Believe it or not, I was once a young boy. For me, it’s a time which many in their late twenties or early thirties will tell you feels like a distant, impossible concept like world peace or buying a well-made margarita. It was a time of playtime and imagination, summers which seemed to span decades and no bloody tax returns. Although much of my pre-teen years have suffered the wrath of the frailty of human memory, I do know that it was during this embryonic period that I first became interested in the subject I now shelter under the umbrella term ‘paranormal’.
When I was this young boy, there lived a Scottish family next to us. The daughters were slightly older than I and, as most Scottish people are, they were brash and confident. Being a Welshman, myself, I appreciate the fiery Celtic blood which is natural to all of us. Their grandmother lived with them too and everybody in the street used to call her Gran. At one point, they invited me to go camping with them and I remember being so excited, which amuses me now as I tend to get panic attacks if I don’t have access to a pair of working hair straighteners and wifi (a sad product of my time, which I am working on sorting out).
One night, the Dad told us a ghost story. It was the quintessential set up: a campfire, a torch held under his face and us all huddled around in blankets under the moonlight.
The story he told us was about a little boy walking to school. He came across a big brick dam which had been built to keep a river at bay, but he noticed that it had sprung a leak. Although only a small trickle, he worried that the hole might get bigger and the dam might break, flooding the village. So he decided to put his index finger in it and call for help. Now is the time for the obvious joke about fingers in dykes. Done? Good. Continuing with the story, the dad told us that the boy waited and waited, calling for assistance, but nobody came. Before long, he decided to pull out his finger and run for help, but when he did, he found his finger had swollen, become stuck and, horrifically, it snapped off, remaining in the dam. Distraught, as one would be after losing a finger, he stumbled home where some days later, his hand turned septic and he died of what I imagine would be blood poisoning. Forever after, the people in the town would be visited by his ghost, who would tap them on the shoulder in the night and say “Gis back my finger, his back my finger.”
As you might expect, I didn’t get much sleep in the tent that night. But I became fascinated by ghost stories from then on and made sure I read all that I could. By the time I was a fifteen year old with dyed red hair and a bellybutton piercing I had hidden from my parents, I had amassed a vast collection of ghost stories which remain on my bookshelf behind me now, as I sit writing this in London.
I later learned that the story the Dad told us is a macabre variation on The Little Dutch Boy, which was first told in the 1865 novel The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. It has a more whimsical tone where the boy ends up successfully obtaining help and saving the town, instead of ripping off his finger and dying of septicaemia. My dark humour prefers the version told to me around the campfire.
I’ve noticed a predilection amongst many adults who regard their childhood as a place and time put away, locked down and lost to their conscious memory, which makes me sad because childhood was a place where I first found magic in many of its forms. Granted, I resisted for some years, but, like the tiny hole in the dam, water finds its own level whether you like it or not, whether you’re ready or not. Childhood is a place full of terrors and demons and if you’re willing, as I discussed with somebody very special to me recently, you can harness those demons and use them to your advantage.
I’ll take you through those beautiful terrors and exhilarating demons, blog entry by blog entry, and share with you my thoughts on everything from my magical practice and the respect for land spirits, to dream divination and some of my own personal experiences with the supernatural.
This is an introduction of sorts, so please allow me this brief moment of self-indulgence. If you’re ready to read, I’m ready to talk.
The next entry will be an examination of modern folklore and the internet.