Ghosts – what are they? Where do they come from? We may never know.
What we do know is that ghosts are a cheap and interesting source of entertainment and a good way of livening up any slumber party. The main problem with ghosts is that they tend to be shy. It’s like they just don’t want to be photographed, documented or fiddled about with in any way shape or form.
You have to be bold with ghosts – they’re timid. Bigfoot timid. If they were any more timid they’d be hanging out in Loch Ness, pretending to be an extinct marine reptile with an astounding gift for avoiding sonar.
So, allow me to present my simple five step guide to persuading the ghosts in your life to abandon their natural reticence and start doing proper ghost stuff, like banging on walls, setting fire to ouija boards, levitating the kids and killing your sleazy stockbroker boyfriend. (Okay, they might not do the last one – I can’t promise results on any of the below, so you might have to just dump him.)
1. Find A Haunted House.
First things first, go somewhere that is haunted. Or a place that you believe to be haunted. It really doesn’t matter. Hampton Court Palace is a good place to go – it’s supposed to be haunted and the garden gift shop is quite nice. There is a corridor there where the ghost of Katherine Howard – unfortunate teenage trophy wife of Henry VIII – is said to run screaming, seeking the dwindling mercy of her murderous middle aged husband. The corridor where Katherine’s ghost appears didn’t actually exist at the time of her death and wasn’t even a route to the chapel where the king was hearing Mass, but as we all know, ghosts can walk through walls – an ability that apparently extends into life if you are lucky enough to become a ghost after death. Always good to know.
If you’re of a British or European persuasion then you’re in more luck than our American cousins. They don’t get haunted locations with the same certain oomph that we have on this side of the pond. Not for them the hammer beamed Tudor mansions, the Norman keeps, Gothic chapter houses and crumbling Victorian lunatic asylums – just doesn’t happen for them. Their country’s still a little bit too new for really spooky settings, a fault that time will cure soon enough.
Old houses are the best. They come with weird acoustics, doors that swing open and closed on their own and elderly plumbing given to loud gurgling at three o’clock in the morning. Occasionally you will come across a disappointingly nice old house, with roses around the doorway and a babbling brook running prettily through a garden crammed with charming old-fashioned flowers, but with a little imagination you can turn the place into a shit-the-bed hellhole with a reputation akin to Shirley Jackson’s infamous Hill House.
Simply invent a ghost. This is a perfectly respectable practise and has happened in some of the best hauntings, such as the Fox house and Borley Rectory. The ghosts, one Charles B. Rosna and Marie Lairre respectively, never existed at all – not in this life or the next – but failure to exist should never and has never got in the way of a really good ghost story.
If your house is a million miles from the insalubrious spider habitats so lovingly captured in night vision by idiots dedicated to making cheap television programmes, then don’t despair. In the 1970’s one of the most haunted houses in Britain was nothing more than a humble council house in Enfield – it was the most ordinary looking place you could imagine, but according to the girls who lived there it was haunted as fuck.
2. Experience the Magic of Puberty
The Enfield Poltergeist case brings me neatly to my next point – apparently seeing ghosts becomes a whole lot easier if you’re a raging bag of adolescent hormones. Perhaps it was something to do with how the whole Spiritualist movement was founded by two little girls on the cusp of adolescence, or perhaps all ghosts are massive paedophiles. (There’s a Daily Mail exclusive in there somewhere.)
Girls seem to be better at attracting ghosts than boys. Nobody knows exactly why this is, but parapsychologists have theorised that the mental and physical turbulence of going from girl to woman turns you into some kind of psychic witch. Of course, it’s also possible that a lot of these theories are mixed up with several centuries of the wildly superstitious nonsense surrounding menstruation. For thousands of years people have believed that menstruating women were capable of curdling milk simply by looking at it, likely to die of cold if they washed their hair and happy to go rollerblading in clingy white Lycra shorts.
Nevertheless, the records speak for themselves – an awful lot of cases of paranormal oddness, from Hydesville to Salem to Cottingley to Enfield, seem to centre around young girls who are at that interesting age. It seems that seeing ghosts is a breeze when you’re at an age to really enjoy slamming doors, falling madly in love with celebrities who don’t know you exist and changing your name to Rayne-Blood Darkdream.
Of course, if you’re beyond the age of puberty you might find that your psychic powers are not what they used to be since the days when you genuinely enjoyed Anne Rice novels, but don’t worry. Thanks to modern technology you can prolong those happy days of dramatic shitfits and desperately trying to find yourself fascinating. Simply post your intimate personal dramas online, wait for people to call you in on your nonsense and then tell them to kill themselves when they do. If that feels like too much effort then go to YouTube and hurl abuse at complete strangers who don’t like the same music as you. Take your pick. You need never grow up at all. Isn’t the future marvellous?
As you regress back to adolescence you might find that you become more credulous and a lot less cynical than you used to be. This is quite normal and largely how past life regression therapists make their money. You may also find yourself feeling a lot more special than you used to feel when you accepted yourself as just another ordinary adult trying to put dinner on the table and pay the bills. Again, this is normal – when the process is complete and you are mentally all of fourteen again you will be so special that seeing ghosts will come to you as easily as posting on Tumblr about your ‘fictive headmates’.
3. Trip Balls
Okay, so you’ve found your haunted house, furnished it with imaginary ghosts and opened your mind to the point where you are willing to scream every time someone’s stomach rumbles or a branch taps on the glass of a window.
The next logical step is ketamine.
I’m joking, of course. It’s pet tranquilisers – don’t take ketamine.
However, there’s no getting away from it – there are certain substances that make it substantially easier to see weird things. It doesn’t even have to be anything particularly exotic – just a few beers and a couple of really good bong hits are enough to give you a slightly more interesting paranormal experience.
Here are some other mind enhancing herbs and chemicals you definitely shouldn’t try when ghosthunting.
Marijuana – makes time fly when you’re bored and adds weird mystical weight to the most banal of utterances. More or less the perfect drug if you want to believe in nonsense. The only downside is that you might find yourself in a derelict haunted house in the middle of nowhere, with no mobile phone signal and no way of ordering a pizza.
Peyote/Jimson weed/mushrooms etc – great for anyone who wants to go the Carlos Castaneda route and get up close and personal with their spirit guides. Also great for people who want to get up and close and personal with the contents of their stomach. I’m told it can get messy.
Cocaine – not really recommended, since a lot of ghosthunting involves sitting around in silence. While cokeheads can be relied upon to shriek and bounce off the walls at the slightest noise, they’re not so good at the sitting quietly part.
Heroin – won’t make you see ghosts but will make you look like one.
Meth – No.
If you’re not much of a drug dilletante, then you can always rely on that good old-fashioned attitude adjuster that so enlivened Hogarth’s engravings and still adds a certain aggressive je ne sais quoi to Saturday nights in any British city you care to name. I’m talking, of course, about booze.
Keep drinking until the place feels haunted. One of the little documented but often felt signs of a paranormal presence is nausea, and alcohol can really help with this.
I once attended a New Year’s ghost hunt in the middle of a field, which was all that remained of the haunted house. Long story short – the house itself was demolished in 1811 when the current owner threw a shitfit – he announced that his daughter would never set foot in his house again and made good on it by tearing the entire house down. This was particularly rude of him because the house had been an important historical site since the time of King John. A lot of people had lived there, a lot of people had died there, sometimes in unpleasant circumstances; local legend says that the place is so haunted that on New Year’s Eve the entire house rematerialises.
This is largely dependent on how much rough-as-guts corner shop cider one consumes before heading out to the sheep-field. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but that was only because – out of sympathy with the designated driver – I was well under the legal limit. Had I drank more, I would have seen at least 60% more ghosts.
4. I Want To Believe
This is it – this is the big one. You can disregard all three previous points so long as you follow this one. You can fill the vaults of Edinburgh Castle with Justin Bieber fans and huff glue hard enough to see the ghost of Black Beauty, but you’ll see absolutely nothing if you don’t want to.
You know The Secret? That fluffy New Age kittenfart of a self help book that says if you want something enough then you’ll get it? Well, it works. It’s real. If you want to see ghosts, you will see ghosts – it’s that simple.
5. Fake It Til You Make It
Okay, so when I said The Secret works in the context of ghosts, I may have been lying a little. Every atom of your being might be straining towards having a paranormal experience but somehow, on whatever quantum level this bullshit claims to work at, the universe hasn’t answered your desires.
This is where you get to have fun. That draft coming under the door? That’s a cold spot – definitely. For sure. Even if you’re standing in front of an open fridge – cold spot. Signals the presence of ghosts. Oh yeah – can you feel it? Can you feel the spooky energy coming from the fridge? Maybe the fridge is haunted. It could be. That one in Ghostbusters was.
Tell yourself that the flickering shadows at the edge of your peripheral vision are spirit manifestations and have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you haven’t eaten a proper meal in twenty four hours and might have low blood sugar. Tell yourself that the floating lights caught on camera are spectral orbs and have nothing to do with dust or moths. Tell yourself that you have a special ghost person living in your head and that he or she can hook you up with the spirit world. (If you’ve performed Stage Two successfully then this is going to feel not only easy but a natural progression.)
Whatever you do to convince yourself, make sure it feels absolutely real to you. When you’ve made it you will not only be able to talk to the ghost person in your head but whatever you say will no longer feel like a lie. And it’s no longer is a lie – it’s a full fledged delusion. You have gone beyond seeing ghosts – you can communicate with ghosts. Hurray – you’re a medium! Time to get your own cable show!
But wait – cool your jets there, Sparky. There’s more stuff to learn if you want to be a medium, and that’s a lesson for another time.
For more things that go bump in the night, check out Summerland, based on the extraordinary true story of Harry Houdini’s crusade against fraudulent mediums.