An angry ghost is what happens when an ancestor is forgotten, dishonored, or angry for some reason. Among the Children of Earth, angry ghosts are believed to be the causes of many physical and psychological illnesses, ship malfunctions, and streaks of bad luck, among other ailments and unfortunate events.
The Children of Earth believe there are any number of reasons an ancestor might become an angry ghost.
Perhaps their family line died out so they are no longer receiving proper attention; to prevent this, families without children will sometimes adopt a child from a family with plenty of children, or become godparents, so that the roll of names in their ancestor shrine can be added to the ancestor shrine of their godchildren or adopted children and tended properly. Emergency adoption of ancestors also happens on existing Children of Earth ships when a ship is lost, as sometimes happens, because no one wants an entire ship full of angry ghosts finding their way to your fleet.
Perhaps the person died under suspicious or especially painful means. Maybe they died while trading on a planet, in which case they weren’t on the ship when they passed, and thus their spirit got confused and upset in trying to find its way to the ancestor shrine. Maybe they were murdered; it’s a rare thing among the Children, but not unheard of. Maybe they died of a terrible injury or illness, lingering on their deathbed for a long time before passing away, their spirit wracked with pain and confusion.
Perhaps – and this is the most commonly cited reason for an angry ghost – they are upset about something one of their descendents has done. Maybe the family has fallen out of prosperity or political favor, when it was powerful in the ancestor’s time. Maybe someone accidentally defiled the shrine. Maybe they disapprove of a descendant’s conduct, behavior, marriage, or choice of occupations.
When someone suspects they are being haunted by an angry ghost, they call in an elder. Elders have lived long enough to know many of the ancestors when they were alive, and are believed to be closer to the ancestors due to their proximity to the end of their own lives. An elder will use a divination system of some kind: perhaps throwing dice, or reading with conquian cards, or entering a trance. They will interpret the meaning of their divination as indicating the presence or absence of an angry ghost, and no one dares seek a second opinion if they don’t like the results, because that would be incredibly disrespectful to the elder.
If the divination points to the absence of an angry ghost, the inquirer is told to take responsibility for their own mistakes or bad luck and not bother the elder about it. (If the story of the supposed haunting is clearly a case of someone making a mistake and wanting to pass it off on being plagued by a ghost, the elder might not even bother with a divination at all, and may tell the inquirer to stop wasting their time.) If the divination points to the presence of an angry ghost, then the elder strives to figure out what the ghost needs in order to be calmed and become a beneficent ancestor spirit again.
If the elder can get information about what the angry ghost needs or wants, the remedy is pretty simple. Often, though, the solution is simply to try a variety of remedies. These vary wildly by ship and fleet, but some common ones are as follows.
- Funeral: The deceased’s name is removed from the ancestor shrine. A second funeral ritual is performed with the haunted people and anyone available who knew or was related to the deceased. Their name and deeds are read aloud, everyone shares stories and memories of the deceased, offerings are given, and the deceased’s name is added back onto the ancestor shrine. This is the funerary practice of most Children of Earth ships; it’s done again to remind the ancestor that they are dead, they are honored, and they should join the ancestors in peaceful rest at the ancestor shrine.
- Feast of the Dead: If the identity of the angry ghost (or ghosts) is unknown, the Children might hold a feast of the dead. In this case, they are making offerings to the unknown and forgotten ancestors. Most ships have a shrine to these unknown ancestors, just to cover their bases, and the shrine is tended by the elders, the captain, and anyone else who wants to do so for the possible luck or favor. At a feast of the dead, everyone on the ship makes offerings to the unknown ancestors, and there is much merrymaking, music, performance, and storytelling to try to earn the favor of the unknown ones.
- Purification: Anyone plagued by an angry ghost may try purification and misdirection to rid themselves of the ghost. This is best done in conjunction with placation attempts like offerings, a funeral, or a feast of the dead. Different ships have their own purification rituals, but this may include wearing your formal clothing while your usual everyday clothing is thoroughly cleaned, or it may mean transferring to another ship for a while, or fasting and meditating in front of the ancestor shrine for a time. Perhaps the person wears their clothing inside-out to confuse the angry ghost, or disguises their face with nanocosmetics, or takes on a different name.
- Substitution: Sometimes, the Children of Earth believe, the ghost wants to be in a body again. This is often believed to be the case when someone seems to be possessed. The ghost is invited into the body of a catten, which is especially fortunate when a family needs a fourth family member in order to have children (or if the ghost is upset because a family has had children without having a full family unit); the ancestor-possessed catten can stand in for a fourth family member until such time as the family finds someone living. Even if a ghost marriage is not feasible, the catten is treated as if it were the ancestor in truth, and welcomed as an elder.
Every ship has its ghost story, and often multiple stories. Some examples follow below.
- The crew of the Armis Intrepid fills the stories of the Great Fleets. When the Children of Earth were newly among the stars, the Great Fleets sometimes commandeered ships that flew alone. The Armis Intrepid was one of those that the Mercatalin Fleet commandeered via deception, with broken promises of protection and trade. Back in those days, mercantile law hadn’t yet been established, and the Great Fleets were more cutthroat and intolerant of competition; the captain of the Intrepid objected when she found out that Mercatalin wasn’t ever planning on helping them but was instead going to replace her with their own crew. Her Mercatalin replacement killed her, and her crew fought for her and were slain in turn. The Armis Intrepid then suffered every possible malady in spacefaring history: illness, accidents, getting lost, lurching too soon out of relativistic speed, injury, and so on. It was eventually scrapped for its parts, which were incorporated into many of the different Great Fleets ships… and the restless, angry spirits of the Intrepid linger with those parts, still trying to get their revenge, spreading illness and misery wherever they can. Great Fleets members sometimes report seeing faceless figures in the mirror, or strangers standing in one particular spot on the ship while watching them expressionlessly, gone when the member takes a second look.
The Sponsored also tell the tales of the Armis Intrepid but believe them to be sympathetic figures. Some even include the Intrepid in their ancestor shrines as cultural ancestors, and encourage them to make trouble for the Great Fleets.
- Then there’s the United Fleets tale of the Ghost Mechanic, believed to be a mechanic who died horribly of mysterious means while working in the engine room. He haunts the engines of ships, still trying to do his job, trying to fix whatever problem he was working on when he died. Unfortunately, that often means he creates the problem in the engine first. Many engine problems are blamed on the Ghost Mechanic, as well as any mysterious noises in the ship’s inner workings. Living mechanics sometimes offer additional incense in the engine room, or keep a small shrine to the Ghost Mechanic to try to placate him.
- There’s also the story of Fractured Sesha, particularly common in Elder Caravans stories. She appears in the transitions from ordinary speed to relativistic speed and back again, her mouth open in a scream, her body strangely proportioned and moving irregularly. If you meet her eyes, it’s said, she’ll try to possess you in her attempt to escape from the disjointed space between relativistic and ordinary time. If you’re possessed, you will fall ill and you’ll be prone to shakiness and even seizures; only by purifying yourself during the next transition will you be able to get free of Fractured Sesha. Some people of the Elder Caravans put gauze or dark glasses over their eyes during transition to protect themselves from possession.