Back to the Desk main page.

From the Desk's Mystery Series.

©2014 The Media Desk

"Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there,
wondering, fearing,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."
- Edgar Allan Poe

"... but are they real?"

      The question came up the other day in an on line forum as one of the subjects of a non-fiction book the Desk was reading.

      In the message, they wanted to know if 'ghosts' were real.

      The only available short answer was particularly unsatisfying to all involved: "Well, yes, and no. Sort of."

      The Desk told them to stand by for a longer answer, which, all things considered, may not be any more satisfying, but it will take longer to read than those six words.

      So, here we go, the latest in the Desk's Mystery Series, with assorted tangents, random quotes, a look at that great archetype of horror fiction, and maybe even a couple of Bible verses, all thrown together and well stirred.

      And, towards the end, the Desk might discuss a personal encounter or two.

For This Article: We will dismiss out of hand all deliberate hoaxes, 'funhouses', as well as faked videos and photos. Discussion of why towards the end. Thank you.

But first: "What are we talking about?"

      That's not as easy to define as you would think it is. There are all sorts of 'things that go bump in the night' that don't have toes to stub against that footstool that's always in the way.
      Many in the general public would categorize everything that is "non-corporeal", meaning something that you can see that doesn't appear to have a physical body as we understand such things, as a ghost.
      Well, OK. If you're out walking down a dark forest path in the middle of the night and you see something drift across that is either the smallest fog bank in history, or something else entirely, you might claim that you've "seen a ghost" even though you didn't stop it and ask for some ID.
      For our purposes here, we're going to label a 'ghost' as a 'manifestation of deceased living beings, most usually- humans'. Just to be personable about "it", we'll call it, dear late Uncle Phil.
      But that is only the talent scout for everything else that is out there that might cross our path, to continue with our theme.

      Many other 'things' are able to coalesce and appear from time to time, and a good number of them have never been human. Just for the sake of continuing to define the players in tonight's game, we'll continue.

      Of the more mundane of those are real live localized patches of fog or even smoke that, in the right conditions, can be amazingly compact and nearly as dense as a Congressman. In this group, besides normal water vapor fog of the London Pea Soup variety, you also have the infamous "swamp gas" of song and story. With that one the Desk has to be careful with its cigar because real live swamp gas is mostly methane, with traces of things to make it smell bad, and is extremely flammable. Online you can see real photos of very small and extremely dense clouds of this stuff. But, usually, it is at least in the general vicinity of something that can loosely be called 'a swamp or bog'. Of course, just a cloud of cigar smoke can look like our forest spook, but, at least with some of cigar clouds this author is familiar with, they smell like a tire fire, which also emits dense smoke in the middle of the night that can drift across the path.

      Other things that can fool the eye into thinking that Ol' Uncle Phil is out and about (possibly working as a Dybbuk, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here), when he should be checking the schedule as to when he ought to be pushing up the daisies are less explosive, but equally mundane.
      Things like trash bags, discarded undershirts, and even industrial strength balls of lint and fuzz can, when blowing in the wind and caught in the right half light, look like anything and everything except trash bags and lint.
      And besides the human detritus that might be mistaken for our boy is a whole range of natural items including petals and pappi (silky seeds) from various weeds and trees, groups of leaves caught up in a wind eddy, even 'tumbleweed-ish' clumps of dried lawn refuse, and delightful combinations of all of the above.
      If caught out of the corner of the eye, late at night, most of what we've mentioned could be taken as, well, you know.

      And now we come to an almost endless list of things that don't have, and may never have had, anything resembling the human body, or for that matter, were never a tumbleweed either.

      If you are religiously inclined, you may just have had a reflexive reaction to that statement and immediately said "hogwash". Well, sorry, but you need to go find your Sunday School graduation certificate and turn it back in. Or, if you are of the Muslim faith and attended some version of their 'weekend schools' and had the same reaction, or if you even had gone to Hebrew School and dismissed it, well, turn in your certificate too.
      Indeed. All Three Faiths talk about such things, generally with the attitude that, "yeah, they're out there, and you're better off leaving them alone."
      Call them the Islamic Jinn, Jewish Se'irim, or just plain old Evil Spirits, they are all over the Holy Books of the three Great Western Religions. And, for that matter, almost every other religion mentions them as well.

      For instance, in Japan you have the Yokai and the Oni (also found in China), who usually have a small but usually hideous physical form, but, when it suits their purposes, they can also be formless and thereby work their way into the homes of the unwary, or cross a forest trail in the middle of the night. If the path is in China you can meet a kuei-shen, naturally occurring spirits who are usually up to no good. And then you have the egui who used to be people, bad people, but people none the less, who wander the Earth now looking to devour whatever, or whoever, gets in their way because they are being punished for being greedy in life.
      Working West, we can check in with the Nordics and run across a Draugen, well if given the choice we'd rather not run across one, but perhaps glimpse one just offshore as they were evil spirits, maybe a ghost, maybe not, that played havoc with those aboard ships. On land they had things that brought bad dreams, and others that passed through and left the plague as their calling cards, which might be enough to make you want to go ahead and take your chances with the Draugen.

      Should we even try to mention the evil spirits found on the African continent? There's just too many to even touch on, and there's nineteen ways to spell the name of the same bad guy. Such as the snake god, and of course it depends on Which snake god you're talking about, from which tribe, and is it the 'bad all the time snake god' or is it the one that might be good sometimes with some people, or is it... and so on. Which can be seen with Kouteign Kooru who could also be Koleo, or Lebe, who might be a different one, and that's just the snake. They also had Oi (English spellings vary), who didn't have bodies, unless they did, and some might have been human 'back in the day', and some weren't, and so on.
      Again, it is part of the history of the continent in that there is NO Single History of the continent, or for that matter, no single history of a region. Everybody had their own. And that includes the mythology. There's a few 'big ideas' that occur at least regionally (say, the Congo basin), but once you get more localized, all bets are off. And into that mix are the perambulations added by Christian and Muslims as they moved in, and, in some cases, those ideas were simply added to the local cauldron and then boiled and seasoned by the locals. Which also, oddly enough, included a few of the missionaries as well.

      Now we need to explain once again, that some of these spirits were never human, and some were, and a few were 'something else' that had/has human form at least some of the time.
      In some cultures, people who intentionally do evil to the innocent end up being a special kind of spirit when they eventually assume room temperature, such as the egui in China (literally 'hungry ghost' who are condemned to wander around seeking relief so they may be reborn and, presumably, right whatever wrong they committed while here the first time). But, at least they were human at one time.
      The Nunasish (spellings vary), the trickster, and their kind as seen in various Native North American traditions were never human, unlike the infamous 'skinwalkers' who are basically shape-shifting human 'witches', and with whom we'll check in with later. Trickster (sometimes depicted as a coyote) and his friends are first and last beings of the underworld, are generally unhappy, and they like nothing better than to make you miserable as well.
      And if one were to look to Central and South America, you'd find the usual assortment of unhappy dead and straight up demonic things that inhabited the shadow world. The Inca, for instance, said every mountain had a 'god' that looked after it, and every Apu had their own staff of underlings. Not only mountains, every good sized rock, cave, river, or other natural formation did as well. And if you were going to do something, you'd better make sure you didn't upset the god or they'd send their servants to make your life miserable. And then there were those that oversaw the animals, particularly the jaguar, and so on.

      Oh, yeah, the Dybbuk of song and story is essentially the same as some of the others. The unhappy dead who are up and wandering the streets looking for some hapless living person to take over so they can get back into the nightclub they were thrown out of when alive. Or, something like that.
      And with that comes the really dark side of this topic.

      Yes, some 'spirits', ex-humans and otherwise, are essentially harmless, possibly at times annoying, but otherwise harmless.
      Others aren't.
      And demonic possession is real and can happen and when we talk about a 'wandering spirit' out looking for somebody to take over, that is EXACTLY what we are talking about. And, if that person the demon encounters is some half baked 'ghost investigator' out for giggles, the investigator might get more than a blurry photo for their trouble. And, somebody else that may put themselves voluntarily in danger is those that attempt to contact 'the other side', such as when one acts as a trance medium or conducts a sťance. Yes, something may come to visit, but there is no guarantee that it will leave before dinner, it might just like it here and stay.
      We're not going to go any deeper into that side of things than to say this: It Is Real, It Does Happen. And dealing with it is something best left to those with specialized training and knowledge not available on some cable TV show. If you go in and try to throw out something that just got off the bus from the depths of hell, you might be the next one in the chair howling at the sky. And no, that Rosary you picked up at the charity store for a dollar isn't going to protect you.
      Here might be a good place to quote that saying you hear when you call the clinic trying to reschedule your flu shot: "if this is an emergency, hang up...." and call an minister who has experience dealing with it. Not all do.

"And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve."
2 Corinthians 11:14-15 (NIV)
      Now. Any and All of those, human or otherwise, can be involved in those 'residual' haunts. Where some leftover energy is caught up in a location or structure and, when the clock strikes three (the real 'witching hour', or the hour opposite when Christ was said to have died) it is as if somebody hit 'play' on a tape recorder and a given set of events replay with no interference or involvement from those still on the day shift.
      Or, it could be intelligent, to a point, and come in and wonder who are you and what you are doing in their room. The only thing intelligent spirits don't seem to understand is that they have checked out and they need to move on.
      And then there are those, like a friend we'll get to in a moment, the late Jacob Marley, who are out and about on a mission of sorts, and their interaction with you is solely to get whatever it is done so they can get some rest.
      A crisis apparition is a vision of someone you know, or maybe you don't know them, in a moment of trauma, who projects unusually strong emotions. It may not do anything other than let you know they're in trouble. Now, that trouble may have happened a hundred years ago, or be happening now, or some time in the future. And it is sometimes impossible to know which it is at any point.
      Or it could be a random manifestation that doesn't fit neatly into any category except its own, and it may never show up again. Or it could happen again tonight and wake you up, screaming, from a nice dream.

      Got all that? OK? Good, let's move on.

By the Book(s)

      If you take more than a casual glance at any of the major religious texts you find something out right off the bat.
      What we call the "spirit world" was created by the Creator "in the beginning", which means before New Jersey. Period.
      It is Here, or out there, or Down There, or whatever, and your disbelief actually makes things easier for 'them'.
      In the East, it is acknowledged right up front and they even have parades and feasts for them. When you think about it, what else is a festival about when you put out a plate food for your ancestors if not seeking to keep them content with their current status and away from you? For example, the Obon tradition in Japan, link below.

      Remember the egui, the "hungry ghosts" of China? They get a festival all their own to help appease them. As do most of the other brands of spirits.
      Down in the Hindu areas of Asia, you have variations on the Pitri paksha which runs for about half a month during which ones ancestors going back three generations and who are in their version of purgatory, are remembered.
      And then you have various rituals and dances for the 'fathers' throughout the assorted tribes in the new world as well.
      Some of the more, shall we say, second string, religions are all about working with, if not full face appeasing those non-corporeal beings. Or, in other cases, warding them off with potions and rituals as needed.

      Wicca, for instance, both 'modern' and 'traditional' (the working definitions of those two modifiers depend on who you are talking to, and what you are talking about, but that's another discussion we don't have time for now) openly acknowledge that the physical world is only a small percentage of what is "here", and the "night shift" is a lot more than mischievous spooks that knock the pictures on the wall out of level every night. Any Witch worth the title can provide you with an amulet to protect you from all sorts of baddies, and of course, if you want to attract fairies there's something for that as well, and check out today's special on this tonic to keep the gnomes in your garden happy so they don't kill your roses. No, we're not kidding.
      We'll stop there with that one, just because it is a big enough basket to catch a bunch of the rest. But, there are other, one almost hesitates to use the term 'religion' with them just because of their beliefs, but, to be honest, they are a religion in that they assert that beings that don't carry cell phones, and other forces outside this realm are at work and they have some sort of 'in' with them. Yes, we are saving this seat at the table for the various groups that 'worship' the Dark Side, including it's goalie, Satan.
      No, Wicca is not Satan Worship, not if you ask a Wiccan anyway. Many on this side of the aisle are serious about their pastime, and they don't appreciate the one being confused with the other. But both do have our current point in common. They are generally more open to the idea that that mist on the trail was something besides swamp gas than most 'mainstream' believers.

      And with that... Moving on.

      It is only the major Western religions that go about making a competitive sport of denying the 'other side', except on All Saints Day, and Eve, but we're not going to go into that here. And they deny it even when their own study guides include it.
      Let's take the Holy Book of Islam for starters and pick one of the various references to the subject at hand. Let's look at Surah and verse 55 : 14 -15

"He created man from dry clay like earthen vessels, And He created the jinn of a flame of fire." (link below)

      The Old Testament mentions them as well. Perhaps the most famous ghost sighting is when King Saul does something very un-king-like in First Samuel 28 (NIV) with the Prophet Samuel who had recently passed on to his reward (link to chapter below):

Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?"
"Bring up Samuel," he said.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!"
The king said to her, "Donít be afraid. What do you see?"
The woman said, "I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth."
"What does he look like?" he asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"

      Of course, old Sam wasnít real happy to be making this particular house call, and he proceeded to pronounce doom and gloom on the King and his kids, and the kingdom besides, which didnít make Saul very happy either. And in the end, it went badly for him, just as Samuel said it would.
      The lesson there would appear to be the idea that if a Prophet has died, to leave him well enough alone. see a trend developing here?

      Moving on to the New Testament now, Christians are warned in several places that, well, the warning harkens back to what some of the tribes along the Pacific coast of North America told the early white explorers when they were questioned about some unsociable types of unusual height who lived way back in the woods, "yeah, they're out there, you're better off not bothering them. We don't."
      Most Christians are familiar with the lines about 'testing the spirits' from First John chapter four, but there's probably quite a few who ignore part of First Timothy:

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron."
1 Tim 4 : 1 and 2 (NIV) site link below

      We'll wrap up this section before we move on.
      Those who we are calling 'spirits' as an all inclusive term are all through the source books for the Great Faiths, and there is no denying it. That those beings have interactions with those still in this world is also undeniable. And, for the most part, the Books tell their followers to leave said 'critters' well enough alone. There, we said it again.

"Film at Eleven"
For this section we're going to draw a line across the mid 1960's and call everything this side of it "Modern Media" and look at that in a minute.

      There is no lack of movies that will give you goose pimples and make you sleep with the light on. But, movies and TV shows about ghosts and spirits with cast members that do not have physical bodies were kind of lacking until somewhat recently in the history of film.
      Yes, there were ghosts in classic theater going all the way back to the Ancient Greeks where Euripides introduced tonight's attraction titled Hecuba with a ghost M.C. (link to play below). But everybody in Shakespeare's audience understood that the dearly departed family that appears in the prison and recites the various speeches in Cymbeline act five, are actors in costume, with suitable music and maybe even creepy lighting. As was that thing in Macbeth, or the one that Hamlet carries on with, and so on through several of the Bard's plays.

Solemn music. Enter, as in an apparition, SICILIUS LEONATUS, father to Posthumus Leonatus, an old man, attired like a warrior; leading in his hand an ancient matron, his wife, and mother to Posthumus Leonatus, with music before them: then, after other music, follow the two young Leonati, brothers to Posthumus Leonatus, with wounds as they died in the wars. They circle Posthumus Leonatus round, as he lies sleeping
Cymbeline, Act 5

      When you think about it, there's a lot of movies about ghosts where the spook in question looks an awful lot like that one actor from that other movie you saw awhile back, who's actually still alive. And there's a reason for it, real ghosts refuse to work for less than union scale and keep odd hours during production. And, until recently, the special effects department just wasn't up to the challenge. Besides, if your ghost looks like Rex Harrison, you get a really bang up movie poster out of it. Such as was the case in The Ghost And Mrs. Muir from 1947. And, it helps too if the damsel in distress is as gorgeous as Gene Tierney, but, that's not the subject of this essay. Right? Yeah. Moving on.

      On the other side of the other side is the movies about ghosts and their environs that NEVER show the ghost. Think about it, in the classic Vincent Price chiller from 1959, The House on Haunted Hill you never Really see the spirit, (Not Counting a certain glowing plastic skeleton that made an appearance in selected theaters!) which may in fact be more unsettling than any wispy image filmed through a glass, say, in 1938's Christmas Carol or even the previous year's Topper, with none other than Cary Grant!

      We could go into ecstasy about the "suspension of disbelief" when the audience stops thinking about the actor on the stage as an actor on the stage and instead sees the ghost of Banquo who is sitting in Lord Macbeth's spot at the dinner table.
      Of course, that magical state is somewhat easier to attain when the images are projected on a screen in front of you.

      It may be a sign of the times, or it may just be the way it is, but when one goes to a stage play, with a live actor in front of a plywood set, who is wearing plastic armor, you seem to always be aware that you are watching a play. At least today it is very hard to be sucked in and to buy what they are selling and to accept the guy in the uncomfortable costume, who may be a very good General Macbeth all things considered, AS who he says he is.
      On the other had, when you are in the movie house, and essentially the same nonsense is being played out in front of you, or, in the case of this Writer and his wife, slightly different nonsense a couple of years ago with the 2012 release of Les Miserables the time where you thought of the lead character as a slightly hairer superhero lasted about half a song, and from then on, you saw him as Jean Valjean until maybe the very last scene where, at the end of his life, he kinda looked like his weasel-ish alter ego.
      The Desk has seen almost every version of the thing there is, high school productions of various scenes, the PBS musical special from a few years ago, and so on. It had never been as convinced that anybody was really going down into a sewer to save their life, and the life of their 'daughters' boyfriend as it had been then. Yeah, they sang almost every line in the show, yeah, it had "a cast of thousands", and all the rest. But. You. Believed.
      Why? Part of it has to do with the communal experience of the theater. But. Hang on. Going to a play is also a communal experience. And don't even start with "we are more sophisticated now than they were back in the day", no, that ain't gonna cut it.
      Part of the overall reason may be the ability of the medium itself to transcend time, and even space, something a live action play cannot do. You can still watch Cary Grant as Topper on the screen, even though Mr. Grant assumed room temperature in 1986. And yet, on the screen, he is still very much alive. And through the film, we could go to Paris as well.
      It doesn't work as well on the smaller screen (TV), but it still works.
End tangent

      A good director, and to a point, an actor, knows just how far to push the envelope and stay within the arena where that mystical state still exists for the audience. They still believe what they see. One step too far, too soon, up the ladder to the attic where the monster is, and that willingness to buy what the movie is selling goes away.
      Alfred Hitchcock was a master of that. He knew how to approach the ladder, how to keep us right in the palm of his hand, and, although he never did a "ghost movie" as such, he did plenty of spooky things, and in some of them, you never really saw what was on the other side of that door, although you KNEW what was there. And what you knew was there was scarier than anything he could ever put on the screen.

      OK, did you catch that?
      Let's restate it and just be clear about it.
      The 'spook' you don't see is scarier than the one you do.

      And thereby hangs part of the problem with discussing this whole topic.

      Whether or not THEY are REAL almost doesn't matter.
      A significant percentage of the human population believes it, and a good many of them are afraid of them (and for that matter, a lot of people who say they don't believe that the spirit world and its residents exist are afraid of them as well), that very fact gives Them a power they would not otherwise have.
      And that is enough.

      Or, well, that is almost enough. But that would require a conclusion, and we're not ready for that yet. We still have to look at our guest stars in their roles today.

Modern Popular Media

"Dude, run!"
most famous two words from the "Ghost Hunters" series on the SciFi network

      You don't have to go too far to find several 'ghost hunt' TV shows on any number of cable channels. Some are totally sensational and they always seem to find the absolute most haunted location outside of the mansion in Disney World, and they have the out of focus somewhat grainy video to prove it. Others are more sensible, if not exactly scientific in their approach, and they are at least trying to be more about 'debunking' rumored haunts than they are in finding the local restless spirit and putting him on TV. And, of course, a number are in between the two extremes, but they still make an entertaining hour of television.
      Then you have the purely fictional entertainment wing of the broadcast center. Everything this side of "Casper the Friendly Ghost" and all of his cousins that aren't working at that mansion we mentioned. In that pile is everything made for movies or TV since the mid-sixties, including that film with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg made in 1990 that won Ms Goldberg an Academy Award.

      We won't spend much more time in this category than it takes to say this: every video you see on TV or online that claims to be a 'real ghost video' is exactly that. It IS a video, as to whether or not it shows anything at all is totally up to you, and your willingness to suspend your disbelief and think that the guy in the plastic armor is Lord Macbeth.
      For this article the Desk went through more than its fair share of videos on the various 'tube' sites, and it did see some that were interesting, but it saw a lot more that were everything from camera artifacts including low light lens flare, odd reflections, dust and fog, and so on, as well as a lot of wishful thinking, and no small collection of deliberate hoaxery. Some of the latter was very well done, but it doesn't prove anything except that the gullible are still among us. Were any of the 'spirits' so photographed a Real Spirit, as versus, say, a bedsheet?
      And while we're at it, how about some of that grainy video on the 'ghost seekers' shows? Are any of those real? Or are they just slightly better camera tricks or something done on a computer back in Hollywood?
      Give us a minute and we'll get to that.

      One will notice the same photographic effect with Mr. Swayze in his 1990 movie that we saw some sixty years before with Scrooge and his friends. That the 'ghost' appears somewhat out of focus, a bit translucent, and, perhaps, incomplete.
      And, if one is of such a mind, one might wonder why.

      Part of that answer lies in the lore and legend of the topic.
      You don't have to be around it long, or watch more than a couple of those 'hunter' shows we just mentioned, to hear terms like "full torso apparition". To go back to one of our earlier examples, that would be the ghost on stage with the Prince of Denmark. Which, in anybody's book, is one of the rarest of the sightings going. And yet, that's what we expect to see out on our forest path in the middle of the night. Right? If you are going to "see a ghost" you want to see Mr. Marley and his chains. A passing puff of cigar smoke caught in a street light just doesn't cut it.
      So, how much of our friends is made up of what we expect them to be, and our brains obligingly turn that smoke into a full fledged ghost, just as once you see the tiger in the fancy eye tricking picture you will Always see the tiger in the picture, and, conversely, you can't Un-see it.

      And now we will make the water even murkier.
      It has been suggested in various discussions that some types of Them draw some of their power to, and even ability to, materialize and exist in our world, even if for only a few moments at a time, from us. It is the "observer effect" in reverse.
      "... if a tree falls in the forest..." indeed. Except in this case, the ghost doesn't really exist in any meaningful way until you walk down our forest path and see it. If you're not there, it isn't either.
      Are you imagining it? Well, maybe partially. Perhaps it is feeding off your mental energy, and imagination is a powerful mental force. But there also has to be some-Thing out there to draw on that energy. Perhaps the kernel of whatever is out there has been there for an age of the Earth, but it needed the right conditions to manifest, and then it needed you to happen by at the right time to come to fruition. And it may not happen again for another eon or so.
      But if we went that way, we'd run into objections from our 'ghost search' friends who have film of otherwise unexplained wispy, and some that aren't so ephemeral, and a few that are rather surprising, such as one this writer remembers that looked over a railing in a lighthouse and could be seen laughing at the investigators. Yeah, unless they were doing some "Hollywood Light And Magic" style trick on us, that one was as good as any evidence out there. Was it drawing energy from the camera? From those that watched the camera later? Now we're into some sort of Schrodinger paradox where the ghost is there, and Not there, at the same time, only to appear later, IF it is observed.
      Talk about getting a headache being a symptom of the presence of a spirit. Which brings us to our next point.

the "bumping in the night" buffet

"'In the absence of light, darkness prevails.' There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back."
-Professor Broom, Hellboy, 2004, Columbia Pictures.

      Have you ever spent the night in a really old house? Or sat quietly in an antique office building when nobody else is supposed to have been in there? Maybe walked down our forest path from earlier without knowing that on the other side of the hedgerow is a pioneer cemetery full of the restless dead?
      Many events touted by the TV shows as 'paranormal activity' simply isn't. Orbs may be uncommon, but this writer has taken photos that have orbs in them. One photo inside an historic theater has no less than twenty. Another has one. One really good one that is. Is it the flash from the camera reflecting off an odd bit of dust that wasn't there in the photo before, or the one after? It's hard to say. The photo with twenty or more objects is a shot up into the back stage area looking at the partially restored theatrical rigging. Has the work to update the place and put it back in service disturbed the veil between worlds and every spook that calls the place home is out showing off? Possibly. It is also possible that that photo is proof they need an industrial strength air filter in the place. (link to the Fischer Theater essay and the photos below)

      Also, Old Buildings are noisy. Even ones that aren't haunted can make enough noise to make you think about spending the night in the car. Plumbing, heating and cooling systems, even unused electrical wiring in an old building can make odd noises by itself or influence equipment in unexpected ways. And we haven't even mentioned things like outside sounds and lights working their way in and bouncing around. Is the building a large reverb chamber for the neighbor's plumbing and every time somebody flushes you think the legions of hell are marching through the basement? Only painstaking investigation can determine that, and most TV 'real ghosts of New Jersey' type shows aren't into that sort of thing.
      To be fair, most TV crews roll into town, do their taping, and are gone before the ghosts even know they were there. It may take several trips to a site to nail down what is going on, and while you're at it, you may have to nail down a creaky floorboard to eliminate that from contention. The show isn't going to put in the time and effort to end up with evidence a week and several thousand dollars later that the 'hideous demon under the stairs' was a raccoon with fleas.

      Vibrations from a passing truck or train, even one some distance away, given JUST THE RIGHT circumstances can knock a picture out of level, or even off the wall. That is a simple fact. It happens. All it means is you need to go to the hardware store and get a better hanger for that portrait of dear old aunt Thelma. It does Not mean that Thelma is trying to contact you from the other side. Nor is it likely you need a priest.
      Well, you might need a priest, but not to send Thelma back to wherever she is now.

      The same is true for leaking faucets, lights that won't stay on, or off, doors that open or close by themselves, and so on. Air currents, vibrations, mice, plumbing oddities, power surges or faulty grounding or both (we'll come right back to electrical anomalies in a second), pets, kids, all come into play. And we haven't even touched on underground water, energy emissions from natural rock formations, ball lightning, and the ever popular "Secret US Military Project". No, we've left them alone.
      There are a lot of explanations for 'paranormal' events that are NOT related to the spirit world.

      Yes, you may have various gadgets and gizmos to detect something. Yes, they will Detect Some Thing. But now is that a random magnetic field or a ghost? Or are those the same thing?
      This writer knows a way to use a regular multi-tester, set to maximum sensitivity and connected to a long bit of wire strung through where the 'spooks' are supposed to wander. And it will, from time to time, show a variance in the resistance of the wire. It is detecting 'something' that is monkeying around with how the circuit is functioning. But is it a spirit? Good question.
      Is what the multi-tester detected paranormal? Well, yeah. Readings of the ohms in the given length of wire Should Not Change as long as nobody is out there messing around with it and the unit's battery isn't dying. As to whether anything else in the area has died and is messing with it isn't part of the operating manual for the tester.

      Now having said that, we'll paraphrase a classic line like this: "don't over-complicate the explanation until it becomes ridiculous."
      Yeah, that's based on Occam's razor (not to mention the famous Sherlock Holmes line) but our version will work well for us here and now.

      If you eliminate the more mundane explanations, and deliberate hoax, then what are you left with?
      On our forest path, you've checked for sources of swamp gas, there's nobody out there smoking a cigar, the nearest highway is miles away, and you don't see any fishing line in the trees to pull a garbage bag across, so... what's left?
      A lot of the goings on on TV, and in internet video, is muddy. It might be a genuine spook, but it probably isn't. Again, we're throwing out the ones done (badly in most cases) with mirrors and sheets and wonky lighting. We're also ignoring anything that smells of computer image manipulation. But that still leaves that spirit laughing at us inside the lighthouse, and a few others.
      It also leaves the first hand accounts from people who have no vested interest in the matter one way or the other.
      Such as, at a place where this author was working, it was not uncommon for a client to come in the office and ask who "that other man was". They would see the guy in the common area of the hundred and twenty year old house, then he'd walk out of the room. It was a verifiable fact that this writer was the only male on the property above the age of ten or so at the time. The clients usually described the gentleman as dressed in coveralls or other work attire, and appearing to be tired. In the course of ten years or so, it happened more often than can be attributed to coincidence. For the record, they always described him as looking like a person, not a wisp of cigar smoke blowing across the path.

      Another instance this writer is aware of was in a house that is older than the country. The historic building has been there since the early 1700's it had served as everything from a trading post to a mill house. It was also rumored to have a darker history involving the slave trade. One of the 'entities' there could not be mistaken for a departed working man, in fact, several researchers have described it as either an unfriendly 'earth spirit' or even as demonic. This writer can and will testify that when it was in the neighborhood, you knew it as some base level that upset digestion and gave you cold chills.
      The house was a rental property, and as can be easily imagined, it didn't stay rented for long.
      The 'thing', for lack of a better word, would be out of town for weeks at a time, and then, just arrive. And you would feel the atmosphere change like an approaching squall line. We'll also mention that normal protective elements, ranging from a 'new broom ritual' to holy water, had no effect whatsoever on it. If the lady that had lived there at the time had stayed, she was going to request an exorcism. But then she had the chance to move and did. There are some battles that aren't worth fighting.

      So, yeah. They Are Real. To a point.
      Yes they are. But you have to wade through an entire swamp of trickery, hoaxes, special effects, wishful thinking, and other frauds to get to the 'natural' causes of events like gas from that swamp, blowing leaves, and an overachieving chipmunk before you can even start thinking about whether or not It is a hungry human spirit or perhaps some nasty come-a-calling from the Other World.

      And now for a warning. Yes...

... a warning.

      It might be fun to go sit in a spooky old apartment building or abandoned school that is rumored to 'be haunted' and try to get an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) by asking questions into the gloom. And you might get a blurry picture of an orb or a shimmering puff of something like what drifted across the trial earlier. Or you might not.
      There are things out there, that, like Sasquatch in the North Woods, are better off just left alone.
      This is not a joke, if you go hunting for spirits, something might come hunting you, and it might just follow you home. And it might not be the lonely spirit of Aunt Thelma from that crooked picture either. It might be an even nastier version of Uncle Fester and it could well make your life miserable for some time to come.
      That's if it was ever human at all.

      Just as when kids play with a Ouija board, it might be, and usually is, harmless fun. And we already mentioned sitting in on a sťance during that bit about possession. But there is also the chance that those involved in them might just invite something over that they are not expecting and cannot handle.

      So, we'll say this. Do a bit of research before you put new batteries in your flashlight and head out to the creepy old mansion. And by research, we don't mean watching fake videos on OurFreeWebTube either.
      It does require a bit of reading. Some people might be upset by the titles of some of the material, without even opening the book.
      Serious inquiry into this topic is not for the feint of heart or the easily upset. Just the idea of the fact that it Is Not Fiction causes some people a case of the Fantods, or worse. And there are those that would have told the Desk that just writing this article borders on the sin of meddling in black magic.
      Well, to that we'll say this. Knowledge is power. And to be afraid of something in ignorance is worse than knowing which kind of snake is venomous and when you need to back away slowly and call the Animal Control guy with the fancy boots and a thick canvas bag. The Desk has been on the edges, and sometimes beyond the edges, of this topic for years. It has had its share of experiences, and yes, there has been times when it has backed out of the place slowly and recommended that they make a call to somebody that can order holy water by the gallon.

      But even some of the most famous (infamous) works that Might be fiction have at least one leg of their stool in reality and some of what they are dealing with is in the attic, or basement, as the case may be.

      The book that is usually referred to as the Necromonicon is somewhat fanciful, if not totally a work of fiction (that judgment depends on who you talk to), but, some of it is based directly on rituals used to open portals to the other side and other pastimes that your local minister may not approve of. Remember what we just said about the Ouija board? Yeah, same idea.
      There is a reason the First Century Church was told not to dabble in the business of the underworld and, as with Saul's witch, it was forbidden under pain of death by the Law, while those under Islam and even various Eastern religions are told that, perhaps, its best just to leave 'them' alone.
      And as we have nearly come full circle, it is time to reach for some sort of conclusion. Maybe to take a shot at answering the original question.

"And a good time was had by all" - A friend of the Desk when discussing this article.

      We'll break the original question into a handful of parts and try to answer them to answer it.

      Are Ghosts, as in, non-physical remnants of deceased people, real?
      Are Spirits and Entities, things that are not physical, and were never, as least as far as we can tell, human or even 'critters', and are still out there, such as what would traditionally be called a demon or jinn, real?
      Are others that come and go from our world that defy easy categorization and are 'doing their own thing' which may or may not involve us and our stuff, real?

      Well, yes. They are ALL out there, or around here, or whatever.
      We are probably better off, at least in most situations, if we just leave them alone.
      There's probably no harm done with a curious and even casual glance that way once in awhile, but to get all bent around it and obsess that there's things wandering around your place that aren't paying rent is perhaps to go too far.
      The point there is that if you go looking for trouble, long enough and hard enough, you'll probably find it, even if you have to manufacture it from creaky boards and rattling heating vents.
      Yeah, OK, if They make a point of being annoying, you may need to find out who, or what, you're dealing with and whether or not the place needs a cleaning that can't be done with that big red carpet machine you rent from the grocery store. In that case, reverse the suggestion. You do Need to know what you are dealing with, and whether or not professional, even perchance Religious intervention, such as an exorcism, needs to be done. And in that case, going in with no more knowledge than what you've seen on a 'spirit encounters' show is probably just enough to get you in trouble. For a refresher, back up to the paragraphs that mentioned demonic possession.

Here Rests....

      So there you have it.

      The answer, when you come down to it, after 7,500 words or so, IS, "yes, and no. Sort of."


"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
- Ephesians 6:12

Other Links below:
(Outside links will open in new tab/window. All were working as of posting date of this essay.)


Japan's Obon:

Pitri paksha:

The Jinn:

Jinn are created from fire of hot wind [Qur'an, 15:27]; and from smokeless fire [Qur'an, 55:15].



"creatures in scandinavian folklore"

A quick look at Africa The North American Shaman has an evil spirit...
Raven Mocker

A paper about the Trickster:

Plays as mentioned above.

The Bard of Avon Online:

Film: Fifty Greatest Ghost Movies

Media Desk Links
The photos mentioned from the Fischer Theater are about two thirds of the way down the page.

the Mystery Article of all Mystery Articles: ALCHEMY.

And other Non-Fiction and Mystery Series Articles.

[NOTE: Everything mentioned in this article is owned by other entities, including, the various "Entities" mention. No disparagement or disrespect is intended. No endorsement of the Desk of Them, or by them of the Desk is to be inferred (which remains to be seen).
      The Desk is solely responsible for the analysis and conclusions hereby presented. If the reader has any issues with anything in the article they may contact the Desk through the usual channels.
thank you]

Back to the Desk's Main page