The Magical Power of Words

As a writer, it’s my job (and pleasure) to combine and reorder words, occasionally even make them up (that’s totally fun, trust me!). But occasionally I am struck by the very power of words, and almost fear them. You know when you have that research book about demons with creepy incantations (yes, by now you should know that I often poke my head in strange-ass research books). Or what about the book of local ghost stories, and you wonder if somehow reading it could literally bring you closer to the spirits – or they to you?

Words have a good long history of being imbued with power. Not just the idea that you can send a message, change the future kind of power with a written statement or document. While those certainly have power, that’s not what I mean.

I mean the idea that there were words that were considered so powerful, you had to be careful uttering or writing them. Like the name of a deity, for example. Or magical words, which we find now in fantasy tales. Think Harry Potter where magical words have the power to cause pain, or even death.

And then I think back to the stories. And the power that a story has simply by being written down. It gives it weight, something tangible other than the rasping sound of someone’s voice in the retelling. What other power does the written word give to those stories? How does it change the story when, for example, you have a ghost story that has remained a family secret, and suddenly it’s out in the open, others have read and experienced it vicariously?

How does giving it words give it power? And where else does that power go? What else can it do?

I consider this because for some reason, when I used to read ghost-story books in my parents’ house down in the basement, before I moved out, I’d tuck the book into a drawer or at the very least ALWAYS flip it cover down, usually buried in another book. I had a vague sense that this was to keep it contained … and anything else from “seeing” it. No, I haven’t any particular idea who – or what – I thought might be reading my books when I wasn’t. And maybe it can be chalked up to an overactive imagination and the shivery feeling the books gave me in the first place.

Or maybe not. One of the stories I read recently was about a woman who was haunted almost all her life. The ghost followed her since she was a teenager all the way to adulthood, specifically attached to her. In fact, they referred to the ghost as “hers” because of how specifically associated it was with her. The weight of an unseen presence would lay down in the bed beside her –  leaving a body-shaped indent. When it returned after her daughter was born – and the daughter complained of the man watching her at night – the woman determined she needed to do something about it. She cast a ward of sorts around her house, and she hasn’t seen it again. However – and here’s the kicker – she was afraid that after sharing the story with the author, the thing would find her again. No word on it if did or not. (Want to read more? Check out p67-69, More Ghost Stories of Alberta, by Barbara Smith).

That is, the power of the story being written down and shared would somehow give power to or alert the spirit to where she was. At least, that’s how I interpret it. Then again, I do believe in the power of words, even if I’m not always certain how that power works.

What do you think? Are words powerful? Does the writing and sharing of a story imbue it with particular power? Thoughts?

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Ghosts and Shivers

What is it about a good ghost story we can’t resist ?

Yesterday I sat outside, reading ghost stories and shivering on my front step (the weather was more like late September than late July). Ridiculous? Absolutely, and yet inside, in the six-year-old house my husband and I literally built with our own two hands, I found myself looking around corners and swearing I saw something in the shadows.  And yet, I kept reading. Why?

I wonder if it’s that fact that not a lot of us can claim to have met a werewolf or vampire or other paranormal-type creature (if you can – share! and you must lead a much more interesting life than I!). Still, most of us know someone who’s had some kind of ghost/spirit/unexplained type experience, or we’ve even had them ourselves. Somehow this seems to make the possibility of someone else’s story all the more intriguing … and potentially, all the more belieavable. I was reading “More Ghost Stories of Alberta” by Barbara Smith, so ghost stories about my home province, and including places I’m very familiar with, which certainly helps to make them more “real.”

I found myself shivering (and not just from the ridiculous weather) over the mini-tale of a couple in Edmonton who were awakened very early by their alarm clock – a clock neither of them had set. That wasn’t nearly as strange as the little boy they spotted at the end of the bed, dressed in striped pajamas. He suddenly raced across the room and slammed the ringing alarm clock with such force, it broke. Then he gave them a smirking grin, and vanished.

Or what about the story told by a woman about her grandfather. As a young child, around the turn of the century, the grandfather lived on a farm, and one day found himself home alone, his parents out. Fire broke out in the home. Young and frightened, he didn’t know what to do, and thought maybe he should stay in the house and wait for his parents to come and rescue him. Then suddenly a beautiful woman appeared out of nowhere and told him to run. He did. And survived when his parents wouldn’t have been able to get back in time, and when the house burned completely to the ground – and would have taken him with it. No one ever saw the mysterious woman then or since.

Both are equally intriguing tales, though certainly one has a darker edge to it. How delicious to consider them as “seeds” for a future story. Or just appreciate them for what they are: unexplained stories as they stand.

What about you? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have any of your own ghost or otherwise unexplained stories? Come on, share, you know you want to. 😉

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