Author: Morgan St. Knight
Have you ever gotten that question: “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Undoubtedly it was asked cynically. Did it tick you off? Did it make you want to show the asker just how bad you could really be?
But now ask yourself: “Do I do the same thing, and is it any less annoying when I do it?” I’m not going to talk about whether we do it to each other in the Pagan community–we already know that answer. Judgmental approaches abound. Those fires certainly don’t need any additional fuel from me.
But even the most tolerant and open-minded among us can fall into using the good/bad paradigm to define paranormal entities. It’s an easy solution sometimes, but often not the most useful solution when dealing with such beings.
I’ve had quite a bit of experience with this, and I’ll admit right up front that I’ve been guilty of falling into the good/bad black/white naughty/nice trap in the past. I was researching and hunting paranormal entities years ago, way before it was cool to do it with lots of equipment (no slight to the science-minded ghost hunters here; I respect those methods although I use different ones myself) . I’ve learned that using dichotomies without allowing for grey areas is a huge mistake when investigating the paranormal.
Bluntly speaking, it’s very difficult to find entities that are entirely good or entirely evil as humans define those terms. Most fall into different grades between. Part of that is because our own ethics change, so an entity that might have been “evil” a few years ago might turn out to have some “good” aspects seen in the light of current values.
Here’s a prime example: vampires. Let’s just keep it to the literary and cinematic variety here; real vampires are a topic for a different paper. In the 1930s, no one would have said Dracula was the good guy. We don’t have to get into all of those psychological undertones here; the allure-alarm signals put forth by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, the thinly veiled sexuality, the secret lure of forbidden activities like blood-drinking, etc. etc. Ask anyone on the street, and you’d hear that Dracula was evil, and it was OK to destroy him.
Fast-forward several decades. Barnabas Collins showed us a more human side to vampires; we all loved Lestat (at least in the books) . And then there was Angel. My, my, my. Couldn’t you just melt into those eyes when he gave you that concerned, wanting-to-protect-the-innocent look?
Wait, isn’t he a vampire? Aren’t all vampires bad? Apparently not, if you give them half a chance. The thing about vampires is, they were once human. If you buy into the myth than the vampire is nothing more than a reanimated corpse looking for blood, sure, you can see them as nothing but malignant. Certainly they’re harmful as far as humans are concerned. But if they have personalities and can interact in social settings like Dracula did, has the human element been totally removed? And if the human element hasn’t been totally removed, doesn’t that allow for wide variations in behavior up to and including an anti-hero approach that lets them be the good guys occasionally?
My point is that we should look carefully before we try to pin designations on paranormal entities. I use that term rather than “spiritual” or “astral” because some of these entities do indeed have a physical or semi-physical presence. They may not be solid by human standards, but often animals and sensitive humans can perceive them in a palpable way that gives them a more tangible quality than our normal conception of “spiritual”.
The first time I knowingly came across a paranormal entity, I was barely a teenager. The onset of adolescence brought a host of changes, including the sudden ability to sense energies and emotions. Words like “empath” were years in the future, when it became more common thanks to the character of Deanna Troi on “Star Trek: the Next Generation”. All I knew was that I could sense things others couldn’t, could tell when things weren’t right, and especially when I should get the hell out of Dodge. That’s how I knew I’d found the first in a series of what I termed “lurkers”.
“It” (I never determined whether there was anything resembling gender associated with it) made its home in a park near my house. It wasn’t a huge park by any stretch. There was a common area with swings and slides for the kids and an open-work brick building where people could barbecue and have parties. That part of the park had a good deal of traffic from mid-spring through early fall.
Then there was the other part of the park, just beyond a small bridge over a creek. Fewer people went back there except on days when there were a lot of people in the park. There were plenty of trees and shaded areas. Most of the time no one was there; it was a favorite area for “stoners” to hang out and get high. There weren’t many in our small Cleveland suburb. Somehow, the stoners always found other places to be when the autumn leaves had mostly fallen and the Crone claimed her space in the November skies.
That part of the park was halfway between my junior high school and my home. A quick cut through the park and I was on the street behind my house, where I could walk across a vacant lot, hop the fence, and be home in half the time it would take to walk the long way. Most of the time it was a no-brainer.
But one November day, I’d stayed after school late to do some work with the drama club. By the time I finished twilight was setting in, one of those cold early-winter twilights where low clouds on the horizon hid the fading Sun, bringing darkness on much more quickly.
As I took my normal shortcut through the park I suddenly felt a chill, and it wasn’t the air. There were no sounds, no sounds at all. There was a main road not too far away, and usually you could hear the traffic. Despite it being rush-hour, I couldn’t hear anything from the street… no indication that there was anyone else nearby.
Except for me, and “it”. I turned around, scanned the trees looking for signs that someone else was lurking in the park. It was still light enough for me to see a good distance; the bare trees and bushes offered little cover. If someone were there, I would have seen him or her.
I saw nothing, but someone was there. I couldn’t deny it. It felt… menacing. Almost predatory. It wanted something from me. I couldn’t tell what, but I was sure it wouldn’t be something I wanted to give up.
I felt tired, drained. I felt cold, even though the temperature was relatively warm for that time of year. I felt like I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep.
I knew if I did, I might not wake up.
Instinctively I called out, still thinking it might be some older kids playing a joke. Older kids who could hide really, really well.
“I know you’re there! Stop the bulls**t!”
There was a change then, slight but noticeable. The oppressive atmosphere seemed to lighten a bit. No, not lightening–pulling back . There was no way to define it except to say that something had taken a step away from me. But it was still there, watching me. I could feel it.
I just turned around and walked off as boldly as I could. It wasn’t until I made it out of the park and my feet hit pavement that I felt the ominous sensations drop away as quickly as if they had been nothing more than dry leaves snagged in my hair.
All sorts of ideas ran through my head that night. Something was in the park, I was sure of it, and it came out as daylight faded. Some kind of vampire? A ghost of some sort? I couldn’t tell. Over the next couple of weeks, while avoiding the park and always coming home right after school, I managed to sneak in some research at the library. I’d already been interested in the occult for many years and knew where to look, but I couldn’t find any answers.
You would think after that experience I would have left the park alone entirely. Other people seemed to shy away from that section instinctively, and now I knew why.
But I didn’t shy away. I went back several times before winter really set in, always as close to twilight as possible. Always, I sensed the same thing, but now it didn’t seem to encroach quite so much into my personal space. Or maybe, I just had more confidence because I’d felt it flinch when I lashed out.
There was still a sense of menace, but it didn’t seem predatory anymore. The overall impression I got was simple vigilance. It was there, it was watching for something or someone, but it wasn’t going to make the first move.
Neither was I. I finally decided that whatever was there might be nasty, but it wasn’t a real threat to me. If anything, it had a great defensive mechanism simply through its ability to make people uneasy enough to stay away from it. There were never any reports of anything bad happening there, or any stories of past tragedies that would imbue the place with that sort of power. Whatever was there, simply was .
Over the next few years my sense of the unseen energies swirling in nature grew keener. They were especially pervasive in autumn and spring. In spring I felt vast, looming powers stirring and wakening. Heading down into the valley close to my home, in the opposite direction of the haunted park, I could sense them there. It seemed as if they were simply there to do things I couldn’t even dream of, and took little notice of me. Sometimes I could sense them all the way from my home. I could feel them intensely when windstorms raked the area in March. This wasn’t just spring coming; these were actual beings closely connected with the greening of the land, beings so old they felt timeless.
In the winter I felt those presences too, waiting patiently for the proper time to manifest in spring. If I was to give a visual perspective of it, I would say it was like walking between two long rows of huge statues that stared down impassively at me, seeing me without really caring I was there because they were beyond the petty intrigues of human interaction.
It would seem the two experiences would be easy to define: the entity I sensed in the park could be called “evil” by some, and the forces I sensed in the valley might be termed “good” since they were connected with the waking life in the land.
But I realized even back then that it wasn’t so easy to define them. What was in the park made me uncomfortable, but it didn’t attack me. I have since encountered many other “lurkers” that create various atmospheres ranging from slight unease to downright panic, yet none of them have attacked me. I have, by the way, dealt with a few entities that did attack; it was extremely visceral, and extremely unpleasant. As I said, paranormal doesn’t always lack of a physical presence.
By contrast whatever was in the valley left me in awe, yet there was no sense of personal connection or concern, the sort of thing that would let me know those entities were beneficial. They simply existed. Truth be told, sensing their power in the windstorms of March indicated to me that they might not care about what happened to humans. Those storms certainly caused property damage and injuries, and a few traffic accidents, perhaps even fatal ones.
It’s potentially dangerous to get caught up in the paradigms that some religions have, believing that spirits are either angels or demons, of God or of the Devil. Those are human concepts and simply put, the spirits might not have or understand those concepts.
Let’s look at it from the perspective of the entities. Suppose a family buys a nice big parcel of land in a previously undeveloped area. They proceed to build a house on it, clearing away a lot of the trees, digging deeply into the soil to lay pipelines and power cables. Finally the house is complete, they move in, and everything seems great for a few weeks.
Then the problems begin. The children insist something keeps coming into their room at night and whispering in their ears. The family dog keeps pacing nervously, growling at the windows, sometimes staring into the air as if he spies a bird no one else can see. Friends come to visit but always seem to leave early, even abruptly, often claiming they don’t feel well.
Pretty soon the owners decide it’s not just their imagination. Being open-minded, they call a local paranormal investigation team. The team does its research well; nothing unusual has happened in the area, no major battles during a war, no campaigns against Native Americans, no link to any tragedies whatsoever that would indicate some sort of residual haunting (a psychic imprint on a place or sometimes an object that “replays” certain human activity or events, which can be detected by sensitive individuals but which they cannot interact with) . Because no one lived there previously, they feel it’s unlikely to be a human ghost.
The team investigates the house one night and picks up a lot of activity including some fairly menacing audio recordings that sound like deep growls mixed with rapid gibbering. Their conclusion: there must be a demon on the premises.
Seems like a logical conclusion, but let’s look back a few months. Something traumatic did happen there. A previously pristine piece of land was suddenly ripped open for foundations, pipelines, and cables; trees were knocked down in large numbers, and whole areas of the landscape were radically transformed.
One of the key beliefs of many religions, including modern Pagan paths, is the existence of nature spirits. These come in many varieties: devas, nymphs such as dryads and Nereids, fauns, gnomes, elves, nunnehi, yunwi tsusdi, Sidhe –the list is extensive. What if some of them were making their home on that piece of land before it was so severely altered by humans? What if some of them lost their homes because of the construction?
On a slightly more scientific note, laying pipelines and cables can change the overall magnetic field orientation in an area. What if the beings that lived there had grown accustomed to the prevailing magnetic field, and were made uncomfortable or even hurt when the field shifted due to the human activity?
Would they have a right to complain to the people who did it? Would you have the right to complain if someone bought the lot next to yours and damaged your property or created conditions that shattered your peace while building their new home? Why is this any different?
One of the things that galls me most about some of these ghost hunting shows is their insistence that living humans take precedence over any other being that may be on a property. I’ve seen it many times; the team tells the beleaguered homeowner to order the entity out and to declare it has no right to come there. This may or may not be justified.
Assuming incarnate humans have preemptory property rights whenever they move somewhere is an arrogance that could lead to disaster. Number one, most people don’t have the means or knowledge to control or bind an entity (screaming the name of a certain God and then commanding the entity to leave, speak, make its presence known, etc, is very entertaining for TV but by-and-large very ineffective) . Number two; the entity may have its own power, and the capability to cause problems for the human who foolishly decided to get in its face.
In the example of the “haunted” house, it’s possible the entities may be unaware that their actions are causing distress to the humans involved. Since such entities are not human, their psychology likely does not follow the same paths as human thinking. They may not understand that their attempts to convey their own distress are upsetting or scaring humans, and they also may not understand that their form of communication is incomprehensible to humans. These entities may not understand the human concept of fear, though they may have their own.
The gibbering and growls the paranormal team recorded may not have been intended to menace at all. How would we sound if we tried to communicate with dolphins, trying to mimic their vocalizations? Replicating the sounds is difficult, and may be imperfect at best; without an understanding of the language involved, it could be disconcertingly chaotic.
Another possibility is that the land on which the home was built was inhabited by several entities that live in an overlapping space with our own space-time region; they may not have been disturbed at all by the new house going up, and they may not have much interest in it either. They’re simply are going about their business. In doing so, they may unknowingly be causing phenomena that are disturbing the humans in the area, creating an atmosphere that is uncomfortable for mere mortals. The key here is, there is absolutely no intent to hurt or bother the humans. It’s simply happening.
Having that perspective now, I wonder how I would classify my first “lurker” if I came upon it again.
Think of it this way: when you jump into a pond to cool off on a summer day, you aren’t (hopefully) intending to disturb frogs, insects, birds, fish, and other creatures who live in the pond or nearby. Yet your splashing and yelling make them very uncomfortable, and they try to get away from the scene. You aren’t even aware of the effect your actions are having on them, and certainly you would deny that you had any malicious intent. Shouldn’t we consider that when paranormal activity is happening somewhere, it may be disturbing to us, , but altogether unnoticed or unregarded by other entities involved? In other words, give them the benefit of the doubt rather than assuming they’re actually hostile.
Most of the entities I’ve encountered fall into the in-between region as far as temperament, neither very good nor very bad specifically. Much of the time I feel like I’m trying to bridge a cultural gap when trying to communicate with them. It’s difficult to find a piece of common ground on which to take that first step. Verbal communication is often effective, but only if I’m saying what I truly mean, not trying to bluff my way through it. My sense is that many entities can communicate empathically, so they will be reading emotions rather than listening to words. Verbal communication, however, can help you focus your own feelings and intent, making those emotional signals as precise as possible. So by all means strike up a conversation and keep it going if you find yourself confronted with an unknown presence.
The best advice I can give for dealing with unknown entities is to keep your mind open, and don’t assume they are hostile or out to get you. But don’t be too cavalier. Keep your psychic shields up, and know how to defend yourself if things get ugly. If you don’t know how to do these things or aren’t very confident in your abilities, I strongly suggest you research effective techniques before trying to communicate with an unknown force.
Rather than approaching in mistrust, accept that whatever is there may be willing to meet you halfway in trying to resolve any problems. But understand it also may be unwilling to have anything to do with you at all. Unless it is a real matter of survival, respectfully offer to leave it alone and ask it to extend the same courtesy to you and other humans involved. Unless you are certain that the being has no right to be where it is, don’t try to remove it. There’s no shame in admitting you didn’t conquer something, but there may be danger as well as shame in trying to wrongly impose your will without knowing exactly what you’re dealing with.
Blessed be, and happy haunting.