Thursday, April 16, 2009


A user, "havefeetwilltravel", from Lancashire, England, recounted an experience staying at the modest Hotel Rey Don Jaime I in Barcelona's, Barri Gotic. The woman, her husband, and nine-year-old son were settling into their imposing room (described as dimly lit with 20-foot ceilings!) for the evening: she and the husband on one side of the room, and her child on the opposite, peering out from the balcony. Quite suddenly, the kid cried out, "What did you do that for?" Puzzled, the boy's parents asked what he was talking about. The child explained that he thought his father had just then ruffled his hair from behind and then raced back. Left with a "funny" feeling about the place, the trio checked out the next morning with the growing suspicion that they had just encountered a ghost.

It's harder to find haunted places in Spain and Latin America. I know this from a lot of research on the subject, and from having lived in a Latin American country for over two years. Aside from a few archetypal "La Llorona" ghosts, there are nowhere near as many ghost stories in Spanish-speaking countries as in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Ireland... But does this mean there are fewer ghosts in these countries? Or does it imply that the whole thing is a cultural construct without merit? Maybe there exists a thread of silence that strings Spain and its former colonies together in a tradition of no-ghosts-allowed?

Spaniards and Latinos appear to have no difficulties in exploring the mysteries of UFO's and alien visitations. The explosion of reports from Latin America in recent years concerning flying saucers, little green men, cattle mutilations, and the various chupacabras-like entities speak plainly to their fascination with the fringe. In fact, an analysis of one source on unexplained accounts revealed that, in Spain, the bulk of mysterious tales falls primarily into two categories: Religious Phenomena, like witnessing the Virgin Mary, and UFO's/Aliens.

On November 1979, a Caravelle airliner had to make an emergency landing in Valencia after being "followed" by a UFO. Many other UFO's have been spotted throughout the latter half of the century, often accompanied by occupants ranging in description from "Michelin Man" to a yellow-faced creature that slapped a farm boy. And let us not forget the famous "Ummo" UFO hoax of the mid-1960's.

The remaining exceptions fit mostly into the categories of Strange Forces of Nature (for example, stones mysteriously shooting skyward before exploding) and Cryptozoology (the study of organisms thought not to exist). Of the latter, best known are the big snakes (6 feet or more) reported in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Also, in May 1979, a six-foot-tall, naked "apeman" was witnessed throwing a tree trunk at workers in the rugged Pyrenees mountains, 140 miles northwest of Barcelona.

So, if hispanic culture is so willing to examine the bizarre, why then are there so few ghosts, you ask? Good question, and one for which I don't have a ready answer. It could be a deeply-entrenched facet of Catholicism, which dominates these countries. Maybe the answer has to do with the ravages of war that were often and brutally visited upon Spain. But that just seems like it would inspire MORE tales. After all, the American Civil War - one of the worst in terms of body count - is a veritable smorgasbord of ghost sightings. Moreover, since this mindset appears to have trickled down to Latin America as well, I suspect this is a long-standing tradition, antedating the tumultuous politics of the 19th and 20th Century. I think the answer lies somewhere in the Spanish psyche (perhaps even stemming from Moorish tradition) and it has filtered down to its colonial descendents. This can be seen in other traits shared among Spaniards and Latinos, such as a sense of fatalism and the belief in working to live instead of living to work.

But before we begin to psychoanalyze an entire culture, perhaps we should take a look at those few stories that do deal with ghosts, hauntings, and the spirit realm. We might find the answer in the archetypes and motifs of Spanish ghost stories.

In 1971, mysterious voice came to be heard at a house in the village of Belmez de la Moraleda (Andalucia) that had already become famous for the appearance of "faces" on the floor, which no scrubbing could ever eradicate. The voices, according to witnesses, spoke the words: 'spirits', 'poor Cico', 'drunkard', 'little grandchild' and 'what will become of your life'. So too, did witnesses claim to hear wails and groans.

In Zaragoza, a poltergeist outbreak erupted in the final months of 1934. Amidst striking workers, political violence, and pending war, a small corner of Spain was otherwise occupied for a few months with the strange events transpiring at home.

Beginning on September 27, 1934, the Palazon family of #2 Gascón Gotor heard a sinister laugh in their home. However, it always ceased before they could trace its origins. Each day after that, they would hear the laugh, sometimes accompanied by other strange noises. The frightening sound occurred most often at dawn. After a couple of weeks, it seemed to diminish in frequency and the residents felt themselves setting into their routines once more.

But then on November 15, a servant, Pascuala Alcober, ran frightened to the lady of the house. Alcober told her that she had heard the wailing of a male voice emanating from the stove. Then the next day, she herself heard the very same male voice cry out: "Mary, come."

Soon the newspapers grabbed a hold of the story and it spread like wildfire throughout the area. As expected, explanations of ventriloquism, lunacy, and hoax abounded. None of which mattered much to the hundreds of visitors who raced to #2 Gascón Gotor to hear for themselves this spectral voice.

Eventually the local police had to cordon on the area from the throngs of curious onlookers. Still, for weeks the voice continued unabated, speaking short messages from its apparent home in the stove pipe: "I'm here", "Goodbye, goodbye", "Cowards, cowards", and to the maid when fetching wood, "What do you care if there is gas." All manner of professionals investigated the phenomenon - without success.

In time (and in true poltergeist fashion), the investigators focused their attention on the young maid, Pascuala. She was deemed hysterical and thought to have created the voice by means of ventriloquism. But as the investigation was ordered to wind down, and the original parties vacated the propery in January the following year, the mysterious voice did something very unpoltergeist like - it stayed.

The Grijalba family, who moved in next, made similar reports to the police that their 3 year-old son was carrying on conversations with the voice from the stove pipe. In time, the phenomenon seemed to diminish and then dissipate, but it retains a fascination among locals. And a regional coordinator for the Spanish Society for Paranormal Research, Angel Briongos, is working on a book about the Zaragoza poltergeist.

So, too, in Zaragoza is a report from a fashion boutique on Alfonso street where one employee has reported cold spots, clothing found mysteriously disarrayed, and even the apparition of a woman. And a suicide at town hall has resulted in mysterious noises that frighten night watchmen.

And while some stories are out there to be found, and groups like the Spanish Society for the Paranormal send out investigators to collect "psicofonías" (the Spanish term for EVP), a quick crunching of the numbers will show you that the telling or reporting of ghostly activity is much rarer in Spanish speaking countries.

Now, it is known that the Catholic church zealously suppressed the Spiritualist movement (a revival of all things spectral and psychical that sprung up in the latter half of the 19th century), likely hindering any exploration of the paranormal in most Latin American countries.

Nevertheless, is this the sole reason for why there are so few tales of haunted Hispanics? I have my doubts. Like many complex phenomena, the explanations are often more complex than the answers. It could be a series of events and shaping forces led to the lack of Spanish ghost tales. However, I will avail myself to further research opportunities while visiting Spain and hopefully I will have more answers in a few weeks.

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