Wednesday, February 4, 2009

More years ago than I care to count, my life was profoundly affected by a low budget, independent student film called Billy Jack. I particularly recall, almost verbatim, the content of a speech made by the main character while he was apparently channeling the spirit of an ancient holy man known as Wovoka. In that instant, I connected with an idea that I suddenly realized had always resonated with me as truth, but that my Protestant religious upbringing had never allowed me to really believe until that moment:

Heaven is not out there. The other world is here.
Your people, my loved ones…there is a thin veil separating us from them.

Finally, an explanation that made sense. The thought of disembodied spirits floating around on clouds in some vague, unseen location in the sky never seemed logical to me. Not only that, but wouldn’t it be boring? I don’t know about you, but I don’t find the thought of “eternal rest” after death especially appealing. The idea that our spirits remain on earth, albeit on a different plane, seems an infinitely more interesting way to spend the afterlife. At least we could find ways to occupy ourselves, even if we need to haunt our loved ones for entertainment!
A thin veil. A curtain that some can see through easily and others cannot. But why? Why do some people, even while vigorously claiming not to believe in them, regularly see ghosts while others do not? That question alone seems intriguing enough to warrant further investigation.
In 2002, when I was researching my first book, Ghosts of Erie County, most of the individuals I interviewed had a great deal of difficulty discussing their experiences out of fear of ridicule. Some said they had only disclosed these experiences to close family members, or perhaps to no one at all. Several of the folks agreed to tell me their stories only if I promised not print their real name, place of business, or any other identifying information.
This reaction is certainly understandable. Historically, those who claim to have had an encounter with the unknown, whether it be ghosts, UFO’s, or any other being not thought to be of the “natural” world, have been met with accusations of insanity, involvement in witchcraft, or just plain weirdness. In reality, however, almost everyone I know has had at least some type of unexplainable experience. And happily, in the six or so years since my first book, I have discovered an exciting trend in the general acceptance of these phenomena. People today are significantly more open about their supernatural experiences. Evidence of this trend can be seen everywhere. On any given evening, you can surf your cable TV channels and find at least half a dozen programs focusing on ghost-hunting, UFO sightings, psychics, or simply “the unexplained.”
In fact, I believe we are on the verge of a universal spiritual renaissance, when those experiences formerly thought to be supernatural will all be found to be part of our natural world. It appears that human beings, especially those in the western world who have been stubbornly resistant to accepting ideas we cannot yet prove scientifically, are finally ready to take a hard look at the possibility that there is an entire unseen world around us just waiting to be discovered.