Amanda Large Teague was meditating the first time she says she met the ghost of a 300-year-old Haitian pirate. She thought he was rude to interrupt her solitude, so she told him to leave. Then he showed up again.
The third time he visited, Ms Teague, of Northern Ireland, said she decided to talk with him.
After she communicated with the ghost for several months, Ms Teague said, she became convinced that he was Jack Teague, who she later claimed had inspired the character of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. (Experts challenge these assertions.)
Ms Teague's beliefs, which fall under the umbrella of New Age spirituality, test the boundaries of what types of faith people in Western cultures are willing to accept. Though experts say Ms Teague's story is an outlier and not representative of most New Age spirituality, the range of beliefs - which includes reincarnation and astrology - is more common among Americans than it may seem.
Ms Teague told The Washington Post that she started exploring spirituality after her 3-month-old son, Thomas, died of sudden infant death syndrome in 2010. She considered herself agnostic until then but afterward felt compelled to figure out her beliefs. Her journey of spiritual discovery led her, she said, to marry Jack in July 2016 on a boat on the Atlantic Ocean in a ceremony officiated by a self-described shaman. She then added "Teague" to her last name.
Since Ms Teague went public in January 2018 with her marriage to Jack - and later, their separation - international news outlets have expressed bewilderment at her choice of spouse: "Wife of ghost pirate bares her soul over break-up," blared Scottish newspaper the National. "Love is dead: Woman divorces 300-year-old pirate ghost husband," pronounced Orlando television station WKMG. In May, the Daily Mirror publicised the de-possession Ms Teague said she had needed to get rid of Jack.
Ms Teague told The Post that she knows people call her crazy. She is aware some speculate that she is schizophrenic. But, she said, people around the world put their faith in seemingly unlikely stories every day.
"If you believe in God or angels, if you believe in anything that's not of this earthly realm, then you believe in spirit," Ms Teague said. "So why would you find what happened to me beyond the realm of possibility?"
Ms Teague researched several religions in the wake of her son's death, but none seemed right - except Wicca, a subset of paganism that teaches oneness with the divine, of which all living beings are a part. She said she felt as if her son became a shell of himself after he died, and Wicca's teaching that people's spirits leave their bodies when they die jibed with that feeling.
Ms Teague now identifies generally as pagan, although she still feels drawn to some elements of Wicca. She said she and Jack had a two-part wedding: the ceremony performed by self-described Celtic shaman Patrick Eamon Carberry, who she said was a legal wedding officiant in Northern Ireland, and a pagan ceremony that drew from Wiccan tradition several months later.
Wicca has exploded in popularity in the United States in recent decades. Surveys by Trinity College in Connecticut found that 340,000 people identified as Wiccan in 2008, compared with 8,000 people in 1990, Quartz reported.
Although the Pew Research Centre estimates that Wiccans and pagans make up just 0.3 per cent of the country, 60 per cent of US adults - including people who practice traditional faiths and those who are religiously unaffiliated - accept at least one belief that would be considered New Age.
In New Age spiritualities, communicating with people who have died is common. Pegi Eyers, author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, told The Post that New Age practitioners frequently consider themselves to have relationships with spirits. Ms Teague's situation, though, is less common. Ms Eyers said she could not be sure whether Ms Teague genuinely believed she had married the ghost of a Haitian pirate.
"She's hanging out with the guy all the time, and they decide to get married, and he's dead, and she's living," Ms Eyers said. "This is a new one."
Ms Teague's trauma of losing her young son may have caused her to go into a dissociative, trance-like state that can facilitate dreamlike experiences, said T M Luhrmann, an anthropology professor at Stanford University who studies the supernatural. Instead of becoming memories, Ms Luhrmann said, the experiences someone has while in trance can remain alive and enable the person to repeatedly return to them.
People can also develop ways to perceive that an invisible being is talking back to them, Ms Luhrmann said. She said Christians, for example, may consider their spontaneous thoughts to be God speaking, and children often have invisible friends. Whatever the reason for developing a relationship with Jack, Ms Luhrmann said marrying a ghost is uncommon in Western cultures.
"It has a certain place within paganism. It's not so different from 'invisible others' in general," Ms Luhrmann said. "It's not so different than what kids do."
To supplement her job as a publicist and entertainment manager, Ms Teague said that in 2015, she started to impersonate Jack Sparrow by donning black dreadlocks, a moustache and a red bandanna - like Johnny Depp's version of the buccaneer - and adding "Sparrow" to her name. (She later removed it.) After she met her future spirit husband in 2015, Newsweek reported that Ms Teague said the pair would go to Dublin for romantic getaways, argue and have sex, like any other couple.
David Head, a history professor at the University of Central Florida who studies pirates, told The Post that he could find no reference to a real pirate named Jack Teague. In the 1700s, Mr Head said, Haiti was a French colony called Saint-Domingue - and "Teague" is a generically Irish name. Sparrow's father in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, however, is named Edward Teague.
Ms Teague said when she and Jack married in international waters, a medium spoke for Jack to give his consent to the marriage, and the officiant filed the legal paperwork with Northern Ireland. Winifred McConnell, a registrar in Belfast, told The Post that a wedding on the Atlantic Ocean could not have been registered in Belfast because marriages must be registered in the district where they took place. Ms Teague said she and Jack also had a pagan "handfasting" wedding ceremony in which two witches - practitioners of Wicca - wrapped cords around the couple's joined hands to symbolise the binding of the pair.
Most of Ms Teague's friends at the time were part of the same spiritual circles as she was, so she said they immediately supported her relationship with Jack, as did her four living children from a previous marriage. Ms Teague's parents had more questions about their daughter's relationship. Her mother eventually came to the shamanic wedding, but not to the handfasting. Her father, Ms Teague said, came to neither.
Ms Teague memorialised her relationship in a 2017 book titled A Life You Will Remember. In that version of the story, she encounters Jack Sparrow sleeping in Belfast's Victoria Square, transported from the past.
Paganism is non-creedal and does not require adherents to conform to certain beliefs, said Holli Emore, executive director of the online Cherry Hill Seminary, which teaches about pagan and nature-based spiritualities. Pagans are bound primarily by a belief in interconnectedness and the sense that all life is a part of what is holy, Ms Emore said. She said Ms Teague's Pagan outlook may have opened her to the belief that spirits exist and that she can have relationships with them.
"I try not to look down on what might be a meaningful experience for somebody else," Ms Emore said, "but I can't say I understand it."
Two weeks after she married Jack, Ms Teague said, she encountered serious health problems and became convinced that her husband was causing her ailments. Ms Teague said she asked Jack to leave, but he told her he would kill her if she tried to escape him. She cut ties with Jack anyway and in December went through a "soul extraction," similar to an exorcism, performed by a self-described shaman. Eventually, Ms Teague said, Jack left, and her health dramatically improved.
In shamanic practice, "soul extractions", or de-possession, can take various forms. Mary Rooker, a shamanic practitioner in Takoma Park, Maryland, said a shaman might grab a ghost and force him to cross over out of the earthly realm. The shaman might also try to convince the ghost to leave, Ms Rooker said.
Now, Ms Teague said, she wants to warn people to be careful about dabbling in New Age spiritualities. She said she was lured into it while she grieved for her son and did not expect to feel she had lost control over her own life.
"I would really say to people who are thinking about getting into this: Be really, really, really careful," Ms Teague said. "And if somebody is not telling you about the dangerous side of it, run a mile."
Ms Rooker said the experiences Ms Teague may have imagined are, in a way, very real. It is important to ask why she might have conceptualised that story and not some other one, Ms Rooker said.
"Does she somehow have the pirate's memories or those of one of his lovers then?" Ms Rooker wrote in an email. "Is it all a metaphor somehow for some trauma she experienced? Lots of possibilities exist."
The Washington Post