Ubume

Ubume cradling her dead child
Artwork by Toriyama Sekien

Date of Discovery

Found as far back as the Heian-period Tales of Times Now Past, the first known date of her being described was during the Edo period, in 1687. Through the illustrations in the picture scrolls of the Hyakkai-zukan and the Bakemono zukushi within Toriyama Sekien’s catalog, Ubume’s image as a yokai became permanent.

Name

The Ubume is also known as the Birthing Woman. She has many different names across the many regions of Japan–in the Shiga Prefecture, she is known as the Ubume-tori and on Sado Island in the Niigata Prefecture, she is known as the Ubu–other names include Obo, Unme, Ugume, and Ubame tori.

In modern times, the standard kanji characters used to name her literally define how she died, 産女, which translates to “birthing woman.”

Since death during childbirth was such a common experience before modern medicine, it’s possible that the Ubume is related to a similar yokai, known as the kosodate-yurei, which translates to “child-rearing ghost.”

Physical Description

The Ubume can appear in many different forms, many of the most popular renditions are when she appears as a woman carrying a baby, a pregnant woman, or a blood-soaked walking corpse carrying an underdeveloped fetus. At times her apparition can be described as a bloody pregnant woman who cries out into the night in desperate need for help; all of these variations are because of the different burial traditions in the different regions from which the story originates, as well as the circumstances under which the woman and her child died. Within the traditions of burying a woman who died while trying to birth a stillborn fetus, she would either be buried with the baby within her womb, or they would cut the child out of her and cradle the fetus in her arms for burial.

Suuhi Ubume, cradling her dead child
Artwork by Sawaki Sūshi

Origin

The origin of the Ubume is the result of a woman who dies just before, during, or shortly after childbirth, where the spirit experiences crippling anxiety about the safety of her child after passing. Due to this unresolved issue, her ghost manifests as the Ubume and her spirit will typically appear later on during dark and rainy nights.

The Ubume embodies the serious health concerns about pregnancy and safely delivering a child. She represents the self-sacrificing spirit of motherhood. Several Buddhist temples in Japan, are actually associated with the Ubume, motherhood, as well as the act of childbirth itself.

Mythology and Lore

According to The Book of Yokai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore by Michael Dylan Foster, the Ubume is found in various different forms throughout the country of Japan and resides in a collection of ghost stories, religious texts, and other documents. The details of her stories vary from place to place, but she is commonly thought of as the apparition of a woman who died during childbirth.

In one version of the tale, she will appear at crossroads or upon a bridge as twilight falls upon the region, with her lower body completely soaked in blood, she appears to be crying and cradling an infant in her arms. If a male passes her by, she asks him to hold the baby, and then promptly leaves. In this version, the baby continuously grows heavier in the man’s arms until he cannot move or risk dropping the child–in alternatives of this particular tale, the baby actually turns into a stone.

Although it’s never clear what happens to the baby or the woman, there are always different outcomes to each narrative depending upon the region from which the tale originates. One in particular ends with the man being rewarded for his effort with the gift of physical strength, which he is able to pass on to his descendants in the years to come.

In many other parts of Japan, there is a legend of a mysterious woman who comes night after night to buy candy from a corner store. One night, after the shopkeeper has grown suspicious of her, he follows her and finds that she disappears into a graveyard. As soon as she disappears, he hears a baby crying and stumbles upon a grave that has been dug up, where a woman who had died during childbirth had recently been buried. The strangest thing happens when he finds this grave, he finds her baby, healthy and alive laying by the side of the freshly decomposing corpse of its mother. The shopkeeper takes the child in, and in many legends, the baby grows up to become a prominent Buddhist monk.

Within the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai, the author Matthew Meyer discusses how these tragic spirits wander the areas near where they passed away, where the baby survives, and her attempts to care for the child that she left behind. In some cases, she even attempts to purchase food, clothes, or candy for her surviving child, but in place of money, she tries to purchase it with handfuls of dead leaves. This particular Ubume is also known to try to lead someone to where her baby is hidden so it can be cared for by the living.

Modern Pop-Culture References

The Ubume became a well-known fictional character within popular Japanese culture, by means of Kabuki dramas, where she was the basis for the ghost of Oiwa-san, a vengeful spirit who returns from the dead to haunt her cruel and cheating husband within the play Tokaido-Yotsuya Kaidan from 1825. Surprisingly, this doesn’t sound all too unfamiliar with ghost stories such as the one of La Llorona.



Is there anything we missed about the Ubume? Let us know in the comments section below!

Categories
Horror Books

Untitled Grimoires

Date of Discovery

These manuscripts were believed to be written in the early 1900s as their first library appearance was around the 1920s.

Name

Untitled Grimoires or Persephone’s Grimoires

Physical Description

Two hand-written spiral-bound books that look like the ones we have today, they are worn down and have a few tears and rips to some pages but ultimately maintained a good condition to this day.

Origin

The books originated when a Wiccan High Priestess called Persephone Adrastea Eirene recorded her family’s spiritual history of being an American witch of Swedish and English ancestry.

Mythology & Lore

These manuscripts record Persephone’s “witchy” history that she reworked all through her adult life incorporating her mother’s grimoire into them as well. The first book contains around 250 pages of spells, incantations, curses, and enchantments, as well as corresponding information on gems, planets, rites, potions, and even exorcisms.  The second book includes around 150 to 200 pages of alchemy and chemistry recipes, cures, perfume and balms, nerve tonics, and even hairspray recipes. The first book is believed to carry the “curse” heavier than its counterpart, as Persephone’s spells are believed in Wiccan culture to contain more power than most other records due to the embodiment of herself within them.

Originally the books belonged to Alice Monseratt, the wife of Israel Regardie, who moved to the UK in the 1920s to work with famous occult writer Aleister Crowley. Later on, they both went on to work with the Golden Dawn Order and printing their works and publications as occultism raised into the modern world. Though Monseratt did little reporting on the cursed lore over these books, she did make notes as to why she and others within the Order believed the curse carried some serious weight. She made a note to an inscription warning all those who reading it, “To those not of the craft- the reading of this book is forbidden! Proceed no further or justice will exact a swift and terrible retribution – and you will surely suffer at the hand of the craft”. This was written in not only English but other languages as well to ensure the reader be heavily warned to keep away.

Another reason these books have picked up the cursed lore is their association with famous occult writers and the Order’s they studied under. During the time the books originally sold to Alice Monseratt most occult or “witchcraft” beliefs were highly looked down upon by society. As main occultism practicer’s record being threatened and harassed out of their towns and communities. These spell books made front-page news yet again when they sold for 13,865$ from AbeBooks.com to an unknown buyer. To this day copies of the Untitled Grimoires can be bought from M Benjamin Katz Fine Books and Rare Manuscripts in Toronto. They still come with a high warning for all none believers within Wiccan or Pagan believes to shy away from them because of the cursed lore within and surrounding their pages.

Is there anything we missed about The Untitled Grimoires? Let us know in the comments section below!