COMMENTARY: Sgili Season

by Oct 21, 2023OPINIONS0 comments


One Feather Editor


So, one of the things my staff has told me about our offices is that we have a ghost. No foolin’. They tell me that there was an apparition that sometimes stood at or near the door of my office. I say stood because I have never seen this ghostly being and no one else has recently. Nevertheless, I have cautiously peeped down our hallway a time or two when alone in the wee hours of the morning or late evening. Who am I to disturb a sgili?

Stories of otherworldliness abound when talking to colleagues, especially this time of year. When there are trees dying all around you, I guess the “dying” part conjures up thoughts of other ghostly things.

A still from video monitoring inside the Museum of the Cherokee People in the summer of 2019 shows several orbs of unknown origin. (Image courtesy of Helen Snow)

One friend told me of being chased by ghostly lights in the woods. She didn’t find out what these floating orbs were after because she made it a point to never let them catch up to her. One of the more famous incidents of “glowing orbs” is the Brown Mountain Lights. Brown Mountain Lights in the Pisgah National Forest have been appearing and being reported by generations of mountain dwellers and visitors, some coming to Brown Mountain just to see the “ghost light”.

“Sightings of the Brown Mountain Lights have been reported for more than 100 years, with some saying they look like stars and others like glowing orbs that may move or float above the ridge and can appear in many colors. Government researchers who investigated the Brown Mountain Lights attributed them to train headlights or newly electrified homes situated on the ridge, and others have suggested various natural explanations such as brushfires or bioluminescence. But these explanations have not satisfied those who believe something more mysterious is at play. News reports in the early 1900s linked the lights to several spooky explanations: that they are the lanterns of Cherokee maidens searching for fallen warriors or the ghosts of Civil War soldiers or lights from visiting aliens’ UFOs.” (Blue Ridge Traveler Towns and Tales).

Back in one of my former lives with the tribe, I helped put on a Halloween week of activities in Cherokee. I collaborated with the Greater Cherokee Tourism Council, a body that we ordained through a large tourism grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. One of the attractions of the week was a “ghost tour” of the Mountainside Theatre and Indian Village. Working with the Cherokee Historical Association, we laid out a fun, exciting tour of the empty (or were they?) performers’ quarters at the home of “Unto These Hills”. When some elders, many of whom had worked up there at one time or another, heard that we were planning to do the ghost tours, we were told it was a bad idea to be messing around up there in the middle of the night. Remember the old Charlie Daniels song “The Legend of Wooly Swamp”? We were being told if you go out there, “son, you better not go at night. There’s things out there in the middle of them woods that’d make a strong man die from fright. There’s things that crawl and things that fly and things that creep around on the ground.”

Except that our folks who spoke to us were serious. They said they had seen things that freaked them out and they didn’t hang around to see if it would get freakier. And although I never experienced any whacky stuff. A few of my coworkers at the event did.

One friend, a contractor at the event, told me that a man and a girl walked up to his booth and the man struck up a conversation with my friend.  As they talked for several minutes, my friend kept looking down at the little girl, who never spoke. My friend said the asked the man, “What is your little girl’s name? She sure doesn’t talk much.” At that, the man said, “What little girl?”. When my friend looked down and pointed beside him, the little girl had vanished! Since that experience, you can just mention a story of a mysterious little girl and my friend wigs out.

Some of the stories of those giving ghost tours at the Mountainside are interesting too. One person told me of being on the tour to visit the empty living quarters at the Mountainside Theatre. He said the tour guide would lead you into the room and tell you about some supernatural event. Well, this person told me that they were sitting beside an old man in the room while the tour guide gave his speech. The old man never said a word during the whole presentation, this person, we’ll call him Todd, said he filed out with the rest of the tour, but when they got outside, he didn’t see the old man. Fearing that the old man might be asleep or in some kind of medical trouble, Todd went back into the apartment. All he found was an empty room. The old man was nowhere to be found.

On one of those tours, the tour guide after his speech would set a volleyball in the center of the room, then everyone would leave the room and move to the next apartment. From that next room, they said that they could hear what sounded like that ball bouncing around the room. So, they hurried back to the room to find the ball in one of the corners of the empty room.

Speaking of things that will make a strong man die from fright, have you ever heard of the Cherokee Paranormal Society (CHPS)? Well, you should check out their Facebook page. It has been a little while since their most recent post, but I spoke to one of the organizers and they assure me that they are still out there ghost busting, or in their case, sgili busting.

In the late 2010s, CHPS was sitting in darkened rooms around the Boundary with their video and audio recorders, flashlights, and high-tech ghost-busting equipment (and something called a “Spirit Box”). They have reported and recorded sounds, office equipment being turned on and off while no one was near, and cups and other items being knocked over by something, or someone, who could not be seen. One of their favorite tools is a handheld flashlight that they will lay on the floor or on a table and ask whoever or whatever might be in the room with their questions. The CHPS team will give the “entities” instructions on how to turn the light on or off. In one visit to the Museum of the Cherokee People (you know, that building that way back in the day was named the Museum of the Cherokee Indian), they asked questions and, according to the video, they got something or someone to answer by turning the flashlight on or off to a series of questions.  While the team will admit that they spent a lot of time seeing no activity at all, every so often there are some things that just could not be explained. “If there is there is something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?” I am calling the Cherokee Paranormal Society.

Whatever your belief system is, I have rarely met someone who could not recount a story of experiences that were unexplainable. And honestly, I think most of us enjoy the rush of adrenaline that we get from a good scare, so long as it is safe. I was in a haunted house in Gatlinburg one year in a darkened hallway when I could make out something reaching out to grab my wife. I grabbed it and had my fist cocked back to punch whatever it was when he lifted his mask to identify himself as part of the show. I took my little brother to a haunted house in Black Mountain one year that scared him and three girls in line behind us so bad that all of them held on to my belt loops until they could get out of the haunted hallway.

It’s sgili season on the Boundary. Whether your fear is boogers, sgilis, haints, snakes, vampires, walking dead, spiders, or the dreaded constitution (sorry, inside joke), we hope that you have a safe and enjoyable time at all the fun activities planned in Cherokee and the surrounding counties. We hope that the only ill effect you have is the belly ache from all that good trick-or-treat candy. My favorite is Reece’s Cup. What is yours?