Skull Spirits 髑髏神怪

During the Jiaxi era (1237-41), the ten-year-old grandson of a villager suddenly vanished without trace, and could not be traced despite prayer, divination and the distribution of notices. During his search it started to rain, and when he sought temporary shelter in a doorway he suddenly heard his grandson call out the names of his ancestors, leaving him shocked and astonished. Being very familiar with his grandson’s voice, he hurried to report the matter to the local officials. When official messengers made a search they indeed found him in a cupboard. By that time he was already emaciated and haggard, having lost the appearance of life, breathing feebly and close to his end, he went to the officials and was still able to relate the whole story of his case. When he was first taken, he was treated with the greatest kindness, each of his meals always filling him right up. Day by day from then on his food was reduced, even his rice dumplings shrinking, and he was eventually left without even a pickle. Each day he was washed only with vinegar, from head to toe, and his joints and blood vessels stopped up with nails. He experienced the greatest cruelty, and at the end of his report, he finally passed away. The kidnappers confessed, and their household, with the exception of the elderly and underage, all received the death sentence.

It is widely said by people in the present generation that those concerned with fortune steal away young boys in this way, waiting for them to die and then taking their bones. Grasping their immortal and mortal souls, it is said that when placed by the ear they gain reports on affairs; these are called ‘Skull Spirits’. When Wu Yuyan was a censor in Jiangdong, he too discovered such a matter, and on investigation heard an account much like this.

Anon., Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi, 前2.69 (Tale 120):

髑髏神怪

嘉熙年間,村民有孫年十歲,忽失不見,祈卜散榜不獲。尋討偶值雨,暫宿於門首,忽聞孫喚祖之名姓,為之駭然。認其孫之聲甚稔,急告於官,差人搜捕,果得於其家櫃中。時已枯朽,略無人形,奄奄餘息,到官猶能道其事之本末。初被竊,溫存備至,一飯必飽,自是日減一日,繼用糭子亦減,久則咸無焉。每日惟灌法醋自頂至踵,關節脈絡悉被錮釘,備極慘酷,言畢氣絕。盗者伏罪,家無老幼盡獲,置之極刑。今世言人之吉凶者,皆盗人家童男如此法,待其死後收其枯骨,掬其魂魄,謂能於耳邊報事,名「髑髏神」也。吳雨巖憲江東,亦斷一事相類,推勘其由,乃如此云。

Yuan Haowen 元好問, Chang Zhenguo 常振國 (ed), Xu Yijian zhi 續夷堅志 (Continued Records of the Listener), and Anon., Jin Xin 金心 (ed.), Huhai xinwen yijian xuzhi 湖海新聞夷堅續志 (Continuation of Records of the Listener with New Items from the Lakes and Seas) (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1986).

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Author: Geoff Humble

Hobby translator of mosty 14th century Chinese texts. Enjoys strange tales. Image is my doodle based on an element within this work: http://archive.asia.si.edu/collections/edan/object.php?q=fsg_F1938.4

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