Female ghosts & their male counterparts

Female ghosts & their male counterparts

By Veenu Sandal | 2 September, 2017
Do female ghosts enjoy an advantage over male ghosts? Are they more popular, more feared than male ghosts? From ancient times till today, in India and elsewhere in the world, female ghosts seem to score heavily over male ghosts in terms of power, appearance, modes of action, and much more. In legends, in historic places, in roadside sightings too female ghosts easily edge out male ghosts.

It is therefore not very surprising that many of the world’s most famous, most popular, most scary ghosts are females too and they also seem to have been caught on camera, CCTVs, mobile cameras more often than male ghosts. There are umpteen sad or spine chilling stories and some photographs as well of the lady in white, the grey lady, the lady in brown, the lady in black and so on, but how often do we hear or read about a man in white, a grey man, a man in brown, a man in black? Why is this so?  Is it because more women than men become ghosts? The answers are both complex and thought provoking.

Partly, down the stream of time circumstances, male dominated societies and important biological roles have always tended to expose women to more pressures, challenges, tragedies and injustice than men, resulting in unhappy, often untimely deaths for women. For instance, in Britain, King Henry VIII annulled his marriage to Anne Boleyn, the second of his six wives and the mother of Elizabeth I, imprisoned  her in the Tower of London before having her beheaded in 1536 for not “producing” a male heir besides accusations of indulging in adultery and witchcraft. Anne’s ghost, still looking for justice, is said to haunt the Tower of London and other historic buildings to this day.

There was a time when many women died during childbirth while men obviously did not. It was widely believed and is still believed that women who undergo such a traumatic death become ghosts. In Malaysia, there is said to be a charming, difficult to resist ghost in a flowing white gown with long black hair  known as  “sundel bolong” who it is said lures a man away, castrates him but lets him live to suffer for the rest of his life. It is believed the “sundel bolong” was once a beautiful woman who died during child birth. Some say she died in pregnancy and gave birth to her child in her grave through a hole in her back which is why she is called a “sundel bolong”, supposed to mean “a prostitute with a hole in her”. Some say she was raped and became pregnant, died during childbirth and as a ghost takes her revenge on men by castrating them.  

In Japan, there is the “onryo”, an evil ghost who takes delight in harassing and persecuting her relatives and any former lover and often drives them to suicide. It is believed that unhappy women who die stressful deaths, especially those ill treated by a lover, husband or a family member become “onryos”

 and vent their anger on those who brought them anguish when they were alive. Once in a while, an “onryo” appears in a male form but generally “onryos” manifest as females. Another famous Japanese ghost is the slit mouthed woman who either stabs children to death or slits their mouths.

All countries and cultures in the world have their own versions of female ghosts and they are mostly bent on taking revenge.

In a large swathe of Central America, a malevolent ghost called “La Siguanaba” or “horrible woman”, which ironically evolved originally from “Sihuehuet” which means “beautiful woman,” is said to lure men and children to their deaths. Legend has it that her lover, the son of the Aztec god Tlaloc, cursed her to appear entrancingly beautiful from a distance but grotesque from close quarters. It is said that most men attracted to her ghostly but irresistibly beautiful form die of sheer fright when they get close and see her transformed into a hideous creature. For “La Siguanaba”, this is sweet revenge.

 In Thailand, the “phi tai hong” are greatly feared. There are different versions on why and how they became vengeful ghosts but a woman who died during pregnancy is reputed to be the most powerful of them all because it is said she is “one plus one”, i.e. herself plus her unborn child. Usually, the “phi tai hong” tries to kill a living being in the hope that it can take its victim’s place and be released from its ghostly bondage.

In India, stories of encounters with an ugly, evil, powerful, blood drinking chudail who often has feet pointing backwards can be found in virtually all parts. While beliefs about the origin of chudails differ from place to place, the most common versions are that they are the ghosts of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth. Deeply unhappy and bitter because they couldn’t give birth to their child,  they extract their revenge by waylaying people and drinking the blood of the terrified victim.

These are just a few examples. Almost all countries and cultures in the world have their own versions of female ghosts and they are mostly bent on taking never ending revenge. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is an old saying.  In the light of the experiences of those who have encountered angry, vengeful female ghosts and survived to tell the tale the old saying can easily be amended to “Hell hath no fury like a dead woman scorned.”

Clearly, the stories linked to female ghosts are almost invariably more fascinating, compelling and chilling than those connected with a male ghost which is perhaps why horror movies have a preponderance of female ghosts in the lead. However, while female ghosts do appear to enjoy an advantage over male ghosts on numerous counts, living women appear to be at a disadvantage. That is because generally it is women who are targeted as victims by ghosts on the prowl more often than men.

Finally and perhaps most important, how does the existence of female ghosts/male ghosts square up with the concept that  material/physical forms have a gender but the soul has no gender? That will be the intriguing subject of another column sometime in the near future.

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