Despite the decline in religion, it seems that more and more of us do. In fact, it’s maybe because of the decline in religion that belief in the paranormal is now the new normal.
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Last weekend, the Scottish Society for Psychical Research held an open study day in Glasgow’s Hilton Hotel and, by all accounts, this was an organisation more at ease with itself than ever before, perhaps because its interests were now widely seen as legitimate.
One explanation for this is that, while we’re losing faith in religion, we’re getting fed up being sceptical and smarty-pants about everything. Besides, let’s face it, we all need a little mystery in our lives, something to make us shiver or thrill. Many of us suffer from achluophobia, while some poor souls have terrible pneumatiphobia. And I don’t mean a fear of tyres. A former partner of mine used to see a shadowy figure standing at the end of the bed. Not me, you fools. It was her deceased grandfather.
Personally, I found it a bit rude that he should just stand there uninvited. This spectral poltroon comes over from the Other Side and says: “I think I’ll just gawp at them for a bit.” My partner, who experienced this in that state half way between sleeping and waking, not unnaturally used to scream in the middle of the night. All of which meant that I got all the funny looks from neighbours the next morning.
Fear of the dark or of spirits surely calls for a light to be shone, though we’re not just talking ghosts here. Minds are opening to UFOs and Highland second sight, too. These were among the subjects that came up last weekend, as was temporarily travelling through time, which is fine if you’ve a spare five minutes.
Nick Pope, a UFO expert, spoke at the study day of “an exponential rise in the data”. He was referring to the paranormal generally, and it could be -- in my view -- that our confessional culture has led citizens to feel less backward about coming forward with what used to be kept secret for complex reasons of personal sanity, shame and guilt. From ghastly war experiences to childhood abuse, it’s legit to let it all out.
Having a ghost in your house can even be a source of pride. The Sunday Herald quoted Dr Ann Winsper saying: “A couple of years ago, people who had a ghost in their house didn’t want to tell anyone. They were scared. But now people are, like, ‘I’ve a ghost in my house -- brilliant.’ And people are jealous of them.” This is probably true. Still, I wouldn’t mention it in your property schedule.
It’s easy to mock this stuff, while at the same time experiencing a kind of spooky suspicion there are more things in heaven and earth than we ken aboot. The trouble, as ever, is evidence. It’s arguable that you believe what you want to believe and, accordingly, see what you want to see. As a sidenote, it’s sometimes thought that the heaven you envisage is the heaven you get, so it could be bucolic fields or a bookie’s.
But most of the increasing volumes of anecdotal evidence, so to say, comes from citizens who’d no previous interest, while with the typically infuriating paradox that lies at the heart of human experience, dedicated investigators -- such as the SSPR -- rarely see anything themselves and, beyond witness accounts, very little is independently corroborated.
It could all be wish fulfilment, hallucination or plain old flummery-tummery. But, according to SSPR president Nick Kyle: “The consensus among scientists is that the existence of paranormal phenomena is no longer in doubt. The nature of that phenomena is what is being studied.”
I’m aware there’s a conflation of subjects here. You might believe in ghosts but not UFOs. You might find time travel bleedin’ obvious, while seeing nothing in second sight. The key lies in keeping an open mind while constantly affirming that one isn’t daft.