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  • Writer's pictureBryan Williams

Arrival Apparitions Revisited (Thanksgiving Entry)

Holidays like Thanksgiving are made more special when a loved one unexpectedly arrives home from afar to celebrate with friends & family. In some instances, might these surprise homecomings be preceded by the appearance of a spectral harbinger? Instances where a traveling person's phantom is seen or heard arriving home before that person even gets there have been so frequently told about in Scandinavian culture that they even have a special term for it: vardøgr. Some examples of the vardøgr experience were previously looked at in one of the previous entries of the PRF blog, and below are three more to supplement that entry. The first is a classic example from the Victorian era, which comes from the 1894 Census of Hallucinations conducted by the early members of the Society for Psychical Research: When out in camp in an Indian jungle, my sister and I were anxiously awaiting the return of her husband, who had left in the morning on a surveying expedition, promising to return early in the afternoon. Between six and seven p.m. we were very uneasy, and were watching the line of road, I should say, 200 yards distant from where we stood. Simultaneously we exclaimed, "There he is," and I distinctly saw him, sitting in his cart driving his grey horse, the syce [i.e., the horse groomer or caretaker] occupying the seat behind. We at once returned to the tents - my sister ordering the bearer to get [her husband's] bathwater ready, and the butler to prepare dinner - I running to set my brother-in-law's mother's mind at rest as to the safety of her son. However, as time passed on, and he did not appear, our alarm returned, and was not allayed until he arrived in safety at eight o'clock. On interrogating him, we found he was just starting from the surveying ground, about eight miles distant, at the very time we had the above related experience. I should add, we were both in good health and certainly wide awake at the time, and I have never before or since had any experience of the kind." [1, p. 308]

The second example is another classic account from the Victorian era, given by a woman known as Mrs. L. It appeared in an anthology of "Real Ghost Stories" compiled by the prominent 19th century author, journalist, and magazine editor William T. Stead: The only time I ever saw an apparition was on the evening of the last day of May, 1860. The impression then made is yet most vivid, and the day seldom recurs without my thinking of what happened then. It was a little after seven o'clock, the time for my husband's return from business. I was passing through the hall into the dining-room, where tea was laid, when (the front door being open) I saw my husband coming up the garden path, which was in a direct line with the hall. It was broad daylight, and nothing obstructed my view of him, and he was not more than nine or ten yards from me. Instead of going to him, I turned back, and said to the servant in the kitchen, "Take tea in immediately, your master is come." I then went into the dining-room, expecting him to be there. To my great surprise, the room was empty, and there was no one in the garden. As my father was very ill in the next house but one to ours, I concluded that Mr. L. had suddenly determined to turn back and inquire how he was before having tea. In half an hour, he came into the room to me, and I asked how my father was, when, to my astonishment, he told me that he had not called, but had come direct from the town. I said, "You were in the garden half an hour ago, I saw you as distinctly as I see you now; if you were not there then, you are not here now," and I grasped his arm as I spoke to convince myself that it was really he. I thought that my husband was teasing me by his repeated denials, and that he would at last confess he was really there; and it was only when he assured me in the most positive and serious manner that he was a mile away at the time I saw him in the garden that I could believe him. I have never been able to account for the appearance. There was no one I could possibly have mistaken for Mr. L. I was in good health at the time, and had no illness for long afterwards. My mother is still living, and she can corroborate my statement, and bear witness to the deep impression the occurrence made upon me. I saw my husband as plainly as I have ever seen him since during the many years we have lived together. [2, p. 31] The third example is a more modern one, coming from the extensive case collection of psychic experiences gathered by parapsychologist Louisa Rhine: When I was in bed with my first baby, I lived on the third floor and my bedroom faced the street and the bus stop. I had a nurse and I said to her, "I am so lonely this afternoon, I wish my mother would come over," and she said, "Speak of the Devil-" and looked out the window, grinning. I said, "Is that my mother?" She said, "Just you wait and see," and she smoothed her apron, straightened up the room and went to the door. She came back and said, "That's strange, I distinctly saw your mother get off that bus and she waved to me. She had that shopping bag she carries. Funny where she went to." I said, "I just knew my mother was coming, but where did she go?" The nurse kept talking about it and was very puzzled.

My mother-in-law who lives next door came up that night and said, "I would have come in to see you this afternoon but I saw your mother get off the bus." Then my mother came over later and she said, "I was all ready to take that bus, which would have arrived at that exact time, but I went into a store to check on the time and the bus passed by. I was so disappointed, I cried." [3, p. 248] Though they tend to be quite rare, other similar examples of vardøgr have been reported in more recent times, as well [4]. These are just a few other examples which seem to indicate that not all spectral figures represent those of dead people - sightings of apparitions of the living can be (and have been) reported fairly frequently, as well.

******* References:

[1] Sidgwick, H., Johnson, A., Myers, F. W. H., Podmore, F., & Sidgwick, E. M. (1894). Report on the Census of Hallucinations. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 10, 25 - 422.

[2] Stead, W. T. (Ed.) (1891). Real ghost stories: A record of authentic apparitions. Review of Reviews Vol. 4 (Xmas issue). London: Publishing Office of the Review of Reviews.

[3] Rhine, L. E. (1956). Hallucinatory psi experiences: I. An introductory survey. Journal of Parapsychology, 20, 233 - 256.

[4] Leiter, L. D. (2002). The vardøgr: Perhaps another indicator of the non-locality of consciousness. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 16, 621 - 634.

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