We have all heard of ghost ships and ghost trains, but have you heard of ghost whales? The Japanese culture deeply believes in the existence of the Bakekujira (or Bake Kujira), and they fear it's presence for it is a form of omen and curse.
You are standing on the coast of Japan and out in the distance a fog arises, you see strange fish hitting the surface and weird looking birds flying above an ominous mass that is in the center of the fog breaching the waters surface. As you look closer and it nears the shores, you begin to see a reanimated whale’s skeleton. You've just witnessed a Bakekujira and your life will never be the same from this moment moving forward.
The skeleton of the whale behaves just as it did when it was alive, it rises to the surface for air and prefers to swim around deeper coastal waters. The Bakekujira tends to show up on rainy nights and is not a sight that you want to witness, not because it will kill you, but because it brings with it a curse to any who see it. In the olden days of Japan, when whales were still plentiful in the Sea of Japan, a whale sighting was considered to be a blessing for the residents of a poor fishing village. The sighting of a whale was perceived as bringing abundance and fortune, a small village could reap huge amounts of wealth from all the meat and oil in a single whale. This would sustain them for some time and was considered to be of worth more than a good months haul of fish and crab. The bounty of these whales did not come without a price unfortunately, many fishermen claim that the souls of these whales live on and become Bakekujira, who seek revenge against the very humans who had taken their lives.
If one were to witness a Bakekujira, they then would become infected with the horrid curse it inflicts. The afflicted would bring the curse back to their villages when they returned home. The curse itself brings famine that starts without warning and lasts longer than would be expected, plagues of disease that are known and unknown to medical science, fires that devastate crops and homes and claim lives while appearing to come from out of nowhere. The spirit of the Bakekujira seeks to take back the very wealth and prosperity that its living counterpart gave to the village.
The following legends and accounts are a few of many that are told by Japanese fishermen and sailors when they describe Bakekujira:
One story that has been passed down orally through generations in western Japan talks about a fisherman who threw his harpoon at a Bakekujira. He wanted to catch it, but the harpoon passed right through the creature, the whale and its would be captor just floated away into the night, disappearing into the depths never to return. His body was never found, but the harpoon was said to have washed up onto shore. The local legend said he had shared his account of witnessing a Bakekujira multiple nights in a row and sought to capture it the next time he saw it. The fisher underestimated his catch, for a ghost whale is not something of this world and not so easily captured in the same way as his previous victories.
Another story that comes from Shimane: "On a dark and rainy night long ago, some fishermen living on the Shimane peninsula saw an enormous white whale off the coast in the Sea of Japan. Excited for this bounty of a catch, they rallied many villagers, who grabbed their spears and harpoons and took to their boats. When they reached the whale, no matter how many times they hurled their spears or harpoons, not one of them struck the whale. This especially odd for the fact that these individuals are proficient with these tools and the whale is a huge mass of a target. Upon closer inspection they made a harrowing discovery... What they thought was a white whale was actually an animated whale skeleton swimming in the sea, who had not one ounce of flesh or muscle. In that very moment, the sea became teeming with a host of strange fish that nobody had ever seen before, the sky was swarming with bizarre birds of which nobody could recognize. The ghost whale then turned sharply out to sea, and swiftly vanished into the dark waters, taking all of the strange fish and bizarre birds with it. The terrified villagers returned home with fear heavy in their hearts, they realized that the skeletal whale must have been a Bakekujira. After the ghost whale disappeared, other villages in Shimane felt the whale’s curse, they were consumed by fires and plagued by infectious diseases following numerous whale beachings upon the shores."
The 1950s had a weird case worth a mention, manga artist Mizuki Shigeru had been working on a Kamishibai story about the Bakekujira. In the manga of Kujira-Gami or "Whale God", the protagonist was a man who ate an enormous amount of whale meat and slowly began to turn into a Daikaiju, a bipedal giant whale with hairs that reached 200 meters in height. Mizuki suddenly came down with a terrible life threatening fever, and it only relented when he quit working on the story. He sought help from doctors and it was to no avail and had nearly killed him. Many believed he had offended the spirit of a Bakekujira without even being in the presence of one.
In 1983 a news report came out when an intact whale skeleton was spotted floating off the shores of Anamizu, Ishikawa prefecture. The newscasters were all over the story and it was well documented. Perhaps this was just a preserved skeleton under the right conditions allowing it to float, as unlikely as that sounds. Then again, the Bakekujira is an unlikely entity on its own. Who really can say what was witnessed in actuality?
I have a few theories when it comes to this entity, I believe it to be the whale equivalent of a Revenant, which is a vengeful spirit that has returned, it's grief and feeling of being wronged create an anchor binding it to this realm with the sole purpose of inflicting suffering upon those that it identifies as being responsible for its death. This differs from your garden variety Wraith, which is simply a spirit that inflicts the torture it feels back upon the living. Whales are intelligent creatures, and they are mammals like us, they are self aware and have complex social structures. They've been documented as having the capacity to feel emotions and as such, they experience a wide range of emotions from sadness and anger to depression and love. In my opinion, I do believe that the mass of a whale should be taken into account for the strength of it within a ghostly form. What I mean by that is something complex that I will break down and try to make simple.
Take the deceased body of a human for example, upon death, the ghost of a human will harness Prana (energy) from the physical body and use it within it’s ghost body to watch it's funeral or say goodbye, and then it will cross over. That's the basic version, other things can conflict with the standard process of crossing over, but that's a topic for another day. With the whale, there's more mass from the physical body and therefore it has more Prana that it’s ghost form can retain and use. This can lead to a wider scale of paranormal phenomena that it is able to generate, and just like a battery it will have a surplus of this energy.
Another thing I think is worth touching on is the moon and the ocean, lunar energy tends to give a Yin charge which is more empowering to spirits, just as the Yang of the sun is more diminishing to the spiritual. When lunar energy touches water it can super charge it, this is simply because still water bodies or massive volumes of water can hold a longer charge due to the fluid being a big container. Keep in consideration that water can be corrupted and hold a near indefinite charge unless interrupted or transmuted. All these things make the Bakekujira not only possible, but incredibly powerful and something to not be trifled with in the slightest.
"What could someone do if they happened to witness a Bakekujira?"
As a Sadhu well versed in varying traditions and ritual practices, I have a general idea of how I would approach that situation if I found myself in it. The first thing I would do is go to the shore of where I witnessed the Bakekujira on a New Moon. I would bring fresh flowers, fruits, pieces of old whale scrimshaw, and white candles with 108 joss sticks. I would arrange the candles around the offering and place the food and gifts on the ground. Next step for me would be to light the incense and to say a "Bhootnashak" mantra (Vedic ghost destroyer chant), the specific mantra I would probably use would be the "Maa Kaali Shaabri". As I began to chant and give the offering, I would be focusing my internal energies to outwardly manifest the Bakekujira, I would simultaneously appease spirit and disband its energies to be recycled back into the ocean. I realize this may sound like a lot of work, but it is most likely not something that would happen in the first place, but if it did, I would not let myself receive such a powerful curse and I would do whatever necessary to free myself of it and prevent others from encountering it.