Chapter 31 of Martha’s Children, and getting rid of ghosts

As the sorcerers’ war between Edward Cross and Martha Fokker heats up, Ivy McIlwraith finds herself on the sidelines, unable to help directly. But Ivy’s stock in trade, as a scholar and librarian, has been information, and she decided to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the two combatants. But before the night is over, Ivy will confront a new mystery that she must solve! Read chapter 31 of Martha’s Children, my serial of cops, vampires, and sorcerers in 1969 Chicago, to find out what dire threat Ivy faces!

A ghost with a mission: Maria Marten appears to her mother in a dream

A ghost with a mission: Maria Marten appears to her mother in a dream

Considering that they are usually considered undesirable creatures, I’ve found surprisingly little on how one gets rid of ghosts. The traditional ghost in British-American folklore comes back to finish business left undone in life, such as taking vengeance on the person who killed it. It generally goes away once the business is completed. More recently, people have called in mediums or other spiritualist, who either try to communicate with the ghost and get it to “move on,” or engage in some sort of spiritual cleansing ceremony to banish it. (Sometimes this is called an exorcism. I thought that term applied only to demons, but I’ve found out I was wrong.)

The horror movie classic, The Legend of Hell House (1973) supplemented the use of mediums with technology. In the movie, a physicist theorizes that ghosts are manifestations of electromagnetic energy, and deploys a machine to eradicate such entities. While the device fails, subsequent events show that the theory was correct. It was just that the ghost had anticipated such an attack, and had shielded its source of power! 1984’s Ghostbusters took the technology a step further. It featured ghost traps, technological devices that somehow sucked in and imprisoned ghosts.

But even before modern technology, it was possible to build a ghost trap. Ghosts are the souls of the dead, and any magic that could trap the soul of a living person could at least in theory do the same for a dead one. Mirrors not only reflected the image of souls (which is why vampires are often said not to have reflections), but could conceivably capture them. So a mirror ghost trap seems a likely possibility. Certainly I’ve encountered them in fiction.

Snorri the Godi was so clever, he was an Icelandic ghost buster

Snorri the Godi was so clever, he was an Icelandic ghost buster

Outside of the British-American tradition, the power of ghosts and the methods of removing them vary greatly.  For example, several Icelandic sagas mention ghosts that materialize as superhumanly strong physical entities, and yet vanish into their graves. One of these is called a draugr. Just as they seemed both physical and spiritual, they could be banished by both physical and spiritual means. If one could wrestle them into their graves, something only a hero could manage, they would cease to trouble the living. Destroying the body by fire also worked, sometime. And in at least one case, in the Eyrbyggja saga, two gangs of them were forced out of a house through a spiritual judgment.

Ultimately, how you trap a ghost depends on whether you think it is a spiritual entity or a physical entity. Against the former, magic should prove effective. Against the latter, best hope that someone builds a Ghostbusters trap soon. The machine in The Legend of Hell House was too big to be portable.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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6 Responses to Chapter 31 of Martha’s Children, and getting rid of ghosts

  1. crimsonprose says:

    Quick ghost story (true).When my daughter;s father moved into a Victorian house, he and his wife began to experience unexplained icy draughts. That they could live with. But then the apparition appeared. Male, 50s. Stout. Working man’s clothes of 50 yrs.previous. The wife mentioned this at the local shop, and was told it was Mr Betts. Best go see the parson. The wife duly went, to be told for exorcism she needed a Catholic priest. Catholic priest duly arrived and bell, book and candle, did his mumbo-jumbo (as the ‘ex’ explained it to me) and thereafter no draughts and no apparitions. Until my daughter went to stay. Then it all started up again. Theory is that exorcism works on the living, not on the dead.

    Still on ghosts, you say of the theory electromagnetic energy. There was a theory proposed by Colin Wilson in his ‘Supernatural’ (possibly published in 1960’s). He had analysed zillions of ghost sightings and found the common denominator was running water – subterranean stream, underfloor pipes etc. He proposed that ghosts were electromagnetically recorded memories of the living, usually at a highly emotionally charged moment in their life, imprinted on rock by the agency of water.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      Nice story. The idea of an exorcism actually working on the living is an intriguing one, and throws an odd angle on the ghost story I’m reading now, Kingsley Amis’s “The Green Man.”

      I’d not heard that theory of Wilson’s, even though I’ve read some works of his on ghosts, and I’m surprised it’s not cropped up in the Fortean Times, good British periodical it is that often mentions Wilson. Have to track it down.

  2. E. J. Barnes says:

    “…called aN exorcism.”

  3. danagpeleg1 says:

    I think you’d enjoy “The Dyke and the Dybbuk” by Ellen Galford… The first book I’ve ever translated. I had lots of fun doing it! There’s one chase where the Dybbuk follows its subject through mirrors, rain drops, anything that can reflect.

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