More ghosts

On Halloween, I posted about Ambrose Bierce’s idea of ghosts as beings who come from nowhere, go nowhere, and are powerless to play a direct role in human life.  I suggested that Bierce might have been expected to come up with an idea like this, given that his religious background was a self-conscious Protestantism that made a point of renouncing notions like Purgatory and intercessory prayer.  Bierce grew up hearing that at the moment of death, a soul passes either to Heaven or to Hell.  With that belief as the starting-point for his thoughts about the afterlife, how could Bierce have crafted a drama of any substance for the dead to enact?  How could he have attributed to them the power to influence our lives?

Similar thoughts seem to have been working lately in the mind of cartoonist David Malki.  The four most recent installments of his Wondermark have dealt with ghosts.  Here’s one from earlier this week:

Bierce has his ghost explain that the spirits of the dead are “invisible even to ourselves, and to one another”; on rare occasions, she says, “we are seen by those whom we would warn, console, or punish. What form we seem to them to bear we know not; we know only that we terrify even those whom we most wish to comfort, and from whom we most crave tenderness and sympathy.”  Perhaps the ghost in this comic is under the impression that she is communicating with the medium, who does not really hear her at all but is deceiving her and his clients; or perhaps the medium does hear her and is  faithfully reporting what he hears, which is distorted in the way that Bierce’s ghost had complained her attempts to communicate with the living had been distorted.

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