In one of my previous essays, I mentioned having had a frightening experience at the wake of my father's mother. (I refuse to call that person my grandmother. Hereafter, I'll refer to her as Bridget - her real name, which I know she hated.) I've decided to explain that. But it may be a long story!
First, the things I know made me consider her an enemy while I was a very young child. We had arguments about my father. I would insist, "He's my Daddy first, and your son second!" And she would insist, "No, he's my son first, and your Daddy second!" I suppose she may have been thinking of the chronological order in which he'd become one or the other. But I'm sure I wasn't!
And I think that in a situation of that type, any well-meaning adult would have said something like, "Really, you, your sister, and your Mommy are all first in your Daddy's heart. That's as it should be. But you're extra-special, because you're the youngest, and everyone loves you!"
Also, she was mean to my mother. This seems ridiculous, but for some reason, in those days, we occasionally heard yodeling on the radio. Mom had gotten the impression that Bridget liked it. So when it came on, she turned the volume up, saying, "Oh, here's that yodeling you like so much!" Whereupon Bridget turned on her, calling her stupid - or something like that - because she hadn't realized the person who'd said she liked it had been joking.
When I was a little older, going to school, I understood that the immigrant grandparents of many of my classmates hadn't spoken English before they came to the U.S. They'd come from Italy. I knew Bridget was also an immigrant, from Ireland. So I made the silly mistake of asking her a "normal" question: whether she had spoken English before she came to the U.S. She said, "Well, what do you think people speak in Ireland?" Making it sound as if I was the most stupid person on earth - except, possibly, for my mother.
Uh, I'd sort of assumed they spoke a language called "Irish"! I later learned the native tongue is no longer widely spoken, and it's usually called Gaelic. But 2016 Presidential candidate Martin O'Malley actually said that ancestors of his had arrived in this country speaking only "Irish"!
Years after that exchange with Bridget, Mom told me she'd seen times when my child self had gotten up, leaving a book open on the chair-arm - to keep my place in it, as I had every right to do - and Bridget had deliberately knocked it off.
She also told me that when she and Dad were engaged, she'd heard Bridget telling him, "Your father would turn over in his grave if he knew you were marrying one of the snakes!" (A reference to Mom's half-English ancestry.) And it wasn't true; Dad's father had never objected to their being a couple.
So Bridget's living with us - while Dad was alive, and after his death - was not a good family situation.
Now I'll get into the really strange things...beginning with two nightmares I had, when I was still a very young child.
Nightmare #1: Bridget was sitting at our dining-room table - a round, wooden table - and I was in her lap. (In the lap of a person I hated?) In the dream, I "understood" that an apparition of a pointing hand - pointing at her and me - "frequently" appeared over the table. (This was during World War II, and the hand itself was doubtless suggested by the familiar image of "Uncle Sam" on posters.)
Bridget was seemingly trying to get something more to materialize. And this time, it did! But what "materialized" was ridiculous: a caricature of a woman who looked like "Olive Oyl" from the "Popeye" comics, but was obese rather than scrawny. And what did she do? She marched off to the kitchen, and I somehow saw her making herself a sandwich!
That was the end of the nightmare. And it was a nightmare: despite the appearance of "Olive Oyl," I never thought of it as funny.
Nightmare #2: I saw Bridget, seemingly asleep, in a living-room chair. But I also saw her in the kitchen, ironing! The first thought that went through my mind was, "Only one of them can be my grandmother. The other must be a witch!"
And that was the end of the second nightmare. But some time later, I realized it wasn't plausible that Bridget would have been ironing. And I began to think the cord on the iron might have been significant, symbolizing a link between the "two" women I'd been seeing.
I came to think of that nightmare as a warning: that even while Bridget seemed to be asleep, she might be...doing things. And yes, I did believe she was a witch!
Now I'll jump ahead in time, and mention things I read as an adult.
First: It's round wooden tables that are used for seances...and there certainly is an expectation that things may "appear" over them. My child self shouldn't have known that...unless, as I realize now, I was remembering things I'd experienced in a previous incarnation.
Second: This really bowled me over! Believers in witchcraft claim that witches try to accomplish their ends by tapping into the minds of sleeping children, using the children's latent powers to increase their own. If that's true, it's child abuse - as extreme a violation as rape! Even if what the witches are actually trying to do isn't "evil" in any way.
I've come to believe that in the first nightmare, I thwarted what Bridget was trying to do. Whatever she'd hoped would materialize, it wasn't Olive Oyl.
But...Bridget undoubtedly wasn't sitting at the real dining-room table. Could incidents like this take place entirely within dreams? I'll never know.
Now my story goes back in time again. I'm sure that when I was in my early teens, I still thought Bridget was some kind of witch.
But I had another worry. A very big worry!
I'd developed what I now know were harmless "floaters" in my eyes. But I didn't understand what was going on, and I was terrified. I wouldn't even have considered describing the problem, asking anyone whether it posed a threat to my eyesight. I'd had a phobia about eye injury almost all my life...understandable, because I'd heard a remarkable number of scary things. (I can't help wondering whether that obsession with eye injury - and "happening" to hear so much about it - had something to do with the long-ago incarnation in which my hero, King Harold II, had been killed by an arrow that struck him in the eye.)
Bridget died after suffering a stroke. If I remember correctly after all these years, she collapsed on the sidewalk while going somewhere with her daughter (my then-deceased father's sister). And my mother doubtless insisted I attend her wake.
At the wake, her son-in-law, Bill, was telling everyone within earshot about his - either recent or upcoming, I forget which - cataract surgery.
And the "cataract symptoms" he was describing were an exact match for the symptoms I was having!
Those were, I think, the most terrifying minutes of my life. I was sure I had cataracts...and that I could never, never, endure eye surgery. But I was a minor, and someone might have the legal right to force me...
I think I actually did - for a moment - consider running out of the wake and throwing myself in front of a truck. And if I'd done that, people would have been saying, "Oh, that girl must have killed herself out of guilt, because she hadn't been nicer to her poor old grandmother!"
Of course, I didn't kill myself. But I lived for years with the fear of my terrible secret being discovered. When there were vision check-ups in high school, I hid, and somehow managed to get away with it. Of course, the fear was unreasonable: the only person who could have legally forced me to do anything was my mother, and she surely wouldn't have insisted on surgery if she knew I'd considered suicide as an alternative! But, reasonable or not, the fear was always there.
Several years later, I read a description of floaters, and realized that was all I had. A year or so after that, I had another scare when I read that floaters most commonly occur when people are much older. But by then, I knew enough to consult an ophthalmologist. He told me they can begin in the early teens among people who are near-sighted...and he'd developed them at the same age I had!
So all my fears had been baseless.
But I later learned, from experts, that it was almost inconceivable that a person meaning to describe his cataract symptoms would, instead, describe floater symptoms!
Was Bill just extremely stupid?
Or had the dead Bridget either (a) caused him to say what he did, or (b) caused me to hear something other than what he was actually saying?
I'll never know...and never cease wondering.
To sum up...do I believe in witchcraft?
Many practices, in many parts of the world, may be included under that "umbrella." So my answer is a reluctant "yes."
Consider this. Reasonably well-educated people in our day know something never known by our ancestors: all the Matter and Energy in our universe was contained in the "singularity" that produced our "Big Bang." So everything was, in a sense, connected with everything else...parts of a larger Whole. And perhaps, everything is still connected. Or at least, it may still be possible to make connections...which could explain minds' influencing other minds.
As I said before, I'll never know...and never cease wondering.