Wednesday, October 03, 2012



In Elliot O'Donnell's 1911 tome "BYWAYS OF GHOST LAND" (now in the public domain), the author peruses all sorts of ghostly phenomena just right for Halloween reading so I thought a few excerpts here and there wouldn't go amiss.  First up we have some ghostly hijinx from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales:


It has been suggested that banshees are guardian spirits and evil genii; but I do not think so, for whereas one or other of the two latter phantasms (sometimes both) are in constant attendance on man, banshees only visit certain families before a catastrophe about to happen in those families, or before the death of a member of those families. As to their origin, little can be said, for little is at present known. Some say their attachment to a family is due to some crime perpetrated by a member of that family in the far dim past, whilst others attribute it to the fact that certain classes and races in bygone times dabbled in sorcery, thus attracting the elementals, which have haunted them ever since. Others, again, claim that banshees are mere thought materialisations handed down from one generation to another. But although no one knows the origin and nature of a banshee, the statements of those who have actually experienced these hauntings should surely carry far more weight and command more attention than the statements of those who only speak from hearsay; for it is, after all, only the sensation of actual experience that can guide us in the study of this subject; and, perhaps, through our "sensations" alone, the key to it will one day be found. A phantasm produces an effect on us totally unlike any that can be produced by physical agency--at least such is my experience--hence, for those who have never come in contact with the unknown to pronounce any verdict on it, is to my mind both futile and absurd. Of one thing, at least, I am sure, namely, that banshees are no more thought materialisations than they are cats--neither are they in any way traceable to telepathy or suggestion; they are entirely due to objective spirit forms. I do not base this assertion on a knowledge gained from other people's experiences--and surely the information thus gained cannot properly be termed knowledge--but from the sensations I myself, as a member of an old Irish clan, have experienced from the hauntings of the banshee--the banshee that down through the long links of my Celtic ancestry, through all vicissitudes, through all changes of fortune, has followed us, and will follow us, to the end of time. Because it is customary to speak of an Irish family ghost by its generic title, the banshee, it must not be supposed that every Irish family possessing a ghost is haunted by the same phantasm--the same banshee.

In Ireland, as in other countries, family ghosts are varied and distinct, and consequently there are many and varying forms of the banshee. To a member of our clan, a single wail signifies the advent of the banshee, which, when materialised, is not beautiful to look upon. The banshee does not necessarily signify its advent by one wail--that of a clan allied to us wails three times. Another banshee does not wail at all, but moans, and yet another heralds its approach with music. When materialised, to quote only a few instances, one banshee is in the form of a beautiful girl, another is in the form of a hideous prehistoric hag, and another in the form of a head--only a head with rough matted hair and malevolent, bestial eyes.

Scottish Ghosts

When it is remembered that the ancestors of the Highlanders, i.e., the Picts and Scots, originally came from Ireland and are of Formosian and Milesian descent, it will be readily understood that their proud old clans--and rightly proud, for who but a grovelling money grubber would not sooner be descended from a warrior, elected chief, on account of his all-round prowess, than from some measly hireling whose instincts were all mercenary?--possess ghosts that are nearly allied to the banshee. The Airlie family, whose headquarters are at Cortachy Castle, is haunted by the phantasm of a drummer that beats a tattoo before the death of one of the members of the clan. There is no question as to the genuineness of this haunting, its actuality is beyond dispute. All sorts of theories as to the origin of this ghostly drummer have been advanced by a prying, inquisitive public, but it is extremely doubtful if any of them approach the truth. Other families have pipers that pipe a dismal dirge, and skaters that are seen skating even when there is no ice, and always before a death or great calamity.

English Family Ghosts

There are a few old English families, too, families who, in all probability, can point to Celtic blood at some distant period in their history, that possess family ghosts. I have, for example, stayed in one house where, prior to a death, a boat is seen gliding noiselessly along a stream that flows through the grounds. The rower is invariably the person doomed to die. A friend of mine, who was very sceptical in such matters, was fishing in this stream late one evening when he suddenly saw a boat shoot round the bend. Much astonished--for he knew it could be no one from the house--he threw down his rod and watched. Nearer and nearer it came, but not a sound; the oars stirred and splashed the rippling, foaming water in absolute silence. Convinced now that what he beheld was nothing physical, my friend was greatly frightened, and, as the boat shot past him, he perceived in the rower his host's youngest son, who was then fighting in South Africa. He did not mention the incident to his friends, but he was scarcely surprised when, in the course of the next few days, a cablegram was received with the tidings that the material counterpart of his vision had been killed in action.

A white dove is the harbinger of death to the Arundels of Wardour; a white hare to an equally well-known family in Cornwall. Corby Castle in Cumberland has its "Radiant Boy"; whilst Mrs E. M. Ward has stated, in her reminiscences, that a certain room at Knebworth was once haunted by the phantasm of a boy with long yellow hair, called "The Yellow Boy," who never appeared to anyone in it, unless they were to die a violent death, the manner of which death he indicated by a series of ghastly pantomimics. Other families, I am told, lay claim to phantom coaches, clocks, beds, ladies in white, and a variety of ghostly phenomena whose manifestations are always a sinister omen.
Welsh Ghosts

In addition to corpse-candles and blue lights, the Welsh, according to Mr Wirt Sykes, in his work, "British Goblins", pp. 212-216, possess a species of ill-omened ghost that is not, however, restricted to any one family, but which visits promiscuously any house or village prior to a death. Sometimes it flaps its leathern wings against the window of the room containing the sick person, and in a broken, howling tone calls upon the latter to give up his life; whilst, at other times, according to Mr Dyer in his "Ghost World", it actually materialises and appears in the form of an old crone with streaming hair and a coat of blue, when it is called the "Ellyllon," and, like the banshee, presages death with a scream. Again, when it is called the "Cyhyraeth," and is never seen, it foretells the death of the insane, or those who have for a long time been ill, by moaning, groaning, and rattling shutters in the immediate vicinity of the doomed person."

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