The Evolution of Ghost Stories in Britain: From Demonic Entities to Human-Like Beings

TLDR In Roger Clark's book "Ghosts are Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof," the author explores the shift in people's beliefs about ghosts throughout history. From medieval warnings of death to classical unfamiliar entities, and eventually to more human-like beings, the evolution of British ghost stories reflects changing beliefs and cultural influences.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Ghosts have always been a fascination, and their stories evolve to reflect the beliefs and tensions of the time in which they appear, as explored in Roger Clark's book "Ghosts are Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof."
05:40 The author noticed a shift in what people wanted from ghosts, and wanted to explore the different types of ghosts and the specific mix of beliefs in Britain that contribute to the tradition of ghost stories.
10:36 The evolution of British understanding of ghosts can be traced back to medieval and classical ghost stories, which had elements of demonic entities and troubled spirits, but it wasn't until the 1950s that ghosts were depicted as more human-like beings.
15:05 Ghosts in medieval times were often seen as warnings of imminent death and were believed to be the spirits of the unburied dead seeking proper burial, while in the classical world, ghosts were seen as strange and unfamiliar entities that appeared in various forms, such as shades and ancestral spirits. The idea of ghosts of living people also challenged traditional notions of what ghosts could be and sparked the exploration of scientific explanations for ghostly phenomena. Additionally, the belief in battle ghosts and the association of ghosts with prophecy and kingship added to the romanticized perception of ghosts. There is also a discussion about whether Jesus was considered a ghost in the New Testament.
19:58 The podcast discusses a haunted house called Hinton Ampner, which was considered so haunted that it was eventually knocked down, and one of the witnesses to the haunting was Lord St. Vincent, a famous Admiral who could not explain the ghostly phenomena.
24:53 The story of the haunted house at Hinton Ampner was relayed to Bishop Benson, who then told it to Henry James, possibly inspiring his story "The Turn of the Screw," and there were various theories about the haunting, including an affair between a member of the household and a senior servant.
29:47 The story of the Cock Lane ghost involved two little girls who would communicate with knocks in their bed, leading to a scandal that attracted crowds, including members of the royal family, before it was revealed to be a hoax involving a drunk father and a pub joke gone wrong, with the whole incident being influenced by a feverish atmosphere of gin-drinking and other scandals happening in the same area.
34:30 Movies like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror revived the idea of possession and ghosts in America, while the appearance of ghosts in photographs and the use of x-rays for entertainment purposes also influenced the cultural perception of ghosts.
39:30 Borley Rectory, known as the most haunted house in Britain, had a history of supernatural occurrences, including ghostly figures, ghostly writing on the walls, and spontaneous fires, which were investigated by Harry Price, a famous ghost hunter.
44:37 The conversation shifts to discussing specific ghost stories, including the Hinton haunting, and the emergence of 21st century ghost stories involving technology like zoom calls and haunted auto correct.
49:08 The episode concludes with a discussion about the upcoming episodes of "The Rest Is History" and a promotion for the finale of the podcast "Empire" which focuses on the history of Iran and its influence on the Middle East.
Categories: History

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