REVISITING OLD FRIENDS
"No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond"
"Isn't it odd how much fatter a book gets when you've read it several times? As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells..and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too; a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower..both strange and familiar"
"Books are a uniquely portable magic"
Over the course of the last day or two, I've been "revisiting an old friend". When I was 10 years old, and had well and truly acknowledged my proclivity towards the paranormal, I found myself in possession of the first fairly serious study into ghostly encounters I had ever read. I can't even remember how the book came into my possession- this was three decades ago, after all! I suspect my Mother perhaps owned it, and thus it came into my possession, but I'm not certain!
When I first read this particular book, I had absolutely no idea of who the people to whom the author would occasionally refer were, but reading it again, after so many years, and having learned so much in the intervening time, I found myself grinning at the mention of some names that are now quite familiar to me- F.W.H. Myers, H.H. Price, G.N.M Tyrell, Carl Jung, Nandor Fodor.
When I was 10, I had no idea of the significance of those names- I was merely looking for some interesting ghost stories, and had not given any thought as to the "how" or "why" the experiences mentioned in the book may have happened- after all, a 10-year-old cannot truly completely grasp the concepts of Psi, Telepathy, Place Memory theory, or Psychic residue, or the possibility of telepathic access of residual memories!
The book in question, by the way, is called "Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Minds", and it was written in 1968 (8 years before I was born) by Brad Steiger.
Brad Steiger was born Eugene Olson in 1936, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He identified as a Lutheran until the age of 11, when a near-death-experience changed his beliefs.
Encouraged by his parents to become a teacher, he graduated college in 1957, and university in 1963, after which he taught High-school English, and then became a Literature and Creative Writing teacher at his former college. He wrote over 170 books on a broad range of topics, from biographies on film and music stars, to the paranormal and unexplained phenomena which clearly held his attention, where he covered topics such as UFO's and aliens, Atlantis, cryptozoology, ghosts and hauntings, ancient astronauts, and a variety of other strange and often controversial topics.
When looking at the covers of Steiger's books, they are mostly quite lurid. Indeed, the book I own- which is the original 1968 print (although it has been reprinted since)- appears from its' cover to be very much a work of sensationalism, and at a glance most people would probably dismiss it. I'm glad I didn't!
As i mentioned earlier, I first read this book when I was 10. It's only a small paperback, and its' pages are yellowed by age now, and it looks a little the worse for wear as you can see, having survived 5 decades of existence- and also numerous house moves!
I'd not picked the book up to read it for probably around 20 years, but did so just the other day as I was fairly sure it was where I'd read about a particular type of phenomena I'd been researching. I was correct, and it contained some of the information I'd sought- but I found myself reading the entire book again, quite amazed by how much it contained that I'd forgotten- or had failed to recognise the significance of- when I'd last read it.
The Spiritualist movement was still quite popular in 1968, the year "Real Ghosts" was written. Anybody who has ever studied, or had any involvement, with the Spiritualist movement (as I have), will know that they place importance on the post-mortem survival of the human personality, and on communication with said surviving personality.
One thing that struck me on re-reading Steiger's book is that whilst in relating some experiences he mentions this traditional view of ghosts, he never actually seems to espouse it, but merely states it as a viewpoint held by some. He relates the experiences of those who feel they've encountered ghosts, and often does so using very elaborate, emotive prose..yet he seems to be more supportive of the theories of psychical researchers such as H.H. Price, whose "psychic ether" is mentioned, and F.W.H. Myers, who is also quoted in the book.
Steiger seems to hold the view that a ghost is a memory-pattern, an idea-pattern, which, under the right circumstances, can be telepathically or extrasensorially accessed and "replayed". This of course is a possibility that modern-day psychical researchers and parapsychologists are familiar with too, and explore via their work. One statement Steiger makes at the start of the book, that I find rather significant, is this:
"Perhaps every old house, courtroom, hospital ward, apartment, railroad depot is 'haunted'. Any edifice which has been much used as a setting for human activity almost certainly has been saturated with memory traces of the entire gamut of emotions. But it may be this very multiplicity of mental images that works against the chance of a ghost popping up in every hotel room and depot lobby. An over-saturation of idea-patterns in the majority of homes and public places may have left only a kaleidoscopic mass of impressions which combine to produce the peculiar atmosphere one senses in so many places. It is only when an idea-pattern that has been supercharged with enormous psychic intensity finds the mental level of a percipient with the necessary degree of telepathic affinity that a real ghost can appear"
Whilst Steiger is not necessarily discussing the possibility that ideas and memories may be stored non-locally to a place, it was looking at that statement, and taking that possibility into account, that meant it made a great deal of sense to me.
Much of my thinking has changed since the last time I read Steiger's book. The 10-year-old me that first opened its' pages did not have the same considerations that the twenty-something me had. The twenty-something me that next opened it was vastly different from the me that exists now..but reading the book again, I can still perhaps recall what it was that drew those past versions of myself to read it..and can still recall those past versions of myself, and can see the changes that have occurred over time, and with learning and experiences.
10-year-old me was looking for some interesting, possibly true ghost stories, perhaps to confirm that I was far from the only person who had ever witnessed something unexplained or unusual..20-something me was perhaps seeking the same, but perhaps with a few additional considerations, as I was at that time quite close to starting my journey as a paranormal investigator. The me that opened the book again recently, so many years later, did so as a researcher (and an eternal student)..
There is a great deal of value to be found in revisiting old books- "old friends"- as it shows us not only how far we've come in the intervening time, but may also offer us further considerations or information that those past versions of ourselves may have overlooked.
Have you revisited any "old friends"? Have you learned something more from them?
Feel free to tell me in comments!