Things that go chomp in the night

my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Might as well write about ghosts. Friends know that one of my secret (not anymore) vices is to sit back and marathon watch episodes of Ghost Adventures, which is essentially three guys wandering around visiting haunted places and trying to gather evidence of ghosts, demons and other weird things.

The show works (it’s already in its 10th season for the Travel Channel) mainly for its deft mixing of the paranormal (which is up to you if you want to believe or not) with the schoolboy antics of Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, and Aaron Goodwin. Plus the awesome locations visited actually merit an entire episode of their own (haunted or not).

But still, it’s undeniable that ghosts really do make compelling story telling. Even in this day and age when everybody seems to be cynical of everything, the “others” have an undeniable pull.

Growing up, I got to know tales about the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall and its exciting story of how a photographer was able to capture perhaps one of the most famous ghost photographs of all. Then there are the harrowing stories of the Bell Witch of Tennessee and that possessed Raggedy Ann doll. There is also Lady Catherine Howard, whose ghost is said to be seen screaming along the halls of Hampton Court, still pleading to be spared of the execution ordered by her husband King Henry VIII.

In the Philippines, the most famous ghost would have to be that lady in Balete Drive. Although famous haunted places abound here, one being the mansion in Baguio used by a local bank for its seminars. Another is a school hospital in Manila, and still another is Malacanang Palace (so they say).

Ghosts are said to be divided between intelligent spirits that can actually interact with the living, and residual ghosts that merely reenact or seem to be the effect of a tragic event. Animals, interestingly, which philosophers have said cannot have a soul, also have been reported to be still waiting for the return of long-lost masters. Which is probably not surprising, what with stories also of spectral hotels that have already been torn down but seen by unsuspecting tourists as if it were still operating.

In this predominantly Catholic country, one can view the Transfiguration event’s (See Mt 17:1 -- 3) showing up of Moses as an example of a ghost (Elijah can’t be considered a ghost as he technically didn’t die, see 2 Kgs 2:11 -- 12).

Then you have stories about dead prophet Samuel visiting King Saul and Judas Maccabeus having visions of dead Onias and Jeremiah. Tradition also gives examples of ghosts and hauntings (not related to demonic oppression). Pope St. Gregory the Great reported ghostly apparitions, along with St. Augustine. In more modern times, Padre Pio was said to have made appearances. Bosconians would be familiar with the famous pact that St. John Bosco made in his youth with his friend Comollo. They agreed that whoever died first would give the other an indication about the state of his soul. Comollo died first, and on the night after the funeral, St. Bosco, along with several other students, heard a roar. A light appeared, and a voice was heard saying, “Bosco, I am saved.”

Nevertheless, Catholic teaching is not conclusive as far as ghosts are concerned. Yes, we do believe that death does not end existence but our souls are supposed to either face God directly or stay in purgatory. We may have contact with our dear departed only within the prism of faith and, hence, our custom of asking for their intercession. Our interaction with the saints “triumphant” and the “communion of saints” are usually invisible to us, unlike that conveyed by popular Hollywood lore.

However, while the Church may seem open to the existence of ghosts, it expressly discourages attempts to communicate with them. Catechism No. 2116 says: “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”

Indeed, it seems the prudent thing to do. If one believes in the existence of demons and the devil (which, if you’re Catholic, you do), then there is always the probability that the ghost that looks like Casper could actually be a demon in disguise out to mislead, confuse or lead you astray. The point is: you never know. So might as well avoid screwing around with the paranormal.

Anyway, happy All Saints and All Souls to everyone.