A Natural History Of Ghosts

Episodes

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01Ancient Ghosts2020101920201023 (R4)When was the first time a human felt haunted?

Kirsty Logan travels back to the world’s earliest civilisations to uncover where tales of ghosts first emerged.

From the earliest evidence of belief in an afterlife, seen in decorated bones in early grave sites, to Ancient Egyptian letters to the dead, and predatory Chindi unleashed to wreak deadly vengeance in the snowy wastes of North America, Kirsty tells the tales of the spirits that haunted our most ancient forebears, and became the common ancestor for ghost stories across all of human history.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

A natural history of ghosts

Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'When was the first time a human felt haunted?'

02So Shall You Be20201020There once was a man who died. He was flesh and bone when he went into the ground. And flesh and bone when he came back out of it.

Kirsty Logan delves into tales of the Revenant, a terrifying, malevolent ghost that haunted medieval England, and was anything but spectral.

She traces the origins of revenant stories to a violent entity that terrified even the fiercest of Viking warriors, discovers how the way you lived your life would determine if you would be accepted into heaven, or have the very earth would spit you out, and how the development of purgatory in Christian belief changed how people thought of ghosts forever.

Kirsty Logan tells us the tale of the medieval Revenant, a ghost made of flesh and bone.

A natural history of ghosts

Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'There once was a man who died. He was flesh and bone when he went into the ground. And flesh and bone when he came back out of it.'

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

03The Pregnant Ghost20201021She will be made whole in her life and her afterlife, even if that means bending the rules of nature and society to suit herself.
Kirsty Logan explores the ghostly tales found in Pu Songling’s ‘Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio’, a collection of hundreds of fantastic, and slippery tales of ghosts, spirits and demons that include a most unusual ghost - a pregnant ghost, that gives birth to a living child.
Kirsty finds out how ghosts come to exist within a culture of ancestor worship - where the souls of dead family members should be at peace due to the care and veneration they receive from their descendants, and how the ghosts that emerge can be symbols of hope, or terror.

Kirsty Logan discovers how, and why, a ghost woman would give birth to a living child.

A natural history of ghosts

Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'She will be made whole in her life and her afterlife, even if that means bending the rules of nature and society to suit herself.'

Kirsty Logan explores the ghostly tales found in Pu Songling’s ‘Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio’, a collection of hundreds of fantastic, and slippery tales of ghosts, spirits and demons that include a most unusual ghost - a pregnant ghost, that gives birth to a living child.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

04The Impossible Ghost20201022When people are told explicitly that ghosts do not – cannot – exist, this should mean an extinction, the end of the line. But…

The three main Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, teach a belief in the unseen, but with ghosts… there is a struggle.
Kirsty Logan discovers how ghosts are not a truly universal folklore.

While ghosts make an appearance in the bible, in the tale of Saul and the Witch of Endor the meaning of the story is ambiguous. And when it comes to Islam, it is very clear, no ghosts.

And yet, tales of ghosts survive even when we’re told they’re impossible. Kirsty discovers how this can be by diving into the tales of the spirits of Malaysia, ghosts not only survive but thrive alongside the various religions and cultures in the country - because they have become part of life.

Kirsty Logan discovers how ghost lore survives, even when we are told they are impossible.

A natural history of ghosts

Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'When people are told explicitly that ghosts do not – cannot – exist, this should mean an extinction, the end of the line. But…'

The three main Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, teach a belief in the unseen, but with ghosts… there is a struggle. While ghosts make an appearance in the bible, in the tale of Saul and the Witch of Endor the meaning of the story is ambiguous. And when it comes to Islam, it is very clear, no ghosts.

And yet, tales of ghosts survive even when we’re told they’re impossible. Kirsty discovers how they survive by diving into the tales of the spirits of Malaysia, where ghosts not only survive but thrive alongside the various religions and cultures in the country - because they have become part of life.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

05La Llorona20201023Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'She was banished, condemned to wander the earth for all eternity, dressed in a long white veil, weeping and searching for her lost children. And if she can’t find them, perhaps she’ll take yours instead…'

The classic tale of La Llorona is the story of an irredeemable traitor, and monstrous mother. A woman who took a man into her bed, even though he had collonised her people's land, only to murder their children when he left her for a Spanish lady who was more useful to him in society. When she tried to enter heaven, she was turned away and condemned to forever search for the souls of her children.

Such a ghost is horrific, and yet La Llorona has evolved in a way that other ghosts simply cannot do. When a ghost story no longer serves a purpose in our culture, it dies off to be replaced with another, yet Kirsty Logan reveals how the Weeping Woman is fluid, and ever changeable, going from an ancient powerful goddess, to the arch traitor, to symbol of unity for a scattered people.

Kirsty Logan explores the tale of an iconic ghost in Latin American culture - La Llorona.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

She was banished, condemned to wander the earth for all eternity, dressed in a long white veil, weeping and searching for her lost children. And if she can’t find them, perhaps she’ll take yours instead…

A natural history of ghosts

06The Whitewashed Ghost20201026Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'Ghosts feel hot and smell faintish. Their voices are high and thin. Some ghosts grow very fat if they get plenty to eat. They are very fond of honey. '

If you tour a plantation in the Southern States of the USA, you might hear the tale of a black ghost. Black ghost stories are very popular on tours, generating income not just from tickets, but even from merchandise. You may hear the story Chloe, or Molly, or Virginia. She might be described as a servant (not a slave) who had an affair with (not that she was raped by) the master of the house. Tales of the white owners of historic Southern properties may be linked to real life events, but the stories of the enslaved people have no basis in historical fact. The result, is often a whitewashing of troublesome history, a cover-up of things people in the modern day still do not want to face.

And yet, as Kirsty Logan finds, there is a plethora of under-told black ghost lore, that was rich, complex and vital for the enslaved people who had to endure some of the worst treatment imaginable. Kirsty explores the stories, both the made up and the examples of true folklore, and discovers how a little truth in our tales could have the power to do real good.

Kirsty Logan discovers how the history of slavery is whitewashed in ghost stories.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

07The Tell Tale Ghost20201027Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

‘In Greenbrier County, West Virginia, USA, there is a trail marker with the following emblazoned on it. ‘Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition's account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.’

Kirsty tells the story of The Greenbrier ghost, and explores why tales of murder victims coming back to seek justice have always loomed large in the history of ghost lore.

Kirsty Logan tells the story of the only known case in which a ghost convicted a murderer.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

08The Spiritualists20201028Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

‘Having seen so much of Katie lately, when she has been illuminated by the electric light, I am enabled to add to the points of difference between her and her medium.

Katie's height varies; in my house I have seen her six inches taller than Miss Cook. Last night, with bare feet and not tip-toeing, she was four and a half inches taller than Miss Cook.

Katie's neck was bare last night; the skin was perfectly smooth both to touch and sight, whilst on Miss Cook's neck is a large blister...
Miss Cook's hair is so dark a brown as almost to appear black; a lock of Katie's, which is now before me, and which she allowed me to cut from her luxuriant tresses,, is a rich golden auburn.’

Kirsty Logan examines the Spiritualist movement, via the life of medium Florence Cook, and her spirit guide, Katie King, and discovers how a career communication with spirits could result in both opportunity and ruin for Victorian women.

Kirsty Logan examines Spiritualism via the life of celebrated medium Florence Cook.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

0920th Century Poltergeist20201029Illustration by Seonaid Mackay.

'Once a door is open, it’s difficult to close, even if we try.'

Poltergeists, noisy spirits, have been reported since antiquity. But in the 20th century, the idea of what the poltergeist was changed in collective culture. When, in the past, reported poltergeist activity would be put down to outside, supernatural beings, in the 20th century supposed poltergeist activity was said to come from within a living being: the psyche made physical.

Kirsty tells the story of three famous 20th century poltergeist cases, exploring what happens to the person at the centre, and discovering how the attention from investigators and the media can be more damaging than any ghost.

Kirsty Logan explores how the poltergeist changed in the 20th Century.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

10Did You Hear That?20201030Illustration by Seonaid Mackay

'You set up a tape recorder and leave it running, recording silence. You ask your questions into the silence, leaving a sufficient pause for a response. Later, you listen back to the recording. Through the mush and static, if you listen very carefully, you may be able to just about make out people speaking.'

Kirsty Logan explores the modern quest to capture a ghost in a machine, from Telsa and Edison feuding over a spirit phone, to the apparent capture of voices in white noise and on tape. And she discovers that somewhere in the 21st century our wish to contact the dead has changed, we went from wanting to catch the spirit of the dead, to creating ghosts of ourselves.

Kirsty Logan explores the modern quest to capture a ghost in a machine.

Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.

OMNI-0120201023Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore.
OMNI-0220201030Kirsty Logan explores the evolution of Ghost Lore. In this omnibus edition, she explores discovers how the tourist trade in the Southern United states whitewashes history rather than drawing on African American ghost stories, explores the only known case where the testimony of a ghost secured the conviction of their murderer, dives into the life of one of the most celebrated mediums of the Victorian era, reveals that a spirit is not the most dangerous part of a poltergeist case, and asks if in the 21st century we are less interested in finding ghosts, rather than creating them.