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We left off yesterday with a review of Dr. Kenneth McAll, a psychiatrist who developed extraordinary notions of the family tree -- specifically claiming that deceased loved ones who have unfinished "business" or were not properly mourned can "haunt" generations.

It's a controversial topic, although an intriguing one. Do unsettled spirits really remain in rooms, homes, and even roam entire vicinities? Let us pray for discernment -- and be cautious not to wander onto unfamiliar terrain. It is taboo, for example, to speak with the dead (we're told that in both the Old and New testaments).

The question comes at a time when newspapers, blogs, and television programs are filled with accounts of ghosts -- sometimes with photographs.

Wispy figures appear against a darkened black drop. We think of "A Christmas Carol."

But can we really take it seriously?

Could it be that purgatorial souls occasionally show themselves, or that due to obsession, over-attachment, or trauma, some souls are "trapped"? St. Padre Pio thought so -- saying he was often visited by them. Others label it as superstition. Polls show that from a third to a half of the U.S. public believe in them.

"There is a great fascination with ghosts," wrote Dr. McAll. "They titillate our appetite for thrills. For those who actually have to live with ghosts, however, reactions vary from intrigue to terror."

Dr. McAll, who was an associate member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in England, penned a little book entitled Healing the Haunted in which he cited a number of instances that necessitate discernment. He felt that such problems could go many generations into the past.

"The social problems of a certain area near Syracuse in New York State were very marked -- murders, suicides, and abortions, and the Franciscan priest in charge of the area wanted to know if we could solve some of their problems," notes the psychiatrist, who traveled widely in ministering to such problems -- finding, in this case, that there was a battlefield cemetery on an Indian reservation.

In the span of just one day, a boat sank nearby (with all aboard) and a light plane crashed, causing two cars to collide in avoiding it.

McAll witnessed the collision and had a Mass said -- after which unfortunate events came to a halt, he said.

Castles. Ranches. Even stretches of ocean. Violence or the occult seems to precipitate "hauntings." Gettysburg in Pennsylvania is notorious. So are old Indian sites -- both because Native Americans were abused and bore deep resentment (coupled with pagan practices). The question is first whether hauntings are imagined, and if there is an authentic spiritual cause, whether it is really a "ghost" or a demonic entity.

"With eight other people including a priest, I visited Wounded Knee," the psychiatrist recounted. "Here there is a netted enclosure on a small knoll surrounded by rolling hills. It is approached by a gravel track and marks the burial place of 350 men, women, and children shot by the American Calvary in 1890.

"We had decided to hold a service on  this spot and, as it was cold, we stayed inside the mini-van. As we began the services, a rain storm blew up which violently rocked the van. The priest interpreted this as an attack by the haunting dead Indian braves. It all seemed so disturbed that I asked God for a sign that we were doing the right thing. At that moment the clouds opened and a strong ray of sunlight shone through the windscreen right on to the chalice and the wine glowed with a rich red light, then the clouds closed over again and the rain went on pouring down.

"We ended the service having confessed to the slaughter and committed the dead to God."

In case after case, when he has done that, said the psychiatrist, the "hauntings" (and misfortunes, including sometimes illness) stopped.

Even churches have been afflicted. The psychiatrist, an Anglican, cites a pulpit that bore such an unpleasant feeling that no one could preach or read from it. It turned out that a minister's ashes had been scattered there, and that the minister had strayed into the occult.

Indeed, such involvement is behind many "hauntings," the psychiatrist (who himself died seven years ago) alleged.

"In our efforts to help the dead, our Lord has given us a precedent in the story of the raising of Lazarus," wrote McAll, who we present for your discernment, and only for individual discernment. "Jesus is told of the illness of Lazarus. He is asked to come. He is told of Lazarus's death. He is taken to the tomb. He tells the family to roll away the stone over the entrance. He tells the family to unbind Lazarus. Jesus Christ stood by all the time. In our prayers, we too have to 'roll away the stone' and uncover the secrets of the past. And we must always be specific. The immediate family should also be involved if possible. Then we can expect to see results in healing and liberation."

[see also: Psychiatrist claimed unresolved family spiritual issues cause illness]

[resources: A Guide to Healing the Family Tree and Healing the Haunted]

[see also: The Other Side]

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