From ghoulies and ghosties / And long-leggedy beasties / And things that go bump in the night, / Good Lord, deliver us!
-- Traditional Scottish Prayer
Everything looks different by candlelight. Or gaslight. Softer, less defined, less focused, more diffused. Everything sounds different, too. The rattle of carriage wheels, the moan of the wind, the rustle of leaves in a deserted graveyard. It's easier to peer into the realms of the supernatural and hear the hushed voices of ghosts and spirits speaking to you from beyond the veil of death.
It was easier to believe that both magic and love were real and not illusions.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the modern world. Science and technology have in many ways changed things for the better, like indoor plumbing and antibiotics and cars and cellphones. But sometimes, I wonder what it must have been like a century or so ago when everything was less cut and dried and there was more room for magic and mystery. We were more willing to believe that something that went bump in the night might be a ghost, not just the cat or a leaky water pipe.
What changed? When did we get so skeptical? Why does our modern culture demand that every mystery have a rational, scientific explanation? Why do we fear the supernatural so much?
I think a lot of it is our illusion of control over our reality. We insist that everything must conform to our preferences and convenience. The problem is that some things don’t. This is especially true about the things we call supernatural, like ghosts and psychic phenomena. They are unpredictable, and therefore, uncontrollable. This is why so much so-called scientific research into psychism falls flat. The ghosts and psychic phenomena have will and volition of their own. They show up when they wish to, not when the people in the white coats want them to.
And that is what I think frightens us so much about these mysterious things. They are not only real but completely out of our control.
But why should they frighten us? Do they really harm us or do they just demand that we reconsider our assumptions about what is real and what isn’t. And if what we call real isn’t, then what is? Maybe it’s because we want the supernatural to be real so badly that we don’t want to find out that it isn’t.
This is a secret that few people like to talk about but that everybody feels at one point or another in their lives. We want to believe that someone that we love who has died is still alive in some spiritual realm and can communicate with us if they wish. We want to feel that there are benevolent beings out there that we can’t see but are watching over us when we get into a tight spot. We want to know that true love really does exist out there somewhere and, like the touch of a ghostly hand or the whisper of an angelic voice, it will make itself known to us when we least expect it.
It is this longing that ultimately both frightens and attracts us.
So, we read stories about these mysterious and wonderful things. And we write stories for other people to read. Both reading them and writing them convince us that they are real.