Ghosts Among Us
by Adrian Phoenix
by Adrian Phoenix
Thanks for inviting me back for another go-round on your Vampire Notes, Patricia. I enjoyed the comments and the true life ghost stories and experiences I received from your readers following September’s ghost blog. I love your site and its musings on the paranormal, and I appreciate the opportunity to toss in a few more musings of my own.
What is a ghost? The soul of one who has died? A memory seared into the fabric of time by the raging fire of emotional intensity? A person in another time, living still, but seen through a thinning veil? Parts of our darkest and most primal selves, lashing out as poltergeists?
All of these and more – so I believe. Of course, these are only my reflections, my musings, my experiences.
Part Two: Ghostly Communication
In continuing with the first part of this blog on all matters ghostly from September, I’m now going to delve into the dark and murky waters called contacting the dead. I think there are actually two distinct levels of communication:
1. Verbal and auditory – Words spoken through a medium, whispers and cries heard in an empty building, rappings, dragging sounds, scratching sounds, breathing sounds.
2. Physical contact – Thrown objects such as pebbles, bits of glass, even chairs; actual touch or, in some cases, a hard-knuckled fist to the face, or scrapes deep enough to draw blood; doors opened and/or shut again; broken items such as light bulbs, glasses, cups; and transference of items from one place to another; table tilting; words spelled out on Ouija boards or via pendulum or other methods.
I plan to focus on the verbal and auditory level of ghost communication in this blog. The other level – physical contact – I’ll save for another time.
I’m intrigued by the tried and true methods of communication with ghosts, not only by the Most Haunted crew, but by mediums at least since the 1800s, and by amateur ghost hunters, such as the guys on Ghost Adventures (a new guilty pleasure).
Yet those we might want to communicate with most – our loved ones, family and friends – probably won’t answer because they have moved on, enjoying the next part of their journey. If a séance was organized to summon your decades-gone grandmother to ask her where her beautiful pearls went, you might get an answer. But it won’t be your grandmother speaking. It will be something pretending to be your grandmother and loving every minute of its deception.
Houdini spent the last years of his life hoping to contact his mother in the great beyond and attended séances by the dozen. He also proved the majority of séances and their mediums to be frauds. Even those with genuine skill were deemed money-grubbing tricksters by the magician/escape artist – who happened to excel in the art of illusion and deception himself. It takes one to know one, apparently.
Houdini also declared that after his death, he would try to contact his wife from the grave to give evidence that life continues and death is but a doorway. He gave her a secret code of 10 words so that she would know it was truly him, and not some trickery from a fraudulent medium. Every year since his death in 1926, a séance is held on Halloween and Houdini is summoned. But the 10 words have never been spoken. Silence is the only answer received year after year after year.
Those who take this silence as evidence that there is nothing beyond the grave are, in my opinion, mistaken. Silence only means that the individual has moved on and isn’t hanging around waiting for one of us to call on the séance hotline.
So who is available to take that hotline call? Ghosts of those trapped, lost, or left behind. And ghosts who’ve chosen to remain – to watch over a long-dead child or buried bride. Other entities answer as well, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Communication with a specific deceased loved one is quite a bit different from trying to communicate with a ghost who has haunted a drafty manor house or cold stone keep for centuries. Sometimes the history of the site or building might hint at who still walks its halls, other times, there’s no doubt. And the mystery draws us in deeper – who haunts this place? Why? Do they wish to tell us something? Can they tell us something? Will the telling free them? Do they even want to be free?
The question that always pops into my head first is: Do they know they are dead? And following right on that question’s heels is: How do they perceive the people striding into their midst, into their homes, calling to them like children playing hide and seek?
Most Haunted: “Are there any spirit persons present who wish to speak with us? We mean you no harm.”
Ghost Adventures: “C’mon! Try to scare me, you coward!”
I’ve often imagined that a ghost’s first perception of people blundering into their shadowed world would be along the lines of: Who the hell are you and what gives you the bloody right to march in here like you own the place?
I think one misconception held by most paranormal investigators along the lines of the crews for Most Haunted and Ghost Adventures is that ghosts want to speak to the living, that they have a need to communicate.
I have a feeling the majority have no such desire. I also suspect that many ghosts or spirits have no idea they are even dead. For some reason, people tend to think that ghosts understand their situation and have answers about ancient crimes and mysteries, and even about the afterlife itself. I think some ghosts exist in the world and time they died in. It’s all they know. It’d be interesting to know if they seek answers on their own, if they speak with ghosts from other eras and learn of those times, learn of the mortal world’s march through the centuries. Or are they bewildered, uncertain, afraid? And seeking to wrap the familiar around themselves like a comfortable blanket?
Are they confined to the place they haunt? Or can they venture out into the sunlit seen world from their safe and static moonlit unseen world and witness the world beyond their doors or gates?
Or do they flicker out whenever the living depart from their homes, a ghost on sleep mode like a computer monitor until mortal energy awaken them once more?
But we have to ask questions if we ever hope to receive answers, even though those we ask might not have any answers to give. Or not the answers we’d want, anyway.
One of my guilty pleasures is Most Haunted. This British paranormal investigation team almost always brings one or two mediums along with them to give psychic impressions of the site under investigation and of the people who might be haunting it. The mediums usually supply names, dates, and descriptions of those they encounter.
A couple of the mediums they’ve employed haven’t impressed me all that much, (and that just could be due to personal preference and not through any perceived drama-queen theatrics. Ahem.) while a couple of others have me more than convinced of their abilities.
While giving their impressions of the castle/keep/manor house/dockyards, the mediums also direct questions to any “spirit entities” hovering nearby. This often seems pointless because one person will ask the medium to ask the ghost a certain question and at that point it becomes a game of, “Will you tell your father to pass the butter, please?” “But Dad’s sitting right there!” “We’re not speaking.” “Great.”
And I have noticed on many occasions that the ghost replies with a thump, rap, or some other noise before the medium is halfway through the question. So the ghost seems to hear just fine and isn’t just ignoring the non-medium, after all.
Information is often transmitted through a medium in images, sounds, and smells, even in words that might emblazon themselves upon the medium’s mind like chalk on a blackboard. During a séance, a medium might relax their protective shields and allow a ghost to slip inside their bodies like a hand into a glove so they can speak directly with those gathered around the table or in the room.
Mediums are not only meat puppets for the dead, they are more often used like ventriloquist dummies, mouthing whatever message the ghost wishes to communicate.
And sometimes those messages consist only of nonsensical ramblings or things the visitors might already know.
I believe that every one has the potential to be a medium or sensitive. But during the transition from childhood to adult life, we shut that part down, the part that sees, hears, and feels things that simply aren’t there. Not in the seen world, anyway. Others not only keep this part of themselves open, they nurture it, exercise it, develop it and learn how to use it and protect themselves in the process.
But ghosts don’t always need (or even want) a medium present in order to communicate with the living world. Often raps or knocking seem to be in response to a question. On Most Haunted, the team members ask the “spirit entity” to knock once for no and twice for yes, then wait to see if they receive an appropriate amount of knocks or raps in response to questions. If they do, then they feel confident that they are communicating with an intelligent being.
The same is done with Ouija boards, table tipping, pendulums, and other means of spirit communication to ascertain an intelligent response. If the planchette spells out words and not just random gibberish, and the words seem to answer the question asked, (and if it can be verified that a person present didn’t “help” with the responses) then a ghost has spoken.
Pendulums are generally used for yes or no answers to questions, with the pendulum swinging to one side or the other. Table tipping is sometimes spontaneous or upon demand. “Move this table if you are So-and-So.”
As a teen I was fascinated with the supernatural (still am) and was willing to jump into almost anything. I’ve since learned my lessons and now know what not to do. When I was 13 or 14, my sister, a friend, and I decided to try our hand at a séance – with absolutely no clue how to do one.
We sat a table and asked riveting (coff, coff) questions like, “Is there a spirit here?” And, “If there is a spirit here, do you wanna talk with us (gum snap)?” The table we were sitting at in the dark began to quiver and vibrate. We stared at one another, shocked and excited and busily accusing each other of shaking the table. Then the table started to lift from the floor. At my end. It rose several inches, pushing my hands up higher until, terrified, I yanked them away. The table thumped back down onto the floor. We all shrieked and fled the room.
Ghostly activity or combined psychic energy from three teens?
My father gifted me and my sister with an Ouija board one Christmas (when I was 11 or 12) and we promptly put it to use. In the darkened bedroom, we’d solemnly ask if there was a ghost present and, invariably, the planchette would either poke at each letter or would zip so fast from letter to letter the damned thing would fly off the board. One afternoon, the planchette spelled out BILLY, then hesitated. We asked if Billy was a ghost. YES. Then I said, “Prove it.”
At that moment, the window shade rolled up with a snap and the curtains flew out as though wind-blown. The window was closed. Repeat the shrieking and fleeing scene.
But did that stop us from trying to communicate with ghosts? Nope. We played with that Ouija board every day for weeks. Then one night I woke up to see the planchette at the foot of the bed and not in its box with the board. It seemed to be crawling up along the blankets toward me. As if it had just thought of something else that needed saying/spelling.
I stared, chilled, my skin goosebumping. As it trundled closer, its point leading the way, it seemed almost eager. I finally leaped out of bed, switched on the light, and grabbed the planchette. No shrieking this time. I was too scared to make a sound. I tip-toed out to the living room where the games where kept and stuffed the planchette back into its box. When I returned to bed, heart drumming, I knew I’d never play with the Ouija board again.
To this day I’m still not sure if I dreamed the whole frightening episode or imagined it in a half-dream, half-aware state and I’m not sure it matters.
My experiences were those of a child who had no idea of what she was opening herself up to – Ouija – Oui (yes) Ja (yes) or what she might be saying “yes” to. And, my questions, “Is there a spirit here?” and “Are you really a ghost?” and “Prove it.” were pretty much open invitations to anything floating past, since my house wasn’t haunted by any spirits.
But in capable and protected hands like those of the Most Haunted crew, I believe the Ouija board (or similar board with a glass for in place of a planchette) can be a useful tool, especially when trying to communicate with willing ghosts. The same with a pendulum.
I don’t have any real experience with automatic writing, other than an experimental try which ended with a tablet full of scribbles. I’m sure I was too self-conscious to truly open up and allow myself to become a conduit, my subconscious touched and guided by the unseen.
Why are we so eager to communicate with ghosts? Many reasons, but curiosity is the main one. Who are you? When did you live? When did you die? Why are you still here? Are you alone?
But the unspoken thought behind each question is: If you are real, then we must exist after death in some form. It isn’t the end, after all.
Shows like Most Haunted, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters and individual paranormal investigators are seeking to prove the existence of life after death, to prove that such things as ghosts are quite real and we aren’t alone. (Yes, these shows are also seeking to entertain and titillate and make money, sure.)
But can you imagine what might happen if the existence of ghosts was proved beyond a doubt? Then, given the right tools and the right questions, we could delve into their ghostly minds for information on the hereafter – a hereafter no longer in doubt.
The existence of ghosts would rock the religious world and the scientific world. It would also wreak havoc on the legal world. If we acknowledge the existence of ghosts, then do we have to grant them basic human rights? Would people still be allowed to flock to haunted dwellings to demand appearances and answers? Beg to be frightened out of their wits? Shout insults and taunts into air tinted night-vision green in hopes of enraging an active and aggressive spirit?
Do we then become paparazzi, hounding ghosts who just want to haunt quietly and unnoticed (except by the occasional visitor or relative) as they move about their daily lives as they had when alive?
How would the average citizen feel about learning that their world is composed of dual shifting dimensions, the seen and the unseen?
How would the average citizen feel about learning they are the unseen in the ghost world/dimension?
I find it interesting that it’s usually assumed that ghosts know they are dead. I wonder about that and have my doubts. It’s also assumed that ghosts know who murdered them once they’ve passed on even if they never saw who killed them. It’s assumed that knowledge of the hereafter is issued to each of us upon death. Another thing I find interesting is that ghosts are expected to understand us – no matter what century or country they lived in while alive – when we speak to them like they’ve had a universal translator issued to them along with their handbook on the hereafter.
The English spoken today is vastly different from the English spoken centuries ago. When I see a book written in old English, I can’t read it because the words are too unfamiliar, the spelling too different. It’s the same with most languages, I believe.
So when a medium saunters into a keep in France and asks questions in English, I’m always amused and skeptical. Even if the French ghosts understood English, our English would be virtually unintelligible.
I also think that the equipment brought along to film these events would be beyond the experience of most ghosts present and might even seem fantastical or diabolical. The exception would be modern spirits familiar with TV.
In one episode of Most Haunted, the crew had been trying in vain to communicate with a ghost reputed to have haunted this particular manor house in England for several centuries. They were receiving a few knocks and raps, but nothing that seemed to answer their questions. At one point, the historian present wondered aloud if language might be a barrier since the owner had been French, not British. The parapsychologist present (and busy filming the proceeding) volunteered to repeat the questions in French and, voila, they began to receive the proper amount of knocks in answer to their questions.
I believe this particular issue came up for the Most Haunted crew on several occasions, mainly when they were investigating places in other countries. When they were in Romania, they had a translator repeat all questions asked in Romanian.
It seems that ghosts require energy from us or from electrical equipment, batteries, etc, in order to communicate with us physically or verbally. That’s the reason for the joined hands at a séance, to provide an unbroken circle of energy that the ghost can drink from to become substantial, or to voice eerie words, sighs, or groans, or to have the strength to move objects.
I think some of the sounds that frighten us the most when we are the only living being in a room are dragging, shuffling sounds and a sudden inhalation or exhalation by someone who isn’t there – at least not in the seen world. It’s interesting that most ghosts don’t have the strength/energy to voice words that we can hear, but they can knock or rap or tip tables. Maybe less energy is required for those acts or maybe a different kind of energy is used.
But in the end, most of us yearn to know that we continue after we die, that those we’ve loved and lost to the ravages of time, disease, and accident are safe and happy, and eagerly waiting for the moment we finally catch up with them, laughing at us for taking so long.
In many ways, our fascination with ghosts is a reaffirmation of life and a way of dealing with our own mortality.
Many thanks to Adrian Phoenix for this lively, entertaining essay!
Read Ghosts Part 1
Adrian has a fascination with ghosts but writes passionately about vampires. Her books, A Rush of Wings (see review) and its sequel In the Blood (Dec.30,2008), tell the story of Dante Prejean whose life of torment has not changed the basic goodness of his character. Both novels have received excellent reviews.
For a chance to win do one (or more) of the following:
*Comment on any subject from the interview. Each comment on a different subject counts as an entry.
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*Link to Patricia's Vampire Notes and send me the URL. Each link counts as an entry.
Be sure to include your email information so that I will be able to contact you.
This contest ends at 11:59 pm December 17, 2008.
PS If the winner already has A Rush of Wings Adrien will send a copy of In the Blood when it it available.