Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 12, 2014 13:23:55 GMT -5
What are Ghosts? Inquiring Minds want to Know
The photo above was taken in 1963 by Reverend K. F. Lord of the altar of Church of Christ the Consoler in Newby, North Yorkshire, England. When the film was developed, he noticed what appears to be a shrouded figure to the right. Some say the image is that of a monk, however, the Anglican church was built in 1870 and has no associations with monks or monasteries.
Inquiring Minds. The idea that the energy of life just vanishes into nothingness in death has never been comfortable for us humans – or very logical. Such potent energy must go somewhere: to paradise, perhaps, or the Underworld, or some purgatorial holding pattern, or the interstices between the stars. It must revive secretly on some other side of existence. And there, many have long supposed, the spirits traverse eternity, reaping whatever good or ill they sowed in life.
Such an explanation accounts nicely for what happens to an individual’s life force. But not all energy that has gone on to its postmortem dimension seems content to stay there. Unfinished business, hatred left unquenched, revenge uncompleted, one’s murderer gone free, lost or unrequited love, the need to warn or scare or save one’s survivors – there are so many compelling reasons not to rest that one would expect the ether to teem with souls still not quite decoupled from life. And so they seem to hover about us, occasionally visible, often subtly perceptible, just out of earshot, but nevertheless there, palpable enough to prompt never-quite-answered questions about who they are and what they want.
The questions about the fate of the life force have been asked for thousands of years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, however, it appeared at times that science was on the verge of providing some definitive answers. Energy of all sorts was much on people’s minds then: electrical energy, magnetic energy, how the two transferred back and fort, how energy was transformed into light and heat. Energy never vanished, it seemed, it merely changed forms. So it might be with the energy of life, some scientists speculated: Perhaps life was another manifestation of energy, as indestructible as electricity or sunlight, and as quick to take another form. It made sense and it carried the advantage that the whole business of an afterlife might be viewed objectively, not through the distorting lenses of superstition or metaphysics. And if one could quantify the existence of human energy after the body’s death – ghosts and spirits, as it were – why couldn’t one get in touch with them? Why couldn’t science open a line to the Other Side?
Science and the Supernatural. The idea smacked somewhat of hubris; the science of the time (and of today, for that matter) was as yet ill-equipped to unveil nature’s most closely held secret; the mystery of death and what lies beyond it. Even so, there were pioneers willing to try. And if they fell short, some were equally willing to cloak their efforts in enough pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo to at least confuse the issue. One of these was Franz Anton Mesmer, the 18th-century Austrian physician whose theory of “animal magnetism” – a natural magnetic energy he believed to exist in all living creatures – suggested the possibility of sensing objects and events beyond one’s waking ken. Mesmer was wrong about nearly everything except the technique of hypnotizing, or “mesmerizing” subjects. Still, his incorporation of magnetism into his spiel imparted a certain learned aura to his work and to the otherworldly pranks of a legion of Mesmerists who sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic. Emanuel Swedenborg, a renowned Swedish scientist who was a contemporary of Mesmer, offered a philosophical counterpoint to the Austrian’s mind-bending hocus-pocus. the hidden worlds to which Mesmer claimed to send his hypnotized subjects were familiar ground to Swedenborg, who reported the frequent company of Jesus, a host of spirits, and even god. He framed the afterlife into six spheres of Spiritualism which spirits traversed from the lowest (life on Earth) to the highest (unknowable to us). About equal parts brilliant and deranged, Swedenborg, like Mesmer, helped fertilize the occult ground of what would become, in the 19th century, the Spiritualist movement.
The Good Work. Andrew Jackson Davis, born in 1826 in upstate New York, carried the Mesmer and Swedenborg ideas onward, but mixed with the peculiarities of a frail, miserable boy born to an illiterate zealot of a mother and an alcoholic dad. Davis had a grand facility for falling into trances during which he had visions and visitors. One of them was Galen, an ancient Greek physician, who passed on to Davis a healing staff and steered him toward the business of clairvoyant medicine. Davis did so much to prepare the way for Spiritualism that he has been called the movement’s John the Baptist, and, indeed, he seemed to foresee its advent. “About daylight this morning,” he wrote, on March 31, 1848, “a warm breathing passed over my face and I heard a voice, tender and strong, saying “Brother, the good work has begun ....”
The Fox Sisters. The good work was, in fact, a fraud concocted by two bored girls, Margaretta and Catherine Fox. Living poor in a ramshackle house in Hydesville, New York, 13-year-old Maggie and 12-year-old Kate no doubt found life such a vacuum they felt compelled to fill it. Thus, one night in March 1848, the Fox family was jarred awake by the sounds of knocking powerful enough to shake the flimsy dwelling. They could not find the cause. The next night the ominous racket revived, as it did each night thereafter until March 31 – the day of Davis’ epiphany about the good work beginning – when Mrs. Fox confronted the mysterious sounds. She snapped her fingers and told the sound to reply. It snapped back. The mother asked the entity to rap 10 times and again, it complied. Finally, she asked it to rap out the ages of her six children and it did. Convinced she had made contact with an occult agency of some kind, Mrs. Fox carried the tale out into upstate New York and without really meaning to, she lit the fuse for a metaphysical movement that would sweep the world. The Fox girls became world famous for a time; it was quite some time before their mysterious rappings were traced to their true source: the curious ability of the sisters to pop their toe joints with resounding force. Both Kate and Maggie died in 1892, bloated with alcohol and bleached by despair. They were laid to rest in potter’s field, from which, it is generally supposed, their exhausted spirits never wandered.
But the spiritualistic conflagration they had sparked flared like wildfire. According to one contemporary tally, some 30,000 mediums were at work in America within five years of these first Hydesville rappings. “It came upon them like the smallpox,” one English scholar observed. A carnival of séancés ensued in which spirits, working through mediums, were said to make tables move, produce lights, voices, bells – illusions of every description. In time, most of the mediums were exposed for the frauds they manifestly were. There were a few, however, whose effects could not be explained then, and cannot now, without invoking the supernatural. It was on the gossamer wings of such magic as theirs that Spiritualism really took flight.
Levitations and Luminosities. Daniel Dunglas Home [pronounced Hume] emerged from the Connecticut outback only two years after the Hydesville rappings of 1848. To some, he was a medium with superhuman gifts and even his detractors conceded he must be a magician of a very high order. He thought nothing of scrubbing his face with hot coals, he could elongate his body and he could make himself – as well as heavy tables – levitate weightlessly. Most important, the spirits he summoned arrived with physical attributes and sometimes appeared in their full, luminous form. During one famous séance in London, Home astonished his companions by appearing to exit from one third-floor window, drift through the air outside and then step back through another window. D. D. Home had many critics who thought him both effeminate and fraudulent. But while his performances brought him patrons, Home never charged for his séancés and was never proved to be a trickster. It made him a hard act to follow and, in fact, Spiritualism itself nearly died after he retired; most of his successors were too easily exposed as charlatans.
The White Crow. Indeed, by the end of the 19th century, séancés had become so fraught with elaborate chicanery they were convincing only to the most credulous. Ironically, it was about this time that some of history’s truly remarkable mediums appeared with tools that were not rappings and bogus full-body illusions, but a kind of wise, penetrating psychological connection with the spirit world. Leonora Piper (above), for example, came from a very commonplace Boston background, but seemed to have real psychic powers – a fact attested to by many researchers of the paranormal who investigated her over a number of years. Mrs. Piper’s most famous investigator was the great Harvard psychologist William James, founder of the philosophical system called Pragmatism and also a founder of the American Society for Psychical Research. James was well aware that most mediums were fakes. After studying Mrs. Piper, however, he wrote, “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you must not seek to show that no crows are: It is enough if you prove one single crow to be white. My own white crow is Mrs. Piper. In the trances of this medium, I cannot resist the conviction that knowledge appears which she never gained by ordinary waking use of her eyes and ears and wits.”
Her séancés were as tranquil as sleep. She would sink into a trance that seemed to sever utterly her connection with the world of the living, then meet one of her ghostly spirit guides: an Indian girl named Chlorine, J. S. Bach, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cornelius Vanderbilt, actress Sarah Siddons, a loud, profound French doctor named Phinuit. These and a host of “controls” who came later, would relay messages from the dead, even letting them speak for themselves through the medium. So consistently did Leonora Piper exceed the nominal boundaries of her knowledge, experience and education on these otherworldly excursions that even the most skeptical observer was forced to conclude her powers were real and formidable.
Pearl and Patience. Another medium with seemingly inexplicable powers was Pearl Curran, a thoroughly ordinary St. Louis housewife of no particular gifts until one day in 1913 when, while playing with a Ouija board, her life changed. To Mrs. Curran’s astonishment, the board spelled out this message: “Many months ago I lived. Again I come – Patience Worth is my name.” Patience, who claimed to be a Quaker woman born in 17th century England, was soon dictating lengthy messages through her newfound medium, first with the Ouija board, then directly. The words tumbled out as fast as Mrs. Curran’s husband could write them down, forming themselves over the years into plays, novels and poems that enjoyed a wide readership in the United States. The settings of these works ranged from medieval England to first century Palestine – items and places of which Pearl Curran herself seemed wholly ignorant.
One of Mrs. Curran’s several psychic investigators was Charles Edward Cory of Washington University. Cory had no doubt the medium was honest, but suspected she was suffering from dissociative personality; he believed, in other words, that Patience was a secondary personality that Mrs. Curran had manifested unconsciously to provide an outlet for repressed literary gifts. But another respected investigator disagreed. Walter Franklin Prince, a member of the American Society for Psychical Research, thought Patience constituted “respectable evidence” for the survival of the soul.
Featherweight. How much does the soul weigh? Duncan MacDougall (above), a physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts, posed this question in 1907 and came up with an answer that at least satisfied himself. “If personal continuity after the event of bodily death is a fact,” he wrote, “if the psychic functions continue to exist as a separate individual or personality after the death of brain and body, then such personality can only exist as a space-occupying body.”
MacDougall observed in the publication American Medicine that if the spirit occupies space, “the question arises: Has this substance weight, is it ponderable?” The question echoes the scientific thinking of the time. To explain the behavior of light and other electromagnetic waves, scientists of the Victorian era had hypothesized a substance called ether, which was transparent, weightless and otherwise undetectable but also universally pervasive. MacDougall postulated that the ubiquity of ether made it an unlikely candidate for the stuff of souls, which must be weightless. Ah, but how to take its measure? To the modern ear, MacDougall’s response has a chilling simplicity. The soul could be detected “by weighing a human being in the act of death.” Accordingly, he obtained a bed “arranged on a light framework built upon very delicately balanced platform-beam scales.” MacDougall selected moribund patients exhausted by the rigors of disease, so their deaths would occur with little or no muscular movement.
The first subject was a tubercular man who lasted three hours and 40 minutes. At the moment of death, the beam dropped “with an audible stroke hitting against the lower limiting bar.” MacDougall crowed: “In this case, we certainly have an inexplicable loss of weight of three-fourths of an ounce. Is it the soul substance? How other shall we explain it?” Five more subjects died on MacDougall’s balanced bed, with mixed results. The second lost only half an ounce at death, but moments later this increased to just over an ounce and a half. Number three lost half an ounce at death, and an additional ounce a few minutes later. Number four, a woman in diabetic coma, may have lost three-eights to half an ounce; MacDougall wasn’t sure because “there was a good deal of interference by people opposed to our work.” Number five lost three-eights of an ounce at death very suddenly, as in the first case. The sixth subject died before MacDougall could adjust the scales.
As a man of science, MacDougall knew he needed to verify the lost weight was the departing human soul, not something else. As a control, he carefully executed 15 dogs ranging in weight from 15 to 70 pounds and made his point. The animals gave up no weight at the moment of passage, which was as MacDougall expected, because dogs have no soul. In the end, MacDougall believed he had assayed the human soul as an entity weighing between three-eights of an ounce and one and a half ounces. His results, he wrote, would quantify the fact the soul survived and other proof of an afterlife “worth more than the postulates of all the creeds and all the metaphysical arguments combined.”
Extreme Long Distance. Can we get through to the dead on the telephone? Don’t laugh, it’s been considered. One who gave it some serious thought was no less than that great do-it-yourself handyman Thomas Alva Edison. Even as a boy, Tom was interested in electricity, trying to manipulate pulsations for unreal purposes. Meanwhile, his parents, Sam and Nancy Edison, dabbled in Spiritualism. So it is perhaps not shocking to learn the Wizard of Menlo Park came to believe communication between the living and the dead was possible. After dreaming up a slew of wonderful inventions – an electric lamp, a phonograph, a motion picture projector – he broached a scheme that was right out of the Twilight Zone. Edison announced, in the October 1920 issue of Scientific American, that he had concocted a transcendental telephone scheme. Also, he himself passed into other realms before anything came to fruition and took all knowledge of his spirited intentions with him. this longest of long-distance connections never got off the ground, so to speak, to reach the status of the Wizard’s 1,093 patents.
He wasn’t the only true believer. In the 1950s, some pioneering attempts to record ghostly voices were made. An inquisitive Swede named Freidrich Jungenson detected, in 1959, what has come to be called electronic voice phenomena, or EVP. These are audible intrusions of phantom sounds in recordings. Jurgenson was an opera singer, a painter and filmmaker. One day, while listening to tapes of birdsongs he had recorded near his country house, he heard something else on playback: an unfamiliar Norwegian voice describing the songs of night birds. other recordings brought in other voices. they told Jungenson how to record more voices from the Other Side. Jungenson publicized his experiments in a 1964 book, Voices from the Universe.
The next leap forward was taken by a German psychologist-philosopher, Konstantin Raudive. He became so engaged in the search for EVP that the phantoms came to be called Raudive Voices. According to Raudive and other researchers, the voices usually relay their terse messages ungrammatically and sometimes too cryptically to be easily understood. They may range, says Sarah Estep of the American Association-Electronic Voice Phenomena, from faint, indecipherable whispers to sounds understandable with the help of headphones to messages that are loud and clear without a headset.
One of the most ambitious EVP efforts to date involved Spiritcom, a device designed by a retired engineer, George Meek, and an electronically savvy medium, William O’Neill. Meek and O’Neill claimed to be instructed by a discarnate scientist they called Doc Nick. Designing a Spiritcom is one thing, building such a device is another. No one has succeeded.
Although the living have not been able to develop a telephone line to the Other Side, spirits have reportedly established a central exchange of their own. Sometimes they ring up to say hello, or remember Mom on Mother’s Day, or mark some anniversary. Often the connection is suffused with static and a murmur of ambient voices, like those transatlantic calls of the 1930s. The discarnate may reach out, it seems, but only in the most exceptional cases. When they do, it is always only briefly, a quick communiqué, before their distant voices fade and the line from the Other Side goes ... dead.
Source: Carl A. Posey, Discovery Travel.