'The crypt was large and empty ... I was not alone' Mar 30, 2014 16:28:58 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Mar 30, 2014 16:28:58 GMT -5
Ghost hunt: 'The crypt was large and empty. Then I realized I was not alone'
Some time ago I wrote a flippant article for this newspaper about ghosts, and received a lot of letters urging me to take the matter more seriously. One asked me if I was aware that Nell Gwynne was presently haunting a strip club in Soho. It turns out that such fancies are not uncommon. A new poll tells us that 55 per cent of Britons believe in the supernatural and one in ten think they have a supernatural gift.
The findings make sense. Why wouldn’t people want to believe in ghosts? Doesn’t the thought that the “bump in the night” is more than just the central heating playing up give us all a little thrill? It means that the great adventure of life doesn’t end with death. You’ve got many more years ahead of you of floating about invisible and unhindered. No more long queues at airport check-in for this disembodied soul...
So it was with a determinedly open mind that I agreed to join Dr Ciarán O’Keeffe, a lecturer in parapsychology, on a ghost hunt at Oxford Castle. I was half-hoping that Ciarán might be a tweed-suited fraud who carried around a net for catching invisible pixies. But, actually, he was a serious academic studying the psychological insights that “paranormal phenomenon” might reveal. He’s a sceptic, but a curious and respectful one forever on the lookout for things that can’t be explained by science.
Likewise, Ciarán might have been surprised to meet a journalist who took the matter so seriously. In fact, I was totally in to it. I saw my first ghost at about the age of 10. I awoke in the middle of the night to find a woman in white standing at the far end of my bed. I screamed and screamed; a light went on and the figure disappeared. That’s always the way with the ghosts: they are oddly shy for beings who hang around other people’s bedrooms.
The encounter was scary but not a big surprise. My grandparents were Christian Spiritualists and grandma worked as a professional clairvoyant called Madame Clair, so I grew up surrounded by hocus pocus. As I got older, I learnt to spot bunkum (and bunkum it was), but I always retained a healthy belief that all things are possible.
And that was the attitude that I took to our ghost hunt. I joined Ciarán and his “investigative assistant” Tim Brown from the Paranormal Intelligence Gathering Service on a cold, dark night at Oxford Castle – a medieval fortress turned into a prison. Just the kind of place where things go bump all the time. We started on the top floor: the former staff quarters. Bare iron beds, wooden floorboards, white-washed walls. We wandered around with torches, trying our best to “feel” something in some dark corner. Mostly, I felt silly. Childhood fantasies aside, was it right for a 31-year-old man to spend his evening hunting for spooks with a gift-shop torch? Is it any wonder that I’m single?
But then I did feel something. Something quite odd. I ran back to Ciarán and told him I’d found a room within a room that felt different from the rest. “Well, let’s shut ourselves in it,” he suggested. It was small, cupboard-like, with a thick door and a tiny, barred window. We stood inside in silence and Ciarán asked me what I felt. Desperation. Loneliness. Anguish. Sadness.
“This was an isolation cell, where some of the most dangerous prisoners were isolated,” whispered Ciarán.
“Perhaps I subconsciously guessed that,” I whispered back. “After all, I know it’s a prison, this is a small room, obviously locked from the outside.”
“You’ve got to try not to rationalise things,” Ciarán said. “Just try to feel your way through the building, don’t be too logical. Shall we move on?” He unlocked the door and we slipped out.
We descended into the cells, where the temperature was lower, the rooms darker and the mood more decidedly morbid. We fiddled with a radio, which was designed to pick up any voices in the static between stations. Was that a ghost or was it Nicky Campbell trying to reach us from the dark side of Radio 5 Live?
When that produced nothing, we switched on a tape recorder and took it in turn to ask the spirits questions about themselves. “If there is anyone there could you please reveal yourself to us? What is your name? Were you a soldier? Were you imprisoned here?” I also wanted to know if all dogs go to Heaven, but I didn’t want to ruin the mood by asking.
The strongest emotion that I felt so far was disappointment that nothing serious had happened and slight concern that I might still be doing this sort of camp nonsense in 10 years’ time. So, I was about to call it quits when we made our final, fateful descent into the crypt. That was where I met Mary.
The crypt was large and empty. I found myself a quiet corner, stood there in the pitch black and listened to the silence. And I suddenly found that I was “not alone.” How to describe it? It was similar to the feeling that you might get when your eyes are closed and someone walks into the room. You cannot hear or see them, but you know that they are there. I knew – knew – that standing to my right hand side was a little girl. I couldn’t see her or touch her and she said nothing. But she was there.
I told Ciarán that her name was Mary. Out came all the equipment again: recorders and a sonic device that set off an alarm when there was movement. Ciarán asked if I’d like to communicate with Mary through the Ouija board, but I knew a retired pilot who said that he’d once done this and been haunted by a demon for the rest of his life – so I declined. Instead, we stood around a table, touched it with our fingertips and beckoned Mary to talk.
“It don’t think she wants to,” I said. “It’s not that kind of contact. Mary’s just happy to be here.” And “happy” was the right word. If the isolation cell was full of dread, the mood around Mary was warm and friendly. It took a lot of encouragement to get me to leave.
Was I going mad? Outside in the gift shop, I asked Ciarán to give me a thorough explanation. Here comes the science: “First off, being told that a place is haunted means you’re more likely to have experiences that suggest a haunting ... There’s an added suggestion here at Oxford Castle because you know it’s a prison and immediately that you’re told it’s a prison, there’s everything you associate with prisons. The negativity, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, all those emotions.”
But, said Ciarán, there was something “fascinating” about my experience in the crypt. Psychologically, it made sense that I should feel something: “It is a very calm, peaceful area anyway, so you could be building on that ... But that you [sensed] a little girl in a crypt is very unusual. You’re not going with the stereotypes of the kind of figures who would normally be seen in that location, which is a hooded figure.” Apparently, people see monks down there all the time. But a little girl is unexpected. And then Ciarán delivered the kicker: “Some mediums have, in the past few months, said that they think there is a little girl in the crypt, too.” My fingers tingled with electric excitement. According to the professional, I was right.
But what do I think? First, that I’m an overgrown boy with a very active imagination. But, second, that if I do think I met a ghost then I have every right to do so and it’s a perfectly natural, even healthy, thing to believe. On the train ride home, I reflected upon how our world has become far too prosaic. Faster transport has shrunk the world, science has killed mystery, all of human knowledge is available at the click of a button, even Mars is just a few decades away from being a tourist destination. So, to discover new things we need to look not outwards, but inwards – towards the metaphysical, intangible “somethings” that lend our lives a dash of magic.
For some, that’s God. For others, it’s the unseen universe of ghosts, poltergeists, fairies, vampires, witches and werewolves. All uncluttered by common sense.
It’s not a weird thing to believe in weird things, it’s all part of being human. The British ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and that’s just fine.
Source: Tim Stanley, The Telegraph, March 27, 2014.