I love a good ghost story.
If I think back my earliest encounter with the ghost story was probably Scooby Do, and when I was really small some of those stories used to scare me. The weird thing was I enjoyed being scared, at least of things on the TV. I think even in those early days I knew it was only a story. Although some of them still made me ask if my parents would leave the landing light on that night.
In the school library there were a few hardback books on the Occult and Supernatural and I used to love looking through them and finding the old photos of ghosts and victorian mediums with their ectoplasm. Stories of Borley Rectory fascinated me.
I wanted to be a full time ghost hunter.
Later in life I used to stay up and watch the Ghost Story for Christmas specials. They were little half hour films based on the stories of M. R. James, and they were brilliant. The full series came out on iTunes last year so I bought them straight away. I think my favourite M. R. James story is the classic Whistle and I’ll Come to You. The original film was black and white and featured Micheal Hordern in the lead role. It was remade a few years back with John Hurt but I think I still prefer the original. A man on retreat at a seaside hotel finds a flute buried in the side of a dune. The dune borders a cemetery, so obviously the flute has fallen from a grave. (In fact the book has much more detail and we find out that it’s an old Templar cemetery). On the side of the flute are the words Who is this who is coming? Brilliant. Well, he obviously blows the flute and that sets up a series of frightening visitations. This old black and white film has very few special effects, obviously no CGI, and, in my opinion is all the better for it. I think its still far more frightening than most of today’s horror flicks. I guess if you like huge explosions and action it won’t impress, but to me the scarcity of dialogue, the slow build, and obvious reality of the situations, lead to very tense viewing. The final few moments are some of the best minutes of any ghost story ever made.
Of all the horror films and books out there it is still the ones that deal with the supernatural that I find most appealing. I had the same response to the X Files series – I wasn’t that bothered about the UFO episodes, but the ones that dealt with the supernatural, well, they were brilliant. This interest in the supernatural was one of the things that led me to explore Magick, Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn, and then on to Paganism and the world of Druidry.
So what is so fascinating about the ghost story?
I guess the ghost story, although making us uncomfortable, does at least offer evidence of an afterlife. If the ghost is real, and is really the spirit of a person who has passed away, then life in some form definitely continues. The ghost is often trapped in some form of recurring activity, like a film playing over and over on a loop, and with some help they can often be encouraged to move on to whatever lay ahead. Hauntings end. Reported as the most haunted house in England, Borley Rectory was knocked down in 1944 and the ghost stories stopped.
There are, of course, many logical explanations for the ghost or haunting. An image trapped in time, a moment in time replayed and caught by some trick of light, or shift in dimension. The shift of time and dimension is often cited suggesting the ghost is not the spirit of a departed being but merely mass hallucination, the mental state of the observer, faked photographs and film. The thing is that I’m sure many of you reading this have had an experience of the ghostly kind that just defies logic.
I know I have.
I was about 13 years old and on holiday with my parents, my friends, and their parents. We were on a boating holiday on the Fens and stopped at the Old Ferry Boat Inn, Holywell. It was the 17th March. Me and my friends stayed in the boat and our parents went for a drink in the pub, bringing us some crisps and a bottle of Coke each every now and then. The pub was really busy and standing at the bar my Dad asked what was going on. The barman told this tale…
The pub’s stone floor is now hidden beneath a plush carpet. Except, that is, one rectangular slab of ancient granite which they would never dare cover, for beneath it are said to rest the mortal remains of Juliet Tewslie. Neglected by her lover, Tom, the inconsolable girl is said to of hanged herself on March 17th in about the year 1078.
On finding Juliet swinging from the branches of the very oak beneath whose leafy boughs they had come a courting in happier days, her grief stricken lover cut her down and cradled the lifeless body in his arms.
Having said his last sorrowful and poignant farewell, he buried her where she had died and marked the spot with the granite stone over which the picturesque old inn now stands.
But Juliet does not rest in peace, for every year on the anniversary of her tragic demise, her ghost is said to rise at midnight, and float about the old rooms of the old inn, until the last knell of the midnight bell calls her back to the grave, where she disappears to sleep in peace for another year.
Such is her posthumous fame that March 17th is THE night at The Old Ferry Boat. (Text from hauntedbritain.com http://www.haunted-britain.com/Haunted_East_Anglia.htm)
That was why the pub was so busy.
My friend’s Dad was standing on the stone slab and in a moment of bravado (or maybe stupidity) said, “Well, you tell her that she’s welcome for a drink on our boat any time.”
That night was cold. It was March on the Fens so that was not unusual, but this cold went bone-deep. We were all asleep. The boat floated on a calm river. Suddenly the silence was broken by the smashing of plates. The kitchen was in the middle of the boat. We all got up and saw plates and cups smashed on the floor. There had been no disturbance to cause the crockery to fall. It was midnight.
Yeah. Spooky. My parents didn’t tell us of the conversation they’d had in the pub until we got home so we just went back to sleep, but I guess they had a more fretful night, and learnt not to be so flippant when it came to inviting a ghost for tea…
Once more I’m led to this quote:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio
Are ghosts real? Some sceptics will dismiss them immediately. I’m not so sure. I think there is something to some of these stories and, whatever the actual reasons, as the pages of Fortean Times show, they continue on a very regular basis.