First things first; do I believe in ghosts? The answer is something between yes and no. I think the question if ghosts exist are one where future can prove me wrong regardless wether I answer yes or no. Currently we can’t use scientific methods prove ghosts, but that doesn’t mean the problem is solved once and for all. Think of this: the microscope was invented in the fifteenth century, bacteria was first detected 1677, and when the thought of virus arouse around 1892 the contemporary microscope was too crude to detect them. We don’t know what scientific discoveries we will do in the future, and to say ghosts don’t exist may prove to be a scientific snobbery just as big as when the church refused to accept that the earth moves around the sun (instead of the other way around).
There are far fewer ghosts than people who claim to have seen them – even when you take in account that one ghost can be seen by several persons. Quite a few persons have been tricked, and this is what makes the subject a murky one. While there are charlatans who preys on the gullible the most common trap is our own will to believe. This will is a force just as strong as hunger, and while a human in general choses what to believe she can also go to great lengths to protect these beliefs. Being clairvoyant is, in many groups, something that renders priviliges. The medium has an air of mystique, gets attention and can sometimes earn her/his income from seanses (whereas the charlatans get the press, most mediums live on small means or have seanses as a side activity to the day job).
Drugs are another trap. Anthropologists who took down notes on fairy sightings in Sweden during the nineteenth century did notice that many occurences happened after heavy intakes of booze – and yes, you can drink yourself to hallucinations. While we’re more aware of the dangers of alcohol nowadays another drug has taken its place; cortisone. It’s not general knowledge among the public, but manufacturors and medical staff have long been aware that hallucinations are a side effect to cortisone treatment. I never ask for medical history when I encounter people claiming to have seen ghosts or spirits, but they often sport that slightly puffy look that comes with the treatment. In one case I’ve also encountered a person who was high on weed at the sighting.
The third big trap is the houses themselves. Haunted houses are often old houses, and old houses comes with lots of quirks. The stone house I cleaned had settled unevenly and the floors were leaning left and right. I had to know the exact spot to place my trolley, lest it would roll over the entire floor seemingly driven by an invisible force. Few would fall for this, though, since walking over the floors feels like walking uphill or downhill. A more sneaky quirk is the settling of the walls. This creates a lot of tension in the building, and this tension can be released in sudden bursts creating sharp knocks. Quite a few of the knocking ghosts are probably not more than this.
If you’re like me, dear reader, you’re know jumping up and down screaming ”But what happened? Did you see any ghosts???” The good news is I have ghost stories for you, the bad news is that they’re not my personal experiences. Ghosts often needs time before they show up – they seem to be somewhat shy. After all they are odd individuals in the wrong period of time, and that could make any person feel awkward. The one experience I’ve had that may be a ghost encounter was in a house where I was welcomed as a grandchild of the family. On the job were I cleaned ghost houses I had to quit after six months, and that’s too short to make a major majestic run-in.
My coworkers, however, have been helpfull in telling their experiences. I was paired with one as a part of my training, and she had one hall she cleaned as fast as possible. When we cleaned it together she crouched and frowned as if she had a migraine. I recognised in her the creepy feeling of not being welcome, as if this was told by the air around her. She also claimed that it was ”something there”, and made an expert speed cleaning of the space.
Another coworker told me about an encounter one of my predecessors had when she was present. My friend told me they both had cleaned the eldest house in Uppsala – and that’s an experience in itself. That house is so old the wood beams are black with age, and when you try to climb the stairs you topple over to the left as if you are in a boat climbing a giant wave. We couldn’t use trolleys because the space was so cramped and the floors so uneven. If you stood at the top of the staircase and looked down you looked into a blackened pit walled with beams several hundreds years old. My friend and my predecessor were cleaning the topfloor (someone actually thought it funny to decorate the place with plush rats), when my friend heard the predecessor say
”Who are you talking to?”
”There’s a boy standing in the stairwell.”
According to later descriptions he was about six years of age, staring up at them. When they took a second look the space was empty.
Fed with stories like this I was under a bit of tension when I first cleaned one of the bigger houses. Built in stone, three stories high with the rooms placed to living patterns long lost in time. We had a collection of keys looking like something for the prison in a pirate movie, and opened doors that could’ve lead to Narnia. The scholars occupying the offices amused themselves by getting furniture as old as the building making it the most beautiful office complex I’ve ever cleaned. But it was one lecture hall that really caught my heart. It had white walls, exposed beams and a chimney stack portruding from the floor like an anarchistic column. Being on the top floor the ceiling was vaulted and the highest point towered more than five meters above my head. The place had that feeling of an old summer cottage waking up after a long winter.
This hall that made me feel so instantly welcome was also the main ghost room, the one that made my coworker crouch under ”something”. Of course, one explanation to our different experiences may be that we have different taste in interior design. I like that old feel, she went for modern style designs, and this may have heightened our preconceptions of the room – no ghosts were needed to add to those feelings. Or my coworker is right, it actually is ”something” there, and that something doesn’t bother with me. No matter what explanation you chose her experiences were real.