“Rather be dead than cool” – Kurt Cobain
Like me, you were probably excited at the prospect that a “Lord of Cool” existed and were calculating how to marry into the family. That’s definitely the sort of thing you want engraved on your tombstone. That, or “will rise again”. I’m sad to disappoint, but upon further investigation, it turns out there was no identifiable historical Manor of Cool in Scotland (of course, that’s where it would be if there was one), and in fact “Laird of Cool” is a generic Scottish term for a ghost. Got to hand it to them Scots for a certain poetic flair. I think if we adopted this internationally as a term for the spectral set in a sort of Esperanto for anomalists, phantoms would probably behave a lot more agreeably and obligingly answer pointed questions about the afterlife. I’m not just speculating, rather basing my assumptions on the 1722 conversations of Reverend Ogilvie, minister of Innerwick and an apparition of the Laird of Cool (this particular Laird of Cool turns out to be one Mr. Maxwell, which is sufficiently cool for our purposes).
Now, Reverend Ogilvie never happened to mention his strange encounters while he was alive, rather everything we know about his experience was discovered in his personal notes by his widow, written in Ogilvie’s own hand, and handed it over to a certain Reverend Lundie, minister of Oldhamstocks. Lundie, obviously taken with the account turned it over to someone in the literary biz and it was published as a chapbook (a small pamphlet sold by peddlers), under the title The Laird of Cool’s ghost; being several conferences and meetings betwixt the Reverend Mr. Ogilvie and the ghost of Mr. Maxwell, late Laird of Cool. But, our story does not start with the Reverend Ogilvie.
In 1722, a servant of Dr. Menzie, a noted physician in the Scottish market town of Dumfries, told all who would listen that he had been accosted by “The Laird of Cool”, who not only killed his horse, but also forced from him a promise to meet the ghost at an appointed place at a later date. The servant was obviously disconcerted by this and consulted Reverend Paton, the then minister of Dumfries about what he should do. Paton felt something diabolical was likely afoot and advised the servant against keeping his promise in fear for his mortal soul. Word got around, and Reverend Ogilvie of nearby Innerwick openly opined that Paton had handed out some bad theological advice. In fact, Ogilvie stated that not only would he have suggested the servant honor his oath to the Laird of Cool, but he himself would have insisted on coming along as a religiously-qualified chaperone. What he was to discover is that this particular apparition would expect him to put his money where his mouth was.
On February 3, 1722 at 7 P.M., the Reverend Ogilvie had just parted with his friend Thurston and was returning in the moonlight to Innerwick on a corpse-road. We’re not so big on “corpse-roads” anymore, for reasons that should be relatively obvious. Anything with corpse in the name presages unpleasantness as a rule. During the late Middle Ages in Scotland there was a relative proliferation of churches, particularly in outlying communities, which cut in on the territory, revenue, and authority of the existing churches. I’ve never met a church that appreciated competition. The more established churches decided they alone would retain burial rights and graveyards, forbidding the newer churches from doing so, and instituting “corpse-roads” or “burial-roads” to connect outlying parishes to the central churches. Corpse-roads were as straight as they could make them, as it was commonly believed that spirits preferred direct courses. Of course, anything specifically dedicated to facilitating the unobstructed travel of spirits is, unsurprisingly, associated with spectral encounters. Ogilvie was to discover this was precisely the case. Ogilvie wrote of his first encounter, of which there would be several.
As I was coming up the burial-road, one came riding up after me. Looking back, I called, Who is there? He answered, the Laird of Cool. Thinking it was someone who wanted to put a trick upon me, I struck at him with my cane. It found no resistance, but flew out of my hand, to the distance of about twenty yards. I alighted and took it up, but found some difficulty in mounting, partly by reason of the ramping of my horse, partly by a trembling which ran through my joints. He stopped until I came up to him again, and I said, “If you are laird of Cool, what is your business with me?” He answered, “You have undertaken what few in Ridsdale would.” I asked, in surprise, “What have I undertaken?” He answered, “Last Sabbath you blamed Mr. Paton for advising the young man not to keep his promise, and said you would be willing to go with him yourself.
Ogilvie: Who informed you that I said so?
Cool: We that are dead know many things that the living
know nothing about. All I want is, that you would fulfill your promise, and deliver my commission to Dumfries upon such an errand.
Ogilvie: It never entered into my thoughts.
Cool: What was in your thoughts I do not know; but I can depend upon my information that these were your words. But I see you are in some disorder; I will wait upon you again, when you have more presence of mind.
By this time we were come below the church-yard, and while I was considering whether I had promised or no, he broke from me through the church-yard with amazing violence, and with such a whizzing noise, as put me into more disorder than before. When I came into my house, my wife seeing me very pale, enquired what ailed me: I told her I was a little uneasy, and desired something to drink. Being thereby eased and refreshed, I retired to my closet, to meditate on this astonishing adventure (Tregortha, 1815, p158-159).
Remembering his protestations about the recommendations of the Reverend Paton, Ogilvie determined on his next encounter he would establish more cordial relations with this Laird of Cool, who had clearly notified him of his intent to return. And it was quite obvious that the Laird of Cool had some unfinished business that needed tending, Ogilvie resolved to use the opportunity to gather some intelligence about the afterlife.
On the 5th of March, 1723, as I was riding about sun-set, near William White’s Marsh, the Laird of Cool came riding up to me again, and said, ” Be not afraid: I will do you no harm.” I replied, ” l am not in the least afraid : for I know He in whom I trust is stronger than all of you put together.”
Cool: You are as safe from me, as when I was alive.
Ogilvie: Then let us have a free conversation together, and give me some
information about the other world.
Cool: What information do you want from me?
Ogilvie: Are you in a state of happiness or not?
Cool: That is a question I will not answer. Ask something else.
Ogilvie: I ask then, what sort of a body, is that you appear in?
Cool: It is not the same body wherein I was witness to your marriage, nor that in which I died: that is rotting in the grave; but it is such a body as answers me in a moment. I can fly as fast in this body as without it. If I would go to London, to Jerusalem, or to the Moon, I can perform those journeys equally soon. For it costs me nothing but a thought. This body is just as fleet as your thought. In the same time you can turn your thoughts to Rome, I can go there in person.
Ogilvie: But tell me, Have you not jet appeared before God, and received sentence from him as a Judge?
Cool: Never yet.
Ogilvie: It is commonly believed, there is a particular judgment immediately after death, and a general one at the last day.
Cool: No such thing, no such thing. There is no trial, no sentence till the last day. The heaven good men enjoy immediately after death, consists in the serenity of their minds, the satisfaction of a good conscience, and the certain hope of glory everlasting (Hamilton, 1809, p34).
So, if you happen to be irretrievably wicked take solace in the fact that you will not immediately find yourself in the Lake of Fire upon your death. You know who you are. This is of course cold comfort, as the Laird of Cool went on to observe, in that you will spend all your time until the Last Judgement in terror of your inevitable fate. Sucks for you. No wonder there are poltergeists. Ogilvie’s ethnographic interview of the Laird of Cool continued, and he managed to elicit clarification for a wide variety of issues. For example, ignorance or being misled to not necessarily condemn you to hell, and allowances were made for flawed reasoning. Also, guardian angels were assigned to mortals, but in aping Heaven, Satan did the same, assigning imps tasked with temptation. Having obligingly answered Ogilvie’s inquiries, Cool departed, mentioning that he would return with various duties for Ogilvie to discharge. Ogilvie assured him that as Cool had been very informative, he would refuse him nothing that was within his power.
The Laird of Cool returned on April 5, 1722, and I won’t bore you with the accounting details, but he had a litany of financial affairs that he needed put in order, including some dodgy business dealings that he felt guilty about. Cool explicitly refused to answer the question as to why he couldn’t simply go directly to his own widow and instruct her thusly. Ogilvie pointed out that everything Cool requested would make him look like a madman, but if Cool could provide a list, written in Cool’s own hand, he would gladly set everything straight. Ogilvie was thinking that if he showed up in front of Cool’s widow with this list of her husband’s sins, she would surely take offense. Cool refused, as well as refusing to explain why. Ogilvie thanked him for his answers to complex religious questions, but regretted he could not proceed on Cool’s errands.
Reverend Ogilvie died soon after.
Ogilvie, William. “Laird of Cool’s ghost; being several conferences and meetings betwixt the Reverend Mr. Ogilvie and the ghost of Mr. Maxwell, late Laird of Cool; as it was found in Mr. Ogilvie’s closet after his death, written with his own hand”. Original viewable through archive.org at https://archive.org/details/fisherchapbook384 (Part of a collection of roughly 600 primarily Scottish chapbooks from the 18th and 19th Centuries v.48).
Tregortha, John. News from the Invisible World: Or, Interesting Anecdotes of the Dead. Containing a Particular Survey of the Most Remarkable and Well-authenticated Accounts of Apparitions, Ghosts, Spectres, Dreams and Visions. Burslem [England]: Printed by John Tregortha, 1813.
The Supernatural Magazine, for 1809: Containing Ancient & Modern Hamilton, James. “Apparition of the Laird of Cool”. Supernatural Experience, In Testimony to the Truth of Revelation, Respecting the Immortality of the Soul, a Future State of Rewards and Punishments: Together with Various Wonders of the Invisible Worlds. Dublin: Printed by Wilkinson & Courtney, 1809.