(Typed while listening to Olivia Newton John’s Xanadu.)
My beloved M would probably agree with other people if they say I’m fascinated with ghosts. I would like to correct them (her, if M’s alone in this) of this misconception.
I am not fascinated with ghosts, per se; it is not so much the idea of ghosts that attract me. I know several theories about what they are, some branded as “truth by their respective adherents. A few theories are:
- Ghosts are the spirit of dead people. This is the traditional and popular view, believed by most ghost adherers. They (the ghosts, not the adherers) remain here because they a) don’t know that they’re dead, or b) they have unfinished business on earth, or c) both. Perhaps a subcategory under (b) would be “seeking justice” instead of just plain unfinished business. I mean a ghost of a maid from the 12th century probably has to keep cleaning a particular room, not knowing that she’s already dead and can’t really do anything to keep the room permanently clean. She’s forced to come back every day just to keep at an impossible task. It’s different from the ghost of say, a murdered man who’s seeking for justice and retribution for his murder. The two cases may be similar but not necessarily the same. I like the way http://paranormal.about.com/library/weekly/aa082701a.htm describes ghosts: “…they are the spirits of dead people that for some reason are “stuck” between this plane of existence and the next, often as a result of some tragedy or trauma.”
- Ghosts are demons pretending to be dead people. That ethereal being floating around in the living room, and who looks like your Uncle Fud? That may not be your Uncle Fud but a demon from the pits of hell disguised as him. Either way, the goal here is to keep you in bondage to the supernatural. This is the favorite explanation of Christians, and I can’t say that it’s easy to write off. (I say that it’s the favorite of Christians, but I’ve known Christians who would ditch this theory in favor of the first one–the first is way more dramatic, I guess.)
- Ghosts are not really spirits, but are left over “energies” from times past. They’re called residual hauntings. The idea here is that some event happened in the past and the event was so traumatic that energy signatures were left and continue to reenact the event until today. It’s like leaving a footprint in the sand. Link that last info with the physics axiom that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed. OK, that last explanation requires another explanation. I’ll let http://theshadowlands.net/ghost/residual.htm give a fuller explanation: “A residual haunting is a playback of a past event. The apparitions involved are not spirits, they are “recordings” of the event. I believe that this will be the first type of haunting that main stream researchers will recognize and study. There are numerous theories on how these residual hauntings come to be.” This seems to be the more accepted explanation among the scientific community and among those who refuse to believe in either God or the supernatural.
Now that we’ve gotten the theories out of the way, allow me to explain what I meant when I said I was fascinated with people’s reactions to ghosts.
It’s funny when you talk about ghosts. It doesn’t matter what place you are in, mentioning ghosts will surely put a stop to any and all other conversations within a radius of fifty feet (seventy feet, if you talk really, really loud). Once you get things started, you can’t get it to stop. The talk will move from a casual mention of ghosts and hauntings to more elaborate “personal” encounters by someone’s uncle’s friend’s cousin’s nephew twice removed. And while some details may vary, some things remain constant–there’s always a “white lady” (don’t ghosts have better fashion sense?), unexplained areas where temperatures vary from the rest of the place, buildings that have been abandoned but are visited by the “believers” anyway, taxi drivers who encounter mysterious women in the back seat of their cabs, and a dog or cat who can “obviously” sense something but can’t tell you anything because they’re just dumb animals.
If you were to ask me if something happened to me which was bizarre and which other people might attribute supernatural interpretations, then I would have to say yes. I’ve seen a few doors bang shut with no visible human influence, heard footsteps other than mine when walking in hallways, etc. I’m not saying I’m the bravest man in the world (I’ll save that honor to Arty) but I always look for the rational explanation first.
Back to topic: I believe people are obsessed with ghosts because they have this innate obsession with things unknown. Most everybody believes that death is the ultimate destination. Christians would debate the issue and claim that death was the penultimate, not the ultimate, destination. A better way of saying it would be death is a transition rather than destination.
Having said that, people are fascinated with ghosts, even though the thought of an encounter with one would probably scare the shoes of many of them, because they want confirmation about what’s on the other side. Think of it this way: A materialist believes that this life is the be all end all of existence. In other words, nothing else follows after death; we simply cease to exist in the formal sense. We might continue to exist in someone’s memory but what’s the fun in that? If ghosts are real, then the materialist is wrong, because there is something beyond death. Of course a strict materialist would have little to be happy about–if my future existence is to be a disembodied ectoplasm with a poor fashion sense and no sense of time, and who’s attempts at communication would scare people, I’d be unhappy too.
On the other hand, Christians believe that the souls of those who die go to heaven or hell. (Or maybe, a waiting area for either heaven or hell. Either way, you know where you’ll end up.) That’s the explanation they glean from scripture. The ghosts that we see, according to them, are demons pretending to be our deceased loved ones or people from times past. Of course if ghosts were real, in the sense that they are really spirits of dead people, then that blows the traditional Christian response out of the water. “I thought Uncle Fud was in heaven? Our pastor said so during Uncle Fud’s funeral. So what’s he doing floating outside the window?” Get my drift.
I guess my point to all this is: People are fascinating because they really don’t know. They have theories or deeply entrenched beliefs, but beyond that, they don’t have anything. And that’s what makes it fascinating for me.