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Two Ghost Stories from Shelley and Algernon Blackwood

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I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ll tell you of the time I saw one. It was summer, I was 18 and working in a 7/11.

Early one morning, at seven-thirty to be precise, I was awoken by someone pinching my toe. There, clearly at the foot of my bed, was my great aunt, dressed in a dark overcoat, as if she had somehow arrived to see me.

“I’ve come to say goodbye,” she said, but never opened her mouth.

We looked at each other for several moments. Then I rubbed my eyes, and she was gone.

Fifty miles away, in a hospital ward, my great aunt died at exactly seven-thirty in the morning. How to explain it, I can’t say, but there it is.

I’ve always had a fondness for ghosts stories, tales of horror and things unknown - they are fine entertainments. Of late, I’ve been collecting such stories recorded in journals and biographies, which often reveal a similarity in the haunting or, in the telling of the tale.

The following come from the journal of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the great writer of supernatural tales, Algernon Blackwood, a man whose stories chilled my schoolboy days. Like the tale of my great aunt, there is a similarity to these tales, of ghosts returning to visit the living.

IX. - Journal

Geneva, Sunday, 18th August, 1816

See Apollo’s Sexton,* who tells us many mysteries of his trade. We talk of Ghosts. Neither Lord Byron nor M.G. L. seem to believe in them; and they both agree, in the very face of reason, that none could believe in ghosts without believing in God. I do not think that all the persons who profess to discredit these visitations, really discredit them; or, if they do in the daylight, are not admonished, by the approach of loneliness and midnight, to think more respectfully of the world of shadows.

Lewis recited a poem, which he had composed at the request of the Princess of Wales. The Princess of Wales, he premised, was not only a believer in ghosts, but in magic and witchcraft, and asserted, that prophecies made in her youth had been accomplished since. The tale was of a lady in Germany.

This lady, Minna, had been exceedingly attached to her husband, and they had made a vow that the one who died first should return after death to visit the other as a ghost. She was sitting one day alone in her chamber, when she heard an unusual sound of footsteps on the stairs. The door opened, and her husband’s spectre, gashed with a deep wound across the forehead, an din military habiliments, entered. She appeared startled at the apparition; and the ghost told her, that when he should visit her in future, she would hear a passing bell toll, and these words distinctly uttered in her ear, “Minna, I am here.” On inquiry, it was found that her husband had fallen in battle on the very day she was visited by the vision. The intercourse between the ghost and the woman continued for some time, until the latter laid aside all terror, and indulged herself in the affection which she had felt for him while living. One evening she went to a ball, and permitted her thoughts to be alienated by the attentions of a Florentine gentleman, more witty, more graceful, and more gentle, as it appeared to her, than any person she had ever seen. As he was conducting her through the dance, a death-bell tolled. Minna lost in fascination of the Florentine’s attentions, disregarded, or did not hear the sound. A second peal, louder and more deep, startled the whole company, when Minna heard the ghost’s accustomed whisper, and raising her eyes, saw in an opposite mirror the reflection of the ghost, standing over her. She is said to have died of terror.

* Mr. G. Lewis, so named in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers - M. S.

The second story comes from Mike Ashley’s Starlight Man, the biography of the fantastic writer, Algernon Blackwood. In this extract, it is 1887 and the young Blackwood, just in his early twenties, has taken a keen interest in the Society of Psychical Research, an organization established by “some of the most notable men in the land and devoted to the series exploration of psychic phenomena.”

This group can be traced back to the Ghost Club, which was established at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1850. By 1882, this club had galvanized into the Society of Psychical Research (SPR), and conisted of “highly respected men - no charlatans. And early members to the SPR were of similar stature - Lord Tennyson, William James, John Ruskin, W. E. Gladstone, Mark twain and Charles L. Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) plus eight Fellows of the Royal Society, including the later Nobel Prize winner Joseph Thomson.”

Blackwood’s father Sir Arthur Blackwood was loosely involved with the group, but only as a debunker of spiritualism. Any evidence that the group provided to confirm Sir Arthur’s no-nonsense, rational view of life was to be commended. However, for Algernon, stories of ghosts, ghouls and things-that-went-bump-in-the-night proved far too attractive for the young man.

Of course, Algernon went on to become world famous for his chilling stories of the supernatural and the occult - as well as his more spiritual and esoteric tales, including the original book for Edward Elgar’s Starlight Express, which later formed the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. In 1887, Algernon was interested in joining the SPR after reading one of the group’s books

This was Phantasms of the Living (1886) and it was a book that young Algernon found fascinating. It includes several cases that he adapted for his own stories. Perhaps the best known was a case reported by Lord Brougham (1778-1868) while at Edinburgh University in 1799. He had made a pact with a university friend that whoever died first should try to appear to the other. Brougham was one day relaxing in his bath when he saw his friend sitting on a nearby chair. The vision soon faded but he made a note of the occurrence. Soon afterwards he returned to Edinburgh, only to receive a letter to say hat his friend had died in India. The core of the story is the same as Blackwood’s “Keeping his Promise”, also set in Edinburgh, where a dead friend keeps an appointment.

Blackwood rarely mentioned his involvement with the SPR, though he touched upon the subject in his last television talk “How I Became Interested in Ghosts”, in which he discussed the investigation of a haunted house. Blackwood is a superb horror writer, and is better than H. P. Lovercraft, who once said of him:

“Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood’s genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences..”

He lived a rich and full life, worked at dozens of jobs, including farmer, undercover spy during the First World War, adventurer, writer, and lastly as a regular presenter of the BBC in the 1940s. His stories of the supernatural and the unknown are amongst the greatest written. They have also provided episodes for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and his classic tale “Ancient Sorceries” was more than an influence on Val Lewton’s The Cat People.

With Halloween coming these stories may provide some atmosphere to all that Trick and Treating.

Now behave, here’s The Fall.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Should JesusWeen replace Halloween?
10.06.2011
10:29 am

Topics:
Amusing
Belief

Tags:
Halloween
JesusWeen


 
The answer is probably “no.” Their hearts are in the right place, but this is just kind of silly.

JesusWeen.com

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Jon Stewart on the media coverage of the Tea party vs Occupy Wall Street
10.06.2011
09:46 am

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Tags:
Tea party
Occupy Wall Street
Jon Stewart


 
Brilliant analysis, as usual from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. When you’re watching this, contemplate how the Fox News clips featured in this segment will look when viewed again a few years from now. The Fox News and CNBC talking heads all look, to me, like people who are on the wrong side of history.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Crazy Christians rant: Are Pokemon and Minecraft demonic?
10.06.2011
09:02 am

Topics:
Amusing
Belief
Games

Tags:
demons
Pokemon
satan
Mindcraft


 
“You go into this thing and you build your own world.”

Captured from Watchman Broadcasting’s net stream in July 2011. Dorothy Spaulding and guests unintentionally entertain with their views on digital entertainment.

“Isn’t there a… uh… guitar that’s called ‘something Hero’?”

“That’s a new thing that they’re coming out with and the kids are really addicted to it.”

The best part starts at 2:50 when she asks him about how the “occultists” tried to intimidate him with over 100 dead ravens after he was on her show the last time.

 
(via BuzzFeed)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Steve Jobs: Apple Key-note Speech 1984

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Steve Jobs 1955-2011.

A fine reminder of Steve Jobs’ passion, enthusiasm, vision and thought, from his key note speech during the introduction of the Apple IIc at the Moscone Center, in April, 1984.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Lego: Basic Building Set Poster
10.06.2011
07:12 am

Topics:
Amusing

Tags:
Design
Lego
Building Blocks

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I find this poster for Lego‘s “Basic Building Set” quite pleasing and rather beautiful, with its simple presentation of Lego bricks as color, geometry, mathematics, proportion and possibility.
 
With thanks to Tombolare
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Will Lars Von Trier be prosecuted for being a Nazi sympathizer and is this his last interview?


 
Before the two screenings of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia at this year’s Fantastic Fest, there was a screening of an interview with Von Trier conducted by Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci for the festival. Von Trier has a good relationship with Fantastic Fest and given the fact that he doesn’t fly had chosen to introduce his film via Skype. I was there and the audience response to the interview, in which von Trier is surprisingly likeable and upbeat, was more enthusiastic than to Melancholia itself, which I found beautiful, well-directed, but ultimately kind of pointless - though it did generate quite a bit of discussion and debate.

You may recall that von Trier got himself into a bit of a public relations nightmare at this year’s Cannes Film Festival when he provocatively called himself a Nazi during a press Q&A - you can read Roger Ebert’s account of the incident here. As is his nature, Von Trier was being a shit stirrer, he was joking, pushing buttons, but the French have strict laws about proclaiming you’re a Nazi (apparently even in jest) or making anti-Semitic comments in public (just ask former Dior designer John Galliano). Now it seems that the French government may be planning to prosecute von Trier for his remarks. As hard as it is to believe, Von Trier may be tried for his facetious comments. Yesterday Von Trier issued the following press release.

“Today at 2pm I was questioned by the Police of North Zealand in connection with charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes.

The investigation covers comments made during the press conference in Cannes in May 2011. Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews.”

If indeed von Trier never does another interview, the one he did with Faraci for Fantastic Fest may be the last one we’ll ever see. Here it is:
 

 
Thanks to Brandy Fons & Fantastic Fest

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
K-Tel’s mood shirt: Fashion that reveals how you feel
10.05.2011
05:45 pm

Topics:
Advertorial
Television

Tags:
K-Tel mood shirt


 
Who needs psychoanalysis when you can own a K-Tel mood ring or mood shirt?

These were the perfect solution for folks who had problems expressing how they feel. Let your shirt do the talking.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘Inn’t he scrummy?’: ‘Ideal’ creator Graham Duff guest DJs on WFMU
10.05.2011
04:32 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
WFMU
Ideal
Graham Duff


 
Ideal creator Graham Duff DJ’ing on WFMU:

I’ve put together an exclusive hour long music mix for New Jersey’s WFMU radio station, for the show ‘Do or DIY’ hosted by People Like Us. It’s available on line from 8pm to 9pm tonight, then it will be archived. The mix encompasses off kilter electronica, opiated indie and blissful horror film scores, including pieces by The Anti Group, Ennio Morricone, Wire and Bachelorette.

Playlists and archives for Graham Duff on DO or DIY here.

Below, Graham Duff as “Brian,” tripping, in Ideal:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Live feed of the Occupy Wall Street march
10.05.2011
02:26 pm

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Tags:
Occupy Wall Street


Image: Mr. Fish, via TruthDig

Live feed from the Occupy Wall Street march.
 

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at livestream.com
Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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