Monday, September 15, 2008

Ghosts, Spooks and Spectres


A portion of the cover of a old and very battered Puffin/Penguin paperback (of the same title as this post) edited by Charles Molin, containing ghost stories by such familiar names as Dickens, Doyle, Wells, Thurber and Saki.

And Oscar Wilde, whose tale The Canterville Ghost is my favourite. It takes particular skill to meld a satire of stereotypes (both national and spectral) with sweetness.

The cover, however attractive, expresses several false conventions about apparitions and other goosebumpy things.

Apparitions of the non-literary kind -- those diligently recorded by folklorists and avid paranaturalists -- seldom show themselves in such wavery, misty, insubstantial shapes. Apparitions have usually proved to be quite apparent. That is, they appear real and totally visible. And just as frequently, they seem to prefer the light of day -- not midnight hours-- to trot about their business. Neither do the majority of them seem to prefer graveyards and similar lurky places. (Certainly, none ever hospitably showed up the last time I visited a graveyard at midnight.)

I have to wonder when the spook in a diaphanous sheet first became the automatic standard for phantoms.

Though the idea of "branding" makes the double moons of my wee behind clench reflexively and I have been known to emit an involuntary bovine bawl at the thought, I probably should begin to commit a portion of my posts to spectral things -- because of A Malignity of Ghosts and because we creep toward that otherworldly season of veils and mists and thin dimensions.

53 comments:

ChrisEldin said...

Bernita,
I know nothing about such ghostly things beyond what I see in the popular media.

I would LOVE to come here and learn more!!
*AND* what a niche you can create for yourself!!! SOOOO many possibilities...
I think this is an AWESOME idea!!

(Can you tell I'm excited?)
:-)

StarvingWriteNow said...

Do you often visit graveyards at night?

Yes, the season is coming, and I can't wait. Halloween is almost like a tailgate party for the big Thanksgiving/Christmas game. Last year I discovered an interesting website: www.extremepumpkins.com that has some of the craziest pumpkin decor I've ever seen. I'd love to recreate the Lawn Defender this year... sure would give the neighbors something to talk about!

writtenwyrdd said...

The ghost I have in my house usually contents herself with stomping up and down the hallway. Frequently this is during the wee hours of the morning, but also occurs (as it did just a couple of days ago) during daylight. She walked up to the bathroom and 'stood' there. I called out thinking it was my mother and the steps started up and dopplered their way down to the other end of the hall. Mom was awake and heard the stomping, too.

Sometimes she'll start in with banging noises, too, or fling the front door open for no apparent reason.

I've lived in a few haunted houses, and only one was traditional in freaky creepyness. Most hauntings are benign, too, unlike many tales. It irks me that much of what you see on these tv 'reality shows' are so overblown and fear mongering.

Bernita said...

~grins~
I got that impression, Chris!

No, Beth, not often. Makes other people nervous.

Your is one of the audio only type then, Written.
Those shows aren't after reality, they are after drama.

Robyn said...

I wonder if the dying of the earth bends our imagination towards ghosts?

I mean, have you ever read about spectres on a beach in broad daylight in the summer?

writtenwyrdd said...

We also get occasional cold spots and the front door flies open on occasion. Also, when I moved in I used to have the satellite receiver flip stations at 7pm every night, randomly. A change of equipment didn't stop the problem, either.

When I moved in I had a permanent cold spot at the top of the stairs for several weeks. The house had been empty for several years and apparently she didn't take kindly to being disturbed!

writtenwyrdd said...

According to wiccan lore, Robyn, Samhain (pronounced either Savven or Sow-wen, e.g. Halloween) marks the dying of the old year and it is the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and we can communicate with the dead more easily at this time of year. Much of Samhain celebration is about recognizing the beloved dead.

Bernita said...

Am not sure what you mean, Robyn.
Are we attracted to ghost stories more in the fall or are there accounts of ghosts appearing on the sands at high noon?
To the first, it's likely; and to the second, yes.

Perhaps she(?) was more curious than disturbed, Written.

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, you can only go by how it felt, and it felt pissed off! And the front door used to fly open when I was standing in the foyer-- in particularly during the first few weeks of being in the house! I took that as an obvious request to leave, lol. She settled down, though...until Mom moved in, then we had a bit of a kick up for a few weeks. :)

BernardL said...

Yes, we are again galloping toward Halloween with at breakneck speed. I look forward to any any handling of spectral ingredients.

Bernita said...

All in all, she was rather polite, Written.
A parapsychologist would ask, of course ( looking at the poltergeistic possibilities), if you had doubts about the wisdom of your purchase those first few weeks.

Headlong, Bernard! Thank you.

Robyn said...

I meant I think we are more attracted to ghost stories in the fall/winter, and at night. Stories round the campfire are more delicious with dark woods around. Summer- here in Oklahoma, anyway- doesn't offer up much in the way of spooks, unless one counts those stupid television hauntings Written mentioned.

Bernita said...

I agree, Robyn, the ambience aids the narrative in several psychological ways.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do enjoy Ghosthunters with TAPS on SciFi. They are out to disprove, though they're excited when something happens. Frequently enough, they end up with nothing, so the show is boring and the owner is disappointed. The overseas one is cool--they typically end up with even less. Some of those European ghosts must be very old and so don't hold with such new-fangled nonsense.

We had poltergiest activity in my house when I was an angsty teen. The dog wouldn't go in some rooms, doors slamming, etc. The first house I ever lived in, the original designer and builder, a woman with a sensibility quite like mine, hung around. It was basically a kind presence and a few unexplained creaking floorboards, but nearly everyone who walked in the house commented on the atmosphere.

The house felt quite wary early on (it had previous unhappy owners), but as we fixed it up and grew to love it, it became quite welcoming.

There was a distinct aura of confusion as we moved out--the folks who helped us commented on it.

laughingwolf said...

sorry, 'reality' shows are not after 'drama', just to fill the coffers of 'producers' who suck folk in with their crap!

the only thing 'real' there is the gobs of greenbacks that roll in...

i get 'visits' from my deceased sis and parents, but only to look at what i'm doing, through my eyes... i acknowledge them and they leave after a few seconds

i love your idea of doing more on 'ghosties and ghoblies, and things that go bump in the night'

Scott from Oregon said...

Perhaps someone should study why there are those who cannot believe.

Anything granted sentience in a non-physical world would have to break too many basic natural laws in order to do so, making it impossible to grant that possibility. Party pooper, I know... but sentience lives in brain matter and is chemical/electrical. Human "energy" is another matter but there is no available natural mechanism to transfer sentience from matter to "energy" without pulling the "magic" card out of the deck.

Humans tend to anthropormorphasize unexplained noises and have brains that seek to make unfamiliar visual stimulation into shapes they recognize (like a human shape).

If you have "ghosts" in your house, you more likely have an expanding and contracting house (old houses built with boards rather than sheets move a lot and make a lot of predictable and repetitive noises)...

If you "see" ghosts, your brain is filling in details that aren't there, hallucinating, to be frank.

If you feel "cold pockets of air" you are probably feeling "cold pockets of air"...

Anyway, there's always one party pooper in the magical realm crowd, and I guess I be it this mornin'...

Charles Gramlich said...

I never really gave it much thought but you're exactly right. When did the misty "sheet covered" ghost make it's appearance? No one ever "sees" such a ghost. Now I'm curious.

Miladysa said...

My favourite subject - I wait with baited breath! :-D

I wrote about the 'happenings' we experienced in our home some time back and the majority certainly took place during the day or early evening.

The Canterville Ghost - one of my favourites also :-D

raine said...

...makes the double moons of my wee behind clench reflexively

Lol.
Posts on spectral things?
I'm on board!

Bernita said...

I can't seem to find a satisfactory show, Betsy. The ones I seen so far make me want to put my foot through my TV.

That must be rather comforting, LW.

"Perhaps someone should study why there are those who cannot believe."
Scott, they already have.They find that "unbelievers" are as evangelical as "believers."
I agree that many reported instances of paranormal events can be construed either a benign form of delusion or have undiscovered natural causes.
Nevertheless, there are some incidents that do not, and we don't know everything there is to know about "natural laws" - and even energy.

Charles,surely the image pre-dates Disney. Perhaps some artist's representation is responsible.

I intend to search through your archives and read about it, Milady.
The Canterville Ghost is a truly delightful story.

True, Raine. I read too any of my brother's Westerns, I suppose.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol Scott, I'm another party pooper. I just don't get that whole paranormal stuff, be it ghosts and haunted houses or psychics talking with dead people (there's an author of historical fiction who even uses that as research *shakes head*).

But I don't believe in God, either, so I'm probably too rational for the supernatural.

Bernita said...

"there's an author of historical fiction who even uses that as research *shakes head*)."
Gabriele, I believe that is sometimes called "remote viewing"
(I'd prefer to call it a good imagination or an exercise in unconscious logic.)
I have no idea if an artifact is used in a psychometric sense or not.

Virginia Lady said...

I'm sure you could find a lot of info to post about ghostly things. I'd enjoy reading it, and I'm sure many others would at least through Halloween. ]

writtenwyrdd said...

Tayler Caldwell stated she used something like past life memory to write some of her stuff. I read this in the 70s, so I don't recall where I read it. I think it was in an afterward.

I appreciate a lot of people don't believe in the paranormal, but I've had so many experiences I have to believe we rational humans don't know everything. Because I do try to debunk weird stuff when it happens--or at least try to reason out what else it might have been. Somehow, witnesses hearing the same footsteps I do sort of rules out 'old house creaking'. I mean, those steps *doppler*!

Gabriele C. said...

Bernita, it would be ok if she did it herself (I'd then assume it's just a way to define of the workings of imagination), but she pays someone to look into the past for her. I admit I feel a bit uneasy about reading her books since I know that.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Virginia.I shall do my psuedo-scientific best.

Written, I prefer to keep an open mind.
I've never heard an old floor immitate a sucession of footsteps( and I've heard a lot of old floors.)
There might well be a natural cause, but I don't think expansion and contraction are necessarily(or automatically) the answer and your story so summarily dismissed.
Particularly when we don't know if your hall is tiled or carpeted.

Bernita said...

Gabriele...so would I.

Tom Evans said...

I like the genre description you give yourself: romantic suspense and magic realism. I think sometimes I could describe my own stuff that way (albeit not my current project!).

Bernita said...

Thank you. Nice to see you, Tom!

Steve Malley said...

I can't imagine anything more boring to haunt than a bunch of old bones. I'd want to go where the action is!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

sentience lives in brain matter and is chemical/electrical

Yes, sentience lives there, but who is to say it doesn't take other forms. Also, electricity and chemicals are all around us.

I find naysayers interesting. They tend to be extraordinarily condescending--though Scott doesn't seem too bad :) I always wonder, though, if someone's not a believer, why they feel they must insist upon it so adamantly, trying to bring others to their side. I believe, but I really could care less whether others do or not. And I know unbelievers think my beliefs are stupid; I tend to find their beliefs narrow-minded. But I'd never try to "convince" someone to believe or not.

Live and let live, I say.

Scott from Oregon said...

"I always wonder, though, if someone's not a believer, why they feel they must insist upon it so adamantly, trying to bring others to their side."

I never cared until American politics was over run by "believers" of some pretty silly stuff. Suddenly, you realize the country is being run by people who think "evidence", "rationality" "logic" are second tier functions of thinking. "Faith", "belief", "wish thinking", "supernatural explanations for natural events"... all take precedents over fact-based logic and reason.

It's scary when this type of thinking reaches a majority and gets politicized, which it has in America (I realize Canada is another story altogether).

I try and turn my head. I do. But everywhere you look, there is non-logical, irrational "beliefs" being accepted without simple questioning. And I mean SIMPLE questioning. Like "Are humans as a species predisposed to granting supernatural explanations to seemingly supernatural occurences?"

(Ummm, yes, we are. We ignore the science and go for the fun stuff).

Sociologically, it is as if humans are mentally sliding back into ages where science involved leeches and incantations, and leaders are chosen not for their intelligence, but their conformity to the predominant superstition of the culture.

"Yes, sentience lives there, but who is to say it doesn't take other forms. Also, electricity and chemicals are all around us."

Ummm, science? Electrical fields are easily measured and chemicals can all be identified using simple chemistry sets...

See? I can't help it. I am doomed...

Whirlochre said...

Hey — if the afterlife binds me to an eternity of romping around some graveyard in a bedsheet, I'm staying alive, no matter how many limb-grafts and organ transplants I need.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Steve!

Betsy, it does often seem that some are more interested in asserting a form of mental or moral superiority and wish to express their contempt for alternate views rather than discussing possibilities.

Horatio...excuse me,Scott, you don't mind if I mention that leeches have been proved to be medically useful after all?
Or that incantations, in the modern psychological form of triggering the release of brain chemicals/ altering neural pathways etc. are seriously studied by scientists? Or the possibilities about energy, electrical fields, matter and physics that might accrue from the CERN collider experiment?
Electrical fields and chemistry are obviously not as cut and dried as you imply.
Nobody has been pulling "the magic card" out of the deck here.

Actually, Whirl, based on my collection of assorted hauntings, very few of them take place in graveyards.So it seems that ghosts tend to agree with you that there are better places.

Barbara Martin said...

Very nice warm-up prior to Halloween.

However, I have never seen a ghost that looked like it wore a sheet.

There is a ghost in the building I live in accompanied by a stench. It leaves my area when I put on inspiring music.

Bernita said...

Interesting, Barbara!
I wonder if it's a farting ghost.
Smells, either pleasant or unpleasant, are sometimes reported associated with manifestations.

laughingwolf said...

it is, though when it first occurred with mom [she died first], i did not know what to make of it....

Bernita said...

"i did not know what to make of it...."
I can imagine. Disconcerting,to say the least.

archer said...

Oooh, Saki. Does it have 'Sredni Vashtar'? That is one of my favorite scary stories.

Bernita said...

Nope, Archer. The Saki story was "Laura."

laughingwolf said...

indeed, even now... but i just accept it and carry on as if i'm 'normal'

laughingwolf said...

there is a link on my page, ari, with some neat examples of this....

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I love things that go bump in the night. I have had several paranormal experiences but though I have heard and felt things happening around me, I have never actually seen a ghost so can not confirm or deny the wearing of sheets.

spyscribbler said...

One of my, um, first intense make-out sessions was in a German graveyard at midnight.

There was nothing scary about it. Man, I miss those days. :-)

Ello said...

I am beside myself with impatience to read Malignity! So please set us up - definitely! Any chance for a taste of what's to come is well worth it!!!

Barbara Martin said...

Bernita, actually the stench is somewhat like an animal that has died some time ago and well on its way to decomposing. The management has had plumbers in at several other units and found nothing to explain the smell. I have considered it might be a spirit waiting for someone in the complex to die to escort their soul somewhere.

All skeptics, in time, will have their paranormal experience occur.

freddie said...

I too have a hard time believing in the supernatural. Yet The Exorcist still scares the crap out of me.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lw. I'll check it out.

According to "field reports", Suzanne, most of the visible sort appear quite material and natural.

The location may have enhanced it,naughty Natasha!

Barbara, the reason I mentioned a "farting ghost" is because a common reaction( where I come from) to really noxious flatulence was the question," Did something crawl up inside you and die?"

Thank you, Ellen.This series will discuss some of the theories behind beliefs. Lillie's experience runs contrary to some of the common ghostly conventions.

Freddie, I believe one should be skeptical - but not closed minded.

laughingwolf said...

if you start it elsewhere bernita, do provide a link, k?

Bernita said...

I'm sorry, Lw, I don't understand what you mean.

Vesper said...

we creep toward that otherworldly season of veils and mists and thin dimensions - beautiful, I say as I sigh with pleasure... Looking forward to it and to your spectral things, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper!

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