Post by Graveyardbride on Sept 27, 2013 15:30:16 GMT -5
Spectral Armies and Battles
There is a long tradition from a variety of different cultures of phantom battles in the sky and ghostly marching armies appearing before bewildered witnesses. These apparitions are predominantly seen or heard at the site of former, or sometimes future, battles. The Bible contains a number of examples of spectral armies assisting the Israelites in times of need and such phantoms are also described as having been witnessed during the Maccabee Wars (169 to 166 BC) in ancient Judea and before the fall of Jerusalem in Titus in AD 70.
A well-known account of a spectral battle is featured in the Description of Greece, written in the 2nd century AD by Greek geographer and “travel writer” Pausanias. While describing the villagers living near the plan of Marathon, north of Athens, where the Athenians had defeated the Persians in 490 BC, Pausanias writes: “Here every night you can hear the noise of whinnying horses and men fighting.” Though the Greek chronicler does not mention if anything was actually seen, this brief description is a blueprint for stories of phantom armies haunting battlefields, which have appeared through the centuries.
In The City of God, St. Augustine (AD 354-430) discusses the case of a phantom battle between “evil spirits” on a plain in Campania in southern Italy: “These evil spirits ... were seen in a wide plain in Campania rehearsing among themselves the battle which shortly after took place there with great bloodshed between the armies of Rome ... at first there were heard loud crashing noises, and afterwards many reported that they had seen for some days together two armies engaged. And when this battle ceased, they found the ground all indented with just such footprints of men and horses as a great conflict would leave.”
This report is notable for the fact the spectral battle actually fulfills the function of an omen, as the battle depicted by the spirits had not yet occurred. During the medieval period in Europe, the ghostly battle, along with the majority of other types of apparitions, was given a religious interpretation. A particularly singular account is mentioned in R. C. Finucane’s authoritative Appearances of the Dead, a Cultural History of Ghosts (1982). The report dates from the 12th century and involvs the apparition of a Spanish soldier named Sancho, who had fought for Alphonso II (1152-1196), at Castile. The soldier had been dead four months when his spirit appeared naked “except for a slight covering upon his shameful parts,” to his old lord one night while the latter was in bed. Sancho informed his former master that he was on his way to Castile with a vast army of the dead to perform penance for sins committed there. The specter also claimed his lord’s wife had an unpaid debt to him, which he now asked be donated to the poor. After further discourse, Sancho was summoned back to the phantom army by another dead soldier, who was also naked and who stood at the window, until apparitions vanished. Apart from the need to make amends for war crimes, the function of this slightly bizarre tale is linked to another extremely common motif in medieval tales of the returning dead, that of the request for prayers, psalms and masses to ease the sufferings of purgatory.
The first battle of the English Civil War took place at Edgehill in Warwickshire October 23, 1642. Three months after the bloody encounter, in January 1643, a pamphlet appeared entitled A Great Wonder in Heaven, which described how on a series of weekends around the previous Christmas, there had occurred the apparition and noise of a battle in the air, a phantom re-enactment of the conflict which, two months before, had taken place on the adjacent fields at Edgehill between the forces of the King and Parliament. Although the outcome of the actual battle of Edgehill was inconclusive, in the visions, the Royalists were defeated. Reports of the phantom battle eventually reached King Charles, then staying at Oxford, who sent six trustworthy emissaries to investigate the claims. According to the pamphlet, these six gentlemen also witnessed the phenomenon and even recognized several of the slain soldiers. The pamphlet concludes with: “What this doeth portend, God only Knoweth, and Time will perhaps discover; but doubtlessly it is a sign of His wrath against this land for these civil wars, which may He in His good time finish, and send a sudden peace between his Majestie and Parliament.”
A number of pamphlets were published during the Civil War spouting propaganda for both the Crown and Parliament and though the Edgehill account supports neither side, it can be viewed as a general warning concerning Divine punishment for wrongdoing, much in the same vein as accounts of apparitions during the medieval period were utilized for religious purposes. As the pamphlet seems to be the origin of the Edgehill phantom battle, later sightings of spectral armies in the area must be viewed with some suspicion. Since the 17th century, there have been one or two reports by local inhabitants who have claimed to hear what they believed were noises of fighting amines, usually around the time of the anniversary of the battle and there have also been occasional sightings of individual ghosts on horseback, thought to have a connection to the conflict. Similar stories of phantom battalions were told after another Civil War battle at Naseby in Northamptonshire, fought June 14, 1645.
An intriguing phantom army story from Souther Fell, in the Lake District of northwestern England, was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1747: “On Midsummer-eve, 1735, Wm. Lancaster’s servant related that he saw the east side of Souther-Fell, towards the top, covered with a regular marching army for above an hour together; he said they consisted of distinct bodies of troops, which appeared to proceed from an eminence in the north end, and marched over a nitch in the top, but as no other person in the neighborhood had seen the like, he was discredited and laughed at. Two years after, on Midsummer-eve also, betwixt the hours of eight and nine, Wm. Lancaster himself imagined that several gentlemen were following their horses at a distance, as if they had been hunting ... about ten minutes after ... they appeared to be mounted, and a vast army following, five in rank, crowding over at the same place, where the servant said he saw them two years before.” The phenomenon was not witnessed again for another decade, on the Mid summer Eve before the Scottish Rebellion of 1745. On this occasion, about 26 people witnessed the spectacle, some being so convinced it was a real army that they climbed the mountainside the following morning in search of hoof prints, which they never found. William Lancaster himself never believed what he saw could have been a real army due to the difficulty of the terrain and the vast number of troops witnessed. Some years later, local villagers became convinced the apparition had been a sign of the coming Rebellion. One popular explanation is that the ghostly army of Souther Fell was caused by an optical illusion and indeed, the Lake District is known for producing mirages caused by reflection. Though some may wonder how such a mirage produced a phantom army, such a supernatural interpretation by the witnesses has a long tradition and connects ghostly marching armies and spectral battles to tales of the Wild Hunt. Indeed, when William Lancaster first saw the apparition on Souther Fell, he thought the men appeared “as if they had been hunting.”
The fierce battles of America’s Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, have produced a number of phantom battle stories. The most haunted battlefield of the campaign would appear to be the site of the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from July 1 to July 3, 1863. As is par for the course with the phantom battle motif, witnesses have reported the sounds of marching armies, gunfire, shouting and the agonizing cries of the injured and dying. Some have even claimed to have seen the bodies of dead soldiers littering the battlefield. A large granite formation known as “Devil’s Den” was the site of particularly ferocious fighting and has gained a reputation through the years as an especially haunted spot. In this location and several others around the battlefield, tourists have reported mysteriously malfunctioning cameras and attributed this to the influence of the specters of men who died in battle. Various buildings in the town of Gettysburg have their own tales of the supernatural. A particularly sad haunting is that of the Jennie Wade House and Museum. On the morning of July 3, 1863, 20-year-old Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade, was baking bread in the kitchen of her sister’s house when a sharpshooter’s bullet ripped through the wooden doors and hit her in the back, killing her instantly. Jennie Wade is the only documented civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg and the spirit of the unfortunate girl is said to wander the rooms of the house to this day. Why the Battle of Gettysburg in particular should be the site of so many ghostly tales is perhaps best explained by the fact the battle was the bloodiest of the War, with more than 45,000 casualties.
Another 19th century battle in the United States that has produced its fair share of phantoms took place June 25-26, 1876, along a ridge above the Little Bighorn River in Montana. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, was fought between a combined force of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian warriors and the 7th Calvary of the United States Army, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. More than 250 soldiers were killed in the battle, including Custer’s entire detachment of 200 men. Paranormal phenomena reported from what is now the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument include charging warriors on horseback, phantom skirmishes between soldiers and braves, spook lights and the apparition of General Custer himself.
A 20th century account from the ancient city of York in northern England is probably one of the best known phantom army stories. The report involves an 18-year-old apprentice plumber named Harry Martindale, who, in 1953, was working in the basement of the Treasurer’s House, a building dating from the medieval period which had been constructed over the site of an old Roman road. While he was in the process of installing a heating system, Martindale claimed to have heard the sound of a trumpet or horn before he saw Roman soldiers stepping from a wall, marching across the floor and disappearing through the opposite wall. The soldiers, some of whom were on horseback, wore helmets and carried round shields, lances and short swords. Despite being awestruck by the site, Martindale was able to note a few details, including the tired and unkempt appearance of the men, their red-painted round shields and the fact they were visible only from the knees up. The latter point has convinced some paranormal researchers that because the level of the Roman road was below the basement, the solders were only partly visible because they were walking on that ancient surface. Martindale was apparently in shock and bedridden for two weeks after witnessing the strange apparition and was made fun of when he told his friends, though he has become somewhat of a local celebrity in more recent years and sticks to his story of the spectral Roman legion. Those sceptical of Martindale’s story have noted the incident occurred in the 1950s when Hollywood “sword and sandals” epic movies were extremely popular and it was from such films that the vast majority of people obtained their information regarding the appearance of Roman soldiers. Doubters question how Martindale knew what he was seeing was a Roman legion if not from such Hollywood depictions. It is also interesting that he noted the arrival of the phantom troopers was signalled by a horn or trumpet, as this is often the case with stories of the Wild Hunt. In the tale “Hackelburg, the Wild Huntsman,” included in The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, “the terrifying echo of the hunting horn” signals the arrival of the ghostly huntsman and his spectral hounds. In the tale “Hans Jagenteufel,” from the same volume, a woman out gathering acorns in a forest hears the loud blast of a hunting horn and turns around to see a headless man wearing a long grey coat astride a grey horse.
One point that stands out about many phantom army stories is that, apart from their function as an illustration of the general opinion regarding those who have died a violent death, they seem to be relatively pointless. One of the various paranormal explanations for the appearance of spectral armies and battles is that the extreme emotions experienced during battles, such as excruciating pain, agonizing death and psychological trauma, somehow remain in the atmosphere around the location of the battle, to be replayed under certain circumstances. Although some witnesses believe they have seen a phantom rerun of the actual battle, or even the wandering spirits of the victims, one important element shared by the majority of phantom battle stories is their resemblance to tales of the Wild Hunt. Writing around 1190 in De nugis curilium (“Courtiers’ Trifles”) English author Walter Map describes the “nocturnal companies and squadrons” of the “Herlethingus,” named for the mythical King Herla, the leader of the Hunt: “This household of Herlethingus was last seen in the marches of Wales and Hereford in the first year of the reign of Henry II, about noonday: they travelled as we do, with carts and sumpter horses, pack-saddles and panniers, hawks and hounds, and a concourse of men and women ... Those who saw them first raised the whole country against them with horns and shouts, and ... because they were unable to wring a word from them by addressing them, made ready to extort an answer with their weapons. They, however, rose up into the air and vanished on a sudden.”
The similarities between spectral armies and Map’s description of the Wild Hunt are obvious and in European tradition, there was a strong connection between the two forms of aerial procession. In northern Europe, the Wild Hunt tradition would seem to be the beginnings of the motif of the spectral host in the sky. It is in keeping with the Wild Hunt tradition that stories of strange phenomena reported from battle sites are interpreted in terms of phantom fighting or marching armies, whether or not they are caused by optical illusions.
Source: Lore of the Ghost: The Origins of the Most Famous Ghost Stories Throughout the World by Brian Haughton.