Heads or Tales

There was no trick or treating, but the Tudors did recognize the night before All Soul’s Day (All-Hallows-Even) as a particularly spooky time. I can recommend author Nancy Bilyeau’s blog post about it for an excellent overview of the way people of that era conceptualized the supernatural. In fact, Bilyeau’s post is so good I am left wondering what to write about!

Although it has certainly been mentioned a time or two on other sites, I think I will talk about Anne Boleyn’s very famous ghost.  She is believed to appear, headless, at more than one location in England. As a child I was terrified by the idea of a headless ghost. Why was a headless specter scarier to me than a “regular” ghost? Most likely it was my very vivid imagination, which made picturing her head looking at me from its location under Anne’s arm so easy to see in my mind’s eye, that caused me such fright. Apparently, I am not alone in this ability:


The thought of Anne’s ghost, like the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, freaked me out. Even now, as an adult, I am pretty sure I would scream and loose my cool completely if I were to spot her majesty roaming any ancient halls or pulling up to the door of Blickling Hall.

But would there actually be a ghost for me to see?

Rationally, there are no so such things as ghosts. However, as a Christian I believe (as do many other practitioners of other religions) that human conscious continues after the death of the body, but that aspect of a human would not be left to just float around scaring the jeepers out of people. Most non-theologians call the immortal part a “soul”, but scripture/theology/philosophy would indicate that the “soul” is connected to the body and the “spirit” is what gives life.  Some physicists argue that there is a “quantum mind”, which would explain consciousness that might be able to exist independently of the physical mind, but other physicists think this is bunkum on par with mermaids.

On a more personal level, I hope that Anne Boleyn rests in peace, beyond suffering and with no need or ability to sashay past gawking mortals.

I can give a more concrete answer about the likelihood of the existence of another famous ghost — one of Henry VIII’s other luckless wives, Anne’s cousin Kathryn Howard. Legend has it that Kathryn appears on the gallery at Hampton Court, where she eternally repeats her last desperate attempt to reach Henry and beg his forgiveness. This is, I am sure, complete hooey. According to historians the King departed from Kathryn’s company without warning and without a word, and he was already far out of reach before she even became aware of the accusations against her. There was no desperate last dash, and thus there is nothing for her tormented ghost to repeat.

Now, my trick or treating children and their father have returned home, and we are going to change into our pajamas and watch Disney’s animated version of Sleepy Hollow. I hope you all have a similarly happy Halloween!

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