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Sunday, 23 June 2013

She Saw Dead People

     So called "sensitives", who can detect ghosts, are not much use in psychical research. The reason is not that it is unlikely (if you are prepared to believe in ghosts), but simply that it is normally impossible to confirm their evidence. After all, if everybody in the room sees a particular apparition, there is a rebuttable assumption that it has an objective existence. However, if only one person claims to have seen it, it may indicate that he is "psychic", but it may also mean that he is (a) lying, (b) self-deluded, or (c) crazy. The situation becomes even more nebulous when it concerns, not seeing the ghost, but merely "sensing" it.
     Just the same, there do appear to have been good cases where an apparition was seen by one person, but not another. (Here, for example.) I have recorded a couple in my posts of May 2012 and February 2012. In the latter case, you may recall, a visitor saw the apparition while the owner saw nothing, but the alleged psychics were more or less ineffective. If ghosts are psychic manifestations, then it may well be that one person, because of his or her frame of mind at the time, may be more attuned to it than others (particularly when they are children), and perhaps some people are permanently in that condition.
     One such person was Michaela Denis who, with her husband, Armand, used to make wildlife documentaries with Kenya as their base. (Avid readers of this blog - if any exist - may remember her dealings with a witchdoctor in my March 2013 post.) I shall quote from her book, At Home With Michaela (Hutchinson, 1965):
     Since a child I have been what people call psychic. For many years I had no idea that such a word existed. When I was tiny I used to see people who had died. I thought everybody could see them. I remember how astonished, and at the same time shy, about it I was when I found my companions could not see the people. I only knew they were dead because I had once been playing with a small girl. She was three or thereabouts and with her was a little boy of three. I wanted to include him in the game, but she couldn't see him. (p 175)
     When her playmate's aunts came out, she asked why she couldn't play with the boy. The lady couldn't see him, so she asked what he looked like. Michaela replied that he had dark hair, a yellow shirt, and grey trousers, and was pointing to a cut on his arm. She then wondered why the lady suddenly turned white and started to cry, because she didn't know grown-ups could cry.
     Anyway, after the game, she went into the other room and heard the lady talking to her sister.
     "But it was unmistakable [she said], she described him exactly."
     "But surely Doris told her."
     "Doris never met Freddie," said the aunt. "Don't you remember that he died when we were living in Manchester? Even you didn't know about the cut on his arm, did you?" (p 176)
    I presume Michaela was a couple of years older than her playmate, because children's memories of that age are usually pretty fuzzy. Just the same, some memories can be vivid. I myself was only three years and three months old when my own aunt called out from the top of the stairs, "He's dead!" I remember that as if it were yesterday, although I remember nothing at all about my uncle except that incident.

    The Denises lived in the district of Langata, outside Nairobi. Attached to their grounds was a house for their servants. I shall quote her account about one of them:
     It was in the days when John was alive and well. He and Tshikadi were saying good-bye to me. I saw looking over John's shoulder a young man closely resembling him, but about six inches shorter and much younger. I asked John who the young man was and described him. From their expressions I could see that my servants were filled with awe.
     'That is my brother,' said John. 'He died several years ago. He was exactly as you described him.' (p 164)
     These were the days of Mau Mau, when terrible things were happening, so they preferred their servants to inform them if anyone were staying overnight. Michaela and her husband never really trusted Tom, one of John's successors. When she saw "a man with a moustache, dressed in khaki clothes with an old brown felt hat on his head, walk purposefully into Tom's room", she immediately ran to the house so that he couldn't escape. But the only person inside was a young African woman, obviously intending to stay the night. Tom and Armand came into the room, and Michaela demanded to know where the man was.
     She described him in intricate detail, upon which the young woman descended into panic. It was her late father. (pp 164-5)
     All this, of course, raises some disturbing questions. Like: how many of us have deceased relatives following us around? And are we doing anything we would not like them to see?

     Michaela had apparently written about some of her experiences in some spiritualist publications, with the result that a Brahmin called Mr Jamnadas invited her to the Sunday séances being held at his place. She was very busy at the time, so she declined, but a month later, while she was doing her hair, an Indian woman appeared to her and told her to call Mr Jamnadas and attend his séance. On doing so, she was shown a photo of his late wife, and immediately recognized her as the visitor. She often saw her after that at the séances, and she told her she had trouble with her leg (in the afterlife?). Once she urged her to telephone Mr Jamnadas in the middle of the week, because it was an anniversary. But she didn't. However, next Sunday Mr J told her he had almost called her that day himself. It was the birthday of their first son.
     At this point, let me add my advice to never get involved in séances. There are for two reasons. The first is that most of it (many would say all of it) is a load of old rubbish, and it will only play havoc with your money and your emotions. The literature on outright fraud and honest self-delusion at séances is voluminous. The second is, if anything, more compelling: it may not be all a lot of old rubbish. Let's face it: there is no reason to get involved unless you accept at least the possibility that it might be genuine, but if it is really possible to open a door to the other world, who knows what might come through. It need not be limited to benign spirits.
    In any case, Michaela seems to have avoided these pitfalls. During the séances - which took place under a dim red light - and sometimes before or after the séance, she would see people and scenes. All of them were strangers to her - which is how she liked it, because it meant they were not produced by forgotten memories. Once she had a detailed vision of a young man killed on a bicycle. Some Sikhs recognised the exact scene of the death of one of their relations, except that he had been  on a motorcycle rather than a bicycle.
     She saw an Indian lady, who told her her name, but Michaela slightly mispronounced it. A visitor recognised it as his wife in the clothes in which she died, and the name was almost correct.
     The most amazing event occurred when another visitor from India was present, and she saw Gandhi standing beside him, holding a wide gold ring with a diamond in the middle. It turned out the man had just left that very same ring with Mr Jamnadas for safe-keeping while he went on safari. Also, he had been a close friend of Gandhi's.(pp 180-181)
     Strictly speaking, of course, it might not have been actual ghosts she was seeing. If we are prepared to accept the possibility of psychic phenomena, then she may have been tapping into the thoughts of those at the séances. A person sensitive to the psychic manifestations of ghosts may be sensitive in other ways.

     Once a spiritualist friend handed her a gold watch, and she suddenly discovered she had the gift of psychometry. She was able to describe the previous owners in enough detail for her friend to recognize them, even though Michaela had never met them. She had a similar experience when Vanda Bishop, the wife of Air Commander Bishop, handed her an ancient jade ring she had purchased in Hong Kong in 1946. Suddenly, Michaela was seeing vignettes of its history, although she herself had never been to China. Well, maybe she was right, and maybe she wasn't. But what amazed Mrs Bishop was that she described one of the owners as an elderly coolie with a long, white, wispy beard, a faded blue-grey cotton shirt, and dark blue trousers. Mrs Bishop had met him in Hong Kong - as a ghost who had turned up in her presence and, ignoring her nakedness, examined her mantelpiece. (pp 184-7)

     Interestingly enough, their own house was haunted, even though it was brand new, they had built it themselves, and there had been no previous occupants. She and her husband would lie in bed and hear human footsteps in the living room. Fearing burglars, they would get up to investigate, but there was never any sign of any living creature. Then, one night, they were discussing the phenomena, and the poltergeist activity Michaela had experienced as a child, when suddenly a terrific roar, like a train passing through a tunnel, passed through the house.
     "Michaela, you never do anything by halves," said her husband, "not even poltergeists", suggesting she had conjured them up by talking about them. "A quarter past eleven," he said as he looked at his watch. "That must be your zero hour for psychic phenomena."
     Well, not exactly. The following day the newspaper reported that an earthquake had struck at precisely a quarter past eleven. (pp 182-3)

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