Steaming-Pot Spirit
Richard Davis, June, 1966

“What’s the matter with the old man?” asked the witch-woman. The ghost hesitantly moved his right arm toward a basin of rice grains to draw a picture in response. The picture was at first hard to make out, for the poor ghost’s vehicle was somewhat cumbersome.

No one knew who this ghost was or where he came from. He had been called by the old doctor-woman to come and enter a wooden rice-steaming pot, which is a frequent habitat of this type of ghost. Then a wicker-basket-like contraption was placed on top of the pot and the ghost entered it. The basket was fitted with wooden arms and dressed in a man’s shirt, so that it looked something like a human torso Now it was being firmly held on each side by the witch and the family matriarch, to keep the trapped spirit from flying away.

The picture, was crude, but it was definitely the outline of a chicken. “He wants you to give the ghost that attacked the old: an a chicken to eat,” explained the witch. Ailing grandfather’s proper remedy was discovered.

Several other problems were put to the pot-spirit. He answered “yes” by loudly banging his left arm on the floor, much to the delight and merriment of the children gathered ‘round (the father of: the family had ten. children); and “no” by rising a couple of feet in the air. “Where will I meet my sweetheart? asked a 20-year-old daughter The ghost scratched away in the rice for a few seconds, but he was evidently writing something in the archaic northern script which nobody in the room could read. ‘The two old women picked up the hapless ghost and shook him violently for his inscrutability. A second try produced scribblings equally baffling “Hell, now he’s writing in Chink” said someone, “now none of that!” Somebody placed a coin in the basin for the ghost. He touched his arm to it, seemed satisfied, and drew an arrow The girl would find a man in a village to the north.

The spirit who struck grandfather had been up to other mischief as well. When a ghost causes harm, he usually causes it in more than one place, and a young daughter was also out of sorts. The pot-spirit was called upon to help bring back the girl’s khwans, or energy elements. In her cupped hands she held a sacred white thread, a small banana, an egg, a ball of rice, and a few drops of water. The ghost ate and drank from her hands by  touching the food with his arm. He would see what he could do to help. Then he disappeared.

                         —Richard Davis
                        Group XI, Group XI, Nan