Here's a story from Ireland which insists on the traditional message of the Lyke Wake Dirge: whatever charity or good deeds you do in life will be rewarded you in equal and accurate measure after death.
"The Ghost and His Wives" from: West Irish Folk Tales, ed: William Larminie 1893
Narrator Michael Faherty, Renvyle, County Galway.
There was a man coming from a funeral, and it chanced as he was coming along by the churchyard he fell in with the head of a man. “It is good and right,” said he to himself, “to take that with me and put it in a safe place.” He took up the head and laid it in the churchyard. He went on along the road home, and he met a man with the appearance of a gentleman.
“Where were you?” said the gentleman.
“I was at a funeral, and I found the head of a man in the road.”
“What did you do with it?” said the gentleman.
“I took it with me and left it in the churchyard.”
“It was well for you,” said the gentleman.
“Why so?” said the man.
“That is my head,” said he, “and if you did anything out of the way to it, assuredly I would be even with you.”
“And how did you lose your head?” said the man.
“I did not lose it at all, but I left it in the place where you found it to see what you would do with it.”
“I believe you are a good person [ie: a fairy]” said the man; “and if so, it would be better for me to be in any other place than in your company.”
“Don’t be afraid, I won’t touch you. I would rather do you a good turn than a bad one.”
“I would like that,” said the man. “Come home with me till we get our dinner.”
…They were playing cards that evening, and the gentleman slept that night in the house, and on the morning of the morrow, “Come with me,” said the gentleman.
They got up and walked together till they came to the churchyard. “Lift the tombstone,” said the gentleman. He raised the tombstone and they went in. “Go down the stairs,” said the gentleman. They went down together till they came to the door; and it was opened, and they went into the kitchen. There were two old women sitting by the fire. “Rise,” said the gentleman to one of them, “and get dinner ready for us.” She rose and took some small potatoes.
“Have you nothing for us for dinner but that sort?” said the gentleman.
“I have not,” said the woman.
“As you have not, keep them.”
“Rise you,” he said to the second woman, “and get ready dinner for us.” She rose and took some meal and husks. “Have you nothing for us but that sort?” “I have not,” said she.
“As you have not, keep them.”
He went up the stairs and knocked at a door.
There came out a beautiful woman in a silk dress, and it ornamented with gold from the sole of her foot to the crown of her head. She asked him what he wanted. He asked her if she could get dinner for himself and the stranger. She said she could. She laid a dinner before him fit for a king. And when they had eaten and drunk it, the gentleman asked if he knew the reason why she was able to give them such a dinner.
“I don’t know,” said the man, “but tell me if it is your pleasure.”
“When I was alive I was married three times, and the first wife I had never gave anything to a poor man except little potatoes; and she must live on them herself till the day of judgement. The second wife, whenever anyone asked alms of her, never gave anything but meal and husks, and she will be no better off herself, nor anyone else who asks her, till the day of judgement. The third wife, who got the dinner for us – she could give us everything from the first – because she never spared on anything she had; and she will have of that kind till the day of judgement.”
"Come with me till you see my dwelling," said the gentleman. There were outhouses and stables and woods around the house, and to speak the truth, he was in the prettiest place ever I saw with my eyes. "Come inside with me," said he to the man, and I was not long within, when there came a piper, and he told him to play, and he was not long playing when the house was filled with men and women. They began dancing. When part of the night was spent, I thought I would go and sleep; and when I awoke in the morning I could see nothing of the house or anything in the place.
Picture credit: Helen West Heller,Ghost on the Stairs c.1925
linoleum-cut or woodcut
© private collection
See website http://helenwestheller.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/helen-west-heller/