Friday, 28 January 2011
When did you last walk through a graveyard at night? Perhaps you did it for a dare, or maybe it was just a shortcut home. Whatever the reason for your nocturnal diversion, did you at anytime feel a little uneasy? Perhaps you felt you were not entirely alone. Or maybe you just felt a nervous kind of excitement. You would be forgiven if you had experienced any of the above, bearing in mind your close proximity to the residents residing therein. That in itself is surely enough to make even the most skeptical feel, shall we say - apprehensive.
There will always be those with a more ghoulish and fanciful outlook to their immediate surroundings. Those who will contemplate with a morbid curiosity their own proximity to death, consider that just *six feet down* and in all directions lay the remains of countless corpses in various stages of decomposition. It is easy to see why the imagination can run riot when courting such thoughts in such places.
It is not surprising graveyards have gained a reputation for being haunted (see churches in sidebar) after all, are they not the perfect stage to have inspired many an author of ghost fiction to put pen to paper. It is understandable then, that some folk feel a sense of unease when entering these gardens of the dead, especially at night, when it is felt by some that they take on a sombre, brooding and occasionally menacing ambiance. Tall imposing shadows, cast by numerous lichen encrusted headstones; the more elaborate being those of angels cast in stone, their grey weathered faces eternally set in mournful repose as they gaze down upon neglected, forgotten graves who's inscriptions have long since been lost to times erosion. The quiet of the night is split by the eerie cry of the owl and the tortured squeal of its catch which echo hauntingly through the darkness. An amorphous mist that no graveyard at night is complete without, its icy fingers caressing and entwining the graves, its presence made all the more spectral by the light from a full moon. Then there are the watchers; someone or something is out there, watching, waiting and I don’t mean the resident winos and junkies who frequent such places, all to eager to familiarizing themselves with their fast approaching final destination. No! I refer to the 'otherworldly', the unseen menace lurking in the shadows, the grisly ghouls, the soul collectors, the tomb-hoppers, your worse nightmares - brrrr!
There are some who are convinced that the closer to the dead they can get, the better chance of encountering a ghost, so where better to start than in a graveyard. I‘m not altogether convinced such places are likely to yield any better results than anywhere else. I can’t help thinking why a ghost would want to waste time haunting its own grave, when there is so much more fun to be had scaring the pants of folk elsewhere, but then am I in danger of attributing a ghost with a modicum of intelligence to be able to make that decision.
From my own experience of graveyards and I’ve visited a few, they have always been environments that positively encourage quiet contemplation. It’s almost as if the cacophony of the 21st century has been purposely muffled, possibly by the influence of those that reside therein; now there's a thought. I have never found graveyards intimidating or scary but then I don‘t wonder them in the dead of night, well not if I can help it.
When I have walk amongst the spires, crosses, plaques and seraphim, each a symbol of death's ultimate victory over the living and each bearing an epitaph to those who are no loner with us only fills me with melancholy, especially when I come across the graves of children, snatched from a life only just begun.
From the day we are born, death stalks us, it hides in the shadows, never hurrying but always vigilant. Life is precariously balanced and it takes very little to tip that balance.
There is, in my opinion, little mileage to be found looking for ghosts of the dead in graveyards. If you're looking for death, then don't bother as death will ultimately find you and when that day comes, as it surely will, then we will join in sleep those who we now walk amongst.
*Six Feet Down*
The directive that bodies should be buried 6 feet down dates back to the Bubonic Plague of 1665, where is was thought that at such a depth there was little or no chance of infection spreading and also deep enough to prevent scavengers digging up infected corpses. Today however, the depth at which a coffin may be interred is a little less stringent and in some parishes in the U.K. it is permitted to bury a body in little more than 30 inches of soil.
'I saw an angel in the marble and I chiselled until I set him free'.
~ Michelangelo ~