Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Ghosts and Ghouls


I don't believe in poltergeists.   

Years ago, I was asked by the local Church of Scotland minister in our town to help investigate a case of poltergeist infestation at the residence of a family in a difficult corner of our small town in southern Scotland.  Plates and small objects were apparently flying around the house.  Mum was struggling to complete each day’s work, in a job she desperately required, with her morale in her boots and was becoming increasingly downhearted.  Granny was terrified.  The smaller children were scared and crying.   

I was asked about the poltergeist because the minister of the Kirk had been told by the Church of Scotland head office down in George Street that:


"the Anglicans do that sort of thing - call the local Scottish Episcopal priest".  


Like I said, I don't believe in Poltergeists.  


On the other hand, I couldn’t let it drop.  I did feel a bit like the King of Israel who'd just been handed a note from the King of Syria saying:


the person who hands you this note is Naaman - my favourite general who is sick with leprosy please cure him and send him home quickly. 


Unlike King Joram of Israel, I didn't wail and rend my garments and immediately suspect an imminent Presbyterian invasion of Scottish Episcopal Church property on the pretext of noncooperation and a failure to accede to an impossible demand.  On the other hand, it wouldn't do to just rebuff the request which was made by a colleague in good faith.


And it had been a quiet week.  This was certainly the most interesting request which had come across my desk.  I got in touch with the diocesan office down on Grosvenor Crescent in Edinburgh and said 


"The Presbyterians think we can cure ghosts and ghouls.  We need to look interested.  What do you want me to do"?


I was told that one of the other diocesan clergy, the Rector of a fairly swank parish of the Diocese of Edinburgh, had once been the designated officer of an English diocese consulting on spiritual warfare and deliverance.  


"No kidding!  That’s a job?  You can do that"?  I asked.   


This had really made my day.  There was a Royal Jubilee upcoming in a week and the church hall was already strung with bunting.  I was due to judge the hats which members of the Mothers’ Union were all busily preparing for the party.  My treasurer and I often rubbed each other the wrong way and there was a meeting scheduled with the church wardens to chart a course for "getting along better".  And then this comes to me.  Over the telephone.  Unbidden:  wherein I would no doubt be expected to start shooting negative spiritual entities in a cave with impressive weaponry in the name of the Lord Jesus.  I'd seen the movie.  I had the fedora.    I was told to consult with this priest, which I did, and the two of us, along with the initiating Church of Scotland minister, went over to the small terraced house with its crumbling pavement.


Before we went, the expert gave me some basic theory.  This is what he told me:  


Contrary to common belief poltergeists do not afflict houses, they afflict families.  When the family moves, so does the poltergeist.  Poltergeists are not personal entities - they are not the spirits of now-dead persons.  They represent the dis-ease within a family - primarily sublimated anger - oftentimes the sublimated anger of young people in a family and this sublimated anger, allegedly, can manifest itself locally and kinetically in the movement, travel and destruction of things in the house - porcelain plates are every poltergeist’s favourite throwable items.  The mounting dis-ease is like a building electrical charge which suddenly and dramatically translates itself into a bolt of lightning equalizing the charge between a cloud bank and the ground.  


But - said my credulous interlocuteur - it can be chased away by an exercise of the church's authority to bind and loose on earth and it is subject to the power of prayer in Jesus’ name.


My Episcopalian colleague began with a solemn blessing at the door of the house.  We then went through various rooms of the house.  He whispered in my ear 


“Does this room not seem colder than the rest?”


Which it did but, then again, not all council house walls are equally insulated.


Mom was there.  Granny was in the front room beside the convection heater.  The children were somewhere nearby.  As we were coming up from the basement there was a scream from Granny and across the hall and bumping into the wall flew a plastic children's toy which now lay inert at the bottom of a radiator.  My colleague gathered the entire family in the front room and prayed a very good prayer in which the calming of rough seas, the protection of God's people and the beating down of Satan at the last day figured prominently.  


I was still mulling over the sublimated anger of young people in my head.  

The children of this family were living without a father, with an unhappy mother and a grandmother on the cusp of dementia.  I tried to imagine what it would feel like - the sense of sameness, futility, stasis.  If I were living there, I thought to myself, I would certainly make sure that nothing stayed the same.  I would yearn for something new.  

When we were finished, I noticed a little twinkle in the eye of the eldest of the children.  A lad of 13 or 14.  Our small town south of Edinburgh was a relatively old-fashioned place.  The boys of this age, when I walked through the Precinct would put the hand holding the cigarette behind their backs.  If they were heading up on to the estate with a bottle of cider and a girl they would pick up their pace if I came out the door of the Rectory so as not to be seen by “the minister”.  I frequently had their rapt attention at assemblies - they liked a good story and the visit of the local minister to the school was a change from the head teacher harping on.  This boy had been heartened by the solemn prayer of my colleague - the expert on spiritual warfare - so he would surely be open to a little meaningful local counsel as well.


Subject to the church's authority to bind and to loose.  I liked that.  

At the right moment when tea was being made in the kitchen and the attention of my two colleagues was directed elsewhere, I leaned over and tapped the boy gently on the lapel of his jacket and said 

"Listen to me, you wee shite, I know it's you throwing these things over your shoulder when you're sure nobody is watching.  I can't imagine life is overly happy for you right now but you have no place scaring your little sisters and your grandmother.  It's not the manly thing to do.  If you every do this again - if I ever hear about these things happening again in your house - I am going to let everyone know that it's you and I suspect your life may become very miserable for a while.


My colleague with the interest and expertise in spiritual warfare treats this occasion as a moment of great success since the poltergeist phenomena ceased forthwith.  My Church of Scotland colleague had it definitively reinforced that, when the dark forces gather to afflict the people of God in the Church of Scotland, there is always an Episcopalian lurking in the background with his light saber ready to leap into the fray. 


It was win win.


No comments: