It was the day after Christmas, which in England is referred to as Boxing Day, when the Acting Vicar of St. Mary’s, a stately old church in the small hamlet of East Rudham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, had a most unusual encounter. It was so singular that the divine saw fit to report it to the local newspaper at the time.
The Rev R. Brock, was serving as Acting Vicar while the regular Vicar of the parish, the Reverend Dr. Astley, was away on a trip to Algeria with his wife. It was about tea-time and the Reverend Brock was relaxing in the vicarage, steeping in the holiday spirit, no doubt, when the housekeeper rushed in, all in a huff.
“Come and see Dr. Astley!” she said.
“See Dr. Astley?” he said.
“Yes, see Dr. Astley!” she replied.
The housekeeper, obviously disturbed, led the acing vicar into the study and bade him look out the window. Reverend Brock scanned the lawn without and saw nothing unusual, at which the housekeeper exclaimed,
“You are looking in the wrong direction! Look there,” pointing over to a wall outside which contained an alcove.
Gazing over in that direction, the acting vicar did indeed see something, although at first the full import of it did not strike him. He saw a “full presentment” of a clergyman with a Cuddesdon collar gleaming white in the gathering gloom. Reverend Brock turned about to look behind, remarking to the housekeeper, “it must be a reflection of myself,” but no sooner had he said so than he realized that that was impossible, since there was no manner in which his image could have been so reflected outside.
The vision from outside the study window was of a clergyman sitting at a table or desk with books before him. The acting vicar also observed that the person sitting there had a gold chain across his waistcoat—exactly how the Reverend Astley was known to wear his watch and chain. The young divine looked through the window several times, but the presentiment (for that’s what he took it to be) did not move. Then he went outside to get a better look at the figure against the wall. As he did so, the housekeeper informed him that that spot was where Reverend Astley was want to reside and read in the summertime. Both the Acting Vicar and the housekeeper knew that the apparition they were witnessing could not possibly be the vicar—since Dr. Astley and his wife had left for Algeria on December 10th and were still there, to the best of anyone’s knowledge.
The mysterious vision finally disappeared, but the mystery of its appearance that Yuletide afternoon only deepened when the parish community learned some time later that the Vicar and his wife died in a railroad accident in Algeria just about the same time as the vision.
These days the hamlet of East Rudham is even smaller than in the late vicar’s day, the railroad line having long since ceased its service to the village. If there is any answer to be found to the singular Vicar’s Presentiment of 1908, perhaps the village elders who hold court daily at the Cat and Fiddle near the village green may provide some solution. It would, at least, provide worthy conversation on a winter’s day. Merry Christmas all ye Christmas spirits!
In recent years, paranormal researchers have begun to take a closer look at the phenomena they call the BVM: the faithful refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Be one a believer or no, many serious researchers into unexplained phenomena are taking seriously the many sightings of this beatific female apparition. Today we take a closer look at one specific report of this Holy Ghost.
The arrival of the Magi—“we three kings from oriental”—who actually magicians or wizards and practitioners of the occult arts, came to pay homage to the birth of Christ, is celebrated in most Christian circles as the Feast of the Epiphany. It is traditionally dated to January 6, and in Merrie Oulde Englande it was called Little Christmas.
According to former custom, this was the actual day when gifts were exchanged, much as the Magi gave Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Epiphany was important because it was the first appearance of the Jewish Messiah to gentiles—the aforesaid non-Jewish sorcerers. Now anyone who wishes to celebrate the holiday properly can send this humble scrivener as much gold and incense for the Epiphany as they wish, although you can just go out and buy one or more of my books and get something in return for your generosity,
The Feast of the Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas according to our reckoning and a fit day to conclude the Twelve Ghosts of Christmas. In Anglo-Saxon England, Yuletide actually continued on through to February, with much wassail and ample quantities of ale; nowadays most of us have to get back to work and save the wassailing for Super Bowl Sunday; the ailing follows closely upon the hangover the next day. But I digress a bit here; for now, let us consider one last Christmastide apparition and then we shall close the book (or bell, book and candle) and hope the spirits rest in peace till next Yuletide.
Back to the BVM. There are many different sorts of apparitions, as we have amply seen. Some appear almost daily, as if they were on a loop of ghostly videotape set on infinite play; others occur just at certain times, as with most Christmas ghosts; but some apparitions appear just once or twice to deliver a message, then never again. Our last apparition is of that latter sort and while little known of in northern climes, it is widely celebrated further south.
In fact, this apparition occurred so far south that it was where folk didn’t speak English, and at the time it occurred, not even much Spanish. The spirit I refer to is Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe—the Virgin of Guadalupe. Today this particular spirit visitation is hailed as the patron saint of Mexico and indeed she is venerated as the patroness of the Americas as a whole.
The odds are, if you have ever been to an authentic Mexican restaurant here in the Northwards, an icon of her has been lurking somewhere on the walls. That she is wildly popular among Mexicans and those among us of Mexican heritage, goes without saying. Those among us who are not of that cultural heritage may be unaware of the unusual story behind this intense devotion. Even if you are not a believer in saints or religious miracles, the story of her apparition—haunting, if you will—is a curious, yet true, one.
It actually occurred not long after the Conquistadors conquered—some say plundered and raped—the native kingdoms of what is now Mexico. The Aztecs were a proud and warlike people, and the truth be told, no better than the Spaniards who defeated them. Among the other tribes and kingdoms of Mexico, the defeat of the Aztecs was greeted as something of a relief—until they began to experience Spanish rule. In the wake of these European conquerors followed missionaries who came seeking neither gold nor glory, but rather came to bestow on the natives Christianity.
One of these converts to Christianity was a lowly campesino named Juan Diego. Born Cuauhtlatoatzin—Talking Eagle—Juan was a member of the Chichimeca tribe and spoke only Nuahatl—the language of the Aztecs and the other tribes of Central Mexico.
This day—the 9th of December, 1531—Juan was trudging from his little village into the city of Tlatelolco (now a neighborhood of Mexico City) to attend mass and take religious instruction. Juan was an eager convert to the new religion of the conquerors, it was true; but the complexities of this new religion were sometimes bewildering and so he and the other peasants like him were trying hard to understand the ins and outs of their new faith. The notion of one god, versus the many they had worshipped, for example, was peculiar enough in itself; that this one god could also be born of a virgin was even more confusing. Nonetheless, Juan trudged the dusty miles to the mission on foot to learn more about his new religion several times a week.
Only ten years before, Mexico City proper had been the pyramided imperial city of Tenochtitlan. It was the grand capitol of the great Aztec Empire, ruled over by a fierce warrior tribe who demanded human sacrifices from all the surrounding tribes. The human hostages given over to the Azteca elite by the surrounding natives were dragged to the tops of their high stepped temples and there they would have their hearts cut out still beating to feed the demanding and fearful Aztec gods; the remainder of their victim’s flesh was used to feed the Azteca warriors themselves. Now the temples had been razed and Spanish-style buildings and churches were being erected to replace them.
As Juan was climbing the hill the natives called Tepeyac, he heard singing on the hill, like the songs of many precious birds. Bewildered, Juan stopped and looked around, thinking perhaps he was dreaming. Then Juan looked towards the top of the hill, in the direction from which the music flowed.
The singing stopped and then he heard a voice calling to him, saying “Beloved Juan, dearest Diego.”
Juan went in the direction of the voice, and as he did so, he suddenly became happy and contented within. When he reached the top of the hill he saw before him a Maiden standing there who beckoned him closer.
She looked to be a native, with dark hair, dark eyes and copper skin like him. The Maiden was young and beautiful to behold; the apparition seemed only about fifteen or sixteen and she wore around her a mantle of blue-green, and though her form seemed human, Juan knew she was no ordinary mortal.
Her clothing was shining like the sun, as if it were sending out waves of light and the stones and the crag on which she stood seemed to be giving out rays of light as well. The Maiden’s radiance was like many brilliant precious stones, as in an exquisite bracelet; the earth all around her seemed to shine with the brilliance of a rainbow in the mist, while emanating from her head came bright rays of light, like the spines of an agave cactus. Juan stood there speechless, entranced by the incredible spectacle.
Then she spoke to the bedazzled campesino in his own Nahuatl tongue: “Know, be sure, my dearest-and-youngest son, that I am the Prefect Ever Virgin Holy Mary, mother of the one great God of Truth who gives us life, the inventor and creator of people, the owner and Lord of the Sky, the owner of the earth. I want very much that they build my sacred little house here.” She then instructed Juan to go to the Spanish archbishop in the city and tell her of her wish that he build a house for her on that very hill.
In due course, Juan, the Indian peasant, went to the great residence of the Prince of the Church, the Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga, only recently arrived in this brave new world, and told him of the appearance of the Blessed Mother and her request.
Although the good bishop did not openly laugh at the native peasant’s bold request, he thought this simple farmer just some deluded Indian, and demanded proof of what he claimed. That, the good bishop thought, would end of the matter.
Returning to the hill of Tepeyac, Juan told the apparition of the Bishop’s request for proof and suggested to the Maiden that perhaps she should have someone of noble blood transmit her instructions to the Prince of the Church, the archbishop.
But with soothing words the Maiden reproved Juan, and again she bade him go to the bishop and tell him her will. This Juan did and was again rebuffed and told to provide proof.
Coming back to the same hill, again he told the Maiden of the bishop’s doubt and demand for proof, a sign that what he said was true. The Maiden told him to return on the morrow and that she would give him that sign.
Juan almost didn’t return, for that evening his Uncle became very very sick; so sick the uncle thought sure his end was near. At his uncle’s request, Juan headed to Tlatelolco to seek a priest to deliver last rites. However, although he tried to avoid the place where the apparition had appeared, on the way Juan again met the Maiden. Ashamed he had tried to avoid her, he explained to her about his dying uncle. Unfazed, she told him to fear not; his uncle was already cured. And on returning home, he found it was so.
Then, on the day of the Winter Solstice, Juan returned to the same place on the hill of Tepeyac, and again the Maiden appeared before him. She now instructed him to go to a certain place on the hill and pick the flowers there. Juan knew that at this time of year no flowers blossomed in the high plateau, in the land where he and his folk dwelt. Yet obedient to the lady’s wishes he went to the place she told him of. There, looking all about him he found a field of fragrant and beautiful flowers in all in full bloom.
Juan Diego picked the flowers, dazzling in their variety and beauty, gathering them up in the folds of his tilma, his homemade agave fiber poncho. He presented them to the Maiden, who gathered them up in her hands; she then put them back again into the tilma and folded it up and strictly enjoined Juan not to open his serape again until he came into the presence of the archbishop, the Spanish grandee.
Only with great difficulty was Juan able to obtain yet another audience with the archbishop. The great Prince of the Church’s servants were loathe to let this lowly Indian back in, thinking His Grace had been harassed by this crazy native more than enough. Still, Juan persisted and after waiting and waiting, he was finally was ushered into the bishop’s presence.
As instructed, Juan opened the tilma to show His Grace the fragrant flowers of the Maiden. On opening his poncho, out fell the flowers, all fragrant and beautiful, as if it were a sunny day in May and not the Winter Solstice. Yet these were not just any flowers but Castilian Roses, flowers which not only did not blossom in December, but which only grew in Spain and only in the province of Castile, from whence the Conqueror of Mexico, Hernan de Cortes himself had come. But even this was not the most remarkable thing the bishop witnessed; for on opening the folds of the tilma, the Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga and his by now bewildered and curious servants saw the very image of the Maiden that had repeatedly appeared to Juan. It was a perfect image, glowing in vivid colors, yet not painted by the hand of man.
This time it was the bishop’s turn to bow, bow before the peasant Juan Diego and his tilma. For although the archbishop was a proud man and of high birth and came from a family of great wealth in Spain, he was at heart also a man of great piety and faith. In the knowledge that he was in the presence of something otherworldly and miraculous, the bishop begged the forgiveness of the Lady of the hill for his cynicism and doubt.
In due course the “little house”—a grand cathedral—was built where she directed. Word of the apparition grew and of the messages the Maiden gave to Juan, until all the natives of Mexico came to venerate the tilma with the image of the Lady and honor her as their protector and patron. And centuries later, when the day at last came for the native folk of Mexico to throw off the yoke of their conqueror, they bore the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe before them to victory. In all things the folk of Mexico hold fast to their faith in The Maiden as their protectress and still believe in the miracle of the roses.
Since then, the usual cynics have tried to disprove or deny the apparition, claiming the image is a fake and merely painted on; yet to this date no one has been able to succeed in proving it is anything but what Juan Diego claimed that Winter Solstice day in 1531.
However, in all the various investigations and close analyses of that icon on that agave fiber poncho which have been conducted over the years, some curious facts have emerged. For one thing, in the pupils of the eyes of Our Lady on the cloth can be seen very small, almost microscopic, images of people; they seem to be images of the bishop and his servants present when the tilma was unfolded by Juan Diego, as reflected in Our Lady’s eye.
Another curious fact, and one only recently discovered, is about the stars that decorate the blue-green gown of the Lady of Guadalupe.
It had always been assumed that the stars were just a random decoration on the gown, in honor of her epithet of “Queen of Heaven.” However, a close analysis of those stars reveals the fact that they are not haphazard, but organized as actual constellations of the sky. Nor is the arrangement of those constellations random either, but in fact they are in the exact pattern they would have been in the sky in 1531, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the day when the tilma was presented to Archbishop Zumárraga.
The only difference is that the constellations are a mirror image of how we would see them from earth. Imagine if her gown were the mantle of heaven; we would be looking up at them from the inside; but an onlooker viewing the tilma is seeing her gown from the outside, from the direction of heaven—hence the reverse pattern of the stars.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is a beloved icon and the story behind it most unusual; to date, all attempts to discredit it have proved fruitless—not that the professional debunkers haven’t tried. If, as the cynics would have us believe, it is a man-made fabrication, it is of such skill, subtlety and complexity as to boggle the mind. No ordinary mortal, much less an untutored native peasant, could possibly have rendered it. Any attempt to debunk the apparition of Guadalupe must also explain who, how, and why it would have been made.
Not just the faithful, but objective modern paranormal researchers have studied this and similar female apparitions which have been identified with Mary, the mother of Christ. They refer to them collectively as “BVMs” (Blessed Virgin Marys) and have a somewhat different view than the religious faithful. While accepting their reality, and positing them as genuine supernatural phenomena, they have wondered if something else is not also going on with such apparitions beyond what orthodox Christians are willing to comfortably accept.
The celestial symbolism of the robe of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for one thing, seems to point to certain astrological connections. Going back to the Christmas narrative in the Bible and the Feast of the Epiphany, we may note that the Magi in some modern New Testament translations have also been rendered as “astrologers”—presumably a more palatable epithet than magician or sorcerer. Indeed, the appearance of the Nativity Star at the birth of Jesus also implies astrological connections. That Mary is frequently referred to as the “Morning Star” (Venus) in early Christian writings also points to occult celestial connections on the part of the Queen of Heaven. We may note in passing certain celestial alignments have also been pointed out with regard to her Feast of the Annunciation as well.
It is not our purpose here to argue any particular theology or spiritual belief—although Moslems also venerate Mary in addition to many Christians—but rather to simply point out, as Shakespeare so nobly said, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
For anyone wishing to investigate further these celestial connections with Our Lady of Guadalupe and the BVM, one can see for example the Immaculate Immigrant blog and regarding the Feast of the Annunciation (suspiciously close to the Vernal Equinox) see the dsdocnnor wordpress blog about the Pleiades and the BVM.
Blame it all on Dickens, I suppose, but I seem to have English spooks, spirits and Santa on my mind.
When it comes to English spooks and Gothic tales, one cannot do better than Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. While Heathcliff and Cathy get all the love (or whatever it was they had going on) few know that Emily Bronte herself is reputed to haunt the very same Yorkshire moors her two creepy lovers inhabit in her fiction.
Emily Bronte is perhaps the best known of that literary sorority, the Bronte Sisters, famous for her creepy Gothic romance, Wuthering Heights.
Although a classic of literature, for many years it was out of favor (at least with the male gender) but as supernatural romances are now back in vogue in a big way, this grandmother of all creepy romances has come into its own.
Only a morbidly romantic mind such as Emily Bronte’s could dream a tale like Wuthering Heights up, so it should not be so surprising that this nineteenth century authoress is also reputed to haunt the very landscape she wrote about.
Emily Bronte wrote Wuthering Heights when she was only 27 years old. Set in the Yorkshire Moors she knew so well, it is a moody novel full of yearning and secrets–and did I say it again–creepiness?
Emily died only three years after writing her masterpiece, in the very same rural Yorkshire countryside that her masterpiece is set in. Like her novel, hers was a life full of unfulfilled Victorian desires.
Emily Bronte is said to walk in the gardens of her former home in the Yorkshire village of Haworth.
They say she only can be seen in Haworth there between December 19th and January 2, coinciding with Yuletide. Those who claim to have seen her aver that she seems to be deep in thought.
And what stroll across the Yorkshire Moors is complete without encountering a Devil Dog? This would be the “Gytrash” a phantom demon canine said to haunt Ponden Hall, where the Bronte sisters used to hang out. Ponden Hall has become a mecca for Wuthering Heights fans and followers of the Bronte sisters in general.
Legend has it that Emily wrote a book even greater than Wuthering Heights but that it mysteriously disappeared soon after her death.
Rumor has it that sad, lonely, Emily wanders the moors looking for that lost manuscript and that until it is found her literary spirit will find no rest.
People who have encountered her shade along the byways of the North Country claim that if one tries to approach her, she will vanish like a puff of smoke.
So this beautiful phantom of a young girl remains forever out of reach–even if your name be Heathcliff.
Next to Charles Dickens’ famed spectres, the most notorious of English ghosts has to be the beautiful but ill fated Ann Bolyn.
One of Henry the Eighth’s less fortunate ex’s, he had her beheaded, supposedly because of her infidelity. Ever since, she has been reported to wander the Tower of London, her beautiful visage relocated under her right arm.
In truth, however, there are a number of places in England where Ann Bolyn’s ghost has been sighted–in most cases still lacking a head on her shoulders. Ann has on occasion been sighted at Hever Castle, her childhood home; Blickling Hall, her alleged birthplace;
The Tower of London, where she was executed; Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle, where Anne and Henry resided during their marriage; Salle Church in Norfolk, where Anne’s body was allegedly moved after her original burial in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London and secretly buried under a black slab near the tombs of her Boleyn ancestors; and Marwell Hall in Hampshire, a residence of the Seymours between 1530-1638.
Wherever she may roam throughout the year, one thing is certain: at Christmastime she returns to her ancestral home of Hever Castle, in Kent.
Whether she haunts this castle, “with er ead tucked underneath er arms” is not certain; but we prefer to think not. She comes home to Hever for the holidays, so perhaps that is why she is on her best behavior here.
What is certain is that on Christmas Eve she can be seen walking across the bridge of the River Eden and onto the castle grounds. She has also been sighted under an ancient oak tree where she and Henry first courted. Perhaps for one night out of the year she may find a place to rest–her head still attached–in her ancestral home.
Ironically, there is a strong possibility that Dickens himself is a Christmas ghost. How and why he may be himself a Christmas Spirit is a curious tale unto itself.
To start with, only five days after his death in England, Dickens appeared at a séance in America. Ever since, the old boy’s shade has been reappearing at various times and in various places.
By no means did Dickens invent the tradition of telling ghost stories at Yuletide. In ancient times the period from Semaine to Beltane was the time one gathered around the hearth in the dark of the night and related dark and uncanny tales. Whether they were true or not mattered little; but by the flickering of the wood fire stories took on a life all their own, and many things that might be scoffed at during the day, were easily believed in the long winter’s nights. For one take on this and on Dickens’ role as popularizer of Chirstmas ghost stories see: “A Ghost for Christmas? Charles Dickens, Pudding, and Spooky Stories Around the Yule Log.”
Charles Dickens, despite his great fame in life, desired a quiet funeral in his native city of Rochester (England, not New York). However, his adoring public would have none of it; like all great British writers, it was demanded that he be buried in Westminster Abbey with elaborate pomp and ceremony. So, with all the ornate and elaborate ritual as befitted a Victorian funeral, Charles Dickens’s body was entombed in the great English cathedral.
But despite the funeral, Dickens was not laid to rest.
It is said that, at Christmastide, the shade of the great author returns to his home in Rochester and walks again among the living, like old Marley in his famous tale. People passing by the former home have sworn to have seen a ghostly gent dressed in antique dress walking past it.
Such then, is the strange tale of Charles Dickens, who may well, himself, be a Dickens of a ghost.
There are those who scoff at this account; others swear by its veracity. Either way, have a Dickens of a Christmas season!
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee: More true tales of the Unknown, the Unexplained and the just plain Spooky in the Mid-South. Read it with the lights left on, otherwise the author can accept no responsibility for the consequences.