Episode 9 Show Notes
Source: Jewish Folklore
This week on MYTH, it’s a Jewish story that you won’t find in the Torah. In this episode, you’ll discover how you can be raped by a ghost, why you should never doubt Moses, and that Sam Raimi might have been inspired by medieval Judaism. Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the archangel of death responsible for the slaughter of countless children. This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory. Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them. This is Episode 9, “Evil Dead”. As always, this episode is not safe for work.
- This week’s story comes from the Jewish Talmud, a written record of the earlier oral tradition of the Jewish people, and from the Kaballa, the ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Torah, most popular during the Middle Ages. The Talmud has a rich, though frustratingly vague, account of the demons and monsters that exist in our world. In some stories, great rabbis are able to perceive demons and spirits, which can be found almost everywhere.
- In the tradition of the ancient Kabbalah, when a person dies, their soul flies free from the body, and crosses land, sea, and sky. When it does so, it sometimes settles in earthly objects, such as a fish, an animal, or a fruit. When this happens, the soul will be stuck in the object until released by a blessing. Usually, thus happens at every meal, when a prayer is offered in thanks for the food, and the soul is freed to continue its journey to heaven. When this doesn’t happen, the souls can get lost. Sometimes, if the dead guy is wicked enough, his soul will be barred from the gates of Paradise.
- In either case, the soul proceeds to wander the earth. If the soul has been corrupted enough by being eaten and shat out without a blessing over and over, or if the soul was just a bastard to begin with, this wandering spirit may latch on to a living body. If the wandering spirit is strong enough or stubborn enough, it can possess the unlucky fucker. This wandering spirit is known as a dybbuk (which means to adhere or cling in Hebrew), and it can make you do some heinous shit. To demonstrate, I’ll be telling three connected stories of Dybbuk possession from actual historical records.
- In the late 16th Century, Rabbi Elijah Falcon documented a dybbuk possession, which he called The Great Event in Safed (a town in Israel), which was signed by three other rabbis who were present for the horror. He was called for help because a dead soul had possessed and completely taken control of an unfortunate woman. She was the daughter in law of a man named Joseph Zarfati, who was important in Safed. When the rabbi got to the town square, a large crowd had gathered to see the evil dead (that was actually the term, not just a reference to a great Sam Raimi movie).
- The rabbi demanded that the spirit speak. From the shambling, lifeless body, a deep, growling voice rumbled out of the throat without bothering to move her lips or tongue. Initially, the voice is just a wordless growl, more like a fucking lion than a person, but the rabbi imposes his will on the spirit, and words gradually emerge.
- The soul was once Samuel Zarfati, the woman’s brother in law, who had been killed in Triploi (now known as Lebanon). The man was well known in the city, and those gathered confirmed the things the man’s voice said about his life and his family. They tested his knowledge of Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, and Yiddish (the last of which he didn’t know), which the poor woman didn’t know. As far as Falcon could tell, this was legit. He had been a moneylender, and had not been a pious man. He had been well known for believing that all religions were the same, which was heresy. He was also well-known and well hated for being a lying bastard, who would make promises and break them whenever he damned well pleased.
- Samuel had been an asshole in life, marrying three times and cheating on at least two of his wives. The rabbi is aghast at this. “Seriously, Sam? If she’s a married woman, it doesn’t bother you to fuck her, even though you’re both breaking marriage vows?” “Why would it? Her husband’s out of the country, so that makes her fair game! I get bored with just one pussy, and clearly she gets bored with just one dick. What’s the harm?” The irony of asking this as a soul currently possessing a woman because of his past crimes is utterly lost on him.
- Samuel, using the woman’s body, gave several women in the crowd a creepy stare and licked his lips suggestively. Rabbi Falcon’d had enough. He began an exorcism. The woman began to kick and writhe, but that lecherous bastard Samuel managed to find strength to pull off the skirt his body wore, showing off the possessed woman’s pussy to the crowd (underwear didn’t exist yet, but I doubt that would have stopped this asshole). People knew she was always modest, so this was uncomfortable, but it didn’t stop them from getting a fucking eyeful anyway.
- The evil soul began to call out in what were definitely sex moans, and called out encouragement to the body he wore. Falcon realized that, in some twisted way, the dybbuk was fucking the soul of the poor woman. Her back arched in what was unmistakably an orgasm, and the soul was ejected from her body in a gout of blood from her vagina. The townspeople were shaken, and in a display that was unfortunately typical of the time, began to debate if the woman’s rape by the dybbuk made her an adulteress and thus off limits to her husband.
- It turned out to be a moot point, however, since the dybbuk returned eight days later and strangled the woman to death. It’s also possible that the large amounts of smoke used in the exorcism may have been responsible for her death due to smoke inhalation (which can look a lot like being strangled by a spirit, I guess), but the official cause of death was “ghost”. The story doesn’t give her husband’s reaction when he returned home, but I doubt he was happy about the whole affair (especially since it was his dead brother that killed her).
- A few days later, the rabbis were again summoned for a dybbuk possession. This time, a young man of Safed had been possessed by the spirit of another young man. The 18 year old had been sickly a long time, suffering from chronic heart pain for over half his life. The dead soul wandered around the town square cursing not his own fate, but the fate of his young widow. The dead man had drowned at sea, leaving his young bride trapped as an agunah, or a woman who’s husband has disappeared without granting her a divorce. Unless reliable news of his death arrives, she is forbidden to remarry. Given the political structure of the times, if her family couldn’t or wouldn’t take her in, such a woman was almost inevitable destined to become a whore just to survive. There were very few other avenues for an unmarriable woman to make money.
- The dybbuk had possessed this young man and made a scene in the square to draw the rabbis. Now that they were there, he proceeded to argue rabbinical law with them. He insisted that she be allowed to marry. After all, there can be no more reliable news of a man’s death than his own fucking ghost coming and proclaiming it.
- In the course of his argument, though, shit starts to come out. The woman has been fucking other men since her husband died, which is taboo since she is still married per the law. The spirit in turn reveals that he was doomed to wandering for fucking a married woman in Constantinople, breaking two marriage vows at once. In the old laws, this was punishable by death, so it was a big deal. In either a massive coincidence or proof that God has a wicked since of humor, the punishment for his crimes was to choke to death, which his drowning fulfilled.
- Several young men gathered in the crowd yell insults at the dybbuk for being such a shitty Jew. He retorts that they should shut the fuck up, or he’ll tell everyone about exactly who they’ve been cheating on their wives with. The men are stunned, and immediately confess their sins to the rabbi (which doesn’t carry much weight since they were outed before they confessed). The rabbi asks why he is torturing the poor man he has possessed. None of this is his fault.
- “Oh really, Rabbi? This asshole is one of the bastards that’s been fucking my wife since I died. Still think he’s innocent?” The rabbis admit that this is difficult, but what he’s doing is still wrong. They try to exorcise the dybbuk, but either the spirit was too strong, or the host was too guilty about fucking his possessor’s wife, and he died in the attempt.
- in 1571, the nephew of Rabbi Yehoshua Bin Nun came to the rabbis. He had been suffering for years from recurring illnesses with no apparent cause. Rabbi Luria recognizes the signs of a dybbuk and demands that the spirit reveal itself and speak. “Why have you possessed this innocent and pious man?”
- “Revenge, Rabbi, what else? In my previous life, I was a pauper in Rome, and this young man was the charity warden (in charge of taking care of Rome’s version of welfare). The warden, like people throughout history with a little bit of power, had abused the shit out of it and refused to provide the me with the help I needed. I starved to death because of the warden’s selfishness. I think he owes me this much.”
- Rabbi Luria thought about it. “Well, that’s admittedly pretty shitty, but is it really fair to blame him for something a person he can’t even remember being did? How about we make a deal. What’s it gonna take to get you to end this possession?” The smile on the spirit-controlled face was creepy. “Alright, rabbi. I’ll come out if if this asshole agrees to have absolutely no contact with a woman, any woman, for the next week.” “This has absolutely nothing to do with what happened,” protested the rabbi. “Sure, but it’s going to be tough for him to pull off and I feel like torturing him a little. That’s my condition, old man. Deal or no deal?”
- Luria, left with little choice, agreed. The dybbuk departed the young man’s body, and he was promptly taken home and put under a watch to keep any women away. Everything goes well for the first few days, and the young man starts to think he might just get out of this. On the afternoon of the 6th day, the man posted as watch for the small home is bored.
- Nothing has happened, and everyone in town knows to leave this house alone for the next few days. He’s hot and tired, and his relief is late. He debates for a few minutes, but finally decides fuck it. He’s starving, and his wife probably has dinner waiting by now. What could possibly happen?
- Almost as though the dybbuk had planned this whole fucking thing, a few minutes after the guard leaves, the young man’s aunt arrives from out of town. With nothing else to do, he’d been sending letters to his relatives, letting them know the good news of his sudden recovery. She rushes in the door and, thrilled to see him looking healthy, rushes over. She throws him into a huge bear hug and kisses his cheek in relief and joy. Oops. The dybbuk had been waiting for just this moment, and rushes down from the rafters to strangle the man to death.
- The next guard shows up for duty a little late and a little hung over, and is shocked to see the man’s dead body cradled in his aunt’s arms. Rather than stop and talk, he just keeps fucking walking and goes to Rabbi Luria. The old rabbi has been around a while, and he suspects that the Turkish authorities are going to want to punish someone for this, and he doubts they’ll accept “a ghost did it.” He skips town ahead of the police and moves on. According to some accounts, he uses his magic path-jumping technique to travel from Safed to Tiberias in a single second, but that’s straying from the story a little.
- A few years after the first two stories, there was a widow living in the town of Safed whom everyone considered very pious. Naturally, everyone was super surprised when she started speaking in a deep bass voice. I’m not talking the diva from the 5th element; this was more James Earl Jones. It was clearly a man’s voice, which was very disconcerting coming out of a sweet old lady.
- The widow would sit in the town square and speak to passersby. Each time someone stopped to speak with her, the dybbuk would speak through her and reveal their innermost secrets and troubles. Other times, she would wait until someone was speaking with her, and then rip her dress down, revealing her naked body, or pull a Basic Instinct and show the town her pussy in slow, seductive style. Soon, the whole town shunned her for fear that she would reveal their sins and perversions, and she could no longer find work. In desperation, she sent word to Rabbi Luria, who hadn’t returned since the young man’s death. He was still unable to return safely, so he sent his friend and disciple Rabbi Arsin instead. No one had warned him about the whole James Earl Jones thing, so he was taken aback at first. It didn’t help that the woman called him Ari without being introduced; it was a name only his close friends used. “How in the hell do you know my name, woman?”
- “The woman doesn’t know who you are, dumbass. I do. Don’t you recognize my voice, teacher? I was your student once, in Egypt.” Arsin quizzed the spirit on the particulars, and was soon convinced that this was in fact an old student of his. He hadn’t realized that the young man had died. The man’s name is lost to us, but for the sake of the story, I’ll call him Dib (short for Dybbuk).
- “Okay, Dib, you’re who you say you are, but if you were a man of god, why have you taken possession of this poor widow? Why do you torture her and keep her from working?”
- “When I was alive, Ari, I was not as pious as you thought. I was fucking another man’s wife, and I got her knocked up. Her husband had been gone on business, so he knew it wasn’t his kid and divorced her. She came to me and asked me to help her, to marry her, since it was my kid and my fault she was in this state. I promised I would, then hopped the first ship out of town. I abandoned this poor woman to a life of poverty and desperation, and all I felt was relieved that I had gotten away clean.”
- “God wasn’t too happy, though, and a great storm arose while I was at sea. I was swept overboard, and drowned in the violent surf, the lawful punishment for what I had done. My body floated to shore, and I floated along with it. They buried me in a Jewish cemetery, not knowing my shame. The angels knew, though. The angel Dumah came before the earth was even dry and used his fiery staff to crack open my crave and rip me out of it. I was cast down into the gates of Gehenna, but even they wouldn’t have me, so great was my sin.”
- A brief aside about Gehenna. In the Tanakh, which includes the Torah (teaching), the Nevi’im (prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings), Gehenna was the Jewish analogue to Christian Hell. It is named after the Valley of Hinnom, outside of Jerusalem, where some of the kings of Judah would go to sacrifice their children by fire. The land was considered to be cursed forever after. It is different from Sheol, which was closer to the Purgatory or Greek version of Hades, and was a neutral place rather than a place of punishment.
- Since Dib had been barred even from Gehenna, he was doomed to wander the earth, tormented by three demons. To escape the torment, he had possessed first a rabbi, who had managed to cast the dybbuk out of his body through prayer, and then a dog, who had been so terrified of the soul living inside it that it tried to flee. The dybbuk was inside the dog, though, and it couldn’t get away, so it ran until it’s heart burst and it died. The dog had fallen near Safed, and he had made his way to the widow.
- Arsin, now convinced of the dybbuk’s authenticity, performed the exorcism. His incantations were useless. possibly because he was too close to the whole situation. Realizing he couldn’t do it on his own, he went to Rabbi Hayim Vital for help. Vital agreed, and the two rabbis returned quickly. When Vital entered the room, the woman immediately turned her back on him. Rude.
- “What the fuck, spirit? Why turn away from me? Hey, look at me asshole!” The dybbuk refused, so Arsin slapped the woman in the face. “What the fuck, holy man? I’m not ignoring you, I just can’t fucking bear to look at that rabbi. He’s too holy. It burns my goddamned eyes. Literally. It literally burns my eyes, and my eyes are literally damned by god, so it works on both levels.”
- Rabbit Vital nodded sagely, as if he had expected this. “I am filled with the light of god, which is in no way a reflection on Rabbi Arsin for not having that effect. I’ve just got more practice at this holiness shit. You’re a lost, cursed spirit. It makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to look into the light of god. How long have you been cursed to wander like this?”
- The dybbuk sighed. “Until the bastard I fathered is dead. I cannot rest so long as my shame walks the earth.” It makes you wonder why the dybbuk didn’t just try to find and murder his bastard son, since he was obviously a total dick who didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. If the rabbi had this thought, he wisely didn’t mention it to the evil demonic spirit.
- “This house is protected by a mezuzah, so how did you get inside?” A mezuzah is a piece of parchment, usually kept in a decorative case hung on the door frame. The parchment is inscribed with specific verses in Hebrew from the Torah, and act as a protection on the house against bad luck and evil spirits. The dybbuk laughed. “The mezuzah? It’s empty, rabbi. It doesn’t stop shit if it’s empty.”
- The rabbi gasped and Arsin ran to check the woman’s door. Sure enough, it was empty. “Well, fuck, that was a mistake. But still, how did you possess this widow? She is a pious woman of the house of David. Her body should have been closed to you.”
- “She doubts that Moses really parted the Red Sea. I rode in on that doubt.” “Is that all,” asked Vital. He addressed the woman’s soul. “Do you believe in the Red Sea miracle?” “I do,” she whispered. “Do you believe that God granted Moses the power to part the sea?” “I do,” she replied, louder. “Do you believe that the Israelites crossed the river bed between the parted walls of water?” “I believe!” she yelled. Having repeated her conviction three times, the rabbi was able to perform the exorcism and drive the dybbuk out of her body through the pinky toe of her left foot.
- The dire consequences of doubt pop up in a lot of religious stories, including the Abrahamic stories, Greek myths, and Norse sagas. Most recently, we saw it in the story of Psyche and Eros (Episode 8), where Psyche’s doubt about her husband’s intentions led directly to her trials and tribulations. So the moral of the story is make sure to never doubt what anyone tells you, or you might be soul raped by a dead man.
- And with that, it’s time for Gods and Monsters. This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story. This week’s monster is Dumah, the Angel of Silence. He was mentioned briefly in the main story, when he dragged the soul that was not yet a dybbuk down to the gates of Gehenna. And, truth be told, he’s way scarier than that sounds (and having and angel with a burning staff drag you to hell is plenty scary).
- In traditional Jewish lore, Dumah is the angel in charge of the souls of the dead. His silence is the stillness of the grave. He’s described as a thousand eyed angel of death armed with a fiery staff or a flaming sword, with tens of thousands of angels of destruction serving under him to punish evil. The virtuous dead are led to heaven to spend eternity in bliss in the presence of god; the wicked are dragged to their doom. Once a week, at the close of the Sabbath the souls in Hades are allowed out of their torment for the holy day. Even the dead are permitted their day of rest. Immediately after the Sabbath ends, they are cast back into eternity. I can’t decide which is worse: torment unending, or knowing that you’ll have one day to look forward to, but that it will always only be one day. During their time out of Gehenna, they are led into Hazarmavet, the Courtyard of Death, to eat and drink in perfect silence.
- Dumah was once the celestial prince of Egypt. When Moses was sent to Pharaoh to free the Isrealites, Dumah was the angel who was tasked with supporting him. He was on board until the tenth and final plague, the slaughter of the firstborn children of Egypt. He did as he was ordered (it was God after all), but being a child murderer didn’t sit right with him. It didn’t help that, as Prince of Egypt, he hated the idea of his kingdom being defeated by an upstart slave with a magic stick. He tried to run away from God, which never works out well. God went and found him, dragged him back by his ear, and threw his ass down into the pit. Thus did he become the lord of hell (which might explain why he’s so pissy). So basically, if you’re Jewish, fucking with Moses is a good way to get your ass handed to you by a holy man.
That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated. Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth. You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com. I want to offer a special thanks to COPodder for the review on iTunes. These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists. If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line. I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated. The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.
Next time, we’ll be diving into the stories behind the Disney musical Moana (which I watched and loved recently). As you probably know by now, I love trickster gods, and Maui is a fun one. You’ll learn that not all gods are beautiful, how a fish hook can be a weapon, and how you convince the sun to make the day longer. Then, in Gods and monsters, you’ll find out that, if you’re in Hawaii, you need to make sure that the beautiful woman you’re taking home isn’t actually a giant lizard. That’s all for now. Thanks for listening.