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  • Natural Ghosts April 9, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    These words came from an article in All the Year Round 1869 trying to explain ghosts as problems of sensation. It is unusually well written, and goes into some areas of perception that modern studies don’t deal with: we tend to be obsessed by sight.

    Next to sight, hearing is the sense most frequently imposed on, and no sound is so commonly imagined as the call to a familiar companion. Dr. Johnson fancied he heard his mother call ‘Sam,’ when she was hundred miles away, and was much disappointed when nothing ensued. That call by a familiar voice was a frequent experience of the present writer. It was commonly a home voice, and a loud, clear, and abrupt monosyllabic call. But he has heard the voice of a brother miles away, speaking as from behind his shoulder in a college library, and turned to answer in a voice itself so insensibly subdued to harmony with the impression, as considerably to surprise a fellow student who was standing near. But the delusions of hearing were, in this case, not confined to voices; the sound of opening doors within the bedroom at night, when there was no door opened, and other such tricks on the ear, were also not uncommon, but these (though not the sudden voices, which seemed to be connected with some momentary leap of the blood, as in the sensation that one has sometimes when going to sleep, of falling suddenly with great jolt), were always to be explained by a traceable relation to a thought within the mind.

    Having had a couple of sound illusions over the years Beach is intrigued by this description. He agrees absolutely that sounds can be easily heard in bed: and has frequently thought that door bell rang when it didn’t, either in the gloaming of morning or night. The comparison with the ‘great jolt’ when the body is trying to sleep is exact. The voices being connected to ‘a thought within the mind’ sounds credible, but does not correspond to this blogger’s experience. The author continues:

    Next to hearing, touch is said to be the sense most frequently imposed on; when people have fancied themselves beaten by invisible or visible fiends, and felt considerable pain from it. The present writer can remember in his own ghostly experience but one delusion of the sense of touch. It was associated with delusion of hearing, and repeated nightly for week or ten days.

    Here there is much less to go on. However, one frequent experience described in haunting, is a caressing on the cheek or the body. This must be some sort of neurological short-circuit? There is, of course, too, the sheet being pulled away from the body… As to beating this seems to be culturally determined. There are lots of medieval accounts but no modern ones?  Drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Our author ends with smell and taste on a down-note.

    Sometimes the sense of smell is deceived, as when the spectral sight of a demon is joined to a spectral smell of brimstone. Considering how often people saying that they ‘fancy they smell’ something, one might think play upon this sense to be more common than it is. Least liable to delusion is said to be the sense of taste. Thus, the lunatic mentioned by Sir Walter Scott, fancied his porridge dinner to consist of every delicacy, but complained that everything he ate tasted of porridge.

    Chris from Haunted Ohio Books, 28 Apr 2017: The beatings mentioned in your excellent post on ghosts and the senses have, I believe, been supplanted by “scratches,” at least as far as modern TV ghost-hunting shows are concerned. Instead of “people have fancied themselves beaten by invisible or visible fiends, and felt considerable pain from it,” the scenario runs thus: Ghost hunters in darkened room at (pick one) house reputed to be infested by demons; haunted jail; haunted abandoned lunatic asylum are walking cautiously along when one stops and exclaims, “Something scratched me!”  The shirt is lifted and the videographer focuses in on the scratches (which never seem to be actively bleeding) on the back. It is usually on the back. I can’t recall any other part of the body. Another less-frequent scenario might have a victim–usually a woman–throttled by the ghost, with bruises appearing on her throat. In a recently reported case, the woman displayed fingermarks on her throat–which a vile, irresponsible, and inflammatory “ghost-hunter” had told her were the result of her being attacked by “Jack the Ripper.” I have no idea if these are a type of dematographia or stigmata or if something invisible really is scratching/choking people.[Eleanore Zugun?]  Or if victims are scratching/choking themselves either in a dissociative state or as a hoax. As to the scratches, I sometimes wonder if the heightened sense of awareness that comes from tiptoeing around a darkened, spooky space also heightens pain, so that someone suddenly notices a previous injury.  If by modern, you don’t mind 19th century, the case of the Cure d’ Ars (1786-1859) comes to mind. He was persecuted by a demon he called the “grappin,” which hurled him out of bed, taunted him, and made horrific noises. Not exactly beatings, but physical torment, nonetheless. It may be that there are other examples of beatings in the religious literature. I also seem to recall that in the Phelps/Stratford case, one of the sons was hung, supposedly by malign forces, but was cut down in time. Beatings, scratchings, and prickings were also a feature of a great many witch cases, the victims displaying their wounds to the authorities as proof of the witch’s power. And, of course, you have attacks from the “ghost-panic” entities like Spring-Heeled Jack.