Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ghosts, and vampires, and were-weasels (oh my!)

Halloween, of course, always brings out our deeply buried, most primitive fears.  With its millenium-old history of development from the Celtic festival of Samhain, the time of year when the natural rules that governed the world were overturned and the spirits of evil roamed free, Halloween appeals to the part of all of us that loves a good scare.

It also appeals to the part of all of us that believes in outlandish crap.

Witness the South Jersey Ghost Research Group.  (Visit their website here.)  This group states, as its primary mission, "using the latest scientific methods" to "conduct discreet investigations, assist people in need, educate the public, conduct field research, and promote the learning and understanding of ghosts and other psychic phenomena."  It also, apparently, is an official 501(3)(c) tax-exempt non-profit.  In their link "Ghosthunting 101," they give a few important tips, including scouting the place in the daylight (so as to avoid obstacles you might not see in the dark), bringing along a photo ID (for when you're stopped by the police), and advising that the hours between 9 PM and 6 AM are the "psychic hours" and therefore are the best for ghost hunting, and especially, for taking photos.

This is one of the many things about ghost hunting I've never understood.  Why would being dead mean that you'd only walk around at night?  It seems to me that if you were a ghost, it wouldn't matter.  The two reasons you hear of why ghosts walk at a place is because they've got a message to deliver to their relatives and friends, or because they have some level of ill will toward people who are still living.  Either way, wouldn't it be more effective to appear in broad daylight, when there are lots of people around?  I know that's what I would do, if I were a ghost.

Of course, when talking about Halloween-related themes, we mustn't forget the Church of Bio-Energy Vampirism (here).  They are, according to their mission statement, "not an affiliated religious organization" (and here I would recommend that they grab a Webster's and look up the definition of the word "church"), and "do not honor the portrayal of vampirism in the romantic and power-driven films made by the movie industry."  (From this, I'm concluding that if you attend one of their meetings, you shouldn't say, "Hey!  Why aren't any of you people SPARKLING?")  They believe that you can draw psychic energy from others, with or without the actual removal and consumption of blood, in order to boost your own psychic energy levels, but that "forceful psychic attacks" on others are "completely unacceptable."

My favorite page on the website for the Church of Bio-Energy Vampirism is the one that is called, "How Can I Tell If I'm a Real Vampire?"  Myself, I wouldn't have thought it was that hard,  given the whole sharp teeth, drinking blood, and sleeping in a coffin thing, but apparently, you can "never be 100% positive" because "there is no test for vampirism."  It then goes on to recommend seeing a doctor "to rule out other possibilities, such as cancer or a slight vitamin deficiency" before concluding that you are, indeed, a vampire. 

You will at this point think that either (1) I am making this up, or (2) that this is a spoof site.  Tragically, neither is true.  I think these people are serious.

Also serious is this site, All About Werewolves (here).  I was particularly interested in the page on "How to Become a Werewolf," wherein it lists a variety of ways, including making a pact with the devil, being cursed, being bitten by a werewolf, or "eating lycanthropous flowers."  (I was hoping that the site would tell you the actual kind of flower, so I could try it out, but all it says is that it is a white flower that "grows in swamps in the Balkans" and "has the sickly smell of death."  I'm curious about this, but not curious enough to go wading around in some godforsaken marsh in Bulgaria.)  I was also interested to find out that not everyone becomes a wolf; there are also "werecats."  (Why stop there, I wonder?  Could we have wereweasels?  Werewombats?  Werepandas?)

In any case, I hasten to state that despite my skeptical attitude, I rather enjoy this time of year, and the whole costuming thing, and (especially) the scary aspects of it.  But here's to hoping that we all keep a firm grip on our prefrontal cortices tonight, and remember that it's all fun and games until someone actually starts believing it's real.  That said, I'll end by wishing you all a spooky and fun-filled Halloween.

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