In This Chapter
• The mysteries of the Winchester mansion
• Recognizing earthbound spirits
• Identifying visiting spirits
• Why spirits visit and what messages they bring
In the decades framing the turn of the twentieth century, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune built an elaborately confusing mansion to hide from and fool the ghosts she was convinced were haunting her. But what some consider ghosts, we refer to as earthbound spirits. Often, they remain on the earth plane because they have unfinished business. In a location where people observe phenomena happening, there’s always a reason the spirit has been unable to make its transition. Releasing the spirit is not a matter of “ghost-busting” to rid a house of an unwanted guest; it is a process of encouraging the spirit to move on and join loved ones on the higher side.
Most spirits that appear on the earth plane, however, come to us just for a visit, often to provide comfort and even to share in earthly joys such as the birth of a child, a wedding, or other life milestones. If you “feel” that someone you love who has passed over is with you, he or she probably is—and it is all about love, comfort, and healing.
A Perfect Life That Wasn’t to Be
Most ghost stories have an element of tragedy to them. The spirits of people whose deaths were in some way untimely are unable to complete their transitions, and remain sadly and often noisily stuck in the middle. Such tales are told around camp-fires and at slumber parties. One such story is that of the Winchester mansion.
In 1860, the American Civil War was just getting underway when a small company that was soon to become the Winchester Repeating Arms Company developed the weapon that would forever change the hazards of the battlefield. The Henry rifle had a magazine that could load and fire a bullet every three seconds. The North’s Union Army soon equipped its soldiers with this devastating weapon, and the man at the helm of Winchester Arms, Oliver Winchester, became instantly and phenomenally wealthy. Two years after the Henry rifle made its debut, Oliver’s son William took a bride: Sarah Pardee.
William and Sarah seemed to have the perfect life ahead of them when Sarah gave birth to a daughter four years later. But even wealth and social status couldn’t protect the fledgling family from the dangers of illness, and their baby Annie died not long after birth. The loss was more than Sarah could bear, and she slipped into the dark depths of depression where she remained for nearly 10 years. Sadly, it wasn’t long after her return to normal life that tragedy struck again. Tuberculosis claimed William’s life in 1881, leaving Sarah a widow and alone at age 42.
Sins of the Family
According to the lore surrounding Sarah Winchester’s story, after several years of grieving that took her to the brink of depression again, Sarah consulted a medium. Although Sarah hoped to be reunited with her husband and daughter, the reunion wasn’t quite what she anticipated. The medium claimed to make contact with William, but she brought the dire message from him that Sarah must use the vast fortune she inherited to atone for the sins of the Winchester family.
Sarah was to use her money to build a house where all of the spirits of those who died because of Winchester rifles could live for all eternity. She was to go West, the medium told her, until she found the location for this home. Because the Winchester fortune had accrued at a cost of countless lives, the medium said, Sarah was to dedicate the rest of her life to this endeavor.
Although the message and instructions the medium gave to Sarah make for interesting storytelling, they should set off warning bells in your head. As we will caution you time and time again, spirit contact comes in goodness and healing, not for vengeance. There are many people (perhaps including Sarah herself, who reportedly was distressed to hear the wild tales people told about her) who believe that Sarah’s eccentric construction project was the result of a mind and an imagination overwhelmed by grief and loss. When Sarah’s safe was opened after her death, all it contained were the obituaries of her husband and daughter, and a locket of her daughter’s hair.
Sarah packed her things and moved West in 1892, where she found and purchased a small farmhouse on 160 acres on the outskirts of San Jose, California, about 40 miles south of San Francisco. The house didn’t stay small for long. With a $20 million inheritance and an income of $1,000 a day, Sarah began a building project that continued day in and day out, until her death in 1922. She even had a private railroad constructed to bring building materials and furnishings to the property. At that time, the house sprawled over 6 acres and had 160 rooms, some finished and some still under construction. Through the years that Sarah lived in it, the house was reported to have had more than 600 rooms built and then torn apart to make way for other rooms!
Dead-End Doorways and Stairways to Nowhere
The most important room in Sarah’s mansion was the séance room, where she went every day to commune with the spirits who told her what to build next. The Winchester mansion’s séance room was hidden deep in the center of the sprawling house. It had just one entrance but three ways out. One exit was through the door leading into the room, one through a closet and then a door with a knob only on the side of the séance room, and another that opened to a 10-foot drop into the kitchen below.
At some point, Sarah’s focus shifted from constructing a spirit sanctuary to building a safe haven for herself, apparently for protection from the ire of spirits angry at her and her husband’s family for designing and producing the instruments of their deaths.
The house was filled with stairways—40, by one count—that often went nowhere. One contained 42 steps that only rose 9 feet because each step was just 2 inches tall. Another stairway climbed to the ceiling, with no door at the top. There were doors that opened to walls or to drop-offs either to other rooms or to the outside. Chimneys rose to within feet of ceilings and then stopped, or extended beyond the roof but connected to nothing within the house. Sarah reportedly slept in a different bedroom every night, choosing—apparently at random—from among 25 or so bedrooms in the house.
Thirteen … Everywhere!
Many structures within the Winchester mansion reflected Sarah’s fascination with the number 13. There were 13 hooks in the séance room, upon which hung the 13 robes of different colors that Sarah wore while communing with the spirits. Windows inside and out contained 13 panes of glass; stairways had 13 steps. Sink drains had 13 holes, and chandeliers held 13 lights. The house had 13 bathrooms. Even Sarah’s will continued the pattern, containing 13 pages.
No one really knows why the number 13, traditionally viewed as unlucky, captivated Sarah to such an extent. It remains, along with the many other oddities of the mansion she built, a mystery. Today, the Winchester house is registered as a California historical landmark and is open for tours. Appendix B provides contact information.
For all of her eccentricities, Sarah Winchester had a generous and giving spirit. In 1909, Sarah donated half a million dollars to the Connecticut General Hospital Society to build a tuberculosis hospital in memory of her husband, who died of the disease. The facility Sarah’s ongoing donations built, a tuberculosis sanitarium called the William Wirt Winchester Hospital, outlived the disease it was designed to treat. Today, nearly a century later, the New Winchester Chest Clinic continues as an affiliation with Yale University’s School of Medicine to provide medical care for patients with a wide variety of lung and chest ailments.
Paranormal Phenomena: Is It a Haunting?
Paranormal phenomena are amazingly common. Among the people you count as your friends and even family, we’d bet that more of them than not have experienced what they believe to be ghosts. “I was walking through the hallway when suddenly there was a young girl standing there, just standing there looking at me!” says Aunt Sue at dinner one evening. Or your friend Jonathan confides, “It was eerie, man, but there was this guy standing in the hallway and when I said ‘hey’ to him, he just faded away!”
Are such experiences hauntings? It is possible that they are contacts with earthbound spirits. And that’s all that a haunting is: The presence of earthbound spirits. The phenomena that manifest as a result could be the spirit’s attempt to gain attention. It might be because the spirit is angry about something, such as having passed before feeling ready, or angry at a particular person about events that took place before the spirit’s physical death. It could also be the spirit’s attempt to ask for help in completing its transition. A spirit that feels trapped isn’t necessarily going to have the best communication skills! Think about it: When you are confused, angry, or hurt, you also don’t think, speak, or act with great clarity.
Paranormal phenomena are the events and sensations people attribute to the presence of “ghosts,” such as unusual sounds and sights for which there are no obvious explanations. An earthbound spirit is a spirit existing between the earth plane and the higher side, commonly referred to as a ghost.
As a Spiritualist medium, Rita is often called upon to visit houses where people feel there are hauntings. In one house she was asked to visit, Rita and the others with her could feel a heaviness as soon as they entered. It was as though the air itself was heavy, and it was difficult to breathe. The house’s new owner had a similar response and had become afraid to go into certain rooms where the sensation was particularly strong.
Rita and her group sensed the presence of a man, a woman, and two children. They felt that the man was very angry and abusive, and that he had locked the woman and the children in the attic—the room in the house where the unpleasant energy was the strongest. Rita and her group prayed and felt they released the earthbound spirits in the house to move on to the light. The house’s owner felt an immediate shift in the energy throughout the house, and was vastly relieved.
Six months later, the owner called Rita and her group back, saying that the earthbound spirit had returned, as a threatening presence. To the group’s surprise, the negative energy was indeed back—and much stronger. Rita and her colleagues finally realized that this negative energy surged when the homeowner, a woman, was home alone, with her husband away. It became clear that the earthbound spirit was very strong and defiant, and could hide at will. An abuser in his physical life, this spirit had developed a pattern of behavior that made him extraordinarily abusive when he was alone with his wife and children, yet outwardly ordinary when others were present. It took three visits for Rita’s group to finally release the damaged spirit, so he could complete his transition to the higher side—where, presumably, he had a lot of work to do.
Apparitions and Visions
You’ve probably experienced visual manifestations of spirit presence—a flash that you see out of the corner of your eye, a shadowy figure that appears and then disappears, perhaps even a clear image of a loved one who has passed. Apparitions are among the most common experiences people have among paranormal phenomena. Sometimes apparitions just appear and then disappear, while other times the spirit’s image remains to engage in communication of some sort. Often, making a visual appearance is a spirit’s way of saying, “See! It’s really me!” to validate or authenticate its identity.
An apparition is a visual manifestation of spirit energy. It might take the form of indistinct shadows or lights, or appear as the complete image of a person.
Did You Hear That?
From footsteps to moans and cries, the sounds of spirits tend to frighten people more than visual images because there is more of a mystery to them. When you can see something, it takes on a level of tangibility regardless of whether you can actually reach out to touch it. When you hear something that doesn’t seem real, you find yourself questioning it. What is it? Is it harmful?
Sounds and noises are simply other ways in which energy becomes tangible. They activate a physical sense in you—hearing—that gets your attention. Sometimes this is the only means by which a spirit chooses to communicate with you, while other times the spirit might subsequently appear as a visual image as well.
I Didn’t Touch It!
One of Rita’s friends was among the early casualties of the AIDS epidemic. A fun-loving prankster in physical life, Richard wasn’t about to let his friends mope about his passing—or celebrate the joys in their lives without him. He wanted to make sure they knew he was still with them. At a dinner party, he filled the air with the fragrance and sensation of rich Godiva chocolate—his favorite indulgence. Rita returned to her painting studio one evening to find a doll sitting on the top of a canvas that was hanging nine feet above the floor, posed exactly as the figure in the portrait! Spirits often move objects around to let you know they’re there, and to let you know who they are.
Why a Spirit Stays
Spirits generally remain earthbound when they have not accepted their passings. Perhaps the spirit’s physical life came to a sudden end as the result of an accident or an act of violence, leaving the spirit confused about where it belongs. Sometimes the spirit cannot let go of its earth plane existence, either afraid to complete passage to the higher side or unwilling to release its connection to a loved one still on the earth plane. While we tend to think of earthbound spirits as “trapped,” they’re really just in need of help to make the transition from the physical world to the spirit world.
This doesn’t do much to advance the spirit’s progression and evolution, of course. It’s as though the spirit is treading water, so to speak. An earthbound spirit doesn’t necessarily choose to resist passage (although some spirits do); it just doesn’t realize it has the choice to continue the passage. There are circumstances and events in your life that leave you feeling confused and unsure of what to do next; imagine the confusion and uncertainty you might feel if you were suddenly uprooted from the existence that’s become familiar!
Sometimes a spirit has unfinished business on the earth plane, especially if physical death came unexpectedly. A spirit might want to guide a surviving spouse or partner through the difficult decisions that accompany physical death, such as making funeral arrangements or wrapping up financial loose ends. We don’t usually think of such a spirit as earthbound in the traditional sense; once the unfinished business is completed, the spirit will feel free to move on in its transition.
Sometimes spirits just like to visit, to let you know they are fine and to stay in touch with you, like your earth plane friends and family do. At first, this kind of contact can be disconcerting, as it was for one family whose son Jeff passed tragically and unexpectedly as a young adult. Although the family was stunned and grieving, they also remembered with great joy the happiness and delight the fun-loving young man had brought into their lives. They often reminisced about his kind and generous nature.
Not long after Jeff’s passing, family members started noticing phenomena. The flowers on the dining room table seemed to be in a different place every time someone came into the room. Sometimes, there were voices and noises that sounded like Jeff and his friends had come over for an afternoon of socializing, as had often been the case during his life. The family called Rita and planned a time for her to come to their house to verify whether these phenomena were indeed communications from Jeff.
When Rita entered the home, she anticipated that she would encounter the energy of an earthbound spirit, the young man’s spirit. She did her opening prayers, and then began walking through the house. Much to her surprise, joyous spirits filled the house. Many, many relatives and friends were there, strong presences that felt like they were gathered to celebrate a momentous occasion.
Rita shared her perceptions with the family, who was overjoyed. They all began talking about Jeff, when suddenly something caught Rita’s attention and she pointed to the dining room table. “Do you see the flowers moving?” she asked. The family members nodded. This was one of the phenomena they saw frequently.
At the family’s invitation, Rita opened herself to contact with the spirits who were present. The first to come through was Jeff’s grandfather who gave such a full description of himself that his identity was undeniable. Over the course of the next few hours, no fewer than a dozen of the young man’s relatives and friends came through with messages of love and thanks.
Later in the evening, as Rita sat talking with the family, each time she mentioned the grandfather she would hear the sound of tinkling glass, like wind blowing through a chandelier. After this happened a few times, the mother asked Rita if she could hear the sound and Rita realized that everyone in the room could hear it. Everyone was very excited; this was yet another validation. The tinkling sounds continued through the evening, as if in response to the conversation.
As Rita was getting ready to leave, the young man’s mother gently touched her arm. “Can you tell me who held Jeff’s hand when he made the crossing?” she asked. Rita put the question out. To everyone’s surprise, the spirit who came through was a woman, the mother of a friend. The woman had been very ill in the months before her death, and Jeff had visited her most afternoons. When Jeff passed, it was this woman’s spirit who reached out to take his hand, to ease and guide his passage to the higher side.
Spirits sometimes visit to offer comfort in times of sadness, encouragement when times are tough, and healing energy when you are injured or ill (physically or emotionally). You might feel this contact as a gentle touch, a breeze, or even a surge of energy. It is for you; it is to help you. Welcome these contacts, and give thanks to those who bring them to you.
Advice and Warning
“Don’t step off the curb!” shouts a voice in your head, and, startled, you hesitate, one foot floating just above the street. The crosswalk light is green for pedestrians; why shouldn’t you cross? Then, from nowhere, a car screams into the intersection, running the red light. Had you started across the street, you’d now be a hood ornament. Give thanks to your spirit guides and spirit visitors!
Advice and caution from those on the higher side can take many forms, and often influences your actions without your awareness. You might “just have a bad feeling” about someone who smiles at you in the coffee shop and leave without getting your morning latte, then read the next day in the newspaper that the person held the shop’s customers hostage at gunpoint for four hours. Or you might decide to buy a newspaper from a street-corner vendor, even though there’s one waiting on your doorstep at home, then open it to find an ad for an apartment that’s just what you’re looking for … and you get it because you’re the first one to call. Coincidence? We don’t think so!
Helping an Earthbound Spirit Find Release
Movies have made millions, even billions, of dollars from the “ghost-busters” theme, crafting stories around every imaginable twist and turn. But the real issue isn’t “busting” wandering spirits so they’re no longer nuisances in the physical world. It is helping them to complete their transitions, so they can move on to the next phase of their evolution and growth as spirits.
When an earthbound spirit is present, you often feel a sense of heaviness in the air. You might get goose bumps, and feel like you need to leave right away—the “uh-oh” feeling. It’s important to pay attention to these messages; they are warnings. Earthbound spirits are troubled and confused, and need help to cross to the other side, where they should be.
We on the earth plane can help earthbound spirits break free from whatever is holding them. Just as with all spirit contact, it is important to do this with the highest intent and with divine protection. Do not embark on this alone; even experienced mediums go in groups when called upon to help earthbound spirits find release. Instead, seek help from a professional who is consistent with your belief system—clergy, shaman, medium.
And remember, many so-called hauntings are nothing more than visits from spirit friends and relatives who just want to stay in touch with you! They might have messages of advice or comfort for you, or might simply want to let you know that they are well and still connected with your life, even though they are no longer in physical forms.
Enjoying the Company of Spirits
Your loved ones who enjoyed sharing the adventures of your life when they were on the earth plane want to continue enjoying that sharing, even though they can’t be with you physically. They come in and out of your life at will, free to move between the spirit world and the earth plane. They are not earthbound, but simply come to visit you and to remain a part of your daily life—even if you’re not aware of their presence. And if you do sense that the spirit of great-grandmother Maria or Uncle Sylvester is admiring your new baby or your new house, smile!
The Least You Need to Know
• The Winchester mansion remains a great and entertaining mystery. No one really knows why Sarah Winchester built this convoluted and sprawling structure.
• Many “hauntings” are simply visiting spirits who bring messages of love and comfort. It is never their intent to frighten you.
• A spirit might become earthbound when its physical life ended with significant unfinished business.
• Visiting spirits come and go freely. They are not bound to the earth plane but visit as they please.