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6 Eerie Bits of Folklore and Their Meanings


1. Past-Life Creditors

There are ghost stories galore that revolve around everyday people who claim to have been stalked by featureless forms that appeared from out of nowhere— seemingly overnight. When these events occur, it is assumed that these entities are somehow connected to a haunted dwelling or cursed object.

In folklore, it is shown that these dark figures are actually on a mission from the underworld. In some instances, it is believed that these specters are not displaced souls at all, but phantom collectors sent from beyond to settle debts that were left unpaid in previous incarnations.

Past-life creditors, as they are known, are unleashed on those who died owing money to someone who took their vindictiveness to the grave. Upon reaching the shadow realm, these unforgiving souls call upon the devil's henchmen to even the score.

By the time the collectors come calling, the defaulter is living life anew, completely unaware of the debts they accrued in their past lives. It is only when these apparitions are seen lurking in the shadows, or show up in the background of photographs that the clueless mark realizes that they have been targeted by something decidedly sinister. Knowing that they are in trouble, but powerless in the face of evil, the victim's life begins a downward spiral.

Since money has no value to those who are no longer living, vengeance is exacted as the collectors see fit. It is claimed that at the onset of the visitations, the person at the center will fall ill. The ailment could be mild or quite serious, depending on the level of debt that was accrued.

After days, weeks or even months of harassment, the otherworldly avengers will depart, satisfied that the debtor has learned their lesson. The reprieve is, however, only temporary. The score will only truly be settled when the unforgiven reaches the land of the dead where the ultimate punishment awaits.


2. A Fading Image

This bit of lore is popular in the area of West Virginia where my parents grew up. It is rooted in the notion that an image captured forever, whether it be on film or canvas, retains the essence of whoever is depicted in the piece. From that point on, the progression of their life is reflected in the portrait.

It is believed that as the picture fades, so does the life it portrays. This macabre process continues even after death. While looking through old photo albums, if a picture is discovered in which the subject's features are no longer discernible, it is assumed that they have been deceased for several decades. If the image is only slightly faded, they have not yet settled in the grave. If the photo is so far gone that the person cannot be identified, this means that they cease to have any connection to the mortal world.


3. Dropping Money

While few people purposely drop money on the ground, it isn't unusual for change to fall from a pocket or purse by accident. When this happens, the person responsible normally picks up what has been lost and the incident is forgotten; providing, of course, that they are not particularly superstitious.

When coins hit a floor, or other hard surface, the sound is said to awaken the imps that dwell in the world that lies parallel to our own. Alerted by the clinking of change, these greedy hobgoblins will stop at nothing to take possession of what they presume to be gold. It would seem that the precious metal is a coveted commodity in both the inner, and outer reaches of existence.

If the one who dropped the money picks it up immediately and secrets it away, the interlopers will return to where they came from, penniless and dejected. If, however, the coins are left in place, they will be collected by the imps who will then proceed to follow the source in hopes of another windfall. Though careful to stay out of sight, they will make their presence known by causing minor accidents that result in more money being spilled.

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While the party who can't seem to keep track of their loose change tries to make sense of their frustrating bouts of clumsiness, the opportunistic sprites fill their pockets with coins until their avarice is sated.

Some believe that giving a clock as a gift is  a terribly bad idea.

Some believe that giving a clock as a gift is a terribly bad idea.

4. The Gift of Time

To give a clock as a gift is, according to folklore, one of the most egregious acts a person can commit. While the giver may have only the best of intentions, the introduction of a timekeeper into a home by someone who does not live there supposedly begins the countdown to the homeowner's death.

Clocks herald not only the moment of our birth, but also the hour of our death. This is something we all know and, for the most part, never give a second thought. If, however, a device that will someday mark the end of our life is given to us by a third party, they have sped up the inevitable in the eyes of fate. From that point on, each tick of the clock is an hour lost for the one who holds deed to the property. The process will continue until the clock is removed from the premises, or its rightful owner takes their final breath, whichever comes first.

A riderless horse can be a sign of tragedy to come.

A riderless horse can be a sign of tragedy to come.

5. A Riderless Horse

For centuries, the riderless horse has been used to symbolize the loss of life suffered during times of war. When a fallen soldier was laid to rest, his lonesome steed would often lead the funeral procession. In the backwoods where my parents were raised, a riderless horse was not viewed as an homage to the dead, but an omen of tragedy yet to come.

If a horse showed up on someone's property with no rider in sight, rather than assuming that it had somehow escaped its enclosure, many of the local farmers turned to the supernatural for an explanation. An unattended, bridled equine running free was thought to be a sign that the rider was either lying injured somewhere or that they soon would be.

If the untethered horse bore a saddle, this was thought to be a foreshadowing of dark things to come. To see a mount in this state indicated that death would soon befall the owner, most likely as a result of a riding accident, or some other occurrence involving the wayward horse.

Sensing its role in events yet to come, the animal would bolt at every opportunity in a vain attempt to stave off the inevitable. It was believed that the horse was not running from its home, but rather from the specter of death.


6. Unexplained Lights

Lights that appear from out of nowhere, such as orbs, glowing mists, or streaks in the night sky, are thought by some spiritualists to represent the souls of those who have passed on, but remain attached to this world. Unable to manifest in physical form, these ethereal wanderers appear to the living as various forms of light.

Unexplained lights are also known to signal that someone has passed from this earth. On a spring night in 1964, at around three o'clock in the morning, my father and uncle were driving on a country road on their way home from a fishing trip. As they made their way down the mountain, their progress was halted by a blinding light that enveloped both their truck and the woods around them. Although it lasted for only a few seconds, the intense rays were something they could neither explain nor forget.

The following day, my parents learned that my maternal grandfather had died from a massive stroke at 3am. Although these events took place before I was born, the story was related countless times over the years by family members who were convinced that the mysterious light was my grandfather's way of saying goodbye.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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