Beyond the supernatural

When I was very young I used to search for the supernatural. I’ve always been interested in just about everything, and I had this passionate need to know things. I’d read lots of folklore and heard so many stories, most of which were contradictory, and I wanted to know the truth behind them.

I remember thinking that being a parapsychologist would be a great job. Hunt ghosts and track down the truth behind myths and legends. I used to find occult books to read, talk to people who claimed to have magical powers, or try to get into haunted places. I attended several modern pagan rituals, and probably would again if invited because they’re a lot of fun. I studied religions, and psychology, tried tarot cards and runes and Ouija boards. I even went to a séance or two. I did all this because I wanted to know the truth.

It wouldn’t be honest to say that I never found anything, but I never encountered anything genuinely supernatural. The closest I ever got was during some rituals I could believe I felt something. Well, I did feel things, a proper ceremony should work up strong emotions! But emotions were all they were. If I tried I could believe that I felt something else, maybe a presence, a watchful gaze over the proceedings, for example. But I had to work at it, if I relaxed there was nothing but the excitement of the blood pounding in my ears and the endorphins in my brain. Powerful and moving, yes. But not supernatural.

I tested something like this once. I made up a goddess and spent two days thinking about her and performing little rituals I made up for her. I wish I could remember her name now. It had been a cold day, so I made her the Goddess of Warmth. Her domain was everything from the heat of the Sun to your favorite blanket to the warm feeling you get when a loved one hugs you. I have never been religious, and didn’t (and still don’t) really understand what praying is, so I sort of talked to her in my head, thanking her for the good warmth and asking her to spare me the bad.

And when I did, whenever I focused my mind to speak to her, I felt warm, and loved and protected. At the end of the experiment, when it was time to put her back into my mental toybox, I felt genuinely sad. Like I would miss her, and the warmth she brought me. Even though I know that I made her up, and that I only ever felt like she was there when I tried to, when I worked at it. The mind really is a strange and wondrous thing.

You don’t have to look too hard on the internet to find some pretty weird ideas, like the claim that contrails are actually mysterious chemicals being sprayed into the air for some secretive purpose by persons unknown. When you come across something like that it’s easy to dismiss these people as stupid, because really it seems like only a moron could believe some of these things. Frankly, I don’t think most of them are. I think there’s a sort of minor delusion, or rather a class of them, that’s so common in us, so easy to fall into because we want to believe in them. We want to live in a world where unicorns hide in the deep forests, where cards can tell the future, writing can be magical, and powerful forces watch over us for good or ill.

Or maybe that’s just me and my love of urban fantasy stories. Which reminds me, I still need to read the latest Dresden Files book.

I don’t consider my time searching for the supernatural wasted. If anything, in hindsight I wish I’d looked harder. I might have learned some lessons sooner that way. Maybe I even would have found something real, but I doubt it. As time passed and I encountered more and more, I began to see similarities in the stories. Lack of details that could be used to learn more, for example. I became a skeptic so gradually I didn’t really notice it. In fact until I wrote that sentence I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as one.

I would probably still instantly want to investigate if somebody pointed out a haunted place, or an interesting bit of folklore. I always liked a mystery. But I wouldn’t be expecting to talk to ghosts or break a curse or anything, not anymore. That got left behind when I stopped expecting life to work like a story. Sir Terry Pratchett’s theory of narrative causality makes for excellent reading, but is a poor way to plan your future.

But society does strange things to a person. I remember emphatically insisting to someone that I was not an atheist long after it was clear that by any useful definition of the word I was one. Well, clear to everybody but me, that is. I think the denial came from that same idea, that the rules of fiction somehow apply to us, too. The atheist is the emotionless machine, or else the ego-maniacal villain with delusions of godhood. The skeptic is the one who not only gets killed by the supernatural horror, but either dies in such an ironic way that it’s played for laughs, or gets the slow approach where they have a minute to fully comprehend how very wrong they were before the end. Both are portrayed as insufferably arrogant, certain that they know everything and that they can’t possibly be wrong about anything, and always looking for a chance to get a snide dig in to the point of outright cruelty.

I don’t think those apply to me (maybe the insufferable arrogance) but I’m not willing to lie to avoid stereotypes. The funny thing about stereotypes is you’re most likely to notice them when they apply to you, or to someone you care about. I’ve had a few run through my mind as I wrote this that I wouldn’t usually notice. It can be difficult to remember that just because you don’t like or don’t agree with people that doesn’t make them all the same.

I’m positive that there’s something else I wanted to discuss that got forgotten during one of those tangents. Oh well.

If there’s anything I’ve learned for sure about this world, it’s that “weird” is common, and “normal” is a fiction. We are surrounded by marvels, made mundane only by familiarity. We are marvels, unlikely beings who use tools so naturally we think most of them don’t count, made of parts forged in the heart of a star. Skepticism hasn’t taken the wonder out of the world for me, it’s shown me how to see the wonders that were always there.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on January 25, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Kinda makes you want to take a whole new stock in the phrase “Mind over matter”

  2. I could talk to you about this for hours. But most likely best in person…

  3. Yeah, turns out the mind IS matter, though.

    Well, ok Rhi. Uhm… I think I’ll be in your area a week from now, maybe we could get together then?

  4. You could just call yourself a “humanist” if you find that people associate stereotypes with “atheist” – being/doing good just for the sake of being/doing good has much more merit than doing it to get into heaven or avoid hell (okay, okay, that was a gross oversimplification – sorry to people of faith).

  5. Really I prefer not to call myself anything, except maybe “sexy”. But humanist always makes me think of “humanitarian”. It’s like a vegetarian, but the diet has a different focus.

    I don’t understand where the weirdness about “atheist” comes from though. I don’t have any desire to worship anything, none of the religions I’ve studied have ever seemed to match up with reality, and I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on something by not having a religion. That’s about it, really. Yet somehow I once spent half an hour explaining that this doesn’t make it any harder for me to judge right and wrong to a woman who seemed genuinely shocked that I didn’t believe in god. I just don’t get it.

  6. Word. People just can’t understand.

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