Hauntings as Modern Dysfunctions

The Amityville Horror, a contemporary case (regarded by some as real, by some as pure fiction), is about a house on Long Island that became reportedly progressively more haunted by some kind of daemonic power.

As with so many haunted houses in fiction or real life, it was a bargain. (Thus another lesson: you get what you pay for).   The longer the family remained, the worse things became.

The overriding theme in Amityville case and other similar stories, something everyone but those affected seems to grasp, is “get out of there!”  Yet the inhabitants doggedly hang in, even as the distressing events escalate to terrifying level.

The haunted house/haunted inhabitants might be taken out of a paranormal context and placed in one that is contemporary and psycho/spiritual.  The ghost or haunt might represent symbiosis, codependence, or abusive situations. In the stories, the people always remain in the haunted house, up until it nearly kills them (unless, in some cases, it does).  As people remain in unhealthy relationships, attached for the wrong reasons, people stay in haunted houses.

Think of this in terms of addiction or compulsion as well. These are very real dangers:  as destructive as any phantom.  As is the case in hauntings, the individual must first admit there’s a problem.  Also, he must heed the warnings (interventions) and avoid the triggers (whether a substance, a behavior, a person, or the case of actual haunting, a place) in order to heal. So in this way, the ghosts or haunts of old folklore and legend appear to correlate to problems which haunt modern individuals and culture.

A book that exemplifies haunting as dysfunction is Stephen King’s The Shining.  In it, the Torrances, a couple and their young son, move to the remote Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. The father got a job as a caretaker, hoping to write.  But he struggles with alcoholism and anger issues.  The latter are like the furnace boiler in the basement of the hotel which we are told has to be watched very closely by the caretaker so it doesn’t explode.

The Overlook can be likened to the superego/ subconscious of the caretaker.  The hotel is haunted (as is the caretaker).  The hotel is the stage, the dysfunctions are the actors or ghosts.  The caretaker becomes overwhelmed by these and goes crazy and is indeed ‘a danger to himself and others.’  True to form as exemplified in classic hauntings, he refuses leave the place. While they do need the money (and in most haunted houses people don’t leave because they cannot afford to move again), his increasing symbiosis with the Overlook and his issues with anger and substance abuse are his primary motivation for staying.

The reader is given a hint: the origin of the name Torrance is Scottish and it means ‘from the craggy hills’ – ‘tor’ may also mean ‘watchtower.’  These are perfect choices for the plot and tie in with the dual purpose: a great ghost/horror story and a fine and effective allegory.

In The Shining, the ghosts enable the caretaker: they become the devil on his shoulder. In other hauntings, ghosts may alternatively be messengers from our subconscious, or perhaps from the Divine, coming to warn us that here lies danger.

According to Jeremy Taylor, the noted dream work author, a nightmare is simply your subconscious, tugging at your sleeve, trying to get your attention when other hints have failed.  Perhaps in the context of modern dysfunction, this might apply to ghosts and hauntings, as well.

The haunted house, in fact, might be a symbol of an unhappy or unhealthy state of emotional or spiritual being.  The being, the ‘housing’ of the psyche and the spirit, is out of balance for one of the abovementioned reasons.  And it thus becomes an unhealthy, disintegrated, haunted.

To heal, become integrated and whole, and to exorcise the haunt or the dysfunctions it symbolizes, one must first acknowledge it/the dysfunctions exist, and then be rid of it by whatever means are at hand.

When we read of daemonic possession, we have the impression if some unholy power has taken over an individual.  An exorcist is eventually called in when all else fails.  Think of possession as a level of sickness, of disintegration (remember, the words health, oneness or integration come from the same Latin root word).  When one is struggling with an addiction, or an addictive behavior and an unhealthy behavior or dysfunction, one is, in a way, possessed.  The equivalent of an exorcist might be a medical, psychological or spiritual specialist:  a doctor, a counselor or psychologist, or clergy.  And sometimes an exorcist may indeed be called for. There are situations in which exorcism has been effective when nothing else worked, and when other causes of malady have been ruled out.

Folklore, myth and story offer us stories and symbols which are more than frightening-good entertainment. They are that: but they are also meaningful in terms of the daemons and ghosts which inhabit our beings from time to time, with which we struggle.

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