There is this nagging question that I have asked myself for years. Do we create–at least in part–the paranormal phenomena that we later claim plagues us? Or that intrigues us? What, exactly, is the relationship of what is “out there” as objective, disembodied intelligence and “in here”, a product of our own consciousness? Is there, perhaps, no such binary opposition, and instead, a sort of continuum along an imaginary line of interrelationship with the unseen?
Allow me to back up. I am returning to the world after more episodes of “Kindred Spirits”, “The Holzer Files”, and the “Dead Files” than I care to confess to. I find all of these shows fascinating for what they reveal about human psychology and our need for answers. The vast majority of the time, shows that center on the paranormal are looking for a resolution that involves the restoration of order to a household or historic site. If no restoration of normality is possible, then explanations are offered that, once again, allow us to exert some control over circumstances that threaten our sense of equilibrium or our emotional state. This is far easier to accomplish if the activity is separate from us; if we are living with something that we had no hand in creating. The Other can be discovered, explained, and neutralized. In the case of the “Dead Files”, the Other often appears irrational and beyond our capacity to manage; in that case, the only option is physical removal from the haunted place.
In all of the above scenarios, we are the experiencers and the Other is the instigator, the bully, the foreign element; the thing we need to ‘learn to live with’, or run from. In a few cases, however, there is the recognition that we play a part in our haunting. There are episodes of “Kindred Spirits” and the “Dead Files” where it’s clear that the home or business owner–or the occupants of a haunted site–might have allowed the presence, the specter, to exist in the first place. In those cases, the lines a blurred between Self and Other, to the extent that the Other only exists because we create the space for it via our unconscious drives, motivations, desires, and traumas. We all know that a certain percentage of poltergeist cases are believed to be potentiated or originated from the unconscious energies of a ‘focus’–typically, but not always, a teenager in the throws of monumental changes.
The famous case of “Philip”, the ghost that was created beforehand and then manifested during a series of seances in the 1970s, exemplifies the power of human intention;
Many researchers of the paranormal suspect that some ghostly manifestations and poltergeist phenomena (objects flying through the air, unexplained footsteps and door slammings) are products of the human mind. To test that idea, a fascinating experiment was conducted in the early 1970s by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research (TSPR) to see if they could create a ghost. The idea was to assemble a group of people who would make up a completely fictional character and then, through séances, see if they could contact him and receive messages and other physical phenomena – perhaps even an apparition. https://www.liveabout.com/how-to-create-a-ghost-2594058
And yes, as it turns out, Philip had some impressive abilities. He levitated the table, dimmed and brightened lights on command, and performed many other feats. He could not, however, provide additional information on his life and afterlife that was not already created beforehand by the investigators. His physical prowess was, however, impressive. This case was often used to debunk seances, but that misses the point entirely:
What are we to make of these incredible experiments? While some would conclude that they prove that ghosts don’t exist, that such things are in our minds only, others say that our unconscious could be responsible for this kind of the phenomena some of the time. They do not (in fact, cannot) prove that there are no ghosts.
Another point of view is that even though Philip was completely fictional, the Owen group really did contact the spirit world. A playful (or perhaps demonic, some would argue) spirit took the opportunity of these séances to “act” as Philip and produce the extraordinary psychokinetic phenomena recorded.
In any case, the experiments proved that paranormal phenomena are quite real. And like most such investigations, they leave us with more questions than answers about the world in which we live. The only certain conclusion is that there is much to our existence that is still unexplained.
If we can create a “Philip”, then what else are we capable of manifesting? I do believe in the objective existence of a spirit world or realm; I also know that how we contact that world depends on us making contact via our non-material nature. We are, as we often forget, ghosts encased in flesh. We are also potent creators of our reality and the reality that surrounds us, to a degree that astonishes me. Our repressed emotions and the effect of trauma in our collective psyches can explode in a home, for example, darkening the corners, creating a conscious entity that haunts us, or causing objects to disappear or go flying across a room. In the end, these manifestations are often a fragment of our own, agonized consciousness. Not always. But more often that most of the paranormal shows are willing to admit.
I know people who haunt the place they were raped, assaulted, or attacked. Those people are alive; they have split off a part of their psyche and created their own ghost. If you think about it, don’t you suspect that you still occupy another space somewhere? Perhaps the place where you were happiest; or perhaps the corner of the universe where overwhelming emotion dissociated you from yourself. Those aspects of ourselves that have ‘spit off’ from our body might be in close contact with other entities created by similar trauma or desire. What is a ghost but the surviving fragment of an intense emotion?
Amy and Adam in a few episodes of “Kindred Spirits” gently inform the homeowners that perhaps they have unwittingly manifested their own rage or depression as a haunting presence in their house. This requires a certain level of recognition and willingness to let go of the past and one’s own repressed drives. Not everyone is willing to let go; you can see it in the homeowner’s eyes. This is my anger, my revenge, my ambition: I am not releasing it. In “The Holzer Files”, the resurrection of old, unresolved cases often reveals how the homeowner or site manager is not only unwilling to admit how he or she has “co-created” the activity that they claim they wish to “release”, but is actively interested in holding on to the presences in the house. There is occasionally a coldness in their eyes during the “reveal”, which tells me that they have built a wall around themselves and their spirits. And, finally, in the “Dead Files”, there are clients who seem invested in the haunting to the point of possession by “something” in the house or site. This possession is often about a codependent relationship between the entity and the repressed darkness in their soul.
We can create our own “Philip” on purpose, it seems, or we can create unknowingly the most vile of demons through our fascination with our own dark side. To understand anything mysterious, we have to discard the binary oppositions–the “either/or” mentality that seeks to divorce us from our perceptions of reality. Sometimes, we are the ghost and the ghost is us.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD