Ghost in the Flame - Part 1

The Previous Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here.

"I can see you in the candle flame," the spirit claimed.

"The candle light allows you to see me?" I asked. "You can see me by the candlelight or because of the candle?" I didn't understand if the communication was the result of some ritual -- some type of instinctual candle magic I'd performed without realizing it. Or was there something special about the candle itself? Or the old brass candlestick I'd brought from home, maybe remarkable simply for having been charged by all the times I'd used it in this context.

"No. Through the flame. Like looking through a keyhole…" explained the entity -- the ghost; this was certainly not an angel or one of the beings I would, decades later, come to know as a spirit guide. His presence was external and ambient, while being centered in a physical space.

"What is your name?" I immediately asked him.

"Harris," he said clearly, in a sound I can't call a whisper, because it swelled, with a surge of layers, more volume -- the name came like a chord, as if several voices spoke in unison, all of them his. Earthbound spirits often present names or simple sentences to me this way, with an eagerness and added force, like a very young child who has only recently discovered he can answer the question.

I may never know for sure if some ghosts speak their names to me because of my ability to hear them, or if the level of self-awareness is dependent on their own energetic strength. The names do not manifest in quite the same way as spirit guides, ascended masters, or other angelics -- I perceive the sounds of ghostly voices as true sound -- physically heavy and decidedly outside my own head, surrounding my body. While I believe that on some level I must receive all spirit voices clairaudiently -- from within -- a haunting feels like a part of the environment, like it's radiating from the molecules of matter around me -- coming at me -- from everywhere all at once.

It's like the air itself vibrates as millions of tiny speakers. The effect is frightening in the way any sudden, loud sound can make you jump out of your skin. Ghosts or earthbound spirits (or dead people, to be blunt) also generally present to me with more literal -- and limited -- information. Sometimes it's a command or warning; most disturbing of all, sometimes it's my own name. These voices are often not whispers, either -- they boom. Ghosts also generally present me with very distinct, repetitive clairvoyant imagery -- almost as if they have a "small psychic vocabulary" at their disposal, but are very practiced at reproducing certain specific tricks of manifestation.

Harris attached himself to me in the spring of 1988, in Athens, Georgia. I was eighteen years old, in the second quarter of my freshman year of college. In January, after returning from Holiday break, I had switched dorms, from a modern high-rise that felt like a hotel or public housing in a communist country to a much older, smaller co-ed building with more character and history called Reed Hall. Reed is located directly behind Sanford Stadium, and across the street and a set of train tracks from an enormous cemetery that reaches deep into the original part of North Campus.

Our room was one of about eight rooms -- two on each floor -- whose doors were actually out in the stairwell positioned at the end of one wing of the four story building. While each "hall" was technically a neighborhood determined by horizontal floor, those of us who dwelt in the stairwell joked about our hall's being vertical. Although these rooms were as far away from the communal bathrooms as they could possibly be, they did have a few benefits -- quick outside access without having to go through the main entrance, physical removal from the sounds of neighbors (if you didn't count the booming echo chamber of slamming doors), and an L-shape with an additional wall of windows that most room floor plans did not have.

The extra side window also overlooked the hills of the cemetery, with its enormous old-growth hardwood trees back-lit by sunsets. I adored the view, for the very same reasons, I assume, that other people pronounced it creepy.

Harris first made himself known to me on the occasion of an amateur séance. My roommate pulled out a standard Parker Brothers-issue ouija board, and a few of our girlfriends put it to use with squealing enthusiasm in a private candle-lit late-night afterhours party. The graveyard's proximity provided inspiration and encouragement.

A quick word about ouija boards (come on, we were eighteen/nineteen years old and intoxicated): I wouldn't call ouija boards dangerous so much as a sloppy means of communicating with spirits. Think of them as incredibly limited technology -- like the difference between tin cans on a string and an iPhone. The potential danger of a ouija board, in my opinion, is the lack of control or focus. There's no way to ensure with whom or what you may communicate -- there's no way to identify or filter who picks up on the other end. It's the medium's equivalent of answering a wrong number on a ringing public pay phone on a random street corner -- sure, you can pick up and say hello and talk to whomever you find there, but it's unlikely to be a meaningful or highly targeted connection.

I don't recommend employing ouija boards with any higher expectation than you might give to reading the spam email in your junk folder in hopes of finding something perfectly intended for you. There are certainly prayers or protective rituals that minimize the spiritual risks involved; I'd call ouija boards lame before I'd label them as evil.

I don't remember the details of the activity on the board -- eerie enough for some low brow entertainment, I'm sure. I do remember that as my friends were clustered around the board giggling and creeping themselves out, I was up on the top bunk above them with Harris. Picture it like a party, with small astral critters crashing through the window, playing with the board, picking around the room like raccoons, some directly participating, some lingering and watching, most moving on. And I was off in a corner deep in a one-on-one conversation with a full-on Voice.

Although it may seem like a safe situation to reveal my ability to communicate with spirits, you must understand that I have never been more secretive -- deeper in the closet -- about anything in my life. I did not trust that anyone -- even close friends open to mysticism -- would not think I was insane; I wasn't entirely sure that I was not. I still cringe a bit as I think of friends or family who have known me for years, reading this blog... I continue to fear the judgment for having lied about -- or withheld, at least -- my psychic experiences for thirty-five years.

A smattering of these mini séances may have occurred over several occasions, I honestly don't remember -- seems like they were a brief phase of creative social activity at a time when we were old enough to go to parties but still too young to legally hang out at bars. The ouija board activity came and went.

Harris, the ghost, stayed.

Ancestor Spirits

Harris was one of my first and most powerful connections with what I call an ancestor spirit. Technically, a medium is someone who communicates with the spirits of those who've crossed over. I am psychic, but I don't primarily function as a medium -- a better label for me might be angel intuitive with a special twist. I do pick up on what we call ghosts, constantly, all the time, but these experiences are very random and rarely practical or useful. Residual hauntings and apparitions usually feel automated to me, like some fragment of a recording playing over and over again in a specific location; there are other astral energies that maintain their personae and do present verifiable information, such as names and dates -- but mostly these earthbound spirits are a bit mad, or psychologically broken themselves, obsessing over an event or location.

Ancestor spirits do regularly present themselves to me when I do spirit guide readings, but it's more like a fleeting glimpse of who also happens to be there -- in your energy -- when I go looking: "Oh, there's a grandmother energy around you, someone named Victoria…" I'm getting better at this; it definitely helps confirm the information I receive.

Ancestor spirits are not guides; and anyone you've known in life who has passed over may still come around you, but their souls are simply not "old" enough to be guides. Remember, it's a commonly held theory that spirit guides are assigned to you prior to birth, so anyone you've met here in the flesh is not going to become your guide after they pass. If I knew when I was nineteen what I know now, when Harris first approached me I might have wondered if he was maybe a transit guide... But the information he offered was limited, the details were consistent with a haunting, and his means of communication was decidedly earthbound.

Sometimes, as with Harris, these entities are intense and purposeful, and connected with a living individual that I know. In this case, the moment he told me his name the first person I thought of was a girl I'd recently met and instantly connected with who lived downstairs, in the same dorm. Her name was Laura Harris. Laura was not present for the séance itself, but I couldn't ignore the obvious correspondence of the names.

I didn't know if Harris wanted to communicate with me, with Laura, or with her through me. Over the course of several weeks, he gave me a very short list of details to work with:

  • He did claim to have a connection with Laura
  • He kept showing me flowers -- funeral wreaths or sprays
  • He was very specific about the time frame he lived; he died somewhere around 1927-29; he committed suicide in his early twenties

As you'll see at the end of this story, we were able to verify the information he gave me. Not only did Harris prove to be my friend's ancestor, he led me to a member of my own family that not a single one of my living relatives knew about...

Due to the length of this tale, I'll continue with a Part 2 -- but I won't make you wait too long -- I'll come back mid-week and finish this memoir.

Seek Wisdom -- Practice Love

Foot notes: I have changed the names in this story to protect the identity of the real people involved.

The Next Chapter in The Paranormal Memoirs is here.