We can hold whatever opinion we like on the reality of ghosts, but one day we might just find ourselves carried away by the hunt and all opinion on the matter will be mute when the dogs are barking at our heels. However, the physical sciences have no definition of thinking that will fit these facts. This article was originally published at The Teeming Brain.
Claude Lecouteux is a former professor of medieval literature and civilization at the Sorbonne.
He lives in Paris. For Further Reading:.
Rochester Vermont , Toronto, Canada, Also by Claude Lecouteux:. Inner Traditions.
Additional Resources:. When we hit the darkest part of the road he turned off the lights and let up on the gas, dropping the car down 30 miles per hour under the speed limit. The two police officers that pulled us over for reckless driving were less sure of our research methods. Confused, bemused and annoyed, they questioned us for over an hour with indignation at the allure she still held for legend trippers after so many years of her tale being retold.
As Goss shows in his detailed examination of phantom hitch-hikers, there is a striking difference between folktales or urban legends and personal reports of anomalous experience. If seeing is believing, we should be careful when what we see fits the phantoms found in familiar stories. While there are superficial similarities in terms of experiential themes, i. Generally, those invested in established hierarchies find strongly liminal conditions unpalatable, irrational, and threatening.
Thus liminal persons are often marginalized and viewed with some suspicion. Marginality is a subcategory of liminality, and frequent consequence of it. It is not surprising then that catch valves for the maintenance of cultural continuity and status quo, such as academic scholarship and popular media, would foster normalizing approaches to anomalous phenomena like the phantom hitch-hiker, rounding these encounters off in explainable ways.
The mind creates continuity through root structures of information patterning.
We see these same structures appear in the artifice of effective storytelling. Good stories stick because they work with the cognitive necessity of pattern recognition.
Over the years it has been possible to collate these reports into specific categories, the apparition looked like a loved one that recently passed away, the apparition was solid, the apparition was misty, and so on, but for the most part no meaningful narrative structure fits the majority of what is reported. Anomalous experiences are just that, anomalous.
What is more certain is that many of these episodes derived a species credibility or even respectability from the indisputably-real crash. The discomfort of an anomalous encounter entices our curiosity into trying to explain it, and often coincidental events that occur in the area of the phenomena will be drawn in to help with this.
In the story of the Blue Bell Hill phantom a local accident becomes narrative ground to anchor what would otherwise be an inexplicable, and almost pointless, encounter. In examining these accounts against the analysis of folklorists Goss differentiates the psychological needs fulfilled by folktales and urban legends and those which coincide with reports of actual believed experience. This is demonstrated in her analysis of the sole phantom hitch-hiker account found in the letters she received during her initial research:.
Jaffe almost refuses to comment on this story. To her, it is devoid of significant, symbolic data and the style contrasts with the plain, monotonous tone of the other material she quotes. Another way of saying this might be to describe the thing as too artificial, too much so to even approximate the sort of account readers might concede as veridical. Urban legends and folktales have their own unique set of archetypes whose artificial gloss differ from those manifesting in perceived experience. Through careful attention to the symbolic content of the story one can get a better idea for where it stands in terms of being a fictional story or a report where the person truly feels they are relating a real experience that they have had.
However, as type categories these bear more relation to narrative cues than to actually getting to the heart of the experience itself. Stories surrounding anomalies often speak more to our concepts of life and death, and to our relationships with the social order and the natural world around us, than they do about the phenomena themselves. When I ventured with friends to find Resurrection Mary part of the draw was that outside of the famed hitch-hiker, the area has actively accumulated numerous other urban legends.
Stories circulate of mysterious lights over the waterways that converge there, strange monk like apparitions and a vanishing horse drawn hearse are said to have been seen at the St. James-Sag cemetery down the road. Even the old tale about the Devil appearing at a dance, discovered when his dance partner sees his cloven feet in Southwestern variations his feet are sometimes those of a chicken , has found a home at one of the local ballrooms. While my search for Resurrection Mary lead me deeper into ghostland, many years later a chance encounter one night with a fellow named Preston would continue to change my understanding of how these patterns emerge and relate to anomalous incidents.
Not long after I moved to Georgia I met Preston in an alleyway behind the Liminal Analytics office as he was walking home from work. He was a cook at a restaurant a few doors down and after a polite introduction, he asked me what I did.
The question made me pause and consider the ramifications of revealing my obscure interests to a random stranger in an alley in the hyper-charged religious atmosphere of the Deep South, and finally said:. He was born with a veil over his face. They say folks born like that can see things. He used to heal kids with the thrush. Throughout history it has been popularly associated with second sight, and has often been taken as a sign that a child will have special abilities to heal as well. Preston was telling me that his father had been a local seer and faith healer, born directly into the tradition.
But these were not the ghosts that I would normally have thought of. We sat there until our bus come. Whole time the man just stands there with his back to us. When it drove away, he was gone. How many urban legends deal with very solid figures that are only later revealed to have origins other than the waking world? What exactly is a ghost in this sense?
And what does it mean to encounter one? In folktales and reported experience the phantom hitch-hiker is one of the more solid apparitions that people speak of encountering, at least in terms of the scholarly literature on the subject. There is even a name for this type of apparition —a revenant.
Medievalist Claude Lecouteux has written extensively on European traditions of revenants and ghosts, and by drawing on court records, medical reports and other official period documents he too has shown how the veil between corporeal and phantasmal flesh is often rather thin. While Victorian ghost stories and reality television often lead us towards the image of a misty immaterial phantom, traditions which include interacting with the spirit world almost always treat spirit manifestation in fleshy forms. If we seek other sources we find similar accounts appearing in the work of folklorists such as Harry Middleton Hyatt, who collected folk accounts without starting with a particular theme of interest.
The folklorists that Goss references were all studying the narrative structures of folktales, and as such they discovered folk accounts with those narrative forms in place. When we look for stories, we find stories, when we look for experiences we find experiences. Through the interplay of psychical research techniques with folkloristics we are given an interesting clue to how folklore studies, through the functional necessity of gathering and examining narratives, often moves outside the nature of folk beliefs as they are actually lived.
For instance, a local recounting a story told about a witch or faith healer, will be quite different than the experiential account of the witch or faith healer themselves.
The vanishing hitch-hiker that we are given to observe in the book is a shadow filtered through popular media and correlated anecdotal reports, yet, as I learned from Preston, behind the blinds of literary leitmotif lays a living world of spirits. Having gained more understanding since my foray at the age of 16, comparing the accounts that Preston related to me with the stories that lead me so many years ago into the darkness of Archer Avenue in search of Resurrection Mary I can clearly see the divergence of experience and legend.
This article originally appeared in a slightly modified form on the web-magazine Reality Sandwich and later Modern Mythology.
Congratulations to Dr. Charles T. Can we predict the future? Psychics, Saints and Scientists — In this documentary produced by Irving and Elda Hartley, parapsychologist Thelma Moss introduces the field of parapsychology, including interviews with scientists who were active in exploring particular areas of psychical research during that era:. Stephen E. John Sabol I. This union of head and heart, insight and instinct, will ensure that as science comes to comprehend the nonmaterial aspect of reality as well as it knows the material — that is, as science approaches omniscience — our knowledge will become wisdom, our love of power will become the power of love, and the universal human of cosmic consciousness can then emerge.
Ectoplasm forms on the face of medium Mary Marshall during a seance at T. Special thanks to the Society for Psychical Research , Cherylee Black and Michael Duggan for links included in this edition — and a huge and humbled thanks to all of those who have offered donations to support this ongoing Psi in the News series — your appreciation is greatly appreciated!
Now a strange sound is heard from the pile of dried fish, as if someone or something is eating it, but no explanation can be found for this.
The impermeable border the modern world sees existing between the world of the living and the afterlife was not visible to our ancestors. Clover, The Medieval Saga. Directeur de publication 8 Une autre histoire International conference "Human being? One could say that though physically absent, they are spectrally present. Purchase Instant Access. Storia dei giovani