As humans, we seem to have a complicated affinity for ghosts and spirits which have apparently found their way from the Occult into our lives, taking unpredictable forms and playing a variety of intervening roles. Maybe this is because some of us believe that we are eternal souls and there is no reason to stop communicating with other ethereal beings just because we exist, for a few years, on a physical dimension. Or, maybe, it is because, at any point in our history, we sense that there is something we still do not know, and we prefer to give to this “unknown element” a face and a name that are familiar to us – even if, occasionally, frightening.
According to the general belief, such spirits prefer the mysterious obscurity of the northern countries, where the sky is grey, the land is painted in foggy hues, and the sea is ashen and impenetrable. Hence, we observe a high concentration of ghosts in areas like the Old Albion where personal friends have seen with their own eyes specters using specific beaches as their haunt, phantoms refusing to get evicted from a house because the owner has given them permission to continue using the facilities, or demons oozing through the cracks of the earth and clutching, like tar, on the walls. In the southern countries where the abundant light dissolves any apparition, we usually enjoy the presence of nymphs, theological hallucinations, or guardian animals, but no haunting spirits. And, yet, there are ghost stories under the sun.
Masirah Island, Oman
Masirah is an island of biblical beauty on the east coast of Oman, surrounded by the Arabian Sea, and famous for the large population of sea turtles that, for centuries, nest on the pristine, isolated beaches. The land has a magical energy since nature by far outweighs the limited human presence, and the vibration of the thousands of new lives sprouting from the sand on their way to the sea gives a spiritual aura that cannot be missed. It seems though that ghosts frequent even such enchanted places.
In the Blue Lagoon Wadi in the southwest of Masirah, there is a moderate concentration of water in a small sinkhole. Freshwater drips from the top of the rocks at the wadi’s end forming a shallow cave. In there, the visitor will always find dishes full of traditional Omani food, bowls of dates, and lots of still smoking or freshly burnt incense. They are offerings to the ghost of the old man who is buried at the top of one of the wadi’s walls, along with his two sons and their three camels. The reason these men are buried there is unknown, but, according to the legend, this happened because they died unexpectedly, all of them together in one night, without any signs of murder or poisoning. The old man is said to often descend into the wadi, seeking food and the company of people who ask him his opinion on their problems. If well fed, he answers their questions with wisdom. If hungry, he screams and curses everyone present.
Also, British military personnel stationed on the island have often spoken of the “apparitions” in the Marsis mudflats (or, more officially, “Umm Al-Rusays”). According to several witnesses, when strolling at night with a slightly windy weather, one will undoubtedly encounter a few blue-shaded silhouettes levitating somewhat above the ground and often swirling around the stroller. No faces are visible, just the outline of the, usually solitary, figures: a man in dishdasha, or a lady in a light blue abaya and niqab, with loose long hair that, despite the sheila, is clearly visible and flies in the wind. Some locals have claimed to have seen these apparitions as well. Rumor has it the ghosts are visiting from the nearby cemetery, which is most likely an ancient Iranian one. We were told that the inscriptions on the timeworn tombstones were neither in Arabic nor in Farsi, but, unfortunately, we will never be able to confirm as bulldozers have covered it up in mounds of soil. It is now buried forever.
Mt. Katherine, Sinai Peninsula
We had pitched our tents in the comfortable basin of Farsh Eliyas at the bottom of Mt. Moses; the sun had set, and we had settled next to the camping fire covered in blankets, waiting for the food to cook, our hands cupped around a mug of hot tea.
“Hundreds of years ago, this area used to host many hermits,” commented Nasser, our Bedouin guide. “They chose a place close to water, lived off the land, and spent their days in prayer, connecting with the holy grounds where Moses walked and received the messages of God. Several of these old cells still exist around here – we will see some tomorrow, on our way up to Mt. Katherine summit – and the locals have occasionally been using them as shelters. A few years ago, a friend of mine was asked to repair one such lodge. It has a small chapel in front, and a tiny room at the back, with a window protected by an iron grid. When my friend finished the renovation, he took a photo of the building. Much later, while examining the picture, he noticed something like a figure looking at him from the window of the back room. He magnified the photo and, indeed, there was a presence transparent enough not to be blocked by the grid. I saw the photo myself, it was true: someone was there.
Months passed by and I was guiding a hiker in the area. As we passed close to the building, the hiker mentioned having seen someone disappearing behind the rocks. I did not pay attention, and we continued our way. Suddenly, after we had left the dwelling behind us, we heard a thunderous noise, as if the rocks of the surrounding slopes were all tumbling down. We turned back to see what destruction had occurred, but nothing had changed: everything was the same. A few days afterward, I met with a healer – a person who talks with the spirits and either asks for their help and advice or, if they are evil, he clears them to protect the people in the villages. I shared with him my experience, and he confirmed that there is a 3000-year-old spirit who lives in the house and enjoys his solitude, so he engages in scaring the passersby away.”
“There are several ghosts in the area,” continued Nasser. “My uncle, Suliman, lived most of his life in a relationship with one. When he was young, he fell in love with a gorgeous girl. As he did not have money to marry her, he left to work in the big city, promising that he would be back in six months with enough money to start their new home. The girl promised to wait. Indeed, in six months, my uncle returned, bringing with him beautiful textiles and presents for his bride-to-be. As soon as he entered his parental home, his mother updated him that, unfortunately, his beloved had to succumb to family pressures and marry her cousin. Blinded with sadness, Suliman left the house, not knowing what to do or where to go. A few meters away, he saw the figure of a woman that looked like the girl with whom he was in love. He called her name, but she started walking towards the opposite direction. He ran after her, yet he could not reach her. Till, at some point, he looked around and realized he had no idea where he was. He called the woman once again, and, for the first time, she turned and looked at him: her face was pure light, and she smiled at him warmly before disappearing. Suliman found the way back home and recounted the events of the evening to his mother – that’s how we know the story.
The next day, he left the house and went to a far-away cave where he lived alone for the next 30 years. His family kept bringing him food, but they never saw him: he was always disappearing before they arrived, leaving the empty bowls to be taken away. When Suliman became too old to continue living in the cave, he built a tiny house – a place with space barely big enough for one person – but his life remained as obscure and isolated as before. More years passed by, and one night, his mother saw someone coming to her house, telling her that Suliman was very sick. The next morning, she updated the rest of the family, and they all looked around for footprints or any other sign that would confirm the nocturnal visit. They found none. Still, they set off towards Suliman’s place, his old mother having to make the whole journey on a camel. When they arrived, they saw that my uncle was indeed very sick, and he died just a few minutes after he saw his family. He had been living all these years in a relationship with this other woman who stole his heart on the first night he came back. When she saw that he was dying, she went to his mother to give her the message, so that he would not leave this world without having seen them one last time.”
Nasser stayed silent for a while. “His first love is still alive today,” he said at the end. “Despite her old age – she must be 70 years old by now – she is still very beautiful. She has married six times. I think she has lived a good life.”
Crete Island, Greece
In the southern coast of Crete island, close to the Frangokastello castle in Sfakia region, many witnesses over the past 200 years have reported seeing a group of fully armed, human-like figures dressed in black, walking or riding from the monastery of Agios Charalambos towards the old Venetian fort. The locals call them “Drosoulites” which roughly translates to “dew creatures/shadows,” and they can be visible from the valley, 1000m away. According to the legend, they are the ghosts of the Greek fighters from Crete island and Epirus area who, led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis, fought against the Turks on the 17th of May 1828 and, after being besieged for seven days inside the castle, they were massacred to the last one. Till today, on the eve of the battle’s anniversary (and, sometimes, till the first days of June), they re-appear in the battlefield. In the early morning hours, when the sea is calm, and the atmosphere is moist, one may see them galloping wildly, in an eternal determination to liberate the land. It is said that, in 1890, they drove away a transient Turkish army who saw the figures and fled away and that even a German patrol opened fire against them during World War II. There have been several efforts to give a scientific explanation to the phenomenon; none though has proven satisfactory enough. For the locals, they will always be the warriors who echo the love of the Cretan heart for freedom and independence.
Photos: © Konstantina Sakellariou (unless stated otherwise)
Note: Many thanks to my friend, Nancy Papathanassopoulou, who shared with me the ghost stories from Oman. They were so beautifully written, I barely had to do any changes.