This article is part of the POMEmag Séance Theme Week.
As this curséd year begins to fade and we pray that the gods see fit to cast it into the oblivion of history, we can see a faint glimmer of something in the distance–maybe it’s hope, maybe it’s the warning flare of a ruined future–either way, the boundary between the spirit world and our own has begun to thin. In this final month of the year, when the living and the dead, the past, present, and future collide, we see ghosts: from years past, shaking their heads in dismay as we repeat their mistakes; from years to come, looking at us in sadness because they know what awaits us. And then, of course, there are the quotidian ghosts to whom no one pays any mind until necessary.
But when we’re devoting so much of our energy to fighting through the literal Hell on Earth that is America 2016, how are we to deal with the incorporeal beings who sometimes inconvenience us? The field guide below, while not comprehensive, should help point you in the right direction.
Situation: You stumble into a coffee shop that plays acceptable music and no one but the staff tries to talk to you. Suddenly, chills rush over you and you see a figure in the corner of your eye–thin scarf, possibly a vest, definitely skinny jeans. The hazy figure leans in too close, through your shoulder, really, and says, “Seriously, a PSL in October? Is that even fair trade???”
Response: If you’re new to the supernatural, your first instinct may be to run off, but any ghost who chooses to haunt a cafe is really nothing to fear. This hipster spirit is a minor annoyance at best. No reason to find a new favorite coffee shop. Just keep a sweater in your bag for the chill, and maybe invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.
Situation: You’re in the city of your dreams and, after a long search, you finally find an apartment that doesn’t require you to sell an organ or have your parents cosign the lease. There’s natural light, it’s pet friendly, and work is just a quick drive away. Unfortunately, you discover why it’s so cheap the first night in your new place: it’s haunted! There’s a ghost who keeps apologizing for the rattling pipes; it’s just an old building and they irritate him, too. You’re glad he’s not making the walls bleed, but you just want to sleep!
Response: Don’t fret; this is kind of like winning the otherworldly lottery. On a scale of spookiness, this comes in at a negative two. Resist following the path of previous tenants and embrace your new roommate. At least this one (probably) won’t eat all your peanut butter. Commiserate over how shitty your landlord is and maybe pick up some gossip about the cutie in 2A. This situation only works if you give it a chance!
Situation: Ah, the suburbs. Full of soccer moms and frozen yogurt shops, but blessedly free of ghosts. But maybe one Saturday, when you’ve given in to your compulsion to check out every estate sale in a twenty-mile radius, you find a gorgeous antique jewelry box that will really pull your bedroom together. Success! Things get complicated, though, when you get home and finally figure out how to open it. Turns out that it’s inhabited by a very angry ghost who screeches and makes the box burn like the dickens.
Response: Giving an expert a call wouldn’t be the worst idea, but this is probably something you can handle yourself! It just takes some courage and a bit of planning. Since the ghost is trapped in the box, you just need to ensure that you don’t open the box again or touch it with your bare skin. Buy some protective gear and scope out a safe place to light a fire. If you can find a fire pit, that would be ideal. Put on your heavy duty gloves–welding gloves would work nicely–take the box to your chosen location and light the sucker up. Practice basic fire safety and don’t leave the fire unattended. Bring some earplugs to drown out the anguished screaming, and maybe splash some holy water on the ashes, just in case.
Situation: Sure the Craigslist ad seemed shady, but you need a car! This car is on the older side, but it’s a great price and, after a cursory inspection, looks like it’s in great condition. Everything seems like it’s on the up and up–you’re just a very savvy car buyer! As you’re driving home, though, you realize it plays nothing but country and won’t do less than thirty, even in school zones and residential areas. There’s also a persistent smell of hay and gun oil, not to mention the low growl that begins whenever you drive past churches.
Response: There’s a lot to be unhappy about, here, but nothing too dangerous. You can’t give the car back and, as you said, you need a car! This low-level haunting shouldn’t prevent you from getting around. Our recommendation is to learn to love Dolly Parton, avoid school zones, and keep a wary eye out for cops. Keep a stock of air freshener handy for when the hay smell gets to be a bit much.
Situation: Urban legend has it that the woods behind your school are haunted and every five years, a student goes missing and their body is never found. It’s not as though you’re living next to the set of The Blair Witch Project, but you do know people who claim to have heard strange noises in the forest at night, as well as seen glimmering lights in the depths. You don’t really believe it, but a student went missing last year and the police have no leads, so you also don’t not believe it.
Response: Your mama surely didn’t raise a fool. Do not go in those woods, even if it’s what all the cool kids are doing. Maybe you’ve encountered a ghost or two before and maybe they weren’t the worst, but don’t overestimate your own ghost-hunting capabilities. This is a different level of supernatural and is best left to a team experts.
Situation: You work hard for your money, so when you come home from a long day of work, all you really want is a nice glass of wine and maybe a sinfully cheesy pizza. You’re ready to decompress and forget all about angry clients and frustrating coworkers. You’re not really up for a glowing door that you know normally leads to the linen closet.
Response: As long as the door isn’t rattling on its hinges, you shouldn’t stress too much. And, to state the obvious, if you can hear wailing on the other side, don’t open the door. (A good rule of thumb regarding any kind of glowing entranceway.) Go out to a bar, have a couple drinks, and hopefully when you come home you can get to the towels like nothing ever happened. If the situation hasn’t changed, it’s time to call in reinforcements.
Situation: Every high schooler has that friend who always wants to play with a Ouija board or try “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” but you know better than to mess around with forces you don’t understand. That’s why you’re not there when your friends try out a summoning spell they found in some crusty old book. Well, now something has been unleashed and is following them around town, leaving frightening messages in blood and fire, and they keep calling you for advice! You didn’t participate, so this spirit isn’t gunning for you, but honestly just being around them is making you nervous and you don’t want to be collateral damage.
Response: Line your windows and doorways with salt and get new friends. Preferably ones who don’t blithely perform rituals without reading the small print or conferring with local spiritual leaders. If you’re feeling helpful, maybe give a local witch a heads’ up that something sinister is roaming the streets. As a last resort, consider going out of town or look into some sort of exchange program until this whole thing has been resolved.
Situation: Society has told you that you’re not a real adult until you own a house, so you’re giving it your best shot. You’ve done the whole rigmarole of finding a real estate agent and viewing homes you really can’t afford, but this one seems promising. It’s a conveniently located Victorian-style townhouse, but, as you enter the formal sitting room, you feel a chill across your neck and a voice growls, This is our home. The real estate agent is clearly ignoring it and won’t look you in the eye, so you know this is not a new development.
Response: Leave immediately. You could call the Ghostbusters, but you’ve seen The Others; you know how this goes and it’s just not worth it. Content yourself with an apartment–those are usually way less haunted. If you’re lucky, you might even find one on the cheap that’s haunted by a considerate, if overly-apologetic ghost.
Situation: You’re minding your own business. You’re someplace you go a lot or maybe somewhere you’re visiting for the first time. It’s a normal day: the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and you’ll probably have take-out for dinner. You’re doing your own thing when something pushes through you in a cold wind and a voice croons into your ear, Hello, milady… This type of ghost is the most obnoxious and most difficult to predict. Some are aggressive and violent; others are simply passive aggressive and whiny. They follow few rules and can manifest anywhere without warning. There’s really no way to prepare.
Response: Unfortunately, the ghost is often long gone by the time qualified experts arrive. And so, with that in mind and in light of the unpredictable nature of this type of manifestation, our only advice is to run. Run and don’t look back. Think of this like the inverse of Orpheus: if you look back, that spirit is bound to you forever and you really don’t want that.
The world is full of wonders that occasionally try to kill us; it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. This field guide is simply putting into words what your common sense should tell you. If the walls are bleeding, consider leaving! If you hear about a video that kills people after they watch it, don’t ask your friends about it! If the ghost haunting your apartment does all the cleaning, well, you’re one of the lucky ones.
But, no matter what you do, if you run from ghosts or if you try to befriend them, as we celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, stay safe out there.