The roots of Halloween can be reached back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when people would dress in costumes to ward off ghosts.
In honor of the Halloween, Shawnee State University (SSU) History Professor Dr. Mark Mirabello is providing the history of ghosts. In the first installment of haunting history, the professor provided ghostly tales of historic hauntings. Now, he’s ready to talk about how cultures throughout history have reported on communications with the dead.
“When communicating with the dead, always remember the warning of Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013) that spirits often lie. In particular, the ordinary dead may lie to glamorize themselves,” Mirabello began.
“Also, always remember that communicating with the dead can be hazardous. In January 1949, a young boy was given a Ouija board by his dying aunt so that he could talk to her. The boy, who was 14-years-old, was named Douglas Deen, and when his aunt passed away a few weeks later he allegedly became possessed. The story, which was reported in the Washington Post on Aug. 20, 1949, would later become the inspiration for William Peter Blatty’s celebrated horror novel, The Exorcist.”
Mirabello explained that the validity of communications with the dead is often questioned. Communications with ghosts, however, have been reported from cultures across the world and times throughout human history.
“If contact is established, we can never be certain who or what is talking to us,” Mirabello stated regarding validity. “One curious case is known as the Philip Experiment. It is unclear if the séance team was contacting a real entity, a lying spirit, or a tulpa (a “thought form” brought into being by the minds of the people involved).”
According to Mirabello, “Conducted in Canada in 1972, the Toronto Society of Psychical Research intentionally created a fictional person from 17th century England. In their fabricated biography, he supposedly committed suicide after his “gypsy lover” had been burned as a witch. Strangely, in 1973, he began to communicate. Initially, the details of the communications coincided with the imaginary biography, but he began to develop mischievous traits and to work spectacular effects, such as a table chasing people without being touched, and lights going on and off.”
Mirabello further added that there are some important things to keep in mind if contacting the dead.
“Scientists suggest that the human mind can store approximately 1015 bits of information,” he stated. “That corresponds to approximately 1,000 years of subjective life. But, that is the mind of a living human. What about the mind of the dead? According to the ancient Greeks, a living human changes constantly, but the psyche of the dead is changeless. Thus, the dead only know what they knew in life.
“Given the limited knowledge of the dead, the ancient Greeks consulted an ordinary ghost to gain information on the past — or to use his wisdom — but not to gain information on the present or the future,” Mirabello explained.
Communication with the dead is termed necromancy and carries risks.
“According to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Von Nettesheim, a Renaissance occultist, there were two types of necromancy. The first is traditional necromancy, or raising the bodies of dead — ancient practice, technique required sacrificial blood. The second type is sciomancy. Here, the necromancer calls and communicates with a spirit only. When medieval sorcerers tried to summon Judas Iscariot,211 they used sciomancy. Also, the modern séance is a type of sciomancy.”
According to historical accounts, neither are accomplished easily. The only dead easily raised are those that are wicked, violent or unburied. Methods for necromancy have been reported in detail.
“Lucan, the Roman writer, describes a necromantic procedure in Pharsalia,” Mirabello told. “In this classic account, Sextus Pompey asks the Thessalian witch Erichtho to see the future. Using a freshly deceased body, she drags it to a cave with a metal hook. Covering herself with her robe and placing a viper on her brow, she uses the saliva of a mad dog, the entrails of a lynx, the marrow of stags fed only on serpents, the backbone of a corpse-fed hyena, and other loathsome ingredients. Barking like a dog and howling like a wolf, she summons the soul with her chants. At first it refuses to enter the corpse, but she threatens the soul, and she also promises to burn his body when she is finished, thereby insuring that the deceased would never be disturbed again. Finally relenting, the ghost enters the cold corpse and answers questions.”
Other accounts can be found throughout classic literature.
“In Homer’s Odyssey, in another famous description of necromancy in literature, Circe tells Odysseus how to summon dead,” Mirabello commented. “After digging a grave at the end of the world, he must make a threefold offering (milk and honey mixed, then wine and water, and over this white meal is sprinkled). He must make a prayer to Hades and Persephone, the king and queen of the underworld. He must slaughter a black ram and a black sheep and cause their blood to flow into the pit. Souls will gather to drink the warm blood and they will briefly awaken to consciousness. Afterwards, to close the procedure, he must burn the sheep and the ram.”
The talking board, or Ouija board is more commonly known in popular culture. It’s practice has ancient roots.
“Ammianus Marcellinus, in the Roman Empire, described a table cut from slab of stone. The letters of the alphabet were engraved on the slab,” Mirabello stated.
“Marcellinus held a cord, with metal ring at bottom, above the slab table. As questions were posed, the ring swung a little to indicate the reply.”
The board has adapted over time with the modern board featuring yes and no answers being created in 1890.
“Practitioners claim that using the Ouija board may be hazardous,” stated Mirabello. “If the planchette repeatedly makes the figure eight – or goes from one corner to the next, hitting all four – an evil spirit is reputedly present. If a silver coin is placed on board at the start of the procedure; however, no evil spirit can come through.”
According to accounts, a Ouija board can be destroyed and rendered harmless.
“To discard a Ouija board, break it into seven pieces and bury it. The board must not be burned, for anyone hearing a scream during the incineration will be dead within 36 hours,” Mirabello warned.
In ancient times famous seers often used scrying to contact the deceased. Objects such as crystal ball, clear pools of water, mirrors and even items of the deceased can be used in the practice.
“According to George Gurdjieff (circa 1877-1949), objects once possessed by the dead retain traces of the dead,” Mirabello told. “Sessions start at dusk, and people may stay in as long as they wish. No clocks or mechanical timepieces are allowed, but an hourglass is permissible. Gazers are told to look into the mirror without trying to see anything. When visions begin, they must not try to direct them, but should just let them flow. In the beginning, attempting to ask direct questions will make the images fade away, so the gazer should simply have brief questions in his mind before he starts. Initially, the visions will last about 10 minutes. With experience, however, the visions will last longer.”
Though the goal of such practices are usually to see a ghost, physical manifestations are the not unlikely kind. Rather, Mirabello explained, ghosts may make contact through other means such as auditory, through touch or even through smell.
Ghosts have also been known to communicate through technology.
“Technology and the paranormal seem to be strangely connected,” Mirabello explained. “When Waldemar Borogas, the American ethnographer, made the first recording of Siberian shamans (Chukchees) in 1901, his recording device picked up voices of unknown origin. Understanding such connections, Thomas Edison, the legendary American inventor, tried to build a machine to talk to the dead. Edison’s parents were spiritualists. Several decades later, George Meek and William O’Neil claimed that they managed to construct such a device. Called a ‘Spiricom,’ they claimed that it allowed two-way communication with the dead.”
Using technology to communicate with the dead is called Instrumental Transcommunication. If the procedure is real, contact with the dead is possible with radios, televisions, computers, video recorders, and telephones. When using a radio, Mirabello explained, the person using the device turn the dial to static or white noise and may hear voices of the dead can through the static. Multiple radios can be used. Reports through history also report hearing voices of the dead through static on televisions or in strange phone calls from dead loved ones.
“Curiously, the largest number of communications will come through at the time of the waxing moon,” Mirabello added. “There will be fewer communications at the full moon, even fewer at dark moon, and the fewest at the waning moon.”
If going out to reach the dead on the celebration of all things dead and ghostly, doing so by moonlight is ideal. The risks, however, may bring more than frightening fun.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.