Have you ever noticed how in haunted house stories or an occult detective tale, there’s always an object that keeps a spirit anchored to a place? It could be a keepsake from when the ghost was a living being or a terrible artifact use to summon darker entities. Sometimes it’s a whole room or house, the energy of the people who have lived in it soaking into the very walls. Other times it’s the memory of a horrific incident that has bled into the earth.
In order to banish the ghost, of course, we have to destroy the object—set it on fire, break it, or, to be less dramatic, let it go or move on from it. Move out of the haunted house. Contain the dark occult artifact that can’t be destroyed so that no one will find it (until the inevitable sequel, of course….this is dramatic fiction after all!). These stories remind us, in one way or another, that the things we carry with us absorb the energy our experiences. And that, sometimes, the only way we can move forward is to let those objects go. Otherwise, we keep that old energy—sometimes toxic energy—around and get stuck, finding ourselves in a time loop of the same draining experiences that first tainted the objects in question.
The Ghosts We Carry
Take, for instance, the story of The Sad Birthday Dress. It goes like this: There once was a woman who wanted to feel beautiful. All-day long she was asked to be nothing but a talking head. But this woman knew she had a heart and hips and a juicy center. So she bought herself a dress to remind herself that she could be a whole person and not just a shriveled head sitting in someone’s cabinet of curiosities. And what a dress it was! It was stunning, with finely spun organic lilac cotton and loud bouncy yellow and white polka dots that told her that she was allowed to have color in her life—that she was allowed to be of color, no need to pass as another kind of pale specter. The skirt was flouncy and feminine and begged to be flipped up for illicit romance or at least a lively dance.
It was the perfect birthday dress. So she did what any woman who wanted to feel alive did—she wore it out and ate cake and drank champagne and danced until the weight of the pale city bore down on her and her loud pretty dress didn’t make her feel pretty anymore. Just sad. Unspeakably so. Because, she realized, this dress didn’t make her feel pretty. It only reminded her that she lived in a place that didn’t want her to be a flesh and blood woman. A city that was uncomfortable with her long wild hair and her rounded hips and the way the bodice of her dress clung to her breasts. She knew shame in that dress. And a sadness that welled up inside her until it became heartbreak. That heartbreak spread from her body and into the dress as surely as the bubbly drink had spread through her body only moments before.
The woman learned a hard lesson that night: A dress couldn’t fix a city that treated her like a brown stain on a white shirt. And cake couldn’t disguise the fact that there was no sweetness for her there. Only loneliness and a bone-deep cold. The solution was to leave in search of warmer hands and beating hearts.
Eventually, the dress came off. But the heartbreak stayed. And every time the woman tried to wear her I Am Beautiful Dress, she inevitably took it off and rehung in her closet, until one day she stopped trying to wear it all together. It moved to the back of her closet, limp and half-forgotten, like a mediocre date or half-baked wish. It was no longer her I Am Beautiful Dress. It was stained with the experience of that night, which is how it became The Sad Birthday Dress.
Years later, when the woman had figured how to be a breathing, living woman and not someone else’s curiosity, she pulled the dress from her closet and her heart broke all over again. She knew there was no reclaiming the original power of the beautiful bouncy fabric. Of cake and champagne and moonlight. In the dress, she saw the pain of her past welling up inside of her. Its presence was like a ghost reminding her of all the broken things she could never fix. Of the hopeless realization that the thing she wanted—thought she wanted—wasn’t for her and, in fact, had never existed at all. She had been chasing phantoms and, in the process, almost become one herself.
So she packed it up and gave it away in the hopes that it might become what it was meant to be—that I Am Beautiful Dress—for someone else who was ready to pay the price to reclaim that joy in the way she hadn’t been when she had first purchased it. The weight of that terrible time lifted from her shoulders and the energy in her home felt lighter.
Now the woman has a closet full of I Am Beautiful Dresses. They are loud. And they sparkle. And they have hems ready to be tossed above the knee for dancing and more dancing and things that would make you blush for me to write. And they all radiate joy. All because she let go of the thing that was holding her back. All because she chose to feel the pain of the past and let it go. All because she chose to be a loud woman with a beating heart in a sun-kissed land and not a phantom shade.
Lovely little story, isn’t it? And it’s all true. I once had an I Am Beautiful Dress that became The Sad Birthday Dress. And when I gave it away, I was giving myself permission to be more than that sad story. I could learn from my past and create space for joy in my present. The truth is, we all have a proverbial Sad Birthday Dress or something that was once a profound piece of armor in our lives that became stained by experience. Other times, we change—becoming someone that certain objects no longer feel attached to, can no longer nourish. And in order to keep growing, transforming, evolving, we must let them go. If we don’t, what once was beautiful or nourishing becomes toxic. The spirit that won’t move on becomes the ghost that terrorizes the living.
Having recently completed a massive house cleansing—saying goodbye to old ghosts and old selves—I found myself thinking about one of my pieces from Everyday Enchantments, “Letting Go of Past Lives, “ about the things you hold on to even when you are ready to let go of the person you used to be. It can be scary to let go of the past because, as stagnant as it can make us, it’s also familiar and comforting. That’s why we hold on to so much unnecessary stuff. It keeps us feeling safe—but it also keeps us stuck. In the end, it’s better to let go and know that you are creating space for new, positive vibes to enter your life (but not necessarily more stuff!).
The first part of banishing ghosts or old selves? Let go of the objects they are attached to. Say goodbye to things that don’t bring you joy or that you haven’t used in over a year. Be conscious of the energy you want in your home and life. Then be ruthless about protecting it—get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to your overall sense of well-being. Ghosts hide behind sentiment and guilt to keep you trapped under their spell. Low-level spirits are a lot like low-level people: They want you to feel as trapped and miserable as they are, so they’ll do anything to stay in your life. Best to call a spade a spade and move on.
The second part of ghostbusting? Let go of the troubling energy you’ve been holding onto psychically. That last one will take a little more time, but letting go of the object that keeps constellating that energy will go a long way to dispersing its psychic impact. Give yourself permission to heal and move on from sad or seemingly unfinished histories.
The rest will follow.
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