By Riley Manning
To this day, Ripley native Katie May has dreams about her best friend since grade school, who was killed in a single-car accident on a rainy night two years ago.
Her sudden passing left a lot of questions up in the air for May, who often wonders where her friend was headed, how she managed to crash on a road May said the two knew like the back of their hands, or if someone else was involved in the accident.
“In the dreams, it’s always reliving something from high school, prom or something,” she said. “But I always know something bad is going to happen to her, and it always ends with her assuring me everything is fine.”
At first, May said the dreams came about once a week. The following day, May said she might run into her friend’s sister, or come across some old keepsake of theirs.
“I think dreams mean something,” May said. “I think it’s her helping me through the process and get closure, even with all the unanswered questions. She’s letting me know everything’s fine. She’s not sick anymore, or worried about her parents’ divorce. She’s where she needs to be.”
For Christians, the existence of ghostly phenomenon calls some heavy theological implications into play. It calls into question the permeability of whatever separates the spiritual from the physical, and challenges people like May to wonder about the nature of such apparitions.
Up close and personal
Tom Booth, Tupelo Community Theatre’s executive director, and Amory resident Nina Jurney have tangled with specters during the waking hours.
Jurney has lived in her family home, situated on her great-grandmother’s land, for the past seven years. Before moving into it, she heavily renovated the residence, and it wasn’t long before the contractors noticed something strange.“They kept asking who the old lady was that they saw around the house. What they described matched my grandmother to a tee,” she said. “When I told them, one of the workers left in the middle of the job. My husband came up one night to take a measurement, and we heard what sounded like a whole football team running around upstairs, but when we looked, there was no one.”Jurney called the Mississippi State paranormal team, who spent the night in the house. Using chatterboxes and video cameras, the team assessed four presences inhabiting the house.
“One of them is a three-year-old child that has appeared to my son and my daughter. One of them is my grandmother,” Jurney said. “One night I was having a tough time because my husband and son were deployed in Iraq. I was kind of at my breaking point. Sitting in bed crying, I felt someone stroking my hair, comforting me. That’s what my grandmother used to do.”
A Greek Orthodox Christian, Jurney said she told the spirits from the start, if they were from God, they could stay. Since then, she said the ghosts have been playful, but also protective.
In one instance, they warned her of a malfunctioning electrical socket in a secluded closet that could have burned the house down.
“I can’t explain it,” Jurney said. “It’s hard because I’m very religious, but I feel love from them.”
For as long as anyone can remember, The Lyric theater has been home to its very own friendly ghost, dubbed by theater workers as “Antoine,” dozens of whom, Booth said, have reported accounts of inexplicable incidences involving the specter.
“We don’t even investigate doors slamming and things like that because they happen so often,” Booth said. “We’ve had numerous incidents of weird lights and noises. One night I was here late. I was alone and heard a sound I can only describe as singing and laughing. I thought, ‘Very funny, guys,” but I checked the whole building and no one was there. No cars in the parking lot. I got my keys and left.”
Antoine’s origin is unknown, but Booth noted The Lyric was used as a hospital and morgue during a 1936 tornado, or Antwone could be the spirit of some custodial figure from the building’s 101-year history.
“I don’t understand it all, but I do believe there is a veil between the spiritual world and ours, and it’s there for a reason,” Booth said. “But to me it seems that God must allow or disallow. In the Bible, when Saul and the medium call forth the prophet Samuel, he appears. Even the medium is surprised, so it seems God must have allowed that.”
Keeping the devil out
The Rev. Terry Garrett, pastor of King’s Gate Worship Center in Tupelo, said mediums and familiar spirits are mentioned on many occasions in the Bible. Those who come in contact with them, he said, should exercise extreme caution.
“A familiar spirit is a spirit appearing to you in the form of someone you know, someone you are familiar with,” Garrett said. “But we have to be very careful when dealing with them. What a spirit wants is a foot in the door to eventually dwell in a person.”
The critical issue, Garrett said, is the source of such apparitions. Some come from us, our imaginations or subconscious, some come from God, but some come from the demonic.
“Leviticus 19:31 says explicitly, ‘Give no regard to mediums or familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them,’” Garrett said. “The danger lies in thinking we can control these forces to gain some kind of knowledge. That’s a trick. God doesn’t want to go outside of his will to gain information, seeking life from the dead.”
The Rev. Jason McAnally, pastor of Origins church in Tupelo, said the nature of ghostly spirits is a gray area in the Bible.
“The vocabulary in the Hebrew language has all these different words that refer to spirits,” he said. “Some of them are used sometimes to describe demonic forces, but others are never used to describe evil.”
McAnally said what interests him more are the questions behind the questions when it comes to supernatural occurrences. Even secular culture gives the supernatural plenty of attention.
“I think it’s interesting to question why people are so fascinated by this idea,” he said. “My first thought is that it shows humanity craves the spiritual. There are 60 times in the Bible where faith and fear appear together. Even the words are connected.”
Things like horror movies may be a way for people to explore that connection that is less committal than religion.
“Showing the dark side implies that there must be a light side,” he said. “With ghosts in particular, I think it shows a longing for eternal humanity, of life after death.”