The Italians create a lavish meal: a feast fit for their loved ones. And you know how those Italians love to cook.
And then, they leave it for the ghosts of the ones they have lost, and will never see again. They walk out of the door, and down the road to the church, leaving the meal steaming – for whom? Is it just a game, a fantasy, a fierce longing for those wraiths to be wholly present just once more?
It is the very essence of Hallowe’en.
In parts of Britain, on October 31st, the Reformation soldiers stamped on the tradition of leaving a candle burning in the window of every window to guide long lost loved souls home to the place their clay feet once trod. Soul Lights. The French would take the direct route, kneeling next to graves and praying, leaving bowls of milk for the departed.
Our longing for those we lose knows no bounds and ritual salves it, momentarily, though the ache returns.
But the problem was this: that in England, they banished Purgatory.
The whole point of All Souls Day was to pray for the souls of the dead to be released from Purgatory – a sort of half-way purification and refining place – and let into Heaven. Even when I was a little girl I was told: go into church, say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and a Glory Be and when you walk out, you will have released a soul.
So when the nonconformists made it clear that Purgatory did not exist, the question remained: what was Hallowe’en all about, then?
And the answer came: if the restless were not souls on their way to Heaven, they must be the wraiths who could not get in. Evil Spirits.
How have humans dealt with inexorable evil in life? They have exorcised it with story.
And the great writers of ghost stories have, through the ages, done just that. Each in their own, very particular, peculiar way. Sheridan Le Fanu, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, MR James. The list goes on.
There are those of us who never tire of this gentle kind of exorcism. Some of us are utterly addicted. some like a spooky tale every now and then, and never more than at this time, when in the Northern Hemisphere the darkness draws in.
Thus, a group of writers have drawn together a set of tales.
The tales use ancient symbols and storylines: the last of a family of sensitives; a statue which exercises a strange hold on a woman; a little girl who holds fragments of a haunting story, and another who longs to escape from a strange and dominant mother; a woman cursed to be unseen, a fate worse than death.
And a deserted farmhouse, inherited, which has the darkest of sides.
It’s almost the feast of All Hallows. Time to tell ghost stories: and here are seven to chill you to the bone.