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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wanted: One object, haunted

There's something fundamentally irreconcilable about the materialist view of the world and the spiritualist view of the world, and this is summed up in how the exponents of these two schools of thought tend to view each other.  Spiritualists see materialists as hopelessly dull, missing out on the true wonder of the supernatural nature of everything; materialists, on the other hand, view spiritualists as making stuff up.

Guess which one I am.

I've never understood the criticism of my philosophical stance as dull.  For me, the science of how matter actually works is awe-inspiring enough.  But for spiritualists, apparently, that isn't sufficient.  I suspect a good many of them don't ever bother to learn the science, so it's no wonder they feel the need for something more.  This also explains their consistent misuse of words like "quantum" and "energy," a phenomenon I've commented upon approximately 485 times in this blog.

It also seems to be why they want to imbue inanimate objects with a spiritual nature.  Thus the recent upsurge in interest in "haunted objects."

The FSPP (Foundation for the Study of Paranormal Phenomena) has an informative article on the subject, even though in my opinion it falls clearly into the "making stuff up" category.  The author explains that objects may become haunted by a spirit of a dead person because the object was important to the individual when (s)he was alive, was present when (s)he died, or "for other unknown reasons."  But should that make you nervous about buying an antique?
Absolutely not. I personally love old things, be they furniture or trinkets. There is something about holding something that has been around much longer than I have. You can almost feel a powerful energy when you touch something old. What you are feeling is the vibrations of the object or of the person that owned it. Psychometry is the ability to interpret those vibrations. Unfortunately, I do not possess that particular gift to any usable degree. Even so, I still love old things and I would never abstain from buying something I liked simply out of the fear that a deceased someone may come with the object. Let common sense rule here.
My feeling is that if common sense ruled, you wouldn't believe in haunted objects in the first place.

Despite that, there are still many accounts of haunted objects.  One of the most famous is "Robert the Doll," a three-foot-tall straw doll given to a boy named Gene Otto some time around 1900 who is so renowned that he actually has his own website.  The doll supposedly had been cursed by one of the Otto family employees because of their mistreatment of her, and it proceeded to terrorize the family.  One has to wonder why no one thought of the simple expedient of destroying it, but apparently no one did, and Gene Otto kept the doll into adulthood, but did lock it in the attic once he got married.  There it remained until Otto died and a new family bought the house, discovered the doll, and it started to terrify their daughter.  ''Robert the Doll" is now housed at the Key West Martello Museum, where according to accounts it still "frightens visitors by changing expressions and shifting positions within seconds, and giggling maniacally."

Amazing what the power of suggestion will do, isn't it?  If the evidence was as clear cut as all that, we'd have an instant winner of the James Randi Million-Dollar Challenge.

We also have the story, related on the site "Wee Ghosties," of a "friend of the author" who bought a painting at an estate sale.  The painting's subject is nothing special -- a "red and blue abstract."  But as soon as the painting was hung in the friend's house, odd things started happening, including a spot on the bed depressing as if someone was sitting there, the television turning on and off spontaneously, and objects disappearing and reappearing.  The author concludes, "He bought a ghost along with his artwork."  The whole thing sounds vaguely fishy to me, the sort of thing that you almost always hear third or fourth hand -- "this happened to my mother's first cousin's husband's sister's gardener."  And once again, we have to wonder why, if things were this creepy, with invisible butts sitting on the bed and all, the guy didn't just give the painting to the Salvation Army or something.

Because, after all, there are options.  And if the "burn it" or "give it to a thrift store" choices don't appeal, there's always "Carnivalia's Asylum for Haunted Objects and Wayward Ghosts."  These folks, so the website says, "are dedicated to providing a safe space for all spiritually inhabited objects. If you have an object that you believe is haunted, or cursed, or simply unfetching, we seek to provide it with a good home."  They go on to say that they don't just care about the object, however:  "We will do our best to find a good home for your haunted object, and will work towards leading any spirits attached to it towards their final destination into the light."

From other parts of their webpage, you have to wonder if these people are entirely serious, though:  "We are not that picky, really, and will likely accept the following haunted objects: thingamajigs, doodads, gizmos, whatsits, thingumabobs, widgets, jiggers.  However, our standards prevent us from accepting possessed doohickeys, and we would appreciate you not asking us to do so."

So, okay.  Once again, we have that central problem, which is that we have a group of people who want to ascribe spiritual properties to plain old inanimate objects, resulting in further accusations from us materialists that they're just making stuff up.  And the result, of course, is that I would love to own a haunted object, and obtain first-hand data (or, more likely, not) about what its spirit companion can do.  So I'll match Carnivalia's offer from the website linked above; if anyone has a haunted object and would like to get rid of it, I'd be glad to take it off your hands.  I'll report back here of any disappearing objects, electrical appliance malfunctions, or mysterious ass-divots appearing on beds.  You'll be the first to know.


  1. I'm very much a materialist, I think the material universe is wondrous enough for me. Perhaps people who think there is "more than this life" should explore their life more thoroughly?

  2. My favorite part of this story is that Robert the Doll has his own email address. I'm curious; does someone read him the emails or does he have a smartphone in his glass case? Or maybe he reads them through the psychic energies that emanate from the quantum properties of the digital world. Maybe he's reading this right now and cursing the stapler on my desk. I'm not afraid to get rid of my stapler, Robert.

  3. Robert The Doll seems to be a good sales gimmick concocted by a good materialist to get good money from good unsanes.