Monday, 17 November 2008

What Is (Not) a Ghost?

If it looks human but it shouldn't be there (wherever that is), the answer that immediately seems to spring to mind is: what is a GHOST!*
Entire TV series (we're not naming any names...) are based on the clay feet of this paltry concept.

I am somewhat reluctant to include these musings here, since this blog is not supposed to be about »ghosts« - and there are many, many genuine time/space displacement stories waiting for their turn to be told here. 
And since "ghost" stories transcend the usual perceived boundaries of every single time/space continuum – AKA the present – it is somewhat tricky to discuss them here, in this space dedicated to perceived time/space anomalies. Because once the floodgates are open, this space could soon outgrow its carefully trimmed hedges and burst into the anarchy of (yet another!) generically »paranormal« blog. (The fact that the blog mistress is para-normal should be more than enough, for the time being...)

But it occurs to me that we don't really know what so-called »ghosts« really are. And I don't think they can even be lumped together into a single category, however broad.
I love a good – let me emphasise that: GOOD – ghost story. Who doesn't?
But there really aren't all that many around – good ones, I mean.
(On the other hand, there are quite a few very good ones that aren't »around«, because the world has simply not heard of them yet.)

I don't know about you, but I've always found it somewhat irritating that so many people – even documentary film-makers and such – jump to conclusions regarding the nature and origins of apparitions and other para-physical phenomena indicating a sort of human presence.
Whenever the presence of such a phenomenon is established, it is followed – and, usually, preceded – by stories of somebody living and/or dying in the place that is »haunted«, often without any evidence that the apparition is in fact linked with the specific person(s) who supposedly lived and/or died in the house.

In short, among those who give any credence to the phenomenon at all, ghosts seem to be widely identified with »wandering souls«; they are thought to be ex-people, if you'll excuse the pythonesque allusion, who for some reason couldn't »rest in peace«.

And what irritates me the most is precisely the absence of questions – of questioning - regarding the actual origins of such apparitions.

And yet, some apparitions are clearly not the result of »tormented« spirits. Such is the famous case of the Roman regiment – complete with a horse – that is said to have been seen (in 1953, by one Harry Martindale) marching through a cellar of the Treasurer's House in York (England).

The soldiers were said to have a haggard, disheveled – tired? – appearance, which would be in no way unusual, considering their occupation.

More unusually, however, the lowest part of their bodies, from the knees down, seemed to have vanished.

Were they victims of a shin-worshiping tribe or something? 
Maybe the local women craved their footwear and the soldiers wouldn't part with it?
Hardly: as I said, they appeared to be marching through the cellar, only the lower part of their legs was unseen. 
And we do know there was a Roman road leading through that future cellar – and that the street level was a feet or two lower than the level of the ground today. Get it? (Or should I say, "Dig it"?)

Here is a good (if short) account of the story (from The Independent):

EDIT (March 18, 2011): The link is dead, and the Wayback Machine does not have it archived. In other words, the article is gone, gone, gone.
Serves me right for being always so ridiculously scrupulous about linking (only) to other sites. I should've snatched the article while it was there!
Anyway, here is a new link: Ciaran Brown Meets Harry Martindale.

(And here is an entry about Roman structures in non-haunted cellars from a wonderful history blog, with some humourous comments, one of which includes an allusion to this story: WHAT YOU CAN FIND IN CELLARS.)

However, even the most pedestrian programmes about "haunted" places can yield surprisingly productive thoughts.

I was (semi)watching a programme about »ghosts« on the TV the other day.
Semi-watching TV is they key word here; with the »corner« of your eye you can sometimes catch more than you would normally. And with the »corner« of your mind, you can sometimes catch thoughts that might not occur to you normally. (Of course, being sleep-deprived helps, too...)

There was talk coming out of the TV about a certain room in a certain hotel that is supposedly »haunted« (and there are many such hotel rooms across the world). Purportedly, people often see "shadows" or "grey" apparitions of people wandering through the room before disappearing as suddenly as they appeared.

So far, so good... But wouldn't you know it: immediately the team proceeded to investigate whether somebody died in that room.

Why would a deceased person linger around the place of their death? 
(Or around their graves, for that matter - unless they were cemetery lovers in life, I suppose.)

What IF some of the localised, i.e. space-specific, »apparitions« and other, non-visual manifestations of a human »presence« are really the effect of that person's (the ghost-to-be) mental revisiting (remembering, if you will, only with more intensity than usually) the spaces that were important to them – from within their own timeline? Or, perhaps more accurately, across time.
(Or maybe the place wasn't even all that important to them; maybe their thought - or their "astral body", as many like to call it - simply wandered into their room because of some random mental association?)

Could this explain appearances such as the one Ingmar Bergman reportedly witnessed in a theatre? Or the summery vision of a Miss Buterbaugh?

I for one have the distinct impression that all times really DO exist all at once.
(But more on t
hat some other time. Besides, there is a wonderful collection of books listed on the right side of this page that discuss just that. You don't have to buy them - borrow them, and I am sure at least one or two of them will be worth your while.)

I hear you: it is rather thankless to offer a theory that cannot be supported by evidence and is, furthermore, based on another unsupported theory...

But thinking is fun. ;)
So... what do you think?

* For those who are not familiar with American pop culture, this unusual form of expressing an answer refers to a very popular quiz show called Jeopardy.

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