By Mary Jaksch
Have you ever seen a ghost?
A while ago, I was sitting in a cafe, wondering what to write. Two woman asked to share my table. I waited until they were sipping their Latte. Then I addressed them.
“Excuse me, can I please ask you something?”
They nodded encouragingly, ready to give me precise directions to the Post Office.
“Have you ever experienced a ghost?”
The woman with bright red curls rallied first.
“Well no – I can’t say I have. However…”
She then recounted an incident in Scotland where she was cycling along an old country lane and suddenly sensed the presence of people from long ago.
“Did you see anything?”
“No, not really. I just had an internal image of people in clothes as they wore them long ago and a strong sense of their presence.”
What about you. Have you ever encountered a ghost?
I first encountered a ghost in my twenties. was in England with a colleague of mine. We were staying in an old cottage in Sussex, rehearsing for a concert The cottage was over four hundred years old, with roses hanging off the eaves and a loo that refused to flush. The first night I woke to find a man standing between the beds, looking down at me with grave interest. I wasn’t afraid, just surprised and repeated again and again, urgently: “Who is that? Who is that? Who is standing there?” But I got no answer.
I couldn’t see his face clearly but he had my father’s build who had been dead for a while, accidentally killed by my mother.
We can be abruptly drawn into ancient suffering.
A friend of mine once took me on an outing to Freemantle in Western Australia to show me the sights. We were enjoying ourselves hugely, laughing and joking, until we came to a fort that used to be a prison for convicts.
I was in good spirits until I entered one of the cells. It was narrow but very high and had a little window right up by the ceiling. As soon as I entered, I was instantly in tears. For a moment I could see a man sitting in one of the corners, looking up to the little window by the ceiling with such intense longing and despair. It was unbearable to witness his suffering. (After this incident my friend canceled our next planned stop, a visit to a former asylum…)
Dr. Richard Wiseman is conducting research on ghosts at the moment. He’s skeptical but says there are some anomalies in people’s response that warrants further investigation.
One of the experiments he conducted was set in Hampton Court – where the ghost of the executed Catherine Howard, 5th wife of Henry VIII is said to walk. The volunteers had to record any unusual experiences, such as hearing footsteps, feeling cold or a presence in the room, as well as marking the location and intensity of the experience on a floor plan.
Before this, candidates were also asked to reveal any prior knowledge of hauntings at the site.
According to an article on the BBC, the researchers then examined the distribution of unusual experiences. The results were striking: participants recorded a higher number of unusual experiences in the most classically haunted places of Hampton Court. You can see an interview with Prof. Wiseman about his research work on ghosts here.
In preparation for a symposium on ghosts on April 10 2009 in Edinburgh, Professor Wiseman has called for people to submit images of ghosts. You can see them here.
Sometimes it’s not what we see or sense, but what we hear.
A reader, Scott R. sent me the following:
When I was exploring a wilderness in South Dakota, in the USA. Here the Lakota Sioux Native Americans had lived. At this place, many miles from a road or habitation, there had been a massacre of Indians. Alone, on that sunny day, I sat on a great bluff overlooking a vast plain. And then, seemingly on the wind, I heard drums softly beating. Indian drums. I stood up, amazed, certain that someone was nearby. But I was alone. And still the drums played, more clearly now. After a time they grew quiet, and I heard only wind. I am a skeptic at times, but I will never forget what I heard that day.
Have you ever experienced a ghost? Do you think ghosts exist?
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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Listen to a recent interview with Mary Jaksch.
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