CALLING ALL GHOSTS
by The Center for Tactical Magic
Originally published in the “Applied Magic(k)” column in Arthur Magazine No. 25/Winter 02006
Ghosts are unwieldy subjects to contend with. It’s as if their ephemeral nature predisposes them to be barely tangible topics of research. The vast majority of evidence used to support the existence of ghosts is subjective: first-hand reports and eyewitness accounts. Despite the fact that forensic science, cultural geography, physics, and parapsychology all suggest that any given area is inscribed with the residue of that area’s history, the hard data on hauntings remains inconclusive.
To make matters hazier, the definitions of ghosts often swirl together with religious beliefs and philosophical assumptions. For example, if we define ghosts as being the spirits of the departed, we are stating clearly that we believe in life-after-death and some notion that separates body and spirit. Whether this notion is Cartesian dualism, Egyptian ka, Polynesian mana, or the yin-world spirits of Taoism, the assertion is that the individual is not indivisible. At the very least we are forced to accept the idea that the self is multiplicitous.
This shouldn’t be such a leap. At any given moment a person can be characterized by many different activities that s/he engages in: mechanic, musician, anarchist, lover, gardener, cyclist, etc. A person doesn’t think of him/herself as a mechanic when s/he’s in the garden, although s/he also doesn’t stop being a mechanic. We are many things to many people in many spheres of activity – simultaneously. But still we remain ourselves. On the most basic level, we live multiplicitous lives every day.
And when we go to sleep at night, it doesn’t end there. Our dreams continue to embroil us in action-adventures that would surely leave us breathless and exhausted if it weren’t for the simple fact that our bodies barely participate in all of the fun. If there is any sort of universal logic that can be applied as a subjective proof for the insubstantiation of the self, it is the simple fact that we all dream, whether we remember it in the morning or not.
To be clear, dreams don’t prove that ghosts are real. Nor does it prove that ghosts are the spirits of dead people. Rather, the travels we undertake when our eyes are closed simply suggest that a meaningful disembodied existence can occur. Even if we dismiss dreams (and ghosts) as immaterial and inconsequential, anyone who has ever experienced a nightmare won’t deny the fact that these visions can cause acute physical and psychological sensations in our waking lives.
But what are ghosts exactly? The incorporeal dead hanging out amongst the living? Reflected light? Psychosis? Atmospheric anomalies? Holographic messages from the future? Alien lifeforms? Osama’s latest WMD (Weapon of Mental Distortion)? Whatever they are, ghosts, like magic(k), pop up, in one form or another, in nearly every culture on the planet, and have been described in legends, myths, and stories throughout history. A popular Chinese attitude towards ghosts is voiced in the age-old expression, “If you believe it, there will be, but if you don’t, there will not.” According to legend, the saying was penned by a scholar named Zhuxi (Song Dynasty, 960 – 1279). Now Zhuxi was such a strict non-believer that he decided to write an essay about the non-existence of ghosts. But, lo and behold!—a ghost showed up to convince him otherwise. The ghost made such a lucid argument, that Zhuxi was forced to reconsider his thesis. In fact, it’s actually the ghost that is credited with authoring the aforementioned expression, and Zhuxi merely wrote it down.
Whether we believe in ghosts as actual paranormal phenomena, or as manifestations of mass cultural imagination, we can agree on some fundamental characteristics of ghosts. For starters, it’s significant to note that many such manifestations consistently take the form of people, or exhibit seemingly conscious behaviors. This could be similar to looking skyward and seeing faces in the clouds; however, there’s one major exception. When we let our minds drift in the cumulo-nimbus we also tend to see things like bears in bathtubs, and inverted Lay-Z-Boys. And we don’t hear ghastly tales of glowing gaseous forms resembling anything quite so banal, or cute and cartoony. Instead, we are most often presented with accounts of haunting encounters that evoke horror, sorrow, fear, anger, remorse, passion, and purpose. Ghosts emerge from the shadows; from dark corners; from forgotten and abandoned recesses. Regardless of whether or not these phantoms are psychological projections or external paranormal phenomena, it’s clear that our collective response to these apparitions is apprehension, angst, and anxiety.
Generally speaking, there are two dominant types of ghost stories: lost love, and grave injustices. The “lost love” category encompasses all of those apparitions who wait endlessly for lovers to return, or visit their living loved ones for comfort, counsel, and last condolences. In the second category, the vast majority of ghost stories hover around a central theme of grave injustices yet to be rectified. Murder. Torture. Betrayal. The plight of this sort of phantom is one of paradox; it seeks to rest in peace, yet refuses to quit the struggle until things have been set right. While the crimes of the past still linger at the site of a haunting, the ghost’s job is to make sure we, the living, don’t ignore it. Their refusal to let injustices be forgotten manifests in a form of spiritual civil disobedience. From silent vigils to shrieks and moans to outright property destruction, these ghosts are paranormal protestors bearing witness to a world gone woefully awry. In their quest for peace, the phantoms that haunt us defy the laws of the material world in acts of otherworldly anarchism. Offering spiritual resistance to the complicit affairs of everyday life, these insurgent souls have little regard for the rules and boundaries that restrict the world of the living.
They defy even gravity itself. Moving through gates and walls, no barrier restricts their attempts to resolve the inequities that torment them—and consequently us. After all, it is the apathy of the living that drives them to disturb the peace, because they cannot rest until the conflict is, once-and-for-all, addressed and resolved. There is no moving on. Not until unsavory events are properly put to rest.
It’s this kind of dissenting spirit that needs to be channeled today. Even Senator Specter (R-PA), whose position on most policies is rather ghoulish, could not sit idly by when faced with the recent legislation surrounding Guantanamo Bay detainees. Like all hauntings, the degree of uncanniness is quite remarkable. It’s only too fitting that the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee be named Specter. And perhaps even more appropriate that he should take issue with the United States’ recent dissolution of habeas corpus (meaning quite literally “(You should) have the body”). Dating back as far as 1305, and included in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, habeas corpus is one of the oldest and most celebrated guarantees of personal liberty. It grants individuals the right to question their detainment and challenge the government on the legality of their imprisonment. By killing habeas corpus, the clock on civil liberties is set back more than seven centuries to a time when judicial courts were simply a king and his dungeons. No wonder Mr. Specter is voicing his disapproval.
The haunting of society by the ghosts of our collective past resonates within a present that continues to manifest grave injustices. Generation after generation, the abuse of power materializes in a reoccurring nightmare, claiming countless victims—collateral damage in a battle to maintain hegemony. Doomed to repeat the tragedies of the ages, these lost souls insinuate their desires and anxieties into the world of the living. Each step of the way, these energies inform our thoughts, our dreams, our actions—indeed, every aspect of our existence. Ghosts are an unsettling reminder that the crimes of the past have not yet been resolved. Refusing to quietly fade from consciousness, they demand that their howls be heeded. The residues of injustice permeate the physical, psychological, and parapsychological landscape, inscribing the present with desperate warnings and demands for reconciliation.
Perhaps it’s time for the living to start paying attention to the stirring in the shadows. These aberrations in space, time, and freedom remain inscribed in mind, spirit, and social body, awaiting their release through the discovery and recovery of our own self-determining forces. Can the righteous spirits of the past truly join forces with the living to achieve peace and justice? If you believe it, there will be, but if you don’t, there will not.
Through methods of divination, channeling, investigation, experimentation, and active engagement, we can invoke those that seem most experienced in dealing with past inequities—ghosts. Here are a few experiments in magic(k) to get you started. As always, please let us know how it goes by emailing to: goodluck at tacticalmagic dot org
1. Summoning ancestral spirits for guidance and inspiration is an age-old practice re-popularized in the ’70s through Milton Bradley’s mass production of the Ouija board. But you don’t need to jump on eBay to get a piece of the action. Make your own walkie-talkie to the spirit world by covering any smooth surface with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-10, and the words, “yes,” “no,” “unclear” and “goodbye.” Use another object that glides easily over the surface as your planchette, or pointer. A shot glass, serving spoon, or cell phone will work okay. A generic board will likely attract a general audience. For the best results, craft your set-up with a righteous spirit in mind using items and symbols that the spirit might find appealing. If, for example, you wanted the counsel of Nathan Hale, draw the board on a copy of the Patriot Act. For Harriet Tubman, try replacing the planchette with a broken handcuff. Grab a few friends, dim the lights, and place your fingertips lightly on the planchette. Then, invite the spirits, and begin your supernatural conspiring.
2. The problem with ghosts is not that they won’t shut up, but rather that it took death to get them to speak up in the first place. Is it fear of death that keeps us from voicing our dissatisfaction with the world of the living? Or fear of life? Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for that last breath to start haunting places. Form your own ghost mob and venture out to haunt sites of known social injustices. Banks, police stations, recruitment centers, and chain stores are but a few potential targets. From large-scale occupations by friends in Halloween gore to quiet insertions of tape recorded whispers and groans, a ghost mob can embody suppressed fears and desires whilst banishing the specters of social control.
3. Encounters with ghosts are said to increase during times of social crises and the post-trauma periods immediately following. Most notably, research suggests that more people see ghosts (or at least report them) in wartime and during post-war transitions. If this assessment is accurate, we should expect a barrage of ghost sightings related to Katrina, Afghanistan and Iraq. We are sincerely interested in studying this trend. If you have had paranormal experiences that you feel are related to social crises, please let us know by emailing us at: socialhauntings at tacticalmagic dot org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The Center for Tactical Magic is a moderate international think tank dedicated to the research, development and deployment of all types of magic in the service of positive social transformation. To find out more, check out tacticalmagic.org