Mention a ghost and the person you’re talking to will do one of three things: scoff, show polite interest while thinking you’re nuts, or begin telling their own ghost stories. Ghosts fascinate us, scare us, make us wonder about the world’s hidden possibilities and potential. At the base of it all is our curiosity and speculation. Are ghosts real? If so, how do we know?
Experience is the best teacher in such nebulous cases. Those who have stories to tell — real stories — do so from their own encounter of some sort. Or someone they know and trust had at least one experience with a ghost. In the Pagan world, ghosts are accepted as real, existing entities; like in other traditions such as Shinto, some Native American, and Voudu ancestor worship is still practiced. People who can sense or commune with ghosts are called mediums, psychics, or psychopomps. They have the ability to interact directly with the dead and often attract spirits to them. As a result they have the most experience in ghost activity.
I am a High Priestess of a Mystery tradition, initiated and trained to perform rituals and interact with the deities. During my work my elders and I discovered I have psychopomp talent. I have my own ghost stories to tell: from a brief visit by my dead uncle to being attacked by a woman dead over a hundred years to a newly-dead man killed in a car accident wanting the vehicle to be found (I made an anonymous call to the police). Because of my encounters with the dead I have no doubt that they are real.
Psychopomps sometimes decide to become paranormal investigators to put their natural talent to work rather than deny it or stay quiet about it. They are strong enough to accept their abilities, take responsibility for using it and choose to help people who are certain they are being haunted. Debbi Chestnut is one such worker. A Michigan resident, she has written books about ghosts and teaches people about paranormal activity. Christopher Brewer and James Manda are paranormal researchers as well. Chris, an Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge, SD met Jim at a metaphysical store in Colorado. When they discovered a shared interest in ghosts they teamed up in 2007, and The Spiritchasers, their paranormal investigations business, was born.
Chris grew up in a traditional Native American culture which accepts the existence of ghosts, spirits, and entities as real and part of everyday life. He learned that these energy forms were not to be feared. Chris’ first experience with unseen entities occurred at his cousin’s house when he was twelve years old. The family is a large one and so they bought a big, old oak dining table which went in the kitchen. Soon the odd occurrences began. Kitchen chairs had moved away from the table; objects on the table itself were moved as well. Children in the house began having night terrors. Chris, with his uncle’s help, conducted his first paranormal investigation. He scattered flour around the table in order to find out if there would be footprints. He put his boom box under the table to record any odd noises. The next morning the chairs had moved from the table but there were no footprints in the flour. The boom box recorded the sound of the chairs’ scrapings but it also picked up on a ticking sound, like a grandfather clock. The family did not own any such clock. Furthermore, when Chris retrieved his boom box he discovered odd, occult-like symbols and markings carved into the table’s underside. His family decided the table had been used as an altar for some type of dark practice and so they sold it. No further activity occurred and the children’s nightmares ceased.[i]
The Spiritchasers looked into the stories they heard about Fargo’s Pizzeria, a restaurant in Colorado Springs, CO. The eatery was decorated in vintage items and has a collection of vintage clothing, furniture, and the like which is behind glass. Two mannequins representing Mr. Fargo and his wife sit at a table in one of the displays; restaurant workers who open the place for business reported mannequins’ positions sometimes moved.
When the Spiritchasers investigated Chris took photos of the vintage displays, including one of a lace mutton-sleeved blouse. After he shot the room display and looked at the result he noticed another figure in the corner of the room which wasn’t there before. Excited, he showed James the picture. When Chris enlarged it the image of a dark-haired woman clearly became visible, wearing the lace blouse. She is known as Sophia, “Fargo’s Phantom.”[ii]
Among other haunted places The Spiritchasers have investigated include the Cave of the Winds, where Chris photographed the ghost Nellie the Bride and a warrior with a bow, as well as the Flight 737 crash site where orbs and ghost mists (which appeared on a night too warm to cause the mist) floated among the twenty-seven ash trees planted in honor of each person who died in the crash. One tree in particular has a lot of activity — plane wreckage was buried beneath it.
Debbi Chestnut’s book Is Your House Haunted? describes various types of ghost manifestations, what they can look like and do, and how to tell if you and/or your home is haunted as well as what to do about it.[iv] Ghosts that manifest as mist or as semi-transparent human forms are called “apparitions”[v]; a spirit attached to what was a favorite object in life creates a “haunted object”[vi] which means the ghost will go wherever the object goes. Sophia is an excellent example of this type. The term we know as “ghost”[vii] refers to hauntings where people have died suddenly or violently, or if they linger in order to finish some uncompleted business. Family members who have died may stay around for a while to watch over loved ones or to give a final message.
Spirits will act out in order to get attention for whatever reason they need it. Debbi’s common-sense advice in her book ensures that there may or may not be mundane reasons for odd noises, lights, or other seemingly ghostly activity. Once all such everyday occurrences are accounted for, yet the activity continues, it’s time to talk to the spirit and find out what it wants. If you establish contact, try to determine how best to help, and then do it if you can.[viii] But if you have a ghost and just want to be rid of it, you can open a window in each room, smudge with sage and cedar throughout your home, and tell the spirit or spirits to depart in peace, never to return. It’s nice to follow up with a frankincense smudge to bless the space.
Chris, the manager of a metaphysical store, will talk to people when they come in wanting advice on how to be rid of a ghost or spirit they believe is haunting their home. He teaches them about smudging, about cleansing their chakras and auras, and to smudge after an argument. Fear and negative emotions can draw dark entities to a person, Chris said, so it is important to learn to be calm and stay positive as much as possible in order to keep away the things that feed on fear, etc.[ix]
Many people who have lost a loved one will attempt contact by using a Ouija board or hire a medium to perform a seance. Neither of these methods are reliable and can create more problems that they solve. It isn’t always the ghost being called who shows up. As a result, problems become much worse and then witches, paranormal investigators, or priests are brought in to take care of it.[x]
In the realm of magick, however, there are ceremonial magicians who consciously choose to work with ghosts or entities other than deities. Many do so in order to gain information, power, or control over the spirit world. Others work only with ghosts; these are necromancers. Necromancy is the art of divination by consulting with the dead. The word has its roots in the Greek nekos meaning dead, and manteria, divination. It originally meant a journey to Hades to consult with the dead rather than call a shade into a Circle.[xi]
Lewis Spence quotes Eliphas Levi from “Ritual of Transcendent Magic” to detail the exhaustive process of an evocation for either love or intelligence (information), i.e., calling on the spirit of a loved one or another shade for information. The latter motive was used by the Witch of Endor for King Saul when he went to her to find out his luck in the upcoming battle with the Palestinians.[xii]
There are not parlor tricks. I don’t recommend trying it if you already do not have the necessary training and experience. If the spirit happens to be stronger than the magician who forced it to appear then unpleasant things can happen. Spence tells about the 17th century Egyptian sorcerer Chiancungi and his sister Napula. It seems they lost their lives after he had cast his Circle, done the exorcisms, and then repeatedly called upon a particular spirit to manifest itself. When there were no apparent results they gave up and left their protective Circle, upon which they were crushed to death by the entity they had called up but which had not been able to appear until that moment.[xiii]
Not all ghosts are evil, vengeful, or severely depressed. Family members who have passed might stay to continue helping their loved ones. Others who have died violently will attempt to contact someone to help solve their murder or find their body. Often when a successful resolution is found the ghost moves on when the issue is settled. The irony of these situations comes from the fact that sensitive family members or natural psychics who can get the message and attempt to talk about it are laughed at, bullied out of believing it happened, or even committed as insane.
In the Pagan and Wiccan world we believe in spirits, ghosts, and those things that bump us in the night. For us they are real. I hope we are educated enough to refrain from stirring things up for no important reason. Ancestor worship follows particular rules and methods, as does Voudoun and Necromancy. In the Craft we can utilize the time of Samhain to contact the dead in the safety of our Circles and commune with them if we wish. If we have a benign or playful ghost living in our home, we may choose to welcome it and make it part of the family for as long as it wishes to stay. My own conclusion is that they are indeed real and such experiences make us truly blessed, for our lives are enriched and we find we have shifted from the mundane to the extraordinary. Decide how you will about the spirits and ghosts. If you choose to work with them directly, be sure you get the necessary training.
[i] From an interview with Christopher Brewer, Mar. 1, 2014, Colorado Springs, CO
[iii] Photographs of the Fargo room and of Sophia © Christopher Brewer. All right reserved. Used with permission. Images retrieved from www.thespiritchasers.com March 1, 2014.
[iv] Debbi Chestnut, Is Your House Haunted?, p. 76. MJF Books, New York, NY. 2011.
[v] Ibid, p. 76.
[vi] Ibid, p. 78.
[vii] Ibid, p. 77.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 173, 176.
[ix] Brewer interview, ibid
[x] Chestnut, ibid, p. 151-2.
[xi] Retrieved from www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos195.htm April 10, 2015. “ Necromancy” posted by Alan Wright. From a 1960 reprint of An Encyclopaedia of Occultism, Lewis Spence, University Books, Hyde Park, New York, NY. 1960 reprint. Originally published 1920.
[xii] The Bible, I Samuel 28:7-25
[xiii] Spence, ibid.