We are joined by Adal Rifai of the amazing Hello From the Magic Tavern podcast to chat about improv, Dungeons & Dragons, talking badgers, hungry ghosts, manticores, and more! We also cover creepy grandma vocab, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, deer man, and the Hog King & Queen, and make about a hundred jokes along the way.
Adal Rifai is an improviser with Whirled News Tonight and Revolver, as well as one of the stars of the amazing Hello From the Magic Tavern. You can find him on twitter @adalrifai or as Chunt at @chuntttttt!
Huge thanks to Shaker & Spoon for sponsoring this episode! Get $20 off your first box at http://shakerandspoon.com/spirits.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits podcast episode 84, Talking Badgers with Adal Rifai.
Julia: Yeah, I'm very excited for this episodes for a number of reasons. Mostly that Adal is a wonderful human being and we were really, really lucky to have him on the show.
Amanda: Yeah, Julia did some excellent work in being like, "Wait, what if we talked about mythology with Adal Rifai," and I was like, "Damn, yes let's do it!" We really, really love the shows that he's on. We talk a little bit about it in the actual episode. This is a really cool mix, I think, of the mythology of a project that a person does and also their personal story. I think, Julie, you did a really great job preparing for this one.
Julia: Thank you. Thank you, I'm very excited for y'all to hear it. But first, we gotta talk about our new patrons.
Amanda: Hey, hi, hello to Leanne, Janessa, Amara, Rachel, Katrina, Shelby, Joe, and Darcy.
Julia: Yeah, welcome. Your dads aren't hungry ghosts, but I think you're going to find them interesting anyway.
Amanda: And thank you so much to the people who truly helped make this show happen, talking animals and all. Our Supporting Producer-Level patrons Phillip, Julie, Christina, Josh, Yore, Neil, Jessica, Maria, Ryan, Phil Fresh, and Debra, as well as our Legend-Level patrons Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack, Marie, Ashley Marie, Leanne, and Cassie.
Julia: Thank you all so much. You are wonderful human beings, and we appreciate you every single, God damn day.
Amanda: We truly, truly do. We also appreciate Shaker & Spoon which is our sponsor for this week. They are a monthly cocktail subscription box that you can get in on the fun at shakerandspoon.com/spirits , but we'll tell you more about that later.
Julia: Yeah, we'll get there eventually.
Amanda: Gotta get through some good, good badger lore first.
Julia: Very important. I don't remember what we were drinking for this one, but I can tell you later about the Shaker & Spoon cocktail that I made while we were recording this. But we'll get there.
Amanda: Yeah, I never remember anything that we talk about or drink or do.
Amanda: Or drink or do during episodes, so you know, it's actually pretty fun 'cuz I get to enjoy the show as a listener and get to be like, "Yo, mermaids ar great." And the person in the episode happens to also sound like me. So, you know, it's all good.
Julia: Yeah, it's wonderful
Amanda: This is truly an action-filled and exciting episode, so we're gonna let you get right to it. This is Spirits Podcast episode 84, Talking Badgers with Adal Rifai.
Julia: So listeners, this week we are joined by a very special guest. I am very excited, if you cannot tell from my voice and the shakiness of it. We are joined by Adal Rifai of Hello from the Magic Tavern.
Julia: And welcome, Adal. Hi, how's it going?
Adal: Thank you so much for having me.
Julia: It's absolute our pleasure. For our listeners that don't know what Hello from the Magic Tavern is, it is a -
Adal: I was told all of your listeners know what Hello, From the Magic Tavern is.
Julia: Oh damn okay
Amanda: Uh oh. Oh no, what have we done
Julia: I've outed myself.
Adal: How embarrassing for you.
Julia: For our listeners who have been living under a rock, Hello from the Magic Tavern is I want to say an improved audio-drama, I suppose, about a magical land that a man fell through a portal behind a Burger King into and is now podcasting from this magical land. Is that about right? That's about it.
Adal: That about wraps it up.
Julia: All right, cool.
Adal: That's better than what Arnie does.
Julia: It's usually better than what Arnie does.
Adal: I feel like whenever I explain, whenever people talk to me and they're like, "What do you do?" And I'm like, "I'm a podcaster," and they're like, "What's the podcast you do?" And I launch into that spiel, I feel like 90% of the times their eyes glaze over and they're just like, "Oh. That's cute. Good for you." And I'm like, "I'm so sorry."
Julia: I'm so sorry. I swear people listen to it. That's what I say to my mom every time I tell her I'm doing a new project.
Amanda: We're like actually famous, ma'am.
Julia: I just wanted to just start with - we're going to get into some actual spiritsy story telling later, but I kind of want to start with the idea of hey, how do you make a magical world? Most of the show is improvised, if I'm not mistaken. Is that right?
Adal: Yeah, about 99.9% of it is improvised. I think every 10 episodes or so, we'll have something where we're like, "Let's try and actively reference the Dark Lord is having a birthday coming up," so we'll set goals to hit, but even then it's not even like a script. It's like, at some point, can you mention this? Or at some point, can you get me to this place or something.
Amanda: Like an anchor.
Adal: Like an anchor, absolutely
Amanda: You know, like a thing that we have to at some point wrap this line around.
Adal: Absolutely, yup, yup. That sort of flow of it, or structure of it.
Julia: So I'm interested in kind of because, you know, as a mythology and folklore podcast, obviously you guys really dig into a lot of mythology and folklore that isn't foon-specific. Manticores and fairies and hungry ghosts, and all that kind of thing. So I'm curious how much actual research kind of goes into the world building either by you three main cast or the guests that are coming on and performing with you. I'm curious as to how much world building is specific and how much is just kind of made on the fly.
Adal: I think it's almost all made up on the fly. I mean, my interests are in the supernatural and folklore mythology and all that jazz, so I'm very much influenced by what I consume. So if I'm reading a specific book on, you know...have you ever read the Jim Butcher Dresden Files series?
Julia: Amanda loves the Dresden Files.
Amanda: Heck yeah! We reference it often and listeners are always like, "Oh my God! I didn't know anybody else liked these books!" It's very exciting.
Adal: They're so, so good. I was flying through those and every once in a while, they have the Malkan cat, like the great big cat that's almost sinister later in the series. When I was reading that book and it referenced the Malkan cats, that kind of stuck in my craw. And then as we were recording, we were trying to think up ways to get a message out or something and I was like, "Oh, I talked to the Malkans and they're coming." So, we never planned to put forth these ideas or lores or myths, but I think whatever's in our head will kind of tumble out when shook. That's how we kind of approach it. Again, if we have something we actively want to inject into the show, we'll talk about it briefly and make sure that gets done, but that's few and far between.
Normally, it's just we just kind of make up something on the fly and a lot of times, obviously, if you listen to the show, it's very much influenced by the real-world or our world. We definitely have referenced, instead of Slender Man, I think we have Skinny Boy or whatever it was. We have a lot of analogous or parallel myths or lores.
Julia: You guys do a great job with that, for sure. Since you mentioned it, and since this is a mythology, folklore, urban legends podcast, are there are particular stories that you're usually drawn to? Or what are some of your go-to favorite stories when it comes to that kind of stuff?
Adal: I feel like one of the most formative things in my life, besides the movie Beetlejuice, was when I was a kid, my mom got me a book that she probably should not have gotten me, but it was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Julia: Oh yes. Hell yes.
Amanda: Yeah. We had like six of those in our elementary school library. Julie and I grew up together, and I remember we would basically just cycle through which of us was checking out that book at a given time.
Julia: Yeah you would get in trouble if you took it out too many times, which I experienced.
Adal: They'd be like, "Legally, we have to alert the authorities, because that's a very dark book."
Amanda: The school psychologist is waiting.
Adal: But it's -
Amanda: Probably would've been helpful, but yeah.
Adal: But it's a collection of, I think there's three books. The ones I have, it's three. But it's Alvin Schwartz is the author, and then even more sort of potent or powerful are the drawings by Stephen Gammell.
Julia: Oh, they're insane.
Adal: Which, at some point, I remember like 10 years ago, they re-released the books without his illustrations because they were too terrifying. So they toned it down. And I remember seeing the cartoonish drawings that whoever stepped in to fill his shoes did, and it's like disgusting.
Amanda: Oh man, that bee-hair woman. The bee-hive that is actually a bee-hive hair-do. I could reproduce that right now, it was so striking to me.
Julia: For me, it's the spider coming out of the woman's cheek. That's the one that strikes me
Amanda: Oh yeah, that's the other one.
Adal: Oh yeah, like laying eggs in her cheek. My favorite's probably Harold, which is the scarecrow that comes to life and skins the owner on the farm. Those books - I got that book maybe when I was seven or eight. So I remember at an early age, just those illustrations being emblazoned in the back of my eyelids. Whenever I closed my eyes, just seeing those and being terrified. But it also led to my current proclivities, which is, again, being obsessed with the supernatural or the weird or oddities or anything like that. I feel like those books were the most formative of media that I consumed as a child.
Amanda: For me, those books really go hand-in-hand with the kinds of stories that we would tell each other at sleep overs, you know? And at summer camp. Were there any urban legend type stories that you guys told each other either as younger kids or stuff in high school that was probably dangerous that y'all did anyway to impress each other?
Adal: I moved around a bit as a kid, but we settled in Kewanee, Illinois, which is just a small farm town. It's the hog capital of the world, which is not a claim to fame. They used to -
Julia: No, not usually.
Adal: Every year, they have a festival called Hog Days, which they still have. And every year, they used to crown a Hog King and Hog Queen which was -
Amanda: Was the ugliest hog the Hogwart?
Adal: Which was not necessarily coveted by the young men and women in town.
Julia: No, you would think so.
Adal: In junior high and high school, there was a legend of Deer Man. In our local woods, which I think was Johnson-Sauk Trail and another wooded area preserve, there was a legend that there was a Deer Man who was deer on top, man on bottom.
Amanda: Oh no.
Adal: So we used to go out in the woods and hang out there after dark and call for the Deer Man. Or somebody would excuse themselves and make noises in the woods to scare others or whatever that is. We definitely had a lot of fun with the local lore of Deer Man, which I think is pretty fun.
Amanda: I love good reverse centaur urban legend.
Adal: Absolutely. I would love it if it was Man Deer and it was top part was a man, bottom half was a deer and it's just like, "You're just a dude."
Julia: You're just a dude.
Adal: Just a disfigured man. You're not scary.
Amanda: There's a couple of Native American folklore stories about the Deer Woman who goes to parties and seduces men and gets them into accidents. That seems very much kind of inspired from that area.
Adal: What kind of accidents would she get them into?
Amanda: Usually she'll - if she's trying to seduce someone and they basically tell her no, as they're driving away from the party, she'll just appear and cause them to crash.
Adal: Oh, like a deer would.
Julia: Yeah, like a deer.
Adal: Very resourceful.
Julia: Except a woman, you know. Like the Deer Man. Like the Deer Woman.
Amanda: And when she appears as a human, it's woman on top, and when she moves her skirt, it's deer hooves, which normally I find the human-animal mash-ups to be pretty terrifying, but that one I think is kind of adorable.
Adal: Yeah, it's like, "Aw."
Julia: It's kind of cute. It's kind of cute despite the almost murder that goes on there.
Amanda: Yeah, yeah, yeah
Adal: And when she appears to a guy, she'll give her name as Jane Doe.
Julia: How did I not make that joke in that episode? Damn it.
Amanda: Damn. Lost opportunity.
Julia: Oh God. I know you guys do, as a part of a spin off series from Hello from the Magic Tavern, you do Offices and Bosses, which is the fantasy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Did you guys play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons as kids or is that someone you picked up later in life or...?
Adal: I never did because I was wildly popular.
Julia: Checks out.
Adal: I think Matt maybe did. I don't believe Arnie did. But I definitely, maybe, two and a half years ago, I started doing Campaign with some friends, a lot of people who have been on the show. Every Saturday morning, we've been doing Campaign.
Julia: Oh that's awesome.
Adal: And now I'm obsessed with it. It's very much what I look forward to most every week. I wasn't into it as a kid, that or Magic the Gathering or any of that was very tertiary ideas in my life. Recently, I've gotten into it, and I absolutely adore it. It's very much in my wheelhouse of if you're an improvisor, it's so much fun to play D&D and embrace those assets.
Julia: Yeah we like to joke that D&D is like if you're gay or if you liked acting as a kid, you most definitely got into D&D later in life.
Julia: Amanda actually does a D&D podcast, which is the only reason I brought this up because I know you guys play a lot of D&D.
Adal: Well, what's the name of the podcast?
Amanda: Yeah it's called Join the Party. We are very much trying to sound like an audio drama while having a really fun game of D&D. We play a lot with kind of pop culture troupes. Right now, we're doing an arc called Bachelorette Party where our players find themselves in a Bachelorette-style reality show for - it's like, win the love and affection of a leader of a city-state you've never been to before.
Adal: That's outstanding.
Amanda: Yeah. And before that was a pool party with mythology-inspired Big Bad. It's very fun and I like it a lot. I play a hopeless, lesbian skater-teen who wants to be an assassin but is too overwhelmed by all women to actually do much.
Adal: That old troupe.
Julia: She's great.
Adal: That's wonderful.
Amanda: Really playing to my experience.
Julia: Yeah, I think D&D really appeals to anyone who is a storyteller in the acting sense or writing sense. It makes sense that Hello from the Magic Tavern has a D&D spin-off.
Amanda: Yeah, and lots of improv obviously as well. Do you improv other places professionally?
Adal: Yeah, I mostly do there's a place in Chicago called IO. It's formerly Improv Olympic, but now it's shortened IO. I perform there weekly. I usually do Friday nights with a group called Revolver and Saturday nights with a group called World News Tonight. That's sort of my home base. I'll do two or three shows there a week when possible.
Amanda: That's awesome.
Adal: I used to perform elsewhere, but I think with just getting busier and busier, I kind of just whittled it down to those two shows I pop up in.
Amanda: That idea of performing on a stage terrifies me. I was very much a techie in our high school theater scene and not an actor. Playing D&D has made me feel a little more confident in my ability to react to stuff as it's being thrown at me.
Adal: Oh that's great.
Amanda: So I think it's really beneficial especially for people might have identified as shy nerds in elementary school, which I bet a lot of podcasters and podcast listeners did. Try D&D. It can be really fun.
Adal: Absolutely. I feel like my personality, I'm like, if I have to be on stage and be myself, that's when I get kind of shaky of like bleh. No one wants to see or hear this idiot. But if I'm able to play a character like I do in improv or with Magic Tavern live shows or something, it's so comfortable and I don't even think about the audience being there. Or if I do, it's very much this is a celebration and not anything to be nervous about. It's kind of incredible how quickly you can get over any amount of stage fright just by slipping into a character or just embracing the atmosphere.
Julia: Yeah, for sure. Speaking of which, your most recent live show that you guys put out on Monday featured one of our good friends, Lauren Shippen, who's been on the podcast before. Who is a wonderful human being.
Adal: Yeah she's great.
Amanda: She's awesome.
Julia: So I think we're going to get into some actual story telling parts now. So I'm going to tell you a little bit about your character, I guess.
Adal: Yes please. I'll dim the lights and put a flashlight in front of my face.
Julia: Do it, yeah. A little bit of gin and a little bit of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Vibes is what we're going for.
Adal: I started a campfire on my floor.
Julia: There we go. Perfect.
Amanda: I literally have gin in a camping mug right now -
Amanda: So I am ready.
Julia: For our listeners who have not listened to Magic Tavern yet, but should, and should pause it right now, start listening to the show, come back to us -
Amanda: No, Julia! Julia! Don't dilute the call to action. Come on.
Julia: No, sh. It's fine. So, you're character is Chunt, who is very erroneously called a talking badger by the host Arnie. He's really a shape-shifter, but I'm curious if you, Adal, or you, Amanda, would be surprised if I told you that there are talking badger myths in Japanese folklore?
Adal: Well, well, well.
Amanda: Are there really? I did not know that. We've got lots of talking animals. Actually, not as many talking animals as fairy tales would have you believe. Most of the time, in, at least the shape shifters we've discussed, the Selkie or others, they have a animal form and a human form, and there's not a lot of talking to humans as an animal.
Julia: We get a little bit of both in this story. So it's the full package here. As we've discussed in previous episodes, Japan has the best and weirdest folklore, and that's what we love about it. We're going to talk about the Mujina, which is actually a really archaic term for just badger in Japanese. Basically, it's also used for a term for a shape shifting Yōkai, which are the Japanese demons/spirits. The mujina, specifically, has the form of a badger and can turn into a human.
Amanda: Quick side bar.
Amanda: We mentioned earlier the Malkan in Dresden Files. Malkan is just an old English word for cat. That was the word for cat before we used the word cat.
Julia: I love when you do that.
Amanda: I love, in both of these examples, how this archaic term for badger, as a different term comes into use, the oldest one becomes the spookiest one because old stuff is spooky and I love that that is true.
Julia: I love old things. They're so creepy. That's why we love antiques and just assume everything's haunted.
Amanda: Yeah or anything a grandma says is spookier than anybody else. So when a grandma uses older language to refer to something, you're like, "That's not a cat. That's a haunted thing."
Adal: Oh yeah. When my grandma used to call our couch a davenport, I'd be like oooo.
Julia: Oh no.
Adal: You spooky witch.
Amanda: Okay I'm trying to think. My grandma calls a footstool an ottoman. I think that's pretty normal, though.
Julia: That's pretty on-brand for grandmas.
Adal: My grandma called the couch davenport. She called the bathroom a commode.
Amanda: Ooo, my grandma does that too.
Adal: Yeah. What else would she say?
Amanda: Dinner is supper.
Julia: Your grandma just sounds fancy as hell.
Adal: She'd say, "Stop rasslin'."
Amanda: Huh. Grandmas, man. They're the best. Grandmas.
Julia: So in their badger form, mujina tend to live in the mountains, usually away from human society. They're known to shape shift into three different forms. The first one is an attractive woman with a quote-unquote "promiscuous nature." Once they seduce a human, they cause mischief in their partners' lives, which I feel like I might've dated a couple of those in the past. There's actually a great quote from 627 CE that states, "In two months of spring, there are mujina in the country of Mutsu. They turn into humans and they sing songs." Which is just great.
Adal: That's adorable.
Amanda: Well, if you're going to come across a shape shifting, quasi-crypted, I suppose that's not the worst effect in the world.
Julia: Yeah no, it doesn't really get creepy until the end of this, which is usually a good bonus.
Amanda: Damn it, now I'm thinking about what's going to be creepy. Come on.
Julia: So in another region of Japan, Shimosa, the talking badgers are referred to as kubukiri-kōzo, but instead of attractive women, they transfer into either small monks or little boys wearing tiny kimonos.
Adal: Bunch of little scamps running around. That's adorable.
Julia: Little scamps.
Amanda: I know. You can't be suspicious of that.
Julia: So they tend to appear on less-trafficked roads at night. They sing to passersby a song that just goes, "Drink water. Drink tea." I mean.
Amanda: Which is just frigging adorable. It's not bad advice. Is the idea that they would stop and drink water at the roadside or just trying to be helpful?
Julia: They're just trying to tell people to keep hydrated and drink your eight waters a day.
Amanda: Oh. Adorbs. Thank you.
Julia: If they're approached by a stranger, they run off into the dark and transform back into their animal form.
Julia: Which is cute. It's just like stranger danger.
Adal: I feel like that character's ripe for advertising of like having a badger turn into a small boy in a kimono and being like, "Always Coca-Cola. Drink Coke products." And then scamping off and turning into a polar bear or something.
Julia: I like that. I appreciate that.
Amanda: Listen. Go shop that around.
Julia: More polar bear shape shifters.
Amanda: It would be so much better if the Coca-Cola polar bear were a shape shifter
Julia: If would be.
Adal: Also, if you've never listened to Hello from the Magic Tavern, what I might do on the show is, once you said the badgers were called mujina, is that what they're called?
Adal: I would just wait for an opening for me to just reference, "Damn, mujina."
Julia: Spoiler alerts for future episodes.
Adal: People would groan and we'd move on.
Amanda: Here, we'd dig in.
Adal: That's the kind of quality product you'd expect to find on Hello from the Magic Tavern.
Julia: I appreciate that.
Amanda: We dig into groan-able lines and we do not let go.
Julia: We grasp onto them and just hold them tight. The final form that the mujina takes is the form of a faceless human, known as the noppera-bō. Nope, that's not how you pronounce that word.
Julia: Hold on.
Amanda: Oh no sorry, I was nope-ing to the idea of the creature.
Julia: I mean, also it's "nope" how you pronounce it. It's noppera-bō. Basically, it's just a normal human form but they have no facial features whatsoever.
Amanda: No, worst case scenario.
Julia: This form is specifically used by the mujina to scare humans away from their homes in the mountains. However, the noppera-bō is a form that is not specific to the mujina, and there's multiple types of yōkai that can use that form.
Amanda: I love that idea. It's like predators just kind of agreeing that red means poison and danger. Or, rather, that nature often red stuff is poisonous to animals and animals are like, "Okay, we can all agree on that one at least."
Julia: We're not going to eat that.
Amanda: So, if yōkai are like, "Okay, listen." They have some kind of council, they have some kind of round table at the top of the mountain and they say to each other, "All right we really have to deal with this human problem. Put aside our differences, put aside our taxation quarrels and let's just use the most successful one which obviously is a creepy-ass, faceless person."
Julia: Of course. Obviously.
Adal: But then some local fox is like, "Well, what about the zoning laws? I want to make sure -
Amanda: Shut up, Jerry.
Adal: My den is not affected by construction. There's too much gentrification going on."
Amanda: Noise ordinances. You know, it happens.
Julia: It's the damn [inaudible] You know how it goes.
Adal: What was the faceless human - did you even watch Avatar the Last Airbender, the cartoon, the anime series?
Adal: Wasn't there some sort of faceless shape shifter?
Julia: Yeah, there's some sort of creature called the Face Stealer, if I remember correctly?
Amanda: That's it.
Adal: That's what it was, yeah yeah yeah. I feel like that was the most terrifying character in an animated series.
Julia: Oh it's super creepy, for sure. And I'm pretty sure that's based in actual Japanese folklore, if I remember correctly.
Adal: Because most of the series you're like, "Look at Appa, that's adorable. This is all very cute." And then the Face Stealer shows up and you're like, "Everything's gone to hell."
Julia: Everything is terrible.
Adal: This is John Carpenter's The Thing come to animation.
Julia: Which is a great movie, but I don't want to watch it in my children's animation.
Adal: Of course, yes. It's like the worst Reese's peanut butter cup. You got your Japanese nightmare in my animation.
Julia: You got my animation in your Japanese nightmare. I'm like, "Both of those are bad together."
Amanda: I don't know. I feel like an animated nightmare would be a lot easier to handle.
Julia: Would it be though?
Julia: I think Tim Burton has proven you wrong there. Just in general.
Amanda: Yeah, that very well could be.
Amanda: Julia, you know what I love even more than drinking?
Julia: Organized spreadsheets.
Amanda: I do love that a lot.
Julia: The show Lost Girl.
Amanda: Oh I love Lost Girl.
Julia: Wonderful, bisexual pins.
Amanda: I have so many bisexual pins. No, Julia. I love drinking without leaving my house. It's my favorite part. I know that we originated Spirits in bars after work, but now we're god damn adults and we can drink in our own homes also.
Julia: We can.
Amanda: Which is why I am so grateful that this week we are sponsored by Shaker & Spoon. Tell us all about it.
Julia: Well, Shaker & Spoon is a monthly cocktail subscription box that delivers craft cocktail experience to your home. It is amazing. I just got a box, my rum box, delivered two days ago and let me tell you. Oh my God. First off, the packaging is absolutely beautiful and they way that they send you all the ingredients. They have little tiny bottles full of adorable, adorable bitters. I have tiki bitters for the one I just got. It's absolutely insane.
Amanda: You know what? I reuse those bottles to bring my little essential oils on travel with me.
Amanda: In my suitcase. It's very nice.
Julia: The nice part is each time you get a monthly box, you get three brand new original recipes created by world class bartenders. And it comes with enough ingredients, so like syrups, the bitters, the mixers, the garnishes, they make 12 cocktails, four of each recipe. They're just perfect for either get togethers or if you're just hanging around the house and you and your fiance both want cocktails that night and there's a really nice tiki-style drink there and it's summertime and it's really hot, that's all you want.
Amanda: It's amazing. So they send you all the stuff and you just have to pick up the liquor. So, it's nice because I know what liquor I like and I'm kind of hesitant to buy a thing that I'm not quite sure I'll enjoy or even how to use. It not only teaches you how to make drinks with a specific kind of liquor, but it's also really mindful that you don't always want to buy a whole new bottle of something just to try one new drink. It uses 12 cocktails for one full bottle of spirits.
Julia: And the nice part is even though the recipes are bar-quality, the instructions for them are super easy to follow. I made this tiki rum gimlet, basically, that was inspired by Hemingway. It was really nice. But it was so easy to make. I made four of them in the span of less than five minutes. It was incredible.
Amanda: So cool. And I hope you save at least one of those recipes for our get together this weekend because I'm definitely going to need some to beat the heat.
Julia: Yes, of course.
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Julia: And we can assure you it is absolutely worth it.
Amanda: We love these folks. We partner with them to fulfill one of our patron legend boxes last box and it went over so well, so they are true friends and show your support of the show by trying out Shaker & Spoon this month. Shakerandspoon.com/spirits
Julia: And let's get back to the stories.
Julia: It's also mentioned in a couple of episodes that Chunt's father is a hunger ghost. Am I correct in that?
Adal: That is correct. When I mentioned that, I was just like, "This would be a funny idea." And then, a few months after I mentioned it, people sent me articles that that's a Japanese lore, so -
Julia: Oh yeah, and we're going to talk about it. We're going to dive right in. You scooped yourself.
Adal: I feel like in previous life, I was a shogun or something. My subconscious is filled with so much Japanese lore.
Julia: I like that. I was super excited to hear about that because I did know about hungry ghosts when you guys brought it up in the podcast. So hungry ghosts are basically from traditional Chinese religion, but it persisted into the adoption of Chinese Buddhism. They're known as èguī in Chinese and are distinct from the generic guī, which is a spirit of a deceased ancestor, in that they can only occur in very unfortunate circumstances such as a whole family being killed or when a family is no longer venerating their ancestors.
There are also some traditions that say that evil deeds lead to the soul being reborn in one of six different realms, the lowest degrees which the soul is reborn as a hungry ghost. These evil deeds include killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and desire, greed, and anger and ignorance are all factors because they're all motivators for people to perform these terrible deeds.
Amanda: It's like the most advanced form of hangriness, which is so hungry that you're a literal vengeance ghost.
Julia: I mean, that's what's going to happen to me, I'm pretty sure.
Amanda: Yeah, it's not off-base. I think there's a point here.
Julia: So, oral tradition dictates that the ghosts of ancestors can be invited back into the world of the living at certain times during the year. They're usually hungry and ready to take whatever they can from the world of the living, especially if the spirits have not been given sufficient offerings by their living relatives. They Hungry Ghost Festival, which is a real thing, is put on
Amanda: Oh man.
Julia: In order to honor the hungry ancestor spirits. Food and drink is put out to satisfy their needs. The gates of hell are said to open so that the hungry ghosts can seek food and entertainment. It's intense. It gets real intense.
Adal: So in this lore, all the hungry ghosts are in hell?
Julia: It's one of the levels of hell, and the lowest level of hell, the least severe level, is you become a hungry ghost.
Adal: It's so weird. I feel like if a dead relative is in hell and they come back, you shouldn't feed them.
Julia: I mean, they're starving. It's like the - it's Tantalus in the Greek underworld, you know? He's just hungry. Just give him some food.
Amanda: Or is it like training a stray cat to keep coming back because they get food from you one time and then they're like, "Oh great, food forever."
Adal: Exactly. It's like, you made your hell, now lie in it.
Julia: Oh man. Now you're making me rethink my ghost ethics, and I don't appreciate it that, Amanda.
Amanda: I'm also getting very strong Spirited Away vibes, which I very much appreciate.
Julia: For sure. Traditionally, actually relatives will burn quote/unquote "hell money," which they do in order to offer to their loved ones because that's the currency of the afterlife.
Amanda: All money's hell money. #downwithcapitalism
Julia: You're gonna get real down with, oh, not down with cannibalism, you're gonna get real down with capitalism in this next section because I'm going to tell you that in Buddha Dharma, there are three types of hungry ghosts and their divided by how much money one has when they die.
Adal: What is the conversion for hell money to dollars?
Julia: I think it's like 2.5 hell dollars to a dollar
Adal: That tracks.
Julia: It checks out.
Amanda: But what is the exchange to bitcoin? No, I'm kidding, I'm kidding. That's the worst level of hell.
Julia: I refuse to do bitcoin. Stop.
Adal: I feel like in hell, most likely in hell, the currency used is those Bed, Bath & Beyond 10% off coupons.
Julia: Yes, that never expire because you're in hell
Adal: That seems like what hell money is to me.
Amanda: No guys, it's crypted currency.
Julia: Oh. That was a bad joke. That was a terrible joke.
Amanda: You know what, Julia?
Adal: I appreciated it.
Amanda: Having an actual comedian on the show, I'm realizing how not funny I actually am.
Adal: I realize that every moment of every waking minute.
Amanda: OH boy.
Julia: Buddha Dharma, three types of ghosts. So it's starts with those with no wealth and the hungry ghosts with no wealth usually have flaming mouths in which food and drinks become flames and burn up. They have needle mouths, in which their throats are so tiny that tiny cannot pass through it. Or vile mouths, where they are so decomposed, they can no longer ingest anything.
Julia: Yeah, it's not good. Not great. The next group is those with little wealth. They are just basically able to only eat small amounts at a time. And then there are the ones, the 1% of the hungry ghosts with lots of wealth. Those are broken down into three sections. There's the ghost of sacrifices, and they live off the sacrifices offered by humans. The ghosts of losses who live off of lost objects from the human world.
Amanda: That's where they go.
Julia: Yeah I know. Those missing socks, it's a hungry ghost. And then there's the ghosts of great powers, which are also known as yakshas. They rule over all the other hungry ghosts. Those are extremely rare because, you know, capitalism only benefits a few.
Adal: It's so fascinating that there's a transferrable caste system in the ghost world.
Julia: It's a little concerning, but you know. I can't knock the religion for their set up.
Adal: Needle mouth? Was that one of them?
Julia: Needle mouth.
Adal: Needle mouth or needle? I feel like that's an insult used in Back to the Future 2 or something, maybe.
Julia: I feel like it would be.
Adal: That's such a weird term.
Amanda: Wow, it's a very evocative image though. Any kind of Sisyphean myth where the thing that the person needs is the one thing that they can't have. That's just the most essential human story and tragedy that there is. I would've assumed, I guess, that the ghosts that had the least in their mortal life would have the easiest afterlife, but that is pretty fucked up that capitalism can even ruin the ethics of the afterworld.
Julia: The afterlife. Yeah, it's bad.
Adal: What would you, if you were a needle mouth - let's be honest, we're all probably Hufflepuffs, even if we don't want to admit it. If we're all needle mouths in the afterlife, what are we eating? Is it Fun Dip? What's -
Julia: I'd go soup, probably. Like a nice broth.
Adal: Ooo, good call. I feel like that's the loophole. It's like, damn it.
Amanda: I assume that in the afterworld, I will no longer have dietary restrictions, so I would definitely go milkshakes all the way. Yeah. My Hulu is showing me exclusively Dairy Queen ads for delicious Oreo milkshakes that I will never taste-
Julia: Oh buddy, I'm sorry.
Amanda: So that's my tragedy of Tantalus right now. That is very much on my mind.
Julia: You would hope that you're afterlife isn't also tormenting you in that way.
Amanda: Yeah, or if I can only digest a little, I don't know, I don't know. But yeah, definitely liquid that can slide on past those needles is the answer I think.
Julia: That's the goal. What about you, Adal?
Adal: Now it's soup. I feel stupid for not thinking of that.
Julia: Probably it [inaudible]
Adal: Or even like raw spaghetti. Just raw spaghetti, just put it right down the the needle hole.
Julia: Just slowly pushing it down your throat.
Amanda: I'm sorry, raw spaghetti?
Amanda: That wouldn't slide very well.
Julia: Eh, it depends on the size and shape of your throat I guess as a needle throat. Oh, that's just a gnarly imagery and I'm not a fan. So, some hungry ghosts are actually able to leave hell whenever they like, which kind of defeats the purpose of hell, but whatever. During the day, they are invisible, but they appear as ghostly figures during the nighttime. They often can be found looking through garbage and human waste in the outskirts of human cities.
Julia: Some are said only to be able to eat corpses. And you can identify a hungry ghost by their large diss - how do you pronounce that word, Amanda?
Amanda: Distended. That's the one.
Julia: You can tell from their large bellies and the fact that they're necks are, as mentioned before, as thin as needles.
Adal: I love these - it's almost like the North American Guide to Birds or something of like, "You can tell a hungry ghost from the distended" - Or it's like, if you saw when you would not sit there long enough to be like, "What markings am I looking for?"
Amanda: Yeah, or it doesn't sound like there's any recourse against them. If you're in the presence of these ghosts, that's sort of it for you. So I don't know how useful their taxonomy would really be.
Julia: That's actually one of my favorite jokes to make about naturalists talking about quote/unquote "crypteds," people who are like, "Yes, I observed the Bigfoot and he was exactly 5'6" and had hair all over his feet." I'm just like, "You didn't see him for long enough to be able to identify any of those things, but OK."
Amanda: Yeah. You super ran out of there. Don't fool me.
Julia: Hungry ghosts don't exist just in China. For example, there is the Tibetan Buddhism version where hungry ghosts are known as preta, and they have quote "mouths the size of a needle's eye." We're still really on that needle stuff. And a stomach the size of a mountain, which seems a little bit lopsided in my opinion.
Amanda: But that's tragedy for you, right? Comparing two things that shouldn't go together.
Adal: And honestly, how do you shop for shirts?
Julia: You don't. You just gotta go shirtless. You gotta live that life.
Amanda: At that point, you're a ghost. You don't have much more to lose, let's be honest.
Julia: Yeah, or there's a really good ghostly tailor out there that's making stuff specifically for hungry ghosts.
Amanda: Or -
Julia: I'm not mad about it. It's probably a good business.
Amanda: Or maybe standards of beauty in the afterlife are very different and you really want to go for dat hour glass figure. And dat mountain stomach
Julia: Dat pear shape, tho.
Amanda: Oh. Really, a triangle. Yikes.
Julia: Preta exist in their own realm and they are said to be the metaphor for people attempting to fulfill their illusionary physical needs, which seems a little more on-brand than the Chinese one, in my opinion, but that's just me.
Amanda: Oh, wow. Sorry, was the original myth Japanese or Chinese?
Julia: The original myth was Chinese.
Julia: That's Tibetan. We're going to touch upon Japanese, which there are two types of hungry ghosts in Japan. There are the gaki, which are spirits of jealous or greedy people who have been cursed with an insatiable hunger for one particular substance or object as punishment for their vices. Usually, these things are considered particularly disgusting, such as corpses or literal shit.
Amanda: Uh oh.
Julia: Just like, we're going to yuck a lot of yums apparently in Japan. So, that's actually, in modern tellings though, the hunger can be for anything. So, for like Pokemon cards. They could just want to eat all the Pokemon cards.
Adal: Gotta get 'em all. Gotta get 'em all.
Julia: Gotta get 'em all. Gotta catch 'em all and put 'em in my stomach. Gotta vore 'em all. Jesus.
Amanda: Man, that is the original Pokedex, that's how you can fit all those Pokemon into one place is you digest them.
Adal: They can have hungry eyes. They just want to observe everything.
Amanda: That will be much better.
Julia: So much better. The other type of hungry ghost from Japan is called the jikininki, which are spirits of greedy and selfish individuals, again, who are cursed after death to seek out and specifically eat human corpses. So they'll seek them out at night, eating newly dead bodies and food offerings left out for the dead and usually they'll loot corpses for valuables, which kind of sounds like an excuse for grave robbing, but you know, we have to tell stories in order to explain stuff.
Amanda: Sounds like one of the origins of this myth could be tied in with actual grave robbing.
Julia: Yeah for sure. So the last thing I want to talk about briefly is the manticore, which is just like such as classic fantasy creature. You see them in D&D all the time. You see them in bunch of fantasy novels like Harry Potter and stuff like that. It seems like something that we should totally talk about and I believe in Hello from the Magic Tavern, Chunt's mother is a manticore?
Adal: Yeah, that's my mommy.
Julia: I'm just so glad I can remember this kind of stuff.
Amanda: What is she like? What is she like in the show?
Adal: Oh boy. We've never had anybody play her. We've had somebody play my dad. Here's the blessing and curse of Magic Tavern is we world build so speedily, so quickly that when we bring it up later on, we forget what we said.
Amanda: Oh I don't remember any of the episodes we've done, so absolutely no worries there.
Adal: So I honestly can't remember all I said about my mom.
Julia: Manticores are pretty terrifying creatures from medieval stories. If your mother is terrifying in Magic Tavern and we haven't met her yet, I wouldn't be surprised. So they're actually very similar to the Egyptian sphinx, but the manticore is Persian in origin. It typically has the head of a human, body of lion, and a poisonous tail. Depending on the source, it's either a scorpion's tail, or it has spines similar to porcupine quills that are poisonous. I don't know, I particularly like the latter because I think it's kind of creepier than just the one stinger on scorpion tail, but that's just me. I like -
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: I like weirdly defensive mammals.
Amanda: And porcupines can puff up. They can shake their quills like a rattle and then also just make them gigantic and then suddenly the surface area of stuff that could hurt you in immense.
Adal: And they can sort of shoot those out, right?
Amanda: Yeah. I don't know.
Julia: I'll mention the fact that the manticore in Dungeons and Dragons has a similar appearance to what I just described in addition to having dragon's wings, so make it as cool as fucking possible.
Amanda: Oh great. Why not? Make it fly.
Julia: Guy Gygax, I gotcha.
Amanda: Make it fly.
Julia: In D&D, the manticore's tail is that cluster of deadly spikes and it can shoot it at foes as a ranged attack because I love a good ranged attack.
Julia: The manticore is said to eat its victims whole using three rows of very sharp teeth because one row is not terrifying enough.
Amanda: Shark mouth. Bring it. Why not?
Julia: Shark mouth.
Adal: Yeah, if you're eating your victims whole, you're the opposite of the needle mouth.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: There you go. They do have that huge, mountain-shaped stomach, though so it works out for everybody.
Adal: You're a mountain mouth. Yeah.
Amanda: You could be a bed-of-needles mouth. That would be a lot more efficient.
Julia: My source also wanted me to indicate that it eats its victims whole and it leaves no bones behind, which yeah, you know it would assume just from the description that's true? I don't know.
Amanda: I mean, yes, that would be more stripping the carcass and less eating it whole like a snake.
Julia: Yeah exactly. So manticore literally translates to "man eater" in middle Persian. The English version of manticore is borrowed from the Latin word mantichora, which, I don't know. Everything's Latin. So the manticore was because of Pliny the Elder, long considered by Europeans to be actual creature and was listed in many bestiaries and scholarly texts.
Amanda: Pliny the Elder.
Julia: God damn it, Pliny. Pliny the Elder just gets everything wrong constantly.
Amanda: Yeah he is mentioned a lot by Dr. Sydnee Mcleroy on Saw Bones, which is a medical history podcast that we both really enjoy. He just made shit up. My mental image of Pliny the Elder is just a guy lounging in a caftan just drinking wine and being like, "Gallstone? I don't know. Those are from God. Eat those grapes, they'll solve your bunions." Just making shit up.
Julia: Got hemorrhoids? Rub some boar's shit on it, it'll be fine.
Amanda: Turn around three times, give me tribute, and you'll be healed.
Julia: Thank you, Pliny, for that. Because the medieval Europeans thought that this was a real creature that was worth fearing, it was on a lot of heraldry. So, for instance, William Hastings had it on his heraldry. And so did the First Early of Sussex. They just all really loved the manticore. Then everyone came to their senses like, "Oh, that's not real. I think they just meant a lion?" They're like, "Oh yeah. They probably just meant a lion."
Adal: I love the realization of like, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Have any of us seen this shit? No." Someone's lying to us.
Julia: Marco Polo said he saw a unicorn once, so I guess there's unicorns.
Adal: Oh really?
Amanda: He did. He did.
Julia: It was a rhino.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, I guess in the age of skeletons and archeology and fossils and stuff, that started to disprove things, but Julia makes fun of me, Adal, all the time for not remembering that narwhals are real. Narwhals and unicorns are so similar. Why should one be real and one shouldn't be? I don't. Ugh. Come on.
Julia: 'Cuz one's a creature that lives in the sea and one's a horse that has a horn on it.
Amanda: Give a girl a break.
Adal: Wasn't what people thought were mermaids were actually manatees? Weren't those the original -
Julia: Yeah, manatees, dugongs, those weird Amazon river dolphins. So many good - Oh, I saw a thing that kind of looked like a human, so we're just going to assume it's a human with a fish tail.
Amanda: Also, I had an affair. Don't worry about it. It was a mermaid. She seduced me. A siren. Good bye.
Julia: Now our family is blessed with webbed fingers for some reason. That's a real thing that happens. Oh man. So that's my Chunt mythological background story for our dear listeners.
Adal: It was wonderfully informative. You've given me so much fuel to burn in the next year.
Julia: Oh, I'm so glad.
Amanda: Please do.
Julia: I can't wait to hopefully hear something in Magic Tavern from what I said. That would be great. But, Adal, thank you so much for joining us. We really, really appreciate it. Is there anything you want to plug before we go?
Adal: I mean, you mentioned Hello from the Magic Tavern. I also do a podcast with my sister called Siblings Peculiar. And a story I want to tell, I recently listened to your Grandmas, Grandmas, Grandmas episode -
Julia: Thank you.
Amanda: Aw thanks.
Julia: It's my favorite
Adal: Which was fantastic. I just wanted to share a story from my great-grandma whose name was Fern Brownly.
Amanda: Great start.
Adal: When I was a kid, she lived to be like 98 or something. She was a very, very sturdy woman. Even when she passed away, she was living on her farm by herself, mowing the lawn everyday. Her name was Fern Brownly and I used to call her Grandma Brownie because I was adorable. She used to raise Arabian horses, or breed Arabian horses and then she later bred and raised Cocker Spaniels. She used to say that when she was sleeping in her farm house, and again, her husband died in the 70s maybe? So she lived by herself for some time. She used to say that she would awake in bed because she would feel one of the dogs that she raised licking her hand. She would wake up and see the dog scamper off. When she would fully wake up, she would realize that she didn't keep the dogs in the house. They had their own -
Adal: Sort of kennel or whatever it was outside. So she would have ghost dogs running around the house, which to me is kind of terrifying.
Julia: Oh my God I love it.
Adal: But they would lick her hand. That was a reoccurring occurrence was that the dogs would lick her hand to wake her up and then she'd wake up and see them scamper off into the walls or whatever. Which to me is pretty terrifying.
Julia: No, that's amazing. I love it. I love terrifying things, so.
Amanda: Yeah, to be awoken by a sensation that you likely feel a lot. We feel like we're falling or we're being jerked awake or our leg itches or whatever, but to wake up and then have that additional element of the visual just makes that whole scenario so much more real and so much fuller.
Julia: Oh that's great. Thank you for your grandma story. We appreciate it.
Adal: Yes of course. I also love the story of the grandma who was awoken by the ghost of her aunt being like, "Lock the windows and doors."
Julia: Lock your windows, damn it, George!
Adal: I was totally waiting for the rug to be pulled under me from her locking the windows and doors and the aunt being like, "What are we, heating the neighborhood?" I totally thought it was just going to be a conservative aunt kind of...
Julia: The ghost of an aunt who just wants you to cut down on electricity costs. I feel you.
Amanda: Yeah, or like a hunger ghosts that fat shames her granddaughters and nieces and nephews to be like, "No, no, no stop. Put that plate of food down." "What's going to happen to it?" "Don't worry, I'll take it. Don't worry about it. I got it."
Julia: "Leave it out for me. It's fine, it's fine."
Adal: "Do you need a baked potato?"
Amanda: I do. I'm a hungry ghost.
Adal: "Melissa. Do you need a baked potato?" Yeah.
Amanda: Cool. Well, thank you so much, Adal, for joining us.
Adal: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
Amanda: And remember listeners -
Julia: Stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.
Amanda: Spirits was created by Amanda McLoughlin, Julia Schifini, and Eric Schneider, with music by Kevin MacLeod and visual design by Allyson Wakeman.
Julia: Keep up with all things creepy and cool by following us @spiritspodcast on Twitter, instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr. We also have all our episode transcripts, guest appearances, and merch on our website, as well as a form to send us your urban legends, at spiritspodcast.com.
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Julia: We are a founding member of Multitude, a collective of independent audio professionals. If you like Spirits you will love the other shows that live on our website, at multitude.productions.
Amanda: And above all else, if you liked what you heard today, share us with your friends! That is the very best way to help us keep on growing.
Julia: Thank you so much for listening. Til next time.