Chances are if you’re reading this magazine you’re a believer in the paranormal. Or, at the very least, have more than a passing interest in the subject.
But have you ever questioned why you believe?
For many this belief began at a young age, often after something unexplainable happened. For me, it happened when I was five and sitting in the back of my mom’s car, a hatchback. We were parked at the side of the road outside a friend’s place. My mom had gone up to the house to fetch my friend, who was going to sleep over, and I’d decided to wait in the car.
I can remember turning and looking out the back window of the hatchback and seeing an empty street. No vehicles or pedestrians to be seen. Suddenly a face appeared in the window, starring right at me. It was a horrible, mongoloid face that was literally not there one moment, appeared, and was gone a moment later. It scared the life out of me, and I dropped to the floor of the car for fear of seeing it again.
Then I heard the crunch of footsteps on gravel as my mom and friend appeared. My friend denied it was him, and neither of them saw anyone on the street who could have been the culprit. My mom, a teacher, thought whatever I saw was a figment of my imagination, but I know what I saw and my lifelong obsession with the paranormal began.
These experiences happen when our minds are impressionable. We believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, in magic and superheroes. So it makes sense we’d be inclined to believe in ghosts, monsters and things that go bump in the night.
For whatever reason, those of us who have a paranormal experience continue to believe into adulthood, and often for the rest of our lives. Many dedicate their lives to trying to find out what happened to us and why. The truth behind the veil, so to speak.
So why do we continue to believe even after years of schooling, going to church and, at times, ridicule from those who think we’re focusing on figments of our imagination?
Dean Bertram hosts Talking Weird and the Mysterious Library on the Untold Radio Network and, like myself, his interest in high strangeness began when he was a young boy. He experienced a series of what he calls nighttime visitations where a squat little man came into his bedroom at night and took him away.
“It wasn’t a grey alien,” he says. “Let me make that clear.”
As he describes these visitations, they do sound very much like a standard abduction experience. This little man took him to a place with high, vaulted ceilings where he and the little man were surrounded by tall figures. Being a boy, Bertram thought one of the figures might be his mom so he tugged on its leg thinking he would get her attention. However, the being that eventually turned and loomed over him was not his mother. In fact, it didn’t even look human.
Suffice to say, the little man and his visitations where terrifying for young Bertram until these visits simply stopped.
It wasn’t until he read Edith Fiore’s book about alien abduction, Encounters, that Bertram considered he’d had a series of such experiences. It even led him on a journey where he eventually did his doctorate on UFO belief. However, he’s since decided this was not the case. He was, in the end, experiencing a form of sleep paralysis.
His fascination with the subject has never waned, hence he continues to pursue the UFO phenomenon and other paranormal events academically and professionally. Bertram says having these experiences “cracks the cosmic egg.”
“You want to see inside (the cosmic egg) or you become really interested in what’s on the other side of the veil,” he says.
Shannon LeGro agrees. As host of the popular podcast Into the Fray, she’s collected upwards of a thousand stories from people who have experienced everything from hauntings to Bigfoot encounters to alien abduction and beyond.
Thinking back over all the interviews she’s had, the one commonality these experiencers share is an open mindedness that extends back before these often frightening encounters have occurred.
“Of course, once you have an experience, the fire gets lit and the open mindedness becomes this gaping hole of just wanting to know more information,” says LeGro.
As with Bertram and I, LeGro has found most of the people she’s talked to on her show had their initial experiences when young, which equates to the open mindedness she mentioned. She hypothesizes that this young age could be the prime time for something paranormal to make contact.
Many people are open to speaking about their strange encounters when young, but they stop for the bulk of their lives, only displaying this open mindedness in old age when most people around them – be they doctors or family – chalk these stories up to dementia. LeGro says this is unfortunate.
“If you’re lucky enough to get to that point in your life where you’re of that age, where you’re on that tail end of things, that’s when you’re probably really wondering ‘What’s on the other side? What’s really gonna happen once I depart this Earthly shell of mine?’,” she says.
It’s this sense of mortality that likely drives a lot of people’s belief in the paranormal, says LeGro. Ghosts and the unexplained provide a sense of hope that there’s more to life than what’s around us on a daily basis, and that we continue on in some way, shape or form once we die.
“And of course that we will be reunited with those who have gone before us,” she says.
“Plus it’s in our nature to speculate and research and investigate and sometimes to just be scared. It’s just fun to go out and be scared whether it’s a ghost or Bigfoot or whatever it may be.”
A recent study has shown more than forty percent of Americans believe in ghosts and a slightly lesser amount in Bigfoot. LeGro says those numbers are pretty high considering the taboo that’s associated with the subject matter.
“It’s in our nature to be curious and these subjects just feed that. They fill that void for us,” she says.
The subject also provides opportunities for interesting discussions and debates with other people who have had similar experiences. Even if these experiences are different, the conversations around them can reveal a common thread, which fuels the interest, says LeGro.
This belief, as with any belief, can have a dark side, cautions Bertram. Using his own experiences as an example, reading Fiore’s book could have led him to consider he was an abductee, which might have prompted him to visit a psychiatrist who specializes in alien abduction regression therapy, which would potentially have led him and the psychiatrist to weave a story where Bertram was part of a multi-generational plan to abduct people and use their genetics to create a new alien-human hybrid.
The quest for answers can make people vulnerable if they believe with blind faith, or turn to people for answers who share this blind-faith belief, says Bertram.
“Say if you went along believing that aliens were abducting you and you’re a part of some grand cosmic plan, in some ways is it harmless? Sure. But in some ways it’s damaging because you’re approaching your entire outlook on the world based on something which is probably just fabrication,” he says.
The best way to combat this is to bring a healthy level of skepticism into any discussion on the paranormal, be it about theories or a potential encounter, says Bertram.
“Really analyzing what happened to you, or what you can or can’t be certain of. Keep asking questions rather than being sure you know the answers just because you’ve had an experience,” he says.
Some in the paranormal community do take things at face value or, in contrast, aren’t willing to consider something as potential evidence because it doesn’t fit into his or her belief system. Such tales have sprung up in the Bigfoot community, with those who consider the creature to be flesh and blood discounting any story that carries a hint of the supernatural, or omitting such claims from their reports.
Regardless of belief, will we ever get any firm answers to what these unexplained things are, or why they’re happening? Bertram and LeGro don’t think we will, although they agree the journey to find out will remain a fascinating one. In fact, it’s the potential to not get any firm answers that contributes to this being a fascinating pursuit. “We’re just tuned to gravitate towards a mystery. And some of us just like somewhat of a stranger mystery than others,” says LeGro. “We probably won’t figure it out and I think that’s a huge draw to this.”