Here’s a spooky prediction: Over the next few years, ghosts will become trendy again.
The ghost has remained an enduring staple of classic horror fiction and Halloween decorations, but I’m sensing a full-scale return of specters and spiritualism to pop culture if the cyclic nature of history and current events give us any indication.
America is about to wrap up a year filled with catastrophe, loss and hundreds of thousands of deaths from the coronavirus. In times like this, zombies — the psychological epitome of a crowd of conformists — and vampires — the unknown and threatening “other” — just won’t do.
When thousands of lives are lost, people want to reach out into the ether to find something, anything, on the other side and maybe talk to a loved one just one more time.
This has been true through the ages, and the practice of spiritualism — attempting to contact the dead though seances, Ouija boards and other seemingly occult practices — reached its peak of around 8 million followers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was all the rage in America and Europe a century ago when a devastating flu pandemic emerged from the shadow of World War I. Yes, it happened in parlors and at kitchen tables here in Nacogdoches County, not just in places like New York, Chicago and New Orleans.
The viral spread of this hoax-laden ideology came long before the internet. It did get a boost from the advent of radio when the sudden influx of disembodied voices left people wondering if they could communicate with the undead.
I’ve spent hours finely tuning the radio dial while driving through the backwoods of nowhere in the witching hours. Not once have I heard the voice of a spirit, or, for that matter, anything spookier than the sounds of the great Art Bell on “Coast to Coast AM.”
We saw a brief spike in mainstream spiritualism post-9/11 with the rise of TV “psychic medium” John Edward and endless clones of reality shows about ghost hunting. While Edward and his ghost hunting cronies have faded into the ether he claims to reach into, Tyler Henry, the so-called Hollywood Medium still lurks on the fringes.
Today, most of us have the internet, an endless library of human knowledge. One might think we now know better, but access to information doesn’t mean people seek out the truth. Instead, some only listen to what they agree with most.
They believe what they want. This is evident. Look at the rise of both left- and right-wing media organizations. Spend five minutes on any online political forum. Read the comments on a YouTube video or a Facebook post of a news story. People love to believe in baloney, which has turned the internet into a series of echo chambers rather than a paragon of enlightenment.
If a handful of YouTube or TikTok stars begin “speaking with” or trying to conjure the dead, spiritual inevitably will bloom again. Like the corpse flower, the practice only emerges once in a great while, but it stinks the same each time.
We have another forgotten relic of Halloweens past for curbing the spread of these hoaxes and all the pain they cause — wizards. Well, wizards don’t exist, but these skeptics are magicians.
Leading the charge against bunk, hokum and mumbo jumbo is James Randi, a retired stage magician who has famously offered $1 million to anyone who can prove in a scientific experiment that they have magical or psychic powers.
No one has ever claimed the prize. Not John Edward, not Tyler Henry, not Miss Cleo.
Ethical magicians such as The Amazing Randi and Penn & Teller have long been debunkers and skeptics. After all, for decades it was only in magic shops where a person might find books like Tony Corinda’s “Thirteen Steps to Mentalism” and “Quick and Effective Cold Reading” by Richard Webster. In them, you, too, can figure out how to be a fake mind reader and pretend to speak with the dead.
At 92, Randi is in the twilight of his life, and he will cross over to the other side sooner rather than later. I can’t wait to see what all the so-called mediums think he has to say to them from the afterlife.
Josh Edwards is managing editor of The Daily Sentinel. His email address is email@example.com.