The Dangers Of Dabbling In The Paranormal
Photo: © Josh Hild
Many ghost hunters and spiritual believers will tell you, "Don't mess with things you don't understand" or "Don't dabble with the occult." But this is problematic because we can't truly understand a subject without experimenting with it. So what are the dangers? Should people really be cautious, or should they just get stuck in and experiment as a means of understanding?
This cautionary advice reflects a common concern within the paranormal community. The warning stems from the belief that engaging with the unknown, especially in the realm of the paranormal, can have unforeseen and potentially negative consequences. One issue with cautionary phrases like "don't mess with things you don't understand" is that they actively discourage learning and self-driven understanding. Another issue is the varied interpretation of these warnings, depending on individual beliefs.
From a believer's perspective, the phrase promotes respect for the unknown and attempts to steer the curious away from harm. Some believers feel that engaging with the supernatural without proper knowledge or respect can invite negative consequences, anything from prolonging a haunting to unwanted spiritual attachments or even physical harm. A common sentiment among believers is that engaging with tools like Ouija boards can have direct and tangible supernatural consequences. The idea of 'opening a portal' or inviting unwanted spiritual entities is one of their concerns. From this believer's point of view, taking into account their fears and concerns, it's easy to understand why they would offer such warnings to new comers.
However, ask a skeptic and many will disagree. They're not disagreeing out of ignorance because they don't understand the paranormal. In fact, a skeptic will tell you just as adamantly that they do understand. A skeptic, rightly or wrongly, might put all paranormal experiences down to hoaxes, misinterpretations of natural phenomena, and psychological trickery. They may feel that their understanding, based on skepticism and rational thinking, is as complete as that of a believer. But a skeptic is more likely to view any fear or anxiety resulting from dabbling with the paranormal as self-inflicted or stemming from a person's own beliefs and suggestibility.
Somewhere between these two opposing viewpoints is another group of people who often support the sentiment of the warning "don't dabble with the occult." This group also feels they understand the risks of dabbling with the occult, but from a psychological perspective. From their point of view, engaging with something you don't understand, especially in a context shrouded in fear and superstition, can lead to anxiety, fear, or even lasting negative side effects. They would, however, argue that these outcomes can be attributed to the power of suggestion, psychological effects, or the influence of the environment rather than actual paranormal activity.
So, this tells us that even if we don't yield to the warning not to mess with the occult, we should respect the varying viewpoints, because each is a strong, valid, and based on what each feels is an understanding of the topic at hand - whether any side really does possess a full understanding is another debate all together.
Is There A Valid Argument For Caution?
The paranormal, by its very nature, deals with phenomena that are not fully understood, which is why the topic is sometimes referred to as "the unexplained." Warnings like "don't mess with what you don't understand" are rooted in the belief that engaging in certain practices without proper understanding or respect can lead to tangible, supernatural consequences.
There is a scarcity of documented, scientific evidence that definitively proves the dangers associated with paranormal investigation, but there's no denying that there are plenty of reports of anecdotal experiences and accounts from paranormal investigators that suggest that unprepared individuals might experience distressing or unsettling situations, particularly in environments associated with paranormal activity.
Perhaps the most commonly cited consequence of dabbling is the risk of opening a portal. The belief here is that certain actions, rituals, or methods of spirit communication can open portals or gateways to other realms or dimensions. This is often associated with the fear that such portals could allow unwanted or malevolent entities to enter our world.
The risk of opening a paranormal portal is often closely related to the act of communicating with spirits via a Ouija board. This belief stems from the board's popularity during the rise of spiritualism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea is that the participants' hands are guided by spiritual forces to spell out messages on the board. Many people, albeit anecdotally, report unsettling experiences, feelings of unease, or believe they have contacted malevolent entities while using the board.
Another risk often talked about lies in the realm of the demonic and the fear of attack or possession. This belief holds that certain occult practices can make individuals vulnerable to malevolent spirits or demonic entities, which might harm, influence, or take control of them. There is also a belief in potential spiritual consequences, such as disturbing the natural order, attracting negative karma, or violating spiritual laws, although these concerns are less often cited by paranormal investigators.
For those who are skeptical of the paranormal, the idea that engaging with the paranormal could lead to supernatural consequences like demonic attacks or opening portals is considered without basis in scientific evidence. Skeptics typically view such beliefs as superstitions or folklore, not supported by empirical data, although many would still warn dabblers about the psychological risks of their actions.
The Psychological Risks
Skeptics argue that experiences related to hauntings and paranormal activities can generally be explained away as hoaxes, misinterpretations of natural phenomena, and psychology. Psychology, a well-understood science, offers insights into experiences related to hauntings and paranormal experiences based on well understood principles. This leads us back to the original warning: "don't mess with things you don't understand."
Psychologists or parapsychologists often feel they understand the paranormal, insisting on their comprehension as strongly as a paranormal investigator might. However, their understanding is rooted in psychology rather than spiritual or supernatural explanations. Therefore, a skeptic knowledgeable about the psychological underpinnings of paranormal phenomena might not feel the need to adhere to the warning against dabbling, feeling that they do fully understand the field.
Despite their skepticism, psychologists might still advise exploring the paranormal with caution due to a different set of risks aligned with their understanding. These risks stem from well-established psychological principles and can vary based on individual beliefs, experiences, and mental states. These concerns centre on potential mental and emotional impacts rather than supernatural consequences.
Engaging in paranormal exploration can be emotionally intense. For some, this leads to significant stress, particularly when encountering something frightening or unsettling. Such stress can have lasting effects, especially for those more prone to anxiety or with pre-existing mental health conditions.
Encounters in paranormal settings can challenge one's deeply held beliefs. This conflict, known as cognitive dissonance, can be distressing and disorienting, leading to emotional turmoil. For those with firm religious convictions, particularly beliefs that view paranormal or occult practices as taboo or dangerous, engaging in these activities can conflict with their moral or spiritual values. This conflict can lead to feelings of guilt, fear, or spiritual turmoil.
Moreover, engaging in paranormal activities can induce fear and anxiety. This is particularly true in environments that are culturally framed as spooky or eerie. It's possible that intense fear or traumatic experiences during paranormal investigations or prolonged exposure to such stress could lead to longer-term psychological effects, such as nightmares, phobias, or even symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in more vulnerable individuals such as those with pre-existing anxiety disorders.
Ultimately, the decision to engage in paranormal investigation and experimentation is a personal one. Caution is advisable, but exploration and experimentation are crucial in expanding our understanding of the paranormal.
The Importance Of Dabbling
The field of paranormal research has historically been driven by individuals willing to delve into the unknown and challenge existing beliefs. Much of the advancement in paranormal investigation has been driven by amateurs and enthusiasts rather than academics. These individuals, who might not have fully understood the field at the start of their journey, dared to dabble and explore.
The role of experimentation by amateurs in the field cannot be understated. It is through such efforts that many theories and techniques have been developed and refined. Many of the methods and technologies used in ghost hunting today were developed by individuals who started as amateurs, driven by curiosity and a desire to understand the unknown. Their willingness to experiment, often without formal training, has been a key factor in the evolution of paranormal research.
So, while caution might still be advised when exploring unfamiliar territories, people shouldn't be encouraged not to experiment with the paranormal. Just as with driving a car or riding a bike, many skills and understandings are acquired through direct experience. In the context of the occult or paranormal investigation, this means that some level of 'messing with' or engaging in these activities is necessary for learning and gaining understanding.
The key is to find a balance between caution and exploration. In driving, this is managed by learning in controlled environments, under supervision, and with adequate preparation. Similarly, in exploring the occult or paranormal, starting with guided experiences, educating oneself, and proceeding with caution can be a sensible approach.
While statements like "don't mess with things you don't understand" might seem to imply that we should never engage in unfamiliar activities, really what is meant is that such activities should be approached with caution, respect, and a willingness to learn. Rather than "don't dabble with the occult," we might be better telling the curious to "explore with caution, learn with respect." This phrase captures the essence of approaching the unknown with a mindset that values both curiosity and safety and encourages learning and experimentation.
Guidelines For Safe Exploration
If you're interested in exploring spirit communication, ghost hunting, or occult practices for the first time and feel confident about starting, then just get stuck in – it truly is one of the best ways to learn. However, if you have any doubts, fears, or uncertainty, there are several steps you can take to safely begin your journey.
Start with research. While you might not grasp everything initially, understanding the basics of your chosen area, be it spirit communication, ghost hunting, or a specific occult practice, is crucial. Read books, watch documentaries, and explore online resources to get a sense of the history, methodologies, and experiences of others in the field. Begin with less intense aspects of the paranormal or occult, such as visiting historical sites known for paranormal activity or using basic ghost hunting tools in a controlled environment.
Maintaining a balance between skepticism and open-mindedness is essential. Not all encounters will be paranormal, and critical thinking is key to distinguishing genuine, unexplained phenomena from more mundane explanations. Be prepared for a range of experiences, from disappointment and confusion to profound discoveries.
Respecting the privacy and dignity of any spirits or entities you might encounter, as well as the privacy of people involved in or affected by your activities, is of utmost importance. Ethical considerations are vital in both the physical and spiritual realms.
Attending a public ghost hunting event can also be a great starting point. These events, hosted at allegedly haunted locations, provide access to experienced individuals who can guide you, share knowledge, and assist you in navigating your initial experiences. While you may not agree with every method demonstrated, these events offer hands-on opportunities to try ghost-hunting gadgets and build confidence for independent exploration or team activities.
Public paranormal events demonstrate that the perceived dangers of dabbling in the paranormal are generally low, especially under supervised and controlled conditions. For most people, the risks are manageable. However, individuals who are more vulnerable due to mental health issues, high suggestibility, or strong religious beliefs should approach these activities with caution or, in some cases, avoid them. Ultimately, exercising caution and self-awareness when approaching something new is always wise.
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