Spooky occurrences and nightmares dogged Charlotte* from the time she was a child till she found God in her 30s. Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash.

A Victorian woman, or a man sitting on her bed. Feet at the door. Lights flickering on and off on their own.

As a child growing up in Australia, Charlotte* was “anxious and emotionally scared”, having visions of all of these. And more. A black mass with hands and legs. Swells in the ground that she would get caught up in. Doors slamming shut by themselves. Clocks stopping.

“My siblings and I felt uncomfortable at home. Even in our bedrooms,” Charlotte, who is now in her 40s, told Salt&Light. “I always felt as if there was someone watching me.” 

Recurring nightmares included feeling fingers in her back. “It was very painful. When I asked my sister about it, she said she had the same nightmare.” 

“The music on the radio slowed … the lights started flickering on and off.”

Charlotte was the most affected out of her siblings who “didn’t want to talk about it, or pushed it out of their heads”.

When Charlotte tried talking to her mum about it, her mum would “play it off like it was a bit of a joke”.

Charlotte’s mum and aunts would have what they called “a girl’s night out” in the home. It was “just a bit of fun”, her mum would say.

Charlotte and her siblings were not allowed to see what they were doing. But through snatches of the grown-ups’ conversation, Charlotte gathered that they were using seances and ouija boards to contact their own mother who had passed away when they were just a few years old.

Charlotte also gleaned that they were contacting the spirit of a man who had died in the house. 

Often, her mum and their neighbours would say to her: “You must be reading till late because I see your bedroom light on at midnight.” But she had switched the light off before going to bed at 9pm.

They were using seances and ouija boards to contact their own mother who had passed away.

She knew it was not her imagination. A visiting neighbour – a girl her age – witnessed the strange occurrences, too. “The music on the radio slowed, and there was this creepy slow, deep voice. The lights started flickering on and off. It freaked us out.”

The next day, Charlotte spoke to her parents about it. “My sister also said our home felt spooky.”

Her parents called in a priest to do an exorcism, but the unnatural occurrences did not stop.

When they moved to live in another suburb, Charlotte was relieved. “I wanted to get out of my bedroom where I had seen so many things.”

But even when she eventually left home, Charlotte would still be plagued by nightmares and ghostly apparitions into her 30s.

Three signposts

Her mum did not see anything wrong with the seances. She seemed desperate to contact her mother who had died when she was three.

She often told her children about her own growing up years. 

“Her mother’s death hit her hard. It had really hurt her,” said Charlotte.

Her dad remarried, but her stepmother was unkind to the children.

“Even though her life wasn’t easy, she had this sort of glow about her, which I realised was her faith.”

“Because Mum wasn’t shown much love by her stepmother, she wasn’t really a loving mother to us. She was quite detached from us. 

“Whenever we complained about anything, she would say, ‘I had it so much worse’.”

Charlotte and her siblings found no comfort from their mother, but they clung to each other. “It was a blessing that we were close to each other.”

Her family members were not church goers. They saw religion as “good for you, but not my thing”. They described the Gospel was “a story written by mankind”.

Then she met three people whose lives often gave her pause.

At age 21, she met Olivia*, who would become her best friend for life. 

“She was pretty, and I realised that Christians can be cool. But what set her apart from others was her behaviour. Even though her life wasn’t easy, she had this sort of glow about her. Like she had a super power within her, which I realised was her faith.”

“While the other men would put down their wives, he always had something nice to say about his family.”

“When I went to her home, her parents were so lovely and welcoming. They were always thinking about their children. So different from my mum.”

Olivia was the first of what she would call “signposts” in her life – people who “made a big impact on me”. They were all Christians. 

The second was a man at the finance firm where she worked.

“While the other men would talk about how much they drank or put down their wives, he would come in and say how happy he was. He always had something nice to say about his family.

“We knew he went to church, but he didn’t push his faith on us.

“All of us adored him.”

Later, she met Jack*, her third “signpost”, while on a tour for people under 30 in Europe.

“He was outgoing and the life of the party. But he was respectful of the girls, decent and helpful.

“He had been Christian all his life and had attended theological college. He had a deep faith that he would share with us.”

Charlotte invited Jack to her engagement party. They lost contact after he moved to another state.

Bad boy

Charlotte’s honeymoon with her new husband, whom she described as “a bad boy” she had known from school, did not last long.

His gambling and drinking problems surfaced. And when he got drunk and angry, he would bruise her. “He would grab me very hard. Once, he put a pillow over my face.” 

They went for couple counselling. But he denied that there was any issue. 

She found calling cards of prostitutes in their home.

The last straw was when she walked in on him snorting drugs. 

Because he was violent, she feared for her safety – she moved out on the pretext of needing to help her sister. 

Their marriage only lasted nine months.

When they broke up, her husband confirmed that he had been unfaithful.

Overruler of the dark

Olivia, her best friend, began encouraging her to go to church. 

She introduced Charlotte to her church friends. “Some had problems, but they still were happy and had this inner glow which I would describe as a strength. They had this love for life. Whereas I was really down and anxious.”

“God is in control and has dominion over evil. And that was exactly what I needed to hear and know.”

Charlotte found herself doing an Alpha course within two weeks.

“The Alpha course was so powerful. I learnt that there is a wonderful, protective God who overrules the bad stuff in the spiritual world we live in. He is in control and has dominion over evil. And that was exactly what I needed to hear and know.”

She found herself being “overwhelmed by God’s love and protection”. This was something she had never known growing up.  

She sensed God’s presence especially in nature. Walking past the beach, she thought about the Creator who made the waves, the sand, the trees. “He’s so powerful. I had this euphoric feeling. I phoned my girl friend straight away and told her that I wanted to continue with Alpha and go to church regularly.”

As she began to study His Word, she grew in knowledge of her God and His strength.

Old-new pen pal

One day, while walking to a work party in the city, Charlotte bumped into Jack – the guy from the tour bus in Europe.

He was in the city to visit family and friends.

Today, Charlotte* lives in Southeast Asia with her husband, who works in finance, and their two teenage children. She volunteers in the community, teaching English and befriending the elderly and lonely. Photo courtesy of Charlotte.

He asked after her, saying that she did not look well. 

“I told him that I was going through a divorce. I also told him I had become a Christian.”

Before they parted ways, he asked: “Can I write to you?” This was a time before email and mobile phones. 

Through letters, their friendship deepened, and a relationship blossomed after her divorce was finalised. 

“He’s such a gentleman. During our courtship, if we we went on holiday together, we would have separate bedrooms.”

Jack and his mother sought counsel from their church leaders about the relationship and he felt at peace. Jack and Charlotte tied the knot in 2001 – two years after running into each other again.

Chains and swords

But in church one Sunday, Charlotte broke down as she continued to see apparitions. She couldn’t stop crying. “I found the words at church so comforting and the music so soothing for my soul. I wanted God’s love and strength over me, but I still felt like I was under spiritual attack.” 

The girls from her cell group, who knew bits and pieces from what she told them about her past, surrounded her. That afternoon, they brought a woman with a gift of healing. 

“I wanted God’s love and strength over me, but I still felt like I was under spiritual attack.” 

“She told me, ‘There is so much attached to you. You are bound by chains and swords to your childhood.’

“She started praying in tongues and told me to get rid of anything unclean, like idols.”

Charlotte threw out recordings of readings and predictions sent by a relative who was a clairvoyant.

After that, spiritual healing came. The stronghold was broken. She no longer saw apparitions. The older woman continued praying for her and with her. 

“Like everyone else, I still have moments of worries, and am prone to anxiety about the future,” said Charlotte. “But knowing the Gospel and knowing that God is there keeps me grounded.” 

“Philippians 4:6-7 – do not be anxious about anything – is especially comforting when I am prone to anxiety about the future.”

Easy to make, hard to break

Charlotte shares her story as she feels God wants her to encourage others.

Looking back at the people that God put in her life, Charlotte said: “Being a good Christian is not always about converting someone, or getting out the Bible and preaching. You can simply be expressing love and concern. The way you talk about your spouse, your family, can also be that signpost to others. 

“Perseverance is important. I met my Christian best friend when I was 21. And didn’t become a Christian until I was in my 30s.”

The other message Charlotte has is one of warning: “If you are going to a party and someone says, ‘Let’s get out the ouija board for fun’ or ‘Let’s make one’, don’t take it lightly. It is not just a bit of fun. It can bring evil into your home and affect your family’s life for a long time.”

*Names have been withheld at the request of the interviewee.


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About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light.