Dec 30, 2013

Do you believe in ghosts?

Kinda scary, kinda dull: that's my review in a nutshell of The Conjuring.

It has all the scary tropes:

  • "based on a true story"
  • big old scary creaky house acquired dirt cheap
  • freaky doll 
  • young girls
  • drop sheets on furniture
  • creepy-ass old toys
  • dog won't enter house
  • flapping sheets
  • creaking rocking chairs
  • creepy wind chime
  • mirrors
  • an exorcism

Yes, an EXORCISM. This is an old-school ghost story, weirdly old-fashioned. There is "an insult to the Trinity", upside-down crosses, crucifix necklaces, Latin incantations, and so on.  And after numerous horrific events and a family almost murdered, all it takes in the end to banish the demon is the order "by the power of God I command you to go back to Hell!"  Handy. Could have maybe used that earlier.

It is, however, very atmospheric, and that is three quarters of the success of a good horror movie.

It gets the look of the seventies right. There is lots of brown. There is wallpaper, long floral nighties, girls with long brown hair.

And it's presented as "based on a true story". Yes, sure. As true a story as "The Amityville Horror", I'd say.

The characters are all based on real people, and according to IMDB at least, both the paranormal investigator and the mother portrayed in the story confirm the events are "the real story of what happened to the Perrons during the 10-years they lived in the farmhouse". Wait, what? 10 years?? I think if ANY of the events portrayed in the movie had happened within the FIRST year of living there, you'd have sold up and moved out.

Photo: James Barker/

I have a nostalgic fondness for the paranormal, going back to when I used to believe in most of it as a kid. Telepathy, ESP, out-of-body experiences, divining the future, cryptozoology: I loved and believed in it all. I was undecided (but open-minded) on past lives and ghosts.

I was never sure about ghosts. 

I accepted that maybe ghosts could be real, and some of the beliefs around how and why made sense to me. But I could never quite get my head around some of the things that go with hauntings, such as:
  • ghosts appearing in clothes or with accessories (how do the clothes and hats become ghostly?)
  • ghosts only appearing with the aid of mirrors or whatnot
  • ghosts being able to move objects
  • ghostly voices being picked up by tape recorders but not human ears
  • why do the lights have to be out during ghost-hunting sessions?

Most people have heard or experienced a "true" ghost story. I've seen people on TV shows tell true stories that clearly still freak them right out, and you can tell they are being honest and they really believe what they saw.  

My husband tells a story of a "ghost" he saw when he was young that his logical mind rejects but he can't explain what he saw.

I have a similar experience, though these days I do not for one single minute believe there was really a ghost.

I was working in a pub in London in the 90's, in an old building in Baker Street. Naturally, it had a resident ghost. I didn't believe in the ghost. I had two experiences with "the ghost", one of which is completely 100% explainable and one of which I can only explain by thinking I am mis-remembering it. Which I am sure that I am. 

The first experience was when I went down to the cellar to change a beer keg one time and I felt a distinct "presence". It was a sense of coldness that moved but seemed contained within itself, like an entity. It wasn't there every time; I only felt it once. It definitely felt like there was someone down there. It was a bit freaky but I know it was really just the way air drafts and temperature can vary in old buildings. Hence why so many of them come with ghost stories!

The second experience was much creepier, and more concrete. While working in the bar with one other person, three beer taps turned themselves on away from where we were both standing. Now that doesn't just happen, and I can still picture it in my mind.  At the time, it confused the hell out of me because I couldn't just dismiss it like I could the feeling in the cellar. But now, twenty years later, this memory doesn't bother me, as I know this event was probably one of these three things: (1) a customer flipped the taps as a prank (even though in my memory I watched them turn on by themselves); (2) the tap or taps were not turned off properly; (3) my memory is wrong and this just didn't happen.

Memory is completely fallible - see here.

There are explanations for all ghost stories - see here.  Naturally, none of these explanations is satisfactory if you really believe in ghosts. 

Our house makes some weird noises, especially at night. It can sometimes sound very clearly like someone is walking down the hallway. At times we have honestly thought one of our kids was out of bed. Neither Y. nor I have ever been freaked out by this (well ok, maybe once we semi freaked out for a second). We know there is no ghost. Our house is an early 70's brick veneer in a fairly new suburb. There has barely been time for anyone to die here. The house has had two owners before us and has a completely humdrum history. It is not built on an ancient burial ground. It does, however, have ducted heating in the floors and evaporative cooling in the ceiling, and it sits slightly crooked in places due to the floors needing re-stumping and an old tree root that has caused some shifting. These are the causes of the noises we occasionally hear - as much like walking people (or ghosts) as they sometimes sound.

My only other ghost "experience" is this. I have felt - definitely felt - a sort of "presence" after someone close has passed away. I felt it after my grandfather died, and my grandmother, and my aunt. It feels kind of like that person is "around" for a short time after their death, and is close to those who knew them. It feels like they can see and hear what is happening for a short time after they have died, before they "move on". 

I am sure this is a very common feeling. It seems to exist in all cultures, and it gives a lot of comfort to the loved ones of those passed.  I am sure this is in our heads - there is an inability to believe that a person so loved, so real and with so much life experience and history, has gone.  Whatever it is, it helps.

But anyway, despite that, these days I have no belief in ghosts. 

Do you?  

Any cool ghost stories to share? Tell me!


  1. No ghost stories. And my jury is out on the question. I don't know, and am prepared to keep an open mind. As I do for much of the paranormal - some of which I would love to be true. Some of which I would hate to be true. Mind reading? Very, very dangerous.

    1. An open mind is always required. And yes, someone who could read minds for real would be very dangerous - especially if they kept it secret.

  2. I felt my dad hanging around for a couple of weeks after he died, he disappeared the day my brother sprinkled the ashes in the ocean.
    I once worked as cleaner in a house where a cold pocket of air sometimes followed me down the hallway, but not often.
    Ghost? Maybe.

    1. Lovely about your dad.
      The other one is interesting too - good experiences and stories.

  3. Hi Jackie,

    Yes - I think I saw a ghost once but I can't be sure. I don't believe in them so I am sceptical.

    I wrote about it here:

    Let me know what you think.




    1. Wow! Just read it and it set a little shiver up my spine. Not that it's a horror story of course. If your Dad was saying goodbye then it's lovely and you are lucky. It might have been the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis with the intruder (see: but as you say, that doesn't explain your sisters experiencing the same thing around the same time. At the end of the day, who knows? I'll admit though I'm sceptical there is part of me that likes the idea of people 'hanging around' on their way out, and these are not uncommon experiences. Whatever it was, it seems to have helped you subsequently work things out about yourself and your father and that's only good.

      I am totally with you though, on the charlatans that prey on grieving people; they are scum. No doubt there are a small few who really do believe they are psychic, and a larger number who are fakes but tell themselves they are doing no harm or even helping people. They are wrong in my view.

      I remember watching a show about John Edward who always seems such a nice guy, and I used to think he might at least believe his own schtick. But then in part of the show, where he came to Australia, he was riding in the back of the car and talking about the upcoming show and saying "I just hope I can understand the accents" (of the Australian ghosts) and I suddenly was - and am - absolutely convinced he is a huge fraud. That just didn't ring true to me, at all.

      Thanks for your story - it's very interesting!

  4. On the day and approximate hour of my dads burial (I couldn't be there) the phone rang once...the line was open but no one spoke .... and ..... the doorbell rang once (just like his often did because it had a short in it). I've had a companiable feeling that my grandmother was visiting me, we've had perfume and tobacco smoke smells waft through the house even though no one here smokes and we are both allergic to scent and so do not use scented products. We see movement out of the corner of our eyes in the hallway entrance and kitchen (probably old age and eye problems)....just little things.... they don't bother us.



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