A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you have to admit that there are all kinds of things in this world that we simply can’t explain. They exist outside our accepted knowledge and they defy our know-it-all science — without apology. I have a friend who says and believes, “It’s all a pack of rubbish. There’s no such thing as ghosts.” Still, I know of one place in particular she avoids, because, she says, “I just don’t like the feel of that place.” If nothing else, that’s what ghosts are: a feeling. And that’s the problem: even after thousands of sightings over hundreds of years, and some pretty thorough investigation, there is still no hard evidence to prove (or disprove) the existence of ghosts.
However, if we rustle through the stacks of eyewitness reports, from the last several hundred years, we find some amazing similarities. Ghosts seem to adhere to a few simple rules. These rules are not etched in stone like the markings on a tomb, but, in general, all ghosts tend to behave in a strikingly similar way.
Rule #1 – Ghosts appear at night. There are very few ghostly sightings in the bright morning or afternoon sun. They don’t seem to like it. I’ve been told that twilight is a relatively good time to see ghosts, but by far the best time for ghost-watching is between midnight and 2 A.M. — the so-called “witching hour.”
Rule #2 – Ghosts have little or no colour. In general, ghosts appear to be black and white or grey. When they do have colour, it’s usually a washed-out tint like a flimsy transparency.
Rule #3 – Ghosts are cold. More accurately, they are accompanied by cold. It is almost universally agreed that whenever ghosts appear, there is a noticeable chill in the air.
Rule #4 – Ghosts don’t like to be touched. They will, on occasion, touch people but there are very few accounts of people touching ghosts (and getting away with it.)
Rule #5 – Ghosts inhabit buildings. They prefer places that have some history to them. There are cases of ghosts showing up in new houses but not very often. Generally they live (exist?) in older buildings or in places close to old buildings.
Rule #6 – Ghosts don’t like an audience. They prefer to appear before one or two people at a time. And they tend to disappear just as quickly if more people come to investigate. Interestingly enough, even though nearly every West End theatre in London has a ghost or two in its repertoire (Drury Lane has three, I think), none has ever appeared before an entire audience.
Rule #7 – Normally (if that’s the right term) ghosts stick to familiar surroundings. They like the places they knew when they were alive, and they don’t travel well. There are reports of people seeing the same ghost in the same place several times over the course of a couple of hundred years. The major exception to this rule is Anne Boleyn, the beheaded wife of Henry VIII. They say that her spirit haunts Hampton Court Palace (where she was a bride) Brickling Hall (her family home) and the Tower of London (where she met her violent end.) Ghosts may indeed be singular apparitions, but apparently there’s no “rule” that says they can’t be in two places at once. After all, why not?
Oddly, these last two rules are different from the first seven. These “rules” have changed over the years.
Rule #8 – In the past, ghosts did not usually speak, apart from howling, shrieking or crying. When they did speak, it was either to lament their fate or issue a dire warning. There were very few documented cases of ghostly talk before about 1960. However, since then, ghosts have gotten more and more conversational, and here in the 21st century, they’ve become downright chatty. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for this change in ghostly behaviour.
Rule #9 – Also, over the last fifty years or so, ghosts have gotten much more benevolent: the howling hauntings of the 19th and early 20th centuries have given way to a kinder, gentler ghost population. In most cases, there is no blood-cold horror associated with ghosts anymore, even though, on the whole, the existence of a ghost is still tied to some kind of trauma during the ghost’s life — an unhappiness, a violent death or a strong emotion, like love.
At the risk of stereotyping the inhabitants of the Spirit World, these 9 simple rules are a good guideline for ghost watching; however, they don’t always apply. Ghosts have appeared in open fields in broad daylight. They’ve singed people’s hair. They’ve showed up in bold tartans and shocking-pink tutus. They’ve played cards and laughed and even walked their ghostly dogs. But the next time you’re home alone after midnight and catch a gray shadow out of the corner of your eye, or feel a sudden chill, you might want to look into the history of your house. You might not be as alone as you think.