Goth Chick News Polls: Do You Believe in Ghosts?
Now that my favorite “season” has passed for another year, and the Black Gate interns keep making attempts to hang holiday twinkle lights on my office skeleton, I am left with time to ponder the attraction many humans have to all things scary. Consumer spending on Halloween exceeded $10 billion in 2021; an all-time high. Horror movies continue to be the top revenue generators for the Hollywood machine when production costs are compared to box-office takes. And if you believe in ghosts, you are far from alone. In 2019 the magazine Scientific America stated 45% of Americans believed in, and as many as 18% of people will go so far as to say they have had contact with, ghosts.
A few months back I told you about my personal ghost adventures. How I have sat up all night, surrounded by EVP recorders, EMP detectors, spirit boxes, full spectrum POV cameras and EDI meters. How I’d done this in places like the catacombs under the streets of Edenborough, Scotland, in the burial chambers beneath St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in London, Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Munich, Germany and the battlefields of Gettysburg. I consider myself an open-minded skeptic who would love to believe that spirits walk among us, or at least that the shadowy imprints of past events are occasionally visible. However, the most consistent thing I captured on the numerous outings to these damp, chilly places, was a cold.
So, what makes 45% of us feel like we are in the presence of a supernatural spirit? Are there possible scientific explanations for that tingling sensation you get on the back of your neck, or the sudden feeling of uneasiness with an origin you can’t quite place? I had a surf around the net to see if there were any rational explanations for the feelings we sometimes get, that the veil between worlds is very thin.
Here is what I learned.
Much like the human eye has limitations to the range of frequencies we can see, the human ear can only hear sounds in a range of frequencies. Anything above 20,000 Hertz, and the sounds are too high pitched for our ears to pick them up. Likewise, we have trouble hearing low-frequency sounds below 20 Hertz, but such sounds do not go totally unnoticed. In a 2003 study published in the Journal of American Medicine found 22% of concert goers who were exposed to sounds at 17 Hertz reported feeling uneasy or sorrowful, getting chills, or “nervous feelings of revulsion and fear.”
So, what are some of the more ordinary origins of such low frequency sounds? Weather events like lightning (cue the creepy music) can produce low frequency sound, which makes entirely too much sense when you think about it. And if you get the feeling your house is haunted on perfectly clear night, diesel engines and wind turbines can also wreak havoc with our inner ears.
Another possible source of the willies is mold. We know breathing in mold can be bad for your allergies, but it can also be bad for your brain. Exposure to mold is known to cause neurologic symptoms like delirium and irrational fears. Though it sounds like more than coincidence that the houses we suspect are haunted also tend to be in disrepair and likely full of mold, scientists have worked to draw a firm link between the presence of mold and reported ghost sightings, but so far the evidence is mostly anecdotal.
The power of suggestion was sure to appear on any list of why we believe in the supernatural. Studies suggest that we are more likely to experience supernatural events if someone else who was there can back up our belief. This for sure hit home with me when thinking about my experience in Le Petite Theatre in New Orleans. While we might be able to convince ourselves that we were somehow mistaken about what we saw or heard, we tend to put more stock into someone else’s eye witness account if it also backs up our own suspicions. Basically, our belief in ghosts can be catching.
Finally, neurologists have found that our brains release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, when we are afraid. Exactly how much dopamine and how many receptors we have for receiving it can influence whether you are a person that enjoys being frightened or someone who would rather avoid scary movies or rides altogether. For some of us (and I am most definitely in this camp), letting our imaginations run wild with the possibilities of cohabitating with ghosts can produce a euphoric high. This absolutely explains quite a lot personally, not the least of which being why I’m here writing to you at all. So, in spite of complaining about my numerous failed attempts to witness a paranormal event, chasing the possibility is addictive.
Of course, believing in ghosts also allows us to believe in an existence after death, which ultimately can be comforting. That is, if you can get past the feeling that someone is standing just behind you as you read this.
As Dickens proved, the holidays are as good a time as any to talk about ghosts. So, Black Gaters, what do you think? Have you ever had a brush with the supernatural, or are you just inhaling too much mold?
Inquiring minds want to know…
I cannot do better than my hero Samuel Johnson who debunked the Cock Lane Ghost but who also said (to Boswell, of course), “It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it.”
TPark, well stated as always.
I’ve only had one experience that could be considered supernatural. Many years ago, I was touring Hampton Court Palace. I was using one of those rentable cassette tape walkmans for a self-guided tour. Michael York was the tape’s narrator. I had just gone thru Henry VIII’s big banquet hall, and Michael said on the tape to go up the stairs at the end of the banquet hall and thru the doorway for the next stop and hit play.
As I walked thru the door into a long hallway, I got hit by the weirdest sensation I’ve ever felt of fight or flight mixed with a feeling of being enclosed in a ball just slightly out of sync with the world, and accompanied with goosebumps all over me. I hit the play button and Michael said “You are now standing in the infamous Haunted Gallery where the ghost of Henry’s 5th wife, Katherine Howard, is supposed to haunt”. I could definitely believe it based on how heightened my senses were. As to whether I was sensitive to ultra-low frequency sounds or electrical/magnetic effects hitting me there, or real supernatural feelings, who knows. I had known about the Haunted Gallery for decades, but didn’t know where it was located in the Palace, so I can’t claim pre-suggestion was setting me up for me to walk thru the door, and there was also no signage identifying the Gallery, either. It was definitely one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had.
John, that is one amazing story. I’ve been to Hampton Court several times and know the location and story of the gallery. However, I’ve never had an experience like yours. Poor Katherine Howard went screaming down that hallway looking for Henry VIII when she was told she was accused of high treason. Whether or not you believe the 20-year-old queen had been unfaithful to Henry during their marriage, she most likely had entertained a “boyfriend” Thomas Culpepper before marrying Henry. In any case she was barely out of her teens when she was put to death. I can certainly believe that gallery is scarred by the tragedy of a young girl knowing her life was over.
I have never seen a ghost, but I have had one very, very odd experience.
When my son Ben was a toddler, I was home alone with him one day. I was sitting in a chair in my living room, thinking about a book that I have (an essay collection by C.S. Lewis) and wondering where it was, as I wanted to reread something in it. I had done a major reshuffle of my shelves a short time before, so I couldn’t immediately remember where this particular book might be. While I was sitting, silently thinking about this book, Ben was wandering in and out of the room. Neither of us said a word to each other. After a while, Ben (who didn’t yet read and who never messed with my books) walked behind the chair I was in, fumbled at the bookcase immediately behind me (one of seven large bookcases in that room alone, holding probably over a thousand books), walked around to the side of my chair, wordlessly dropped something in my lap, and went on down the hall, back to his own business.
Do I need to tell you what it was he gave me? It gave me quite a turn, as they say, and still does when I think about it over twenty years later. Paranormal? I don’t know. If it was nothing but pure chance, I’d like to know the number of zeroes that would need to be attached to the odds number.
TPark, let’s be honest; kids like cats, are half this side and half the other. There are websites devoted to the unsettling things kids (usually under 5) have said and done. The theory is, that once they become fully self aware, they stop being able to “see.” It makes for a good story, but that’s still part of the reason I have only dogs… Oh and thanks, that truly gave me the heebees…
Well’ I don’t know if the boy read my mind or not, but it’s for sure that he’s never subsequently heard a word I’ve said…
So Science (the ultimate fun police) says that haunted houses are caused by mold. Mold like in Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse? Shapeshifting mold? Intelligent mold? Far fetched? Maybe but there was this one time I remember reading about a pompous scientist who told everyone that anything mysterious or emotional is just chemical reactions in the brain,being slowly consumed by a giant space alien mold.
CJN1, the information shared on Goth Chick News does not necessarily reflect the personal views of the writer, her photographer Chris Z, or her lazy interns; although that lot would believe anything.
Ghosts? Nah, never. Had a bad vibe once in an abandoned and supposedly very haunted building, but that’s it. I believe I’ve mentioned here that I used to work alone in the wee hours of the morning in a haunted building. Notta. And I was often listening to Pseudopod while there!
So, no ghosts. But I did have this text exchange with my son a few weeks ago, asking him about the house we lived in when he was a teenager:
Me: “Did you ever have shadow creatures or incorporeal flying things in your room at night?”
Son: “Not that I remember.”
Me: “Must have just been our room, which is for the best.”
Son: “Yeah, I never knew that was a thing there.”
Shadow creatures and/or incorporeal flying things were not uncommon in our master bedroom at night. For the most part, I found them annoying, as I like my sleep, and my wife is missing half her fight-or-flight mechanism. If she saw/felt unfriendly visitors, there was gonna be a ruckus, and I got bowled over / trampled more than a few times.
The only time I remember feeling uneasy about it, I woke up sense a threat. I couldn’t see anything, but I had the impression of a shadow, looking kind of like a Chinese dragon, swooping around the room. Normally, if I’m having a bad dream or edge-of-sleep imaginings, I force myself awake. But in this case, I chose an alternative route. It was, I must admit, with a mischievous smile that I scooched up against my wife.
She woke up, and she did not disappoint. If I got trampled in the process, worth it!
I spent some time trying to figure out what could be causing the shadows. There wasn’t a lot of light at night in our little slash of a valley, with no line of sight from our bedroom to either of the distant security lights. Several years later I learned about vibrations — usually HVAC — causing exactly those kinds of hallucinations. However, our house had no motor/fan-driven HVAC. In fact, the only thing that might have been running in the house at night was a refrigerator, which doesn’t seem a likely culprit.
But two weeks ago, while listening to a cryptozoology podcast, I developed a new theory. [rolls out picture-and-yarn-covered board] You see, some cryptozoologist believe that bigfoots use low-frequency vocalizations, triggering fear and a sense of doom in people nearby.
When I heard that, all the pieces fell into place. A bigfoot must have occasionally used the salmon stream behind our house as a path through the valley, humming as they went. That humming triggered our hallucinations. It probably wasn’t even malicious on bigfoot’s part. They just had some tune stuck in their head, as you do, and were humming it away. Boom, instant shadows in our bedroom.