Ghostly Arts: Apparitions Reflected in Culture and Art

by Jan Olandese 

The Ghost of Rayham Hall

The Ghost of Rayham Hall

There is often a connection between the occult and spiritual and societal upheaval.   In Victorian times, massive changes occurred in terms of industrial growth, populations transitioning from country villages and farms to urban life for employment.  People gave up longstanding roots and emotional security in this process. 

The new life in the city was much different from rural existence socially, in terms of labor (hours, type and conditions), culturally, emotionally and spiritually.  Add to this scenario the phenomenon of mechanization as contraptions like cotton gins and factory assembly lines, the coming of the automobile, and other developments took over human work.  These elements added up to alienation, magical thinking (trying to bend nature to achieve personal goals and power), the occult, and belief in the unknown (which was one of the few things not managed by factory management). This lent a sense of control in a world in which many individuals felt increasingly lost.  Mediums brought answers from the departed. (Why people thought – as some still do – that the departed know more than the living remains a puzzle!).  Underground occultists formed groups such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn which flourished in late Victorian and early Edwardian times – periods when society and culture underwent great social change and technological advances.

ouija-norman-rockwell

Ouija by Norman Rockwell

Seances became a rage in Victorian times and are with us still.  They were great shows in the old days: “ectoplasm” which was supposed to be spiritual matter but which was often actually cheesecloth and luminous paint. It emanated from the medium’s hands: supposed proof of the presence of the dead.  There were knocking sounds *usually produced by trickery.  Voices spoke from “spirit cabinets” (usually ventriloquism), fooling the gullible.  The gullible though were often well-educated:  Conan Doyle believed in this and more – fairies, for example, some of the most famous photos of which were proven to have been the outcome of elaborate fakery.  

cottingleyfairies3

Cottingley Fairies

Although techniques have become rather more polished. For all our postmodernity, we still seek psychics, empaths and channelers to provide us with a direct line to the Other Side: which again is believed to have a keychain to doors of wisdom.  

There are certainly phenomena which defy reason.   Numerous well-documented cases of hauntings and the unexplained exist. These present legitimate questions areas for reasoned exploration.  Much can be learned from serious study of these events. But this isn’t about that: rather, it is a reflection about how, when the going gets rough in society, the quest for paranormal and spiritual solace gets going. 

conan-doyle-spirit-photograph

Conan Doyle Spirit Photograph

We see this reflected not only in cultural phenomena like “spirit circles” and ouija boards, but in art and photography.  Look them over – remember that we too live in times of great change and not a little upheaval. note the popularity of “ghost hunt” and Long Island Psychic kinds of television reality shows, as well as tv dramas like The Exorcist in the fall lineup).   

Here is some ghostly art for your October edification.  While the real nightmare may well be the post trick-or-treat root canal, here are some artistic and photographic examples of what may lay beyond the veil, behind the closet door, or under the bed.  

 

A Spiritual Séance by Väinö Kunnas

A Spiritual Séance by Väinö Kunnas

 

 

Seance by Albert Von Keller

Seance by Albert Von Keller

 

The Water Ghost by Alfred Kubin

The Water Ghost by Alfred Kubin

 

The Ghost by Yoshitori

The Ghost by Yoshitori