I was in my twenties; about to leave my lecturing job, my flat in Bath, and return to the Outer Hebrides to “ be a writer”. A few weeks previously I had met artists and astrologers Gloria and Seamus. Since their delivering of one of my greatest ever shocks, in the shape of an unsolicited and stunningly accurate horoscope reading, we had become friends. They intrigued me, as well as being warm hearted, kind people.
They subsequently introduced me to their friend Jake, an author and expert on astrology amongst other Arts. Seamus had joked that we had to be careful of Jake – he was rumoured to be into all sorts of occult practices.
None of this meant much to me, since I still fancied myself as a Marxist intellectual at the time, and was a member of the local Communist Party in Bath – not an association which was of any duration! It would be accurate to say that my life was in a strange state of uncertainty, confusion and flux that summer.
One balmy summer’s evening Gloria, Seamus and I fetched up at Jake’s house in a small country village in Somerset. It was a very old house, pre-Tudor. Jake was supposed to be there, but wasn’t….I don’t recall why. I had the flu, and was feeling pretty low in spirits. We all sat by the big open fireplace and had some wine. I began to feel very shivery and unwell. Gloria escorted me upstairs to Jake’s bedroom, where I lay down on the double bed and dozed off. It was a dimly lit room.
I have no idea how much time passed – I woke, and became aware that a stout man wearing a chain of office of some kind was standing at the foot of the bed, regarding me. From paintings of the Tudor period, I recognised his clothing as that of someone of some standing. I felt that I had been judged, and harshly.
The next thing I remember was having staggered off the bed and out of the room. I felt as though I was standing on a balcony, being presented to a crowd below who were yelling unpleasantly up at me. The man with the chain of office was there beside me. My hands felt bound.
The next thing I knew, I was screaming. Gloria and Seamus came rushing upstairs, half carrying me back downstairs again beside the fire which had been lit. Someone thrust a hot drink into my hands, and my experience split.
On the one hand, I was aware of where I was in the present. On the other, I felt as though I was in a cart, bumping over cobblestones – a man, dressed in a rough white tunic right down to my ankles. I was tied. A name came into my mind which I couldn’t quite understand because it seemed so peculiar: Chiddoch ? Tyburn? It came to me that I was going to be executed. Seamus was shaking me.
“ Scottie, Scottie! Where are you ?” I gradually came back to the present. Seamus and Gloria gently but insistently got me to give an account of what had been going on.
“ We’ll have to call you Spooks from now on, Scottie,” chuckled Seamus. He had rather a warped sense of humour. “ This is a weird house, and Jake is a weird guy. I’m not that surprised you’ve had a weird experience here.” Shortly after that, they took me home – I lived very near them in Bath – so shattered by what had occurred that I have no idea to this day how we got there. None of us had any transport.
Jake came to see me the next day, presumably having been informed by Seamus that I’d had a strange experience in his house. I wondered if he had discovered as yet how much of his whisky Seamus had drunk. He insisted on my giving him a detailed account of what had happened, although making little comment.
Before leaving, he gave me a chunky silver ring, more suited to a man’s hand. It had a viking ship on it and was rather too big, but I liked it. I wondered why he had given it to me, but did not ask, finding Jake somewhat intimidating. He had once refused my hesitant request for him to read my hand.
“No” he said. “ If I did, I would then know everything about you. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”
I continued to be shaken by the experience I’d had. And by the name…Chidioch Tyburn?…you couldn’t have made it up. I probably had, said the dominant inner sceptic, rather challenged and rattled by my inability to make sense of a vivid and very disturbing occurrence.
Meanwhile, in the real world, I concluded discharging my remaining duties as an English teacher as the end of the college term and my imminent departure to the Hebrides approached. One evening, I was flicking through some poetry
anthologies, to see if I could find something gripping to do with my increasingly restless -0- English students.
Ah yes, here’s a poem about execution, I thought. How very appropriate, considering several post-adolescent males in that group whom I could cheerfully have strangled. “Lines before execution” ……that should do. And then I noticed the name of the author. Chidiock Tichborne.I read the poem, my hands shaking. It was written to his wife by a young man about to go to the gallows – on the night before he was executed.
The next day, I went to the public library and looked up the name in an encyclopedia. There it was! Chidiock Tichborne, born in 1558, was a party to the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth 1 and restore England to Catholicism. He had been taken from the Tower of London and hanged, along with other members of his group, on 20th September 1586. Reading this, I felt very cold and very shocked.
To this day, I do not know quite what to make of the experience. Perhaps I had read the poem at some point in the past before visiting Jake’s house, and memory had retained the name and a sense of the period in which the poem had been written. Perhaps this had somehow got caught up in the atmosphere and ghostly residues clinging to an old house, and my mind had picked up on those, temporarily disturbed as I was by a mixture of impending change, flu and too much alcohol?
I had no recollection of ever having read the poem before, but my ability to retain names has always been poor, even when I was young. Perhaps it was a genuine reincarnation experience, in which time had somehow “slipped” and I had re-experienced brief but intense snippets of a former life?…or even someone else’s life ?
I left Bath, returning briefly to the Hebrides that summer, but couldn’t stand living with my parents again – I have no doubt the feeling of relief on my departure was mutual. In October I went to stay with a writer friend in a village just across the Tay estuary from Dundee, Scotland. Life was a difficult struggle, and one day the following spring I became convinced the viking ship ring which I had worn ever since leaving Bath, had brought me bad luck somehow.
This strong feeling, which I couldn’t shake off, embarrassed me, a person who didn’t believe in something as irrational as luck of any kind.
One bright and blustery day, I got on my bright yellow ladies’ racing bike and cycled to St Andrews. Standing on some cliffs close by St Andrews, buffeted by wind, I had a very strong intuition to slip the viking ring off, and throw it into the breakers. The ring, a little too big, normally slipped off easily from my middle finger where I always wore it. On this final occasion, I could barely manage to haul it off. When I finally did, blood was trickling over my knuckle.
Without delay or ceremony, I hurled it into the foamy sea, immediately feeling a great sense of lightening and release. Life did gradually improve from that point on…..the sceptic, of course, put it all down to co-incidence.
This account is an extract from my memoir “Wisps from the Dazzling Darkness” – an open-minded take on paranormal experience – now published as an ebook and available HERE.
“…. I was immediately taken by the compelling nature of your words, the honesty, the authenticity and the simplicity…..Your work is incredibly important because you address these issues very clearly and simply and with grace…” ( charty at fablefoundation.com)
To read the third Uncanny Tale, click HERE
1500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page