Monday, January 4, 2010

Catherine Crowe and the Hauntings: Ghosts, Apparitions, and Poltergeists, oh my!

This post will try to, inadequately, capture some of Catherine Crowe's wisdom and evidence for hauntings--it's a tough task and I recommend that people who are really interested in this read the whole Nightside of Nature. It would also be nice if someone published a biography of this significant woman. This probably wouldn't be too hard, as a gentleman [now deceased] named Geoffrey Larkin collected a mountain of material on her [probably fell in love with her "long-distance" as I have] in 1980, wrote a draft biography [unpublished], and all this work has been deposited in the archives of the University of Kent at Canterbury. I'd love to read her letters involving [especially] the cases of the supernormal. [Also, one of the last things they received was a framed photograph of a pen-and-ink sketch of who may be Catherine herself--if so, the only known representation, I believe--if someone lives near the archives, please send me a copy :-).]
Nightside of Nature contains thumbnail sketches and a few longer stories which number in the hundreds. Who knows how many total tales Catherine had heard, as she doesn't read like a person who is just forcefully cramming everything she knows into the book, without regard to either good sense or art. When she has a tale which she considers to be well known, she does something to check up on it. Such, for example, are the stories of the "Brown Lady" and of "Spinning Jenny". She briefly mentioned the "Brown Lady" and remarked, as expected [by me] that the encounters with her were such that persons had "frequently met her on the stairs" and then inquired of their host as to who she was. The relevance of this is that she was not some diaphanous ["see-through"] anomaly, but rather a normal appearing woman. For this specific, and for the generally-stated, testimony on apparitions, I have a great deal of doubt that the famous picture of the Brown Lady [to the left] is legitimate. [If it IS legitimate, then it is likely not of her, but of some trickster phenomenon].------------------------------------ "Spinning Jenny" was [is?] the ghost at the massive estate of the Lytton family, and "expressed herself" prominently during the period of residence of the famous Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who, among many things, was very interested in spiritual manifestations. Jenny was an entirely different kind of ghost, known by the sounds of her spinning wheel and not by visual appearances. The sounds of Jenny's Wheel were heard not only in the estate house, but would sometimes accompany the servants home to their own houses [but to no one else's]. The Lytton family and staff considered the phenomenon harmless and of no bother. Respected folklorist Jennifer Westwood has written that the story of a maltreated servant, Jenny, was made up by a woman [not our Catherine] at a Lytton party [circa 1800] and from there it entered legend. That may be true, but I doubt the conclusion. Catherine, very close to the time, speaks of an ongoing poltergeist phenomenon, not an "unquiet dead" story, and, with respect to two great ladies, I view the poltergeist phenomenon to be in all probability genuine, and the unquiet spirit story to be a later [shortly] add-on to "explain" the noises. Thus I [gallantly I might add] save the reputations of both our esteemed scholars. Catherine's mentioning of these two famous cases high-lights the dichotomy that exists in the lump of encounter experiences tossed together under the label "Ghosts". -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The story of the Brown Lady is a representative of the classic type of the unquiet spirit with the need to "make right" some disharmony in order to be able to, as we would say, "cross over". [yes, I've been occasionally watching Jennifer Love Hewitt in Ghost Whisperer--a guilty pleasure]. Another such apparently well-documented tale came from Catherine's readings in the German literature. This story was recounted by a minor German royal named Duke Christian of Saxe-Eisenburg. He was a somewhat distant descendant of similar royals, in this case Duke John Casimir [pictured on right] and Duchess Anna [princess of Saxony], ruling in Saxe-Coburg. Casimir was apparently quite an ass, and badly mistreated Anna, who, unaccountably, never fell completely out of love with him. For a welcome change, this is not a story where the ego-maniac thug violently kills the lady, and, though she tried mightily for some reconciliation, they ended separating and ultimately died unmarried and apart. Our reporter, Duke Christian, many years after these goings-on, stated that one day in his study there came an unsolicited and unannounced knock on his door. [Parlor guards should have prevented this]. He did say "come in" and in walked a lady in old-style clothes. She informed him who she was [Princess Anna] and that she was no evil spirit, but needed his help in righting a wrongful situation. Her plea was that although she was happy in the other life, Duke Casimir was not. [and she still loved him, and wanted him to be able to get peace]. Casimir was "wandering in cold and darkness between time and eternity". The way to free him was to review their disputes and have a relative serve as a judge as to whom the guilt was due--and then have everyone admit to it. She was asking Christian to be this judge. She then left, with apparently no one else having seen her. Christian consulted his clergyman as well as family history, and despite mildly questioning his own sanity, decided that if Anna were to return with Casimir, he would do what he could. Eight days later, though guards still watched the outer door, the deceased royals reappeared in their princely attire. Christian heard the cases and judged for the lady. Casimir humbly agreed. Christian then took each of their hands [Anna's was felt warm; Casimir's was ice-cold] and laid them on one anothers and said a blessing for them. The apparently life-like and substantial apparitions then simply disappeared. Catherine believes this story to be valid, I think, because it had nothing to do with any practical gain that Christian had by telling it--ex. there was no matter of legitimacy of his position or such matter. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I want to tell one more of these "make things right" tales, despite me extending this blog too much by not cutting this down. This was an incident which apparently had relevance to a court case in Germany. A man had died and with good reputation as a charitable individual. His son took over the family estate including keeping on the servants. One of these servants had, one evening, an apparitional "guest" in her bedroom which scared her mightily, who appeared old and haggard and illuminated by a type of inner light. These visitations repeated several times. The master of the house, having heard of the goings-on, requested that the servant ask the ghost what he wanted. This she got courage to do, as well as to follow the apparition when it beckoned her to do so. It showed her a locked closet, sequestered away, which it indicated that she should open. She replied that she had no key, whereupon it described where she could find the key. She did so, found a parcel within, and was told to give it to the institution for the poor that the deceased had supported in life. The spirit said that this was the only way that he could achieve peace in the other life. She took the parcel and the story to the new master and he said that she should do as the spirit had asked---whereupon she did. At the institution, the opened parcel revealed a promissory note ordering the son to pay a very large amount of money to the cause. This amount it said was the sum that the older man had defrauded the institution and must be repaid. The son had a fit of anger at this, said it was all impossible, fired the servant and had her arrested. [altruist-of-the-year]. In the courtroom, the son, while accusing the servant was assaulted by a blow to his arm which silenced him, as the girl cried "See! There he stands now!" but no one else could see him. Then several people heard a discarnate voice telling his son to do what was right and pay the sum...whereupon he relented. Despite this act of "charity", the son was so boggled by all this that he went into a funk that took a long while to reorient from and regain his mental balance. A bit of justice there too. This story was checked by Dr. Kerner [whose work Catherine translated] by speaking with people directly involved within the same year of the events [it had taken place in 1816].--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A story worth repeating on the poltergeist side involved a Victorian actress named Mary Anne Hunn, who was later to remarry and became the mother of one of Britain's most famous politicians, George Canning. Mrs. Hunn was visiting Plymouth and needed a lodging. A friend procured one cheaply, saying that the reason was that it had a reputation for being haunted. Mrs. Hunn believed that she had already experienced ghosts haunting theatres and that this would not bother her. The lodgings were over a carpentry shop and when the workers left for the evening and the children and maids retired to bed, she sat up expectantly to read and see if there would be any happenings. Inevitably there came the sound of sawing wood. Then other noises of the shop, until there were a virtual cacophony of wood-working sounds. She took off her shoes so as to sneak up on the noise-makers, but on arriving at a point that she could see, the noise all abruptly stopped and there was nothing there. She inspected the whole shop including all the securely locked doors, and retired...only to have the whole show begin again a half hour later. This act repeated itself the next night, whereupon she told the [relatively-new] owner of the house, who refused to believe it, but said that he'd watch overnight with her. The work noises began on cue, and the owner, instead of going down to the shop to investigate, ran out in horror. Our brave lady was more amused than scared and later said that the noises persisted for weeks and would have only scared her if they had NOT occurred, as she then would have worried that their agents were perhaps coming upstairs instead. Catherine tells many other poltergeist sound experiences, the most common being the "tread of foot on the stairs". One that apparently tickled her was of the boss of a work gang that was repairing, extensively, the insides of a haunted house which, because of the phenomena, the workers refused to work on into the evenings. One day the boss, post quitting time, went back in to inspect the work, and as he climbed the stairs, heard the fall of a heavy foot behind him. He whirled about to find, of course, no one there. Continuing on, he began to hear the footfalls again further behind. Stopping at a landing, he looked for and waited for...nothing. He entered a large room where a fire had been set to warm it, and, getting his machismo up, dramatically grabbed a chair slammed it down facing the door [and the offending sounds] and challengingly sat in it. To his horror, a second [invisible] chair was identically drawn up, slammed down, and sat upon by an invisible "guest". Testosterone now left aside, our worthy builder ran from the premises. [doubtless to the great amusement of the local leprechauns ].---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The haunted house at Willington Mill is a remarkable story in a whole variety of ways. The first and perhaps most important is the character of the owners of the place. These people [Joseph Proctor and family] were good practicing Friends [Quakers] and had no desire to be the hosts of anomalous spirit entities, and even less to lie about them. The number of incidents involving the ghosts were so many that they became public to a whole variety of reporters and pamphlet writers. One reader of these claims absolutely could not believe any of it, but was nevertheless so curious that he asked if he could visit the Proctors and experience whatever-it-was for himself. This man, Edward Drury, has left us a detailed account of his experiences along with letters documenting parts of them. The phenomena Drury witnessed were the following: the pattering of many feet, knocking sounds some of which were right near him in the same room, a hollow cough [from a small, easily seeable empty room], and rustling sounds as of garments brushing against the walls ascending the stairs. All of these were mutually witnessed by himself and a friend that he brought with him. His friend dosed off, and Drury watched as a closet door opened by itself and a woman dressed in gray emerged, hands held as if to indicate something, and walked towards the dozing friend. Drury rushed at her, passing right through the apparition and landing unconscious upon his friend. He was taken downstairs in this state of confusion and terror [of which he remembered little--the testimony is by his friend and Mr. Proctor], and didn't recover for three hours. Many other occurrences occurred at the Mill at Willington but this will suffice. Joseph Proctor himself became miffed at the glib opinions of the educated elite and said: "The unbelief of the educated classes, in apparitions of the deceased, and kindred phenomena, is not grounded on a fair philosophic examination of the facts which have induced the popular belief of all ages and countries; and will be found, by succeeding ages, to have been nothing better than unreasoning and unreasonable prejudice". To that Catherine and I say "Amen", but I am still waiting for the "succeeding age" wherein we all wake up. Note, friends, that Proctor's quote is applicable to nearly all our favorite anomalies. Proctor is not "Out Proctor" at all. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
What are Catherine and Joseph Proctor teaching us? I think that I'm learning that "haunts" are two different things. They are true apparitions, which/who look just like the person involved should look. And they are knocks and bangs and footsteps and "invisible goings-on" which don't "communicate" in a very ordinary way at all. What they seem NOT to be are Hollywood ghosts with see-through personalities and diaphanous gowns--like the creations at the left. All these things have their pattern-violators but on the rare occasions [in the older days anyway] where there might be a pattern violation, I think that it probably the work not of the true apparitionalists but of the tricksters. {example, in Drury's Ghostly Woman experience, which comes after a "normal" set of poltergeist effects, I attribute "her" to the tricksters and not as a true apparition---but what the heck do I know?} My foggy crystal ball tells me that there are "unquiet" former residents of our benighted world, who, upon passing, have left behind something undone or violating of the right-nature of things---and so they haunt in hope of making it right. And that there are other non-human spirit entities, probably the Olde Irish "neutral angels", that continue to meddle about in their morally-flawed, but usually simply mischievous way...and bang about noisily to their amusement. Some researchers would like to attribute these things to ourselves--by employing unconscious psychokinesis and other psi gifts--I just don't see it. The phenomena are richer than what seems to be able to be accounted for by that, without really great stretches of the "powers". I believe that those theories are desperation attempts to try to minimize the weirdness level of one's ideas. Now's not the time to try to please the academics with some phony conservatism. It's time for All-The-Way-Fool, baby. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
But in the end I must admit that as usual I don't really know what all this is---the guy in the picture above knows but he's not telling me. One thing seemed to stand out to both Catherine and me. In cases of apparitions involving a "message" to make something right, that message was delivered in a way so as to preserve the free choice of the party who had to make the real choice. Like the son who had to pony up for his father's debt. The powerful apparitional experience came to someone else who then informed the one who had to make the moral choice. That happened many times in Catherine's book, so much that she remarked on it. I believe that in this we have glimpsed a "law" of the spirit world--actions from there may not violate our ability to make our own moral choices. If this is true, it makes perfect sense to me and I believe that it did to Catherine as well.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------There is much more in her book. I'll try to do at least one more someday. We need more Catherine Crowes, for intellect, intuition, and commitment to something important.


  1. There - I finally read it and enjoyed. Proctor's quote could be an epigraph to a book, along with some of the Yeats stuff I mentioned in my black dog entry the other day. "Have you seen any apparitions?" Yeats asks one of his informants.
    "Yeas, I've seen the banshee batting at the water with its hands." (Not exact). The material, mixed with Yeats incredible flow and use of the language, draws me back to Celtic Twilight again and again. Like Evans-Wentz, there's a big connection to the Celtic after-life present in much of the tales.

  2. The more that I am immersed in these responses to the "Enlightenment" the more I realize how much they have to tell us. The other day I read a claim by some reductionist idiot who claimed to have disproved psychic phenomena by using Twitter as his research tool. The fact that he is a complete moron is less astounding than that the science journal gleefully published his crap.

  3. For these haunted house cases, I respect a skeptic who in his research tried to stay (solo) on known haunted house for few nights and after that write his experience. Too much Armchair Sceptic today (or as you say Twitter/Facebook/Google researcher) and not enough field researcher. Its different laughing at haunted house stories at the comfort of skeptic's own home than if the same person sleep alone on that haunted house.

    as aside note, "watching Jennifer Love Hewitt in Ghost Whisperer--a guilty pleasure" , is this for the pleasure of watching JLH's beauty (my favorite actress) or for TGW's stories ? just kidding ...

    1. I actually don't care what skeptics think about poltergeist houses whether they go there or not, since members of my family have a long series of personal experiences living in one.



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