Throughout history, all human cultures have wondered at their origin and their ultimate destiny. All have developed unique, often divine belief systems to explain our origin and all have developed a fear of, reverence to and respect for our ultimate destiny, whatever that turns out to be. Hallowe’en is a chance to confront our fears head on and, while we’re at it, do something practical too. Unlike our Victorian ancestors…
Never mind ‘Most Haunted’. Forget ‘Ghosts Caught on Tape’. If you wanted the most garish, ghostly, gleefully gloomy experience you’d have to head back to 1840 ish, where a few knocks on the wall, a wisp of smoke on a fuzzy camera or a screaming, hysterical presenter would have been rightly viewed with scorn.
The Victorians seemed to take great delight in denying themselves any pleasure at all while simultaneously heightening their sense of physical and mental discomfort via restrictive, uniformed clothing, an obsession with melancholia and other, worse methods. In 1843, just before Christmas, Charles Dickens rightly sensed the prevailing mood and released ‘A Christmas Carol’ in serial form; the Victorian audience longed for the combined thrills that the book provided. Christmas potentially ruined, poor family soldiering on proudly together, bad-man-learns-lesson via judgmental ghosts and changes his ways, society balances again.
It was in the same era that fakers, frauds and charlatans saw another different yet related opportunity. Victorian people believed fervently in life after death and, furthermore, that the realm of the dead was accessible to the living via necromancers, spiritists, clairvoyants, mediums and sensitives.
All of these titles and countless more all amounted to more or less the same thing and can be thought of as as single title; illusionists. The David Blaines, Dynamos, Penns and Tellers of their day, Victorian charlatans hosted séances where the dead were contacted and their ghosts produced visibly and audibly. They levitated, produced ectoplasm from nowhere and never pushed the glass when the ouija board was out. And they charged a premium fee for the service.
Lighting at such gatherings was necessarily kept low and atmospheric: oil and paraffin lamps silently belched out carbon monoxide. Inhaling too much of the stuff causes hallucinations; a fact that almost certainly helped many a séance goer to ‘see’ levitation and ‘hear’ table rapping.
How much have we learned since then? A lot, surely. Well, yes and no. Hallucinations caused by CO inhalation are still a very real threat and any fuel-burning appliance can potentially emit The gas. A detector is the ONLY way to be safe and the good news is that they are reliable and readily available. Right here, right now, no excuses.
Have a happy Horrid Halloween!!