I’ve just finished House of Darkness House of Light by Andrea Perron. It’s a memoir written by one of the daughters who lived for 10 years in a farmhouse in Rhode Island that was haunted. It was the basis of the horror movie The Conjuring, and frankly that plot seems to have been only loosely based on what happened. Given the vast majority of the “incidents” described, most are fairly normal for an old house: doors opening and closing themselves, objects appearing and disappearing, moving around, things levitating, clocks stopping, phone ringing when unplugged, pets not wanting to go in, or seeming to react to something unseen by their owners, smells and cold that come and go, hearing footsteps, sensing and seeing presences…. One assumes these are of people who lived there before and left “something” behind: whether a personality or an energetic imprint. These events are very common in my reading and experience.
Some people seem to think those things are scary. I suppose they think so because they are indications that ghosts or spirits exist, when they have been told they can’t. “There is no evidence” proving it. If people having interacted with spirits for as long as we have written history doesn’t count as evidence, I think the scoffers are not being honest with themselves. Yes, some hauntings have been faked, but that doesn’t mean that all have. I think “follow the money” is a pretty good rule of thumb for checking for fraud. Who’s profiting by it? The Perrons didn’t.
I’ll admit it’s frustrating to have your stuff go missing, and inconvenient to have your bed move into the middle of the room every night while you’re asleep. (One of our ghosts used to make the rocking chair start rocking and dump stuff on the floor. My sister simply started putting stuff on the bed. “Rock that!”) That seems to be pretty much how most people deal with ghosts when they live with them. Most ghosts are pretty harmless.
The book is long and rambling, I kept thinking it could use an editor; but it is a memoir. It may need to take a long time because that’s how the situation evolved, and them with it. Three decades later, the family recalled their experiences in order to put the facts clearly for others (who might profit from what they learned). One of the nice things about this recounting is that they point out that they got both good and bad from their experiences. For one, they are certain of an afterlife, and that God answered their prayers. That’s a wonderful thing to not wonder about. They also learned lessons, such as quarreling, blaming and other negative energy seemed to feed the spirits, give them more energy to move furniture, etc. Having learned this, they became forgiving, and developed problem resolution skills far beyond most people.
They also had good relationships with many of the spirits in the farmhouse. Since it was over two centuries old, many people had died there over time (although there were an unusual number of suicides I think). Most of the spirits were friendly, there was a child, often heard crying for its mother, who played with the girls toys, a protective masculine spirit in the doorway, a father and son, with their dog, on the stairs, and a woman who smelled like fruit and flowers who tucked them in at night. These were protective. One floated one of the girls safely down the stairs when she’d fallen, didn’t touch anything all the way down and around the corner. Another (or the same) held the end of a board up during a storm when one of the kids had to mend a fence. Having had household spirits help with our chores, I believe it.
The trouble came from on spirit (at least) who was hostile and dangerous. If she started as a ghost, she may have evolved into something different. The female figure who showed herself with a broken neck was identified as Bathsheba, and often attacked Carolyn, the girls’ mother. She even said she was mistress there before and intended to be again. “Was mistress once afore ye came and mistress here will be again. Will drive ye out with fiery broom, Will drive ye made with death and gloom!” She seemed to want the children, but she hated Carolyn.
Once Carolyn had something like a needle stabbed into her leg, a hanger jumped off the pole and beat her on the shoulder (in front of witnesses), she also had pains and weakness that doctors could not explain. She saw fireballs on her dresser, and a vision of what seems to have been all the ghosts in the house gathered around her with torches chanting that threat above. (If they’d lived in the house in different periods, how did she get them to come together like that?) In a house made of old wood, Carolyn lived in fairly constant fear of it catching fire. And not just in the house, a cigarette flew through a closed window in the car and burned one of the girls pants, there were chimney fires, and oil burner problems. That could just be an old house. But the fear is real. The nasty odor associated with her seems to have followed friends in their cars several times. (How far away could she reach?)
Other examples of real danger where when the girls were mysteriously trapped- behind the chimney, two girls were at risk of suffocation, one in an old box that wouldn’t open although it wasn’t fastened, and the other in a trunk she doesn’t remember getting into, and was nearly impossible to open in the first place. Roger, the father, had his back clawed up in his sleep (and stroked seductively in the cellar). Since there were several times when various people had energy sucked out of them, this approaches vampiric activity.
Often when there was a scary incident and they screamed and banged things for attention, no one else in the house could hear it. They called it “being in the bubble”. This makes me wonder if perhaps one of the ghosts had been suffocated and was trying to reproduce their own death. Did one die while feeling abandoned, and so set up a situation where a Perron would call for help and feel abandoned. Kids often test limits, just how much can they push the limit of what’s allowed before someone stops them. Perhaps the ghosts were trying to prove that everyone gets abandoned to a terrifying death- even if they had to artificially set it up. Another thing I observed was that in the telling, most of the major attacks seemed to come just after a party, date or other really good day. Did good feelings annoy the spirit(s), or did a good day just build it enough energy to enable the attack? The Perrons were aware that after interactions they felt depleted, and often slept more. They also noticed that the electric meter drew unnatural amounts of power just before a major manifestation. Clearly the spirits were sucking down energy- both Chi and electricity.
The book accumulates these examples, laying brink on brick to a wall of evidence. No, it doesn’t build to a great jump-scare at the end. (I don’t think it does, I’m just starting the second book, and new incidents keep coming. I am especially fond of one of the girls having seen a broom sweeping the kitchen by itself.)
So far, Ed and Lorraine Warren are not a big part of the story. But. of course the Warrens thought there was a demon; they were demonologists. Chances are they interpreted any etheric energy Lorraine felt as demonic (along with ouija boards and tarot cards). But then, how often do you have to deal with something like that before you become hyper cautious? Having come to help the family, the Warrens shared what they knew- which was probably more than the Perrons did at the time. In some areas. On the other hand, they “borrowed” and didn’t return the huge pile of history of the house that Carolyn had collected, and I find that rude. Yes, I think it’s clear that Bathsheba was an angry ghost.They also had to deal with little girls who knew how to keep secrets, and Roger, who refused to believe what was right in front of him. Because of his control issues, he may have been more willing than others to accept “authority” if it was coming to help him.
I wonder if there wasn’t something already on the site where the farmhouse was built (a portal to somewhere, a confluence of ley lines?) that made people more likely to commit suicide or fight with each other? I would certainly not argue with the Perrons (who went through it) when they say that when they were in danger and they called on God, that Gods power drove the bad spirits off. I’m not sure that makes the spirits demonic or simply “lawful” (following some rules we don’t understand fully). And how does one define demon? I don’t accept the standard Christian/Satanic myth. I do think something dangerous was going on.
In style, the family, or maybe just Andrea, seems to have a habit of blending two phrases together like “thinking outside the boxing match” or “listen up in smoke“, which I found annoying, in the manner of Biff messing up expressions in Back to the Future. (Or perhaps I’ve been sensitized by having auto-correct functions constantly changing what I write to something completely different.) Sometimes she showed a great turn of phrase like “unraveled like chenille throws”. I loved the range and quality of the quotes she used to start and end each chapter. Having considered it, I have to admit that tighter writing wouldn’t cover the subject matter in the same depth, and showed the development of the lessons they took from their experiences.
I find it disorienting that while the book is generally chronological- it starts with why they needed to move, and the effort it took, and only just touched on the Warrens, (so far- I think they’re in the second book), to a certain extent each chapter deals with one cluster of experiences, or place, or friend. To that extent, it’s more stream-of-consciousness. Perhaps this was how it was created as the family pooled their memories. All in all, I found it a better description of living with ghosts than most of the (many) other books on the subject I’ve read. So often such books concentrate on the phenomena, not what it meant to the people to whom it happened.
If there was one thing I would wish had been different with this book, I really would have liked is the floor-plan of the farm. They know where the doors were, but while they talk about the three stairways to the cellar, (how many to the second floor?) and various bedrooms, parlor, warm room, chimney corner, summer kitchen, pantry, laundry, borning room, woodshed, etc. I want to know where they are in relationship to each other. Which stairway has the L turn? How many rooms were there in the cellar, sounds like a half dozen, it must have been huge!
I am actually looking forward to finishing the next two books, despite the length.