Art by tumblr user @ain-individual
Chinese folklore contains multitudes of monsters, ghosts and other supernatural creatures, commonly called demons by Western culture. European traditions, dominated by Christianity list much of its grasp of interstitial or transitory dimensions- world’s in between good and evil. Consequently, many tales of earthbound spirits and non-human entities do not translate, and that lack of translation inevitably shifts the stories themselves.In no place is this dilemma more obvious, than in the tale of the Éguǐ, or Hungry Ghosts.
Hungry Ghosts are purported to be the spirits of those too greedy in life. Their inability to ever be satisfied, somehow disturbs the natural balance and order of their souls, triggering a curse that dooms them to wander with ravenous hunger. Most of the more modern versions depict them with mouths too small to take satisfying bites. They prowl alleys and kitchens, searching for offerings or spoiled food. According to the tales, which vary in their grotesquery, they will scour midden heaps, graves, even ashes, just to eat anything they think might sustain them.
These hungry ghosts are portrayed with green or grey corpse-like skin, distended bellies, and skeletal thinness. They can take on gaseous form and wander into homes. But as with most myths, there is a sort of branching off which takes place over time, and over long distances. Myths trapped behind mountains will evolve like an endemic species, and transform yet again.
Consequently, there are nine different varieties of Éguǐ, separated into three classes, along a somewhat difficult concept to translate: means. Depending on what you’ve read, “means” appears to correspond to magical strength or spiritual capital, somehow obtained by the humans who maintain the spirits. Egui are believed to be dead humans, and in cultures that worship ancestors, often the people who pray, offer up food, and so forth, create for the ghost, a kind of strength.
Ghosts of No Means, are known as Wú Cái Guǐ. These include Ghosts with Needle Mouths, who cannot take in enough food or beverages to satisfy themselves, Torch Mouth Ghosts whose mouths appear like flames, and Foul Mouth Ghosts whose breath is disgusting to themselves and any witnesses.
Ghosts of Small Means are known as Shǎo Cái Guǐ .They are punished with physical ailments. Needle Hair Ghosts have hairs like sharp iron needles which torment them but can be used to inflict pain on others. Smelly-Hair Ghosts have spiky hair that exudes a terrible odor, much like their Foul Mouth Ghost brethren. Tumor Ghosts are the most unfortunate of the Small Means class, forced to feed on the oozing pus from their own hideous goiters and tumors.
Ghosts with Excessive Means include Ghosts Hoping ForOfferings, which only keep themselves in existence by feeding on sacrificial offerings, such as ancestor offerings from their unwitting descendants. Ghosts Hoping For Leavings can steal and eat the qi of living beings, and feed on human leftovers. Ghosts of Great Powers are perpetually aggressive and violent.
All of these ghosts have some similarities with Cousins. Simon frequently explains that he is always hungry, seeking for food and never satisfied. The grey skin and skeletal physique common to these ghosts is also familiar. The breath and body odor of a Cousin accustomed to feeding on spoiled food, corpses and offerings would likely be anything but pleasant. The violence and aggression of a Cousin on a feeding spree may account for the legends of powerful ghosts. Even certain features such as Needle Hair may be cases of mistaken identity and physical sensations. The filaments comprising a Cousin’s ‘hair’ are flexible, shiny, and a similar thickness to larger needles. Simon describes being able to cause feelings of unease and dread, which may translate to the well-known feeling of ‘pins and needles’.
The ghosts’ ability to turn into a gaseous form may be explained by the Cousinly ability to project emotional influences over humans and animals, as well as their ability to silently break into and freely wander through homes. While spitting flames isn’t a common ability, it may be explained either by the cleverness of a Cousin employing trickery, or though more unlikely, the growth of bioluminescent bacteria in a Cousin’s mouth. Bacteria which occur naturally on rotting flesh, especially human flesh and seafood are known to emit a phosphorescent glow, and the variety known as Angel’s Glow (P. luminescens) was a common occurrence in wounds of Civil War soldiers.
The known information about Simon and his species do seem to match up very well to legends of the Éguǐ, and it is my conclusion that Cousins do in fact inhabit China, and are direct contributors to the rich history of folklore in the many cultures housed within.
Jill Ford is a freelance editor and grant writer. In her spare time, she works with Simon to manage his social media and organize his otherwise confusing online presence.