Thursday, 11 July 2013

Solid Apparitions

It would appear that a significant amount of people who claim to see ghosts, see them as solid apparitions and not amorphous shapes. These apparitions appear on first sight to be just another face in the crowd, until something remarkable happens.

I remember my mother telling me a story many years ago following the death of my uncle. It had been a couple of weeks since his funeral when she had woken suddenly in the middle of night to see a figure in striped pyjamas standing next to my father's side of the bed. The dim sulphurs glow cast by the streetlight a little ways up the road was just enough for her make out what she thought was my father having returned from taking a pee. “Why are you standing there, get into bed,” she said rather impatiently. She went to pull the covers back for him but as she did so she made contact with my sleeping father. She couldn’t put into words just how she felt at that moment other than terrified. Possibly sensing her fear the figure turned slowly from the bed and ‘walked’ toward the bedroom door where it stopped just long enough to turn and look back at her, as it did so it smiled briefly then vanished. That smile belonged to my late uncle. My mother was one of several members of the family who were present at my uncle’s bedside when he died. He died wearing a pair of striped pyjamas; my father did not possess a pair of striped pyjamas. My mother slept with the bedside light on for several weeks.

Encounters with solid apparitions are not as rare as some might think. Indeed many who claim to have witnessed such encounters are usually none the wiser, until something quite unexpected causes them think otherwise. 

I’m inclined to believe ghosts are not the stereotypical transparent entities dreamt up by Hollywood, but in most cases appear in solid form just like you or I. For example, acknowledging a stranger whilst out walking but receiving no response is likely to be regarded by some as ill mannered, but then who is to say that such an encounter was not the result of a chance meeting with a ghost. There are countless stories of such incidences. Sir John Stawell, said to haunt Avebury Manor in Wiltshire; a National Trust property, has been seen many times over the centuries dressed in the finery of a Civil War Royalist and by all accounts those who have seen him believe him to be quite real. In fact in recent years he has been mistaken for a National Trust volunteer dressed up in period costume, until he disappears that is.

A friend of my partner recalled a story that happened to her mother some years ago whilst she was visiting her husbands grave. She was no believer in ghosts (how many ghost stories start that way) but on this particular morning all that was about to change. She had been making her way through the Victorian cemetery at Radnor Street in Swindon en route to her husbands grave when she noticed an elderly gentleman walking towards her. As they got closer she bid him good morning but no acknowledgement was reciprocated. As they passed within a couple of feet of one another she chanced a brief glance over her shoulder, you can imagine her surprise to discovered he had completely vanished. She looked about in the hope that somebody else could verify what she’d seen, but she was quite alone. Later she would described the gentleman as nothing out of the ordinary, aged between 65 and 70, wearing, from what she could remember, a pair of dark corduroy trousers, a fawn coloured waistcoat, red neckerchief and flat cap. All seemed perfectly normal, until he disappeared. She has returned to the cemetery many times since her experience to tend her husbands grave but as yet had no repeat performance. Some time ago I visited the cemetery with a friend and retraced the route she took, but alas the gentleman was conspicuous by his absence.

The female hitchhiker said to haunt the A4361 between Avebury and Berwick Bassett has been a source of several scary tales over the years. Unsuspecting motorists playing the good Samaritan have pulled over to offer the young lady a lift only to be frightened out of their wits to see her disappear before their eyes.

The following stories were conveyed to me by a patron of the Red Lion pub in Avebury. The first took place during the winter months of 1989. A couple driving home after an evening with friends at the Red Lion noticed a young lady thumbing a lift. They pulled over a little in front of her and patiently waited for her to catch up. The driver watched her approach from the rear-view mirror until she drew level with the passenger door whereupon his girlfriend lowered the window to ask where she wanted to go. To her surprise the girl completely ignored her and kept walking until she was level with the car headlights, at which point she turned, looked directly at the car windscreen then disappeared. The shocked couple later described her as being in her early twenties and wearing a printed blue dress but no coat, which on hindsight struck them as a little odd, it being such a chilly night.

A similar story but one with a more terrifying outcome happened on New Years Eve 1999. Four friends were returning home by car following a party in Beckhampton some 2 miles from Avebury. It was around 2:30am, they had just passed the Red Lion pub heading towards Berwick Bassett when they noticed a girl thumbing a lift. One of the female passengers took pity on her, so a decision was quickly made to stop and offer her a lift. They pulled over a short distance in front of her but as the seconds ticked by and she did not appear the curious party all glanced back through the rear window to see where she’d got to. To everyone’s surprise there was no sign of her. A tad baffled, the male driver was about to get out of the car when there came a thunderous banging on the car boot as if someone were beating down on the metal with bare fists. Screams from the two female occupants in the rear of the car spurred the driver into action and he floored the accelerator. A little further down the road he pulled over eager to check the damage to his car. He got out and examined the boot but could find no dents or scratches. He looked back the way he’d come and there in the distance was the girl standing motionless in the middle of the road. He yelled a few choice words in her direction which she appeared to ignore. Muttering under his breath he made to get back in the car whilst glancing back up the road one last time. To his horror he saw that the girl had covered an impossible distance in only a few short seconds and was now only yards from the car. This was enough, he leapt back into the car and gunned the motor. The occupants would later described the girl as wearing a blue dress but none could describe her features.

Whether this frightening encounter was the ghostly hitchhiker or some amazingly quick-on-her-feet raving nutcase is anybody’s guess, the occupants didn’t hang around long enough to find out. Sightings of the Avebury hitcher continue to this day.

From her book Wiltshire, Stories of the Supernatural, by Sonia Smith, she recounts a story told her several years ago by a woman from Bradford-on-Avon. What follows is my abridged and edited version of her story as the original is far too long to include here.

The lady in question had been recently widowed. She missed her husband terribly, so much so she slipped into a reclusive existence, spiralling ever deeper into depression, speaking to nobody and only venturing out of the house to fetch provisions from the local store. Her depression persisted for some time until one day she felt a compulsion to leave the house and take a trip to Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire to see the first of the snowdrops. Lacock was a place dear to her heart as she and her husband would often visit to see the snowdrops in the Abbey grounds.
Snowdrops! always a sign my love that spring is just around the corner. How often her husband had said that to her and how she wished he could say it now.

It was a crisp cold morning as she walked through the grounds, every now and then stopping to take in the pretty carpet of white. After a while and feeling a little chilly, she decided to make her way to the Abbey cloisters where she found a stone bench to sit on. There were few people about that day, probably due to the cold she thought. She sat awhile, alone with her thoughts and memories when suddenly her silent reverie was interrupted. She was aware of two things, firstly, the cloisters were empty of visitors, when only moments earlier there had been a few here and there, and secondly she noticed the figure of a monk walking slowly toward her. She could not see his face for his head was bowed and concealed beneath a cowl. His appearance did not strike her as anything out of the ordinary, after all she was in an abbey where nuns and monks must be a common sight. It was only later when she recalled her experience that she realized the last of the nuns and monks of Lacock had ceased to walk the cloisters following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 16th century and furthermore the Abbey was populated mainly by nuns and not by monks.

The monk silently approached and sat down next to her. He did not engage her in conversation, nor look in her direction, instead he faced straight ahead. She wanted to acknowledge him but thought better of it in case he may be at prayer. After a few minutes he slowly turned toward her, lowering his cowl to reveal the face of a young man of around thirty years old. She was immediately struck by his eyes, for they were the most stunning hazel eyes she had ever seen. They seemed to convey a warmth, a wisdom, a tenderness, an understanding of her grief and a reassurance that all would be well. Even though she was in the company of a stranger she suddenly burst into tears and cried and cried like never before. All the months of bottled emotion let loose in a torrent of tears.

After a few minutes she managed to composed herself, dry her eyes and blow her nose. She turned to face the young monk, ready to apologise for her emotional inundation but was astonished to find him gone. It was impossible for anyone to have left the cloisters that quickly, she would surely have heard him leave. She searched for him, retracing her steps back to the Abbey grounds but there was no sign of him.

Her experience with this enigmatic stranger was to prove cathartic, for as the days past her spirits were lifted and she found the energy to confront the world once more and start to rebuild her life. She arranged to meet with friends, something she had not done for months. She had found an inner strength that had deserted her after her husbands death. Even today she is convinced that her encounter was supernatural. One of her friends suggesting she may have met with an angel. Although she still misses her husband, the grief that had so dominated her life has since lifted allowing her to find some happiness once more.

These encounters are so vivid, so lifelike that simply explaining them away as figments of the imagination or a trick of the light is asinine in my opinion. People who say they have encountered solids, or any other ghost for that matter, are either telling the truth or lying, it’s as simple as that, there is no grey area.

I find these encounters remarkable and the most compelling of all the ghost phenomena (with the possible exception of poltergeists) simply for their realism. They are not transient amorphous wisps of light, here one second gone the next, nor are they disembodied whispers, or the sound of echoing footsteps in the dead of night, all classic descriptions associated with many ghostly apparitions. Solid manifestations are far more intriguing, for if the stories are to be believed, then it would suggest that some ghosts actually have substance (a question put to me only recently) and if they do, could one reach out and touch one and if that were possible what would happen if one did. Would the apparition simply disintegrate like a collapsing tower of playing cards. Or perhaps touching a ghost is the ultimate forbidden fruit, for to touch a ghost may send us spiralling headlong into the realm of the dead where the way back is forever inaccessible. Maybe by touching a ghost is all that is needed for it to be able to make contact with us. Maybe the apparition needs permission to communicate, maybe that permission can only be forthcoming after we, the living, make the first move. But then who amongst us is going to stick around long enough to formulate a Q&A session? “Now let me see; your name, address, place of death?” And for that matter who amongst us is brave enough to reach out and touch a ghost?

Whatever energies conspire to produce solid apparitions, if indeed an energy is required, must surely be something quite extraordinary and I for one am not going to attempt an explanation, maybe you have one, I’d like to here your theories.

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