There was a man named Samuel Swift Merritt. Samuel was said to have powers. Nothing extreme, just party tricks, your run of the mill telekinesis. He could make “spoons dance and tables jump” (Kelsey, 2008). Samuel eventually left his family and joined a controversial new religion called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He forsook his abilities and came west. But Something followed him. One morning at a camp by the Snake River he arose stricken, pale, and looking many years older. Accounts say he looked as if he had seen death. It was beyond a bad night’s sleep. Indeed, his descendents say he was wrestling with evil spirits.
Samuel Merritt is my ancestor, and as far as my family can tell, the first person in our line to experience weird hauntings, strange abilities, and unexplained knowledge of some things. If hearing this, one wonders how this is possible; if maybe we’re just crazy; making it up, imagine being the one on the receiving end of this otherworldly birthright. In an attempt to understand myself, I will examine several stories in my family history and their individual significance. These stories have all been told by my mother, who received them orally from other members of my family.
The theory is that due to Samuel’s strong energetic power and many heirs that would seem to inherit this, evil spirits attempted to woo him away from being a religious man. At the least he would not receive all the salvation he could, at the most he might lend something to the cause of evil. It is also speculated that spirits lent some excess energy to Samuel, that being the reason he could perform his tricks. Herein lies the first rule of being whatever it is we are-just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean you should. One example is the last time I got my Tarot cards read. I know nothing about Tarot cards, but as my friend Jeff was doing them for some people and I was a little curious and a lot hyper, I agreed to have them read.
“Focus on a question,” Jeff instructed. I thought of a question-it was all too vague really, a general “what does my future look like” query. I don’t even remember the specific question though I remember the general idea. I put all the excess energy I had (which was a lot) into that question. Jeff turned over the cards. Love, pain, battle, victory. He told me the meanings skeptically.
“Maybe it didn’t work,” he frowned.
“Why do you think that?” I asked. I had other ideas.
“It’s just a weird reading. These two,” he covered the cards for love and battle, “are supposed to correlate and these two,” covering pain and victory, “go together, but they’re opposites. Did you actually ask a question?” I knew exactly why those cards were together, why they were in that sequence. It was confirming all the dreams (and nightmares) I had had my whole life, the almost memories that didn’t make sense. “Maybe love will sustain you through a battle, and then you’ll think you’ll lose or it’ll cause you pain but you’ll be victorious, or…” he trailed off. He was wondering if I was going to die for something, I think. I didn’t confirm or assuage his fears, I was thinking about a dream I had when I was ten. I was suddenly exhausted
“Do you think it works?” He nodded. “How?”
“I think you put your own energy into it. If you’re tired your readings aren’t as good.” I nodded. That was true I realized. No spirit was whispering in my ear what to ask. As far as I knew, Jeff was not a shaman. It certainly was not a religious experience. But I had spent a lot of energy, and while Jeff was not a shaman I might be something close.
I will never get my cards read again. I don’t want to abuse any power I might have, and I certainly don’t need spirits coming to play with me any more than they try to now. Just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean you should.
Samuel’s daughter Elizabeth married Caleb Bleazard and they had children. One of these children was my mother’s great-aunt Lydia. Lydia had discovered a popular parlor game called Ouija. The premise was you ask the game a question and using a magnifying glass like object you would mysteriously spell out the answer. The times I have actually heard people talk about this game, no one has bothered to explain why it works, or even more interestingly why there are some occasions it doesn’t work. Caleb, who likely had enough sensitivity to recognize danger when he saw it, forbade the use of it. In fact he demanded it be thrown out. Lydia didn’t listen, but hid it from him. After Caleb died, it became a regular fixture in the Bleazard household with Elizabeth and especially Lydia consulting it often. Lydia wouldn’t travel without it. It seems like a joke, this spinster living with her mother and addicted to a board game, but this was the case. Whatever one thinks about the Ouija, one must agree Lydia’s fascination with it was unhealthy. But, like all these stories, there is a deeper, weirder element and a lesson therein. Lydia’s cousin Hazel, my grandmother, was a fairly new bride (maybe five years into her marriage), who nonetheless already had half the children she would ever have. Lydia thought it would still be fun to ask Ouija how many children Hazel was to have. After all, the divination of the number and sex of future children is a common practice. (Brunvand, page 8) The Ouija responded 3 boys. Hazel had already had two girls and in fact would only ever have one boy. Hazel thought to herself that this was unlikely and somewhat stupid. Then the Ouija began to spell out the words “You’ll be sorry for that.” Seeing as Hazel had not actually said anything, this disturbed her a bit. Another interesting story is that the Ouija would not work in the presence of my grandfather Robert, who himself had had some experience in performing exorcisms and held the LDS priesthood. The infamous Ouija was destroyed in a house fire when Elizabeth’s own personal haunted mansion fell into disrepair. From an early age then, we were taught not to play with things we don’t understand.
I had managed to avoid such things as the Ouija until I was thirteen, when of course it made an appearance at a friend’s party. It was a present for the hostess given to her by one of her friends who honestly seemed a bit creepy to me, though I was much more judgmental then. The hostess herself was only mildly intrigued, but the giver had a hungry glint in her eye and demanded we try it immediately. I flat out refused, as did my best friend whose father had warned her of such things. This surprised the hostess and annoyed the gift giver.
“Why not?” Natalie, the hostess, asked.
“Sometimes it works-my question is how?” I replied.
“It might not,” said Margaret, the giver, who was obviously hoping it would.
“That thing can’t be good,” my friend Courtney stated emphatically.
“It’s a game-how dangerous could it be?” I raised an eyebrow, and Natalie admitted that she was sounding dangerously like she was offering us drugs. We offered to leave. The question was dropped, or so I thought, yet while Courtney and I were enjoying our mocktails, Margaret entered looking dark and dejected.
“You can relax,” she said. “It doesn’t work.” We looked at each other, annoyed. Yet I have since wondered if our combined resistance, topped with our lack of any real power in the situation with us being only thirteen, managed to protect the party from otherworldly influences of a negative type. Interestingly, there was a brief time that I suspected Natalie and I were on opposite sides of the moral fence. Her lack of respect for my knowledge may have influenced me. The giddy, nervous, experiments with witchcraft that some teenagers go through were always avoided by me. Now that I’m older, some associates try to do the same thing with drugs. One shouldn’t play with things one doesn’t understand. I also learned from this experience that I have more power than spirits do-my grandfather Robert is an example of this as well.
These things have incredible individual significance, and this shapes my social interactions and responses to everything. It is an undeniable part of who I am, and the only veracity I can offer is that I wouldn’t choose to be this if I could imagine any other possibility. Sometimes, when I am able to warn a friend I realize why I know things before they happen, why I see things that I shouldn’t, why I have a deeper understanding of so many things and I am grateful. Other times, when I have dreamt of spirits all night, when they put nightmares in my head, when I arrive at school looking like I’m hung-over when in reality I’ve been casting out demons in my dreams all night, I hate it. And of course there’s the telling people, when I do. Isn’t it so unbelievable? Why would it exist? Why should it be my family? Is it all Samuel’s fault?
A friend called the other day. “What’s up?”
“Oh, nothing. Same old, same old.” As one friend put it, nothing, because “what else can I say to you?” (Anonymous Source, 2008.)
I don’t tell people because they can’t always know it’s true. If it’s just me telling a story, what someone else said, if they play with the idea it’s truer than if I swear it happened, if I write a personal statement. For my own sanity, at least as preserved in the minds of other people, when they ask me what’s wrong I’ll continue to say “It was nothing.” They can think what they want; while I know it’s like my mother Rosalie said in one account-“There was Nothing there. But you know what? There was something there.”
Kelsey, Rosalie. Personal Interview. 28, July 2008.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Study of American Folklore. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998.
Anonymous. Personal Interview. 25 July 2008.