folklorelei: (the siren)

encounter

I have posted elsewhere about the sleep paralysis I experienced while living in an apartment in Venice, California. That was only one of the strange things that went on there, and my ex-roommates and I have often wondered what lay at the base of it all. One of our theories was that a ghost followed my friend, L., home from her mother’s house.

It all started when L’s grandmother Helen died. L’s parents, Jean and Vaughn, went back to Ohio to settle Helen’s estate. They spent a couple of weeks clearing out the house. The night before they returned home, they slept in Helen’s bed. Jean heard the closet door—which she’d firmly closed—squeak open. She said she’d never heard that door squeak before and it scared the hot holy hell out of her. She didn’t get out of bed to investigate because Vaughn was sound asleep and she didn’t want to disturb him, but she didn’t get much sleep after that, either.

As soon as it was daylight, she got out of bed and went to the closet. Looking inside, she noticed that part of the closet wall showed a gap that hadn’t been there before. When she peeked inside the crack, she saw it was a secret compartment with something inside. She pulled the compartment open and found some old letters and, more importantly, the picture of a little girl about ten or eleven. On the back of the picture was written “Velma” with birth and death dates. This girl turned out to be Vaughn’s older sister who had died at about the age shown in the photo and before Vaughn had been born. Helen was so distraught by her daughter’s passing that she wouldn’t let anyone talk about her and for years Vaughn hadn’t even known she’d existed. Jean and Vaughn were glad to find this picture. She said, “I guess Velma didn’t want to get left behind or Helen didn’t want us to forget her.”

So they took the picture back to California, framed it, and put it on a shelf in one of the bookcases they had in a small library alcove in their house. One day when Jean returned home and walked past the alcove, a bird was suddenly there, fluttering frantically about in panic. With great difficulty, Jean directed it across the room and out the sliding glass door. The alcove did have windows, but they weren’t open, and thin louvers even when they were, so it was a great mystery how the bird got in that out of the way alcove, of all places. Then one night they were sitting in the living room, about ten feet from the alcove, and Jean mentioned the bird incident. They heard an enormous thump on the floor and hurried into the library. A heavy book which had been shelved above Velma’s picture had somehow worked it’s way out of the bookcase and landed five or six feet away. The title of that book: The Myths and Superstitions of Great Britain.

There were other incidents regarding books in that alcove, but the coup de grace for L. was the day she visited her parents’ house to feed the cat. L. started thinking about Helen, and all of a sudden the room filled with the scent of Helen’s perfume. She fed the cat and got out the hell out of there real fast.

Eventually, Jean—who had felt closer to Helen than her own mother—got concerned that Helen (or maybe Velma) was earthbound. She hadn’t ever felt afraid of the presence in the house, but she didn’t want anyone to be stuck here. She said to the general cosmos inside her home, “I want you to know, Helen, that we’ll never forget you and we’ll never forget Velma. And it’s okay if you want to move on to wherever you need to go.” There really weren’t any more incidents after that.

But then L. started having weird things happen at her own apartment, and shortly after that we moved in together to yet another apartment. Weird things started happening there: keys or books or knick knacks went missing and wound up in odd places, strange noises and disembodied footsteps, a number of prankish things. We decided it might be Velma who had followed L. from place to place, for no other reason than that the things happening seemed childish in nature. I remember opening a cabinet door wide with the door flush against the wall. I dropped a plastic bottle on the floor, bent to pick it up, and when I raised up, the door had been moved to where my rising head smacked it hard. I yelled, “Velma! That really hurt! It’s not funny!” The pranks stopped after that.

But other, darker weirdness continued.

There was that sleep paralysis syndrome thing. It lasted through my tenancy in that apartment. I had one more incident within weeks after I moved—a farewell performance—and have never been troubled by it since, thank the gods.

None of us rested completely easy in that apartment. We all had troubled dreams and woke in terror. Heard things. Felt things. Saw things out the corners of our eyes and when first waking from sleep. Maybe there was something there.

Or maybe it was the power lines that ran directly over the roof of the apartment giving us EMF hallucinations. Maybe it was mold hidden in the walls poisoning the air we breathed and affecting our minds. Maybe it was psychic contagion—my roommates picking up on my nightmares and having their own—or an atmosphere of shared ghost stories seeping into the unconscious. All possible rational explanations.

But rational explanations are rarely as satisfying as the idea of Something There. That’s the thing about folklore and folktales. They satisfy some deep craving in human beings because they have a depth and resonance that science rarely achieves. After all, they come to us from the deep and dark archetypal chambers of the heart. All science has going for it is the sunlit mind of reason and sanity.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

Destruction_of_Leviathan
The Destruction of Leviathan by Gustave Doré

“Although we human beings have our own personal life, we are yet in large measure the representatives, the victims and promoters of a collective spirit whose years are counted in centuries. We can well think all our lives long that we are following our own noses, and may never discover that we are, for the most part, supernumeraries on the stage of the world theater. There are factors which, although we do not know them, nevertheless influence our lives, and more so if they are unconscious.”

—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, tr. Richard and Clara Winston

There are two images for this post, besides the one above, both behind a cut at the end of this post. One is called the falling man, a photograph by Richard Drew, the other is called the hanged man. I’ve put them behind a cut because even now some people don’t like looking at images from 9/11, and this image caused some controversy when first published. There’s nothing gory about it, but it does represent the last moments of a man’s life. Some feel that’s a private moment and should never be seen. I don’t discount their feelings, but I also believe it’s something more: a testament of the horrors of that day, of terrible decisions forced on ordinary people, of their courage and grace in making those choices, no matter how desperate.

All I know is that the first time I saw the image of the falling man it resonated inside me like a struck bell—beautiful, horrible, incomprehensible. Yet deeply known. In the amazing and moving documentary, 9/11: The Falling Man, made about this picture, it’s revealed that the editors of The New York Times had a series of pictures in this sequence to choose from, but found this one most compelling. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Of course, there’s a personal horror of recognition here. One morning you go to work and something unthinkable happens to rip everything away. This picture represents the ultimate “there but for the grace of God go I” moment. But that’s not what my deeper cord of recognition was about. This man’s death was not a symbol, but there was a potent symbol in that sky. It took me a couple of days to understand it. An image from tarot came to me: the hanged man. Not in the sense of portents in the sky or any other such bull, not to minimize the power of the falling man by reducing the image to a formula. The image is its ownself, vast and powerful, but there’s also this other thing falling beside it: archetypes working themselves through the real world and through our psyches.

This phrase about the hanging man card from aeclectic.net in particular struck me: “It is as if he’s hanging between the mundane world and the spiritual world, able to see both. It is a dazzling moment, dreamlike yet crystal clear. Connections he never understood before are made, mysteries are revealed.”

Not him, you understand, but us…suspended between life and death, the sacrifice to gain knowledge, a time of trial or meditation, the moment of clarity, of not being able to see things the same again. It’s not just this man’s life, and the ending of it, but that moment of suspension and terrible clarity for the United States and the world.

That subconscious strata of images and ideas is always at play inside each of us. I’m not in any way saying those archetypes are the only reason we respond so powerfully to the image of the falling man, but I do believe they are part of the mix. Whether or not you have ever seen a tarot deck, or this particular tarot deck, this image doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It appeared in the tarot because it was part of our culture’s archetypal and intuitive heritage. Perhaps it’s an image that would resonate only in Western culture—I don’t know enough to say otherwise—but it is part of the unconscious lives of everyone who has ever lived in the West for any length of time.

And what does it ultimately say about 9/11? Maybe that archetypes are cultural snapshots—or roadmaps—of the great moments in human existence, both specific and nonspecific, grandly sweeping and intimately personal.

Each of us is composed of both conscious and unconscious associations. We need to examine ourselves closely before leaping on any bandwagon or cause or demagoguery, committing ourselves to actions and movements that rob us of our individual and essential humanity and turn us into impulsive mobs, spurred to commit atrocities in the name of some deep, unthinking leviathan swimming just beneath the waters of consciousness.

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Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

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