Monday, June 14, 2010

My birthday: a ghost tour of Vilnius

For my birthday, my family took me on a tour of haunted places of Vilnius. I was entertained by the stories of the famous ghosts of Vilnius, but even more so by the way the tour guide tried to tie them to her personal life.

She told us a story of a fourteen year old boy who was a cemetery attendant. One day, before a rich man's funeral, the relatives of the deceased decided there was no reason the man should be buried with all of his gold, so he told the boy to take the jewelry off of the body and hand it over. Being very pious, the boy at first refused, but the relatives threatened to kill him. Then he tried to comply, but the dead people rose from their graves, and all hell broke loose. This event, despite taking place several centuries ago, had "horrible, horrible" repercussions in our tour guide's life. Back when she was a history student, their class took a tour of the crypt. The next day they heard on the news that a 14-year-old boy committed suicide by hanging. Some years later her class took another tour of the crypt (what, they didn't mind risking another teen's life? :-)), and the next day the custodian of the department building refused to let them in. "So you see, there is something supernatural going on there!" she concluded. Umm. Yes. I nodded and smiled.

A courtyard in the historical Jewish district of Vilnius The courtyard in the historical Jewish district of Vilnius, where we met the dybbuk
A dybbuk sitting in a corner of a courtyard in the historical Jewish district of Vilnius The dybbuk

Then she took us into a courtyard in a former Jewish neighborhood of Vilnius, and told us a story about a dybbuk -- a Jewish ghost that, unlike Christian ghosts, did not roam the Earth, but sought to inhabit someone else's body. An especially famous dybbuk of Vilnius was a ghost of a young man who wanted to let his grieving girlfriend know that he was happy in the afterlife. But the only body he found to occupy was a body of another young woman. So the said young woman came to his girlfriend to comfort her. Our tour guide said this legend was turned into an opera, which in turn was made into a Hollywood movie "Ghost". I did a brief research on Wikipedia and, but found no confirmation of that.

It was this dybbuk that we got to meet in person, sitting in the corner of a courtyard in the historical Jewish district of Vilnius. He was holding a candle and wearing a decidedly modern outfit, if jeans and white socks are any indication. The tour guide said this was our chance to ask him a question -- anything we wanted to know. He'd answer it in a super-secret language of gestures that she would translate for us, as she studied it for many years. No one wanted to go first, so she ventured a question: "Will I be able to go on a very important trip this year?" The dybbuk made a flying gesture with his hand. "He says I'll go on a plane trip," said the guide. Glad those years of learning didn't go to waste.

The tour was cut short by torrential rain, but by that time we were almost done. All in all, it was not a bad way to get a tour of Vilnius Old Town, as long as one didn't put too high expectations into it.

More pictures from my trip to Lithuania are in my photo gallery.

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