Thinking About – Ghosts

Thinking About – Ghosts

confessions-borleySomething different today.

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

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.


24 responses to “Thinking About – Ghosts”

  1. Love this!!! And I think because I always watched Scrooge at Christmas, this time of year makes me want ghost stories all the more! Even more so than Samhain. So I’ve been trolling amazon. This isn’t a ghost story but is a bloody good mystery and free from amazon on kindle ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins. It was written in 1859, but it’s had me gripped for a week! Should finish it tonight. So Damh, when are you going to sing us a good bone chilling ghost tale?? 😀 !!

    • Katie: Wilkie Collins also wrote a novella called The Haunted Hotel. It’s well worth a read, if you enjoy ghost stories.

      • Katie and Dee,
        I’ve read both these and must say, they are both well worth the time! If you enjoy Wilkie Collins (or any of the older writers) as I do, try downloading the books from — it’s a great website for stuff that is no longer in print or books in public domain. Tons of good reading for free! You really can’t find many of these even in old bookstores. I know because I used to “haunt” them constantly, going away disappointed more often than not. Now I am never without a good story to read.

  2. Hi Damh.

    I used to live in an Old Rectory as a kid (Stone in Kent)

    It had 22 rooms and a cellar with a priest hole.

    There was also a small door on the top floor that led to a very narrow twisting staircase to the roof space and roof itself.

    We had great fun playing Hide and Seek as kids, but it was very scary at night.

    It was built during Tudor times but alas was burnt down in an arson attack in the 80s

    Have a great new year


  3. I was just thinking the same thing! So many scary old ballads and folk songs – what an album that would make. 🙂

  4. I’m an M R James fan too. I’m fascinated by the notion of ghosts, revenants and other ghouls, though I can’t bring myself to accept they exist. Your story about the smashing plates is intriguing, though. There have certainly been many incidents that are difficult to explain.

  5. I too am an M.R. James fan. My favorite horror film as a teenager was the black and white movie adaptation of “Casting The Runes” with the antagonist as an obvious Crowley “Poundland” knock-off. The kludgy and very static demon-on-rollers with fake smoke was added in post production In my opinion, that removed some of the fright value and uncertainty. Without uncertainty, it isn’t much of a ghost story!

  6. Hi Damh…my favourite spooky is the “Blair Witch Project”….filmed in b & w and from the viewpoint of someone taking an amateur video recording. Minimalist but a superb watch.

  7. 🙂 awesome blog!! makes me want to sit down with you and tell you all my own stories! here in US we had scooby doo and monster movie matinee on saturdays and i always watched them faithfully every week! i read books about ghosts, too, as a kid. 🙂 it was great fun but a part of me believed and would have the crap scared out of me! in adulthood i have had several hair raising experiences with the paranormal! and i am still nuts over that sort of thing! 🙂 i currently live in an apt in a building that is 102 years old and the stories abound here about things people have seen. keeps me from wandering the halls at night, i can tell you that! lol

  8. Hi Damh, I have had experiences with spirits from the other side since I was three years old. I walk my journey with an entire group of them now, and it has been the most inspiring, wondrous, healing, life-altering adventure of my life. Generally speaking, in the community of mediums and energy healers, ghosts or earthbounds are distinguished from those who have crossed over, who are in the light. Spirits on the other side–like your grandparents for instance–have returned to the otherworld, and are home in the light. Returning to the light is a choice, and not all spirits make it, for whatever reason. If a spirit chooses to remain earthbound, they are stuck as it were between their life as a physical human and the existence they could have had if they chose to remain part of the divine. At that point none of their guides or relatives from the other side can reach them. Though ghosts/earthbounds have other opportunities to cross, they are often too angry/confused/afraid to do so. There are those who get stuck replaying out a traumatic event, like the woman in the story you relayed. Time does not exist linearly after a person exits their body, so individuals who continually repeat this pattern are usually not aware of how much time has passed since their death. Think about it this way: people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder often have trouble psychologically coping because regardless of how much time has passed since the traumatic event, the trauma state is always present time, in the now. If you died during such an event and were too attached to it to let go, that traumatic moment would eternally remain your present unless someone intervened. Other earthbounds are attached to material circumstances or objects, or choose temporarily to stay on earth in order to look out for a loved one, not realizing that they can do this far better once they’re in the light. There are some very scary earthbounds, just like there are some very scary corporeal humans; but they are not “other than” us, they are very hurt or troubled or frightened people. One of the things I do on an increasingly regular basis is work with my ancient family in the otherworld to help cross these earthbounds over into the light. Of course if doing so would put myself in danger, I get a lot of excellent help setting up boundaries and protecting myself. Usually though, help from a compassionate nonjudgmental physical person is enough to help an earthbound or ghost remember the light that has almost gone out of them, and they realize it is safe to go home. It is a very moving experience and I feel very honored to be able to help. If you want to read a good article about this, I recommend the following: Blessed Be.

    • Thanks for your comment – I am ‘sighted’ too, but rarely use it other than when something comes my way – though I have quite a few stories to tell. After my mother died, I noticed she hung around very confused for about 18 mouths. Eventually, I showed her a door and opened it enough for her to see a bright white light. After this, I knew she had gone.
      My Father died, but went very quickly, though he seems to make me the odd rare visit to see how I am getting on.

      • My experience is more like yours, Lorraine, although I live in a building with many elderly people, so at times I can see a lot of traffic! As my own energy has become more balanced, I don’t seem to attract those “troubled spirits who came from all the way across town, just to see me”… I am quite glad of that, too! Being sighted doesn’t mean just seeing ghosts, though, and the other beings as you can see are what interest me far more! My father also drops in on me from time to time, too, and he has been gone for 10 years.

  9. William Hope Hodgson’s stories ‘Carnacki, the Ghost Finder’, written a hundred years ago, are quality ghost stories… With a number of great twists!

  10. I have no doubt as to the existence of ghosts and spirits. My parents and other family members visit us often, as well as my aunt and her cousins through my grandfather’s lineage.

  11. Do you remember a ghost story called The Stone Tape? It was based around an amazing idea that ghosts are somehow ‘recorded’ in the bricks of old buildings. I remember it very clearly even though it was a long time ago! It seemed such an obvious idea and I was surprised no-one had ever suggested it before.

  12. I remember those old Christmas MR James stories on the BBC. My favourite was “Lost Hearts”. A decade before that ATV did their own versions of them in black and white called “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. Maybe because I was very young in the mid 60’s they scared the bejeebers out of me even more, especially the ghost of the Italian child.

  13. I guess you generally have to have an unexplainable experience to begin to open your mind to these things, unless like some of us you are just born to it. I listen to Mysterious Universe Podcast all the time ( I like their combo of science and spookier topics)and often people ring in and tell of experiences they had that turned them from skeptics to believers. 🙂

  14. Great blog as always Damh! I too would love you do a “spooky” song. perhaps adapt the James Child Ballad “the Daemon Lover” first the devil and before that in a earlier version a ghost and even before that one a shapeshifting merman or nix. in part perhaps the chorus:

    O how do you love the ship,” he said,

    O how do you love the sea?

    And how do you love the bold mariners

    that wait upon thee and me?

    O I do love the ship, she said,

    And I do love the sea;

    But woe be to the dim mariners,

    That nowhere I can see.”

  15. I remember reading “Whistle and I’ll come to you” at the age of about 12 – scared myself!

    I have no direct personal experience of ghosts (I’m not really sensitive to things – just ask my wife) but at the age of about 10 my family were involved in renovating an old, isolated farm house which stood quite close to a round barrow. No gas, electric, running water etc, not even window frames let alone window glass, and lots of rubbish to clear, including, bizarrely, a broken up harmonium.

    One weekend night in the school holidays when we were camping out there, my mother heard music which she first thought must be the neighbours’ radio – until she realised there were no neighbours. She thought it sounded like organ music but didn’t mention it to the rest of us because we always made fun of her precognitive dreams etc which we put down to her rural Welsh ancestry! Next day, my father being due back at work, my parents and I returned to our home in the town leaving my two older brothers to stay on for a few more days. The morning after that, my brothers turned up back at our house, having walked the 4 miles to the nearest bus stop and caught the first bus home. They said that they’d been woken in the early hours by deafening organ music. It was only at this point that my mother shared her story.

    We came up with various theories, wind blowing through the damaged stonework, an underground stream resonating etc but we never really got a satisfactory answer and it was interesting that our dog would never walk along the path at the back of the house close to the old dairy in which my mother also says she saw a figure. She believed that a child had died in the well that provided water for the farm, though what the connection with the harmonium and/or the music was I couldn’t tell.

    I morphed the “organ music” side of it into pipe music when this song, which retells the story with a changeling theme (with a nod to the “wind blowing through the stonework” hypothesis), came to me . The “Knarrs” referred to in the song was the name of the farm.

  16. Hi Damh. I’ve had several ‘stange’ experiences over the years, so I thought I’d share one with you. This happened to me when I was about fourteen and was at boarding school in the North of England. Sunday afternoons were always free and, having nothing to do, I looked for friends to go out walking in the countryside with, but everyone seemed to have gone out for the day. Undaunted, I took a packed lunch and a radio and headed off alone to a remote, abandoned quarry (called Cat’s Castle) in the depths of Teesdale. Having walked for several hours I arrived at the fields adjoining the quarry only to find, as I crossed the style, that I was surrounded by a herd of unusualy large goats. I found this very un-nerving (they did seem to be unusualy large goats). I tried to ignore them and kept on walking but, when I glanced back a few minutes later – they had all disappeared. This set the tone for what turned out to be a very strange afternoon. As I approached the quarry my mood plumeted and I couldn’t shake of the feeling that something here was terribly wrong. Still, I’d come all this way, and decided to make the best of it. I sat on the edge of the quarry, looking down at the pools of water below when I had an uncomfortable feeling that someone was watching me. I turned around, but no one was there, just a few spindly trees edging a wood. I switched on the radio, hoping to lighten my mood, but it didn’t work, so I unpacked my lunch and began to eat . The sense that I was being watched became overwhelming: I turned around – but there was no one there. However, in my minds eye I could see a figure, hiding behind one of the trees some way off. I told myself that I was just imagining it, but then it came again, and again, and again, getting closer and closer each time until I could see a figure quite clearly: a naked man, painfully skinny, with a pudding bowl haircut and cross-eyes. I sensed he was quite mad and that if I didn’t leave immediately I would be in grave danger; so I packed up my things and left, walking quickly back across the fields. When I arrived at the style I met two friends who tried to persuade me to return with them to the quarry. Despite having spent an hour or more that morning looking for companions to spend the afternoon with, I refused, blurting out that something was terribly wrong there today and warning them that they would be in danger and shouldn’t go. They went on, and I went back. I arrived back at school an hour or two later – and went swimming, thinking, by now, what a fool I had been. Later that evening, rushing along the corridor to the dining hall for the evening meal, I met one of them walking in the opposite direction, and asked, jokingly, if anything had happened. “Haven’t you heard?” he replied. The other boy (Robert) had fallen off the edge of the quarry and had been taken to hospital with serious head injuries. I couldn’t believe it. I waited six months for him to come out of hospital and asked him what happened, but he had suffered amnesia and had no recollection of what had happened. Make of it what you will, but I swear to God it is completely true.

    • That is the creepiest thing I’ve heard for a long time! Mainly because I believe every word, that would’ve freaked me out beyond belief at that age, I wonder if there were ever any asylums or anything in the area?

  17. Great blog Damh.
    I have a couple of experiences with spirits or ghosts. I have lived in a few haunted houses, the first one was an old ‘company house’ built at the turn of the century for the steel mill workers in Sydney, NS where I grew up. I was renting this house from my brother. The family knew this house was haunted, but I moved in anyway. There were a lot of strange feelings in that house. People that didn’t even know each other said the same thing, that they always felt like they were going to be pushed down the stairs. The fireplace would blase up high for no apparent reason at times. My oldest son saw his then step father coming downstairs and walk into the kitchen, and he said hello to him as he was walking into the kitchen. I said to him he’s not here, he’s at work. And my son thought nothing of it.
    I remember getting a feeling of something listening to me while I was hoovering one day, and at the same time, a constant feeling of de javu. It so unnerved me, I phoned my friend to come and stay with me a while. Another friend, who was my first wiccan friend back in the early 80’s said she felt a presence the instant she crossed the threshold. I later found out that someone had died by falling down the stairs in that house.
    Another time when I lived in Ontario in an old apartment building. It was Samhain, and I had taken my daughter out for Halloween. My oldest son stayed at home with his little brother, who was still a baby at the time. He went in to check on him, as you do, and when he came back out, he saw a woman dressed all in black standing by the dining table with her hand on the back of one of the chairs. So he went back down the hall, and returned, and she was gone.
    Another instance, was in a haunted house we had bought in 1997. There were strange feelings in this house as well. Some people didn’t like to go upstairs, and one of the bedrooms had a dark feeling to it. I remember being in the ‘computer room’ on evening, and I wasn’t home alone. But I distinctly heard something whisper my name from right behind me. I went in the kitchen to ask my husband if he was playing around, and he said no. Besides, I would have seen him come into the room. Also, many times, while home alone, my dog Balty would randomly look up to the landing of the stairs and just stare at something. That was unnerving to say the least. Things would go missing, only to be found in places where they were not supposed to be. I later found out, that there were 2 spirits in that house. There was a little boy standing on the landing crying, and an old woman in the kitchen.
    I have more stories involving my mother seeing things, I believe she was psychic. Both my parents have passed, but I notice that my father leaves dimes (ten cent pieces) for me, I keep them all in a brass jug.
    I do believe that spirits are among us, but not everyone is in tune with that realm. I am in two minds as to if I look forward to the next encounter, or fear it.
    Blessed be.

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