I find the supernatural fascinating, but the Holy Grail is a ghost. Getting the creeps is nothing compared to evidence of a real human person appearing in the world after death.
I don’t believe in ghosts. My closest friends can tell me their experiences and I love to hear them, but I’m thinking, You were tired, or You were dreaming, not You actually saw a ghost. Noises are the best. It’s easy to dismiss a noise without finding its source. You heard creaking in an old house at night? Wow, let me call Zelda Rubinstein.
When I moved to the UK from Canada I thought it was a great opportunity. Despite films’ attempts to show “old Indian burial grounds” as the most haunted of places, I can’t say I’ve ever encountered that phenomenon. And as much as there are thousands of years of human occupation in North America, most of that time has been lightly populated, so it’s difficult to say There have always been people in exactly this location. Contrast the UK. Any given space in Edinburgh or London has been crowded with thousands of people living and dying for a very long time. Not passing over that land, but living in that actual building. So many spirits attached to those rooms. Statistically, it was a good shot. If I was going to see a ghost anywhere I’d see one there, right?
I lived in houses that were older than Canada and saw nothing supernatural. I wandered places where the bones of hundreds were stashed and they were silent. One might say dead. Despite the population, despite the age of things, reports of actual ghosts were no more numerous than in the NA. And I’d say the reports sounded about as believable on either continent. Which is to say they were bullshit everywhere.
There was just once I found a place I’d believe was haunted. Driving in Tyrone after visiting family I went to find the Cooneen ghost house. I got a little lost, and I passed it without realizing I was passing the driveway. Down a corridor between the trees I saw it for a moment looking back at me. And it did look. It saw me. It had all the presence and personality of Leatherface.
“She drives mortals to madness with her airy phantoms
As she appears in weird shapes and forms
Now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness–”
In an Orphic hymn Melinoe was the daughter of Persephone and Zeus, another product of Zeus’s habit of raping people while disguised. Melinoe was born near an underworld river and is the bringer of nightmares and madness. She is sometimes described as the goddess of ghosts.
In university I began experiencing night terrors. These are not nightmares. They happen at a different stage of sleep and the result is profoundly different. We’ve all woken from nightmares, frightened and miserable. Waking from a night terror is like being struck by lightning. You are thrust violently awake, your heart rate charging to 170bpm. You try to stand up, scream, and lash out against the terror. I’ve broken bedside lamps and woken whole households.
Sleep is common and necessary yet a slippery thing to control. I was at a loss how to fix myself and stop these terrors. I certainly didn’t want to be drugged. Then someone decided a ghost had latched on to me and I needed to shake it. They suggested placing a dish of muratic acid in my bedroom because the ghost wouldn’t like it and would leave me alone. I’m a skeptic. This was ridiculous. But what could it hurt to try?
It worked. Or, my night terrors became much less frequent for some other reason when I did this. Now they’re very rare, though sometimes they creep back for a night or two. Sometimes it feels like I go elsewhere when I’m asleep, some blackened underworld, and on waking I’m crawling and clutching my way out of it, desperate to escape and forget. I learned about Melinoe recently, and though I’m still a skeptic I had a moment of understanding more aligned with those dark dreams than anything in this bright and logical world.
April Fools makes me nervous, but I wanted to celebrate so I looked for foolish facts to find something worth sharing. I found Tetraphobia, the fear of the number 4.
In Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and several other languages the pronunciation of the word for 4 is similar to the pronunciation of the word for death. This has developed an aversion to 4 so profound in East and Southeast Asia it should not be mentioned at festivals or near ill relatives. Numbers that contain 4 like 14, 40, etc are also avoided. Telephone numbers, license plates, addresses, they all omit this threatening number.
What fascinates me isn’t the extent of the aversion but how it developed in the first place. We know the words are similar, but that isn’t a full answer because these languages didn’t arrive from nowhere. They developed over time, and the same people who used this sound to express 4 were using something nearly identical to express death. Why did this happen? How quickly?
I mean no cultural disrespect by examining this superstition. Of course I can find no truly satisfying origin for Triskaidekaphobia, the Western aversion to 13, either. In that case there isn’t even a pronunciation clue. It’s how many people were at the alleged Last Supper, one number off our current number of months, and might have once been considered auspicious, just like the Swastika.
So which bizarre 21st century tics will future humans wonder about? What foolishness is currently developing into a universally accepted superstition?