Monday, January 26, 2009

Things that go Bump in the Night

So how can somebody who doesn't believe in God still believe in ghosts?

It's a very valid question - and one I've pondered for years.

Ever since I was a boy, I've always been fascinated by ghost stories. When I was a teenager, our family moved to Devon and I eagerly devoured the self-published books on 'Ghosts in Devon' and 'Haunted Dartmoor.' For such a desolate place, it sure seemed thick with hauntings.

For a few months, I even lived in a haunted pub - one visited by the ghost of former highwayman Tom King, who was said to ride his spectral mare through the hallway of the inn (and on dark nights, you could hear the clattering of his horse's hooves on the cobblestones.)

Did I ever see Tom King? No... In fact, the only thing that ever occurred to me while I was living in the Stag Inn was returning to my room to find all the lights and electric switches turned off. If Tom King was haunting the place, he was being very environmentally aware about it!

But plenty of people HAD heard Tom King clatter through the hallway, so I've always had an irrational belief in ghosts (tempered with a rational understanding of why they might exist.)

According to popular myth, ghosts are spirits of the dead. There are two classes of ghost. Hauntings, which are passive and Apparitions, who are active. I'll get to Apparitions some other time.

Haunted Houses

Most hauntings are well recorded and have been seen by more than one person. They are normally limited to a fixed geographical location - a particular room in a haunted house, or a particular location outside.

Hauntings appear to be like a wretched replay of some horrific event. Most people report that haunted locations involve a specific ghost doing a specific thing at a specific time. A popular one in Exeter was a Roman centurion, clad in armour, walking through the pantry of a pub. He always arrived at the same time, walked the same path and disappeared through the same wall. His appearance had been corroborated by many independent witnesses - yet the ghost never interacted (or even acknowledged) any of them.

So what are hauntings?

Most ghost stories and hauntings revolve around a specific even in history - a murder being the most common. So-and-so was murdered in this spot 250 years ago and ever since, their ghost has been seen haunting that spot.

Many people argue that the 'ghost' is their spirit, cursed to walk the Earth after death. Entirely rational people, however, believe it's something else entirely.

Allow me to digress...

I have a friend who can walk into your front room, sniff the air and say: "Ah, you had fish and rice for dinner last night."

It's not that we live in a fish-scented house - their nose is just so sensitive, they can identify smells that other people wouldn't even notice.

Things like smells linger for days after they've gone, even though they're undetectable to most of us. Likewise, scientists have successfully identified and separated sound waves bouncing back and forth in a room hours or even days after the sound in question was silenced. Similarly, some people theorise that emotions can remain lingering in a location, if they're strong enough.

It's a theory that holds water. Just think of the last time you went to an old church... Stepping through the door, even if you're totally alone, it's impossible not to suddenly feel awash with a sensation of calm, tranquility and introspection. People have been feeling like that for centuries in that location, so even the most emotionally insensitive of us (i.e. me) will admit that places like churches can instantly and inexplicably affect one's mood because of the mood of hundreds of people who've been there before me.

By that theory, it's quite possible that a brutal murder would leave a similarly vivid emotional 'vibe' behind. Strong emotions of anger, fear, pain, suffering, guilt and remorse flood the room when the event takes place and linger for centuries afterwards.

A common theory about ghosts is that the people who see them tend to have an acute sense of emotion, which means they can pick up on lingering emotions that other people are oblivious to...

But because there's no real 'sense' of emotion (it's a kind of sixth sense) their brain misfires into them experiencing visual or aural manifestations of this traumatic event.

I don't know if that theory sounds remotely plausible or not, but I know this much. I've been to certain places where horrible things are said to have happened (like the aisle in Chagford Church, where a bride was gunned down by a jealous lover, in an act that would later inspire the novel Lorna Doone.)

I felt cold and uneasy, nervous and uncomfortable - and I'm not even 'psychically attuned.'

I can certainly believe that somebody more sensitive might experience the same feelings I did, just much more acutely.

It's only a theory, of course, but it's a fairly solid one. Most people I know share the ability to detect a 'vibe' from a room or building. Some homes, for example, you walk into and feel bright and happy (like the love of the family who lived there is still keeping it warm and cosy.)

Other places just feel wrong. I remember exploring old Nazi bunkers in Normandy with my friend and feeling something more than just an understandable sense of claustrophobia chilled me to the core.

I don't know - as I wrote earlier, I've never seen a ghost. Yet if a friend of mine can sniff the air and tell me what I cooked for dinner the night before, it doesn't seem any more impossible that a similarly 'talented' individual could detect the psychic echoes of some traumatic event in a location's distant past.


unalyin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
unalyin said...

What you are describing is a residual haunt. There is no intelligence behind it. It is like a moment in history got recorded into that place and it is replaying over and over. Very strange phenomena...

I am wondering if apparitions to you are the intelligent haunts. I tend to think of those as either being residual or intelligent depending on what is happening.

So... I'm going to leave belief in God out of this for the sake of discussion at this point... let's say it doesn't matter whether you believe or not. As an atheist, what do you believe about when we die? Do we just cease to exist? Do you believe people have a spirit... or soul? I think it would be easy to think that where residual haunts are concerned but... what about intelligent ones? Where do you think that is coming from? I don't know. It is something I often wonder about...

I'm not Catholic so I don't know much about purgatory. I think Mormons believe those who aren't saved are in a similar type place because many of them research their geneologies and have baptism services where they are baptized in the place of their relatives so they can be set free. Which I find weird and unscriptural... of course, they have the book of Mormon as well as the bible and I am only minimally aware of what is in there.

What about re-incarnation? Do atheists believe in that? I don't. I believe we are each a unique creation.

At any rate, I don't believe that whatever haunts are that they can really hurt us and that they are nothing like what is portrayed in the movies.

Coffee Bean said...

This is the strangest thing! I left the above two comments. I do not know how it has me listed as unalyin... A blogger burp or what???

I deleted the first one and then after it posted again under the same name... I signed out of blogger and resigned back in... so it'll be interesting to see what I come up as this time.

Coffee Bean

Roland Hulme said...

Wow, you do know your stuff, CB!

I deliberately didn't approach apparitions because while I think I understand poltergeists (apparently, there is ALWAYS a teenager in the house, which leads people to believe it's something weird involving them, rather than an angry ghost) I'm not sure I understand what could explain apparitions of dead people who interact directly with living people.

But as far as death goes...

I would LOVE to believe that when you die, it's like a computer game and as you've 'completed the game' you can go back and visit any points in your life and experience them all over again. OH, I would love that. Falling in love for the first time. Watch Boo as a little baby laugh and gurgle for the first time.

But sadly, I do believe that when you die, you simply cease to exist. The only afterlife one leads is in what you've left behind in the world - I guess your kids especially. The worth of your life is the effect you had in it.

That's what I honestly believe - hard to think somebody as chipper as me would have such a gloomy outlook!

But while I can't say anything about heaven or hell, I do know that purgatory is a pile of rubbish. The Catholics invented it CENTURIES after Jesus died. Why?

They used to offer rich people the chance to have priests and monks prey for them, so if they were bad, their prayers would help the rich people get to heaven.

However, in order to do that (and extort a stipend out them for performing this service) it raised the issue - Where does the soul go if it's not in hell and it isn't allowed into heaven yet?

The answer? Invent a place, purgatory.

Also, it was a handy way to not seem cruel and callous about unbaptized babies. They went their (before they all went to hell.)

Look it up - it's all absolutely true. Purgatory is the most cynical invention EVER. And that's quite an achievement, given it's the catholic church we're talking about!

paisley penguin said...

As a recovering Catholic (much to my parents chagrin) right now I consider myself agnostic. I believe in something but am not quite certain what that something is.

I think past life regression and reincarnation are interesting concepts I would like to explore more.

I am uncertain if I am sensitive. There have been, let's call them "incidents" where I have felt or heard things that others have not. It could have been an overactive imagination.

Paisley Penguin

PS - I'm about 1/3 in to your book. Been super busy but I am really enjoying reading it!

Coffee Bean said...

Actually, poltergeists, along with manifesting where there is an adolescent, also have to have a high lime content in the soil where it is occurring.

Truth is there is not enough known about this sort of thing. There seems to be a difference between demonic activity and people that lived. It is all very bizarre.

The Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in hell. They say that the word hell is taken from the word gahena (I might have spelled that wrong). Apparently, there was an area outside the city where the rubbish was burned and the fire was always kept going. They think hell is just death. You cease to exist. The lake of fire is not the same as hell... it is reserved for demons.

I've been mulling something over... ole John 3:16. The verse people tend to memorize first. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." That implies that we are not immortal.

Interestingly, Mormon women are only saved if their husbands choose to call them in the after life. They then get their own planet.

If you are wondering how I know this stuff it is because I talk to the people that come to my door. I've studied with both the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons on several different occasions... from a few months to over a span of 6 years. The Mormons have their boys go on a 2 year mission trip after they graduate from college. It is usually one whose been out for a year and one who is new. Two of the guys that game round for four months (and sometimes brought a woman from their stake) told me a lot more than they are supposed to... about the secret ceremonies only temple Mormons are involved in. Joseph Smith's brother was big into the Masons and the the special underwear Mormons wear have symbols on them that some think were taken from Masonry. There's a chapter in the book of Mormon that is almost word for word a copy of Isaiah.

Really, the term Christian covers a wide array of wildly differing beliefs.

So, if you think we just cease to exist, does that bother you? I'm sure being a husband and father gives you meaning... but what about beyond that? If we just cease to exist does right and wrong even matter? I find it interesting that the redemption theme is not just a Christian thing... it seems to be part of the human condition to a certain extent.

I don't know. The more I try to figure things out, the more questions I have. And the more I realize I don't know jack.

Coffee Bean said...

Correction... the 2 year mission trip is after they graduate from high school and before college.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Wow there are some really interesting comments here and I will only add this. In my late twenties I woke with the feeling of someone leaning over me very close and I could 'feel' their presence. It was my grandfather I have no doubt, I was left with the scent of his aftershave for a few minutes. So I am a believer and I also believe we are watched over, by those that have passed and love us.