Ghost and Hauntings


15/06/12

Summer Calendar - magical fires, evil stars and the return of the dead

Filed under: Ghost Stories — loretta @ 01:26:27 pm

This is the second installment of festivities and traditions in the calendar which have an association with ghosts or magic. I thought that the coming three months of summer would not yield very much but casting further afield there turned out to be a surprising number.

21st June - Midsummer or 23rd June - St John’s Eve - Traditionally midsummer was celebrated on the eve of St John’s although astronomically it falls on the 21st/22nd June. In Scandinavia and countries around the Baltic, bonfires are lit; they have a cleansing quality as celebrants are encouraged to jump over the fires to rid themselves of sin or disease. In Denmark effigies of witches are burned in them. The bonfires had been lit on Midsummer Eve in the UK but the practice was suppressed by the puritans in the 17th century.(2;5)
St John’s Eve is supposedly a witches Sabbath, Mussorgsky’s composition Night on a Bald Mountain is set on this night.
The time is said to be particularly successful for divination, especially love divination, such as baking a dumb cake. This is an unpleasant confection which is made cooperatively and in silence in a ritual which if successful will conjure the wraith of the lady’s future husband. Also on this night if you waited in the church porch at midnight you could watch those who would die in the coming year enter the church. (A tradition also found at All Saints’ and St Mark’s Eve.) (2;3)

22-24 June 2012 - Phi Ta Khon is the ghost festival celebrated in Dan Sai, Loei province in Thailand and is celebrated over three days (sometime between March and June, the date being selected annually). The origins of the festival are ascribed to a tale of Lord Buddha’s last in incarnation as Prince Vessanda when he returned to his city, it was such a joyous return that even the dead joined in the welcome. A colourful, vibrant procession is the central focus of the celebration; young men dress up as spirits in long trailing costumes with hideous masks as a re-enactment of the story. They carry square cow bells around their waists and wield wooden phalluses; mingling among the spectators the fun loving spirits wreak havoc. (4;6)

Late July - Mid August - In the third millennium BC in ancient Mesopotamia, the fifth lunar month of the Sumerians called Abu encompassed a festival of ghosts when the spirits of the dead arose from the Netherworld to return to the living, the duration of which lasted around three weeks. Abu means the mound over the passageway to the netherworld and was sacred to Gilgamesh. The Rites of Abu commemorate and care for the departed and were conducted in the presence of funerary figurines, the festival included a torch lit ceremony for the shades of the dead. A ceremony of exorcism to drive off evil spirits or witches could also be used during this month. (1) The month of Abu fell during the hottest time of the year when there were droughts and plants and animals died. (The association of this month with the dead may be linked to the equivalent Hebrew month of Av which also has three weeks of mourning, ending with a daylight feast.)

3rd July - 11th August - Dog days. The period, in which the Dog Star rises at the same time as the sun, it is believed to be the hottest and most unwholesome time of year. It was regarded as an evil time when malign influences were abroad, dogs ran mad and people became ill. The actual dates are hard to define as they can be calculated on either Sirius or Procyon (the lesser Dog Star) and will vary depending on latitude. The dates most often kept are the 3rd July to the 11th August as used in ancient Rome. (3)
In a quote from Frances Kilvert’s diary, 8th August 1878, Mrs Meredith said she was very ill “‘Tis the dog star” she said “I shall not be better till Saturday when the dog days end. ‘Tis an evil star.” (3)
Though not explicitly referred to, MRJ’s An Episode of Cathedral History appears to have elements of the Dog days in his story.

31st July - Lammas Eve is the night before a church festival celebrating the first harvest of wheat. It is supposed to be another witches Sabbath although most important (often religious) dates in the calendar were associated with such Sabbaths on their eve, perhaps underlining the significance and power of these dates.

17 August - 15 September 2012 - Ghost Month in China and the Far East. (The specific traditions and activities associated with this festival vary across the regions.) On the first day of the seventh lunar month the Gates of Hell are opened to allow ghosts and spirits to visit the world of the living, returning to their families or looking for victims. On this day ancestors are honoured with offerings of food, incense and ‘ghost money’, the day is known as the Hungry Ghost Festival. If the feast is sumptuous enough it can bring luck and will also placate more unpleasant spirits who might cause harm. This is considered a dangerous time when malevolent spirits are looking to capture souls. Not unexpectedly then, it is considered an inauspicious month for travelling, moving house and starting a business. Even swimming should be avoided as many spirits inhabit the water. Taoist and Buddhist priests perform ceremonies to ease the suffering of the dead at this time.(7; 8)
On the last day of the month the gates of Hell close. The chants of the priests let the dead know it is time to return. Water lanterns are set outside people’s homes to light the way back to the underworld, when a lantern goes out it means that a spirit has found its way. (7; 8)

Sources
1. George, A.R., (2003) The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts, Vol 1, Oxford
2. Simpson, J. & Roud S., (2000) Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford
3. Roud, S., (2006) The English Year, London
4. Pee Ta Khon Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pee_Ta_Khon May 2012
5. St John’s Eve Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John’s_Eve May 2012
6. Phi Ta Khon Retrieved from http://www.thaifestivalblogs.com/festivals-of-thailand/phi-ta-khon-festival.html May 2012
7. Ghost Month Retrieved from http://mandarin.about.com/od/festivals/a/ghost_month.htm April 2012
8. Ghost Festival Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival April 2012

14/05/10

May Ghost Festivals - Lemuria

Filed under: Ghost Stories — loretta @ 01:54:43 pm

For 3 (or more) alternate days in May (9th, 11th and 13th) the Ancient Romans practised ceremonies to drive away malevolent spirits the Larvae and Lemures. These were hungry ghosts who returned to torment the living, either because they were wicked people in life or because they had not been afforded a proper burial or funeral rites. The Manes is another name for spirits but these were normally ‘good’, as long as the rites were observed.

Barefooted and at night, the head of the household would snap his fingers and wash his hands 3 times to purify himself. Filling his mouth with black beans which he thre behind himself saying: “I throw away these beans and with them I redeem myself and mine.” The formula was repeated nine times. Having completed the offering, the patriarch again purified his hands. He then struck a brazen instrument. He repeated a ritual phrase nine times: “Paternal manes, go.” As the ritual was now finished, he could safely look behind himself.
By taking food out of his own mouth and then offering this food directly to the Lemures, the Lemures would feel they had received their just due and leave the family in peace for another year. The month of May was seen as unlucky and marriages were forbidden or discouraged.

On the 13th May 609, Pope Boniface IV consectrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. The 13th May later became All Saints Day, probably to Christianize the Lemuria festival. However, in 741 All Saints moved to November 1st (by Pope Gregory III) but the assoiciation of the festival with ghosts remained in the eve of the hallowed day being rife with spirits (31st October).

Some believe that the fixing of the anniversary to the 1st November relates to Christianisation of the Irish autumn feast of ‘Samhain’ or Samonios as it would have been known (http://digitalmedievalist.com/faqs/samain.html). But the Christian church in Ireland was the Celtic Church, with its own distinctive traditions which was not under the direct power of the Roman Church. Also it was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany which makes the Irish connection even less likely. (http://www.churchyear.net/allsaints.html)

In Ireland the 1st November is associated with the harvest and the paying of taxes (in food) to the King. According to Stephen Roud there is a tradition of the boundaries between worlds being broken down at this time - but in the Celtic world this is more likely to refer to fairy folk than to the dead. This is all makes for the origins of Hallowe’en to be very confused but I would like to put forward the idea that it comes from the Lemuria festival, a time when ghosts went abroad and had to be appeased does sound rather like the Hallowe’en tradition. Especially when you consider that beans are still sacred to the dead in Italy, and on November 2nd, All Souls Day, Festa dei Morti, they play an important part in the feast. (At the ancient Greek Necromanteon, Oracle of the Dead, beans were given to the supplicants before they were allowed an audience with the Oracle.)

Some of the beliefs about ghosts in classical times are still with us. The idea that ghosts that haunt are the unhappy dead, because they have not received a decent burial is one that survives to this day. The ghost story told by Pliny the Younger is not so different from stories we are all familiar with today. This translation is from Latin teacher Rose Williams (http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa092998b.htm).

“There was a big house in Athens, with an unsavory and unhealthy reputation. The silence of the night was interrupted by the sound of weapons and chains. First they came from afar, but then they were heard nearby. Soon there appeared a filthy, emaciated old man with scraggly hair and beard. He had chains on his hands and feet.

The residents didn’t sleep very well. Some even died from fear. Eventually the house was empty.

Finally, deserted, it remained quiet. When it was put up for sale no one was interested.

Then one day Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to town. He saw the FOR SALE sign on the house, learned the asking price, and asked a great many other questions.

No one held back on the horrific details, but still the philosopher decided to go ahead and buy the place.

That very evening, his first in the house, Athenodorus took a torch, stylus, and writing tablet to the front of his house. He let the slaves off for the night. Then he determined to keep himself busy writing because, he thought, an idle mind is the devil’s playground.

At first, all was still. Then from afar came the rattling of chains. Stoically, Athenodorus didn’t even bat an eye, but kept on writing. The sounds grew closer and closer.

Soon they were in the cottage….

Then they were in his very room….

At this Athenodorus laid down his stylus and looked up. There was the ghost. It beckoned him with a finger, but Athenodorus just took up his stylus again. When the philosopher heard the chains rattling above his head, he picked up his torch.

Slowly the ghost ambled to the door with Athenodorus close behind. As it reached an open area in the house, the ghost disappeared. Athenodorus grabbed a handy nearby clump of grass and placed it on the spot where the ghost had vanished.

The next day, Athenodorus called the magistrate. In his official capacity, he dug up the spot that had been marked. There they found chains and inside the chains, the bones of a man.

The magistrate gathered the bones for a proper burial. Never was the ghost heard from again.”

01/01/10

Ghosts of Peckham

Filed under: Ghost Stories, Spooky Experiences — loretta @ 09:09:02 pm

I wanted to post a ghost story for the holidays and I was recently reminded of a real haunting that I heard about when young. Back in the 1970’s my mother took a cleaning job in the offices of a local firm on the Queen’s road, Peckham in London. It was a large old house (probably Edwardian or Victorian) of four storeys. My mother frequently took one of my siblings with her as a helper and for companionship as she normally worked late in the evening or early mornings when the offices were unoccupied. It had its creepy corners and a bit of an atmosphere but you could have put that down to it being empty and dark except for a few occurrences which suggest otherwise.

One of my sisters recalled: ‘Ohhhh I didn’t like that [place] especially in the evening…There was a distinctive feeling in that building. It made you frightened. It wasn’t just spooky… There were certain rooms that once finished you wanted to leave them very quickly.’ My brother agreed ‘Once we’d finished a room I never liked going back in it.’ Personally, it felt like you couldn’t be sure a room was empty until the door was opened wide. Sometimes I thought I could see shadows moving from under the door, and wondered if someone was working late but when we went in there was no one. One time someone appeared to move across the floor - but I had only just shut the door after leaving the room.

My sister said: ‘It wasn’t nice in the evening but some occurances were in the early morning too. The room at the top and middle landing being particularly horrible. The feeling in the building made you want to leave; like something didn’t want you in there.’

One evening my sister was coming up the stairs towards my mother, ‘I was on the middle landing and I moved towards her … Suddenly her legs gave way and I said ‘What’s wrong’ she said ‘Oh, its just my legs’ and she didn’t feel well. I was worried because she was acting strange although we carried on cleaning, she seemed a bit distracted. She never said anything until weeks later. She said on the stairs behind me there was a man coming down the stairs and she was so shocked when she realised what it was that her legs just gave way. I think he was wearing period clothes, Victorian or Edwardian.’

On another occasion a man dressed in a top hat and cloak was spotted hanging around the top most landing which let to a single room in the garret.

Early one morning, around 6 o’clock, both my brother and mother had just arrived and as they entered the lobby and removed their coats a hoarse voice called out from above, ‘Who is that? Who is there?’ They were both surprised to hear some ones voice when they expected no one to be there but also a voice they did not recognise, a croaky voice like an old mans. They looked at each other worriedly and searched the building but there was not any one around except for them.

Today the offices have closed and they have been converted into accomodation, I wonder if the current residents have experienced anything ghostly there. My brother commented ‘I never saw any ghosts in B********y …having done countless shifts there,’ then he added nonchalantly ‘…but did hear a few moans and groans!’88|

For more information on ghosts in this part of London please visit http://dulwichonview.org.uk/2009/10/30/scary-monsters-and-super-creepy-stories/

24/12/08

Real Vampires - the bite before Christmas

Filed under: Ghost Stories, Spooky Experiences — loretta @ 12:18:34 pm

My father came from a small village outside Belgrade in Serbia. He told us a story that was well known to the village of an incident that took place within living memory.

The people there believed that the dead could become a vampire if, before burial a cat jumped over the corpse. Marco was not an old man when he died and he was much grieved for by his family and by his boyhood friend, Petronio. They used to play together under a large walnut tree that stood in the centre of the village. They played for hours on the swing that hung from its branches and grew up together like brothers.

Marco was laid out the night before his funeral, surrounded by candles; people came to pay their sorrowful respect. One man was set to watch over him during the perilous night. It grew late and the man grew tired, he fell asleep in the chair for some time. A black cat crept into the room, perhaps startled, it jumped over the body of Marco. The man woke up in time to see it but he decided not to say anything as he had failed in his duty. Nothing might come of it anyway.

They laid Marco’s coffin into the ground the next day, the people unaware of what had gone on the night before. The service was said and they retired to their homes.

That night Petronio was sitting with his family by the fire when he thought he could hear his name, he thought he could hear the sound of his friend’s voice, and he believed the memory of his friend was haunting him and he was sad. But he was not the only one that could hear the voice, when they looked out the window they were very scared. There sitting on the swing under the old walnut tree was Marco, “Petronio. Petronio.” he called “Wont you come and play with me?". Petronio stared out at his friend, terrified. His family gathered up garlic and placed it at the doors and windows. This was not ghost, Marco had become a vampire and had returned to his home. All night he called out “Petronio", the same lonely cry and the swing squeaked and creaked as it rocked back and forth.

The next day the village gathered together and the man responsible for watching over the body confessed that he thought something may have jumped over the corpse. They gathered up garlic and garlic flowers for protection, if it really was the case that Marco was a vampire something would have to be done.

Night came and the figure returned to the tree, calling again and again “Petronio-o, Petronio-o, come and play with me". The whole village hid in doors afraid of the monstrous apparition on the swing, that creaked and groaned throughout the night.

The next day the villagers cut down a young cherry sapling and made it into a stake. They dug up the coffin and inside they found Marco lying peacefully. They thrust the stake into his heart and his eyes opened. It was done and the vampire was no more.

09/12/08

Ghost Story for Christmas - Haunted Tarquinia

Filed under: Ghost Stories, Spooky Experiences — loretta @ 05:58:13 pm

I thought that some of you might like to read a few of the stories I was told when I was growing up. My mother told tales about the ghosts she encountered, some from England and some from her home town in Italy.

She came from a medieval hill village on the west coast of Italy, just north of Rome. It is called Tarquinia and is named after the original Etruscan town that stood there. It is best known for the Etruscan tomb paintings on the edge of the town. It has a very long history and, according to my mother, a lot of ghosts too.

Old Tarquinia

A number of stories relate to one particular residence when my mother was a young woman. The family moved into a first floor apartment, with a large balcony. One afternoon as my grandmother was taking a siesta in her room she became aware of the sound of someone moving around the kitchen. She called out but no one answered. Yet she was quite certain that she could hear someone walking around wearing flip flops. The distinctive flick-flack sound carried on until she went to look, but of course, no one was there.

Later on she asked her daughters who was there that afternoon, why didn’t they reply when she called. They assured her it was none of them, besides they weren’t wearing flip-flops!

The distinctive footsteps were heard on several occasions by other members of the family, normally when the house was quiet and they thought they were on their own.

One day my mother was alone in the flat. She went out to the bathroom, which was reached by walking along the balcony. It was a separate wooden structure and she locked herself in. Within a few minutes she heard a knocking on the wall. She was surprised as she was sure that she was alone. She called out who was it, she would be a minute. No one replied. The knocking, or should I say banging as it was quite load, was persistent and she called out for who ever is was to stop. Maybe one of her brothers had come in and were messing around. The sound grew louder and louder, she was quite scared she was sure she had been alone. The wooden walls shook with the force and she thought the whole thing was going to collapse around her. There was nothing for it, she would have to make a dash for freedom. With the pounding still going on, she threw open the door and without looking round, ran along the balcony back to the safety of the main rooms. Just then her father returned home, he promised he had only arrived then and he never heard anything. They checked together and there was certainly no one outside. The neighbours too said they heard nothing at all, which left my mother askance as she was sure the pounding was so loud and so violent how could anyone not have heard.

Two of my aunts shared a bedroom in the apartment and soon after they had moved in the girls asked if their parents would swap bedrooms. They admitted that they couldn’t get any sleep in there, someone was always walking around. My grandfather laughed and said they must been dreaming, and they were being silly. But eventually my grandparents gave in and swapped rooms with them. It was the middle of summer and quite hot. My grandfather lay there with his legs and arms hanging out the side of the bed to cool down, thinking to himself that there was nothing wrong with the room. Suddenly some one or something clasped his hand. His daughters had been quite right, there was someone in there with them.

The family made enquiries with their neighbours about the previous owners of the apartment. One woman, who had died sometime before, was a spiritualist and carried out regular seances in the flat. Leaving the possibility, according to my mother, that she have raised ’something’ that never went back. As for the footsteps heard in the kitchen, they were told that this woman only ever wore flip flops.

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