Last year I was hanging out with Steve Evans and Aaron B. Steve’s dog had recently died, but they were dogsitting another wee pup. The new dog walked in and Aaron B. did a double-take. “I thought your dog died! Is that a ghost dog?” I immediately shot back: “You should ask to shake its paw.”
I remember this particular exchange because I thought I was supercool to be so funny in front of two of the funniest people I know. I’ve reminded Steve of this incident several times, because I really want him to ask me to guest on Police Beat Roundtable, but I’m on some sort of “waitlist” that I don’t think I’ll ever get off of. Kind of like Stanford Law School.
But I digress. Anyways, back to ghost dogs. Why was this funny? Because we were all Mormons of a certain age. I like to call it the age of “crazy sh** in YW and YM convincing us not to join the occult or play ouija boards, leading to the highest rates of occult and ouija board participation in recent memory.” I remember youth conferences where people would give guest talks about seeing evil spirits, or running into ghosts or Satan when they were working late nights at church. (Which other than making me scared to spend time in church didn’t really provide a lot of spiritual value as I look at it in retrospect.) Firesides with “experts” from the “music industry” (huh?) would talk about how listening to rock music invited evil spirits into your house. Anyways, if pornography is the boogeyman of the 21st century church, the occult was the boogeyman of the 80’s. I was terrified, and secretly I was fascinated.
This leads us to the grand-daddy of Mormon ghost stories. The infamous hand-shaking instruction. If you see a spirit, you are supposed to ask to shake its hand. One of three things will happen: (1) It will shake your hand, and you will know it is a resurrected being on a mission of righteousness. (2) It will refuse to shake your hand, and you will know it is a non-resurrected being, but on a mission of righteousness because it was honest about it non-corporeality. (3) It will agree to shake your hand, but when you try to touch it nothing will be there, and you will be so scared you will pee your pants, and then you are supposed to remember to rebuke it. I don’t know where this comes from, although Brad K. assures me it is rooted in the “physicality of Joseph Smith’s doctrine of deity.” Okay Brad, I believe you.
Here’s my issue with the whole thing: If I see a spirit, I am so running in the other direction. Ask to shake it’s hand? Heck no. I’m not an idiot, I know what happens to the blond girl in movies involving spirit beings, corporeal or not. (And also what happens in movies involving axe-murderers, and giant bio-engineered crocodiles.) This is one blond girl with a high sense of self-preservation, someone else can rebuke the spirit.
When I learned this particular “doctrine” in Young Women, it was not news to me. I remember learning this along with Book of Mormon stories at my mother’s knee. Why, oh why do children need to be exposed to this? I remember many a night lying awake in bed trying to remember what the different handshake results meant, and hoping I could just fall asleep, and what in the world was making that creaking noise in the hallway…..
So, dear readers, spill your guts. Is this the first time you’ve heard about the handshaking? If not, when? How old were you? What was your reaction? Do you remember the days of yore when youth conference meant church sanctioned ghost stories? What were your favorites? Do you have any left-over spirits from 80s hair bands still lurking in your basement, and if so, can they play the drums?