(reprinted with permission)
As a paranormal investigator, or simply an individual
with an interest in the paranormal, one of the finest tools one can have is
knowledge. Being knowledgeable of the many different views of death helps us
better understand our subject of interest, thus making us more qualified
investigators. It also helps us relate to clients of many different cultures and
religions, and can show us how they interpret the perceived paranormal activity
they are experiencing.
Since the beginning of civilization, and perhaps even
beforehand, there have been many diverse beliefs regarding the life, the dying
process and the afterlife. Approaching this from the perspective of
someone investigating the paranormal, we must keep in mind that different
cultural belief systems may see the same thing in many different ways. This fact
is important, as perception of paranormal activity is as important as the
For instance, the attitude concerning suicide differs
greatly in many cultures and religions. This is important to remember if you are
dealing with reports of activity in a residence or building where a suicide has
allegedly taken place. Some cultures view suicide as a terrible sin, and believe
the individual who commits suicide is condemned for eternity. Many Jewish and
Christian cultures strongly oppose suicide. Others believe suicide is honorable
and even desirable under the right circumstances. Japanese Samurai felt as
thought ritual suicide was a way to make atonement for dishonoring one's self or
one's family. (Haley 1999:55) There are also some Native American tribes, such
as the Inuit, who feel as though there are rewards in the afterlife for those
who take their own lives, and will even assist others in doing so. (Haley
Some things you might want to look into during a case
investigation involving suicide would be the following:
- What cultural/religious backgrounds does the client
belong to? Do they practice their religion regularly, and do they have a
strong belief system?
- What are their interpretations and feelings about
death and suicide? How do they feel about the fact that a person took his or
her own life in this building? Apply your information about their cultural
ties and belief and attempt to cross reference this with their reaction to and
perceptions of the activity they are experiencing.
- If at all possible, try to find out the
religious/cultural background of the deceased. Access public records,
newspapers form the time of the suicide, etc. Can you get any clues about why
this person took his or her own life, and what their state of mind was at the
- Ask yourself: How could the clients' set of beliefs
and concepts affect the way these individuals perceive alleged paranormal
experiences? Apply this question when you are interviewing your client(s) and
recording a history of activity in the home. Pay attention to the body
language and tone your clients use when describing the experiences that re
having or have had. Do they seem to feel threatened? Excited? Interested?
Amused? Do they feel as though the activity is coming from something positive
and harmless, or something more sinister? Someone from a strong Catholic
background may have a different reaction than someone from a Wicca background,
and so on. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong; it is simply, as
mentioned, a tool for helping us get a better understanding of what the "big
picture" is when we are obtaining information.
The concept of how we are living life itself, and your
clients' views regarding this, is also a very important factor to consider. Some
cultures, including some from Pre-Columbian times, believe that this life, no
matter how tough, is much better than what waits for us once we pass on. In
other words, they believe that we should enjoy ourselves now, because there is
no fun to be had after we go. (Haley 1999)
Many cultures believe that where our souls go when we
die depends on how we live our lives now. The promise of rewards after death is
an important backbone of many cultural and spiritual belief systems. The soul
plays many different roles and has many different meanings to cultures all over
the world, both past and present. Many cultures believe that the soul lives on
eternally after death. Others believe that the soul passes on, remains for a
finite time in a sort of afterlife, and then is reborn as a living being again.
There are still others who believe the soul leaves the body in stages, rather
than all at one.
There are people who have no belief in the afterlife
at all. They believe that once a living thing dies, it ceases to exist, and
there is no continuation of the soul or spirit. These individuals are
frequently quite skeptical of the possibility of ghosts or spirits, as the
concept of their existence contradicts their opinion that there is no soul or
afterlife. Interestingly, it seems that these people are frequently the most
likely to be disturbed and upset at the thought of a ghost or spirit occupying
their living space.
If a client express that they have no belief in souls
or the afterlife, it is equally as important as the belief in a religion or
cultural tradition. Every piece of information we gather helps us form a picture
of sorts for each investigation. Some things to take note of:
- What are the client(s) views of the soul? DO they
consider the soul to be an intelligent continuation of the living being, or
just a form of energy?
- Does the client believe that our behavior in this
lifetime could affect what happens to our souls when we pass on? Ask them to
describe what they think happens to us after death regarding whether we have
been "good" or "bad". What is the client's view of "heaven" or an afterlife
reward, and "hell" or an afterlife punishment?
Of course, one of the most important questions an
investigator should pose involves the client's belief of what a ghost actually
is. Religious and cultural belief systems play a huge part in forming this
It is generally a universal concept that ghosts are
spiritual remnants of once-living beings.
It is important to understand how the client views a
ghost; i.e. is a ghost an evil presence, a harbinger of bad luck, etc., or is it
a way for a loved ones to stay close to their family and even their homes,
perhaps even a lonely spirit just looking for contact? In some cultures where
there are strong family ties, ghosts are frequently accepted as family members
continuing to be part of their group. Other cultures see the possibility of a
ghost as a threat to the living - possibly even a jealous or vengeful entity
with bad intentions.
Overall, the more research and information you can
gather on a client's culture and beliefs, the more understanding you will have
of how the person or people perceive and interpret possible paranormal activity.
It is also an excellent idea to research the property, home, or land to see if
there are or was key cultural influences in the area. This will not only assist
in cross referencing reports of activity, but will also help determine if there
is a direct link between the cultural influence and the type of activity being
experienced. This can then be cross referenced and examined to look for
meaningful cues, signs of communication, etc.
I highly recommend that everyone research different
cultural belief systems regarding death and the afterlife. It is not only a
valuable tool in paranormal investigation, but a fascinating and enlightening
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