I’ve never seen a ghost, at least not a dead one. Ghost/spirits/whatever you want to call them might be lurking in dark corridors of English castles, doing their best to fuck up the nearest tourist they’ll find, but are they really dead? The ghosts, not the tourists. If you ask me, and maybe you shouldn’t do that, they’re our shadow parts, or the shadows cast by the expectations of ourselves. When we search for ghosts we’re searching for ourselves, the persons we think we are of who we want to be.
Friedrich Nietzsche, every edgelord’s sugar daddy, wrote something that’s been quoted to death: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”, and while Freddy for sure meant something else by it, I tend to see the abyss — and the monsters he mentions — reflections of ourselves. Go and look for ghosts and you will stare into the dead eyes of your own soul, or at least those darker parts of yourself you never seem to be able to catch up to.
It’s something so incredibly telling with a group of ghost hunters… sorry, paranormal investigators, stumbling around in a dark house, or even something as dangerous as an abandoned building, like it’s a labyrinth of death, looking for what they think is supernatural shadows of the past, but when the flashlight hits that dark basement corner, in desperate try to catch a glimpse of what was once been, they can only see what is now, and that’s nothing: a wall, a corridor, an attic covered with spiders webs, all liminal spaces. And the only ones who dwell there are themselves, and so they become the ghosts they hunt, themselves.
A friend once pondered, is it really ethical to hunt ghosts? Because if ghosts are humans that means the ghost hunters are human hunters? The paranormal investigators become Zardoff of the island from the short story The Most Dangerous Game, and a haunted building is the island. Actually, to be honest, a horror movie I’d like to see is The Most Dangerous Game but with a crazed paranormal television celebrity as the bad guy and ghosts as the heroes trapped on his island. The twist at the end is that the ghosts are part of himself, just like the serial killer and his victims in James Mangold’s thriller Identity from 2003. Anyways, it feels I’m a bit off course with this text, but that’s kinda the point of doing the stream of consciousness thing I believe? Alrighty, back to ghosts actually being ourselves. Years ago I was the segment producer for a slowly dying, but yet beloved, paranormal tv-show called Det Okända. In it, the psychic mediums visited haunted homes around Sweden, communicated with dead grandparents, and saw that each home was a bit calmer and not so damn ghosty. One thing I noticed, and that was incredibly clear, that the mental health in the family was very much connected to the hauntings themselves. A family suffering from anxiety, depression, tension, poverty and addiction had also much more intense paranormal effects. It really feels they’re manifesting their shadow parts externally, instead of dealing with them internally. It’s easier to blame a ghost than to take charge of your own life.
So yeah, the ghosts they see and search for are basically themselves. Another thing I noticed in the homes of these troubled families are the signs. What signs do you wonder? Let me introduce the emotional extremists. You can see instantly if these folks are unhappy, or if they have economical problems, criminal issues or bad behavior in school. It’s not unhygienic or something, but there’s a sense of dread — and signs. Signs everywhere. You have wooden messages in the form of Live Laugh Love, Life is Beautiful, Be Fabulous Every Single Day etc, there’s cut out letters forming Carpe Diem and HAPPINESS on the walls, there’s smaller signs telling us that family is everything and that you need to cry to be strong and other more or less obvious quotes telling themselves and their guests that their family is SO strong and happy they need to point it out in very direction. Add to this so-called mass produced art bought from cheap outlets, often extremely tacky, and plastic flowers — because if they can’t care about themselves they can’t care about other living beings either.
I’m generalizing a bit of course. I’m sure there’s truly happy and comfortable families in haunted homes with signs like these on the walls, but trust me, the destructive families are very overrepresented in cases where they have ghosts in their homes, at least in my experience. It’s like these signs, and other objects, work as sigils — but instead of bringing actual happiness they’re bringing more dread. A not-so-subtle path to try to live up to something, but instead of helping it because so evidently fake and unreal that it hits back with gloom.
Set and setting is not only important when it comes to psychedelic experiences, it’s at least as important when it comes to creating a home with or without ghosts. So, now I’m astray again in my stream of thoughts. What I wanted to say, already from the beginning, is that I’ve never seen a ghost, at least not a dead one. I saw myself, kinda. It was during the filming of yet another episode of Det Okända (I made around fifty of them) and I was standing outside in the garden of a croft in Seglora, outside Borås. It was midday and in front of me stood the owner, Katarina and her daughter. The croft was haunted (and still is), but also the garden itself, with its tall, thin pines making a fence around the lawn. Dark shadows had been seen lurking among the trees, possibly a sinister man from the past, maybe looking for new victims to scare.
I’ve never seen a ghost before, but now when it was there in front of me, behind Katarina and her daughter, peeking out behind a tree I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was there for sure, a solid black mass, shaped like the head and torso of a tall man. It peeked out and then withdrew behind the tree again, thin enough to not be able to hide a person. Wow. That was one off the bucket list (an expression basically invented by the film The Bucket List from 2007) and I felt happy. Finally I saw something out of the ordinary. Not a UFO, but a ghost wasn’t bad at all. While the alleged ghost was way more handsome than me, I still feel I saw myself there. My shadow part, my depression, my imposter. That ugly character that shows up from time to time to boost my insecurities and sadness. However, this time I saw him — and once you see something, it’s gone. The first impression is the most powerful, then its power starts to weaken until it — more or less — disappears. I faced my own shadow and now I owned him, he wasn’t a stranger anymore.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of five books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats.