Plainly Ghosts

GhostsSometimes I’ll buy a book and secret it aside to read later as a kind of reward for making it through some heavier material. Research monographs don’t always do the job for which they are required in the commuter’s life—keeping me awake on a long and tiresome bus ride. I look forward to the book that has more appeal, and I don’t want to rush through it right away. I picked up Roger Clarke’s Ghosts, A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for the Truth in Princeton’s wonderful Labyrinth just after Christmas (the traditional time, I learned, for telling ghost stories). Now that spring is more or less firmly in place, and I’ve gotten through some erudite studies that I might use for an academic paper or two, I picked it up to pass the time on my weary ride. As regular readers will know, ghosts have long been a preoccupation of mine, but one on which I’ve always been ambivalent. Clarke doesn’t set out to prove anything here. His book is more experiential than agenda-driven. He begins with the simple observation that people do see ghosts.

Lamenting that he himself has never seen one, Clarke sets out upon a partially autobiographical explanation of where this fascination began. Being from the United Kingdom—often cited as the most haunted country in the world—he goes through some of the more famous accounts with a sharp eye. Crying shenanigans when they’re obviously there, he questions how one can claim that any one country is more haunted than another. More importantly, he notes how seeing ghosts is a marker of class. Historically, the rise of the middle class led to the death of the ghosts. The rich and the poor see ghosts more often. Those in the middle associate such sightings with poor education, while those who are most educated and refined take ghosts for granted. It is only with the rise of reality television, the true opiate of the middle class, that ghost belief has become acceptable in the broad center.

Clarke also frames his work against the religious background that Catholics, with their belief in purgatory, had room for ghosts in their theology. Protestants tended to see anything reported as a ghost as a demon, since the soul either went to heaven or hell after death, meaning that there’s no ghost left to wander around. While doubtlessly skeptics exist, I have always been intrigued that even hard-nosed scientific views of the paranormal world tend to go a bit softer on ghosts than they do on cryptids and aliens. I suspect that’s because ghost reports have been around as long as written records and, presumably, long before. People have always seen ghosts, and in such large numbers that it is difficult to simply call them names and say they’re foolish. Yes, we may be a credulous lot, but we can still find books like Ghosts at a reputable bookstore. And we can tuck them away as guilty pleasures to take the chill off an otherwise very dull ride.

2 responses to “Plainly Ghosts

  1. jeremiahandrews

    Hey Steve.
    When my father’s mother died, she came back. She would stand at the foot of my bed and scare me shitless. Years later, when I got sick, she followed me from one city to another. She would come to my apartment and as I slept with my doors closed, it seemed, (later confirmed by a medium) she could not get through the door. So she tilted pictures on the wall, and scrambled magazines on my living room table. So I knew she was there. I brought in a medium to figure this out, and in fact, that day she was there as they had a conversation about me. She appeared as she did when she was much younger and in much better health. The image the medium gave me (from her) was exactly as I remembered her as a child.

    When my mother’s mother died, she also came back to me. I channeled her for weeks on end, transcribing letters to my mother, that I sent her as they came to me. (obviously my mother thought me crazy to this day) I was the conduit for my relatives who loved me more than my parents did, and I think that’s why they came back to me in particular.

    When I moved to Montreal and met my great aunt (who was a nun here in a convent right by my home today) my mother’s mother visited us in the convent one night, in a room, she used to stay in back in the twenties and thirties. When my great aunt died, I was with her the 18 hours prior to her death, I had come home to shower, and she passed. She came here and passed by me, I could see her and smell her presence. Just after the passing the phone rang, to tell me that she had died. But I knew it already.

    Are there ghosts, absolutely.

    Like

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