Ghost Stories Thrive in a World of Skepticism

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Within the paranormal community, there are always going to be skeptics, but some of those skeptics actually err on the side of disbelievers—this is a good thing, it’s always better to have a healthy level of doubt in order to pursue evidence without any bias. There have been numerous theories to explain the paranormal phenomena that affect certain people, including but not limited to the natural phenomenon of sleep paralysis, sleep deprivation, drug use, temporal lobe epilepsy, and a psychotic state. This explanation states that ghosts are simply the result of hallucinations or illusions that are produced by the brain when it’s not in a fully alert state. So, what does this mean for the whopping 45% of Americans who believe in ghosts and other supernatural beings?

Evidence Collection in Paranormal Investigation

Something that is considered part of a range of scientific data collection and regularly used among those who are seeking to find evidence of the existence of ghosts, is the EVP, or electronic voice phenomena. EVPs utilize audio recordings to capture ambient sounds during an investigation, then are later reviewed for messages from the beyond. The general consensus is that these audio recordings can register sounds that are inaudible to the human ear, with the understanding that any voices or brief sounds being captured would be ghostly in nature. To believers, EVP recordings seem like incontrovertible evidence of communications from beyond. The problem with this is that, given the opportunity for bias, the content of a recording can be highly suggestive. Without any suggestion from peers, research shows that people cannot agree to what they hear in “conclusive” EVP recordings. This brings down the ability to rely upon recordings as evidence since there can be no clear consensus upon what it is really evidence of aside from pareidolia—the tendency to perceive human characteristics in meaningless perceptual patterns. Combining the illusory quality of EVPs, as well as the misuse of other scientific equipment to investigate ghosts, it’s not difficult to see how scientists can easily debunk any evidence that has been provided by amateur and professional paranormal investigators alike.

Hunting ghosts in the dark
Photography by LuckyLouie

Considering all of the scientific data to back the assertion that ghosts don’t exist, there are substantial numbers of people who still believe in them worldwide. The beginning of televised paranormal investigations has broadened that number significantly and opened up the ability to talk about paranormal subjects without too much blowback from skeptics. There are, however, tendencies to overdramatize events and investigations by some televised paranormal investigative teams—such people seem to be more oriented in the publicity and making events more fantastical than they truly are, which ends up leading to more skepticism instead of belief in the tangible evidence. What does this mean for the believability factor of investigative teams that are supposedly attempting to gather evidence while staying unbiased in the end result? It really means that any factual evidence that may be provided to give any credibility to the existence of ghosts or spirits. Unfortunately, some shows that continue to air are clearly for entertainment purposes only, such as Ghost Adventures, where any evidence being collected is presented with positive bias in favor of those who collected it. The problem with these shows is that they present themselves as true investigative paranormal teams but go to lengths to overdramatize everything they do. This is not to say that they don’t have their own basic value as entertainment alone, they just don’t possess merit as a source of proof when their evidence is bias-skewed EVP recordings.

Telling ghost stories around the bonfire
Photography by Kevin Wolf

So, if ghosts aren’t real, then why do ghost stories seem so common? Well—there are justifiable explanations for ghost stories, whether or not you believe in ghosts it’s pretty much the same answer. Ghost stories exist because people have always needed the ability to relate their real-life experiences. Whether the reports of ghosts have been a result of scientifically explained phenomena, or they’re actual occurrences, these experiences can be incredibly emotional. Were the original tellers of the tale communicating their experiences due to an incredibly heart-warming reunion with their beloved late spouse, or was it a frightening confrontation with a ghostly predator? These are stories that people ache to tell others as if to get a weight off of their chest, or to stop feeling so alone in their experiences. Human connection drives ghost stories and it doesn’t hurt that they’re an amazing source of entertainment.

Ghost, Demon, or Poltergeist?

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Silhouette Behind the Door
Photography by MontyLov

Haunted by Ghosts

As was discussed in our article Ghosts Can Be More Than Just Dead People, ghosts are generally the spirits of humans and animals that have passed away. What people assume or claim are ghosts are not necessarily fitting of their description, but it’s easy to understand why the whole thing might be a little bit confusing. The truth is, is that ghosts, demons, and poltergeists are often mislabeled and it, therefore, makes it more difficult to really know what kind of being the evidence acquired actually points to. Ghosts, spirits, and apparitions all point to the same thing—the spirit or soul of a human or animal that has passed on. These spirits haunt locations, objects, and most importantly other living creatures. Haunting living creatures is not to be confused with possessing living creatures, not to say they are unable to possess, but not all possessions are ghostly in nature—and this is an important distinction to be made.

Possessed by Demons

A lady screaming in the dark
Photography by Camila Quintero Franco

Another topic for confusion is how demons are perceived, this is unfortunate because much of the evidence for demons seems to simply be cases of malevolent ghosts and not entities that are truly demonic in nature. One such misinformed definition, from Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, is that demons are, “a type of spirit that may be either good or evil that allegedly has the ability to intervene in the affairs of humankind.” While it’s true that many cultures perceive some demonic entities to be good, the word spirit was a poor choice in attempting to define what a demon actually is.

Religious definitions, such as the one from Christianity, assert that demons are evil minions of Satan and that their sole purpose is to torment people, then inevitably lead them into sin. The strategic takeover of pagan cultures turned their deities into demons in Christianity. Other religions, however, suggest that demons can be good or evil entities—or indeed have a dual nature like human beings. Regardless of the nature of the entity, good or evil, demons quite often exercise their ability to possess or inhabit living creatures. There are instances reported where demons have possessed inanimate objects, but this can be chalked up to another case of a ghost that has been mislabeled as a demonic entity.

Terrorized by Poltergeists

Demons and poltergeists are also quite frequently confused for one another—the main reason for this is because Poltergeists are mischievous and often malicious spirits or energy. Ghosts and poltergeists also confused for each other, but poltergeists, in particular, are entities or energies identified by their consistent abilities to interact in a vigorous way with their environment. It would be unfair to say that poltergeists are not, in fact, a type of ghost or spirit, but if they are to be classified as ghosts in any sense, they are in a league of their own entirely.

The earliest reports of poltergeists tell of the different types of interactions they have within the environment that they inhabit. These interactions include, but were not limited to, throwing rocks or other objects, loud noises (such as shrieking, and knocking or rapping), inexplicable lights and apparitions, as well as in rare cases sexual assaults. Later cases would grow to include technology-related events, such as phone numbers being dialed repeatedly or televisions turning on. The speculation that remains with poltergeists relates to the scientific data that has been collected in pursuit of evidence of their existence—many cases of poltergeist activity have clear indications of mental problems within the agent (or the primary person being affected) that even support theories of psychokinesis.

Some examples of poltergeist activity caught on camera.

Hopefully, this helps answer an age-old question we often see: “What is the difference between a ghost, a demon, and a poltergeist?” Below are a few scary movie recommendations related to ghosts, demons, and poltergeists.

The Real Annabelle and Other Truly Haunted Dolls

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Horror Mystery and Lore
Close up view of a creepy dirty porcelain doll
Photography by Patrick Hendry

Any object can be haunted, but perhaps due to the fact that dolls are physically modeled to bear a resemblance to human beings, they have more of a proclivity to be vessels of spirit possession. According to Ghosts in Popular Culture and Legend, “haunted dolls are either possessed by malign, nonhuman entities or earthbound spirits—who are usually female—either children who died as a result of a horrific accident or women who are the victims of domestic violence. In both instances, prospective buyers are cautioned to treat the dolls with respect and to rehome them with another buyer if the object becomes too much to handle; destruction would free the spirit and either cause it distress or make it more dangerous.”

The Real Annabelle doll locked up in the Warren Occult Museum
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

An exception to the gender stereotype that plagues the haunted doll theory, is Robert the Enchanted Doll. This particular doll has been located in Key West, Florida since 1904 and is still on display in the Fort East Martello Museum. The original owner of Robert was a four-year-old boy named Robert Eugene Otto—Gene to his family—the doll was given to him by the family’s maid and activity started immediately after Gene came into possession of the doll. While the doll’s name is Robert, little is known about the spirit that haunts the doll, all is known are the stories that are told about its activity. During Gene’s childhood, Robert was frequently blamed for items being scattered across the home, as well as upturned furniture. As an adult, Gene maintained ownership of the doll, but knowing what it was capable of, he locked it in the turret of his home, where neighborhood children said they saw it staring at them from the windows, often changing places on its own.

It’s unclear as to why people still insist upon wanting to own spirit-possessed dolls, but what is clear is that it’s sure to be a trend that continues on for quite a while. One possible reason why these things continue to be items that are sought after is that there are a lot of would-be paranormal investigators who have little to no experience dealing with spirits in the first place. They get the idea that they can collect evidence and make it big if they come into ownership of a doll, simultaneously proving the existence of ghosts and the dolls they haunt, as well as making a name for themselves. Whatever their motivation, it feels like they lack the guidance to understand what they are getting themselves into and therefore are making decisions without knowing the full risks of their endeavors.

Annabelle the Doll: The Origins Documentary

The True Horror Story Behind Annabelle

Annabelle (2014) Trailer

Haunted dolls are considered a commodity in today’s culture, due to popular horror culture making them popular with horror films like The Conjuring (2013), Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), and the most recent horror movie Annabelle Comes Home (2019). People enjoy the fictional horror stories so intensely that they feel a connection to haunted objects without realizing the perils that can be attached to them. The story behind The Conjuring and Annabelle franchise though is actually more real than many people realize—sure the movies are amped up to create the thrills and adrenaline rush that people so desire, but these movies were based on true accounts of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Annabelle: Creation (2017) Trailer

The Warren’s Museum of the Occult contains more haunted and cursed objects than any other museum presently known, which serves as evidence of the paranormal and supernatural forces that are at work within this world. Although I have never been to the museum myself, it is said that the collection is dominated by dolls that are haunted or inhabited by evil spirits—the most well-known of which is actually the real Annabelle doll. There is a rather long and convoluted history about the doll and its origin, which is further convoluted by the fictional embellishments added to the movies.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) Trailer

What has been alleged is that the doll’s original owner consulted a medium who said the doll was actually inhabited by an evil spirit and not a ghost at all—which is when the Warrens took possession of it, had it exorcised, then locked it in a blessed cabinet to ward off any potential activity from starting at their own house. The whole story is spoken of in-depth in the book The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The real Annabelle is quite a bit different from her presence in the films, where she is portrayed as a fragile, yet incredibly creepy porcelain doll with exaggerated features. In reality, she is what seems to be a run of the mill Raggedy Ann doll, the same type that many of us girls owned as children, something that would seem soft, safe, and cuddly.

Dolls like Robert and Annabelle remain objects of scary stories and fascination for a lot of people across the world and while the idea of them definitely belongs to the public, the dolls belong in a place where they can be properly warded and kept away from unsuspecting bystanders.