The Importance of Ghosts

October 15th, 2013
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Once a year, the skies darken; the ground is littered with conkers and rain-soaked leaves, and adults run through the streets, dressed as grim reapers, hags and devils. Halloween is an event growing bigger each year, based on a much older belief system, which held that as the daylight hours dwindled, the dear departed would rise up. Our Celtic ancestors left candles burning in the windows to guide the lost souls of the dead. They put out food for them and wore strange costumes to scare away any unfriendly spirits.

In 2013, people may be more concerned with making fake scars look as authentic as that character they saw on “Return of the Evil Undead Five” or whatever. Though they may not know why they’re doing it, the spirit of the original festival of Samhain, (pronounced sow-en) remains.

“Spirit” being the operative word, especially in a city with York’s reputation. As ghost walker and storyteller, I have taken a keen interest in people’s ghost stories. For example, the visitor to York who snapped a dark figure in the Museum Gardens. He says there was no one there when he took the photo, and has no explanation for it. It is said that the phantom of a former abbot of St Mary’s Abbey haunts the gardens, amongst the ruins.

Nearby York Explore has also played host to him. A few years ago, one of the staff saw a hooded figure in the basement, disappear in a misty haze…

Although books have been written and rumours abound, many places don’t advertise their ghost stories because experiences are so personal. One can be open to ridicule. I once gave a talk at an “Exploring the Extraordinary” society dinner, only to be rudely challenged by a man, intent on finding a solution to ghostly phenomenon. I suggested to him that perhaps he was afraid, much to his disapproval.

But I do believe that there are those of us who want to believe in ghosts and have an open mind and those who dismiss such things do so from a deep rooted terror that the world must be controlled and explained. Unfortunately, I think that’s never going to happen! We can’t control and explain everything.

It has therefore been rewarding to hear stories direct from individuals – straight from “the horse’s mouth” if you will.

In the Golden Fleece for example, someone who works there, saw a man in the kitchen, who waved at him and disappeared into the cellar, but then discovered this person had completely vanished. There’s tales of flying and exploding pints too!

I’ve been told by guides at York Castle Museum about disappearing Victorian ladies, old crones sitting next to the historical fireplaces and voices and music where none should be.

So many people have had sightings or odd experiences, can we dismiss them all? I don’t think so. Ghosts are always going to be important to us whether we admit to believing in them or not! Happy Halloween!

Helen M Sant runs York Festival of Storytelling. This year, as part of its Halloween themed events, she will be leading a ghost walk from outside the Museum Gardens, with Adrian Spendlow. For full details, please go to www.yorkfestivalstory.co.uk

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