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The ghosts of good luck: Yeats and the spectral precursors of good fortune

Regarding the serious study of the apparitions, opinions on the concept of “ghosts” remain varied, manifesting themselves in a number of different folk motifs since the earliest days of humanity. Ghosts are most often represented in cultural traditions as the spirits of the deceased, and therefore legends often combine ghosts with death and the afterlife. To the same extent, traditions relating to belief in ghosts often regard them as elements of terror, or perhaps even as harbinger of things – often terrible – to come.

This attitude, and the “fear” associated with belief in ghosts, has mostly been the case with ghost stories in America. We have no doubt that thanks can be attributed to popular haunted stories like The Amityville Horror to explain much of this. Such stories, although supposedly based on fact (which is often questionable after closer examination) are even more defamed on the big screen, making them the enduring stuff of horror cinema.

Attitudes and, more frankly, angle that begin to emerge towards our ideas about ghosts in relation to cultural norms become all too apparent once we look beyond these enduring stereotypes. In The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats , the famous poet told a number of ghostly legends told by the people of Ireland; in particular an older man whom Yeats identifies as an acquaintance named “Paddy Flynn”.


In the chapter “Village Ghosts”, Yeats describes the Irish belief that having a ghost living in your home is in fact lucky; a stark contrast when associated with modern “horror stories” of recent decades:

“The ghost of the house is generally a harmless and well-intentioned creature. It is supported as long as possible. It brings good luck to those who live with it. I remember two children who slept with their mother, sister and brothers in a small room. in the room was also a ghost. They were selling herring on the streets of Dublin, and didn’t care much about the ghost, because they knew they would always sell their fish easily while they slept in the hated room.

“Harmless” and “well-intentioned” are usually not the first words that come to mind when it comes to ghost stories today. Yeats, however, goes on to describe that some of the ghosts of Ireland were seen as warning signs, appearing before the death of another, or in the most classic sense, returning to perform “unfinished business” by somehow:

“I have knowledge among the visionaries of western villages. Connacht tales are very different from those of Leinster. These spirits have a dark and factual path with them. They come to announce a death, to fulfill an obligation, to avenge a wrong, even to pay their bills – as did the other daughter of a fisherman the other day – then hurry to rest. “

Yeats further noted that “it is demons, not ghosts, that turn into white cats or black dogs”, the latter evoking the popular image of the “Black Shuck” of the British Isles, although the mention of ‘a white cat depicting a demon seems in stark contrast to the traditions concerning black cats as’ relatives’ of witches.

ghostly encounter

About animals and their relationship with the unexplained, some time ago I received an email from one of my followers, who shared his own story of what he perceived as an encounter with the ghost of a cat:

“I have a friend near Barnardsville NC who had a black cat. The cat was old and eventually died in the house. One day, after drinking a cup of coffee, I stood by the sink, rinsing the cup of coffee, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw his black cat (already deceased) load my ankles, as a kitten would. I called my friend and told her that her cat had just attacked my ankles. She started laughing and assured me that her cat was dead (which I knew). I told her that maybe her cat still didn’t know she was dead. “

A little in agreement with this idea of ​​animal spectrum, Yeats then explained in The Celtic Twilight how certain traditions in Ireland maintain that the ghosts, supposed to be the spirits of the dead, can return in the form of various animals:

“In the surrounding villages, they adopt strange disguises. An old dead man steals cabbage from his own garden in the shape of a large rabbit. An evil captain of the navy stayed for years inside the plaster of a cottage wall, in the shape of a snipe, making the most horrible noises. He was not removed until the wall was torn down; then, out of the plaster sold, the snipe rushed whistling. “

Close to the Isle of Man, which lies between Ireland and England, there is a strange folklore about a family named Irving who had been “haunted” by a voice emanating from within. walls. It happened in the 1930s, and the case was even investigated by the famous ghost researcher Harry Price during the troubles. The strange twist of the story was that the “voice” claimed to belong to a mongoose, who had traveled underground from India and had been trained to speak by his master. The supposed creature even claimed a name, calling itself “Gef”.

Some commentators have suggested that, rather than a ghost, the case could have been imagined by young Voirrey Irving, the apparent target of the poltergeist, but perhaps inspired by the story of Rudyard Kipling Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, published for the first time in 1894. Skeptical Joe Nickel argued that Voirrey had indeed attempted ventriloquism – perhaps badly in some cases – as a detailed account by a journalist indicates that Voirrey had been caught doing it- even the sounds of “mongoose”.

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For this, her father intervened and attempted to plead the cause of Voirrey’s innocence, diverting the journalist’s attention from the girl in what appeared to be an obvious collusion of Irving family members in a hoax. Anyway, the strange case “Gef” could nevertheless have been inspired by these previous legends of “ghosts” spectrally transforming into animal shapes, and like the ghost of the old navy captain in snipe attire, haunting the walls of his former residence?

“Hamlet and the ghost of his father”, by Henry Fuseli

One could argue, even on the basis of any peripheral investigation like the one we have undertaken here, that the “fear” of the ghostly experience is probably the raw juxtaposition of the ordinary against the consensual reality of everyday life. But going beyond our generally accepted attitudes about the supernatural, and our fear of it, also brings us to more fundamental questions, which include the most fundamental of all: “what is a ghost? “Honesty,” is there anything real about the idea that ghosts exist? ”

In short, perhaps the cultural norms against which “the ghost of legend” is identified have influenced people’s attitudes toward them. In turn, popular representation of ghosts almost inevitably comes to represent a culture of “fear” that has grown up around them in most parts of the world. Therefore, although ghosts remain a fun and “scary” motif (especially around Halloween), one may wonder if it is really the ghost itself that scares us so much … or, instead , could be our age-old prejudices against the unknown which are the real source of fear?

Sources and credits: MYSTERIOUSUNIVERSE


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