Ghosts & History from a 1911 Book by Mary L. Lewes

Pinterest (uncredited photo).

“…the younger Pliny, in a letter to his friend Sura, writes: “I am extremely desirous to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have a real form, and are a sort of divinities, or only the visionary impression of a terrified imagination.” He also relates a really exciting tale of a haunted house at Athens, but it is too long to quote here.

The ancients believed that every one possessed three distinct ghosts; the manes, of which the ultimate destination was the lower regions, the spiritus, which returned to Heaven, and the umbra, that, unwilling to sever finally its connection with this life, was wont to haunt the last resting-place of the earthly body. These “shades” were supposed to “walk” between the hours of midnight and cock-crow, causing burial-grounds, cemeteries or tombs to be carefully avoided at night. One reason given as to why very old yew-trees are so often found in country churchyards is, that originally these trees were planted to supply the peasants with wood for their bows, for in lawless times it was soon discovered that the only place where the trees would be safe from nightly marauders was the churchyard, where not the most hardened thief dared venture between darkness and dawn. Particularly were the shades of those who, perishing by crimes of violence without absolution—

“Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d—”

supposed to be uneasy; haunting sometimes the scene of their end, or, in other cases, the footsteps of the slayer. If a living person could summon courage to address one of these haunting spirits (for no ghost may speak unless spoken to) and discover the cause of its restlessness, it was thought possible to give it peace or “lay it,” by righting the wrong it suffered from; whether by vengeance on a murderer, atonement for a crime committed, or by the offices of a priest to give absolution to an unshrived soul. An old writer tells us: “The mode of addressing a Ghost is by commanding it in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity to tell you what it is, and what its business…. During the narration of its business a Ghost must by no means be interrupted by questions of any kind; so doing is extremely dangerous….”

– Mary E. Lewes, 1911


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