Exorcism: The Ghost of Dorothy Durant

Every now and then I come across a folktale that should be chilling but as I progress logic takes over and it gets reduced to merely silly. More than once I have laughed until it hurt over ghost stories that have reduced others to tears. There are two reasons for this, firstly my treacherous brain asks too many questions “oh that ghost picks up men prone to infidelity, seduces and kills them? She sounds like a metaphor for chlamydia” that kind of thing. However there is also a little psychology involved, when in state of anxiety or apprehension, when at its climax most people will laugh, the explanation for this is simple, in laughing we are submitting to one of the oldest evolutionary reflexes to fear, we are bearing our teeth. This is most obvious if you have ever take a group ghost tour, everything is said in hushed whispers, its dark, there are gentle sounds made by something beyond the veil of darkness and suddenly a large bang, the most immediate reaction the group will have after the initial scream will be to laugh.

Side Note: If you are in to such things I highly recommend the night tour at Bodmin Prison. I have been told camping on Dartmoor is a harrowing experience however in my opinion camping on Dartmoor is the same as giving consent to be violently murdered.

However some ghost stories are just silly. This tale was handed down through families in a town near Launceston in the west country. Its origins apparently stem from a primary account. However as with all stories of this type it’s impossible to tell how it has changed over the centuries, the current retelling, and thus the one I am using may hold no resemblance to the original.

In July of 1665 a young man named Bligh who attended school in Launceston started becoming withdrawn and appearing anxious and exhausted. His friends tried in vain to get him to explain this sudden change in his behaviour because he had previously been such a bright and energetic companion. Presuming the cause was a matter of some shame they left Bligh alone. However as this progressed as his schoolwork began to suffer his teacher, The Reverend Ruddle, compelled young Master Bligh to explanation.

Side Note: Given this is “the past” I suspect when a teacher compelled him to explain it didn’t involve a quiet room and a comforting chat. This being a church school “in the past”, I suspect it looked more like a Boko Haram masterclass on interrogation.  

Bligh explained that there was a field he had to cross every day on his way to school. Some time two months previously when crossing the field an apparition appeared, it would glide soundlessly toward him and follow him across the field. The ghost was that of a woman from his town, a woman he knew called Dorothy Durant, who died eight years previously. This phantom would appear every morning and evening as he crossed the field and never said a word.

Presumably Reverend Ruddle was exhausted from smacking the lad about and accepted the story, albeit somewhere sceptically. So he agreed to cross the field with Bligh. As they had crossed a third of the field the Ghost appeared –

The field to which he led me I guessed to be about twenty acres, in an open country, and about three furlongs from any house. We went into the field, and had not gone a third part before the spectrum, in the shape of a woman, with all the circumstances he had described the day before, so far as the suddenness of its appearance and transition would permit me to discover, passed by.

“I was a little surprised at it, and though I had taken up a firm resolution to speak to it, I had not the power, nor durst I look back; yet I took care not to show any fear to my pupil and guide”

Side Note: So I am officially calling bullshit here. “A little surprised”? my guess is that he screamed, wet himself and passed out.

So the next day the Reverend, Master Bligh and his parents attended the field. As the apparition appeared and glided toward them “as children on ice” it then turned and moved swiftly away from them. Apparently Reverend Ruddle and Master Bligh gave chase but the spectre was gone.

Side Note: I have two comments to make on this – 1. Fuck that shit, 2. What were they planning on doing on catching her? Were they going to give the ghost a kicking? You never see the ghostbusters getting the boot in.

The boys parents confirmed the ghost had the features of the woman they knew as Dorothy Durant and whose burial they had attended eight years previously.

Ruddle, in an attempt I am guessing to recover what reputation he had remaining arrived at the field on his own the following morning, as the ghost appeared at the far end and slowly moved towards him he gave out a firm (manly) shout which caused the spirit to rush towards him and stop not ten feet from him. He repeated the words and the ghost responded in words that were unintelligible before speeding off and disappearing. Ruddle tried again that evening and this time managed a short discourse with the translucent figure. From that day the ghost of Dorothy Durant was never seen again.

I have so many questions here, firstly what the fuck did he say to her? “Look love, you’re freaking people out, pack it in now alright?” or maybe “ghoulish vision, in the name of God, our father I bid thee fuck off!”. Reportedly the original account comes from Ruddle himself and that’s probably why he comes out of this story like some kind of priestly Jason Statham. He is at times excessive on the detail and yet he doesn’t tell us the magic words used to exorcise this spirit.

A provisional search of local parish records left me unable to verify if Dorothy Durant actually existed however there was a Bligh family living nearby at the time of these events.

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