L.J.'s Reviews > Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places

Real Ghosts, Restless Spirits, and Haunted Places by Brad Steiger
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This is an ambitious survey book of hauntings, poltergeists, spiritualism, mediumship, spirit photography and paranormal phenomena that generally fit into a ghost or spirit-related category. It is written in the tradition of Camille Flammarion's "The Unknown" Charles Lindley's "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book", and Catherine Crowe's "Night Side of Nature", in that it employs a heady mash of personal accounts, interviews, review and summary of existing literature, apocrypha, legend, folklore, controversial or disputed cases, textbook foundational paranormal cases,and new cases from the 1950's- 1990's. I call this book ambitious because it is-- Steiger is taking on the task of not only touching on the most seminal cases constantly referred to in paranormal literature (Borley Rectory, the Cock Lane Poltergeist, The Enfield Poltergeist, and Calvados Castle just to name a few), but is adding the not-yet-textbook cases that have occurred during the decades since a book of this scope has been published.

Actually, when I was trying to hit upon a book to compare it to that is more recent than those I've already listed, I really couldn't. There are a lot of great books out there, like Carrington and Fodor's "Haunted People"(1968), Stirling's "Ghosts Vivisected"(1958), both Sacheverell Sitwell and Colin Wilson's amazing survey books on poltergeist phenomena (1959 and 1969 respectively), as well as truckloads of regionally-specialized books on hauntings and like Guiley's "Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits"(1992) which seek to give small amounts of referential information in order to exhaustively name all known examples.

Steiger's book commingles the breadth of an encyclopedia with the depth of more focal books in order to come up with something both readable and grounded in the history of its own literature-- this means that voracious readers of paranormal literature like myself will enjoy it, because they will find contemporary cases in it that have not been published anywhere else-- but it also means that newcomers to the field will get a good idea of the "classic" cases and how the study of paranormal and parapsychological phenomena has changed over the years. For those who are jumping on the bandwagon because of the currently explosive popularity of this subject, this book is a good reference for the scope of phenomena and just how long people have been trying to figure out how to measure, detect, record, catalog, control, quantify, and de-mystify experiences that are actually very common and have a long history.

One thing I think this book might be criticized for by the more scientifically minded is that it does not attempt to screen out or edit the first-hand accounts in terms of how witnesses interpret phenomena. But this book isn't offering itself as a parapsychological study-- it is offering up experiences as myriad as the people who relate them. One person may interpret the cause of poltergeist phenomena as diabolical, while a researcher will attribute it to PK-- Steiger does not make it the business of the book to sway the reader's mind one way or the other, but simply to include a range of accounts as they were given to him. I admire this choice for a book of this type, because as the book itself reflects, ghosts, hauntings, spirits, and the phenomena associated with them are still part of a emotionally charged and inexact field of study. At this point it is difficult (and may always be difficult) to separate out what is folklore or fear from what is phenomena, and frankly as long as people have religious beliefs there will always be conflicting interpretations of the same facts. In this book, judgment is withheld and left to the reader, and the emphasis remains firmly on the stories themselves.

Personally, I could do without the bits about haunted celebrities, but I think that chapter is outweighed by a quite surprising theory about the link between spirit phenomena and UFO/alien contacts that Steiger puts forward in the last chapter. I am one of those people who really doesn't link the two, in fact I think it's safe to say I'm annoyed by UFOs and the whole alien abduction branch of the paranormal because I think it's purely of a physical origin. However, Steiger draws physical and psychological parallels between the two that I hadn't considered, and definitely brings up questions about how we interpret phenomena that is essentially similar in nature. As I said in a previous paragraph, a religious person might interpret poltergeist phenomena as the work of demons, while a scientist might say it is emotion directed in the form of PK, while another person might, in slighlty different circumstances, be able to assert that the intelligence behind it is not a human one but an alien one. This is difficult for me to even consider, but if I step back and think about the basic assumption behind it-- that aliens are from "outside" this world and not from the same place spirits are from, it's possible to entertain that the argument is not so much about facts but about semantics.

So, if you've made it this far through my blather, read the book... but unless you're a hardened veteran who sleeps with the lights on like me, don't read it alone at night!

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