I’ve written three collections of ghost stories. (“Death Be Not Loud” “Rest In Fleece,” and “Sepia Seepage,” at amazon)as well as a nonfiction book on the subject called “About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook,” and collections of funny/irreverent haiku: “It’s Your Funeral: Dead Funny Haiku, and Pasta La Vista, Baby: Mob Haiku to Die For,” and “More Pasta: A Second Helping of Mob Haiku to Die For.” In addition, there’s “Infectious Ghosts: Contagious Magic in F. G. Cottam’s Dark Echo and House of Lost Souls, and Love in Bosch’s Garden: Profane and Sacred Love in the Medieval Imagination.
I teach seminars occasionally about the spirituality of the ghost story, and about the paranormal in literature. The subject matter is intriguing in many ways:
- We speculate about the Other Side, and there are countless theories about it.
- Our fear of the unknown.
- So much is written off as “wives tales” or legend, but actually, running up against ghosts, hauntings, ESP, voodoo, the Bermuda Triangle, and more, happens to people quite often. Working as a priest and as a chaplain I heard countless stories from so many individuals: and prior to that, as a columnist, I interviewed those who had had supernatural, inexplicable experiences.
- In literature, one can play with the concepts: what about life after death? Is there anything to do or is it boring? What about justice, is retribution from beyond the grave possible? Do the boring, banal and obnoxious ever get the karma they deserve? If so, how can ghosts help out with that?
- Ghost stories have been told round the campfire as far back as, well, there have been campfires! Legends continue to intrigue us.
- There are common elements in ghost stories that cross cultural and geographic lines: does this reflect some universal observations made by mankind over the eons?
- What are some of the themes in ghost stories? There are a few standard ones: retributive justice as mentioned above is one. Then there’s the unwary and somewhat careless person who pokes at something he shouldn’t and what happens as a result. There is the curse theme: someone curses someone else – personally, I like it when the curse bounces back on its maker, who usually is quite deserving! Ghost stories also play out ideas of magical thinking: if I do this, then that will happen. Or, if I imitate this I can get it to happen over there, to them. Of course there is the twilight zone between death and life. And of course, monstrous beings of different kinds. Ghost stories, too, often reflect cultural, social, psychological and spiritual ideas of a time and place. But it’s still fascinating how universal some of those ideas are.
The above categories offer food for thought about the ghost story and why it’s more than just entertainment (although we who write them do hope they entertain!). I was led to explore this subject partially because of my own strange stories; and when I realised so many others had stories, too.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or experienced other paranormal “inexplicables?” Sit down, make yourself at home, feel free to share!
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