Evil, The Newkirk's & Leaving the OcCULT
Samhain's over guys, let's get down to brass tacks.
The spookiest month to many in the paranormal, October (RIP), focuses on the harvest. I myself harvested an interview with Dana and Greg Newkirk (of The Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and Occult fame) on an episode of Against Everything with Connor Habib from the vast Twitterverse. (I know my puns are horrible.) The Newkirk's have always been interesting to me for their more logical and open-minded view of the supernatural. While they seem to carry a True Believer attitude toward some of it's basics (no issue taken with that), they don't tow the usual company line of Christianity and faith-based thinking that majority of investigators do.
They spoke about how the dogmatic thinking of "good vs evil" and diabolical or demonic origins for unexplained activity are the driving force of so many people who seek out the spooky stuff. A deep-rooted, nearly subconscious basis for rationalizing the paranormal into an established dichotomy like this comes directly from religious (white, Western) origins. They elaborate on how approaching all of the unknowns we search for and witness does not have to come from that archaic school of thought. In other words, Western religion does not have to drive an inquiry into the paranormal, and it doesn't have to continue limiting our thinking on it either.
This is an attractive idea to me. Having struggled with traditional faith, both by being brought up within a Christian church system and living in a culture founded on it's core principles (a culture still carrying them ignorantly and violently into modern society), I've actively tried to take a secular approach to investigating. I only knew from past web searches and light reading that the Newkirk's came from a more skeptical mindset while investigating and bringing people in contact with artifacts tied to a haunted history. This recent interview gave me new insight into what it means to believe in the existence of the supernatural, while also having a truly open sense of perception on what we do not have answers for. I found that their most solid declaration isn't in whether or not an item is haunted, but in it's history. The weight that holds is not in how dangerous or mysterious a particular item may be, but why it came to be believed as such. The item's significance relies on it's own origin, not the individual belief in it's being haunted. And in that sense, not on the belief in it being good or evil.
This makes me wonder about the place for secular investigation and understanding of the occult, and why it seems so hard to establish in the paranormal mainstream. It's definition leaves room for multiple approaches, yet remains hinged on that Western dogma we see so often:
1. supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, or phenomena.
synonyms:the supernatural, the paranormal, supernaturalism, magic, black magic, witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, wizardry, the black arts, occultism, diabolism, devil worship, devilry, voodoo, hoodoo, white magic, witchery, mysticism
All of these synonyms historically contain elements of faith-based understanding and definition. "Devil worship" speaks the loudest there, as does "devilry". Honestly, something like "The Devilry" sounds like a great name for a deviled egg shop. I'd go, I love those things. However, understanding these historically Christian terms from without the dogma does not have to lessen or cheapen their significance within the paranormal at large. The same way one does not need to be a Jew to study Jewish history, or one doesn't need to identify as a witch to study the history of Salem Village, now Danvers, MA.
These religious aspects of the paranormal are worthy of research and study, but do not necessarily have to have a place in investigating. In application, one would approach it without the bias of possibly facing (or doing battle with, as is often described) something with negative or evil intentions. Instead, a conscious understanding of not presuming any intention whatsoever, can alleviate the need to stay tied to binary thinking when it comes to seeking out and understanding the weird things we experience.
This religious thinking has caused the mainstream paranormal community to become a feedback loop of itself, a cult of the occult. To clarify, I mean a cult in mindset only. One with a rigorous adherence to Western views of what we perceive to be unexplained occurrences and based on the fundamental principles of Christian theology. It always loops back to the root causes of good or evil, and the need to be rid of or correct what is deemed evil. Where are the droves of Atheist investigators who show no fear of alleged evil because they have no faith in it's very existence? Does a lack of faith mean that the investigator must then be a complete skeptic, and therefore immediately at odds with the mainstream? I hate to compare, but this sounds eerily similar to accusing someone of witchcraft based on their skepticism of it's existence in the first place. We know that doesn't turn out well. Even synonyms for the word "Atheist" contain negative religious connotations: "pagan", "heathen", "infidel". Words that imply a minority non-believer in a belief-led majority are very telling of a society that has long-held fears of anything it sees as different, or other.
Apart from a secular approach, there are different cultures all over the world, and ones that have long since gone out of existence, that do not contain anything close to Western theology. Their views of the afterlife, ghosts, and unexplained events are worthy of a place at the table of paranormal inquiry, yet we do not hear many, if any of them weighing in. Modern Western society has created a closed, fixed perspective on the supernatural that it won't allow deviation from, even in the pursuit of understanding and truth. Without a fear of evil, is one at greater risk of attack by unseen forces? The believers would say yes, but that only serves to reinforce their own fear of evil, not to further study or try to understand what seems unexplainable.
The occult is a fascinating, wide-ranging zeitgeist of the unknown. I should just call it Unknown with a capital U, for how prevailing it is in society. It is present in the lives of everyone, of every faith and culture and creed, including those with no spiritual faith at all. The hardest part of society to turn the tables on can be belief. It is intangible, but it is powerful. Giving investigators a place to start the process of understanding all this haunting stuff doesn't mean giving up the occult, it means giving up the cult; the hindrance of a perspective that serves no one but the self. The paranormal community could use more people like the Newkirk's, to help break down the dogma that stagnates investigations and research, and to provide others a way to take a fresh approach to it all.