Why are we so fascinated with the paranormal? We love to hear creepy stories, then sleep with the lights on, after checking under the bed, behind the curtains, and even the shower stall, just in case. Maybe it’s our natural inquisitiveness that attracts us to the odd, the unexplained and supernatural. Of course we prefer to call it fiction. It’s fun to be safely scared, secure in the knowledge that it’s not real. Ghosts, ghouls, aliens, demons and the undead are entertaining when they’re the fantastic products of creative imaginations, and nothing more. But what if some of the creepy phenomena out there turned out to be real?
Many people swear that they’ve encountered ghosts, been abducted by aliens, cast out evil spirits, and communicated with the dead. These people are either making up stories for attention or profit; are delusional, over imaginative, or they’re telling the truth and these events really do occur. Maybe we’ll never know for sure, unless of course, it happens to us or someone we know…
In the meantime, here are 5 creepy phenomena that may or not be real.
Whether they’re re-animated corpses hunting and devouring the living, or unfortunate victims of viruses turning into raging killers, zombies have had a huge impact on 21st century popular culture.
Voodoo Priests in Haiti
But surprisingly few modern movie and TV adaptations have explored the fascinating Haitian origins of the zombie legend. To many people in Haiti and other areas in the Caribbean, where belief in magic and witchcraft is widespread, zombies are a very real phenomenon. In Haiti zombies were said to be people brought back from the dead and controlled through magic by voodoo priests called bokors or houngan. The zombification was performed either as punishment or to create slave labor on farms and sugarcane plantations.
Back in 1988 horror director Wes Craven did tackle the Haitian phenomenon in the movie The Serpent and The Rainbow, based on a book of the same title, written by Wade Davis, a scientist who claimed to have found a powder that could create zombies.
Victims Poisoned by Neurotoxin
Davis believed that victims were poisoned with a concoction that included a powerful neurotoxin found in pufferfish called tetrodotoxin. Davis theorized that tetrodotoxin produces a state indistinguishable from death, and that bokors exhume the body after burial, and are able to resuscitate the victims. According to legend the body wakes up, but the consciousness and personality will be gone, leaving in its place a zombie-like being who can be controlled by the bokor.
Later Davis’ theories were challenged by skeptics who claimed his methods were unscientific and Davis himself acknowledged some problems. But he does believe there are elements of truth to his theories and there was much more to the zombie phenomenon than the powder itself, which was just one part of a deep-rooted sociocultural belief in the power of black magic.
4. Spontaneous Human Combustion
How can people burst into flames with no apparent external source of ignition and burn so completely without setting fire to anything else around them? This is the mystery surrounding spontaneous human combustion (SHC) and there have been hundreds of reported cases over the past centuries.
Several theories as to what causes SHC have been explored by scientists, such as static build up of electricity inside the body, and a build up of methane in the intestines which is sparked by enzymes. But none of these theories have proved satisfactory.
In addition no one has ever witnessed someone spontaneously bursting into flames and verified there was no external source. Reports reveal similarities in the victims’ habits and circumstances, with many being obese, sedentary and elderly, often living alone. Others were alcoholics and smokers who may have fallen asleep with a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar. But why then did the surrounding furniture and bedding remain largely untouched?
One scientific explanation for this is the wick effect, which suggests that the body, when ignited by some external heat source such as a lit cigarette, acts very much like an inside out candle, which causes the body to burn very slowly. Another possibility is that some of these fires were acts of arson. Yet some SHC cases remain unexplained and some victims do not fit this profile.
No one has been able to conclusively prove or disprove the existence of SHC, but most scientists agree that there are other, more likely explanations for these events. Yet some authorities are willing to claim it is a very real occurrence — in 2010, a coroner in Ireland officially attributed the death of a 76-year-old man to SHC.
Demonic possession has inspired numerous books, movies and TV shows, most notably The Exorcist in 1973 starring Linda Blair as a teenage girl possessed by an evil entity. These fictional accounts are sensationalized for entertainment value of course, whereas in the real world widespread confusion and skepticism persists.
Most religions claim that humans can in fact be possessed by demonic spirits. In the Christian tradition a possession is when Satan or some demon takes full possession of a person’s body without their consent, so the victim is therefore morally blameless. If a possession is reported, the Church conducts an investigation to determine whether it is a genuine case and if an exorcism is needed. Apparently ‘real’ cases of demonic possession are very rare, and trained exorcists are few and far between, with estimates of around 150 to 300 worldwide.
Skeptics point out that signs of possession, such as abnormal changes to the voice, shouting out profanities, and the desire to hurt oneself or others, can mimic symptoms of mental illness, including Tourette syndrome and schizophrenia, and some priests do in fact consult with psychiatrists before proceeding with an exorcism. Then there’s the issue of exorcism for profit, with exorcism ministries sprouting up all over the country, some of them even televising exorcisms.
But there have been cases that witnesses claim are very convincing. Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, documented what he claimed was a “clear-cut case of demonic possession” in the New Oxford Review, in 2008. He observed an American woman undergoing an exorcism, who levitated six inches off the ground, demonstrated paranormal powers, and spoke foreign languages unknown to her. Objects would fly off the shelves, the woman exhibited enormous strength, and she would relay information about the exorcism team members that she could not possibly have known. Dr. Gallagher suggested that even those who doubt such a phenomenon exists may find this case “rather persuasive.”
2. Sleep Paralysis
You wake up in the dead of night and sense a malevolent presence…the bedroom door slowly creaks open. Somebody’s there. Terrified, you try to get up, but realize you cannot move. You try turning your head but it won’t budge. You scream for help but no sound escapes your mouth. You’re paralyzed, lying helplessly on the bed. Something presses down on your chest and a creepy voice whispers in your ear. Then suddenly the spell is broken and you can move again. You grab for the light and scan the room for intruders. Nobody’s there…
Anyone who’s suffered from sleep paralysis (SP) will recognize this scenario. The SP episode may have been followed by lucid dreaming, a state in which you can control your own dreams, and even an out of body experience or astral projection
Legends Say it’s the Devil?
A 2011 study by Pennsylvania State University found that nearly 8 percent of the general population has problems with sleep paralysis. Most experts classify this phenomenon as a treatable sleep disorder. But legends and folklore worldwide offer more sinister interpretations, and almost every country has a name for these nighttime intruders. Sometimes the devil himself is implicated, and if not the devil then his minions are responsible. Other legends point to the ‘Old Hag’ as the culprit, out to possess the soul of the subject or to take their life. Others believe these are descriptions of alien abductions. There are also claims that this may mark the beginning of an enlightening spiritual journey.
In physiological terms this is a condition characterized by a temporary paralysis shortly after waking or before falling asleep. It is closely correlated to the paralysis that occurs naturally as part of REM sleep known as REM Atonia. The root cause of sleep paralysis is when the brain awakes from an REM state but the bodily paralysis continues. Consequently the sufferer is fully conscious and aware but cannot move. And according to the experts, this state may be accompanied by hypnagogic hallucinations.
Is sleep paralysis a scary but harmless biological occurrence? Or is there something more sinister at work here? Those who have experienced SP will tell you that during one of these episodes the feelings are so intense and real, and the fear so all-encompassing that scientific explanations seem inadequate and even ridiculous.
1. Black eyed children
The creepiest phenomenon on our list by far is the legend of the black eyed children, and so it gets the number one slot. If you’re home alone at night, read this at your own risk!
Since the late eighties thousands of people worldwide have reported encounters with black-eyed children who ask to be let in to their houses, vehicles, and even hotel rooms. The kids range in ages between six and 16, show up at night, and appear in pairs or groups, with one of them acting as the spokesperson. The most notable feature is the solid black eyes, lacking any color or the white part of the eye known as the ‘sclera’.
Witnesses report these children knocking on their doors and asking to be let in to use the phone or tapping on car windows asking for a ride home because they’re lost or forgot something. They report feeling intense feelings of dread and fear, and even being under the influence of hypnosis when they look into those creepy black eyes. If the person closes the door or drives away the children apparently disappear.
Some claim they’re extraterrestrials, others say they’re inter-dimensional beings, vampires, alien hybrids, time travelers or even demonic entities. Others say it’s just an elaborate hoax or at best an urban legend. Either way, skeptic or not, if you hear a knock on the door and see some kids outside and it’s not Halloween, just don’t invite them in. Better to be safe than sorry…
Thanks Wendy Waskovich!
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