Paranormal is a general term (coined ca. 1915–1920) that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena that are understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure. Paranormal phenomena are distinct from certain hypothetical entities, such as dark matter and dark energy, insofar as paranormal phenomena are inconsistent with the world as already understood through empirical observation coupled with scientific methodology.
Stories relating to paranormal phenomena are found in popular culture, folklore, and the recollections of individual subjects. In contrast, the scientific community, as referenced in statements made by organizations such as the United States National Science Foundation, maintains that scientific evidence does not support a variety of beliefs that have been characterized as paranormal.
The world is full of events that stretch the boundaries of scientific beliefs. From fish falling from the sky and strange animals dubbed “chupacabras” attacking livestock in Central America to reports of UFOs and spontaneous human combustion. Numerous phenomena are clumped together and labeled paranormal phenomena. For this investigation 11 phenomena were chosen. These phenomena were aliens, angels, Bigfoot, cattle mutilations, crop circles, ESP, ghosts, Loch Ness Monster, out of body experiences, near death experiences, and UFOs. These phenomena were chosen on the basis of recognition among the general public, and the possibility that they may had had a personal experience with the phenomena.
Angels are believed to be pure spirits created by God. They are considered to be immortal beings that serve as intermediaries between God and humans. The term angels is derived from the Latin angelus and the Greek angelos meaning messengers (Spencer&Spencer,1999). A 1996 Gallup poll found that 72% of Americans believe in angels(Gallup, 1996). The Bible tells of Elohim, who are mysterious beings who occasionally interact with humans. These beings are said to ride cloud ships and harness incredible powers(Randles, 1994). The purpose of angels is believed to assist humans in times of difficulty or need. However angels do not exclusively appear in Jewish and Christian faiths. The Islamic faith tells of Jabril and Mikail, and Azrail, the angel of death(Spencer&Spencer,1999).
The Old Testament tells of Jacob seeing a ladder reach down from the heavens, that provided a passage for God’s angels. The Jewish belief states that God seldom spoke with his followers directly, thus necessitating the need for angel intermediaries. Joseph encountered an angel during a dream where the angel offered guidance about Mary’s pregnancy(Spencer&Spencer,1999). Researchers believe that it is extremely unlikely for a person to have more than one encounter with an angel during their lifetime(Randels, 1996). Many people claim to have had a divine inspiration in their life. This inspiration may have come in the form of music, art, or writing(Carlson, 1997). In the Roman Catholic Church, prayers are guided to Mary who acts as a go between for God. Angels are often depicted as taking human form in historical paintings. It appears that wings were added to angels in order to explain their ability to fly(Spencer&Spencer,1999).
Hope Price, the wife of a British clergyman, took out an ad asking for personal experiences with angels and received over 1500 responses from readers. It is noted that in times of extreme disarray such as war or poverty, angels are more often reported(Randles, 1996). Many people believe that angels have intervened in their lives in order to save their life, or to add some benefit to it.
Skeptics claim angels are nothing more than hallucinations brought on by religious dogma. Other researchers note the similarities between angels and ghost sightings, stating that one may be confused for the other, and visa versa.
Perhaps the most widely known and evasive creature in North America is Bigfoot. Bigfoot is known by numerous names throughout the world. In Canada the natives refer to it as Sasquach, which translates into wild man of the woods. The people of Australia refer to it as Yowie. The Chinese named it the Yeti or when sighted in the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal, and Tibet it is called the Abominable Snowman (Wilson, 2000). The Sherpa guides of Nepal call the creature Metoh-kangi(Time- Life, 1997). In Northern California the Huppa tribe call it Oh-man-ah. In the Cascades it is known as Seeahtiks( Wilson, 2000). Brazilians sporadically spot the Mapinguary, and Argentineans occasionally see the Ucumar (George, 1995). However, when any name is attached to the being, the descriptions of the being remain the same. The creature is believed to be seven to ten feet in height with a weight between 300- 900 pounds (Blackman, 1998). The footprints left behind range in size from 12-22 inches in length and vary from 7-9 inches in width(Clark, 1993). The creature has also left behind hair and feces samples that cannot be matched to any known animal. The creature is bipedal, and is most often described as being covered in reddish- brown or auburn hair, yet black, beige, white and silver hairs have been reported (Napier, 1973). The creature is described as having broad shoulders, a lack of a neck, a flat face and nose, a sloped forehead, and pronounced eyebrow ridges (Green, 1973).
Although it is impossible to calculate the total number of Bigfoot sightings throughout history, there have been over three thousand documented cases in recorded history (Spencer, 1999). The belief in Bigfoot also has a historic past. Stone sculptures that depict an apelike creature were discovered near the Columbia River of Oregon, and date back to 1500 B.C. (George, 1995) One of earliest modern sightings came during the 1500’s when on a trip to Africa, an English adventurer named Andrew Battle saw a giant man with nappy hair coving his full body (Heuvelmans, 1959). The belief in Bigfoot in the United States dates back prior to the arrival of the early settlers during the 1700’s. The Native American people tell tales depicting “hairy giants” that have the ability to change their shape or form at will (Blackman, 1998). The Algonkian Indians of the northern forests referred to the creature as the Witiko or Wendigo. These Witikos were believed to be cannibalistic giants with supernatural powers (Clark &Pear, 1997). Many Native American tribes even speculate that Bigfoot creatures are banished medicine men that now live underground (O’Brien, 1999). The Coast Salish of southern British Columbia termed the creature “Sasquatch” in the Halkomelem language. According to Salish legend, a human may go crazy, pass out, or lose their soul by the magic of a Sasquatch (George, 1995).
The first documented report of a Bigfoot footprint dates back to 1811. The well-known explorer, David Thompson was traveling the Rockies towards the mouth of the Columbia River, which is now Jasper, Alberta. It was there he discovered a footprint 14 inches long and 8 inches wide, with four toes with claw marks on each foot. The explanation of a bear was ruled out due to the fact that a bear has five toes on its foot (Wilson& Wilson 2000).
During the mid 1800’s a plethora of Bigfoot sightings came into the forefront of the mainstream media. The first occurred in 1832, with a report by B.H. Hodgson, a British Resident at the Court of Nepal. Hodgson reported that native hunters were frightened by a wild man covered in long dark hair (Wilson & Wilson 2000). Another Bigfoot sighting occurred in1851, when two hunters in Greene County, Arkansas spotted a man-beast “of gigantic stature, the body being covered with hair.” The footprints of the creature measured 13 inches (Spencer&Spencer, 1999). A remarkable story appeared in a newspaper in Victoria, British Columbia dated July 4th, 1884. The story reported that a train crew captured a short, long-armed, manlike creature. The creature was named Jacko, and it is believed that Jacko escaped and disappeared, as his whereabouts was never found (Time-Life, 1997). In 1871 seventeen-year-old Seraphine Long claimed that a male Bigfoot had abducted her from her village. According to her report Seraphine was held captive by the creature until she was able to escape, several weeks later (Blackman, 1998). Former president Theodore Roosevelt wrote about Bigfoot in his book, the Wilderness Hunter published in 1893. Roosevelt wrote that an old mountain hunter named Bauman told him, that while on a trip to the Wisdom River he encountered a great hairy body and a wild-beast odor (Roosevelt, 1893). Roosevelt himself had no similar experiences during his years in the west, yet he did not dismiss this story as being untrue (Roosevelt, 1893).
The belief in Bigfoot continued to increase during the 1900’s along with the reports. In 1901, a British Columbia newspaper, the Colonist, related the experience of Mike King who was a lumberman working near Campbell River. King was forced to work by himself due to his co-workers fear in the “monkey man” that was believed to live in the forest. One afternoon, King saw a man beast covered in reddish brown hair washing roots in the river. When the beast noticed the presence of King, it cried out and scurried away into the surrounding woods (Clark& Pear, 1997). Three years later, in 1904 the Colonist again reported another Bigfoot sighting. This time it reported of an American Indian Village that had been abandoned for fear of the “monkey-like wild man” who howled in an unearthly fashion at night and scavenged through the village (Clark & Pear, 1997).
One of the most remarkable Bigfoot cases happened to a British Columbia man in 1924. Albert Ostman came forward 33 years later in 1957 to tell his story.
Extra sensory perception(ESP)is the belief that certain people possess the awareness of an external state outside of the ordinary five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste. These people are able to acquire information without using their five senses.During a live television program, famed psychic Uri Geller, who later was accused of fraud, placed one Zener card in a sealed envelope and asked the viewers to call in with the one card that he was projecting to the audience. Over 70,000 people phoned in and the right answer was guessed 48 percent of the time, compared to the 20 percent that would be expected(Randles, 1996).
Several interesting conclusions have been made about ESP after thousands of experiments. First, when using the Zener cards, several people were able to obtain scores that cannot be attributed to chance. Subjects who obtain high scores on one test, may not do well on another test. The more times subjects are tested, the lower their score usually goes. When using machines to test the subjects, scores are dramatically decreased. Some subjects are able to produce high scores on one type of test, but are unable to repeat it on a different test(Williams, 2000). Individuals who are open to the possibility of ESP being real, often scored higher than those who were not considered open to the possibility of ESP. The lack of replication studies hold this field of study back from scientific acceptance.
The belief in ghosts, also known as apparitions, spirits, spooks, shades, wraiths, specters, phantoms, poltergeists, visions, and nightshades dates back to the beginning of human existence. Numerous cultures and peoples throughout time have shared the belief that the human soul continues on after the death of the body. Their beliefs included the ability of these spirits to return to this plane and interact with the living. One of the first written ghost stories occurred in 1450 B.C, where a tablet at Giza tells of a young Prince Thutme’s encounter with a ghost. The prince encountered a ghost who requested that he clear sand from the rest of the previously unknown sphinx (Stander & Schmolling, 1996). The people of Assyria and Babylonia believed there were three classifications of spirits. The first were disembodied souls with devious intentions. The second type of spirits possessed the duality of being half human and half demon and were not to be trusted. The last type of spirits were devils who caused plagues and despair among humans( Stander & Schmolling, 1996). Greek poet Homer wrote of ghosts and spirits during the 8th century B.C. when he described ghosts as “passive and benign spirits”(Ogden, 1999). These writings helped to shift the perception of spirits to kinder, more helpful beings. In 540 B.C., the ancient Greeks devised a device that resembles today’s Ouija board in order to communicate with those souls occupying the spirit level.
It was during the time of Greek philosopher Plato(427-347 B.C.) that the perception of ghosts again shifted back from benign, passive spirits, to spirits that were deemed harmful. Plato warned against the viewing of the souls of those who had not parted this world in pure form(Ogden, 1999). This time period also included the belief that spirits possessed the powers to hurt or kill the living, and those who died too early or of a violent death were considered extremely dangerous. The Romans also followed this trend, and proceeded to bury their loved ones along the roads leading away from their towns and cities. In addition to removing their dead bodies, the Romans performed numerous ceremonies on those who had done evil deeds to dissuade them from returning to the living(Stander& Schmolling, 1996). Both ancient Rome and Greece participated in the festivals of the dead. The festival lasted several days in which shops would close, temples would shut down, and social activities were postponed. Residents smeared their doors with pitch and chewed whitehorn in order to ward off spirits.
Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C. – A.D. 18) wrote of a spirit that had returned to name the man who murdered him. Greek biographer Plutarch wrote of the hauntings of the baths of Chaeronea, by a ghost who had been murdered there(Ogden, 1999). Belief in spirits continued throughout the years until the 12th century, when with the end of the middle ages came the Christian belief in purgatory. Purgatory was confirmed by the Catholic Church at the council of Trent during1545-1563. Purgatory was believed to be the place between heaven and hell that spirits went for punishment for their sins. During this same time period, numerous people reported being attacked by evil spirits referred to as incubi and succubi. This caused such alarm that Pope Innocent the eighth reasoned that those who were attacked by these spirits had lost their faith in the church(Stander&Schmolling, 1996).
In the 1570’s –1580’s N. Taillepied, a Capuchin monk claimed that satanic spirits could inhabit the bodies of the deceased, turning the dead into demon spirits(Odgen, 1999). One such case was believed to have occurred in 1585, where Irish ghost folklore tells of the Earl of Kildare dying in London. It is said the Earl returned to Kilkea Castle before moving on to the haunted wing of the castle named Rath of Mullaghmast to wreak havoc on guests (Seymour & Neligan, 1998).
Ghost sightings are not reserved for human beings. The ghosts of animals have also been reported. One of the first reported cases comes from London in 1626. The philosopher Francis Bacon purchased a chicken and had it de-feathered and killed. Hours after having the bird put to death Bacon himself collapsed and died a few days later. The chicken, stripped of its feathers was frequently spotted running around Pond Square (Underwood, 1973). In 1642, Wallstown Castle was burnt down by Cromwellian troops. One of the victims was Henry Bennett, who died defending the castle. For several years many witnesses spotted Henry’s ghost wandering around the castle stopping travelers (Seymour & Neligan, 1998).
During the 1800’s the spiritualist movement received marked popularity. The spiritualist movement believed that the soul of the living that passed on with the death of the body could be contacted by those living. The beginning of the spiritualist movement has been traced back to Hydesville, New York(Taylor,2001). It was here in 1848 that two sisters, Margaret and Kate Fox, claimed they could communicate with the dead through a series of knockings, which the family was experiencing. By rapping on the table with a certain number of knocks, the spirits could reply to the questions with corresponding knocks on the walls. The sisters spent much of 1849 giving public demonstrations of their unique abilities. These demonstrations attracted thousands of people from all walks of life(Taylor, 2001). Many committees were placed next to the stage to try to locate any suspicious behavior, however no activity was ever reported.
One main technique for contacting the deceased was through the use of a séance. A séance consisted of several people gathered around a table trying to make contact with the deceased. Often someone would communicate with the spirit through knocks on the table, psychic connection, or an ouija board. This procedure gave rise to a group of people that claimed the spirits could communicate through them. These people were known as mediums, and attracted numerous people to them in order for the chance to “hear” from a deceased loved one. However many mediums of the day were exposed as fakes and frauds. Fraudulent mediums used many tricks to fool their audiences. These tricks included tying a hook to their pants and then attaching it to the table, which in turn would make the table rise while their hands were freely seen. The room in which the séance was conducted in was relatively dark which allowed for much trickery.
Even though public speculation was growing increasingly negative towards mediums, a new branch of investigators came forward to donate their expertise. This sparked the rise of legitimate ghost investigations. One of the most respected chemists of his time, William Crookes, took the unwanted challenge of investigating the home of the famous medium Daniel Douglas Home. Even Crookes became convinced with Home’s ability to contact the deceased. Douglas wrote a paper on Homes with the intention of having it published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. The paper was refused by the Society, but with much personal persuasion the paper was published in the Quarterly Journal of Science(Taylor, 2001). Following the publication of his paper, both Crookes and his research were discredited. It wasn’t until 1882, when the Society for Psychical Research(SPR) was founded that ghost investigation received some worldwide creditability. Researchers such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Carl Jung, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contributed their expertise to the Society. Researchers from the SPR would collect eyewitness testimony and try to explain the case away with normal explanations. Many of their cases could not be easily disregarded, and in 1982 the SPR published a series of reports of ghost investigations dating back 100 years(George, 1995).
The 20th century also saw a marked increase in reports of ghostly activity. During this time, thousands of ghost reports came flooding into researchers. The demand was so great that many researchers had to weed out cases which they deemed explainable before any investigation took place.. Famous magician Harry Houdini who had been a strong believer in the afterlife, had set out to expose every fraudulent medium that tarnished the movement. During the 1930’s, a girl’s school in New York claimed it was haunted by the ghost of a nun. This ghost was spotted several times by the school nurse and the headmaster of the school. In 1953, in Greenwich Village the house sitting on 10th street was rumored to be haunted. The ghost seemed to be that of artist John La Farge who had died in 1910. Many people from the house had witnessed this ghost and ghostly activity. During the 1970’s several high profile cases of hauntings received worldwide attention.
Today, thousands of reports of ghosts and ghostly behavior still flourish. More and more researchers are using their expertise in the effort to explain this phenomenon. The field of ghost study has dramatically improved over the last 200 years. Researchers believe there are several types of ghost phenomena. First, a ghost is considered to be the soul of a deceased person, while an apparition can be any type of sighted ghostly phenomena. A ghost can be an apparition, but an apparition may not be a ghost. Strange fogs, balls of lights, and strange mist may all be apparitions(Ogden, 1999). There is the rare intelligent haunting in which a sighting of a ghost does occur and there may even be interaction between the ghost and the witness. The ghost is believed to be of intelligent control. The ghosts may be trapped in this dimension and may even be unaware that they have departed their former lives. The second type of ghost sighting is the residual haunting, where it is theorized that the energy of a moment of time is recorded in the environment and when someone comes by on that same “frequency” that moment is then played back(Taylor, 2001). Many ghosts that appear to be repeating the same thing over and over, without noticing any other people in the area, are said to be a residual ghost. The next type of haunting is the poltergeist haunting. Poltergeist, which mean noisy ghosts often, evolve around several principles. First, there is no visual appearance of a ghost or apparition. The phenomena typically consists of strange noises and objects that are moved about, without any known cause. The phenomena also seems to be present when a adolescent female is involved. One theory explains that girls who are of adolescent age are going through a very stressful time in their lives, which releases psychic energy that could move objects without their knowledge This theory is known as psychokinesis and is believed to be responsible for many poltergeist cases. One new theory of ghost cases, reports that ghosts are traveling through various portals. This theory speculates that there are numerous portals around the world that allow for the transfer of spirit beings to come into our dimension. The idea that these portals are near cemeteries sounds a bit far fetched to many researchers, thus making this theory one of the least respected in the field. One final main theory states that ghosts are the last vision of a person before they pass on to the afterlife. Many reports contain sightings of relative’s moments before the news of their death reaches the witness. Similar events appear to happen in times of extreme crisis (Taylor, 2001). Other investigators suggest ghosts are nothing more than an over stimulated imagination, spawned by the mass media. The belief that ghosts are hallucinations also fall into this category.
The scientific equipment that is used by today’s investigators has also dramatically improved during the last few decades. A list of items needed for a 1930’s ghost investigation contained a measuring tape, matches and candles, a notebook, and a camera. Today researchers are equipped with motion detectors, thermo cameras, night vision, electro magnetic field detectors, video cameras, and digital recorders among many other scientific pieces of equipment. However, as investigators close in scientifically, the mystery still continues as to what people are experiencing when they say they witnessed a ghost.