If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess

The post that was Freshly Pressed two years ago, gaining me close to a thousand new followers: family, connections, generations and ghosts.

City Jackdaw

If walls could talk.

If concrete could confess.

If soul could seep through cement.

If only one of those monochrome apparitions could reach out and take me by the hand, leading me into a world of smoke and ale and revelation.

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The woman stood by the door on the right of the picture is my great grandmother. The two little girls are my grandfather’s older sisters. The guy on the far left, in the bowler hat, is my great grandfather. The other two younger men could be family, I don’t know. Will probably never know. Posing with a football and a trophy of an unknown triumph, they remain silent, anonymous ghosts. Enigmas of imagination.

The building itself, its very brick and mortar, contains more than can be revealed in a two dimensional image. It contains that which is valued in meaning.

Ancestors of mine dwelt in that place between 1901…

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Of Creeping Mind

I’ve been sat outside tonight reading ghost stories by the criminally forgotten 19th Century writer Sheridan Le Fanu, drinking coffee and watching both the night and the fog descend: a gradual, conspiratorial settling upon my conceding town.

Setting is everything.

The muffling atmosphere has put me in mind to watch Jack The Ripper with Michael Caine.

It may only be the first day of November, but winter evenings start here.

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Halloween:Three Personal, Family Ghost Storiese

All families have their stories, and these are three of ours. Happy Halloween.

City Jackdaw

Two components of Halloween/Samhain celebrations, from both a pagan and a non-pagan perspective, are ancestors, and ghosts. So I thought I would combine the two in this post with three stories from my own family, two of them passed down, one of them recounted to me personally.

For any serious paranormal investigators out there, you can file them under the headings of Death Bed Visitation, Ghost Sighting, and Near Death Experience respectively. I am not claiming them to be true, supernatural experiences beyond all rational explanation, but neither am I dismissing them as anecdotal events that are grounded in purely biological and physical laws as we know them. I’m just passing them onto you as I received them. Make up your own mind on the cause. And the effect.

Death Bed Visitation

My Gran had a sister named Margaret who, being eleven years old, was three years younger than my…

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Ghosts Of The Falls

I have been reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo, the only Pulitzer Prize Winner that I’ve read apart from To Kill A Mockingbird.

Perhaps because we are almost on the threshold of Halloween, a certain passage caught my eye that referred to ghosts, but not to ghosts of the living, more the wraith-like relationship between a mother and daughter, as observed by a peripheral, recurring character named Grace:

Grace was glad not to have to share her thoughts about one of the sadder human relationships she’d ever encountered. It was as if mother and daughter had somehow managed to disappoint each other so thoroughly that neither one was at all vested in the other anymore. They were like ghosts, each inhabiting different dimensions of the same physical space, so different that Grace half expected to see one pass through the other when their paths crossed.

What a home this passage suggests. What a mausoleum.

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On This Day: Ghosts; Witches; Skeletons; Lions. Who’d Live In A Place Like This?

In a diary that chronicled events and personages connected with the days of the year, I spotted that today was linked with the Christian saint Osyth, who was a minor Saxon Princess who died around the year 700.

She married a sub-King of East Anglia, (who seemed unworthy of being named, at least in the account that I was reading), and founded a nunnery at what is now St. Osyth (funnily enough) in Essex. According to an unreliable biography she was killed by robbers, but if you are of the type who needs substantiated facts, I’m afraid that the famous-as-well-as-venerable Bede does not give her a mention.

Osyth’s nunnery died out, but was re-founded as an Augustine monastery, containing her shrine, in the early 12th century.

I love the old legends that permeate these islands, especially those that concern (perhaps) historical figures partly obscured by the myths and mists of time.

There are various fantastical events surrounding St. Osyth, and some of them are just perfect for this time of year, as the nights draw in and Halloween approaches:

**when she was young she drowned in a stream, but revived after nuns from a local convent prayed for her for three days. (If this was a time-travel story, they would be from the nunnery that Osyth founded in the future. Did Osyth found the nunnery in gratitude to those nuns who resurrected her as a child? Or did the nuns travel back to save the child in gratitude to the adult who established their nunnery? Then again, if she died as a child she wouldn’t have created their nunnery. I’m confusing myself, let’s leave science fiction out of it.)

**she was executed by beheading; where she fell a spring issued forth from the ground. She picked up her severed head and walked to the door of the nunnery where she knocked three times before collapsing. (Knock knock knock. “Who’s there?” “Osyth.” “Osyth who?” “Oh syth down, I’m dead anyway.”)

**her ghost walks along the priory walls, carrying her head, one night each year. (I would guess that would be tonight, then? Anyone up for a vigil?)

The place name of St.Osyth rang some bells for me, so I looked it up.

The village was a focus for witch persecutions in the 16th and 17th centuries, ten local women being hanged. In 1921 the skeletons of two women were unearthed in a garden, one of them claimed to be the first of the women that was tried for witchcraft. I hadn’t heard this story before.

Then I found the source of my familiarity:

In 2012 there were reports of a lion being sighted near the village. After twenty four hours, an armed search was called off.

Is it safe to come out yet?

Is it safe to come out yet?

Beheadings; ghosts; witches; skeletons; lions: I’m packing my bags now. It sounds like a great place to live!

Part of its beach being used for nudist bathing doesn’t come into it.

Must go now, someone has just knocked on my door three times. I’ve looked through the spy hole but cannot see anybody there. At least no-one at head height.

Ghosts Out Of Season

I’m not exactly sure why, but Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve, seems to be equated with ghost stories, even more so than Halloween. Perhaps it’s down to that Dickens fella.

If ever I turn to such fayre, I prefer the older, Gothic-type tales, my favourite, so far, being The Phantom Coach, by Amelia B. Edwards, set on a wild, wintry, northern moor.

Recently, on a coach journey of my own, albeit a motorised version, I finished the book that I was reading, and searched my Kindle for something else to read. I found three books that I had uploaded last year, and hadn’t gotten around to reading yet, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu was a great 19th Century Gothic writer, and really should be as well known as the likes of Poe and M R James, who himself was a champion of this author, and I decided to delve once more into his world.

I began In A Glass Darkly, a collection of five stories of varying length (in effect, a mix of short stories and novellas). They are all linked by being case studies of a certain Dr Martin Hesselius, who investigates medical cases with a twist of the supernatural about them. A stormy, winter evening would have been a more preferable time to immerse myself in these, rather than a sun-kissed August afternoon, but still, needs must.

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My favourite stories in this are Green Tea, a tale of a clergyman who is haunted by a freaky, red-eyed black monkey, whose plaguing of the poor man becomes progressively more disturbing, and also the wonderful Carmilla, the vampire story that was written before, and was an influence on, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This has long been a favourite of mine.

The role of Carmilla was played by Ingrid Pitt in the film adaptation The Vampire Lovers. Just thought I’d throw a little Hammer connection in there for you!

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Immediately on finishing this collection, I ordered an anthology of shorter ghost stories by Le Fanu, selected by James himself, for the princely sum of one pence!! One pence-I don’t even mind if I hate it at that price. Maybe I will wait until late December to read it. That will please the wife when she starts planning for Christmas.

One of the other three stories in this collection is called The Room In The Dragon Volant. One of the characters in it made this speech:

“Just so! You English, wherever you are, always look out for your English boors, your beer and ‘bifstek’; and when you come here, instead of trying to learn something of the people you visit, and pretend to study, you are guzzling, and swearing, and smoking with one another, and no wiser or more polished at the end of your travels than if you had been all the time carousing in a booth at Greenwich.”

Over a hundred years later, and it seems that we English haven’t changed that much.