Folklore of Cities

I was reflecting recently on the type of content that had been shared during Folklore Thursday's cities and urban areas theme. It was interesting to me that there was a significant amount of folklore that was of the spooky kind. There were plenty of ghosts, hauntings and the supernatural. I pondered the reason for this, and for the eerie nature of a lot of urban legends. Now, I may be totally wrong, but I can't help wondering if it isn't the case that when a lot of people find themselves together in cities, somewhat isolated from the natural world, that the tone of tales also becomes rather unnatural. Things don't feel right when we isolate ourselves from the natural order of things.

In cities, particularly in the past, people worked indoors and lived in very close quarters. The streets were dirty and the air often dirtier. Away from nature, crammed into these conditions, tales took a more sinister tone and I wonder whether that is a symptom of the human cut of from what is natural. I'm sure there are plenty of ghost stories that occur in the countryside, but it does seem that in cities there is no shortage of tales that involve dark alleys, derelict buildings, sickness, death and despair.

Tarot of the 1001 Nights

In this post you can find some interesting little facts I discovered about buildings in Hong Kong as well as the historic closes in Edinburgh. Also there are some links for urban legends from around the world that may be a good starting place for anyone wanting to explore city folklore further.


Hong Kong's Dragon Gates

In Hong Kong many high rise buildings have holes in them which are commonly known as dragon's gates. According to the principles of Feng Shui, this allows the dragons living in the mountains to make their way through the buildings to reach the water to drink. However, this isn't quite the full story.

Buildings with dragon gates.

The first building like this was at Repulse Bay and it was designed purely for aesthetic reasons. The residents initially thought it was ridiculous. On the other side of the island, where land was at a premium, high rise buildings were going up very close together. Residents began to complain about the lack of airflow as well as the fact that they were losing their views. The idea of including these holes came about in order to alleviate these problems. As a way of coming to terms with the strange designs, local lore developed that provided a meaningful explanation based on the ideals of Feng Shui, and thus the lore of the dragon's gates began.

Bank of China Building

Also in Hong Kong, the Bank of China Tower opened controversially in 1990. The sharp edges of the building horrified locals as, according the Feng Shui, they created poison arrows or killing energy which resulted in the alleged troubles of nearby businesses, not to mention the government which was also in the firing line.Since then lots of Feng Shui cures have been put in place in order to alleviate the problems. These include fishponds, gardens, plants and awnings which are reported to have helped matters. Unfortunately this was not in time to prevent many nearby business failing.


Edinburgh Closes

In the ancient city of Edinburgh there are many closes or alleyways that have fascinating stories to tell. Overcrowding in the 17th century lead to the necessity to build upward and resulted in buildings of up to eight stories high. The floors below formed an almost underground city, the remains of which are still party accessible today. Over the years much folklore has developed around the closes. There are tales of how, when the plague arrived, the lower levels were boarded up and the residents left to die. Stories of wailing ghosts and spirits that still wandered the closes abounded. Although, in reality, the closes had become unstable and residents were evicted long before the plague arrived.

Image result for mary kings close
Mary King's Close, Edinburgh

One of the most famous closes is Mary King's Close which runs off the Royal Mile and is still operating as a tourist spot today. History tells us that when Edinburgh's new town was built, the old town was desperate not to lose all it's business. New buildings were built by taking the top floors off the old buildings and using the lower levels as a foundation. This is how many of the closes came to be preserved. Some businesses continued to operate from the closes but ultimately they were sealed up until about 100 years later. Many ghost sightings were reported over the years and as urban legends tend to do they evolved over time to become the ghost tales that are told today.


Urban Legends

All cities have their own urban legends. From trickster foxes in Tokyo, bag-piping ghosts in Edinburgh, a supernatural shopping plaza in China to a haunted jail in Brisbane, there is no shortage of fantastic tales to be told. Here are some links to urban legends from cities around the world.

All the Old Haunts: A Yokai Guide to Tokyo and Beyond
Edinburgh's Best Urban Legends
Spooky Chinese Urban Legends
Sydney Urban Legends that will Give you the Creeps
Brisbane's Buried Secrets
New York City's Top Urban Legends
Paris' Most Mysterious Urban Legends
The Creepiest Urban Legends and Stories from Mexico


Finally, I discovered this article from 1985 about Folklore thriving in cities that may be of interest.

'Fifth Avenue, New York City' by Colin Campbell Cooper

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