I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, the so-called “Athens of the North”, also known as “Auld Reekie”. It is thought to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Perhaps. I generally find spirits wherever I go, so statistically my “hit rate” is a tad skewed.
In my first year at university I got involved with an older man. He had a face like a badger that had been shot against a brick wall. Sometimes he wore a beard. Sometimes he wore a kilt. Sometimes he wore fishnet stockings and evening gloves. But that’s another story. Before becoming a mature student he had worked as a ranger in the Highlands of Scotland. His best friend was a medium, an electrician, who went around his clients’ houses “releasing” trapped spirits while fixing the wiring. We’ll call my ex-boyfriend, Gordie.
Gordie lived in a fairly new block of student flats bordering on The Meadows region of Edinburgh. In the previous century (the 19th) this had been an old mill. As all mills around that time, conditions were dire and on-the-job fatalities were common. Gordie’s room was at the back of the block, on the ground floor. It was “L”-shaped, where the lower part of the “L” formed the entrance hallway and the longer part was the room itself. The room was messy. Black clothes lay on the floor amidst crumpled, semen-stained underwear. A fug hung in the room. It was male. Shrek meets Hugh Hefner. And in case you’re wondering, yes, at that stage (and for many years afterwards) I had stunningly low standards for the men I slept with!
I had been warned by the spirits to not get involved with him. In my late teens and early twenties, I was a keen bibliomancer, and I was very good at it (not so much these days). I had received information that had predicted the future accurately. I had also engaged with a mischievous spirit who claimed to be my brother, but he was a piss artist. He did however tell me some amazingly precise predictions. Anyway, I was wanting to show off one evening, so I grabbed a book and started “a conversation”. “The book” clearly described Gordie to a “T”, including mentioning the fact that he was sitting right next to me … just so there was no mistake who they meant. I was then told to leave him alone, that he “belonged” to a particular group of spirits and I wasn’t to get involved. I had been sharing this conversation with Gordie. He freaked. I felt embarrassed and played it down but over the next year it did pan out badly for me. However, my relationship mishaps are not relevant or interesting.
So eventually I started staying over at Gordie’s place. We slept on mattresses on the floor. I slept level with the hallway part of the room (also the darkest corner … it was a liminal space, a passing-through space – architecturally it was just awkward). Things were fine at first. Nothing to report here, gov’ner. But then the chills started. Later in life I realised that the main way that I sense spirits is on my skin. It’s a chill, sometimes down my back, or on my arms, or on the crown of my head. The first chills began as I lay there one night trying to sleep. The crown of my head began to chill, until it was very painful. The rest of me was warm so it was unusual. I wondered if there was a draft. I ignored it and eventually fell asleep.
I was young and inexperienced. These days I would know straightaway that something was up. My internal sensor recognises the Strange. My entire body is primed like a taught wire to vibrate in the presence of spirits. But not then. The chills continued at night, and I ignored them. Then during the day, (Gordie was at a lecture) I walked into the room and was rooted to the spot in that liminal hallway. It was like I had expected the room to be empty, and it wasn’t … I was used to seeing the Strange with my forehead and hearing it from the space at the back of my head. I tuned into these other sensory faculties and sent out a big question mark. What are you? I sensed and saw a young woman. She was wearing dark, long 19th century working clothes, with a grubby white apron. She looked miserable, and everything that came from her was resentful and unhappy. Then she was gone.
Next time that the chills came, I knew it was her. I spoke to her in my head, firmly. “Leave me alone. I’m trying to sleep!” I have found that speaking directly and decisively to spirits gets a response. If they are resistant, I remind them that I am alive, and this is the living world, ergo they are a visitor to MY world and I have the stronger presence and power. This works.
But she never went permanently, and I felt disturbed by her unhappiness. I told Gordie about her and he was not as comfortable as I was with her presence. He began to blame all sorts of his own neurotic behaviour and emotions on her. He wanted her gone. He said he was going to contact his medium friend and ask his advice. I said that I could sort it. Gordie went off to find a phone box (that’s right children, no mobile phones back then!) and I sat down and “listened” to what the ghost girl wanted. I wrote it down: a red candle, a piece of yellow cloth, incense (something flowery). Gordie returned. “Right!” he said. “I spoke to my mate and he said we need a yellow scarf, a red candle and some lavender incense.” Well hey-ho. Even I was quite impressed with myself. So I went shopping and while Gordie was out I went to work in the room. I shifted all that funky maleness out and I “worked” for the ghost-girl. And she went.
Not long afterwards, Gordie and I moved out into a basement flat that was part of a large old house, surrounded by a small garden. One fond memory is that Gordie taught me to call Robins to my hand where they would feed on cheese, fluttering over my fingers.
It was a damp and cold basement flat. In fact it was so damp that I found a frog in my bed one day! The heating was old. Basically they were metal boxes attached to the wall with bricks inside. You’d turn the heating on (gas-fired) and the fire would heat up the bricks. It cost a fortune because it was so ineffective, so we did without heating most of the time.
My spider senses had begun to pick up on stuff again in this new place. I kept seeing a cat, or having thoughts about “my cat” even though I didn’t have one. And I saw flashes of a couple in their late 50s/early 60s. They just stood there together and watched. They were not sad like the ghost-girl, nor were they malevolent. They were just curious.
One day I was sitting in the living room, freezing my arse off, trying to study. Then suddenly the chills started up and down my back. I “looked” with my forehead and saw the couple standing behind me. I lost it. “For fuck’s sake! It’s fucking cold enough in this place without you going all woo-woo-wah-wah on my ass. Cut that shit out!” And they stopped. Like I said, if you are firm and clear, the spirits listen. They stayed as a presence in the house, and I remained on “hello” terms with them. Unlike Gordie’s medium friend I don’t find it necessary to “move on” every spirit I encounter. I find that is a busybody attitude and some things are just not my business!
As an aside, the floor above us was an empty flat and yet at night we would hear the sound of a child running back and forth across the floor (our ceiling).
So those were the *human* spirits I encountered in Edinburgh. Stay tuned folks for the spirits of the extinct Scottish volcano and how Gordie was spurned by spirits for his disrespectful attitude; a lesson to us all.
I was going to write a small series of articles teaching you (that is, anyone who cares to know) about how to connect with nature spirits. But I felt very uncomfortable with the “teacher” role and there were too many caveats because each person is different and your clairvoyant strengths may not be mine. I’m good at taking an individual by the hand and introducing them to nature and low magick, but I’m pants at attempting to be one of the many pagan gurus online. My blog, right from the start, was about me and my big mouth, just mouthing off about stuff that was important to me, what I did and do, etc. So, instead of trying to convey a universal truth (a what?!), I’m just going to grab a coffee, sit down and share with ye a little about what I’ve experienced. If you want to know more or have questions, please post them in the comments below.
I’ve had experiences with spirits since I was a child (ghosts, astral travelling, spirit guides, etc.). In my teen years I began to delve into Dianic witchcraft and nature witchcraft. As I meditated more, using visualisation of various symbols from ankh to the all-seeing eye, more things began to open up to me. That is one thing that I would encourage anyone to do: develop a daily meditation practice. I find that my ability to sense spirits grows in proportion to the degree of inner quiet I can sustain. If my mind is chattering about mundane rubbish, I remain distracted very often from the things right under my nose. I remember that as a young child I would sing to chase spirits away that scared me; I would focus so hard on the words and the tune of the song and sing it with every fibre of my being (“She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain” was my favourite). This distraction process created a kind of barrier between me and these parasitic spirits which closed down my “openness” and protected me.
As I worked at little rituals in my room, I also developed a practice of moon-gazing. Late at night I would slip out of the house and walk a couple of miles down an unlit road into the countryside. I clambered over styles, heading off into the fields until I was at the closest, darkest spot, right in the middle of a wheat field. I would crouch there amongst the wheat and gaze at the moon as it crested the hill. On top of the hill was a Bronze Age fort (now a clearing surrounded by Beech trees).
For months I would escape around the full and new moons to sit in the fields and listen. The only things I could really see were the black of black shadows against a black land, and above, the blinding brilliance of the moon. So my other senses took over. I heard small animals bustling around, the sound of cows chomping grass in the neighbouring field, owls screeching and the wind through the trees and grasses. I smelt the earth, a conglomeration of death and decay that smelled pungent and dark. I pressed my fingers into the dirt and stared up.
Then, after a few months, the call came. This call was to be repeated throughout my life at different times, from different landscapes, in all kinds of weather. The land called me. As I sat at home, tired and totally averse to going out, the land called me and all I could think about was being out there! It’s difficult to explain the compulsion that accompanies the call. It’s like the craving that someone gets for a cigarette when they are giving up; it’s the obsession over cake when you’ve given up all carbs; it’s an all-encompassing, physical and mental NEED for a drug, and if you don’t get it, your nerves will implode, your arteries will explode, your mind will shatter.
So I left the house, and ran down the road, off into the darkness and to the field; it was the hill that was calling me, so on I strode, up hill, through fields and orchards, over styles, past streams. It’s about 4 or 5 miles from my family house to the top of the hill. Bear in mind as well, that when the call comes, I could stride through the worst part of town and never be scared. The call overtakes any sense of fear or anxiety. So I walked through the night with absolutely no qualms about being hurt by man or beast.
At the top of the hill (which is shaped like a sleeping lion), on its rump, was the fort clearing surrounded by trees. I had been up to the hill a few times before in the daytime. I went to a jagged tree that was about three times my height but slashed black down the middle – dead, struck by lightning. I shinned my way into the cradle of the tree where it had broken apart and sat there cross-legged looking over the clearing. And that’s when I saw the spirits: black shapes, drifting back and forth, not walking but floating and sometimes flying through the air. When I see them, I see them through my forehead; when I hear them, I hear them with the back of my head. That’s the only way I can explain it. They were aware of me. I was permitted to be there. It is vital to have permission to be in such places at such times. I will tell you further stories about what can happen if you don’t.
These were human spirits (perhaps belonging originally to the Bronze Age fort), but the spirit that had called me was that of the hill. I had focused on it, spoken to it and cultivated a relationship with it in my mind, out of respect, during my moon gazing jaunts. I had opened my palms to it and greeted it – spirit to spirit – and asked permission to dwell there. Sometimes I got a great sense of “No!”; this would be accompanied by a growing feeling of unease and danger. When that happened I would turn around and head home, even if I had only just arrived. Through this method of communication, I had built a relationship of respect and trust with the land and hill spirits.
So, I guess the key aspects that led to my time amongst the Bronze Age fort spirits were meditation (being able to quieten my inner chatter), acknowledging the land spirits (whether you directly feel them or not to start with), trusting your gut (if you feel unnerved, go; if you feel safe and relaxed, stay), being part of the place you wish to communicate with (I knelt on the ground, put my hands in the earth, filled my nostrils with earthy night-air, I absorbed everything around me through my senses). And I did all of this on a regular basis, expecting nothing in return except the joy of being WITH the spirits, sharing that liminal space with them. It never occurred to me at the time to involve those spirits in spellwork. For me it was the only time I felt “normal” and that was enough for me.
Next time: The spirit of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, plus a dead mill-working girl, and why I’m generally not fond of the human dead.