Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Ghost of 25 Regent Terrace

Regent Terrace is a Georgian block of buildings in the New Town, not far from Edinburgh's Faerie Hill, Calton Hill and between London Road and Holyrood Park. 
 In 1979 No 25a was subject to a fairly classical poltergeist infestation which, unlike the Mackenzie Poltergeist, does not seem to have persisted.

The Haunting

In June 1979, the same year the late and unlamented (except by her family ) Margaret Thatcher came to power in England 25a Regent Terrace caught a poltergeist infection, described in Fortean Times 55 (Autumn 1990) by Bill Gibbons, who was also a member of the 1996 expedition to the Congo in search of a rumoured dinosaur survival known as Mokele Mbembe. Coincidentally I moved into Edinburgh the year his article appeared.

In June 1979 Bill had been discharged from the Army on medical grounds and was sharing 25a Regent Terrace with three friends. At that time the streets were not very different from what they were in the 19th Century and earlier. The flat was in reasonable condition for Edinburgh student accommodation at that time, a dingy basement flat with bars on all the windows, rising damp on the walls and creaky floorboards: many had worse. It wold have been comfortable with two people living there but not four.

Bill immediately noted the cold atmosphere and an atmosphere of gloom in the place and, when left alone in the flat, he had the sense of another presence. In the kitchen he started to fill a kettle to make tea when a voice close to his right ear barked “yes?”. After jumping and finding no one was there he searched the flat for practical jokers and found only the cat under the sink with claws drawn and hackles raised. The voice could have been an auditory hallucination, but the feline reaction suggests a genuine presence.

A week later he told a flatmate about the voice, The flatmate called down to the kitchen to ask his girlfriend to put the kettle on for tea and a voice, not that of the girlfriend, answered “Yes?”. When they reached the kitchen they found it empty. Soon after the front door opened and the girlfriend walked in. The students had moved in in March 1979 and been kept awake by strange noises, most commonly the sound of a baby crying that would reverberate through the flat getting louder and louder and suddenly stop. Sometimes there would be the sound of heavy breathing and objects would vanish an reappear in odd places (some people attribute this sort of vanishing to pixies and recommend asking them politely to give the missing items back). In one case a watch vanished from a bedside table and reappeared two days later in a biscuit tin kept in the pantry.

After a while all three beds in the house were moved into a one room the three young men were nervously sharing. One night a warm furry animal jumped onto one bed and the student began stroking it and talking to it. When asked to stop talking to himself he said he was talking to the cat, at which point the others each claimed the cat was on THEIR bed, as did a friend staying the night. When the friend switched the light on the room was catless. The same entity visited Bill one night prompting a check for rats, and a week later one of the others woke about 5am and found themselves unable to move, at which point the bed began to vibrate alarmingly and something heavy and furry leaped onto the bed and crept up towards the man. Suddenly the vibration stopped and the thing vanished: as much as anything evident to other senses but not seen CAN vanish. The cat, incidentally was on the outside of the living room window with teeth bared and claws drawn. It refused to enter the flat for days.

The next night before sleeping they locked the door to the room and put a stout chair against it. Then they heard heavy footsteps approach the door. They stopped, the hendle began to turn and the door bent inwards as if pushed by something very strong. This happened three times. The footsteps then retreated and they heard the kitchen door open and shut with a slam. One of the men had decided to sleep in the kitchen and one night he and his girlfriend saw the kitchen door glide open, despite the fact the kitchen door was hard to open because of a thick carpet. It then closed and opened again. When the man got out of bed to lock the door it slammed shut.

Eventually they held a séance where they contacted a French Trader and later time traveller from the future who wanted release from the 20th century. When one of the group made a joking remark the glass shot across the table and fell over. After that the lights went out, two of them men found themselves wrestling on the floor while the other three found the kitchen door would not open.

About 2am that morning there was a tremendous crash from the kitchen and the sound of the kitchen table being dragged across the room and objects being thrown around. After ten minutes the sound stopped. The following morning they found nothing was out of place in the kitchen

Three of the flatmates moved out but Bill, being curious, arranged to share a room with a young chef at the top of the house. One night something cold and furry grabbed his wrist as he was about to put the light on. He ran up the stairs and, looking over the banister, saw two slitted yellow eyes staring at him out of the darkness.

A couple of weeks later he left the flat.


On the face of it this is more or less a standard poltergeist case, with no mystery fires or pools of water involved. The voice is unusual and contacting a time traveller from the future suggests someone's unconscious was playing tricks. The infestation seems to have started gnetly, as these things do and become more and more extreme, again typical of poltergeists.

But thinking of Sabot's experiments recreating an American CivilWar soundscape and hearing anomalous voices at a roll call perhaps this was a case of creating a poltergeist by playing out standard culturally defined roles expected when a poltergeist occurs. But in that case, the cat would have been likely to remain unimpressed unless a real entity had been created.

Another unusual element is the two slitted eyes seen on the stairwell. Hennessy believes Edinburgh to be built on a system of caverns inhabited by an alien race and cites tales of reptilian creatures being encountered in underground cellars. But this creature was cold and furry not scaly and green, so the notion that Regent Terrace harboured or harbours an entrance to this underground world does not quite fit the facts either.

As a teenager my parents home suffered the vibrating bed syndrome and my parents had a phantom cat would walk up the bed, the real cats moving aside for it. I cannot dismiss this case with a mundane explanation

The Wrap
Like the Mackenzie Poltergeist this case defies easy explanation. After all this time no explanation is likely to be found, but the events may shed light on other cases. In the spirit (!) of speculation, perhaps a member of a tribe of extraterrestrial werewolves (vegetarian since Bill survived) decided to play pranks on the group and projected the voices. I suspect the truth, if it is ever found, to be stranger than that.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Rosslyn Chappel. Not your grandad's Holy Grail

Just seven miles and a long bus ride from the centre of Edinburgh Rosslyn Chapel has been associated with the Templars and Freemasons, part of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was set there and it pops up in Ian Rankin's Rebus novel Set in Darkness. The temple is said to house secrets and There is on record a letter from Mary Queen of Scots sent to the Edinburgh City hierarchy that promises never to reveal the secret that she was shown at Rosslyn [1].

Rosslyn Chapel Timeline

In 1446 William Sinclair, the first Earl of Caithness, got Papal Permission to found a chapel here and an endowment was set up to pay for the upkeep of the staff for ever. He had cottages for the workmen built and started building the chapel 10 years later following standard medieval plans. It was intended to be cruciform but after the founder died in 1484 work ceased after the choir was built. In 1571 as part of the reformation the Endowments were seized and the altars destroyed in 1592. in 1650 Cromwell took the castle and used the chapel as a stable. In 1726 James Sinclair made an effort to repair the chapel. By the late 18th century the chapel became a magnet for poets and artists. In 1830 Dorothy Wordsworth declared the chapel was beautiful and in 1842 Queen Victoria said she wanted it preserved for the country. In 1862 it was reconsecrated as a protestant church and conservation work began in the 1950s. In 2003 Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code sparked an interest in the chapel and the mysteries or “mysteries” associated with it.

The Apprentice Pillar
There are three pillars in the chapel originally called the Earl's Pillar, the Shekinah ( meaning the dwelling of god [2] ) and the Princes Pillar. Since the late Georgian Period they have been known as the Master Pillar, the Journeyman Pillar and the Apprentice pillar, allegedly so called because, in an 18th century legend it was carved by an apprentice who surpassed his master and was killed by the master in a fit of rage. It is also called the Princes Pillar in An Account of the Chapel of Rosslyn published in 1778. Its general form was described by one architect as that of a bunch of sausages.

Henning Klovekorn suggested the pillar represents the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil, citing the carved foliage at the top of the tree, the dragons at the base, similar to the dragon Nidhogg who gnaws at the root of the world tree and other references to Celtic and Norse mythology. It may also be a symbolic representation of a generic world tree that appears in mythology other than that of the Scandinavian countries, but these are speculative theories, possibly untestable, and do not explain why the Apprentice pillar rather then one of the two other pillars was chosen for this role: if it was.

The Green Man
The Green Man is a type of sculpture found in various places in Europe, of a human head with greenery all over it , sometimes growing out of its mouth. They are believed to be a pre-christian symbol of fertility and renewal. The one shown in Wikipedia's Rosslyn Chapel page differs from most in having an appearance of malevolence and being more like a demon with a gag in its mouth. There are over 110 Green Man carvings in the Chapel so at the very least, it was a popular theme with the masons who carved it.

Another possible explanation for the Green Man in the Chapel is related to the Celtic cult of the head, with the head being a guardian of the building, just as the head of the god Bran is allegedly buried under the Tower of London protecting the country from invasion.

The Beehive
Jackdaws nesting in the rooftop pinnacles made them unstable (I think I don't want to know) and the pinnacles had to be dismantled brick by brick for renovation. During this work in 2010 an abandoned chamber made especially to harbour bees was discovered and sent to local beekeepers to identify.

Bees play a role in many mythologies and in folklore. In Ancient Greece Apollo gave Hermes the Bee maidens, who sometimes prophesied true and sometimes false. In British Folklore it was a custom to tell the bees when the master of the house died, and in Finland a bee plays a role in the Kalevala [3] and the Bible tells the tale of Samson killing a lion then finding bees breeding in the carcase.

The appearance of the bees in ancient myths suggests the chamber may have been carved for mystical or magical reasons and its very existence may have been deliberately hidden from those paying for the building of the Chapel. It seems not to have been intended as a source of honey and the bees entered through a hole in a carved flower. The reason for building it may never be known, bit it ins interesting that, according to Henessy.

There is a strong cultural link between secret societies such as the Templars and Masons and the ancient insectoid ET's.
For example one of the symbols of the Merovingian bloodline, of the secret Templar families is the golden bee. The Order of the Golden Bee was patronised by both Napoleon and the Earl of Rosslyn. It's also true that little ET's such as Kobolds can be found on Templar tapestries.
The beehive is also featured in many Masonic illustrations.

While Hennesy's work refers to a lot of interesting facts and anecdotes and must be treated with caution, the snippet on the Order of the Golden Bee is..... interesting.

Modern Mythology

Hennessy [1] notes that Rosslyn Castle and Chapel are only a mile from Hawthornden Castle, now owned by Heinz Foods and linked to the chapel by a tunnel. He notes the Hawthorn is, in Celtic lands, symbolic of the Fairy folk, who often live underground. There is a 19th Century legend of a Piper who was sent down a tunnel at Rosslyn Castle and played his pipes as he walked. The pipes suddenly fell silent and he was never seen again. This sort of legend is not uncommon and in most cases, when investigated, the tunnels in question were found to go only a few yards.

The Chapel is popularly linked to the Templars, who were dissolved about 100 years before the Chapel was built and the Masons, who did not exist till about 200 years later. There is no proven link between the Chapel and the Masons, though the Sinclairs later became the Grandmasters of Scottish Masonry

Moving to the present day Hennessy catalogues a lot of data to bolster his theory that the area is a hive (bees again) of activity for insectoid aliens living in the caverns under the Lothians. What you make of his theory is up to you but the stories he recounts are interesting though open to other interpretations.

The Wrap
Even if you discount the mythical aura that has built up round the Chapel the architecture and symbolism of the carvings is fascinating and the building is well worth a visit. It is a fairly long bus ride from the city centre and the last bus back is around 8pm on a week day and earlier at Weekends: it may not run at all on a Sunday by the time you read this. Check the times of the last buses back when planning your visit. It is easer to reach by car from Badjao Bed and Breakfast.

[1] Turning the tide: Andrew Hennesey.

[2] The Shekhinah

[3] Bee Myth and Legend