The New Year and spirits have long been closely associated in my life. As a Scotsman I have usually spent my Hogmanays in close proximity to an excessive amounts of spirits and usually paid the penalty on Ne’er Day with an awful hangover. As I have aged and moved, and as the tradition of first footing is waning, I have been looking for alternative ways to celebrating the end of the old year and the start of the new. An evening of watching fireworks or music shows on the television didn’t appeal nor did the idea of staid dinner parties. Nothing seemed to be available to capture that feeling of melancholy mourning for the year just gone and that blind hope that the next year would be better. I really searched.
Then I thought I found it. An evening of psychic investigations, or ghost hunting, in a local derelict castle. I imagined an evening of walking the ramparts mulling over the past as we were frightened by a crew who would try and spook us. Any spirits unsettling my nerves would be simply phantoms evoking transient distress rather than the day long misery that whisky was able to bequeath you in the morning after. If nothing else, I reasoned, it would be very different, a bit of fun.
My mistake became apparent very early on in the proceedings. As we all gathered and made chit chat in the dark of the castle’s keep it became clear that people were not there, like myself, for fun. They were there for the deadly serious task of finding ghosts, making contact with the spirit world and discussing psychic experiences. Other than my wife there were no doubters.
After a ‘lecture’ on how our equipment would work, we were supplied with EMF meters, ionic readers, and a myriad of gadgets which crackled static and blinked coloured lights, we went into the chapel for our supper and psychic readings. I now knew I had gauged this wrongly. This was in earnest not in fun.
We all had our tarot cards read and crystal balls and dangling pendants helped us know our futures and natures. I noted that everyone at my table, and in my vicinity, no matter who their psychic had a very similar reading. It ran “You are a kind and intelligent person, perhaps too giving and modest, you tend to be put upon by others because you are too quiet to ask for help yourself. You have faced adversity and are dealing with an important decision but I can see that the future is looking very bright for you and you will manage many of your heart’s goals.” It was like listening to every horoscope ever written and it was perhaps no surprise that no-one said “You are and irritable and greedy person, self-obsessed and unable to see things from another’s viewpoint. You have had it easy so far and the future is going to throw some difficulties your way“. Perhaps few people wish to pay for this, possibly more accurate but more negative, reading or perhaps (even less likely) there was nobody on this crowd of 50 who were going to have difficulties in their future.
After our readings and meal our real ghost hunting started. This entailed standing in the dark and cold in rooms of the castle calling our to the spirits to let themselves be known. “Is there anyone there ? Can you hear us ? Let us know. Rustle the leaves if you are there. Make a sound. Light up the light on the meters .. .. .. ” . The desperation in the calls was clear, my fellow guests were eager, beyond belief, to believe that spirits lurked around them and any event was going to be evidence of their presence. Fortunately I was able to help.
I first noticed that when I was allowed to use the laser grid I could help things on their way. This was a laser pen that shone a grid of lights on the wall. If the spirits passed across the beam they would be revealed by their shadows! I noticed that if I squeezed the pen the connection to the battery was impaired and the lights dimmed. When this dimming happened in response to “Are you there ?” the response was appropriately electric to all participants. Thereafter through a series of “yes/no” questions and my squeezing we were able to have a rudimentary conversation with a 7 year old stable boy who had been most grievously treated in the castle. It was interesting that all the questions supposed the existence of only stereotyped characters from romantic fiction.
It was then on to the séance and Ouija board. With only a modicum of imperceptible effort the glass scuttered across the board. I knew at this point I was not the only ghost in the room; a fact that my wife’s white knuckles confirmed. Here we were talking to the lady of the castle. She spelled out her first name (approximately) and then the call went out “What is you surname ?” I could hardly shout out “I don’t know” so after some taciturn spells we went back to “yes/no” questions while we confirmed that she had been a beautiful and graceful lady wed to a fearful domestic tyrant. I could almost see his top hat and twirled, pointed mustachios.
We then ended with a bonfire, a drink and watching the fireworks over the town and sea. Listening to my fellow guests they were very happy with their night; they had met ladies and stable boys and made contact, through the curtan, with the other side. I had intended to argue and rebut their beliefs but I could not bring myself to do this. They were a nice group of people. Friendly, normal people, holding down jobs and caring for families who wanted to believe that there is more to life than the mundane world we all live in. Had they wished to debate I would have been happy to participate but I had wish to spoil their evening or reduce their happiness.
Their open-mindedness did verge on gullibility and I feared that some of the professional psychics and mediums were more driven by the fees than the search for spiritual enlightenment. As we live in an increasingly secular world many people, who have a need for some more spiritual understanding of their existence, are being left adrift. When faced with moral or personal dilemmas, which simple utilitarian decision making can’t answer, people would often, in the past, have asked their religious advisers for counsel. This is open to fewer and fewer now. But such counsel is still often wanted and probably underpins the growth of new-age fads and the return of old practices such as mediums and spiritualists. Though I am happy if it provides comfort or respite from troubles I fear it may sometimes place people in contact with charlatans and frauds when they are at their most vulnerable.