What the Dickens? – A Spiritualist’s Take on the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future

Yule is a haunted time of year. Beneath all the feasting and gift-giving lurks the primal fear of deepening dark and killing cold. In modernized society we are insulated by false light, false heat, and a material wealth that our ancestors could not have imagined. Yet still  – there stirs on these drear winter evenings some distant memory, genetic perhaps, of the nearness of elemental danger. A century ago, that nearness was felt much more keenly.

Charles Dickens, a Victorian author profoundly aware of the liminality of life,  wrote one of the best known Christmas stories outside of the New Testament. It also happens to be one of the most terrifying.

Ebenezer Scrooge – an embittered miser – is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. These spectres show him shadows of his past, present and future –  a wonderful literary device that allows for the trial and redemption of a wealthy man with an impoverished soul.

As a child, Ankhie always wondered what kind of spirits these three entities were.  Marley, of course, is the classic chain-rattling moaner of every spook story ever told – but about the ones that followed?

The flame-like spirit of Christmas past?

The Falstaff-ian abundance of Christmas present?

And the grim wraith of Christmas future?

These are not ghosts in the traditional sense. Are they just works of fiction, embodiments of Ebenezer’s own guilty conscience, or is there some basis for these figures in the “real” spirit world?

When in doubt – ask an expert. So I did! I went to Constance Briggs, author of the Encyclopedia of the Unseen World...


My first thought when considering A Christmas Carol is that the ghosts of Christmas, past, present and future were not ghosts at all, at least not in the true sense of the word. Today, they would be referred to as spirit guides. Guides are beings that are with us to help us learn lessons that we come into the world to master. They are with us from the beginning, walking silently along with us, assisting us along the way. Dickens usage of the word ghosts here is not accurate, but may have been the choice wording of the time.

Ebenezer Scrooge’s experience appears to be the equivalent of an out-of-body experience (or three if you count each trip separately). Although this is fiction, Dickens was able to capture a number of spiritual themes that resembled true stories of people that have had near-death-experiences, out-of-body experiences and most importantly a life review. For your readers not familiar with a life review, it is a spiritual record of a person’s entire life history. According to many near-death-experiencers, once a person passes from physical life into the spiritual world, they are shown their life review. The review has been described as a vivid, full-color, three-dimensional, panoramic review of every single act and thought a person did in life, including the good and the bad. According to some near-death-experiencers, a person can even feel the pain they caused others.

Scrooge is visited by three spiritual beings who take him on a journey to show him how his life has affected those around him. He is informed that he can change the future he sees (which is a dismal, loveless, friendless one), if he changes his life for the better. In the end, Scrooge does change. His transformation is sincere, heartfelt, upbeat and he is excited to have been given a second chance. He also tries very hard to rectify some wrongs he has done. His changing for the better at the end of the story is a good example of how a life review can alter someone’s path.

Often people that have crossed over are given a second chance to return to their life on this side. After looking at their life review, people are sent back into their present life, and are changed for the better. Some have become ministers and spiritual teachers. Others became more loving and charitable, and still others have entered upon a spiritual journey. Their out-of-body experience coupled with their life review, changed them profoundly. This is what happened in the case of Scrooge.

I can’t help but wonder if Charles Dickens himself had some experience with spirits, or even had recollections of his astral experiences (we all have them). Also, when I look at the ghosts in A Christmas Carol, I wonder if there is even a little of Dickens himself in each of these characters. I say this because of his own close call with death, which happened in 1865 in a train accident when he was returning to England from a trip to France. Ten people were killed and forty were injured in the accident that took place in Staplehurst, Kent, England on that fateful day. Dickens himself assisted with pulling people from the cars. It is said that this event affected him greatly, and that he even incorporated his experience into his writing.

Could the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future have been Dickens’s way of encouraging people to examine their own lives in the face of the one eventuality that we all have in common? Did he realize, through his experience with the  train accident, that life is fleeting and that we should use our time here wisely in showing love to others and being charitable? I know that Dickens was very concerned about the poor in his day. Were the ghosts he created for A Christmas Carol simply mirrors of his own thoughts? I like to think so. 


Wonderfully put! Thanks Constance!

And “God (Goddess) bless us, every one!”

One thought on “What the Dickens? – A Spiritualist’s Take on the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future

  1. Diana

    I enjoyed this article but found the end a bit confusing. If the author is thinking that Dickens close call with death in 1865 influenced the writing of a Christmas Carol, I am afraid that A Christmas Carol was written in 1842 and could not have been influenced by an event which had not yet occurred. I am no Dickens scholar, however, his later writing could have been influenced certainly and perhaps that transforming experience allowed him to more fully develop a theme he had been playing with for some time in his earlier words, such as A Christmas Carol.


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