Ghost Story: Meaning vs. Explanation


Birthday Book p. 224

 Shawn Chapman “Birthday Book” p. 224


I had this ghost story from my friend Shawn Chapman last year. It’s stuck with me ever since, as it sheds much light on the limits of physical explanation when it comes to paranormal events. Searching for and finding a physical cause behind uncanny events will always add understanding to the situation, but it may do nothing to detract from the meaning.

Science can explain how humans create sound in the form of song – the nerves, the vibration of body parts affecting columns of air, how subtle muscular movements determine pitch. Apps can even identify the music and artist. Yet the same song will carry wildly different meanings to different people, or the same person at different times of life.

Shawn’s brother Kerry works tending the grounds at a cemetery. This, naturally, includes sodding new graves. In early summer of 2017 Kerry sodded the grave of a newly-buried man as usual. But the grass over the grave died.

They put in new grass, which in turn died. The third sodding took, though growing weak and shabby. Then winter came, and snow fell. This was around the time Shawn told me the story – of a man who murdered his family before killing himself, and how the very grass refused to grow on his grave.

This is an absolutely classic ghost story. Listeners’ hearts recoil from the vile actions of the murderer, and the meaning of the bare grave is stark – act against nature, fell innocents for selfishness and lust, and nature will turn her back on you.

I ask – if it turned out that a culture of the soil found a grass killing fungus, or analysis a mineral deficiency, would it really matter? If a cleverly concealed camera caught a bereaved relative spraying the ground with herbicide, would it change the meaning of the blasted grave?


Mystery Box Metcalfe

David Metcalfe “Mystery Box” 


No matter the proximate chain of events which resulted in the barren ground, the meaning remains constant. The symbolic constellation – murder, the death of innocents, a sterile grave, the unquiet dead – remains the same. It behooves investigators of strange phenomena (including UFO and entity encounters, apparitions, and strings of synchronicity) to bear this in mind when analyzing these events, and especially when helping people caught up in them.

Investigating the physical circumstances is vital in determining how to address any physical, mundane antecedents to uncanny events; but let it not distract from addressing the impression which the events have left in the psyche of the witness.


Further Resources:

Themes of lust-driven violence followed by loss of fertility are very old and widespread. Here is a discussion of Demeter’s story from ancient Greece.

John Allore on liminality and the unquiet dead -a spoken word piece on the shocking and disturbing synchronicities resulting from his sister’s unsolved murder when he was 14 and she was 19. Especially recommended for understanding the epistemological impact on experiencers.

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