A Frightful History: Author P J Hodge Presents “The Ghost Hunter”

The Ghost HunterLast Tuesday’s blog explored the neurology of fear and introduced a 2000 year old horror story from Pliny the Younger. Despite its antiquity, this story (actually contained in a missive to an acquaintance by the prolific letter writer) exhibited remarkable 21st century elements. Today’s post is a short story titled “The Ghost Hunter.” Written by Paul Hodge, it is a modern take on storytelling in the gothic style. Notice the common elements with Pliny’s tale: the abandoned residence, unexplained occurrences and a man of doughty character determined to get to the bottom of whatever is going on.

As we saw in Pliny’s story, our attraction to frightening tales is connected to our brain chemistry, specifically the release of dopamine, the chemical associated with pleasure and reward. But there’s another facet to our delight in spine tinglers. Culture and collective history play a pivotal role in how individuals react to the supernatural.

Otherworldly beliefs are at the root of many religions from around the world. These beliefs can fall into categories such as “animatism, animism, ancestral spirits, gods or goddesses, and minor supernatural beings.”[1] Cultural mores and traditions also give rise to the supernatural. A sort of collective genre has grown through history as migrations, wars and trade have introduced these religious and cultural practices across the globe, practices that in turn have been absorbed and morphed as each culture contributes its own perspective.  Take a look at some examples.

A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o'-lantern from the early 20th century. Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. Image credit:  Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia

A traditional Irish turnip Jack-o’-lantern from the early 20th century. Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland. Image credit: Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia

You want to talk funhouses? The Ancient Egyptians knew how to construct tombs of terror to keep the scavengers away and safeguard the royal remains. They installed moving walls, mazes, pits, secret passages, falling rocks, snarly snakes and other frights that threatened life and limb. Things that go bump? Greek and Roman theater was characterized by productions designed to thrill.  Trap doors, fog and fake blood were standard, as were devices such as deus ex machina by which an actor playing a god was breathtakingly suspended above the scene (usually to intervene in a dilemma caused by pesky humans) and the ekkyklema or platform that enabled people (often as ghosts) and scenery to be rolled across the stage. Demons, witches and evil spirits?  As the conversion to Christianity took root in the Middle Ages, pagan influences remained, which was the case with Halloween. It was believed that spirits roamed freely on this fateful night. Turnips were carved in the form of demons to keep evil spirits away. After all, what better talisman is there than a turnip? (Interestingly, since the pumpkin was more abundant in America, it became the much more colorful and rotund symbol of nefarious spirits as the Halloween tradition crossed the pond.)

The Renaissance saw its own flourishing of spooky manifestations, as for example in Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a ghostly star turn by the Dane’s father, and with seers, witches and soothsayers all having their say throughout the Bard’s canon.  How about reanimation? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein drew from a persistent cross-cultural trope related to raising the dead and has forever ensconced itself in popular culture. Today we have zombies, vampires, deadly viruses and alien incursions to obsess over. And that’s just a short list of how throughout history, against all common sense and scientific advances, our species has scared itself senseless.

PJ Hodge continues this ancient tradition by conjuring up a story with many of the aforementioned elements. So sit back, enjoy the read and don’t pay any attention to those scratching noises at your window and that dragging sound in the attic. It’s probably just your imagination.

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The Ghost Hunter

other2I don’t belong to any society, but I take a great interest in what are called occult mysteries. I pursue my investigations in my own way, and not long ago was on the lookout for a haunted house. I had an open mind on the subject of hauntings: all I wanted was to prove the truth one way or another. I heard after some research of a house in the northern outskirts of London — there are many lonely places about there. I arranged with the agent to have the use of the house for a week. He assured me it was quite empty — not even a caretaker was in it. No one, of course, would come near it, as the belief in its being haunted was profound, and the whole neighbourhood shunned it.

This looked eligible. I departed one evening, in high spirits, for my solitary vigil. Of course, there was a murder connected with the house, but the exact nature of the haunting I had never been able to get at. To discover this would be part of my work. It was early autumn, at the moonless part of the month, so that the nights were dark, but not cold, and I needed no fire. I supplied myself with food and light.

The house looked decidedly gruesome — in a melancholy state of dilapidation, windows broken, shutters off their hinges, the doorsteps green with damp; the garden was a wilderness. However, I have a large fund of animal spirits, I am the right side of forty, and my life has been an easy one; I am not, therefore, a person of moods or ready depression. I explored my temporary possession unscared by the rush of rats and mice and the cracking of loose flooring. Fortunately I found some old furniture — useless even to the poorest second-hand dealer — scattered about the house; some of this — a few chairs and a table — I brought down into one of the rooms that seemed best to serve my purpose.

What was I going to do? You — if you are uninitiated — may ask. Why, sit up for a ghost? — or an appearance, hallucination — what you like to call it. It sounds funny; I can quite see that; and you may think that if I saw anything it wouldn’t prove much. Somebody else, of course, would explain it away. But, anyhow, here I was.

It wasn’t my cue to remain in one place. The ghost — or hallucination — might be disporting itself in one part while I waited in the other, and we should thus be dodging each other — a sort of hide and seek. So I roamed about up and down very much as if I had been the perturbed spirit. Everywhere I heard creaks, groanings, flappings — no wonder the place was believed to be haunted. I am certain every plank had the dry rot in it. I had some supper and enjoyed it; a spirit stove supplied me with hot coffee — my only drink.

Then I composed myself on two chairs. I may have dozed; I remember thinking the silence oppressive, and then suddenly starting up at some sound below. What was it?

No doubt I ought to have gone to the door and looked out, and perhaps called out, to see what or who was there; but I stood still. If you shout out rudely to a — well, a ghost — you destroy your own purpose. This may have been my reflection — I don’t say it was. So I waited — as any scientific man would.

Why did I attach any particular importance to this sound? Well, it was different from all I had heard — like somebody groping in the dark. A ghost wouldn’t grope, you object; ghosts are familiar with the dark. Exactly; that’s quite right; but it didn’t occur to me at the time.

A door closed — I’m sure it did ; and there was a door shutting off the passage leading from my room to the rest of the house. I fancied, too, the key was turned — but this must have been fancy.

What was it — who? A stealthy step came right up to my door, paused — good heavens! A ghost at such close quarters! It came in — it — he — something! I fell back in my chair.

I heard a laugh, then something cold touched me on the forehead. A hand — a ghostly hand, of course — I thought wildly, then opened my eyes.

“You keep still and I won’t hurt you,” said a gruff voice. “Looking after ghosts, was you? Well, I’m the ghost — a rum sort, as I wants that there watch of yours.”

I am no more deficient in courage than most men — I had thought I was more efficient in the matter of nerves. But with a knife at your side it is necessary for the most courageous to temporise. I cursed myself for a fool in coming to this lonely place unarmed.

“Look here, my good friend,” I began.

“Oh, Lord! Stow that! Good friend, indeed! Fork out that there watch.”

I did not wear a guard; my watch was carried loose in my vest pocket. It was a valuable gold one; worse still, a gift.

“You may as well remove your dagger,” I said. “I have no weapon.”

“You’ve got ‘ands ain’t yer? You might floor me. Got any money? Fork out that, too.”

I had some gold about me. I handed that out—there was no help for it. I hoped it might appease the wretch’s desire for my watch. How in the fiend’s name did he know I was here? Had that idiot of an agent been blabbing? I didn’t mean to lose my life for my watch, but I did mean to make a try for both. I said carelessly:

“That is a trifle of money. I have plenty more, though not about me. The watch is of more value to me than it could be to you.”

I did not think my assailant was a regular burglar; he did not look like it; and no burglar would come to a deserted house on the chance of a ghost-hunter being unarmed. The man was probably one of the bad characters every neighbourhood possesses.

“You think I’m a goin’ to trust you, do yer?” he demanded sneeringly. ” No; I ain’t then. You just give me that there ticker and I’ll clear out, and you can look after yer ghosts again. Yer didn’t think to meet such a ghost as me?”

He guffawed. I, in silent dignity, measured my chances of knocking the knife out of his hand and freeing myself. But he was a confoundedly cautious fellow — he never once released his hold on the weapon. And who was to know if I were murdered in this desolate place?

Disdaining invective, I drew out the watch. He seized it. “My eye!” he said. “Ain’t that a winner, and no mistake!”

“Since you have got all of value I possess about me,” I observed politely, “perhaps you will do me the favour to withdraw.”

“All right, guv’nor. You won’t come a-lookin’ after them blooming spirits again in a ‘urry, will yer? Lord! Ain’t this ‘ere a plant. Well, I’ll be off. Much obliged, sir, for what you’ve guv me. Good-night, and I ‘opes you may find a ghost as won’t want bread and cheese.”

With which facetious adieu he retired, but still retaining the knife in his hand. I heard him unlock — yes, I’m certain now of that — the passage door. It slammed, and I was alone.

I’m afraid I swore extensively — swearing is an awful relief, and I was as mad as I could be. If only I hadn’t been such a craven fool when I heard those sounds I could have kept my money, my watch, and my self-respect. As it was, I hated myself; I hadn’t a penny to get back to town, and I quailed at the chorus of fun in the papers. Catch me running after ghosts again! After all, how would my solitary experience prove any truth? Hang the truth!

I tramped it home. Fortunately, I am a bachelor, and have no inquisitive wife to want to know. I made cautious inquiries of the agent if anything could have been known of my eccentric tenancy of the haunted home; I didn’t wish the newspapers to get hold of it, I explained.

“Oh, dear, no, sir!” replied the gent, with overmuch zeal. “I quite understand how unpleasant you’d find it. No, sir; I give you my word I haven’t told anyone.”

“Thank you, and I trust you will keep it that way.”

“Yes — yes indeed, sir. But tell me, did your visit not prove fruitful in any way?” he asked in a hopeful tone.

I thought quickly and decided it best that I should say little concerning my stay.

“Shame —shame about that. We’ve had a few recently and all claim to have seen it — him, I suppose.”

“Who?” I enquired. There was a sudden shortening in my breathing.

“That villain, the one in the papers. Got caught he did!”

“Sorry, my good man, of whom are you referring?”

“Jack, Jack —,” he paused and rubbed his chin, “Well, I’ll be blown — can’t remember his second name. Still, no matter, he’s been spotted in the place. A few overnighters have told me that. And you have to chuckle — don’t suppose there are many places that have a burglar for a ghost!”


*As a public service, AntiquityNOW would like to provide a link to an article that may be of interest to our readers entitled 16 Signs That Your House Is Haunted.  You’re welcome.

Paul Hodge left London and came to reside in Hampshire armed with the collected works of MR James, Kate Bush and Nigel Kneale. He now trawls the dusky corners of the country seeking stories to entertain (and scare). These form part of his own collected works and blog, Freaky Folk Tales. Visit his website to purchase his newest book Ghosts and Other Supernatural Guests, which recently received the award for Gothic Read of the Year.

References

http://www.americahaunts.com/ah/2014/03/the-history-of-haunted-houses/

http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/greekliterature/a/aa081099tragedy.htm

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olantern-history

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/jack-olantern-history

Footnotes

[1] Anthropology of Religion:  Common Elements of Religion. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2014.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! An Ancient Roman Salad

salad-164685_640This week we’re bringing you a recipe straight out of ancient Rome. The Columella Salad, named for its author, Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, is the perfect side dish and would fit easily on any modern menu. Yet it was created in the first century CE! Full of scrumptious, fresh ingredients, this salad is light, tasty and ancient.

Columella was a Roman soldier and farmer who was much more interested in writing about the agriculture of the Roman Empire than he was in advancing its borders in battle. He wrote extensively about the subject in his 12 books, De Re Rustica and in his other work De Arboribus. [1] His books include information about everything from wild plants to gardening and even animal husbandry. When you’re spending all of your time studying ingredients, you’re bound to come up with a few recipes, and that’s exactly what Columella did. Today’s recipe is plucked from the pages of De Re Rustica.

Romans loved salads. Columella’s writings suggest the Romans were much like we are today in their search for delicious and inventive salad combinations.[2] A main ingredient in all of these recipes was salt. In fact, the word salad comes from the Latin word sal, meaning salt. The Romans didn’t call their combinations of fresh vegetables and herbs salad, but they knew they were on to something important. Actually, the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans both believed salads were healthy. The physicians Hippocrates and Galen stated that “raw vegetables easily slipped through the system and did not create obstructions for what followed, therefore they should be served first.”[3] Of course, there was some debate over when exactly the salad should be served because others said that the vinegar in the dressing “diluted the flavor of the wine” and so the salad should always be served last.[4] Regardless of when it was served, it had to have a delicious dressing. Oil, vinegar and even brine were poured over the salted veggies.[5]

Today we like to load our salads up with meat, cheese, fruits, nuts and the creamiest, fattiest dressings we can find, but let’s not forget the simple tastiness of a salad as designed and approved by the ancient Romans. Tonight instead of serving a house salad to start, serve the Columella salad and share a timeless flavor.

Columella’s Salad

Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella.

Portrait of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella.

*Adapted from Patrick Faas.

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ ounces of fresh mint (and/or pennyroyal)
  • 1 ½ ounces of fresh coriander
  • 1 ½ ounces of fresh parsley
  • 1 small leek
  • a sprig of fresh thyme
  • 7 ounces of salted fresh cheese
  • vinegar
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place the mint, coriander, parsley, leek, thyme and cheese in a mortar and grind it all together.
  2. Stir in a mixture of peppered oil and vinegar.
  3. Place the salad on a plate and serve.

 

[1] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (Roman author). Retrieved October 9, 2014.

[2] Faas, P. (n.d.). Eight ancient Roman recipes from Around the Roman Table : Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome. Retrieved October 9, 2014.

[3] Katz, S. (2003). Encyclopedia of food and culture. New York: Scribner.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ayto, J. (2002). An A-Z of food and drink. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Why We Love to Be Scared: Dopamine, Genes and a 2,000 Year Old Horror Story

Image credit: Barbara on Flickr.

Image credit: Barbara on Flickr.

It’s that time of year again.  Halloween.  What is it about houses moaning with restless spirits and apparitions rising from graveyard mists that so intrigue us? Today we have movies, TV shows, video games and books regaling us with the most horror-filled scenarios. Dystopias with—name your monster—demons and vampires and zombies threatening to eradicate our species (as if we don’t do a good enough job on our own).  There are possessions, evil twins, vivified dolls and deranged clowns. We even have self-proclaimed ghost hunters with their own “reality” shows and the ad revenues, market penetration and viewer numbers demonstrating that scary stuff really can rake in the dough. Why is it we are so enthralled and terrified by the supernatural? Continue reading

Girl Be Heard and AntiquityNOW present Generations: Voices of Women From Antiquity to Modern Day

AN News GreyIn association with AntiquityNOW, Girl Be Heard will be presenting Generations on Wednesday, October 22 at 6:30 pm at the East 4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, New York, NY as part of their workshop series for the 2014-15 theater season. Generations is being performed during the Estrogenius Festival 2014.

Generations is an ensemble performance devised by Girl Be Heard Company Members in collaboration with women and girls, ages 17 to 61.  This is the first show in Girl Be Heard’s history that has brought together women of all ages to research, discuss and write about women across history.  This inter-generational laboratory reveals stories of resiliency, both personal and historic. Continue reading

Don’t Miss Out! Second Call for Entries for 2015 LegacyQuest International Film and Video Festival for Tweens

Letter of Intent Deadline- December 12, 2014

Final Entry Submission Deadline- February 27, 2015

View our invitational video below and scroll down for details about the festival and how your students can get involved!



LegacyQuest large logo blue border

AntiquityNOW (AN) and Archaeological Legacy Institute (ALI) announce a call for entries for the 2015 LegacyQuest International Children’s Film and Video Festival. Held in conjunction with The Archaeology Channel’s (TAC) International Film and Video Festival, May 15-19, 2015 in Eugene, Oregon, the LegacyQuest festival invites young learners to explore how the ancient past influences their lives today through visual storytelling. The competition is open to students between the ages of 12 and 15 (6th – 8th grades) in the United States and abroad. To be eligible for consideration, films must be five minutes in length, produced in 2014 or 2015 and focus on subject matter related to antiquity’s legacy. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Tempura Fried Maple Leaves

maple-leaves-61798_640They’re everywhere! Autumn leaves are falling, falling, falling and collecting in great, heaping, colorful piles all over lawns, roofs, streets and sidewalks. Beautiful and vibrant for sure, but what to do with so many little pieces of autumn? Most of the time we just bag them up and throw them away, but today we’re giving you another option. Courtesy of Japan, we bring you Fried Maple Leaves! There are accounts that these leaves have been eaten for thousands of years in Japan, but since tempura only arrived in the 16th century, the truth is they’ve probably been around for a little over 500 years. We’re bringing you an updated modern version created by James Wong, a chef who wanted to try the treat, but was nowhere near Japan. His version is made with maple leaves, pumpkin and fig. Continue reading

AntiquityNOW Introduces the Education Topic Matrix

Education Topic Matrix FinalAntiquityNOW is pleased to announce the launch of our Education Topic Matrix, an index of content for educators to use as supplements to their classroom curricula. This matrix includes all our blog posts, Kids’ Blog posts, educational projects, videos, creative writing, arts and crafts, curricula as well as our partner projects, organized by region and era. It’s cross-indexed, covers a wide variety of subjects, is easy to search and is organized under headings that teachers can readily recognize.  And the best part? It’s completely free. Continue reading

In Praise of Teachers—4,000 Years of Preparing the Next Generation

dPIAUPDATE! This post was originally published on May 7, 2013.  As long as humans have existed, people have learned from one another. It’s in our DNA. This is the genetic matrix upon which great civilizations evolved and centers of knowledge arose. For those who become the teachers, they take on the mantle of an ancient and noble art. AntiquityNOW is an enthusiastic supporter of teachers and their contributions through the often tumultuous but ever intriguing course of history. In that spirit we will be announcing on Tuesday, October 14 a very special resource tool specifically designed for teachers that can help them demonstrate to their students how the ancient past is not as distant as they may think. Stay tuned!

For more about inspiring and influential educators throughout history, check out our slideshow celebrating World Teachers’ Day 2013.

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Who was your favorite teacher or professor?  Can you still remember his or her lectures, an activity you did in class, a lesson that changed the way you think about the world?  Great teachers make an indelible mark on their students and are often remembered long after those students leave the classroom.  In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, we take a look back at some of antiquity’s greatest educators and how we continue to use their teachings and methods today. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Easy, No-Bake Cookies with Quinoa, the Incas’ “Mother of all Grains”

1024px-QuinuaLast week we celebrated ancient amaranth, superfood of the Aztecs. So this week we decided to explore another ancient “grain” that sustained a great civilization. Quinoa was to the Incas what amaranth was to the Aztecs: a source of strength and life. And just like amaranth, quinoa isn’t really a grain at all. It is a seed from a plant in the goosefoot family, and along with amaranth and buckwheat is often called a “pseudocereal” because it is grown for use as a grain.[1] Let’s take a trip through quinoa’s history before indulging in a delectable recipe for easy, gluten-free, dairy-free, No-Bake Quinoa Cookies. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Take a Trip Through an Ancient Roman Kitchen

KitchenWhat would it be like to cook and eat in an ancient Roman kitchen?  Would there even be a stove or an oven?  Did these ancient people have any way to keep their food cold?  Did they have a sink or running water?

Archaeologists, led by Professor Jeroen Poblome, digging at a site in Turkey, have discovered a nearly 2,000 year old kitchen in the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Sagalassos.  Originally part of the expanded Roman Empire, this city is located in the southwestern part of today’s Turkey.  Professor Marc Waelkens and his team from Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium had been digging in this site since 1990, painstakingly uncovering the hidden city.   Poblome’s team has joined them, and the archaeologists were delighted this summer to uncover a kitchen dating as early as 200 CE.[1] Continue reading