The Woman in Black

August 10th, 2016

A fresh look at the infamous Morton case of Cheltenham England. 

Apparition of a woman in black


Apparitions and haunting experiences, including all the associated phenomenon that fall under the umbrella of the word ghost, have been reported since the earliest time of recorded human history.

People relating first-hand encounters with ghosts represent every country, every culture, all major religions, socio-economic circumstances, educational backgrounds, and ages. And while belief in ghosts has never been considered fully respectable in general society, all attempts by both religious and natural, scientific philosophies to give an explanation to the phenomenon have failed to either dissuade popular interest in the subject or disrupt the phenomenon from occurring and being reported.

Experiences with ghosts, ghost stories, and myths of hauntings have been occurring without break or end throughout known human history. The overwhelming anecdotal evidence points to the reality of the existence of the phenomenon called ghosts; it is what the ghost and haunting experience actually is that is still very much hotly debated.

While there have been many theories and opinions on what ghosts are, from the natural to the PSI-based, there is little consensus among scholars and the public in general on the true origin or nature of the experience. The most popular notion of what a ghost may be is the belief it is representative of a deceased person's personality. We can call this the D.P.H or dead person hypothesis, and much like the E.T.H (extraterrestrial hypothesis) with UFO experiences, it is firmly entrenched as the popular "paranormal" belief, and very much supported throughout Western culture.

Both the D.P.H and the E.T.H may have merit, in fact they may even be the true cause of their respective events, no one can say with 100% certainty, however neither of these hypotheses have brought us any closer to an understanding of these strange happenings.

While I do not pretend to have any firm answers I do propose that we think outside of the box so to speak, and with this post I will attempt to have a different perhaps fresher and much needed look at infamous Morton case of Cheltenham England ie: The Woman In Black, in the hope that at the very least it may spur some discussion and new thinking.

For those who may be unfamiliar this is one of the best documented hauntings on record.  And I feel it is important here to give the reader a good background of this case before I put forward my thoughts on its possible nature.

The Morton Case

The Morton case from Cheltenham England is so named by the Society of Psychical Research after the pseudonym chosen to protect the witnesses at the time it was first reported. The haunting was initially documented by a 19-year-old medical student named Rosina Clara Despard, and it involved her own family. Rosina chose to report the case under the pseudonym Miss R. C. Morton, in order to protect her family's privacy at the time her reports were made to the SPR. Rosina documented several eyewitness accounts that later received independent verification from SPR founder Frederic W. H. Myers.

From approximately 1882 to 1889, Rosina and several members of her family repeatedly saw the apparition of a woman, which would wander through their home. The following is a firsthand account from Rosina:

“The figure was that of a tall lady, dressed in black of a soft woolen material, judging from the slight sound in moving. The face was hidden in a handkerchief held in the right hand. This is all I noticed then; but on further occasions, when I was able to observe her more closely, I saw the upper part of the left side of the forehead, and a little of the hair above. Her left hand was nearly hidden by her sleeve and a fold of her dress. As she held it down a portion of a widow’s cuff was visible on both wrists, so that the whole impression was that of a lady in widow’s weeds. There was no cap on the head but a general effect of blackness suggests a bonnet, with long veil or a hood” (Morton, 1892)

The specific and repetitive pattern of the path the apparition took is noteworthy: “The path began on the second floor of the house near Rosina’s bedroom, usually at a time when she would hear the sound of someone pushing against her bedroom door. Upon opening it, she would see the ghostly widow walking down the hallway landing towards the stairs. The figure would then descend all the way down to the ground floor and enter the front drawing room, where it would sit or stand for a brief period of time at a bow-shaped window located on the far side of the room. Then it would exit the room and head for a narrow passage leading out to the garden, where it would regularly vanish.”

In 1983 parapsychologist William Roll noted that apparitions experienced in haunted locations tended to display a repetitive pattern within the location:

“Apparitional experiences, especially of the repetitive haunting type, tend to be associated with a special area.” (Roll, and Cameron 1983 pp 74-80 )

In both the case Roll had investigated of a haunted radio station and in the Morton case, the apparition followed a specific pattern in the hallway (special area) of each respective building. Hallways and staircases often feature in haunted houses as the location of apparitions and I will be expanding more on this shortly.

Rosina had seen the apparition about six times between 1882 and 1884. She told no one in her family about her experiences, and during the same time frame at least three other people in the house saw the apparition. At times the ghost looked so solid to the other people seeing her that she was often mistaken for a real person, as this account illustrates:

In the summer of 1882 [the widow appeared] to my sister, Mrs. K., when the figure was thought to be a Sister of Mercy who had called at the house, and no further curiosity was aroused. She was coming down the stairs rather late for dinner at 6:30, it being then quite light, when she saw the figure cross the hall in front of her, and pass into the drawing-room. She then asked the rest of us, already seated at dinner, “Who was that Sister of Mercy whom I have just seen going into the drawing-room?” She was told there was no such person, and a servant was sent to look; but the drawing-room was empty, and she was sure no one had come in. Mrs. K. persisted that she had seen a tall figure in black, with some white about it; but nothing further was thought of the matter (Morton, 1892).

Rosina’s younger brother and another little boy also saw the apparition while they were playing outside on the terrace one afternoon in December of 1883. They both looked into the bow window of the drawing room at the same time and saw the apparition standing there and appearing to cry. Both ran inside to see who the lady was who was crying in the window, they found no one there. The maid told them that no one had come into the house.

The following encounter is of interest as it illustrates a common element in other hauntings.

“I went into the drawing-room, where my father and sisters were sitting, about 9 in the evening, and sat down on a couch close to the bow window. A few minutes after, as I sat reading, I saw the figure come in at the open door, cross the room and take up a position close behind the couch where I was. I was astonished that no one else in the room saw her, as she was so very distinct to me. My youngest brother, who had before seen her, was not in the room. She stood behind the couch for about half an hour, and then as usual walked to the door.”

Rosina was apparently the only one, out of several people in the room, to see the apparition. This could be suggestive of an ESP component to the haunting. And it should be noted that not all the people living in the house at the time saw the apparition or experienced any other haunting phenomena. Rosina’s father and step mother did not experience the apparition at all during this period.

All sorts of attempts were made by Rosina to test the physicality and capture evidence of the apparition. Rosina tied strings across the path the apparition would take, and would at least in one instance attempt to tackle the ghost in order to touch it. These along with an attempt to photograph the apparition yielded little results. Rosina also tried to talk to the apparition and communicate with it using various symbols.

“I opened the drawing-room door softly and went in, standing just by it. She [the ghost] came in past me and walked to the sofa and stood still there, so I went up to her and asked her if I could help her. She moved, and I thought she was going to speak, but she only gave a slight gasp and moved towards the door. Just by the door I spoke to her again, but she seemed as if she were quite unable to speak.”

This seemed to indicate some awareness on the part of the apparition.

Other haunting phenomena experienced in the house included the sounds of footsteps, temperature fluctuations i.e. cold spots and icy breezes felt by the witnesses in the presence of the apparition, although Rosina noted that the candles never blew out.

The apparition appeared solid and very life-like in the beginning, but it seemed to gradually fade over time, and by 1889 it had vanished completely. Inquiries made by the Despard family revealed that the apparition resembled an Imogen Swinhoe the second wife of a previous occupant of the house. 

It should be noted that the woman most strongly suspected to be the cause of apparition did not die in the house. The family eventually moved out of the house and Rosina went on to become a physician of forensic medicine.

Very few cases of  a haunted location have been so well documented and debated as the Morton case. The early haunting experience demonstrates instances of collective apparitional experience, a possible example of a retained “place memory” in the form of a recurring apparition, which may have shown a minor degree of awareness and an ESP component to the ghost’s appearance, and suggestions of immateriality in the apparition’s figure despite its solid-looking form.


Cheltenham House


Later hauntings

Throughout later decades the house changed hands a number of times, and is currently in use. It has most recently been divided into flats. And while the phenomenon seemed to have gradually stopped for the Despard family, it continued on with newer generations of witnesses of varying backgrounds right up until the 1990s. Later witnesses described the apparition as occasionally being outside of the house and surprisingly the apparition has also been reported to have appeared in other buildings in Cheltenham that would have been around in the time period of the first hauntings.

“The figure of a woman resembling the ghost of St Anne's was seen in 1958 and 1961 in Cotswold Lodge, a building now demolished, which stood on the opposite side of the road from St Anne's and within sight of it.”

The following is an example of a haunting in the old Despard family home, which was then known as St Anne’s, nearly eight decades later.

"In the autumn of 1969 I stayed at St Anne's with a number of clergy for a residential weekend. It is important to state I had not heard of St Anne's reputation and therefore had no expectations.

Having said evensong the clergy decided to visit a local hotel for a drink. Feeling the onset of a heavy cold, I decided to stay in and have an early night, helping myself to tea downstairs and taking two aspirin tablets. It was our custom to make our own beds to help the staff of St Anne's, so I made my bed very carefully it was not very warm in the bedroom and retired. I feel asleep quickly.

I woke to the strange sound and sensation of fingers scratching the eiderdown across the back of my neck and thought it must be a silly practical joke by some other man who had come into the bedroom, leaving the others outside. So I sat up suddenly to catch the man in the act, as it were, only to find no-one by the bed. The room felt bitterly cold when, to my amazement, the bedclothes, which I had carefully tucked in myself, seemed to be pulled slowly from me onto the floor at the foot of the bed.

I had said the office of evensong in the chapel and my prayer book was still open at the page by my bedside. The room was quite light without the bedside lamp. Quickly I repeated: Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord, And by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of the night, etc . . .

As I said the words, a grey shape took form by the door and came at me slowly, passing over my head and through the wall on my left shoulder. I put on the light and searched the landing, staircase and house. I was alone. No-one had returned from the hotel and it was still only about 10.45. I remade the bed and returned to sleep, thinking my cold was worse, and that I had experienced a bad dream and caused my own bedding to slip by my own movements. Perhaps the grey figure was a trick of moonlight and my cold feelings, my slight temperature and even fear. I decided to say nothing.

In 1970 when I was at Wells Theological College a discussion one evening turned to a great surprise when someone, a member of the Society for Psychical Research, began to describe experiences at St Anne's House, Cheltenham. It seems that I was not alone! So I described the above incident. I learned that another clergyman (who has since died) had had an almost identical experience to mine and that I had slept in the principal bedroom, and the wall through which the grey shape had passed led to what had been a dressing room of the original house. Changes in the structure had been made when it became a retreat house and a doorway from one room to the other was blocked by a partition wall. This account by the clergyman, whose name I am withholding, is of great interest. “( Andrew Mackenzie 1986)

It is notable that this later experience included poltergeist-type phenomenon i.e. the removal of the bedclothes, which was missing from the list of happenings in the house during the occupancy of the Despard family in the 1880s.

St Anne's was closed as a Diocesan house on December 31st 1970 and in 1973 was bought by a housing association for conversion into flats. The first tenants, a taxi driver and his wife, took the second floor flat that contained Rosina’s old bedroom and from where she (Rosina) first saw the apparition of the woman in black. The couple soon began to experience haunting phenomenon. These later events were also very well documented.

Apparitions, Liminality and Symbolism

So what really happened? Who or what is the "woman-in-black?" I believe we should focus our attention on the very first witness. It is the experients in any paranormal event that can be considered the one truly tangible component of any given case. Whatever is occurring we can all agree it is a human (living) experience.

In this case witness zero is the young medical student Rosina Despard. Who was she? What was going on in her life, and in a greater general context of the world in which she lived in?

Apparitions and other haunting phenomenon by their nature and popular definition can be defined as liminal.

“The term liminality has its origins in Anthropology, referring to the borders of and spaces between categories Limen in Latin means threshold, and anthropologists have become interested in a certain state experienced by persons as they pass over the threshold from one stage of life to another. For instance, the rite of passage at puberty has three phases: separation from ones status as a child, then a liminal stage, and finally reintegration into society as a full and independent member with rights and responsibilities that the initiate did not have before. During the liminal stage, the between stage, ones status becomes ambiguous, one is neither here nor there one is betwixt and between all fixed points of classification.”

George Hansen in his book The Paranormal and the Trickster noted the liminal nature of PSI events; ghosts, UFOs and other paranormal occurrences.

Ghosts are us and they are not us, they are not really alive nor are they really dead. When examining trends within haunting reports it can be noted that they are often representative of places that could be considered liminal too. This includes specific locations within the haunted buildings such as windows, doorways, staircases, and hallways where apparitions are more often reported.

Time periods can also be considered in liminal states, and it would be of interest to see if this corresponds in a general time frame of lengthy hauntings like the Morton case that can be a century or more in duration with groups of reported haunting experiences separated by decades or an entire generation. Did each outbreak of haunting occur during a liminal time period? This line of inquiry could be expanded within investigations of hauntings to include the experient. Are they in a liminal state as defined by their culture? An example of a liminal state in modern Western culture is divorce and, even more so, marital separation, and another example may be graduate school, an often protracted liminal state, as graduate students are not yet professionals nor are they students, yet they are both.

So who or what was the "Woman In Black" Really?

Let us now consider the Morton case where the very first experient, a 19 year old Rosina Clara Despard in Victorian England (a period of well defined gender roles) is studying to become a forensic doctor at the time of the apparition’s first appearance.

Witness zero begins experiencing an apparition of a "woman-in black" in the house she shares with her parents and younger siblings. It is of interest here to note that in Jungian analysis the home or house is symbolic of the self or psyche. Residences feature predominately in cases of hauntings and people in general when thinking of ghosts may picture in their minds the classic image of a “haunted house.”

Rosina not only could be seen as personally living in a liminal state at the time of her experience, and during a liminal time period in general for women; the first women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom was becoming a national movement around the time frame of the hauntings. This is an excerpt from a paper examining the lives of women in the U.K from 1905-1914 similar to that of our witness.

"Ambitious middle-class women faced enormous challenges and the goals of entering suitable careers, such as nursing, teaching, law and medicine. The loftier their ambition, the greater the challenge. Physicians kept tightly shut the door to medicine; there were a few places for woman as lawyers, but none as clerics." 


Halévy, History of the English People: The Rule of Democracy (1905-1914) (1932) pp 500-6 

Life as a young woman living in a large middle-class family and training for a career in science during Victorian times could not have been easy on Rosina by any stretch of the imagination and it is a shame we have no personal accounts of her thoughts, feelings and life in general beyond her ghostly experiences.

If we examine the life of witness zero in this case, and in general the location and time frame that Rosina lived in, we can then begin to speculate a little more on symbolism of the experience as a possible expression of Rosina herself.

Woman in black symbol of female oppression.


The apparition viewed as a woman–in-black so popularly thought to be the representation of a dead widow can in my opinion be interpreted as symbolic of the social constraints on women of that era. The apparition then becomes a mirror of the first witness' life, and the general circumstance of the location and era in which she lived. The apparition could in fact be an outward  subconscious projection of Rosina's own inner realm and psyche, and that of a greater collective unconscious.

It is further interesting to note that after the Despard family moved the haunting activity then becomes dormant until the late 1960s, and reignites during another pivotal time in the woman’s rights movement when the house was occupied by males and served as a Diocesan house. PSI as far as we understand it knows no constraints of space or time and perhaps Rosina's haunting became reactivated during this highly charged time for women and the so called sexual revolution?

These ideas can be further explored within this case and the later hauntings, and I will write more indepth about that at another time.

The purpose of this blog entry is to merely give the reader a taste at the potential insights that can emerge if we free ourselves from the contraint of the dead person hypothesis. Focusing on the witness and using some of these ideas and tools to reexamine older cases with well established time lines and documentation and newer ones going forward, could provide a much better framework in my opinion, for attempting to understand the true nature of these experiences.

References, credits, and further reading suggestions:

Cameron T and Roll W. An Investigation of Apparitional Experiences, THETA Volume 11, Number 4, Winter 1983 (pp 74-80)

Copelman Dina, London's Women Teachers: Gender, Class and Feminism 1870-1930 (1996) 

Evans Hilary, Visions Apparitions, and Alien Visitors: A Comparative Study of the Entity Enigma, Great Britain: Aquarian Press, 1984

Evans, H. The Ghost Experience in a Wider Context. In Houran, J., & Lange, R. (Eds.), Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001

Gurney E, Myers F. W. H, and Podmore F, Phantasms of the Living. Trubner and Co., London, 1886.
Hansen George P, The Trickster and the Paranormal, New York: Xlibris, 2001

Jaffe Aniela, Apparitions: An Archetypal Approach to Death, Dreams and Ghosts (c) 1983

Mackenzie Andrew, Hauntings and apparitions. London; Paladin 1986 

Molto Kimberly, True Tales of the Paranormal, Toronto: Hounslow , 2002

Morton, R. C. Record of a haunted house. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 8, 1892 pp 311 – 332.

Tyrrell G.N.M, Apparitions, Great Britain: Collier Books, 1963 [First published 1943]


House photo from Ghosts of

Women-In-Black apparitions uncredited on Pinterest

Strange as a whisper I am there looking glass

August 6th, 2016

"Die Liebe ist stark wie der Tod , so hart wie die Hölle. Der Tod scheidet die Seele vom Leibe , die Liebe aber scheidet, alle Dinge von der Seele" ~ Meister Eckhart

Self portrait in a mirror 

Strange as a whisper I am there Looking Glass

Translated into English the quote above reads "Love is as strong as death, as hard as Hell. Death separates the soul from the body, but love separates all things from the soul.”

The following blog post deals with my experiments using a psychomanteum in the hope of healing the broken heart I endured after my Mother's death in August 2009. It was an extremely difficult time for me not only emotionally, but physically and psychically as well. Much of what will be shared below comes from a private diary I kept at the time of the psychomanteum sessions. I called these sessions my Summer experiment of 2010, and I will let the reader judge for themselves the true nature of what transpired.

Before going further I will give a brief description and history of the psychomanteum for those who are not familiar with it. The psychomanteum is based on the ancient Greek oracles of the dead. People who wished to consult with the souls of the dead would enter a very dark place, and then gaze into a reflective surface, such as a pool of still water which facilitated a hypnotic or trance-like state. The reflective surface then became a conduit into another realm for those participants who were able to achieve an altered state of consciousness. This evocation of visions, and spirits was considered to be beneficial and enlightening.



In modern times the psychomanteum was reinvented by Dr Raymond A. Moody, author of the best-selling book Life After Life. Experiments with the process of the psychomanteum led him to the conclusion that it would be a good therapeutic tool, especially for those who were dealing with an intense or prolonged grief. You can learn more by clicking the link, which will open in another window. 


Newspaper article on Dr Moody's work

For those interested in psychomanteum experiments I highly recommend reading his book first. It is fairly easy to build a makeshift psychomanteum within a quiet, darkened room, with mirrors, and a candle. It was Moody's book that gave me the inspiration to try out the psychomanteum for myself and I took into advisement his caution that this was not something to be undertaken lightly.



They still stand and in their silent rooms still wander, the souls of the dead, who keep their watch on the living. ~ Jim Morrison

My father had passed away 10 years prior in 1999, and with Mom's death, which followed a very brief and horrific illness I felt like a great big orphan. I tried to go into the psychomanteum experiment with no expectations, but of course the hope was to see a vision of my Mother, to tell her how much I loved and missed her and perhaps with that, begin healing my own deep sorrow.

At the very least, even if nothing at all happened, I figured it was something to focus on beyond the sadness and the other stresses I was going through at that time. 

It was early June 2010 when I began the first sessions. Special mirrors were purchased that I felt personally drawn to for the project.

At first I used a very dark and quiet room, and a comfy chair. This later progressed to a totally dark space with virtually no sound, pretty much a closet with comfy pillows where I sat cross legged in the lotus position gazing into the mirror with a very minimal light. The mirrors were positioned at a slight angle so that I could not really see my own reflection very well. This is apparently helpful to the process. I gave up on the candle fairly early on as I actually found the flickering flame distracting. The psychomanteum experience can be tailored around one's own ability to achieve an altered state in my opinion so there is no hard and fast rules beyond the very basic set-up.

I kept a diary with detailed entries for each session including the start time and duration of each, even what I did or did not eat earlier in the day. I see myself as a self experimenting quasi scientist with each of my summer experiments and this was true with the psychomanteum.

The first few sessions produced nothing really noteworthy beyond an eerie sensation of being watched. That feeling never went away, but as I became more comfortable with it, I was able to achieve a much deeper state of relaxation. It was then that odd things began to occur.

From my notes at the time, each session would begin with a very strong sense of someone, a presence if you will that was with me. The first and really only visions I had began as balls of light that I would see seemingly exit the mirror and dance about around me. With each session the number increased and they began to appear in various colours, sometimes very vibrant in rich blues, and reds. "Like jewels dancing in the night sky, little suns, ufos." This is a quote from my entry of July 10th 2010. And within a few days of that entry I began hearing disembodied voices or having auditory hallucinations if you prefer.

The "voices" I heard were both male and female and something else.... "very melodic almost soothing like the wind chimes in a gentle breeze." At first I could not recognise the language they were speaking, but it sounded to me to be German. This was the birth language of my Mother, and one which she spoke frequently at home, but it was not her voice that I heard, and was I assumed a different dialect from the one she spoke. I could not make out any clear sentences at all, which was frustrating. The voices seemed faraway and speaking very fast. And when I made attempts to really consciously listen to the words the trance state would be broken and I would be left sitting in a dark closet feeling even more frustrated that I had no idea what had happened or what was being said.


Hildegard of Bingen

Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary

I really have no good speculation on why the experiment produced such results. The experience was not at all what I had expected, which at worst I figured would result in nothing more than feeling silly at even attempting it, or at best a true appritional experience of my Mom and similar to that described by some of Dr Moody's patients. Whoever or whatever the German voices really were I can say that they felt very familiar and comforting to me at the time, even if I could not truly make out what they were saying. This is noted in my psychomanteum diary.

The "voices" led me into some interesting research on German or Rhineland mysticism, which was a late medieval Christian mystical movement that was especially prominent within the Dominican order in Germany. It originated with Hildegard of Bingen who some believe was an early UFO experient if you put a modern space-age spin on her experiences and it includes Meister Eckhart who I have quoted above. In a bit of synchronicity shortly after my experiments a friend began working on her Master's thesis on Hildegard and in turn shared much of her own research with me. This was an illuminating and thought provocative period for me that took me into areas of study I may have otherwise never considered, and for that I am indebted and grateful to both my friend and the psychomanteum experience.



I continued on with the psychomanteum sessions until September 16th 2010, which marked my last entry in the diary. Over the course of three months I had experienced the strong feeling of being watched, of an unseen presence, beautiful balls of light, disembodied sounds including voices, and occasional knocks or bangs similar if not identical to poltergeist raps. Coincidentally the last day of my experiment almost coincides directly with the death of Hildegard 830 years prior on September 17th 1179.

In my notes for that day I wrote, "I need to take a break from this, but I will revisit it soon again."  


I never did. 

"Love is the strongest force, more stronger than even Death."   ~ Said Myself.

I did not see an apparition of my Mother in the psychomanteum. When my Mom was dying in the weeks leading up to her passing she would tell me that I would always see her in my dreams. And I have.

The intense grief including anger that I felt at the loss of my Mom has long since ebbed away. Life if you let it will get in the way of grief, and while the pain diminishes, the missing never goes away. And that in my mind is how it should be, although it has taken 6 full years before I found myself in a place mentally and emotionally where I could openly share my experiment.

I cannot truly say that the psychomanteum helped me with the grieving process, but I did ultimately achieve a highly personal and interesting experience from my sessions. It does not matter in my opinion if they were merely simple hallucinations or something far more mysterious and profound, it was the end result that I found to be beneficial and worthwhile to me.


Please note: The photo of myself posted above is fairly recent and that was not one of the mirrors used in the original experiment. 

For further reading on psychomanteum research you may be interested in a series of experiments conducted in Alberta Canada in 2014. A new window will open up if you click on the link provided. 

More on the history of the Oracle of the Dead through this link which also opens up in a new window. 

Further suggested reading based on my personal experiences:

Spiritual Encounters with Unusual Light Phenomena: Lightforms By Mark Fox  (c) 2008
Published by: University of Wales Press

Apparitions: An Archetypal Approach to Death, Dreams and Ghosts by Aniela Jaffe  (c) 1983

Life After Life by Raymond Moody (c) 1975


Synchronicity and the Sword that ran to me

July 13th, 2016

Sue St Clair and her Fairy Sword

"This is the strangest life I've ever known." ~ Jim Morrison

I have led a fairly eventful life and my interests include many odd things, but the story of my sword is by far one of the strangest experiences I have had. And considering I am a witness of a UFO that says a lot! 

It started out as a normal Saturday  morning with some errands to run, when something utterly random and strange happened.  I ended up unexpectedly in a not very familiar part of town when I noticed a woman setting up for a garage sale in her driveway. She had a bookshelf set up and I noted we had some common interests including a fairy book she had put into the mix. I struck up a conversation with her, and I spoke with her for perhaps ten minutes in total. She was a lovely Irish lady by the name of Gwenifer. 

Before I went on my way she said she had something she figured I might like to have.  I must state at this point that she was, until that morning, a complete stranger to me, and for the most part she still very much is. She could have had no idea my interests, or that I love, and collect swords.

She went over to her porch and brought the sword pictured above out to me. Of course I was highly intrigued and delighted by this beautiful sword.

Her story as to how the sword had come into her possession was that a drunken actor apparently gave it to her in a pub in Stratford. She said she had figured it had been used as a prop. This sort of suprised me as this would be a dangerous "prop" because this is a very real short sword or rapier.

Beautiful, light weight and a dream to hold and handle. I was enchanted immediately. I said to her that I loved it and on the spot she just gave it to me.

She gave it to me.

Gwenifer, taped a coin to the hilt, which you can see in the photo above, and she proceed to present me with the sword in an Irish Gaelic ceremony. Incredible as I am now deeply immersed in researching my own Celtic heritage. 

The gift of an accompanying coin when presented with a sharp object is a widespread tradition in many different cultures, and that includes knives, scissors, and swords. It is a symbolic offering for not severing a friendship or that the sword in turn will not be used against the person who gifted it. 

I told her about my fairy tree, which is where my sword is now proudly hanging. A protection of all the faery and nature spirits.  

This was a very Arthurian-like event in an unfamiliar neighbourhood,  and a strange woman named Gwenifer who was distributing swords from her driveway.

I believe this gives me a mandate to form a government! &#59;)

There is a long standing love affair with swords and both sides of my family. My Mother fenced as did my Uncles who won many tournaments, and trophies including a medal at the Pan Am games. Pictured below my Uncles Mike, Joe, and Arthur.


1940's CNE Three musketeers.  


I love swords and I  collect them. Swords are magickal tools and this one is very special. My very own sword of time. Clearly this sword wanted to be mine. It did not just call out to me, it ran to me. And I LOVE it. :) 



Fairies: Canadian Research Project

July 5th, 2016


Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.

~William Butler Yeats, "The Land of Heart's Desire," 1894

I am currently working on a research project for an upcoming article and book chapter on Canadian fairy folklore and true encounters with fairies or fairy-like beings in Canada. If you can help me with research leads, or have a book recommendation please leave me a comment below. I would greatly appreciate it.

If you have had an encounter or know someone who has please do contact me. I would love to hear from you. My email address is Your personal information will be kept strictly confidential and your privacy protected.

Thank you in advance for any help and if you too are interested in fairies from a historical, folklore and experience perspective you may wish to have a look at the Fairy Investigation Society which has a great website and resource for everything Fae.

Update: July 14th 2016

Just a quick note to say thank you to everyone who has shared this post in the past few days and has taken the time to write to me. I really appreciate it. I have receieved some very interesting reports so far and I have shared one here: UFOs and Fairy Folk

I am still very much looking for research leads and would love to hear about your own encounters. 


The Witch: A Horrific Fairytale & History Lesson

May 10th, 2016

The Witch


I have been eagerly anticipating watching this movie since I first received advanced screening tickets last Winter. Unfortunately at the time I was sick, and I ended up not going. This movie, however had been on my must-see list ever since. And finally, this past weekend I was able to see it.

The Witch was well worth it, and managed to exceed my own expectations. I have not reviewed a film in a while, but this is one I want to share my thoughts on, so here goes.

Everything about this film is haunting, and wretchedly beautiful. Filmed in northern Ontario, and set in 1630 New England there is a darkness about this film that at once captivated and repulsed me.

Which is exactly what I want from a horror film.

After seeing this movie (and I intend to see it again) I was not surprised to learn that director Robert Eggers won Best Director at Sundance last year.

By bringing to life their worst nightmares, this film gives us a much greater insight into the life and beliefs of early Puritan settlers. As a social history nerd I appreciated that the dialogue was delivered in early modern English, which is what they would have spoken. The attention to details, with only a handful of tiny exceptions, and the years of historical research that were put into the film give it an authenticity that lacks in many period pieces. Yes, I know I'm being a history snob, but the film was far more powerful because of it.

The Witch follows a Puritan family from their exile out of an established settlement to an isolated and harsh location on the edge of a forbidding wilderness. Soon after arriving in this wild and untamed place their decent into a horrific black magic paranoia begins, and it culminates with the branding of their eldest child Thomasin as a Witch. An accusation that could have very easily been a death sentence in that time period and culture.

The word Witch even today is seen as ugly and dirty within many different cultures, and religious beliefs.

In an interview with The Daily Beast Robert Eggers had this to say about the nightmarish place he transports us to in his film:

"To immerse you in this world, you have to understand that they really believed in this stuff," he said. "Fairytales bled into reality. I wanted you to experience that. I'm not judging them or their beliefs. Shitting on religion in 2016 is so easy, what's the point?"

And you do feel a sense of genuine terror and sympathy for the family. People of that time really did believe, and that is what is brought home to us so frighteningly in this movie. As someone who is interested in the occult and in Parapsychology I also must consider that in part some strange things really did happen, and were interpreted through Puritan lenses, which are so strange and foreign to my own.

Anya Taylor-Joy played the part of Thomasin the protagonist, brilliantly. In interviews she relates how she believes in magic and grew up surrounded by it.

"I love magic. As a kid I would run into the woods and try to find witches and be like, ''Yo, I'd like to join you. There are magic moments you get as an actor where you react to something so strongly that you feel it in your body. There were a couple of lines throwing the word "witch" around where I literally was like "Whoa, that's what that means."

From the moment baby Sam was stolen to the horror of having her parents turn against her I found my 21st century soul rooting for Thomasin. It was as if I could feel where the hysteria would lead, and therefore the conclusion was more of a final freeing and liberating in my mind.

There was much symbolism woven into this tale. And while the Director has said, and I believe him, that he did not set out to make a feminist movie, that is of course what the story of witches really is. All women as noted are still living with the ramifications of the "Evil Witch" archetype to this very day.

The conscious and subconscious fears of female power, and sexuality are really the driving force behind the witch hysteria of the time. And yes, while some men suffered as accused witches as well, it was predominately females who were tried and executed. Women were generally believed to be weaker both physically and morally than men, and therefore more likely to be taken in by the Devil's charms.

The film explores family dynamics, and the very clearly defined roles in the Puritan era. It also delves into the very different concerns and expectations of daughters versus sons. And male versus female sexuality.

All of this works to cast a spell on the viewer, sorry I could not resist the pun, and really keep us captivated throughout the well paced film.

I have heard some negative comments among the genuine accolades this film has earned. And I am guessing this may be because it does not appeal to the average horror fan, despite containing many of the elements you would find in a horror film. What we have here is more of a psycho drama or psychological thriller set in a frightful past and steeped in folklore. And clearly this not your average Hollywood movie, it is elevated, intriguing, and at times genuinely disturbing.

In a handful of words I can sum up by saying I loved it.

And I sincerely hope to see more films from Robert Eggers.

Ghost Stories: Haunted Ontario Lakes

October 25th, 2015

Ghost Stories: Haunted Ontario Lakes  book cover

My copy of Haunted Ontario Lakes 

 It is a dark and chilly late October day. The wind is quite literally whistling outside my window as I sit down to write-up this review for Haunted Ontario Lakes. And I cannot help, but to feel this is the perfect time for anyone to get into some good ghostly tales.

Anyone who knows me and my love of all that is spooky, especially when it comes to books will not be surprised to hear that I brewed up a pot of some fine Earl Grey tea on a damp, cold late Fall day and sat down with this book and read through it literally in one sitting. Not only is the book a fun and easy read, it is very well researched and I am a stickler for good historic works. The stories that are presented are not fictional. In fact they are written with both reported, historical, and even personal accounts of both writers, the latter making this even more worthwhile as you gain a sense of actually visiting the various locations along with Andy and Maria.

I am a researcher and the current webmaster of the The Toronto, and Ontario Ghosts and Hauntings Research Societies which has been active in Ontario for 18 years. I also provide research material on ghosts and hauntings to PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Investigations Canada.  I'm giving you my paranormal CV as a way of saying you might think that I have heard pretty much all of the ghostly goings on within my own province. And for the most part you'd be right. This is why I am always pleasantly surprised when the authors find new information and even stories. Some of the stories contained in the book are historical, but many are fresh and will be new to most readers.

There are a good number of fantastic reports of encounters with ghosts and, tantalizingly, other supernatural elements. I do not want to giveaway any spoilers, but I will say locations covered in the book include pubs to theatres to resorts, and almost all are places you can visit now. An interesting amount of family stories are included, and many involving the ghosts of children, but that is to be expected when dealing in this topic and geographical area.

While the book is Ontario-centric it should appeal to anyone who is interested in well researched, and true ghost stories. As I mention above most of the locations are accessible to the general public. If you enjoy being a paranormal tourist this book is well worth the read and another interesting way to plan your next trip out to Ontario's vacation area lakes. It is a perfect companion and follow up to their earlier Cottage Country Ghosts.

Haunted Ontario Lakes is available at most local bookstores, big box stores like Chapters and directly from Lone Pine Publishing

Haunted Ontario Lakes 

(c) 2015

Authors Maria Da Silva and Andrew Hind

Ghost House Books/Lone Pne Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-55105-918-1


Haunted Hotels and Motels: Why are they so haunted?

October 6th, 2015

Royal York Hotel Toronto

The Royal York Hotel - Toronto  The Toronto Ghosts and Hauntings Research Society

The season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel is set to debut shortly and with the question of why hotels, motels, and inns factor into horror fiction and real life ghost encounters was recently posed to me by a reporter for the National Post. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on this spooky topic here through my blog and provide a listing of what I believe are some of Canada's more infamous haunted hotels.

American Horror Story: Hotel 


If you think about it we are at our most vulnerable in our own homes, it is where we let our guards down, where we shower, and bathe and where we sleep. When we travel and we book ourselves into a motel, an inn or hotel we are putting our complete trust into these establishments, by being our home away from home. For this reason they naturally lend themselves as a backdrop to scary fiction and horror movies as they represent places where we can be found at our most vulnerable. Films such as Psycho, and The Shining, along with more recent television offerings like The Bates Motel, and American Horror Story, which combine the supernatural and psychopathic killers, use these locations to entertain while unnerving us to much success. 

I personally believe that the reputation for hauntings within hotels is a little more complex than just exposing our vulnerability in an unfamiliar setting. My own research into these locales demonstrates that it is equally likely that the staff members will report ghost encounters as it the guests. If I compare these findings with other places that are statistically higher in the number of ghost reports from public places such as hospitals, and theatres what is suggested is that places where there is a lot of human experience and drama are more likely to be haunted. Ghosts tend to haunt where people lived, worked and played and hotels tend to fit all three of those things quite nicely.

In general staying in an unfamiliar place can be unnerving for some people, and if you combine a rich history and ghostly lore our imaginations could run wild particularly as hotels have earned their places in horror fiction. However, most personal encounters that I have examined over the years including my own overnight visits to the Guild Inn which had a lengthy history of being haunted before being torn down, are far less dramatic than anything you'll find in a good scary book or movie. These types of experiences are far more likely to make you go hmmm than send you fleeing for your life.

The Canadian Pacific Hotels in particular (Canada's castles) are from a by-gone age and all of them seem to have a ghostly legend or two attached. Some of these stories can be traced back to actual historical events while others, their origins are obscured through time and retelling and perhaps more influenced by the setting of these magnificent places that really do inspire a good ghost story.

Whatever your own belief in ghosts and spirits may be, people from all walks of life do encounter strange and ghostly things on occasion while staying in these places. Their reputation as a haunt is very much intact and their ghostly lore will live on long after their current guests have checked out.


Haunted Hotels Across Canada

Where to begin.... there are just so many haunted accomodations from the grand CP hotels along the Grand Trunk, ancient inns around Niagara on the Lake and the Muskokas, motels and B&Bs from coast to coast. Here is a very limited listing in no particular order. Click on the name to be taken to a page that will give you more information on the hauntings.

The Guild Inn - Scarborough Ontario

Guild Inn hotel before demolition

Stories prior to it demolition include an apparition of a tall man with a black top hat, a blue and brown eyed child ghost, poltergeist activity. The grounds are still reputedly haunted. The link details some of my own experiences at the Guild Inn. 

The Royal York Hotel - Toronto Ontario

(pictured above) 

An apparition of a grey haired man appears in a maroon smoking jacket and slacks silently moving along the hallway of the eighth floor of the dormitory tower.  He is also encountered on the stairwells. 

Banff Springs Hotel - Banff Alberta


Ghosts of Banff Springs Hotel

Secret rooms, apparitions, and even a story of time travel within this beautiful old hotel. 

 Marlborough Hotel - Winnipeg Manitoba

Historic photo of the location that became today's Marlborough hotel

The real ghosts and hauntings at this infamous Canadian hotel have inspired author Maureen Flynn to write a fictional story based on them which I review here.  

Fort Garry Hotel - Winnipeg Manitoba

Haunted Fort Garry

The ghost of a woman who apparently committed suicide is said to haunt room 202. She has been seen, floating above the foot of the bed. This same woman is also believed to haunt the lounge, where she is said to be seen crying. 

The Bessborough Hotel - Saskatoon Saskatchewan

Bessborough Hotel Saskatoon

The hotel has a reutation for being haunted by the spirit of a smiling older man, who is dressed in a gray suit and wearing a fedora. He has been seen by staff walking on the banquet floor late at night. He is reported to be harmless, and most do not even realise he is a ghost when first encountering him.

The Algonquin Hotel - St. Andrews By The Sea  New Brunswick

The Algonquin Hotel - St. Andrews By The Sea  New Brunswick

Legends of ghostly apparritions and a poltergeist haunt this historic hotel on the east coast.

The Fairmount Empress - Victoria British Columbia 

Empress Hotel

"There is a local legend that The Empress is haunted. The apparition of thin mustached man walking the halls with a cane is thought to be of the building’s architect, Francis Rattenbury. A maid is seen on the sixth floor still cleaning after her death. A little girl who is often seen by guests haunts one room. During the 1960s, a construction worker working on the west tower’s top floor saw a shadowy form swinging from the ceiling; apparently another worker hung himself there a year earlier. Guests have reported an elderly woman in pajamas knocking on their door. When guests try to help her find her room she leads them toward the elevator before vanishing. She is believed to be a ghost that once haunted one room after dying of natural causes, but that room was demolished to make room for more elevators, hence, her journey to the elevator."  Source:  West Coast Living Canada

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel - Montreal Quebec

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel

Phantom footsteps, apparitions, and poltergeist activity have been reported from this beautiful old hotel in Montreal



Can you add to the list above? Have you encountered a ghost or spirit in a haunted hotel? If so please leave me a comment I'd like to hear your story.


All images within this post that were not taken by me or are in the public domain in Canada have been licensed under the creative commons non-commercial use license.



Colouring Books As Therapy

September 28th, 2015

This past June I wrote about a terrific local artist I met at the NA-ME-RES Summer Solstice pow-wow at Fort York. Raven Crow has developed a series of coloring books that are based on her artwork that she used as a form of therapy in her recovery from a series of devastating strokes. Her art and her colouring books have been aptly named The Gifts That Come From My "Strokes" and are available for purchase at various events and through her website here

 Raven Crow - Artist

We totally bonded over art and specifically coloring as a form of therapy. I told her how I recovered from two major surgeries in 2013 and 2014 through the love of colouring and coloring books, and of course after seeing her stuff I wanted to colour Raven's drawings.

Gifts From My Strokes

Here is my colouring book.

Last week I buggered up my knee  and I have been working via laptop with my leg propped up. This also gave me the perfect opportunity to indulge in some colouring. :)  Here are two example from Raven's book. 



So much fun  and so relaxing. 

 I really believe there is a power to heal through creative expression and I want to thank Raven for her beautiful inspiring drawings and more importantly her courageous self. 

Please do check her out online at The Gifts That Come From My "Strokes


Not So Wordless Wednesday