I survived the Bermuda Triangle

Finding the weird and wonderful in Bermuda

Cross one item off my bucket list for 2022: I visited Bermuda on a family holiday. Unsurprisingly, when I visit new places, I look for spooky things and natural wonders. So this post will mainly be about the unusual aspects of the tiny island country.

Bermuda is definitely another world from what I’m used to. Island life is relaxed – no highways, lots of greenery, very friendly people, colorful buildings, interesting geology, incredible ocean views, and an unnaturally (to me) unconcerned concept of time and schedules (which is something to be aware of if you in a hurry or are traveling by public bus transportation). 

Bermuda is a fishhook-shaped archipelago that sits on a platform with a limestone cap and a volcanic basement.

We stayed in St. George’s parish (a UNESCO World Heritage site), which is the northernmost point of a generally SW-NE trending fishhook-shaped series of islands interspersed with harbors, bays, and sounds. Except for a few main streets, many travel ways are narrow alleys, sometimes not navigable by anything larger than a mini car. It is not a pedestrian or bike-friendly place and the cost of most consumables is exceedingly high because of the necessity of imports. But it is unique in that way.

The Isle of the Devil

Bermuda’s official “founding” year is 1609. It had no native human population. It was named in honor of Spanish ship captain Juan de Bermudez who “discovered” it by accident in 1505. The island group called La Bermuda or “the Bermudas” was feared by sailors supposedly for the stormy seas, dangerous reefs, deadly rocks, deep water-filled holes and caves, and the eerie sounds whipped by the wind, earning it the name Devil’s Isle. The island was home to huge flocks of native petrels called cahow (Pterodroma cahow). The birds’ sad and spooky sound may have frightened the crews. The island had also been stocked with squealing pigs by previous seafarers. It’s unclear how true the stories are about the evil sounds emanating from the land but they are ingrained in the lore of the island now. 

The offshore area is riddled with shipwrecks because of the shallow rocks.

Bermuda had a negative reputation with sailors. From an exhibit at Bermuda National Museum.

Sound of the Bermuda Petrol (now endangered)

The location of the island was strategic for the new American colony. Military forts are ubiquitous across the country. There are some 90 forts in various states of preservation/decay. Some are maintained and can be toured. Others are overgrown or partially destroyed (such as Fort Victoria, which made way for now-demolished hotels). The fort areas are definitely creepy with their silent cannons, rusty doors, and enclosed spaces. Surprisingly, there is no promotion of these historic sites as “haunted”. In fact, there is only one ghost tour that I noted on the island and it was in St. Georges, the oldest established town. It was not operating in December.

Rocks and caves

Limestone “pavement” is formed from the natural fracturing of the rock. The Checkerboard, Spittal Pond

Natural caves abound on the island. Bermuda is capped with limestone rock. The streets are cut into it, and the houses are built upon it. The base of most walls is original limestone with subsequent cut blocks placed on top. The beaches are mostly rocky and very rugged. You can easily get injured or killed on very sharp rocks if not careful. There are almost no safety features like you would expect to find in the US. We discovered this firsthand on a trip to Blue Hole park, a nature area riddled with caves. The openings are not blocked. You can walk right in, and we did. If you get trapped by the tide on an enclosed beach or cave, things could get scary.

One dry cave allowed us to walk right through with the help of a keychain flashlight and phone light. Upon exiting, we realized we’d completely lost our sense of location and had been turned around in the short cave system. Luckily the path was close by. Caves with water often contained fish. But they were also slightly more cloudy than the protected Crystal Cave nearby. Clearly, pollution and vandalism have taken a toll on the natural areas. 

No one was swimming at the Blue Hole when we visited there; swimming in the caves and holes isn’t encouraged. We did visit Crystal Cave. The guide, who was an EMT, told us that Bermuda has a deficit of emergency personnel. So, if you get hurt, you could really be in trouble. 

One day we made a trip to find Devil’s Hole, previously a tourist spot used as a natural aquarium for fish and turtles. The location of the hole was poorly marked on the maps. It was actually not in the waters of Harrington Sound but slightly uphill. However, now the location is closed. We completely missed it because it’s surrounded by a high wall and entirely inaccessible. I was sad. 

The Devil’s Hole is no longer accessible to visitors.

Triangulation

Finally, who goes to Bermuda and doesn’t think about the TRIANGLE?

There is an awful lot to unpack about the mythology and contemporary folklore about the triangle. To be clear, it’s well-known that the scary legends have been demystified many times over. There is a huge amount of ship and plane traffic in the so called Bermuda Triangle area and no unusual disappearances have been documented. In fact, the old ones that were widely circulated were thoroughly debunked. Google trends show that interest in the topic decreasing worldwide. TV shows regularly take the position now that fear is unwarranted and the scary tales are exaggerated. However, like Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle is an iconic idea that most people over the age of 30 are familiar with. Therefore, it behooves Bermuda tourism promoters to keep the concept alive. And I found out firsthand that they do.

The location of the Triangle is most often depicted with its apex at Miami, Fl, Bermuda, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. I don’t know if the other two cities have markers, but Bermuda has placed a spot on the ground so you can officially stand at the “Top of the Triangle”.

Limits of the Bermuda Triangle are disputed (because it’s a social construct) but this is the typical boundary.

At Albuoy’s Point at the Point Pleasant Park in Hamilton, there is a new spot for photo opportunities. While waiting for the ferry, you can memorialize your trip by standing by the triangular mark, on the triangular point, next to the triangular walkway. 

The merchandise in the nearby stories also reflects the triangle motif. You can get shirts that say “I survived the Bermuda Triangle”. You can also get beautiful triangle-shaped jewelry, some of which is made from the pink sand of the south shore beaches. The most stunning piece was made by davidrose studios and is the color of the nearshore water. 

Overall, the Triangle talk is just for show. No one really believes it. It’s not overly emphasized either. Everything was quite tasteful, with one exception. I wasn’t able to get to the Bermuda Ocean Discovery Centre but they did their best to depict the paranormal tropes so people would visit them. 

Read more about PARANORMAL VORTEX AREAS
and how the legend of the Bermuda Triangle evolved at my Spooky Geology site.

Overall, Bermuda was an incredible experience. We had no troubles during our stay. If you are planning to go there, message me with questions or if you need tips on where to stay or what to do. 

View from near Tobacco Bay showing protected coves amid the sharp rock formations and sea stacks.
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The coelacanth as a red herring

This post is updated from its original publication in 2009.– SH

In researching three areas of what I concluded were mostly “scientifical” fields of inquiry for my book – cryptozoology, ghost hunting, and creationism – I was amused to find one example used to the same end for all three – the discovery of the coelacanth in 1938. Its frequent use, however, as a symbol of hidden nature and incomplete science, is not what scientifical claimants portray it to be.

In an attempt to showcase how orthodox science is “wrong” or “blind”, proponents of ghosts, creationism, and cryptozoology all cited the finding of the rare, bottom-feeding coelacanth fish as a scientific shocker.

Coelacanth in the wild

Paranormal investigators cite the coelacanth

Ghost hunters say the coelacanth represents unexpected findings still left in nature.

Joshua Warren, in How to Hunt Ghosts (2003), highlights that the discovery was unexpected and the fish’s existence unknown to scientists. Therefore, he surmises, there may be many more unexpected findings left in nature to come to light. Perhaps, paranormalists suggest, we are just around the corner from scientifically proving ghosts exists. That’s quite a stretch – to compare a cave-loving, rare marine fish with spirits of the dead (or whatever ghosts might actually be). It’s hardly a reasonable comparison.

Creationists love so called “living fossils”

Creationists love the prehistoric-looking coelacanth because it appears to not have evolved – looking much like it did from the last fossil find 65 million years ago. If evolution is true, they proclaim, why didn’t it sprout legs and walk by now? (From M. Issak, The Counter-Creationism Handbook, Univ of Calif. Press., 2007, p. 99.) One can find many examples in Creationist-based information that point out similar examples where species alive today do not appear to have changed much from their fossil ancestors. These examples, they say, are weaknesses for evolution as the method of creating diversity on earth. Such claims egregiously misrepresent evolution and life on earth across deep time.

Coelacanth as cryptid symbol

The coelacanth is an iconic species for cryptozoologists – those who pursue mystery sightings based on conjecture that such sightings represent a scientifically unrecognized animal. The fish is frequently used as an example of the possibility of large, interesting animals that might yet be discovered. Several cryptozoology books cite a statement by Georges Cuvier in 1812 who proposed we already know all the large animals out there and that it was likely no more would be discovered. This was a “rash dictum” indeed, and was unreasonable for the time and still is even now. To over-generalize and paint all of the scientific community as a naysaying, closed-minded lot is a silly and unreasonable argument. We know there are plenty of new species yet to be found in the deep sea, in the dense forests, and in the dusty, unattended drawers of the museum.

The coelancanth is a dubious cryptid, regardless of its prominent place in cryptozoology. It had no substantive legend attached to it. No one was actively seeking it. Sure, it was a surprise when found and it was a new species (contrary to the Creationist arguments that emphasize it hadn’t evolved). But a slow, bottom-feeding, fish that was occasionally caught by locals does not compare to the more elaborate tales of Yeti, Bigfoot, large lake creatures, and sea serpents. It does not follow that modern discoveries of new species are support for the claim that certain legendary creatures are real animals.

Coelacanth as a wonderful surprise

This poor fish has been abused as a symbol for the weaknesses and failures of science – but the version of science invoked by pseudoscientifical researchers is false. The coelacanth is serving as a red herring – distracting the viewers from seeing the lack of rigor in these fields through a dramatic but misrepresented example. No reputable scientists are pronouncing that there is nothing new to discover in the world. It’s not the fault of science that many scientific-minded thinkers doubt the reality of ghosts, God, or Bigfoot. That’s entirely due to lack of evidence and suitable explanatory mechanisms.

The finding of the coelacanth was in no way an example of how science as an institution or method is misguided or inadequate. Instead, the finding of the modern coelacanth is a testament to the wonderful ability of nature to still hold surprises for us. And we must credit the fast-thinking museum curator, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, who preserved the carcass as best she could, then contacted a genuine expert to examine it before declaring the jaw-dropping discovery. One can only hope if a sasquatch is found, someone will be that diligent instead of negotiating a fee for viewing the remains. We must realize that scientific efforts by careful, experienced and legitimate researchers are useful and should be supported because another amazing discovery most certainly awaits.

Many pseudoscience proponents will jump at a chance to show that science has a flaw because they wish to promote their own wishful views that can’t quite compete. The lovely coelacanth doesn’t deserve that association.

The odd and clunky guide to researching the paranormal – Book Review

Researching the Paranormal: How to Find Reliable Information about Parapsychology, Ghosts, Astrology, Cryptozoology, Near-Death Experiences, and More

By Courtney M. Block, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020. 342pp.

There has not previously been a book specifically about how to research the paranormal. Academic librarian Courtney Block aims to help those who may feel embarrassed or confused about approaching unconventional research topics such as ghosts and parapsychology, ufology, cryptozoology, and occult/divination topics. Clearly knowledgeable across a broad scope of paranormal themes and ideas, the author says this book focused primarily on supplying a selection of scholarly and academic references on all these topics to “shine a light on the myriad research that has been done to understand the paranormal”. The volume also revealed the author’s fervent wish to remove the “stigma” that these topics have and to promote “citizen scientists” of whom Block comments are “pushing the boundary of what it means for something to be investigated scientifically”.

This is my wheelhouse. I should appreciate this book. Unfortunately, it loses focus immediately.

Emphasizing the importance of a scientific and scholarly approach, Block states without elaboration that paranormal research challenges the academic status quo and hints that materialistic science may hamper this kind of research. This is odd and reflects the attitude of psi researchers who believe that their evidence is rock solid if only those pesky rules of science were not so strict. So, the reader is left wondering, “what kind of science and scholarship is Block talking about?” The attempt to orient the reader to key ideas of “paranormal”, “scientific”, and even “research” (which isn’t defined until page 94 as “to find out more”) is unclear, buried in a repetitive narrative for which the aim seems more to be about promoting the author’s preferred beliefs than presenting a sound procedure for doing credible research.

The intended audience for this book is also a mystery. Is this a guide for ghost hunters, teens doing research papers, writers? Parts of the book were overly simplistic, as if written for someone who never used a library before. The reading recommendations, however, were often scholarly content that the average non-specialist would find far too challenging to digest.

The author attempts to sort out a research protocol from the ground up, the result of which is disjointed and not easy to follow. For example, Block says one should not use Google as a first step to research. Yet, professionals often begin with broad searches and Wikipedia to get a general orientation to the subject matter prior to a deep dive. Google Scholar is only mentioned in passing and is not explained. Other widely used web tools are not listed. Instead, the author leans heavily on scholarly journals. (Notably, Block is silent on why cryptozoology and ufology have no dedicated journals listed.) It would have been an improvement if the author used an existing concise guide of how to research a topic (of which there are many), supplemented with specific tips for paranormal topics.

University programs, organizations, museums, and special collections are given many pages. These are sources that would be useful mostly for academic research. Yet, this list is also full of holes and barely scrapes the surface of useful material. The sections for books and articles suffer from a similar small sampling, include only a tiny smattering, not even the core literature, for each topic. I question why one would bother with listing fewer than 10 examples of key articles for each huge topic. This didn’t make sense. If there were space constraints to consider, reorganization would have been preferable. Though encouraging approaches to all sides, Block fails to include critical resources or explain their use in fully understanding a research topic. With the massive scope of topics, all end up shortchanged and lacking suitable modern context. Block never mentions anomalistic psychology, and barely touches on sociological studies.

The considerable material from the UK is peppered throughout (mostly related to the Society for Psychical Research) but the remainder is clumped into a strange, disconnected, and aimless last chapter that walks the reader through famous paranormal sites and “magical practices” of the UK. This content was weirdly unsuitable.

A rambling narrative is not an effective vehicle for instruction. The clunky titles, casual language, and repetition also revealed the lack of an editorial hand. The use of many contemporary sources, tools, and brands means this book will age fairly quickly. The multi-task effort Block shouldered is just too huge and complex for one book; it would have worked better as a website or shorter books on each topic. A reader comes away with a hodgepodge of information and suggestions but no clear pathway for researching the paranormal.

Paranormal tourism paper shows themed tourism is popular and profitable

I collaborated on a new paper now online for Cornell Hospitality Quarterly about paranormal tourism called “Paranormal Tourism: Market Study of a Novel and Interactive Approach to Space Activation and Monetization”.

Abstract

We review the premise, popularity, and profitability of paranormal tourism, which involves visits to any setting or locale for the explicit purpose of encountering apparent supernatural phenomena for leisure, investigation, services, products, or conventions. This niche sector can offer an inherently engaging conceptual framework for seasonal or year-round space activation and monetization by businesses situated in specific settings or cities. On a broader level, the niche also illustrates how tourism–hospitality brands and operations can navigate and even capitalize on three paradigm shifts that have disrupted contemporary markets, that is, the mobilities, performative, and creative turns. This assertion is underscored with a case analysis of a historic site that successfully leveraged paranormal themes as part of its space reactivation and rebranding. Finally, our market study suggests that the success factors of paranormal tourism might indicate a fourth paradigm shift across the wider tourism–hospitality industry, whereby the experience economy is transforming to an enchantment economy.

My job was to gather information on the popularity of paranormal beliefs and themed tourism. I collected data via Google searches and compiled the results. I can’t take credit for the structure or conclusions. As with my other papers with Houran’s group, they are the academics. I get down to the local level and pull out the popular cultural information and themes and they form it into models and structures for further research. And, someone other than me uses words like “space activation”, which isn’t something that could be conceived in my brain. But that’s how collaborations work. I could never do this kind of paper on my own. Science is a community effort.

From Houran, et al. (2020)

The conclusions were that there is a distinct benefit in leveraging a paranormal theme for those sites that can find a way to do it. The surge in paranormal themes in branding a site is further evidence to support a widespread cultural move towards “re-enchantment” of the landscape. It appears that many sites risk their reputation as a “haunted” site because the short-term economic benefit far outweighs the potential dip in reputation. People visit! The example given is the Eastern State Penitentiary that capitalized on their Halloween events and their spooky tales to draw increased crowds to what essentially is a historic landmark to a failed experiment in mass incarceration. People come to be creeped out and the scary tales enhance that branding.

Advertising for the ESP’s seasonal moneymaker.

We connect the creative turn towards paranormal branding in tourism to the previously described VAPUS model.

I’ve made a copy of the paper available here.

The monsters of cryptozoology: Book review

Cryptozoology literature has a problem. 

Too often, popular cryptid books perpetuate unreferenced tales, elevating certain unwarranted details that are probably not factual, but opinion. Any references are often poor quality work, frequently web sites or blogs. There is a distinct lack of original scholarship, and generally poor scholarship overall. Cryptozoology proponents are notoriously adverse, even hostile, to criticism. This is a downer because I want better books on these subjects. 

What follows is my review of The Monster Book: Creatures, Beasts and Fiends of Nature by Nick Redfern, published in 2016 by Visible Ink Press. Visible Ink sent me this book before it was released but I just got to it now. I have to start with some caveats so I, hopefully avoid being misunderstood. 

First, I like some of Nick Redfern’s stuff. He’s a highly entertaining writer, speaker, and general spokesperson for paranormal subjects. His living is made by writing popular books. This book was entertaining. There is plenty of room for that in the world. It was not written for someone like me, though. It seems to be aimed more at the younger crowd just getting into the subject. Also, the book is not actually entirely on cryptozoology if you consider that some of these “monsters” may be supernatural stories or occult tales (i.e., Hexham’s wolf creature, the dancing devil, vampires). But, it includes many typical cryptids and mentions the word early on. For those other authors and commentators who stress the “scientific” aspects of cryptozoology (note: not Redfern), they sure leave a wide berth for the supernatural to creep in. There is internal confusion about what cryptozoology is today. Is it serious? Or is it monster stories? That’s for another post but consider the issues I found within this book.

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Supernatural Creep: When explanations slide off to the fringes

Originally published as Supernatural Creep: The Slippery Slope to Unfalsifiability for my column Sounds Sciencey on csicop.org May 29, 2013.

I’m taking a step beyond sciencey with the following topic. What happens when science doesn’t cooperate with your subject area? Researchers of unexplained events may get frustrated and disenchanted with the scientific process when the eyewitness accounts they collect are too weird to explain via conventional means. They go unconventional.

Captain Jean-Baptiste Duhamel led the hunt for a beast that was attacking and devouring victims in the Gevaudan, France, in 1794. He had a problem. He could not catch and kill the man-eating monster. Being a proud man, he had to justify why he could not conquer this particular foe. Since the option that he was an inadequate huntsman was not acceptable, the creature must be supernatural in its abilities to escape his capture. The characteristics of the beast were exaggerated—it was huge, cunning, and not just an ordinary wolf. Captain Duhamel left defeated by what must truly be an extraordinary beast.

The cognitive dissonance experienced by the French captain is reflected today by those who can’t capture Bigfoot. When normal processes and causes fail to satisfactorily explain events or answers to questions, then the reasoning slips beyond nature, into super nature, beyond the testable claims of science.

I call this “supernatural creep.” Although, I swear I’m not the first one to name it as such. I searched to find where I have seen this referenced before. (If anyone knows, please email me so I can give the originator due credit.) Once I noticed this kind of reasoning, I saw it frequently. Wherever I come across this concept, it reveals a bit about human nature:

If you have to choose between the belief or a rational explanation, the rational explanation may be that which gets rejected.

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Paranormal education classes showing up at major universities

Paranormal subjects typically lie outside the circle of academic respectability. One can argue that they have been deliberately marginalized to keep them diminished in credibility. But, with the majority of the population of the U.S. subscribing to at least one paranormal belief, I’d argue we should be discussing these phenomena in an intellectual context. Things are changing. But for a while now, non-credit, community education classes have been providing a certain degree of legitimacy to these subject areas. 

In recent news on paranormal-themed websites, I’ve heard that David Halperin, retired professor of religious studies, is teaching a non-credit course about UFOs and alien visitation at Duke University. Entitled UFOs–Encounter, Mystery, Myth, he writes about it here. These kinds of continuing education courses, aimed at those with leisure time for enrichment activities, are very common. In this situation, at least we see a qualified teacher. He’s qualified in both instruction and in UFO lore. I suspect this course will be interesting and worthwhile. Here is the summary:

This course rests on two premises: (1) UFOs are a myth; (2) myths are real.  UFOs became a feature of the cultural landscape 71 years ago.  They’ve been debunked innumerable times, yet remain firmly fixed in our shared consciousness.  In the changed socio-political environment since the 2016 election they’ve achieved a surprising new respectability.  We’ll explore these “visitors from inner space” from a psychological and religious perspective, asking the essential question –not “Where do they come from?” or “How do they fly?” but, “What do they mean?” –for us as individuals, as a culture, as a species.

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Science and cryptozoology: The taboo subject of Bigfoot doesn’t add up

Episode 7 of Laura Krantz’ Wild Thing podcast on Bigfoot, science and society explores the contentious relationship between the orthodox scientific community and those scientists who choose to seriously explore fringe topics like this one. Several science-minded Bigfoot advocates are profiled who lament the way society and the “Ivory Tower” of science (a monolithic metaphorical straw man) treats the topic of Bigfoot as a joke or a career taboo. Why, she asks, does other “fantastical”-sounding research, like looking for life on other planets or showing that the universe may be a hologram, not receive the negative rep that Bigfoot study does? [Edit: I originally thought she mentioned wormholes and quantum mechanics so the first version of this post was different.] Well, I’m not sure that talking about a hologram universe is taken to be legit and goes unquestioned, but it’s not equivalent to the well-marketed claim of a huge human-like ape supposedly hiding behind a tree watching our forays into the woods. There is a significant difference between science on the edge and fringe ideas that purport to be scientific.

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Perhaps you can never organize paranormal research

I am enjoying my latest read. It’s George Hansen’s The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001). George and I met years ago at a parapsychology conference in Gettysburg. Even though he is a critic of organized skepticism, he’s just as much a critic of shoddy paranormal research. And, his criticism of CSICOP is not unjustified, for the most part. I can’t yet outline everything I found intriguing with this book because I’m not through yet. He might chuckle when he hears that I could not skip around but had to read it cover to cover – it’s my thick-boundary personality. But, I believe I am loosening up! And, thus, perceiving and understanding the bigger picture much more clearly via stepping outside of the skeptic and believer tribes. I may be actually in the betwixt and between, as they say. At least it feels like that these days.

The major theme of the book is the trickster elements tied to supernatural claims and to those who are involved in some way (for or against). Of particular note, I had to copy this quote into my notes and am eager to share it here, especially with UFO researchers who are trying to forge a new structure to the field:Read More »

Believers are the majority: Paranormal acceptance in America is rising

The results of the 2018 Chapman University survey of American Fears have been released and they suggest that America (that is, even well-educated America) is even more accepting of the paranormal than in the past three years. You can view the entire survey here but let me highlight the major points as well as some possible explanations for the numbers and some problems with applying them.

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Legitimizing ghost research: Scientism, sensitives, and cultural authority

As I wrote yesterday, sociologists and ethnographers are paying greater attention to paranormal communities. I commented on Bader’s analysis of Bigfoot seeking groups and their mix of naturalistic and paranormalist views among participants. Perhaps separation rather than mix may be more apt. The observation of different camps within a paranormal field is not new but since Bigfoot as an area of study is newer than ghosts, it’s worth a remark to explain why some will ignore or denigrate others in the same community even though they have a fringe topic interest in common. In a new essay collection related to the Supernatural in Society conference I mentioned yesterday, Marc Eaton contributed a piece describing a similar split in the ghost hunting community [1]. Not only does this parallel the Bigfoot community in several ways but it was interesting because Eaton focuses on his interpretation of scientism as prevalent and investigators who work at “being sciencey” (my words, not his) as a way of legitimizing their work. Unfortunately, Eaton doesn’t cite my preceding work that overlaps a lot with his observations but I’ll see if I can reach him to introduce it. Meanwhile, I must reiterate a few of his observations and quibble with a few others.

Eaton begins his article titled “Paranormal Investigation: The Scientist and the Sensitive” in the compilation edited by himself and Waskul by suggesting that orthodox religious participation is dwindling, losing to the popularity of more democratic and personal spiritualism practices. This correlation seems well established and, I agree, a key component in the rise in paranormal topics in the media. He sees paranormal investigators (I use the umbrella term “ARIGs” – amateur research and investigation groups – to encompass cryptozoologists and ufologists) as located at the intersection of this individualized spirituality and the adoption of scientism.

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Supernatural in Society conference: Bader on Bigfooters

There is a lot of new research happening in academia about paranormal culture and belief. I kid you not. Scholars in sociology, psychology, religious studies, and media studies are noticing that millions of people are deeply affected by paranormal beliefs and personal experiences. There is so much happening, especially regarding ghostly episodes, that it’s difficult to keep up with it all. Even new journals and conferences are springing up in the past few years.

When people ask me why I bother to spend my time on this stuff, I’m amazing at how ignorant they are that over half the population believes in some paranormal idea. Or at least, they are curious about it. This is not fringe. The paranormal is mainstream. It’s a resilient thread in our human history, it isn’t going away. It’s influential, it’s popular, and it’s big business as well.

Speaking of conferences, videos of the talks from the Supernatural in Contemporary Society Conference, which took place at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland in August 2018 are available for viewing. The visuals are awful but you can hear the speakers talk which is the most important thing. The conference purpose as given was “to explore the continuing role of the supernatural.” The conference intent was to “provide an interdisciplinary forum to discuss current and emerging research, and examine these in relation to the impact and value this has on culture, heritage and tourism.”

I may have something to say about several of these talks as I work through them but I advise you to check out the ones in the areas of your interest. There are many – ghosts & hauntings, Slenderman, witchcraft, Satanism, ufology, and anomalistics.

First up is Christopher Bader’s talk on Bigfoot seekers. Read More »

The Doubtful Witness: You don’t really know what you saw

How often have you heard someone say “I know what I saw”. Observations and remembrances of events are deeply flawed but we still rely on our memory to give us a true account and we believe reports of eyewitnesses. These accounts are the primary evidence put forward in support of paranormal reality. Those who believe in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, or anomalous phenomena are heavily influenced by seemingly legitimate and truthful tellings of strange events people say happened to them. They also contend that there are so many accounts that “there must be something to it” and “all these witnesses aren’t lying”. Investigators collect these reports and then derive ideas, theories, and conclusions from them. But if the reports are not accurate, the data is unreliable and misleading – garbage in, garbage out. Here is the second example of why we need to qualify eyewitness accounts as data. (See the first here.)Read More »

The Doubtful Witness: Masefield’s Montrose ghost story

The primary evidence put forward in support of paranormal reality are accounts of witnesses. Those who believe in the reality of UFOs, Bigfoot, or ghosts are heavily influenced by seemingly legitimate and truthful tellings of strange events people say happened to them. They also contend that there are so many accounts that “there must be something to it” and “all these witnesses aren’t lying”. Investigators collect these reports and then derive ideas, theories, and conclusions from them. Astounding accounts show up in the media, sometimes repeatedly, and those who hear paranormal-themed stories from TV and popular written accounts tend to accept that they are accurate. This is a deeply flawed assumption to make. I recently came across two sources that exemplify why we need to qualify eyewitness accounts as data. Here is the first. Read More »

UFO reports declining: Several social factors involved

An article in Gizmodo today focused on the question of why UFO sightings (reported to NUFORC and MUFON – the major U.S. organizations who record these claims) are in decline since 2012 – a 30 to 40 percent drop from 2012 to 2017. When Jennings Brown, the journalist, contacted me Friday to talk about it, a few things came to mind. In contrast to the opinion of one leader in the UFO community quoted in the piece, I refuse to cop out with an untested, unsupported sci-fi-inspired answer to this trend. I suspect the real answer is social and far more complicated than we can easily tease out.

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Let this one be a Devil’s biography (Book Review)

The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster
Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito
Johns Hopkins Univ Press, 2018

Only in very recent years, thanks to Bill Sprouse and Brian Regal, has the connection to Daniel Leeds been made to the Leeds Devil which later became the Jersey Devil – the official demon of New Jersey. The story about Leeds’ alliances, his nasty break with his Quaker neighbors, the production of a controversial almanac, and his family’s feud with Benjamin Franklin has been colorfully described primarily by Regal, a science historian. The premise of this volume is that the Jersey Devil is a beast spawned not from a demon seed but from freethinking, politics, a hoax, and the media.

I’m sold on the idea that the legend of this devil was formed from these threads that reached far back to pre-USA times. But it’s not the story most people have heard. There was no Mother Leeds, no devil child, no cryptid lurking in the Pine Barrens. But there was a notable and chastised family, probably some monstrous births, some Native folklore, and a climate of susceptibility that nurtured the myth we have today.

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A rarity: An impressive and useful ghost guide (Book Review)

Steve Parsons appears to be on the same page as me about the poor understanding of ghost investigations by amateur investigators. He wrote a detailed and very readable book with the aim to show that this kind of sensationalized paranormal inquiry should not be confused with parapsychology or science: Ghostology: The Art of the Ghost Hunter (Steven T. Parsons, 2015,
White Crow Books, UK).

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