A 2012 poll by the Huffington Post indicates that 45% of the 1000 people interviewed believe in the supernatural. In this case, believing in the supernatural means that you think the spirits (aka souls) of the dead come to the living realm in some form in certain places or situations. Of the people questioned, despite most having no religious affiliation, many also believed in demonic spirits. Whatever the thing may be, no one can deny that a lot of Americans believe something supernatural makes that bump in the night.
Ghost, demon, apparition, haunt, phantom, specter, spirit, spook, wraith, poltergeist, shade, or whatever you want to call it; there are people that not only believe in them, but some seek them out. Now I’m not talking about those brave men (and women) who seek to bust ghosts on the streets of New York, but the people who hunt and investigate the paranormal. A quick Google search of your area will bring up a list of paranormal investigators that I bet you never even knew existed. The video camera yielding, digital thermometer checking, audio recorder listening ghost hunters skyrocketed in popularity in the early 2000s due to an influx of ghost hunting TV shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Most Haunted. These reality TV shows mixed the educational aspect of history, the excitement of searching haunted locations in the pitch-black night, and the latest high-tech ghost hunting equipment.
Despite how great the ghost hunting shows and movies about hauntings are, the intrigue of ghost hunting and stories did not begin in the 2000s. From ancient Mesopotamia and throughout Medieval Europe to our modern-day Westernized culture, stories of ghosts and specters have been prevalent in both fiction, nonfiction, and the oral legends told throughout different civilizations. Pliny the Younger told a story of the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus and a haunted house. Athenodorus, born in 74 BC near Tarsus (in modern-day Turkey), rented a house in Athens while working on a book. The story indicates that he (knowing the house was haunted) sat up his desk in the room where the ghost had been seen and waited to see the apparition. Late one night while writing, he was finally visited by a ghost. The ghost led him to a courtyard and then vanished. Athenodorus marked the spot that night and returned the next day to dig in that spot where he unearthed a man’s skeleton bound in chains. He received a proper burial, and the ghost no longer haunted the house. The Bible even mentions ghosts/spirits many times. When Jesus walked upon the water, the disciples feared he was a ghost when he came walking towards them. Also as mentioned in Luke 24:37-39, upon Jesus’s resurrection after his crucifixion, he had to assure the Disciples that he was not a ghost (the King James Version of the Bible uses the term ‘spirit’).
After a story is told, there will always be skeptics. While the belief in the supernatural has been around for many centuries, the doubters have been around just as long. Even organized paranormal research societies showed up as early as the 18th century. Organizations like the United Kingdom-based Society for Psychical Research sought to not only expose fraud but to explain supernatural events. The organization’s foundations began with a discussion between journalist Edmund Rogers and physicist William F. Barrett. This discussion in 1881 led to a conference months later at the British National Association of Spiritualists headquarters. The society (led by psychologists, physicists, parapsychologists, authors, chemists, Nobel laureates and more) stated that their purpose was “to approach these varied problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated.” The society studied the more psychological: hypnotism, dissociation, thought-transference, and the Reichenbach phenomena (also known as Odic force -named after the Norse god Odin- is the hypothetical ‘life force’ theorized by Baron Carl von Reichenbach); also looked into the appearance of apparitions, haunted houses, and the physical phenomena associated with seances/psychic mediums.
The society was known to hold very restrictive standards of proof. These restrictions led to renowned British author (creator and writer of the Sherlock Holmes books) and devout spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to leave the society in 1930. He left in protest of the society’s, what he called, overly restrictive standards of proof in regards to spiritualism. They accused and found many prominent mediums of the time to be fraudulent. Despite reports of having suspicions of clairvoyance and the supernatural, Doyle was adamant about his beliefs and wasn’t afraid to fight for them. He had a bitter falling out with magician Harry Houdini. Houdini tried to assure Doyle that his magic was merely an allusion, but Doyle believed his abilities in magic were supernatural in origin. The avid spiritualist threatened to ruin the career of psychical researcher Harry Price because he accused spirit photographer William Hope of creating fraudulent evidence of the supernatural. Despite substantial evidence coming forward to prove Hope of fraud, Doyle continued to stand by him. In his stand against anyone questioning any aspect of spiritualism, Doyle even led a resignation of eighty-four members from the Society for Physical Research.
Like the ones that Doyle despised, modern-day critics question the proof finding methods of ghost hunters. Despite a large majority believing, there is still an undeniably large portion of our population that still does not believe in ghosts. I try to remain fairly optimistic when we watch Ghost Adventures. Sometimes the hair-raising history and eerie events make us fear the sinister location before the investigation even begins. Sometimes the investigation yields evidence that seems fake, but there are times where it is hard to explain what you have seen. I’m no skeptic, but I won’t go out with my video camera in search of documentation. Honestly, who am I to say that it’s just the ice maker that goes bump in the night or that that shadow outside is just the cat walking by the window?
Brown Lady of Raynham Hall (a claimed ghost photograph by Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life magazine, 1936) attributed to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26302476
The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House by Henry Justice Ford – http://www.postershowcase.info/i1862812.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11733112
The Ghosts by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=625143
Sheet Music cover for the popular song Spirit Rappings accredited to Rossington, W. W. and Garrett, J. Ellwood – American Memory, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=562035
Logo for Society for Psychical Research accredited to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58003024
Harry Houdini, full-length portrait, standing, facing front in chains accredited to the McManus-Young Collection – Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2342684
Debunked Image of a Ghost, produced by double exposure in 1899 by The National Archives UK – Ghostly sighting?, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37941211