Ghostly Science

Ghosts are a fascinating matter. There are people who believe in quarks and black matter; there are people who believe in gods and demons; and there are people who believe in ghosts. The first two are amply covered by one or more science fields, the latter finally receives recognition in a book dealing exclusively with it. The writer grew up and spent all his youth in ghost haunted buildings and is therefore an expert on the matter.

The science of ghosts is not an invention of the 21st century. Over time, eminent people have dabbled in it. Eminent English philosopher Thomas Hobbes posed the question in 1651: Why do ghosts wear clothes? He had no answer, and this book goes even further; do ghosts get cold? and where do the clothes come from? And to take it one step further: Does all clothing end up as ghosts? I just picture heaven and hell as well as all the intermediary realms as huge landfills of discarded shoes, socks, shirts, frocks, and capes; and it might hold the answer to all the single socks disappearing from your washing machine.

Roger Clarke's A Natural History of Ghosts was published by Particular Books. Roger Clarke grew up in a 17th century rectory on the Isle of Wight. The rectory was regularly visited by the ghost of a dead woman. And the Isle of Wight has so many ghosts you will find it hard not to run into them. The family in time got fed up with just one ghost to their name and moved to an Norman abbey in another part of the island. The ghost factor was decidedly higher there.

With so many friends in higher places, it can't surprise that Roger Clarke became a member of the Society of Psychical Research at the age of 14. While I might have dreamed of piloting a boat at the age of 16, he got a tour of the Tower of London after dark. I won't bore you with an interminable list of ghostly visitors there, it is mostly self-evident.

The limitation of ghosts is the great draw-back for this book. It is not Roger Clarke who is boring the reader, it is the ghosts that become outed as bores. It makes you wonder if they are not bored to death, literally. Every ghost ever encountered is extremely limited in scope; it only covers a few feet of ground over a thousand years over and over again; it utters the same moan every day for 500 years in a row; it wears the same clothes (there we are again) from its first appearance onward. And the author can't get out of that vicious cycle as long as he sticks to the reported facts.

Do you know the story of the Angels of Mons? during the battle of Mons in 1914, the ghosts of the bowmen of the battle of Agincourt in 1415 arose from their graves and went to the aid of the beleaguered British Army at Mons. Why they should have made the journey in the first place is a mystery. By mid 1915, half the British population would have sworn that the story was for real citing a friend of a friend as a source. The story was published on September 29, 1914, in the London Evening News. It was a short story marked as fictional written by the eminent Gothic writer Arthur Machen.

The book makes the eminent psychic frauds and equally eminent and well-meaning investigators much more interesting than any ghost. There is a reason to that, obviously. Ghosts are only a means to an end and should be grizzly enough by their mere existence. People on the other hand have ulterior financial motives and therefore must be news-worthy in their own right. I won't spoil the fun in giving away any details here, but you'll have a few good laughs on that count.

Further reading
Ghosts Lacking in Spirit
Reincarnation or Vivid Imagination?
Three Generations: The Forgotten Garden