D. J. McAdam

Where the World Goes for Free Advice

Of Specters Which Haunt Houses

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]

haunted house

There are several kinds of specters or ghosts which haunt certain houses, make noises, appear there, and disturb those who live in them: some are sprites, or elves, which divert themselves by troubling the quiet of those who dwell there; others are specters or ghosts of the dead, who molest the living until they have received sepulture: some of them, as it is said, make the place their purgatory; others show themselves or make themselves heard, because they have been put to death in that place, and ask that their death may be avenged, or that their bodies may be buried. So many stories are related concerning those things that now they are not cared for, and nobody will believe any of them. In fact, when these pretended apparitions are thoroughly examined into, it is easy to discover their falsehood and illusion.

Now, it is a tenant who wishes to decry the house in which he resides, to hinder others from coming who would like to take his place; then a band of coiners have taken possession of a dwelling, whose interest it is to keep their secret from being found out; or a farmer who desires to retain his farm, and wishes to prevent others from coming to offer more for it; in this place it will be cats or owls, or even rats, which by making a noise frighten the master and domestics, as it happened some years ago at Mosheim, where large rats amused themselves in the night by moving and setting in motion the machines with which the women bruise hemp and flax. An honest man who related it to me, desiring to behold the thing nearer, mounted up to the garret armed with two pistols, with his servant armed in the same manner. After a moment of silence, they saw the rats begin their game; they let fire upon them, killed two, and dispersed the rest. The circumstance was reported in the country and served as an excellent joke.

I am about to relate some of these spectral apparitions upon which the reader will pronounce judgment for himself. Pliny the younger says that there was a very handsome mansion at Athens which was forsaken on account of a specter which haunted it. The philosopher Athenodorus, having arrived in the city, and seeing a board which informed the public that this house was to be sold at a very low price, bought it and went to sleep there with his people. As he was busy reading and writing during the night, he heard on a sudden a great noise, as if of chains being dragged along, and perceived at the same time something like a frightful old man loaded with iron chains, who drew near to him. Athenodorus continuing to write, the specter made him a sign to follow him; the philosopher in his turn made signs to him to wait, and continued to write; at last he took his light and followed the specter, who conducted him into the court of the house, then sank into the ground and disappeared.

Athenodorus, without being frightened, tore up some of the grass to mark the spot, and on leaving it, went to rest in his room. The next day he informed the magistrates of what had happened; they came to the house and searched the spot he designated, and there found the bones of a human body loaded with chains. They caused him to be properly buried, and the dwelling house remained quiet.

Lucian relates a very similar story. There was, says he, a house at Corinth which had belonged to one Eubatides, in the quarter named Cranaüs: a man named Arignotes undertook to pass the night there, without troubling himself about a specter which was said to haunt it. He furnished himself with certain magic books of the Egyptians to conjure the specter. Having gone into the house at night with a light, he began to read quietly in the court. The specter appeared in a little while, taking sometimes the shape of a dog, then that of a bull, and then that of a lion. Arignotes very composedly began to pronounce certain magical invocations, which he read in his books, and by their power forced the specter into a corner of the court, where he sank into the earth and disappeared.

The next day Arignotes sent for Eubatides, the master of the house, and having had the ground dug up where the phantom had disappeared, they found a skeleton, which they had properly interred, and from that time nothing more was seen or heard.

It is Lucian, that is to say, the man in the world the least credulous concerning things of this kind, who makes Arignotes relate this event. In the same passage he says that Democritus, who believed in neither angels, nor demons, nor spirits, having shut himself up in a tomb without the city of Athens, where he was writing and studying, a party of young men, who wanted to frighten him, covered themselves with black garments, as the dead are represented, and having taken hideous disguises, came in the night, shrieking and jumping around the place where he was; he let them do what they liked, and without at all disturbing himself, coolly told them to have done with their jesting.

I know not if the historian who wrote the life of St. Germain l'Auxerrois had in his eye the stories we have just related, and if he did not wish to ornament the life of the saint by a recital very much like them. The saint traveling one day through his diocese, was obliged to pass the night with his clerks in a house forsaken long before on account of the spirits which haunted it. The clerk who read to him during the night saw on a sudden a specter, which alarmed him at first; but having awakened the holy bishop, the latter commanded the specter in the name of Jesus Christ to declare to him who he was, and what he wanted. The phantom told him that he and his companion had been guilty of several crimes; that having died and been interred in that house, they disturbed those who lodged there until the burial rites should have been accorded them. St. Germain commanded him to point out where their bodies were buried, and the specter led him thither. The next day he assembled the people in the neighborhood; they sought amongst the ruins of the building where the brambles had been disturbed, and they found the bones of two men thrown in a heap together, and also loaded with chains; they were buried, prayers were said for them, and they returned no more.

If these men were wretches dead in crime and impenitence, all this can be attributed only to the artifice of the devil, to show the living that the reprobate take pains to procure rest for their bodies by getting them interred, and to their souls by getting them prayed for. But if these two men were Christians who had expiated their crimes by repentance, and who died in communion with the church, God might permit them to appear, to ask for clerical sepulture and those prayers which the church is accustomed to say for the repose of defunct persons who die while yet some slight fault remains to be expiated.

Here is a fact of the same kind as those which precede, but which is attended by circumstances which may render it more credible. It is related by Antonio Torquemada, in his work entitled Flores Curiosas, printed at Salamanca in 1570. He says that a little before his own time, a young man named Vasquez de Ayola, being gone to Bologna with two of his companions to study the law there, and not having found such a lodging in the town as they wished to have, lodged themselves in a large and handsome house, which was abandoned by everybody, because it was haunted by a specter which frightened away all those who wished to live in it; they laughed at such discourse, and took up their abode there.

At the end of a month, as Ayola was sitting up alone in his chamber, and his companions sleeping quietly in their beds, he heard at a distance a noise as of several chains dragged along upon the ground, and the noise advanced towards him by the great staircase; he recommended himself to God, made the sign of the cross, took a shield and sword, and having his taper in his hand, he saw the door opened by a terrific specter that was nothing but bones, but loaded with chains. Ayola conjured him, and asked him what he wished for; the phantom signed to him to follow, and he did so; but as he went down the stairs, his light blew out; he went back to light it, and then followed the spirit, which led him along a court where there was a well. Ayola feared that he might throw him into it, and stopped short. The specter beckoned to him to continue to follow him; they entered the garden, where the phantom disappeared. Ayola tore up some handfuls of grass upon the spot, and returning to the house, related to his companions what had happened. In the morning he gave notice of this circumstance to the Principals of Bologna.

They came to reconnoiter the spot, and had it dug up; they found there a fleshless body, but loaded with chains. They inquired who it could be, but nothing certain could be discovered, and the bones were interred with suitable obsequies, and from that time the house was never disquieted by such visits. Torquemada asserts that in his time there were still living at Bologna and in Spain some who had been witnesses of the fact; and that on his return to his own country, Ayola was invested with a high office, and that his son, before this narration was written, was President in a good city of the kingdom (of Spain).

Plautus, still more ancient than either Lucian or Pliny, composed a comedy entitled "Mostellaria," or "Monstellaria," a name derived from "Monstrum," or "Monstellum," from a monster, a specter, which was said to appear in a certain house, and which on that account had been deserted. We agree that the foundation of this comedy is only a fable, but we may deduce from it the antiquity of this idea among the Greeks and Romans.

The poet makes this pretended spirit say that, having been assassinated about sixty years before by a perfidious comrade who had taken his money, he had been secretly interred in that house; that the god of Hades would not receive him on the other side of Acheron, as he had died prematurely; for which reason he was obliged to remain in that house of which he had taken possession.

"Hæc mihi dedita habitatio;
Nam me Acherontem recipere noluit,
Quia præmaturè vitâ careo."

The pagans, who had the simplicity to believe that the Lamiæ and evil spirits disquieted those who dwelt in certain houses and certain rooms, and who slept in certain beds, conjured them by magic verses, and pretended to drive them away by fumigations composed of sulfur and other stinking drugs, and certain herbs mixed with sea water. Ovid, speaking of Medea, that celebrated magician, says—

"Terque senem flammâ, ter aquâ, ter sulphure lustrat."
 

And elsewhere he adds eggs:—

"Adveniat quæ lustret anus lectumque locumque,
Deferat et tremulâ sulfur et ova manu."

 In addition to this they adduce the instance of the archangel Raphael, who drove away the devil Asmodeus from the chamber of Sarah by the smell of the liver of a fish which he burnt upon the fire. But the instance of Raphael ought not to be placed along with the superstitious ceremonies of magicians, which were laughed at by the pagans themselves; if they had any power, it could only be by the operation of the demon with the permission of God; whilst what is told of the archangel Raphael is certainly the work of a good spirit, sent by God to cure Sarah the daughter of Raguel, who was as much distinguished by her piety as the magicians are degraded by their malice and superstition.

 

Continued