The story of the supernatural, or How Halloween has become a holiday of evil

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The story of the supernatural, or How Halloween has become a holiday of evil

Why does a pagan holiday continue to gain popularity in modern society? How has the attitude to the paranormal changed over the past hundred years? An interesting excursion from the American historian Lawrence Samuel will stretch a ghostly thread from the ancient Celts to the century of smartphones and quantum physics.

It is generally accepted that modern Halloween is a legacy of the Celtic harvest festival, which was also the day of remembrance of the dead and the expulsion of ghosts. In what incomprehensible way in a developed civilization did pagan ritual transform into an international holiday with an annual budget of one billion dollars?

Historian Lawrence Samuel believes that Halloween is our unofficial celebration of evil, a celebration of the supernatural. This is the way in which modern society expresses its fear of what may lie beyond the boundaries of the world we know, and interest in this.

“So how did the holiday grow into such a monster? Managed by marketers, Halloween has plowed the ocean of the paranormal for many years, directly challenging the logic and rationalism of modernism, ”a short excursion from Lawrence Samuel reveals the strange and complex history of the paranormal in America and the world.

Era of spiritualism

Supernatural became fashionable shortly after the First World War. Key movement figures, such as British physicist Sir Oliver Lodge and Sherlock Holmes’ literary father Sir Conan Doyle, told Americans about “spiritualism” in Carnegie Hall and other large halls of the country. They traveled all over America, gathering huge audiences.

It was during that period that millions of people lost loved ones in the war or because of the flu epidemic of 1918 and eagerly listened to statements that the ghosts of their relatives and friends were very close. The media and ordinary citizens of different classes stood on both sides of the barricades, forming two camps – believers and unbelievers, and the border between them remained unsteady.

Religious leaders who considered the supernatural as their territory and asserted their rights to it also actively joined. So everything paranormal was called hostile to organized Christianity and was perceived as a kind of modern version of a false idol, worshiping which, as the Bible says, is a grave sin.

Indeed, if ghosts are hovering somewhere among the living, it means that people do not leave the earth after death and the concept of heaven and hell is called into question. Interestingly, in rejecting the supernatural, the scientific community has joined religious leaders. The reason for both, in fact, was one and the same. To acknowledge the existence of spirits and other otherworldly phenomena meant to question some of the postulates of science. In this case, much would have to be reviewed, and what scientists dedicated their careers and lives to would have lost all meaning.

Civilization at risk

In the mid-70s of the XX century, worried about the growing popularity of ideas about the supernatural, scientists joined forces in an attempt to stop this wave. In those days, their headache was also gaining momentum in astrology and universal love for the book The Secret Life of Plants, the authors of which argued that communication with indoor plants is no less real than relations with pets – cats and dogs.

It seemed to many skeptics that rational thinking itself was in jeopardy and humanity was slipping into the ignorance of the Middle Ages, discarding five hundred years of scientific progress like husks. Unusual theories for many were much more interesting than science. The bestseller “Chariots of the Gods: The Unsolved Mysteries of the Past” claimed that mankind received technology from aliens, whom it considered gods. The terms “ancient astronauts” and “power of the pyramid” became common.

Fearing that the dominance of superstitions would near the end of the civilized world, such celebrities as the writer Isaac Asimov, the psychologist and writer Berres Frederic Skinner, the famous astrophysicist Karl Sagan, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould took the side of science. They spoke openly, demanding from parapsychologists scientific evidence of a variety of theories and claims of the supernatural. However, for some critics, even “evidence” was not enough.

While the camps of believers and unbelievers fought on the subject of otherworldly phenomena, those became more vivid in culture every year.

Lawrence Samuel notes that the idea of ​​the existence of forces that did not obey the laws of nature known to us has long gone beyond imagination. “Science can answer many questions, but when faced with death and other existential problems, the scientific worldview either responds with silence or is skeptical,” wrote anthropologist David J. Hess in the preface to the book “Science of the New Century.”

He believed that it was for these reasons that religion and the supernatural remained such powerful forces in modern society. The American writer Mary Roach was not ready to agree that most scientists will inevitably remain skeptics, even if they are faced with clear evidence of paranormal phenomena.

“Evidence is inexorable, especially when you are trying to prove immateriality,” she wrote in her book, Life After Death, which blew up the world, believing that “the more you try to clarify and unravel everything, the less clear it becomes.” While the camps of believers and unbelievers fought on the subject of otherworldly phenomena, those became more pronounced in culture every year, becoming more and more popular and attractive from a commercial point of view.

The story of the supernatural, or How Halloween has become a holiday of evil

Assimilation of pop culture

The supernatural has become part of American culture – initially provocative. Noel Quard’s Broadway hit “Blithe Spirit” was put on stage and then filmed, and the TV show “Topper” appeared in the 50s. The widest audience was attracted by the TV series “My wife enchanted me”, aired since the mid-60s.

However, this was only a timid beginning – the theme gained the widest scope in the counterculture with its non-standard values. On the verge of a failure of faith in both science and religion, the supernatural had every chance of becoming super popular, which happened. Hollywood presented the films Rosemary’s Baby, Exorcist, and Omen to the heated public; temptingly frightening books by Stephen King appeared.

Gateways opened for a new – and highly profitable – entertainment genre. Well, today, in the post-era of the sensational “X-Files”, it seems that any TV show is somehow dedicated to the supernatural, both obviously fictional and “realistic”, mediums, psychics and ghostbusters usually flash on the screens.

New science

The turning point for the supernatural, which happened in the 70s, could be seen far beyond pop culture. The attention of people was attracted by the report of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell that he had a “peak experience” while in space, was impressed by Uri Geller’s ability to bend spoons by the power of thought – despite the fact that he could not demonstrate his supernormality on air on the Johnny Carson show .

And finally, largely thanks to a vote of confidence on the part of anthropologist Margaret Mead, parapsychology was adopted by the American Association for the Development of Science. It was an official recognition that the new field of knowledge is legal for the “big” science. Paranormal phenomena have come to be called “anomalies.” Today, universities have paranormal courses and there are always young minds interested in the subject.

The status has changed, and then financing of this area has increased, long-term incentives have appeared for investors, but they would receive real dividends after the appearance of the actual application for the science of paranormal. For example, the author of the article, Laurence Samuel, is ironic, psychic detectives would be a great example of how you can use the power of the supernatural: to find missing people, objects, or even oil or precious stones and metals.

Some businessmen used psychics and astrologers to get more profit, they helped them play in the stock market. The ghosts that once had to be feared quickly became a tourist attraction, which formed the basis of the popular entertaining concept of “haunted houses”. International interest in parapsychology was growing in the Soviet Union, which is not surprising given the traditional popular belief in the supernatural.

The story of the supernatural, or How Halloween has become a holiday of evil

New Age and the Supernatural

Like the counterculture, the New Age movement in the 80s turned out to be a powerful wave, on which the paranormal also rose. It has become even more fashionable. Opening up opportunities to look in a new way, to use intuition and creative parts of the brain, the supernatural now floated along the course of culture, and not against it.

Such a specious occupation as communicating with the dead survived rebranding, received the name “channeling” (from the English channel – “channel”) and offered millions of disappointed people a direct channel of connection with a higher power. The fact that the main face of the movement, actress Shirley MacLane, was smart, attractive, successful and talented, certainly did not harm the cause.

The propensity for self-irony and a sense of humor of the actress in the stories about her past lives and contact with aliens were as attractive as the sensational news that the conservative first lady of the United States Nancy Reagan was fond of astrology. Soon everyone began to compose astrological charts, visit psychics and carry crystals in their bags, and the position “well, what if it exists” led more and more sheep to the herd of believers.

In conspiracy with a UFO

In the late eighties, however, clouds thickened in the sky of the supernatural, as paranoia and conspiracy theological suspicions arose in people. After the end of the Cold War, it turned out that the enemy was inside, and it became obvious: the United States government is the last institution in the world you can trust.

From the innocuous phenomenon that they were in the 70s, anomalies and UFOs turned into part of the mass conspiracy of the government, chilling stories appeared with the abductions of people by aliens.

Inexhaustible possibilities

And despite all this, the last couple of decades has been fruitful for the supernatural. The Entertainment Society of the 90s laid the foundation for the supernatural to become the pillar of popular culture. A truly inexhaustible field with its inherent sharpness offers a wide range of creative opportunities in the media environment, where over the years it is becoming more and more difficult to attract the attention of viewers and readers.

In addition, now attempts to communicate with deceased relatives are fanned by a therapeutic aura. Of course, the development of the online universe has greatly expanded the possibilities for those who are interested in the supernatural. There are hundreds of subcultures on the Internet devoted to its various aspects. Despite constant progress in science and technology, the new century and the new millennium are still very friendly towards the paranormal.

Therefore, says Lawrence Samuel, we have no reason to believe that Halloween will ever disappear like a ghost.

Prepared by: Elena Sivkova
Photo Source: Getty images

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