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Toilet Tales for Halloween: What Lurks in the Outhouse

CW: Murder, violence, death of a child

When we are on the toilet, we are acutely vulnerable—bodies bared, sitting, or squatting. From this position, we cannot get away quickly. We may be alone, away from our friends, or in dark places with no windows. You may have to walk through darkened woods to an outhouse or shut the door on those who love you to take care of your business. It’s no wonder that dark spirits and forces congregate here.


To greet the Halloween season, follow me to the water closet to learn what may lurk within.


Reader beware.


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In Japan, Toire no Hanako-san or Hanoko of the toilet is the spirit of a young girl who haunts the third stall on the third floor in elementary schools. Legend says that she is small, petite, her dark hair bobbed, and she wears a red dress. Some say she committed suicide in a bathroom. Others say she died during an air raid during WWII.

She waits until someone foolhardy or brave summons her by knocking on the door three times and asking, “Are you there, Hanoko-san?” She may respond. “Yes, I am.” Or she may just reach out a single, slender, pale hand. You can still leave, but if you should dare open the door you might get a glimpse of her before she vanishes…or drags you inside and slaughters you.


Walk a little further down the line of stalls to the final stall, you may find Aka Manto, or the Red Cape. Aka Manto is another spirit from Japan, a tall man completely cloaked by a crimson cape and hood. His face is supposed to be achingly beautiful, but he hides it under a white mask that covers.


He appears just as someone is wiping themselves. “Red paper or blue paper?” he asks, voice low and raspy, frightening and soft.


“Red paper.” He flays open your back, coating you in crimson to match him. Or he slashes, stabs—a red death.


“Blue paper.” He suffocates you—your face turning blue.


Try to be clever? “Green! Purple! White!” You cannot escape. He will drag your bare body down to the underworld. The only way to escape is to tell him that you do not want any paper.


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Sulak the Lurker (Credit: ResearchGate)

Not much is known about Sulak, known as “the lurker” or the “demon of the privy.” He was written about by scholar Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa in a Babylonian medical text, The Diagnostic Handbook, and then seeped into Jewish folklore. Sulak’s grotesque hands may grab you while you are using the toilet when you are vulnerable. He demands respect, and you must walk half a mile away from the toilet before having sex or your children may get sick.





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Belphegor the Demon (Credit: Wikipedia)

Belphegor is the demon of sloth, one of the Deadly Sins of Judeo-Christian lore. In some incarnations, he will appear so very tempting: a beautiful girl who offers jewels and gold. But Belphegor’s true appearance is more horrifying: scraggly beard, long horns, eternally slack-jawed expression revealing rotting pointed teeth. In his etching in the 1818 French dictionary of demons, Belphegor crouches on a toilet. He may not live and wait in a toilet, but he will take your shit as an offering, using it to fuel his continued work of dragging humans to sin.





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Also lurking in outhouses is the goddess Cheuksin of Korean lore. She is fierce, hostile, and crouches in the dark shadows of an outhouse until someone comes into the outhouse, startling her. She then attacks, choking the intruder with her long locks. That is why you should never enter an outhouse without coughing first—who knows what you might awaken within? She does not require regular worship, but if you are cooking something special or holding a memorial service—leave something for her.


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You can also invite the evil into this place of vulnerability. In the US, during slumber parties or nights when the parents are away—maybe during the lunch break at school—girls brave, curious, or pressured by their friends—go into a bathroom, turn off the lights, and face the darkened mirror. The room is almost entirely dark—maybe, a crack of golden light around at the doorframe gives shape to the shadows reflected in the mirror.


“Bloody Mary,” the girl whispers. “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.”


Or maybe she summons Mary Worth or Mary Whales, chanting the woman’s name 47 times into the dark. You may have to flush the toilet or prick your finger or turn on the hot water so you are wreathed in steam. The name may be different—the number of times you may have to say it may be different—but all of the stories say that you must believe.


And then she will appear in the mirror—dark stringy hair hanging limply around a pale emaciated face, and fresh blood dripping down from a gash in her head or holding her own head in her long, pale fingers. Is she a lingering shade of a suffering woman, or is she a manifestation of the anxiety of the turn of childhood to womanhood, marked by the onset of menstruation? Scholars may suggest that Bloody Mary is a metaphor for anxiety about menstruation, but is it wise to ask the spirit if she exists?

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The toilet can be a place of vulnerability, darkness, and fear, and the dark forces in the world know. And they’re waiting.

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