What is the supernatural? Is there a reasonable, scientific explanation for the things that go bump in the night, or is there something more? Fear of the supernatural can come from many things, from religion to horror movies to personal experiences that seem to have no explanation for them. Our fear of death and what comes after death can be yet another source of the fear of the supernatural realm. While some instances of the supernatural can have scientific explanations behind them, other instances may never have a reasonable explanation.
With the aid of Zak Bagans’s books Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of The Ghost Adventures Crew and I Am Haunted: Living Life Through The Dead, along with journal and new articles, I have researched the paranormal, focusing mainly on ghosts, and looked into why, no matter how hard we try, ghosts and the paranormal may never have a definite explanation. While there is no clear-cut scientific or technological reasoning behind ghosts and the paranormal, they seem to have secured a spot as a topic that frightens people; this, to me, is partly due to the idea that humans look for organization and categorization, and the paranormal is a topic that simply refuses to be categorized and labeled as something.
This aspect of the paranormal, while terrifying, may be a reason as to why ghost stories and paranormal activity keeps intriguing people and a reason I would like to explore among others.The horror genre adds to the fear of the supernatural. Whether it is movies, books, television shows, or some other similar medium, we experience the mythology of the supernatural (Smuts 231). Each time we encounter something of the supernatural form (ghosts, aliens, etc.), we gain a better understanding of that monster, and that monster gains a reputation of sorts (Smuts 231). For me, the more I know about something like ghosts, the more frightening they become. I begin to look for more information, but that brings up more questions, more unknowns. As Joanne Cantor, a professor at Wisconsin University, explains, It’s hard for our conscious minds to damp down our physiological reactions. We are afraid of something with such power that it’s beyond our ability to control, and our conscious minds can’t reverse that (Bennett). Ghosts and the paranormal have yet to be fully explained by scientific processes; because of this, I feel as though ghosts have some kind of power over humans, and that is an idea that can be terrifying.Our religious beliefs and cultures contribute greatly to our fear of the supernatural as well. From a young age, we develop ideas based on the culture we are surrounded with (Smuts 231). As we grow older, we find that some of those ideas become so much a part of us that it becomes hard to change our views on those beliefs (Smuts 232). It is not easy to prove that something does not exist (Smuts 232). We grow up believing the ideas and concepts, including those of the supernatural, that our culture and religious views feed us, and those ideas become normal to us. Children grow up with the idea that supernatural entities such as ghosts are frightening, and this extends into teenage years when we are exposed to horror films and books. Once we have those frightening images of the supernatural, it can become hard to see that some things have an explanation behind them ” not everything has a supernatural force behind it, yet when something we cannot immediately explain happens, we tend to turn right to the supernatural for answers.Religion plays a big part in our belief (or lack thereof) of the supernatural. The Supernatural Belief Scale (SBS) was designed to measure the relationship between religion and the supernatural (Jong 496). Creating the SBS included looking at 10 common types of supernatural activities and/or entities, such as whether some form of a god, some form of a devil, and some form of angels exist and whether a heaven and hell exist (Jong 496). While the SBS can measure the belief in some sort of supernatural beings, we can also look at demonic possession and exorcism as concrete evidence that there is some sort of afterlife. Many of us do not believe in something we cannot see, like God or an afterlife (I Am Haunted 28). However, possessions and exorcisms allow us to do just that ” something evil takes hold of a human soul, and some greater, godlike force fights that evil (I Am Haunted 28). Religion has a major role in the fear and observance of the paranormal; not only can it help lessen our fear towards the paranormal, but we also have religious means that may be proof of the evil paranormal forces that humans fear and the godly figure that fights that evil.Religion may help decrease the fear that comes with death and the afterlife. It was found that those who are more religious individuals are less likely to fear death (Rose 230). Death is unpredictable and therefore can create anxiety about it as we cannot know what to expect after death, but believing in an afterlife and seeing it as a continuation of life after death can provide comfort as we are continuing with something we already know (Rose 230). If we look at death as a continuation of the life we live on Earth, the concept of death and the afterlife becomes less of a fear and more so about the next adventure that our souls will go on.Additionally, if part of the unknown factor surrounding death is removed, we may not fear it as much. Take those who have a terminal illness, such as cancer. Those individuals know that death is imminent and the reason (or at least part of the reason) that they are facing death, and so part of the mystery surrounding their death is removed (Brown). This may bring a sense of peace and acceptance to those individuals (Brown). While initially being diagnosed with a terminal illness can be scary, over the long run, living with the knowledge that death is imminent helps lessen the dread of death for some (Brown). As Kurt Gray says, … they know things are getting more serious, and there’s some kind of acceptance and focusing on the positive because they know they don’t have a lot of time left (Brown). Making the most of the time we have left on this Earth, especially for those who know they have limited time, makes us enjoy life more and worry less.The fear of death may also depend on our culture’s views surrounding it. In America, our fear of death comes from the avoidance of talking about death ” we pretend death does not happen and avoid talking about it (Brown). However, the idea of yin and yang in Eastern Asia, the idea that death is necessary for life to exist, reminds individuals to enjoy life while they can (Brown). The more we avoid talking about topics, the scarier they can become; while openly discussing it may be uncomfortable in the moment, it may also give us comfort in the long run (Brown). If we, as Americans, have a more proactive view on death and talk about it more with each other, we may be able to relieve a little bit of the fear surrounding death. I feel as though some of the fear surrounding death, the afterlife, and the supernatural comes from thinking that we may be the only one who has those fears; talking with others may just bring us closer to others who feel similarly. Knowing that we are not alone in our thinking may be comforting and has the potential to ease fears a little as well.Our fear of death and what comes after can also be a source of fear of the supernatural, stemming from the fear of the unknown. As Zak Bagans says, I fear death, I really do. We have so much to live for in this physical world that I want to stay here and enjoy it for as long as possible. I fear the thought of no longer being able to feel (I Am Haunted 57). He goes on to say that all this great life we know will stop. The comfort of our consciousness and our selves will be gone, and we don’t know what to expect afterwards (I Am Haunted 129). Other contributors to the fear of death include the fear of others dying ” we fear losing loved ones, being alone, and the pain involved with losing someone close to us (Abdel-Khalek). Over our lifetimes, we grow attached to people, places, objects, and the things we experience so much that we do not want to lose it all to death. We do not know what comes after death; after all, the only people that can tell us are no longer here (at least in the sense of a living, breathing, physical body). However, communication with ghosts may allow us to get a sense of what death and the afterlife is like. Bagans believes that spirits roam the Earth with unfinished business looking for someone who can hear or see them and that there are wandering spirits who are waiting to find someone to tell their story to or who are hiding from the afterlife out of fear of what might happen to them when they cross over (Dark World 55). He goes on to say that Many spirits were either ripped from life or never lived long enough to become bitter or disillusioned by the world. They just want to feel companionship or to know that someone can hear them (Dark World 55). In this sense, spirits may be able to share their experiences, giving the living a sense of what to expect when death and the afterlife are upon them. Similarly, our own personal experiences with supernatural activities can result in fear of them. While I have not personally experienced any paranormal activity that has frightened me, many people claim they have. Take the experiences at what was coined The Demon House in Indiana (I Am Haunted 25). Zak Bagans, while setting up for investigations at the house, would continuously become short-tempered and violent, to the point where he would get physical with his crew members (I Am Haunted 31). A lady who had previously lived in the house returned for the investigation and felt something hit her leg ” thinking it was her son, she turned around to scold him only to discover that he was several feet behind her and, therefore, could not have done anything to her (I Am Haunted 33). An officer from the local police station had claimed to see an apparition as he was leaving the house and had heard a harsh voice come through his radio that seemed to belong to nobody (I Am Haunted 30). Suddenly becoming angry and violent, feeling something that is not visible to the naked eye touch you, or seeing a shadowy figure can certainly be frightening, especially when there is no readily available explanation for what made those events occur.While some believe whole-heartedly that supernatural forces exist, others struggle to find an explanation for events claimed to be caused by ghosts. Take scientists, for example, who do not believe in the paranormal as they can not explain it (I Am Haunted 77). Observation is key for scientific research, and as scientists have not observed anything paranormal, it does not exist for them (I Am Haunted 77). As humans, we know what we know by using our senses, and if something can not be experienced through means that we understand to give us concrete answers, we assume it must not exist (I Am Haunted 78). We seem to like to categorize anything and everything, and if something does not fit into those boxes that we create for categories, we are immediately frightened by it. Ghosts are one of those things that does not fit into one of the boxes that we have created. Overall, we have a hard time nailing down what a ghost is and the means by which they exist; as they cannot be easily explained and categorized, we are naturally afraid of them. The Supernatural Belief Scale mentioned above is just one example of how we try to explain and categorize the supernatural.Consider the idea of the sensed presence, or the perception that an individual is not alone, that there is someone else near them (McAndrew). The presence can range from just a feeling of being watched to something that appears to be a living, breathing person (McAndrew). The sensed presence occurs when somebody becomes isolated in some kind of extreme environment that has little variation and low temperatures (McAndrew). Our mental state can also contribute to the feelings caused by a sensed presence (McAndrew). Things like stress or lack of oxygen can cause the feeling of being watched or imagining another being near you (McAndrew). In this case, it seems as though the supernatural can be caused by our environments and our imaginations rather than something of the paranormal sort. Additionally, Bagans brings up the Stone Tape Theory, in which it is believed that certain materials are able to capture events that involve high emotions and/or trauma and replay those events (much like tape recorders) if weather conditions are just right (I Am Haunted 92). As iron oxide is used in audiotapes and also exists in nature, iron oxide may be behind some of the paranormal’ sounds we do hear (I Am Haunted 103). Along with iron oxide, crystals like silicon can retain information and are abundant throughout nature (I Am Haunted 103). Seeing as silicon is used in computer chips that store data, the idea that silicon found in nature stores and then releases emotional events when the weather is right may not be too crazy of an idea (I Am Haunted 103). However, as Bagans points out, this may not indicate that some sort of supernatural event is occurring or that a paranormal entity is showing itself; if the conditions are right, the material may just play the event, much like pressing play on a cd player (I Am Haunted 103). This is a situation where science and our environment can explain the paranormal, but it is also one where our minds might go directly to a paranormal explanation rather than a scientific one.However, some believe that science may have everything to do with the paranormal. Bagans explains that he believes that the souls that remain on Earth become part of the electro- and geomagnetic forces that naturally occur on Earth, and that with the right weather conditions, the spirits are able to gather up enough energy to manifest themselves into something (I Am Haunted 102). Spirits are a form of energy, but they are too weak to manifest by themselves (Dark World 28). This means that they need to use other sources of energy, such as power plants or electronics, to be able to communicate and interact with the living world (Dark World 28). Looking at the Law of Energy Conservation, which says that energy cannot be created or destroyed but can be transferred from one form to another, we can see that when somebody dies, their energy goes back into the natural world (Dark World 29). Bagans explains a theory among paranormal believers that states that somebody’s energy in terms of their spirit stays intact and either moves on to the afterlife or remains on Earth (Dark World 29). Those that remain in the physical world on Earth, as mentioned above, are too weak to show themselves to us; therefore, they must use energy from another source (Dark World 29). Those sources can be anything that is available to the spirit at the time, from lights or candles to even the humans that are present at the location being investigated (Dark World 29). While a spirit’s use of the electrical forces in its surroundings certainly seems logical, it is just a theory, as mentioned above.Fear of the supernatural has many different aspects and does not come from one source. The religion, culture, and beliefs that we are taught as children and that continue to surround us throughout our lives can lead to a fear of the supernatural. The fear of the unknown, death, and the afterlife, along with personal experiences or experiences that our friends and family have had, can also lead to a heightened fear of the supernatural. The lack of a definite, scientific explanation behind ghosts and paranormal activities can certainly be cause for fear of it. We are unable to easily categorize ghosts, and as humans, we like organization and clear-cut explanations. The inability to find a logical, scientific, or reasonable explanation behind the supernatural, and for ghosts in particular, can be frustrating and frightening. And yet, so many religions and cultures throughout human history seem to indicate that there is something to the supernatural, to ghosts, to spirits, to something otherworldly. So, the things that go bump in the night may indeed be something more! That thought alone is one of the most frightening of all.