This article was first published on the website of Fortean Times magazine in 2004.
GHOST STORIES may be as ‘old as the hills’, literally just that, yet certainly few of these provide any clues to account for their origins or authenticity.
It is, of course, possible to over-react to stories of ‘ghostly phenomena’ when assertions about their existence – or non-existence – are frequently diametrically opposed to each other, and when invariably such assertions, being the result of human theories, will inevitably contradict one another. Consequently, theories about ghostly phenomena abound, and are usually limited by pre-formed ideas or conceptions about the Unknown, or ‘Unknowable’. Certainly such theories and ideas about ‘ethereal existence’ – or the possibility of it – far out-weigh the very subject matter that it would otherwise try to comprehend.
It would be an ‘over-simplification’, of course, (if not a grave mistake) to use the word ‘ghost’ to describe the whole nebulous spectrum of unexplained phenomena. For one thing, the word itself is far too vague to be specific; for another, it commands interpretation on the part of numerous people.
Usually cases evolve around the visible presence of ‘phantom figures’ – but not always, and sometimes only the effects of such ‘presences’ are sensed or heard. None-the-less, these kinds of ‘ghostly visitations’ seem to be as equally common as actual visual appearances and are sometimes taken by given witnesses to be very real indeed. But although ‘ghosts’ may not always chose to appear in a visual sense, their appearances can often be ‘picked up’ by means of other sense impressions; impressions which themselves might be far removed from everyday understanding. This aside, the question must surely be asked, whether ‘ghosts’ really do appear to ‘frighten’ or communicate with the living, or are the numerous accounts about their appearances merely the result of some inherent urge in the human psyche itself (whether consciously realised or not) to want to accept or believe in something beyond the confines of life and death which are ultimately a part of everyday existence? Whatever the answer, one thing remains certain. Too many genuine accounts of psychic phenomena – or ‘ghosts’ – remain on record (many from reliable witnesses), to dismiss them all with arrogant flippancy.
Of course, it would perhaps be too easy to continue putting forward explanations – or suggestions – about psychic phenomena in general, when entrenched attitudes about the existence of ‘ghosts’ – whether for or against them – tend to cloud perceptions that might otherwise provide a valuable insight into their actual validity. In fact, it is not really a question of providing an explanation for the possible existence of ‘ghosts’ or numerous other cases of psychic phenomena reported worldwide; that point really becomes academic when a reversal of popular beliefs or conceptions, may be a far more reliable way of arriving at any answer …
One of the popular beliefs about ‘ghosts’ for example, (and it is a universally accepted one) is that if they indeed exist, they must be spirits (either ‘good’ or ‘bad’) of those deceased that have returned to the earth in some way to haunt a certain place, and that perhaps want to convey some message or instruction to their human counterparts.
But this conception – that Man contains a ‘spirit’ that is released and can even be seen after death – is itself, perhaps a misguided one. At least, when it is used to explain the existence of ‘outside spirits’ and the nebulous world in which they supposedly dwell. For it is a common belief that such ‘spirits’ exist; and not only ‘exist’ but preserve their same life-time qualities, and can even be contacted and convey messages to the living. It is but a short step for many to assume, that witnessed apparitions must be the appearances of such spirits; at least, offer some proof as to their form or embodiment.
The problem with this assumption, however, is that it contains one fatal flaw, in that it makes no provision for the possibility of alternative explanation. Upholding the tradition of blind belief, such a dogma, has itself, invariably become one.
Thus we are left with the conventional belief (that is, for those who accept their existence in the first place), that ‘ghosts’ must be the manifestation of some departed spirits; often not only resembling their former human forms but retaining some – if not all – of their human intelligence.
Although whilst applying this criteria to the many cases of ‘ghostly entities’ that have been – and continue to be so — widely reported, it should perhaps be emphasized here that this common explanation to explain ‘ghosts’ is by no means exclusive to ‘them’… For as has already been pointed out, this general principal – that the human spirit is capable of remaining earthbound after death and can communicate with the living – is a universal one and in one form or another has become an irrevocable part of human dogma. The growth of spiritualism as an accepted religion, can itself confirm this view; not to mention the claims of numerous mediums who attest to proving ‘spiritual existence’
But to deal with cases of unexplained phenomena themselves; would perhaps be to enter into an entirely different field… For notwithstanding the accounts of mediums themselves – who are inevitably bound by their own beliefs and terminology – one important question seems to have been invariably left out of the equation…
Why is it that human psyche is so dependent on the existence of ‘outside spirits’ or ‘ghosts’ in the first place? Why can it not let such ideas drop into the superstitious realms of belief from which they whence came? Why try to question and subsequently try to answer such important questions from a ‘mental standpoint’, when such a sphere might be far-removed from realms that could provide any possible answer.
That is not to say that questions into the realms of ‘ghosts’ and their ilk are not ‘answerable’, just that the very asking of them, is usually based upon very human conceptions or stand-points which themselves invariably act as barriers to understanding the very phenomena they are out to question.
But if we are to put aside the popular notion that ‘ghosts’ – should they exist – must be some oblique manifestation of the human spirit, the question inevitably remains… then what exactly are they?
As a psychic investigator, I have spent many years looking into the possibilities surrounding this profound question, and although my findings have been frequently published (both privately and amongst professional circles), still there frequently remains the very human inability to side-step traditional ideas and conventionalism when trying to understand them.
Basically, I have put forward the notion that generally, psychic phenomena can be divided into three main categories (which themselves can be divided in sub-categories). The first category – which is certainly the most common – concerns the possibility that many psychic phenomena (whether these consist of ghostly ‘people’, animals, or even ‘material’ objects) are merely images of past events or places that can be replayed at certain times under certain conditions. These include planetary alignments, lunar cycles, geographical locations and, perhaps most important of all, atmospheric conditions. Water appears to be an essential ingredient that aids the manifestation of many psychic phenomena; but invariably these images – or ‘pictures’ – have no intelligence, any more than a television picture can be said to have intelligence.
A second category of unexplained phenomena involves what is commonly known as the poltergeist. Here we find objects apparently moving (sometimes violently) of their own accord, inexplicable drops of temperature, or direct interference with material objects; such as light bulbs mysteriously fading or glasses or cups being suddenly shattered.
Invariably, such activity is put down to the existence and intervention of some kind of outside ‘intelligence’s or spirits (spirits that can sometimes be exorcised and made to depart), though whilst this remains the prevailing view, and whilst such occurrences can and do frequently occur, these events may have nothing to do with ‘outside spirits’.
For it is often overlooked that many ‘supernatural’ occurrences are caused by unconscious levels in the human mind itself; forces – or ‘energy’ – that can operate completely independently of the everyday thinking mind. The degree to which such energy can be operative, it in turn dependent on the extent it may have developed in any particular person. It is certainly true that such energy ( I term it ‘energy’ for want of a better word) appears to be far more active in the case of adolescents and young children.
But the suggestion that unconscious forces in the human mind are responsible for many cases of unexplained phenomena which are otherwise termed spirits or ‘ghosts’; or the previously expounded observation that many supernatural phenomena are merely ‘unintelligent pictures’, is not intended to be a ‘neatly tied up’ explanation for the existence of ghosts.
There are too many other factors to be taken into account when dealing with cases of unexplained phenomena, not least, a third category of unexplained phenomena that seem to have as their cause the actual existence of some kind of ‘outside intelligence’s’.
Perhaps the best known is the supposed existence of the incubus and succubus – male and female demons respectively – that visit sleeping people by night and are reported to have sex with them; although sometimes they are content to merely take possession of their chosen victims.
The symptoms of such visitations are invariably the same; people being suddenly awakened to find themselves completely paralysed by some alien force that has taken possession of their bodies. Unable to move, or even scream, unfortunate victims can only lay in their abruptly awakened state totally at the mercy of the demonic entity that has rendered them powerless. In many cases such visitations may recur with relentless persistency; and just as frequently chosen victims become anaemic and develop an allergy to bright sunlight.
It would be temping, of course, to use examples of incubi and succubae visitations (and these have been reported for centuries world-wide) as ‘evidence’ that intelligent outside entities really do exist, but on the other hand, ‘proving’ such a concept would be impossible as proving the existence of the human spirit; a potential that lies beyond present-day human consciousness.
But one factor that does present itself from examples of such ‘demonic’ visitations (and I have many on file that represent accounts from completely logical and sane people), is the manner in which many psychic phenomena can be distorted beyond means by misunderstanding and a very human trait to attribute fantasy to, and exaggerate, those things ‘unknowable’…
A prime example must surely be the legend of the vampire. For here we find a glamorised myth that has its sole foundation, accounts and legends about incubi and succubae activity. The hypnotic control upon a chosen victim; the draining or loss of blood; an aversion to sunlight, and the sexual implications, all showing how platonic myth is capable of being born from earlier legend or accounts about supernatural activity that were already in existence. Seized upon by earlier authors, (and later to be expounded by Hollywood and others), the possible existence of the incubus and succubus came to be distorted out of all proportion from its probable occurrence.
In the case of the ‘vampire’, (and I have always maintained that these only exist in their literal sense as ‘just pure fiction’), we are left with a glamorised ‘occult dream’; but one that should not be left to overshadow – or even be seen to invalidate – cases of genuine psychic activity. FIN
(c) David Farrant