Book: The Ghost World
Author: Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer

The Ghost World By Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 227
Publication Date: 1893

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Chapters include: The Soul’s Exit; Temporary Exit Of Soul; The Nature Of The Soul; The Unburied Dead; Why Ghosts Wander; Ghosts Of The Murdered; Phantom Birds; Animal Ghosts; Phantom Lights; The Headless Ghost; Phantom Butterflies; Raising Ghosts; Ghost Laying; Ghosts Of The Drowned; Ghost Seers; Ghostly Death-Warnings; ‘Second Sight’; Compacts Between The Living And Dead; Minders’ Ghosts; The Banshee; See Phantoms; Phantom Dress; and more.


In the Iliad, after the spirit of Patroclus has visited Achilles in his dream, it is described as taking its departure, and entering the ground like smoke. In long after years, and among widely scattered communities, we meet with the same imagery; and it is recorded how the soul of Beowulf the Goth ‘curled to the clouds,’ imaging the smoke which was curling up from his pyre. A similar description of the soul’s exit is mentioned in one of the works of the celebrated mystic, Jacob Boehme, who observes: ‘Seeing that man is so very earthly, therefore he hath none but earthly knowledge; except he be regenerated in the gate of the deep. He always supposeth that the soul—at the deceasing of the body—goeth only out at the mouth, and he understandeth nothing concerning its deep essences above the elements. When he seeth a blue vapour go forth out of the mouth of a dying man, then he supposeth that is the soul.’ The same conception is still extensively believed throughout Europe, and the Russian peasant often sees ghostly smoke hovering above graves. The Kaffirs hold that at death man leaves after him a sort of smoke, ‘very like the shadow which his living body will always cast before it,’ reminding us of the hero in the Arabian romance of Yokdnan, who seeks the source of life and thought, and discovers in one of the cavities of the heart a bluish vapour—the living soul. Among rude races the original idea of the human soul seems to have been that of vaporous materiality, which, as Dr. Tylor observes, has held so large a place in modern philosophy, and in one shape or another crops up in ghost stories. The Basutos, speaking of a dead man, say that his heart has gone out, and the Malays affirm that the soul of a dying man escapes through the nostrils.

Hogarth has represented the figure of Time breathing forth his last—a puff of breath proceeding from his mouth; and a correspondent of ‘Notes and Queries’ relates that, according to a popular belief, a considerable interval invariably elapses between the first semblance of death and what is considered to be the departure of the soul, about five minutes after the time when death, to all outward appearances, has taken place, ‘the last breath’ may be seen to issue with a vapour ‘or steam’ out of the mouth of the departed. According to some foreign tribes, the soul was said to dwell mainly in the left eye; and in New Zealand men always ate the left eye of a conquered enemy. At Tahiti, in the human sacrifices, the left eye of the victim was always offered to the chief presiding over the ceremony. It was further believed in New Zealand that ‘in eating the left eye they doubled their own soul by incorporating with it that of the conquered man. It was also thought by some people in the same archipelago that a spirit used to dwell in both eyes.’

The supposed escape of the soul from the mouth at death gave rise to the idea that the vital principle might be transferred from one person to another; and, among the Seminoles of Florida, when a woman died in childbirth, the infant was held over her face to receive her parting spirit. Algonquin women, desirous of becoming mothers, flocked to the bed of those about to die, in the hope that they might receive the last breath as it passed from the body; and to this day the Tyrolese peasant still fancies a good man’s soul to issue from his mouth at death like a little white cloud. We may trace the same fancy in our own country, and it is related that while a well-known Lancashire witch lay dying, ‘she must needs, before she could “shuffle off this mortal coil,” transfer her familiar spirit to some trusty successor. An intimate acquaintance from a neighbouring township was sent for in all haste, and on her arrival was immediately closeted with her dying friend. What passed between them has never fully transpired; but it is asserted that at the close of the interview the associate received the witch’s last breath into her mouth, and with it her familiar spirit. The powers for good or evil were thus transferred to her companion.’

In order that the soul, as it quits the body, may not be checked in its onward course, it has long been customary to unfasten locks or bolts, and to open doors, so that the struggle between life and death may not be prolonged—a superstition common in France, Germany, Spain, and England. A correspondent of ‘Notes and Queries’ tells how for a long time he had visited a poor man who was dying, and was daily expecting death. Upon calling one morning to see his poor friend, his wife informed him that she thought he would have died during the night, and hence she and her friends unfastened every lock in the house; for, as she added, any bolt or lock fastened was supposed to cause uneasiness to, and hinder, the departure of the soul. We find the same belief among the Chinese, who make a hole in the roof to let out the departing soul; and the North American Indian, fancying the soul of a dying man to go out at the wigwam roof, would beat the sides with a stick to drive it forth. Sir Walter Scott, in ‘Guy Mannering,’ describes this belief as deep rooted among ‘the superstitious eld of Scotland;’ and at the smuggler’s death in the Kaim of Derncleugh, Meg Merrilies unbars the door and lifts the latch, saying—

Open lock, end strife,

Come death, and pass life.

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