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Thursday, 6 November 2014

de occultis non judicat ecclesia

This  posting I did  in 2011. Some of you may have missed it.  Here is the item again with missing images replaced...so to speak!
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And for those who don’t understand Latin, the title is from a pronouncement stating “The Church has not decided about ghosts and the ghostly”.  After all this time you would think they might have.  Surely, it is fundamental to Christian belief?


    Not being a clergyman I’ll remain puzzled.

    I am one of those sad, depressing people who believe you are born, live and then die.  Finito.  Otherwise, why have none of  those who might want to, in fact who promised to, made a re-appearance after death?  People like Charles Fort [founder, against his wishes, of Forteanism], Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harold T. Wilkins, Arthur Constance or my late colleague Franklyn A. Davin-Wilson who sat down weeks before his untimely death and said to me: ”Terry, after I’m dead, don’t s*** your pants if I pop up in front of you!”

    Every New Years Day at Midnight I toast Franklyn but nothing and if some obstinate old sod was going to return from the dead it would be him!

    The history of the Church is full of accounts of ghosts of all types and there are numerous cases of  poltergeists (one of the most famous British cases, the Lamb Inn will be detailed in a later chapter).  Whereas the Church in general with all its theologians have taken centuries but left it up to individuals to make their minds up,the Catholic Church is another matter.

    Though with all the Press and Media sensationalism over recent years the Catholic Church tends to be less public it takes a fair stance.  As one of the more conservative religions, there is nothing in its teachings or practices that says ghosts can or cannot exist.  In fact,by the very records of Catholicism it seems clear there is every reason to suppose that ghosts do exist.  There is nothing stating that followers of the faith cannot or must not encounter or report ghosts.

    I often feel quite disgusted when I see a priest of any religion on TV,Radio or in printed interviews declaring that “there are no such things as ghosts”.  That is tantamount to stating that there is no belief in Heaven or Hell in their religion…or God.  In which case, there is the admission that the Church has been ripping off its members for centuries. 

    Regarding Ghosts, Poltergeists and the Catholic Church, I would highly recommend Shane Leslie’s Ghost Book [1] –if you can find a copy.  It is really fascinating reading.

   

My personal experience on so called “ghostly matters” are not very spectacular.  Back in 1966/1967,I was living in Dalborn,Germany.  One overcast,slightly drizzly but very oppressive thundery day,along with two of my cousins,I headed for a stream that had become flooded –we had much fun crossing the stream using the trunk of an old tree placed there by someone months before.  We watched as soldiers in trucks drove by and waved but the horrible,smokey brown low cloud made little difference –we were having fun! 
  

 Not far from the stream, in easy view, was an upward sloping path near to a reputedly haunted mill [though we never knew that at the time].  The entire length of the path was covered in an arch of tree branches with the far end allowing in light.  At one point, all three of us turned to look up this path. At the very end of  the path stood a tall, misty grey figure devoid [seemingly] of any facial or clothing features.  The figure moved forward.

    Three kids ran like Hell!

    Of course, in the prevailing weather conditions it is possible any normal person might have seemed grey and featureless.  That would explain it away to my satisfaction.  But why did all three of us turn at the same time and run without speaking to each other?
   

In England, in my grandparents St Werburgh’s home, we had a typical terraced house situation for the mid-1960s.  The old tin bath has on a hook outside the back door for bath nights and the toilet was outside the house.  The row of houses looked out onto Mina Road Park and there was a stream, an off-shoot of the River Frome which ran under houses.  On more than one occasion, while seated in “the throne room” I heard voices quite distinctly, though what exactly was being said I couldn’t tell you.  I was not the only person to hear these voices –my mother dreaded having to use the outside toilet but just said, in a thick German accent “it’s spooky”.
  

 In a small back bedroom over-looking the garden, privy and park,there was definitely something “odd”.  The room had been given over to my mother and father on returning from Germany.  Within the week my mother would not even venture into the room alone and rooms were swapped around.  It is odd but, thinking about it years later, I recall my grand mother never ventured into the room by herself either and never used it for a bedroom.  Two later lodgers did complain about “something wrong” with the room.
   

And so,the two boys were moved into the room.  I was an insomniac even at that young age and on many occasions felt an unknown presence –I did have a waking dream once when I saw the silhouette of a bent over witch complete with pointed hat and threw a shoe at “her”. 


   


On another occasion we were all downstairs and heard very loud banging from upstairs and in the room in question.  My parents and grandparents rushed up to find my older brother quite incoherent on the floor  stating something had thrown him against the wall.  I was ushered downstairs so I could not hear what else was said.  That ended our time in that room.

Only years later, after we had moved out was I told that the little dark room had always had an odd atmosphere.  My mother seemed quite at ease with telling me these things though never in front of my older brother. 
   

Apart from mysterious deposits on cars parked at Greenway Boys School [see Introduction], my time in Southmead was quiet.  Nothing odd.
   
   
Around 1975, we were temporarily living in a caravan park on the outskirts of Ramsgate, Kent, not 2 kilometres from the sea.  Here things became interesting again.  My father got a temporary job at the Hovertel, then not too far from the Ramsgate Hoverport.  Employed there as a bouncer was a man I’ll call “Ted”.  Ted was around 1.9m [6’ 6”] tall, had a thick, bushy moustache and a very notable broken nose.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that this brick-wall of a man had been a paratrooper [possibly a mercenary at one point] and later a policeman.  Not the type of man you wanted to annoy.
    
   

While we were all seated around the bar area one evening, Ted was eating his dish of snails in garlic butter when the manager noted that some crates needed bringing up from the cellars below.  Ted coughed and replied “You know what you can do!”  I pointed out that a big strong lad like him shouldn’t worry about lifting a few boxes and he came back with “I have no concerns about boxes –it’s what’s down there!”
   

We were told how the cellars were linked to old smugglers caves, not unusual around the English coast.  Apparently, the reason Ted and the manager were the only permanent employees (which I always thought was odd) was that the cellars were said to be haunted.  Both men had been in the cellars one night when the temperature dropped suddenly and both men shivered violently.  Nothing unusual in that they thought but then the electric lights started dimming.  Ted was not in the least bit concerned – until both heard deep breathing and voices from out of thin air.  Records were broken getting up the steps.



   


I asked if I could go down the cellars myself but Ted took my arm and whispered in a very deliberate manner: ”You do not want to go down there alone!”.  My father laughed it off (but not to Ted’s face) and lasted a week as a cellarman but would not go back there after something happened in the cellars he would not discuss it.
   

All a bit of an anti-climax for me.  Then, one night, during full Moon when the whole area where we were staying was as visible as in daylight, I saw a shadow and looked upward to see a huge bird gliding silently above me at about 6 metres –and it was a big bird.  Today, considering other “big bird” sightings in the UK at the time, I feel sure this must have been a European Eagle Owl (now breeding in the UK), but at the time it made me jump!




   


When we returned to Bristol we moved into a house in the Knowle area.  Things did tend to go missing but later turned up exactly where you’d looked.
 
   
Occasionally, things “fell” from the wall unit.  I say “fell” though I saw an ornament slide three inches off the shelf before falling straight to the floor.  As there were quite a few of us, I slept on a sofa downstairs watching what TV there was until close down, insomnia still being a problem.  I was lying back looking at the open window when I quite distinctly saw a dark figure move from one doorway, leading upstairs toward the kitchen.  “I didn’t even see you come in” I said,  thinking it was a family member.  But the figure had vanished.
   

My mother’s attitude was  that there might be a ghost in the house but, as she pointed out, dead people can’t hurt you.
   

The funniest incident happened one Christmas.  The living room was decorated out and I had just watched a TV programme about ghosts and the devil with a sister and my younger brother.  “Yeah, right.” I said loudly, ”if there’s a devil let him pop one of the red balloons!”  A red balloon then popped!  I just wished the scene had been preserved by video camera.
   

Without doubt the only place I have felt really frightened in was a house my youngest sister and her partner had moved to in Bath.  The top floor belonged to someone else but the lower two floors was theirs –the bathroom on the lowest level.  The place was spacious and I was really impressed. It was a lovely Summer day and anything odd was far from my mind.
   

At one point I had to answer the “call of nature” and took the steps down to the lower area.  A few feet from the bathroom I said “come on give me a clue –I’m lost!,” I had the strongest feeling that someone was behind me –my sister or her partner.  I turned when there was no reply.  No one was there.  I continued, calling myself a few unprintable names for talking to myself. 
   

However, without warning, and despite every attempt I made to fight it, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was not alone and my heart started pounding.  Anyone who has ever played “tag” in the dark or blind-folded will know the sensation that someone is close to you.  This was over-powering!
   

I stood for several seconds, taking deep breaths and trying to slow my heart beat, at which I succeeded.  I even moved my hand around to see if I could feel a “cold spot” but nothing.  So, I decided that my need for the toilet facilities was far more important.  However, as I got to the bathroom  door I was overcome by an almost unbearable feeling of fear –so intense, in fact, that I started retreating upstairs before deciding I was being an idiot.
   

Again, I moved down the stairs and felt a “presence”.  Again I retreated upstairs. 
   

I said nothing and on my next visit decided that I was not going to be put off from going downstairs by irrational fear.  The same sense of fear was there but in  the length of corridor between the bathroom and the back garden door the sensation was stronger.  I stood for a few minutes before slowly returning upstairs.
   

The only intimation I had that something might be odd was when my sister decided to visit the bathroom and her partner said out loud: ”Oh, she’s going to be brave and go down there alone!”   I let that go.  On the next visit we walked down the stairs to get to the back garden and my sister rushed past the bathroom saying that she was sure it was haunted.  After making a joke I asked why?
   

It seems that an old woman who lived in the house before had drowned herself in the bath.  When I asked at what point she had been told of the death and when she had first felt the sensation the answer was a quick “months after we moved in and
a long time after sensing it”.
   

I did check and, yes,an old woman had drowned in the house and the house had not been easy for people to live in –people had moved in and out.  Whatever the sensation was though, it was not proof of ghosts just a very interesting experience.
   

What I do know is that both my mother and I got “butterflies” in the stomach whenever we drove over a certain point in a road we frequently used.  It was only when I jokingly said “hang on to your stomaches” one day that I discovered she also got the sensation.  A friend in the local water board checked for me and learnt that there was an old underground stream at the point in question.



   
Suicides and breakdowns often increase prior to thunder storms due to changes in the electromagnetic field.  As a child in Germany, and later on in life, everyone knew that if I uncharacteristically fell asleep during the day a storm was on its way.  It was infallible.  As I’ve gotten older I tend not to fall to sleep but get plenty of warning of even unforcasted storms.
   

Even the objects moving might have a natural explanation and there were underground streams in the old St Werburgh’s house.  So,like the Church,I’m still not decided…but I’d dearly love to see a genuine ghost!


[1]      Leslie,Shane,Shane Leslie’s Ghost Book,Hollis & Carter,London,1955

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