Ghosts and the Intertubes

Claimed photograph of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, taken by Captain Hubert C. Provand. First published in Country Life, 1936.

A few weeks ago, I slammed into a series of Pandemic Walls and my brain went flat. My wife, who has been watching a lot of YouTube, drew me into watching several paranormal “best-of” compilation YouTube channels, and it’s become our weekly ritual of watching the new drops for these compilation channels. We’ve also tried a couple of just straight-up ghost-investigation channels, but they tend to be kind of dull — I’d rather let someone else watch through hours of video for the good bits. (I recently dipped into Tiktok as a result of some of the ghosttok videos we’ve seen, though I’ve mostly found Hot Older Butch Dyke Tok. I never thought I could watch someone fold laundry like that before. *fans self*)

Anyway, I have some thoughts (read: rants) that have arisen from watching these ghost videos and commentary. Warning: I am a critical consumer of paranormal content with some knowledge of folklore and different types of magical practice, having started reading ghost stories in the National Enquirer as my method of learning to read at age 3 and now being married to an anthropologist who studies folklore and magical practices. Also I am Opinionated.

There Are More Things Between Heaven and Earth Than Demons, Bob

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

The general screaming ignorance of ghost hunters and paranormal content creators of folklore and history is ENRAGING.

Some of this is a stubborn veneer of WASPy simplification of the spiritual world. To folks with that view, there are ghosts and there are demons (or for some particularly regressive people, there are only demons), and there’s nothing else, unless maybe talking about some recently invented cryptids/creepypasta critters like Slender Man and the rake.

But the paranormal biosphere is enormous and varied and old. Fucking super old. There’s hardly any reason to invent new things, except, of course, humanity has been creating new paranormal critters for our entire existence. And in a giant multicultural melting pot like the US is supposed to be, there are human diasporas that come with cultural weight and concepts, which brings entire paranormal diasporas with them. Erasing that paranormal diversity is enormously disrespectful and is an entirely expected reductive side effect of WASP colonialism.

Every time these ignorant asshats decide that anything outside of their expectation of “sad ghost” is a demon, I want to shake them till their teeth rattle out of their heads.

Also, why do they keep asking the ghosts if they need help? What help can the ghosthunters provide? All they do is nod sagely over their Machines That Go Ping and mumble, Mm, yes, def a ghost.

As an aside to this, there are such things as natural mediums, and if they grew up white and steeped in the incredibly minimalistic and imagination-strangling expectations of WASP culture, with any ethnic identity that their family might have once had stamped to (white) paste, the poor things end up confused and angry.

We watched one long livestream of a guy who just keeps having paranormal things happen to him. The livestream captured EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) that seemed very difficult to fake (I mean, I suppose there could be a woman who could sound like a small child following him around in a dark swampy cemetery without a flashlight, singing children’s songs and reacting sometimes incoherently in multiple voices). If we assume that it wasn’t faked, his transition from trying to talk to the voices to accusing them of being demons (because they were angry about some annoying Christian things he said) was just infuriating. Given the data we had from the things that were said (again, assuming not faked), there were 2 possibilities that occurred to me: 1) they were Sad Child Ghosts who felt strongly about their own rejection by people for a variety of possible reasons or 2) they were Good Neighbors* who were fucking with him.** In neither case were they demons.

*Good Neighbors are what one calls the fairies if one doesn’t want to attract their attention and/or piss them off. There are a number of beings of various geographic origins I would classify under “Good Neighbor” and almost all of them are of European origin. I have particularly paid attention to fairy stories from Ireland and, to a lesser extent, England and Scotland, and as such I have seen the conflation of ghosts and fairies that has always existed in these stories, but was particularly prevalent in Victorian lore, until in the US, it seems, the fairies have been entirely eliminated in favor of ghosts and demons. There’s a variety of lore about the origins of the Irish fairies I might go into another time, but none of them involve them being demons in the traditional Christian sense.

**Neighbors in this particular case could include local indigenous nature spirits/entities, but I am unschooled on this subject and cannot speak to it (especially because I am not indigenous), other than to say that I could also see motivation for them to be fucking with this guy.

I also get kind of ripshit about some of the popular appropriation of Native American entities by the paranormal youtubers. I mean, some of the compilers really get into apparent sightings of cultural entities from other countries (one is very into the pocong of Indonesia, for instance). But at least they go digging into the youtube and other video sources from other countries for that. A certain Native American entity type gets invoked repeatedly by apparently white video creators — I guess because they don’t like talking about their own Euro heritage of shapechangers, so they want something more “ethnic” to glom onto. Using the term, though, according to some Native American sources, summons the beings, attracting their attention. (See above brief on the Neighbors, THIS ISN’T A UNIQUE SUPERNATURAL PHENOMENON.) Which, okay, maybe random white youtuber doesn’t live in the US Southwest and maybe it’s unlikely to come hunt them down. It’s still fucking disrespectful.

Also, I find it super-unlikely that these entities would just… hang out in the woods screaming at each other over distances. Which seems to be the extent of white youtubers representing them in their videos.

One last rant: Pagans are not Satanists. Pentacles do not equal Satanist. Candles and robes do not equal Satanist. Singing in the woods does not equal Satanist. Leaving offerings at gravestones does not equal Satanist.

I cannot tell you how many videos there are of former frat boys turned “ghosthunters” getting their thrills and adrenaline hits off the “Satanic” or “dark” ritual materials they find. I cannot tell you how tired I am of 1980s Satanic Panic translated and replicated by modern content producers. It’s all bullshit. If you find yourself saying “Satanic” try just saying, “I’m an ignorant shithead,” instead.

In short, paranormal video creators and compilers need to take some time and read some goddamn books on folklore and/or paganism and/or things written by the indigenous cultures they’re attempting to appropriate.

Talking Boards

Because Parker Bros is totes in it for the demons, not the capitalism.

Who the hell decided that Ouija boards summon demons and “dark” spirits to follow you and do awful things? Was it just The Exorcist? I mean, it can’t be, because that movie landed well before the current outbreak of weirdness.

Talking boards, automatic writing, and other means of Contacting The Beyond have been around for a honking long time, and the whole mythology of “something will follow you home,” “the board can be haunted,” and “you have to close the conversation by moving the planchette to Goodbye or the spirit will do… something” is all new since the last time I messed about with a board in the early 1990s.

What, spirits can’t be hung up on or they follow you trying to “well actually” you and then get pissed off and harass you if they can’t?

No real resolution here, just a little annoyed by this weird urban legendry. In any case, if you’re in Salem, MA, check out the Salem Witch Board Museum. It’s a quick, fun stop. They even have some boards that people claim are cursed or possessed or something.

Multicultural Lessons Learned

Apparent ghost boy photographed by Neil Sandbach.

Some things I have learned about ghosts and ghosthunting in different cultures, as represented by these videos.

Western countries:

  • Ghosts commonly peek around corners and edges of doorways, far more than any living person does. Peekin’ Ghosts are the most common manifestation in Western countries, but they do turn up in other countries.
  • Occasionally, ghosts will manifest briefly behind cute young fem-presenting individuals who are innocently dancing on Tiktok. Creepin’ Ghosts are another common manifestation in Western countries.
  • American ghosthunters who are men are Very Masculine Indeed, except when they’re so scared they’re allowed to show us their goosebumps and vulnerability.
  • British and Australian ghosthunters generally have very businesslike teams and often allow women in the team to actually contribute substantively to proceedings.
  • French ghosthunters are gonna accidentally find the most Neighborly things out there hiding in, like, abandoned swimming pool buildings, and then will flee on their bicycles.
  • Italian ghosthunters are very well-dressed for forays into the woods, and will almost always find spooky young girl spirits. Or possibly invisible people that show up on their Tesla collision warning system.
  • German, Dutch, and Czech ghost videos appear to contain mostly urban explorers that accidentally a spook.

China:

  • If you are a ghosthunter, practice cursing to drive away the spirits you’re attempting to find. “Fuck your mother” is a particularly good one for responding to poltergeist activity.
  • Chinese ghosts primarily seem to participate in poltergeist activity (opening/shutting doors, knocking, etc). They will rarely manifest as Peekin’ Ghosts, and those that do may peek into a camera while the ghosthunter walks away, creepily showing just one eye and some hair before retreating.

Islamic Countries:

  • If you are a Muslim ghosthunter, every other word out of your mouth should be “Bismillah” or else you’re really not taking this seriously.
  • Middle Eastern ghosts mostly engage in poltergeist activity, but will occasionally be shadowy Peekin’ Ghosts in windows.
  • Middle Eastern ghosthunters are always men who pretend they’re alone in buildings. The best ones kick doors in and have excellent falsettos when scared.
  • Pakistani ghosthunters are manly men who attend their investigations in Extremely Snazzy Dress, including Stylish Leather Jackets and/or suits.

Japan:

  • Japanese ghosts are just Scary. Do not look into a crack, crevice, or keyhole in Japan or there will be an eye looking back at you.
  • Japanese schools are all haunted.
  • Japanese ghosts are Not Fucking Around.

Mexico:

  • Ghosts in Mexico are usually either crying women who may or may not be La Llorona or young girls who run across doorways.
  • Mexican ghosthunters are always men, though they may bring their Terrified Girlfriend with them to cry, “Ay, Rickyyyy!” to make them seem manlier.
  • Abandoned mansions in Mexico and other Latin American countries always come with cool nicknames like “Palace of Tears” and mostly seem to be haunted by partiers.

Russia:

  • Russian ghosthunters are usually single men daring the wilderness with a lot of very expensive camera equipment, kind of a spinoff of Russian urban exploration.
  • All abandoned Russian dachas are haunted.
  • Russian ghosts are musical. All Russian ghosthunters should definitely put an accordion out for the ghosts to futz with, and then be surprised when it wheezes some notes even when they’re in another room.
  • Beware feral cows in abandoned villages.

Bonus:

  • If you are located in a Latin American country, Indonesia, Malaysia, or the Philippines, consider NOT sitting on your bed with your best buddy and playing your guitar, because that clearly summons [local very specific ghost/spirit type that might or might not kill you].

Raccoons All the Way Down

Spooooooooky raccoons.
Photo by Alex Makarov on Unsplash

Screaming and thumping in the attic? Probably raccoons.

Attic doors rattling and shaking? Raccoons.

Things yeeted down off shelves in your garage or attic? Raccoons.

Beady little eyes peering at you through gaps in the ceiling and walls? Raccoons.

Snarling in the weeds in the woods? Raccoons.

Not in the Americas? Whoops, sorry, def a demon.

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