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Behind Life's Curtain
Dabbling With The Dead

Here is a list of the entities with which I am familiar. Some of the stories have already been covered in earlier pages, and the others will appear in the list.

  • Psychic Imprint -- not a ghost in the true sense, since even living people can leave an imprint. Sadly. these are mostly the results of negative events. Think of the imprint like a holographic projector that has been left on, replaying the same images over and over. The depressing atmosphere of the Pink Room was caused by an imprint. Other supposed ghosts are only imprints, but that doesn't make the events any less disturbing.

  • Poltergeist -- is also not a ghost in the true sense, but a manifestation of energy produced by adolescents. Determining the difference between spirit and poltergeist is a matter of time. If the events only appeared when a child hits puberty and disappears soon after, and there is no history of previous activity, that is a poltergeist. (Believe, this is bound to be the easiest part of adolescence for most parents.) If keys shoot out of locks, objects fall of their own accord, and things go missing then reappear AND there is no adolescent to blame OR the events have been going on for a long time, the problem is something else.

  • Beloved Animal Companion -- despite theological arguments on the existence of souls in non-human species, personal experience and research has revealed a vast number of past-on pets who continue after death. It is hard to discern if these are imprints or actual spirits since talking to a dead cat with a ouija board is usually no more productive than talking to a living cat.

    In April 2011 my beloved cat Bastet was dying of cancer and I tearfully had her put down. I expected that would be the end of it and I would get over my grief by focusing on the other two cats. Not long after her cremains were returned to me, she showed up again. Each night I could feel her jump on my bed, walk to the middle and curl up. Sometimes I could hear her purring. I would reach out, but there was no cat.

    I tried to rationalize the events. For instance, I was dreaming, but when it happened repeatedly when I was wide awake that explanation went poof. Was it perhaps Dagda, sneaking in for a late night cuddle? Besides the fact that at the time Dagda spent most of his time hiding under the sofa, the footfalls were not his. Bastet was a graceful 10 lbs. while Dagda is a hulking 15 lbs.

    Finally I convinced Dagda to come out from under the sofa and take a place on my bed. Over the last 6 months I have encouraged him and now I do not feel Bastet at all. Doesn't mean I don't still miss her, but at least I am no longer being haunted by a housecat.

  • Possessed Inanimate -- Never mind the argument of if pets have souls. Try dealing with a car that has a "personality." My brother built a VW bus constructed from multiple bodies and engine parts. The finished product was named Gabriel and had some definite quirks. It was sensitive to his moods as well as to the language of the passengers, especially if they dissed the vehicle in any way. When subjected to abuse the bus would slow down progressively and finally stop dead, not to start again until everyone had made a sincere apology.

    In time my brother got another vehicle and sold the engine from Gabriel, installing it a young woman's VW. The next morning she called to say the car wouldn't start. After careful questioning the apparent problem was that when the car didn't start up immediately she said some unkind things about it. My brother advised her to apologize to the car. She was stunned, but agreed to do as he said. Ten minutes later she was back. "It worked." My brother explained that Gabriel's engine had an "added feature" -- a very sensitive soul. "Be nice to Gabriel and it will be nice to you." To my knowledge there were no further incidents.

    Of course most people feel that their computers are possessed, but I have been assured by an uber-geek that this is part of computer design as "maniacal people in steel skins."

  • The Harbinger -- often a figure of legend particularly amongst certain families -- this is a spirit whose appearance warns of an impending death. Harbingers can be as specific as announcing who and when, or as vague as the sight of a animal such as a white dog or a flock of swans. The most famous tend to be found amongst Celtic people. In Ireland it is the banshee (in Gaelic bean si literally "female fairy") who keens in the night during or just before a death. For the Scots, many clans have tales of a phantom piper playing a mournful pibroch as death draws near. In my family history Tom Peel's horse riding toward his house was the harbinger of his death.

  • Faithful Servant -- these are spirits who just don't realize that the work day has long since ended for them. Such a spirit could be nothing more than an imprint, but we also find cases of long-suffering servants and those in religious orders just carrying on about their duties, seemingly unaware that there is no longer a need.

  • The Caretaker -- while part of the above category, the Caretaker may be sentient, even if she is scaring the willies out of those whom she is trying to help. The most common form of the Caretaker is a protective female, such as a nurse or nanny, who remains to care for living children.

  • Unfinished Business -- when a person dies living something undone, or requires that something be done, the spirit can get focused on the task. Some stories include the proper disposal of remains, justice, or a message that needs to be delivered.

    My friend David died in Ireland, falling off the Cliffs of Moher. From the time I heard of his death and for months thereafter I had the sense that he was standing at my shoulder, pestering me to do something. I kept finding the letters and Christmas cards he had sent me over the years. This were tucked into random books mostly, whatever I was reading after I finished reading the missive.

    Another friend, Michael, was deeply distressed by David's death. I had been the one to tell Michael and now it seemed I needed to tell him something more. David had showed me time and again how he had fallen. I could feel the pressure of the wind, his fear, his wonder, and then blackness when he hit the water below. Michael was struggling with the death and months later still believed that there had to be more -- suicide maybe, or even murder. Finally after months of David's relentless contact I summoned up my courage and took Michael aside. I had no idea how he was going to react to what I had to say, but David was not going to let this go, so I told Michael that it was an accident. When he wondered how I could be so certain, I told him how I knew, that David had told me, shown me, and pressured me until I got the message to Michael. Once Michael accepted what I had to say, David moved on.

  • The Lost Child -- children just shouldn't die, not then, not now. They are often too young to understand what has happened to them or what they should do. Many remain earthbound and are often attracted to other children or to nurturing mother figures. While there are no doubt very bad children in both worlds, most child spirits are just like living children. They play. they laugh, they make innocent mischief. When given a gentle push they often will go into the light and cross over as they should have done.

  • The Personal Protector -- Mother's friend John Simms falls into this group. He had no reason to haunt our house, having never been in the town before. His connection was to my mother and I believe he was there to counter the negative effects of Gaga. Like many friendly spirits he wanted us to know he was there and so played little harmless pranks. Because we were already conditioned to accept his presence, we never felt scared of him.

  • The Personal Nemesis -- If a person can be visited by a protective friend, then it is certainly possible that an enemy may likewise haunt a person, rather than a place. This could be the kid you bullied in grade school or the jerk who bullied you and is still at it. For those who raise demons to do their bidding, it is just as likely that the evil entity will be tormenting you until properly exorcized.

  • THIS IS MINE -- one of the most fearsome of earthbound spirits is someone tied to a specific location which she views as hers. As with my great grandmother Gaga, she couldn't take it with her and she wouldn't leave it behind. Her imperious nature remained for more than three decades past her demise and for all I know haunts there still.

  • Share My Misery -- this is perhaps the most common negative entity, someone whose violent death has left them stuck, repeating the circumstances over and over. These can be all the time or limited to the aniversary of the event. In some cases recent construction can stir up an old event. Some of the entities are imprints, while others have sentience enough to make certain that everyone is feeling just as badly as they do.

The Haunting of the North Canonry

There will always be entities that do not fit a class or possess traits of several. In December 1975 I went to England with a college group. Although I spent my weekdays in London, on my weekends I visited with friends from my previous sojourn in Salisbury a decade earlier. They lived inside the Cathedral Close in the North Canonry, a former monastic building now a comfortable family home. I had arrived ahead of the group and taken off straight for Salisbury. Because I was jet-lagged I was immediately shown to a room so I could take a nap. I took off my dress, shoes and socks, and then felt a chill. I was being watched.

I looked around but there was no one in the room, no obvious peepholes, nothing out of the ordinary. Even so my attention was drawn to the upper left corner and I had the unmistakable impression of a fat little bald man standing there, smiling. It was creepy but not threatening, so I blamed the jet-lag and fell asleep.

Later when I came downstairs Emma asked me how I liked the room. I said it was fine, then added "except for this weird feeling that someone is watching me from the corner." She laughed. "That old monk? Yes, he's there, but all he does is watch." Seems that the room had been Emma's when she was a child and she just got used to him being there.

A couple nights later when home from the pub, at which I had consumed a considerable amount of hard cider, I decided to give the monk everything he could ever have wanted to watch. I did a full, if somewhat drunken and inexpert striptease, including twirling my bra and panties before flinging them at the corner. After that he just didn't seem to be as interested in watching me anymore. I think he felt he had to go to confession.

I am not quite sure in which category to put the Voyeuristic Monk. More than an imprint because he showed intention and interest. A Faithful Servant perhaps because he was still in his monastic building, but certainly not doing what the Abbot would have deemed proper.

If the monk had been the only ghost that would have been sufficient for me, but the medieval building had a long history, and not all of it contemplative. One morning as we neared Christmas the young lady from Quebec spoke to me quietly at breakfast, asking me if I was alright now. I had no idea what Marielle was talking about so she explained, "I heard you crying outside my door last night." I shrugged, "it wasn't me." I was never quite sure about all that Marielle had said because her English was not that great and my French was terrible.

The next night, again home from the pub after a lot of cider, I fell into bed and was sound asleep when I was awakened by sobbing in the hall outside my closed door. I got up to see if it was Marielle. She had the room next to mine and a boyfriend who was a real jerk. They fought often and so it wouldn't have surprised me to find her there, but the hallway was pitch black and there was no one there. And still the sobbing continued. It was clearly a woman's sobs, but I tried to find a rational explanation first. Wind, I thought. Creaky old house must have gaps that make noises. I went to the window to find the night absolutely still. And still the sobbing continued just beyond my door.

I tried to remember what I should do in this situation. Seemed like I should try to calm her down, so I spoke into the darkness. "Hey there, honey, what's wrong?" More sobs. "Is there something I can do for you?" there was quiet for a moment, but then the sobbing started again. It was at this point that Zoe the cat showed up. She walked right through whatever was at the door, found a cozy spot by the little gas fire and curled up alseep. So I reasoned that if the ghost didn't want to talk and she wasn't bothering the cat, I had done all I could, so I said, "Well, dear, if you want to talk, I'm willing, but if you want to be miserable, that's ok too. I am heading off to bed." I closed the door and went back to sleep. The sobbing stopped.

The next morning I asked my hostess about the Sobbing Woman. She said they had one room in the house that they never let out in December. The usual excuse was that it was too cold, but that was only a tiny part of the story. A young woman in the 18th century had committed suicide in that room just before Christmas, presumably to avoid an arranged marriage. She's been a winter time fixture ever since. Previous tenants of the room reported increasing disturbances, starting with the key shooting out of the lock and falling pictures and culminating in an icy cold room filled with sobs. She wandered the halls, demanding attention, and it seems that for at least that Christmas I gave her enough to settle her for the season.

Do NOT Open What You Can NOT Close

I know, kids, you love to tell ghost stories by the campfire and hang out in cemeteries on Halloween. That's ok. Even though sold as a Parker Brothers game, Ouija boards are not like Monopoly or Clue. Seances are serious business and satanic rituals are right out. Don't mess around with this stuff unless you are fully informed and competent to handle what could happen. Yes, I dabbled a bit when I was a teen, but learned very quickly there are some doors I just wasn't ready to open.

When I was in my teens the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was all the rage. My best friend D and I were big fans and wanted to try our hands at the occult. We must have talked about such things incessantly, and eventually a mutual friend sought our help with an occult matter.

John had a friend from work who lived in one of the tidy modern homes in Aiken Estates. Ever since they moved in the family had heard the patter of little feet in the upper hall, but on checking their own children found them asleep. There was laughter and the occasional misplaced object. It was beginning to occur to John's friend that just maybe the house was haunted, even though no one had ever died on the premises.

Naturally, D and I wanted to perform a seance. She, John, the lady of the house and I joined hands and D started calling on the spirit to come talk with us. I felt myself drifting, loosing track of what was going on around me and the seance stopped briefly because D was concerned that something was happening. I told her I felt that this was supposed to happen and to just let things progress naturally. She started invoking again and in a few moments I was floating above the table.

I could see D and John and the homeowner and another woman with her head down. She looked like she was asleep but I could hear her talking very softly. "This is my house," she whispered. "I live here." Then a moment later she said "Where are my mommy and daddy? They were here when I went to the hospital." It took me a few minutes to work out who the fourth person was. Me. And then just like in a cartoon when a character runs off a cliff and realizes she can't fly, I fell back into my body. Turns out I am a trance medium. I had no idea I could do that and I had no idea how dangerous it could be.

In this case there was no great danger. The spirit was that of a young boy, perhaps about 5-7 years old. He was the son of the former residents and had died of some sort of childhood cancer. His grieving parents moved out soon after, leaving the little boy's spirit alone in the only home he had ever known. We were so freaked by the results of my trance that we were at a complete loss on what to do next. Perhaps just knowing she was not crazy was enough for the homeowner. I suggested that she treat this little boy as she would any child, speaking to him, encouraging him to move toward "the light."

The second and final seance I conducted was in Winston-Salem, NC when a friend and I were talking about the above incident and she wondered if I could come to her house to explain similar odd occurances there. This time I didn't have D doing the Dark Shadows thing. I knew I could connect with the spirit on my own, so I sat in an armchair, closed my eyes and just let the feelings wash over me and through me. This time I did not float out of my body. This was more of a sharing of body rather than me being evicted and made to wait outside.

Without knowing anything at all about the house's history or what events were troubling the family I could sense that the spirit was an older woman. Through me she asked about the changes made to the garden and was most particular about the fact they had removed the sundial. Then my heart began to pound, my breathing became labored and my left arm ached. The pain was so bad that I came out of the trance.

Seeing that I was pale and shaking, my friend asked me if I was alright. "Well, you might have warned me that she died of heart attack," was all I could say. They said that what little I said was correct. The former owner was an elderly woman who died of a heart attack in her beloved garden. When they made changes one thing they removed was the sundial, which they had stored in the garage. The best advice I could give them was to put the sundial back.

Once I realized that without some proper psychic shielding I could take on the physical characteristics of the spirit, perhaps even become possessed, I stopped doing trance work. Perhaps I had a gift, but I didn't know how to use it and decided that fooling around with it was dangerous. Later in life I got into Wicca and learned more about circles and wards. Perhaps now I can risk opening those doors.

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