It usually goes something like this: average family live peaceful existence in house. Then one day, objects mysteriously relocate. The dog barks at unseen intruders. The tap that usually streams hot water now vomits a liquid the colour of blood. Strange noises are heard in the middle of the night; on the bed, the billowing duvet outlines the shape of a body that no one can see. The youngest child becomes fluent in a previously dead ancient language before scribbling cryptic words such as REDRUM all over the walls (hint: read in front of a mirror). The mother turns hysterical, the husband tries to rationalise the unusual hubbub only to succumb to paranoia followed by the sudden acquisition of otherworldly powers, such as freezing objects with his breath and fingernails that turn into meat cleavers whenever he loses his cool.
Modern paranormal movies have come a long way from the halcyon days of grainy black and white film noir when a good fright involved a poor choice of short cut through the cemetery at midnight. Latter-day blockbusters such as Paranormal Activity, The Sixth Sense and X-Men not only leverage the visual baggage we carry in our cultural psyche, they also rely on cutting-edge special effects to bring these myths to life and peel several more micro-layers of skin off our collective hides. Just like zombies, they come crawling into our homes, hell-bent on scaring the living daylights out of the living. And we can’t get enough of it.
Modern society seems obsessed with the paranormal, and yet our comfort level with it is 50-50: we are at the same time curious and repelled by that which we cannot see. This dichotomy is due in part to how we perceive the world around us. Or to be more precise, how we don’t.
The human eye is an apparatus whose function is severely restricted. While our visual cortex offers a generous spectrum that is 400-790 Terahertz wide, it is nevertheless a very narrow window through which we can see the Universe; insects, for example, can see well beyond us into the ultraviolet. Still, reality is far wider in scope, with gamma and X-rays, infrared, and microwaves and so on. No wonder we are afraid of the dark, there’s so much more of it around. And it takes up much more space than we sometimes dare imagine.
It’s not just paranormal movies that have progressed over time; our relationship with the unseen has evolved as well. In its modern connotation the adjective ‘paranormal’ denotes events or phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. However, had you been alive 5,000 years ago the paranormal would have been considered very normal. It was a subtle, yet integral part of the whole universal prism: an agreeable lodger cohabiting the same condominium whom you saw by appointment.
Even flying Tibetan monks and other extraordinary feats by avatars who transformed water into wine and raised the dead were once considered ordinary achievements by extraordinary people in control of their full co-creative power. Shaman once levitated colossal stones into massive stone circles using nothing more than their guided will-power which, scientifically-speaking, is a series of electromagnetic impulses. Somewhere along the line we lost that knowledge and ability, and it’s taken 2,000 years and Princeton’s P.E.A.R. laboratory to prove that a correctly-applied frequency does indeed levitate rock. So if ordinary people are capable of such ‘paranormal’ feats then these powers are within reach of anyone who wishes to master them.
All that is needed is an unshakable belief that it can be done. And lots of practise. And there’s the rub: our curiosity in the paranormal exists today because we see in it a seed of truth, that welling within us lies the ability to create whatever we so wish. We are gods in our own fashion, and there are days in our lives when our will manifests in such a way that we believe it. But something happened that made us frightened of wielding this awesome power.
When the Supernatural Became Scary
You could say that humans lost confidence in themselves, and in time we began to see the spook in everyday things. From that point on the incredible turned into superstition. Take the much-maligned ‘cemetery’, a word whose Greek origin means ‘a place of sleep’. Sleep equates to rest, hardly cause for alarm. So, how did we become such a frightened species of carbon units? Our recent history provides us with a good excuse.
Much of the shift from normal to paranormal happened during the Dark Ages. Famine, pestilence, plague, slaughter, pillage, barbarian invasion, social decline, cultural collapse – there are good reasons why this era is so aptly named. These were times when humanity seriously lost the plot. And stirring this concoction of doom was the new kid on the block, the Roman Catholic Church, whose intolerant attitude to anything outside the confines of its orthodox view was in full zeal by the 7th century.
Following the first ecumenical council in Nicea in 325 CE, it was agreed by the bishops in attendance that only a select number of Christian gospels should be included in the official church canon. What was removed (or covered up) were such esoteric writings as the gospels of Thomas and of Mary Magdalene. In so doing the Church began its systematic dismantling of feminine power throughout the known world. The low point culminated with the burning of millions of women falsely accused of witchcraft. But we are getting ahead of our selves.
Of importance to our discussion is the preoccupation by the Church fathers of all things evil. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of conflicting ‘barbarian’ hordes, all of Europe was awash in blood – literally. The emerging Church saw this time as an opportunity to flex its muscle upon a largely illiterate society, and fear would become its most useful tool. And what better way to bring people to the protective bosom of the Church by making evil the culprit in every situation. Evil brought the plague to your town, evil took your wife to hell; evil, not malaria, consumed your children, evil was the vermin behind your failed harvest.
By the 11th century evil was the stranger skulking on every corner. And who better to personify this unseen danger than some misshapen character called the devil. With the Church pushing God as the supreme light, a mirror-character was required to personify everything that was outside orthodox scripture, or ‘good’. Let us remember that the success of any conflict has always been defined by who we chose to accept as the scapegoat, and in this grab for the control of human souls, ‘Lucifer’ became it.
‘Devil’ stems from the Greek diavolos, meaning “one who throws across.” So far, nothing too malicious or paranormal about that. But given the Church’s disposition towards pagans (whom the church also considered evil, even if pagan simply means “one who lives in the country”) it was not long before Pan, the pagan god of fecundity and nature, was retrofitted to become the horned, half-man half-fawn creature and the Church’s best recruitment officer. Thus, our irrational fear of the devil, the central protagonist in the land of the paranormal, is nothing more than a misplaced belief: fear of the very force that gives birth to everything in life, including ourselves: nature.
The Origins of Our Irrational Fears
Strictly speaking, to fear the paranormal is to fear the unknown, and in today’s societies that means the fear of evil. But what is evil? There are several schools of thought on this. The origin of the word comes from the old English yfel, whose roots are linked to eve, the primordial woman. Given the Church’s position on the divine feminine, the connection seems very plausible. After all, we have been brainwashed to believe that it was this luckless woman (whose Hebrew origin havva and hayya means ‘living’) took a bite of the apple of knowledge which led to her expulsion from Paradise, along with that of her husband Adam. Since then, all patriarchal societies have had a green light to blame, nay, persecute women for any ill that befalls them. So far this is in complete concordance with the patriarchal position of the Church.
But wait. That apple: wasn’t it a serpent who whispered bons mots into Eve’s ear and made her partake of the forbidden fruit? And isn’t the serpent one of the many disguises worn by the devil?
So we are made to believe. The devil, of course, also went on to inherit other roles such as the vampire bat, the goat, the rooster, flies, even the black pussycat. Yet despite the obvious brainwashing, our heart rate revs closer to red whenever we see the image of the goat superimposed on an inverted pentagram. This was yet another concoction by the Church. People have an equally irrational fear of snakes, quite possibly for the same reason (myself included, and yes, I was raised as a Catholic). If you doubt any of this, watch people on the street give a very, very wide berth to any passing black cat.
Such associations, once ingrained in the subconscious, particularly by seemingly trustworthy political and religious offices, can take generations to overcome. Take for example the paranormal connotations surrounding the number 13. To this day many prominent buildings in the western world have no 13th floor – a supernatural feat in itself, when you think about it, because the 14th floor IS the 13th, the upper part of a building doesn’t float in mid-air!
Collective fear of the number 13 is such that it even has its own adjective: paraskevidekatriaphobia. In America up to 21 million people are negatively affected by this number whenever it occurs on a Friday, costing the economy an estimated $800 million in lost revenue. It can be argued that such a mass belief inevitably becomes self-fulfilling, and yet in Holland accidents, fires and thefts occur at a lower rate on this day because people are generally more vigilant of the forces of evil.
Thirteen’s drawing of the short straw can be traced back to two pivotal events in history. The first occurred on Friday, 13 October 1307. On this most infamous of days, orders from the Vatican enforced to exterminate the entire order of the Knights Templars. The original Templars – along with related Orders such as Cathars, Albigensians and Bogomils – pledged allegiance to the divine feminine, not to Rome. They served Isis, Mary Magdalene, and honoured the rising of Sirius, whom ancient societies equated with universal wisdom and truth.
The second event goes back to the negation of the divine feminine in everyday life by an encroaching patriarchal society through such things as the superseding of the 13-month lunar calendar by the 12-month solar cycle. In ancient traditions, lunar is equated with feminine, due to the Moon’s influence on water and fertility cycles; and solar with masculine, due to its explosive ferocity. This change started as far back as 1300 BCE; it was further implemented by the Romans and later enforced by its secular arm at the Vatican.
It only takes a small effort to understand how such concepts can alter our perception of reality, and yet to this day the association between things evil or paranormal and the 13th and/or Friday continue to be reaffirmed, albeit for commercial exploitation: films such as Resident Evil 5 and Friday the 13th were released on… you guessed it; not to mention one of my favourite albums, Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut LP. Even 2012 was released on Friday, 13 November 2009. While marketers see such associations as harmless fun, all it does is help reinforce and prolong an institutional belief system.
Our Bonds With the Unseen Universe Were Severed
Our relationship with the paranormal is to a large degree shaped by lingering superstition. Superstition is what remains after the underlying understanding behind a fact has been distorted or lost. Take the devil-serpent association: the serpent or dragon has forever been a symbolic representation of one of nature’s fundamental motions of energy, the meandering pathways of magnetism that slide along the Earth. These are the same energy pathways upon which sit countless sacred sites – the temples once designed to help you reconnect with the invisible world.
In the old days you did not need a bishop to act as intermediary (and an unreliable one at that) to help you speak to God. You could do it all by yourself by visiting a pyramid or a stone circle. Back then it was perfectly acceptable to eat the apple of knowledge, because with total knowledge comes total understanding, and with understanding comes a lack of fear. And without fear all that you don’t see suddenly becomes your friend. As Jesus once taught, “Know Thyself.” But such self-awareness did not allow room for the rising class of religious middle men aiming to keep a safe distance between you and God. There’s a strange irony here, for in Latin, the origin of the word ‘religion’ is religio, which means ‘reconnecting’. Yet by painting a supreme creative force as external rather than internal, religion is designed to do the very opposite. And what lies beyond the physical and the rational belongs to God; and the rest, to some seemingly very unpleasant and ugly entities.
Our symbiotic relationship with the paranormal has shifted over the course of time, and demonstrates how far, as a global society, we have shifted from total understanding to ignorance.
It also makes for a gripping script. Mass consciousness evolves in periods of roughly 4,320 years. During each period humanity strives to have a collective experience. Between 6628-2308 BCE cultures such as those in Europe worked with the feminine principles of nature: cooperation, nurturing, the greater good of the tribe, and the implementation of a lunar-based culture.
By working with the life-affirming laws of nature, people were more sensitive to the forces that surround and permeate the tangible world, and were thus far better attuned to its subtleties. They sourced locations rich in magnetism, where even the force of gravity is lessened. In harnessing these basic principles they forged a closer bond with the unseen universe. The payback for such a relationship was the maintaining for thousands of years of a society that flowed in perpetual rhythm with all life. Some native cultures, such as the Aborigines, to some extent, still maintain such abilities of psychic perception.
Many of our ancestors’ shamanic experiences of the otherworld were carved in stone – from Egyptian hieroglyphs to Asian temple reliefs. Myths were constructed in which the acts of the gods would be memorialised for times to come, and many of their stories describe the physics of the universe. In the Rig Vedas there exist descriptions of nuclear processes now familiar to particle physicists.
Several of the parables in the New Testament of the life of Jesus are paranormal events in themselves, and they are brimming with esoteric wisdom and hidden information. The story of the miraculous catch of precisely 153 fish which occurs in the last chapter of St. John can be deconstructed to reveal a geometric framework revealing the Kabalistic Tree of Life as well as numeric values of great cosmological significance.
That great temples should be constructed at locations rich in magnetism became an extension of this relationship with the paranormal. The practise was also an insurance policy for later times: should people ever become too immersed in the physical world and lose the ability to see the subtle one, they at least know where to go to reconnect. To help communication with the invisible, names were ascribed to entities who provided humanity with specific things, such as agriculture, the arts, or weather forecasting. These would in time be honoured – not worshipped – as gods, and visiting a temple would be like attending a meeting with family, such was the close relationship with otherworldly forces. And because there was no need for competition, the relationship between worlds benefited everybody. Indeed, this was Paradise.
The act of dying was regarded merely as a stage one goes through in the bigger scheme of things, a boat trip of the soul to ports on the sea of Infinity. As the Pyramid Texts assert, Egyptian temple culture stressed the importance of the conduct of the soul during its human incarnation, and the meticulous rites of passage afforded the deceased were a matter of great importance. Again, the cooperation with those paranormal forces called ‘gods’ was paramount in aiding the transfer of a bunch of molecules – the body and its soul – from one form and toward another. Death was the continuation of a great journey, not a destination. It was even cause for celebration.
Around 2600 BCE things change dramatically. A sudden reversal of weather and an abrupt rise in sea-levels coincides with the next 4,320-year phase of human consciousness evolution. The feminine-cooperative experiment is slowly dismantled in favour of solar, masculine-driven power which has led us to experience the opposite properties of the divine feminine: control over cooperation, power of the few over the many, scarcity replaces abundance, fear trumps trust, knowledge slides into ignorance.
Existing sacred sites are adapted from lunar to solar, and inevitably, the places of connection with the world of the unseen are corrupted; understanding is lost and slowly the whole-istic system disintegrates into superstition. By 1300 BCE the climate deteriorated further. By the time of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, unlike the former keepers of the temples, the view of the invisible universe held by the newly entrenched priestly caste had become so distorted that it neither understood the relationship with nor possessed the ability to control the gods. Of course, no one ever did, it always had been a relationship. Out of an irrational fear of the wrath of the spirits, the priests condemned thousands of people to be slaughtered in open ball-courts to appease the spirit world, who never had it in for humanity in the first place.
The communicating cord with the invisible frayed, and the distance between god, good and hu-man, which the Church would eventually exploit, widened into an unbridgeable chasm. At this point humanity began to approach death with dread, and the gods of yesterday became the ghosts of today.
You could not write a better paranormal movie script, only this one is scarier, considering the many millions who died in the fruitless pursuit of appeasement.
It took until the late Victorian era for science – or a tiny band of enlightened scientists, at least – to engage with the bogey man. Just as Bram Stoker was putting the finishing touches to his canine-toothed protagonist, across the Irish Sea, in London, a group of gifted men of their day were busy inking an experiment that would prove the survival of the soul after death. The Society For Psychical Research was a brain trust of people such as William Crookes, who gave us the cathode ray tube, and Oliver Lodge, who, along with Tesla, gave us radio.
Lodge’s fascination with life after death had begun whilst a member of the Ghost Club. Later he designed a posthumous experiment whereby he would communicate from the otherworld using an alpha-numerical code based on sound. While the experiment appears to have worked shortly after his death in 1940, his initials, along with those of all the past presidents of the Society For Psychical Research reappeared in the 1990s, encoded in a number of those otherworldly geometric shapes created by sound, the crop circles.
Like the ancient Egyptians before, it appears these luminaries succeeded in proving that life is nothing more than a bunch of molecules and frequencies in a state of transition from one form into another.
It could be that most of the life that exists beyond the veil is not so paranormal after all. Modern research into parapsychology and quantum states suggest that a substantial part of it is us reassembled in a super-human, superabundant state. And our concept of this invisible world whether in film or in the mind, is shaped by our relationship with those forces that lie but a whisper away from our breath.
So whenever you next celebrate Helloween, sorry, Halloween remember that this celebration of accelerated tooth-decay once was borne of higher, less menacing ideals: originally the Celtic feast of Samhain, it was the time of tribute to the spirit world, to those who’d gone ahead to protect those in the physical world to survive the dark, cold months of winter. And in so doing, we rise safely out of the darkness and into the light each Spring.
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