Dress, Phantom
The question of the apparel worn by apparitions has often
aroused considerable controversy. Psychical researcher Frank
Podmore provides some reflections upon the issue:
‘‘The apparition commonly consists simply of a figure,
clothed as the percipient was accustomed to see the agent
clothed; whereas to be true to life the phantasm would as a rule
have to appear in bed. In cases where the vision gives no information
as to the agent’s clothing and surroundings generally—
and, as already said, such cases form the great majority of the
well attested narratives—we may suppose that what is transmitted
is not any part of the superficial content of the agent’s consciousness,
but an impression from the underlying massive and
permanent elements which represent his personal identity.
The percipient’s imagination is clearly competent to clothe
such an impression with appropriate imagery, must indeed so
clothe it if it is to rise into consciousness at all. . . . The ghosts,
it will have been observed, always appear clothed. Have clothes
also ethereal counterparts? Such was and is the belief of many
early races of mankind, who leave clothes, food, and weapons
in the graves of the dead, or burn them on the funeral pile, that
their friends may have all they require in the spirit world. But
are we prepared to accept this view? And again, these ghosts
commonly appear, not in the clothes which they were wearing
at death—for most deaths take place in bed—but in some others,
as will be seen from an examination of the stories already
cited. Are we to suppose the ethereal body going to its wardrobe
to clothe its nakedness withal? or that, as in the case of Ensign
Cavalcante’s appearance to Frau Reiken, the ghost will actually
take off the ethereal clothes it wore at death and replace
them with others? It is scarcely necessary to pursue the subject.
The difficulties and contradictions involved in adapting it to
explain the clothes must prove fatal to the ghost theory.’’
In The Ghost World (1893), Thistleton Dyer summarizes a
large body of reported apparitions that mention the figures’
‘‘It is the familiar dress worn in lifetime that is, in most cases,
one of the distinguishing features of the ghost, and when Sir
George Villiers wanted to give a warning to his son, the Duke
of Buckingham, his spirit appeared to one of the Duke’s servants
‘in the very clothes he used to wear.’ Mrs. Crowe, [in her
Night Side of Nature,] some years ago, gave an account of an apparition
which appeared at a house in Sarratt, Hertfordshire.
It was that of a well-dressed gentleman, in a blue coat and
bright gilt buttons, but without a head. It seems that this was
reported to be the ghost of a poor man of that neighbourhood
who had been murdered, and whose head had been cut off. He
could, therefore, only be recognised by his ‘blue coat and bright
gilt buttons.’ Indeed, many ghosts have been nicknamed from
the kinds of dress in which they have been in the habit of appearing.
Thus the ghost at Allanbank was known as ‘Pearlin
Jean,’ from a species of lace made of thread which she wore;
and the ‘White Lady’ at Ashley Hall—like other ghosts who
have borne the same name—from the white drapery in which
she presented herself. Some lady ghosts have been styled
‘Silky,’ from the rustling of their silken costume, in the wearing
of which they have maintained the phantom grandeur of their
earthly life. There was the ‘Silky’ at Black Heddon who used to
appear in silken attire, oftentimes ‘rattling in her silks;‘ and the
spirit of Denton Hall—also termed ‘Silky’—walks about in a
white silk dress of antique fashion. This last ‘Silky’ was thought
to be the ghost of a lady who was mistress to the profligate Duke
of Argyll in the reign of William III, and died suddenly, not
without suspicion of murder, at Chirton, near Shields—one of
his residences. The ‘Banshee of Loch Nigdal,’ too, was arrayed
in a silk dress, green in colour. These traditions date from a period
when silk was not in common use, and therefore attracted
notice in country places. Some years ago a ghost appeared at
Hampton Court, habited in a black satin dress with white kid
gloves. The White ‘Lady of Skipsea’ makes her midnight serenades
clothed in long, white drapery. Lady Bothwell, who
haunted the mansion of Woodhouselee, always appeared in
white; and the apparition of the mansion of Houndwood, in
Berwickshire—bearing the name of ‘Chappie’—is clad in silk
‘‘One of the ghosts seen at the celebrated Willington Mill
was that of a female in greyish garments. Sometimes she was
said to be wrapped in a mantle, with her head depressed and
her hands crossed on her lap. Walton Abbey had its headless
lady who used to haunt a certain wainscotted chamber, dressed
in blood-stained garments, with her infant in her arms; and, in
short, most of the ghosts that have tenanted our country houses
have been noted for their distinctive dress.
‘‘Daniel Defoe, in his Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions,
has given many minute details as to the dress of a ghost.
He tells a laughable and highly amusing story of some robbers
who broke into a mansion in the country, and, while ransacking
one of the rooms, they saw, in a chair, ‘a grave, ancient man,
with a long full-bottomed wig, and a rich, brocaded gown,’ etc.
One of the robbers threatened to tear off his ‘rich brocaded
gown,’ another hit at him with a firelock, and was alarmed at
seeing it pass through the air; and then the old man ‘changed
into the most horrible monster that ever was seen, with eyes like
two fiery daggers red hot.’ The same apparition encountered
them in different rooms, and at last the servants, who were at
the top of the house, throwing some ‘hand grenades’ down the
chimneys of these rooms, the thieves were dispersed. Without
adding further stories of this kind, which may be taken for what
they are worth, it is a generally received belief in ghost lore that
spirits are accustomed to appear in the dresses which they wore
in their lifetime—a notion credited from the days of Pliny the
Younger to the present day.
‘‘But the fact of ghosts appearing in earthly raiment has excited
the ridicule of many philosophers, who, even admitting
the possibility of a spiritual manifestation, deny that there can
be the ghost of a suit of clothes. George Cruikshank, too, who
was no believer in ghosts, sums up the matter thus: ‘As it is
clearly impossible for spirits to wear dresses made of the materials
of earth, we should like to know if there are spiritual outfitting
shops for the clothing of ghosts who pay visits on earth.’
‘‘Whatever the objections may be to the appearance of
ghosts in human attire, they have not hitherto overthrown the
belief in their being seen thus clothed, and Byron, describing
the ‘Black Friar’ who haunted the cloisters and other parts of
Newstead Abbey, tells us that he was always ‘arrayed in cowl,
and beads, and dusky garb.’ Indeed, as Dr. Tylor remarks in
[Primitive Culture] it is ‘an habitual feature of the ghost stories
of the civilised, as of the savage world, that the ghost comes
dressed, and even dressed in well-known clothing worn in life.’
And he adds that the doctrine of object-souls was held by the
Algonquin tribes, the islanders of the Fijian group, and the Karens
of Burmah—it being supposed that not only men and
beasts have souls, but inorganic things. Thus Mariner, describing
the Fijian belief, writes: ‘If a stone or any other substance
is broken, immortality is equally its reward; nay, artificial bodies
have equal good luck with men, and hogs, and yams. If an
axe or a chisel is worn out or broken up, away flies its soul for
the service of the gods. The Fijians can further show you a sort
of natural well, or deep hole in the ground, at one of their isEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Dress, Phantom
lands, across the bottom of which runs a stream of water, in
which you may clearly see the souls of men and women, beasts
and plants, stocks and stones, canoes and horses, and of all the
broken utensils of this frail world, swimming, or rather tumbling
along, one over the other, pell-mell, into the regions of
immortality.’ As it has been observed, animistic conceptions of
this kind are no more irrational than the popular idea prevalent
in civilized communities as to spirits appearing in all kinds
of garments.’’
With the development of spirit photography around 1862
as a corroborative aspect of Spiritualist phenomena, the question
of phantom apparel appeared finally to have some objective
basis. However, later experiments in projecting mental pictures
onto photographic materials suggested that mental
impressions might still color representations of the clothing of
phantoms. More important, spirit photography was so deeply
involved in fraud that any data derived from it is at best suspect.
The question of ghost attire is a puzzling one, and it may be
more useful to regard individual cases on their own merit.
Above and beyond spirit photographs, there were many undoubted
examples of deliberate fraud in the representation of
spirit forms produced in materialization séances clothed in a
drapery of ectoplasm, which turned out to be a person covered
with cheesecloth. There were, of course, many examples in
which scientific observers testified to seeing ectoplasm develop
into spirit forms with vague clothing, and there are photographic
records of such materializations in motion, showing
progressive stages of formation and later dissolution. (See the
discussions in From the Unconscious to the Conscious by Gustave
Geley, 1920, and Phenomena of Materialisation by Baron von
Schrenck-Notzing, 1923.) These have, however, been questioned
in this century as more of the clever devices and techniques
for producing materializations have been uncovered.
The experiments of talented exponents of out-of-the-body
travel (astral projection) suggest that phantom clothing may
be a mental creation or in some cases simply the human aura.
The question is discussed by Sylvan J. Muldoon and Hereward
Carrington in the book The Projection of the Astral Body (1929).
According to Muldoon,
‘‘I have noticed that, as a rule, if my physical body were clad
in a certain garb, my astral counterpart would be clothed in an
identical garb. I say as a rule. But again, there have been many
exceptions to that rule—which demonstrates the eccentricities
of the controlling intelligence! Sometimes the physical body
will be clothed, and the astral body will be clothed in a different
manner, e.g. a sort of flimsy gauzy white. This is not at all unusual,
and is perhaps the reason why ‘ghosts’ have invariably
become identified with white garments. Sometimes this astral
garment is mistaken by observers for an ‘aura,’ and sometimes
the aura is mistaken for the garment of white. There is a
distinction. . . . One can be nude in the astral body and the
aura would then act as clothing. In fact, it is my belief that the
clothing is formed from the aura.’’
Muldoon, Sylvan J., and Hereward Carrington. The Projection
of the Astral Body. London: Rider, 1929.