The etiquette of addressing a ghost at a Victorian séance (and how to avoid embarrassing faux pas)

rules of etiquette for addressing a ghost

In 1921, a thoroughly charming and entertaining article appeared in The Times detailing the domestic rules of etiquette for receiving ghosts. This ghostly code of conduct was prepared as a possible topic for discussion at the First International Congress for Psychical Research in Copenhagen the same year. Whether it actually made it onto the conference agenda for that year, or any other, however, is not known. Nevertheless, I would say that any of today’s self-respecting psychic researchers could do very well to abide by these principles if only to avoid unnecessary and embarrassing ostracisations from the spirit world — heaven forbid!

The Times, Jan 1921


We cannot urge you too strongly to appear perfectly natural when receiving a ghost. If you are seated remain so. You won’t gain anything by standing up. When reading you may lay aside your book if you wish. Or if you are very nervous you may walk across the room and flick your cigarette ashes off in the tray. This will conceal your embarrassment for the time being.

GLANCING over the morning mail in the breakfast room last Wednesday we discovered a most unusual communication. It was written on pale white stationary.

“Dear Madam,” thus it ran, “can you throw some light on a matter which has a vital bearing on our social position in this community? One must be psychic to be really smart these days. So I would like some information on the proper method of addressing ghosts. Every third Thursday I am at home to a few expert table-tippers. Phillips Brooks, William James and others have already given us afternoons. But there are a number of points on which I need guidance.”

“For instance, what is the correct method of salutation for disembodied spirits? Should the hostess stand while receiving her guests? If the visitors from the other world appear in negligee, should the hostess wear full dress? Should masculine spirits be invited to informal afternoon affairs? What is the really correct thing to say when ghosts are leaving?”

“Is it good form to count the raps out loud? How many spirits can be invited to one sitting without crowding? Which is more stylish — direct or indirect lighting?”

“If a ghost leaves unexpectedly in high dudgeon, how can it be brought back?”

“Should the most illustrious shades be entertained à deux or ensemble?” Continue reading

Alice’s ghost


The fading skies of a November night. Some dim presentiment of evil hung heavy upon my heart as I sat alone in the twilight. And yet there was seemingly nothing to make me melancholy. On the contrary, I ought to have been more than usually joyful; had I not been the recipient of a most heavenly promise from Lucinda that very afternoon!

It seemed to be strange, to be sure, that a widower far from youthful, was to marry a girl barely into her twenties. Her mother had been a housekeeper in our family, but died soon after Lucinda’s birth. So it happened that she came under our wings, as we had no children of our own. My wife treated her sympathetically, but without much warmth or feeling. It was apparent to me that despite her civility towards Lucinda, she was jealous of the girl and would, quite often, go out of her way to avoid any unnecessary encounters with her.

Poor Alice! She warned me solemnly — and most vehemently! —on her death bed never to marry again, and threatened to rise from her grave in case of such an event.

Lucinda was in her thirteenth year when my wife passed away. I sent her away to a boarding-school; and, as business called me abroad, did not see her again, until my return, eight years afterwards. I was somewhat bewildered to find a lovely woman, instead of the little girl I had left in short dresses. Of course you can guess the inevitable. I fell in love with this charming woman. There was something in the genuine tenderness of her presence that completely won my heart.

Lucinda was most unlike other girls her age and did not suffer the carefree vagaries of youth. Instead of blushing at my declaration that afternoon she turned pale, almost ashen, as if struck by a sudden chill. I noticed too, that, there was a faint tremble in her voice when she finally consented to be my wife. I was concerned that my nephew Martin had told her what Alice had said on her death-bed. And yet I was unable to accept that the man could be so inconsiderate. Somehow, I couldn’t rid my mind of that warning. Alice was the most singular of women, and would surely keep her promise, if ghosts are permitted to walk the earth. Thinking thus, my mind drifted ineluctably towards a darker realm, and I began to grow fearful of the darkening shadows in my room, and hastily rang for light.

“Why are you so late, Mary?” I asked, indignantly, as the servant entered the room. Continue reading

A tip of the hat – a light tale of the supernatural for Father’s Day

A tip of the hat

During what would prove to be one of my last visits to London, and only a few days before I left my solicitors firm, I had the honour of being entertained at a dinner party given by my partners. There were twelve of us altogether, Mr Leicester being the most senior. After dinner I turned the conversations upon the subject of the supernatural, and remarked that I did not think a dozen persons ever met without one of their number having seen a ghost.

“Now, who is here?” I asked, “who has seen a ghost?”

Sitting opposite me at the table was Mr. Simon Poates, solicitor, of 17, Charles Square, a young married man, about thirty-two, a member of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, and one of the earliest members of our association.

He said — “I do not believe in ghosts, but I have seen one.”

“Was it the ghost of a living or a dead person?”‘ I enquired.

The response was immediate, “A ghost of a dead person.”

“How long had it been dead?” “Nine years.”

“Where did you see it?” “In Rivington Street, near Hoxton.”

“In the day or night?” “At half-past 2 in the afternoon, in broad daylight.”

“Daylight you say. Well I never —” Continue reading

The Hapgood Prophecy

The Hapgood Prophecy

Lying in a remote and forested region of South Wales (it is not necessary to indicate the precise spot) there lived in an old feudal mansion a family of the name Hapgood, and though both the incumbents and the house bore the ravages that time had wreaked upon them , they managed to keep up a comparatively respectable appearance. They had an only daughter, a prepossessing girl of seventeen, who was possessed of a lovely and kindly disposition. She was much respected by the tenantry in the neighbourhood.

A young man of winsome character and manner was an accepted lover. His visits were frequent enough, for he was in the full flush of a first attachment.. For nights in succession he kept tryst with the girl, taking long rambles together over hill and mountain; and, at last, he found that he could hide the full desires of his heart no longer.

Suddenly the young man discontinued his visits. This brought great distrust upon the minds of the young girl’s parents; but worse was to come, for soon after they discovered that their daughter had been seduced. Their distress of mind can be better conceived than described, and as time rolled on it was but too plainly demonstrated that their child was about to become a mother, and thus shame and disgrace would fall upon a family that had not a blot upon its escutcheon; but their measure of anguish was not at its full, for their dear and loving child was suddenly missed. The whole of the neighbourhood turned out in quest of her, and after undergoing extreme agony and suspense at receiving no tidings, and suspecting their daughter had destroyed herself, she was brought home far advanced in the evening by her seducer. Struck with astonishment, the parents stood dumb. Beside them the girl, no longer able to hold up, fell into the arms of one of the servants, and the young man threw himself prostrate at the parents’ feet, and craved their mercy. After some considerable time tranquillity was restored, and the young man told the following story: —

“For many weeks I have been in the most desponding state of mind, and, knowing, as I did, that my parents were strictly adverse to the courtship, and that they would disinherit me if I married, I knew not what to do. Some time back a spectre had visited my bedside, and, in an unearthly voice, bade me beware of the future. Its appearance was that of a woman wearing a veil, with a dress damp and tarnished as if it had been subject to a fall. After looking menacingly into my face it vanished. Some days after this I implored my parents to reconsider their verdict, but as they were obdurate I was brought to the verge of despair.

Some time afterwards the ghost appeared again and looked more terrible than ever, till the cold perspiration stood heavy on me and I felt crazed. The ghost, as before, stated it would pay another and last visit, but not till it gave me a look that chilled my blood. Again and again I entreated my parents to consent, but with no better effect. Matters were now assuming an awful crisis, for I dared to look again upon the apparition. Early in the evening I left a note on my parents’ table bidding them adieu, that I should see them no more. At some distance from home I put up at an inn to endeavour to win a little rest to myself, for I was wearied unto death, but it was denied me, and in a short time the apparition again appeared. I heard a noise like a heavy tread on the stairs; and at the bottom of the first flight was the ghost beckoning me to follow. A magnetic power seemed to draw me on until I arrived at a river where I took shelter from the ghastly spectre in a narrow cave. My head must have come in contact with a projecting rock, for I fell senseless upon the ground. When conscience returned, I was lying upon the mossy entrance to the cave, my head facing towards the river. In the dim distance I saw a shape hovering about the bank, its mouth open wide as if in mid-scream; and there, upon the wind, I heard its call, urging me on with all the speed to the river.

As I advanced I saw it was the form of a woman; her long matted hair hanging down below her shoulders; her cheeks were sunken, and a vacant glare of madness was in her eyes — no longer the spectre but my beloved. I hastened to her, as you may perceive, just in time to save your daughter from self-murder.

It was impossible to say whether what I had seen was something of the night or the unconscious projection of a living person. I do not ordinarily believe in such things but I must concede that in the absence of this supernatural benefaction I would be standing here alone.”

The Woman Who Floated Above The Hedge, A Short Story by PJ Hodge, Author of Freaky Folk Tales,

I am indebted to Tina Williams at AReadersReviewBlog for this marvellous review. Thank you Tina!


woman2[1]-001A Very Unwelcome Visitation Indeed!

I have been addicted to author Paul Hodge’s blog Freaky Folk Tales, where he posts his research into folklore and his short stories, for some time now. The site also features Paul’s awesome and atmospheric photographs and a collection of illustrations which he has put together whilst traversing this realm and researching his tales. These form part of his own collected works, Freaky Folk Tales. One of Paul’s stories, A Tale of Chirbury has been published in ‘Darker Times Anthology, Vol 3′ – available on Amazon Kindle and Paperback (click on the link to find out more).

Paul kindly agreed that we could publish one of his stories of the paranormal, The Woman Who Floated Above The Hedge, which is a tale of a very unwelcome visitor! If you enjoy it you may want to find out more by visiting Paul’s site.  Read on for the…

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The oak chest and the bride who rushed to her death

The Mistletoe Bride

“Within lay the body of his lost bride, now a fleshless skeleton, wearing the beautiful wedding robes in which he had last seen her. The wedding dress was yellow and stained with age and corruption. Her fleshless hand was raised in a pathetic attitude as it trying to open the door of her tomb.”

Read the whole story:

How a New York society girl came to inherit the ghost of an English bride

The Mistletoe Bride

In 1923, one of the most touching and melodramatic of legends connected with the ancient castles of England was brought vividly to the attention of an American readership by the reported appearance of “The Mistletoe Bride.”

This most thrilling of old English family legends tells of a bride who was lost on her wedding day and not found until fifty years afterward. Several versions of the legend are in existence. They represent the strange and tragic events as occurring in many different old families and castles.

Although there is some uncertainty concerning the supposed scene of this old tragedy, owing to its great antiquity, the researches of historians and antiquarians have proved that it most probably occurred at Bramshill House, in Hampshire, the seat of the very ancient Cope family.

T. F. Thiselton Dyer, who made the most exhaustive study of old English romances and mysteries, writes in his “Strange Pages from Family Papers”:— “The chest in which The Mistletoe Bride was found is shown to visitors at Bramshill House, Hampshire, the residence of Sir John Cope.”

Now, this statement was of peculiar interest because, in 1923, a charming American society girl, Miss Edna Hilton, had just become the bride of Captain Denzil Cope, heir of Sir Anthony Cope, the chief of the ancient family that had long occupied the old house.

The Mistletoe Bride, Bramshill House

Mrs Cope was well known in New York society as she was one of the Hilton family that inherited part of the Stewart millions. For several years, before her marriage, she lived in Paris, where her mother, Mrs Edward Baker Hilton, had a magnificent apartment.

Young Mrs Cope now virtually became the owner of the famous chest in which the poor bride was locked up and lost. Americans who knew her were intensely curious to know what experiences she would have with such a gruesome relic. It was said that persons staying in the house were kept awake at night by the stifled moans of a woman in terrible agony. They would hear muffled sounds like those of a person beating on the interior of a thick wooden chest.

There was little surprise in the considerable gossip that attached itself to the new Mrs Cope and her unusual home. The chattering classes of New York society discussed the matter at length. What would the new bride do with the tragic chest? Would she have the hardihood to climb into it herself? Would she send it away for fear of it being haunted by the bride who died in it? Would she remove the great lock that was the real cause of the tragedy? Continue reading