What is it about the paranormal that Americans find so fascinating?
A Gallup poll found that about 75% of Americans believe in the paranormal (ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance, astrology, etc…) Nearly 50% believe in ghosts and 41% believe in extrasensory perception. And, almost a third believe that ghosts can haunt people. There is an extremely small percentage of Americans (less than 1%) that celebrate Halloween in neo-pagan ways and most see it as a time to dress up. Many in Christianity believe Halloween to be such an evil day that they shun any connection with it. Still, we find so many fixated on the holiday with billions spent on costumes, candy, and parties.
Maybe it goes beyond a fascination and the paranormal has become a love affair. According to Romance Writers of America, paranormal romance books are the fasting growing segment in their industry with such big sellers as the Twilight series selling 1.3 million copies on the first day of release. (Ladies, Edward or Jacob?) In fall of 2005, we saw a rise in shows like Medium, Ghost Whisperer, Night Stalker, Supernatural, Paranormal, and A Haunting hitting the TV scene. Ratings for shows like Ghost Hunters and Celebrity Ghost Stories continue to drive ad sales.
Our preoccupation with the unknown is nothing new. Throughout human history we have always wanted to believe in something greater than ourselves. Religion can give us a sense of divine comfort and direction but for some that is not enough. For those who seek the paranormal it is a way to have a connection with supernatural forces. Paranormal interests are not only for men, but also women. Even housewives are getting in on the act by forming their own paranormal groups.
Lynn Schofield Clark, associate professor of communication at the University of Denver and author of From Angels to Aliens: Teenagers, the Media, and the Supernatural, explains why we love the paranormal:
At its heart, this interest in the paranormal and supernatural is about coming to terms with the fact that we have less control over things than we thought we did,” Clark says. “And with the fact that maybe we know less than we thought we did, too. Stories about the supernatural and paranormal occur right at the intersection of faith and science. They’re titillating, because they ask us to consider questions such as, ‘How do we know what is real?’ and ‘How do we know that what we think is real is actually real?’
Keeping such fascinations are a part of life as long as they do not become obsessions. Obsessions with the communication with the dead, occult practices, and the like are often fill with people searching for meaning but unable to find it. Abuse is common. Fortunetellers are often people making money off of desperate people stuck in grief with the loss of their loved ones. Occult groups are often places of manipulation.
For some, the scare of a movie gives us a sense of “safe adventure”. We sit in a theater with others to be scared only to be reassured with pop corn and soda. For others, the mystery is always there to prove if ghosts are real or not. No matter our level of interest in the paranormal, it is part of our humanness to want to know more. To discover. To try to push the boundaries of the known and unknown.
Let us not push our boundaries too far from curiosity to obsession. I pray that we can separate the desire for a suspenseful thrill and unhealthy fascination with evil this Halloween. .