i am reading ancient poetry composed thousands of years ago, and the words dance off my tongue like rain bouncing off of flower petals, filled with so much life for a language that so many have called dead. around me, the ghosts of those who lived long ago settle in beds of their own words, their paper blankets tucked up to their chins as they listen to their bedtime story. their happy sighs are the whispers as i turn the pages; their soft, sleepy breaths are the rhythm of the words that flow around us. a warmth fills my chest as i keep reading. they are content, and i know that i am not alone.

sarah thoodleoo
Concept

ghost

I have always been raised to believe in the existence of entities, energies and phenomenon that are outside the realm of ‘ordinary reality’ I believe that having been given that open mindedness in my upbringing set the stage for my ability to sense spirits, energies and entities. Having said that I’d like to quickly add that I know many individuals who were not brought up with such acceptance and who are yet very gifted psychics and sensitives.

Perhaps my most intimate relationship I’ve had the opportunity to develop with the spirit world was during the years I worked as a Youth Advocate/ House manager at a shelter for homeless and runaway youth. The shelter was housed in a Victorian townhouse that had been built in 1874. Over the early years the house was home to well to do businessmen who worked downtown. From the 49’s until the late 60’s it had been split up into a 4plex, in a neighborhood that over those years was known for drug use and Bohemian lifestyle. Since 1970 it has housed the Youth Shelter.

Given its long history especially the transient years, the house held a lot of energy. Being a temporary home for troubled youth added its own rather intense energy. There have always been a few constants in the house. These stories have been reported by staff who had not heard others experiences first. The most commonly agreed upon sensations or images were of a few specific characters, each of whom was described in detail by several individuals who encountered them. One of the most significant, and probably the most “at home” ghost was an older woman who would spend the night fussing and working in the kitchen. When people went into the kitchen at night they usually reported a feeling of being unwelcome there, but not in a threatening way; more like a busy grandma shooshing the kids out of her way so she could work. When a friend and I investigated we got the message that she was very attached to role as a housekeeper and felt that she needed to be there to keep things in proper order.

The other most commonly encountered ghost was that of a young girl, maybe about 10 years old. She would hang out on the third floor most frequently; it was a relatively quiet area with only a couple of administrative offices. Her room and I believe it was once her room was one of the most well preserved Victorian style, flowered wallpaper, and a few antiques. There were also some dolls in the room. She would sometimes venture to the second floor at night which housed the residents’ bedrooms and a small office for the overnight staff. Most people got the impression that she had died in the house from some childhood illness and she was staying because it was the only home she’d ever known. Funny thing, several people got the feeling that she would ask for chocolate when she encountered an adult. Her footsteps could often be heard in the hallway and on the large staircase leading downstairs.

There are many more stories I could tell, but they would probably be enough to fill a book. These were the two most familiar and most “friendly” spirits and they really felt like part of the ‘family’ which is why I chose their stories to tell. One more thing I never figured it out for sure, but I kind of like to think the Kitchen Grandma was hanging around to care for the little girl. Although it seems sad to me for spirits to be stuck, it’s rather comforting that there was a caring bond that kept them together.

Jenny Hazard
The Shelter Spirits
The Beltane Papers, winter 2010

Voices

April 12, 2018

Ideal voices and beloved
of those who have died, or of those
who are lost to us like the dead.

Sometimes, within our dreams, they speak;
sometimes the mind can hear them in our thoughts.

And with their sound for an instant return
sounds from the early poetry of our life –
like music in the night, faraway, that fades.

C P Cavafy
Trans. Anthony Hirst

bad energy

March 31, 2018

Dolls are one of the most likely objects to become haunted. Why is this?

Dolls that have human forms are ideal vessels for residual energy and spirits. Owners, whether adult or child, often form strong emotional bonds to dolls — they become human substitutes.

If something tragic happens to the owner, or if the owner suffers intense unhappy and negative feelings, the bad energy can be transferred to the doll. This energy is residual, but if it is strong enough, it can take on a thought-form presence as a “bad” personality of the doll.

Residual energy can be dormant for long periods of time, but if the doll goes to a new home and owner, and the place and person have the right energy, the residual personality can become activated and cause phenomena in the new house.

There are other ways that dolls can become haunted. Spirits can be attracted to dolls and take up residence in them. They may be attracted by the doll’s owner, by the residual energy lodged in the doll, or other unknown factors. Spirits can range from low-level tricksters to more hostile and powerful entities.

They, too, can be dormant until activated by the right circumstances.

In some cases, the spirit might be the earthbound soul of a person, someone who has not made a full transition to the afterlife. An example is a doll owner who dies suddenly and tragically and for various reasons does not cross over because they were lost, confused, or hanging on to unfinished business.

Dolls can also become haunted if they are deliberately used in spirit summoning and spellcasting work. In such cases, spirits are invited to inhabit the dolls.

Removing the doll from the premises alleviates the haunting phenomena in the house in most cases. Sometimes binding spells must be performed on dolls to keep pesky spirits from getting loose and causing havoc.

Earthbound souls need to be helped to the afterlife. If a doll becomes attached due to a spirit attachment to a person, then that becomes an entirely different issue that must be addressed accordingly.

Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Foreword to Norman by Stephan Lancaster

true supernatural horror

March 31, 2018

Halloween boy and ghost

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say…that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfil every condition of true supernatural horror literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point…The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

H.P. Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature

A little light reading

March 11, 2018

a house on a hill

Regrettably, the ivy of literary criticism attached to Hill House has tended to obscure its finer features. Biographers, scholars, and pop-culture commentators alike have proven dubious guides, telling tales riddled with factual error and taking interpretive leaps that a careful reader hesitates to follow. The first step, then, to pushing toward a clearer understanding and appreciation of the novel involves hacking through such accrued verbiage.

Judy Oppenheimer’s hefty biography, Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, has surprisingly little to say about The Haunting of Hill House, and the scant analysis it does offer is marred by inaccuracy. Discussing Eleanor Vance’s climactic smashing of her car “into a wall” (actually, it was a tree), Oppenheimer asserts that the protagonist kills herself “triumphantly. For it is not a defeat, far from it — in the moment she makes her decision to merge with the [house’s] dark powers, Eleanor is more blazingly alive than she has ever been in her life”. Grossly misreading the novel’s ending, Oppenheimer ignores the dismay Eleanor expresses when facing fatality: “In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?”. Oppenheimer concludes her chapter soon thereafter with the punning assertion that Jackson’s “triumph was as total, and as smashing, as Elinor’s [sic],” and the glaring typo here does nothing to inspire trust in the biographer’s attentive reading of the novel.

In Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic, scholar Darryl Hattenhauer devotes an entire chapter to Hill House, but his study proves no more reliable than Oppenheimer’s. Hattenhauer states that the line “Fear and guilt are sisters” is an admonition inscribed by Hill House’s founding father Hugh Crain in his daughter’s primer, whereas the line is a bit of third-person narration that appears in the chapter section subsequent to the main characters’ perusal of said primer (Jackson writes: “Fear and guilt are sisters; Theodora caught [up with Eleanor] on the lawn”). Discussing the scene in which Theodora’s bedroom is defiled, Hattenhauer observes that Eleanor “apparently smears menstrual blood on Theodora’s clothing and then blocks out any memory of doing so”. But that would have to have been one deluge of a period to produce “so much blood”, and Hattenhauer’s reading of the incident in natural and psychological terms fails to explain the complete disappearance (later in the novel) of the blood smears from both the bedroom wall and Theodora’s clothing. Most problematically, when describing the author’s notes for her novel, Hattenhauer observes: “Jackson (apparently unconsciously) inscribes herself into the house. Her several sketches of the two-storey house exhibit traces of her body”. Unfortunately, Hattenhauer fails to produce any sketches to corroborate this off-the-wall theory.

Another take on Hill House can be found in Dale Bailey’s American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction. In this treatment, the author (a horror writer as well as an academic) seems preoccupied with legitimizing the haunted-house subgenre as a subject worthy of scholarly scrutiny. In his constant search for deeper meaning, Bailey refuses to consider the novels’ domestic horrors on their own terms: “In the hands of the best paperback novelists,” he writes, “the haunted house becomes a strikingly versatile metaphor; transcending the glossy clichés of formula, it drags into light the nightmarish tensions of gender, class, and culture hidden at the heart of American life”. Accordingly, Bailey argues that Jackson employs Hill House “as a metaphor for an oppressive patriarchal society”. He reads the novel in light of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an 1892 weird tale in which medically-prescribed home confinement exacerbates rather than cures the female narrator’s mental and emotional woes. Jackson no doubt alludes to Gilman’s story (although Bailey fails to forge any specific intertextual links). Dr. John Montague’s plan to “rent Hill House for three months” starting in late June recalls the doctor named ‘John’ in “The Yellow Wallpaper” who likewise makes a summer rental of a Gothic manse. Montague’s wife comments as she obsesses over the titular wallpaper: It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” Eleanor’s reaction to her blue-wallpapered bedroom at Hill House echoes this; scanning the perimeter of the room, Eleanor ponders:

“It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible length; this is where they want me to sleep, Eleanor thought incredulously; what nightmares are waiting, shadowed, in those high corners—what breath of mindless fear will drift across my mouth.

Yet, just because the two texts parallel each other in some regards does not mean they do so in all. Jackson ultimately appears more interested in the frisson generated by “The Yellow Wallpaper”‘s ambiguities (mental breakdown occurring in a quite-possibly-haunted setting) than in rehearsing an unmistakable feminist critique (during the extended rest cure forced upon her, Gilman’s narrator significantly comes to perceive a female figure trapped behind the wallpaper). Bailey, whose book is representative of the predominant feminist-psychoanalytical approach to Hill House, misses the mark when he targets the patriarchy as the arch-villain of Jackson’s novel. Eleanor’s problems trace back to her relationship with her unpleasant mother, not the father whose absence Eleanor regrets: during her childhood “it had seemed to be summer all the time; she could not remember a winter before her father’s death on a cold wet day”. The textual evidence further contradicts Bailey’s positing of Hill House as “the vast corrupt palace of the patriarchy itself”; with its “concentric circles of rooms” and rounded furniture, Hill House (whose very name suggests female contours) is more overtly figured as a “mother house”. Similarly, Bailey’s ultra-Freudian assertion that Eleanor “ascends the library’s phallic tower in a moment of ‘intoxicating’ sexual union with the patriarchy” overstates the case — in this scene, Eleanor (a character too sexually repressed to engage in wanton union) believes she is chasing after her “Mother”. Sometimes, Bailey should be reminded, a tower is just a tower.

Bailey is not the only horror author to make a nonfiction study of Hill House. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King devotes considerable space to Jackson’s novel, which he lauds as one of the only two (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw being the other) “great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years”. King’s comments are not devoid of error — even as he extols the brilliance of Jackson’s opening paragraph, he flubs the analysis of the lines. Jackson begins: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality, even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within – “. The implication here is that Hill House has been subjected to too much absolute reality, but King misreads the passage and claims that the house “does not exist under conditions of absolute reality; therefore it does not dream; therefore it is not sane”. Also, for all the admirable rigor King demonstrates in mapping out the novel’s various interpretive possibilities, he falls disappointingly short in his commentary by ruling out one particular reading: “the one thing we can be sure of is that there are no actual ghosts in Hill House. None of the four characters come upon the shade of the companion flapping up the hall with a rope burn around her ectoplasmic neck”. This last statement is true enough, yet signals how easily Jackson’s subtlety can mislead — just because the author is not so blunt as to let a ghost manifest front and center in the novel does not mean it is not there haunting Hill House.

King’s denial of a ghostly presence in Hill House represents the fundamental flaw in the literary criticism of Jackson’s novel. Time and again over the past half-century, the strange happenings at Hill House have been explained in either psychological (i.e. as the unconscious projections of the disturbed and telekinetically-gifted Eleanor) or vaguely-supernatural terms (i.e. the house itself has been malevolently-sentient since its construction). Marvin Kaye, in a bibliographical appendix to his anthology, Ghosts, qualifies his inclusion of The Haunting of Hill House, which is “technically a twisted story of haunted people”. Critics Dara Downey and Darryl Jones conversely assert: “The manifestations themselves, their multifarious nature, and the fact that they almost never take visible form, all imply an amorphous malevolent force, without origins or motives”. A closer reading of the novel, though, exposes the limits of such polarized perspectives, which jointly overlook the fact that Jackson has scripted a bona fide ghost story. Lenemaja Friedman is a rare critic who holds that “the reader must accept the possibility of ghosts…all members of the party share in seeing and hearing the same manifestations, which are not the product of any one person’s imagination”. But one can still take another step beyond Friedman’s generic discussion of “the spirits of the house”. For all her crafted ambiguity, Jackson embeds key clues within her text that point to a specific ghost haunting the premises. After fifty years’ worth of confusion, the time has surely come to identify (the origins and motives of) Hill House’s resident revenant.

Joe Nazare
Haunting Anniversary: a half-century of Hill House

Tied to other realms

March 4, 2018

river crossing

For as long as I can remember, I have been tied to what I call other realms. My childhood is filled with amazing yet what many would call unexplainable experiences…hearing voices of those who are not physically present, feeling a presence not physically there and even seeing someone who is but a reflection in appearance. I have even seen those who look so much like a physical person I mistook them for one.

I have had numerous encounters with things beyond this plain of existence yet I still find it difficult to name these experiences. I am extremely reluctant to label myself or to try to define those things that might not have a definition. I have shied away from using the word gifts yet for those of us who are sensitive to these encounters I guess gifts are a good name to use.

I am fascinated by all the experiences I am so fortunate to have. I remember feeling both nervous and excited by the footsteps of those I could not see in my grandmother’s attic. I would eventually leave the comfort and sanctuary of my grandmother’s bed to investigate. As I approached the attic door I did my best to be quiet, to be cautious and not alarm those whose footsteps I could hear. Slowly I reached out my hand and as soon as my fingers touched the delicate doorknob all was silent. Imagine me thinking I could sneak up on ghosts, spirits or magical creatures. It seems humorous to me now however I took it quite seriously then.

Xntric Raven
The Lady on the Stairs

black and gray in the shadows

December 30, 2017

sensuous threat

The first ghost was Iris Lesley, looking as if she had been peeled from a movie screen. She was all silver when the moonlight hit her, black and gray in the shadows. She moved like she hadn’t been in the ground for thirty years, like she was walking a red carpet in diamond slingbacks and McQueen gown. Welch hadn’t been able to look away, thinking the actress was a hallucination. After the knife across a throat . . . After all that blood . . . What might a mind do to erase it?

So Welch didn’t move when Iris Lesley did, allowing her ghostly fingers to stairstep their way up a cheek, into a tangle of hair, across and into a mouth. Iris Lesley was hot and tasted like ash, which didn’t surprise Welch one bit, given she had died in a studio fire that had consumed four blocks before it too died.

E Catherine Tobler
Ghostling

Old fashioned Christmas reads

December 21, 2017