Living in a haunted house or place or being haunted by a spirit is or can be not just unnerving but devastating. And the spirit or ghost doing the haunting need not necessarily be an evil one. For instance, facing a spirit intent on taking revenge or righting a wrong can be a daunting task, and that’s an understatement. In Ramona’s case which featured in the previous two columns, she accompanied her victim wherever he went, sometimes stopped him from going where he wanted, sometimes threatened people he was consulting. A Tibetan lama told him to chant certain things and other people too suggested mantras and remedies. But Ramona’s spirit didn’t allow anything to work. And always, with her spirit sitting beside him, her victim could hardly be his normal self.

For such and other cases, are there no remedies to prevent or neutralise a haunting spirit or thwart a spirit intent on taking revenge or appease it in some other way or get rid of it? The answer is both “yes” and “no”. It all depends on the circumstances and kind of case. Let’s deal first with ‘conventional’ remedies and measures. The simplest and most widely recommended remedy is to keep a light burning, so that the conditions for spirit manifestation are minimised. However, experience has taught me that in several cases this remedy is ineffective. Though it is true that dusk and night are the times when most ‘‘hauntings’’ occur, daylight or the burning of a light are not a bar for ghosts. They have been sighted in full daylight, they have been seen under the glare of lights.

However, keeping a light burning at night is very useful to keep up your own confidence levels, as being in the dark with a “presence” is worse than being with a “presence” in a lighted room. At least you know what you’re facing and what the “presence” is doing. A friend told me she wanted to experience a “presence”, but in the dark, as she felt it would be easier to cope with it if she didn’t actually see anything. But when something came out of the darkness and touched the nape of her neck ( she told us later), her screams had to be heard to be believed. So if burning a light is not always the solution, what else can be done?

According to conventional wisdom, carrying a piece of leather with you or wearing a ring made of iron protects you. There are various kinds of spirit forms but this works in the case of certain kinds of spirits. While leather does keep away churails and others in that category, it has no effect on janaats and most forms at that level. Wearing an iron ring again works in certain cases, but is ineffectual in others. Incidentally, there is a theory that vegetarians, in general, are less prone to being haunted or harassed by spirits than non-vegetarians. The reason offered being that vegetarians are supposed to be “purer” in terms of the aroma they exude, whereas non-vegetarians are supposed to give off “gross” odours which make it easier for evil spirits to materialise.

If you associate this with the ancient “satwik-tamsik” line of thought and the widely held belief that people—especially girls—shouldn’t venture into lonely areas after using perfume, the vegetarian/non-vegetarian distinction appears to have some substance to it. The information and experience I have gathered so far also seems to point in this direction, yet there is still nothing conclusive. But it can be said that though vegetarians may or may not be less open to evil forces, they are not free or immune from being “haunted”. Loved ones or one’s enemies who have passed over to the other world make no distinction between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. If indeed there is something in this theory, their strong desires or compulsions to manifest themselves neutralise everything else.

Burning red chillies—commonly used as a protection against “the evil eye” is supposed to be an efficacious remedy for keeping ghosts at bay. It is, in fact, highly effective in driving out a spirit which has “possessed” somebody. And at home too, burning chillies drives away ghosts. Although it is a somewhat impractical proposition to do this on an all-time regular basis, it is very valuable in driving away an unwanted presence if carried out regularly for three months. But here again, if a place has been haunted for a very long time, it doesn’t only not work, but works in reverse —that is, the person burning the chillies invites the ire of the ‘presence’.

In fact, driving away ghosts who have occupied a particular place, room or house over a long period of time is the most difficult proposition. Often, you cause them unnecessary pain during the process and the repercussions are so severe, they sometimes lead to the death of the person who is trying to evict them or the person hired or deputed to evict them. In such cases, it is best to set up a dialogue with the «presence» and work out a formula acceptable to both the ghost and the human. I know of many such mutually satisfying “deals”. In a case in Old Delhi which I’ve written about earlier, when a family constructed another house and moved out, they decided—out of a sentimental feeling—to rent out their old haunted house instead of selling it. The new tenants soon discovered that they were not alone in the building. They tried to ‘de-ghost’ the house, but nothing worked and in the end they had to come to an agreement. “Leave me undisturbed in the small room and terrace on top of the house and leave some dry fruit for me once a week. I, in turn, will not cross your path in the rest of the house”. So far, the arrangement has worked well.

What about chanting “OM” or  your guru’s name or some other mantra or prayer or appealing to a divine force? Yes, this is a very powerful, effective way of protecting yourself plus garnering other gains.  Your purity of mind and soul and the sacred or energy “field” you may have built up through regular chanting will work to an extent here and protect you upto a point, but beyond that, experience has shown, you are still vulnerable. As is obvious by now, different things work from time to time. A remedy which has proved to be foolproof in a couple of cases may not be foolproof in another case, at another time. What is it then that works? There are pointers that if your time is good, nothing can disturb or harm you. If your will power and mind power are strong, its easier to keep all kinds of spirits at bay. But please note that being a disbeliever doesn’t always protect you. The final answer seems to lie in the protection you receive—often unknowingly—from Lady Luck, your guardian spirits or guardian deities and other invisible entities.