It took me awhile to get into this book. Crowe has a very definite outline to her book. She starts by focusing on the dreams of people, and how they may be able to foretell events, from this she looks at ghosts or spirits of the recently dead visiting people in dreams, then to apparitions visiting people when awake, and then appearing to people not just at the time of the death to say goodbye but as regular hauntings of either people or places. She recounts the stories of many different people, from several different decades, whether she speaks of people she's talked to directly or accounts she's read. It is worth mentioning that while many of the people in the accounts are frightened of the specters not once do the ghosts cause any harm to anyone. At worse they just exist and foretell of someone else's death, and at best they often lead someone to buried treasure. They do nothing in anyway to injure the person, but often are just visiting a loved one with whom they wish to see one more time before moving on.

After the discussion of English ghosts she then goes on to discuss ideas of different types of ghosts found in Germany. Here she discusses, in what is the largest single tale of the book, a ghost who requests prayer, in this case a Catholic asking for prayer from Lutherans for his departed soul. (Interesting as it's a 19th century occurrence and the existence of ghosts in Europe from the time of the reformation was used in arguments for and against purgatory by Catholics and Protestants). The ghost visits women in a prison, and is a very interesting tale. After this she goes on to look at poltergeists, who do seem to cause distress to their victims. According to the introduction this is the first time the German idea of Poltergeists was introduced to England. She says how they are not spirits of the departed but troublesome spirits. She also goes on to talk about demon possession and how it has been cured through magnetism.

This is a very interesting look at mid 19th century ghost stories. Also to see how science was influencing such beliefs. While deriding people who were skeptical for the sake of skepticism Crowe wanted to find a proper scientific explanation for the existence of souls after death. It was interesting to see how things like static electricity were considered examples of the spirit world. There was a deep sense of questing for knowledge and explanation in the work, rather than dismissal of the stories as simply stories. As such it was not just an interesting look at ghosts and the beliefs in ghost-seers of the time, but also about mesmerism, magnetism and the power of electricity.

One thing that struck me towards the end in her discussion of possession, was a case of an Algerian man using a form of divination strikingly similar to that used in China by Taoist exorcists during the Tang dynasty (600-900CE). In this case the man took boys around 11 and poured ink into their hand and had them use the ink to see other places.

While overall I think I prefer the older books I have read on accounts of the supernatural this was an interesting look at Victorian ghosts. With so many of the local sources now being available as searchable online databases I found myself fantasising about doing research onto what type of stories and what was believed and reported about ghosts in the 19th century and how this was different from previous eras.


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