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True Irish Ghost Stories: Haunted Houses, Banshees, Poltergeists, and Other Supernatural Phenomena (John D. Seymour) online
The foregoing tales have been inserted, not in order that they may throw ridicule on the rest of the book, but that they may act as a wholesome corrective. If _all_ ghost stories could be subjected to such rigid examination it is probable that the mystery in many of them would be capable of equally simple solution--yet a remnant would be left.
And here, though it may seem somewhat belated, we must offer an apology for the use of the terms "ghost" and "ghost story." The book includes such different items as hauntings, death-warnings, visions, and hallucinations, some of which obviously can no more be attributed to discarnate spirits than can the present writer's power of guiding his pen along the lines of a page; whether others of these must be laid to the credit of such unseen influences is just the question. But in truth there was no other expression than "ghost stories" which we could have used, or which could have conveyed to our readers, within reasonable verbal limits, as they glanced at its cover, or at an advertisement of it, a general idea of the contents of this book. The day will certainly come when, before the steady advance of scientific investigation, and the consequent influencing of public opinion, the word "ghost" will be relegated to limbo, and its place taken by a number of expressions corresponding to the results obtained from the analysis of phenomena hitherto grouped under this collective title. That day is approaching. And so, though we have used the term throughout the pages of this book, it must not therefore be assumed that we necessarily believe in "ghosts," or that we are bound to the theory that all, or any, of the unusual happenings therein recorded are due to the action of visitants from the Otherworld.
We may now anticipate one or two possible points of criticism. It might be alleged that the publication of such a book as this would tend to show that the Irish nation was enslaved in superstition. Without stopping to review the question as to what should, or should not, be classed as "superstition," we would rejoin by gleefully pointing to a leading article in the _Irish Times_ of Jan. 27, 1914, which gives a short account of a lecture by Mr. Lovett on the folklore of London. Folklore in London! in the metropolis of the stolid Englishman! The fact is that the Irish people are not one whit more superstitious than their cross-channel neighbours, while they are surely on a far higher level in this respect than many of the Continental nations. They _seem_ to be more superstitious because (we speak without wishing to give any offence) the _popular_ religion of the majority has incorporated certain elements which may be traced back to pre-Christian times; but that they _are_ actually more superstitious we beg leave to doubt.
Another and more important series of objections is stated by one of our correspondents as follows. "I must confess that I can never reconcile with my conception of an All-Wise Creator the type of 'ghost' you are at present interested in; it seems to me incredible that the spirits of the departed should be permitted to return and indulge in the ghostly repertoire of jangling chains, gurgling, etc., apparently for the sole purpose of scaring housemaids and other timid or hysterical people." The first and most obvious remark on this is, that our correspondent has never read or heard a ghost story, save of the Christmas magazine type, else he would be aware that the above theatrical display is _not_ an integral part of the "ghostly repertoire"; and also that persons, who are _not_ housemaids, and who can _not_ be classed as timid or hysterical, but who, on the other hand, are exceedingly sober-minded, courageous, and level-headed, have had experiences (and been frightened by them too!) which cannot be explained on ordinary grounds. But on the main point our correspondent is begging the question, or at least assuming as fully proved a conclusion which is very far from being so. Is he quite sure that the only explanation of these strange sights and weird noises is that they are brought about by the action of departed spirits (we naturally exclude cases of deliberate fraud, which in reality are very unusual)? And if so, what meaning would he put upon the word "spirits"? And even if it be granted that the phenomena are caused by the inhabitants of another world, why should it be impossible to accept such a theory, because of its _apparent_ incompatibility with any conception of an All-Wise Creator, of whose workings we are so profoundly ignorant? Are there not many things in the material world which _to the limited human mind_ of our correspondent must seem puzzling, meaningless, useless, and even harmful? He does not therefore condemn these offhand; he is content to suspend judgment, is he not? Why cannot he adopt the same attitude with respect to psychic phenomena? Our correspondent might here make the obvious retort that it is _we_ who are begging the question, not he, because such happenings as are described in this book have no existence apart from the imaginative or inventive faculties of certain persons. This would be equivalent to saying bluntly that a considerable number of people in Ireland are either liars or fools, or both. This point we shall deal with later on. Our correspondent belongs to a type which knows nothing at all about psychical research, and is not aware that some of the cleverest scientists and deepest thinkers of the day have interested themselves in such problems. They have not found the answer to many of them--goodness knows if they ever will this side of the grave--but at least they have helped to broaden and deepen our knowledge of ourselves, our surroundings, and our God. They have revealed to us profundities in human personality hitherto unsuspected, they have suggested means of communication between mind and mind almost incredible, and (in the writer's opinion at least) these points have a very important bearing on our conceptions of the final state of mankind in the world to come, and so they are preparing the way for that finer and more ethical conception of God and His Creation which will be the heritage of generations yet unborn. The materialist's day is far spent, and its sun nears the horizon.