Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind 
Scene #10


The Pumpkin Patch/Petting Zoo
in Happier Days



The storm front that brought the San Gabriel Valley three days of thunder, lightning, and torrential rains is still trying to push in a new front from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast, but the Santa Ana Winds (aka The Devil Winds) that are blowing in from the desert from the east are clashing with the cooler winds from the sea and creating a monstrous wind storm between the desert and ocean gusts. 

At about 5:30 a.m., October 15th, 2018, this battle between the two wind fronts pounding on the house, ripping down the awnings, tearing up the roof tiles, and tossing the half-full recycle bin and the full trash container and scattering plastic bottles, plastic bags, and aluminum cans across the driveway, into the front yard, and unto the street in front of our house


Wind uproots a tree,
splitting the sidewalk apart.


When I finally got up (yes, I did manage to sleep through much of the noise), I expected to find more damage to the house, the neighborhood, and the community. Mostly, however, there was a hell-load of trash, leaves, broken branches, and general debris covering the streets and lawns of every home and avenue. As I walked by the neighbor, who also is a gardener, he told me in Spanish that this mess meant lots of work for him. He was like a kid in a candy store sitting on his tool truck sizing up the piles of leaves that needed to be blown and the number of branches that needed to be bundled. I laughed, but he laughed louder.

The bus-stop was shut down going east because the sidewalk was folded in half. Meaning: half of the sidewalk was lying in the street, preventing the bus from being able to stop there, and the other half was sticking straight up, blocking pedestrians from using the sidewalk. I crossed the street to catch the other bus (both buses end up at the Target department store).


The skeletal structure of the tents
is first to be rebuilt.


Then I saw something that shocked me. The Pumpkin Patch/Petting Zoo was destroyed. The fences were yanked up and away by the winds, the circus tents were ripped apart (pieces of red and white tent strips were everywhere), and most incredibly, the Zoo animals were dead. No one bothered to cover them up. The workers were more concerned with rebuilding the framework to lay the new tents over. Police were there, helping the workers to move the heavy tent poles, city workers were there, shoveling the broken pumpkins, but no one was there for the animals. 

I wasn't just thinking of the unhealthy state of these dead animals. No, this was a major street where children walk home from school. But no one seemed concerned. 

As I stood there watching the men work, while I waited for my bus, I heard what it was that concerned the workers. No, not getting the tent up as quickly as possible, not replacing the broken pumpkins with new ones, and not replacing the dead petting animals. 

What concerned them was why they were rebuilding the damn Pumpkin Patch. They're coming back, they kept saying. And the supervisor said that the winds had died down. Fuck the winds. They're coming back. Look at the animals. The wind didn't kill them. That's why we can't move them. The cops want to examine them. 


The new sign is put up two days 
after the destruction.


The supervisor glanced at the police helping with the tent poles. Not our department, said one of the cops. The supervisor told them to finish their work and he'll find other workers to take their place. No one was forcing them to work there. He'll cut them a check at the end of the day. 

The workers nodded as they went about their work. I focused my phone camera on the dead animals and zoomed in. I couldn't even recognize what animals they were. No animal was complete. Pieces of the animals were placed together as close as possible to resemble what the animal used to look like. I didn't take pictures. What for? Just like in every horror movie I've ever seen. What killed those animals? Why, the winds, of course. The Devil Winds. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Update 9

Trauma & Therapy

Religious Therapy
Death: Doorway or Dust?





Introduction:

We now turn to Religion, our next avenue of therapy for sufferers of trauma. Whether we witnessed a death or fought past cancer, we need to lean on some form of physical and mental support to get beyond the shock. God provides both forms of support. Most religions provide physical support in churches, halls, temples, shrines, and other places of worship where people can meet and socialize. These congregations allow the trauma patient a means to find friends and neighbors with stable lives, lifestyles, and habits, all forms of predictability and reliability for the cautious and chaotic mind of the patient. In addition to gathering with "safe" folks, the patient can also establish a weekly schedule that provides spiritual routine: Nightly prayer, biblical readings, Sunday mass, or Bible classes. A predictable routine helps the patient feel in control of his social surroundings. However, it is in the teachings of the religion itself where the patient may discover reminders of his trauma. For with every heaven we find in religion, we must also face its hell.

Here we wish to address this dichotomy of the good and the bad that the therapy of religion holds for the patients of trauma. Since every religion is so different, we cannot hope to discuss them all; so, I've decided to cover the most common ones referenced by trauma sufferers who have shared their stories with us. As usual, we will try to avoid using real names; however, we will use real religions and will do our best to present the best view of their belief systems as they apply to the patient. While, at the same time, it is not our intent to sugarcoat the punishment or "evil" inherent to these beliefs.
Anthony Servante

***

Anthony Servante Essay
Death: Doorway or Dust?

Just as we find therapeutic value in Dream Analysis, we cannot ignore its obverse and must contend with nightmares. In Paint Therapy, there is release in drawing out the demons found in nightmares, but there is stress, too, in facing these creatures on the canvas. We must remember that what was painted on paper lives in the patients' mind. Psychological Defense Mechanisms can only go so far to protect the patients from their own memories and images borne of their trauma. The therapy provides additional help for the patients to confront their painful pasts. 

So, too, in religion can we find help in a system of worship that promises an afterlife, a world without trauma or its bodily suffering, but choose the wrong path and the same faith that can lead to heaven can also lead to an immortality of pain. The religious person is always mindful of his mortal life and living it with the promise of Heaven, Nirvana, or a productive Reincarnation. This promise, however, is a double-edged blade, for a sinful or bad life can lead to damnation or reincarnation as a lower form of life. 

Which brings us to our dichotomy:  Is Religion a doorway to heaven, hell, or reincarnation, or an illusory path leading to the graveyard and a destiny of dust?

Since this is the mental struggle the trauma patient must wrestle with in terms of doubt, belief, and faith, I thought it best to approach the subject based on the belief that death is a doorway. What is on the other side of that doorway depends on the religion and the belief of the patient as he is taught and guided by his place or person of worship. 

Let's take a look at the common beliefs on what awaits us when we die. 

The most common expectation is that when one dies, their spirit leaves the dead body, faces judgment at the Gates of Heaven, and either enters Heaven or sinks to Hell. Many variations of this belief have the spirit, or ghost, wandering the Earth unaware that they are dead or haunting their old neighborhood as revenge for some incomplete justice left unfinished. So, only by finding justice can the spirit move on to be judged at Heaven's Gate. But there are other beliefs. 

In one of my short stories called "The Cucuy" (The Ghost), a group of boys discuss how they were raised to believe in ghosts. Here is an excerpt from "The Cucuy", Tales of Horror & Heaven by Anthony Servante, where common beliefs in spirits vary:


"Ghosts," Andre explained, "are the spirits of people that die. It's like the soul leaving the body and floating around the earth until God takes it up to Heaven or sends it down to Hell with the Devil. They usually hang around their old neighborhoods and watch what their old friends and family are up to. If the ghost scares someone on purpose, then the Devil gets to have its soul, but if it does a good deed, then God takes him to Heaven." 

"You're drunk," I said sharply. 

"No way, man," Andre said defensively, "it's in the bible." 

"What bible you been reading?" spat Wilo. "But that's kinda right. A ghost is a dead person's soul, but it doesn't do good or bad deeds. Only an idiot would believe something like that. Ghosts can't tell the difference between good and bad. God decides that stuff. There is a place called Limbo, where the new souls hang out until they are called to Heaven or Hell. It's like a big waiting room. But Limbo is not on Earth, that’s for sure. The ghosts that are on Earth cannot find Limbo. They’re confused and think they’re still alive; they don’t know where to go, so they go around acting like they’re still alive. I think they’re like poltergeists or something like that.”


BB exploded in anger and stood to speak, “You guys are full of shit. “Ghosts aren’t anything but projections of ourselves, our memories, the residue of life-particles left in space over a period of time. It’s like when you have a clock on your dresser for a long time and one day someone moved it, but you see it for a moment like it’s still there. You see the residue of its former presence. The image is the ghost of the clock.”

“And you say I’m drunk,” Andre said, shaking his head.

BB continued, ignoring the sarcasm, “I once read that people who saw ghosts always said the same thing, that the ghost was only visible at the periphery of their eyes, but when you looked at it square on, it vanished. The same thing happens when people live in a house a real long time. They leave particles of themselves behind. The longer they lived there, the more particles that are left behind. It never leaves enough particles to be looked at straight on. It evaporates. That’s why you can only see it at the corners of your eyes. Years after the people move out of a house, the new tenants begin to see the old tenants walking around the house at the periphery. They’re washing dishes or watching TV or just sitting around the spot where they always sat. The old tenants aren’t dead. They just moved somewhere else. It’s their residue in the house. But if they died, it’s the same thing. It’s just residue. No God. No soul. No Heaven or Hell. Just people who left their image behind.”

After he finished speaking, BB looked at each of us, anxious for one of us to disagree with him. Cautiously, I spoke up, “I don’t believe in myths, whether it’s Odin, God, or Superman. When a person’s dead, that’s it; they’re dead. The mind and the brain are the same thing. They both die at the same time. It’s chemical death. The body and the spirit are the same thing. When life is over, they all rot equally. There are no ghosts of people, or of rocks, or of trees. Superstitious people made up the bogeyman, the cucuy, to scare kids who wouldn’t go to sleep. We’re not kids anymore. There is no cucuy.”

The Janis Joplin record had finished, and the phonograph needle slid across the record label screechingly. Rather than turn the record over and play the other side, BB turned off the player and returned to the conversation with a seriousness that I had never seen on his face before tonight. “Go on,” he told me.

“Alright,” I agreed. “No spirits like religions teach. There are just too many religious points of view of what ghosts are; you can’t just pick one and say that’s the right one. If you want to believe that we have a soul, like Wilo and Andre say, that’s cool, but I say we’re just live meat getting ready to be dead meat. The chemicals and electrical impulses stop churning. It’s over. You’re dead. You’re not handed a harp as your spirit leaves your corpse like in the cartoons. Maggot time, bro. Not even residue. Nothing.”

Wilo shook his head disapprovingly. “You’re going straight to Hell for talking like that.”
Andre nodded in agreement. They were both joking, of course, but they were taught by the priests to fear God more than love Him."

BB slammed his fist on the record player cabinet. The impact sent the phonograph needle arm skidding across "Summertime Blues". With a controlled anger in his voice, he said, "I know where there's a residue being, or a ghost, or a dead body, or whatever you want to believe. I dare all of you to go with me to see this thing. We go together. Then we'll know who's right." 

No one wanted to say no the the already angry BB. And so we went to find the cucuy.
[END OF EXCERPT].
***

Let's begin with a discussion of Doppelgangers. Although the word originates in Germany, its appearance dates back to ancient Egyptian times. As the word was first used, it referred to a "twin" for every person in the world--that each human on Earth had a double ("Doppel"). At the Crossroads of the World located at popular tourist spots in various countries (Hollywood has one on Sunset Boulevard), it is believed that if you stand at the crossroads long enough, you will meet your exact double. Whether that sounds like a good thing or whether the thought sends chills down your spine, we'll leave for you to consider. In this type of meeting, you'd encounter another person who looks just like you, thus you'd meet a normal, natural person. It was (and still is) a common belief that we do have a double in the world; it's not a scary thing.

It is the Supernatural Doppelganger that worries us. There is another belief that other dimensions exist alongside our own, and that sometimes these dimensions traverse the same time and space in what many Science Fiction fans have come to call doorways. On each side of the opening there exist exact duplicates of each dimension, although there may be some minor changes, like a person who looks into a mirror--the image in the glass is almost the same, only it's reversed; it's left is your right, and your right is its left. Even its history may have some alterations to the timeline; the double may have scars from an accident, and accident that you never had. Sometimes when these doors open for whatever reason (Atomic Bomb testing was a popular theory for such openings in the 1940-50s), your doppelganger may enter your dimension. When your double enters your world, only one of you can exist, and so it must kill you to take your place.

Whether the doppelganger is natural or supernatural, the trauma patient can sometimes believe that "something" is trying to take his place in this world or that that double has already taken their place, and that they are not themselves, that they have been taken over. The trauma can trigger this feeling of low self-esteem, that they are not worthy to occupy this body, this life, that a superior person should inhabit their life. When the patient turns to such a belief in dimensions or alternate worlds in an effort to find an escape, he sometimes assumes that it was the doppelganger who found "escape" by taking over his own life.

It is the work of the therapist to mesh such a belief in alternate doubles with a routine or mechanism to accept that the patient is unique and cannot or has not been replaced. Building his self-esteem is a good starting point to build a natural foundation over the supernatural groundwork of his belief.

In trauma therapy, the rules of natural and supernatural order are important. Just as much as our visits to our therapist clarify the rules for dealing with our new world view of our day to day life, so, too, do our visits to our religious guides help us to deal with the darker unseen views of our post-traumatic life. One shows us how to deal with the stress of the busy workplace, while the other explains the behaviors that can make nightmares, delusions, and perceived dangers and potential threats bearable if not tolerable.

When we choose the right therapy for our trauma, we can't ignore the medicinal value of religion as a viable alternative to traditional therapy. Sometimes, in faith, we can find the answers that will lead us to a cure for the pain our trauma inflicts on us daily. It may not be for everyone, but if your culture can help you deal with the pain, that's as good an answer as paint therapy, prescription drugs, or talking to a Shrink.

In many cases, we turn to the supernatural for comfort from traumatic memories and nightmares. It helps us put a face on that unknown dread that haunts our waking and sleeping moments. It is often much easier to turn to demons and evil spirits than it is to turn inward and face the core of our trauma, whether it involved death, violence, or sexual abuse. For in trauma, we often confront death; yet we live through the ordeal. However, the memory lingers, and the specter of dying remains and surfaces on stormy nights, walks home at night, or loud noises from neighbors or traffic. A sense of dread hangs in the air, palatable and claustrophobic. It is then that "death" seems close at hand, or in the mind of the trauma victim, seems to have returned.

Religions tend to capture this dread and make it part of its faith.

In the Thai Religion, we have the Nokkhaophika: Owl Ghost. It is bad luck to village, when it comes to town; we know it is near because birds act unnaturally. Prayer and incense burning are the best remedy to keep the potential for evil at bay. On a side note: I have found Thai Horror films most effective in capturing both the dread and hope of its religion. Although there are plenty of evil spirits abound, there are also plenty of religious practices for the layman (as well as easy access to priests) to deal with the bad side. There are good birds to help ward off the bad birds. Take, for instance, the Krasue: Head of a beautiful woman with her innards hanging from her neck. It accompanies the Nokkhaophika. Burn some incense to quell the Krasue and the Owl Ghost will lose its guide to find you.

In China, there is the Yan Gui. Yan means nightmare; Gui means ghost. Together, they refer to spirits venturing outside the Underground (Diyu or Hell) who traverse the land of the living on such days, for example, as The Hungry Ghost Festival (similar to Halloween or Day of the Day). As the holiday implies, simply feed the hungry ghost to keep it content and harmless. The trauma victim here has easy access to power over his own demons.

In Mexico, Aztec warriors and women who died during childbirth returned as spirit Hummingbirds, otherwise known as Cihuateteo: women spirit birds who spent five days on earth before being assigned a place in the afterlife. During this time, these angry ghosts stole children as replacements for the babies they lost.

Mayan people believed that every plant, mountain, sea and earth, were inhabited by spirits and that these spirits had to be appeased with sacrifices in order to avoid natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, famine, etc. These spirits were named for nature, and as such, natural herbs have replaced the need for human or animal sacrifice in modern times. When women lost a child in childbirth, they could turn to a White Witch (Herbologist) to cover her body with the proper medicine to allow the child to reach Heaven and not be taken by these female flying creatures. This belief in natural medicine helped relieve the trauma of loss and assist with dealing with returning to a normal life after the child has reached the afterlife.

In Japan, Reikons are souls which depart the body upon death. If the body receives a proper burial, or if the last emotion of the body before death was undramatic, the ghost will join its ancestors in the afterlife and act as protectors for the family. However, lack of a proper funeral or an unjust death created evil spirits (even if the victims were good people in life). Yurei are angry souls who were murdered or committed suicide in life. Even if they didn't meet such a terrible end, if their final thought before dying was evil or emotional, they will traverse the spiritual and earthly realms, being part of neither one nor the other realm. They can cause trouble for both good ghosts (reikons) and the living alike. It is up to the family to ensure that whatever injustice their dead family member suffered, that they would find a way to remedy it so their loved ones can reach a state where they can be reincarnated, for without reincarnation, the most evil ghosts provoke the most suffering and pain, especially on their own family and friends. Rarely do strangers haunt strangers. It is always loved ones who die badly and become bad spirits. For the Japanese, solving the mystery for these evil ghosts is the most difficult task. It's not about prayers or incense-burning here. If you believe in Buddhism, you face the biggest challenge as a trauma sufferer. Your friends and family in life will do all that is possible for you to live a happy life, lest you die unhappy and return to haunt them.

For Jehovah's Witnesses, the concept of eternal flesh is accepted. God will reanimate the dead, and the dead will be reborn whole to find Heaven on Earth. In this religion, they believe there is no mention of the word "soul" in the Bible, and, therefore, there are no ghosts. Just as God imbued the dust with his mighty breath and created a living being, the breath of God is the "soul" together with the dust. Together they live and there is life, for dust alone is not life, and the breath alone is not life. Hell, in this sense, is death without rebirth, rotting in the ground without hope of being reborn. Faith here, then, encompasses the belief in death as a doorway to Heaven on Earth. Even as you rot in the grave, when the time comes, God will reanimate all dead believers to inherit the Earth. No ghosts. No fiery hell. No cloud-laced heaven. All you need for immortality is in your hands now. The trauma victim is most empowered with life itself and death itself as tools for a happy afterlife.

These are but a few of the religions and their therapeutic means for a productive life for trauma sufferers. Not all these beliefs hold all the answers. Some are higher maintenance and may be more stressful, but even those that require more work may be just the ticket one needs to help one keep a productive routine going, maintain a stable social life, and focus one's attention on hope and happiness from day to day. 

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Jaye Tomas Essay:


The Tradition of Ghosts in Literature and Cinema





Who reading this has not, at one time or another, thrown a sheet over their head and "played ghost"?
When you think of ghosts what do you first see in your minds eye? A shadowy or transparent figure? A chubby Casper? A protector or something crying for your blood?
Ghost touch every part of literature, movies, art. And are as diverse as snowflakes.


In the film Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, animated by Studio Ghibli, ghosts or spirits are mostly unaware of the living. In fact it is the living Chihiro who starts to fade after being in the ghost land for too long. Some of the ghosts come for recreation and refreshment, spending most of their time in traditional bathhouses. Others, like No Face, are searching for something or someone to banish their loneliness.


In 'The Stand' by Stephen King, the character Nick comes back as a ghost to help Tom take care of the gravely ill Stu, telling him what kind of medication he needs to get and how to care for him. As good a friend in death as he was in life, Nick only turns away when Tom tells him how much he looks forward to seeing him again.


Some give no explanation as in the 'The Upper Berth' by F. Marion Crawford. The horrid and sea drenched ghost returns night after night and we are never told why. In 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson we are left to wonder if Eleanor was being haunted by ghosts or was she the one doing the haunting.


Ghost stories have been told in every language and culture. We usually identify ghosts with dead people, especially ones who died with unfinished business. In Japan the ghosts are generally destructive and represent mortal dangers. Carbon monoxide poisoning has been implicated in ghost sightings as well as "mediums" who carry spurious messages from those passed over.
But why this interest in ghosts? Neil Gaiman explained in his TED address in 2014 that perhaps we enjoy those small, short burst of fear, all the more for knowing they will be brief, leaving us still here and safe.
It's possible that people take comfort in their dead loved ones still being present in the day to day. A way of avoiding the fear of our own mortality and taken as evidence as the survival of the soul.
It may be that it's easier (and more fun!) to blame a noisy ghost then get up on the roof and fix those banging tiles. And the paranormal tourism industries, of course, are happy to exploit this fascination. In some places residents pride themselves on their "haunted heritage"
Michael Shermer, author of 'The Believing Brain', argues that humans have a tendency to look at patterns and see them as deliberate.
iPhone users have seen a rise in people claiming to have spectral photos show up on their screens.

We are looking for them obviously. We want to see the ghost, even just for a moment. We are enjoying the delicious frisson of fear dancing along our spine. We do not really want to know that the banging is industrial, that the moaning in the attic is a hooting owl, that the occasional broken plate is not Great Aunt Mable's annoyance at her house being sold.
We want to see beyond, just for a moment, and try to understand what is hidden.




“Be hole, be dust, be dream, be wind/Be night, be dark, be wish, be mind,/Now slip, now slide, now move unseen,/Above, beneath, betwixt, between.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book



“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House



“A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man woke in the night.” — J.M. Barrie

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Rhys Hughes Essay(s)


The Futility of Not Believing in Ghosts
Rhys Hughes



I once had an Iranian girlfriend who told me a strange story about what happened to her father in their garden in a very desirable part of Tehran. He saw a face peeping at him from among the flowers, a strange yellow face much larger than that of a person. He wasn't sure if the face was itself a type of gigantic flower. Then it laughed at him silently and rolled its eyes and the father felt chills spread all over him. He retreated to the inside of the house and it was a long time before he ventured into that garden again. We had been talking about ghosts, so I asked my girlfriend if the peculiar face among the flowers might also be a ghost.
“There are no such things as ghosts!” Anahita said with great emphasis. Then in response to my puzzled frown she added, “There are only genies who pretend to be ghosts.” She meant djinn, who aren't at all the way we in the West imagine genies to be, but are a separate class of beings unrelated to angels or humans. They are faster and stronger than people and few of them are left now. Those that remain have been offered another chance at salvation. What the one in the Tehran garden wanted can't be ascertained. Maybe it just wanted to create some mischief. For Anahita it was very important to differentiate it from a ghost.
As a Muslim, it was impossible for Anahita to accept that ghosts exist. A ghost is the disembodied soul of a once living man or woman. But in Islam there is simply no room on the Earth for such spirits. You die and the Angel of Death come for your soul and takes it away and won't return it until the Day of Judgment. Therefore if someone sees a ghost, or if you see one yourself, it can't be a ghost but something else. It must be an entity that only seems to be a ghost. If it looks, walks and talks like a duck then it's a duck, but this rule doesn't apply to ghosts. How about the ghost of a duck? Let's not get too clever for our boots. Ghosts don't exist in Islam, or rather the way they are defined is different, and this difference is essential to enable encounters with them to be accommodated within the strictures of the religion. It is the same problem faced by atheists or anyone else who doesn't believe that the souls of human beings are able to survive death, or who don't believe that souls exist at all, that they are illogical and an error of language. Yet ghosts continue to be seen. So alternative explanations must be found as to what they are. Hallucinations, mirages, electromagnetism, autosuggestion or misinterpretation of something real.
For it is futile not to believe in ghosts. I don't believe in them and yet I once had a ghostly encounter anyway. I was in a hotel bar with some friends. We had attended the wedding of a student we had been to university with. This was in Solihull, a town just outside Birmingham. There were four of us and apart from the barman we were the only customers in the place. Suddenly a table in the middle of the room, at least three metres from where we were standing, flipped itself over so that its legs were pointing at the ceiling like those of a frozen dead horse. The barman remarked very casually, “The ghost is early tonight,” and we all just nodded as if this was perfectly fine, as if his explanation made utter sense. It didn't feel odd, neither the event itself nor the barman's observation. It just felt normal, small talk. Later when we left the hotel, the four of us stopped and looked at each other. “Did that really happen?” The incident was already acquiring a dreamy aspect, as if it was something remembered from childhood rather than a very recent event. And now the barman's words hit us with delayed force and became in hindsight as fantastical as one would have expected them to have been inside the hotel bar.
This remains my most profound ghostly encounter despite its simplicity and often I have discussed it with those who are interested in such things. I developed a theory that I always knew was contrived and whimsical but which I offered as a serious idea anyway, just to gauge the reactions of others who had endured similar cases. Perhaps there are other universes, an almost infinite number of them, all in parallel, with the most adjacent ones being most similar to ours, differing perhaps in only one detail or so. This is not an original concept by any means, but I wondered if somehow the bar of that hotel was a place where two almost identical universes overlapped. While we believed we were in a bar in Solihull in our familiar universe, we were actually in a bar in Solihull in the universe next door, a universe absolutely the same as ours with one difference, namely that ghosts existed there, were normal and nothing to elicit surprise, which is why we had accepted everything so calmly, almost disinterestedly. The moment we left the hotel we were back in our own universe, where ghosts don't exist, and that's why we were now surprised.
This nonsense resonated with people and the unsettling feeling that maybe it was true nonsense, the worst kind, began to grip me. I was intrigued to discover that many people who'd also had ghostly experiences felt the same way at the time, blasé, aloof, very accepting of the manifestation. They were calm too until after the incident was over. Only then did they question the veracity of the phenomenon and their reaction to it, as we had done that day in Solihull. Of course others offered jocular solutions to the occurrence. We had come from a wedding and were standing at a bar. Clearly we were drunk! But I don't drink alcohol. Ah, then we were exaggerating for effect? Not in this instance, no we weren't. Might I have dreamed the whole thing but thought it was real? Yes, that's plausible, but that doesn't change the fact that so many people I spoke to also had a feeling of 'normality' when a supernatural event happened to them even if the events weren't really supernatural.
It is futile not to believe in ghosts. The real question is to ask instead what exactly are they? If they are not the spirits of dead people, they are phenomena of psychology or physics that remain untested. They are a problem that hasn't been solved, yet the probability is that one day they will be understood. Then atheists will be able to rest more easily. They already force themselves to rest more easily by dismissing ghosts as an irrelevance in the modern world, but the solving of this problem scientifically will be a blessing because it will remove the coercion they apply to themselves. All of us are human beings, emotional beasts, including atheists, and when a ghost appears we jump in fright and our hair stands on end. Even if we don't believe in ghosts, our goose pimples do. Our rational minds don't really have sufficient strength to enable us to act in tandem with our sceptical claims.
What is true for atheists in this regard is equally true for those who subscribe to a religion that forbids the definition of ghosts as the souls of the dead, and in fact most of the world's major religions dislike this definition. Yet we remain enamoured of the floaty spirit that has been released from the ties of sinews and the tubes of bones and the garb of flesh and we wonder what it would be like to be a ghost ourselves, and we tell ourselves secretly that one day maybe we'll find out, because whatever our faith or lack of it there seems to be a residual belief, almost never talked about, more of an ambivalent hope than a certainty, that after death we get a chance to be ghosts at least for a while. That we don't immediately ascend to paradise or descend to perdition or have our identities snuffed out. That there is a pending period in which we get to have some fun, to enjoy ourselves, to blow around in the breeze, to pass through walls and spook the people we knew in our lifetimes.
The incident in Solihull was my most remarkable ghostly experience but not the only one. The others were all sensations rather than sights, a feeling that something wasn't right about the places I was in. Those places were always remote and always locations I encountered on hiking trips. Perhaps tiredness had something to do with my extra sensitivity or maybe it merely muddled my mind a little. Sometimes the unsettling experienced happened in the daytime and sometimes at night. Often I might be looking for a spot to camp and after finding one would settle down. Then minutes later, or an hour later, or many hours later, I would be compelled to pack up again and move on, in a state of near panic. Near the rather isolated Pwlldu Beach in Gower, South Wales, I heard what sounded like a bell tolling under the sea. I later learned that I was camping in a place called Grave's End where on November 26th in the year 1760 a ship named The Caesar was wrecked on the rocks with the loss of ninety pressganged men locked in the hold.
The corpses of those unfortunates were buried in a gully that was filled with soil and a ring of limestone rocks was placed on top to mark the site. Unwittingly this is where I had chosen to bivouac. I had to leave and blunder my way through a wood that was pitch dark. Anything was preferable to remaining in that unwelcoming spot. That wood also has a reputation for ghosts and my panic compelled me to keep going until I reached the next beach along, where I slept soundly and happily. It really does appear that some geographical locations come with a good feeling, some with a bad one. This is indisputable. But surely there is a host of rational explanations for why this should be so? I have felt a malevolent presence in a number of areas during these hiking trips and now I avoid those places at night. I regard myself as a sceptical man, yet my actions appear to indicate otherwise.
If we consider the matter closely, it will became plain that the malevolent quality of the atmosphere of those haunted places is an argument against the idea that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. In the unforgettable words of the most famous of all ghost story writers, M.R. James, ghosts are “the angry dead” and yet how can anger be associated with any entity that lacks a body? Anger is an emotion and absolutely requires a physicality in which to exist. It is not that the body is a vessel for anger but that anger itself is a function of a body. Without a heart to beat faster, without lungs to breathe deeper, without blood to increase its pressure, without the glands to secrete adrenalin, how is anger practical? It simply isn't. The most that a disembodied soul can feel in this regard is a cold and indistinct intellectual disdain. There are no anger opportunities for the souls of dead people. And is true malevolence possible without the input of at least some anger? No, alas. It is equally futile to doubt the existence of ghosts and to believe we will become one.

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Three Ghosts in a Boat
Rhys Hughes

A friend was talking about ghost stories and why the Victorians were so good at them. It occurred to me that whether or not they were good at them back then is irrelevant, because they are certainly good at them now. Every story of any kind told by any Victorian has become a ghost story because all Victorians are dead.
Even a light comedy such as Three Men in a Boat is a ghost story in the present age because when we read it we are reading the words of a dead man. It may well have been a story told by a living man once, but now it’s a dead man’s story. A ghost story. In other words the content of the story might not be a ghost story, but the form of it is.
And yet we laugh when we read it. It appears that a story featuring ghosts written by a living person is spookier than a story featuring men written by a ghost. How strange!
If a dead man whispered words in your ear while you were lying in bed, you would be scared. But when you read a book in bed by an author who is no longer alive, you are reading the words of a dead man, and if the book is a comedy you aren’t scared. And yet in both instances a dead man is communicating with you.
In both instances the words of a dead man are going into your mind. It’s the same thing! So don’t laugh when reading Three Men in a Boat. Be scared instead! That book is a direct communication from a dead man to you! When we consider the matter objectively, Three Men in a Boat must be scary. Logic demands this.
So let’s take logic seriously and always be scared by it from now on. Because a dead man is communicating with us through it. That’s the very definition of a supernatural experience!
When funny incidents happen in the book, tremble with fright. That’s the correct reaction. Shiver with dread.
Because a GHOST is TELLING JOKES!!!!