Animal Spirits

ghostdog (1)

I was lying in bed, not yet asleep, when I felt my cat Indy jump onto the bed and cuddle beside my legs. Of course when I looked she wasn’t there; Indy had died two days earlier. But I knew I’d felt her presence that night, and still do from time to time.

So do animals have spirits? Souls? Can they come back to their beloved humans as ghosts, or haunt their former abode?

The idea that animals have immortal souls is not new. The ancient Egyptians mummified their pets to have them with them in the afterlife. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 582 – 496 B.C.E.) believed that animals and humans had the same kind of soul and could, after death, be reincarnated into another animal or human body. In the Middle Ages, an animal could be held responsible for its actions, taken to court, and sentenced for its crimes.

The legend of a spectral black dog with eyes that glow red, yellow, or green is well-known in British folklore. It haunts graveyards, lonely country roads, moors, and coastlines, and may have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Many historical sites are said to be haunted by the ghosts of animals that lived or perished there. Tour guides and tourists alike have reported hearing the roar of lions and tigers in the Colosseum of Rome. Carew Castle on England’s Pembrokeshire coast is reportedly haunted by a small pet ape belonging to a 17th century tenant who was murdered on the grounds.

The Hollenberg Pony Express station in Kansas was only in operation from 1860 – 61, but some claim they have heard ghostly horse hooves galloping by. The misty apparition of a horse and rider sometimes appears on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battlefield, and the sound of dying horses can be heard amidst other ghostly sounds. Also in Gettysburg, a bull terrier named Sallie, who was a Union Army mascot, is said to be heard growling as she watches over fallen soldiers.

The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, founded in 1928, is the final resting place for over 40,000 animals. Like many cemeteries, it is said to be haunted. For example, actor Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane, Kabar, who was buried there in 1929 has since been heard barking and panting, and even been felt licking visitors’ hands.

Several horses and riders have been killed over the years while trying to cross the intersection of 95th Street and Kean Avenue in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Hickory Hills. Drivers and passersby have reported seeing horses and riders crossing the road late at night, only to disappear a moment later. Some claim to have seen a horse being dragged as though a car had hit it and dragged it before coming to a stop. There have also been reports of a ghostly dog warning riders of danger around the road. It is believed the dog may be the ghost of a local fire department mascot named Felix, who while on active duty was credited with saving a number of lives. Upon his death he was honored with a stone and buried at the intersection.

Animal spirits have appeared as a wisp of mist, an orb, a shadow, a warm presence, an indentation on a bed, a disembodied bark, purr, or whicker, and even a full apparition that can actually be photographed.

Entire books have been written containing anecdotal accounts of pets – especially dogs, cats, and horses – coming home to comfort their grieving human.

Just like my Indy.



           With millennia of rich history, it’s no surprise that Europe comprises some seriously haunted places. These are generally locations where violent crime, great suffering, or traumatic death has occurred.

            Ancient Ram InnAncient Ram Inn in Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, England, was built in 1145 over ancient pagan burial grounds. Now a bed-and-breakfast, tales from its past are rife with evil spirits, child sacrifices, and devil worship. The current owner has found two children’s skeletons and broken daggers on the premises. Guests report being touched by unseen hands or pulled out of bed, hearing disembodied voices and screams, and seeing the apparitions of two monks, a high priestess, a young murdered girl named Rosie, and a shepherd and his dog. The ghost of a 16th century accused witch who had taken refuge in a room before being burned at the stake is also said to haunt the inn. Some guests have been so terrified, they jumped out the window to get away!

              Chateau de BrissacThe 11th century Chateau de Brissac in Maine-et-Loire, France, was rebuilt in the 15th century by Pierre de Brézé, Chief Minister to King Charles VII. De Brézé’s son Jacques, inherited the castle. One night in 1477, Jacques found his wife, Charlotte, in bed with another man. Jacques stabbed Charlotte and her lover some 100 times with his sword. He went to prison; Charlotte still roams the premises wearing a green dress and known as ‘La Dame Verte’ (‘the Green Lady’). Her moans and cries are often heard echoing throughout the castle. Her frightening apparition is most often seen in the tower room of the chapel. Her face has gaping holes where her eyes and nose should be, and she is sometimes seen trying to pull a sword from her body.

Edinburgh Castle

With a history of imprisonment, bloody battles, torture, and entombment of plague victims, Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world. Visitors report seeing shadowy figures and strange lights, and experiencing sudden drops in temperature, unexplained mists, and feelings of being watched. Known ghosts include an old man in an apron, a now headless drummer boy who was killed after warning the Scots of an English attack in 1296, and a 17th century piper who lost his life in tunnels below the castle. In 1537 the Lady of Glamis, Janet Douglas, was accused of using witchcraft in an attempt to murder King James V of Scotland. Like hundreds of others, she was burned at the stake on the esplanade below the castle. Her screams and weeping can be heard today, and she is sometimes seen writhing in the flames or searching the grounds for her son.

            Poveglia IslandPoveglia Island in the Venice, Italy lagoon was deserted by the 14th century, when it was used as a quarantine colony for victims of Bubonic plague. By the mid-17th century, over 160,000 bodies had been thrown into mass graves or incinerated in bonfires. 50% of the island’s soil today is thought to be human ash. In 1922 the island’s buildings were converted for use as a mental asylum. Rumours of ill treatment and inhumane experiments were not proved, but in the 1930’s a doctor (who may have been driven mad by guilt or ghosts) committed suicide by throwing himself from the bell tower. It is said he survived the fall, but was suffocated by a ghostly mist that rose from the ground. The asylum closed in 1968. The Italian government recently sold a 99 year lease of the abandoned, overgrown island to an Italian businessman for the bargain price of about $621,000 U.S. He doesn’t yet know what he will do with the haunted island, but wants it to have some form of public use.


Investigators of paranormal activity believe hauntings occur when a place has experienced violence, trauma, or intense emotion. In residual hauntings, fragments of an event are imprinted on the psychic space of a place. Other hauntings come from restless spirits who remain trapped near the place where they died. Most hauntings involve noises (footsteps, thumps, whisperings, animal sounds), smells, cold breezes, feelings of being touched, or articles being moved. In some cases, witnesses observe ghostly re-enactments of past events.

The site of a bloody Civil War battle during which 50,000 soldiers died in three days in July, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has certainly experienced violence and intense emotion. Visitors report hearing gunfire, cannons, screams, drums, music, and horses. Some smell peppermint (used by women of the day to combat the odor of rotting corpses). Others see apparitions of wounded soldiers. One group of foreign tourists witnessed what they thought was the re-enactment of a battle at the summit of Little Round Top, only to learn that no such activity had taken place that day. Haunted Gettysburg buildings include Rose Farm, Pennsylvania Hall, and Hummelbaugh House – where, it is said, Brigadier General William Barksdale of the Confederate army and his loyal hunting dog died.

Queen-Mary-HotelThe Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, California, is a reconditioned ocean liner that served as a troop ship during World War II. Sitting in dry dock since 1967, it is considered by some to be the most haunted hotel in America. Visitors report sensing or seeing the ghost of a young crewman named John Pedder, who was crushed to death by watertight door number 13 in 1966. Other apparitions include a woman in a white evening gown, a gentleman in a 1930’s suit, and two women in 1930’s swimsuits who supposedly drowned in the now-drained first class swimming pool. A little girl named Jackie, who may have drowned in the second class swimming pool, was recorded on electronic voice phenomena (EVP) by paranormal investigators.

stanley hotelAuthor Stephen King was inspired to write his novel The Shining during his stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1974. The luxurious hotel opened in 1909 and had developed a reputation for being haunted by the 1970’s. Lord Dunraven, the Irish earl who had sold the land on which the hotel was built, is said to haunt room 407. Lights go on and off, and visitors report seeing the man’s ghost. Ghosts of children run and play in the fourth floor hallway. The man who built the hotel, one F. O. Stanley, has appeared to guests in the lobby, bar, and billiard room. A manor house, carriage house, and concert hall on the property have also experienced paranormal activity.

waverly-hills-sanatorium-506685d91d45e04837000145The Waverly Hills Sanatorium opened in 1926 in Louisville, Kentucky, to treat victims of tuberculosis. Tens of thousands of patients died there before the sanatorium closed in 1961. The building sat abandoned for years, until new owners renovated it and opened it to the public. Visitors have reported food smells coming from the kitchen, slamming doors, screams, shapes passing in and out of doorways, the ghosts of children, a man in a white coat, and an old woman with her wrists in chains screaming, “Help me, somebody save me!” Investigators including Troy Taylor of the American Ghost Society have recorded sudden changes of temperature, unusual fluctuations in EMF meter readings, and other paranormal activity.

These and many other haunted places offer visits or tours, so you can go ahead and experience them for yourself – if you dare!

Article: Poltergeists

Poltergeist MovieLittle Heather O’Rourke’s “They’re heeeeeeere,” in Poltergeist is one of the most memorable lines in horror film history.

Characteristics of poltergeist activity include flying objects, unexplained noises, disgusting smells, disembodied voices, opening and closing of doors, and miscellaneous electrical disturbances. In rare cases, victims experience physical assaults.

The term poltergeist, meaning “noisy spirit,” was first used in print by German theologian Martin Luther (1483 – 1546). He considered them the work of the Devil, and until the 19th century, poltergeist activity was blamed on the devil, demons, or witches. When spiritualism came into vogue, poltergeists were associated with mediumship. A popular recent theory connects poltergeist activity with unconscious psychokinesis on the part of a human agent, usually a child or teenager with repressed emotions such as anger, stress, or sexual tension. Whether the person causes the manifestations or is only a magnet for unruly spirit entities is unclear.

poltergeist1Poltergeist type disturbances have been reported since Roman times. German author Jacob Grimm wrote in his 1835 book, Teutonic Mythology, about a case in 355 C.E. in the town of Bingen-am-Rhein, where loud noises and raps were heard, and people were pulled from their beds. Catholic Archdeacon of Brecknock, Giraldus Cambrensis, cited in his Itinerarium Cambriae an incident of ‘unclean spirits’ in the Pembrokeshire, Wales, home of one Stephen Wyrriot, in 1188. These spirits threw dirt and other objects, ripped clothes, and spoke of the secrets of people who were present.

More recently, several compelling cases have been thoroughly documented.

The Bell Witch incident (so-called although no witch was involved) began in 1817 at the Bell farm in Robertson County, Tennessee, and lasted three years. The terrified family heard noises like the gnawing of giant rats, followed by whistling, laughing, and singing by a disembodied voice who reportedly identified herself as ‘Kate Batts’. Strange lights were seen outside the house, furniture was thrown around, and bed clothes were pulled off sleeping family members. Young Elizabeth was slapped, pinched, and had her hair pulled. After Elizabeth’s father, John Bell, died on Dec. 20, 1820, ‘Kate’ claimed she had poisoned him. Elizabeth married in 1821, at which time ‘Kate’ said she would return in seven years. Apparently she did, with some scratching noises and pulling off of bed covers, but after two weeks, the disturbances stopped.

PoltergeistThe Amherst Haunting took place in 1878 at the Teed cottage in Amherst, Nova Scotia. Teed’s 19-year-old niece, Esther Cox, awoke screaming one night, her eyes blood-red and popping, her body grotesquely swollen. The swelling subsided, but returned four nights later, when Esther’s bedclothes were torn from her body and thrown across the room. A doctor could find no cause for Esther’s problems, but he did witness a mysteriously puffing pillow, flying plaster, and scratching of writing on Esther’s bedroom wall: “Esther Cox you are mine to kill”. The writing quickly faded, yet the manifestations continued, with the entity who identified himself as ‘Bob’ knocking things around, levitating the family cat, and setting fires in the house. ‘Bob’ even frightened away the local clergyman who came to perform an exorcism. When Esther moved out of the house, ‘Bob’ followed her, setting fire to a barn on the farm where she was working. Poor Esther was arrested for arson and sentenced to four months in prison, but served only one. She eventually married and ‘Bob’ was never heard from again.

The poltergeist phenomenon has inspired numerous films, including: The Haunting (1963), The Amityville Horror (1979), The Changeling (1980), The Entity (1982), The Others (2001), An American Haunting (2006), When the Lights Went Out (2012), and of course the Poltergeist trilogy (1982 – 1988). Watch one the next time you have an evening free – but you had better leave the lights on!


exorcistThe belief that a person can be possessed by a spirit, ghost, demon, or deity is as old as civilization itself. Such great minds as Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plutarch taught that demons or evil spirits could enter human bodies, causing disease.

In Jewish tradition a doomed soul or evil spirit, called a dybbuk, can enter a person’s body, causing anguish and torment. Stories of possession and exorcism in the Holy Bible’s Old Testament include that of Saul, who was exorcised by David’s playing of his harp (1 Samuel 16: 14 – 23). Early on, people believed dybbuks could only enter the bodies of the sick. By the 16th century, this had evolved to include the bodies of sinners. The Kabbalah (Jewish mystical school of thought) contains instructions for exorcising dybbuks, some of which are still practiced today.

The New Testament relates many cases of possession that were exorcised by Jesus Christ, including:

“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and he healed him. . .” (Matthew 12: 22)

“And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak . . .” (Luke 4:41)

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes signs of possession such as superhuman strength, ability to understand and speak languages unknown to the victim, levitating, knowledge of the future or other occult information, and revulsion toward sacred texts or objects. In 1614 the Church created a formal rite of exorcism, called the Rituale Romanum. Specially ordained priests cast out demons from their victims by adhering to certain rituals and pronouncing the prescribed words and prayers. This is not medieval superstition. In 1992 Roman Catholic priest and official exorcist of Vatican City, Father Gabriele Amorth, founded the International Association of Exorcists, which now boasts some 250 members from 30 countries. Its statutes were approved by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy on June 13, 2014.

Tales of demon possession and exorcism have spawned many books and films:

ReganThe Exorcist: William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel was inspired by the 1949 case of an anonymous St. Louis, Missouri boy who exhibited signs of possession: shaking bed, bloody welts and scratches on his body, and violent behavior. When two Jesuit priests arrived to exorcise him, he physically attacked them, exhibiting amazing strength. After violent exorcisms lasting several weeks, the intervention was deemed a success. The 1973 movie starring Linda Blair as the victim and Max Von Sydow as the priest determined to save her is an Academy award winner, and one of the great horror classics.

emily roseThe Exorcism of Emily Rose:
This 2005 film starring Jennifer Carpenter and Tom Wilkinson has Father Moore (Wilkinson) performing an exorcism on Emily (Carpenter), after which the girl dies. The story mirrors the case of Anneliese Michel, a teenaged German girl who in 1975 began hearing strange voices, and experiencing seizures and demonic visions. Two Catholic priests spent 11 months exorcising Anneliese, who died of starvation and dehydration during the ordeal. The priests were found guilty of manslaughter and given suspended sentences.

The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist: In his revealing book, journalist Matt Baglio documents the training of a genuine exorcist, Father Gary of Los Altos, California, in Italy in 2005, and his subsequent early experiences with cases of possession. The book inspired a disturbing film starring Colin O’Donoghue as Michael Kovak, a young seminary student taking a course in exorcism, and Anthony Hopkins as his Jesuit mentor.


spontaneous human combustionI recall as a little girl watching a character in some television B-movie burst into flames, and being afraid for the longest time that it could happen to me . . .

A case of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) was reported in the August, 1745 issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 62-year-old Italian Countess Cornelia Di Bandi Cesenate was discovered by her horrified maid one morning in 1731. All that remained of the countess was a pile of ashes, two legs still wearing silk stockings, and half her head – only steps from the bed and other furniture, which were not burned. The attending physician declared that a mysterious fire seemed to have begun in the woman’s chest, and closed the file.

French scholar Jonas Dupont documented cases of SHC in De Incendiis Corporis Spontaneis, published in 1763. Among others, Dupont recounted the story of Jean Millet, a man from Reims accused in 1725 of burning his wife, Nicole, to death. All that remained of Nicole were part of her skull and a few vertebrae. A small area of the floor was burned; everything else in the room was intact. Jean Millet was acquitted by the judges, who concluded Nicole had perished from divine fire sent to punish her for her excessive drinking.

SHC eventually found its way into popular literature. Charles Dickens used it to kill off a certain Mr. Krook in his novel, Bleak House (1853)In Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), a character named Jimmy Flinn died “of a combination of delirium tremens and spontaneous combustion”. More recently, SHC has been explored on television shows such as The X-Files, Picket Fences, Dead Like Me, and William Shatner’s Weird or What?

Sporadic cases of SHC occurred without attracting much attention, until a 67-year-old widow named Mary Hardy Reeser was found burned to death in her St. Petersburg, Florida home on July 1, 1951. All that remained of Reeser was a section of her back bone, part of her left foot, and her skull, which had shrivelled to the size of a baseball. It was suspected she had fallen asleep with a cigarette, but one medical examiner admitted that the intense heat needed to cremate her body should have destroyed the apartment, which had suffered only minor damage.

spontaneous human combustion 2On Dec. 22, 2010, 76-year-old Michael Faherty’s badly burned body was found in his Galway, Ireland home. For lack of a better explanation, coroner Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin determined Faherty’s death was caused by SHC.

Rarely, a victim of SHC survives. On May 25, 1985, 19-year-old non-smoker Paul Hayes suddenly ignited as he walked down a street in London, England. He fell to the ground certain he was dying. Miraculously, the fire subsided and Hayes stumbled to the LondonHospital, where he was treated for unexplained burns to his hands, forearms, neck, and face.

So apparently spontaneous human combustion exists, but what causes it? There are several theories: alcoholism; the burning of body fat, known as the wick effect; a buildup of static electricity; short-circuiting of electrical fields within the human body; peaks in Earth’s geomagnetic field; an explosive combination of chemicals resulting from poor diet; and of course the old standard, divine intervention.

In other words, there is to date no satisfactory explanation for this rare – but terrifying –phenomenon. Just pray it doesn’t happen to you.

Article: The Original Penny Dreadfuls

spring heeled jackLong before the current television show hijacked the name, a penny dreadful was one in a series of cheap and popular stories produced in 19th century Britain. They were sold for one cent – hence the name – usually in 8 (and later, 16) page weekly or monthly installments. Primarily aimed at young, working class men, these illustrated stories with colorful covers generally involved supernatural entities, criminals, detectives, pirates, or some sort of romantic adventure.

Some of the stories were reprints of Gothic thrillers such as Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk, and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of OtrantoOthers were original works inspired by criminal biographies and death-cell confessions. Some of the titles have been reprinted as collections or novels, or portrayed on stage or screen.

–  The Flying Dutchman; Or the Demon Ship. Written by Thomas Preskett Prest and published in 1839, this tale based on the legend of the ghost pirate ship doomed to sail the oceans forever was one of the earliest of the penny dreadfuls.

Varney the Vampire–  Varney the Vampire: or the Feast of Blood. This novel is alternately attributed to James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Preskett Prest. Published between 1845 and 1847, its over 800 pages concerns the persecution of the Bannerworth family by Sir Francis Varney, a vampire with a taste for the young Flora Bannerworth’s blood.

– The String of Pearls: A Romance. Also attributed to the prolific Rymer and Prest, this story was published between 1846 and 1847 and introduces Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.Todd is a barber in 1785 London who murders his customers and turns their remains into meat pies, sold at his partner in crime’s rather dubious pie shop. (You may recall him from Tim Burton’s 2007 musical film Sweeney Todd, starring Johnny Depp.)

Sweeney Todd– The Mysteries of London: This series was begun in 1844 by George William McArthur Reynolds and later continued by various other authors. It tells a tale of depravity and squalor, exposing inequality and injustice towards the poor in the London slums. Notable characters include Richard Markham and Eliza Sydney, and a serial killer/body snatcher called The Resurrection Man.

– Black Bess or The Knight of the Road is a heavily fictionalized account of the life and death of the infamous English highwayman Dick Turpin, as written by Edward Viles. Black Bess was named for Dick Turpin’s horse on which Turpin allegedly rode the 200 miles between York and London in a single night. It was published as a serial between 1866 and 1868.

– The Boys of EnglandEdwin J. Brett’s magazine exemplifies the new focus of penny dreadfuls on exciting, but healthy fiction for boys. It was an instant success, and ran from 1866 to 1899.

Between 1830 and 1850, there were up to 100 publishers of penny fiction. By the 1890’s, however, penny dreadfuls were being challenged by periodicals priced at only one half-penny.

These were followed by the more substantial tuppenny (two penny) dreadfuls, and short, sensational novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which sold for a shilling. The penny dreadful was gradually replaced between the world wars by the modern horror genre and the more easily read and highly illustrated comic book.


harry-houdini.1Ehrich Weisz was born March 24, 1874, in Budapest, Hungary. As a small boy he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he later claimed to have been born (on April 6, for some reason). By the age of 11 he was performing rope tricks, and could pick any lock presented to him. His dream was to become a stage magician.

When he reached the age of consent Weisz changed his name to Harry Houdini, taking the name from the famous French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin and throwing on an extra ‘i’. He performed magic tricks and escape acts initially with a friend and later with his own brother Theodore, billing their act ‘The Houdini Brothers’.

Houdini married Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner in 1894. He dumped his brother and began performing with his wife as ‘The Houdinis’.

Houdini’s early acts included the ‘Needle Trick’ (in which he would swallow dozens of needles and threads, then regurgitate them with the needles neatly threaded), and the ‘Challenge Act’ (where he would escape from any pair of handcuffs produced by the audience). He later perfected his famous ‘Chinese Water Torture Cell,’ ‘Straight Jacket,’ and ‘Buried Alive’ escapes – among others.

houdinimilkcanpromoFollowing the death of his beloved mother in 1913, Houdini visited numerous spirit mediums and attended séances in hopes of communicating with her. Ultimately unsuccessful, he became convinced that mediums were scam artists taking advantage of the vulnerability of the bereaved. For the rest of his life he would campaign to expose and discredit them as frauds, famously debunking the well-known medium Mina Crandon, known to the public as Margery.

houdini 2As his fame grew, Houdini ventured into an assortment of activities. In 1901, he made a 10-minute experimental film entitled, Wonderful Adventures of the Famous Houdini in Paris. He would later make five movies between 1918 and 1923, and even create his own film company, The Houdini Production Corporation.

In 1917, Houdini became president of the Society of American Magicians, a position he held until his death in 1926.

Houdini published numerous books on magic and related topics which are still read today. In 1920, he published Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, an exposé of the tricks and cheats used by mediums, fortune tellers and others with alleged paranormal abilities. On May 19, 1926, he testified before the U.S. Congress in support of a bill that would outlaw fortune-telling in Washington, D.C. (Alas, the bill didn’t pass.)

On Oct. 22, 1926, McGillUniversity student J. Gordon Whitehead tested the magician’s claim of extraordinarily firm muscles by punching him several times in the stomach while visiting him backstage in Montreal. The blows may have injured Houdini, or aggravated a previous condition. Either way, he performed his next two shows in severe pain before finally going to the hospital in Detroit. He died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix on Oct. 31. Despite his

skepticism Houdini made a pact with his wife before his death, promising to communicate with her

from beyond the grave if it was possible.

Beatrice ‘Bess’ Houdini conducted séances every Halloween for the next 10 years in hopes of receiving a message from her husband, but to no avail. There are still numerous Houdini séances held on Halloween every year in various locations around the world. The official Houdini séance is held on Oct. 31 at the HoudiniMuseum in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Magic act 1900Stone Age man painted handprints and varied images on the walls of sacred caves in southern Europe. Anthropologists believe these were attempts to strengthen the clan’s relationship with spirits who would help them achieve good health, fertility, or a successful hunt.

Magic was an integral thread in the fabric of ancient Egypt. Egyptian texts contain spells to be used against serpents and other pests. People wore amulets or placed them outside their homes for protection. An ankh was worn to bring knowledge and power. The nefer was worn to attract success, happiness, and friends. The Egyptian god, Thoth (also known as Hermes Trismegistus) was credited with bringing medicine, astrology, and magic to mankind.

The greatest Greek philosophers – including Plato and Aristotle – believed in the reality of magic. Magical rings could extend your life or make you invisible. Sorcerers flew through the sky at night, and could turn men into plants or animals with their rituals and ointments!

The Druids (Celtic priests of Europe and Great Britain)had profound knowledge of divination, crystals, spells and potions. The Celts also wore amulets, including the continuous Celtic knot symbolizing the process of spiritual growth, and the triskel, a solar symbol representing endurance and courage.

Most of the Roman emperors opposed magic. Tiberius (42 B.C.E. – 37 C.E.) banished magicians and astrologers. In 529 C.E., Justinian ordered the official suppression of all ancient learning, science and philosophy.

But pagan knowledge did not disappear, and for a time, there was little distinction between magic, philosophy, and science. The ‘black’ magician sold his soul to the devil for the control of evil spirits, performing spells he found in black books called grimoires. Hermetists – those who followed the teachings of Hermes – studied ‘white’ magic, ancient languages, astrology, and the Cabala (a doctrine of Jewish mysticism). They believed disease could be prevented or cured by amulets, incantations, herbs, prayer, and practical medicine such as bleeding and purging.

MagicianOne of the earliest philosopher/scientists was Albertus Magnus (1193 – 1280). He conducted scientific experiments and described the virtues of stones, such as amethysts to foster the acquisition of knowledge and intelligence, and emeralds to determine if a girl was a virgin. (If after drinking a potion containing emerald fragments she retained the potion, she was a virgin. If she vomited, she was not!)

The growing Christian church crusaded against pagans and heretics. The old pagan rituals were labelled witchcraft and heresy. All magic was seen as the work of Satan. Witches were blamed for everything from illness to poor weather. In 1484, a papal bull condemned “incantations, spells, conjurations and other accursed charms and crafts”. By the end of the 18th century, at least 50,000 people had been put to death for heresy or witchcraft in Europe and Great Britain.

The witch hunt frenzy eventually came to the New World, where the Salem witch trials of 1692 – 1693 ended with 20 people being hung or crushed to death for witchcraft.

No longer forbidden, magic in the 21st century is associated with the Cabala, some branches of New Age spirituality, and Wicca (a movement founded in Great Britain in the 1950’s, and now a recognized religion in several countries). It even has its place in popular culture, as witnessed by the immense success of novels and films featuring a boy wizard named Harry Potter.


death&reincarnationTibetan monks rejoice at finding the next Dali Lama in a village in India.

A six-year-old Scottish boy talks endlessly about his old family, house, and dog in a town 300 kilometres away from where he lives. His desperate parents track down the house right where he said it was.

A six-year-old American boy dreams repeatedly of a fiery airplane crash and points out on a map the place where his plane was shot down. Investigation leads to the confirmation of details in the boy’s story.

The phenomenon involved in each of these cases is, of course, reincarnation. For three billion people around the world, reincarnation is a no-brainer. After death and some time spent in the afterlife, the soul is reborn – usually in a human body but sometimes, the body of an animal or even an inanimate object such as a stone – to continue its evolution on the earth plane.

Some form of reincarnation is part of the doctrine in numerous religions including

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Orthodox Judaism and some forms of Christian Gnosticism. Many African tribes, Native Americans and Inuits also believe the dead are reborn, often in the same family the deceased person left behind.

The classical Greek philosophers Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates apparently taught that the soul returns after death in a new body. In The Republic, Socrates wrote, “. . . The choice of the souls was in most cases based on their experience of a previous life . . .”

Hindus believe that, depending on the life it led in its previous incarnation, the soul will be born again to an easier or more challenging situation. The ancient Hindu text known as the Bhagavad-Gita says, “. . . As a man, casting off old clothes, puts on others and new ones, so the embodied (self) casting off old bodies, goes to others and new ones . . .”

Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 – 100 C.E.) wrote in his Wars of the Jews, “. . . (the Pharisees) say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies . . .”

Dalai_Lama_boyOne of the most controversial passages in the Holy Bible may be John 9:1 – 3: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was blind since birth?”

Reincarnation has itself been reborn in modern popular culture, with a plethora of short stories, novels, and memorable movies including The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Fluke (1995), and What Dreams May Come (1998).

The subject is finally undergoing some scientific study. British researcher Ian Lawton has collected an impressive amount of information through past-life regression (hypnosis) that seems to point to reincarnation. Canadian psychiatrist Ian Stevenson (1918 – 2007) was the founder of a research group at the University of Virginia known as the Division of Perceptual Studies. The division has become well-known for studying cases of children who seem to spontaneously recall past lives. In some cases, these children show a distinct phobia, birth mark or physical defect corresponding to wounds or other marks on the deceased person whose life the child claims to remember. Lawton, Stevenson, and others have published numerous thought-provoking books, and although none of this proves the reality of reincarnation, it does make one wonder: who or what have I been in the past?