Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ghosts in the Vials

A New Zealand couple recently sold at auction two vials that they claimed contained the souls of a pair of ghosts exorcised from their house. Like many, my first reaction was to dismiss their claims as superstitious foolishness, but consider a pair of cultural markers.

The first is Nintendo’s popular Zelda video game franchise. In The Ocarina of Time, there are ghosts called poes that come out at night time on the field of Hyrule. If Link (the hero of the story) defeats a poe, he can capture it in a glass jar and sell it to an old woman in the village. It sounds an awful lot like our New Zealand couple, and maybe they got the idea from Nintendo, but I wonder where the Nintendo game developers came up with the idea.

The idea of capturing souls was a central plot element in Dean Koontz’s book, Forever Odd, the second in his Odd Thomas series. Odd Thomas, for those unfamiliar with the character, has a gift: he can see the spirits of dead people who, for whatever reason, have not moved on from this world. In Forever Odd, the antagonist is an occultist who has discovered Odd’s (Odd is the heroes first name; Thomas is his surname) gift and wants to possess it. She proposes to do this by capturing his soul in a stone that, she says, already contains thirty other souls. This would be done through a dark voodoo rite to capture his ti bon ange. Presumably, the process is similar to that used to make zombies.

I’d love to be able to shrug all this stuff off as so much hokum, but is it? All my life, I’ve heard exorcists warning about the dangers of trying to communicate with spirits, and the New Zealand couple claim that their two haunting ghosts (an old man thought to be a former resident of the house and a powerful and disruptive little girl) “turned up after the couple experimented with a Ouija board.” Even the Bible relates that Saul visited a witch who summoned the spirit of the prophet Samuel. When we profess in the Nicene Creed our belief that God created all things, seen and unseen, we are stating our belief in a supernatural reality inhabited by spirits – angels and demons and perhaps ghosts and disembodied souls.

We have not been told that it doesn’t exist; we have been told to avoid it, because it is dangerous. Folks who play with fire eventually end up getting burned, and in this case, the burning can be eternal. Remove the Ouija board from the story of that New Zealand couple, and there would be no haunting, no need for an exorcism, no auction and no buyer. As for the buyer, I don’t want to know what he or she has planned for the ghosts in the vials.

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