Sunday, October 7, 2012

Seeing ghosts: never a good sign

Left: entrance to Innerpeffray Library. 

When I was at Innerpeffray yesterday, transcribing from the Treatise of Specters, I came across a number of stories about ghosts. A small selection is given below. It seems pretty clear that no good can come from encountering these phantoms! It seems to mean death for someone pretty nearly every time. 
I particularly like the ugly giant with the unkempt beard who appeared to Mark Anthony! 
Cardanus, to whom two of these excerpts are attributed, was Hieronymus Cardanus (1501-1576),  an Italian scientist.

2. When Marcus Antonius became bankrupt at Actium, Casius of Parma his Partner fled to Athens; where, in the dead of the night as he lay in his bed ingulph’t with cares and perplexities, he phancied, a man of monstrous magnitude, a black and ugly hue, his beard incompt and squalid, and his hair disorderly hanging down, came to him; And being askt who he was? Answered, κακοδαίμονα, i.e., thy evil Angel, or Genius. Being at last affrighted with so horrid a presence, and so evill a name, he called in his servants, and questioned them, whether they saw one of such a dresse and visage either come in, or go out of his Chamber? and when they had assured him they saw none such, he again composed himself to his rest: but presently the same Phantasm haunted him: Wherefore he cast off all thought of rest, and commanded a Candle up to his chamber, and enjoyned his servants not to depart from him. Between this night and his execution inflicted by Caesar, was but a very short interval, as you may read in Valerius Max.l.I.c.7.and Aug. and vita Antonii.

7. Jacobus Donatus, Patricius of Venice, and also rich, when on a night sleeping with his Wife he had a taper light, and two Nurses also were asleep in a truckle-bed with a young child, not a year old, he saw the chamber door open by little and little, and a man, I know not who, put in his head; the Nurses also saw him, but no body knew him; The young man being affrighted, as well he might be, snatcht his Sword and Buckler, each of the Nurses great Tapers, into the Hall they come, which was near adjoyning to the Chamber, where all things were close. The young man comes back with great admiration, the small Infant, which was well in health, dyed the next day. Cardanus de Rerum varietate, lib.16.cap.93.

29. A certain Mediolanensian Boor,as he returned homewards from his labour, about three hours within night, saw a Goblin or Spirit follow him, and when he endeavoured to out-run it, make he what use he could of his heels, the Spectral fetch’t him up, and at last threw him to the ground, when he endeavoured to cry out, but roll’d in mud and dirt, he was found by some who passed by that way, and carried him home half dead, and at the end of eight dayes gave up the Ghost. Cardanus de Subtilitate. 


  1. One of my favourite hauntings in literature is the one in KM Briggs' Hobberdy Dick, where the ghost in the attic (a horrible thing, taking the form of a little child though it is inhabited by an evil spirit) is exorcised by the saintly grandmother who is sleepwalking. She returns to her bed but she will never leave her room again....

    KM Briggs was an expert in British folklore and it shows....