David Lee, Ghosthunter, shares his article, originally posted on pfsouthmidlands.org:
With the time of Samhain and the dark half of the year quickly approaching, People’s thoughts often to of departed loved ones, ancestors or just the things that go bump in the night. This is historically a time when it said that the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest and the dead walk amongst the living. As Pagans, we are probably more predisposed to hold such beliefs than people of other (or no) belief systems, our path will usually require us to have some acceptance of the presence of gods, goddesses, de(a)mons, magically created entities and the like in our lives, so why not the presence of ghosts?
The concept of ghosts and ghouls seems to be an intriguing one for us humans. Throughout history people have been telling tales of the paranormal, whether they are spectral forms of grey ladies, invisible forces moving objects, strange lights, odd noises or even strangely reminiscent phantom scents. These tales have provided fascination and fear for their audiences across the globe. Every culture has some form of what we would class as a ghost story, and no matter how advanced a culture becomes, the fear associated with unseen or mysterious beings lurking in the dark has never lost its ability to terrify.
I started ghost hunting about ten years ago, I approached it with a scientific and sceptically interested point of view. I wanted to be able to prove there was something more out there than the mundane, physical world we live in. For the most part the ghost hunts I have run I would say that around ninety percent of all incidents experienced on such ghost hunts or in vigils have had natural and boring explanations, pipes expanding, wind howling and the like. There are other not so obvious, but equally natural explanations for such seemingly unexplainable events; presence of infrasound, electromagnetic energy or presence of fumes in the air, all of which have been shown to have physical or psychological effects that can trick a person into believing that someone is watching them or passing them by.
So (if you want to) you may feel reassured that any experiences you may have had can potentially be explained scientifically.
Other readers might be equally happy to hear that, in my experience, there is still that 10 percent of occurrences that require more investigation, things that happen, are seen or experienced, which defy any logical explanation.
Let us start with some definitions…
Types of Ghost
I believe that what people often refer to as a ghost can, at a high level, be broken down into three distinct categories. The first is what I refer to when I say the word ‘Ghost’ it is also often called by ghost hunters a ‘Residual’ entity. These forms are what can be considered ‘replay’ type ghosts, those that appear at the same time in the same place over and over again, such as soldiers still walking the battlements of abandoned castles or monks seen gliding across fields. These entities appear to have no knowledge of us and do not respond to any attempt to make contact. They appear to only be replaying past events either continuously or on certain anniversaries. These types of presence can be seen to pass through walls, not because they have supernatural powers but usually because there were probably not present whilst the person lived.
One theory to explain this is known as the ‘Stone Tape Theory’. Working similarly to an old style video camera, the rock or stone of a building or the land on which it stands could have magnetic properties and under certain conditions, events may be recorded onto the stone in the same way that a video camera records images and sounds onto magnetic tape. The theory states that given the atmospheric conditions these images and sounds can play back. Ghosts from events of particularly high emotional energies such as battles, murders and suicides are often reported and it makes sense that it is these events that seem to be captured by the ‘stone tape’.
The second type of entity is known as an ‘Active’ presence, sometimes also called a ‘Spirit’. These ghosts appear to have some form of awareness, They are often believed to respond to questions by knocking for instance. This type of entity can also include the Poltergeist or Trickster energy that can reportedly move objects around and have sometimes been known to interact with humans by way of a poke, the feeling of something holding a hand or sometimes a push. Not only do these energies display a form of intelligence but also have some form of memory. The cause of these types of phantoms is unknown but explanations are often along the lines as “departed souls of humans trapped on earth” I am not sure I buy into this explanation is it tends to fall in line with certain religious beliefs.
Lastly there is a stranger kind of entity which I describe as an ‘Elemental’. For a pagan these might seem strangely familiar, They are sometimes called an Earth Energy or Guardian Spirit. These entities are not of human origin, and are often seen as swirling black masses (similar to dense black smoke), black dogs with red eyes, inhumanly large humanoid forms (often with glowing eyes and/or wings), snakes, wolves, and generally anything considered fearful. These energies are often experienced at ancient sacred sites such as Iron Age burial mounds or other locations of historical significance. They tend to be able to shape shift and would seem to be guarding the area, making people want to leave by taking the form of something frightful and/or filling the atmosphere with a feeling of malevolence. Some believe that these are energies caused by natural energy crossings on the earth such as Ley Lines, and that ancient folk were aware of the energy so chose these as their sacred places, but it is my belief that these entities could have been created by ritual means. The magicians of ancient times may well have been performing some kind of ritual during their funerary rites which may, either purposefully or unintentionally, created a kind of guardian spirit at a location. For those that have not had experience of creating magical entities, this might sound far-fetched, but experiments have been carried out to discover if it is possible to create magical entities.
In Tibet there is an ancient magical rite that can create a ‘being’ of this sort called a Tulpa. Reports have claimed that some Tulpas have even been so real and believable that villagers think that this entity is a new visitor to the village. In 1972 the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) began a similar experiment to create a ghost. They conceived of a man named Phillip, a Scottish nobleman with a fictional and purposefully false and impossible history, drew a picture of him and meditated on all of this for a year, after which time they tried to see if anyone could detect the presence of the ghost of Phillip. They did this by using séance techniques and mediums from other groups with no prior knowledge of the experiment. They did indeed report making contact with a man named Phillip and stated that his history made no sense. The entity also started moving objects around the room and answering questions by way of tapping in front of the group, guests and a film crew, supplying answers from this purposely inaccurate history. (A Google video search for “Toronto Society Psychical Research Phillip” should produce some video clips from the original footage of the table tipping experiment and interviews with people who were present).
So what causes a ghostly experience?
It is my belief that entities are able to use energy in the atmosphere to “power” whichever perceived phenomenon is experienced. I am sure that everyone has heard a story where just before a ghost appears in the room it becomes freezing cold and people can see their breath. This is an example of energy exchange where the heat in the atmosphere is taken to power whatever is about to happen.
An example which illustrates this need for energy by ghosts could be the infamous and oft reported ‘Grey Lady’ or ‘White Lady’. There have been many instances of this type of phantom reported from all over the country, and one that I would like to relate was a reported sighting of a translucent figure of a woman, grey in colour in a cobblers’ shop. This report came from the 1950s but a similar report from the same location in the 1900s described a “white lady” with no report of it being transparent. My suggestion is that over time, ghosts lose their vivacity Starting as something as indiscernible from you or me, gradually their colour fades until they become just white, then grey, then transparent, until finally they no longer have any form.
One more type of ghost that may be experience and might be of interest to the Pagan reader is that of the Night Visitor. Many cultures all across the globe share very similar stories of night terrors, the usual experience happens like this; you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to move, aside from your eyes. You also may feel as though there is a heavy weight pushing down on your chest or legs. In the corner of the room you see a dark figure sometimes reportedly with red eyes. It quickly moves towards you and in some cases has been said to lay or sit on top of you. These experiences are often extremely disturbing.
Much research has been done on this subject, and what might appear to be an incredibly frightening experience may actually be able to be explained. One explanation is that when a body goes into REM sleep, your muscles relax and your body attains a form of paralysis, this is purported to prevent you from physically acting out dream scenarios and hurting yourself in the process. Sometimes it is possible to wake and become aware before the REM cycle of sleep is complete and the body is therefore unable to move until the body comes out of its paralysis. To explain the visions, the entities reported are believed to be the overlaying of dream images over the normal vision, similar to hypnagogic hallucinations.
An interesting thing to note is that the word ‘Nightmare’ actually derives from these ‘Night Terror’ type experiences; the word ‘Mare’ being a derivative of a Norse or Germanic word for demon, as folklore would have you believe that the night visitor is in fact a demon. Although research may have attempted to put pay to Night Terrors being a paranormal experience, there has been nothing that has been able to explain the similarities in the visions that are experienced during this experience. The description may seem familiar to some of you, for me the ‘Night Visitor’ seems to be a dweller on threshold, a form of guardian or a kind of gate keeper between two worlds, those of waking and sleeping or of the conscious and unconscious.
During the years of research I have to say that there have been a few occasions where I honestly believe that I have had an encounter with a non-corporeal being. Three that stand out are: An apparition of an old man sitting in the Judge’s chair at the Galleries of justice in Nottingham, a large wolf type spirit (I think an elemental) at Warwick Castle, both of which were independently verified by at least one other person, and a floating translucent apparition of a young girl at Coal House Fort in Essex. These experiences were so obviously paranormal that I had to reconsider my entire take on the subject, and more than that, these experiences made me question the Atheist standpoint on religion to which, as a scientist, I held dear. This was the start to me discovering and pursuing a magical path in Paganism.
I still approach my paranormal research with the presumption that none of this is real, to enable me to have an objective viewpoint on matters, but now with the hope that the truth is able to be captured and shared. I have examined carefully my beliefs and feelings on these matters over the last ten years and they can be summed up like this: If you were to ask me “Do you believe in ghosts?” I would now have an answer, and I would have to say, “I believe that most ‘ghostly activity’ can be explained by science, however let’s just add that I am more afraid of the dark now than before I started my research”.