In our newest paranormal feature we will be taking a look at various creatures and spirits who are not altogether of this world. Gathered from various sources of mythologies and sightings, these are the things that go bump in the night. First up: the Japanese vengeance spirit Onryo.
The Onryo has become extremely popular over the years, and it isn’t hard to see why. Whenever we watch the Ring or other similar movies featuring terrifying spirits in white with hair draped over their faces and it thrills us and keeps us up with nightmares, well you have the Onryo myth to thank for that. Or is it myth after all?
Onryos originated from somewhere around the 8th century, though it’s a matter of some debate amongst historians. The Onryo is a spirit that is so enraged that it could manifest and exert it’s will on the physical realm. Though Onryo could be both male or female, it is more common for them to be relayed as female spirits. Usually these women are powerless victims in the physical world that become extremely powerful once crossing over and come back to seek vengeance against their abusive lovers.
Within traditional Japanese mythology, there exists three layers of the spirit world. These three realms were heaven, the world of the dead and the world of the living. Once a person dies and has traveled to the land of the dead, titled Yomi, and ate from a hearth there it was impossible for that spirit to return to the land of the living. After this the spirit simply rots for all days and wanders around a gloomy and terrible existence. However, onryos were the exception to the rule. Their rage gave them power to break those bonds and affect the living. Since the land of Yomi geographically coordinates with our plane, they would simply need to move to the place and exert their will for us mortals to see the ghosts or to be harmed by them.
Similar to our poltergeists or demons, these spirits are something to be truly feared. Though they are beings of vengeance their fury is not always visited on those most deserving. Often in legend they strike out at all of those around them regardless of innocence, which makes them especially terrifying. They can bind themselves to objects as well, like in the popular story: Furisode. In this story a woman, heartbroken in life, curses her beautiful and famous kimono. After that anyone who wore it would perish soon after. Other stories depict things such as the vengeance spirit decapitating the bride of a samurai remarried shortly after her death though he promised he wouldn’t. Onryo are even expected of being the reason for some disasters such as earthquakes, pestilence, fires, flood, storms and even famine.
Often times the Onryo will not only kill, but drive it’s victims insane and have been known to haunt the same family line for generations. They do everything from stealing a man’s virility to driving those around them to suicide, and will not stop until every living being is miserable or dead like them. Kabuiki theater popularized this ghost’s appearance though it stems from a long list of mythology and local sightings. The spirits are often portrayed in a long white burial kimono with wild unkempt black hair and a pale pall to them.
Though they seem to be just myth and legend, onryo are still reportedly spotted throughout Japan with hot spots like Okiku’s Well at Himeji Castle. Okiku was a servant girl beholden to a samurai Aoyama Tessan. Constant amorous advances were often refused by Okiku, so the samurai tricked her by claiming she had lost one of his families ten valuable delft plates. Hiding the tenth from Okiku, she constantly recounted them in a frenzy because such a slight was punishable by death. After frantically counting she went to Tessan and confessed she could not find it. He claimed that he would overlook this tragic turn against his family, if she would agree to be his lover at any time he wished. She refused and so in anger he cast Okiku down the well. After this she haunted the samurai counting to nine and then shrieking in lieu of ten, representing the plate she never found. Though her samurai master has passed Okiku is still said to haunt her well, exacting vengeance and terror on any who near.
Not easily sent back to the land of the dead, not even exorcism can truly stop them and those who try to dispatch these spirits will forever suffer their wrath. Whether real or not, it’s easy to agree that Onryo are the stuff of nightmares, and will surely be haunting ours for a long time to come if Hollywood has anything to say about it. Sweet dreams folks.