Seeing a Ghost

ghost

As research for the seventh Mae Martin book, I recently read a book on paranormal investigation techniques by a professional skeptic. It reminded me of this post I wrote three years ago, which some of my current blog readers may not have seen, so I’ve updated and recycled it.

Once in a while, writing paranormal mysteries, I need to introduce a character who is no longer alive.* In Shaman’s Blues, Mae has no concept of ghosts at first, but Jamie, an anthropologist’s son, assures her that every culture has them.

Ghosts fascinate us, even when we don’t believe in them. People sign up for ghost tours of historic districts, and some choose the option to get the presumably haunted room at a B&B. Part of the attraction in ghost stories is the curious pleasure of safely experienced negative emotions. There is something frightening about an encounter with the dead, and most ghosts are said to have fallen into the place between worlds through tragedy. By seeking out ghosts, we can dip into terror and sadness for a quick swim and come back out, invigorated by the plunge.

It’s different for the ghost. Stuck in the crack between two worlds, attached to earthly life yet incapable of living it, looking, perhaps, for one particular soul, the ghost must be frustrated, bewildered and lonely. No wonder they behave badly sometimes. It can’t be much of an afterlife.

I say that lightly, but at the moment that I met a ghost, I was scared to the bone. It was quite some time ago, but I can still feel her when I think about her.

The cold is what made her frightening.

I was a college student on Christmas break visiting my sister and her husband, and my boyfriend and I stayed in the attic bedroom of their old house. In the dark before dawn, the alarm went off, and my boyfriend got up to go to work. We spoke briefly, kissed goodbye, and he left. Wide awake, I stayed in bed under a heap of quilts and blankets, hoping I could go back to sleep. Our shared body heat had made a cozy nest of the bed and I didn’t want to get up early on my vacation.

I snuggled the blankets around me—and was suddenly chilled. I wasn’t alone. A woman’s head and shoulders floated on the far side of the room. She stared at me, her face stern and judgmental over a high-collared dress, her hair pulled back in a severe tight bun. I was terrified, not by her apparent resentment, but by the deep, unnatural chill. At the same time, I thought her features were like the country comedian Minnie Pearl. I’ve cited Stephen King’s Danse Macabre in a book review before, and it fits here: comedy and horror go hand in hand. I pulled the blanket over my head until the cold went away.

Prior to that, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I’m not sure I do now, either, but it’s like what anthropologist Michael Harner says about shamans not believing in spirits. They don’t have to. They know.

*****

*My books containing characters who are ghosts or spirits are Shamans’ Blues and Soul Loss.soul ebookshaman

 

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Uncanny Quarry Scavenger Hunt Clues

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As part of this week-long book-lovers’ scavenger hunt, it’s my turn to post some clues.

Author 3 in the Uncanny Quarry Round Robin today is Roxy De Winter. The answers to her questions can be found at http://roxydewinter.wix.com/author#!coming-soon-/eohv5

  1. How many years has Aenix lived for?
  2. Why was Paietra sentenced to hell?
  3. In Aenix’s time, what is the truest expression of love?
  4. In Aenix’s time, what has replaced natural death?
  5. What did Aenix decide she would do before her next semi-centennial rejuvenation?

Have fun hunting!

Scavenger Hunt #uncannyquarry

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I’m a late October Scorpio, so throughout my childhood I had Halloween-themed birthday parties. This suited me; I’ve always been a fan of scary stories and been intrigued by mysterious, inexplicable events. When I was around ten or eleven, my father set up a scavenger hunt in a friend’s orchard for the party. It was spooky and cold at twilight, and the old trees against the sky had that horror-movie look. Ever since then I’ve had a fondness for scavenger hunts.

The scavenger hunt Uncanny Quarry is for people who like to read paranormal fiction. Over thirty authors are participating, and their books cover the full range of paranormal genres from mystery to romance to fantasy. The grand prize is pretty grand, and second and third place are nice, too. One of my favorite authors, Virginia King*, is participating, as well as many who are new to me.

Curious? Ready to discover new authors?

Go to https://www.facebook.com/events/1616239271959563 to learn more and to join the event. Clues will be posted on the Facebook page and also on some of the authors’ web sites. Put on your puzzle-solving hat starting Sunday the 18th and keep it on through the 25th—by sheer coincidence that’s my Halloween-ish birthday—and follow the clues to win books.

Another note in keeping with the season: My new short fiction release, Bearing, comes out later this month. It’s a stand-alone story that I like to describe as subtle horror.

Happy scavenger hunting.

*Posts related to Virginia King:

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/the-thorn-in-my-soul

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/virginia-king-mything-in-action

Crystals

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This post is a short summary of what I’ve so far learned as a novelist incorporating the use of crystals in my books. I have more to learn about the subject, but I thought it would be interesting to share my explorations.

When I researched energy healing, I easily found twenty-six articles in the archives of just one peer-reviewed medical journal. In another, I found a meta-analysis of healing studies, including those done with subjects other than “whole humans”—healing done on animals, plants, and cell cultures, which are presumed not to experience placebo effects. A number of years ago, I read a study on Qi Gong done in China with pigs as the targets of healing by emitted chi. I can’t remember what their malady was, but I recall that they improved at a statistically significant level. Healers have measurably affected fungi, seeds, plants and mice. When researching the use of crystals in healing, I looked for a similar level of scientific investigation and couldn’t find it. However, I found anthropological literature on the subject as well as modern books on crystals.  My reading gave me the impression that the primary use of crystals historically has been for strengthening psychic ability rather than for healing.

 In North and South America and in Australia, shamans have used quartz crystals to enhance their ability to see into spirit worlds and other places and times, as well as into a sick person’s body. For example, Navajo crystal gazers use quartz crystals perceive the nature of an illness. One crystal gazer I read about also used his visions to find lost sheep and lost children. In Australian Aboriginal traditions, quartz crystals were used to make ritual cuts as part of a shaman’s initiation and sometimes embedded into a finger or under the skin. The crystals also become spirit forms or energy centers in the shaman’s head or belly.

Quartz—sometimes called a “wild stone” or a “live stone” by indigenous people—has the most uses in shamanism, but other stones have been seen as powerful. In ancient Taoist alchemy, jade was considered to enable one to fly up to heaven, which sounds like a shamanic journey. In European folk magic, any clear surface like a mirror or water as well as a crystal could be used for scrying. The Druids are said to have used beryl crystals when seeking visions.

The present-day practice of crystal healing has grown up from a mixture of influences from the East and the West. In the American colonies, European folk healers met Native healers, and their practices began to cross cultures. This blend is the root from which my character Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson’s idiosyncratic folk healing springs. With the introduction of yoga in the West, color symbolism from India relating to the chakra system was integrated with the shamanic use of crystals. In The Calling, when Mae starts working with crystals, a book on this contemporary East-West approach is her primary resource.  She uses crystals in both the traditional shamanic way as a seer and in the modern way as a healer.

Practitioners of crystal healing ascribe specific influences to certain stones, referring to effects of their harmonious structures and their unique vibrations or frequencies. Crystals grow; they have a kind of vitality or life force, and yet they are also stable. An interaction is assumed to take place between the vibration of the person being healed and that of the crystal. Skeptics assume that any results are due to the placebo effect, or that hypnosis is somehow involved in healing with crystals. This latter guess makes sense to me. Trance states affecting both healer and patient are part of the shamanic tradition. **

I first encountered crystal healing at the home of some friends in Santa Fe. After running a five-K race, I’d been experiencing pain in my left ankle, which had developed a ganglion cyst. My friend Jon held an enormous clear quartz point and made circles with it over the painful part of my ankle for about twenty minutes. I was skeptical but open-minded, willing to test out his belief that he could help. That was in July 1999. My ankle didn’t hurt again until June 2013. When I went to the foot and ankle doctor in Santa Fe to have the cyst taken care of, I told him this story. We joked about my getting it treated again with another giant crystal, but I wasn’t sure I could get another fourteen years of relief from just any healer, and Jon and his giant crystal had moved away.

When I lived in Norfolk I met a young woman who used crystals in energy healing. I can’t say if they had an actual effect or contributed to a mutual trance, but the sense of lightness and peace I felt from her work was strong.

While preparing to write the Mae Martin series, in addition to reading about crystals I acquired a collection of them to experiment with. Sometimes I’d try leaving different ones next to my bed at night, in the space between the lamp’s curved legs on the bedside table, to see if they affected my dreams. One night I placed sodalite in that spot—it’s supposed to be good for perception and creative expression, among other things—and I dreamed that people were sitting at a bar playing a gambling game with crystals, shaking them like dice and throwing them. I woke up in the morning and reached to the table to get my glasses—and noticed that the blue-and-white stone, which had been a smooth solid oval the night before, was now broken as neatly as if the end had been sliced off with a saw. Sodalite does fracture easily. If any crystal was going to break, this was the one, but I doubt I picked it up and threw it in my sleep, acting out the dream. If I had, I probably would have knocked over the lamp, and I don’t have any history of parasomnias. The stone lay right where I’d left it. Maybe it already had a crack it in and quietly fell apart while I dreamed it was being thrown. This is one of those strange little things that I could explain away, but that’s different from actually explaining it.

Sources

Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman, Harper, 1990

Benz E and Luckert K, The Road of Life: Report of a Visit by a Navajo Seer, Ethnomedicine II 3/ 4, 1973

Cowan, J. Wild Stones: Spiritual Discipline and Psychic Power Among Aboriginal Clever Men,        Studies in Comparative Religion, V. 17 no. 1&2, Winter-Spring, 1985

Permutt, Philip, The Crystal Healer, Cico Books, 2007

Knight, S., Pocket Guide to Crystals and Gemstones, Crossing Press, 1998

* I use the male pronoun because my sources focused on male shamans. Female healers’ and seers’ roles in traditional societies often differ from the men’s.

**If I understand correctly, people in shamanic cultures who use crystals don’t feel the need to differentiate between placebo, trance, and spiritual effects, or between power objects and symbols of power, or between the crystals the shaman carries in his belly or forehead (spirit objects) and the ones in his medicine bundle (physical objects). Their world view is of a whole system, not separated by the veil modern people place between the spiritual and the material.

 

 

Breaking the Genre Barrier

I’ve claimed genres because Amazon and Goodreads and other web sites require it, but I am a genre-blender. I once described my genre as “platypus.” The platypus looks like a mammal, a bird, and a reptile, blended into one animal. I write with elements of general fiction, mystery, romance, suspense and paranormal, but I don’t fit in any genre. I use the “paranormal” category, so readers who are interested in a mystical element to their mysteries can find me. I use the mystery category because my protagonist, a psychic, looks into the whereabouts of a missing people or animals, or why strange spiritual phenomena have occurred, or what secrets people are hiding. The mystery in my books is not always related to crime or death, though sometimes it is.  So far, none of the books are about murder. I simply wasn’t drawn to writing about murder.

Many years ago I read a mystery in which the central puzzle to be solved related to an art heist. It was non-violent. I loved it, and never forgot the concept of the murder-less mystery, even though I have long since forgotten the author and the title. Another murder-less example is the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Precious Ramotswe is a private detective investigating such things as workplace thefts, infidelities, missing heirs, etc. There are plenty of mysteries in real life that do not involve killing someone. People are very strange, and often dishonest. I knew a man who kept it secret from his “wife” that they were not legally married, so he could honestly tell his mistress that he wasn’t married, since she would have broken off with him if he was. (I will not tell you how he did it. I may yet use it in a book.)

When it comes to paranormal fiction, I don’t care for anything with vampires or werewolves or other such creatures. I like books where the mystical kind of mysterious steps into the ordinary. Linda Hogan’s Power and Mean Spirit are two of the best books I’ve ever read. She crosses the bridge into the spiritual realm through ordinary reality in a way that makes the extraordinary somehow more believable. Her books are general fiction, or literary fiction, although they have a strong supernatural element. I don’t claim to write like Hogan, but this is the kind of “paranormal” that appeals to me as reader. I’ve had a number of psychic experiences, and have researched various elements of the mystical experience, and alternative healing, and found that this is an area full of mystery in its other sense—the inexplicable.

My characters, not the genre, seem to be the element that draws readers in. I may have to make that my brand.

                             READ OUTSIDE THE BOX WITH AMBER FOXX

The Mae Martin Psychic Mysteries

Paranormal fiction for people who don’t like paranormal fiction.

And for those who do.

No murder, just mystery.

Love is a mystery. Every person is a mystery.

Somewhere in every life there is a secret.