BY SEAN WALSH
We live in Devizes, a town which nudges the contours of Salisbury Plain: an army redoubt devoted to the prevention of significant war, and home not just to military training exercises but to strange goings on.
Ghostly goings on, actually, and there is a supernatural component to life here which is pretty undeniable.
It is a weird but wonderful place, bifurcated by the canal, which includes Caen Hill locks, a frightening disclosure of the inventiveness of the human mind. The locks were designed to fight against gravity. I’m not saying I agree with the aspiration, but the completion (5 mins away from me) is pretty darned impressive. 29 humanly contrived locks lift a small barge half a mile.
I will return to this point presently. Getting back to Devizes.
Why strange? Because the people speak affectionately of people who passed away 50 years ago. Why wonderful? For the same reason. In this life we keep people alive by talking of them.
We are also haunted, by the way. The town governs a system of tunnels, bequeathed by smugglers and highwaymen. Every pub claims its own ghost, jealously guarded:
The owners of The Castle Hotel insist that their ghost is better. Because he (I don’t do spectral pronouns) has been seen more recently.
Are ghosts mere absorptions of memory into architecture? Maybe. A town survives because it absorbs the memories of the people who shaped it. But the architecture of a building changes moment to moment…so how is the “memory” preserved?
I believe that ghosts are lost sprits seeking a home, and clinging- in many cases- to their nearest point of comfort. I think they have (limited) agency. I don’t consider that proposition to be any more contentious than the claim that God is insisting on a celestial waiting list.
My view is this: that there is something about the flow of water, that the rhythm of a river, or canal, facilitates spiritual surprises. Rivers do their own thing, and we accommodate them.
Our Lord was impeccably conscious of the fundamental importance of water, and of the people who entrusted their life to the sea. Jesus saw that the fishermen had the form of bravery he required.
The real star of this video is the Thames, which is unapologetic in its inconsistent windings. This is a river which demands in its contortions a form of respect.
But, yes, Devizes: a small town which identifies itself in terms of the Kennett and Avon canal has generated in myself and my son deep reservoirs of affection. Because of the canal.
Water…after God and Jesus is the most mysterious thing of all.
If you disagree, ask yourself why the dripping tap is both irritating and comforting at the same time.
Jesus announced himself through water. And at His death, the Centurion’s spear discovered it. Along with His blood. They were presented together.
What does that tell you?
The ghosts of my wonderful hometown are connected to its history; the history is shaped by the canal.
Never overlook the importance of water.
Sean Walsh is a former university teacher in the philosophy of mind. That was a while ago – but he keeps up with the subject. 2015-2017 he was slightly homeless. He now writes and is the very proud father of a wonderful child. He is grateful for everything he has.