Friday, October 9, 2020

Ghosts Through The Ages: Part 1

The spirits that tormented our ancestors had a lot more bite than they do in the 21st century. 


Think of a ghost and chances are you’re going to think of something ethereal and barely visible, a phantom-like creature that can pass through walls and knock books off shelves. In other words, you’re going to imagine something similar to what you’d see in the movie Paranormal Activity or the television series Ghost Hunters. Shadow-like spirits move through houses when people are sleeping or creep from room to room in uninhabited buildings.

Hence, the title of the television show—Ghost Hunters. It implies we have to hunt the ghosts.

This wasn’t always the case.

This viewpoint of spirits who come back from the dead as insubstantial wisps of smoke didn’t become conventional until the Victorian era. Before that, you didn’t have to go looking for the dead. They came looking for you and usually with a vengeance. They also didn’t come back as transparent pranksters.

They came back in the flesh.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Go a few centuries back in time, to the country of Romania and you’ll discover these folks had a different way of seeing the dead. They believed there were moroi (benevolent spirits) and stigoi (malevolent spirits). The benign spirits of dead ancestors were often welcomed into homes and offered a meal—something you can’t do unless the spirit has visited you in corporeal form. Over time, this form of wraith evolved into what we now call vampires or zombies.

Meanwhile, in Iceland, the Vikings had their own form of the returning dead—the draugar. With either white or black skin, these spirits often came back from the tomb for vengeance. Read through the Sagas of Icelanders, written from the 9th to the 14th centuries A.D., and you’ll discover a host of tales that depict these vindictive “ghosts” who caused physical harm those who stumbled across their path.

Ghost Stories

During the 12th to the 15th century, the telling of ghost stories was darker and fiercer, with tales of the returning dead sounding like a modern-day script for Friday the 13th. Churchmen, courtiers and monks, from both England and Germany, joined in, writing about local ghosts. A Yorkshire canon named William of Newburgh (1136-1198) penned medieval stories about ghosts who assaulted people in order to drink their blood, and corpses that came back from the tomb. An English courtier of King Henry II, Walter Map (1140-1210) also wrote about physical creatures that came back from the dead to drink blood. Another tale—told by a 14th century monk—tells of James Tankerlay, a renowned spirit who came back from the dead and attacked his former lover, putting out one of her eyes.

At this point in history, our written folklore recounted tales of ghosts with physical bodies. These spirits fought with humans, drank alcohol and ate meals. They refused to stay in their graves, choosing instead to rise up and paint the town red—preferably with the blood of the living. As a result, villagers often dug up rotting bodies, then performed unusual ceremonies on the remains, sometimes beheading bodies, sometimes staking them, burning them or chopping them to bits—all acts we now correlate with vampires.

Note: Written by Merrie Destefano and originally published in Halloween magazine. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

Also, if you'd like to get in the Halloween spirit, check out this sample audio for my upcoming Audible book, SHADE: A RE-IMAGINING OF MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN...

SHADE: Frankenstein meets Dracula in this Gothic retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic tale.
"Beautiful and atmospheric."—5 star review

AND stay up to date with all of my new releases by following me on BOOKBUB.


AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR AND ARTIST, Merrie Destefano studied art at Northern Illinois University, met her husband at a kazoo parade, laughs at all jokes, and ugly cries during corny movies. Her books have been published by HarperCollins, Entangled Teen, Walter Foster, and Ruby Slippers Press, and, most likely, she's writing her next book while you're reading this. Born in the Midwest, she now lives in Southern California, where she runs on caffeine, and shares her home with rescue dogs and cats.

Her writing awards include:
• 2010 Mount Hermon Writer of the Year
• 2019 Realm Award for Supernatural/Horror: Shade: A Re-Imagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
• 2019 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, Silver Medal Winner: Shade: A Re-Imagining of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
• 2019 YARWA Athena Award, Second Place: YA/NA Speculative Fiction for Valiant.

You can visit her website here.

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