Ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay Store

Ghost of the Downtown Vancouver Bay
Vancouver Bay Store, 1918

If you live in Vancouver – or visited downtown – you’ve probably been inside the Bay on Granville Street. It likely never occurred to you, that many people who’ve worked there over the years have had what some might call a paranormal experience. It’s been a common enough phenomenon, but one in which the HBC Company might not be keen on sharing.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), historically, was largely responsible for shaping Canada and much of the United States by bringing British law and culture into the New World along with a profitable empire built on fur trade. The HBC was chartered in 1670, and at one time the company owned 15% of the North American landmass[i]. What had began as a fur trading company, would, over time, eventually become the Canadian retail giant that it’s known as today. “The Bay” branch of the HBC has some 92 existing locations in Canada[ii]. Many of these remaining buildings are very old, and some harbor rich and dynamic histories.

The Vancouver Bay store was built in phases starting in 1913 alongside an older 1893 building. This older building would be replaced completely by the third phase of the construction in 1925[iii]. As you can imagine, portions of the building are very old… and extremely creepy.

Countless people have been employed by and have worked out of the downtown Vancouver Bay store over the years. For many of them – even today – the Hudson’s Bay Company was their life. Who could even begin to guess how many restless spirits would choose to roam the building’s floors if they were given an option? Many believe, in fact, that some spirits do just that. I personally agree that there’s something to these tales, as well.

I don’t merely say this because one of the cleaning ladies was crying one early morning after she stated she had seen an apparition on the second floor. This lady had claimed to have seen a woman in a red dress floating along the aisle. In fact, I was told that the cleaning lady requested to no longer work on the second floor at all. Interestingly – and somewhat unrelated – a woman in red is also supposed to haunt the 14th floor of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver a block away. This other haunting is much better known and is even considered public knowledge[iv]. Regardless, it takes a lot more than a single story to make me a believer, but I did have reasons of my own not to doubt her.

I used to be at the top of the alarm call-out list for the downtown Vancouver store. In fact, I was the Loss Prevention manager of this location from 2001 to 2005 where my duties included the arrest of those committing criminal offences (on or in relation to the property) camera installation, emergency preparedness, staff awareness training, and an overseeing of the physical security of the building itself.

Occasionally, I would get an unexplained motion alarm call out. This was during a period in which there were no overnight security guards on site. I would get the alarm call, attend, and then go into the store to investigate the cause. Due to budget constraints at the time, I would often attend the store on my own.

On more than one occasion, the elevators doors opened without explanation in the middle of the night. Reviewing cameras for that particular zone, which had been triggered by motion, would be interesting. On reviewing camera, I would observe the doors open. The light that was visible from the camera angle would then indicate that the elevator was going down or up. The elevator would then travel to a separate floor and open up again. The camera angle would sometimes provide me with a chance to look directly into that elevator when the doors finally opened. It would be empty.

I spoke with the engineers and they assured me that – technically speaking – this movement was impossible. Someone would have had to have been inside of the elevator, and would have had to press one of the buttons. This “person” would have had to push this button from inside the elevator or have called it from the outside by pushing the up or down call button. Neither of these actions could have occurred, though, because on camera there was nobody there. The alarm was not set off in this way very often, though. If it had been a malfunction, it would have occurred more often than it did. The elevators were very old and not computerized. They were not programmed to move in this way at all because they could not be programmed in the first place.

These elevators would always open up on the 2nd floor, or on the sub-basement level. They were usually the customer elevators, but this also occurred with the staff elevator, as well, which was located in a nearby back area. Other Loss Prevention (LP) associates experienced these incidents as well.

At the time, our loss prevention office was located on the mezzanine level between the first and second floors. This office was also our camera monitoring room. It was located beneath the 2nd floor washroom. During nights where one of us was on site – and in the office – the sound of wheels in the above washrooms was very common to hear. The camera would indicate that no one had gone into or out of the bathroom. If someone investigated inside the actual washroom, the sound would stop immediately (a second person was sometimes on camera and would remain in the office) and nothing would be found that could have caused the noise. The sound was similar to the noise that is made by squeaky wheels. This was experienced by almost everyone that I managed on the LP team. Some of these guys did not believe in anything paranormal, but were unable to offer a proper explanation for the noises nonetheless.

This was the full extent of the activity I experienced on the second floor myself. I must admit, however, that this floor did feel very “different” compared with most of the other store areas. Some staff members have, over the years, reported activity in the Seymour Room, which is a cafeteria-style restaurant on the 6th floor. I had never experienced, or felt, anything in this room myself, though.

The sub-basement was the area in which I did have the most convincing experiences, however. As I have already mentioned, the elevators sometimes opened up on this level unexplainably, as well. There’s a back corner of the sub-basement, in fact, which seems to be a hot spot of activity. In this corner, there’s a cafeteria and a staff kitchen. Before the renovation a few years ago, this had been a burger bar and a soup counter. Strangely, I would sometimes get a call from the alarm company of a motion alarm going off in this back corner.

Vancouver’s notorious for its Downtown East Side, which runs parallel to the Bay a few blocks away. Drug addiction was rampant in this neighborhood at the time, and our job could be very difficult. Addicts would sometimes stay in the store and try to burglarize the place or would try to smash their way out with high-end merchandise. When we tried to stop them they would sometimes be combative. The most common weapon pulled on us would be a syringe, but the hardware that they would potentially present was always varied. If multiple alarms went off in the Bay building, we would know that someone was there and we would enter the store with the police. If only one alarm went off, on the other hand, it would be a little strange. We generally thought that this was a false alarm, but we would still need to investigate. An item falling over or even a mouse could set off the alarm. If an intruder was fairly still they might set off an alarm only once. This has happened before as well.

Why I Believe in Ghosts
Vancouver Bay Store, 2012

I would glove up (Kevlar) and go into the area to investigate. Sometimes, I would carry a bat. If I did find someone in the store we would usually both be startled. These foiled thieves would usually allow themselves to be arrested without further incident. During these budget-cutback times, I would carry a radio and pretend to be talking to a second person and would even squawk it to make noise. I never gave the impression that I was alone but I often was. It was a very intense situation. Not enough evidence to call the police, no backup, and a dangerous type of addicted clientele that tried to take anything they could at any cost.

An intruder never seemed to be the cause of the alarm in the back corner, but at the time I was prepared for that to be the answer. Truthfully, to this day I do not know what set off these alarms. It was always important, however, to take these calls seriously.

Anyways, I particularly hated checking the sub-basement corner when it did go into alarm, because something just plain felt wrong to me. This feeling was not very friendly at all. It reminded me of the St. Louis Ghost Light’s angry buzzing, which I had described last week. It felt muggy, somehow, and there was an electric heaviness in the air as well.

I remember the times in which I experienced a heightened level of fear in that corner. The kitchen staff had an alarm clock by their sink. The thing went off twice right beside me as I walked past it! The time of night was different on each occurrence and the likelihood of someone setting the alarm to go off in the middle of the night was not very high. The first time I must have literally jumped out of my skin I was so startled. I was already on edge, for reasons I’ve already explained, just in case someone was actually back in that corner. I decided that the experience had a logical explanation the first time that it happened. I decided it was merely a coincidence.

The second time, however, I was thinking about this “coincidence” as I passed by the same alarm clock. Even though a part of me half expected it, the alarm going off for a second time really rattled me. I had to rule out coincidence. This realization made this particular feeling of fear just a little more unbearable. This occurrence was immediately followed by what I now refer to myself as “the hallway incident.”

I was walking up towards the hallway that led to the staff lockers and washrooms in this same corner. I was already rattled from the alarm clock. The area was sparsely lit and had an abandoned hospital look to it. The hall ran beneath the escalators going up to the Pacific Center mall. As I walked up to this propped open door I was taken aback by it violently slamming in my face. I kicked the door open in response. I was so wound up that I did not have a chance to think but just reacted. The door flew back open immediately.

As I had already known, however, there was nobody there. I had seen clearly down the hallway and it had been clear. The door did not shut that violently naturally. It was always left open with a stopper in place. There was absolutely no explanation. The stopper had been moved to the side and the slow closing door had somehow gained momentum on its own. No one was there, the doorway had behaved differently at that moment in comparison to any other time that I was aware of –  I also could not recreate the slamming door the next day when I tried to no matter how hard I pushed it- and it had slammed right in front of me as if it had been timed. The whole experience was very unnerving, I’m not going to lie.

“Okay. I get it. I know you’re here!” I stated aloud in an effort to sound confident. Saying this out loud always seemed to make me feel better. In retrospect, it also seemed to work on the ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay store.

Nothing much happened to me in the store after that. I was still there for at least two more years. Being in loss prevention, though, others staff members would still sometimes tell me about what had happened to them. I would usually keep my own stories to myself, however. I didn’t really want to get into it, as I saw these incidents as a somewhat private affair outside of our department. What was most interesting to me over those years, however, was the fact that the 2nd floor and the sub-basement were the two areas attached to most of  – if not all – these ghostly claims made by staff.

Even over the few years that I was a manager in the store, there had been deaths in the building. If there was a lost soul in the Bay, it could have been a younger version of one of the many seniors who had passed away there, been an overdosed drug addict, one of the vehicle or pedestrian fatalities outside, one of the Skytrain suicides below the store, or could have even been a spirit from a far older time. There are more than a few possibilities as to where the ghosts of the Downtown Vancouver Bay store had come from.

I have heard it said that 47% of people in Canada believe in ghosts[v]. I imagine that some of these people are probably the whimsical types, while some are probably more similar to me… quasi-agnostic believers. Sometimes, a personal experience just can’t be ignored.

I know that there’s something that seems to coexist with us as humans, something that I cannot completely observe or understand. When I dismiss these experiences in my life, which I have done on occasion, it seems as if I can expect to receive a wake-up call of sorts. Something unexplained will happen similar to the hallway incident.

I do, however, now understand why some people believe in ghosts and why some people do not. In fact, if you told me that you had seen a ghost yourself, I would probably be very skeptical. I am a believer after all, but I’m also that self same agnostic. This seems to be a never-ending balancing act, and perhaps even a contradiction. I hope that one day, however, I will be able to fully understand these experiences and the others as well, those similar incidents which have also occurred off and on throughout my life.

Ghosts of the Downtown Bay Store
Hudson’s Bay Company Logo

[ii] (May, 2012)

[v] At the time of this writing on the Vancouver Fox radio station but read Qualicum Heritage Inn: the Great Haunted Condominium Sale for specific stats or Science & Ghosts.

* All images found on this post are of the public domain except for the 2012 image. This image belongs to the author.

Why I Believe in Ghosts: History of a Haunting

Why I Believe in Ghosts
The Home of a Ghost? Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. 1979

This may come to you as a surprise, but for the most part I consider myself agnostic. For those unfamiliar with the term, an agnostic believes that “the truth” is unknown or unknowable. This truth is usually in regards to religious or metaphysical reality, but the term can also be used in relation to other unexplained phenomena as well. Some might say that I’m stretching the term agnostic a bit here – and they might be right – but honestly I don’t care. The term makes it easier for me to express my leanings toward skepticism.

For example, as an Agnostic I may one day believe that there are humanoids from outer space visiting us in pimped out disco-like intergalactic flying saucers, or that large hairy monster-men are roaming the mountain ranges in search of non believing ATV-mounted outdoor enthusiasts, or even that there are creatures existing within the depths of our oceans, rivers and lakes just waiting to pull some unseasoned fishermen into their murky depths. Maybe I’ll be able to believe in all of these things one day. Maybe, but its not very likely.

These experiences may be completely legitimate, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not likely to believe in them unless I see them physically with my own eyes. Even then, I would likely be contemplating the more logical explanations. I would consider the possibilities of a hallucination, misinterpretation of data received through the senses, or even be considering devious trickery for that matter! If this particular “sighting” was profound enough, I would begin by reading books written by skeptics as I struggled to understand these mysteries from a more rational and down-to-earth viewpoint.

I have a hard time believing in almost anything extraordinary and sometimes even ordinary. Occasionally, I even question the most commonly accepted of truths. I question almost everything that most people would accept blindly. Close encounters with large businesses, the media, and a healthy dose of historic knowledge has reinforced my skepticism. I often wonder what a person can even accept as the truth anymore?

Ultimately, however, I’m forced to accept “facts” to a certain degree simply because they’re the beliefs that are also accepted by almost everyone else, but there’s a core of skepticism that lives within me. If I can’t measure something or touch it, I’m not necessarily convinced that it exists, has occurred, or is even real at all. In the end, however, I don’t usually care either way if its real or not. A person can get lost in conspiracy theories and become justifiably paranoid. A healthy dose of skepticism is never a bad thing as long as it doesn’t rule my life. I guess I’m just a skeptic, that’s all, most especially when it comes to those realms many call, the supernatural. It might be hard for an outsider looking in, then, to understand why I believe in ghosts.

 Why I Believe in Ghosts

My mother and sisters share my belief, that there’s at least one spirit attached to our family. Electrical appliances, lights, and the occasional faucet have been known to turn on or off. Objects have even disappeared and reappeared in separate places. Sometimes, I used to hear my name being spoken. Other times, I would feel a seperate presence in the room I was supposed to be alone in. This feeling seems familiar to me now, and I can only imagine that at one time it had just wanted to be noticed.

My mom, sisters, and I, can now talk about these experiences with one another openly as these seem to be attached to all of us despite location. What I mean by this statement is that these occurrences have taken place in many of the apartments I have lived in, my sister’s apartment, sisters’ houses, my mom’s house, three different childhood homes and many other residencies. It has never seemed to be attached to one place, like our early childhood home, for example.

Right about now you’re probably questioning how much of a skeptic I really am. Perhaps I need to explain something. I simply know that there is something. We assume it’s a ghost, because this now seems like the most logical of explanations. I use the term ghost loosely, however, because truth be told, I’m not so sure that what we consider to be a ghost is even necessarily the spirit of a deceased. The terms apparition, spirit, or ghost will be used here, simply because I don’t know for sure what this thing is. In fact, I’m not even 100% certain that there’s only one of these so-called spirits attached to us. There could easily be more. I really have gotten ahead of myself, however.

I was very young when I saw my first apparition. I had descended into the basement of our Prince Albert, Saskatchewan home to retrieve a toy. I believe I was 4 or 5. This seventies home was still relatively new then.

At the time, I didn’t understand why the room was foggy. I had a very strange feeling, yet I wasn’t afraid… at least at first.  I tried to look at that fog, which seemed to be rolling, in an attempt to make sense of what it was I was really gazing upon. The foggy image started to gather together and began to form into a pillar-type shape in the corner of the room. I became frozen as I began to experience fear. I had this feeling that if I stayed any longer, in that spot, that I would eventually see a ghostly being. I had seen enough, however. I did not want to see a dead person materializing in front of me. I fled.

I ran to my childhood friend who was playing upstairs and I told him what I had seen. He didn’t believe me, so I cautiously brought him into the basement. I was much more willing to be afraid in his eyes than to be seen as a fool or liar. Of course, there was nothing there. He did not believe me. At the time, my parents didn’t believe me either. They had not been inside at the time. The thing that still stands out in my mind was that this unexplained cloud was greenish in colour. The apparition, if you can call it that, had appeared to me as a green cloud.

If you’re curious to know, I had seen this “entity” in the basement corner closest to the power meter in the Polaroid picture above. Sometimes, when staring at this picture, I believe that I can see images that are not there. In the windows or as part of the discoloured smear at the bottom. I’m willing to believe, however, that these are figments of my imagination. They probably are.

Anyways, over the years I would shift back and forth between skeptical and gullible as other smaller unexplained things occurred. Eventually, I embraced the idea that something was around me based entirely upon these strange occurrences. I discounted that I had once seen an apparition, though. I thought that it must have been a figment of my imagination.

Interestingly enough, I later found out that other people in the neighborhood had seen things that they couldn’t explain, also making them believers. One neighbour was my mom’s brother, my uncle, and there were some strange stories coming from his place as well. An unverifiable rumor emerged. Apparently, the land had once been a Cree burial ground. This of course seems to be a recurring belief in North American urban areas where unexplained happenings occur, but truth be told, I’m not so sure that the Cree people even had cemeteries as we like to imagine them today.

Why I Believe in Ghosts
Cree Camp. Charles Horetzky. 1871

Regardless, I grew up believing that something unexplained was around me. As a kid that thing was clearly defined as a ghost. I believed then that it was a dead person.

As teenagers, my buddies and I would often go to a place called the St. Louis Ghost light. This is a reputably haunted site that thousands of people have had experiences at. It became a regular hang out for us. It’s a well-documented site having even appeared on the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. I own two books Haunted Canada and Ghost Stories of Saskatchewan, which speak of this “haunted” location[i].

We spent a lot of time there. In fact, I can comfortably say that I have seen this light hundreds of times. We eventually decided that we needed to find an explanation so we tested everything. Despite what others may say, the Saint Louis Ghost Light has never properly been explained away. A similar image can apparently be recreated for a small window of time but most say it does not look the same (the attached link to the video would then be of a car very far in the distance, refracting light and driving along a road).

I have seen the Saint Louis Ghost Light during the day, looking the opposite direction (also during the day – this destroys the theory further), seen unexplained shadow figures and I have even seen other unknown lights off of the old train tracks. We shot guns at it[ii] (as embarrassing as this is to admit now) and had even tried to catch up with it on foot or in vehicles (there was no roadblock back then). The closest we could get, appeared to be less than twenty feet away from the very bright light (we were definitely messed up kids).

I’ve never stopped going there. Sometimes, when I’m back in Saskatchewan visiting, I go there still. What I’ve never gotten over, though, is the bad feeling that seems to accompany this light whenever it is present. It did not seem like the other apparition that I’d seen in the basement. Instead, this one came with a certain accompanying feeling (an external angry buzzing) that I would always become skeptical of over time. It was this feeling that became the main reason that I would feel the need to return to this site over and over again throughout the years. It was a strange thing to wrap my mind around, but it was always there when I returned.

These experiences ended up having a very positive influence on me, however. I would, over time, become more and more spiritual. I followed a path that was almost entirely shaped by these early experiences. I became open towards somehow discovering what these encounters really were. Many more occurrences took place over the years that seemed to solidify my general belief in spirits. These were many and I’m sure that I will share some of them along the way.

The Saint Louis Ghost Light seemed evil. It was mostly a repetitive or residual haunting, but it could interact with a person as well. Very often cars that had been fine would stop working and we would not be able to start them again (dead batteries). Radios would go funky. The horn or lights would go on or off. Overall, the Saint Louis Ghost Light would become a huge reason why I believe in ghosts.

These other experiences helped me to trust that the green cloud – which had begun to return – felt good. I wonder now if it had returned because I was no longer afraid of it? As strange as this sounds, it sort of became mundane. It lost its novelty. Eventually, I stopped believing it was even real.

You see, somewhere along the way I had decided that these visual experiences were some sort of internally created manifestation. I would wake up and see it, or I would be in a very calm near meditative state before it showed up. This cloud was nothing more than a hallucination that would manifest itself as I was falling asleep. It didn’t matter if I believed in spirits or not, however, because the energy attached to it seemed positive and I felt good when it was around. It could not, or would not, harm me.

I eventually concluded that my mind – like it had so many years before as a kid in the basement – was continuously creating a symbol (aka a ghost) which my logical mind needed to interpret. I enjoyed waking up to that green cloud floating in my room. It was a cool sort of hallucination that I would watch until it faded away. It hardly mattered how often I saw it, though. I knew it was a trick of my mind. I had laid the foundation for my spirituality, grown older and maybe wiser, discounted the original experiences, and yet continued to go through the movements of a believer. I would light candles and incense for “the spirits” and would even speak with them (not that they would ever answer back in the way one would think). I was merely walking upon a symbolic and metaphoric path, that’s all. It worked for me, but I knew that none of what I was seeing was real. In retrospect, this was the period in which I had lost my faith.

One night, someone else saw it as well. I was staring at this thing in my typical state of apathetic enjoyment. She asked me – in fear – why I couldn’t see “that green cloud” which was hovering nearby. I really could, though. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I had not revealed these visions to her nor could she have known the colour of the manifestation most of all. We were not drinking and we did not do drugs. In one moment I was forced to reevaluate everything that I had come to comfortably believe.

I asked my roommate at the time what he thought. I asked him specifically, because he was a true agnostic and not some sort of noncommittal like me. He suggested that we had merely had a shared hallucination. It was a solid alternative explanation, but I thought it seemed even more of a stretch than the belief that something, whatever that something was, had been seen.

The incident seemed to validate something inside of me. It was a sort of belief that I had been fighting off and on for so many years. I decided, that this cloud had to be a ghost. I had simply had that same experience that people have been describing since the very beginning of time. I had seen a ghost! More than once! Now what exactly that ghost really was would become a whole other area of interest and speculation.

It would show itself a lot less often after that. The ghost seemed content that I now believed it was real.

Since that period of my life, which was much more than a decade ago, there have been other sightings of this green cloudy mist. Most recently, Elle saw it when she was alone in my place. I had never told her of its colour either. My skeptical mind had decided to hold back this information. I felt like a detective trying to catch a serial killer by holding back that one validating clue that no one else would have ever known about: the colour. Unfortunately, I have not seen that green cloud myself for a very long time, but it is ultimately the reason why I believe in ghosts.

It has been my experience that apparitions, whatever they are, seem to simply want to be acknowledged by certain individuals. They (?) have often ceased their activities when I have said out loud, “I know that you are here.”

I have many stories of these unexplained events that have occurred within my living spaces, too many to dismiss actually. Even fifteen years ago I was struggling to reason these things away. A TV turning itself on or off might be one thing to try to explain away, a light switch physically being moved to an off position when no one is near it is something else altogether. Try explaining an item which goes missing from a place you put it in only to have it reappear in the exact same place at a later point. In this case I lived alone. No one else was there. I left the room and came back and it had returned. There was nothing else on that bench. Not even a piece of paper. I had stared dumbly at it each time I had passed by knowing that my keys had been there. It then returned back to this spot only after I had declared loudly, “I know that you are here! I need my keys back!”

These are experiences that I cannot explain and reasons why I believe in ghosts to this day. We call it a ghost. Maybe it’s something else entirely, something that I cannot even begin to understand. Whatever it is, it seems to have intelligence. As strange as it sounds, logically, the most plausible explanation to me is that it’s the spirit of someone deceased. It feels like family.

That is the most interesting part of all. It feels like family to all of us. I have often wondered if it is attached to some old item that we had carried off of that farm[iii], or perhaps, it is merely the spirit of an ancestor, one of the many tragic deaths that has plagued our family’s past generation[iv]. That, however, is a story for another day.

Why I Believe in Ghosts
Plowing an Alfalfa Field by Tractor. Collier’s New Encyclopedia, 1921

Next week, I’ll share some personal experiences that took place in the old Bay building located on Granville Street in Vancouver.

[i] You can read about the Saint Louis Ghost at or watch the Phil Campagna video found at

[ii] The light would always turn red when we did this.

[iii] There is a couch that is suspect which once belonged to my great grandmother. I have my grandfather’s retro floor to ceiling lamp and my grandmother’s oil burning lantern in my home as well.

[iv] On the farm there was a house fire that killed the brother my grandmother was initially supposed to marry, a death by lightning, a farm accident with a combine, and at least one drowning. This list does not include all of those people who have died of “natural” causes. It was a very tragic generation.

* Scanned Polaroid picture is from 1979. All other images found in this post have been taken from Wikipedia and are public domain.

Ur (Heather) II

“On the summit of his ancient stronghold, South Barrule Mountain, the god Manannan yet dwells invisible to mortal eyes, and whenever on a warm day he throws off his magic mist-blanket with which he is wont to cover the whole island, the golden gorse or purple heather blossoms become musical with the hum of bees, and sway gently on breezes made balmy by the tropical warmth of an ocean stream flowing from the far distant Mexican shores of a New World.” – W. Y. Evans-Wentz (Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries)

1) The Roots: Background information

2) The Trunk: Celtic Mythology and Significance

3) The Foliage: Spells using the Plant

The Roots:

Ur is the eighteenth letter of the Ogham. The tree that is usually associated with this letter is the Heather[i].

The Ogham Tract’s kenning[ii] “in cold dwelling” is given the meaning of “fear” in John Mathew’s book the Celtic Shaman.

Robert Ellison in Ogham: Secret Language of the Druids says that the Heather is associated with “healing and homelands.” He also says that the herb is connected with the Celtic fairies and thus has magical uses.

Eryn Rowan Laurie in Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom states that the Ogham letter Ur is representative of death, fate and finality through its connection to the soil[iii]. Laurie also claims that Heather –independent from the letter- is linked to poverty.

Catlin Mathews in her book Celtic Wisdom Sticks says that Ur’s word-Ogham kennings all refer to either the earth or “growth cycles.” Her divination system supports these reflections as the interpretations refer to hard work, growth, and following one’s life path.

The Trunk:

“Heather is the four leaf clover of the Scottish Highlands.[iv]” In fact, it is often even seen as a Scottish national symbol. As a result Heather is found on many of the Scottish clan badges.

The importance of Heather to the ancestors can easily be understood within the context of the old texts. The “herb” was often used as roof thatch, to cover open doorways, to make rope, and was even an important source of fuel and warmth. In the stories Heather was also often used as bedding or was bundled and used as a pillow.

In the 1911 book Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans Wentz we find Heather used in a very clever manner. This story is of Dermout who has stolen Finn Mac Cool’s Sister:

“He took with him a bag of sand and a bunch of heather; and when he was in the mountains he would put the bag of sand under his head at night, and then tell everybody he met that he had slept on the sand (the sea-shore); and when on the sand he would use the bunch of heather for a pillow, and say he had slept on the heather (the mountains). And so nobody ever caught him at all.”

There’s actually a link between Heather and the Celtic trickster the fox. There’s an old story found in Joseph Jacob’s 1894 More Celtic Fairy Tales. The same tale is found in various other texts as well. The fox would gather some Heather and put his head into the midst of it. He would then enter the stream stealthily, swimming towards the ducks. These unsuspecting birds would attempt to use this Heather as cover, only to find themselves inside the jaws of the wily fox. It would seem that the Fox had a clever use for everything, because he would also carry a piece of wool in his mouth, backing into the flowing water until only his nose and the wool were exposed. He did this in order to rid himself of fleas.

In the 1825 book Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland by Thomas Croker the Cluiricaune knew the “secrets of brewing a Heather beer.” This is not so unusual as Heather was often associated with fairies and magic.

In the 1903 book Heather in Lore, Lyric, and Lay by Alexander Wallace we are told that witches in Scotland would ride over the Heather on black tabby cats during Samhain. According to this text Heather was also associated with the Cailleach; the primordial Celtic hag goddess[v].

In More Celtic Fairy Tales we find another interesting Heather story. A young couple attempts to escape from powerful witch sisters. As they flee they take the form of Doves in order to confuse their pursuers. When the one sister realizes that the birds are actually the escaping couple she comes at them in a fury. To avoid her they turn themselves into Heather brooms and begin to sweep the town square without “the assistance of human hands.” After this inconspicuous act they turn once more back into Doves and resume their flight to safety.

Nothing to see here, we’re just two brooms doing some innocent sweeping… honest.

The Tylwyth Teg -a type of fairy- at certain times of the year lived in the Heather or Gorse[vi]. Heather is not just connected with fairies but is also associated with the dead. As Katherine Briggs says, however, Fairies and Ghosts may be the same thing[vii].

In the 1900 book Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx by John Rhys the spirits of family members are often seen dancing over “the tops of Heather.” The herb is even directly connected to a haunted graveyard. We are also told in the same text that if a person heard the fairy songs – and was possessed to dance – that they would often wake the next morning “in the Heather.” The Heather was also connected to fairy rings elsewhere in the book.

In mythology, Heather is associated with Rathcroghan, also called Cruachan[viii]. This is an ancient site found in the Ulster Cycle and is an important archaeological site today. In the 1904 Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory we are told that Finn Mac Cool “delighted” in the song of “the Grouse of the Heather of Cruachan” whose music put him to sleep. Elsewhere in the book we are told that Finn found peace in “the Stag of the Heather of quiet Cruachan.”

Finally, in Joseph Jacob’s 1895 Celtic Fairy Tales we are told of a long forgotten magical use for Heather. In this tale Conall blinds a one eyed giant -who may or may not have been a later version of Balor – with Heather:

“I got Heather and I made a rubber (?) of it, and I set him upright in the caldron. I began at the eye that was well, pretending to him that I would give its sight to the other one, tell I left them as bad as each other; and surely it was easier to spoil the one that was well than to give sight to the other.”

The Foliage:

In Alexander Wallace’s 1903 book Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay, Heather branches were carried around the sacred fire three times before being raised above dwellings to protect the house’s occupants “against the evil eye.” The text also says that throwing Heather after a person was supposed to bring them good luck.

Robert Ellison relays in Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids that “a small broom made from Heather can be used to sweep an area where magic is to be performed.” He also says that Heather can be burnt as incense while working with “spells involving the fair folk.”

In A.W. Moore’s 1891 Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man we are also told of a spell that was used to remove evil or the influence of witches from fishing boats:

“It was not only on land that burning some animal or thing to detect or exorcise witchcraft was resorted to, but at sea also, for when a boat was unsuccessful during the fishing season, the cause was ascribed by the sailors to witchcraft, and, in their opinion, it then became necessary to exorcise the boat by burning the Witches out of it. Townley, in his journal, relates one of these operations, which he witnessed in Douglas harbor: 
in 1789, as follows — ‘They set fire to bunches of heather in the center of the boat, and soon made wisps of heather, and lighted them, going one at the head, another at the stern, others along the sides, so that every part of the boat might be touched.’ Again he says, ‘There is another burning of witches out of an unsuccessful boat off Banks’s Howe—
to the top of the bay.’ Feltham, writing a few years later, also mentions this practice.”

In this example, Heather is used in a similar manner to the Native Americans’ who burnt instead Sage or Sweet Grass. This Heather smoke was used to purify the boat and to chase off evil spirits.


“Heather is an Herb Tree in Irish law. It is abundant on heathland throughout western Europe, growing profusely in acid soil.” – Caitlin Mathews (Celtic Wisdom Stick

All images in this post are from Wikipedia commons unless otherwise stated and are of the public domain.

[i] The Ogham was not originally a Tree Alphabet. See previous posts.

[iii] The Ogham Tract.

[v] The previous Heather post relays more Heather stories taken from this book.

[vi] See last week’s post on Gorse.

[vii] Katherine Briggs says that fairies were categorized as either “diminished gods or the dead.” The Fairies in Tradition and Literature.

Ghost Hunters and the Bloodletting Ritual:

Ghost Hunters and the Bloodletting Ritual
New year ritual with acantun, Dresden Codex

“Why do you feel the need to bother Pedro? What has he done to you? Does he bother you?” – Scott Tepperman (GHI) addressing a spirit.

Ghost Hunters International aired its tenth episode of season 3 this week. The location being investigated was the Cahal Pech Mayan[i] ruins which are located in Belize. For good or for bad, however, this investigation would prove to be different from any other that had come before it.

What made this episode particularly interesting was the “bloodletting” ritual which some of the investigators participated in during the actual investigation. This, of course, rose more than a few eyebrows and got people talking.

The synopsis:

A tour guide named Pedro tells the investigators that the spirits are haunting him and not leaving him alone. For some reason, whenever he conducts rituals in the Mayan ruins the spirits suddenly become even more active (?).

Pedro then leads some of the members of the team in a bloodletting ritual which he states he has done before. The idea is basically to burn some blood in order to summon the spirits (initially he says that the ritual was used to contact the gods). Investigator Susan Slaughter volunteers to give some of her own blood. The only ghost hunter present that seems to think that this might be a bad idea is Kris Williams.

During the ritual the spirits become very active.  Pedro decides that they aren’t being active enough and says, “We need to do some other form of stuff to recreate and bring them back [sic].”

This next ritual turns out to be far more practical. Pedro basically claps three times for each of the four directions. He then claps one time “for the center of the Earth which represents the heavens[i].” This, Pedro Claims, is done in order to “revive the spirits that may be in the area.”

The episode then follows its usual course with the investigation followed by an analysis of the findings.

“Whatever we discover tomorrow, through analysis, will answer whether these spirits are really attached to Pedro or if these are just protective spirits of the Mayan culture.” – Susan Slaughter (GHI)

While going over evidence the team finds a very clear EVP (unexplained recorded voice) which states, “Pedro’s not here.” The recording sounds clear and was captured in an area that Pedro was not present in at the time. The investigators agree that this is one of the best EVPs that they’ve ever captured.

During the investigation a light had also turned itself on and off and this was caught on video as well. This had occurred when two of the investigators mocked the spirits. Some of the investigators also claimed to have had personal experiences such as being touched or seeing an apparition.

Susan Slaughter then “debunks” the sound of footsteps that they’d heard during the night. She realizes that they had captured an owl flying back and forth over them during the ritual. This was caught on video. The owl’s strange behaviour is never questioned.

When all of the evidence is presented to Pedro he becomes momentarily upset that the investigators called the spirits “stupid” in order to get a response. He also seems disappointed when he states, “when you guys are gone I will continue to come here and I wonder if they will continue to bother me in the future?”


Kris Williams initially criticized the ritual through Twitter. She said that even though the episode had been recorded at an earlier date, she had not been allowed to express her disapproval of the ritual before the episode had aired. Her points were clearly valid. What if a child or young adult was watching? What if they would then later try to do a similar ritual on their own?

Kris Williams was right. Anyone who had watched the episode could easily have replicated it. There was a time – as a teenage headbanger – that I would have. Someone probably already has.

From the outside looking in, the whole thing might look to be nothing more than a brilliant marketing strategy. Even if this wasn’t anyone’s original intention the episode did get more than a few people talking.

GH and GHI are big names in paranormal television. The slower pace and sporadic amount of evidence found during each episode makes both shows seem a lot more legitimate somehow.  The investigators truly seem to be trying to be subjective as well.

In this way the show is raw and gritty. As a result, the bloodletting ritual does seem to have an effect. In fact, it becomes something that this new Twilight generation might find particularly compelling.

WTF? From a pagan perspective:

Let’s assume that you and I share similar beliefs. You work with – or have experienced – spirits and you have no reason to doubt their existence. Sometimes your house keys disappear and reappear. The TV and lights turn off or on. Your dog, cat, or toddler likes to interact with an invisible friend.

You’re okay with that.

If you’ve been on the path for a while, you’ve likely seen or heard something that you can’t explain. You talk to these spirits and you burn incense for them. You’re okay with that too. These are personal experiences, after all, and nothing to be afraid of. These may even be what originally drew you towards a pagan perspective in the first place, or gave you an interest in ghosts.

You believe and I believe, but it may not the believing that either of us might have a hard time with.

First of all, it seems extremely confused and amateur that a practicing pagan like Pedro doesn’t seem to understand why the spirits are bothering him in the first place. He states he’s calling them and even says he needs to do “other stuff” in order to bring them back. He seems genuinely frustrated when paranormal things are happening to him, however. Watching the episode awakens in me a memory from a time in which we used to “play” with Ouija boards as teens. It was like watching someone accidentally pretend to read a book upside down. Either something crucial was missing from the episode or Pedro simply did not make any sense whatsoever. You don’t go to a reputed haunted sites and raise spirits only to complain when they arrive. Like I said, the whole situation reminds me of being a teenager with a Ouija board. The frustrating thing was that he was the pagan “expert.” It was very confusing. It seemed like he believed in some ways, but he didn’t in others.

Second of all, flesh is outdated. We like to believe our ancestors lived in a utopian society in perfect harmony with nature but this is simply not the case. Almost every culture on the planet practiced some form of human or animal sacrifice and it’s even found in the bible. The Mayans were no different but are remembered for being especially bloodthirsty. They used human sacrifice while some of the other cultures used animals. Both systems are completely antiquated in this day and age.

Remnants of these beliefs do continue to exist, though. These are contributing towards wholesale poaching of animals for traditional “medicine.” Well documented examples are bears, tigers, and sharks.  There’s no reason that blood or flesh of any kind needs to be offered in sacrifice anymore or even used in magical remedies. You see, this is a very slippery slope. We start with a little blood, perhaps, and the next thing you know we’re out hunting virgins on a full moon. Sounds unlikely, but we can assume that this is exactly the road in which the Mayan ancestors travelled upon. Using blood in a ritual becomes powerful only when our other symbols of life are not powerful enough in our own minds. We are more evolved than this; at least we should be.

Lastly, whenever a ritual is being conducted it’s important to remember that the natural and spiritual world will communicate with us in any way that it can. For veteran pagans this is a no-brainer. An owl flying over your ritual is never just an owl flying over your ritual. It has become a vessel, an ally, or at the very least an opportunity to connect with nature. It is even a blessing. It’s never just an owl.

Being a pagan and watching this episode was kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. True, I enjoyed the show, but I was left feeling very uneasy and on edge. The reasons, however, were probably not the same ones as those bothering Kris Williams.

The questions that won’t leave me:

For whatever reason, this bloodletting ritual entered into the mind of the collective. For the half of the population that already believe in ghosts, or spirits, this may be especially significant. At the very least, we should be asking some very important questions.

I am a believer. I even write about the Spiritworld in my novel Way of the Wraith. I’m not an expert, however. In fact, none of us are. No one will ever fully know what they cannot see despite what anyone else might tell them. We hear varied theories for some of the exact same tales. Understanding appears before us in the form of fairies, ghosts, other-dimensional beings, angels, demons, gods, and even aliens. A lot of times, different witnesses seem to be pointing at the exact same piece of evidence in support of very different theories or beliefs. In the end, either side is just an opinion. It’s an easy thing to forget.

Even in the world of the “mundane” we often have different theories and belief’s about the exact same thing. We’ve all heard how four people will see the same car accident differently from each street corner. Our truth is never necessarily the truth.

When it comes to the Spiritworld our opinions become even foggier. Unless we’re as gifted as Ivo Dominguez,[ii] we might not be able to see into the Spiritworld at all. Many of us seem to share a basic idea of what spirits are, though.

If we do believe in those spirits, and if we do create relationships with them, then how should we conduct ourselves when we do encounter them? Should there be some sort of ethical guideline?

We can assume that if a spirit is being appeased by a gift of blood, tobacco, whisky, rum, incense, fire, money, food, milk, honey or music that this somehow feeds them and they might even need this food. Maybe they do? Feeding the spirits might even be an almost innate reaction to their presence in the first place, motherly even. After all, spirit gift-giving practices do exist within the beliefs of every culture.

“Negative” spirits can often be tamed through communication, gifts, and acknowledgement. Would it be so unreasonable to assume, then, that this negative spirit can also be made less tame? People feed fighting dogs raw meat to keep them aggressive so why wouldn’t blood have the same effect on a spirit? Especially if the person conducting the ritual had a limited view of what blood really was.

I am left wondering, then, what if a spirit really was Earth bound? What if it really was enviable of life? What if it really was lacking in judgement and lucidity and what if it really wasn’t wise enough to make its own decision? Would we have an ethical responsibility then? Should a spirit have any considerations or rights?

I asked Chad Morin (owner/promoter and host of Ghost Hunt Weekends) if he had any thoughts on whether or not spirits should have rights. He was kind enough to answer:

“They are now a part of the universe and their rights apply to the laws of the energy of the universe as well.”

It might seem a little vague, but in 140 characters or less I don’t think anyone could have said it better. I’m still left wondering, though, whether or not spirits should have some basic rights? If they did have rights then what exactly would those rights be? Would spirits be our equals, or would they be lesser than us because they are seen as having lived already?

The Ghost Hunters and the Bloodletting Ritual episode may have made different people uneasy for different reasons. We may all agree, however, that it’s an episode for the books.

[i] Susan Slaughter explains this.

[ii] Ivo Domnguiz is interviewed on T. Thorn Coyle’s podcast Elemental Castings #34 and is well worth the listen. His book Spirit Speak is one of the best pagan books available on the subject of spirits.

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