Posted in ghosts, religion, Tarot, writing

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Brown lady of Raynham Hall

I had an interesting conversation with a woman on the bus this morning. I’ll call her Carol. Now Carol is a very religious Christian (not sure if she’s the ‘born again’ type or not) who not only attends church every week, she also attends something called ‘Life Group’ which I gather is some kind of Bible study session,  and talks as if it has never occurred to her that there are people in the world who don’t believe what she believes. Maybe it hasn’t.

That’s all fine, people are free to believe whatever they like. Frankly I’m a little surprised she still talks to me since I ‘fessed up about reading Tarot cards. She did seem a little taken aback by that, but nonetheless we get along very well and she’s a very nice person.

So this morning, I was more than a little surprised to hear her laugh at the idea of spirits or ghosts. Recently her own mother took in an elderly lady (let’s call her Milly). Milly is a cousin of Carol’s mother’s husband (with me so far?), somewhere around 97-years-old,  is quite frail, nearly blind, and could no longer live on her own. Milly started insisting she could see people in party dresses of all different colors who were there to visit her, and could also see members of her family (her mother, father, and a sister who I assume are all deceased).

Carol thought this was hilarious, but she played along, asking what color dresses the people were wearing, and who she was pointing at and so on. She asked if the people in the colorful dresses were going to a wedding, and Milly replied that no, they were there to see her.

I said how surprised I was that she, as a religious person, would scoff at the idea of spirits, or visitations. I mean, if you’re going to believe in Heaven, and people rising from the dead, how much of a stretch is it to believe some people can see spirits?

When my own mother was in the hospital for the final time before she died, she kept asking who the woman was who was sitting on the chair in her room. She said it was an Asian woman, who never spoke, but she saw her on several occasions. Mom was pretty sharp, right up to the end. She had many other incidents over the years that she attributed to her guardian angel (she once swore she found herself going the wrong way on the road, and the car was lifted up, turned around and set back down so she was facing the right way. I wasn’t there, I couldn’t say what did or did not happen). She also had a near-death experience many years ago when she had a heart attack. It wasn’t pretty.  She found herself floating down a long dark tunnel, until a voice said, “It’s not time, bring her back up.” At that point she said she felt a hand on each elbow (I think she said she saw a figure on each side of her) and she was lifted back up and woke up in the hospital.  I wish I had written down more of these incidents that she told me about. Mom was a Norwegian Lutheran who hadn’t actually attended church since she first got married, but she was strong believer in the Christian God and Jesus just the same.

I have heard this “phenomenon” of seeing people, or an individual, when death is close, is relatively common. Children have been reported to see the same woman, many of whom have called her by the same name (Bridget?). So I was very surprised that a person of such deep religious conviction would be so skeptical about something like this.

So, what do you think? Does seeing ghosts or spirits dovetail with belief in an afterlife, or is that too ‘New Age-y” for a traditional Christian?

Posted in ghosts, Vampires, writing

Sort it out

“You can piss your whole life away trying out who you might be. It’s when you’ve worked out who you are that you can really start to live.” — John Mitchell, Being Human

 

beinghuman203
Aidan Turner as John Mitchell

I think I’m still sorting myself out.

Posted in ghosts, Holidays, horror, writing

An Obol for Charon

(Before anyone freaks out, I’m not planning to stick a gun barrel in my mouth and eat a bullet.) Thanksgiving is officially over. We did the big dinner at my house today due to conflicting work schedules, but at last that little bit of mania is behind me. I find myself wishing that was an end to the holiday season, but for most people it was the starting bell. Now comes the season of unfettered buying and people digging themselves in credit holes so deep the only way out is to pay Charon to take you across the Acheron.

Charon and Psyche
Charon and Psyche by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

Christmas lights started going up on houses in my neighborhood right after Halloween (possibly Halloween night, no doubt a knee-jerk reaction to that most pagan of holidays). I never put lights up that early, but I used to get very excited about Christmas and actually enjoyed seeing all the displays. The sight of strings of lights decorating houses and businesses used to instantly transport me, like fairy magic, out of the mundane world of work and chores, and for that brief time I felt happier. Then a few years ago I realized, with some dismay,  that didn’t happen anymore. Whether people had lights up or not made no difference. I was completely unmoved by the strands and webs of twinkling white or multi-colored lights. Even elaborate animated displays couldn’t touch my spirit. Ditto beautifully wrapped packages. Christmas shopping was just another chore on the list. Suffice it to say, I had, and continue to have, zero Christmas spirit.

Now, some of you may be asking if this shift occurred when I left Christianity and embraced paganism. It’s not that easy. Pagans love a good party, and the Yule season is full of them. Most Christmas traditions (holly and ivy, the Yule log, decorating trees, wassail, exchanging gifts) are all pagan in origin. If anything, that should have given me a lift. The only thing that did seem to stick with me and cheer me at all was the music. And I don’t mean Feliz Navidad or Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, either of those was about enough to send me straight to Hades. I started collecting classical and obscure Christmas music, some of it so beautiful I didn’t confine listening to it to just December. I’d bust it out in July if I felt like it. Not so now.

It took a long time, but this year I realized what sucked the life out of this season. I understand now why there are so many more suicides during the Christmas season. For people with no close family, it can be almost unendurable. Sure, I have some family, but the ones who live close by have little interest in the things that make the season special – spending time together, carrying on traditions. It can be a very lonely time. I miss my parents, both long gone now. I miss my sisters. They’re all still alive, but we’re scattered, and in some cases estranged (for good reason). Even if we were together now it wouldn’t be the same.  It seems to get worse with every passing year. I remember my mother feeling the same, while still encouraging me to try to hang onto that merriness as I decorated the house.  I suppose there’s no way to get back the innocent joy of the season. Part of it is a lack of roots. I feel like I don’t really belong anywhere. No matter where I go and what I do now, it’s new. I am longing for that sense of familiarity, of history. I’m not sure I could even recapture it if I were to move back to my childhood home in New England. I have vivid memories of winter in Massachusetts, of parents driving to school in snow, of sliding down snowy hills on our butts on our walk to school, ice skating on homemade rinks of timbers and water-filled plastic in a neighbor’s backyard, and infrequently on Lake Quannapowitt (I understand this is no longer possible. I have been told recently that the lake has not frozen over in over ten years).

photo by Lawrence Colleran

There’s a sense of being out of time, out of place. I suppose I’m haunted by my own ghosts of Christmases Past. Instead of trying to ‘cheer up’ I think I’m going to go with it and write a Christmas ghost story. Watch this space.

 

Posted in books, ghosts, hauntings, horror, writing

Book Review (spoiler-free) – HARBOR, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

One of the lovely benefits I’ve discovered of being on Twitter is the opportunity to get free books! A few months ago, a note went out from Tor Books that St. Martin’s Press had ARCs of the forthcoming novel by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead) to give out to the first 65 people to email them. Score! I was quick enough to nab one. The photo is the uncorrected ARC I received, no doubt the final edition will look somewhat different, and today is the U.S. release date.

Harbor - Lindqvist

I had read Let the Right One In and enjoyed it a great deal, but Harbor really showcases Lindqvist’s talent. It’s a big development in style, we get more inside the characters’ heads, hear their musings and ruminations on life, how they got from point A to point B. The story is told in both current setting and via flashbacks, alternating between the two, ably using the flashbacks to draw detailed portraits of the characters and set up the story, avoiding the “As you know, Bob” infodumps in the present. Flashbacks are usually discouraged for writers, and at first I was a little confused until I realized what he was doing (no reflection on Lindqvist or his writing, I can be a little slow at times), but on the whole I liked the structure, and I would say Lindqvist handles the technique well. If he had simply written the story in a linear fashion I don’t think he could have really gotten around the infodump issue. There’s a lot of history of the people and the location that is revealed slowly, as more pieces of the puzzle drop into place. The incident around which the entire book turns only makes up a small slice of time, which would have been a lot of build-up with little action or could have felt really disjointed.

Lindqvist’s characters are multi-layered, no one is entirely what they seem, and they all have definite motives for their actions and behaviors. The writing is beautiful, and I am only sorry that the book is classified as “horror” because it will likely keep many people who don’t read in the genre from picking up this wonderful author. There is actually minimal gore in the story, so if gore isn’t your thing you could probably skim over those bits without losing too much of the story. There’s an understated supernatural element that drives the events, it’s more creepy than horrific in that sense. I loved the portrait of this island and its inhabitants, normal people going about their lives with this extra dimension guiding them. The ending had a Lovecraftian feel to it, which is all I’ll say about that. But you may never look at the sea the same way again. I’m still letting this book sink in and settle.

Land and sea.

We may think of them as opposites; as complements. But there is a difference in how we think of them; the sea, and the land.

If we are walking around in a forest, a meadow or a town, we see our surroundings as being made up of individual elements. There are this many different kinds of trees in varying sizes, those buildings, these streets. The meadow, the flowers, the bushes. Our gaze lingers on details, and if we are standing in a forest in the autumn, we become tongue-tied if we try to describe the richness around us. All this exists on land.

But the sea. The sea is something completely different. The sea is one.

We may note the shifting moods of the sea. What the sea looks like when the wind is blowing, how the sea plays with the light, how it rises and falls. But still it is always the sea we are talking about. We have given different parts of the sea different names for navigation and identification, but if we are standing before the sea, there is only one whole. The sea.

If we are taken so far out in a small boat that no land is visible in any direction, we may catch sight of the sea. It is not a pleasant experience. The sea is a god, an unseeing, unhearing deity that surrounds us and has all imaginable power over us. That’s just the way it is. The sea knows no limits, makes no concessions. It has given us everything and it can take everything away from us.

To other gods we send our prayers: Protect us from the sea.

I know I’ll be re-reading this one.

(Winner of the giveaway contest for a copy of the book will be announced later today.)

Posted in ghosts, writing

In Celebration of Writers

As you guys know, I like to celebrate writers’ birthdays. Usually the dates sneak up on me and I end up putting together a very short blog post about them to commemorate their birth. I’ve looked online before for comprehensive lists of authors’ birthdays, but never managed to find one I liked. I was going to start one of my own, but a last search today finally brought up what I think is probably the best one I’ve found. Library Booklists and Bibliographies has an extensive listing of authors’ dates of birth, arranged by month, and then by day. They also have some other very intriguing lists: Fiction Set in Maine, Drowned Towns in Fiction, Golf in Crime Fiction, the amusing-sounding Murder By Toaster: Mysteries With Surprisingly Lethal Weapons, among others. Interestingly, I’ve been working on a short story that features a drowned town. Hopefully now I can do something for some of my favorite authors’ birthdays in time to write up slightly better tributes to them. Anyway, take a look. There’s lots of good information that could spark something.

As it happens, today is the birthday of not only Edward St. John Gorey, godfather of goth, with his Gashleycrumb Tinies, but also poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. In keeping with the sometimes ghoulish feel of my blog, I chose this poem of Ms. Millay’s to share with you:

The Little Ghost

I knew her for a little ghost
That in my garden walked;
The wall is high—higher than most—
And the green gate was locked.

And yet I did not think of that
Till after she was gone—
I knew her by the broad white hat,
All ruffled, she had on.

By the dear ruffles round her feet,
By her small hands that hung
In their lace mitts, austere and sweet,
Her gown’s white folds among.

I watched to see if she would stay,
What she would do—and oh!
She looked as if she liked the way
I let my garden grow!

She bent above my favourite mint
With conscious garden grace,
She smiled and smiled—there was no hint
Of sadness in her face.

She held her gown on either side
To let her slippers show,
And up the walk she went with pride,
The way great ladies go.

And where the wall is built in new
And is of ivy bare
She paused—then opened and passed through
A gate that once was there.

Posted in ghosts, Halloween, hauntings, horror, Portland, writing

Build Your Own Cemetery!

When I was a kid, there was a house in town that did a Christmas display that would have rivaled Disney. I’m talking a working carousel that carried 3’ tall elf dolls, a working ski lift/skyride that more of these dolls rode in, and loads of other things all over the yard. Sadly, vandals finally did so much damage the owner finally gave up. Terrible shame.

But this. This is unbelievable. A co-worker who shares my love of Halloween told me about this today after seeing my former cube all decked out (I didn’t bother decorating the one I actually sit in). The Davis Graveyard in Milwaukie, Oregon is not a cemetery at all. This is someone’s home.

pic1

No foolin’, this is for realz. Somehow I have missed this annual spectacle of the macabre, even though they’ve been covered on the news numerous times, and have apparently won all kinds of awards. From the home page click on the Gallery, and take a look at some of the past years’ displays, as well as this year’s.  The decorations are up for a full month, the rest of the year it’s probably a normal suburban house. They seem to make most of the props themselves and during the summer the owners offer reasonably priced classes to make your own corpses, gravestones, etc.  I’m in awe. Most nights it’s just the display, but at least 3 nights also includes sound effects. Like driving past Christmas lights, only better! Check out the Links page, too. They have an impressive collection of links to others who did this, as well as annual haunting convention (yes, there is such a thing), known logically enough as HAuNTCon. Be still my heart!

Here’s a pic of my little decorations at work. Kind of pales by comparison. There’s more, but it’s hard to photograph a cube. The Skull o’ Cookies did make a return appearance today, to much acclaim.

Halloween 001

Posted in ghosts, hauntings, horror, music, writing

Music for the Goth In All of Us

For those who enjoy some mood music to set their scenes, whether in real life or to help us conjure our fictional fog-shrouded moors and darkly lit dungeons and castles, I have two new tasty morsels for you to choose from.

Heavenly Creatures Heavenly Creatures is gothic electronica from France. Oo la la, c’est magnifique! The homepage is like visiting an ancient catacomb, with dripping water sounds and subdued ghostly wailing (or is that only the wind?).  You can hear excerpts of the album on their site. I have to admit I liked some of the tracks better than others. For instance, the track titled “Le Chat du Cimetière has an almost comedic, cinematical feel to it. I could picture a humorous scene with a mime and a cat in a cemetery. The rest of the tracks are more atmospheric. It’s strictly music, no spoken word at all as far as I could tell. Some of the background effects, the sound of dripping water are evocative and creepy. Track 8, La Vieille, kind of loses it with the accordion, it’s a little too Parisian street scene to be what I’d call ‘gothic.’ Many of the tracks feature harp, violins, and an ethereal chorus. Shall we call it “Goth Chic”? Hint: click the words “Dark Ambient and Electronic Music” at the top to spin the figures and see the second image.

Diminished 7Next is another entry in what is sometimes called “love metal” (a la HIM), or dark metal, but still with the gothic feel to it. If you need something a little edgier but still in the gothic vein this might be what you’re looking for. At the moment,  Diminished 7 seems to consist only of the band’s founder, Alex Crescioni on vocals, and a drummer, Chase Breckenden. Despite that, there are several tracks available to listen to on the MySpace site. I’m not sure how, but Alex found me on Twitter and ‘followed’ me, which is how I found him (good marketing tactic, Alex, it worked 😉 ). I’m liking what he’s got out so far, and look forward to hearing more when he gets a full band together. He’s also on Facebook (which makes me wonder if he knows there’s another band on Facebook with the same name, who appear to be a country/folk group out of Austin, Texas). On his MySpace page, Alex has posted a blog of what not to say when applying to a professional band, an actual letter he received for the position of guitarist. Can I just say, “Tooooooooo many drugs!”

Posted in books, ghosts, Vampires, writing

Dark Crafts

It’s not what you think.

Ok, yes, I am drawn to the dark side of the Craft, but this is crafts, lower-case ‘c’. Did you know about these? In all my searching for books on crochet and amigurumi patterns I never ran across these, until today.

If, like me, you’ve had enough of crochet dishcloths and ugly scarves (seriously, who comes up with some of those patterns?) it’s time to look to the dark side for some new inspiration.

First up: AntiCraft: Knitting, Beading and Stitching for the Slightly Sinister! Oh boy, this looks fun! AntiCraftIf you have any young people in your life, a budding anarchist perhaps (or just a strange friend), there could be something gift-worthy here. The table of contents lists such intriguingly titled projects as “Gothic Glam Yule Hat,” and “Belladonna Sleeves” in the knitting section, and “Brier Rose” and “Carrion” for the crocheters, along with “Dungeon Decor.” I don’t actually have a dungeon, but my cube at work is always fair game for some freaky decor. It’s good for my co-workers: think how grateful they’ll be that they don’t have to live with me. The last section has chainmail, and beading, among other things.

Then there’s little morsel:

Vampires, and Grim Reapers, and Cthulhu’s! There’s a ghostly bride and groom, robots, Vikings, ninjas, zombies, aliens. Not sure what’s up with the little monkey on the front cover, though. How cute are these? If I start now I could have a whole graveyard full of little ghosties and Deaths on my desk by Halloween. Interspersed with a few skulls and ravens, it’d be a nice antidote to the overabundance of coma-inducing sugary decor so favored by some of my co-workers. How many cutesy “Kittens” calendars are allowed in one building? Anybody know?

And some day I will have to come up with a pattern for an amigurumi raven. If anyone has one, please send it along.

And EEEEEK!!! This one’s not even out yet, which is a shame, considering how long it takes me to make stuff. I’m pre-ordering this one, it’s due to be published September 7.

You know, I think this is even giving me an idea for a story… That settles it, I MUST have it.

Posted in ghosts, Halloween, hauntings, writing

Ghostly Roads and Haunted Locales

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It’s that time of year when everyone is trotting out stories of ghosts and hauntings. So let’s join in the fun.

Digital City has an article listing ten of the creepiest roads in America, reportedly haunted by everything from ghostly children to spectral dogs, Civil War soldiers to star-crossed lovers. Check out the ghostly locales at Unexplained Happenings on America’s Creepiest Roads. I’ve seen some of these dramatized on various tv shows over the years, specifically the one in Texas where the cars roll themselves off the train tracks and tiny, child-sized handprints are found on the powder-coated bumper after the fact.

There is another article on the sidebar, which purports to be about haunted houses. Fair warning: It’s mostly about fun house attractions, although it does cover the Winchester Mystery House in Santa Clara, CA. I’ve been to that, and it is indeed a bizarre place. The rest of the “haunted houses” in the article are tourist attractions, complete with actors and animatronics.

Ghost cams are fun, too. There are scads of them all over the Web. A quick search on Google brought up 140,000 hits. Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana, seems to be capitalizing on their resident ghost, the Grey Lady. They offer ghost tours, and she’s been seen so often she’s considered part of the staff. Luckily, whoever she is, she is not out to do harm. She seems to like to make her presence known, but beyond that folks are left alone to go about their business.

Even a local theater here in the town I live in is purported to be haunted, and was staked out over the summer by a professional ghost hunting team:

IPRG, which itself has allied teams in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Germany, is recognized by The Atlantic Paranormal Society. TAPS, for fans of events that defy scientific explanation, is the group behind the Ghost Hunters show on the Syfy network.

They got a little bit of weirdness, rapid temperature changes, and some EVPs (electronic voice phenomena). I must head down there sometime to see if I can have my own ghostly encounter. It seems to be a very active ghost, or ghosts.

Other local ghost hangouts are a haunted hall at a local university, and the McMenamins Grand Lodge, both in Forest Grove. McMenamins is a local chain of brewpubs which specialize in buying up interesting properties and converting them to bars and theaters. They serve their only own beers and wines (although full bars offer everything else). I’ve been to the Grand Lodge many times and have yet to have an paranormal encounter, darn the luck.