Haunted Locations of Victoria, Vancouver Island

My new book The Haunting of Vancouver Island is now available. Many of these stories are told in full, complete with images.

The following is a list of haunted locations in the Greater Victoria Area. There is a separate post for the rest of Vancouver Island.

The list is source based, meaning locations have been added as they’ve received published recognition. The list is organized geographically. It begins in the Oak Bay neighborhood, then proceeds downtown before crossing the Bay Street Bridge. The final haunted location listed is in the Langford area. At the end of this list, I’ve included other paranormal reports that may or may not be considered hauntings.

A lot of people have left comments about their own experiences at the bottom of the page. If you’d like to share yours, please feel free to do so. Subscribe to the blog if you want to be notified when new posts are available.

Ross Bay Cemetery photo by Brandon Godfrey. 2009.

Victoria Golf Course, Oak Bay An apparition has been seen that is believed to be Doris Gravlin. She is also referred to as “The April Ghost” due to her usual appearance at this time of year. Ghost lights are also reportedly seen. There are incredibly high witness counts as the apparition often appears to groups or several people at once. Unmarried couples who see her are said to never marry. Might be a good way to get rid of that clingy someone once and for all!

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Haunted Canada by Pat Hancock (2003)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 2, Episode 3

Tod House, Oak Bay (heritage site/private home) This site is no longer active. An apparition of a First Nations woman in chains was reported. Presence was also felt. A skeleton was later found on the property of a woman in chains believed to possibly be of First Nations descent. The haunting discontinued.

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Shelborne Street, Victoria (south of Hillside Center) There are claims that the entire street shifts to an earlier time, a phenomena known as “retrocognition.” Lone drivers have made this claim saying it occurred during the month of October.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999) 

Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria Apparitions have been reported that some people believe are those of David Fee and Isabella Ross. An elderly couple has also been seen. Blog post.

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria (heritage site) The castle itself does not acknowledge that the building may be haunted but rumours persist. An apparition of a little girl has been reported by volunteer staff, as well as the image of a maid. Woman’s feet have been seen running down the stairs. Music has been heard and the odor of candle wax is said to occur inexplicably.

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Video (not on haunting)

Langham Court Theatre, Victoria (open) The apparition of “the Lady in the Loft” is reported. The theatre publicly acknowledges the ghostly presence.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Langham Court Theatre: About

Beacon Hill Park, Victoria At one time, an apparition of a blonde woman would appear to joggers. She would look to be struggling with someone, or something, and screaming silently. Reports came from NW corner of the park. Later, in the same spot, a woman was murdered with dark hair. The apparition is then said to have taken on her appearance after the murder and is no longer a blonde woman but a brunette. This apparition is often called “the Doppelgänger of Beacon Hill Park.” Also, an apparition of the lower half of a male – from the waist down – has been reported as well.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • The Doppelganger of Beacon Hill Park (great blog post)

Emily Carr House, Victoria (heritage site) A presence is said to linger on the stairs as well as in the room of Emily Carr’s mother.

  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

James Bay Inn, Victoria (open) Auditory phenomena is reported. Unexplained electrical occurrences are also said to occur. Apparition, possibly of Emily Carr.

Helmcken House, Victoria (heritage site) The apparition of a woman is seen in the upper floor window, believed to be Cecilia (Douglas) Helmcken. Piano music is also heard. Poltergeist activity is said to have occurred. This house is on the grounds of the Royal BC Museum.

  • Haunted Canada by Pat Hancock (2003)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 2, Episode 5
Haunted Locations of Victoria
British Columbia Parliament Building photo by Ryan Bushby. 2007

Parliament Buildings, Victoria An apparition has been reported and is usually believed to be architect Francis Rattenbury.

  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Empress Hotel, Victoria (open) Apparitions are reported in the hotel, the most famous believed to be architect Francis Rattenbury. The Empress is very near the Parliament Building. The apparition of a woman who is seen on the 6th floor is believed to be a former maid. An apparition of an older woman has been seen, as well. An apparition of a construction worker who was found hanging has also been seen.

St Ann’s Academy, Victoria (heritage site) The apparition of Emily Carr has been reported. She really does get around doesn’t she?

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • The Canadian Encyclopedia Blog: A Field Guide to Ghost Hunting in Victoria

Cherry Bank Hotel, Victoria (open) Apparitions of a woman and a little girl are reported. A girl has been seen running in the hallway. Poltergeist activity.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 1, Episode 4

Pioneer Square (Location of Old Quadra Street Cemetery) Apparition is seen who is believed to be Adelaide Griffin. Another apparition believed to be Robert Johnson – who committing suicide – is reported here as well. Also, the apparition of a dark-haired woman in a white dress has been seen.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • Favourite Stories From Lantern Tours by Old Cemeteries Society (1998)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 2, Episode 6

Royal Theatre, Victoria (open) An apparition of a man has been reported. Witnesses also claim to feel “psychically stabbed.”

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)

Roger’s Chocolates, Victoria (open) Claims that the apparitions of Charles and Leah Rogers have been sighted. Also, an unexplained child’s handprint was found.

Bedford Regency Hotel, Victoria (open) Two apparitions are reported by employees. Staff call them “Lady Churchill” and “Brady.” Lady Churchill has also been seen across the street at Camillo’s restaurant.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Canadian Ghost Stories: Volume 2 by Smitten, Thay, Jarvis & Oickle (2003)

Bastion Square, Maritime Museum & surrounding buildings, Victoria (open) An apparition of a bearded man is reported believed to be Sir Begbie the “Hanging Judge.” A lady in white is reported here as well. Bastion square in general, and Helmcken Alley, generate reports of various levels of activity. Tour guide John Adams gives downtown ghost tours every evening. Bastion square is the epicentre of many of these tours.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts & Legends of Bastion Square by John D. Adams (2002)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 2, Episode 3 (Bastion Square)

Old Morris Tobacconists, Victoria (open) Poltergeist activity has been reported. Unexplained sounds have been heard.

Pounders Restaurant, Victoria (open) A female apparition has been witnessed on the stairs. Items have also been inexplicably moved.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghosts & Legends of Bastion Square by John D. Adams (2002)

McPherson Playhouse, Victoria (open) A male apparition and a lady in grey have both been reported at different times. Items are moved, and audible unexplained voices have been reported. Apparition of a “Frenchman”  is seen on the outside corner of Government and Fisgard on October mornings.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)
The Skull-Faced Bishop: The Horrific Image of One Vancouver Island Ghost. St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Victoria The Skull-Faced Bishop and the spirit of David Fee are believed to haunt this location. For the full story, click on the image above.

Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown, Victoria A ghostly presence pushes people aside. Sources claim that the entity is Chung, who once murdered a sing-song girl who scorned his affections.

Gorge Road Hospital, Victoria The apparition of a lady in white has been reported. White lights have also been seen.

  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)
  • The International Directory of Haunted Places by Dennis Hauck (2000)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)

Point Ellice House, Victoria (heritage site) The apparition of a woman in a blue dress has been reported believed to be Kathleen O’Reilly. The apparition of an older woman has been reported on the property believed to be Carolyn O’Reilly. A man’s voice has been heard. Poltergeist activity is often reported.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Old Point Ellice Bridge, Victoria Ghost lights are reported at the tragic scene where the old bridge collapsed. This incident claimed 55 lives. A red light is reportedly seen, hovering “18 inches” off of the ground.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Favourite Ghost Stories by Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria (1997)

The Princess Mary Ship Restaurant, Victoria (closed – no longer exists) An apparition of a woman had been reported. Unspecified unexplained occurrences had also been claimed at the time.

Spinnakers Pub, Victoria (open) An apparition of an older woman with longer grey hair has been reported along with unexplained noises. Presence is said to have become less active in recent years.

  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)
  • Ghostly Walks: Links

Ye Old England Inn, Esquimalt (open) An apparition of a man with a beard has been reported as well as that of “a beautiful woman.” Unexplained music has been reported and items have inexplicably been moved.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghostly Walks: Links
Haunted Locations of Victoria
Hatley Castle photo by Merry Kisses. 2006.

Royal Roads University/ Hatley Castle, Colwood (open) most activity is reported in Hatley Castle (aka Hatley Park). This includes the apparition of an old woman who is possibly Laura Dunsmuir. “Freezing cobwebs” have also been reported as well as the apparition of a man.

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Strange History: the Haunted Castle. Article (2014)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 2, Episode 11. Video
  • A Close Encounter of the Paranormal Kind. Video

Craigflower Elementary School, View Royal (closed 2013 due to road work) Doors are said to open on their own. Bells have been said to ring inexplicably. According to sources, manor is also said to have activity.

  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Four Mile House Bar & Grill, View Royal (open) The apparition reported in the gardens is believed to be that of Margaret Gouge. Another apparition of a man in a suit is also reported. Also, a ghost said to be Jake Matteson is seen. This is also the pub mentioned “near Christie Point” by authors who wrote of the apparition of a soldier crawling across the highway. Noises and poltergeist activity has been reported, as well as people claiming to have been touched. There is also a connection to the Thetis Cove Lady in White.

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)
  • Creepy Canada: Season 1, Episode 5

Thetis Cove, View Royal The apparition of a lady in white is reportedly seen on the beach. She is said to be a woman who died awaiting her husband’s ship to return. Apparently, she’d often spent time at the old Four Mile House Inn (above) where there’s actually a stain glass image of her. There is a stain glass image of the White Lady of Thetis Cove at the Four Mile Pub.

  • The Haunting of Vancouver Island by Shanon Sinn (2017)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)

Six Mile Pub, View Royal (open) An apparition of a man has been reported. Unexplained footsteps have been heard.

East Sooke Road, Sooke An apparition of a lady in black has been seen along the side of the road and is believed to be May Stiff – although some have said it cannot be her. A pretty young woman in white has also been reported.

  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Ghosts: More Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (2006)

China Flats Highway, Sooke The highway described in accounts is likely #14 Highway, Sooke Road. An apparition of a Chinese man has been reported and is said to jump into traffic. No one is present when vehicles stop to investigate, however. He is believed to have been a man who was struck and killed in the 1940s while trying to get medical attention for his wife.

  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Robin Skelton & Jean Kozocari (1989)
  • Ghosts: True Tales of Eerie Encounters by Robert C. Belyk (1990)
  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Ma Miller’s Goldstream Inn, Langford Retrocognition has been reported at this site. Old Inn has been seen, even though it was no longer physically there.

  • Ghost Stories of British Columbia by Jo-Ann Christensen (1996)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Other Miscellaneous Reports from the Victoria area:

Burning Ghost Ship, South of Vancouver Island A burning fishing vessel with a UFO-type object above it was observed and reported by the Japanese ship Meitetsu Maru in 1957. There were also several other reports of unidentified lights in the area at that time. No missing boats were ever reported, nor was any wreckage ever found, even after a large-scale American and Canadian Coast Guard search.

  • Canadian UFO Report: Volume 2, Number 5 (1972)
  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)

Thetis Lake Monster Victoria, Vancouver Island Generally believed to have been a hoax, a monster was reported similar in appearance to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I so want to believe this actually happened!

  • Ghost Stories & Mysterious Creatures of British Columbia by Barbara Smith (1999)
  • Canadian Ghost Stories: Volume 2 by Smitten, Thay, Jarvis & Oickle (2003)
  • Wikipedia entry

Sea Serpent Caddy, Vancouver Island Coastline A sea serpent is said to haunt the coasts of Vancouver Island, having been reported by multiple witnesses since at least 1932. Some speculate that the sightings may be of a surviving creature such as the plesiosaur, others that it might be an oarfish (video) There have been multiple reports of the serpent from all around Vancouver Island. “Caddy” is named after Cadboro Bay in Victoria following an early account. The bay was named after an early HBC vessel the Cadboro.

For a list of other Vancouver Island Haunted Sites please visit Haunted Locations on Vancouver Island This other list includes Sasquatch Sightings (which have also occurred in the Victoria area), and UFO reports as well. 

If you know of any other haunted locations in the Victoria area, leave a comment, or send me a private message. Thanks to you who already have!

Until next time, darkest nods!

Ghostly Images: Ross Bay Cemetery and Hatley Cemetery

The images below were submitted by Stephen following a discussion that took place in the comment section of my blog post Haunted Locations of Victoria, Vancouver Island. The first two Images are from Ross Bay Cemetery. Stephen says that these were taken on a clear night. Ross Bay Cemetery is believed by many people to be haunted by the spirits of David Fee and Isabella Ross. Apparently, the apparitions of an elderly couple have also been seen.

Ross Bay Cemetery

Ross Bay Cemetery

Continue reading “Ghostly Images: Ross Bay Cemetery and Hatley Cemetery”

Qualicum Heritage Inn: The Great Haunted Condominium Sale

Qualicum Heritage InnThe Qualicum Heritage Inn on Vancouver Island has long been reputed to be haunted. Robert Belyk found the stories so compelling he opened his 1990 (2002) book Ghosts, True Tales of Eerie Encounters with over ten pages of the Inn’s haunted past. Later, in 2002, OLN’s Creepy Canada also featured the Inn. Additionally, previous Inn guests have left tales of paranormal encounters on various hotel review sites online, while former staff members have made public statements regarding their own personal experiences within to online and print sources, as well.

Continue reading “Qualicum Heritage Inn: The Great Haunted Condominium Sale”

The Eight Stages of a Poltergeist Haunting

Poltergeist – Therese Selles. 1911

The eight stages of a poltergeist haunting has been taken from Rupert Mathews’ book Poltergeists. For anyone interested, Mathews’ book is well researched and a great read. He covers the many different characteristics of what we would now consider to be the classic poltergeist haunting. Mathews does not necessarily subscribe to the common poltergeist theories of ghosts or psychokinesis, but instead offers many other possible explanations such as fraud or misidentification. Within the book, Mathews covers historic and modern cases, investigations and scientific experiments, as well as famous early mediums and fraudsters. Mathews concludes there are generally eight stages to an “idealized poltergeist visitation” or haunting where fraud has not been detected:

Stage One: Beginnings

The activity usually begins with faintly registered sounds. This is usually a scratching noise, which may be disregarded as being made by rodents or to be the sounds of water pipes. These noises are usually only heard at night.

Stage Two: Noises

These sounds will then become harder to ignore. These noises resemble knuckles knocking on wood or other objects such as glass. Sometimes, very loud cracking or unexplained banging noises are heard but this is less likely. Objects can sometimes be felt to vibrate. At this stage the activity may also be heard during daylight hours.

Stage Three: Moving Objects

Mathews does state that sometimes Stage Three begins at the same time as Stage Two. Objects may be moved inexplicably. Stone throwing, or lithobolia, is very common. Objects may disappear and reappear. This activity usually focuses around a certain type of object such as a specific ornament or keys. It’s rare to actually see the item be moved. Items may be hot to the touch immediately thereafter.

Stage Four: Apports and Disapports

When an object appears from out of nowhere it’s called an apport. When an object disappears “into oblivion” it is called a disapport. These types of activities are extremely rare but have been reported.

Stage Five: Communication

In some cases communication is established through a code of knocks. This may be two knocks indicating a “yes” and one knock indicating a “no” or some other established pattern. Sometimes speech is achieved. In almost all of these cases there seems to be a gradual process which starts with whistles, slurps, growls and so on. At first, mutterings or distant voices will be heard. Next, the voice will be said to sound robotic. Finally, witnesses will claim regular speech is achieved. The poltergeist will then be able to speak as a normal person and will begin to make statements. Claims by the poltergeist about their identity are usually grande. They may claim to have been a murderer, a victim, a suicide, or even a famous person. When claims are checked out they will usually be determined to be false. According to Mathews, it is rare for a poltergeist to have knowledge of events outside of what is widely known within the community. Mathews does not mention this, but it is interesting that many claimed spirit-contacts through a Ouija board also share these same characteristics of deceit[i].

Stage Six: Climax

The poltergeist activity will suddenly increase to a point it had never reached before. This may last several hours or several days. If the poltergeist can talk it may state that it’s going to be leaving soon. Unlike previous claims, however, this will generally turn out to be true.

Stage Seven: Decline

According to Mathews, “the decline is almost always much shorter than the build-up.” The poltergeist will lose its abilities in reverse and gradually become weaker.

Stage Eight: Endings

The activity may slowly skip to an end. Sometimes, this poltergeist activity will reach a dramatic conclusion. In many cases, exorcisms or blessings may prematurely kill the activity. Sometimes, the focus person leaving the premise may cause the activity to cease.

Other Features

The “idealized” poltergeist haunting will usually have a focus person. According to Mathews, this focus person is usually a teenage female but may be of any age or gender. Some investigators believe that this poltergeist activity will center around one person but this is not always the case. Mathews also states that, “it is often said that focus people are usually in a stressful situation of some kind.” Examples given within the book are a divorce and an attempted rape.

Also of note, poltergeists sometimes manifest physically. This apparition may be smoky or misty. Sometimes it will take on a human form. Sometimes the apparition may appear very strange such as in an animal or part animal form. Wet spots may also manifest which smell like urine. Sometimes this manifestation can be seen as it is occurring and seems to come out of nowhere.

Witnesses will sometimes claim to have been harmed by the poltergeist entity. Scratches and bite marks are often reported to have appeared on the person’s skin without explanation. In some cases, animals will perish. Fires will sometimes start in the home inexplicably. In the Bell Witch case the poltergeist claimed to have killed Jack Bell. In one case – which is not in Mathews book – a woman named Doris Bither claimed to have been raped by a poltergeist. Witnesses later supported her claim. The Bithers’ poltergeist account and investigation was made into the 1981 movie ‘the Entity’ starring Barbara Hershey. For the full interview of Doris Bither’s surviving son please go to: ghost theory

It’s important to note that the poltergeist distinction is not as clear as many imagine. The characteristics of these hauntings often share many similarities with conventional hauntings. The word poltergeist basically means “noisy ghost” but has come to represent a specific idealized type of haunting. Many individuals separate poltergeists from traditional ghosts because they believe that the spirits of the deceased causes other types of hauntings and there are psychic explanations for poltergeist activity. One early theory was that poltergeist activity was caused by uncontrolled female teenage sexual energy, an unfounded belief that persists to this day.

Poltergeist Haunting

[i] For more on the apparent deceptive nature of spirits consider reading Hungry Ghosts by Joe Fisher 1991, which is a very interesting study.

Putting the Normal back in Paranormal

The Temptation of St. Anthony by Martin Schongauer. 1480-90

All over the world, since the beginning of time, people have been having experiences that have defied their understanding of the world around them. With the advent of science and reason, however, mysteries that had long been considered unsolvable were finally being exposed and explained once and for all. Somewhere along the line, however, the scientific mind was repressed. The last of the great mysteries were suddenly regarded as forever unexplainable or, worse yet, completely nonexistent. Nowhere are these current and all prevailing attitudes of ignorance more prevalent than in the study of those things that many deem “paranormal.”

The term paranormal can be defined as “pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation[i].”

No great scientific mind has ever, not even once, claimed that people were not experiencing “paranormal” events. In fact, there are many theories as to why certain paranormal incidents occur. A common theory is misidentification of what is seen or experienced. Another is mental illness. Some have made claims that these experiences are related to energy and are some type of hallucination. Sometimes drugs are suspect. There has also been speculation that certain paranormal incidents occur because of an event in the brain similar to a dream. Others have said that the mind is far more powerful than we are aware, and that we are able to manifest unexplained events or energies subconsciously (sometimes called a tulpa). In fact, there have been many proposed theories for various incidents over the years such as those I write about in my post Science and Ghosts.

Of course, there are also those theories that I like to refer to as “the Paranormal Status Quo.”

The status quo for hauntings, for example, would be that a dead person’s essence is somehow visiting or present. The common belief about Sasquatch is that it’s an undiscovered ape. The term UFO – which simply means unidentified flying object – has come to represent a spacecraft of an unknown alien life-form from another planet. These status quo theories are usually based 100% on correlations found between accounts or on communal speculation. In a haunting, again, individuals claiming to see deceased individuals represent the bulk of the evidence for believers in the “spirits of the dead” theory. These status quo speculations are merely mainstream conjecture. They’re usually the result of blind acceptance to reported correlations.

A correlation is when two or more things are found to be related to one another. There is a correlation between overeating and weight gain for example. A correlation does not, however, necessarily mean that a cause has been identified. In certain geographic areas, for example, people have claimed that a person’s race is a determining factor in crime. Despite there being a correlation between race and crime, we now know that race is not the cause of criminality. The cause is most often social based and has to do with poverty and other factors such as the community norms accepted within a specific area. In short, correlation is not the same thing as causation. In a haunting, once again, simply seeing the image of someone deceased does not automatically mean that that deceased individual is really present. This correlation has led people to conclude that ghosts are the spirits of the dead. Case closed? I don’t think so. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m left to wonder, then, why can’t mainstream society simply accept that there are things in this world we cannot currently understand or explain? Worse yet, why are there only two sides presented in any of these arguments? Looking at hauntings one might determine that there are only two stances in North America: Either you believe in ghosts – as the spirits of the deceased – or you believe that all of these stories are make-believe. In my opinion, both conclusions are simpleminded and unscientific.

Until a “ghost” is somehow measured it will never officially exist. I tell you this as a person who has had my own experiences. I do not know if incidents such as hauntings are caused by the spirits of the dead and neither does anyone else. In fact, anyone who tells you that they do – including psychics – are only contributing to an ignorance of the collective. It is speculation at its best and we should all call it what it is.

On the other hand, those that merely disbelieve for the sake of disbelieving are lost somewhere in the realm of misinformed scepticism or outright fear. If they’re spiritual or religious they believe in the paranormal already, but just have different theories or views as to what the causes of these experiences may be. If they see themselves as science-based then instead of merely stomping their feet in childlike protest why wouldn’t they choose a speculative theory like an actual science-based person would? If they thought we were all misidentifying what we’ve seen, for example, then they should say so. It sounds a lot smarter than contradicting what science has already accepted, that these incidents are perceived as real by the bulk of those experiencing them.

The problem with the Paranormal Status Quo is that these whimsical theories do have an impact on our ability to solve remaining mysteries. Most scientists today, for example, will not go anywhere near the study of anything that may be deemed supernatural or paranormal. Not only are controlled conditions very difficult or impossible to come by in the first place, there’s also a stigma attached. As a result, many scientists have claimed that a study in this realm is not worth the risk to their career. Likewise, funding from reputable sources is often said to be virtually non-existent for the same reason. Also of consideration – because of the difficult nature of the study – is that the likelihood of success is very limited. In other words, studying the paranormal’s not usually considered a respectable pursuit in the scientific community, or a lucrative one either. This is both unfortunate and problematic if we ever hope to solve some of these last great mysteries.

Things may not be so black and white, however. There is a third group that warrants consideration in any discussion of the paranormal. This is the community of hoaxers. Unfortunately, many individuals have chased fame by claiming the capture of evidence that had been contrived. Truthfully, trickery has likely existed just as long as legitimate experiences of paranormal events. The motivation for these individuals varies, but there’s usually some sort of financial reward involved. For example, spirit mediums and exorcists have always been able to ask for money, which can be seen as clear motivation for a hoax. Likewise, modern video and image evidence may lead to a career that involves book deals or even a documentary. There are also hoaxers that seem to find some sort of amusement or pleasure at the expense of others. Lying is easy. Unfortunately, we’re entering a technological age where we’ll no longer be able to accept video or images as evidence at all. CGI gets easier, photo manipulation technology gets better, and the ability to see evidence in its original unaltered state will be based on nothing short of blind trust. In a world of hoaxers, trust just isn’t enough anymore. Maybe it never was.

People who have had these experiences are often left extremely shaken. Some individuals become obsessed in proving to others that what they saw was real. Others become silent. Many have claimed to suffer a variety of symptoms that sound surprisingly similar to PTSD. Problems sleeping, fear of being alone, avoiding certain locations, terrifying dreams, anxiety, spiritual uncertainty, relationship collapse and feelings of “craziness” are all commonly reported. Rarely are paranormal experiences said to have been fun or desirable. In fact, most report that they wished that the paranormal event had never occurred in the first place.

So where does that leave us? Do we really need to accept that entities such as ghost are real? No, we do not. We merely need to accept, as the scientific community already has, that certain individuals have experienced these events. No one knows what the truth is despite what any one person may claim. That is why these types of events – such as hauntings – are considered unexplained.

No matter how crazy the truth may be, we can rest assured that a day will come where we’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt what that truth really is. That answer may be a chemical imbalance, or it may be something far more significant such as proof of life after death. I do not know what that truth will be, and neither do you. Until then, all we have is speculation. At this rate, maybe speculation is all we’ll ever have? I hope not.

On a personal level, I can work within my own beliefs as I continue to grow and to evolve. I will try to keep in mind, however, that spiritual practices are viewed as faith-based for a reason. The only thing that I do know for sure, is that the older I get the more frustrated I become by people who claim to absolutely know the truth about anything. When it comes to the world of the supernatural, this is especially frustrating, because no one does. That’s why we use the term paranormal in the first place. These events are simply beyond scientific explanation… for now.

Paranormal
The Ghosts of Togo and his Wife by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. c. 1850

The Cat in Celtic Lore: Demon, Witch, or Lover?

The Cat in Celtic lore is a beast both loved and abhorred. Those in pursuit of Otherworldly powers coveted him, but not in a way that lacked cruelty.  For those who despised powers said to exist outside of the church, the cat was an indication the devil’s hand was near. This belief would become so prevalent that simply owning a cat would become a dangerous affair when the witch trials began to spread across Europe.

A study of the Celtic cat reveals an ethical dilemma, which will shortly become apparent. A list of sources will be given at the end of this post, but I will not attach them to any one individual statement. By doing this, I hope to provide some accurate broad information while simultaneously avoiding disclosing specific information as far as the ritual use of cats.

It is my belief that spells are symbolic gestures, a prayer embraced by metaphor. Like a New Ager’s ‘vision board’ or the church’s rite of communion. I make these statements not to cause discourse or debate, but to openly criticize anyone who believes that there could ever be a reason to harm an animal for ritualistic purposes. There are those who would obviously disagree with me, but the way I see it, any living being’s life is not worth one’s own personal gain, unless it’s as a source of food. Those who practice these types of rituals are rarely very old, and never very wise. The beings they do seem to attract – metaphorically or not – do not seem interested in the individual’s wellbeing either…

There is a great deal of Celtic lore, which still exists in regards to the cat. Individual body parts were used in a number of spells in several different ways. Additionally, there were love spells that required certain organs ritualistically prepared. There was also a type of divination that involved the slow killing and roasting of a cat in a very specific way.  The cat that was used in these spells was usually black. The particular cat most often referred to is also male.

There were spells that used living cats as well. Conducting one spell could transfer a disease from a sick animal to a hapless cat. Several other rituals allowed evil spirits to kill a cat so that the humans would be left alone. On the first Monday of winter, for example, the cat could be thrown outside of the home before the family had exited in order to placate any lingering hungry spirits.

“God save all here except the Cat.” – Irish saying.

There were many opportunities to divine the future by observing a Cat’s actions. If it jumped over a corpse, for instance, the next person who saw it would go blind. If it washed itself rain was coming. If the cat died in the house a human would also die shortly thereafter. If the cat jumped over food being prepared it was said that the person eating it would themselves conceive cats. A cat crossing the path of a bride, or anyone on New Year’s Day was considered unlucky for it warned of negative future events. If the cat crossed the path of a sailor, on the other hand, it was considered to be good luck. If a cat meowed for flesh it was believed that another animal was about to die.

The cat’s life was not highly valued, but the animal itself was treated with a great deal of caution. It was said that a witch’s cat was “endowed with reason.” These felines were also said to be vengeful, so great care was taken so as not to offend them. A cat could also be a spirit, an evil fairy, a shapeshifting witch, a demon, or the devil himself in disguise. For these reasons, the cat was often believed to be a spy for evil beings lurking outside the home. There was also a fairy cat that was known as the King of the Cats. Truthfully, he was much less a king than a vengeful protector spirit of the feline population in general.

Cat of Celtic Lore
The Love Potion. Evelyn de Morgan. 1903

There’s also an abundance of lore, which speaks of talking cats.  These are often Aesop-like tales or stories of shapeshifting witches. The cats are usually given human characteristics to the extreme. They are bards, warriors, and even sentries. One common Celtic story, for example, is of a Cat who allowed some travelers to feast upon his table. When one of the men tried to take advantage of his hospitality by stealing a necklace, however, the cat became a flaming arrow and incinerated the would-be thief.

In myth, the Celtic cat is a much more ambiguous entity. The Tuatha De Danaan god Nuada had one of his eyes replaced with one of his pet cat’s eyes. Cuchulain and his companions fought three cats in one tale, and in another the Fianna would fight against Cat-headed and dog-headed warriors who were part of an invading land force. Across the water, one of Arthur’s men named Gogyfwlch was said to have had cat eyes. Arthur himself later battled a cat that almost killed him. Elsewhere, there’s the story of an enchanted princess who spent one year as a Cat, one year as a swan, and one year as an otter. This shapeshifting theme, as we’ve seen before, was quite common in the Celtic world.

In the more modern stories, Cats were often associated with ghosts and demons. In one tale, a troublesome cat was drowned with a garter around its neck. The cat would later be seen in a boat with the same garter around its throat. In one early poltergeist account, an apparition of a Cat with a man’s head was seen when a bed was inexplicably set on fire. Though often left out of published accounts of poltergeists, these types of apparitions – that defy logic – are not unheard of. The Bell Witch poltergeist, for example, was said to have first appeared as having had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit by at least one source. So maybe the apparition was a poltergeist? Then again, maybe the spirit was simply a leftover cousin of the cat-headed people who had fought the Fianna?

The 13th century Irish witch Alice Kytler was accused of having relations with a succubus that sometimes took the form of a black cat. Elsewhere, a source claimed that “the devils” could take the form of a weasel, cat, greyhound, moth, or bird. One Irish witness of witchcraft claimed to have seen a cat-like creature that was three times the size it should have been. The story implies that the apparition was a demon.

Cat of Celtic Lore
16th Century Woodcut

In Welsh and French myth, there was also the Palug Cat who was so powerful a being that it was called “one of the three plagues of the Isle of Mona.” It was this cat which Arthur, or sometimes Cai, was said to have defeated in battle. Arthur would later die from wounds sustained in a separate fight, but as many know there are tales that speak of his return to the land. Perhaps, this should offer us some measure of solace, for as one text claims of the cat:

“The wether [goat] they had been fighting with was the World, and the cat was the power that would destroy the world itself, namely, Death.”

No study of the Celtic Cat would be complete, without the mention of phantom cats being reported throughout the United Kingdom today. Despite a lack of evidence of a large black cat ever having been released in England’s rural countryside, there have literally been thousands of sightings in recent years. This cat is usually described as a black panther. It’s the belief of many that these cat sightings can be explained, and there’s a lot of evidence to support this. Until such a time the cat is captured, however, the story remains a modern folkloric account – which just happens to take place on the lands of the ancient Celts.

Although sources seem to disagree with one another in regards to the cat’s nature, there is one level of consistency found throughout. All agree that the Cat harbored, or hid, great power. The Cat in Celtic lore truly was a beast both loved and abhorred, and it would suffer through the ages because of it.

Cat of Celtic Lore
Witches Sabbath. Arthur Rackham. 1924

Sources:

Campbell, J. F. Popular Tales of West Highlands. 1890.

Carmichael, Alexander. Carmina Gadelica. 1900.

Crocker, Thomas Croften. Fairy Legends and Traditions. 1825.

Curtin, Jeremiah. Tales of the Fairies and of the Ghost World. 1895.

D’Este, Sorita & Rankine, David. Visions of the Cailleach. 2009.

Douglas, Sir George. Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales. 1773.

Ellison, Emily and Perry, Chuck. Liars and Legends: The Weirdest, Strangest, and Most Interesting Stories from the South. 2005.

Gregor, Walter. Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North East of Scotland. 1881.

Gregory, Lady Augusta. A Book of Saints and Womders. 1906.

Gregory, Lady Augusta. Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland. 1920.

Guest, Lady Charlotte. Mabinogion. 1877.

Henderson, George. Survivals in Belief Amongst Celts. 1911.

Jacobs, Joseph. Celtic Fairy Tales. 1892.

Jacobs, Joseph. More Celtic Fairy Tales. 1894.

Kuno, Meyer. The Voyage of Bran. 1895.

MacKillop, James. The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. 1998.

Mathews, Rupert. Poltergeists and Other Hauntings. 2009.

Moore, A. W. The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man. 1891.

Rolleston, Thomas. Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race. 1911.

Seymour, St. John. Irish Witchcraft and Demonology. 1913.

Seymour, St. John & Neligan, Harry. True Irish Ghost Stories. 1914.

Wilde, Francesca. Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland. 1887.

Cat Eating Prey. Mark Marek. 2005

*the top image is by Clement Percheron. It’s available for use through Unsplash.

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