This is the extended version of my notes for a talk I gave for the Nottingham Pagan Network on Wednesday 28th November 2018. Moonphase: 5th Waning Gibbous ♌
It’s November, and we are now well into the dark half of the year. From Halloween and Samhain, this time is considered closer to the supernatural realms. The shadows are long and the days are short and when night falls, things that go bump seem more likely to happen. When asked to do this talk, I thought it fitting to talk about ghosts as we have just come out of the days of the dead and have the mischief of Yule to look forward to.
What is a Ghost?
According to our lore, a ghost is the spirit of a dead person or animal that frequents or haunts a certain location, object or living person. In the past, a ghost would either still be around for the ending of unfinished business or even a refusal to depart this world. Some ghosts would be haunting a location to guard treasure, ghosts of the 18th and 19th Centuries were very big on foretelling the death of family members, for example. Whereas ghosts of the 20th Century seemed to have given this up and like to switch on appliances, turn up in photos or even haunt specific vehicles they were attached to in life.
There are supposedly different types too:
- Poltergeists being the most famous, the name comes from the German for “Noisy Ghost”. Objects moving or being thrown across the room of their own accord are attributed to poltergeist activity. Various researchers claim Poltergeists are a manifestation of latent out of control telekenesis in children approaching puberty, others believe them to be individual spirits in their own right.
- Apparitions, aka spectres, phantoms etc, these are the appearances of a figure or creature that were not there previously. They are normally present for a few seconds and then disappear once again. For eg: almost every old pub (from 18th Century or older) supposedly has the figure of a man wearing a wide hat and long cloak for e.g.
- Repeating (or replay as friend of mine describes them) ghosts that perform the same action over and over (thought to be some kind of electromagnetic recording within a building or location). Think your Headless Horsemen that come out every full moon, or a monk that appears at the same time every night, haunted battlefields, etc.
- Interactive Ghosts where people have supposedly had the ghost speak or perform some action in front of them. ‘The Phantom Hitchhiker’ for e.g.
- Black Dogs, your barghests, shucks, Boggarts etc. Big black dogs with flaming eyes, heralding the demise of any who see them, although can be revealed to others if touched.
- Shadow People, A more recently recorded phenomenon, said to appear, some with or without glowing red eyes or even wearing hats.
- There is even something a friend of mine calls The Dead Barmaid Effect, more on this later.
Supposedly, a ghost is the soul or spirit of either a person or animal that is still on Earth even though its physical body has died. It has yet to pass into either the Otherworld or into the astral plane.
How Do You Know One Is There?
If I’m going by my own experiences as well as those others have reported then having a ghost produces the following:
• Feelings of being watched/ someone in the room despite you being alone.
• Cold spots happening for no reason whatsoever
• Objects moving, appliances and devices switching on themselves.
• Seeing shadows or figures in your peripheral vision
• Hearing voices despite no one being present
• Hearing music or sounds with no source
• A full or even partial manifestation as the ghost reveals itself.
Some entities are even said to have more dramatic effects, scratching of the walls or human flesh, the sound of screaming from nowhere, objects being thrown at witnesses or even full blown possession. However, the latter appears to be the exception rather than the rule. How many encounters are real and how many area form of mass hysteria inspired by Hollywood is difficult to say.
So, Who You Gonna Call?
There are parasychologists, mediums, ghost hunters and even exorcists should you wish to have someone examine or even look into removing the ghost at hand.
The problem with Ghost Hunters, is they like to bring a stock load of equipment, anything from infrared sensors to Ion detectors…. basically all the stuff that they swear can detect a ghost or even traces of such, yet scientists themselves still have found no actual proof of ghosts existing. So, ghost hunters have access to technology that scientists don’t? Interesting that…..
Attending a talk on ghost investigation, years ago in London, the speaker described using our own senses rather than use flashy tech to try and find a ghost. It was using this premise that myself and a few others decided to use when investigating a friend’s haunted house. We went off into different areas and wrote down anything that we thought might have been strange…. an hour of total silence later we met back and tried asking questions out loud. We compared notes three of us out of five all had written down the same year! One of us did bring a recorder for EVP and had an app on his phone for detecting ghosts…. the former didn’t yield any results and according to the app, there where ghosts everywhere, go figure!
Mediums are said to be in direct communication with the Spirit-World but messages are not always clear.
Exorcists go in and attempt to remove the ghost/entity, this is not always guaranteed to work, however.
Then of course there’s us in the Pagan Community: not all of us work with magic or ritual, neither do all of us work with spirits. And even amongst ourselves, we have to watch out for the bullshitters. I’m always wary of anyone who pipes up with “I see ghosts all the time”. Not all of our sources are reliable and like anyone else trying methods they aren’t familiar with, it’s down to trial and error.
What Does Science Say?
It says ghosts don’t exist. According to physicists, a ghost is either there or it isn’t. It can’t be both. A ghost is can either pass through things or it is a solid being, so which is it?
But there is something in the Electromagnetic theory of ghosts that explains quite a few of the symptoms of having a ghostly presence:
Medical studies have found that electrical fields can stimulate the Angular Gyrus (the part that processes interpreting language and numbers, our sense of self, memory recall, spacial awareness, it does quite a few things) in our brains, mimicking the sensation of us thinking there is something or someone behind us. Considering a lot of us have a mobile phone, a tablet or even headphones attached to something, you’d think we’d be experiencing this on a mass scale.
Cold spots are more regular in places with less humidity, too.
The problem is that ghosts aren’t a quantifiable thing, we are talking about something that can move through walls and any solid object, yet can manipulate physical devices. They are invisible by nature, yet can appear either partially or as a whole thing for a limited time. Because they aren’t an exact phenomenon, they can not be measured in scientific conditions. Ergo, according to science, they don’t exist…. even if we do encounter them.
Belief and expectation have a very large part in ghostly phenomena. Go into a known haunted location with the expectation of finding something and you’ll be swearing every movement and creak is a ghost.
Interestingly enough, there was a paranormal research group who experimented with collective consciousness back in the late 1970s. The experiment was to see if they could ‘create’ a ghost, with an identity and all. The group supposedly were successful and the being called itself “Phillip”.
It could be argued this is what happens when people come together with excited energy and the want for something. Ouija Boards for example (Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!) or even a term coined by a friend of mine called…..
“The Dead Barmaid Effect”
How is it that almost every old pub in the UK is supposed to be haunted by one of two ghosts (If not both?):
The Dead Barmaid….. You can picture the scenario: ghost hunters go into an old pub (insert 500+ yr old building), eager to make contact. Using a communication method, such as a pendulum or an Ouija board, they ascertain the pub is haunted by a former worker who died as a result of murder/broken heart/fell to her death. Ghost Hunting groups go in there and pick up on an “Alice” or “Elizabeth” who used to serve there years ago…. especially when there is no record of there being such previously. Similar to the “Phillip” creation described above, the Dead Barmaid is more of a group consciousness generated by a belief of the group with a want to find something. Then there’s this guy……..
With almost every old pub there is the shadowy figure wearing thick boots, a long cloak with a high folded collar, and three-cornered-hat…. almost always taken to be the infamous highwayman himself. Is it possible for the spirit to haunt several locations at once? Either that or we had old Dicky-T wrong and he went on the biggest pub crawl of the 18th Century!
The Problem With Recorded Evidence….
It can be faked. No matter how good a video or even a EVP recording is, low- budget horror movies have proven that you don’t need huge special effects to make “Evidence”. So, the problem is that even if something was genuinely caught on camera, as an image or recording, we’ll just shrug it off as being fake. Just think of ‘Paranormal Activity’ ‘Insidious’. Even back in the early 1990s the BBC had a one off ‘Ghost Watch’ which was so realistic for its time that it was reported at least one person committed suicide because of it! I didn’t think it was that bad, but I lost sleep for nights watching it when I was a kid…. Even if it was fake and was made as a prank.
So, You Wanna Remove a Ghost?
We assume ghosts were people once. What if they aren’t? From various accounts, animals can become ghosts, too. And what if the entity encountered was never a physical being in the first place? What if the phenomenon experienced is down to something that has been in its location for a long time and doesn’t want us physical people telling it what to do?
Then there are the malicious ghosts of people who were not friendly in life and terrify those who feel helpless in their situation because they think no one will believe them? People can turn to exorcism, but there are a few problems with this: we assume the being was human and also understands and accepts what religion is being used against it. We also assume the being is from elsewhere (spirit world, Hell, whatever) even though it could have occupied the same location since before humankind. Talking to a friend of mine involved with the Church, he informed me that exorcists have to have insurance!
Another approach would be to try and contact the entity in an effort to either move it on, help it find peace or even making peace with it…. neither of which are guaranteed.
We don’t know what a ghost actually is. We are talking about something that cannot be quantified or even controlled. If there is a spirit world then I believe it runs parallel to our own with pockets of weakness between our world and the other and every now and then someone sees something. I wouldn’t even know how the mechanics of how this would work, but that’s my belief.
If ghosts are real, and if they are the spirits of people, even if they are something else, then we are talking about a non-corporeal consciousness; and like all things on Earth, should be treated with respect. It is not for us to go into a haunted area and start demanding that a presence leaves at our command or performs for our entertainment. I can guarantee if I was a ghost minding my own business and some people came looking for me with their tools and trinkets and demanding my name or disturbing my peace, I would do something to scare the living shit out of them….. or do nothing, just to piss them off.