)in which the murdered one's bones turn into a fiddle.

About those ghost cattle herds? Johnny Cash knew about those.

There are other ways to consider the unknown and scarier parts of life in song, though
To take a turn to another train of thought, take a look at

A song which came out of another sort of reflection in a graveyard, Audience Of Souls

Another way to look at uncertainty, and to celebrate another season: season of grace

A different thought about Ghost Trains

[The photograph, of a twelfth century ruin in Ireland, is copyrighted, and I thank you for respecting that]

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