Hundreds of witches - along with a handful of warlocks and wizards - tossed their broomsticks, grabbed paddles and traveled six miles along the Willamette River. Image Credit: AP

As part of my work this week I’ve been writing about an old church in England that has been converted into apartments and which is believed to have been haunted. It was built in the early 19th century and held innumerable ceremonies to celebrate and also to commiserate and has seen countless scenarios of life within its majestic stone walls.

For years, one staff member who works in the building with the residents has claimed to have seen a spirit in the form of a man linger near the circular window above the arched entrance to the church. But every time she has gone to the spot where it stands, it has vanished. The same figure was seen by the woman for eight years. A figment of her imagination? Or a human spirit with a longing for life.

As we approach this eerie time of year where the autumn nights take hold of our senses and our imaginations run wild, it’s seems appropriate to delve into the world of ghosts and ghouls that could be residing near any of us right now. Halloween is in the air and all around us, and I’m not simply talking about the advertisements for decorations and costumes, I’m talking about the heightened sense of spirituality that fills us as we face the extended periods of darkness and the unknown that lies beyond.

People have always had a strange relationship with ideas of the afterlife and the possibility of the human spirit lingering in some form after they are meant to leave the earth forever.

We’re introduced to ideas of an afterlife usually through religion and personal experience when we lose someone we love, whether this is a family member, a beloved pet or a cherished toy. As children we try to understand the loss of something so vibrant with life that is now gone, bringing new concepts such as ‘forever’ and ‘death’ to the forefront of our young lives.

Stories of the afterlife

We’ve developed so many different belief systems and stories to explain what happens after our lives have ended. Some are beautiful, giving comfort and relief to those who have been touched by loss. Others are terrifying, and urge us to live our lives in a certain way to avoid the horror that could await.

Death hovers over each of us every minute of every day, and seems closer to us at this time of year, because of the darkness and the downward spiral towards a freezing winter. It’s easy for our imaginations to wander, but that’s not to disparage those who believe they see spirits and shadowy forms that represent something that once had life.

Popular culture is rife with stories of the afterlife too and it’s easy to be swayed by such stories, especially at this time of year. And who are any of us to dispel such beliefs and stories. Yes, science can explain many things, but not everything, and we have yet to fully discover the pathways of the mind and body in the seconds leading up to and immediately after our death.

The woman who saw the ghost every day for eight years in the old converted church truly believed it was a spirit and later discovered its identity. It was believed to have been an architect who had worked on the conversion and died during the construction — in the actual building.

When she learned of this, the next day she spoke to it at the spot where it lingered each morning. She told the spirit that his work had made many people happy and that he should be proud of what he achieved. The following day, on her way into work, looking up at the circular window, the spirit wasn’t to be seen, and hasn’t been seen since. A case of circumstance or a man who finally found fulfilment? It’s up to you.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in 
Northern Ireland.