Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Psychology of the Paranormal Explosion


All you have to do is turn on the television to realize that interest in the paranormal has exploded recently. The names of the televisions shows that are dedicated only to the paranormal have gone from the solitary few to one on ever channel.  There are Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and The Haunted.  The list goes on and on and the trend does not stop or start with the television.  People have suddenly become interested in the paranormal.  Elizabeth Parker of Haunted America describes this trend by saying that just a few years ago she would go out looking for information on hauntings and people would "laugh, smirk, call me crazy or quietly move closer and tell me in a lowered voice usually reserved for discussing nasty medical conditions that they had had an experience."   She says that now people are excited to tell her and she is overwhelmed by stories and interest.  

The question then becomes, what has caused this incredible increase in fascination with the paranormal?  I look to history to answer this question.   There have been many periods in history before this that have had  increases in spiritualism and religiousity.   The last period that had this kind of explosion in interest in the supernatural was the period around World War I.  During that time, spiritualism was embraced and became a normal part of popular culture to the point where the celebrities of the day, Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became part of the movement.  

The psychology that unites that period and our period now is the psychology of instability and radical change.  During the last explosion in interest in the paranormal,  people witnessed World War I, the great depression, The Swine Flu, and radical social and political upheval.    Their world was no longer stable or safe so they turned their hopes to another world.  They turned their hopes to the world of supernatural.   Similarly, the last ten years in our culture have seen war, recession, natural disasters, and cultural instability.   We have lost our faith in a safe world that makes sense.   In this period of instability, we have also turned our hopes to life after death and put our faith in the paranormal and supernatural. 

These two periods are not the only periods in history that have seen these trends.  Following the periods of  black death there were massive upsurges in religiousity and spiritualism. The consequences of this resulted in the massive witch hunts that plagued these times as women and men turned to non traditional faith to make sense of their insane world and the religious majority became markedly more religious. the terrible uniting of these two factors created a climate in which those that had embraced non tradition faith could be easily persecuted by the now even more hyper religious. 

Another thing all these periods of instability and increased interest in the supernatural share is that they all come to an end.  Stability will return and people will again let go of their need to embrace the supernatural.  Inevitably, the tide will turn and interest in ghosts and the supernatural will fade, leaving behind them only the rare few that have always been interested.

3 comments:

Autumnforest said...

Great observation! I remember one history teaching telling us how things go in certain trends. When economic times are good, women wear shorter skirts and hair and are more assertive like the 1920s before the crash and the 1980s. The 1970s recession we were earth-friendly, flowing hair, soft clothing, and spirituality and ghost movies and disaster movies. We're back in that trend again. It seems like the times either make us self-absorbed and dismissive or friendly and gentle. I hope ghost hunting doesn't go underground again. It was miserable before "Ghost Hunters" show when I would be inquiring about the history and ghosts of a place. Even I thought I sounded like a quack.

Courtney Mroch said...

I see a lot of similarities between now and The Gilded Age. Not just in the paranormal stuff but in big companies, mega wealth, people seeking a better life, other issues...I'm tired now and my words have left me, but I agree tat eventually the paranormal will die down leaving those of us who've always liked it. Or, maybe, history will not repeat itself...(likely it will, but I keep hoping it won't.)

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